Argument:American preference for SUVs is a sign of paranoia

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Note: an argument organizes evidence, it does not take any particular political position. An argument unlike a position or claim is in neutral point of view.

It's often hinted or assumed that American preference for the SUV and - depending on the model - the minivan - is a sign of some kind of mental health issue such as paranoia.

For instance, an SUV may be likened to an armoured vehicle, which is entirely fair if the vehicle is a Hummer or another military adapted vehicle like the Mercedes ML, initially a German military design, and consumes extraordinary amounts of fuel due to a overly heavy chassis and huge engine. Such vehicles are in fact designed to give extreme physical protection to their inhabitants at the direct cost of anyone who might be struck by them. The value of life of persons outside such vehicles, especially pedestrians and bicyclists in their path, is reduced compared to those of the driver and passengers. Killing pedestrians and bicyclists by driving such vehicles, especially in urban areas, is sometimes justified by a form of paranoia that the safety of the children of the driver requires such human sacrifice. So very large or heavy vehicles, especially in the hands of persons with paranoic tendencies regarding their children, may well be signs of mental health issues, especially if those children also ride bicycles or skateboards or rollerblades and get in the way of other parents' large and heavy vehicles.

Likewise, where risk of asthma from smog exceeds that of death in car crashes, it is provably irresponsible for parents to prefer SUVs - though they will argue from short term selfish perspectives that they need the SUV to rush their child to the hospital fast. Canadian scientist David Suzuki uses this exact example in his talks about bad risk management.

Another aspect of SUV usage which may be described as paranoic is the large passenger capacity which may indicate fear of relying on someone else's whims to move around or move goods or children. But this is problematic to assume is a sign of poor mental health as there are rational reasons to prefer this large capacity: s/he may have to move children around a lot. Also, s/he who has the largest passenger capacity is most likely to be driving a group on a longer trip, and thus gains control over details of the trip. If the group is chipping in for fuel or the driver might be excluded if they weren't driving, this might be a rational way to buy one's way into a social circle, especially if one is paranoid or simply unpopular. Nonetheless, there may be profound costs associated with becoming a shuttle or bus driver for a larger group of people, most of which are unaccounted for. Insurance, maintenance and mileage on the vehicle for instance won't be paid for by casual passengers, even if fuel is, which is quite different than for a taxi.

Riding higher on the road and surveying further ahead is another often cited reason. But ordinary passenger vehicles let people look forward the requisite eight seconds easily. For very short persons this may be a rational answer to concerns that they are paranoic. Also short persons can use seat cushions to sit up and gain height.

Finally there is the question of whether Americans feel cheated if they don't burn a certain amount of fuel, and whether they think they will end up in a lower economic class if they don't. This is an old question.

In Energy and Equity, 1975, Ivan Illich argued (on page 29 of that book) that "as societies put price tags on time, equity and vehicular speed correlate inversely." That "transport made of man a new kind of waif: a being constantly absent from a destination he cannot reach on his own but must reach within the day." Thus becoming addicted to transport. As with all addictions, then, threat of removal would engender fear and paranoia of social exclusion, lost economic opportunity and lost well-being. If this is true, then, the paranoia is not the individual's, but that of the whole society.

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