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Old 6th July 2010, 00:45   #1
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Arrow WhyCar, the philosophy thread

So we have this huge section called WhatCar, but not much has been discussed on the topic ‘WhyCar’? Here is my attempt at beginning such a discussion (or reviving it, as such philosophical musings might have been discussed before – but possibly not under one single thread). I want to talk about ‘Why a Car’ from a philosophical perspective. Just to clarify, it could just as well be named ‘Why a Bike’, I am just using the first term for convenience’s sake.

Now. Of course there are so many reasons for ‘Why a car’: convenience, luxury, status, thrills, pride etc. But the reasons stop being so obvious once you start talking beyond materialistic objectives. To be sure, the very justification for a car becomes unsound if we talk beyond materialistic pursuits. So let’s not go completely ascetic, but instead try to breakdown car purchase or ownership as much as possible.

1) More Car Per Car
People buy bigger / more expensive cars for several reasons, however the reason in the end always boils down to this: ‘more’. You get more power for the extra quid, or more comforts, or more space, or more anything tangible. Sometimes it is more intangibles like 'status' too. My point in stating that first up is that, if you believe it to be very natural that you should desire or aspire for ‘more’, then the point 2 coming up below becomes kind of irrelevant. So, we will be on the same frequency for the following section if you are willing to challenge the notion: “Isn’t it obvious that I want more out of a car”.

2) Do you ever think you could have ‘All the car you need’
If you are willing to challenge that notion above, you might reach the point ‘There is something called All the car I need’. I am happy with this car, it gives me most things, now I don't need more. Happened to anyone, or thought occurred to anyone?

I think this might happen lesser towards the bottom half of the market, because each additional step-up brings in loads of ‘more’. A Santro may bring in many more tangible and intangible benefits over an 800. Ditto SX4 over Santro, or Accord over SX4. But how much more do you get out of a Bentley over, say, an S-Class? Or out of a Rolls Royce Phantom over a Rolls Royce Ghost? I hope you will appreciate from the examples that the marginal utility clearly diminishes as we go further up. The two luxury car examples may further point out that the intangible ‘status’ becomes increasingly the differentiator when you keep buying more expensive cars even if you are at stratospheric levels. Thus I think its fair to say ‘All the car I need’ becomes very very difficult to imagine for a guy buying for luxury and status.

But I don't think its an easy escape even for ‘pure’ driving enthusiasts. Beemer owners, wouldn't you be able to live with, say, Cedias or Fiesta 1.6Ss or Civics? Similarly, real mud-pluggers, you could always get yourself a nice 70s/80s Defender, the Godfather of offroaders – do you really need a new X-Trail or Range Rover? You might say, there is just that bit of additional performance in the more expensive option. Granted, but frankly, is the additional performance the only reason you plumped in for the more expensive ride? When it comes to superbike owners, did you really buy a liter class bike over a 600cc for that wee bit of additional power? That additional power that you can tap into maybe once in a blue moon on Indian roads? Or lets talk Ferrari 360 Modena versus Enzo Ferrari. 0-100 might be 3.9s in one car, 3.7 in the other. Its manic, if you really can feel that strongly about that wee bit of additional power. So, is there no ‘all the car I need’ for driving enthusiasts either? I put the term 'pure' up there at the beginning of the para under quotes, and the next point will hopefully be able to bring that up as a discussion point.

3) (Joy of Usage) vs (Pride of Ownership)
The joy of driving an automobile can be quite nice. Wind in your hair and sand in your feet and all that. You feel connected to the road etc. But is it so innocent? Pure driving joy does happen a lot, but I think there is more to it quite often. I think that a lot of times, the joy our cars give us is derived more from the Pride of us owning them, than the joy we get from driving them. A moment to digest that.

Ok, what is wrong in pride you say? Well spiritually speaking, the joy of driving is also a sensory pleasure, eventually to be renounced along the path to moksha. However it could still classify as a ‘pure’ pleasure (I think), harmless in a way to everyone but you yourself. Whereas Pride is not pure in that fashion. Think about it: what does pride really mean? If I am proud of something, it means that I take pleasure in the fact that I have something that you don't. Dangerous territory for a spiritually inclined person!

So tell me, how many times does your car/bike actually give you pleasure while using it, and how many times do you end up plainly admiring it and taking pride in the fact that its yours. And when you bought a car for say, 10 lacs, did you derive pleasure from the anticipated future moments of joy while driving it, or from the very-much-current pleasant sensation of owning it? If you disagree, tell me, is buying a car similar to getting yourself say, a dog? In case of the dog, would you only be happy about the anticipated moments of pleasure with him, or would you also take pride that you got some exotic breed which few people have? (Lets keep the showcase dog purchases out of this). I think cars are queer in that way.

4) Nuts about cars? How about the nuts and bolts? And how about a feeling called attachment?
I read this book once: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance*. Another time I watched this movie: The Motorcycle Diaries. I personally have done nothing of those sorts, but these two works of art did get me thinking: when is man truly connected to machine? I call myself a car fanatic, but I wouldn't be able to change a spark plug if you asked me to. So is my ‘love’ true at all then? Sitting inside an air conditioned car (safe and dry and comfortable) vrooming away till the heart is filled, but not knowing a thing about how the machine works. Else, revving away to glory on a modern bike, no oils or brake fluids or lubricants to worry about (and even if they do fail, I will just get 24x7 assistance to help me out). Is this really a true car/bike experience, or am I in truth just disconnected? Just speeding along, enjoying the feeling of speed and taking pride in the fact that this machine is mine (loops back to point 3). Fill it shut it forget it. Uncanny words.

Secondly, automobiles began life as fickle creatures, to be pampered and listened to. Just like the animals that used to be our friends in agrarian and forest settings centuries past. But now these automobiles have become appliances, similar to toasters or dishwashers. Not much character (applies to most of them, there will always be exceptions). So instead of keeping one trustworthy wolf always by our sled, we now seem to be doing the equivalent of selling away our wolves and getting ourselves bigger and better wolves every 3 years. Use it, trash it, replace it and junk it. Is it true love then, if the attachment is that low?
(I am not sure if that last bit was fair to say, so feel free to flame me – through rational arguments though )

*I cannot claim that I understood it all. However it did leave a mark on my thoughts, as you can see. Its time to revisit that book again


Author notes
  • Couldn't figure out where this thread belongs. Mods feel free to push it around.
  • Please note I am personally not taking any kind of spiritual high ground. I am just a regular guy, whose actions are in fact not necessarily congruent with his thoughts (so far!).
  • If you have thoughts about all of these topics, brilliant! Feel free to the topics reply one at a time else your posts might become just as unwieldy as mine!
  • I have kept aside a couple of other topics for later. As it is I think there has been too much front loading. I have taken overkill risks, but at the same time I hope it might help simulate members to muse and discuss. But you never know right – this thread might die a quick, short death. Lets see.
  • BTW the upcoming topics are titled
    1. Beauty and the car enthusiast – do you find recluse in an inanimate object?
    2. Travel and Automobiles
    3. Are women from Venus and men from Mars, when it comes to things like Cars? [OT]
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Old 6th July 2010, 01:22   #2
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Hey Buddha,

Now that is something I never thought I would say, hey Buddha i.e.

I walked down this road, once.
And this old post of mine still holds true with regard to me and my car.


Quote:
Originally Posted by bblost View Post
Yesterday I started this thread.
Putting down in words the thoughts that were running thru my head.

But.

I drove back home after office.
The traffic was heavy as usual. some trance playing on the ICE.
The cabin silent as usual and the mood setting in right.
The roads appearing on the windscreen and disappearing in the rear views.
My car spoke to me.
I cannot change her.
Maybe I need to get my thoughts set in straight.
Apologies to my car and terms of endearment again.

Flashes of the highways she has taken me thru.
Momenst spent in her alone and with my loved ones.
My nephew crying, my neice smiling.
My neice sitting with pillows on the lap in the center of the rear seat.
Picking up my parents from the station.
The look on my dad when I arrived home in Chennai.
My wife getting angry and then getting happy when I suprise her by driving on to necklace road.
The trauma that accompanied the first scratch.
Anger at the first traffic nudge.
Changing the flat tire on a hot summer afternoon just after lunch.
Driving to an ice cream spot with barely any money.
Searching for a petrol bunk in the middle of nowhere.

I love my car. She loves me.
Somethings don't add up in money terms.
I would request the mods to close this thread.
But it has some fine comments and great points in it.
It will help anyone who might walk the same road.

My weekend is set.
Wash - Wax - Detail.
My offering of love.

For my bike, I don't even need to start it, heck i don't even need to sit on it, I just close my eyes and I am in love all over again.
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Old 6th July 2010, 02:15   #3
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Wow.

The cruel would call you sentimental where they would call me airheaded. But I think in the end, you have forged your values from the richness of life, while I have only had the chance to form mine from bare thoughts. Thankfully I dont think I am way off the mark. Carry on with your experiences mate, and here's hoping I can collect a few warm ones myself!
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Old 6th July 2010, 10:03   #4
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Hariya is not a Scorpio, and neither is Don, a Bullet. They are my family members, brought into the family, not by financial or other calculations but by impulse, instinct and, something else, which is hard to explain.
I know most of their organs, their functions and am with them and their doctors when they go in for a check up, administering whatever little I can to make them feel close to me.

More to come....
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Old 6th July 2010, 10:27   #5
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Is the consumer determining the market? Or is it otherwise?
Do i design my car?
What is the 'my' in the my car then?
Personification of machinery.
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Old 6th July 2010, 10:43   #6
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One of my favorite Zen stories is about a Zen Master. His disciples spoke very highly of him because when he was eating, he ate and when he was sleeping, he slept.

Love that one.

I would just expand that into, when he was driving, he drove and when he was riding, he rode.

Last edited by bblost : 6th July 2010 at 10:44.
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Old 6th July 2010, 13:59   #7
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Ever thought what will the city folks do if there are no motors/banks apart from governance? I guess more than 30% people are into auto and auto related world!! So there lies the story behind man and his manhood? Hmm..
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Old 6th July 2010, 14:15   #8
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In the olden days, men loved their horses and their elephants. Today, they love their automobiles. It is not possible to reason it out. Maybe a sense of gratefulness for being an 'ayudha' or 'vahana'. Of course, most people on this forum take that to an unbelievable extent
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Old 6th July 2010, 14:47   #9
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Buddha,
I actually reason with you and those questions have crossed my mind quite often.
Why should I spend Rs. 1cr on a S Class, when I can buy the Superb at 25% of the cost and get the exact requirements met? Heck, I was trying to convince my parents to sell of the E Class and get a year old Superb which offers more space and is newer!
However, they reasoned, what is the point of studying so much, and working so hard, to get a good job, when you can't enjoy the benefits?

What you are saying is along the lines that since it is technically possible for a 4 member family to live in a studio apartment, why spend more on a 2BHK or 3BHK apartment? The only advantage is more privacy, but anything else? Is the privacy worth the additional crores of rupees?

Why earn the money, when you can't spend it? If you don't spend it, what do you do with it? Put it in a bank, so it can be lent out to others to spend it?
Charity is one option, and we have invested a lot in charitable organizations and hospitals and schools.
But at the same time, we live once, and we should listen to our heart, and spend on ourself too. If you can afford it, why not experience it? Do you want to feel your heart ache every time the BMW passes by your Fiesta, specially since you know you could afford to drive it?

Personally, I believe in saving money and cutting costs too. I also believe in buying the best object that will meet my needs in my budget. So if the S Class has a better ride than the Superb, and my budget is 1Cr., why not? However, at the end of the day, what really makes the decision is the heart. The mind simple selects a few options, and the heart chooses the one it likes the best.

Hope I am making sense!

P.S. congrats on the fiesta. She is a beauty! Waiting to see the new mods!
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Old 6th July 2010, 22:13   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rpmx1000 View Post
In the olden days, men loved their horses and their elephants. Today, they love their automobiles. It is not possible to reason it out. Maybe a sense of gratefulness for being an 'ayudha' or 'vahana'. Of course, most people on this forum take that to an unbelievable extent
. I think you got it spot-on!

I think men's obsession with vehicles and gadgets is an expression of something deep-rooted. Perhaps it was the horses, knives, bows and arrows in ancient times. It is the same psychological factor that makes men obsess over gadgets and vehicles.
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Old 7th July 2010, 12:16   #11
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I completely agree with Lamborghini says but the point is this: Am I buying something because I need it or because I want it? How do I define and differentiate between a need and a want?

That is one question which I feel is hard to answer. Let me quote my own example here in honest confession.
I am, these days, very much interested about the Fortuner. I know what I need. I need a go anywhere manual 4 wheel drive vehicle which runs on diesel and can carry 5 people in comfort. Now, I introspect:
How many times in a year will I use the 4WD?
How many times in a year will I go trail/dune bashing?
How many times in a year will I go to Ladakh/NE/RJ/?
How many times in a year will I even go to Coorg?

So, by my needs, my 2WD Scorpio is more than sufficient for 90-95% of my requirements, yet I lust for a 4WD costing thrice as much as my current vehicle.
Why, is something I asked myself and the only answer I got was "I intend to cover 100% of my needs, not even 95%"...Probably that is why.No?

Thoughts please...
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Old 7th July 2010, 13:13   #12
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This topic is so vast; however at this moment I am focusing on one thought that comes to my mind - What if you had all the money in the world and could buy any car you wanted? Obviously, you will start with your "dream car" and then go on "exploring" the best machines there are till you exhaust the list. You would have reached "car nirvana". But what then? In contrast, the joy of your dad's/uncle's/elder brother's Bajaj Super/RX100 handed down to you - your first motorised vehicle is irreplecable. Or for that matter the first car/bike you buy with your own money.

More later
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Old 7th July 2010, 13:14   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by n.devdath View Post
I completely agree with Lamborghini says but the point is this: Am I buying something because I need it or because I want it? How do I define and differentiate between a need and a want?

That is one question which I feel is hard to answer. Let me quote my own example here in honest confession.
I am, these days, very much interested about the Fortuner. I know what I need. I need a go anywhere manual 4 wheel drive vehicle which runs on diesel and can carry 5 people in comfort. Now, I introspect:
How many times in a year will I use the 4WD?
How many times in a year will I go trail/dune bashing?
How many times in a year will I go to Ladakh/NE/RJ/?
How many times in a year will I even go to Coorg?

So, by my needs, my 2WD Scorpio is more than sufficient for 90-95% of my requirements, yet I lust for a 4WD costing thrice as much as my current vehicle.
Why, is something I asked myself and the only answer I got was "I intend to cover 100% of my needs, not even 95%"...Probably that is why.No?

Thoughts please...
Because we can never possess everything, we always want more. Car , house etc are most visible symbols of our hedonistic needs. Needs become wants with external influences.
The idea that "whatever we have, or however much we have, is never enough" is the source of eternal debate.
But they are also immediate source of achievement, satisfaction, meaningful derivation of life & hunt for something bigger than others.
Just my 2 cents
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Old 7th July 2010, 15:18   #14
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Buddha, a brilliant thread!

Altough you have primarily focussed on the Automobiles, but most of the musings do apply perfectly to the general "stuff that we buy" in the material world; be it apartments, cell phones, flat-screen TVs, laptops, watches, cloths.

The first 2 points about the desire for 'more' and there being no upper-limit to the 'more' that one can desire, is a constant struggle with me personally. When I see my dad and mom living happily with less than 6000 Rs monthly expenditure, I really wonder if there is any point in me 'want'ing 10 times more money than the reasltic 'need'. Of course, my parents' needs at this juncture in their life are entirely different than my own family's needs as of now. But, the tendancy to spend money when you can afford it, eventually converts many 'wants' into 'needs'. And that I believe, is a dangerous tendency.

Your third point about Joy-Of-Usage v/s Pride-Of-Ownership is indeed very deep and nicely articulated. In fact, besides being applicable at the top-most level of Joy-of-using-a-car v/s Pride-of-owning-a-car, it does apply beautifully to a layer below (Joy-of-using-a-particular-feature v/s Pride-of-having-that-particular-feature) as well as to other areas of material possesions. How many people with a lake-view or sea-view have actually spent even 10 minutes in a month admiring the view? On a sidenote, sometimes there is no possibility of getting any joy-of-usage and the decision is purely on Pride-of-Ownership. e.g. how many people bought 3G phones when 3G airwaves were not even auctioned? Is it the pride-of-ownership or is it called living on the bleeding-edge of technology?

Your 4th point about 'really' caring and 'being attached', took me by surprise as I have never thought on this line before. I have always assumed that if you are 'nuts' about anything, the 'caring' and 'attachment' are a given. And I believe that is what explains the people who own classics and vintage cars. But you are right, the 'use and throw' culture is very prominent. Cars have become mere 'objects' to be consumed and forgotten. On a separate note, aren't relationships and marriages going the same way?

I am done with 'reacting' to your views and let me now state what I think.
I believe that inspite of large the number of mechnical, hydrolic and electrical parts that go into making a car, the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. Although a car is a machine meant for a specifc function, it does stand for a thousand other things which are specifc to the owner/prospective-buyer. You have mentioned a few of them like convenience, luxury, status, thrills, pride.
For me personally, a car symbolises freedom.
- It means that I can go anywhere I want (and stop wherever I want) at whatever time I want without really be constrained by the schedule of a bus or a train.
- It means that when I need to go somewhere, I don't need to plead with a auto-driver
- It means that I don't have to compromise on my personal space even when I travel
- It means that I have somebody reliable, if I need to rush somebody to the hospital in the middle of night
- It means that my kids can sleep comfortably flat on their back even during long travels
And that, my friend, is 'why' I have a car!

Last edited by SDP : 7th July 2010 at 15:23.
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Old 10th July 2010, 21:52   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bblost View Post
One of my favorite Zen stories is about a Zen Master. His disciples spoke very highly of him because when he was eating, he ate and when he was sleeping, he slept.

Love that one.

I would just expand that into, when he was driving, he drove and when he was riding, he rode.
Simple yet profound. I like.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rpmx1000 View Post
In the olden days, men loved their horses and their elephants. Today, they love their automobiles. It is not possible to reason it out. Maybe a sense of gratefulness for being an 'ayudha' or 'vahana'. Of course, most people on this forum take that to an unbelievable extent
[Off Topic]
@rpmx1000 and rajushank84, you are right in a way that psychology does explain the human mind. Why men like cars is a specific point easily explained, but why we humans behave the way we do, why we think the thoughts we think, why we even muse the way we are musing right now in this thread, all can be satisfactorily explained by science and evolution. But I would say science and psychology only give us quite worldly explanations. They do not help us understand how we are are to live. There science only tells us that we are supposed to protect (ourselves), procreate and die. There is no higher purpose to our lives according to science. And it might jolly well be true. But while we are alive, I think philosophy helps us understand what are meaningful, rich lives. Or even define such lives, for that matter. Guess that was quite off-topic, but I thought this psychology vs philosophy debate was bound to come up, and this was my take on it. Disclaimer: I have never read any heavy tomes on these issues!

BTW I think the entire discussion on why men like cars so much more than women do, would again be psychological in nature than philosophical.

Nice to hear from you Lamborghini! And you too, SDP devnath and others! I have a lot of thoughts on the needs and wants front, let me collect my thoughts and post in a bit.

Nice to see so many responses to the 'How attached are you to your vehicle' theme - helps me understand car ownership a bit more. But no responses yet to the theme - 'Are you really crazy about cars if you dont really know the machinery well'. Any thoughts guys? I am kinda stumped on that one so hoping to hear from you all...
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