Culture, Going Deep

I think it is useful to ask questions. It is also useful to read people with whom one disagrees. I do slouch over to Crisis from time to time, and I hope it’s about more than a voyeurs window into how the other half (or tenth) thinks. And not just because I wrote for them for a short time.

Anthony Esolen asks “How to Identify a Healthy Culture” today. His last sentence:

For once I bring a little cold comfort to the leaders of my church. They are not the only people who have proved to be massively incompetent. We are all implicated. We have made a poor show of it.

Professor Esolen may well be right. I don’t know why he complained a lot about culture then implicated Catholic pastors. But I certainly would think that his Republican confreres are soundly implicated. And to be sure, not only that side of the political divide.

Over the past century, individual cars have replaced trains. Cities emptied because people could live at a distance and not be terribly inconvenienced. But the culture expressed not only in small towns but in city neighborhoods died out. It was replaced by cruise boulevards in the 50’s, malls a generation later, and today we have the internet where we can coagulate with like-minded people and condemn inconvenient skeptics and dissenters to the ranks of heresy.

What songs do we sing? If our captors asked us to sing the songs of Sion in an alien land, would we know any? How many of us could pick up a guitar or a fiddle nearby and play a love song passed down from ear to hand to ear to hand, from one generation to the next?

Well, I could. But for that ability, I’m looked upon as a talented if not a highly unusual person. Even countercultural. And those are the nice epithets. In my circles, I can think of a number of others who could keep the songs going, if the juke boxes and YouTube all went dark. A century ago, if people wanted to listen to music they had to find people who played it. Sometimes that was them-very-selves. Then in the 50’s, there was hi-fi stereo. cd’s followed a generation later, along with music on tv that one watched. Today people put plugs in their ears, and who knows what music moves them? We’ve gone from making music to listening to music to watching music. And pianos move to the garbage dumps like snowbirds hit friendly skies.

Why are there so many feral young men and women, tattooed and slovenly, loitering about shopping malls or slouching towards the internet for their porn?

Hasn’t Pope Francis asked this? Some people a bit closer to Dr Esolen than I have suggested such are the mutterings of an anti-pope. I think liberals would well ask these questions:

Why are there so many old neighborhoods, roads, and bridges crumbling, while millions of young men are unemployed or, worse, unemployable? Why do so many teachers believe it their duty to tear down the glories of their own civilization, calling it ‘critical thinking,’ without a passing thought as to what will remain in their place?

Because unrestrained greed knows it can find cheaper labor, if not from women and children of Western culture, from the females and boys and girls of another society ruled with either corruption, an iron fist of authoritarianism. Or both. Maybe we don’t see unrestrained greed, corruption, or prejudice as glorious.

My take is that many Crisis essayists see little connection between their unbridled support for the politics of the Right and the lamentable decay we all note in the West. I don’t think one can endorse military adventurism and torture and point the finger at women who get abortions.

Now, to be sure, many liberals and people who pass for liberals have got it all muddled, too. But today, a conservative web site–not a liberal one–asked the questions. And maybe Dr Esolen and his editors feel cold comfort in directing some blame at pope, bishops, and pastors. They give lip service to their own mea culpa. But the real question is this: who’s ready to make the first move? If Dr Esolen has a fiddle at hand, I have a guitar. Is it time to stop blaming and start playing? Or is this just more meat for the feral internet culturewarriors, loitering about cyberspace looking for someone else to ostracize.

Pardon me while I look for a neighborhood cèilidh.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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