George Will looks at Austin’s campaign to keep itself weird. A useful contrast between the two flagship schools and the communities that house them might be interesting – community participation, generosity, attitude toward the “other.” Of course, analyzing levels of religious commitment, political philosophy, and applied citizenship in such minor commitments as voting and jury duty and larger ones such as enlistment would also be interesting. Last night, we watched Michael Apted’s Amazing Grace. He chooses to focus on the application of Wilberforce’s beliefs in the practical realm of politics, but the undercurrent (as certainly was true) was that the driving force that impelled him was his belief in the universal rights of man, his belief in a God and the God-given nature of those rights. But, of course, he was someone who was interested not just in believing but in acting. There is nothing more beautiful nor more useful than the practical application of the great beliefs.
Packing my boxes to move, I kept writing Austin, Nebraska – but once there, well, it felt like home for me as for so many others. Soon, Willy was setting up the first of the Dripping Springs concerts and I was reading manuscripts by the great twentieth century writers in one of the best two or three libraries in the world. Fromholz described himself as a rumor in his time and people claimed he’d run for governor (I don’t think very seriously, but who knew then). It’s cooler and dryer than much of the state and more laid back than about any place. Still, when both my kids packed up to move last year, they also felt they’d lived there long enough. I guess, in a way, so had we over twenty years before. It’s a good place to be young, but walking the dog down streets full of broken glass was getting to our daughter who lived in West campus; the rents had raised from our day but the druggies still dealt on the drag; the street people had gotten sadder (or maybe we’d just gotten older).
They see us as the anti-weird – and I guess we are. This town, like its school, is relatively rural, agricultural, military. The students are more conservative, more religious, more duty-oriented. Austin’s yuppie shopping centers always seemed to reflect a certain value system – sandals and unshaven legs and leftist politics might imply anti-materialist, but they are part of a culture in which over-priced coffeehouses thrive and people are quite aware of how much those sandals might cost. A popular topic (and profession) in Austin has been flipping houses (one of my husband’s classmates made a million doing that during his first year in real estate in the early seventies). Here, houses aren’t worth so much; speculation isn’t likely to be as useful. We’re more grounded but less stylish. My son-in-law used to accuse me of coming to Austin not to see them but to visit the Container Store and the Pottery Barn; well, there’s some truth to that. Austin is a lot more of a yuppie place than our suburban sprawl. We have a more highly educated populace but that’s because we’re a one-industry town. We only got a Bed, Bath & Beyond a couple of years ago. But people here aren’t all that apologetic or judgmental about being consumers. They see that as the natural way of life.
I can’t imagine a sidewalk here strewn with glass. Indeed, we tend to recycle rigorously, although without the rather strange religious commitment of certain cultures. The town makes it easier to recycle than not. Probably part of that is the ag school influence: our coffee & tea remains go to feed one of our colleague’s vineyards for their winery; the city gives out composting kits for local gardeners. The Ag school ambiance means many people garden innovatively. Of course, it is the liberals on one nearby street who wanted to block any traffic; when they lost that battle, one of the leaders planted bushes that make the sidewalk by their house almost impassable. Some of those homeowners see Austin as Utopia, but I doubt they could afford 5-acre plots near that campus. And I think those bushes that keep hitting me in the eye are significant – we’ve known the owners for thirty years and they are anxious to influence voting and local zoning, to use the government to make their lives more comfortable. But I’m not sure how much a civic service it would be to close off their road and it wouldn’t hurt them to prune around the public sidewalk.
So, I’d like to see a comparison made: civic involvement, charity giving, etc. I wouldn’t push up those stats – am not fond of good works nor generous. Still, I have some sense that my low level around here would be closer to average there. But it is the practical, in the end, that is the most useful. I wonder what the Intrade terms would be for the inventor of the first useful, powerful, alternatively fueled engine. We’ll see.