Ruminations on rootedness, place, community

Corresponding with a former professor regarding my next potential steps in academia, I made, in my most recent e-mail to her, the following comment

I should confess that part of my reason, beyond obvious things, for wishing to return is that N.D. [for, ideally, my juris doctor and, concurrent with that, either a Ph.D. or M.A. in political theory] is only about seventy miles from my home-town, and I, having my roots planted fairly deeply in the fertile northern Indiana soil, shouldn’t mind being nearer . . . .

I must admit, I suppose, that, were I not reading Wendell Berry these days, I probably wouldn’t have phrased that as I did. It is, however, my virtually complete lack of knowledge of farming know-how notwithstanding, wholly accurate. (This point about my lack of knowledge I hesitate to admit: My family has owned the same farm, on which my grandfather, born on the farm, still resides, for more than one hundred years; my father provided the bulk of our family’s income farming that land for the first fifteen years of my life; and, yet, I don’t know a damn thing, although I do enjoy mowing the filter strip, after 1 July, on the ol’ John Deere 4020 or 2510.) A saying exists about North Judson, IN, that many of us, our “feet stuck in the Bogus”, the Bogus being a well-known creek flowing through the nearby, cannot escape the area. It’s apt enough, but, for me, it suffices not, for the water in a creek flows; one can never, as Heraclitus reminds us, step into the same river twice; this is not so with the land: My roots have grown deep into the soil whence have arisen decades’ worth of corn stalks, soybean plants, mint, alfalfa and bromegrass, as well as scores of vegetables, the soil whence my antecedents derived their livelihoods, enjoyed periods of success and years of doubt.

Undeniably, this sense of rootedness in northern Indiana has affected me, particularly of late, as I’ve contemplated withdrawing from my program at the University of Maryland. My experience, thus far, inside the Beltway, has been, on the balance, a positive one, but immanent in me lies a longing for home, a desire to reconnect myself to my roots. My reasons for considering (I’ve yet to make a determination.) withdrawing are multifarious, and, gladly, I should explain in detail to any-one who, sincerely curious, would contact me privately at nporiger – at – gmail – dot – com. Presently, though, I wish to concentrate on one of my most momentous concerns with the program, one regarding place and community.

I worry that, all too heavily, my program — or, at least, the students therein — focus on process, rather than reality; put otherwise, we emphasize the “Planning” part of the degree’s name, rather than its predecessor, “Community”. Having raised this issue, during a frank conversation about my future, to my program’s director, I learned that the program’s degree bears this name, rather than the broader “Urban and Regional Planning” because, somehow, Morgan State University convinced the Maryland State Legislature to grant it a monopoly on the term. Nonetheless, I believe that I present a lucid and compelling claim, one I shall defend with, currently, two points, the first, admitted, rather specious.

1) The primary text in our required, wholly worthless Planning Process course (An entire semester dedicated to group negotiations and playing with Duplo blocks, as well as being indoctrinated with the cause du jour in planning, multiculturalism and facilitating democratic participation!) is called Community Planning.

2) More pressing and relevant, we use, probably far too loosely, the word “community” constantly. We ramble off philippics about community involvement, about place-making, about improving communities. After all, call it what you will — city planning, urban planning, community planning — it’s all the same, it’s all about planning (and/or “improving”) spaces — places — that we call home.

Except that we don’t, and here lies one of my more serious complaints. We study community planning; we pontificate about the evil capitalist chain stores, developers, et alia, who destroy communities; we exhort and implore governments to spend more money, further foolishly to intervene, to “save” communities, but we ignore our own. We come from Indiana, Georgia, California, Texas, Germany, and a dozen other places to Maryland to earn our degree, to receive our “education” (That is, our specialized training.), and we, all too often, stay right in this area, finding planning jobs in D.C. or the Maryland suburbs, maybe Baltimore. Mayhap, this isn’t all bad, but, essentially, when we make this decision, we deny the soils, so to speak, that nurtured us, in exchange re-planting ourselves (or, rather, attempting vainly and foolhardily to do so) and imposing our perspectives on the residents, some of them, doubtless, from families generations deep in the community; we project our ignorant beliefs on communities that functioned, ebbed, and flowed, for decades, even centuries, without the assistance of young encroachers.

This troubles me for reasons at least threefold. First, I think we deny not only our natural soil, but our-selves, as well as our families and our ancestors, even those who have passed on, the benefits of continuing that mutually beneficial relationship extant between plant and soil. Second, if I’ve learned nothing else in my planning program, I’ve, more clearly than ever, realized that, well-meaning as we be, we are, ultimately, clueless, bureaucratic morons (I say this, no offense intended to anyone, in the nicest way possible.) whose collective historical track record of destruction outshines even that of General Sherman, perchance our nation’s first war criminal. Finally, the libertarian streak whereof I am possessed faces constant competition, specifically vis-à-vis local government (I am, of course, a decentralist, even if of the heterodox variety.), from an authoritarian urge, one directed, primarily, toward the end of saving the people from themselves — toward good republican trusteeship. Believing that, more frequently than not, the people lack sufficient knowledge, understanding, and foresight always to be trusted with making decisions in the best of interest of the community, I see a role for the planner, for the judicious local bureaucrat (used, strange enough, here, with-out pejorative meaning, and, probably, some-what loosely, for lack of a better term) to hold decision-making power on issues of land-use, aesthetics, and economic development, inter alia. This being so, I tremble at the thought of interlopers, fresh out of school with their “education”, having a say in the decision-making processes of communities wholly foreign to them. No matter how sincerely and passionately one tries, he can never, quickly, truly integrate him-self into this new place, certainly cannot have a true grasp of the history, culture, and quirks of his new city. That, I believe, just ain’t good.

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In the forthcoming issue of the Terrapin Times

Doubtless, some editing will occur; few of my pieces escape the “This needs to be shortened” machine. It’s one part paean to WFB, one part mission statement in prose form, and one part further attempt pretentiously to sound more erudite than I ever could hope to be. Enjoy.

Cogitating about the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr., I could not help but to rejoice briefly. You see, the demise of this erudite patriarch — and patrician — of modern conservatism occurred quite providentially, liberating me from the obstructions that had hitherto prevented the confluence of various thoughts cascading through my mind into a tranquil stream suitable for a column.

I hope to see instilled into the ethos of this paper what Buckley injected into mainstream American conservatism, to wit, ideas, for a conservatism concerned solely with issues, failing to recall the principles at its roots, is intrinsically anticonservative. To this end, I intend to dedicate the occasional column to prominent conservative figures and their thoughts. With this issue I had hoped to commence the series, but had no idea how.

Then Bill Buckley died.

Immediately, though, an inconvenient truth impeded my progress. Whereas I have read Burke and Kirk, two of the most influential thinkers of Anglo-American conservatism, Buckley’s works remain foreign to me. How could I, having never met the man nor read his works, hope to emulate the multitudinous essays in his memory?

When I could descend no deeper into the pits of despair, kismet again inclined to oblige me, this time masquerading as an opinion piece in the Diamondback on the Fourth of March.

Rachel Hare, doubtless a lovely, intelligent young lady, penned the column “The right to choose . . .” — a woman’s right, that is, to choose which political candidate to endorse.Quite indubitable, Miss Hare offers cogent points about the insularity of suggesting that women automatically should gravitate toward the female candidate and African-Americans to the black contender.

The unfortunately misleading assumption of her column, however, is quite telling of biases on this campus and in the editorial staff who decide which pieces to publish and which to spurn.

Women and minorities voting Democratic oftener than not, Miss Hare pays no heed to those ladies and blacks who dissent from the majority. She makes not even a passing mention of John McCain, Mike Huckabee, or the quixotic, impassioned Dr. Paul.

I suspect that the Republican Women at Maryland scoff at the suggestion that, short of supporting Senator Clinton simply because she is a woman, they may cast their votes for Senator Obama. Alan Keyes, daftly acceding to the Illinois G.O.P’s request, challenged Obama for the seat vacated by Peter Fitzgerald. I fear the level of incompetence required to believe that he would, not finding his former opponent to be suitable, champion Clinton’s cause. Needless to say, less extreme examples abound.

The clarion having sounded, William F. Buckley, Jr., may he requiescat in pace, rejoined, uniting multifarious factions comprising the anti-New Deal American Right — traditionalists in the vein of Kirk and T.S. Eliot, libertarians, anti-communists — in his National Review.

Rejuvenating an enervated movement, Buckley did the unthinkable: He proved wrong Lionel Trilling, who had contended that “liberalism [was] . . . the sole intellectual tradition” in post-war America. Absent this, portraying George Gipp may have marked the apex of Ronald Reagan’s career; Ted Kennedy could be president!

So, too, shall the Terrapin Times answer the call, providing an organ for contrarian thought on this public campus in the heart “Blue State America”.

No one on the staff here is the next Bill Buckley (though I, rather pretentiously, have a predilection for poorly mimicking Mr Buckley’s sesquipedalian, pleonastic style). We are, however, all cognizant of the need for our publication. Biases of various Leftist vintages permeate the culture and media of this campus, and someone must stand vigilant, challenging unquestioned assumptions and defending liberty against the pernicious, often surreptitious dominance of political correctness, reckless multiculturalism, and paternalism. This paper shall be that someone.