The way other people get at Christmastime is the way I get around Thanksgiving. I enjoy Christmas well enough — I like it when the world is quiet and still and indoors, and for we non-celebrants of that bent, Christmas day is indeed the most wonderful time of the year, even if we just use it to watch movies or whatever. But while the hysterical consumerism of Christmas has struck me as being in kind of crummy taste in the past, the real turnoff, in recent years, has been the way in which the sour, aggrieved politics of the age have somehow washed over and seeped into the holiday.
Honestly, I don’t care if someone says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Tuesday” or anything else to me at any given time — New York inures you to that sort of thing, and more to the point there are a few thousand things I can think of right off the top of my head that are more important. The thing to dislike and rebuke about the idea of A War On/For Christmas is that it turns the acid, umbrage-based discourse that defines so much of our national conversation on something that just about everyone can get behind — namely the non-shopping things that make the Christmas season appealing, the goodwill towards (wo)men, tidings of comfort and joy, so on. If we can’t agree to be nicer than usual for a week — if the closest we can come is “goodwill towards men who believe that we must stop punishing our most productive citizens with an unfair income tax” — then we’re in a bad spot. It sounds stodgy, and it might actually be stodgy, but a little bit of consensus goes a long way, and is eminently worth aspiring to. With Thanksgiving, at least, the nation agrees to set aside some time to have a big dinner with friends and family. That general and good-natured culture-spanning agreement, in addition to the fact that I like me some big dinners with friends and family, is part of why I love the holiday so much. There are other reasons, of course, but part of this comes back to the happy absolute of it all.
This green building thing that we talk about here at gbNYC is not so much about absolutes. There are certifications and labels that pretend to objectivity, but there’s hardly consensus on anything about those. There are macro-scale principles that green-minded individuals can agree upon, but in green building as in everything else, the pressures of practical, world-as-it-exists application often lead to a wholesale fissuring and fragmenting of these principles. This is what makes green building so fascinating and so frustrating — the challenge of making ideas work like things, of making principle practical. Undergirding all this compromise and confounding complexity, though, there is a basic idea that is unchallenged — that it is better to use less when possible; that it is better to be smart and mindful than ignorant and ignorant; that a more nuanced idea of “living better” is worth it. That basic consensus has become the foundation for a weird tower of babel, but there is at least something there to understand and agree upon.
One of the more fascinatingly paradoxical things about the new/old right wing in American politics, for me, is the way in which it has unconsciously adopted the near-nihilistic radical subjectivity of post-structuralism. Most of the time, this is done in the service of simple parochial trollishness, but there’s something radical embedded in it nonetheless — and something, as we saw with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s death-by-demagoguery approach to the Access to the Region’s Core project. There had been very little disagreement, for the most part, on that project’s worth — a decade of studies attested to its necessity and economic multiplier effect; the necessary funds were near at hand. That Christie chose to get ig’nant on it and use it to build his personal bully-boy brand is not surprising — he’s that kind of guy.
But with Christie’s anti-tunnel campaign came a host of other, stranger mini-critiques designed to puncture the consensus behind the tunnel. Did we really even need mass transit? How can we know whether the short- and long-term job creation effects of the ARC tunnel would really come thanks to the tunnel? It was a rhetorical cul de sac — a descent into semantics in the service of the most cynical clock-killing. It was a trap, in other words, and it worked. The ARC tunnel is dead for the time being, and the long-shot extension of the 7 train into New Jersey likely isn’t happening, either. And so it has gone with climate change, with financial regulatory reform, with whatever you choose — politicization now has less to do with demagoguery than a disingenuous call for re-examining even the most fundamental points of consensus. It’s less conservative than it is post-structuralist, if you think about it.
All of which is a long preamble to these two articles. The first is by Bradford Plumer, in The New Republic, and it’s about the strange ascent of resistance to 2007′s national light bulb efficiency standards as a conservative article of faith. The second is about the rising resistance to sustainable development on the part of the Tea Party right. They will, I hope, not ruin your Thanksgiving break. I’ll be back on Monday to discuss them in greater depth; feel free to email or comment if you have any thoughts of your own on these. And enjoy your holiday, of course.