Monday, March 25, 2019

Radical Conservative

I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart to see that the same empty fields surrounding the Orff Institut in Salzburg that were here in 1990 are still empty. In the U.S., they would be stripped and mauled for the next unnecessary strip mall. Not too far way, some ugly mini-malls are starting to sprout on Alpenstrasse, but compared to the U.S., the damage is minimal.

Salzburg has been called a conservative place in the same way an English or Balinese village might be conservative. That is, standing up against change just for change (and money’s!) sake and holding to some aesthetic standard of preserving character and beauty. And shouldn’t that be the best definition of “Conservative?” Aiming to conserve that which has proven to enhance life, be it an architecture style, a natural woodland or a cultural tradition.

The American version of Conservatives seems to be more about preserving unearned privilege and advantage, keeping old traditions going that hurt, harmed, limited and yes, killed people who didn’t deserve it. It’s about hoarding excessive money instead of generously spreading it out amongst those in economic need. It’s about closing the door to the next needed change in art, culture or politics. And though these conservative folks like their hunting grounds and golf courses, it’s about as far as you can get from protecting our natural ecosystems. They’d sell their grandmother and her land down the polluted river just to drill and frack for enough oil to drive them to the shopping mall to consume things they neither need nor even really want. 

I much prefer the Salzburg definition, though I wouldn’t mind them considering keeping a few markets or restaurants more open on Sunday, was surprised that the kitchen was closed at the nearby restaurant at 8:30 pm (!) and though it was briefly nostalgic, can’t say I loved writing in chalk on the battered old green boards in the Orff Institut. 

The dictionary defines conservative as “averse to change or innovation” and “holding traditional values.” I’ll sign up for the traditional values part of the definition—that is, if I get to pick and choose the values and what tradition they’re from. But as a jazz musician, a parent and a teacher of over 4 decades, I don’t accept that I’m “averse to change or innovation.” But again, it depends on why the change and whether the innovation is designed to improve, expand, serve deeper the fine things in life

At the other end of “Conservative” is radical and again, there are two contradictory definitions. “Favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions” and of relating to the roots, to the origin of things, fundamental.” When it comes to the way things are run in Washington—the excessive money, the lobbying, the stranglehold Wall Street has on politicians, the obsolete Electoral College, the crooked gerrymandering so Republicans can win by cheating, the unaccountability of boldface lies being tweeted daily by our supposed President, the rewarding of incompetency by Cabinet appointments, the vitriol spewed daily by right-wing radio and TV pundits,  in elections, the NRA’s unchecked shameless power, the money taken from schools and demanded for walls, I’d say I indeed “favor extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions and institutions.” And equally favor going back to the roots of language and community-building. 

So perhaps the safest way to self-define is as a radical conservative.

Anyone want to clap the erasers tomorrow while I help build a future of yet more radical music education?

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