I have a friend, a very curious cat, who once whittled down the whole of the Calvinist theology he espoused to a seemingly innocuous point. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, he said. Never mind that he grew up in Communist Poland, hated Catholicism, and found religion in the black churches of Chicago’s South Side, his reasoning was impeccable: You can’t find grace without admitting sin.
I rejected the conservative parameters of the problem but appreciated the paradox. We live in a cultural moment where people seek not just to have their cakes and eat them too, but to Instagram their kids licking the icing off. I mean if the Depression presented theological problems akin to Abraham’s decision, we’re involved in some kind of psychedelic remake of Marie Antoinette feeding the 5,000.
In Charlottesville we want the best of the city and the country. We want the new economy and the old traditions. We want a small town with the accents of the big city. We want the South’s manners and the carpetbagger’s profit margins. I mean if we don’t deserve to be the poster children of the “You can have your cake and eat it too” Kickstarter campaign, then I don’t know what. But sometimes you actually have to make the either/or decision.
This week’s feature on Charlottesville’s affordable housing crisis spells out why this is one of those moments. Our city is in danger of pricing out its working people and its historic black communities, and in the process of losing its culture. Sure, Adam Smith’s invisible hand will continue to nudge us towards a shiny, happy future, but if we don’t dig in somewhere, we’ll end up being the place where Greenwich meets Buckhead in the Piedmont.