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Home Important Posts Tech The Flying Car Culture

The Flying Car Culture

Every now and then a hobbyist inspired by splashy magazine covers featuring art deco cities and soaring vehicles full of the cheerful people of the future puts together a flying car. The result is noted chiefly for its novelty and then everyone moves along because we aren't a flying car culture. From the bottom up we might long to soar above the highways, but from the top down we are a light rail culture, a biodegradable house culture and a guard rail culture.

For the people at the top the flying car should be able to fit in a closet, have a minimal carbon footprint, run on the tears of Third World children and not fly. It should be the sort of thing that you can leave outside a vegan tofu restaurant in Portland in order to shame working class truck drivers. That is if you have to have a car at all, rather than a bike and a light rail pass.

The flying car belonged to an America at a crossroads. A nation tiptoeing between the adventure of innovation and the progressive order of the nanny state. Since then the car has driven us to this future that we have now. A world in which we have an expanding poorly managed government that oversees everything and an innovation culture chiefly confined to building a complex social environment within a data infrastructure built on Cold War communications technology. Or as some still call it, the internet.

Flying cars don't have much of a place in a society with emissions standards, mandatory child seats, heavily taxed gasoline and government motor companies. They have even less of a place in one that banned the lawn dart, requires photo ID's to purchase cough syrup and treats toothpaste as a weapon. America has gone from a nation that idealized freedom and treated the car as a vehicle of autonomy to one overrun by central planners still dreaming of the perfect national rail system that no one will use, because unlike its graceful forebears, but like everything overseen by the humanitarian bureaucracy it will be designed to crush the human spirit.

We don't have flying cars for the same reason that we don't any skyscrapers built in the last few decades worth mentioning or moon colonies, monuments, frontiers or anything that a latter day civilization could dig up and admire. There are skyscrapers still going up in American cities, if you haven't heard of them that's because they're self-effacing LEED compliant glass angular shapes that you forget even while you're looking at them. Even their ugliness is not stark enough to commit them to memory.

And of course they aren't very tall. Tallness like flying cars and the ambition to do anything but put out press releases is unsustainable. They do have a sense of the future to them, but an undramatic one, a future in which everything has been done and everyone sits around in glass boxes, pondering the state of their ennui and admiring the architect for putting an unnecessary asymmetrical triangle at the top of the glass box to remind us that the world dies every time we buy non-locally grown produce.

There is still an ambition to make large things. If the Chrysler and Empire State buildings don't make it to the next era, the stone age dwellers of the future can still marvel over the edifices of our countless government offices, temples of stone and steel filling the land, rope lines through which men trudged, in the opinion of future archeologists to participate in arcane rites or perhaps lining up to be human sacrifices. And they won't be entirely wrong.

We still build things, like affordable housing, government offices and memorials to multicultural heroes, we just don't build anything that matters or that lasts. There is no room in the massive fragmented tower of babel for anything but personal ambition and collective ideology. Nothing is made for the ages, we're lucky if most of what we make lasts till tomorrow. 

The vision of bigness that we have is confined to mapping and running a large society. There is no room for individualism within that vision, no towers built to mean something, no vehicles of personal autonomy. It is all about integrating, the endless search for a solution to the puzzle of making all the individual pieces work as perfect cogs in the machine. And that's done by smoothing out the rough human edges so that they all fit together.

There are few personal statements anymore, only approved expressions of social values, even if they come in a grotesque incomprehensible form. Beauty is out, social criticism is in. Making people feel bad with an expression of personal ambition is selfish, making them feel bad with social criticism is good. And since the only people who get it feel good about it, it's all for the greater good of selfishly rooting out selfishness in others.

We have become a culture run by committees and if nothing ever really gets done, if trillions of dollars are spent and vanish without a trace, that is only to be expected. The innovation that we still have is personal, individual. Apple failed as a company until it brought back the eccentric monomaniacal vision of Steve Jobs, whose neurotic impulses turned it into the biggest company in the world. Its mobile success was driven by the individualistic tinkering of app developers, much like the internet's explosion was made possibly not by Al Gore, but by individual obsessive innovations.

Those obsessions can create a programming language like Ruby or a flying car, but it's much harder to get a society to adopt the latter than the former. Innovation succeeds by outpacing committees who blink in bafflement at it or run to catch up. Had the committees understood what the internet would become, they would have killed it back when that was still possible. But flying cars are easy to kill. In the society that the committees have created, the flying car is a non-starter. The conference attendees sitting around tables aren't plotting to kill the flying car, they're plotting to kill the car.

Flying cars are dangerous. Imagine the accidents, imagine the lawsuits. An elite which panics at a child's drawing of a gun or a new Army recruit illegally drinking a beer is in no shape to cope with a crazy world of flying cars. At least not without a prolonged debate on whether the flying car is a phallic or yonic symbol and how it will impact minority representation in congress, not to mention the obesity epidemic, the self-esteem of gay teenagers and the plight of Guatemalan farmers.

A flying car disrupts the larger scheme of things which requires us to make do with less, to take the carpool lane, not to take to the sky. It distracts us from constantly repeating to ourselves that we are the problem, that the automobile is a pestilent plague, and that we are destroying the planet by not listening to our jet setting better's green household tips.

Is there any place for a flying car in a low flow toilet culture? Yes there is, as a reminder of what we can't have so long as the latter isn't being flushed along with the entire corrupt lunatic establishment and its single-minded grip on power.

We can't have flying cars and constant media panics. We can't have flying cars and a man in the White House who is determined to reengineer our society by raising the price of energy. We can't have flying cars and regulations on everything. We can't have flying cars and Lawsuits R' Us. We can't have flying cars and the idea that every time we take a breath we are destroying the planet.

There's a basic choice to be made of the kind of society we want. The FDR to Ike to JFK road we have traveled has foreclosed a great many of those options. They turned the fantastic visions of the future into a limited one where we can innovate so long as we do it on our computer and before the legislative window finally closes on the internet.

The science fiction vision that dominates our culture isn't that of the flying car or the spaceship, it's of the apocalypse, a secular armageddon created by our own irresponsible use of technology. The Warmunists are nothing more than villagers with PhD's still chasing Frankenstein, except that we are now all Frankie, living in a world where it takes a village to raise a transgender multiracial child and torch the reactionary monsters who still haven't had their criminal brains swapped out for progressive craniums with lower sustainable capacity and an automatic dimmer switch for Earth Day.

A country of flying cars is as terrifying to such people as a plague of zombies or the end of the mainstream media. It's outside the box that is being built around us with every law, every new behavior manual and government mandate. Flying is too much like escaping, taking to the air, out of reach of EPA SWAT teams, hectoring anchormen, bickering congressmen and the entire last days of Rome anthill underfoot.

Escape is a dangerous thing. Even the prospect of it gives people hope that there is a future outside the box. And so we may briefly be allowed to look at a flying car, before we head out with our 3-1-1 toothpaste to the TSA, our health insurance bought, our earphones turned to NPR where there is a discussion on how Republican budget cuts are undermining the traditional Native American art of woodcarving. So long as we don't get any ideas about flying away.


  1. For your info: a Dutch friend of mine is involved in the development of a two seater flying car in the Netherlands and the endeavour is already past the flying test stage. They did of course have to cope with strict quality regulations but not project stifling ones even in social justice/entitlement-paradise/regulations haven Holland.

  2. Anonymous29/4/12

    The United States had a great run. We ushered in the industrial revolution, freed black slaves by our own hands, pioneered the assembly line, laughed at ourselves with Mark Twain, and had the gumption and tenacity to reach the moon. (I'm sure I've left out some meaningful bits of history significant to most of you...)

    In my humble opinion we are done. I use to love this country-now for the most part I find it a giant POS.

    We are coming to a point where over half of the electorate nurses on the other 1/2's efforts.Our government and leaders have taken to the bath houses and have given our populace what they deserve.

    If ever a nation screwed the pooch-this is it.

    I'm bitter and angry. As sad as this sounds, perhaps it will be better if Obama gets re-elected. It will just hasten our demise.

    Sultan...didn't anyone ever tell you that all good things have to end?

    We as a nation are a stagnant turd waiting to be flushed.

    If my optimism hasspoiled your day-we haven't seen anything yet. Greece-here we come!


  3. Mark O'Brien29/4/12

    Knish you make me sick.
    You know you can mock all you want but NPR is the lifeblood of this nation and when it finally is off the air due to the interference and hatred of Rush Limbaugh and his cronism, you will see how fast the USA devolves into fascistic nightmare time.
    Native American wood carving? Why you racism pantywaist you. You Petunia boy. What do you know about American Indian culture? You couldnt carve your way out of a turkey with a buzz saw.
    You laugh at great men like JFK and FDR and LBJ and UCK, but I say to you verily that the day will come when you will be bowing down at the feet of such men.
    Boo Hiss on your nasty post.
    By the way, I subscribe to Mechanics and love it. Glad to see such a nice old cover.
    Yet that in no way diminishes my contempt for your rightwing Fascism.

  4. Nicely written.

    I want a flying car!

  5. Anonymous29/4/12

    This isn't a flying car company ?

  6. Mark o'Brian shows all the typical characterizations of the present day left: Insulting, ignorant and completely devoid of sense of humor. He has neither the civility to be courteous nor comes with any honest facts to support his disagreement, labels a conservative right away as a fascist, in short he is the prototype of the "occupy scum" extreme left.

  7. Anonymous29/4/12

    Mark O'Brian was playing a liberal, he probably isn't one in real life. His performance was a little over the top even for a lib.

  8. Anonymous29/4/12

    A US company, Planetary Resources, this week unveiled its plans to begin mining the solar systems asteroid belt for platinum grade metals. On May 7, if all goes well, the first ever private US spacecraft (SpaceX's Falcon 9) will blast off to dock with the International Space Station, effectively marking the end of the big government model of human spaceflight and likely opening the solar system to the grasp of private individuals. SpaceX has ultimate aims for fast effective human Mars exploration - a new West amidst the heavens. There are many reasons for hope. One of my biggest hopes is that a stray stony- Iron asteroid may escape the influence of its Hall thruster equipped mining tug and vaporize Mecca.

  9. What? No DeLorean flying cars from Back to the Future? No Marty McFly or Doc?

    Mark O'Brien snarked on about our fascist future. Doesn’t he realize that it’s always the left that ushers in such a phenomenon? Hitler was a leftie, so was Mussolini. That the American left has been hounding the country to go that direction ever since the hippies took over the Democratic Party decades ago? Scratch a fascist, and you’ll find a left-winger. Scratch a liberal, and you’ll find a kinder, gentler fascist hiding a club behind his back. A grinning Marty Kaplan who will explain all things to you while measuring you for your prison camp jump suit. He’s a very engaging fellow, and has only your best interests at heart. Flying cars are too dangerous, think of how many birds would be killed if you were allowed to fly at will and at leisure. Birds have rights, too, you know, he would explain. What about all those green-friendly wind turbines that are causing so many avian casualties? Well, we won’t talk about that now.

    You really have to wonder at the myopia of Mark O’Brien. Doesn’t he realize that Biff the Bully won, got the girl, and went into government service? Biff has been the left’s ally ever since JFK, no hero mine.

    Mr. O’Brien: Sultan Knish wasn’t mocking FDR or JFK or LBJ or any other statist, but pointing out their many and pernicious contributions to the diminishment of the American dream of personal independence, of chaining everyone to everyone else to an endless daisy chain of dependence. The New Left has progressed beyond that to chain everyone to the spotted owl and snail darter and wolf packs and rocks and trees, a kind of welfare state that not even the Romans could’ve imagined. The flying car theme is just a device on which to develop that theme.

  10. Anonymous29/4/12

    Ha! ( Mark O'Brien ) - apparently irony and hyperbole are dangerous weapons.
    It's kinda like carrying around a laser target designator - and POINTING IT AT YOURSELF.
    It could result in "friendly fire".

  11. Anonymous29/4/12


    Welcome to democracy.

    There's no substitute for a well educated and informed electorate.
    Unfortunately today, the majority of American voters are the same people you see in an episode of "JayWalking" with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.

  12. As you include the statement, "There are few personal statements anymore," you contradict yourself.
    But hey, that's ok. It's a free country, meshugginah.
    Btw, I just bought one--a flying car, that is--its called a "Vespa," and I love it, like having a new lease on life, even if I severely appreciate your excellent, truth-telling analyses, while still listening to NPR during the week because its filled with people, you know, talking to each other about stuff that matters, even if they are all pinheads.

  13. Edward:) Not to worry this country will stop pegging backwards and we'll have that Delorean to get back to the future.

    OT but I though Leonard Nimoy's speech abou the Enterprise in NYC was beautiful. It's kind of touching that President Ford changed the name of the shuttle to Enterprise in 1976.

    Live long and prosper.

    A police PIO I know used the saying on his answering machine but with special emphasis on the word AND. Live long AND prosper.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Though I find it difficult to conceive how a flying car would work in terms of practically, usability and running costs compared to a regular car and also do not believe we are on the verge of a Star Trek-like future, I do believe humanity at this point has the potential (if not the desire / money / etc) to eventually begin mining asteroids, making the desert bloom into habitable land (see Israel), eventually start colonising the oceans via something like Seasteading (with people finally having the freedom of another new frontier) and realising other futuristic ideas / megaprojects.

    One thing I will never forgive Leftists for is holding humanity back from realising its true potential and effectively cheating us out of the bright future we were promised or led to believe was just around the corner, due to the leftist tendency of cynically suppressing ideas / peoples / technology / etc that threaten their monopoly on power (while stealing / wasting other people's money) with usually catastrophic results (plus their anti-human notion of humanity being a disgusting plague that must be kept out of space etc).

    One cannot help but wonder how many inventions / technologies have been supressed or regulated out of existence, because it was beyond the left’s ability to control.

    Can one really imagine how the left, which amongst other things created a corrupt dystopic misandrist (unless one is muslim) society would react if it were announced one day that (to use a few examples) the artificial womb, non-hormonal male birth control pill or lifelike reverse-cyborg (human body with artificial brain that imo opinion are much more realistic and less disruptive then full-blown androids) were invented and sold to the public?

    We all know how the “religion of peace” would react at such news; they would literally kill off all their womenfolk in a mass gendercide.

  16. win the future. wtf?

  17. Anonymous29/4/12

    Gosh, Mr. Knish, that's quite troublingly cynical of you this time...(both of my brothers started flying airplanes just after they got their drivers licenses)
    BUT, they don't and NEVER will play soccer and this is far more an injustice than not flying one's car. Seriously, could you be more selfish?
    Much like taqiyyah, could we not use airplanes/flyingcars to advance Soccerslam? Should we not strive for a one-world soccerphate? Shouldn't your non-soccers be made to pay the socya? (Whether knowingly or unknowingly?)
    As you SHOULD know, there are literally millions of soccerfield-deserts throughout not just America, but the world. Personally, i've been 'informed' over and over and over again that soccer is the universal sport. If we could all just be, act, and think the same, then we would never have to have another war - we could just play soccer and solve ALL of those problems. Now if you won't bow down to that idea (at least five times a day), well then, you're just part of the problem. You and your individualism, rugged or otherwise, are gonna need some serious, rigorous 'practice'. And quite possibly, some community service work - IN the soccer-slam community.

    If the rugged individualists don't vote for the return to Freedom and Liberty and the Constitutional Rights and most stay home on the couch that first Tuesday in November and watch soccer, well, then, "We're ALL soc-heads, now!"

  18. "Escape is a dangerous thing. Even the prospect of it gives people hope that there is a future outside the box. And so we may briefly be allowed to look at a flying car, before we head out with our 3-1-1 toothpaste to the TSA, our health insurance bought, our earphones turned to NPR where there is a discussion on how Republican budget cuts are undermining the traditional Native American art of woodcarving. So long as we don't get any ideas about flying away."

    Hope deprivation:(

  19. Fanstasy Jester fantasy:)

    Or to quote from my favorite Earth Wind and Fire song Fantasy:

    "Every thought is a dream rushing by in a stream/brinning life to the kingdom of doing."

    The Left would pitch a fit if anyone tried to remake the songs with lyrics like this one has. How dare musicians plant seeds of wonder, joy, enchantment, and creativity in another generation lol.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Keliata

    Well, the left are not called killjoys for nothing.

    In a way, how the left constantly reinvents itself to keep power by remaining trendy / popular reminds me of a short story I once heard, where evil's ancient secret is revealed to be that it has no name of its own.

  22. Daniel, I emphatically agree that the societal problems you point out are real and pernicious, but they are not the reason we don't have flying cars: The engineering is darned difficult. See, for instance, here.

  23. Bill Jones30/4/12

    Anonymous said
    "We ushered in the industrial revolution, freed black slaves by our own hands"

    What a hoot:
    The Industrial revolution was, of course, born in England.
    Most countries had outlawed slavery before Lincoln used it as an excuse to crush the South.

    I'd be anonymous too, if I was peddling this bullshit.

  24. Just to claeify--when I wrote of enchantment and fantasy I didn't mean in an occult/New Age forbidden sense.

  25. "The Warmists are nothing more than villagers with PhD's still chasing Frankenstein, except that we are now all Frankie, living in a world where it takes a village to raise a transgender multiracial child and torch the reactionary monsters who still haven't had their criminal brains swapped out for progressive craniums with lower sustainable capacity and an automatic dimmer switch for Earth Day."

    HOLY COW!!! Is that the best line EVER, or what?!!!

    "living in a world where it takes a village to raise a transgender multiracial child"...

    Now THAT'S what I call "Modern day poetry!"

    Sultan, you should definitely apply for a Gubmint grant for some good 'ole "cowboy poetry - Harry Reid style" or something.

    Apply here: http://www.arts.gov/grants/apply/Lit/index.html

    No, seriously! You could try to apply in Canada! 60 grand is no small change either:

  26. Mark O'Brien said...
    "You know you can mock all you want but NPR is the lifeblood of this nation and when it finally is off the air due to the interference and hatred of Rush Limbaugh and his cronism, you will see how fast the USA devolves into fascistic nightmare time. "

    Are you serious? NPR is the lifeblood of this nation??? Please say your kidding. Or are you out of your friggin mind?
    "Rush Limbaugh and his cronism"
    Talk about cronies! Gubmint funding of NPR constitutes Crony Capitalism!!!
    Without NPR "the USA devolves into fascistic nightmare"???
    Dude, put down that pipe and step away slowly...

  27. Mark O'Brien7/5/12

    Abe! Why do you persecute me?
    I have a right to my opinion without being persecuted and called names by someone. How dare you curse at me and accuse me of doing illegal things.

  28. Dear Mark, you have a right to your opinion and I have the right to mock your ignorance and stupidity...

  29. Roadable airplane....not flying car. You need to be able to bank while landing. Yes, I am designing a "flying car" that is under motorcycle rules. When all is done, new engine included at 60% eff. it will be 1 Gallon equivalent of Nautural gas ($1/gallon) at 100 mph. That is 1 cent/mile. Road tax now is 2 cents/mile and should be 4 to pay for the road costs. At 200 mph it will be 4 cents/mile to fly....and you don't have to pay the road tax while in the air. Like flying with free fuel costs when you pay 4 cents for the "road" in the sky. The future is in the air....in class G airspace up to 1200 feet above ground. No control there. Land on unused road and even freeways when traffic is light. So, yes are are a few of us left.

  30. I commented on this article 10 years ago. I can't believe a decade has come and gone yet this article is more relevant than ever!
    Mister Greenfield, you are a true prophet!

    1. thank you, you got me to revisit it as well

      sadly we haven't changed course, we sped up


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