Letter: The best of all possible worlds

It is at my own hazard that I cross pens with the Duke of Sperryville, but being as this is Rappahannock County where the tradition of Virginia’s colorful eccentrics lives on, I’ll take another stab at the inkwell.

Could Ben Jones have missed the point of my meandering reminiscences? Were my remarks really a nostalgic longing for “the good ol’ days?” Or were they an imagining of what might have been for the present day? Moreover, a re-imagining of what could be for our American future?

Imagine what might have been had the government not spent billions of tax dollars to fund road construction, in effect subsidizing the automobile and oil industries? Imagine what might have been if the government had spent the same amount of money on railroads? Might we not be living in a somewhat different landscape? Might not housing and urban planning have proceeded in an entirely different way?

And imagine what might happen in the next decade if the government switched its massive federal subsidies from new road construction to the rebuilding of America’s railroad system — a modernization of the extensive system that had been in place at the end of the 1950s, only with much faster, safer and cleaner trains than existed at the time?

And what has any of this got to do with race? Why does Mr. Jones need to refer to segregated lunch counters and drinking fountains? Maybe he thinks I’d like to return to the horse and buggy, a world without painless dentistry or without the Internet. The obvious point of my previous piece is that things don’t necessarily have to be the way they are and it is important to understand how we got to where we are. Sometimes, as the Scottish poet once wrote, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang astray.”

Would Loudoun County have been nearly entirely paved over within the brief time span of 20 years had not the Dulles Greenway been built with tax-payer dollars? Those who really care about preserving what’s left of our open space and rural way of life must confront the road-building lobby. Pass all the zoning regulations you like, if a new road is built into farmland or wilderness that land will be developed. This is why an essential component of preservation and conservation is to pressure the politicians in Washington and Richmond to stop spending on new roads and to restrict such expenditures only to maintenance and upgrades of existing roads. Note that this is not an infringement on property rights. It simply removes the government-developer partnership as the primary influence in how and what land gets developed. In this scenario, power and decision making devolve to the locality and the property owner — away from big business and big government.

Self described in his own remarks Mr. Jones seems to be the living embodiment of a memorable fictional character invented by Voltaire in the 18th century.

“Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses.” It is demonstrable, said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best.”

Or, as our modern day Pangloss has said in so many words: “It is demonstrable that things cannot be otherwise than they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the roadway is paved, therefore we drive cars. High rise buildings exist, therefore people are destined to reside in them. Railroad tracks have been torn up, therefore who needs trains? Stones were made to be hewn and to construct parking lots, therefore we have magnificent parking lots in every town. As there is still open land it must exist to be developed. Old things must be cleared away or else how could we celebrate the new? Chroniclers of human folly like Mr. Maxwell do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best and that this is the best of all possible worlds and could not have been otherwise!”

Ron Maxwell
Flint Hill

About Ron Maxwell 8 Articles
Ron Maxwell: filmmaker, dog lover, tree hugger; moved to Rappahannock County in 2003. He is currently prepping a western entitled "Belle Starr."