Toxic or Tonic?


What happened to our Arcadia? We stopped listening to it. We stopped dancing, we moved away, we started listening to the chant of the Machine instead. It is debt we chase now, not the moon. We are individuals, not parts in a wider whole. In a broken time, it is taboo to remember what was lost, and that fact alone makes Arcadia a revolutionary document. Look, it says. This is how it was. This is what was broken. At night, when you lie awake with your phone flashing under your pillow – do you miss it?

Paul Kingsnorth via Alan Jacobs (italics added).

I thought that was lovely, so I’m exposed as a monster:

This is where landscape writing sheds its leafy cloak and lets you glimpse its colder face – sounding like Steve Bannon, quoting Steve Bannon, black notebooks in hand, gazing from its bench at the little woodland of little England and trying to decide if “benevolent green nationalism” sounds too much like “…well, a nice kind of Hitler.”

We see you for what you are.

Warren Ellis also via Alan Jacobs, who closes with a few questions for folks like Ellis:

For these critics of Kingsnorth, is there any legitimate way to praise, and to seek to conserve, old rituals and practices? Can you love harvest festivals or Morris dancing or Druidic rites or for that matter Ember Days without being a racist, a fascist, a Nazi? Or is urban cosmopolitanism the only ethically acceptable ideal of human life?

And if you can love and practice those old ways without being a racist — How? What would distinguish morally legitimate attitudes from the ones that Kingsnorth is being pilloried for?

This inquiring mind would really like to know.

“Broken times” indeed.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Places not worth caring about

In James Howard Kunstler’s view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about.

And argue it he does, with passion in the greatest tirade I can recall ever watching. Take 19:48 to watch it yourself and see if you can keep from laughing – and agreeing. (Oh yeah: watch it with your earbuds or after the kiddies are down for the night.)

“Suburbia – Advanced Mutation” and “What’s Really Going On Here?” look too much like the postwar excrescences in my hometown. I used to think it was my town that was the problem, but most of the stuff built since World War II – i.e., most of the stuff built in my lifetime – is not worth caring about.

Does economic growth rot the culture?

Georgetown political theorist Patrick Deneen thinks genuine conservatism is incompatible with global capitalism and that confusion of the two is a cold war artifact. I’ll not equivocate about this one: I very strongly suspect he’s right.

Other stimulating excerpts:

My goal has been (I hope) in particular to deepen some of our political understanding and vocabulary, to make visible to more readers some of the deepest presuppositions of modern politics and even the deeper philosophical ideas that inform discrete political issues.  By enlarging the view and elongating the perspective, I also hoped that some other overlooked possibilities might be entertained – particularly beyond the worn and largely unproductive contemporary political positions adopted by the Right and the Left.

[M]any modern proponents of democracy believe that true democracy will only be achieved when we have overcome all “particularity.”  The root of the contradiction of modern democratic theory is the idea that there are only two justifiable and desirable conditions of humankind – the radically individuated monad and the globalized world community.  Any intermediate grouping or belonging is seen as arbitrary and the locus of limitations – hence, unjust.

Technology aids and abets the modern project of eviscerating attachments to local places and cultures.  Not long ago, thinkers like Emerson and Dewey praised the liberating and transformative potential of the railroads and telegraph; today, it is the internet and Facebook. [No, the irony is not lost on me.]

I think there is great systemic danger in the not-distant future due to a coming (or already arrived) energy crisis.  This will be a traumatic experience for a civilization that has been built around the assumption of permanently cheap energy.  I would submit that our economic crisis, our debt crisis, and our moral crisis are all pieces of this larger energy crisis.  Because our way of thinking treats problems as separate and discrete, we tend not to see their deeper connections.  I would be happy to elaborate on this, but won’t presume to take up the space to lay this out in this venue.  The thinker who has best articulated the contemporary tendency to treat all problems as “parts” while ignoring the whole is Wendell Berry.

(I found the interview linked above through Deneen’s own summary at Front Porch Republic, which also reminds me that he was interviewed by Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal, an excellent resource for commuters or people who like something other than frenetic music on the iPod when they work out, walk, bike or whatever.)