The Pomocons vs. the Porchers
So I finally will have the pleasure of hanging out with Rod Dreher at his Walker Percy festival in his St. Francisville, La., this weekend.
Rod is trying to stir up trouble, which is okay by us (to get our ratings up), by reminding everyone of the Pomocon vs. Porcher conflagration that occurred a few years ago. He quotes Pat Deneen and ME on the differences between the two “brands.” I’ll let you, for now, judge for yourself. The Porchers are, for those who don’t like to click on links, the agrarian and localist authors of the webzine The Front Porch Republic.
Let me add, in the spirit of empirical social science:
- I live in a smaller and more rundown town than St. Francisville — Lindale, Ga. It came into being as a “post-agrarian” mill town set up by carpetbaggers from New England. People who grew up in the mill town remember it as an upgrade for families and personal prosperity from the uncertainty and poverty of fairly subsistence farming. There’s nothing antebellum or even remotely touristy in Lindale. But I am not really from the South. I grew up in the utterly rootless D.C. suburbs, and my dad worked for the CIA. And I’m privileged never to have farmed or worked in a mill. A downside: I am singularly lacking in skills and would be toast if the Chinese took out the electric grid.
- I can praise the virtues of Walmart while thanking God that I’m prosperous and unworkaholic enough never to actually have to go there. I shop at regular chain grocery stores that have taken on designer features and have the choice of organic and gluten-free stuff. I buy local if they buy local, although I do like going to farmers’ markets once in a while. I buy organic only if the price isn’t unreasonably inflated, which it usually is. And I don’t know what a gluten is. I’ve read, probably too late to help me, the recent studies that show that our Founders stuffed their faces with meat and so were remarkably healthy, all things considered. Later, our progressives taught us to be fearful of meat and fat, causing the heart-disease epidemic.
- Starbucks coffee is swill. Panera, though, has tolerable coffee in an environment that’s just like home, without all the distractions.
- We Pomocons haven’t so much “made our peace” with consumerist society as admitted that it’s not all bad living here. There’s a lot to consume, and the producers are pretty cagey when it comes to giving us what we want at low prices.
- Nothing signifies the mixture of good and bad that is our high-tech, consumerist society more than the screen. I’m not at all nostalgic for a world without it, but it has made lives better in some ways and worse in others. It’s democratic in being a good that’s now available to about everyone, but it seems that fewer people than ever have what it takes in terms of learning and habituation to use it well. And there’s the screen’s detachment of us all from the world of real faces and places, a detachment that, on balance, makes it harder to raise and educate kids. (Those who school at home, admittedly, find the screen quite a blessing.) Rod, I guarantee (we all see the evidence), is enjoying too much screen time to be open to all the good people of St. Francisville have to offer him. It’s also the screen, however, that readily allows him to have some of the best of more than one world; he and his family live amid the localist virtues of a small town with a rich history, while he can still flourish productively as a literary figure in a cosmopolitan environment whenever he wants. (Imagine how much Flannery O’Connor would have benefited by being connected online.)
- The screen allows people who do intellectual labor to work from home and to call home anywhere they please. (Even higher education is moving rather quickly online from the brick-and-mortar campus.) That’s good for family life or at least for being both a producer and a parent. It’s in some ways bad for the environment, as well as for localist social ecology. Sophisticated people moving to the country tend to demand designer amenities and fake-historic downtowns upgraded by entrepreneurial and tasteful outsiders. Or maybe in some cases it’s good for the social ecology; intellectuals from outside can make up for the brain drain that plagues the sticks when intellectual labor centralizes in cities. (The Porchers are right that capitalism has been more a cause of than a cure for rural idiocy for those who stay home, but things might be changing.) The main problem with working from home on screens is that the distinctions that separate work, family, and leisure get too blurred, and people end up thinking that they’re busier than they really are. After all, as long as the screen is sitting there, you could be working. At least farming is somewhat seasonal.
- All these tricky relational considerations make it clear enough, of course, that we live in a lot more than a consumerist society.
Rod finishes up with a balanced and savvy five-point comparison of the two “teams” or “brands” of American conservatism. I will deal with each point later. Rod is certainly right that most American conservatives don’t give a rat’s ass about either team. But they should.