Sunday, July 01, 2007


Suburban (Im-)Materialism

This American Life (IIRC a re-run) today made an interesting point about suburbia: the bourgeois suburbanite is hardly "materialistic" but rather is seeking, in the comforts and also the isolation (and paradoxical community of those seeking isolation) of the suburbs and now the exurbs (which are like suburbia was when suburbia first boomed post-WWII), a sort of spiritual substance. But this point is part of something more general: "materialism" is hardly Materialism at all (and hedonism is not Epicurianism) -- if you seek money or that which money can buy to fill a void, you de facto are placing value on something other than the material world -- at the very least you value the idea of value behind money, which is hardly part of the material world.

Meanwhile, as deutero (or is it tritero?) Isaiah asks us "why do we spend our money on that which does not satisfy?" Why are we materialists, as the term is commonly used? We should at least be Materialists (c.f. Antigonos of Socho on heavenly rewards and the importance of not seeking them).

Interestingly the idea of suburban (im-)materialism is one of optimism. Part of the problem we Dems. are having attracting exurban voters is that we are seen as negative nellies. And not without reason: last week, the Dem. candidates (following the lead of Sen. Dodd) were quick to talk about America loosing its moral authority. Important words, but not a way to win an election.

People want to be told they are good people ... and the right, from the John Wayne rap played at the end of the aforementioned episode of This American Life through Ronald Reagan's campagn to the resurgence of the Gospel of Prosperity taps into this want. Meanwhile the left, made fun of by the right in a fit of projection for our concern about "self-esteem" has forgotten how to be optimistic. We are still Walter Mondale's factory whistle to Ronald Reagan's "Miller time". The country may need the factory whistle, but we'll always want "Miller Time" (says the guy blogging instead of working): the left (back when it also knew from political theatre and it was the right which was clueless about such things) used to understand this. Heck -- the best practitioner of "happy days are here again" was FDR -- maybe no lefty but a reasoonabley liberal Dem. Alas, today's Democrats, to the extent that they "get it" in terms of what's wrong with America, will never be in a position to fix it, 'cause they've forgotten, as my dad puts it, "you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar".

So how do we tell people what they need to hear in a way that they would still want to hear it? Maybe deutero-Isaiah knew how?

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