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To borrow a phrase from Karl Marx: A spectre is haunting Rappahannock — the spectre of improvement.

We hear it in the seductive speech of the priesthood of the improvers. Like incantations from an ancient sacred text, they invoke their charms over and over again — in words meant to soothe, to calm, to disarm, to quiet all dissent. By coupling two benign words into a mantra they seek to hypnotize the listener into acquiescence. After all, what’s so bad with “affordable housing?”

This priesthood never sees a community that doesn’t need fixing. They always know what’s best for us. And must convince us that we’re living in a state of crisis. 

So over the past few years we’ve been subjected to a relentless stream of edification telling us we’re too different, too behind the times, too rural, too old and just too out-of-it compared to the other counties of Virginia. The criticism reached vaudevillian dimensions in the headline from the recent September 17 issue [of the Rappahannock News]: “We are out of balance.” According to these vaunted experts we’re unbalanced. You just can’t make this stuff up.

One study revealed the appalling news that the median age of Rappahannock residents was higher than the median age of Virginians statewide. Only two solutions to this crisis — either deport everyone over fifty or quickly build affordable housing so that twenty-some-things can pour in. 

But who is it with the cheery hubris to decide that people in every county in Virginia must conform to an average age, or an average income, or an average height or average level of education? Or that the population of Rappahannock County must conform to the statistical averages in every other county?

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This is social engineering by smiley-face busybodies with too much time and too much money on their hands. It isn’t bottom up reform from the folks who actually live here. It’s a top-down attempt by elites, however well intentioned, to impose their will on everyone else. 

Their No. 1 target — a comprehensive plan that protects open space and resists subdivision. If only the county could open its doors to subdivision in no time at all we could be just like every other county in Virginia. Our statistics would line up with everywhere else. Overnight we will have shed the cloak of peace and quiet and dark skies, welcomed back into the company of the respectable improvers.

That some folks would be lining their pockets with their newfound wealth in the real estate free-for-all that would ensue — well, just look the other way. With some landowners cashing out for their move to a beach condo in Florida; with every township under non-stop construction the big developers backed by their big banks would be making offers no one could refuse.

Is this an exaggeration? One need not speculate. Just look at what happened to Culpeper and eastern Fauquier in just the past fifteen years. And for the ultimate freak show, visit Leesburg. That once bucolic historic town has, in just the space of two decades, been transformed into an over-crowded, noisy, ugly dystopia of box-stores, parking lots, non-stop illumination, traffic jams and crime. But not to worry, along the way the priesthood of the improvers got fabulously wealthy. Subdividing and further subdividing the county was a windfall for developers, builders and the prior property owners who are now long gone.

The Priesthood of the Improvers employs an effective tool. In order to subdivide they first need to divide. In this way, we are subtly robbed of our humanity. We are no longer fully human, multidimensional humans. Instead, we are categorized, sliced and diced as the elderly, the young, commuters, school kids, retirees, and now, more and more defined by our race or our sex. Our complex human lives are reduced to impersonal graphs and sterile statistics. Divide and conquer. 

For the Priesthood of the Improvers the solution to every perceived problem, to every hyped crisis is always the same - subdivide, sell, build and then start again — rinse and repeat. 

Goodbye Rappahannock. Hello Loudoun.

If you think it can’t happen here. Think again. 

The Committees for the Improvement of Rappahannock are being formed. They will study the dire situation, commission reports, define the crisis, issue their alarums and suggest their remedies. Unless resisted early, it will end with the coercive imposition of their will — the Foothills Follies.

— The writer lives in Flint Hill.