Learning To Drive Is The Closest Thing We Have To A Rite Of Passage In The West

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Throughout history, all cultures had rites of passage – things that young people had to do to make the transition from childhood to the adult world. Most of the time, these rituals involved some kind of pain or sacrifice, and they weren’t always pleasant.

The reasons for this are complex and deeply psychological. But one of the motivations for such acts of barbarism is to prepare the personality for the harshness of adult life.

Adulting isn’t about making your bed or getting up in time for work in the morning (which seems to be the current conception of the activity). Instead, it’s about leaving the protective bosom of the family and standing up and facing the reality of the world on your own two feet. The rite of passage is symbolic of that. Adult life isn’t pleasant. It’s rife with suffering. And that’s just something that we all have to accept as the cost of having existence.

So where does driving fit into this story?

It’s curious that we don’t practice painful rites of passage for young people anymore. The transition from childhood to adulthood is determined by the passage of time, not through some act of bravery or fortitude. And that’s a problem. There’s a reason cultures developed these practices. They understood the importance of assuming an adult frame. Traditions, where children remain in the comfort of the parents for their entire lives, don’t function properly. They die out.

But in the west, those rites of passage are gone. We don’t like the idea that people should suffer. We feel that “young adults” should be cared for and coddled, not exposed to the grimness of reality.

Of course, all that attitude does is postpone the inevitable. Eventually, reality catches up with everyone and there’s no escape. So getting that adulting process out of the way early helps everyone.

Driving is, therefore, perhaps the closest thing we have in the West to a rite of passage. Like walking on hot coals or spending time alone in the wilderness, it involves massive amounts of both danger and responsibility. It’s not easy.

The Virtues Of Driving

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It sounds almost odd to talk about the virtues of driving, but they’re real. The more kids practice their skills behind the wheel, the more they take on their adult self.

Think about the responsibilities that driving a car entails. You’re not only in control of an object that costs the better part of a year’s salary, but you’re also responsible for your own life, and everyone else’s in the vehicle and wider environment.

When you think about it rationally, it doesn’t make sense. All their lives, kids have very few opportunities to behave responsibly. They’re not even allowed to walk to the park by themselves or put knives in the dishwasher.

Then, when they come of age – say around 17 years old – they’re suddenly allowed to take control of a machine that has the power of life and death. It doesn’t make sense, but it happens. I might have been a late bloomer in this arena, I was taught how to drive by my girlfriend when I was 22 – I bunny-hopped…she laughed…I got out an walked home and didn’t drive again for 2 months (just watching and listening to her driving) – I then got in and drove with no problems.


Cars Are More Than Tools 

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We should also remember that cars are more than tools for young people. While their function is to get from A to B, a lot of cultural baggage comes with them. Not driving is sometimes viewed as a sign that you haven’t fully developed as a person and that you still have a long way to go until you achieve maturity and independence.

There’s also the fact that the car is a symbol of freedom. Once you have one, you’re able to do whatever you want. All of a sudden, a world of opportunities opens up to you. You’re free to do what you want and go wherever you like at any hour of the day or night.

In many ways, it’s that freedom that is essential to the process of adulting. It’s knowing what to do with all of the opportunities in front of you once you hit age 18. It’s understanding that genuine freedom is a cost-benefit game. You could spend all night driving, but then you’d be tired the next day, less productive, and unable to do your work.

Cars are also more than tools in another sense: the fact that they are accessories.

We tend to think of accessories as extra items that you adorn your body with as part of outfits. But cars are a kind of accessory too because they say important things about the person driving them.

For starters, it’s an indication of maturity. Once you can drive, nobody can call you a child anymore. But it goes beyond that. It’s almost a part of your identity. That’s why you see so many people shopping for car rims. The fact that the existing wheels do their job isn’t enough. What the person really wants is something that speaks to them as a person. Just like jewelry, it needs to be bespoke.

The number of modifications for cars today is quite extraordinary. You have so many options to the point where you can make your vehicle look however you want. If you’re not so keen on the neutral appearance of modern vehicles, you can branch out and try new things with a paint mod, a new rear spoiler, or illuminated number plates. The choice is very much yours.

None of this has to do with the performance or even enjoyment of the car. It’s all about personal individuation. People are using their cars to tell everybody something about themselves. It’s all very psychological and interesting when you get to the bottom of it.

Notice how top business professionals almost always choose luxury saloons. Yes – they’re comfortable. But that’s only a small part of why they buy them. It’s mainly to do with what it says about them as a person.


Wrapping Up

Cars, therefore, are tools for individuation. They tell the world something about ourselves. And they form the clearest boundary we have in the West between an adult and a child. Children don’t drive; adults do. And the moment a person makes the transition, the whole world opens up to them.


Phillip Neho

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