I’m betting at least some readers of this site were there; after all, he speaks of his fellow watchers as “all folks with Front Porch Republic sympathies.” I wish I could have joined him; it sounds like the conversation was a good one. Rod shares with his readers some thoughts from someone who was there Sunday night:

Every adult in the house last night was a serious Christian who engages with modernity with some degree of circumspection and critical distance. All in that group are at subtly different points on the spectrum with respect to computers, films, tv, cell-phones, diet, schooling, money and all the good life stuff, but everyone there is cognizant that such matters matter. Everyone is reflective and conscientious in making choices about these things. So I find it curious to have watched the Super Bowl together, and have really enjoyed it. You can’t get much more plugged-in to mainstream Americana than that. To discuss The Who, to use the hypercommercial NFL as a vector for expressing localist loyalties (bearing in mind not only Rod’s affection for the Saints, but my animus towards the Colts), to watch the iPhones come out…it was really funny. Whoever wondered aloud “what is Alasdair MacIntyre doing at this moment” pretty much nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. How do lads who enjoy Alasdair MacIntyre, Wendell Berry, Patrick Deneen, et. al., also find themselves pausing for E*Trade ads?

Rod responds to this by speaking the language of compromise:

Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any practical way we can undo the historical, cultural and economic situation we’re thrown into. Emphasis on practical: if one wanted to be like the Amish, that option is always there. But there’s got to be a defensible middle ground between complete refusal (the Amish option) and complete, uncritical acceptance….We could come up with a long list of ways aspects of modernity make it easier to live anti-modern lives. The only people who have no internal conflict over all this are those who have completely refused it (the Amish and their fellow travelers), and those who have completely embraced it. I submit that there are a lot of us in the uneasy middle, who have to do the best we can trying to negotiate modernity with our guilty consciences, balancing ourselves between not letting an awareness of the difficulty of our position prevent us from saying No when No needs saying, but also allowing that difficulty to keep us humble about making sweeping judgments of the compromises others make.

I can’t disagree with a word that Rod says here. I think he is absolutely right to identify all of us (that is, all of us who, for reasons of religion or philosophy or just common sense, have become sensitive to how modern life threatens the ethos of limits which makes our places worth living in) as somewhere on the continuum between the Benedict Option and full-blown liberationism. But I also must confess that I get somewhat frustrated, at times, with the language of compromise, because it seems to me that if you are, in fact, acknowledging a degree of compromise with modern life, well then, that must mean you’re….willing to work with modern life. And when applied to the political realm, to the questions of the social order and the public good, that means looking for workable, compromise solutions. But is that what most of us as FPR readers–is that what most of the folks at Rod’s Super Bowl gathering–actually do? Or is it more often the case that, when it comes to matters of personal taste and business, we recognize (perhaps because it is our own ox being gored in such situations?) the need for a humble, balanced approach to negotiating modern life, but when it comes to politics, we feel impelled to refuse compromise, to not try to make things work, but rather (perhaps gleefully?) anticipate it all collapsing around our ears?

I’m not sure I have a real point here; just some questions which Rod’s comments brought out of me. I’d sure to love to hear Rod himself, or at least some of those who watched the Saints’ comeback on Sunday along with him, share their thoughts on the matter.

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  1. I watched the game with my sons. I was at times embarrassed to watch the commercials with them. So many of them appealed to raw sexual appetite, and then there were a few others in which the message conveyed was that manhood could be achieved through the purchase of a sanctioned piece of technology. For weeks before the event itself, the commercial that got the most play for being “controversial” was the testimony of Tim Tebow’s mother, who declined the advice of doctors to abort her child and gave birth to the baby who grew up to win a Heisman award. What kind of culture criticizes a commercial that celebrates life but altogether sanctions and finds utterly unremarkable a series of ads that advise us to go online immediately in order to watch soft porn (giving a whole new meaning to the words “Go Daddy”)?

    All that said, it was a fine football game. Still, in light of what I just wrote, there was poignant irony in a statement made by Drew Brees upon being awarded Most Valuable Player: “Mardi Gras may never end.” I think that’s right – we live in a culture in which it really never does end. We eternally live amid bacchanalia without its corresponding anticipation of penitence, alms and self-denial. With this we are asked to compromise.

  2. I watched the Super Bowl with friends and had a great time. It was a good game; Colts were out-coached this time. Commercials were mostly weird, including those pathetic commercials with the explicit “reclaim your manhood” theme Patrick mentions. I don’t want TV except on DVD/online, so I’m not sure if those commercials are on par with normal ads.

    Regarding the substantive point you raise, in the abstract I think everyone agrees that we have to start where we are, which is in late modernity. But concretely, there’s wide spectrum as to how that belief is lived out, and it depends variously on prudential matters such as the particular institution in question and what you think is going to happen at various macro-levels in the coming years.

    Perhaps the prudent thing to do for the long-term is re-focus (some) attention from national level politics to state and local politics, and from politics (in a thin sense) to cultural issues.

    What sorts of compromises do you think should be done in politics, and why do you think it’ll be worth the investment of attention to it?

  3. “I can’t disagree with a word that Rod says here.”

    I can. At least with regard to his take on the Amish. They are far, far from “complete refusal,” as anyone who lives within 100 miles of an Amish community or two already knows.

    The Amish people do exactly what we all talk about. They analyze each and every advance, and try to find a way to make it fit in their lives. Or not. This is why almost no Amish have phones in their homes, but will use payphones on the street. Many now use cell phones. The reasoning is that they can turn them off. You can turn a regular phone off, too. Hypocritical? Whatever. They make it work, and are too busy to really worry if their choices adhere to some level of strict internal consistency.

    I also know Amish guys who run their own saw mill with a diesel-run circular saw. It has electric lights. Some Amish use tractors in their fields. I am sure Rod would be horrified to know that many of them SMOKE CIGARETTES. And not some homey hand-roll. The Amish guys who built my sister’s porch sucked down Marlboro Reds as if the Bible told them to. (I am guessing they would take severe umbrage at Rod’s enthusiasm for smoking bans in the workplace, actually.)

    So the Good Life he appears to be looking for is not some middle ground between “complete acceptance” and “Amish.”

    It’s Amish.

  4. In answer to Russell’s lead question, I was there (with my sons). It was actually a welcome-the-Drehers-to-Philly party that coincided with the superbowl. And this circle of friends and neighbors being what it is, those who have televisions can both respect the choice of those who don’t and welcome them to come share in America’s one great unifying annual television ritual.

    And in answer to Russell’s final question, political life is always largely about compromise — and indeed compromise is pretty much a condition of living at all. But in order to make enlightened and judicious compromises, one has to think radically, to be clear about the goods that are being obscured, threatened and destroyed by the dominant currents of contemporary life, and make the most effective choices to safeguard what we can.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Mark–I knew somebody around here must have been in attendance. And I appreciate your comment about people with televisions respecting those without. We haven’t watched commercial television for almost four years now and are kids seem to be growing up just fine. We ended up attending a gathering Sunday evening at a friend’s house, and it was fun, in much the way Rod and you depict it: jokes, laughter, food, conversation, and more.

    I appreciate your answer to my open-ended question as well. The struggle, I suppose–a struggle which always be with us, fallen creatures that we are–is that, even with radical thinking, the response which some portion of us give to “the most effective choices to safeguard what we can” will frequently appear to many of the rest of us as highly contestable. I do think that we are much more willing to allow for the existence of legitimate and acceptable connections between radical thinking and certain personal compromises (yes, I can be a populist and still shop at Wal-Mart!) than we are for the same in matters of government (no true radical could ever agree with Fill In The Blank!), and I wonder if that might not be a problem with the development of FPR over the long term. (Though I must be careful, or else I’ll fall into the PomoCon trap here…)

  6. “anti-modern” ehhh? Good luck with that. Anyone feeling a tad morose about the high satire of the age should simply shuffle over to the local Goodwill store and unearth an old tome by Henry L. Mencken and leaf through the brittle pages to find that nothing….NOTHING….aside from a few physical technological advances distinguishes us from a hundred years ago, just as 1900 was likely little different than 1800 in a human sense.

    H.L. had his Wilson and Bryan, we have our Obama and Palin…not that the old windy Bryan would have ever needed palmy crib notes. H.L. claims we inhabit a nation of Third Rate Men but that nonetheless, one cannot invent the kinds of dark satire we enjoy with stunning regularity.

    Then he had a Beer, smiled and thought of wimmin.

    Tick Tock

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