I mentioned in a previous post a regrettable decline in pioneer values that I perceive in the developing towns along the Wasatch Front. Where I live you can see a curious mix of old houses in reasonably good shape, decrepit buildings where closed businesses once stood, and newer stores, office buildings and roads built to accommodate and encourage the post-industrialist consumer lifestyle of today. It is always sad to me to see how often the older buildings with a cozier, more human, more convivial spirit to them get left to decay and then swept aside, or re-purposed: along one length of a principal street are several lovely old houses that now hold retail businesses (existing perhaps tenuously) or professional offices.
To me this is all a betrayal and defeat of the vision that settled this area, and to my view an honest assessment of the current social and economic order of the Mormon heartland must confess that we have a sad state of affairs. Land that could be productive, used to house people in modesty, industry and communal self-reliance is regularly parceled out to build luxurious dwellings at obscene prices. Small businesses feel they must curry favor with the trendy whims of indifferent consumers in order to survive: it is harder and harder to count on a robust spirit of 2 Nephi 26:30 to keep any enterprise afloat (and you can just forget about verse 31).
An unreflective enthusiasm for a gospel of growth and prosperity gives carte blanche to expressions of arrogance and greed that are embarrassing and insulting to an idealistic viewer. I think it no coincidence that Hugh Nibley wasn't allowed to fulfill a career of scholarly inquiry and social criticism in peace without his persona and legacy being yanked into extremes of adulatory folklore and allegations of the most sordid private sins: our culture has little tolerance and less use for principled and consistent critiques. And attempted critiques regularly veer into reactionary political stances, which I also find very sad and self-defeating.
But I realize too that self-reliance is hard, and not exciting or sexy. I think a great deal of the consumer mindset that produces such callous effects worldwide in fact is rooted in the desire for miraculous deliverance: how wonderful it is, after all, to see something like a new restaurant arise from the ground, and to spread its large printed advertisements across the land for miles, with no effort from me! Is it not something like an experience of grace, to be able to simply walk into a clean, climate-controlled, brightly-lit and fragrant space, with nothing required of me other than to be served, to make my selection, and then have the freedom to leave in search of another similar environment? Granted, we have to pay for the things we get here, but beyond the money we part with for specific goods and services, the larger message is of this abundance from above and afar: these brands, these buildings, this infrastructure comes to us, lifts us up, and asks nothing more of the worthy among us other than an attentive duty to the specialized abstracted tasks laid out before us in yet another climate-controlled and brightly-lit space.
I think that all this truly fees like heaven to many, many people, in an unconscious or at least little-examined way. My conscience, in exercise with my intellect, is still set against it, but I have a clearer understanding of it now.