Slaves of the Combustion Engine

by Theodore Dalrymple (March 2016)

The motor car used to be a symbol of personal liberation. You could go anywhere you wanted, any time you wanted, without being tied to the timetable and destinations served by public transport. The wind, as it were, was in your hair thanks to the motor car. But increasingly in a small country such as Britain the car is an instrument almost of torture, a symbol of a peculiar kind of enslavement. It imposes financial costs on me that I cannot avoid however little I use it. In fact, I use my car as little as possible, and I pity those who have to drive to work every day.  more>>>


5 Responses

  1. No, Mr. Dalrymple, your’s is not the slowest lane. Mine is, by far. So you best hand over that bottle of water in your back seat.

  2. Dalrymple lightheartedly and jokingly says “It is one of the fundamental laws of the universe that, in any traffic jam, the traffic always moves quicker in the adjacent lanes”. At risk of being too serious about a light remark, may I point out that actually there is a good statistical reason for each person to expect that they are in the slow lane more often than they are in the fast lane.

    The reason for this phenomenon is that the speed of a lane is inversely proportional to the number of drivers in it (since if there are fewer drivers in a lane, one can move faster). So, occupants of slow lanes outnumber occupants of fast lanes, so in any given traffic jam, the median person is expected to be in a slow lane.

    To take an example: imagine 1000 drivers on a one-mile stretch of a two-lane highway. Because of random chance, or because of overeager lane switching, there may at one point be 600 drivers in one lane and 400 in the other. The lane with only 400 drivers will move faster, since there is on average more space between cars. The 600 drivers in the other lane will drive slower to avoid hitting each other in their relatively packed-together lane. Each of those 600 drivers will go home and complain to their families that they seem to be in the slow lane more often than not. And they are right: if that situation is repeated each evening, each driver has a 60% chance of being in the slow lane, so on average throughout their lives they are indeed more likely to be in the slow lane than in the fast one.

    With two lanes on the highway, one fast and one slow, a person may expect to have a 50/50 chance of being in the fast lane. But since the speed of the lane influences their chances of being in it, it is not a 50/50 coin toss. Some people have called this the Inspection Paradox, explained in this blog post:

    My comment is probably too serious and quite likely the author and most readers already realize what I have pointed out. Nevertheless I thought some people might find the idea interesting – even statistical science, it seems, is against us and dooms us to be in slow lanes throughout our lives! I will have to think more to explain Dalrymple’s observation that he is always seated near crying babies on planes…

  3. The mild paranoia of the article, as explained by B. Tuckfield, is probably one of the origins of paganism. And a cause of the “Paranoid style of politics”.

    In other words, I think it is of great significance to politics and the violence of drunkards.

  4. “Without the undertow of aggression” – What bus does Mr. Dalrymple frequent? Surely not in London, where you board the bus day and night fully expecting it to “kick off”.

  5. One reason why I prefer and enjoy living in New York City is that I need not own a car, which I find dangerous and unreliable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New English Review Press is a priceless cultural institution.
                              — Bruce Bawer

Order here or wherever books are sold.

The perfect gift for the history lover in your life. Order on Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon or Amazon UK or wherever books are sold

Order at Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold. 

Order at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Send this to a friend