Jedediah Purdy

Jedediah S. Purdy is a senior correspondent of The American Prospect and a second-year student at Yale Law School. Purdy started with the Prospect as a writing fellow, writing about culture, technology, politics, and the environment. His 1998 articles include "Age of Irony" on a generation that refuses to take itself seriously, and "Dolly and Madison" on the ethics of cloning.

His first book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, was published by Knopf in September 1999. His current research addresses agriculture, environmental sustainability, and the place of work in American culture. He has also been working on conceptions of human excellence in democratic politics. In 1999 he was a faculty member at the Century Institute Summer Program on America's liberal and progressive political traditions.

Purdy was born and raised on a hillside farm in central West Virginia. Until age 14, he taught himself by reading, exploring the local woods and meadows, and working alongside his parents and younger sister. After a checkered high school career that eventually took him to Phillips Exeter Academy, he returned to West Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter and spent a year in environmental politics.

In 1997 he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in social studies. In 1996 he was selected as a Truman Scholar and as West Virginia's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Recent Articles

Rape of the Appalachians

Strip mining is carving up broad swaths of West Virginia's hillsides and valleys. Are we willing to pay higher energy prices to stop it?

Driving his battered sedan through Blair, West Virginia, a cigarette dangling between thin fingers, James Weekley passes among ghosts. "There stood three houses," he says, gesturing at a flat, grassy area below the narrow, two-lane road, "and across the creek were two more. They sold a year back, then they burned." Five years ago, this small town, strung along a creek bottom between two mountains, had stores, an elementary school, and twice the 80 families who now live here. Then the Dal-Tex coal company began strip-mining Blair Mountain. Since then, the community has been darkened by dust storms, battered by flying rock, and shaken by dynamite blasts. Every month more residents sell their homes to the company and move out. When the job is done, not much will be left of the town or the mountain. Coal mining is an old story in Appalachia, but Blair has been claimed by a new kind of boom. Today's mining is driven by mountaintop removal, a method of strip-mining that does just what the...

Essay: Age of Irony

Taking irony seriously may seem like missing the point. Today's ironic sensibility is never serious. But the old masters of irony had serious fun cutting through cant and pretension.

T he dictum that historic events occur twice—first as tragedy, then as farce—has never been much use except as an insult to alleged second-timers. More and more, though, it is true of popular culture. For about six years now, beginning with the Saturday Night Live -inspired movie Wayne's World , programmers and screenwriters have turned their own archives into a satiric resource. Wayne's World was a pastiche of pop culture, mostly of 1970s vintage, in which heavy metal lyrics blended with stock characters and catch phrases from sitcoms and cartoons. Several years later, MTV presented Beavis and Butt-head , a cartoon whose eponymous anti-heroes spend their time watching MTV—and mercilessly mocking its melodramatic, oversexed videos. Now, from comedies to commercials, viewers are invited to join TV programmers in celebrating just how much more clever they are than TV programmers. Everyone is in on the joke, which is not at anybody's expense, but at the expense of the...

The New Culture of Rural America

During the Roaring Twenties, President Calvin Coolidge had himself photographed in a Vermont hayfield, a fresh pair of overalls covering his dress shirt, his black shoes still gleaming from their morning shine. Despite the incongruity, no one laughed. In 1994, after the Republican take-over of Congress, Bill Clinton's pollsters devised the model American vacation for a president on the defensive: a hiking and horseback-riding expedition to the high country of Wyoming. A few years later, when candidate Al Gore recalled pitching manure during summers on his father's Tennessee farm, the political press hooted as delightedly as if the vice president had claimed as his birthplace a log cabin on K Street. These incidents are minor landmarks in a cultural shift more than 100 years in the making. Although the idea was as much conceit as reality, America long thought of itself as essentially connected with farming and farm communities. According to this idea, landholding produced self-reliant...

Shades of Green

More than two-thirds of Americans call themselves environmentalists. Their rank includes every serious presidential candidate, a growing list of corporate executives, some of the country's most extreme radicals, and ordinary people from just about every region, class, and ethnic group. Even allowing for some hypocrisy, finding consensus so tightly overlaid on division is reason for a closer look. In fact, there are several environmentalisms in this country, and there have been for a long time. They are extensions of some of the most persistent strands of American thought and political culture. They stand for different and sometimes conflicting policy agendas, and their guiding concerns are often quite widely divergent. Recently, though, they have begun to contemplate a set of issues that promises to transform each of them—and to expand environmental politics from its traditional concern with a limited number of wild places and species to a broader commitment to the environment as...

After Innocence

At 10 o'clock on a cloudless and balmy Tuesday morning, two eras overlapped on the streets of Washington. A little more than an hour had passed since two hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York. Just minutes ago, another had crushed one wing of the Pentagon, the American military command center outside Washington. Half the pedestrians on the street had no idea what had happened. They chattered loudly about plans for dinner, proposals to rent the latest video release, and whether to leave their offices early on a gorgeous day. The other half walked silently, stiffly, urgently yet without direction. Their expressions were stricken and their faces were ashen. When their blank gazes met, each knew that the other knew as well. The carefree strollers were still living, for a few more blessed minutes, in the age of American innocence. The rest of us were reluctant pioneers in a new era. The last time the United States admitted an enemy was when British troops torched...