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Commentary on “Link Sausage”

Fair warning: Thorough research for this post may take you a few minutes, as you have some link-reading to do.

Background: Brandywine books is the blog of novelist Lars Walker and a couple of his friends (or just one?, hi Phil!).  Walker reviews books at a prodigious pace (faster than me) and writes about a variety of issues Norwegian, Viking, Minnesota, and Conservative and Evangelical Christian.  On all but the last two, I find the posts generally enjoyable.  On these, it’s one of the few places I’ve found where people with whom I vehemently disagree are willing to engage in civil dialogue about the issues, which has kept me reading and occasionally commenting.

Usually I just post over there, but today I had comments on all three of Walker’s links, so I thought I’d post here and give you, dear reader, the benefit of my bloviation. (Bonus! I just had to teach my spell check the word bloviation.  I love teaching the spell check new words.)

1. Lets get to it.  First, Walker comments on the fact that the Boy Scouts of America recently re-upped its policy barring homosexuals from membership.  Walker comments (sarcastically):

When will this benighted organization understand that a boy’s life is forever blighted if he misses the opportunity to spend a night in a tent with a homosexual?

I am an Eagle Scout, but my son will not be.  As someone who places great value in what the Boy Scouts do, it made me very sad (when this kerfuffle started) that the BSA took the position it did, for two reasons.  First, I believe they’re wrong, morally and ethically.  But I know I’m not going to convince Walker on that point today.  Second, and more to the point regarding the BSA itself, they’re violating their own tenets.  To whit, the Boy Scout law (typing from memory here) tells boys to be: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.  Of these values, only the last can be even remotely related to the issue of homosexuality, as some religions disallow it.  But not all do — in fact, many do not.  So instead of embracing the fact that people of different creeds gather to share a love of the outdoors and good-spirited camaraderie, the BSA leadership has declared that one particular religious perspective takes precedent over others.

I also find really irritating the smug notion that:

The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” Mazzuca said. “We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.” (link)

That’s because anyone with strong views on the issue has left the organization.  It’s like saying “We don’t welcome anyone with brown hair” for ten years, and then justifying the policy by saying “Most of our parents agree with the no-brown-hair policy.”  That’s because you’ve built yourself an echo chamber.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s a private organization that can do what it likes and I would not advocate any kind of government intervention. (Though it does irk me that this openly discriminating group still gets strong concessions from governmental organizations like cheap rental of military land for jamborees.)  But to my mind, this policy not only fails to teach boys that different people have different beliefs (a core part of the Reverent tenet), but the policy also distinctly fails to teach boys aspects of being Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, and Kind.

2.Next, Walker affirms the points made by Dennis Prager’s “A Letter to Young Voters,” which argues that 1) generally people recognize that as we grow older, we gain wisdom, 2) people get more conservative as they get older, so 3) why do young people think being idealistic is so great?  Walker puts the point to liberals, writing:

This seems an excellent point to me. How do you answer it if you’re a liberal? Either it’s false that people get more conservative as they get older (which utterly defies all experience) or it’s false that people get wiser as they get older (and try telling that to the Boomers, even the liberal ones).

My first thought was to look up whether people really do get more conservative as they get older.  My instinct was that it’s complicated — that people become more conservative in some ways and liberal in others.  An article on Discovery news (the top hit on my search) suggests that demographic studies complicate this old chestnut.

So, going with the caviat that I don’t accept, as a blanket statement, that people become conservative as they get older, I will go with it for now because I too have that instinct.  I’ll admit that I had many of the responses Prager dismisses in his piece.  First, I agree that people get fiscally conservative because they become more concerned with their personal welfare.  He tries to rebut this by saying that older people are more generous with time and money than young people.  Again, I’d like to see verification of this.  I also look at the things that make it difficult for me, right now, to engage in that generosity, and I see children.  My inclination is that my generosity will change significantly as my kids grow and engage with the world as adults in their own right.  But I also dispute Prager’s basic concept, that the this conservatism comes from being burned by “big government”.  He asserts as universal ideas that appeal to him.  I know my mother, a peer of his, would argue with every point he makes.  And she’s certainly wise.

At the same time, Prager doesn’t at all address the question of social conservatism.  Thomas Kuhn’s arguments about paradigm shift in science apply to moral advances in society as well, to my mind.  Kuhn argued that the significant changes in science that allowed for widescale shifts in perspective (like the heliocentric theory replacing the heavenly spheres theory) occurred only as the older scientists who grew up under the old paradigm began to die off.  In that regard, I feel that the moral advances this country has seen (as in, say, the issue of racial discrimination) is tied strongly to the aging population.  I feel like there’s a similar trend in the issue of gay marriage.

So to sum up, I think the idea that “people get more conservative as they get older” is a hollow one that doesn’t help illuminate what it means to say people gain wisdom, and may not be as true as we think.  But I do acknowledge that a naivete and idealism inherent in youth gets worn away by experience.  The lessons learned by the past must indeed be remembered by the next generation, or we all sit and spin.  But we need to remember that young people will likely introduce the new ideas that allow us to advance, and we must be careful not to mistake nostalgia for wisdom.

3. Walker echoes writer Mitch Berg in complaining about an initiative to close a street to car traffic.  The internal politics of the piece are complicated, as the traffic has been diverted by a light rail project, etc, etc.  My response is twofold: First, it’s long been established that traffic patterns defy “common sense.” (C.F. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities).  So trying to use common sense rather than scientific study to predict or explore them will always fail.  One side effect of these studies has been that more roads create more traffic.  (Having said that, the common sense demonstration of this is Atlanta, where they build more and more roads, and the traffic grows to meet it.)

Second, why do cars get precedence over bicycles?  Don’t the bicyclists have just as much right to go to work?  It’s indisputable that cars take up more room and cause more pollution than do bicycles.  While it’s not the city’s place to demand that people stop driving into the city, it’s also not incumbent on them to bend all life and space of the city to automobile traffic.  If anything, public transport and bicycles should be encouraged because they use fewer of the common resources (space being the premium in the city).  Sure, you can drive, but it should be a hassle because you’re taking up more room.  Berg’s lament seems to forget that convenience for one person almost always means inconvenience for someone else in the context of a limited resource.


{ 6 } Comments

  1. Mitch Berg | 18 July 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link.

    Regarding my piece about the plan to hack up Charles Street in Saint Paul – there’s some context to the piece that’s fairly important.

    I’m a St. Paul resident, taxpayer, conservative – and bicyclist. I think striping a bike lane every mile or so is a great thing. But using government policy simply to – as you put it – hassle people into line with some utopian goal seems a misuse of resources. MY resources. The light rail project involved is a classic example of government arrogance and lousy planning on many levels (for starters, it’s the wrong kind of train for the middle of a crowded corridor; if you *must* have a train, it should have been a trolley or tram, not a light rail line). It’s rapidly starving out the small Asian businesses that have revitalized University Avenue over the past 20 years.

    And Saint Paul is constantly complaining about being broke, and has been ratcheting up property taxes to prove it (and to cover for the businesses and their tax revenue fleeing University and downtown). But they’ve got money for…making driving a hassle?

    By the way, my “lament” forgets nothing. Driving in Saint Paul – especially the Midway, the North End and Frogtown, the neighborhoods affected by this proposal – is already a hassle. This is not LA; the street grid was laid out for horses and buggies, and it shows. So while you have a point in saying one person’s convenience means inconvenience for someone else, it’s a limited one; the vast majority of St. Paulites, especially in these neighborhoods, drive to work (and have to, since there are fewer and fewer good jobs in Saint Paul every year), what you have here is the slim, utilitarian convenience of the tax-paying majority being deprecated by a very tiny minority – the urban-planning hobbyists and the tiny fringe of Wahhabi anti-car zealots.

  2. Mitch Berg | 18 July 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the double comment – the submit controls disappeared.

    Look – I don’t think cities should be designed around cars. But these two projects merely serve to spread the car traffic we DO have from a small, high-traffic strip out into the neighborhoods where they heretofore have not been. That’s just not a great idea.

  3. Chris Baxter | 18 July 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Excellent commentary B., but I was disappointed that there was no actual discussion of sausage.

  4. Digital Sextant | 18 July 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, Mitch. You make good points — I certainly have heard from a number of my Twin Cities friends complaints about the planning for the light rail system. At the same time, Mpls/StPaul has long needed to address its lack of good public transportation. Regarding the bike traffic — did the people making this proposal present numbers about bikes and cars that travel the road? This seems like a key part of this discussion.

    As for the spreading traffic — I’d be interested to see scientific study of the way that traffic has re-routed. You should check out Jacobs’ book: it’s a rant about traffic planners, many of whom work from vague ideas without solid research, often making initiatives (like the bike road you mention) based on assumptions, and then failing to follow those up with real monitoring and research.

    Thanks for visiting!

  5. Philip Wade (@Brandywinebooks) | 19 July 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Hi, Brendan. I haven’t read about traffic hassles in St. Paul or Minneapolis, but I’d think the weather would work against bike use most of the year. On your first point though, you may be summing up our essential disagreement with your illustration. Do you think banning homosexuals is the same as banning brown-haired people? It is not. Even though we still argue over the origins of same-sex attraction, the conduct of homosexuality is still perverse. If there was a type of man who tended to be a womanizer, I’d think the Scouts would screen out that type. If a type of man tended to abuse drugs or alcohol or a man freely ID’ed himself as an abuser and didn’t see what was wrong with that, I’d think the Scouts would screen him out. The same goes for homosexuals.

    I don’t know if I’m communicating well here, but here’s another way to say it. It’s one thing for a man to struggle with deviant behavior. It’s another for him to declare himself a deviant or perverted man.

  6. Digital Sextant | 26 July 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil! Sorry for the slowness with which I approved your comment — I’ve been traveling and letting the blog run on autopilot, and only now just saw your comment.

    Your point about perversity is the crux of the issue, for me. Different religious sects make different pronouncements about what it means to be deviant or perverse. As a Unitarian Universalist, for example, I belong to a sect that embraces homosexuality as an acceptable and moral aspect of human behavior. The Boy Scouts purports to embrace multiple religious affiliations, using “reverent” as one of its tenets in the Boy Scout Law. By declaring that the ethical and religious ruling of many mainstream religious communities is wrong, they’re betraying that supposed commitment to religious diversity.

    There are many honest, forthright, ethical people who strenuously disagree with your characterization that homosexuality is “perverse.” They are supported by many religious communities. For the BSA to make a ruling on this complex moral issue is to betray an inclusiveness that I thought was a key aspect of the organization.

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