Monday, April 15, 2013

A Minor Musing About Community, Politics, Literature, And Darn Near Everything

Politics, literature, and small town life sometimes intersect

Writing a book review of the life and death of a small town cancer victim, Yuval Levin channels Thornton Wilder
. . . beyond our petty vanities and momentary worries, beyond arguments and ambitions, beyond even principles and ideals, there is a kind of gentle, caring warmth that is really what makes life worth living. It is expressed through the words and acts of people who rise above themselves, but it seems to come from somewhere deeper. Maybe it’s divine, maybe it isn’t, but it’s real, and it effortlessly makes a mockery of a lot of what goes by the name of moral and political philosophy, and especially of the radical individualism that is so much a part of both the right and the left today. And it’s responsible for almost everything that is very good in our very good world. If I had to define what conservatism ultimately means for me, it would be the preservation and reinforcement of the preconditions for the emergence of that goodness in a society of highly imperfect human beings. But politics is of course only one very crude way to strengthen and protect those preconditions
Wilder, author of the play Our Town, one of the great depictions of simple life in a small town, has the Stage Manager say,
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.
Reviewing the same book as Levin, Nebraska native Josh Green admits to a bit of cognitive dissonance that many probably share
I don't like my hometown. But I do love it, because it - in its own infuriating way - taught me the most important lesson in life: you haven't grown up until you care about someone else more than yourself.
Heidi Marttila-Losure's seems to have undertaken the same sort introspection; she shares her desire to enjoy simple pleasures:
I absolutely chose to live here. Why? Because I appreciate the beauty here, the amazing "sky theater." And because of the sense of community and belonging I feel here. Part of that is nostalgia--I love the stories about the festivals, dances and common work that happened here years ago. But I also feel a calling to do as much as I can to shore up that community spirit and pride of place.
None of the above writers, however, successfully get to the crux of the matter: how can the crude instrument of politics best be used to keep young people make a living in the small towns so that they will be able to preserve the "goodness," love," "caring," and "festivals, dances and common work"?

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