Letter: How Aspen lost its soul
Aspen, Colorado, a small, mountain town nearing 7,000 souls, with an annual budget of approximately $100 million, presents itself (according to its newspapers’ op-ed pages) with myriad seemingly insolvable problems while awaiting another election in which its candidates offer ideas intended to improve local life. As is nearly always the case, the damage wrought is self-evident but conveniently overlooked and avoided in discourse so as not to offend those actually responsible for having caused it.
Despite the pronouncements of those who claim that such difficulties cannot be reduced to economic class distinctions, it needs to be said that economic disparity produces differences in taste and lifestyle, whereby each class operates in dependence upon the other, resulting in a capital/labor exchange. Within this arrangement, ease and comfort accrue to the class that is dominant in capital, while unease and discomfort settle upon (and increase) within that class required to exercise labor for its own ends, and in satisfaction of those who provide the capital, however meager or unjust.
In the case of Aspen, the level of individual capital available to the upper class for necessaries (housing, clothing, etc.) and luxuries is markedly out of proportion to that level of capital available and necessary to the economic classes beneath it, thereby causing a disturbance of the desired requirement for stable, local markets. As well, the upper class in having had its fundamental needs provided for without its own labor effort proceeds to engage itself largely in purposeless activities so as to avoid boredom. Thus, in having described Aspen’s existent upper class, which operates in satisfaction of Veblen’s “Theory of the Leisure Class,” the daily presence and characteristics of its non-resident, commuting lower (laboring) class needs to be explained.
As John Kenneth Galbraith noted years ago, the closer one lives to the Equator, the less industrious its population is. (And which “industry” includes intellectual effort and achievement.) For a variety of unfortunate reasons, tens of millions of Latinos descended illegally upon America, with tens of thousands having settled in the American West’s mountain valleys as uneducated, domestic labor. Additionally, the high birth rate among this population serves merely but to reproduce the next generation of pregnant, uneducated, domestic labor. And so, this lower class labor arrives en masse in Aspen each day for the principal purpose of providing for an idle, bored, wealthy upper class. And there can be no denying this visible proof.
Meanwhile, Aspen’s local government grapples unsuccessfully with this absurd social condition. And, there can be no avoiding the truth that the arrival, in great numbers, of a powerful political and economic upper class, in daily need of the labor of a powerless political and economic lower class, has virtually ruined a once peaceful, quiet, orderly mountain community formerly occupied and governed by a middle-class majority. Yet, this revelation does not present a new phenomenon.
Theseus, the legendary king of ancient Athens, warned that such deterioration would occur when he stated: “There are three classes of citizens: The rich are useless, always lusting after more; the poor who live in want are dangerous, assigning too great a place to envy; of the three parts, the middle class saves cities; it guards the order a community establishes.”
As irony would have it, the early years of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies focused on such wisdom, recognizing that in this mountain valley, one ought to be continually reminded of Plato’s knowledge that nature satisfies two purposes: One greater (beauty), which is an eternal value, and its lesser (utility), which is but temporal.
With the arrival of the upper class, utility came to predominate due to that class’s emphasis on the love of matter (secular materialism), and the lower class’s dire necessity for satisfaction of fundamental needs, thereby systematically degrading the region’s beauty.
Thus, matter overcame spirit — and Aspen lost its soul.
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