Now that Jack Baruth’s editorial series “Maximum Street Speed Explained” has hit the servers, more than a few of TTAC’s Best and Brightest have hit the roof. A few of them felt so strongly about the inadvisability of the rants’ publication that they’ve followed Elvis’ example and left the building. I can understand that. Road safety is an emotional issue. As Lord Humongous said, “We’ve all lost someone we love.” Or worry about same. But, in this case, my empathy does not extend to self-censorship. In other words, I stand by my decision to publish Jack’s editorials. Before I present my case, I want to get a few things out of the way . . .
First, Jack’s views are not my own. Many of our enervated readers concluded—wrongly—that giving the “oxygen of publicity” to Jack’s how-to guide means that I condone speeding on public roads. As someone who’s lost both his license (twice) and close friends to illegal driving of one sort or another, I believe that motorists should all follow the law. Scrupulously. Fastidiously. That is my official stance. Period.
[In case you were wondering, I am not hypocritical in this regard. OK, most of the time I’m driving a minivan. And I will admit to giving the Boxster S its head on the odd off-ramp. But generally speaking, I would never do ANY of the things that Jack describes, even if I have done some of them in the past.]
Second, I didn’t publish Jack’s work as a form of “trolling.” Those of you familiar with this site will know that our goal is, believe it or not, to tell the truth about cars. When I called for GM to ditch the Corvette, I wasn’t kidding, trolling or pimping for readers. While TTAC will never run from a fight, nor will we hesitate to start one, we never head fake. We never “pretend” to believe something to stimulate debate or increase viewership. That’s just not how we roll.
Third, “we.” Ever since this site began, I have actively sought contrary opinions. And published them. I have never believed that I—or anyone else—has a “lock” on the truth. In fact, it is my firm conviction that the truth emerges from vigorous debate. In some cases, it withstands that debate. In other cases, the conflict reveals the original assertion as incomplete, ill-considered, flimsy and/or just plain wrong. So be it. Not to get all hippy-dippy, but as far as I’m concerned, the truth is independent from the person who gives it voice. It is what it is.
And so we turn to this particular case . . .
In this series, Jack is providing information based on his experience as a law-breaker. He is also advising others how they might break the law and get away with it. The danger is clear: someone might read his words, attempt to follow his “guidelines” and injure or kill themselves and/or others. I get it.
But this is not likely, nor is it his intent. To me, Jack’s message—if not the underlying morality—is clear. IF you are going to engage in this activity known as speeding, THIS is how you should do it.
Which brings us to an uncomfortable, statistically verifiable truth: speeding is like masturbation. Few of us admit it, but we all do it. Yes, there’s a vast gap between what the law allows and what Jack’s describing. But pretending that his actions are not ours writ large is disingenuous at best.
Anyway, doing it is one thing. Reading about it on TTAC is another.
I decided to publish Jack’s editorials because I think they raise important questions worthy of closer examination and spirited debate. However inadvertently. And so they have. To my mind, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Commentators who believe that I should have excluded Jack’s opinions undervalue their own contribution.
The biggest problem here may not be the substance of Jack’s views, but the way he presents them. For some of you, Jack’s rant is like a sex tourist bragging about having intercourse with an underage prostitute. Fair enough. But it is my experience that the majority of writers worth reading are born braggadocios. There is only one effective weapon against the terror of the blank page: ego. Jeremy Clarkson excepted, do not mistake mission critical rhetorical flamboyance for arrogance.
My final argument is this: TTAC started as vanity publishing. It has become something much more sophisticated, and worthwhile. It has become the conscience—the proverbial canary in the coal mine—for the carmaking industry. It’s also become a safe place for pistonheads to share their unvarnished, often prickly love of all things automotive.
We did not get where we are today by excluding thinkers with controversial, often polarizing opinions. The brand demands that we encourage strong voices, and err on the side of outrage. And so we shall.
[Note: as this series has triggered some strong emotions, I’ve turned off our no-flaming the website/author policy. Ish. I reserve the right to douse particularly egregious examples, in a first amendment-friendly sort of way.]