"I am frightened," he writes. "East Dallas, once a funky, diverse refugee camp for people on the lam from the real Dallas and maybe real life, is now well on its way to becoming the one thing none of us ever wanted. A nice neighborhood."
The article begins with a surreal nightmare: one of his artist neighbors -- "one of the original urban pioneers" -- was actually impressed by the open house of a so-called McMansion.
"Everything worked. Even the windows! Everything. I bet they never have to call Roto-Rooter. And the kitchen! The kitchen!"What surprised me is that Rod didn't praise the author.
"You've got to get a grip on yourself. I'll tell Jordan on you if you don't."
I'm afraid I've got little patience for this sort of thing. Schutzism was alive and well in New York City in the Giuliani years. It came from the sort of liberals who loathed Giuliani for cleaning up the porn theaters and making Manhattan a place you might actually want to live. There is a certain kind of Romantic who finds decay and disintegration somehow more ... authentic, and in any case preferable to regeneration. What's interesting about Schutze's piece is that he went to talk to his longtime neighbors, and found that they don't really share his silly idealism.
It's a funny thing what little detail can trigger a memory, and the artist's being so amazed that the new house's windows actually work -- "Even the windows!" -- reminded me what, just last year, similarly silly idealists had to contribute to Rod's "Crunchy Con" blog at NRO.
Frederica Mathewes-Green was less than happy with those who chose to live in new developments in the exurbs of Charleston, and she too read a lot into windows that don't actually function.
They don't want to live in old Charleston (where I grew up, btw) because the neighbors are too close. They don't care about building for durability, because they're going to be moving on in five years anyway. When they move, they'll want the latest windows, the latest counters, and any house more than 20 years old is embarrassingly out of fashion. Old Charleston looks nice on a postcard but they don't want to live there. They'll take planned obsolescence any day over the upkeep headaches of a quirky older place. (For example, I wrestle with clunky old aluminum storm windows every season, because that's the price of keeping the wonderful, wavery original windows. The next owner will certainly rip it all out for something "efficient"). Sad but true: today's sprawl is exactly what a great many Americans yearn for. [emphasis mine]The decidedly non-crunchy John Podhoretz responded with his usual, regrettable bluntness: "Once again we see the key contradiction between the contributors to this blog and the vast majority of ordinary Americans. You guys live ideologically. You make choices that gratify you because they represent a fulfillment of ideas you hold. Most people don't live this way, and to presume that they should is, well, the sheerest snobbery."
And Rod responded, not to tell FMG how little patience he has for this fetishizing of stagnation, but to tell John that conservatism is and ought to be elitist "in the sense that it believes in standards."
It believes that ideas have consequences, that some ideas are better than others, that there's a way to live that's better--truer to our religious values, truer to human nature--and that we shouldn't be embarrassed to say so. I presume you are not a moral relativist or a populist, John. You have no problem telling people how you think they should live in other areas of their lives--nor should you, as long as you are not obnoxious about it. You just don't like that we try to apply conservative principles to the way we build the environment around us, so you engage in crude populism rather than make an argument about why our concerns are baseless. Try something different. You won't get very far with a group of thoughtful conservatives by using "elitist" as a pejorative. We had all better be elitists about something!I believe that Rod's defending Frederica here; at the barest of minima, he didn't at all suggest that she was going to far in defending old building fixtures because they were old.
(Things kinda digress from there, with you-know-who leading the charge with truly ridiculous assertions.)
The difference might simply be that the shoe is on the other foot -- instead of being a gentrifier looking down on the suburbanites, Rod is a gentrifier that Schutze thinks is ruining the neighborhood.
I hope, instead, that Rod is maturing in his philosophy.
Lorlee [Bartos] makes a point that we all have to come to terms with: you can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying. You can do things to control the rate of change and the direction of the change -- that's what our neighborhood achieving Historic District status recently was about -- but change is coming one way or another.Change is inevitable, which is why I think criticizing television is in many ways futile: the technological landscape has probably rendered many traditions obsolete, but we should look for new practices that encourage the eternal virtues rather than merely pine for the non-existent golden days of the past or urge for people to almost literally run for the hills.
The very premise of Rod's book seems to be a rejection of the fact that things change, but I hope he's maturing away from that naivete.
And I wish he would apply this rather obvious lesson to Iraq.
"You can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying."
If you're not winning, you're probably losing, and if we were to retreat from the battlefield in Iraq, neither our enemies nor our own national psyche will let us act as if it never happened. As usual, Mark Steyn has a good word to say to the defeatists:
The open defeatists on the Democrat side and the nuanced defeatists among "moderate" Republicans seem to think that big countries can choose to lose small wars. After all, say the "realists," Iraq isn't any more important to Americans than Vietnam was. But a realpolitik cynic knows the tactical price of everything and the strategic value of nothing. This is something on an entirely different scale from the 1930s: Seventy years ago, Britain and Europe could not rouse themselves to focus on a looming war; today, we can't rouse ourselves even to focus on a war that's happening right now. Read 100 percent of the Democratic presidential candidates' platforms and a sizeable chunk of the Republicans': We're full of pseudo-energy for phantom crises and ersatz enemies, like "global warming."Stability is an illusion; with Iran seeking to acquire the Bomb, time is not on our side. While I read alot about the seriousness of the threat we face from Islam, in nothing Rod has said or written do I detect an awareness of the importance of this battlefield in dealing with that threat.
And, in both these crunchy topics and the subject of Iraq, I still have not seen much effort on Rod's part to engage criticism from the right, either in the comments or in response to hawkish columnists.