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Some of the responses to the proposed road tax caught my attention. The Victorian and South Australian Governments recently announced a tax for electric and zero-emissions vehicles. The Federal Fuel excise was originally intended to fund roads and currently raises about $11 billion per annum. Clearly electric (EV) and hydrogen fuel cell (FC) vehicles are not subject to the petroleum fuel excise. Alternative road funding schemes will be needed, if not now, then in the future. A user-pays arrangement based on kilometres travelled seems to be a good solution. It makes sense to get the tax started early because it’s a lot easier to adjust an already-existing tax as the stock of EV and FC vehicles increases. Motorists will buy EV’s when they meet their needs at the right price.

If we are going to subsidize motor vehicles, why not support low-income earners to buy a safe, small, fuel efficient vehicle rather than wealthier individuals buying a premium vehicle?

The Australia Institute called the tax a ‘backwards and unnecessary step’.  Bridie Schmidt described it as a ‘culture war’, the Victorian Greens said it would be a ‘huge backwards step’, Giles Parkinson said that it has ‘created howls of outrage ridicule from across the motor vehicle industry’, and so on.

Criticisms of a new tax are to be expected but the commentary reminded me of Rutsky’s commentary on technology from his book from 1999 titled High Techne: Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman

The ‘aestheticized,’ ‘state-of-the-art’ quality of high tech may be—and has been—seen as a kind of fetishization of technology, of technological style. This fetishism of high tech is readily apparent in, for example, the pages of glossy techno-cultural magazines such as Wired and Mondo 2000. Indeed, Wired even includes a regular feature titled ‘Fetish,’ in which sleek new technological devices are treated as ‘sexy,’ aesthetic objects. Of course, the fetishism of technology is not unique to high tech.

From the ‘stone age’ to the ‘automobile age,’ technology often seems to have inspired a considerable degree of fetishism. In high tech, however, this fetishism often seems to have become more explicit, more a part of the very definition of technology itself.

Much of this sense of an increased fetishism of technology stems from high tech’s shift away from a purely instrumental conception of technology. So long as technology was conceived as a matter of instrumentality, as a means for achieving practical ends, any non-instrumental value attached to it—such as an aesthetic or stylistic value—was necessarily auxiliary, supplemental.

My take is that the ‘green-ness’ of electric vehicles seems to have taken on a similar role to Rutsky’s aesthetics or style. The response to a necessary policy suggests a departure from instrumentality, and towards an aesthetic or stylistic value. I’ve been to several community/sustainability meetings about EVs and I never fail to be surprised by the enthusiasm for high cost vehicles, the ‘cult of Elon’, and the seeming indifference to lower-income households that can barely afford to keep their old vehicle running, much less buying a new EV.