Go Home, Young Man?

Rod Dreher wants answers to a question posed by [full disclosure: I’m one of his students] Professor Patrick Deneen:

How did it come to be unquestionably natural for young people to abandon their home towns in order to move to the centers of power in order to seek advancement?

For those of you not interested in hearing any more about Wendell Berry for the rest of your lives, steer away from these rocks. Otherwise, I think I’d answer this question personally as follows:

College did it. Going off to college — especially top-tier college — cements at step one the social logic of going where the action is, with ‘the action’ defined as the place where what you’re best at pays best. Of course not everyone who gets a job out of college is hired to do what they’re best at, but the rule of the game is competition and you’ve got to still be pretty damn good at what you get hired to do. The reason why you don’t go home is there’s no possible way home can offer the same palette of market opportunity for competitive compensation.

At least not right out of the gate. Which is why I’m not surprised to see a significant number of people ‘our age’ getting somewhat successful or famous and moving to more comfortable, more rural environments — sometimes even ‘home’ — once they nail down a rewards system for their vocation that doesn’t require strict market obedience.

Just one problem. Oftentimes ‘home’ is not a more comfortable, more rural environment, but in fact is a suburban environment (for example) freighted with mixed emotions and offering unattractive worldviews. Nothing wrong with leaving these homes behind…if, that is, we recognize that rebuilding the worth of home into our lives and those of our offspring is not a flimsy act of hypocrisy and aestheticism — and act accordingly.