Monday, November 07, 2005

Not Keeping Up With The Franklins

From the NYT, on residents of California moving to the Midwest, where their money can buy much much more:

In Kansas City, where Mr. Franklin, 22, grew up, the couple, who have a seven-month-old daughter, bought a house for $134,000. Ms. Franklin, 24, who was raised in San Diego, never imagined she would leave California. Since moving to Kansas City, she has had to get used to tornado warnings and the concept of wind chill.

"But we are always told how lucky we are to be so young and already have what we have," she said, referring to their three-bedroom home. "We realized we had to sacrifice living in California to get that."

A house, space, and a kid at 22 and 24 yrs -- how do you people live like that? Ask yourself: What for? On second thought, for your own sanity, you might not want to ask yourself that question, you might feel a little empty inside if you do -- just continue keeping up with the Joneses.


PiedPiper said...

To each his own, Ilya. To each his own...

xtrachromosomeconservative said...

It wasn't too long ago that that used to be the norm. In reality it still is, it just comes a decade later. Most of us, alternatively known as the human race, tend to find the concepts of a family and a house you can call your castle or at least yours appealing.

Mandingo said...

But remember, X, this is Ilya we're talking about.

Ilya said...

I should have anticipated that I would be misunderstood.

Yes, nobody said a house was not appealing. The Franklins seek material success, and why not? for they aspire to the highest, and this -- house, yard, etc. -- in their sleep-walking, they dream is highest. I object to the thought that it signifies the OBJECTIVE MEASURE OF SUCCESS, that it is the end and not a means to a higher end, that it is the highest good, the point of arrival, the fullest expression of one's self and one's life on earth, the "dream." I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to such conformity. The Franklins have it nice, to be sure, but mean, average, typical. When they die, it will be said at the funeral that they were successful, bought a big house and raised some kids. All very commendable and good and desireable for many. But some in the audience might be uneasy with such an evaluation. Have we forgotten the various traditions of thought, including Christianity, where poverty and humility are signs of the highest good? (See the movie "Comedian", Jerry Seinfeld tells the young artist a tale with a point very much related to this post)

"To each his own" is a good doctrine when it's one of tolerance and respect, which I endorse, but a pernicious doctrine if it implies non-judgmentalism. I'm in the business of making judgments -- and so are you.

Ilya said...

Also, you have ignored my linking the Franklins with the proverbial Joneses, not a minor point. The point there, to spell it out, is that we know where such material values lead families. They can never be happy with what they have, they are always competing with those with a little more, and buying a new house is never as satisfying as one imagines, never the point of arrival that one hoped for. (See above for how not to misunderstand this point, I'm not against houses and families, who could be?)

“The accoutrements of life were so rich and varied, so elaborated, that almost no place at all was left for life itself. Each and every single accessory was so costly and beautiful that it had an existence above and beyond the purpose it was meant to serve—until one’s attention was first confused and then exhausted.”
—Thomas Mann, DEATH IN VENICE, p. 299.

xtrachromosomeconservative said...

Cheers to judgementalism. We need more of it. Full disclosure indeed. I have a basic quibble with your post, and I think this comes from you ascending the ivory tower with such rapidity. Don't worry, though, the Ivory tower provides for a comfortable life of some material benefits and other non-material benefits. And that is the thrust of the issue, yes, owning a house does connote an economic transaction in furtherance of the consumption of a certain material good: shelter. But also it signifies other things that are not concerned with matters material, such as lifestyle. When people buy a home they are not just buying a structure but they are often buying a lifestyle. Part of it is a sense of autonomy and independence that comes with ownership. To some extent it is the financial independence a home affords in providing a prospective nest egg for one's twilight years. But unlike many material goods, a home purchase is more than merely keeping up with the joneses.

Ilya said...

Okay, you're point is well taken. Buying a home, even if it is just because it is much bigger, is itself not about keeping up with the Joneses. But what struck me was the rather empty, consumeristic motivations given for the purchase that was spoken of as the holy grail.

But that aside, can I criticize this lifestyle? It is strange what "lifestyle" choices people think it is okay to criticize, and what ones are off limits. If I could connect a lifestyle to harm done to others, then I could criticize it without much protest. For example, people criticize SUV drivers all the time for polluting the world. Buying a SUV is surely a lifestyle purchase, but people think it has negative implications for all of us that, say, the urge to buy bigger houses does not, and therefore it is socially acceptible to criticize SUV owners in some circles. For various reasons, "lifestyle" insulates certain choices from criticism and not others.

Surely the Franklins will have an effect on housing prices for everyone in Kansas City. Though this may mean very little in the short run, such lifestyles have a significant impact on the community in the long run. This is not a very good argument, but I'm not trying to argue that their choices harm others.