leaving south carolina

As I was leaving the Charleston area, the headline of the Sunday Courier and Post proclaimed 110, 000, which it turns out is the number of new housing starts projected in the area for 2006. Now, I have no sympathy with Southern Gentry and Dixie leaves me cold, but that headline gave me a distinctly Gentry shock. From Charleston to Beaufort, you see an area that is irrevocably changing, as it hasn’t changed since the end of the Civil War – a massive act of Schumpeterian creative destruction. That dogeared phrase disguises the creativity in what is being destroyed, of course, the human face beneath the Gucci heel. A liberal such as myself has to make a rather complicated distinction, here, since it is so easy to be invaded by a reactionary nostalgia in these dire days of the Bush disorder. There is the desire for a past system, on the one hand, and a desire to reawaken past opportunities that opposed that system, on the other. The conservative element in my makeup consists of taking seriously those old, busted opportunities, and doesn't countenance some hazy longing for a system of scarcity in which, somehow, I’d be in the upper tier. That the Gullah people are now memorialized in Gullah tours for the PC educated instead of being genuinely oppressed, hemmed in by the full force of Dixie apartheid, is a good thing – far better tackiness than rickets, and Adorno be damned. On the other hand, the imposition of a savage order of inequality that scatters the Gullah community across the landscape to worse residences while providing the glittering few with vacuous, homogenized high end shops and enormous copycat houses on private beach fronts – an economy in which the mass of us can serve the upper twenty percent its carefully blackened foods and wipe its babies’ asses – is a lesser creative choice.

Charleston did trouble my opinions about the present state of things. While I know, as a general rule, that we are getting richer and richer, being brought up against just how rich in a place of South Carolina is scarifyingly edifyin’. I remembered the place from childhood as a hopeless backwater. Now, my prejudice is that this wealth creation is fucked at the source – that a society that persists in creating a huge debt, de-industrializing, creating paper wealth from real estate exchanges, and shortchanging its infrastructure while pumping up its military, is a society bearing the classic marks of decline and fall. This has happened to other empires. But America has no center, and it isn’t clear to me that any lessons of the past apply blindly. And let’s admit it – Americans have generated a labor intensive, consumerist lifestyle that, while utterly repulsive to me, seems to meet their economic difficulties, even if it fails their cultural ones. Going through Charleston’s ornate Customs House is a lesson in how hard it is to make predictions about big systems. The place has the many columned, marble look of Early Republican virtue (though it was built in 1870) and it is completely useless. Surely its builders would have been astonished to see Charleston export more cars than cotton one hundred years later – even more astonished that more cotton is grown in California than in South Carolina. To separate your preference for what happens from your awareness of the trend of what is happening is difficult.

And so it is that we wrestle manfully with the reality principle here at LI.