Politics: July 2006 Archives

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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Give Credit Where Credit is Due

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In light of certain people boasting this week about the decreased budget deficit, I have to give it to them: only this President and this Congress could spend us into a record deficit and then brag about cutting it with a straight face. Thanks, boys!

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First Things and the Crunchies

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Anthony Sacramone embarrasses First Things by blogging a nonsensical diatribe against Rod Dreher's book, Crunchy Cons, that could only have been penned by an urban intellectual snob.

He starts by granting the entire premise of Crunchy Cons:

All right, it’s not the apogee of spirituality to log on and buy the latest iteration of an iPod or an iMac or an eyesore of a Hummer. And yes, it’s probably wise to limit your daily consumption of pesticides to roughly half your bodyweight. I’ll grant you that kids are probably spending way too much time wide-eyed in front of the flat panel ogling yet another edition of Grand Theft Auto or the director’s cut of Girls Gone Wild 13—Logical Positivists Stripped Bare. It also couldn’t hurt to be able to distinguish between one type of tree and another type of tree, if just to make a more detailed report for the police when you drive into one while talking on your cell.

Gee, is that another way of saying that total immersion in modern consumerist culture has side effects we don't realize? I believe that's the major theme of Crunchy Cons. Apparently Mr. Sacramone must only be angry that Rod Dreher drew conclusions from those premises.

He then goes on to rant about how great the city is because there, "cultural barbarities do us all the favor of advertising the Fall without our having to read about all those 'begats' once again," and how the virtues of the rural life are overrated because "Farmer Jones" practices the same vices as city dwellers, just "on smaller luxuries, more primitive needs, and stockier women."

Fair enough, but Dreher himself lives in Dallas, Texas, which if I recall from the seven-hour layover I had there last month, ain't exactly Smallville. Again, the actual argument in the book is not that you have to go back to the farm to live a moral life, but that modern culture's disdain for the rural life says something not nice about the culture (something on partial display in Scaparone's post, btw). Yes, Rod offers praise to those who strike out to the country seeking a way to make a calmer, more peaceful life for themselves. He does not prescribe this for everybody.

Then comes the obligatory hypocrisy slam that all Crunchy Cons critics throw out:

And how many of those countrified ex-urbans bootleg Palm Pilots, Blackberries, and wirelessly networked laptops like so many bottles of Prohibition-era gin—if for no other reason than to keep their blogs live and comment-moderating in order to warn the rest of us how the modern age is killing us softly.

Once, again, let's remember the actual point of the book. All modern technology is not bad; unquestioning acceptance of it and the unchecked desire to accumulate more of it is. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Internet, but humanity is not served by a complete mechanization and digitalization of culture and the resulting disintegration of community. Has anybody seriously engaged that argument? Scarpone doesn't.

The most remarkable part of this rant, however, is the concluding two paragraphs. First, more backhanded slaps at stupid country bumpkins:

The country, I’ll concede, may be where you find community, if by that you mean your next-door neighbor walking uninvited through your canted screen door to borrow a few shotgun shells to dust back yet another coyote. But it is also where you will find the same old prejudices, superstitions, and gross habits masquerading as traditions. Not that the big city is bereft of such things, but at least you’re confronted with competing and contradictory prejudices, superstitions, and habits. In short, it’s hard to stay a city person for long and not be made aware that there’s someone else out there—probably right down the hall in a nicer apartment—who thinks you’re an idiot.

So what is the great virtue of the city? What is it about New York that you just can't find in Watseka?

Brace yourselves:

And if that’s not spiritual—to be humbled by people richer and more powerful, smarter and more beautiful, than you—then I don’t know what is. Humility, not to mention a nagging, gnawing sense of want for all those things you’re never going to get, is the springboard of true conversion. So draw the blinds, praise the Lord, and pass the universal remote.

Yes, humility is the great urban virtue. Humility spurred by the virtues of greed and envy. Scarpone has just spent 800 words ridiculing stupid, racist, backwards yokels of "Hicksville" with their "stockier women," "bib overalls," and "gross habits masquerading as traditions" so he can preach the virtue of humility.

All this, yet not one word about the book that Rod Dreher wrote.

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Ponnuru v. Sullivan XXXVII

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Andrew Sullivan once again runs into the brick wall that is Ramesh Ponnuru.

Ramesh

Andrew

Ramesh

Ramesh comes out on top, again, though Sullivan does make in an interesting point here.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from July 2006.

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