Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When cars get an identity change operation

Intuitively, one would think that identity experiments are something that takes place during the teenage years and that for example gender change operations are reserved for transvestites. But as in so many other cases, we underestimate the flexibility of our fellow non-human citizens when limiting identity change practices to humans.

One surprisingly clear example of this came before my eyes while digging into a heavy law proposal as a part of my internship with a Danish MP who is also spokesperson on taxation. As it occurs, Danish tax legislation has until now left a considerable tax hole wide open because it failed to recognize that cars too go through "identity change" (as it says in the justification for the proposed law).

More precisely, a car can undergo an operation that tranforms it from a business vehicle into a private car. Most of the time it involves mounting a few passenger seats in the back and changing the color of the number plates. Afterwards, it has to be registered anew and controlled by the authorities (or rather, their private sector representatives). If successful in this second inauguration as a legal Danish non-human citizen, the car has saved its owner a considerable amount of money, due the current legislation that bills private cars and business cars substantially different.

The example shows that cars are so deeply embedded in our lives that they share the division between family life and work life. Thus, they are also deeply embedded in legislation and change status when transformed from a means of production (business vehicle) to a family member (private vehicle). The problem is that most people aren't this sophisticated when it comes to classifying cars - they don't mind using a former means of production as a family member as long as it saves them money.

We have grown into close relationships with our cars. The registration fee amounts to more than half of a car's total price here in Denmark. This huge state income gives cars a well-deserved place in the very middle of political debate, but probably also makes it hard for government to reduce the amount of cars drastically, even when there are strong arguments in favor of it.

Might it be that if we recognized the central role that cars play in our daily life, we would also make sounder decisions on how to handle them as a collective?