Friday, November 18, 2005

The New Face of Ecoterrorism

We've all heard about the apocalyptic rampages of ecoterrorists, those wild-eyed zealots who set fire to SUVs, and who therefore pose a greater threat to American life and limb than every white-supremacist meth chemist from here to Coeur d'Alene.

Now, SUV drivers - soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and other unassailable exemplars of post-9/11 völkisch rectitude - are getting into the act. They're setting fire to their SUVs to save on gas money, and collect on insurance claims:

Experts say that the owner often reports the vehicle stolen, only to have it found within hours, looking like a pile of melted metal. A completely burned out car raises a red flag for Dave Roccaforte, a special agent with the auto task force. He’s seen suspicious vehicles all over the Peninsula, and in the South Bay. He says the only person who really stands to gain from a burned out vehicle is the owner, because the car would be much more valuable to a crook if it was not destroyed.
It strikes me that this modus operandi reflects the same emotional problems that Detroit's market researchers have identified as integral to the personality of the average SUV buyer.

For instance, an inability to assess risk accurately leads SUV drivers to overestimate the dangers they face from other drivers, and to ignore the safety hazards of SUVs. From there, underestimating the risk of getting prosecuted for insurance fraud is a short journey indeed. By the same token, insecurity and paranoia - an irrational obsession with crime and criminality, perhaps - leads SUV drivers to buy a vehicle they believe is intimidating; it also makes them imagine that a scenario in which thieves steal and torch SUVs is a plausible one (I wonder how many of these geniuses figured the police would simply blame the crime on ecoterrorist hippies and anarchists).

Let's see...what else? A poor grasp of costs versus benefits. An unwillingness to look beyond short-term gains, or to take responsibility for one's bad decisions. A lack of concern for one's community, especially if there's a buck to be made. These drivers didn't care about environmental or economic or safety issues when they bought the vehicles, and now that they want to get rid of them, they don't care if police and firefighters have to waste time and taxpayer dollars - and risk personal injury - to respond to the crimes of solipsistic white-collar arsonists.

Really, it's the perfect funeral ceremony for the SUV, that splendid symbol of the Free Market. It's one last sneer at personal responsibility, community, and common sense.

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