Neo-Traditionalism, Community, and the Post-Postmodern Gentleman
Scott coins an interesting term: post-postmodern. The essence of the post-postmodern man, it seems, is a sort of meshing of Reason and Tradition that eschews both the ignorance and outdatedness of many old practices and traditions, as well as the arrogance and certitude of the modern man of reason.
While it has generally been conservatives who have been associated with the embrace and love for tradition, liberals too now are looking back to see what lessons can be learned from tradition. On both sides, rather than a blind acceptance of the inherent correctness of tradition, both conservatives and liberals are re-inhabiting traditions in, as Wilson suggests, in a self-aware and reflexive manner that seeks the wisdom that endures from such grooves and rejecting the ignorance that pervaded the thinking of the time.
This, of course, can be seen in writers such as Rod Dreher who advocates tirelessly his vision of “crunchy conservatism” as well as in the hippie family that lives across the street from us, or the one that lives two doors down, selling organic honey from their home. Or in my own family, as we struggle to evaluate the pros and cons of modernity, the traditions and time-worn practices that have been lost along the way that actually worked, whether or not they made sense–whether or not modern ways seem better at first glance. We have abandoned the television to the scrap heap, but we can’t part with our computers. We have covered our walls with books, and choose to spend time reading to our daughter rather than planting her in front of a screen.
The unintentional casualties of modernity are revealed subtly, after all. All our gadgets and “time-savers” seem to keep us busier then ever. Families have gradually become more disparate affairs. What once was a collective, mutli-generation experience, has devolved into isolated units, often separated not only by the expanse of miles, but by a more metaphysical distance. What has this achieved–this very American independence? Once upon a time three generations pooled their resources to make a family work. The old were tended to by their offspring or communities, rather than Social Security and nursing homes. The dead were laid out in the parlor.
Yes, we saw the dead up close, and we tended to them. We were not afraid of our mortality, and we weren’t so numb to it either.
Then again, as Scott reminds us, the past is not filled only with traditions that strengthened us, but also with horrors and ghosts. The new world has provided us with longer lives and more comfortable beds, faster carriages and unprecedented warmth. Yet it is a warmth without a fire–or perhaps a warmth without a need to tend to the fire. There is a fire still, but it is so easily gotten: flip a switch, and you create heat. “Let there be light,” and there is light.
What I’d like to add to Scott’s theme of “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should” is that just because something is easy, or sensible, or cheap, doesn’t mean it’s healthy, or wise, or aware of the long view.
This spans all subjects. New Urbanism is a concept birthed out of the neo-traditionalist mindset. New urbanist city planners and architects look to tradition to see how communities were built before freeways, before zoning laws separated our homes from our shops, and then attempt to intermingle these older traditions with green technology, with what came naturally long ago, but has been abandoned in favor of progress and efficiency. Nobody used to consider building a town “walkable” – there was simply no other good option. Now we are cognizant of the repurcussions–now we have, as Scott terms it, directionality.
And on and on, we are living in a time of self-evaluation as a society, as a civilization, as individuals and families. Or at least we should be. The financial crisis begs many questions of us, not the least of which should be our faith in free markets. The rising disparity in class should force us to question the wisdom in supply side economics, or voodoo economics as George the Sr. once termed them.
We are still charging forward at a breakneck pace, conservatives and liberals alike, toward that dream of progress, freedom, choice, modernity. Perhaps it’s best we slowed our pace a bit. We don’t need to turn back any clocks.