Monday, June 22, 2009

What 'culture of choice'?

Last month Patrick Deneen discussed the contradictions of the rootless academic who is caught in the trap of inauthenticity: he propounds a life of “localism and community” on the internet and in the academy, two institutions which tend to dissolve what he professes to love.

Criticisms of would-be localists are easy to write: some haven’t been home in years. They murmur about loving “the idea of place,” rather than about the charming and dirty realities of one particular place. They only have time to theorize because of the productivity and efficiency of the economic system they often disdain.

Deneen himself writes that the arguments of his compatriots at Front Porch Republic
…are almost everywhere and always paradoxical, if not contradictory - arguing on behalf of communities and a culture in which choice and escape and individual self-assertion is subordinated, yet urging the embrace of these ways as a matter of choice and self-assertion. This paradox is forced upon anyone making these arguments by a culture that renders everything into a choice.

But how many of us really live in a “culture of choice”?

Many do not.

Circumstance, family concerns, health problems, lack of opportunities or simple lethargy encourage many to stay put without ever having to make an explicit rejection of “choice and escape.” While George Bailey almost left Bedford Falls several times, some of us never even became near-escapees.
We live within a thirty-minute drive of our birthplace and in the religion of our forefathers. We know the quirks of our area’s history and we can spot the landmarks even amid the suburban neighborhoods that have grown around them.

We try to place our fellow locals by what high school and what year they graduated in. And we wonder who all these people from out of state are and what they doing to change us.

For those of us settling into a career and starting a family, our regular choices may be no more substantive than what to watch on television, what or who to have for dinner, and what to do on the weekend.

We’re simply too busy or too non-wealthy to live in this “culture of choice” lauded by some and condemned by others.

Yet for all their abstractions and anti-abstractions, FPR writers and other localists help those of us who, because of forces beyond our control, have been extricated from the meritocratic amoeba but wonder why we are nevertheless content.
While many such authors may be mirror images of those they criticize, they speak for many of us who are not.

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