The Thinking 

Bed, Bath and the Beyond

May 14, 2009


It would be impossible to calculate how much the ugliness of modern suburban life has contributed to the flight of women from the home, to lowered fertility, to childhood depression and to isolation for the old. Conservatives aren’t supposed to talk about it. Modern suburbia is prosperous and that’s what counts.

The idea that it is somehow treasonous to explore the wages of free enterprise is inhuman, stupid and cloaked in self-interest. When unchecked, free enterprise creates what the writer Stacy Mitchell calls the “Big Box Swindle,” the conquest of community by large and impersonal business interests. This conquest manifests itself in a thousand ways, but most especially in a level of architectural sterility that demands inner detachment by the individual. In order to survive this sterility, many people psychologically separate themselves to some degree from their surroundings. Community survives in the form of sports leagues, school activities and church, but it is often tenuous and slight.

One tries to live around the ugliness, but it can’t help but affect the instinctive human tendency toward love of place. Is it any wonder so many Americans leave their hometowns as soon as they retire? The truth is they don’t feel much affection for these places. No matter how many green lawns and lovely side streets they contain, they’re just too darn ugly.

The first step toward workable solutions is to admit the ugliness. Calmly refuse to become acclimated to it or to think it is a necessary condition of modern life. It is not necessary, but voluntary and changeable. It is not something we deserve because we have the benefits of modern technology. It is a result of an entire set of ideas that holds the individual and his narrow interests paramount. One can see this without succumbing to a state of futile complaint or whining.

The second step is to refuse to flee it. Stare into the hideous countenance of ugliness long enough and, surprisingly, it will tell you of its own vulnerabilities.

The third step is to do what Crusoe did. He tossed seeds on the ground. They grew. His island was civilized. If there is a single, quick solution to modern ugliness, it is botanical in nature.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0