“Crunchy Cons”

July 12, 2008 at 6:27 am | Posted in Nonfiction, Politics | Leave a comment

(July 21, 2007)

Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party) by Rod Dreher

I wish I could show you the cover of this book: it has a hippie bus painted with a big Republican elephant, and there’s a suited arm hanging out the window making a big peace sign.  Pretty cute.

Why do I keep reading conservative books?  I dunno, I guess I just get curious.  I mean, I’m not necessarily going to learn much by reading books that support beliefs I already have, right?  I figure learning what the other side is all about is the only way to get real dialogue to happen – and real dialogue is the only way we’re going to get ourselves away from this awful polarization going on in our country right now.

Anyway, on to Dreher.  He is a conservative Republican, as well as an orthodox Catholic – so orthodox that he and his wife refuse to use artificial forms of birth control.  Yet, they wear Birks and buy organic vegetables from a co-op.  Dreher maintains that true conservatism demands certain things that mainstream conservatives have gotten away from.  He’s offering them a sort of wake-up call.  He says conservatives write off important values because they are so strongly associated with liberalism, to the point that they are not only not liberal, but not truly conservative any more, either.  Fascinating.

The first chapter describes what Dreher means by “crunchy conservatives.”  These are people who espouse politically and fiscally conservative values and are flag-flying patriots, yet who live lifestyles that would lead most people to guess they were liberals.  Dreher gives examples of fellow conservatives picking on him for wearing Birkenstocks and buying organic produce, and others saying they’ve dealt with the same stuff for, for example, owning The Moosewood Cookbook.  To me this is really sad – that conservatives are so judgmental they will even write off one of their own over a cookbook or a pair of shoes.  It’s sad to the author, too, because he says it’s like Hating Liberals is the only way to prove you’re a bona fide conservative.

The next chapter addresses Consumerism.  Dreher isn’t pulling any punches.  He says while the Democrats are the Party of Lust, the Republicans are the Party of Greed.  Wow!  He says unbridled free market capitalism is tending to lead to things that go against traditional conservative values, for instance when a big business comes in, drives out the small family-run competition, and as a result the families suffer.  True conservatism would demand that decisions take into account conservation of the family, the land, and the local economy, not just the ability of one fat cat to make a lot of money on a real estate deal.  Love it.  There is a lot of talk about “the culture” and how most crunchy conservatives don’t watch TV.  It’s very interesting to me how there seems to be this association between liberals and all the sex and violence on TV.  Uh, don’t blame me – I was too busy out riding my bike and steaming up some bok choy.  I have a TV, but it doesn’t get any reception; I just use it to play yoga videos.  Anyway, Dreher goes on to make a very firm point that if families choose to reject consumerism, they have more financial freedom to make lifestyle changes that support their values – such as his wife choosing to stay home and home-school their two sons.  (He mentions later that stay-at-home dads are fine, too, which is a relief because so often “traditionalism” comes at the expense of women).  I can only agree with this, too.  Having and maintaining a bunch of stuff in a big house is awfully distracting when it comes to making the most of life.

Chapter Three is about Food.  Here we have the importance of getting back to the land, respecting our food and the people who grow it, and thinking seriously about what sorts of things we are willing to put in our mouths.  Do I hear an amen?  He’s even against modern factory farming!  Dreher advocates eating smaller portions of meat to be able to afford organic, humanely raised meat.  As a vegan, I can get behind that.  There is a major ideological difference between our “crunchy” views here, obviously, in that my beliefs lead quite naturally to not eating meat.  I believe the Bible supports vegetarianism – while not exactly demanding it! – see chapter one of the Book of Daniel, and the oh-so-vague commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill.  I call eating meat “because I like it and it seems like the right thing to do” the Jeffrey Dahmer argument.

Chapter Four, “Home”, talks about the tacky housing developments we have springing up everywhere, and how the modern landscape is so bereft of any kind of aesthetic charm.  He says having a huge house in a sparkly gated community is not the main thing in life.  He talks quite a bit about his Craftsman home – another classic liberal identifier, especially seeing that the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement was a socialist (mentioned in the book).  Gosh, I wish every real estate developer and architect in the land would get behind the ideas in this chapter – then maybe we’d have something other than a land of parking lots.

Chapter Five, “Education”, talks about the how-tos of home schooling, and hints at the spiritual advantages of having large families.  There are a few places in the book that mention negative population growth, and how our birth rate needs to be at least 2.1 or bad things will happen.  I can’t agree, here, because I think the population pressure we have in the world now leads directly and inexorably to: high crime rates, endemic poverty, epidemic diseases, environmental degradation, and eventual complete social collapse.  I think we’d do just fine with only 3 billion people instead of six, and I can’t see how anyone could disagree with me.  Also, I take “birth control” pills for medical reasons – gosh, I wish they had another name – and I would hesitate to have my supply threatened for ideological reasons.  Beyond that, I believe there are many ways to contribute to posterity other than having children.  To me, having kids as your major contribution to the world is kind of like, well, passing the buck: “I’ll have a baby, who will be a better person than me and who will go on to save the world.”  Well, if everyone feels that way, who’s ever going to have time to do those things?  They’re too busy changing the diapers, and then they’re just too tired.  There has to be room for people, like me, who can’t have kids but still want to feel like there’s some point to life and some way for us to contribute.

Chapter Six discusses the environment.  I found this chapter particularly interesting.  Dreher demands that conservatives start paying attention to the environment and adopting conservationist policies.  He even acknowledges global warming, and quotes a conservative thinker (John Leo) who compares denial about global warming to tobacco company executives who deny the link between smoking and lung cancer.  I am laughing because I read An Inconvenient Truth last week, and Al Gore used the exact same argument!  Naturally I am 100% behind any and all policies that protect the environment, and I’m willing to overlook the motives or political beliefs of anyone who supports them too.  Every incremental change adds up to something positive, here, and we can’t afford to waste one single second arguing – we just have to ACT.  Look, Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover put most of our national parks into place, and it was Nixon who passed the Clean Air Act.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re liberal or conservative, you still have to breathe the air and drink the water, and it’s high time we started working together.

The book goes on to discuss religion.  This is a hard issue, because it’s the major dividing line between Us and Them (whoever you think Us is).  I believe I am a religious person, and that my spiritual beliefs inform every moment of my life.  I have made personal sacrifices to support my beliefs over and over again.  Yet I know I would be written off as a “semi-pagan” or worse, because I’m not a Christian and I’m not a member of any kind of official organized religion.  I support the right of anyone to live according to the spiritual beliefs that are most attractive, mostly because I believe, underneath, they all offer the same message.  Worship God, love your neighbor, be unrelentingly honest with yourself about your ego’s nasty tendencies, protect the weak, and do your best to support a happy life for others, including the creatures of the world.  I get nervous, though, when I read the word “tolerant” used in a somewhat pejorative sense, as in a church tolerating other forms of belief.  Christians tend to believe, like Muslims, that their religion is the only true path, and to me that’s a dangerous way to believe.  Herein lies the break.  Probably better not to talk about it too much.

One of the main messages I got from this book was that there are people on both sides who are tiring of the endless and increasingly nasty tone of polarized political name-calling going on in our country.  We’re nowhere near true debate these days.  What we need is to be willing to hear each other out.  We also need to be willing to live a sensible lifestyle without worrying about the peer pressure of other people in “our Party.”  Rod Dreher should be able to wear Birkenstocks because they’re really comfortable and they’re well made.  Likewise, I should be able to read a book on investing without worrying I’m turning into “one of them.”

What I also got out of the book was a surprising look into the way a conservative sees liberals.  I’m not really a liberal, really – I’m a radical – but that’s a story for a different day.  I do fit a lot of the stereotypes – vegan, Birk-wearer, organic produce eater – but I just don’t see why those things matter.  I don’t smoke pot, wear tie-dye or patchouli, or listen to the Grateful Dead.  I hope we’ll come to a point when doing the green things I do seems like the logical and smart thing to do, not some kind of political flag-waving.


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