Friday, May 29, 2009

Prodigal Son Sociology

I've been having some interesting conversations with friends at my career stage - what I like to call the academic in heat - about life decisions. We discussed the conflict between the Creative Class and Bowling Alone - between Richard Florida and Robert Putnam. Which is best?

In his address entitled Christianity and the Creative Age, Tim Keller seems to have answered the question for me, at least enough for me to stop worrying about it enough to get on with the important part: Living it.

For Keller, Florida's Creative Class (bohemians) and Putnam's close knit communities (bourgeois) can both become idolatrous. An urban artiste's (perhaps unintentional) idolization of the value of creativity, mobility and fluidity can lead to rootless vacuity, a condition that also threatens cities who put all their eggs in the creative class basket. Conversely, the hometown lifer's (perhaps unintentional) idolization of social capital and tribal loyalties can lead to cultural sterility or xenophobic traditionalism. Keller encapsulates these poles with the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son who left is Florida's Creative Class; the Son who stayed is Putnam's rooted community - but they both missed the point.

David Brooks' frightening BoBos take the worst of both possibilities: the amorality of the bohemian and the materialism of the bourgeois. Keller instead proposes that the Christian should take the best of both: the openness and creativity of Florida, grounded in the social capital and accountability that churches can provide. This could lead to thick, long-term communities even within a hip urban setting, or vibrant street life and creativity even in a small hometown.

Keller's is an interesting proposition. Perhaps a bit of an oversimplification, but I don't think anyone would dispute that it's worth $2.50 (the price of the mp3). It might especially be of interest to the kind of grassroots conservatism going on at the Front Porch Republic.