Tory Anarchist vs Front Porch Republic


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Crap…I have nothing to say except bravo. This was really well-put.Report

  2. Avatar Neil says:

    Yes. Great post, E.D.Report

  3. E.D., if you’ll forgive my reducing your post to two lines, I’d like to offer my two cents.

    The genius of localism is really in its emphasis on the neighborhood, and especially the organic, unguided, unzoned vision of the neighborhood. That’s what we’ve lost with cookie-cutter suburbia, and that can be reclaimed no matter the size of the town or the presence of a Wal*Mart.

    I’m right with you on all of this (except, maybe, in part, on the “unzoned” part — I do think zoning can be good; it just often isn’t), except for the last bit. I do think that the presence of Wal*Mart or any similar store, whether speciality or general retail, poses at least a potential threat to the neighborhood, at least if we seek in some meaningful way to associate the neighborhood or village or small town/place with community. I’m a firm believer, as I’ve noted before, in the Berry-esque Kunstler line, “Community is economy.” I long ago conceded that, at least in the short term, these stores provide undeniable benefits to lower-income shoppers who otherwise may go without. (Whether they need the things they can now afford is best left for another time.) However, I think the multifarious detrimental effects that chain retail has on communities and “communities” is inevitable and, ultimately, too pernicious to ignore.Report

  4. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    “However, I think the multifarious detrimental effects that chain retail has on communities and “communities” is inevitable and, ultimately, too pernicious to ignore.”

    I’m not being snarky, but could you explore the above sentence sometime. I’m having a brain fart and it isn’t computing on any level…as in how do chain stores provide a “detrimental effect” presumably on “community?”
    I mean do “things” destroy our souls? Or do our decisions re: “things” destroy our souls?
    What business is it of ours if our neighbor wants to buy the latest gadget?
    It’s not the lust for “things” that cause people to refuse to attempt to restore/recapture the Nous and Logos. Or is it?
    Thanks, E.D., I’m just wondering about……!Report

  5. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    BTW, I’m old enough to remember the characters Berry writes about in his Port Williams’ novels. Men like my great-uncle Bob, my Grandmother, Bertha’s (she graduated from a tiny college in New Athens, Ohio in 1912, Franklin & Jefferson, or something like that, she studied Greek, Latin, Rhetoric, ect and later taught school. She died before I was born, she was a very handsome woman, a gentle soul) brother who farmed until he died at 88, back in 1966. He was a man who did a day’s work, kept his stock in good fresh, kept his crops and fields in good order and helped his family and neigbors with their work.
    He had a good life and I do wish I had spent a whole lot more time talking with him.Report

  6. Avatar Sam M says:

    I am not sure that most agrarians and localists have made specific claims about any potential increases in per capita “virtue.” In fact, many of the ones who have bothered to write about their existence seem to spend a lot of time assessing the most loathesome among them, or at least considering the limitations of their communities’ arrangements.

    Rather, it seems to me that they agree with you that “neighborhood” is a central focus. And to them, achieving that kind of closeness is simply more possible in a smaller community. Which isn’t a completely insane claim.

    For instance, I moved from DC to Pittsburgh to a small rural town. After each move, I noticed a distinct decrease in… anonymity. In the big city, it took me 30 minutes to get to the grocery store, but I could get in and out in 10 minutes. Now, it takes me five minutes to get there, but 45 minutes to get out. Why? Because I see people I know at the grocery store. My neighbors. My mailman. The guy who’s helping me paint my house. My boss. In 10 years of city living, I ran into maybe 10 people in that fashion.

    Which of course makes you WATCH yourself. It drives my wife buts. Flip someone off in a parking lot, there’s a good chance you’ll see him later that week at a party. I know the name of that guy whose helping me paint. I know his wife and kids. I go the same places on weekends. I see him in church. I know the names and families of the tellers at the bank. I know the names of the clerks at the convenience store. I went to high school with several of them. I recently gave a speech at the Rotary. The emcee was married to my high school English teacher. The photographer was my high school principal. One of the guys in attendance was my next door neighbor. Meaning, again, you really have to behave.

    I am not saying that it’s impossible to be social or amiable while living in a city. And I agree that anyone making that claim is wrong. But I don’t see many people making it. Rather than claiming that, on average, people across a small community will be more virtuous than people in a large community, I think the claim localists make is that a small community makes it more possible for the localists themselves to achieve some degree of connectedness.

    To risk an analogy, yes, people can learn satisfactorily in a lecture hall filled with 800 students. It happens all the time. But I don’t think it’s being overly romantic or sentimental to say that something special–and different– happens in a small seminar room with 8 people in it.

    Moreover, I don’t think it’s overly sentimental or romantic for the people who prefer to learn in small seminars to worry when, say, national education policy is pushing scads of students into huge lecture halls in the name of efficiency without considering what it being lost in the process.Report

  7. Avatar Sam M says:

    “However, I think the multifarious detrimental effects that chain retail has on communities and ‘communities’ is inevitable and, ultimately, too pernicious to ignore.”

    I have posed this question before… but I wonder why we limit our concerns in this regard to “retail.” Why not also apply it to art and culture and music and all the rest? Why not apply it to discourse? I am assuming that every community of at least some size has a Footlighters and some local historians who write books. Why forego these in favor of Batman Returns and books by Kuntzler and Berry? There are plenty of composers in Pittsburgh. Should I forego Schubert in favor of them? Should I go the neighbors garage and listen to their kids band instead of listening to Led Zeppelin or U2?

    This is not some kind of gotcha question in which which I question your purity. Rather, I am honestly wondering why we focus so much of our attention on basic, general retail. I fear that one reason that I do so myself is that buying basic things is less of a concern for me than it is for other people, and I can therefor be precious about it. But give up my classic British rock? Heavans no. I don’t want to be local about THAT. Because, you know… I would have to sacrifice.Report

    • Avatar Joseph FM says:

      That’s the thing. Music is plentiful. You can listen to U2 and the band your neighbor’s kids are in. Heck, they might like U2 as well, and you can then talk about it, suggest other things, and in so doing help them grow as artists.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Right. But also, now that the internet has had a democratizing effect on music, it’s much easier for people to hear both U2 and the local band from five towns over. Which is neat.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Good questions and points made all around. To address just one, I don’t think scale is at all the factor when it comes to anonymity – at least not so much as structure is. I lived in Vancouver BC for a while and the area I lived in at least was structured in such a way as to be very neighborly. There is no reason a city, even a big city, cannot build more neighborly neighborhoods; and conversely, even a small town can build itself a garden variety suburb and people can fence each other off.

    That said, this is not often the case.

    Regarding retail vs. other aspects of life, I think there is actually some merit to addressing the full spectrum of local possibilities. The internet has done wonders to kill the rock star and the record company and has, to some degree, democratized music making more artists a part of the larger scene. But even beyond that, I could easily go be very entertained by a number of the local bands here in town. I could choose from time to time to see a local theatre production rather than the latest blockbuster. But I choose generally a balance as much as I can afford to….Report

    • Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

      You fellows should check-out Stegall’s latest at FPR…the dude’s a philosopher/monk…I look forward to your comments.Report

  9. Avatar Sam M says:

    Good point regarding the Internet and rock stars, etc. But again, I wonder about the different ways people react. I can tell people, generally, that I enjoy the local club scene, and that I also like U2. And people will cheer. But certain folks are not nearly as accepting of a mix that includes local hardware stores and WalMart. Meaning, huge local music conglomerate, fine. Huge local retail conglomerate: traiter to your neighbors.

    Moreover, I also wonder what this means for big versus small communities. Sure, any city as large as, say, Altoona is going to have at least one or two bars that feature live music. So people living there have some choices. But people in small towns do not have that option, apart from going all Little House on the Prairie by having a hoe-down at the kitchen table.

    This has important parallels with something like food. The general idea is that if you live in Buffalo, you should not get in the habit of buying strawberries in December. You take what your local community produces. Even if you hate root vegetable. Too bad. Shipping those strawberries in from Chile destroys your community. And, well, the earth. So suck it up.

    But you live in East Fartbag Kentucky and you like hip hop and/or Shakespeare and/or Michael Chabon? Well, by all means, have those cultural products shipped in.

    Again, I agree that the latter is less problematic. But I don’t know why, and I fear it’s because I live in East Fartbag and I like Michael Chabon. I seem to recall Rod Dreher getting taken to task for this a few years back with regard to his preference for special coffee he gets shipped in from NYC. It’s a tired critique. But maybe that’s because it’s an effective and troublesome one.Report

  10. Avatar Sam M says:

    Generally speaking, I think it’s true that most people want EVERYONE ELSE to be a localist. To honor the community. So, in East Fartbag, the predominant culture assigns labels to any offenders. People who import country music from Nashville are good ole boys. People who import hip hop from Atlanta are… wiggers. (Sorry. But that’s the vernacular.)

    But we are all guilty of this. The folks who import Mountain Dew from wherever it’s made are trash. But folks who import specialty coffee from NY (via Ethiopia) or Michael Chabon books from somewhere else are simply getting something that their local communities can’t provide. Those people who import fresh strawberries in December? Lazy. Because everyone knows that thing to do is grow your own and make preserves. Of course, people could bail on their fancy coffe and boil local roots for hot beverage action. But come on. That’s ridiculous.

    Again, pointing out someone’s lack of purity is a lame argument. But I do think it’s worth noting that the KINDS of things that irk us point to certain trends. Trends that I am not sure say much good about me and my positions. Why do I let some impurities stand, while others force me to run my mouth?

    More broadly, why do so many people get SOOOO angry about WalMart, but hardly bat an eyelash as they walk to the cineplex to watch the latest Hollywood offering?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      All very good points, Sam. I think that’s why it’s important to emphasize balance in our own lives and not judge others. I am no purist in any sense. I drink Mountain Dew. I don’t shop at Wal*Mart because I hate it there – the experience – but I do shop at Target. I try to eat out at local restaurants and not chains but that’s largely because we have a great selection of haunts, dives, bars, restaurants, and local music here. If we didn’t, maybe Olive Garden would start looking a lot better.

      I choose to live downtown because I love to be able to walk and bike everywhere. I love to be close to my neighbors and see people out in their gardens and it’s just a much funkier, more lively experience in my mind, then anything suburbia has to offer. I think it’s better for kids, too.Report

  11. Avatar Sam M says:

    I agree that it’s good not to be too judgmental. But at some stage, the critique loses its teeth and becomes, “People should do what they like.” But people already do what they like. And we don’t like it. We judge and say, “There is something wrong here, something perverse. There has to be another way.” Unless you are willing to name names and villianize villians, it’s little more that a statement of preferences. When does consumption become consumerist?

    The other day, a guy I know said he buys his lawnmowers at WalMart because they cost $130, so when something breaks, he tosses it in the trash and buys another one. He know they are made in China. But who cares? By the way, we live in a struggling industrial community that has struggling factories which make… lawnmower parts. For expensive American lawnmowers.

    Is it OK to say to that guy, “You know, dude, that kind of sucks”? Or do we say, “Well, you prefer convenience. And I am sure you spend the money you saved on something great. To each his own.”

    In other words, we do, in fact, lard these issues with all sorts of value judgments. Seriously, the broader critique of WalMart is not that its not a great store. The broader critique is that it’s a murderous cabal of globalist goons who are hell bent on pillaging mom and pop and otherwise ruining America.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Sam, the critique is important and needs to be sustained. All I say is we need to accept the balance. people are not going to go back to agrarianism en masse, nor will we suddenly stop buying things from China. But with a good, forceful and consistent critique of consumerism, of the problems we face with our dwindling industrial base, etc. we may be able to change some minds, or influence better decisions, or better investments or priorities in government, etc. The critique is certainly important.Report