Motoring has found itself captured by the illusion of endless progress. Victory will be when someone takes a step back
8 hours ago | Peter Miller
Phrases like “you can’t stop progress” are thrown at us all our lives, forcing us to accept any new thing as universally better. But does it correspond to reality? The automotive industry and its development “within the limits of the law” clearly shows that it is not. This is also why cars with an earlier date of birth are gaining in price so quickly.
“The whole game is still the same and exposes the absurdity of the concept of ‘progress’, which, like the concepts of ‘new is better than old’ or ‘fast is better than slow’, is at the source of the crisis in which our society finds itself. But new… When we look at everything that was ‘new’ in recent years and ended up being monstrous, harmful, bad, outdated… Progress is the same thing. This is the most absurd idea that the best is somewhere ahead of us. And how do we know that? On the contrary, if we look back today, much better is behind us, and progress would be to return some things to the way they were.”
These are not my words, I recently heard them spoken by the political scientist and economist Petr Robejšek in a program that I am now unable to identify retrospectively. I had to make a note of them, and I present them to you in an admittedly not entirely literal quotation, because I consider them to be extremely eloquent. Even though Mr. Robejšek was certainly not talking about the automotive world, he still described its development in the last decades – and the one to come – practically perfectly.
For a long time, we were used to the fact that development really moves forward. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally step aside, that’s the usual trial and error, but the overall development was clear. So even though we might have liked some of the partial solutions that defined one era or another, with a longer period of time it is usually possible to call them far outmoded. Every coin has two sides and undoubtedly such a carburetor has its advantages. But is there a substantial rational reason to reject further evolution and replace it with direct fuel injection systems? Definitely not – technically, economically, user-wise no.
But this is how the world developed until it was held in the hands of technical and economic interests. It may sound different, but there can be nothing better – as long as a company tries to achieve such technical progress to best meet the needs of its customers in all senses of these words, it also has an economic benefit for them in the long run. After all, as classical economic theory says, society as a whole will benefit the most if we each pursue our own selfish interests in the long term. But this approach started to disappear from the Western world some 20 years ago, but the illusion of infinite progress has remained in us and forces us to accept something that is not better as better.
I myself have found myself many times questioning my immediate natural judgment that I don’t like a newer car, that it seems worse than the previous one, that it is at best one step forward and two steps back. Why? Because we have simply experienced that progress is always moving forward and it is flawed to question it. The car is new, so it must be better. It’s faster, so it must be better. It’s a symbol of progress, it keeps pulling us forward. And the best is yet to come…
I was always wondering if this was the right perception, but Mr. Robejšek’s words opened my eyes. I can add exactly the same: “And how do we know that? On the contrary, if we look back today, much better is behind us, and it would be progress to turn some things back.”
Progress is a real “quantity”, but you have to let people work through the full range of available paths to actually achieve any. This has disappeared from motoring (and certainly not only from it). Instead of technical and economic interests, political, official, ideological, you name it, began to play a role. And progress disappeared with it, because the possibilities of the technicians were put into such narrow barriers that the result is not “new and better”, the result is half ox and half bee. It’s not all bad, a lot of things are still evolving, but a lot of things aren’t. And as a whole, new cars are less and less convincing precisely because of this – the point is no longer to make the final product “best meet the needs of customers in every sense of the word”, as stated below. The purpose was primarily to fulfill some political or official task. And that doesn’t work.
But the saddest thing is that the worst is yet to come. There is no doubt that naturally aspirated engines would be better for a lot of applications, but they were practically prohibited, definitely in anything more mass-market. Turbo instead of atmosphere, you can still put up with it, as well as a number of other steps aside. But now politicians have decided to dictate a very specific technical solution for all cars, which of course are electric cars. And that will be something, no matter what it costs at the end of these efforts.
It is sad that even in this situation, when it is absolutely obvious that this is not a picture of natural progress, but the result of a political decree, many try to claim that this is progress, that it is an LED light instead of a light bulb, etc. It is not, it is only his an illusion that uses our experienced perception to clear the space for achieving completely different goals. An electric car instead of an internal combustion car is not a smartphone instead of a cell phone with twelve keys, it is not an empetroika instead of a Walkman, it is not the latest laptop from Lenovo instead of Didaktik Gama. These things came naturally as really new and better, electric cars – and a lot of other nonsense – invaded the automotive world as an illusion of progress that they didn’t really represent.
The proof that this is the case is the apparently endless, moreover, increasingly faster price growth of not so old, but interesting cars that are no longer produced. When has this happened in the past? Similar individual cases have always been found, Bugattis from the pre-war era have always been something, as well as some of the few produced road versions of Group B specials, etc. But today people are betting millions on the table for a 20-year-old, often already quite used BMW to have again something the world has never known again. At the same time, it is not a problem to produce something objectively better, it is not a problem to produce the same thing again. But it is no longer possible, both that and that are indirectly prohibited and the technicians have to work with what they have in their hands. And they have less and less freedom left.
So the real victory for humanity will not be when “all carts are only electric”, as Richard Krajčo could sing, the victory will be when someone who has the power to change the course of history, instead of blindly following dictates of any type, instead of blindly celebrating beautiful of the clothes of the naked emperor to say: “After all, this was better and we should go back to it.” Who has ever done that in the automotive world in the last 20 years, who? I don’t remember a single significant case, we will obviously have to wait for a “savior” of his kind.
Cars like the BMW M3 E46 have in some ways never been surpassed, which is why they are so valued today. There are newer and faster cars, but are they really better? If that were the case, why would so many people pay millions for a semi-vintage when they can have a new car for the same money? Progress has ceased to be progress, it is only its illusion. You need to adjust your measurements accordingly. Photo: BMW
Inspiration: Petr Robejšek
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