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We have plenty of folks on Ricochet who inhabit Belmont, more or less, but identify with Fishtown. It seems the easiest way to signal this sympathy is to be a self-hating Belmontonian. But what if you don’t hate everything about Belmont? Is it possible to sympathize with Fishtown even then? I would say yes. Though I would not, at this point, expect to be believed.
I recently reviewed Dreamland, a reporter’s magnum opus on the opiate addiction epidemic. My interest in its devastation isn’t academic. After all, I, too, have known chronic pain, death-wish despair, and repeated exposure to opioids through injury and surgery. Nor am I the only one in my family to have had these problems. Yet we’ve been spared from narcotics addiction, and the buffer of Belmont customs is at least partly to thank for this. Growing up, I hadn’t thought of myself as “Belmont.” My parents’ one sacrifice to dwarf all others was buying us a precarious perch in a Belmont neighborhood so we could attend its famed Belmont schools. It meant money was always tight. We dressed in the kind of secondhand clothes that made other kids point and laugh. In Belmont, we were at the bottom of the food chain, and that, plus my family’s right-leaning distaste for Belmont smugness, left us thinking of ourselves as outsiders, crypto-Fishtowners. It took leaving Belmont to find out how Belmont we’d become.
Being Belmont isn’t such a bad thing. There’s much more to Belmont than smugly looking down on the rubes. We rely on Belmont to support much of the finest flower of Western civilization – the arts, the sciences. As Charles Murray noted, Belmont neglects to preach the morals it still practices, while Fishtown struggles to practice what it preaches. But practice is not nothing, especially for youngsters who get to grow up surrounded by the practice. In my teens, I began attending about the Belmontiest church you could imagine – folks way richer than us, socialites on the “in” when I was “out,” with everybody reluctant to preach what they practiced. But among the things they practiced was traditional worship music (it’s why I went) and, as Lutherans like to say, music is its own sermon. You can get a pretty good Christian formation in one of those churches by ignoring what’s spoken and taking to heart what’s sung. And oh, the music!
Whenever I’m around other classical-music lovers, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be in the political minority. Loving classical music seems very Belmont, and my family never did adopt Belmont’s progressive politics. It can grate to hear other musicians and music-lovers toss off progressive opinions like they’re sure everyone agrees. It can grate that the arts aren’t “owned” by the faction whose stated political project, after all, is preserving the best of Western tradition from whatever threatens it. It can grate, but what does not grate is listening to and making music – participating in the perpetuation of that tradition – with these progressives. We decry progressive attacks on aesthetics when Belmontonians support modern works that don’t deserve to be included among works of historic greatness – but that only happens because works of historic greatness are still being performed, largely thanks to Belmont’s support. Music, at least, is something traditional conservatives do with Belmont. Not without it.
From music, and the tacit-but-powerful pressure to stay on the straight and narrow, to all the other social resources and little customs which can fortify a family in the face of pain and despair, my family owes Belmont too much gratitude to really hate it. If proof of loving Fishtown is denouncing Belmont, I’m in trouble. Should it be?
According to some, perhaps:
If the poor have vicious habits, whose fault is it — theirs or the people who made fortunes encouraging and refining these habits with the help of international consulting firms?
Supposing the indictment against international consulting firms were true, not every Belmontonian makes money with the direct help of such a firm. But just being part of the Belmont class – or even getting along ok with the Belmont class – might seem like tacit approval of those who do. As @jon just observed,
Elitism is Belmont hating Fishtown. Populism is Fishtown hating Belmont. Either is just Americans wanting to hurt their fellow Americans, which is where our politics has been for at least a decade.
Is it still possible to be neither an elitist nor a populist? To have sympathy for those who are hurting without hating the better-off?Published in