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307. Contemplation (X)

The left has been on a rampage against the suburbs over the last two years; perhaps it has something to do with populism, with the typical suburban populist voter. As with all leftist grievances, there is a half-truth to their protest: the suburbs really are bad—I know, I live in one; and have done so for the past four years. This is why the leftist complaint against the suburbs finds some traction, often with young people who have just left the suburbs—associated with teenagehood, impotence, and their parents. The suburbs are the old life and they are about to enter the new life at university or work. Yet what the left dislikes about the suburbs is what is good about the suburbs: the suburbs really are neat, safe, comfortable, and convenient. In material terms, the suburbs are a pleasant place to live; there is no doubt about that—and it is everything that is positive about the suburbs the left wishes to destroy.

I look around the suburb I live in and see boxes; basically concrete boxes with few ornaments. Expensive concrete boxes, sure—yet concrete boxes all the same. There is no character to these houses; aside from a few Victorian houses, remains of an old hamlet. A few people have knocked down homes and constructed from scratch, although their homes differ little from the endless repeats on the estate and so are only slightly better. One man builds a house from scratch and five other men seek out the same architect and say, “I like this one. Do it like this.” So five individual houses are based on one mildly characterful original, the homogeneity is repeated—just as all at once everyone buys the same cold metallic house numbers or scalpel-like LED outdoor lights.

Yet when the left attacks the suburbs they never say the suburbs are “soulless” or “characterless”. They say the suburbs are dull, inauthentic, and uncultured; and they expect a person, particularly a young person, to swap the suburbs for the city centre: the centre being seen as—euphemisms all—vibrant, diverse, and cultural. What the left dislikes about the suburb is the residual positive found within it; its orderliness, cleanliness, and base functionality. The family unit in the suburbs is atomised—cocooned in its car—but the left sees it as insufficiently “liberated”; it must be broken up into urbanised fragments, individuals in studio apartments with anonymous sex lives.

Life in the inner city is more authentic than the suburbs in that it is rawer, there is blood on the streets—sometimes worse than that. Yet for the left authenticity can only mean violence and chaos: you can have materialist plenty and dull order, or chaotic transgressive city life; and conservatives play into this dynamic: “If you’re responsible and work hard you can live in a house like this one day.” Yet the house is ugly, the people who live in it are ugly too; although, I must admit, they are ordered.

As for “culture”, this is a curious beast. It is not art or craft; rather, “culture” means what the state decides. The “cultural centre” is a state-funded building; and the culture industry is what the state decides should be valuable—in practice, what a limited elite considers to be high status; and this status often represents deviant behaviour and ugliness presented as the avant-garde. If to have soul is to be in touch with reality, then culture is only loosely connected—if at all—with soulfulness, with an aesthetic experience that delivers reality.

Thus the virtuous leftist lives in a crime-ridden city centre district, in a concrete block no better than the suburban concrete block—except less materially comfortable and safe—and exposes themselves to chaotic authenticity and decadent culture. The left can never address the soullessness in the suburbs, for they only want a different—in fact, more severe—ugliness and squalor in the city centre; and the conservative merely wants a more ordered ugliness.

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