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June 15, 2020

Podcast #619: What Driving Tells Us About Agency, Skill, and Freedom

According to Silicon Valley, self-driving cars are the future of transportation. Instead of owning and driving a car, you can just summon an AI-operated vehicle with your smartphone and have this superpowered computer taxi you to your destination. No more car maintenance, no more traffic, no more accidents. 

It may sound great on the face of it, but my guest today argues that shifting from being a driver to being a mere passenger represents an existential risk in and of itself, as well as a symbol for the potential loss of much broader human values. His name is Matthew Crawford and he’s a philosopher, mechanic, and hot rodder, as well as the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft. In his latest book, Why We Drive: Towards a Philosophy of the Open Road, Matthew investigates the driver’s seat as one of the few remaining domains of skill, exploration, play, and freedom. Matthew and I begin our conversation discussing how freely moving around in our environment is a big part of what makes us human and then explore how shifting from being the drivers of our own cars to the passengers of self-driving cars could result in a loss of that humanity by eliminating agency, privacy, and proficiency. As our wide-ranging conversational road trip continues, Matthew and I take detours into what things like hot rodding and demolition derbies can tell us about mastery, play, and competition. We end our conversation on what driving ultimately has to do with the overarching idea of self-governance. 

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Show Highlights

  • What drew Matthew to the subject of driving as a lens to explore some broader philosophical ideas?
  • Who’s driving the narrative of the self-driving car?
  • Why the world of the self-driving car isn’t as benevolent as it seems
  • Why don’t we see as many clunker cars anymore?
  • How cars haven’t gotten safer over the decades (and how those features have actually made us drive less safely) 
  • Why humans and autonomous cars won’t be able to truly share the road
  • The surprisingly social nature of driving 
  • What is it like driving a new car versus an older car?
  • What can driving tell us about play?
  • How Matthew discovered “true” feminists 
  • The demise of self-governance

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

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