Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Choice: A Crunchy Tragedy

Gilbert Meilander has reviewed Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons in the latest issue of First Things, beginning with this anecdote:

Making a long drive home from a meeting late last summer, I found myself hungry in the early afternoon. I needed something that would be quick inexpensive, and good. And there (providentially?) was the sign: a Burger King off the next exit. I felt like a flame-grilled Whopper, and the beauty of it is that you can "have it your way" which in my case meant hold the tomato and mayo, and mustard. Here is a realm of life where being pro-choice is just the thing for me...As I began to eat, two young boys (probaby about ten and eight years old) sat down with their parents at an adjoining table. Both boys had on Chief Wahoo caps, so I would have known they were Cleveland Indians fans even if they had not been discussing the previous night's game, which they had seen on ESPN. It happened that in my hotel room I had myself spent the last part of the evening watching that same game. I decided therefore to venture a brief conversational gambit. "Go Tribe," I said to the younger of the two boys...

Our ability to watch the Indians on television even though we did not live near Cleveland created a little shared community among us as we sat there eating in Burger King. The experience was so satisfying that I went back up tot he counter for a Hershey's Sundae Pie and stayed longer than I'd planned.

Meilander went on to attack Dreher for elitism, smugness, and preening, though there is a certain type of "Just Plain Folks" smugness evident in his own review, making it ripe for evisceration.

Daniel Larison critiques Meilander's critique:

Just consider the language Meilaender used to describe his veritable pilgrimage to the shrine of the Burger King: he wanted something "quick, inexpensive and good." In other words, everything Rod was saying about family meals, communion, sacramentality is completely lost on this man who thinks that eating is about getting things quickly and cheaply and who mistakes Burger King fare for something good.

Larison echoes an Italian cleric who opined a few years ago that Fast Food is Protestant:
"The style of fast-food completely ignores the sacred dimension of meals," Salani told the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire on the occasion of his book launching this January. "At McDonalds you satisfy your hunger in a rushed way so that you can move on to do other things," he lamented. Adding fuel to the fire, he insisted: "It lacks the communitarian or sharing aspect of a meal. Fast food is not Catholic. It is Protestant."

Not only is Meilander a Lutheran, but he praises such things as the community he thought he found while eating alone!

Larison's critique continues:

...using the word community in connection with fellow supporters of a pro baseball team, with whose city you don't even have a personal connection, suggests that you have no idea what "community" is. This is not Meilaender's problem alone. Entire generations of "conservatives" have grown up in rootless America not knowing what community really is, or grew up believing that the common good had something to do with Hillary Clinton trying to socialise health care, which is why they both virulently reject any attempt to promote community even as they lamely grasp onto whatever shreds of it they can find, because I suspect they know the desperate truth that man is not meant to live as so many of us do, but they have no idea how to change.

Men like choice, but one of the fundamental things that conservatives need to relearn is that choice is unnatural. We were not created with choice, a choosing will. We were created with free will, and the difference between the two is all-important. Our choosing, deliberative will is not only a product of our fallen state, but the source of our continuing waywardness. Prizing choice is like prizing doubt and uncertainty. It is not something to be prized, but something to be restrained and mortified.

The abortion movement is euphemistically, but significantly, called pro-choice. Though this whole crunchy con fad can distract from important endeavors like combating the abortion regime, it has revealed that the same presuppositions which animate pro-choicers have much influence among their opponents as well.

Someone wiser than I remarked that the phenomenon of human choice is essentially tragic, because it means that man does not truly know his own good. All choices are made through some combination of reason and virtue with vice, ignorance, or innumerable other personal shortcomings. Like all political movements, contemporary conservatism is set up for a dramatic failure, commitment to choice being one of its tragic flaws.

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