Drive that Hummer

Is it a car or a statement?


The question arose at a dinner party outside Los Angeles. Suppose someone gave you a Hummer that got 100 miles per gallon and was fixed so that it emitted no pollutants whatsoever. If nobody knew but you, would you drive it?

It was, for me, a no-brainer.

"Of course I'd drive that Hummer," I said.

My answer was too emphatic, I knew. Maybe because of the crowd. Whenever I'm around friends from high school, I re-adopt my adolescent shrug: I don't care what you think. About my unfashionable clothes, my hard-to-explain writer job, my harder-to-explain cabin in the boonies: I don't care.

"What if it had American flag decals all over it?"

I dug in deep. I don't like posturing: buying or wearing or driving things because of how they look. Maybe because when you spend twenty years in a committed gay relationship, you learn not to worry about appearances. You don't live the way you do to offend anybody or to impress anybody. You do it because it's right for you. And a car with no emissions and great gas mileage: What could be more right?

"I'd still drive it."

No one else agreed. They looked at me askance. Hadn't I been the purist once: the churchgoer, the straight-A getter, then the flower-sniffer, the Thoreauvian rejecter-of-materialism? Something, clearly, had gone wrong. The party game ended, but for months I kept thinking about that Hummer.

Maybe, I thought, it comes down to that old theological conundrum. Is it faith that saves us or good works? What we believe or how we live? Martin Luther or Thomas Aquinas? Me, I think what we do is what counts.

Here's why: I have neighbors who don't believe in global warming, not one bit, but you'd never know it from how they live. They walk and bike frequently and almost never fly. They grow their own food or hunt for it. They live in modest cabins and heat with wood removed for the forest's health. They're doing a whole lot more to save the world than most true believers.

So, yes, I told myself: I'd drive that Hummer.

If there was anyone who'd agree with me, I figured it'd be my friend George. George maintains a Web site devoted to non-motorized transportation, but he also sews his own less-than-fashionable clothes and once made us quiches with store-bought crusts: one Oreo cookie, one Nilla wafer. In his youth, while dodging the Vietnam draft, he drove around in a pink hearse. Or so he claims. George does not care what people think.

"Would you drive it?" I asked.

"Never," he said. "A Hummer isn't a car. A Hummer is a message."

I was shocked.

Turns out the old theological debate has taken on a postmodern spin. Neither faith nor good works will save us; image is what counts. No one knows that better, I suppose, than George. After all, American flag decals during Vietnam sent a specific political message -- stay the course! -- that got a lot of people killed.

Though I bristled, I knew it was true. Years ago, Laurie and I stopped hiding our sexuality. If people don't know any gay people, then how can they vote for our rights? At some point it's not posturing; it's posture. Standing tall.

Maybe I wouldn't drive that Hummer after all.

A few weeks later, I stumbled upon an article that proved George right. The number-one reason listed by Hummer drivers for owning one is their political beliefs, and the louder and more often liberals rage against them, the higher sales go.

Then again, if Laurie and I really want to curb global warming, or at least cut into Hummer sales, the very best thing we could do would be to drive one. Just imagine: two lesbians shopping for organic espresso and locally grown kale in their Hummer. Hardly the image the company or its customers is after. We could just sit back and watch sales plummet.

And we might get the chance. The 100 MPG Hummer is no fantasy; the prototype has shown up at car shows. So, I suppose, if I really want to act on my beliefs -- do Thomas Aquinas proud -- we'll have to buy one. Except, of course, that we can't afford it. 

If I want to stand tall, I'm left to do as my neighbors do: Take a walk or ride my bike. 

Some wothless information about theology
Jan 27, 2010 09:56 AM
While Lutherans do not believe that works "saves you", they do believe that good works are manifestation of that salvation. Going further Lutherans hold a doctrine called the two kingdoms or in other words there is the right hand kingdom righteousness accomplished by only God himself and is received by faith, while the left hand kingdom is about civil righteousness, which can include taking care of the environment, but this is not about a faith that saves, but summed in up in "do unto others...". There is nothing contradictory about a Lutheran being a strong advocate for environmental causes from a philosophical point of view. I am quite sure Luther would agree with you on the substance of this issue.
point taken and appreciated
Ana Maria
Ana Maria
Jan 29, 2010 09:10 PM
I hear you, Dave. On a similar note, I don't think Thomas Aquinas would like my over-simplication that he says it's all works and no faith. His life's work was showing how it's both. I think I wanted to use theological shorthand (never a good idea in < 700 words) to get at the question that vexes me about climate change: how important is it to believe that it's human caused? Can you not believe and still do right (i.e. be "saved" or "save the world")? I guess that is a theological question, after all ... for someone more qualified than I.
The 100 mpg Hummer is self contradictory
Kevin Norman
Kevin Norman
Jan 31, 2010 10:16 AM
The existing Hummer is a self consistent expression of high consumption. If it got 100mpg it would still in its purchase price reflect a symbol of consumption but in its operating cost reflect economy. The current Hummer owners would be put off by the high fuel economy, and as you mention, you and everyone else shopping for organic vegetables will be put off by the price.
Feb 01, 2010 06:46 AM
I wouldn't be able to bring myself to drive one. I don't like the way they look and I doubt that I could find a large enough parking spot in the parking garage at work.
Other impacts
Feb 01, 2010 11:13 AM
Fun question, but it ignores the bigger impacts of Hummers (and by extension, cars): impedance of walking and bicycling and the healthful physical activity those modes generate, death and injury, congestion, noise, and social isolation.

Ana Maria walks or bicycles: Good for her, and good for her community.
Great warlord car
Feb 02, 2010 01:03 AM
By walking to buy your vegetables, organic or otherwise, you create a street environment that is safer and more interesting for everyone else. By walking to your "cabin" you spread the wealth that would have been concentrated in a resort town or in a suburb all along your route. You revitalize back roads, if you take them, or you bring a bit of humanity to a very empty and lonely express highway.

The creation of a 100 mile per gallon hummer would vastly increase the possibility for normal people to drive this mammoth car (and just imagine how many people would suddenly be able to drive a normal car, which would get far better mileage). The results could be increased size of parking lots, increased distances between destinations, and increased highway widths and upkeep. In the long run, the creation of such a vehicle might even cause greater global warming as more people could afford to drive something the size of a small house. The security, or appearance of security, in such a vehicle might mean even more suspicions between neighbors as each tries to jealously guard his or her own material wealth. It would a great car for a gang leader, or a warlord. The likes of which, around the world, could now feasible drive a hummer.
The Hummer
Dec 13, 2010 02:12 PM
I went ahead a got a used Hummer 3, with is not an 8 or a 6 yet a 5, beat that. Never have I made close to $50 grand, yet this SUV can be paid in a very unnormal $250 a month for some 48 months, beat that. It has less room then the SUV I treated it in for, yet I and my family will be somewhat more safe in a Hummer then any other SUV, beat that..