Who Are You and What Do You Drive? A Guide to The Self and Buying An Automobile

By Daniel van Voorhis

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Last week, I was kind of thinking about buying a car. I wasn’t actually serious, or at least too serious. I was thinking I could buy an old used car, something practical like a truck or maybe something with a little middle class panache (like a jaguar from the 80’s or an old diesel Mercedes).

I didn’t pull the trigger (disposable monthly cash or a big wad of bills are things I am currently lacking). But I did revisit a thesis I thought a good deal about in college when I bought my first new car. It was a mini-van, and I purchased it at, perhaps, the height of my self-consciousness. I decided this was the car. On the face of it, it said nothing. In suburbia it was just another generic carry all for children heading to soccer or taekwondo. Unless you KNEW it was a calculated purchase by college student for purposes of utility and irony, it said nothing.

I believe when you are buying a car, a pair of shoes, a belt buckle or getting a haircut you might consider a few principles developed from a place of angst-y late teen irony, but refined by a man who believes in appearance, but also general manners, decorum and the virtues.

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Your purchase (regardless of what you think) is saying something about you. You are concerned about style, utility, masculinity or femininity, being counter-culture or cultured etc…

So, who are you? I don’t want your resume or Facebook “about me” business. I don’t want to know your political or religious views. I want YOU to think about who YOU are. Here I shall borrow from Percy Walker’s Lost in the Cosmos (a brilliant read, and the anti-self help book being the only self help book you should ever read). For your consideration, I have listed here Walker’s identifications. There is a larger conversation to be had about culture, the self, and perception etc… we will not go into it here. Instead, I will list the various types Walker suggests and then what kind of car you might consider buying to complete your journey of self-exploration. (You see, we can be philosophical and practical.)

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 Here we go (and please note, these are not mutually exclusive):

  1. The cosmological self, the self that is only conscious of itself insofar as it is tied to a myth or totem.

You will drive a VW van from the 1970’s. The headliner is falling down and it has a busted tape deck. But it has room for the hibachi, tent and hacky sacks.

  1. The Brahmin-Buddhist self, the self that is veiled by unreality and can only realize itself by emptying itself until it reaches nirvana or nothingness.

What is a car? It is likely the Saturn you bought 15 years ago when it billed itself as the car of “community” and the future.

  1. The Christian self, the self that is now a pilgrim, once estranged but now reconciled with God, waiting for the life to come.

I’m not sure what kind of car it is, but take the damn rapture sticker off the back and stop driving like an a**hole. It makes some of us look even worse.

  1. The role-taking self, the self that finds meaning in adopting an identity in their chosen role as modeled by others.

You bought a PT Cruiser. Sorry.

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  1. The standard American Jeffersonian high school commencement democratic and republican self, the self that sees inalienable rights and happiness as bestowed upon a thrifty, hardworking person who takes pride in their family, society and the marketplace.

Your car of choice is a Ford Fiesta and you never made the cash you thought you would. You should probably get the oil changed too. Hey! At least it’s paid off.

  1. The diverted self, the self that finds satisfaction in work by enjoying the diversions that the fruit of one’s labor produces.

I’m not sure what car you have, but it is likely bright red or yellow. We are not as impressed with it as you are.

  1. The lost self, the self has abandoned traditional spirituality and civic mindedness and finds that vacuum of space holding them in paradoxical bondage to both everything and nothing.

2000 Honda Civic. No extra features.

  1. The scientific or artistic self, the self that is caught up in the selfless pursuit of an art or science. This self is lost in the pursuit of something significant, but it encompasses them.

It’s likely European, old and used and probably either unknowingly cool or a little too consciously old and cool.

  1. The illusory self, the self that sees itself as nothing more than a product of biological impulses and behavioral structuralism.

Volkswagen Jetta. Always.

  1. The autonomous self, the one who, having been freed through education has broken the bonds of any traditional system and is free to find oneself and meaning apart from God or morality.

Whatever it is, it is leased. You have figured out how to do that and make it work. Mazel tov.

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  1. The Totalitarian self, the self that sees itself as an agent of the state and whose needs and production will be determined by the state.

Public transportation. Your reasoning for doing so is pretty solid. It is just kind of soul sucking and impractical. Maybe you’ll splurge on a used Ford Fiesta (see above).

Do you find yourself in any of these categories? Do you drive any of these cars? The point is that regardless of how much time you want to put into thinking about who you are, or how you project to others, you do. What are you projecting?  What are you trying to project? I dare you to suggest you don’t think about this on some level.

All the Best,

The Man About Town.

– Written while listening to: Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger (1975)

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7 thoughts on “Who Are You and What Do You Drive? A Guide to The Self and Buying An Automobile

  1. My car since 2004: Silver 2004 Toyota Corolla with 170,000 miles – drive it til it busts!

    My vehicle prior to 2004: Black 1989 Ford Mustang GT – it busted WAY TOO EASY! #FoundOnRoadDead #FixOrRepairDaily

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    1. Ken, you might be a “lost self” but this is not a bad thing, based on the other options. You might be a version of the standard American Jeffersonian type

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  2. I have an 05 Honda Pilot with 235k miles on it and a falling headliner. If it dies, I will seriously consider getting another Subaru Outback if we don’t purchase a Class A RV first.

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    1. Dang! 235k…that’s pretty good. As much as I’d like to buy a car that fits my personality, I’m too broke to consider such things. For me, it’s Japanese all the way. Does it get good gas mileage? Check. Does it last longer than most other cars? Check. Are the maintenance costs cheap? Check. Will it get me work reliably? Check. Is it ugly? Who cares! Is it comfortable? Good enough.

      Honda and Toyota – more bang for your buck since the late eighties death of the American auto industry. The collapse of Detroit is sad, but if you can’t beat ’em…

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  3. 2014 Subaru Impreza manual trans hatchback with 32k miles on it. I will happily drive it until the wheels fall off.

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  4. Currently driving an 08 Chevy HHR (quickly approaching 150,000 miles). One of my favorite cars I’ve ever had. Work is 35 miles from home. Would like to replace it with something comfortable and >30mpg. I would love a civic (with most of the upgrades), GTI, or possibly a Ford Escape. If money were no object, I’d get the Tesla.
    One important factor that was not mentioned in the types of car buyers are our lovely brides. She’s cosmological and autonomous. I’m lost, cosmological, and diverted. How do you balance the equation (I’m not really a math guy)? We’d like a bright orange jeep wrangler, but the safety record for Jeeps is awful.
    Fun article.
    The VW van (older or newer) must haul a 10 foot, sun-yellowed, mildly dinged up longboard (or multiple boards).

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  5. 2008 Honda Fit 5-spd – bought it used in ’09 with only 11K on the odometer. I now have 167K and I figure I’m good for another 100K. Previous was a ’99 Civic, the only new car I ever bought. Loved it to 275K. Fit holds stuff better and, with the roof rack on, transports my canoe, building materials, Christmas trees, etc.

    It’s bright red with the top fading from the sun. I’m hooked on Honda – starts every day, low cost to drive, and low cost to own. Basically, keeps me from thinking about owning a car, at all. It keeps serving me, even if i go double the distance between oil changes.

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