"The ones who love us best
Are the ones we lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones who love us least
Are the ones we'll die to please
If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand it."
Heaven forbid we should make a rational choice. Because, of course, rational, counter-intuitive thinking has never gotten us anywhere. Not anywhere that we remember, at least, while our lizard-brains are in charge. It might be worthwhile, though, to remember that for the last few ten-million years, the mammals have been in charge.
Jennifer Loviglio wants an SUV. She wants it because she wants to feel safe:
.... I want an SUV. I want to be safe. Last month I totaled my old Volvo in a scary accident, and at that moment everything changed.
It was late afternoon and the weather was fine --- dry roads, good visibility. I was driving along East Avenue and without warning a young driver in a Honda made an illegal left across traffic. I hit the brakes but it was too late. The awful metal smash. The explosion of airbags with their acrid smoke and debris. My son screaming in the backseat.
The car lurched onto the sidewalk and we got out fast. No one was hurt. ....
... and yet, she still wants her SUV.
She's test driven them, and she felt that tendency to roll over; she felt it as even more pronounced in the full-sized SUV, but she still wants "8,600 pounds of metal between my boys and the other cars."
She wants those 8,600 pounds because she wants to feel safe, not because she wants to be safe. In fact, she knows she'll be less safe:
In larger SUVs, that top-heavy pull is even stronger. And yet, even though I know better, it does feel safe up there. A couple of years ago, in a New Yorker article about SUVs by Malcolm Gladwell, an industry expert pointed out that this paradox is common. On an intellectual level people know taller vehicles have a greater chance of a rollover, but on what he calls the "reptilian level," consumers think "if I am bigger and taller I'm safer."
The article also shows how SUVs take much longer to stop and are difficult to steer even at moderate speeds, whereas sporty little cars with their better handling can avoid potential collisions at speeds upwards of 50 miles an hour. It makes the case that a smaller car, which could be crushed by an SUV, might nonetheless be a safer vehicle because of its maneuverability. Still, though, if I'm going to hit something --- God forbid --- I'd rather be in a tank.
Of course, the rational thing to do would be to check the crash test ratings for various models, or even just buy another Volvo. The first one served her well: The much-lauded Volvo space frame did its job, the airbags worked, and no one was hurt. And in the unlikely event of a rollover, there are few cars in current manufacture that will keep her family safer than a Volvo.
But this isn't a rational issue, it's a "maternal gene" [sic] kicking in. And we all know, don't we, that it's "crucial" (by which she clearly means 'forgivable') to obey the yearnings that we think are wired into our genes.
Which is to say, to be good and conscientious parents -- well, mothers, really, since "paternal genes" aren't under discussion -- we must always obey our lizard brains. Heaven forbid we think for a moment with our mammalian brains.
My sister went off the road one time and rolled her car. She was on her way to church on Sunday evening, with her two year old son and a bunch of warm pumpkin pies in the back seat. When her '73 Saab 99 settled back onto its wheels, she felt something warm and sticky on her head; but it was only pumpkin pie, and Luke was screaming that frightened but unhurt scream from his fiberglass car seat.
Luke is now 25 and a father of two. The much-lauded Saab roll-cage had done its job. The next day, once he'd arranged to have the wreck (which still at least looked driveable) towed back to the house, Luke's father Tim was on the phone looking for a new-used Saab to replace it with.
That was Tim's mammalian brain -- his "paternal gene" [sic] -- working. He wanted his family to be safe.
And after all, the mammals are in charge, now.