In a 168-page commentary by a former wisenheimer local newspaper columnist, one doesn’t expect to find the breadth and depth of Alexis de Tocqueville or the wit and wisdom of H.L. Mencken when it comes to vibrant, insightful social analysis.
But in his newly-published book “High Attitude: How Woke Liberals Ruined Aspen,” Glenn Beaton has his moments.
Here’s one of them: “Aspen and the rest of America changed in the ’60s, in some ways for the better but mostly for the worse. America recovered, but Aspen never did.”
I guess this explains why, when I first came to the valley 14 years ago for the first time in 30 years, I was seeing men my age looking and acting pretty much as they had, say, in 1970 — with pony tails, tie-dye, a religious belief in the redemptive power of art and “sustainability,” and an absolute giddiness in anticipation of the first pot dispensaries following the legalization of a drug that profits no man, apart from the money to be made.
Let’s face it: Aspen and its environs constitute a uniquely hybridized subculture that, like most others, is intoxicated by its own importance and largely dismissive of what it has taught itself to dislike.
Enter an alien intelligence, with origins in conservative Colorado Springs and a truly liberal education leading to endeavors in both civil engineering and the practice of law and ultimately to his present career as a freelance gadfly, who likes to hold one of those illuminated, magnifying cosmetic mirrors up to our faces, revealing, well, whatever it reveals.
And while he is at it, he also provides us with a basic literacy in our prior history. Like most people strolling down Main Street, I didn’t know Paepcke from Plato, as Beaton puts it; but thanks to his book, I’ve developed a considerable appreciation not only for Elizabeth and Walter Paepcke, but for people named Wheeler, Fiske, Litchfield, Pfeifer, Anderson, and other “founders” of present day life in Aspen.
And, alas, I am also far better acquainted with the adventures of people named Thompson (a person for whom “narcissism is too generous a term,” says Beaton), Braudis, Grabow, Sheen and Mueller, Sabich and Longet, Trump and Maples, multiple Kennedys, and many others — those who prompt Beaton to opine that “if America in the ’60s was like a conventional mom and dad who occasionally got drunk and passed out, (post-’60s) Aspen was like their 13-year-old kid who got into meth and never recovered.”
His history of the place, from Ferdinand Hayden’s 1873 survey through Skico’s contemporary paternalism, is basically a parade of foil characters who mirror each other’s virtues and vices. To appreciate the integrity of the Aspen Center for Physics, for example, one only need consider the steadily more partisan, virtue-signaling, woke drift of the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival and Aspen Music Festival and School.
To understand true, selfless, largely-anonymous virtue, as distinct from feel-good displays of moral superiority, one only need consider the men and women of Mountain Rescue Aspen.
It’s all there in front of us. What Glenn Beaton does is sharpen our vision and periodically allow us to laugh.
You can get the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. This review was published in The Aspen Times. Chad Klinger lives in Snowmass Village.