More Crunchies

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After writing last night's post, I guess I should write what I actually think about Crunchy Cons: I didn't like it all that much.

I know that may be hard to believe considering this post below, but bear with me. Rod Dreher put his finger on a real problem with modern American culture, especially among those with more traditional values: many of us preach certain virtues but we do not understand that the way we live our lives undermines those very virtues.

So far so good, the problem is that Dreher's book is terribly argued and too full of his own life story, holding it up as the ideal. He says repeatedly that he and his family are not perfect and that you don't have to be Rod Dreher to be virtuous, but his constant self-reference and didactic tone are grating. I found myself skimming paragraphs and keeping track of the authors he cites so I can read their work instead.

Politically, Dreher's mistake is in conflating conservatives with Republican party elites. That's a fight I don't care too much about, but it's worth pointing out that the two are not the same. Different parts of Rod's critique apply to each of those groups, and when he says "mainstream conservatives" do such and such, or don't do such and such (like, say, mainstream conservatives don't breasteed), you have to wonder if this comes from his experience in Republican-elite circles as part of his career as a big-city newspaper editor and is not exactly the way things look in, say, Alabama.

So, let's leave all of that aside, and get to what the reader should take away from the book. American culture is too mindless, and needs to be more reflective. Free market: good. Increased food production capabilities: good. Rapid development of technology and the ability to communicate globally, instantly: good. The unquestioned and usually use of these relatively recent (in the sense of the broad history of man) developments in a way that (usually unintentionally) destroys families, culture and lives: not so good.

The disheartening thing about reading Dreher's critics is the frequent denial that our every day decisions have a moral dimension and their corresponding assertions that the way we shop, eat and live are simply matters of taste. Unfortunately, the tone of Crunchy Cons opens up Dreher to the charge that the lifestyle he espouses is only accessible to rich urban elites, but the truth is that everybody is capable of making sacrifices for the sake of being a better person and to support and build a better culture and community.

But here, we have to qualify in a way that Dreher does not - at least not sufficiently: many people simply cannot, or perceive that they cannot, make different choices, and to criticize them for it is wrong as well as futile. Some people really can't afford free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. Some people think they need to live in a suburban subdivision to keep their families safe. These people are doing their best to make life work and do what's right by their families in their daily circumstances, and calling them greedy, hypocritical or unserious is not helpful. Unfortunately, Dreher comes off as hostile to normal people who are simply trying to make sense out of a crazy-a** world, when he should have concentrated more on the unintented consequences on the choices they - and all of us - make.

Crunchy Cons is a call to reflect seriously on the everyday choices we make in how we shop, what we eat, how we educate our children. It's an argument that seemingly small decisions have personal, cosmic and cultural ramifications. Not everybody needs to homeschool and not everybody needs to eat organic vegetables, but no parent should unquestioningly entrust their child's education to the state and no consumer should be ignorant of the nutritious and agricultural costs of modern farming and food industry. Not everybody will make the decision to go organic or vegetarian, but some will find a desire to support their local family farmers in some small way, or will decide to be more vigilant about putting transfats and chemicals into their bodies.

Even though Crunchy Cons fails as a manifesto, the underlying call to strive to make moral choices and to make a conscious effort to build and support the local community is a message America needs to hear. I just wish somebody else would make the case.

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4 Comments

It's an argument that seemingly small decisions have personal, cosmic and cultural ramifications.

I haven't read Rod's book, and based on the commentary I've seen thus far I don't think I will; I'd probably get irritated with it rather quickly. Your encapsulation, however, is precisely the point I have understood him to be making as I sift through the mountains of bits devoted to arguing free-range chicken. Tell me: at any point, does he attemtpt to give a philosophical accounting for the non-crunchiness he sees? If he does not, then I'm tempted to say Rod himself isn't cruncy enough. :-P

I haven't read the book, neither did I follow his 'blog, but from what little I've seen I think I'd agree with the Klaus' assessement that Rod isn't crunchy enough.

My point really isn't about Rod. I thing he's trying to live a moral life, but he has lots of flaws. My point is that even though the book is too much about him, there is a lot of good stuff in the book about just what kind of infrastructure holds up the modern American life.

As for Nick's question about the philosophical accounting... eh well, one of the big flaws in the book is that he treats most Americans as mindless morons who do whatever big corporations tell them to do. He does not portray the actual world in which people live, with all of its uncertainties, with people struggling to make sense of the emptiness that accumulation for its own sake brings, getting trapped in cycles of debt while striving for some "American Dream" that is vague and undefined except that we know we need more stuff to attain it. All of that he reduces to hypocrisy. His argument is without mercy in an area that touches people at their core. He portrays his fellow man without pity while touting his own virtues too high, which deep-down is a kind of pride none of us can avoid, but it makes a poor rallying cry.

I should also add that his constant reference to a "creative minority" being the hope for the future is irritating. I know many Catholics have used this term, but I think they use it in broader sense than Rod does. Reading him, you would think we're going to be saved by writers while the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket. It opens him up even more to charges of elitism and of espousing a lifestyle that only elites can live.

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on July 13, 2006 8:03 AM.

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