Sunday, July 16, 2006

Stegall, Reloaded

So I will plead guilty to the charge of tossing some red meat in my last post. It's fun, it's fast, and it's easy, but it makes it a little too easy for other people to put words in your mouth. So instead of engaging in a game of pistols-at-dawn, I'd like to try and focus on the substance of my earlier criticisms.

Stegall writes,

Folk populism requires people willing to make sacrifices to defend what they love from encroaching destruction via spaghetti-like superhighways, foreign entanglements, megacorporations and megachurches, technological developments, mass media and hypermobility.

All of these features of modernity are systems of control by other, less violent means.

I want to pause for a minute on this because this last sentence is already making a very bold claim. It also has a distinctly Marxist cant to it. Now just to spell it out for everyone, I am not calling Caleb Stegall a disciple of of Lenin. I am not even saying that he is necessarily wrong. But I don't think it's unfair to note that over the past 50 years or so, if you simply bet "black" every time the faculty at the local college put their money on "red," you would probably come out ahead on 90% or more of the issues in question. So while the point is not to be dismissed out of hand it is reasonable to ask for a higher standard of evidence.

But not only is the notion stated as a fait accomplis, Stegall barely pauses for a breath before taking the thesis considerably farther:

As Mr. Lasch cogently argued, they have the effect of harnessing and neutralizing populist discontent. How? By creating a cycle of dependence whereby local goods – intellectual, fiscal, cultural and generational capital (in the form of children) – are drawn into the maw of the centralized corporate-state. They are returned in the form of processed "goods" – products and services that prove to be remarkably habit-forming in a culture of dependency.

Again we have assertions without evidence or example. Now this is all great stem-winding stuff for sure. I don't doubt that it could get some heads nodding along at the local grange hall. But the indictment is awfully far-reaching. So let's look at his next graf wherein he reveals the machinery at work:

Here's how it works. Midwestern wheat farms are largely owned by massive agribusinesses that function as industrialized, oil-dependent factories dedicated to efficient mass production of their widget, which happens to be the wheat berry. The wheat berry is shipped to other factories for processing and packaging, shipped again to Wonder Bread Inc. for further refinement into a "bread product." This, in turn, is shipped to stadium-size retail "food outlets," purchased by the hurried and haggard farm laborer (who used to own the land the wheat was grown on) and taken home to make sandwiches for the kids to eat in front of the TV.
OK, there's a lot in here. Let's take it one piece at a time:

"massive agribusinesses that function as industrialized, oil-dependent factories": Last I checked, family farms use tractors, fertilizers, and pesticides too. So I don't see how family farms would be significantly less industrialized or oil-dependent.

"efficient mass production of their widget, which happens to be the wheat berry": And small local farms are different how? Granted, they are often not cpable of efficiency on the scale of the massive agribusinesses (which explains why they exist), but within their own capabilities they certainly work their hardest to maximize their yield. And the whole "wheat berry" thing is just an epithet applied for rhetorical effect. Farmers don't grow wheat because their daddy and his daddy did, they grow it because it gives them the best profit. You can read journals written by farmers in colonial times which show them discussing how many acres of X and Y to plant because of market prices for those things. Farming is and has always been a business.

"The wheat berry is shipped to other factories for processing and packaging, shipped again to Wonder Bread Inc. for further refinement into a 'bread product.'" Ah yes, that damned Wonder Bread! You know why people eat the stuff? It's those damned highways and megachurches. Wonder Bread has been around since 1930, but has fallen on hard times lately as consumers discover that flavor and texture are not things to be frightened of. So much for elites controlling and manipulating our every decision. And does he really expect every baker to mill their own flour? They don't even do that in France.

"This, in turn, is shipped to stadium-size retail 'food outlets,' purchased by the hurried and haggard farm laborer": Have you ever known a farmer who wasn't hurried and haggard? It's awfully hard work. In fact, the farmer is less hurried and haggard as a result of not having to go to four or five different "food boutiques" in order to take care of the family's grocery needs.

"(who used to own the land the wheat was grown on)": When? 1885? By the 1920s we were becoming an unabashedly urban nation in population terms. And even prior to that a large proportion of people working on farms were hired hands.

"taken home to make sandwiches for the kids to eat in front of the TV.": Would you be happier if they ate it in front of the radio?

OK, so let's re-write this paragraph, stripping out the hyperbole and "gravy," and see how it sounds:

Here's how it works. Midwestern wheat farms are largely owned by massive agribusinesses large companies that function as industrialized, oil-dependent factories dedicated to efficient mass production of their widget, which happens to be the wheat berry. The wheat berry This is shipped to other factories for processing and packaging milled into flour and shipped again to Wonder Bread Inc. for further refinement into a "bread product" bread to bakers, whose bread This, in turn,
is shipped to stadium-size retail "food outlets," supermarkets that save the purchased by the hurried and haggard farm laborer time(who used to own the land the wheat was grown on) so she can get and taken get home sooner to make sandwiches for the and eat dinner with her kids in front of the TV.

So maybe I went a little overboard in suggesting that Stegall was dancing on the razor's edge of moonie territory. But let's be clear here, he, not I, is the one suggesting the presence and fact of a wide-ranging conspiracy directed against at least half the population of the country. As evidence of this he offers the fact that Boston's bread is baked in Ohio from grain grown on a farm in Nebraska that is owned by a company rather than a family. I'd make a "rye" comment about this but I don't want anyone to think I'm comparing Stegall to Pol Pot, or even Kettle.


Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

I’d like to think that I am a rational guy. Not to mention I’d like to think that I am a practical guy. I agree with what Caleb is saying an also what you are saying. The difference between you two is that back in the day when you had 50 family farms you had 50 families who were in charge of their own destiny to a certain degree. In the days when everyone was “on the farm” most people could attain a level of competence with their work and a level of self sufficiency that made a man feel comfortable in his skin.

Today if I want to go into business for myself, I have to take on partners to mitigate risk. Let’s take health insurance, my son got 7 stitches in the emergency room last year. The bill was $1200 for seven stitches. So my first partner is a health insurance company because it is irrational not to have it. Here is the honest truth I want the modern conveniences, but I don’t want to pay $1200 for them. A hundred years ago you would have stitched up your own kid for free, and assumed all the other risks like death by polio etc. I am willing to pay a fair price for this service like $120 an hour, but this rate is too much, perhaps even exploitative. Hence I stay put in my corporate job for fear of being caught unable to pay my partner the insurance company. What I think Stegal, Rod, and even myself is arguing for is the ability to be self sufficient. I am not community adverse, I simply want to be self sufficient so as not to be a burden and to help when necessary.

In past posts, I hesitated bringing up my reasoning on why I support the concepts espoused by these gentlemen. Simply because I know that my arguments are weak. All I have to offer is my experience and my intuition. You cannot base a movement on what you “kinda feel“ intuitively. Since my assertions are philosophically weak I am certain how you will treat them. What you will do is A) discount my anecdotal evidence as too specific and say that it does not necessarily scale, or B) you will say that I am being too theoretical, and not offering enough evidence for the broad assertions that I am making. And you guys will be philosophically correct to do it.

I assure you that I am not a crypto leftist. I’ve made this statement several times before. It is my conservatism that is at odds with the big corporate machine. I’ve worked most of my career in Fortune 500 companies, and I don’t see them as conservative institutions. I simply rather deal with contra or bubba than deal with IBM professional services. I’d rather use Pauli’s services that a big corporate placement agency. I prefer you all over your bigger corporate competitors. Most of this is written in the first person, and so it is weak opinion but I trust you can see some truth in it.

This is why I cannot dismiss Stegal or Rod out of hand. I feel the same way as they do. I feel controlled. More so than me, I saw my kids put on a mainstream societal treadmill from the time they were born. This is hard to watch. I want them to be free, not be funneled. Like traffic we are funneled into the same directions as cars. We don’t have to drive on the super highway, and we have that choice not to, but once one is on it, one’s choices are limited. You do have follow the pace and flow of the traffic lest you get a citation. It is very difficult to be countercultural.

To close, it is reasonable and practical to rely on yourself for your material survival as much as possible. To be self sufficient. It is better to be a generalist than to specialize to the point of absurdity. Even in nature highly specialized animals run the risk of extinction. Why should I participate in a society that promotes specialization disguised as a broad swath of choices. Simply put that’s the way I view it, and my anecdotal evidence supports it.

Please forgive all the first person references and argumentative chopiness here, but I am going to be out of pocket for the next several days and kind of rushed. So I won’t be able to respond. I am sorry that this is going to be one of the last posts by you guys, I hope that it is not. This has been an excellent blog. You are all very brilliant people, and I admire your talents very much. Even though I don’t agree with you all on some issues, this has been a great example of true community. Much more meaningful than yelling “word up yo!” with those that I am more ideologically aligned. Good luck to you all, and please stop by my blog and say hello every once in awhile. You're most welcome.

God bless you.

And Contra a special gift for you who is so deeply blessed with the Baptism of Desire.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Mystic, I understand the aesthetic appeal to being wholly self-sufficient, but let us not ignore the drawbacks. Specialization puts people at risk of being made obsolete, but an utter lack of specialization results in all of us being so inefficient that we have no choice but live at a subsistence level. It's bad for buggy whip makers that their skills can be rendered useless with the automobile; it's worse if vast numbers of us have to starve to death because of a drought or famine or pest infestation.

I can understand wanting not to be dependent on the charity of others -- on their giving you food and shelter because they feel or are obliged to do so. But what's wrong with freely entering relationships that are mutually beneficial? It's one thing to rely on others as your benefactors, another thing entirely if they're your customers.

Ultimately, I'm not sure utter independence from all other humans is desirable. We've been living in the Iron Age for over three thousand years; are we to smelt our own iron now, or are to we revert to bronze and stone tools?

If one desires to be independent once he has acquired the iron plow from someone else, that's fine, but that's hardly true self-sufficiency; it's faux self-sufficiency, built on a foundation laid by a civilization where people work together.

At any rate, I'd like to take another look or two at our dear Caleb.

I understand that superhighways are limiting in terms of access, but the beauty of limited-access roads is that they let you drive faster and, in doing so, cover greater distances over the same period of time. It seems silly to ignore this and to villify modern technology as "systems of control" as if pre-modern technology imposed no limitations on us.

It's kinda creepy how often Stegall engages in newspeak. Everything he dislikes gets labeled as slavery, everything he likes, freedom.

And honestly, Contra, I don't think you went far enough when you wrote that Caleb was dabbling in crankery. Apparently, he thinks Christianity is incompatible with and impossible in suburbia.

As Pauli pointed out to me an email, Stegall's recently reviewed a book titled "Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul."

In Stegall's view, the author didn't go far enough.

In an effort to make it clear that the sin and illusion reside inside of us, not in external trappings, Goetz underestimates the "cult" in culture, the gravitational pull the places, habits, and structures of our lives exert on our souls. In the quest to "find Jesus," much, perhaps everything, may hinge on the environment of the hunt.

The problem Goetz runs into is his unwillingness to offer the prescription of Christ: If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If suburbia is a spiritual "Alcatraz," as Goetz describes it, I suggest literal escape plans, even if they must be carried out patiently over the course of a lifetime. Instead, Goetz advises the inmates to live a disembodied spiritual life as the only "escape" available. But we are creatures, the material world is ever present with us, and Goetz's solution, while perhaps sufficient for a few saints, is unworkable for the rest of us, who require an external and embodied expression of life ordered under God.

Let this sink in: for those who seek Jesus, "perhaps everything" may depend on the environment of the hunt.

If you're in the suburbs, you probably won't find Jesus, unless you're one of the few saints. Even then, the modifier remains: "perhaps."

What does he mean by this? That Christian maturity is all but impossible if one lives in the suburbs? That salvation itself is all but out of reach?

This is lunacy. Sheer lunacy.

I wonder if Michael Dougherty, who was so outraged over one's bringing up Lyndon Larouche, will bat an eye at the idea that most of the tens (hundreds?) of millions of people living in the suburbs can't possibly be Christians simply because of where they live.

Stegall probably remains under most people's radar, no thanks to Rod Dreher, who featured him in his book, in the chapter on religion.

And welcomed him to the Crunchy Cons blog at NRO.

And features his wisdom on the blog at BeliefNet.

And published his agrarian manifesto in the Dallas Morning News.

Does Dreher know that Stegall believes all this? Does he agree?

I'd really love to know.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

So far as I can tell, neither Dougherty nor Dreher are aware of the book review, but jape commented on its last paragraph:

"A certain mind illogically concludes that this is a demand that one become a farmer."

I'm not sure who he's referring to, but I merely conclude that Stegall simply thinks being a Christian is impossible (or very nearly so) if you remain in the suburbs.

He's not demanding anyone become a farmer, he's just implying that the vast majority of people who aren't farmers and who remain in the suburbs are unrepentant pagans out of reach (or very nearly so) from the redemptive power of Christ.

See how reasonable that is? Caleb Stegall hardly has a provocative bone in his body.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Scattered musings re: specialization: Chesterton pointed out that men are best at being specialists and women are more suited to being generalists, esp. mothers, part of whose job is to introduce a child "to a world" -- so it's best that a mother be a little gifted at a lot of different things whereas a man goes out and gets really good at one thing to be a more effective bread-winner. I don't remember the exact essay/book in which he wrote this.

Chesterton is a favorite of most of the crunchy-bunch and in pointing this out, I doubt he's arguing for industrialization or globalization or making things more complex by continuing to specialize. More than anything he's just making a point from common sense. There's a balance between specialization and generalization and it seems to correspond somewhat to male/female, i.e., the natural compliment in the order of creation. At least to G.K.'s mind and, oh baby, what a mind.

Maybe, Mystic, you can factor this into your thought processes. I for one am willing to admit that it's possible that I can lean too far toward specialization, but that doesn't mean I have to write off the entire concept. The "point of absurdity" for me may be different than what it is for others. A lot of it comes down to freedom and preference which, of course, should be guided by wisdom.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Recent bruising encounters with Crunchy intolerance at Rod's blog have convinced me: These people are wacked.

Utterly, hopelessly wacked (barrinf a miracle of God's grace).

Not you, Cubeland Mystic. You are an open-minded guy and (IMHO) a saint. You are humble, loving, and Christian.

But Rod and certain of his acolytes have clearly drunk the Kool-Aid. And it hasn't improved either their temperaments or their sanity.

Man oh man. As you say, Bubba, this stuff is "sheer lunacy." Where do these people get this stuff? It's nigh impossible to be Christian in the suburbs? Wha'? What out-of-touch planet are these folks beaming from?

The zealotry is frightening. I've never encountered anything quite like it before, despite the fact that I attended Hippie U. with classmates who subsisted on a diet of macrobiotic mushrooms.

So, I'm to worry about how much protein is in my 3 oz. of chicken? I'm to worry about this? I'm to obsess that I might be poisoning my family if I feed them Oscar Meyer hotdogs? Mamma mia. Talk about getting one's priorities totally skewed.

My contentionn: If you want to eat organic broccoli, be my guest. I'm not the one trying to impose my ideas on everyone else. I'm the one saying, "Live and let live." What on earth is objectionable about that? Why do zealots and ideologues like Rod object to "Chacun a son gout" and "live and let live"? How could any reasonable person object to...well, reason?

The answer must be that Rod and co. are not reasonable. They are cranks. (It's so rich that he has just accused us non-Crunchies of being cranks, when he is clearly the prime candidate for that designation.)

Good grief. What part of "It is not what goes into a man that defiles a man" that these guys are not getting? What utter hubris, to go beyond what Our Lord has actually said---to contradict what He has said, in effect---in order to set up a new Pharisaism, a new legalism, a new burdensome set of arbitrary rules and regs in place of the very simple commands of the Gospel: Love God and love neighbor.

I am at a loss for words, because I am not dealing with rational people.

Or very nice people, either. Zealotry seems to turn people downright vicious. And if that's a Christian virtue, I'll eat my Missalette. :p

9:43 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Rod has now become so nasty that I too am thinking of banning myself. (After all, I've been banned anyway--LOL!)

Man, there's something about privileging chickens and carrots over human beings that really turns people vicious. Since when is name-calling a Christian virtue?

Silly me. I can't see where the Gospel says anything about sacramental tomatoes or about the toxicity of family-farm-produced produce. I do see where it quite explicitly says to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. If we're doing the stuff it explicitly commands, do we really have to worry ourselves to a frazzle about the stuff it doesn't command? (Like: fleeing the suburbs or avoiding processed food....)

7:54 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

Rod was a big fish in a small pond growing up. his move to NYC made the scales fall from his eyes, and he realized he wasn't the smartest little dickens in the whole wide world. NYC didn't stop in its tracks and pay obeisance to dreher and his gifts. dreher's reaction? anger. pure, petulant anger. Stegall apparently had the same experience somewhere along the line. perhaps his clerkship for a federal judge didn't go so well (after a look at his writing style, I would guess perhaps not). these guys played with the big boys for a bit of their lives, have all retreated back to a more local scene, and are now attempting to paint the retreat as decisions made from a sort of spiritual wisdom. which would be fine, in and of itself. but one has to ask: why are these guys are seething with hostility, as can be seen when they are addressed by anyone who's not part of the amen chorus?

I think the contras have done a yeoman's job of pointing out that the crunchies are not paragons of lucidity or mental stability. the only people who read dreher now, let alone take dreher seriously, are beyond help (or unworthy of it), IMHO.

8:55 AM  
Blogger The Contra Crunchy said...

Diane & Kathleen,

It might benefit our POV to spend a little more time working out the holes in the ideas, as opposed to the holes in the people. Otherwise we make it too easy for them to say that all we ever do here is talk smack about them.

11:52 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

Cube, are you kidding? they no longer deserve my generosity. I could make a list of the names i have been called on Rodblog and elsewhere in the past 2 weeks alone, by Rod himself as well as his zealot, commenter thugs. and let's not forget the treatment doled on the blog run by esteemed catholic apologist Mark Shea, who would be ashamed of himself if he had enough sense. I'm tempted to start name-calling in return, but why bother when a little armchair psychoanalysis will do (sometimes the truth hurts). I don't shrink from a fight, even if I am a girl. their ideas are worthless to me. basta.

12:45 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

sorry, i meant to address contra, not cube. my turn to apologize to JohnT.

12:47 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

better yet, use me as an excuse to shut the blog down (but if you're going to do that, please let me know ahead of time so i can really let my hysterical female freak flag fly). i think i need a new internet hobby.

i'm serious actually. but if you think there is anything more to their ideas, feel free to continue. personally i don't anything more to talk about. they're schmoes, QED.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Gotta say I'm with Kathleen on this one. It's hard to engage these guys' ideas when they lob insults at you whenever you try doing so. (Of course, the fact that their ideas are certifiably loopy half the time doesn't help, either.)

And has anayone else noticed that they go after us gals 90% of the time? It really is the Georgie-Porgie syndrome. Like they're too chicken to call the guys names. LOL!

But seriously, Contra---it really is hard to engage the ideas (such as they are) when you're at the receiving end of Rod's ad hominem vitriol. Personally, I think the Crunchy propensity for personal insult warrants a post in itself. If these dudes are so secure in their Crunchy Superiority, then why on earth do they hafta resort to vicious name-calling to silence or stifle their critics?

1:16 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

oh diane, diane, tsk tsk ... don't you know a true model of christian conservative womanhood would offer fulsome, gentle praise to men struggling to formulate their very own weltanschaung, while restricting the "what a load of crap!" comments to the bosom of the family?

we have so much to learn. so very very much to learn.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Personally, I think the best thing we can do, in public at the very least, is to retain the high ground and follow Contra's advice as best as we can.

I absolutely agree that Rod Dreher's treated those who disagree with him abysmally, but beyond pointing that out from time to time, the best response is critiquing the substance of what he espouses.

So what if he throws spitballs if it's clear to all the world that the treehouse fort he's defending isn't worth the effort?

It's quite obvious that commenting on his blog is a useless gesture, which is why I don't do it. And we can occasionally make the point that he doesn't take well to criticism, but there is more to all this than that.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

OK, OK, Bubba. :)

To tell the truth, it kind of takes me by surprise when Christians lob these spitballs. I guess I naively expect more from my brothers in Christ. Silly me.

So, OK, if we're engaging the, what substance?

How do you respond to the argument that it's impossible to find Christ in the suburbs? (Except by throwing up one's hands in disbelief and rolling one's eyes heavenward.)

So, people have found Christ in prison, in the Gulag, in the jungle, in the desert, in grass huts, in soddies, in death camps, in POW camps, and even in high school gym class...but the suburbs are beyond the reach of Grace. How does one respond to such lunacy? Oy! :)

2:13 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

I just disagree bubba. Rod is basically co-opting conservatism and catholicism and orthodoxy and even "crunchiness" to further his own therapeutic agenda, one element of which is his overwhelming need to be the smartest guy in the room with his very own blog and very own following, etc. I object to his co-cooptation and I wish to point it out and counteract it. So while my armchair psychoanalysis might have the same effect as the lobbing of spitballs, it's qualitatively different in that it furthers my objective of pointing out that the only "there there" is Rod and his wounded psyche. and i'm not going to withhold my ideas about "crunchy conservatism" (may as well be called "the psychodrama of rod and his friends") b/c i might hurt the little guy's feelings, especially when he has been so vicious to me personally.

I NO CARE what the crunchies think of me, and frankly i don't really care what you guys think of me either. i'm sorry if you think i have gone overboard but if one reads what i write carefully on will see i'm consistent with the reasoning i lay out here. my criticism is about rod because crunchy conservatism is about rod.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

It appalls me, too, not only when Christians spill such vitriol, but when they do so as Christians. I myself am nowhere near being a saint on the issue of keeping my temper, but it seems that contempt seems to be the default attitude people like Dreher has for those who dare to question him.

To answer your question, Diane, the best way to respond to the lunacy that Stegall and the others spew is simply to point out what they're saying -- the raw substance behind their sometimes superficially witty prose, and the absurd conclusions their positions inevitably produce.

And, Kathleen, I'm not questioning the validity of the conclusions you're drawing, just the wisdom of drawing those conclusions so explicitly.

I think all one has to do is point out what Dreher's saying -- the inconsistencies, the convenient excuses, etc. -- and everyone else can see the inherent narcissism.

3:35 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

why do i feel like israel at the UN?

call me israel! bombs away!

i think we're taking all this a bit seriously. i'm not sure "wisdom" enters into it.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

If not wisdom, tactics. If, as a rule, we take the high ground while they do not, those who are evaluating both groups will notice.

On a more substantive note, I glanced through the comments on the discussion of food, just to check out the exchanges between y'all and Rod, and -- probably because I've been thinking a lot about the crunchies' questionable theology lately -- I noticed this statement by an organic acolyte:

"The Bible provides example after example of the way humanity's relationship to God is expressed via food. God's providence in the Desert is one example. The dietary laws written in Leviticus is another. In every example that I can think of eating is expressed as a communal, eucharistic, event. Even while St. Paul said not to worry about what you eat, you will be judged by what comes out of you, he still admonished Christians not to eat food that had been offered up to idols. Today that's the only kind of food available to most of us."

Never mind that he invokes levitical dietary restrictions under the old covenant and ignores the Gospels. Never mind that he talks about St. Paul as if Christ Himself had nothing to say about whether food defiles a man. Never mind that the reason Paul gave in I Cor 8 to avoid food sacrificed to idols (a principle reiterated in Romans 14) was to avoid causing other Christians to stumble.

"Today [food offered up to idols is] the only kind of food available to most of us."

Taken literally, it's unfathomable nonsense.

Taken figuratively, Elmo is saying nothing that can't be turned right back on himself. Is he saying that we're eating food that has been figuratively sacrificed to the idol of efficiency?

Are they then not guilty of eating food that's been sacrificed to the idols of organic production, localism, aesthetics, and -- most obviously -- vanity?

(Hell, can it not be said that any food we eat has been sacrificed to the idol of survival?)

There are surely some Christians who just happen to live lifestyles that can be described as crunchy, who support Rod's vision because it's superficially similar to their own. But I don't think they're digging deep enough: people like Stegall, Elmo here, and perhaps Dreher himself have such a bizarre theology that it bears only a passing resemblence to biblical Christianity.

I don't see how one can have read the New Testament and come away feeling justified to be this obsessively focused on what we eat and where we live.

5:13 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

I reread Elmo's comment, and he subsequently explains precisely to which idols our food is being sacrificed:

"Brent Eubanks described very well where this idolatry has brought us. Industrial food is not in itself 'bad' or unsacramental. What is horrible is that this method of food production has led to toxic food, coming out of poisoned dirt and water. All in the interest of increasing the profits of a few individuals at the cost of the health of the rest of us. Agribusiness gives us the food that had been offered up to idols -- the gods of greed and envy. We are now in the midst of an obesity/diabetese/heart disease epidemic the likes of which had never been seen before this toxic way of food production became our diet. The Bible has taught us about the sacramental nature of food but we have ignored its warnings and now are dealing with the costs of this ignorance." [emphsis mine]

Greed and envy? Again I say that it can very easily be argued that they -- not merely the organic sector, but they themselves -- are indulging in vanity. But I'm not sure how industrial agriculture necessarily entails greed and envy.

And, while I'm at it, I don't see how our food is so toxic if life expectancy has been on the rise. Maybe medicine and work environment have been letting us live longer despite our toxic food, but I'm deeply skeptical.

And it should go without saying: you don't get obese by eating toxic food. You get obese by eating too much food -- even our precious organic food can't stop a glutton from getting fat.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Bubba, I noticed that post, too. I, too, was struck by the fact that he invoked the OT dietary laws. So much for "thus He declared all foods clean." LOL. Do these guys hear themselves? They are agitating for a burdensome pharisaical legalism, which Our Lord has NOT commanded (while downplaying Our Lord's REAL commands, the priorities of preaching the Gospel, loving iour neighbor, and helping the poor).

In my comments, I pointed out the NT passages that **explicitly** command us not to obsess about food. No subtle interpretation and imaginative leaps required here: Christ explicitly says it is NOT what goes into a man that defiles a man. Could He make it any plainer?

AFAIK, no one even attempted to respond to these NT quotes. I wonder why not?

As for food offered to idols: Paul says it's OK to eat such food, for goodness sakes, as long as you do not thereby wound the conscience of a more scrupulous brother. Seems to me that's another argument against Crunchy food crankery...but hey, obviously I haven't drunk the exegetical kool-aid. :)

5:57 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

LOL, Bubba, we must be posting at the same time. Just saw your "greed and envy" post. What a hoot!

I, too, wondered about that toxicity thing. (Brent originally said factory-farm-produced food was "poison"; when called upon that, he toned it down to "toxic.")

As you say, if it's so toxic, how come we're not dropping like flies?

I inherited a very healthy constitution from my Sicilian-American dad (who no doubt inherited *his* constitution from generations of grape-stomping peasants who subsisted on olive oil, red wine, garlic, and tomato sauce :). I have very stable blood pressure. Last time my cholesterol was checked, my HDL "good cholesterol" was 125, which is off the charts. (The doctor, in shock, told me I should live forever--LOL.) I seldom get a cold. Etc., etc.

Yet I (gasp!) eat produce that came from factory farms!!! (I do thoroughly wash the lettuce and broccoli before digging in. After all, I grew up in the era of Silent Spring...what can I tell ya? ;))

I've also been known to eat white bread.

Yet I live on. Go figure.

I don't get that toxicity argument. I just don't. It seems crazy-alarmist as well as deeply narcissistic. Some folks at that thread kept saying, "Well, why can't you be concerned about both? About food purism as well as about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc?" OK, fine. But while they paid lipservice to Our Lord's real commands (love your neighbor, serve the poor), they seemed to spend all their time and energy (on that thread at least) obsessing about foodie purism. Plus, their foodie purism was always presented as "my way or the highway": It was prescriptive, even control-freaky.

That is both nutty and scary, IMHO.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Bubba: "And it should go without saying: you don't get obese by eating toxic food. You get obese by eating too much food -- even our precious organic food can't stop a glutton from getting fat."

I think their unstated assumption is that corporations benefit from greed, gluttony, etc. rather than virtues of self-control and temperance in consumption. Of course so would the family farm. But there is more psych-warfare marketing perceived as coming from the corporate folks. Example: fancy packaging, contests, sports-celeb endorsements, subliminal "new and improved"-type messages, larger bags and boxes of things, bigger serving sizes, etc.

But as the head of a family of 5, I'm glad we can benefit from the reduced cost per unit of big boxes of Cheerios and Corn Flakes. I think we can develop the personal moderation required not to eat all the cereal in one sitting. This all leads me back (again) to the concept of individual virtue and how it's necessary whether society is trying to starve you or make you obese.

Also, if advertising is a devil, it's a devil to be primarily mocked and laughed at. "Look whose hard up for steroid money!" and "We don't need to win a car that big, where would we park it?" are the kind of responses called for IMO.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

One problem I have with agrarianism is this: it's one thing to recognize that, through advertising, companies try to create a desire for their product rather than merely make people aware of it. It's silly to act as if this is a new thing, as if charlatans and snake-oil salesmen are a modern invention, but it's valid to point out that companies often appeal to vices like gluttony, greed, and vanity.

It's another thing altogether to act as if we humans do not have (or no longer have) the mental faculties to recognize all this and the willpower to resist it.

Stegall wrote that Goetz underestimates the pull of culture because he was trying to make clear the idea that "sin and illusion reside inside of us, not in external trappings."

It sure seems to me that Stegall denies this idea altogether -- in practice, at least, if not in theory. For all his hatred of modernity, he's the one who treats humans as cogs in a machine, as things (objects that are inexorably manipulated by their surroundings rather than subjects who change the world around them. Change the surroundings to his liking, and he thinks virtue will result.

Even if his prescription doesn't require an extraordinarily intrusive government (it's hard to see how it doesn't), it betrays a worldview that is quite similar to those of totalitarians and other social engineers.

The more I learn even about sacramentalism in general, the less I like it; as a Protestant, I continue to suspect that it is incompatible with sola fide.

But that's nothing: Stegall's apparent version (perversion?) of sacramentalism doesn't rub against "faith alone." It calls into question the very existence of human free will.

That makes his call for populism all the more ironic.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Diane, in a perfect world, one could feed all the poor aesthetically pleasing food -- assuming that the poor would exist in a perfect world to begin with. But, obviously, we're in an imperfect world and we must make tradeoffs. Even beyond the attitude that theirs is the Better Way, the degree to which some of the crunchies default to aesthetically pleasing food is disturbing.

You write:

"In my comments, I pointed out the NT passages that **explicitly** command us not to obsess about food. No subtle interpretation and imaginative leaps required here: Christ explicitly says it is NOT what goes into a man that defiles a man. Could He make it any plainer?"

I've seen people insist on contradicting the Bible's clear message on the historicity of the Resurrection, on its call for sexual morality, and on the way it differentiates between sex and food.

(Those who insist that, because the New Testament lets us eat bacon, it must logically permit sodomy should take a gander at Hebrews 13:4 and 13:9.)

I've come to the conclusion that Bono is right:

No one, no one is blinder
Than he who will not see

9:44 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

May I advert for a moment to Kathleen's point above? Please bear with me....

One problem I have with engaging the Crunchies' arguments is that said arguments simply strike me as loopy. I mean, I have a hard time taking them seriously. When I read comments claiming that factory-farm food is "poison" and "toxic"---or that one cannot find Christ in the soulless suburbs---I figure, "Why even argue with someone kooky enough to make such a flaky claim?"

I think that's what Kathleen meant when she said there's no there there. The only "there there" is, as Bubba put it, sheer lunacy.

But that's again where Rod's propensity for personal insult becomes extremely relevant---becomes the issue, in fact.

Let me explain.

At his blog, Rod tolerates and even approves the kooky extremist statements of the wacko food cranks. I do not know if he subscribes to these views, but he certainly provides a platform for them and thereby fosters, aids, and abets them.

Yet, when sane people respond to the extreme alarmist claims---say, by pointing out that consumers of factory-farm produce are not dropping like flies OR by observing that the Bible never says eating Big Macs is the sin against the Holy Ghost---then Rod goes ballistic and starts accusing these Voice of Reason folks of being trolls, cranks, weirdos (!!!), "poor twisted souls," etc. etc.

The alarmist food cranks--the real weirdos--get a free pass. The folks who represent a far more moderate, mainstream view are labeled trolls and cranks. Whew. Talk about skewed.

And that is precisely the problem. Rod's insulting behavior is emblematic of his skewed extremist perspective--which in turn lies at the heart of the Crunchy Ethos.

IOW, you cannot really separate Crunchy views from Crunchy behavior. Rod and his more extremist Crunchy acolytes are so narcissistically obsessed with their own wellbeing and so control-freakishly determined to impose their agenda on others that they have little time or energy left over for the other-directed imperatives of the Gospel. Hence they seem to have no problem whatsoever with viciously insulting their opponents. Even though most of these folks are professed Christians, their operative assumption seems to be, "What's love got to do with it?"

I submit that this is the real problem. Crunchy crankery is not only irrational. It is also perforce uncharitable---for it is me-directed rather than other-directed. It is intextricably bound up with the Crunchies' egoism and control freakishness.

Remember the old saying, "The personal is political"? Well, for Rod & co., IMHO, the political is personal. In fact, everything is personal--the political, the spiritual, the ecclesiological. As one Catholic blogger put it after Rod gave all his me-centered reasons for considering Orthodoxy, "For Rod Dreher, it's all about Rod Dreher."

So, in sum, I think Kathleen has a valid point. It's hard to engage Crunchies' views (such as they are!) without considering Crunchy behavior. The two are closely related.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

LOL, Bubba, good point and great Bono quote.

BTW, the Pink Logician has a great post up about the CrunchyCon Food Thread. She makes a lot of sense, IMHO.

Like most of us ordinary slobs, she appreciates the very real benefits of healthy food. (Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, after all.) She points out the obvious: that it is healthier to eat salad than Twinkies. (The salad need not come from the farmer's market, though.)

However, she points out that such a POV should not be imposed as a Religion--as "my way or the highway!" But, she notes, in the food-thread combox, that's precisely what the Crunchy zealots are trying to do: impose their agenda on everyone else. She notes that their opponents espouse reason and tolerance--"Chacun a son gout"--while the Crunchies seem amazingly INtolerant: "You VILL not eat that factory-farm produce, for it is poison--poison, I tell you!"

Well, that's my precis of her argument--but she says it much better herself. I highly recommend it!

10:37 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

thanks diane. the post that seemed to get people riled up was a theory/explanation of Dreher and Stegall's hostility, which at this point seems beyond dispute. if one is going to continue a discussion of their thinking, IMHO it rings false to ignore it.

11:29 AM  
Blogger The Contra Crunchy said...

D & K:

Quentin Crisp once wrote, "Don't bother trying to keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level: It's much cheaper."

The truth is that it is Dreher and Stegall who are speaking from the podium right now. We are the people in the audience heckling them. If some guy gets up while Ted Kennedy is speaking and yells "Chappaquiddick," he will be quickly escorted out of the room and labeled a wack job, even if he is, objectively speaking, making a salient point.

I do not particularly care whether Rod or Casey like us, but I would prefer that they, and more importantly the audience in general, not view us as the guy who stands outside the Kennedy rally with the sandwich board with a picture of Mary Jo Kopechne on it. The point here isn't to fling mud, even if it's righteous mud, but to win the election as it were.

I do not believe that they are complete and total cranks. As Cubeland's comments often suggest, they start with an honest thread and perhaps run it out a little too far. In any case, even if you think they are completely insane, their ideas have emotional appeal that will draw in many gullible people. It is frustrating and difficult, but I believe the best response is to maintain a steady and dispassionate opposition calmness and sobriety.

I am trying to live up to this advice a little better myself, too.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Contra, I agree that they are not total cranks. At least, I don't think Rod is one. A few folks in those comboxes are total cranks, IMHO (names provided privately upon request ;). And a few ideas proffered by even the more credible Crunchies strike me as crank material. As you say, it's when they really get going and draw out the logical conclusions that one is left scratching one's head and muttering, "Huh?"

Anyway, point taken. But let's not put Rod and Caleb on too high a pedestal, either. They're pontificating on blogs. So are we. As Elizabeth Bennett might say, "So far we are equal." Moreover, despite the Amazon sales of Crunchy Cons (whatever those may be), it's a pretty safe bet that most Americans have never heard of either Rod or Caleb. I certainly would never have heard of either one were it not for St. Blog's. (I'm still not entirely sure who Caleb Stegall is, in fact. I never heard of him until I came here.)

The Internet: the Great Leveler. :D

But ees your blog, Monsieur. And if you don't want discussion of Crunchies' behavior here, then, even though I agree with Kathleen that their beliefs and their behavior are interrelated, I will bow to your directive.



1:16 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

Quentin crisp can always be relied on for a pertinent quote. was that quote meant to discourage me, btw? b/c i think it had the opposite effect of what was intended. : )

Stegall and Dreher have what podium? the dallas morning news? the new pantagruel? ooooooooh!! or as my nephew might say, BFD. what makes those qualitatively better than our little outpost? If you mean more people are reading their stuff, I'll grant you that, but then again more people think they are idiots, so it's a double edged sword.

don't go all bourgeois on us contra. did someone shake their finger at you? why so staid all of a sudden?

1:41 PM  
Blogger The Contra Crunchy said...

I just feel like things may have tipped a little far in the other direction.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

OK, I think I've organized in my head all the things that bother me about the Crunchy Cult. (I think I'll paste this at my embryonic blog, too. No use having a blog if you never post anything at it. If I can get on my soapbox at other people's blogs, then why not at my own? :p)

1. FIRST THING THAT BOTHERS ME: The control-freaky, bossy prescriptiveness, which sometimes veers into social engineering (or at least an apparent desire for social engineering). It bothers me when people go beyond simply saying, "I prefer organic veggies to supermarket ones" or "I prefer hand-crafted furniture to the mass-produced kinds." If they are merely expressing their preferences, fine by me. That's the American Way: We're all individuals, with different tastes, needs, wants, concerns, and preferences. We are not meant to march in lockstep.

Therefore, when the Crunchies merely profess their own beliefs or express their own preferences, I have no problem whatsoever. But when they go on--as they so often do--to prescribe their preferences for everyone else, then I have a problem.

One, I cannot stand bossiness. It gives me the pip. Two, I sincerely believe that what other people eat, where they live, and what sort of furniture they own is none of the Crunchies' cotton-pickin' business. Even if your neighbor is subsisting on a diet of corn dogs, it is (in a profound sense) none of your business. You may mention to your neighbor that maybe this is not the healthiest diet known to man, but after that, drop it. No one has appointed you to the Food Police.

That's where the scary part comes in. Some Crunchies seem to want to impose their preferences on others, although they are impotent to do so (except via their Internewt bullhorns). Other Crunchies seem to want to go farther. They believe supermarket food should be made more expensive, so people will be forced to grow their own. They believe certain goods should be made less available, so that people will be weaned away from them. This is social engineering. It is inimical to our democratic freedoms. If the Crunchies espousing such views ever attain real political clout, then, well, that will be pretty frightening, IMHO. I hope and pray that they will remain powerless Internet Curmudgeons.

2. SECOND THING THAT BOTHERS ME: The us-vs.-them judgmentalism. A lovely Orthodox woman at another forum mentioned this. She used to be part of an evangelical cult in which all the women wore long homespun dresses, churned their own butter, grew their own organic food, baked their own bread, homeschooled their kids, avoided the dominant culture like the plague, etc. etc. She said that the legalistic insistence on this lifestyle as The Only Way bred intensely pharisaical us-vs.-them judgmentalism. It made people bitter, mean, and uncharitable toward the rest of the world. It also destroyed marriages, families, and lives.

One can see this sort of thing at work at Rod's blog. In his infamous Food Thread, Rod describes a friend who insisted to him that she could not afford his Crunchy food preferences. Whereupon, he says, he looked at her counter-top, piled high with packaged cookies and chips and Fritos. "That stuff ain't cheap, y'all," he commented.

Fine. But this is a prime example of Crunchy judgmentalism. So, this poor woman was trying to tell him in so many words that she didn't want to eat the way he does (despite his best efforts to guilt-trip her into it). Can he take that for an answer? Noooo. He has to go on to pass judgment on her food preferences, her grocery list, her lifestyle. What on earth gives him the authority or the right to pass such judgment? Again--who appointed him to the Food Police?

3. THIRD THING THAT BOTHERS ME: the propensity for majoring in minors. At his blog, Rod and his fellow Crunchy zealots pay lipservice to the "weightier matters of the law" (like charity, evangelism, serving the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked). But 99% of their time and energy is expended on such relatively trivial topics as What to Eat, What Kind of House to Buy, What Kind of Furniture to Install in Said House, etc., ad nauseam. These relatively minor concerns are elevated into priorities. In order to justify this ass-backward priority schema, the Crunchies dub their food and furniture "sacramental." Sorry, but that doesn't wash. The Sacraments are sacramental. Organic tomatoes are not.

The majoring-in-minors stuff also leads the Crunchies to parlay the "natural man's" base penchant for narcissism and self-indulgence into some sort of Grand Mystical Metaphysical Moral Imperative. If one convinces oneself that fine wines and gourmet meals are "sacramental," then one can remain focused in on oneself and one's elite little circle, happy in one's comfort zone, satisfied with one's epicurean pleasures, content with one's narcissism. One need never go out of one's comfort zone to meet Christ where he Himself tells us to seek Him: in the poor, in the hurting, in the hungry, in those beyond one's tiny circle of like-minded family and friends.

Majoring in minors while effectively neglecting the "weightier matters of the law" closes one in on oneself and on one's tightly circumscribed world. It also elevates relatively unimportant things to a quasi-religious status they were never meant to have.

OK, the kids are clamoring for me. So I'll stop here. Later, I'd like to run through the other things that bother me about Crunchyism, to wit: the legalism (already alluded to above; these things kind of overlap); the unrealistic out-of-touch insensitivity toward the vast majority of middle- and lower middle-income people ("Let them eat free range chicken!"); the snobbery, elitism, and sneering contempt for the Non-Crunchy Unwashed; and, finally, the uncharitable nastiness that seems to accompany Crunchy zealotry. I really do think this last item is part of the problem. It's not incidental; it's integral. Our Lord said, "By their fruits shall you know them." The fruits of Crunchy zealotry are name-calling and nastiness. Which is not surprising, IMHO, given the Crunchy navel-gazing / narcissistic / turned-in-on-itself agenda...not to mention that Crunchy penchant for neglecting the "weightier matters of the law" (mercy, charity, justice) in favor of the Crunchily Correct Attitude Toward Food. :p

Later, gators...

12:40 PM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

Guys, just got back into town. I read through most of these replies but I don’t think I can reply to everything. I did read the book. I could be interpreting it through my lens, but I don’t think that self sufficiency conservatives (I cannot use the term crunchy anymore) are advocating turning back the clock or making food more expensive. I definitely do not think that it is an agrarian only concept. I have no desire to move to the country and farm.

How do I begin to explain that Christian self sufficiency is concomitant with the free market and should promote less government not more? I cannot do it in this comment. Let me list some of the motives behind our lifestyle. First it is informed by our Roman Catholic faith. I am greatly influenced in my thinking about work by St. Escriva (Opus Dei), but I am not a member. Work sanctifies you. Hence, the work of motherhood is as important as being a senior partner in a law firm. This is not patronizing I really mean it! The problem comes when women feel forced to chose between career and children. This to me is a problem.

My wife and I have had many conversations about this with friends and colleagues and we think that we identified two mindsets that influence women. First, they want to be fulltime moms but somehow the standard of living forces them into the workplace. Second, they can afford to be with the kids but have been acculturated to believe that they must have a career because the work of raising kids is inferior. The first rationale is legitimate as long as the rationale for work is necessary. The second is not.

Our enterprise with the Immaculate Direction is to strengthen families starting with our own. Figure out how to maximize time spent raising kids, and document our solutions for other families. The life of the family is sacred. In other words it sanctifies the participants. So the focus on a sacramental life is to put the work of family into the proper perspective.

One area that we wanted to focus on is developing our children into active creators rather than passive consumers. The act of creation is good, because God creates and we want to be like Him. These simple lessons of creating will someday be used to prepare them for when they enter into the ultimate act of creation when they bring new life into this world. I mean all of this in the spirit of what the Church teaches about co-creation.

I don’t think a sacramental life is at odds with Sole Fide. I think all of this “stuff” is a visible manifestation of my faith. It is kind of funny but before I reverted after spending many years hanging out with liberal nihilists- the days before I said I believe please Lord help my deep abiding unbelief-I thought so fondly of those folks in the suburbs with their families and neat lawns. How could they be happy with their Blazers with the fish magnets, and all those kids inside always on their ways to be dropped off? The suburbs are an oasis of life compared to the materialist wasteland that once gripped my mind.

Our motivation is to protect family and life itself. A lot of the justifications for abortion are economic. In our small way we want to show those justifications as fallacious. We want to promote family life, regardless of your material surroundings. We want to honor families who stand against the force of the dominant culture. We want to do this without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We love high technology and promote its use here at the cubeland monastery. The kids are learning to be progressive not regressive. By being active creators we teach them how to transform the side yard into garden that helps sustain their lives. We hope the physical labor will teach them to NEVER look down on any human being's work. Perhaps the transformation of the side yard will lead to the terraforming of the moon. Perhaps the emphasis on high technology will give them the skills and confidence to take it to another level regardless of the discipline.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what motivates us. I hope you see that there is not a lot of room or advocating for regressive government programs or limiting your lifestyles in any way. We simply want you to flourish. The last thing we want is a government program that taxes Kathleen, Diane, Pauli’s or Bubba’s wives into the workplace and away from their children. We want to use technology to enable the husbands to join their families at home.

Once again, I encourage you to keep the site open, or come criticize my ideas on my site. I will engage you. Here is some of my conjecture. I think that big corporations work to create a false dichotomy between worklife and homelife. They then market leisure as time spent indulging and consuming which they profit on. I say to ignore the propaganda and use that time in creative work and service which profits you, your family and your friends. I say the greatest leisure is in the act of creating.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

Next time you face Luddites


1:54 PM  

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