Here’s Mr. Carter. I really do have a real job, and so I have only time to quote Joe on the pretentiousness of the Porchers through his reporting on what he learned at their recent conference:
For example, one professor (they were almost all professors) presented his localist bona fides by explaining how he bought his vegetables from a local food co-op. He was very proud of the fact that he paid a higher price to support a local farmer—despite the fact that the same vegetables from the same local farmer could be bought at Whole Foods. For most agrarians throughout history, food was considered fuel for survival and cheap food has made it possible for populations to grow and thrive. For the tenured agrarians, though, food is a totem, a symbol of how they are not only making the “right” consumption choices but how they are supporting the environment and the community in the process (a debatable assumption). The professor’s underlying message—though admittedly presented rather winsomely—was that if you bought bananas at Wegmans rather than whatever was in season from your local farmer, you were part of the problem.
During the question and answer session that followed, an earnest student stood up and asked how people like him—poor kids on the college’s meal plan—were expected to partake in the “luxury of buying local.” The professor’s rather dismissive and surprisingly smug answer was that the student should buy what he could afford and make his meals in his dorm room. And if the student couldn’t afford the higher prices charged by local farmers, then the right thing to do, said the professor, was to eat less food. Hunger was the price one pays for philosophic consistency. Can’t afford organic arugula? Let them eat leeks.
Other presenters denounced the current American trend (that has been going on for over 200 years) of people choosing careers that take them away from the local communities. The irony was that the laments were almost exclusively being made by college professors who had left their own local communities to take jobs in schools far away from their hometowns. (Of course they bought their veggies from a co-op so they could still consider themselves to be good “localists.”)
In America we all get to choose our traditions, so I can’t really fault folks for choosing to be traditionalists. They may be a bit preachy and lacking in self-awareness, but these types of Porchers mean well and are trying to do the right thing. They also tend to be pro-liberty. They may want you to buy your raw milk from a local farmer but they aren’t going to advocate laws to stop you from buying some pasteurized two-percent at the Wal-Mart Supercenter. They respect freedom—they just want you to use it to make the right choices. I’m fully in agreement with them on that point.
There is another brand of Porcher, though, that is less enthusiastic about giving people the freedom to make choices for themselves. They believe the flaws of democracy and capitalism are so great—individuals continuously make the wrong choices—that we need to abandon (or at least seriously curtail) both.
There is no reason that I know of, of course, that struggling college students should be made to feel guilty for eating their cheap cafeteria meals by professors bragging about their lifestyle choices. It’s not so different from Marxist professor-workers making such students feel guilty for being bourgeois exploiters. There is no reason I know available to a non-Marxist, non-materialist for attaching virtue and dignity so tightly to the mode of production. And even Dr. Pat Deneen gets nervous when those Porchers start talking present-tense monarchs and peasants and such.
In my Al Gore mode, of course, I’m offended that no one remembers my invention of “Porcher,” which in a semi-affectionate mode was an attempt to expose their ideological nerve. But I also invented “postmodern conservative.”
I agree with Joe and am not opposed to living traditional or buying local or talking distributism, it’s just that…