Thursday, March 5, 2009

Free Riding

Over on The Front Porch, I have posted some reflections on the paradoxical nature of free riding by "Front porchers" upon modernity, and, correspondingly, the free riding of modern liberalism upon pre-modern cultural (and material) inheritances. In response, Rod Dreher has further good reflections at his site.

In brief, I note:

Among this group here at this electronic outpost and like-minded fellow travelers, there is a fair amount of self-consciousness about the various ways that “traditionalists” (or “paleo-libs??) free-ride on the broader culture that they otherwise criticize, no more evidently by employing a medium that can, at best, create only a “virtual” community. Farmer’s markets, new urbanism, bike paths, “the Benedict option” - most all of the various ways that community is forged today is less and less a result of organic communal forces required by necessity (e.g., live near water and arable land, don’t live too far apart since we don’t have internal combustion engines), but achieved by our prosperity. In his at-times uncharitable review of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, Peter Lawler nevertheless was correct to note that not a few of the “crunchies” arrived at their destination by a circuitous, often well-travelled path, often ending up far from places of origin (or at least with many stops in-between departure and return), and benefit in oft-unacknowledged ways from the umbrella of security offered by America’s armed forces and the orderly world it largely affords. Few of us would survive very long in Augustine’s world.

But, I suggest,

This line of reasoning is clearly one of the most obvious, and oft-employed criticisms against arguments for localism in a world where to be local is simply one more “lifestlyle choice.” Yet, if there is any defense to be made, it is a keen self-consciousness of this paradox, an awareness that a culture of choice forces every way of life into its paradigm - even those ways of life in which there is an effort to constrain choice. Thus, its curiousness produces, to some extent, a salutary kind of perspective on one’s own life amid all of its compromises - not unlike that experienced by Augustine’s pilgrim - and thus, given the psychic distance and self-consciousness that it induces, the likely absence of the all-too frequent rigidity of the zealot or the ideologue. I would argue that this very paradox is one of the sources of the good cheer amid the broader pessimism of this group (aided doubtless by substantial quantities of bourbon), and why it has never materialized as a programmatic or fanatic venture. We are, in some senses, simply too self-conscious of the fragility of our own position.

By contrast, modern liberalism equally free-rides on an earlier inheritance, but, I argue, without a corresponding sense of fragility and humility:

That said, we are also generally aware of the ways that the culture we oppose - of mobility, deracination and placelessness - is also based upon widespread free-riding. The culture of liberalism - writ large - has always free-ridden on the health and vitality of a pre-liberal, even anti-liberal culture. Most basically it assumes the existence of, but does little to support or replenish, the culture of good families. It relies upon the virtues of children raised in those settings, even as it is suspicious of - even destructive of - what are necessarily “paternalistic” (or “maternalistic”) features of those settings. It has sought to open every closed association and civil institution, ultimately emptying them of the capacity to elicit loyalty, memory and stability. It relies on the good will and sacrifice of citizens even as it assumes that we are fundamentally rational actors driven by self-interest....

The difference in these forms of free-riding, I would suggest, is that liberalism seeks mightily to obscure or ignore the extent to which it’s riding on the cheap. It works diligently to disassemble the deeper sources of its own viability, convincing itself that it’s simply making the world more just and equitable (all achieved by its own efforts alone), all the while forging a world in which people will have fewer children and in which there will be less of the world’s bounty for the children that happen to be born. They increasingly do more honor to their philosophy that shapes their selves. In its willful (or ignorant) disregard of its free-riding, it permits itself a self-certainty and ideological rigidity, perhaps ironically - and ultimately - undermining its own basis for existence, but not before leaving some considerable amount of devastation in its wake, both moral and environmental.

The whole thing is here.


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