By Ben Tomkins

Car dealerships may be able to stop Tesla from selling directly to consumers in the short-term, but they will almost without question fail in the long-term. I would go so far as to say that if Tesla has already done enough research to invest in building dealerships, showrooms, or whatever the hell else you care to call them, the discussion is already over.

As an American, there’s nothing that makes a philosophy more right than to have it turned into 99 marshmallow rot luftballons to be consumed with the rest of the breakfast pablum that comprises our social Lucky Charms.

Generally speaking, the ship of industries in this country that have a lot of laws protecting their existence rather than protecting the consumer’s pleasure at their existence very quickly float out to sea when the winds of innovation puff at their sails. Uber is a perfect example of a company displacing a portion of the workforce when a new business model drives down consumer prices while maintaining the impression of acceptable public risk. The Uber app is easy, allows tons of people to make extra money on the side, and people were clearly willing to ignore risks a licensing process could minimize. I won’t list them. If you really want to think them up, do what Americans do and get to the second consumer question below before you waste your brain power.

The argument Uber made for its business model appeared to be the most “American” argument imaginable:

“Why should the government have a say in who’s car we ride in and under what terms?”

It seemed like a great question—and it was—but not for the reasons everybody thought. From a business perspective, there is no right or wrong answer. All that matters is which side of the argument (read: dollar sign) you are on, and then everything you say is obviously right. The sad reality is that it’s a proxy postulate designed to tease a particular answer from the mind of the average American, which appeals to the American public’s self-righteous infatuation and private desire. This is what Uber was really asking:

“If you really want to do something, no matter what the outcome, do you want to worry about why you shouldn’t?”

Essentially, Uber proved that Americans believe their parents were wrong when they told them it is never OK to get into the car of a candy-offering stranger. See why I told you to wait to think of reasons why licensing is good? What’s easier than finding a good reason to do something you want to do? Not looking for a reason not to do something you want to do.

So, now I have the question “Should [Tesla] be allowed to sell directly to the consumer?” thrown at me, which is formulating in my mind as “Does the appeal of buying a car like an iPhone seem like a good enough idea to not worry about the consequences?”

To be completely honest with you? Yep. I’d at least allow our country to be a lab zombie if they made it sufficiently mindless, and I feel self-righteous enough to claim I am speaking for the American people. Buying a car already requires too much thinking, and we’d rather know exactly how we’re being ripped off than put in the effort to not get ripped off.

Now, I have a lot of friends who raise the Chomskian index finger of outrage at this point and start railing against the American corporate “whatevers” like a bunch of furious squirrels angrily trying to gnash their way through a forest of petrified acorns. Eh. Have at it. Chomsky’s not selling anything…

…except he is. There’s a big market in this country for hubris, and whether he’s right or wrong, he’s certainly maintained his position on the lecture circuit and sold a few million books. I will repeat the general principle in this specific context: Americans on the whole don’t care if Chomsky is right or wrong about anything anymore than they care if Walmart is exploiting workers or Tesla will put dealerships out of business. Americans care if they can get what they want—in this case, intellectual validation—and it’s why James Madison’s philosophies on liberty that informed the Constitution need some updating.

In short, Madison had about as much faith in the average American when it came to social responsibility as I’ve given them here. His theory is that the check of the majority’s tyranny over the minority is that, in a large and diverse society, there will almost never be a group that agrees on many things all at once. If Wyoming is 100 percent pro-fracking, for example, those same people will probably disagree vociferously on Tesla selling cars directly to consumers. Therefore, the majority will forever be a churning sea of intermingling opinions. This is a brilliant idea with a single massive flaw: the majority of our species will always agree that it is easier to be lazy and full than hardworking and hungry. Unfortunately, that principle is also a fundamental principle of the tyrannical desire.

So Tesla? Go for it. You are right because my coffee is getting cold and I have stuff to do, and that’s only cynical if you believe the odds of direct sales going badly outweighs the possibility we will be at least indifferent to the change. That’s the American way.

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Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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