An Awesome Title Or, Wordsmithery Gone Natural

Professor Deneen’s “Oeco-system.” It’s a really good piece, too — not just a superbly titled post.

Here’s a snippet:

Meanwhile, for many years now, cosmopolitans have sought to liberate humans from the narrow boundaries of unchosen communities, have urged a globalist ethic that regards humans as appropriately citizens of the world and at home nowhere in particular. Seeking the liberation of opressed individuals from the depradations of local communities, cosmopolitans have sought to commend an ethic of “multiculturalism” often at the expense of culture proper.

We should see clearly that the modern ethic, in all of its forms – philosophic, economic, political, theological, artistic – aims at the elimination of culture. Culture is an eco-system with added presence of human beings. Culture springs up in local places based on local diversities and natural conditions. In a healthy eco-system, cultures are robust and can expect to thrive – like snail-darters or tree-frogs – into the indefinite future. Under threat from external forces, they prove to be fragile and with relative ease are rendered extinct: destroy the eco-system that gives rise to and sustains creatures or cultures, those creatures and cultures are eradicated with remarkable ease and alacrity.

The commendation of “multiculturalism” is everywhere the recommended stance of our time (while this is a position most often visible on the Left, it is also in fact the default position of many on the Right, particularly in their encouragement of “free trade” whose result is a polyglot commercial sphere. Readers should consult the work of Tyler Cowen for the “Right” version of multicultural enthusiasm).

Delicious, huh? Here’s his scintillating concluding paragraph:

What needs fundamental reassessment is the idea that the current Left and Right represent true alternatives on our political stage today. There are legitimate differences, to be sure, but it turns out that what makes them more similar undermines their points of legitimate difference. Asking us to choose between “the environment” or “family values” (for instance) while simultaneously demanding that we sign on to a more fundamental agenda that makes either – or both – of those commitments finally untenable is either the most brilliantly contrived political conspiracy of all time, or simply a reflection of yet unquestioned commitments to a modern agenda that will ultimately destroy the natural and cultural pre-conditions of its own success.


Green Prisons

LITTLEROCK, Wash. – Of all the things convicted murderer Robert Knowles has been called during his 13 years behind bars, recycler hasn’t been one of them.

But there he was one morning, pitchfork in hand, composting food scraps from the main chow line and coffee grounds from prison headquarters — doing his part to “green” the prison.

[ . . . ]

As around-the-clock operations, prisons are voracious resource hogs, and administrators are under increasing pressure to reduce waste and conserve energy and water.

In 2007, states spent more than $49 billion to feed, house, clothe, treat and supervise 2.3 million offenders, the Pew Center on the States reported this year.

As the prison population has grown this decade, up 76 percent from 1.3 million in 2000, the number of prisons and jails has risen with it. The latest U.S. Bureau of Justice data show 1,821 facilities in 2005, up from 1,668 in 2000.

Pretty damn cool, huh? I think it’s a pretty fantastic idea, implementing go-local food culture, recycling, a means whereby, ideally, to re-connect felons with the society, at least abstractly and indirectly, that they have spurned, and a general plan of semi-self-sufficiency. Imagine, now, if we stopped locking up every prostitute (I’m all for throwing the books at pimps.), coke-head, and small-time marijuana grower, how much more we could save on prisons. Just a thought. For now, though, the greening of prisons seems to be a pretty admirable step in the right direction.

Beyond supply and demand: When intervention isn’t just wise, but morally necessary

Garcia could do little. The tiger smugglers hadn’t committed a state crime. You might think it’s illegal to buy or sell an endangered tiger cub in Texas, but it isn’t. For $500, you can buy an orange Bengal tiger and tie it up in your yard, no questions asked (a white tiger will cost you $5,000). It’s all perfectly legal in Texas.

[ . . . ]

One thing is certain: With so many exotic animals, Texas is running out of zoos and sanctuaries that will take animals that are abandoned or seized in illegal smuggling rings (you can’t take tigers across the border without proper permits). The burgeoning tiger population has dangerous consequences for public safety—you could soon have a pet tiger living down the block—not to mention the health of animals forced to live in poor conditions.

[ . . . ]

A glut of tigers in an unregulated market can mean tragedy for the animals. On Christmas Day last year, a sanitation crew in Dallas found a dead, 1-year-old Bengal tiger near Interstate 35. The tiger had a bike lock cable and rusted wire around its neck. It had been shot five times

[My emphasis. – NPO]

Something Everything about this just ain’t right. (Does believing in some sort of animal rights make a lefty screwball? I hope not.) Read the whole story in the Texas Observer

“Future Perfect”: Peak oil, Mayberry, and a saner world

Peak-oil believers have multiplied like religious revivalists across America and the world, describing on their websites how they became, in the language of
conversion, “peak oil aware.” Still, the news coverage falls back on old stereotypes—
environmentalist, survivalist, homesteader, and homeschooler—often dismissing peak oil, like most useful ideas, as an obsession of the far Left or far Right.

The simpler truth is that peak-oil converts are often young people reviving the personal habits and self-sufficient skills of their grandparents’ generation, thinking seriously about their tap water, transportation, income, food, heat, and electricity, and realizing how little would survive the end of fossil fuels. They anticipate that population trends, climate change, and other problems will compound the crisis, creating what Kunstler has called the Long Emergency. While others are preoccupied with the hot-button lifestyle issues of the moment, they are planting gardens, buying foreclosed farms, learning traditional crafts, taking crash courses in survival skills, and soberly preparing while silently counting down.

In this wonderful piece (Sorry, subscriber-access only! Go subscribe to this fine, anti-war conservative organ!), from the 25 August The American Conservative, Brian Kaller, nonetheless warning of the impending peak oil “crisis”, sets himself apart, marvelously, from the likes of Kunstler (“Tattooing has traditionally been a marginal activity among civilized people, the calling card of cannibals, sailors, and whores. The appropriate place for it is on the margins, in the back alleys, the skid rows. The mainstreaming of tattoos (on main street) is a harbinger of social dysfunction.”) — whom I very much respect, whose writing, particularly in The Geography of Nowhere has influenced me tremendously –, prognosticating that “peak oil will probably not be a crash . . . but a series of small breakdowns, price hikes, and local crises.” [My emphasis. – NPO]

Kaller, as I (and numerous others, including John) have, laments the destructive ways intrinsic in agri-business; however, he particularly strikes a chord with me when he asserts that

[w]e need a common vision that avoids post-apocalypse yarns as well as “Star Trek” fantasies in favor of something both realistic and hopeful. Handled right, peak oil could bring a revival of small-town America, local farming, small businesses, and an economy that centers around Main Street rather than Wall Street. It wouldn’t require us suddenly to turn Amish. With solar, wind, and nuclear power, we can maintain the Internet, commuter rail, and other technologies and continue the global exchange of ideas.

So, for our new vision during this national crisis, I nominate “The Andy Griffith Show.” No, really, I’m serious.

Is this simple suggestion, that we model our communities after that over which Andy Taylor presided, rather than after some abstraction, based not on people, but on technology and “progress”, not that about which conservatism truly is? Rather undeniably, not everyone one the right accedes to the position that peak oil truly threatens our way of life; I disagree with them, but, wishing to reach out and to establish common ground, suggest that, even if we, who forewarn against the “local crises”, say not sooth, but preach of doom that shall pass, may be right in urging a return to Kaller’s Mayberry-like world not out of commercial necessity, but, instead, out of cultural necessity.

What has come to represent American “conservatism” descends less from Burke than from those Jacobins whom he detested, against whom that great sage took took to his pen: They seek to spread democracy, that most debase-able of governments, one which, often enough, they fail to exercise at home, the world across, giving birth to empire as they bring death to community. Particularly in the wake of Senator McCain’s announcement that he selected Palin to run with him, the right has offered incessant peans to small-town America, all the while sending small-town Americans, including Governor Palin’s son, to fight foreign battles, shipping small-town American jobs abroad as part of ideological “free” trade, and, generally, furthering distancing itself from the actual, real values, whereof Kaller composes, that emanate from and denote small-town America. Look homeward, America: Look homeward, conservatives. Harry Kazazian has. The facts that seem to indicate the truthiness of these nonsensical forecasts of peak oil have left him with little choice.

(Page Two)

On battling the errors of modernity

From Fr. John Augustine Zahm, c.s.c’s 1896 Evolution and Dogma, a passage that gave pause to me:

To attempt to cope with the modern spirit of error by means of antiquated and discarded weapons of offense and defense, were as foolish as to pit a Roman trireme or a medieval galley against a modern steel cruiser or the latest type of battleship. -page xx

Nigh two months ago, in the first week of July, Will Wilson posted a couple of wondrous comments, to which my mind drifted, upon my reading the aforementioned passage, on the Right and science:

The solution of course is that rather than attacking the data, attack the willful misuse of the myths about the data. Thus, rather than denying the realities of evolution and anthropogenic global warming, conservatives ought to refute the arguments which suggest that evolution necessarily implies atheistic materialism and that mitigation of global warming necessarily requires some form of socialist planning. Currently, we are ceding nearly all of the contested ground to the other side, and in the process living up to Mill’s description of us as “the stupid party.”

and the apologist’s battle against the modern-day atheists, who, by-and-large, in my humblest of opinions, impressively armed as they be, nonetheless, are hacks:

Modern-day apologists, if they wish to be convincing, are advised to bone up on their philosophy of mind, their quantum mechanics, and their Derrida. The rules of the game have changed.

What troubles me most about Will’s thoughts, notwithstanding my complete ignorance of the works of Derrida and my non-existent understanding of the philosophy of the mind and quantum mechanics (Seriously, if you’ve good primers to suggest, please do, and I shall add them to the reading list!), is that, more than a century ago, risking ecclesiastical trouble (Oh, he encountered it!), a Catholic scientist-priest, who served as President of what is now (and, mayhap, was, then) the foremost Catholic university in the nation, if not the world (as one Vatican official, unofficially, commented to a priest-friend of mine), offered essentially the same advice, and yet we, collectively, have not heeded. I know Catholics who fail to realize that the Church recognizes the validity of evolutionary theory (at least in some form); get me not started on young-earth creationists, please! Heaven forfend I should admit, to some, often intelligent, compeers, that I think that, just maybe, man has had some effect on climate change.

Doubtless, one, easily, can attribute this sort of ignorance primarily to “fundamentalist” Christians (“Christianists”, to quote the self-disgracing Sullivan?), for whom science, all too often, is anathema (recent progress, worthy of applause, from some evangelists vis-à-vis global warming notwithstanding). (Sad enough, some Catholics fall into this pit, too.) Ezra Klein, commenting on one of the more lamentable aspects of Sarah Palin, has something to say about this here. He’s, perhaps, a bit over the top, but some of the respondents in the comment box bring dialogue back to a more open-minded realm.

Those of us — particularly, I suppose, Catholics — who recognize the important role the Church has played in fostering scientific progress over the centuries, regardless of what those who employ the Galileo canard would have us believe, need, I believe, to take a stand. We must embrace the judicious words of Fr. Zahm; we must employ the perspicacious attitude suggested by Will. We must do this, even if it requires that we, to the greatest extent possible without rejecting the Christian charity and goodwill of ecumenical dialogue, break those alliances, specifically political, that bind us to those whose willful ignorance denigrates both science and religion. We must escape this cave if we wish to educate those from whom we unbind ourselves: We cannot, knowledgeable as we be, educate them, or even hope to, unless we draw them, too, out from the cavernous depths and into the light. Would they refuse, we should, then, let them perish, for, as Catholics — as Christians, as theists of any stripe — we owe it to ourselves, to others, and to our God not to permit His revealed Truth to be besmirched by rejection of scientific truths (No truth can not be part of Truth.) evinced through rational inquiry. We must fight the errors of (post-)modernity by employing those truths espoused by it against it; C.S. Lewis, as great as he is, only takes us so far; likewise, many early scientists, even with their flaws, serve us well, but only to a point, and not accepting what, inter alios, Darwin has to offer only hurts us and compels us to paint ourselves as fools — apes, un-evolved into men, even.

Another brilliant image courtesy of Andrew Sullivan

“Life on Mars”

Post number one on Weyrich and Lind’s Next Conservatism

The American Conservative, in its 12 February 2007 issue, ran an article, titled, simply, “The Next Conservatism”, co-authored by Messrs. Weyrich and Lind, which argued that “By rejecting ideology and embracing “retroculture,” the Right can recover itself and perhaps reverse America’s decline.” I’ve mentioned before that I intend to comment on, at least, a couple of the essays on this Next Conservatism. First, then, I believe that I ought to introduce readers to this fine summary of what Weyrich and Lind contend conservatism must be and become if conservatives wish to remain a) relevant and b) conservative. Numerous excerpts, then, from the AmConMag article follow.

Conservatism has become so weak in ideas that during the presidency of George W. Bush, the word “conservative” could be and was applied with scant objection to policies that were starkly anti-conservative. Americans witnessed “conservative” Wilsonianism, if not Jacobinism, in foreign policy and an unnecessary foreign war; record “conservative” trade and federal budget deficits; major “conservative” expansions of the power of the federal government at the expense of traditional liberties; and nonchalant “conservative” de-industrialization and dispossession of the middle class in the name of Ricardian free trade and Benthamite utilitarianism. No wonder the American people are confused and disillusioned by conservatism if these are its actions when in power. Were Russell Kirk still with us, what would he now call himself?

If conservatism is to be re-established as an intellectual force, and not merely a label for whatever the establishment does to its own benefit, it must first re-awaken intellectually. We need a new conservative agenda.

[ . . .]

If the next conservatism is to reverse this decline and begin to recover the America we knew as recently as the 1950s, the last normal decade, it must do three things. First, it must aspire to change not merely how people vote but how they live their lives. It must lead growing numbers of Americans to secede from the rotten pop culture of materialism, consumerism, hyper-sexualization, and political correctness and return to the old ways of living. The next conservatism includes “retroculture”: a conscious, deliberate recovery of the past.

This recovery should not be, indeed cannot be, imposed through political power. This is the second action the next conservatism must take: putting power in its place. Tolkien’s ring of power is power itself, which in the long run cannot be used for good. The rejection of the counterculture that has become the mainstream culture must proceed bottom-up, person by person and family by family, on a voluntary basis.

[ . . . ]

In summary, then, the next conservatism as we envision it is cultural conservatism, with an agenda both cultural and political, and activity both within and beyond the political process. It seeks to win elections with no less ardor than in 1980 or 1994, but, having perhaps more realistic expectations of what politics can do, it includes a bottom-up, grass-roots movement, similar to the home-schooling movement or the 19th-century temperance movement, devoted to restoring traditional ways of living.

. . . The next conservatism still opposes abortion and supports traditional marriage. It seeks further cuts in marginal tax rates, though it insists on spending cuts as well, and a balanced federal budget. It wants a strong national defense, including missile defense. It demands effective control of our borders, elimination of illegal immigration, a reduction in legal immigration, and effective acculturation of recent immigrants. . . .

But the next conservatism also looks to new situations.

Its agenda should include the abandonment of a Wilsonian foreign policy, which is promoted by neoconservatives and neoliberals alike, and a return to a policy based on America’s concrete interests. . . . [T]hrough most of our history we related to the rest of the world, actively and successfully, through the private means of trade and ideas rather than by playing the game of Great Power. The Founders warned that we could either preserve liberty at home or seek Great Power status but not both. The next conservatism prefers liberty to the trappings of empire.

[ . . . ]

. . . Restoring the Republic requires breaking the monopoly of professional politicians and two parties that are for the most part one party—the Party of I’ve Got Mine. The next conservatism should promote increased use of ballot initiatives and referenda, term limits, putting “none of the above” on the ballot and requiring a new election with new candidates if it wins, and ending legalized bribery under the name of campaign contributions. . . .

Further, the next conservatism should revive the dormant conservative agrarian tradition. As the Amish demonstrate, the small family farm can be economically viable. Organic farming, conservation and restoration of the soil, farmers’ markets and “crunchy cons” should find an honored place in the next conservative agenda. Family farms are good places for children to grow up. While environmentalism is becoming an ideology, conservation and care in the use of God’s creation have long-standing conservative credentials. In turn, agriculture has always been a conservative culture.

Similarly, the next conservatism should include the issue of scale of enterprise. Conservatives have long recognized the danger big government poses to free markets. Is there not a similar threat from big business enterprises, especially when those enterprises are international corporations with no concern for the homeland? Is the market truly free when vast corporations can manipulate prices and politicians to destroy local businesses, both manufacturers and retailers, that are anchored in the local community and contribute to it in ways big companies do not? When everything for sale is labeled “Made in China,” Heaven decrees fair trade instead of free trade.

Another old conservative issue the next conservatism should revive is aesthetics. America may be the richest nation in history, but that has not made it the most beautiful. Strip malls, suburban sprawl, and hollowed-out cities have created an environment few people can love. The New Urbanism offers an alternative that looks to the past to recover traditional designs for towns and cities.* . . .

[ . . .]

So the next conservative movement is just this: a growing coalition of people who are committed to living differently. They share a common rejection of the popular culture, of a life based on wants and instant gratification, and of the ideology of multiculturalism and political correctness. They seek to work with other Americans, and perhaps Europeans as well, who know the past was better than the present and are committed to living as their ancestors did, by the rules of Western culture. They carry their quest into the political arena, lest their enemies mobilize the power of the state to crush them. But they look beyond politics to lives well lived in the old ways, as lamps for their neighbors’ footsteps, as harbingers of a world restored, and as testimonies to the only safe form of power, the power of example. We might add, as gifts to God as well.

*I, as a student of urban planning possessed of a great deal of affinity for the New Urbanism, plan, in particular, to address this. I’ve left out some of the authors’ further comments, from this article, whereto I find myself to stand in contradistinction. I’ll allow the authors to have their say in toto in a post dedicated to this aspect of the Next Conservatism.

I believe, on the whole, that Messrs. Weyrich and Lind offer a more-than-acceptable vision of conservatism, one rooted in tradition (both in the Conservative Tradition, and in the cultural customs and mores of the American people, or, at least, a large segment thereof) and keenly aware of the concerns of the present day: environmental degradation (which, as I noted long ago, Kirk lamented), corporate(-government collusion-caused) distortion of the market, aesthetic debasement, detrimental reliance on the automobile, and so forth. They present a conservative movement welcoming to — meant for — the rest of us: for me, for John Schwenkler, for Rod Dreher, et alios. This is the conservatism of Mark’s hypothetically revived Federalist Party; of Wilhelm Röpke’s nobilitas naturalis, the “moral aristocrats . . . . [B]usinessmen . . . who view the great questions of economic policy unprejudiced by their own . . . interests; . . . journalists who resist temptation to flatter mass tastes or to succumb to political passions. . . .” (Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy, pages one hundred thirty, one hundred and thirty-one)