Hallelujah! A Self-Justifying Car Post

As you may (or may not) have noticed, we have a few car nuts ’round […]

R-J Heijmen / 5.16.12

As you may (or may not) have noticed, we have a few car nuts ’round these parts. Witness here, here and here. Ok, ok, so I wrote all of those posts, but that’s beside the point. Mockingbird has always held, as one of the corollaries to its obsession with the Gospel, that the imputed righteousness of Christ sets us free to love what we actually love, rather than what we ought to love. Hence the occasionally “random” nature of the blog. Dave encourages each of us to write not only on theology, but also to throw in a periodic nod to Axl, or the NBA playoffs, or Jeremy Clarkson.

That being said, I have always sought some solid point of contact between my car fetish and my theological commitments, some justification for my inner child. So imagine my delight when I launched autoblog this morning (from my bed) and found the following article: Salon Columnist Asks “Is it Ethical to Drive Stick?”. Jackpot!! The piece did not disappoint.

In blatantly religious (tongue firmly in cheek) language, David Sirota recounts how his manual-tranny birthright was passed down through the generations, and forged in the fire of fatherly admonishment. “Through the experience,” he writes, “I learned to consider my stick-shifting skill a special talent with transcendent value.”

He also learned to look down on those who did not possess his automotive righteousness, not only for their ineptitude, but also for their wastefulness:

Of course, in the intervening years I’ve had the chance to drive an automatic transmission. But that has always felt a bit like playing a post-Konami Code game of Contra — a bit too easy, a bit too idiot proof, a bit too, shall we say, inauthentic. On top of that, the automatic always seemed like a wasteful luxury because it always was more expensive and less fuel-efficient. That difference consequently added an ascetic populism to the inherent machismo of the engine-revving manual transmission.

Imagine his horror, then, when he discovered that the game had, perhaps, shifted (pun intended), that the law
by which he had been justified, the law of the car guy, had been superseded by a new law, the oft-mentioned (on Mockingbird, at least) law of environmentalism (see here, herehere and here):

In the past, the stick shift was an all-but-guaranteed fuel saver. But not anymore. As AOL Autos notes, computer technology has advanced to the point where “automatics have become so efficient that most of the time their fuel economy is on par with manuals — and in some cases even better.” USA Today notes that such a trend may eventually erase the long-term price differential between manual and automatic transmissions, meaning the manual will lose its frugal-chic appeal. Meanwhile, according to AOL, new technology also boosts automatics’ overall performance (read: speed), meaning many driving aficionados have come to prefer the automatic over the manual.

NOOOOO! Sirota immediately recognizes the ramifications for his left-footed righteousness, which suddenly seems like filthy rags:

Thanks to all this, on the days I don’t bike to work and instead fire up my 11-year-old Saturn and shift it into first gear, I no longer feel so righteous or populist. I feel like part of the problem — not just because I’m driving a fossil fuel-dependent vehicle, but also because the manual transmission seems like a silly relic.

And yet, he can’t deny that he loves what he loves, and thus begins his search for a new form of self-justification, the mental gymnastics of which are breathtaking to behold:

I can’t let go of my love for the stick — or maybe “can’t” isn’t the right word. Perhaps “don’t want to” is more appropriate. If the automobile is still one of the key chronological markers in a typical American’s life (and, unfortunately, it still is), the stick shift is a special symbol of our general heritage, and my specific family traditions.

That’s why I was happy to see that there remains one significant reason to still love the manual transmission — a reason that’s substantive, rather than just aesthetic or experiential. In the age of distracted driving, many believe the stick shift might encourage kids to stay focused on operating their vehicles, rather than operating their smartphones. The idea is that because a manual transmission requires special attention to operate, it doesn’t allow for as much multitasking as an automatic.

While there’s no science (yet) to prove the manual-transmission-as-deterrent-to-distracted-driving hypothesis, the memory of those first harrowing stick-shift lessons — with my dad imploring me to “really focus, goddammit!” — suggests to me that there’s something to the theory.

At least, that’s what I’m going to tell myself to justify my stick-shift fetish — that is, until the automatic fully surpasses the manual in every other way.

What this article makes clear is the slavery we live in so long as we believe that every single one of our decisions, even something as silly as “stick or manual”, requires some justification. There can be no freedom in a self-justifying existence. Thank God that Jesus, as Paul says, has become our justification, so that we no longer have to justify ourselves, as poor David Sirota struggles to do.

So expect lots more car posts from your truly, and maybe even a few stupid gadget posts too, if I can work up the nerve.