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.