Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Golden Remnant

Especially as a conservative, one is often tempted to regard the past as unquestionably better then the present.

Reading the Crunchy Con blog lately (it often makes me mad, but I just can't stop) I've been hearing a lot about what great meat and produce is turned out by the few remaining small family farms. How wonderful, one is tempted to think, things must have been back when all food came from small family farms. But is this so? Thing for a moment about how to got to this state. Modern farming equipment, intensive selective breeding and modern chemicals brought about a number of advantages that could best be exploited by gigantic corporate farms. Over the last seventy years, it has reached the point where the vast majority of food (meat, grain and vegetables) is produced on these large corporate farms. Numerous small family farms, unable to compete, went under. Others, determined to hold on, found a way to compete by offering high quality, fresh local meat and vegetables to buyers who were willing to pay a premium for quality local food.

However, these modern small farmers are not necessarily representative of what most small farms produced 100 years ago. They have managed to resist the market forces selecting for large corporate farms by raising quality and thus raising prices. Certainly, when all farms were fairly small, there must have been some farms that primarily based their business case on quality while others simply got by on volume and being local. If, somehow, we were to return to all food being produced on small farms, we could not expect all of these farms to produce product of the same quality as current artisan farmers. Once again, there would be room in the market for a whole range of different qualities of small farm. It is only the dominance of the large farms (and their ability to drive out of business any small farmers who can't beat them on quality) that keeps the quality of small farms high.

Todd of Catholic Sensibility has occasionally made a similar point about Tridentine mass groups in the modern US. I think that there is a similar principle at work there as with the small farmers. Call it the principle of the golden remnant.

Fifty years ago, every parish celebrated the Tridentine mass. With the arrival of the Novus Ordo, those who continued to celebrate the Tridentine mass necessarily became a self selected group of Catholics who, for whatever reason, made a conscious decision to attend the old liturgy. Now, I think it's certainly true that catechesis has got worse in the last forty years, but nonetheless, it's certainly not the case that all parishes in 1950 were as well educated in their appreciation of liturgy and as well catechized as many Indult groups are today. They were not, after all, a self selected group back then. There may have been much that worked well in catechesis circa 1950 that doesn't work well now, but there were most definitely pew warmers, badly educated Catholics and CINOs in 1950 just as there are now. And so, although one could make the case that certain elements of the old liturgy inherently educate the congregation about Catholic doctrine through richer symbolism, it is certainly not the case that a wholesale return to the Tridentine Rite would in and of itself result in turning the entire American church into a group as excited and well educated about their liturgy as many Indult groups are. Simply by becoming the majority rite, the Tridentine rite would inherent the pew warmers and poorly educated Catholics who currently attend Novus Ordo liturgies.

Which is not to say that it's never the case that the past was better than the present, but it's certainly not necessarily so that the past was as good as its remnants might indicate, whatever the subject matter one is talking about.


Kiwi Nomad said...

Actually hate to burst your bubble, but I have only three links to Peter Jackson. Someone I vaguely worked near when I was doing an itinerant teaching job was an extra in LOTR. So I know someone who worked with Peter Jackson.
But I would have to confess, NZ is a bit like that anyhow. Put two kiwis together in a room overseas and within half an hour they are bound to find someone they know in common back in KiwiLand.

mrsdarwin said...

See, that's authentic, because you use yourself as the first step. I can connect to Peter Jackson through Orlando Bloom through Johnny Depp, but it takes all six steps for me.