Friday, September 02, 2005

Portion Controlled Servings

I had another post for today, but its subject matter (ID vs Evolution) seemed inapposite in light of what's going on in the Mississippi Delta, particularly in New Orleans. So, just a quick reflection on that, and - please help in any way you can. As Eric noted, Oyster is blogging again and has more.


An astute commenter to Mark Schmitt's TPM Cafe post today called, 'It's All Because of Tax Cuts', notes:

I don't think people are yet grasping that America's cities just simply do not fit into the Republican narrative. Consider: They are full of the poor and minorities. They vote Democratic. They epitomise Modernity and it's discontents. They consume large amounts of government resources. They are home to the cultural and economic elites most strongly in opposition to a rightist agenda. They are dens of iniquity. 

From this perspective, the rightist power elite and their base, consciously or not, simply do not care if the cities are destroyed. Indeed, I think many believe, again, perhaps only unconsciously, that the future of America is to be a cityless, suburban, libertarian paradise. A sort of hyper-real post-modern recapitulation of frontier American life.


So, if you want to know why our cities are not protected, in my view that's why. It's not a bug. It's a feature.

It strikes me that mondo dentro is basically right here. There is a strain of people, mostly white and mostly religious (at least in a very strenuously nominal way) who simply don't like, don't trust, cities; and, while this hostility's center of gravity has shifted away from the farm to the suburbs, it's made of the same stuff as always. Arguably, Prohibition was an exponent of rural and small town racial/religious hostility to the urbanization of America, made manifest in the election of 1928 (urban Catholic Al Smith vs that nice Mr Hoover). I guess suspicion of cities is at least as old as Thomas Jefferson - although Jefferson was famously pragmatic and imaginative, and knew a good thing when he saw one.

What some mediocre hack fat asses (or, memorably, filthy canine vulvas) lack that Jefferson had is political imagination. However much cleverish debate club boys want to rigidify Jefferson, his essential feature was his imaginative pragmatism, and his willingness to utterly contradict himself (a superset of mere hypocrisy). If Jefferson sounded like an ideologue at times, he also knew the limits of rigid ideology.

Indeed, Hastert's comment about the rebuilding of NO is not surprising either for its content nor its timing. I have lived for years in Chicago and other cities, but I grew up in Hastert's now-suburban district and visit it often. These are people who almost NEVER go to the city - any city (and they live an hour away from Chicago). When they do, they find it disorienting and unnerving to actually be out of their cars and walking around amongst the steaming hordes. The city is, above all, unpredictable, the exact opposite of the Suburban ideal. If you're eatin' good in the "neighborhood", it doesn't matter what undifferentiated, moon-like part of the country you're in: you know what you're getting. Can't say that for local ethnic joints in the city: they might serve you DOG or something! Ew. And it will smell...different. And there won't be parking. The City is OK to visit once in a great while, as if going to a theme park, but the idea of actually living in one is almost unimaginable. In the suburbs, you live in your car or your house, mostly - in other words, you live in your head. Not surprising that we have a politics in this country which, to an alarming degree, also 'lives in its head' (I can't choose just one thing to hyperlink to here - you fill in the blank).

I don't mean to trivialize the horror poor folks in New Orleans are going through, but in a political and cultural sense, everyone who lives in a large American city is a refugee. And the political breakdown may not end up being 'the Cities vs Everyone Else', but rather 'the Suburbs/Exurbs vs. Everyone Else'. The truly rural left-behinds may, true to ancient tradition, still be hostile to cities, but they will be even more politically hostile to the 'Big Boys', who now live in, and promulgate, the Suburbs. 'Glidepath' is a suburban, drive-through, car-oriented word; farmers and city dwellers deal with their environment, and don't have 'glidepaths'.

[UPDATE: John Edwards strikes the exact right notes about Katrina in his rumination about this grotesque, distended manifestation of the 'Two Americas'.]

[UPDATE DEUX: Ari Kelman is thinking along remarkably similar lines today.]

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