In a single century, the introduction of the automobile has spurred massive changes in American culture, the communities in which we live, the environment, the economy, and personal independence. Every aspect of daily life has changed, from the places we live, to the food that we eat.
Automobiles, increasingly available to anyone, have blurred social class distinctions, expanded markets, and stimulated the economy. The industry directly employs more than 2.6 million people and, according to Auto Alliance, accounts for 3% to 3.5% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The American love affair with cars is evident in the number owned. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were more than 250 million registered vehicles in the United States in 2012, or one for every American over the age of 18. The average household owns 1.75 vehicles. Drivers traveled more than 2.8 billion miles over 4.5 million miles of roads and highways and 605,471 bridges in the nation that year.
Consumers can choose from a plethora of manufacturers of cars, all of which produce different makes, models, and body styles. The vehicles can then be further customized by color, engine type, transmission, interior design, and type of wheels. In addition, there are thousands of auto repair shops, high-performance mechanics, and body customizing shops ready to fulfill the dreams of any automobile owner.
The Negative Impact of Automobiles on Modern Life
For all of its contributions to modern life, the automobile has also wrought considerable negative consequences for individuals and society as a whole:
The purchase and ongoing operation of an automobile is one of the biggest expenditures that the typical person makes in a lifetime. Automobiles account for about one-sixth of a family’s budget, more than food or healthcare and insurance combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports that in 2010 the average passenger car in the U.S. was 11.4 years old and was driven 11,318 miles while burning $2,132 on gas and oil. Furthermore, drivers spent, on average, $787 for repairs and maintenance.
Deaths and Injuries
According to the United States Census Bureau, since 1990, more than 10 million accidents involving cars occur each year, causing more than 30,000 deaths per year. While the rate declines each year – reflecting improvements in design and new technology – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the cost of accidents in 2010 was $871 billion.
While constitutionalists and libertarians can argue about the rights of free speech on the Internet, it’s an entirely different matter when you’re the victim of sustained harassment or threats of physical violence. According to a Pew Research poll, 73% of adult Internet users have seen someone harassed online, and 40% have been victims.
Another Pew poll states that one in ten adult Internet users (10% male, 6% female) have been physically threatened or continually harassed for a sustained period. Pew also reports that teens are more likely than adults to experience hostile or cruel behavior online with real-world consequences. More than one-quarter of adult Internet users (29%) report experiences that resulted in face-to-face arguments, physical fights, or got them in trouble at work, and more than half of teenage Internet users (52%) report similar consequences.
In early 2015, former Major League Baseball star and outspoken conservative blogger Curt Schilling responded to cyber threats against his 17-year-old daughter by tracking down and publicly identifying two young men who had tweeted obscene comments about her. As a consequence, one man, a graduate student working part-time as a ticket seller for the New York Yankees, was immediately fired. The second was suspended from college.
When told of the consequences faced by the tweeters, Schilling responded on his personal blog, 38 Pitches: “In the real world, you get held accountable for the things you say, and if you are not careful that can mean some different things.” However, as reported by Asbury Park Press, Rutgers-Newark law professor Bernard W. Bell said the offensive tweets in the Schilling case might not meet the legal standard for criminal prosecution, raising the question as to whether the line on free speech needs to be redrawn.
To the dismay of free speech advocates, many people are questioning whether the definition of the First Amendment has gone too far. Authors Nadia Kayyali and Danny O’Brien, writers for the conservative Electronic Frontier Foundation and avid advocates for free speech on the Internet, recognize that harassment “can be profoundly damaging to the free speech and privacy rights of the people targeted.” They promote better technology, improved police education, and a community response to stigmatize abusers.
Childhood immunizations have been controversial for centuries. To many, the idea that protection or immunity can be gained by deliberate exposure to a disease is counter-intuitive. That unease, coupled with the possibility that a child might have an allergic reaction to a vaccine’s ingredients, is enough to cause many parents to question the wisdom of inoculation.
Anti-vaccination sentiment began early, even prior to Dr. Edward Jenner’s creation of the first smallpox vaccine in 1796. In Boston in 1721, Reverend Edmund Massey published a paper titled “The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation,” which argued that diseases were sent by God to punish evildoers and that attempts to prevent them, therefore, were sinful.
By the late 1800s, anti-vaccine movements, present in both Great Britain and the United States, were active. The Anti-Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879, and the protest against vaccinations continues today. Ironically, the movement expanded even as the number of smallpox outbreaks was reduced because of inoculation.
By 1900, many statesincluding New York, Massachusetts, California, and Pennsylvaniapassed laws requiring vaccinations for any children attending public schools. Now, this is required by all 50 statesthough all do provide some form of medical, religious, or philosophical exemption. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that states have the right to enforce compulsory vaccination laws, a ruling subsequently confirmed in 1922 and most recently in 2014.
Despite the opposition, vaccines for smallpox, rabies, typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella were in use by the 1970s. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that vaccinations had prevented more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children since 1994.
The Andrew Wakefield Study
The controversy over mandatory vaccinations for children has intensified since the publication of a study in The Lancet in 1997 by British former physician Andrew Wakefield linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization to autism.
Claims Within the Study
Wakefield’s study involved 12 patients treated at a London hospital. He and his colleagues reported that all 12 children had intestinal abnormalities and development regression beginning one to fourteen days after the MMR vaccination. The study went on to suggest that the vaccine caused a gastrointestinal syndrome in susceptible children that triggered autism.
Recognizing the profitability of a public controversy – fueled by all parents’ desire to protect their children – the popular press and fringe-favoring talk show hosts in the UK and U.S. immediately fanned the flames of public reaction and spread news of the study far and wide. According to a Salon article, U.S. newspapers mentioned the link 400 times in 2001 and more than 3,000 times in 2009 – and there were five times the number of television evening news stories on the link in 2010 than in 2001. As a consequence, vaccination rates in Great Britain decreased significantly.
Young boys growing up in the 1950s experienced the apex of the Western movies’ popularity. Movie characters played by actors John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, and Gary Cooper were bigger than life and represented the best of the American spirit. Western characters like cattleman Tom Dunston, Sheriff Will Kane, and Texan Tom Buchanan of the films Red River, High Noon, and Buchanan Rides Alone respectively fired the imagination of school boys every Saturday afternoon, celluloid examples of men with integrity, courage, and responsibility.
Their examples were reinforced by their small screen counterparts who appeared on more than 120 different Western series in the 50s and 60s. Younger kids were introduced to the Old West Code and mystique through shows starring William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy while Gene Autry and Roy Rogers portrayed themselves. Young Boys (and some girls) cantered broomstick mounts named for their heroes’ horsesTopper, Champion, and Triggerthrough the neighborhoods, always prepared to best a black-hatted villain of their imagination. As kids grew older, more complex characters like Sheriff Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke, hired gun Paladin of Have Gun, Will Travel, and Wagonmaster Major Seth Adams of Wagon Train replaced the earlier simpler characters, but continued to reinforce the same qualities of American manhood.
The Code of the West
While my parents initially taught me the traits and behavior of being a good citizen, their instructions were reinforced by what I watched on evening television and Saturday matinees. In those days, screen characters were rarely ambivalent about good and evil. The rules of manhood were simply stated and black and white with no ambiguity. As a young boy growing up in Texas and watching the movies, I learned a lot about
The measure of a man is his character. Your word and a handshake are inviolable, no matter the cost. An essential part of character is meeting your responsibilities. Who can forget the powerful scene of Sheriff Will Kane writing his Last Will and Testament as he waits to face four gunmen alone arriving on the noon train or the speech of Davy Crockett in the movie The Alamo: “There is right and wrong – you got to do one or the other. You do the one and you are living. You do the other and you are as dead as a beaver hat.”
Respect for yourself and others
The Golden RuleDo unto others as you would have them do unto you—was the foundation of the Code. John Bernard Books in The Shootist expressed the Rule in different, more direct language: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people. I require the same from them.” Never try on another man’s hat or mount his horse without permission.
A man never runs out on his friends, no matter the danger or consequences. You rely on your friends and your friends rely on you. “There are some things a man just can’t run away from.” This attribute also applies to your employer as a cowboy rides for “the brand” as long as you take your employer’s pay. Only a buzzard feed on his friends.
Cowards were not tolerated on the frontier since one man’s failure endangered the rest. “Courage is being scared to death . . . and saddling up anyway.” A real man would never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy; some cowboys called this the “rattlesnake code”always warn before you strike.
Ethan Edwards spends years searching for his niece taken as a young girl by the Indian raiders in The Searchers despite his belief that she had become the wife of the Commanche chief. A cowboy learned that a good hat just gets better as it gets older or as old bronc busters say, “Making it in life is life is breaking horses. You’re gonna get thrown a lot, but the secret is to keep getting back on.”
“Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much.” A braggart is “all gurgle and no guts.” There is no worse insult than being said to be “all hat and no cattle.” Remember, never miss a chance to shut up. It’s the man that makes a cowhand, not the clothes he wears.
Behavior around girls and women
A real man only cusses around other men, horses, and cows – never in the presence of women and girls. Never strike a woman under any circumstance. Never disrespect another man’s wife or girlfriend. The word “Ma’am” is a sign of respect, not an indication of age.
The New Morality
Sometime in the late 1960s, the goal of movies and television shows changed from entertainment to reality, portraying life as it is, not as it should be. Morals became fluid, dependent upon circumstances. The rights of individuals over-shadowed the needs of the community and respect of others. Instead of heroes, we have anti-heroes. We lost faith in our institutionsthe Government, the Church, Science, and Schoolsand adopted the philosophy that the end justifies the means. We began to worship individual rights, rather than community responsibility. As a consequence, our lives are more segregated and insulated; we are suspicious of others and their motives and the world for children has become more perilous.
I regret that my grandchildren may not experience the adventures and freedom of my childhood, that the values I was exposed to as a young boy are considered naive and no longer relevant. While the Old West portrayed in movies never really existed, the sense of duty and integrity embodied in old films reinforced the values my parents and church strove to instill in me.