The concept of plenitude presented by Grant McCracken is intriguing and might be politically useful for libertarians ("The Politics of Plenitude," August/September). But his model would be more accurate if he would elucidate the independent concept of eclecticism. Diversification of culture by speciation of subcultures leads to development of their own orthodoxies, to which McCracken alludes in his description of George Wolfe's conflict between his blackness and his gayness. This tendency contradicts the idea that "plenitude embraces those who would otherwise be persecuted for their differences."
"Everyone must necessarily belong to many groups" is a statement of eclecticism. It is the eclectic individual, not the process of plenitude, which "resists conformity, orthodoxy, conventions, and rules." Within this descriptive framework, plenitude and eclecticism must necessarily be different, though related, concepts. The degree of subcultural speciation within a society is conceptually independent of the degree to which individuals traverse those subcultures. McCracken's "identity politics" is a corollary to this, as identity is perhaps the underlying eclectic variable. "I enjoy the Grateful Dead" and "I am a Deadhead" imply different points on the eclectic axis.
In many cultural conflicts, identity is implicit in the formulation of the problem. One must either "be" black or white, for example. Awareness of identity and the eclectic axis allows us to see the difference between "You are black" and "You have black skin." I have blue eyes, but I do not identify myself as "a blue-eye." And I am not sure which end of an egg I normally open first.
New Orleans, LA
In his article justifying if not indeed praising plenitude, Grant McCracken clearly believes that the right needs more guidance than the left on the importance of enthusiastically embracing plenitude, by the ratio of 34 to 22 column inches of text. Bias in the media, even in REASON? Amazing!
Or perhaps the right is more upset. If so, let me tell you one important reason why this could be true, which Mr. McCracken fails to mention. It is because many aspects of the various alternate lifestyles, attitudes, or interests thriving under the umbrella of plenitude are not only tolerated by the federal and some state governments (that's fine) but are facilitated and even promoted by them. That is not fine, because anything governments do costs tax money, and the right (call them Republicans) believes with good reason that on a per capita basis it pays more in taxes and takes less out in various forms of government assistance than the left (call them Democrats).
In any event, since relatively few of the new groups or styles spawned by plenitude are perceived by the right as conservative or fiscally responsible, perhaps in part because of the media's tendency to hype the bizarre or shocking among them, the right is not amused. McCracken notes, "plenitude dispenses with permission." It doesn't do much for forgiveness either.
Teck A. Wilson
As a libertarian who is also a practitioner of what has come to be known as cultural studies, I was delighted to read "The Politics of Plenitude." But there are two issues I'd like to raise.
First, I was somewhat puzzled that an article discussing the increasing diversity of social formations seemed to represent the "left" and "right" as homogeneous ideological monoliths. The ideological diversity and fragmentation manifest on the left and the right, respectively, should discourage the practice of representing their views as being uniform. And yet, McCracken does just that. If it had come from a writer less in touch with "plenitude," I'd have written it off as an instance of oversimplification for the purposes of rhetorical economy and effect. But coming from McCracken, it surprised me.
Second, I am curious about the criteria McCracken uses to determine that teen fashion, music lyrics, and the work of Robert Mapplethorpe are "things indifferent," while line dancing is "an interesting and dynamic site for the transformation of gender, class, outlook and...politics." I am not suggesting that all cultural phenomena are significant and worthy of analysis, but the influences of fashion, music, and visual art on people's values, beliefs, and social practices should not be underestimated. For instance, the incorporation of the iconography and ideology of the Nation of Islam by some rap artists in the '80s and early '90s contributed significantly to the cultural conditions that have made the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan a renewed political force in the black community.
University Park, PA
It's incomprehensible that you believe that the social decay that has occurred over the past 30 years, referred to as "plenitude," has been a good thing. This plenitude is responsible for the current state of our society, which includes the drive-by shootings mentioned in the article. It is responsible for the increase in drug use, unwanted pregnancies, homelessness, and sexual perversion.
Social decay is evolutionary, and the idea that a single factor will send society over the edge is incorrect. When I was young, growing up in the '70s and '80s, I believed my parents were overreacting to the music, clothes, and hair length of my generation. As I mature I see the wisdom of their arguments. Back then, homosexuality was considered deviant. Today it is considered acceptable, but pedophilia is considered deviant. I wonder if your concept of plenitude would hold and even embrace those people who find it natural for them to have sexual relations with young children. Would a society that fails to protect its children in the name of plenitude be acceptable to you? Where does it stop? If people don't need "permission" to behave inappropriately, they will.
I believe a group of people has a right to set the rules for coexisting in a community. If people choose to not live by those rules, they are free to leave that community and start one of their own, not to impose their own rules on the rest of that community. The group has the right to decide how much plentitude it considers acceptable for its community.