Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"East Germany with a good PR company"

Sadly, conservatism in the U.S. usually gets conflated to a few silly notions mostly revolving around firearams and free market economics. However, there is a conservatism worthy of the name, one that takes its cues not from any powerful gun lobby and especially not from big multinational corporations, but a conservatism that seeks above all to conserve our humanity. To my mind, Mr. Peter Hitchens, whose brother is Christopher Hitchens, is an exemplar of what I am tempted to call "true conservatism." This kind of thinking is also articulated very well in the writings and observations of G.K. Chesterton.

In his Mail Online blog on Monday, Hitchens, being "profoundly bored by scandal" turns to writing about what he calls "small matters." He writes about how we have let ourselves become enslaved to our gadgets. His frustration with his cellular phone leads him to the observation I want to take note of, namely his "many reasons" to doubt "that 'market forces', left to themselves, will make us all free and happy." He goes on to observe that these "market forces" often seem more "like East Germany with a good PR company and more efficient distribution. East German cities used to have uniform high streets in which the same basic goods were available everywhere, or not available, in more or less identical shops. So do we, except that we have an illusion of variety. And before anyone goes on about fresh fruit and vegetables, I have been virtually unable to find a fresh Cox's Orange Pippin apple this season (a pulpy, smooth-skinned impostor which tastes as if it has been in a chiller for ten years and goes soft in a day, is offered under this name, but it is not a proper rough-skinned Cox) and only a very few decent Russets. Foreign varieties, often from the far side of the world, are sold here even during the English apple season."

Hearkening back to my post from a week ago Monday, Hitchens gives more concrete examples of his thesis, like the "razor that worked" just fine, but has now "been improved, and replaced by another one that is far more expensive and actually not as good. The marmalade that you like has been wiped off the stock list of all the (supposedly competitive) supermarket chains, and can now only be obtained by mail order via the United States, though it is made in Manchester."

His point is that we are not the driving force behind the market. Rather, the market drives us. More choice does not equal more freedom. I went to a store last week to find black shoelaces. What an enlightening experience that was! In other words, having 100 kinds of soda pop to choose from does not equal freedom. Of course, the fix is not massive governmental interference or regulation, but a recognition of the dehumanizing forces at play and the appropriate resistance this recognition calls forth.

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