SPidge Tales

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Conservative Granolas? Yes, Meet the Crunchy Cons

“Take out the granola! It’s raining hippies. Left and Right.” Anonymous

The scene: Mesopotamia, 3000 BC. We are at the dawn of civilization, in one of the first cities, along the Euphrates. Igor and Qahog are sent by Donald Trumpatomes to irrigate the water from the river to the city. Then that annoying guy wearing the first ever pair of Birkenstocks tells them to drop their shovels, disdain the Man and soulless city life, and head off with him to the country, where our ancestors lived a “real” life gathering berries and spearing an occasional wooly mammoth.

Ever since there has been cities, and especially since industrialization, there have always been doomsayers telling us that city life squashes the human spirit, and we need to head for the country and drop all these mindless technological toys that we bog down our lives with. Usually, we associate this with the Left. In the 60’s, we had the anti-war hippies telling the world to mellow, smoke weed, and make love not war (said lovemaking as such must have been pretty nasty, considering they never showered or shaved). Nowadays, we think of granola types, in their Birkenstocks, suggesting we leave the cities for the hills, go hiking, and explore nature.

A twist in this idea has arrived with a recent turn by some conservatives to embrace this granola outlook on our culture. Conservative writer Rod Dreher, who writes one of the conservative columns for Beliefnet.com, has recently come out with a book called Crunchy Cons. I must confess that I have yet to (and probably won’t) read it, but moral theologian Gilbert Meilander has written a fine review of it in the May 2006 edition of First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0605/articles/meilaender.html ).

Meilander begins his review with a personal story. He commits what would probably be a serious sin in the eye of Dreher by going to Burger King for a quick bite to eat. Noticing a family with two young boys of about eight and ten talking about baseball and the Cleveland Indians, Meilander joins in, being a Tribe fan himself. He ends up getting a Hershey Pie and sticking around longer in conversation. This was a nice family, a type of family that in Dreher’s book in criticized for being overly materialistic.

Meilander praises Dreher for pointing out the pitfalls that do exist in our society and culture, but questions Dreher’s conclusion that it is necessary to recuse oneself from the city life and live more granola. Granted, Meilander concedes, a granola lifestyle can be a morally exemplary lifestyle, however Dreher is wrong to claim that this is the only way, or the best way to live. Meilander admits early on that he is “pro-choice” when it comes to lifestyle choices such as what types of food to eat, and what places to live, and that Dreher, while right to criticize excesses of our culture, is wrong to highlight one good way of living as the ideal.

The problem, Meilander says, is that Dreher is encouraging parents to raise kids to be dissenters, rebels, and rabble rousers. There is a time and place for dissent and rabble rousing, but ultimately a parent’s job is to raise his children to be, first and foremost, good people, not rebels against society. Meilander concludes by noting that he has a lot of hope for the two nice boys he met in Burger King, but is concerned about the kids who are being raised to be rebels.

Anthony Sacramone continues the discussion of this “head for the hills” mentality in the July 12, 2006 edition of First Things online daily blog (http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=302 ):

Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated. Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.

This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen.

But, as Sacramone rightly points out, people are just as susceptible to sin and vice in the country as in the city, even if it is in smaller quantities. “As for greed, envy, lust, and all those other black arts for which the city is a synonym, you can’t tell me Farmer Jones doesn’t practice them in spades, simply on smaller luxuries, more primitive needs, and stockier women. So instead of keeping up with the latest E: True Hollywood Story, he’s only keeping up a new pair of bib overalls, because he won’t be outclassed by that wise-acre who runs the general store.”

As for me, I am leaving the urban, city life of Albany to head up to the beautiful St. Lawrence River, away from cable TV, the internet, and the daily newspaper sports section. But, only for the weekend. I will be back Monday or Tuesday to continue my mindless, technological comma-induced, city life.


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