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Not a Quirk

I'm sure I have something more important I should be doing instead, but now that I have started today with the "crunchy" business, I will write one more post. Goldberg accuses Rod of being "quirky" and making what you might call an "argument from quirkiness." This is simply wrong, and it is getting tiresome that Goldberg thinks he is contributing something with this one-note song of his:

I'm sure you don't really disagree, but in your rush to prove the authenticity of your domicile you sound really, really quirky to a lot of us. Quirkiness is good. Quirkiness is valuable. Quirkiness is fun. Why, right now I'm wearing a very quirky hat. But quirkiness is not a foundation for a political philosophy or even a conservative "sentiment" nor is it sufficient grounds to condemn those who don't subscribe to your definition of the good life. A conservative philosophy or sentiment creates room for quirkiness, not the other way around. "The nature of man is intricate," wrote Edmund Burke, "the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature or to the quality of his affairs."

Quirkiness means strangeness of habit. So, in one sense, the life that Rod describes would seem quirky to someone living the conventional life he criticises. Stable, centered and rooted lives might well appear eccentric to people living fragmented and dispersed lives, but that does not mean that they are actually eccentric. There is the very real possibility that Goldberg and many others are so far removed from where they should be in life that many aspects of the good life appear bizarre and foreign to them (probably the way that, say, Lenten fasting appears to most modern Christians, even though some form of serious Lenten fasting was at least obligatory for most Christians until fairly recently and represents the rule and not the exception). The seeming bizarreness of Rod's way of life in Goldberg's eyes is not an argument in favour of Goldberg's argument against the "crunchies." It only makes Rod's argument for him as to how alienated from the permanent things the Goldbergs of the world have become.

To this Goldberg will probably only shout, "Narcissism!" But it is not the "crunchies" who are quite so obsessed with self-image in this sense (the book, especially the chapter on homeschooling, is replete with quotes from the various "crunchy" exemplars about how they no longer care what other people think), and that is what really bewilders so many of the critics. They seem to be saying subliminally, "Why aren't you crunchies more concerned with what we think about your way of life? Why won't you submit to the conventional attitudes and accept the roles that we have accepted?" If they look carefully through the book once more, they will find the answer to those questions.

Daniel Larison | March 15, 2006


The operative word in your post is "tiresome." Frankly, Goldberg is completely tiresome. He does not contribute to the conversation, and the themes in Dreher's book.

He's the Arnold Horshack in the whole exchange, constantly calling out for recognition, but in Goldberg's case he has a knack for getting it all wrong. I often wonder who's responsible for the manufacture of guys like Goldberg and Brooks as mouthpieces for anything resembling conservatism. It really is kinda silly, but my guess is that these guys are laughing to the bank -- doing very little, except gratifying their egos, and crafting indecipherable prose.

Regarding Gallagher's review, it seemed to me that she really didn't read Dreher's, what is for me, glorified essay. Reading the text and gaining some clarity from the exchange has assisted me, but it has also highlighted some of the contradictions -- splitmindedness -- I see within Dreher's position: such issues as

* the importance of place, but not necessarily the place where he grew up...
* that bad leftie coffee shop owner who recognizes (quite rightly) that most parents today don't wean well mannered, decent children, but brats; and that some of these parents required babysitting themselves...
* the term "crunchy" seems very silly, and gets in the way, permitting doltz like Goldberg to latch on to something superficial.

Actually, I've included a comment I sent to the NRO crunchy log regarding Dreher's comments on the leftie coffeeshop owner...who probably was overbearing, but actually shades light on an issue that Dreher's seems to assume too much. I'd be interested in your perspective, Daniel.

Mr. Dreher -

Unfortunately, the consumerist culture you correctly criticize has bred, what can only be identified as, a rabid narcissism endemic in many of today's young parents.

Instead of weaning well mannered and pleasant children, many of today's parents (those like us in our mid to late 30's) have a very unhealthy child fetish, placing children on pedestals as simply extensions of their own shallow egos.

Rather than viewing children as potential that require discipline, shaping, and example, these parents, for whatever reason, tend to treat children on equal footing as adults -- rarely correcting the bad, anti social behavior of their children...

I'm very familiar with the Cobble Hill section of Bklyn you reference. Though a quaint and beautiful locale, it is filled with very self-absorbed types.

My brother had a restaurant in that area. The stories I could share involving the "parent and child" relationships border on the absurd. Just let me say, in many cases, these people viewed their children as prodigies of lost culture, particularly when the child was most difficult.

Your perspective only makes sense if both the parents and children are well behaved.

Simply being a parent or a child for that matter in no way exempts one from the expectation of proper behavior, which includes recognizing that not everyone find's your child that interesting, or cute, or anything -- and not everyone should be subjected to very poor, post modern parenting.

In a sense, I can sympathize with the coffee shop owner (though I tend to prefer Starbuck's rather than most local purveyors). Sometimes children aren't that cute, and particularly other people's annoying children.

Please note, my wife and I live according to this perspective, and keep a watch on ourselves throughout the day. I had superior teachers-- my parents. As one of seven, I recall fondly when placed in certain situations -- like being at an eatery -- the example my Dad set. When we were on a road trip and stopped to fill up Dad would have us sit down and he would take our order. He would then place our order while we sat and waited for our treats. Today, it's amazing how much benefit this simple discipline we net.


MJK | 03/16/06 10:11

Michael, thanks for your comments on several of the posts. I'll try to get to them all today.

Of course, the book and the formulation of the "crunchy" idea have some flaws. I'll get to your specific points in a second, but I'll take this opportunity to register my dissent from one point in the book. I was remarking to someone recently that Rod's warnings about the catastrophic effects of climate change struck me as bizarre. On pretty much everything else, his counsel of conservation is just simple good sense, but here I thought he had missed something.

This was the sort of thing I had been fed ever since I was in elementary school (oh, those progressive private schools!); it was the sort of thing we were treated to with shows such as Captain Planet (wow, was that a bad show!); it was something I came to believe was mistaken during my brief study of meteorology. For expressing that opinion in our college newspaper, I was lambasted publicly and rather harshly by one of my college's professors (in spite of the fact that I had just done a small research paper on the arguments pro and con on global warming, which directly informed my views on the subject, and received a perfectly good grade).

Everything I understand about climate change tells me that the moderate warming over the last century may not entirely be man-made, that most greenhouse gases are natural, that climate change is generally cyclical and may be related to solar radiation as much as to anything else. Furthermore, if we grant that the warming trend will continue on for some time, this is not a cause for alarm. The historical effects of warming trends have generally been (at least in areas for which we have records) good for crop yields, population growth and prosperity. Paleontology tells us that the entire planet was considerably warmer in the Mesozoic, which made much of the planet tropical but not uninhabitable. Climate change, like all change over time, has been happening for as long as there has been a climate. However, barring some genuine radiological catastrophe of our own making, I fail to see why we should be so anxious about this kind of change.

Okay, back to the other points. In Rod's defense, the place they themselves chose wasn't strictly arbitrary, as he mentioned recently on the blog. Living in Dallas puts them close to his wife's family, so there is a certain sense to it. I think a place does have to have those sorts of connections and affinities in Rod's vision. Rootedness and being grounded in a given place for one's whole life is important to him, but to reprise something I was saying about tradition it is necessary for someone to plant the seed before anything can take root. He is not seeking the same utilitarian goods from a different angle. He is really after something else. If he does not stress the necessity of being rooted to a specific, meaningful place to which you have connections enough in the book (though I believe his chapter on 'Home' does stress this fairly often), this might be the result of the style of the book. It is anecdotal and essay-like, I agree, which I believe Rod wanted to do to make it accessible, approachable and to relate these things in a way that would register with more people. Not emphasising the importance of being on the soil where your ancestors lived, let's say, might be a way of not running people off before they've had a chance to consider the general ideas. But I think there may be a little more emphasis on being in a particular place than you allowed. I hope that made sense.

My guess is that Rod would take it as a given (though I can't be sure) that the sorts of parents who are going to take him up on his homeschooling suggestions, for example, are at least rather less self-absorbed than a lot of the people you mention (you are, of course, absolutely right about this). For the parents who have themselves not grown up, this book will probably mean nothing. As I understand it (and I grant that I do not have children yet, so I am speaking from what I have seen in my parents and my friends), parents should already have a mind to make great sacrifices for their children's well-being, and in many respects the entire book is a call to parents to take that natural impulse and apply it in certain specific ways. It isn't only about how best to raise children, but it is such a large part of it. I think Rod may not have taken account of the parents who think of their children as lifestyle accessories (by which I mean these parents have children to fulfill their own rather drab lives, treat them as their little projects or extensions of themselves, or view having children as a lifestyle option rather than as a sacred obligation) because what he has to say will mean very little to them. That's all my own speculation, and that may not be the case.

Daniel Larison | 03/16/06 15:02

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