They were talking about the new self-driving cars on the radio; cars that will have no visible controls whatsoever. The new vehicles have no brake, no steering wheel, no gas pedal, no manual functions left over for human intervention. Just voice command and a vast central control system, given over to another power. You get in the car, tell it where you want to go, sit back and enjoy the perfect ride.
The perfect ride is supposed to be guaranteed. Technophiles love the idea. It will make traffic safe and predictable, and it will lower commuter stress and eliminate road rage. Insurance companies are also excited. In a rational world it is what everyone should want…. if we were rational.
Still, I think most people do not feel entirely comfortable with the self-driving model. The irrational voice inside my head cannot be persuaded and it is on a low-pitched scream. There is something in me that right or wrong, wants to risk choosing. It’s the part of me that is most human, as we are primarily creatures of will. We want the ends that will come by our own means, whatever those may be.
Something as simple as driving, is apparently an existential problem, one of being. You cannot simply be, without involving the will. Such passivity does not sit well with the human spirit, which harbours some hidden desire to contend with itself.
In the pantheon of philosophers, no one picked at this human scab better than Søren Kierkegaard. In his journals he pondered,“How did I get into this and how do I get out of it again; how does it end?” That’s a lot of how’s. Existential philosophers like Kierkegaard dealt with the problem of BEING. Because of choice, being is never passive. If we are to be, just WHAT are we to be? If we choose or don’t choose we are still in the same soup. We cannot escape it by not choosing, because to NOT choose is also a choice.
It’s the problem of THE RIDE. It’s not a technological equation, it’s entirely human, a problem common to Man. The problem of being is made more complicated by our finitude. Someday we will end, and from all that we know, some things will remain, or pass away forever. Leo Tolstoy asked in his book A Confession “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?”
And so our choices come down to the issue of significance. What will our lives mean? It’s an enormous responsibility, one that most people don’t really want to think about. It is why the whir of the entertainment industry so successfully keeps us distracted. We avoid having to think too hard. It’s the ride without the thought and effort “getting there” seems to call for.
What survives us, and how do we survive? In Christianity the operating idea is that we live and die daily. Something old dies and something new lives on. We die incrementally to ourselves, and live on to bigger and better things. For Christians, there is a vision of our selves, made over as God sees us. Our perfect selves, made over daily by the renewing of our minds in Christ, and by the choices that we make. And so the question coming into the new year is one of choice and being. What dies and what will live on?
What will become of us? What we will become might be the bigger issue. It’s the question of the ride. It’s the question we all ask ourselves exiting and entering a new year. What changes, and what am I going to change? It’s much more than simply getting there. It comes down to choice.
Welcome to the ride. Have fun. Even if you don’t sit back and relax.