I’ve observed in the US certain regional patterns of culture and demographics, the North/South divide being the focus of my present analysis. The basic pattern of a North/South divide originated with the first colonies and was emblazoned upon the national psyche through the trauma of the Civil War. And, despite the change that has happened since, this basic pattern persists. It persists because culture is deeply entrenched and because demographics change slowly.
Some of the data I will present and analyze is:
- voting trends
- labor unions
- social problems
- wealth disparity
- IQ differences
- psychological traits
Be forewarned that my analysis is lengthy. If you lack the motivation or time to read it in detail, you can still grasp the gist of my analysis by skimming the text or even by just looking at the mapped data. I eventually plan on breaking this up into smaller posts, but until then it will remain as is.
By the way, I’m open to suggestions. If you think some of my data is incorrect or partial, then please offer links or other references. If you think my analysis is overly biased or inadequate, then please share your own views.
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Let me begin with some comments about the region I consider home, the Midwest.
There is something many don’t understand about the Midwest. States like Iowa, where I live, have tended to be Democratic states for a long time (and, looking further back, much political activism happened in the Midwest during the Populist and Progressive eras… which laid the groundwork for the present Democratic Party). Even as Democrats have lost some power and popularity recently, Iowa and much of the Midwest has remained Democratic leaning. Isn’t that interesting?
Political Party Affiliation (2009) & From ’08 to ’10
(If you’d like to see presidential election results going back to 1789, here is a useful interactive map. It’s interesting to see how the two parties flipped between the North and South.)
I want to make note of something very very important. The South isn’t strongly Republican, especially not in the way that the North is strongly Democratic.
So, why do Southern states so often go to Republicans? One obvious explanation is that wealthy Southerners tend to vote Republican and poor Southerners (in particular, the poorest of the poor) tend to vote Democratic, but the South is such a class based society that poor people (in particular, poor minorities) are almost entirely disenfranchised from the political system. If all the poor and all the minorities were to vote, the South possibly could become a Democratic stronghold (or, at least, far from being a Republican stronghold). Rich whites have known of this danger ever since Reconstruction followed the Civil War. It’s not unusual to hear conservative leaders speak about the dangers of democracy which they call mobocracy because they understand that a functioning democracy would undermine their own power (which is becoming a greater issue as the traditional white political elite face a world where whites are becoming the new minority; and which is specifically becoming an issue in the South as the recent census shows Northern blacks are moving to the South in larger numbers).
Now about the North. Why is it that the Democrats aligning with the Civil Rights movement caused the Democratic Party to lose the South (i.e., lose the rich white ruling class in the South) and yet not the Midwest? I could point out the fact that there is not much of a rich white ruling class in the Midwest. But why does this socio-economic cultural difference exist in the first place? Why has a socially and religiously traditional state like Iowa never entirely turned away from Democrats and even is one of the first states to pass a law legalizing gay marriage?
There is an extremely simple answer, but it’s maybe deceptively simple. Before I go into detail about that explanation, I want to provide some more specific data about voting habits in the North vs the South. The divide doesn’t just exist on the level of states but also on the level of cities:
- racial diversity with many African Americans vs strong Caucasian majority
- large concentrations of the poor vs large concentrations of the wealthy
- a population of less educated vs a population of well educated
- more single people vs more married people
- large urban areas vs smaller urban areas,
- former industrial cities vs white collar cities
Basically, Northern liberals vs Southern conservatives is a war of class and race.
The Most Conservative and Liberal Cities in the United States
The Bay Area Center for Voting Research
America’s voting patterns are split by region, with the Midwest and Northeast predominantly voting for liberal candidates, and the West (with the exception of the coast) and South voting for more conservative candidates. These results confirm the preconceived notions that many have about the conservative nature of the South and liberal nature of the Northeast, but also surprisingly found conservative trends in the West and liberal leanings in the Midwest that defy traditional stereotypes about these areas of the country.
A number of important demographic factors determine whether cities vote for liberals or conservatives, with race being the most important factor. Cities with predominantly large African American populations ended up as the most liberal cities in America, while the cities with the largest Caucasian populations wound up as the most conservative. These strong correlations seem to indicate that African American votes continue to support primarily liberal candidates. A survey of income and economic status indicates that poorer and less educated than average regions also tend to vote for liberal candidates at a higher rate than their conservative counterparts, indicating that liberal candidates may be ahead in capturing those with concerns about the state of government run social programs and poverty.
Another major correlation appears between marriage rate and the tendency to vote for conservative candidates, as liberal cities appeared to have more single voters than conservative cities with marriage rates at or above the national average. This data indicates that family centered voters surprisingly voted more for conservative candidates, demonstrating the success of conservative candidates to appear as the more moral, family oriented candidates in a way that did not appeal as much to single voters. Population size also seems to have a significant effect, with larger urban environments tending to favor liberal candidates by a wider margin than those with smaller population sizes, demonstrating the success of liberal candidates in large metropolitan areas where concerns about social programs and poverty spoken of against the incumbent Bush administration were most salient. Suburban or mid-sized cities were on the whole more conservative and split in the 2004 presidential election, with conservative candidates receiving more votes in these areas than from their urban counterparts. These demographic issues indicate that racial makeup, income rates, regional location, marital status, and population size all combine to affect the propensity of American cities to vote on either side of the ideological spectrum.
[ . . . ] In addition, liberal cities tend to be former industrial and factory based centers such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Flint, and Paterson. On the other hand, conservative cities reflect the opposite. Colorado Springs, Orange, Garden Grove, and Provo are less industrial and more white collar and residential.
The above might create an apparently black and white picture (literally and metaphorically), but that isn’t quite correct. It’s more a matter of diversity vs homogeneity. The liberal cities have a wider range of everything. The Democratic Party attracts both blacks and whites whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts whites. The Democratic Party attracts both poor and rich whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts the upper classes. The Democratic Party attracts both the highly educated and the far less educated whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts the highly educated.
The latter is interesting because the Democratic Party has both a wider range of IQ among its voters and a higher average IQ than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has both more people with low IQ and more people with high IQ (with the Republican Party apparently dominating the average middle of the IQ spectrum). So, the extremely smart, well educated liberals are truly the intellectual elite of the entire country (I discuss the issue of IQ in terms of race and North/South divide further down).
More interesting is the fact that those who are more oppressed and disadvantaged have consistently seen that their interests are more in line with intellectually elite Democrats rather than with wealthy elite Republicans. Also, I’d assume that the relationship goes both ways. The intellectually elite Democrats perceive their interests being in alignment with or inclusive of those who are more oppressed and disadvantaged.
Let me make this even more clear. It’s not that Republicans are inherently less smart, although conservatives do consistently test lower on IQ tests (sources for this claim can be found further down). It’s that the Republican Party in using the Southern Strategy eventually lost the highly intelligent liberal demographic that once voted for them.
Democrats may now be the more intelligent party
Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was the party of the less intelligent and the Republican Party was the party of the more intelligent.
But today, the Democratic Party is the party of both the less intelligent and the more intelligent while the Republican Party is the party of the middle.
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The simple answer I spoke of before relates to the Southern Strategy that caused the GOP to lose the Northern well educated class. The Southern Strategy was all about the North/South divide. Democrats had sided with the Civil Rights movement which opened up the opportunity for Republicans to gain the Southern vote. With the Southern Strategy, the GOP appealed to the Southern states that still had much racial animosity and still had a racially segregated culture. To win the Southern vote meant to take advantage of the bad feelings left over from the Civil War.
The Midwest and the Northeast, of course, had been on the side of the Union during the Civil War. Lincoln’s Republican Union had become the stronghold for Democrats in the latter half of the 20th century. The Republican Party remained the progressive party for decades following the end of the Civil War, but now the Democratic party is considered the progressive party. Essentially, the war of worldviews is still going on… just with the party labels switched.
Map of the Union and Confederate States
The Civil War was, of course, largely even if not entirely about slavery. It wasn’t just an issue of federal power vs states rights. It was about whether new territories of the Western expansion would expand slavery or not. Southerners feared that if slavery didn’t expand then it would begin to shrink (thus threatening their own power).
Free States and Slave States, before the Civil War
Midwesterners were free-soilers who were against slavery or rather against a class-based culture built on slavery… because Midwestern small farmers saw the Southern plantation elite as a threat. Also, non-slave states didn’t like having the practice and institution of slavery forced on them through the fugitive slave laws. Take Kansas for example. The Kansas Territory wasn’t yet a state and so was open territory for the potential expansion of slavery. Kansans, however, were largely free-soilers and didn’t want slavery expanded into their territory. This is why Kansans fought on the side of the Union.
It’s true that international slave trade was illegalized in 1808, but it wasn’t strongly enforced and internal slave trade was still legal (a situation that allowed for a flourishing black market for smugglers):
Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the United States
It is difficult to explain why it was moralist sentiment was not strong enough to carry the day. One possible explanation is that even though there was strong sentiment to abolish the trade in Congress, constituencies in the South were able to exert sufficient pressure to weaken the force of the law. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention could not have forseen the effect that Ely Whitney’s cotton gin would have on Southern agriculture. The decades following the abolition of the slave trade show that United States did not have enough will to even enforce the laws they had passed. Illegal slave trade continued overland through Texas and Florida, while ships continued to smuggle slaves in through South Carolina.27 Even though Congress passed a law in 1820 making participation in the slave trade an act of piracy and punishable by death, it was not strongly enforced.
In the 1820′s, the nature of the illegal slave trade changed somewhat. US ships were now primarily involved in the transport of slaves from Africa to other countries in North and South America like Cuba and Brazil. The British wanted cooperation from the Americans in the form of the mutual right of search and seizure. The Americans opposed this principle, not so much out of a desire to continue the slave trade, but out of a sense of national pride and an appeal to the freedom of the seas.28 The US’s refusal to enforce its own anti-slave trade laws, as well as cooperate with other nations allowed the slave trade to continue for decades to come.
Slavery and the slave trade were far from being stopped. There was big money in it. Those who benefited from slavery had lost one political battle, but they weren’t giving up. They were on the defense and were looking for ways to go on the offense. The territories that weren’t yet states were their one opportunity to expand their power (because the governments of new states were allowed to decide whether to legalize or illegalize slavery).
The Westward expansion was a vision of possibility, of what America could become. But conflict arose in the struggle for whose vision would dominate the 19th century. When people today argue about the causes of the Civil War, they are continuing that struggle about whose vision will dominate.
The Civil War had a massive impact on American society. And a majority of Americans say the Civil War is still relevant:
As the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War approaches, most Americans say the war between the North and South is still relevant to American politics and public life today.
More than half of Americans (56%) say the Civil War is still relevant, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 30-April 3 among 1,507 adults. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) say the Civil War is important historically but has little current relevance.
In a nation that has long endured deep racial divisions, the history of that era still elicits some strong reactions.
Another recent poll found similar results with one major difference. In their sample, a majority thought the Civil War was about slavery.
In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.
When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states’ rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.
“The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exist a century and a half later,” CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.
When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.
Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.
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Because this is such a central issue related to what continues to divide Americans, let me respond to those who think the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. The most obvious response is to point out that there were people on both sides of the war who openly stated that their reason or part of their reason for fighting had to do with slavery. Even official documents made this issue clear:
After 150 years, the Civil War still divides the United States
In fact, the South Carolina secession document [...] is pretty explicit on the point. With Lincoln as president, it states, “the Slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy”.
In its own decision to secede, the state of Mississippi was yet more explicit. Slavery was “the greatest material interest of the world”, it insisted; attempts to abolish it would undermine “commerce and civilization”.
Those are strong words. Nonetheless, the politics and economics of that time were more complex and conflict-ridden than can be accredited to the issue of slavery alone. Even though slavery was an important issue in its own right, it was maybe even more important as a symbolic issue that inspired and gave a focal point for much public debate.
However, there wasn’t much collective will, at least among the political leadership, to stop slavery or the slave trade and the compromises made by way of laws were half-hearted. Yes, the Civil War was about states’ rights, to be specific, the states’ rights to continue with slavery if they so chose. Even though people feared slave revolts, there was still big money in slave plantations and that money was backed by entrenched power and traditional culture.
Greed not withstanding, fear was probably the greater force at play… with moral apathy being the result. Americans (by which I mean white Americans) were in what they perceived as a no-win situation. The slave population had grown so large that revolts were bound to happen and people had heard about the horrors of the Haitian slave revolt which led to outright revolution (1791-1804). Americans (ahem, white Americans) had just finished their own revolution and didn’t want a new one. On the other hand, trying to eliminate slavery presented other fearful possibilities. Giving blacks their freedom might just make them even more likely to revolt. You know how it is when you give someone a taste of freedom. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:
The one issue that best demonstrates the difference between moralists and pragmatists was the issue of forfeiture, or what should be done with the confiscated slaves.
Some representatives argued that it was not only the government’s duty, but its right to manumit the seized cargo. Mr. Sloan drew a comparison to British law where any slave who entered Britain was automatically freed. If the slaves were to be forfeited to the national government and became property of that government, it was Congress’ prerogative to set the slaves free.17 Others emphasized the moral hypocrisy of stopping the slave trade, but then turning around and selling the cargo anyway. Mr. Smilie of Pennsylvania argued that if the slaves are not set free, the United States cannot “avoid the odium of becoming themselves slave traders.”18 Representative Pitkin of Connecticut lamented that the profit from such forfeited slaves would be “lodged in the public coffers.”19
The pragmatists opposed the manumission of the slaves on the basis of practical matters alone, not principle. Mr. Alston argued that because of the laws of the individual states, the government “cannot . . . prevent them from being slaves once brought into the United States, the only way is to prevent importation.”20 This, however required that there be sufficient incentive on the part of all states to enforce the law. Because nearly all the imported slaves arrived in the south, where slavery was legal, large numbers of blacks would be freed on Southern soil. Mr. Early argued that Southerners would be unlikely to cooperate with the law out of fear that large numbers of freed blacks would lead to insurrection and revolt.21 Forfeiture seemed to be the only means of prevention.
When people say that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, they are making the case that many made before the Civil War. Many people didn’t agree with or care about the moral argument against slavery. They saw it in terms of economics and in terms of the rights of states and of owners (the rights of blacks, specifically the right of blacks to own their own bodies, being conveniently left out of the equation). These people wanted to avoid the moral argument for the very reason they knew they couldn’t win the moral argument. Public opinion, on that issue, was moving against them. But, when stated in terms of rights, slavery became more palatable to many whites of the time (especially businessmen and investors; but maybe not so palatable to the free-soilers, though, who had their own vision of individual rights).
It’s interesting to consider the history of states’ rights. One of the early origins of this argument was in relation to Native Americans. The governments and local populations of states wanted the land Native Americans claimed as their own. States’ rights was a way of trying to bypass the federal government in order to steal the land from Native Americans in a more direct fashion. So, legal and constitutional claims of states’ rights were used to deny the rights of Native Americans and then later to deny the rights of blacks.
Whether or not the end of slavery was inevitable, the Civil War was probably inevitable. The moral arguments and the pragmatic arguments simply couldn’t find a shared solution to the complex issues surrounding slavery:
The Congressmen themselves seemed to grasp the rift that divided them. Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the House believed all members were truly united in their goal: “I believe that on this subject there is but one opinion, which is effectually to prohibit the importation of slaves into the United States. This sentiment, I believe, pervades the breast of every member of the community.”22 While that may be true, he made his position clear in the debate on forfeiture: “I still consider this a commercial issue. . . .We derive our powers of legislation, not from the law of nations, but from the Constitution.”23 Mr. Smilie, making one last appeal to the supremacy of morality countered: “but this question is connected with principles of a higher order than those merely commercial.” He then refered to the Declaration of Independence and its central creed that all men are created equal.24 These two positions succinctly sum up the differences in thought over the means to abolish the slave trade. The question remained, who prevailed?
During January and February 1807, the House of Representatives and the Senate worked on developing mutually acceptable bills. The final vote in the House was 63 for, 49 against. President Thomas Jefferson signed the bill into law on 2 March 1807. In the bill itself, one can see that pragmatic concerns about implementation won out over the moralistic point of view. First, the bill contained provisions for the forfeiture of confiscated property, but such property would be under the jurisdiction of the district court were a slaving ship was seized. Provisions made for the “disposal” of confiscated slaves was not to “contravene” the laws of that specific state. This meant that if seized in Southern territory (which was the likely outcome), blacks would remain enslaved and be auctioned off nonetheless, completely contradicting the spirit of the act. Penalties were comparatively light, consisting primarily of fines.25 In December 1806, Mr. Hastings of Massachusetts had called for much stronger penalties: “It is certainly a crime of the highest order. Piracy, forgery, and sinking vessels with intent to defraud underwriters, are all punished with death. Yet these are crimes only against property; whereas the importation of slaves, a crime committed against the liberty of man, and inferior only to murder or treason, is accouted nothing but a misdemeanor.”26 This is yet another example of the defeat of the moralists.
Looking into the history of that era, I sense the earliest emerging of that divide (prior to its more fully manifesting as North vs South). We still see this conflict of visions: moral (egalitarianism, human rights, etc) vs pragmatic (economics, ownership rights, etc). It’s the same basic argument of liberalism vs conservatism. The argument began even before the American Revolution happened. Thomas Paine was advocating a radically egalitarian vision (freedom and rights for all, including blacks and Native Americans; and an early version of social security to help the lower classes in their elderly years). Oppositely, many of the founding fathers such as John Adams feared democracy and wanted a political elite to be established so as to maintain order (the order of the ownership class that is, the fear of social conflict and division being the reason slavery wasn’t abolished with the writing of the constitution).
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In the Eastern half of the country, the North/South divide remains as true today as it did a century ago. It’s not just a political divide. The two visions of America aren’t merely an issue of ideology. I’d argue it’s more fundamentally a cultural divide. We Northerners tend to be more supportive of social egalitarianism: civil rights, workers unions, et cetera. As long as you work hard, everyone should be given a fair chance to succeed. Despite both having a traditional culture, Midwestern traditionalism didn’t originate from a class-based society and Southern traditionalism did originate from a class-based society.
Most people don’t think of workers’ unions in geographic terms, but even union membership shows a North/South divide — see here:
Where unions are strong so is the Democratic Party. And where unions are weak so is the Democratic Party. Unions are the only organization that represents the working class. As I pointed out above, the Midwest was a hotbed for the Populist movement which set the groundwork for many Progressive policies. A main element of the Populist movement was the workers movement. Unions were born out of this. Also, this relates to the fact that the free-soilers were small farmers who, during the Populist era, joined forces with the labor movement. Notice that the unions are weakest, unsurprisingly, in the states which were formerly the pro-slavery strongholds. Unions are symbolic of the egalitarian ideal and the Northern culture that supports it.
Egalitarianism is a central ideal of social liberalism. It’s interesting that even gay marriage can be defended according to the social values that are traditional in states like Iowa. According to an analysis of various data, Northern states tend to be more tolerant and Iowa ranks as the 12th most tolerant. Also, notice how the above maps with their North/South divide match closely with a map of income inequality (which also correlates to the rates of social problems) and with a map of poverty:
I can only credit such a divide, such a stark contrast with the power of culture. It’s not just a North/South divide in the whole country. The North/South divide only clearly shows up in the Eastern part of the US. The Southern states closer to the West coast (which also deal with high diverse populations) look relatively good on many rankings compared to the Southern states toward the Eastern coast. This Eastern North/South divide has consistently existed for at least since the Civil War and I suspect before even then. I find that endlessly fascinating. As I pointed out above, income inequality correlates to social problems. Here are just a few examples of social problems mapped out (compare the North/South pattern as seen in the maps of income inequality and poverty) – school performance, teen pregnancy, gun violence, obesity & diabetes, disability, unmarried & single parents:
Here is another map which would explain one cause of some of the health issues. It’s a map of areas that are food deserts. There are a high percentage of poor people living in these areas who don’t own a car nor are near a supermarket. This means they are forced to live off of food from convenience stores. It’s not that all food in a convenience store is unhealthy, but the cheapest food that poor people buy tends to be very unhealthy.
So, health problems are caused by an unhealthy diet which is caused by lack of access to healthy food, but that doesn’t necessarily get to the most fundamental cause. Why don’t supermarkets build in these areas? Is there no way to make a profit off of poor people except by slowly killing them with unhealthy food? I have to wonder if there isn’t more going on.
It’s in poor conservative areas like this that there are also less access to affordable health care. Conservatives are on average more against funding social services that help the poor (i.e., those judged as being undeserving by their low status on the ‘meritocratic’ totem pole). Not all poor areas have these problems. Why is it that California has an area of poverty and yet has no food deserts? Is it for the reason that California is more liberal and liberals (i.e., liberal communities and governments) take care of their own? Like California, Texas is also wealthy. Why does Texas have food deserts when California doesn’t? In one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, why does Texas have food deserts at all? Obviously, Texas has high wealth disparity which is a cause of food disparity, but why do conservative states have so much wealth disparity in the first place?
I was looking at population density and was wondering about the possible correlation to food desert regions.
To be fair, maybe the difference of food desert regions between California and Texas could be partly explained by a difference in population density. However, differences between liberal and conservative states in general, specifically between North and South, can’t be explained just by population density. Let me use my own state as an example again. Iowa, and this non-industrial part of the Midwest in general, has low population density and yet isn’t a food desert. Iowans have a fair amount of poverty. Why is it profitable for grocery stores to operate in poor Iowa but not in rich Texas?
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Here is an interesting way of mapping together some of the above data along with other data as well. A recent study compared states according to the measurements of peacefulness (I discuss in detail the issue of violence further down in this post). The peace index consists of five main indicators:
- number of homicides per 100,000 people
- number of violent crimes per 100,000 people
- number of people in jail per 100,000 people
- number of police ofﬁcers per 100,000 people
- general availability of small arms
US Peace Index (state comparison)
The USPI also finds that a state’s ranking is strongly correlated with various socio-economic factors including the high school graduation rate, access to health insurance and the rate of infant mortality. Significant economic correlants included the degree of income inequality and the rate of participation in the labor force. Meanwhile, factors such as median income and a state’s political affiliation had no discernable impact on a state’s level of peace.
Regionally, southern states were identified as being the least peaceful, while states in the northeast were most peaceful. The peacefulness of states in the Midwest and West was about equal, with Midwest states being slightly more peaceful.
United States Peace Index 2011 – Ranking
Of course, high rates of social problems such as violence ultimately equates to low rates of experienced well-being.
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For the sake of amusement, here are some maps to show social problems as translated into the 7 Deadly Sins:
Greed & Envy
Wrath & Sloth
Gluttony & Lust
It’s funny that the one sin the North excels at slightly is Sloth which is measured according to: “Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment.” Basically, it just means Northerners have more fun and have more high culture. As far as sins go, that is definitely the one to choose.
Another interesting thing is that the Midwest rates low on all the sins. It doesn’t look like Iowa gets touched by much red other than a bit of the Sloth. We Iowans apparently are a religiously pure people… who yet (at least, us Eastern Iowans) still know how to have fun and aren’t entirely uncultured.
Greed is the only sin that doesn’t at all follow a North/South divide. I don’t know what this particular data might mean as I’m not sure what exactly is being measured. Obviously, measuring the “Average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line” is not the same thing as measuring income inequality or poverty. The map shows the Northeastern states as being high on ‘Greed’ and the Southern states (excluding Florida and Texas) as being low on ‘Greed’. However, the maps of income inequality and poverty are the complete opposite.
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Before I move on, I want to share a map that brings a lot of this together in a larger picture and shifts the way we normally think. The US is the wealthiest country in the world and so it’s easy to forget how big the divide is in this country. We talk about poor developing countries, but we don’t talk about poor developing states. Fortunately, someone decided to map the data.
Infographic: Does America Have “Developing States”?
The Human Development Index is a metric that measures the life expectancy, education, and standard of living in an area. It’s usually used to sort the world into “developing countries,” like Bangladesh and Burundi, and “developed countries” like the United States and Western Europe.
But this interactive infographic actually uses the Human Development Index to show differences between the states here in America. The highest on the list are Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states in the northeast. The lowest are the Appalachian states.
Should we start thinking of West Virginia and Tennessee as “developing states”? It’s a little patronizing, but it does make you think about the costs of America’s regionalized coal production, for example, in a new way.
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Pause for a moment and let all that data sink in. Look at all those maps, really look at them. Imagine all of that data superimposed onto a singular map that is our country. Instead of seeing abstract statistics, imagine the real people who are experiencing these problems, who daily face challenges and suffering that could break the best of us.
Look at the conservative areas of the South and Appalachia. Now imagine that all states, all regions, all the country was dominated by a similar conservative culture. Imagine that all government (local and federal) was run by a majority of conservative politicians. Imagine spread across the entire country the same degree of social problems, the same high rates of: poverty, wealth disparity, violent crime, incarceration, intolerance, broken families, illiteracy, high school drop outs, teen pregnancy, low birth weight, infant mortality, STDs, lack of healthy food and health care for the poor and working class, and on and on. Imagine all of that combined.
Imagine that America was a developing country where people still struggle for basic rights and opportunities. Imagine an America that had no strong tradition of liberalism, no liberal party that could compete with conservative Republicans, no rich liberal states to pay for the infrastructure and social services in poor conservative states. Imagine that a progressively liberal president like Lincoln was never elected and so slavery was never abolished, that no Populist movement ever arose to challenge the Robber Barons, that no Progressive era came to create a social safety net, labor laws, child protection and environmental regulation, that no Civil Rights movement ever happened, that segregation never ended, that women and blacks never fought for and won voting rights.
Heck, go back even further right to the beginning of the country. Imagine that there was no Thomas Paine to communicate to the masses an inspiring liberal vision about what America could be, that early Americans weren’t inspired by that radically democratic vision to such an extent that they risked their lives fighting for radical change against an established conservative elite. Imagine that the liberal values of social democracy never took hold on American soil, that we never gained independence, that a constitution of classical liberal values was never written, that an egalitarian society of representative democracy was never established.
Imagine an America with no liberalism whatsoever or else an America where liberalism forever remained insignificant and powerless.
I don’t know what America would be like if it were almost exclusively conservative in all aspects and in all regions. But, to speculate based on the known data, there is no reason obvious to me for why one would think it would be a better country… not that I mean to imply that the polar opposite would necessarily be better. I just want liberalism to get its due, to be acknowledged for the positive force it has been in this country.
I want to be clear, however, that I’m not arguing conservatism is inherently and inevitably a negative force. I could imagine a conservative country that didn’t have all of these problems originating from America’s radicalized conservatism obsessed with class and culture war and haunted by hyper-individualism and anti-intellectualism. A well established traditional conservatism could make for a very good society in certain respects. Some indigenous societies, for example, are both very socially conservative and very stable. But America’s radicalized conservatism isn’t the same thing as traditional conservatism.
In my mind, I can hear the conservative’s counterargument. They would argue that the US is a republic, not a democracy (the latter being identified with the oppression of the majority, with unconstitutional government overreach). They would, of course, say that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery but instead was about state’s rights, about the federal government infringing on constitutional rights of liberty and self-determination. They would say that slavery would’ve ended on its own because a free market would eventually result in slavery being unprofitable, that fiscal conservatism inevitably leads to liberty and that Lincoln’s brutally forcing the end of oppression against blacks led to an oppression against Southerners. They would argue that the real problem was how the Civil War caused immense destruction and how Reconstruction undermined Southern culture. The conservative imagines his own vision of America where the War of Northern Aggression never happened and no Reconstruction followed, where the Southern economies had continued to grow unthwarted, where none of these social problems ever developed. It’s a nice dream.
I’ve discussed some of this earlier, but let me add some further thoughts. Ignoring the revisionist history and the mindless debate about republic vs democracy, I’m not sure I have a strong opinion about the case being made for secession. I understand the argument that the federal government supposedly didn’t have the right to infringe on the rights of Southerners. But Southerners didn’t have the right to infringe on the rights of blacks. And neither had the right to infringe on the rights of Native Americans. There was a whole lot of infringing of rights happening on all sides. The Civil War was obviously not beneficial to the South in the short term, but it’s not clear that the South would have been better off if they had been left alone to continue on with their immoral system of slavery. Yes, slavery may have ended on it’s own if given enough time, but then again maybe not. Slavery easily could have gone on for another century. Or slavery might never have ended at all, might have taken on new form to adapt to the changing economy. I just don’t get the argument for not dealing with an immoral situation in the seemingly naive hope that it would eventually resolve itself.
My own view is that the most fundamental differences between the North and South are greater than and probably prior to the Civil War. The Civil War was just an outward manifestation of a conflict that had to be dealt with, one way or another. I see this conflict to be primarily on the level of culture (and the demographic issues and patterns underlying culture: religion, nationality, etc). The broad outlines of our present cultural divisions began to show with the earliest colonists. Some people interpret Alexis de Tocqueville as having predicted the Civil War with his observations of American culture. The seeds of conflict can be seen right from the beginning. Allowing slavery to legally continue was a concession made in order to unite the country, but it was a pact made with the devil. If the founding fathers had lived up their moral responsibility, Lincoln wouldn’t have had to confront the results of their moral failure. The Civil War was a bad solution to an even worse problem.
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I’ll now shift gears by returning to the original impetus of this whole line of thought.
I had a debate where I was arguing about the cultural difference between the North and South (the very debate that led me to do much of this research and analysis). The central basis of my argument was that differences in religion are a factor behind this difference in culture. I hadn’t looked at the data closely enough at that point and so my argument was partly just based on my own experience of having lived in both the North and the South (along with a general familiarity with diverse data about different states).
I was specifically considering my experience of Iowa and what I thought makes it distinct.
If I recall correctly, the first church in the Iowa territory was a Unitarian church. Unitarianism was popular among Northerners such as some people among the Revolutionary generation. It’s important to note that the difference between Unitarians and the Calvinist fundamentalists (who are mostly in the South) is that the former believe that all are saved and the latter believe only a select elite are saved (a massive cultural difference).
The other thing I recall from Iowa history is that Quakers helped build the some of the early public schools. This valuing of education was central to the Populist and Progressive eras in the Midwest. Education was how farmers and the working class fought back against those who sought to exploit them. I think related to this is how widespread Catholicisim is in Iowa. Like the Quakers, Catholics built schools everywhere they went.
The last observation is that Iowa is Amish country. The Amish are Anabaptists who have been a driving force behind the pacifist tradition in American history (and the Southern Scots-Irish Calvinists have a culture quite opposite of pacifism).
There is something about these religions (Unitarians, Quakers, Catholics, and Amish) that is uniquely Midwestern and, more generally, Northern. As I was looking at the above maps, I was wondering what maps of religions would look like and whether they would confirm my personal observations. The following are the maps I could find for all the different religions. But first let me show you a map of atheism just for additional context:
Unsurprisingly, rates of atheism are lowest in the South. It’s particularly unsurprising that rates of atheism are highest in the Northeast. On the more surprising side, rates of atheism are (relative to the South) higher in the Midwest and even higher in Mormon country. So, in relation to the other maps, even atheism shows a North/South divide.
Let me now show a general map with several different religious traditions shown:
Do you happen to notice a North/South divide? However, the religious divide is less clear at the most Southern points of the US. Catholicism has been in Texas for a long time (almost certainly longer than Protestantism) and the Cubans have brought Catholicism into Florida. Now here are some relevant examples of maps for individual religions:
(To see more of these religious maps, go here.)
There are particular religions that are mostly found in the North or mostly found in the South. I think this is very significant for the reason that religious differences are a strong indicator of cultural differences.
I was also thinking about this in terms of the those who fought for American independence and helped found the country (after all, they had a greater impact on American culture than almost any other group in American history). The founding fathers, many of whom were born in or lived in the Northeast, were religiously diverse including a fair number (depending how terms are defined and what evidence is used) who were Deists and Unitarians or who held beliefs that were in part Deist or Unitarian (for further reading, see here).
The Revolution of Belief
The chart below explores the differences between orthodox Christian action and beliefs and Deist actions and beliefs as it specifically deals with eight of the Founding Fathers.
I chose to look at the years from around 1770 to 1800 as the defining years to establish the particular belief set up in these charts. A couple of these men had a change of heart from earlier years, and a few have been rumored to have yielded to more traditional feelings of religion very late in life.
The Chart Categories
Much of what is inferred about the founding fathers and their religious beliefs cannot always be taken from their letters. There are other ways above and beyond their letters that I have outlined in their church actions. Again, this informational content comes from the book, “Faiths of the Founding Fathers” by David Holmes, although these tables are entirely my creation.
From their actions, the following ideas are considered indicators of Christian orthodoxy, Deism, or some combination of both:
Actions: Communion, Confirmation, Church Attendance, Vocabulary
Beliefs: Resurrection, Christ-Divinity, Trinity, Miracles
Significantly, of 204 founding fathers, apparently only one was explicitly and solely identified as a Calvinist (Fisher Ames). However, others could be included as Calvinist (depending on whether Calvinism is being defined as a specific religious denomination or a general religious affiliation; technically, Calvinist denominations include: Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Reformed) or as partially Calvinist in terms of certain beliefs (such as the depravity of human nature; however, such a belief or similar beliefs were also common in other Christian denominations, e.g., Catholic original sin).
Most importantly, there are two distinctions to be made here. First, there is a vast difference between the Calvinism of the South and the Calvinism of the Northeast (the former being the main influence on the fundamentalist tradition and the latter being the denominations more common among the founding fathers). Second, Calvinism was popular in early America, especially among the general population, but it lost membership and influence over time. Some of the Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had been raised in Calvinist homes, only to renounce Calvinism as adults.
Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America
of U.S. Founding Fathers
|Dutch Reformed/German Reformed
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Now I’ll show some maps showing other indicators of cultural differences.
Here is some info about American dialects.
It’s interesting to note that the region I live in is the very center of Standard American English. Looking at this small region, it seems very odd how the English spoken here became Standard American English. From what I’ve read, the English of this region spread during the Dust Bowl years when many farmers left the Midwest and went West. Also, I suspect that early national radio and tv stations intentionally chose people from around this area to be news anchors. It’s the approximate center of the country, after all. Maybe this central location makes the dialect linguistically closer to and more easily understood by speakers of all other dialects. Also, the region of Standard American English is part of the larger regional dialect known as the Midland American English, specifically North Midland. The lower edge of the Midland region approximates the border between free states and slave states.
And, of course, dialects are based in ancestry. Those concentrated in the South are Hispanic, African-American, and Scots-Irish. I’d also add the Cavaliers (the aristocrats and loyal Royalists) from Southern England who settled Virginia (which, along with the Scots-Irish and two other British immigrant groups, is discussed in the book Albion’s Seed).
English & German
Irish & French
Norwegian & Swedish
Asian & Hispanic
Scots-Irish & African-American
Two details interest me about the Scots-Irish.
First, there is a large clump of Scots-Irish in Texas (not so surprising) and a large clump in Southern California (more surprising). One thing that is mentioned in something I was reading (quoted below) is that the Scots-Irish and Quakers were two major groups pushing the Western expansion. It’s partly for this reason that the conflicting worldviews of these two groups have been central to what American society has become.
Second (and more relevant to my analyis), there is concentration of Scots-Irish around South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. This general area is part of Appalachia which also extends into some Northern States (such as Pennsylvania which is traditional Quaker territory, much different than Southern Appalachia).
White Voters, Obama and Appalachia
First, let’s define how we’ll be using “Appalachia.” In the 1960′s, one out of three people in Appalachia lived poverty, per capita income was 23% lower than the national average, and the region was rapidly losing population. In 1963 the Appalachian Regional Commission was created by Congress and President Kennedy to address the problems in the area highlighted in the map. Since the 1960′s counties near Atlanta, Huntsville AL and Pittsburgh have become wealthier much more developed. But much of the region remains well below national standards in most measures of economic and social well-being.
The ethnic and cultural character of this part of the country has been more static since the 19th century than anyplace in America. Outside of some of the new growth areas north of Atlanta or Huntsville, or in some of the college towns, most of the people in Appalachia trace their heritage back to immigrants from the borderlands of Northern Britain who began settling the region over 200 years ago. Outside of the Northern part of Appalachia—Pennsylvania in particular—relatively few Eastern or Southern Europeans from the great waves of immigration that started in the 1880′s have moved in to the area. It’s the most homogeneous region in America. The region is home to few Catholics, and is heavily Baptist and Methodist.
In the 19th century, migrants from Appalachia moved west. People from Appalachia settled and put their stamp on the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, on Okalahoma and the southern Plains, on North Texas, and eventually they were a big part of the initial growth of Southern California.
This same general region of and around Appalachia, interestingly, is also where there are concentrated those who identify simply as ‘Americans’. I find that amusing. It could be that these are just poor Americans who are unaware of their own ancestry and so simply identify as American. But I suspect it’s, at least, partly a cultural identity. The Scots-Irish are very ethnocentric and I’m willing to bet that this is the origin of conservative oft-stated belief that they are ‘Real Americans’. Why would conservatives want to claim their own European ancestry when they are always criticizing Europeans as socialists?
I was recently reading Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant. It gave me great insight into the Scots-Irish culture. Bageant explained it in terms of a specific Calvinist tradition (Kindle location 2357):
“Since arriving in America during the first seventy-five years of the eighteenth century, Calvinist Ulster Scots have constituted a parallel culture to that of enlightened Yankee liberals. Scots-Irish Calvinist values all but guarantee anger and desire for vengeance against what is perceived as elite authority: college-educated secular people who run the schools, the media, and the courts and don’t seem to mind if their preacher is a queer. One Calvinist premise has always dominated: The word of God supersedes any and all government authority. Period. That same flaming brand of Calvinism brought here by the Ulster Scots launched American Christian fundamentalism. Now it threatens to breach the separation of church and state. Worse yet, its most vehement elements push for a nuclear holy war.”
This culture formed much of Southern tradition, especially the tradition of fundamentalism. These Scots-Irish weren’t the plantation owners. In fact, they were quite the opposite in being poor. But in modern America it’s the Scots-Irish culture that has come to define the South (and, more broadly, to add a distinct flavor to the American identity): kinship affiliation, family values, ethnocentric pride, nationalism, xenophobia, fundamentalism, working class identity, lack of prudishness, machismo, heavy drinking, gun rights, property rights, territorialism, libertarian values of autonomy, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, etc. The Scots-Irish were the complete opposite of the Puritans who first settled the Northeast, even though both were Calvinist. Talk about cultural differences.
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The following is a very detailed article analyzing a particular set of British immigrants. The author explains much about the Scots-Irish and the historical reasons for their culture.
Yo, Pundits! Here’s What’s Up With the Republicans
By Geenius at Wrok
We have two dominant political parties. Each of those parties is built upon two of the four primary waves of migration from Britain that defined America in its earliest years. Historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, identifies these waves as:
- Puritans, who settled in New England;
- Cavaliers, who settled in Virginia;
- Quakers, who settled in the Delaware River Valley; and
- Borderers, who settled in the “backcountry,” as Appalachia and the Highland South were termed back then.
These four waves weren’t the only immigrants to bring their cultures to America — there were also Dutch colonists and Jews in the Hudson River Valley, French colonists in Louisiana and Maine, Catholics in Maryland and Huguenots in South Carolina — but they came to dominate American culture and politics, for two reasons. First, they held not just local power but regional power. Second, they migrated westward.
Through the 18th and early 19th centuries, politics revolved on a Puritan–Cavalier axis. The Civil War was fought, essentially, between Puritan abolitionists and Cavalier slaveholders. But in the late 19th century, the descendants of Quakers and Borderers settled the West, while the descendants of Puritans and Cavaliers mostly stayed east of the Mississippi River. Consequently, the balance of power began to shift, and the four cultures found themselves on more equal footing. Today, if anything, the Quaker and Borderer strains in our culture and politics are stronger nationwide than the Puritan and Cavalier strains. Since the political realignment of the 1960s, we have essentially had a Northern Party (the Quaker–Puritan Democrats) and a Southern Party (the Borderer–Cavalier Republicans), with the Great Plains and the Mountain West leaning toward the Republicans until just recently.
[ . . . ] Conflicts between the newly arrived Borderers and the Quakers who resided around the Borderers’ primary ports of entry, Philadelphia and Newcastle, Del., encouraged the Borderers to move upland into the Appalachian mountain range and south into Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, then across what was then the “Southwest” — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. In the 19th century, they crossed the Mississippi River and migrated into Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. These areas were already populated by proud and fierce Native American nations that tried to fight off the new settlers, creating a new environment of perpetual strife to replace the one the borderers left behind in Britain.
When looked at closely, aspects of this culture can appear hypocritical. For example, Southern states are socially conservative and yet rate very poorly on living up to socially conservative values.
The Borderers also displayed a degree of sexual freedom that appalled Americans of other cultures, and premarital sex and pregnancy were rampant.
Is this where the “Republican = Borderer” equation breaks down? True, no one can reasonably point to the Republican Party as the “pro–promiscuity and early pregnancy party.” But here’s an interesting fact: For all the Republicans’ family-values talk, the Highland South remains the region of the country where teen pregnancy rates are highest. In fact, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense: If you look around you and see social disorder everywhere, of course you’re going to panic and look to someone to save you from it. (If you live in another part of the country and don’t see that degree of social disorder, of course, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.) It’s also telling that, for all the talk of abstinence and purity pledges and so forth, when teen pregnancy happens under one’s own roof, suddenly it’s no longer a threat to the social order but rather a chance to show your love and forgiveness!
Relevant to my own thoughts, the author discusses how the Republican Party has incorporated much of the cultural worldview that came from the Scots-Irish. What is particularly relevant is how this culture originated in poverty and wealth disparity. Along with this, the author explains why property rights are prioritized over human rights.
Today’s Republican Party tolerates inequality of wealth because Borderers have historically experienced more of it than any other culture in America. Despite the myth of the meritocratic, sweat-of-one’s-brow frontier, the backcountry was characterized by “a system of landholding characterized by a large landless underclass of tenants and squatters, a middle class that was small by comparison with other colonies, and a few very rich landlords,” Fischer writes.
With some exceptions, landed wealth was always highly concentrated throughout the Southern highlands, as it would be in the lower Mississippi Valley, Texas and the far Southwest. Inequality was greater in the backcountry and the Southern highlands than in any other rural region of the United States. (749)
Violence has pervaded Borderer life for literally a thousand years. Rather than place their trust in the political systems that exploited them, Borderers developed their own system of retributive justice and vigilantism, one which punished property crimes far more severely than crimes against people: a rustler might be hanged, while the rapist of a young girl might be fined a shilling (768). Here we see the roots of American “gun culture,” the attitude that shooting trespassers is acceptable and the prioritization of property rights over civil liberties. We also see a tolerance of violent acts in general, from domestic violence to abortion-clinic murders to shooting wolves from airplanes.
This kind of violence seems strange. The data shows the violence concentrated in Southern states, but why? How does a culture of violence develop in the first place? Is it just violence perpetuating violence? Or is there something specific about a culture that predisposes people to violence?
The Scots-Irish Vote
Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen, psychology professors at the University of Michigan and University of Illinois, conducted an in-depth study in the 1990s examining what they dubbed the “Culture of Honor” prevalent in the South. In trying to find out why violence rates were significantly higher in the South, they discovered that white southerners tended to be much more likely to resort to violence to defend their property or honor than whites in other parts of the country. Their studies controlled for poverty rates throughout the region, as well as for other factors including weather (warmer areas tend to be more violent) and the legacy of slavery (areas with fewer blacks actually experienced more violence amongst whites, they found). This trend was not nearly as strong in the larger, more metropolitan cities of the South but was especially prevalent in the small, more isolated and culturally distinct small cities and towns throughout Appalachia and the rural South. These are the areas where the Hatfields and McCoys, the Turners and Howards (all Scots-Irish) feuded for years. The psychologists then ran a series of experiments where they antagonized both southerners and northerners, and found that southerners were much more prone to violence when slighted.
Nisbett argues that many of the cultural traits of the modern South can be traced back to the heritage of the population’s descendants. “The Scots-Irish were a herding people, while people from the north [of the U.S.] were English, German and Dutch farmers. Herding people are tough guys all over the world, and they are that because they have to establish that you can’t trifle with them, and if you don’t do that then you feel like you’re at risk for losing your entire wealth, which is your herd. This creates a culture of honor, and the Scots-Irish are very much a culture of honor, and they carried that with them from the Deep South to the Mountain South, and then out through the western plains.”
According to Nisbett, the Scots-Irish were a warlike people distrustful of a powerful central government, a result of the herder mentality as well as centuries of fighting, first against the English and Irish, then against Native Americans, then against the Yankees. As he points out, “The Scots-Irish are very much overrepresented in the military … and you find them there because they’re a fighting people.”
I find myself fascinated with the Scots-Irish. They have such a distinctive culture which has had an immense influence on American society. America would not be the country we know, good and bad, without the Scots-Irish. Having lived in the South, I’m familiar with how much of the culture is obviously Scots-Irish.
However, the South wasn’t initially and primarily defined by Scots-Irish. The Scots-Irish were escaping a class-based society, but they immigrated into regions (e.g., Virginia Territory) where the Cavaliers had settled. One of the most obvious elements of Cavalier society was that it was class-based. They were the aristocrats who initially brought along indentured servants and later introduced the large African-American slave population. You’d think the Scots-Irish would hate this, but it was just like their homeland and the Scots-Irish seemingly just reinforced this class-consciousness. The Scots-Irish apparently prefer to have an elite that they can hate and maybe secretly admire. For all their poverty, the Scots-Irish respect the rights of property owners like almost nothing else… and the Cavaliers had plenty of property. The Cavaliers and Scots-Irish were a match made in Heaven.
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Let me share some of my own anecdotal evidence here.
While living in South Carolina, my family was upper middle class. We had a neighbor lady who was an authentic Southern Belle, although she had married below her class. Still, she lived the life of an aristocrat. She didn’t work a job. She didn’t even do her own housework or yardwork. She had a personal servant (black, of course) who took care of her every need. This lady was no longer wealthy, but she was still living the life of wealth that she had grown accustomed to from her youth.
This Southern Belle wasn’t unusual. The way she lived her life was the norm for many upper class and upper middle class Southerners. In the South, only the working class (and Yankee transplants) do all or most of their own yard work. Why would a person with money dirty their fingers when there is cheap black labor?
My mom grew up a working class Midwesterner and she taught me the mentality of a working class Midwesterner. Such a mentality is the complete opposite of the mentality of Southern aristocracy. The Midwest doesn’t have an aristocracy, no history of indentured servitude, no history of slavery, no history of plantations, no history of Cavaliers. In the Midwest, it is a point of pride to do one’s own work. In the Midwest, it’s looked down upon for one to act superior to other in one’s community. Midwesterners don’t want to stand out. Midwesterners don’t hate the elite in the way the Scots-Irish do, but even so Midwesterners have little desire to become the elite. There is an informal neighborliness about Midwestern culture.
I should point that, since I went to public schools, I knew a variety of people while living in South Carolina. My best friend in school was your traditional redneck (a term I use endearingly). I don’t know his specific ancestry, but like most rednecks he was obviously a part of the Scots-Irish culture. Some Southern people can be quite friendly as well. The difference is that there is an element of formality that comes from traditional class and race distinctions. In the South, people tend to keep to their own group. The poor and rich, the blacks and the whites tend to not mingle as much, although interestingly a history of plantation slave culture has forced a closer proximity that might surprise some Northerners (the division between people tends to be less about physical distance and more about social distance). Desegregation has forced some more extensive intermingling, but culture persists (with the help of private schools).
I’ve often tried to pinpoint a major distinction between (my experience of) the North and (my experience of) the South. The defining factor of the Midwest seems to be community (community as extended family). If you move into a community, you are a member of that community. It’s not unusual for neighbors and welcome wagons to immediately welcome someone into the community (often bringing along baked goods). The defining factor of the South seems to be family (family as the definition of community). Kinship loyalty is strong (clan mentality of the Scots-Irish?). Southerners don’t seem to warm up to strangers as quickly. However, once a person is accepted, they are treated as part of the family.
Let me use another example to clarify this difference. In the Midwest, when someone invites you over for coffee, they more often literally mean it. Genuine neighborliness is a Midwestern tradition. Midwesterners like to help each other. In the past, this might have meant raising a barn together. Today, this often means something as simple as shoveling your neighbors sidewalk. In the South, when someone invites you over for coffee (or iced tea), they may not literally want you to come over for a visit. The Southern Belle I mentioned invited my mom over for coffee when we first moved into the neighborhood, but it immediately became apparent that the invitation was merely a formality. Of course, this dynamic is a bit different with working class Southerners (i.e., Scots-Irish rednecks) who are more informal, although I don’t think they are informal to the same extent or in the same way as seen in the Midwest.
(I admit that I’m less confident about my own observations because it can be dangerous to generalize based on anecdotal evidence. The reason I’m writing this post is to see if my personal observations can be confirmed by the data. I think they are confirmed to some extent, but I’m still not entirely sure.)
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This brings me to the cultures of two other early immigrant groups that mostly settled in the North: Puritans and Quakers.
ALBION’S SEED – DAVID HACKETT FISCHER
So important was the idea of a covenanted family in Massachusetts that everyone was compelled by law to live in family groups. The provinces of Conneticut and Plymouth forbade any single person to “live of himself.” These laws were enforced. In 1668 the court of Middlesex County systematically searched its towns for single persons and placed them in families. This custom was not invented in New England. It had long been practiced in East Anglia.
[ . . . ] Literacy was higher in New England than in any other part of British America… The zeal for learning and literacy in New England was not invented in America. The proportion of men and women in the Bay Colony who could sign their own names was almost exactly the same as yeomen and their wives in eastern England.
Quakers (The Deleware)
Persecution played a major part in driving Quakers to America, but it was never the leading cause. The primary religious goals of the Friends’ migration were positive rather than negative. An historian observes that the founders of the Delaware colonies wishes “to show Quakerism at work, freed from hampering conditions.”
At the center of Quaker belief was a God of Love and Light whose benevolent spirit harmonized the universe. The Puritans worshipped a very different deity — one who was equally capable of love and wrath — a dark, mysterious power who could be terrifying in his anger and inscrutability. Anglicans, on the other hand, knelt before a great and noble Pantocrator who ruled firmly but fairly over the hierarchy of his creatures.
[ . . . ] On the subject of gender, the Quakers had a saying: “In souls there is no sex.” This epigram captured one of the deepest differences between the founders of the Delaware colonies and their neighbors to the north and south. Of all the English-speaking people in the 17th century, the Quakers moved farthest toward the idea of equality between the sexes.
Acts of violence against Quaker women arose in part from their headlong challenge to an entire system of gender relations. In the 17th century, there mere appearance of a female preacher was enough to start a riot. As late as 1763 the spectacle of “she-preaching” seemed perverse and unnatural to many Englishmen
[ . . . ] Quakers refused to touch foods that were tainted by social evil. Some did not use sugar because it had been grown by slave labor. Others banned salt from their tables, because it bore taxes which paid for military campaigns.
Liberty of conscience was one of a large family of personal freedoms which Quakers extended equally to other. William Penn recognized three secular “rights of an Englishman”: first, “a right and title to your own lives, liberties and estates; second, representative government; third, trial by jury.” In Pennsylvania, these liberties went far beyond those of Massachusetts, Virginia and old England itself… The laws of Pennsylvania also guaranteed the right of every freeman to a speedy trial, to a jury chosen by lot in criminal cases, and to the same privileges of witnesses and counsel as the prosecution. These ideas went far beyond prevailing practices in England and America.
Quakers genuinely believed that every liberty demanded for oneself should also be extended to others.
The Quakers were among the most radical libertarians of their age, but they were not anarchists. Penn himself wrote in his ‘Frame of Government’ that “liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery.” Penn instructed his governor to “rule the meek meekly, and those that will not be ruled, rule with authority.”
The British, of course, weren’t the only immigrants to have such a major impact. Later in history, the German and Irish mostly immigrated to the Northern states (by the way, one side of my family are of German ancestry and settled in Indiana). The following map is a screenshot (go here to see the interactive map) of German immigration in 1900 (the Irish immigration looks similar).
Irish and German Immigration
In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of IRELAND emigrated to the United States. So did an equal number of GERMANS.
[ . . . ] Impoverished, the Irish could not buy property. Instead, they congregated in the cities where they landed, almost all in the northeastern United States. Today, Ireland has just half the population it did in the early 1840s. There are now more Irish Americans than there are Irish nationals.
In the decade from 1845 to 1855, more than a million Germans fled to the United States to escape economic hardship. They also sought to escape the political unrest caused by riots, rebellion and eventually a revolution in 1848. The Germans had little choice — few other places besides the United States allowed German immigration. Unlike the Irish, many Germans had enough money to journey to the Midwest in search of farmland and work. The largest settlements of Germans were in New York City, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee.
With the vast numbers of German and Irish coming to America, hostility to them erupted. Part of the reason for the opposition was religious. All of the Irish and many of the Germans were Roman Catholic. Part of the opposition was political. Most immigrants living in cities became Democrats because the party focused on the needs of commoners.
I’ve thought about the Catholic influence more in recent years. When I’ve traveled in rural Iowa, I was always amazed by how widespread is Catholicism. I would suspect most people (or, at least, most non-Midwesterners) don’t think of Catholicism when they think of the small farming towns in the Midwest.
There are two factors that distinguish Catholicism, especially from Southern fundamentalism.
First, Catholics are extremely community-oriented. Catholic culture seems to have been very beneficial to small farming towns that were isolated and so required close-knit communities. The Catholic Church provided a strong social framework with a strong social safety net. Catholics have their own schools, their own orphanages, etc.
Second, Catholics are more suspicious of unregulated capitalism. Partly this is just because big business is a threat to religious authority. Also, the amorality of modern capitalism doesn’t fit well into the traditional Catholic worldview. These might be reasons why labor unions have high membership in areas where Catholicism has high membership. An example of this is Michael Moore who grew up in a working class family that was both Catholic and involved in union activism. Moore is still an active Catholic and claims that Jesus’ message of social justice is what motivates all of his work.
Social justice is a key element which ties together the factors of community-oriented and suspicion of unregulated capitalism. It’s not surprising that Catholicism has been central to the social justice movement in South and Central America. And it probably shouldn’t be surprising that Populism and Progressivism were particularly strong in the Midwest and North. It should be noted, though, that Populism and Progressivism also had some appeal to the Scots-Irish with their mistrust of monied elites. Populism, in particular, was able to bridge the Northern and Southern divide like no other movement since. Still, in reading about Populism and Progressivism, I’ve been amazed at how much of a role the Midwest played. Many of the policies that came out of that era such as Social Security were grounded in Midwestern ideas and values. As explained in What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank (Kindle location 251):
Certain parts of the Midwest were once so reliably leftist that the historian Walter Prescott Webb, in his classic 1931 history of the region, pointed to its persistent radicalism as one of the “Mysteries of the Great Plains.” Today the mystery is only heightened; it seems inconceivable that the Midwest was ever thought of as a “radical” place, as anything but the land of the bland, the easy snoozing flyover. Readers in the thirties, on the other hand, would have known instantly what Webb was talking about, since so many of the great political upheavals of their part of the twentieth century were launched from the territory west of the Ohio River. The region as they knew it was what gave the country Socialists like Eugene Debs, fiery progressives like Robert La Follette, and practical unionists like Walter Reuther; it spawned the anarchist IWW and the coldly calculating UAW; and it was periodically convulsed in gargantuan and often bloody industrial disputes. They might even have known that there were once Socialist newspapers in Kansas and Socialist voters in Oklahoma and Socialist mayors in Milwaukee, and that there were radical farmers across the region forever enlisting in militant agrarian organizations with names like the Farmers’ Alliance, or the Farmer-Labor Party, or the Non-Partisan League, or the Farm Holiday Association. And they would surely have been aware that Social Security, the basic element of the liberal welfare state, was largely a product of the midwestern mind.
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Some people argue that the main difference about the South is simply that more blacks live there. Southern conservatives, of course, would love to be able to blame all the problems of the South on blacks. High rates of poverty, wealth disparity, high school drop outs, STDs, teen pregnancy. Et Cetera. All the blacks fault? That is giving blacks a lot of credit for having so much powerful influence on Southern society. Yes, blacks have higher rates of many social problems. They were, after all, enslaved and oppressed for most of American history. To this day, the data shows that racial prejudice continues to negatively impact the lives of blacks… which I have several posts about:
John Bior Deng: Racism, Classism
Institutional Racism & Voting Rights
Disturbing Study Highlights Racism
Obama vs The Bell Curve
African-Americans didn’t choose to become slaves and be forced into poverty. It’s rather disingenuous to claim that it’s all their fault for supposedly having ‘inferior’ genetics. It’s also disingenuous to claim their culture is ‘inferior’ after centuries of white Americans destroying their culture. Even if their destroyed culture is judged inferior (by the Western standards of white Americans), it would be unfair and cruel to blame it all on them. Anyway, that misses the point that there is something distinctively different about all of Southern culture. African-Americans didn’t dominate Southern society for centuries. The society that exists in the South was created mostly by white people.
Let me bring in the context of IQ because it’s such a politically incorrect topic. The white supremacists love IQ because African-Americans on average have lower IQs. The white supremacists argue that this is genetic, but there is no conclusive evidence for this hypothesis and much evidence against it. For example, the IQs of all children tend to be more similar and significant IQ differences are mostly seen in later education. The most obvious and simplest explanation is poverty. There are many factors related to poverty that are known to impact brain/cognitive development and hence IQ: pollution (such as lead poisoning from older houses), malnutrition (especially during pregnancy and early childhood), social stress, lack of educational resources, etc.
Here is a map showing the IQ differences in America with, once again, the same North/South divide (with the exception of West Virginia with its Scots-Irish population). The source of the map was using it apparently to make an argument for racism/racialism:
“Finally, it can be viewed in relationship to race. Alone, the racial composition of a state‘explains’ 72% of that state’s estimated IQ, with the two correlating at a robust .85. Expenditures per student, teacher salaries, and classroom size combined explain a paltry 15%. Considered independently, they are statistically insignificant and explain virtually nothing.”
There are different measures of IQ. This map is measuring math and science test scores. There does seem to be a correlation between ethnic diversity and lower average IQ (such as with California and the Southern states), although the ethnically diverse Texas isn’t dissimilar to some Northern states.
This map, however, makes the issue of race seem simpler than it actually is. When looking at other maps of IQ data, black populations in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than black populations in Southern states. And, even more significantly, white populations in many Northern states have on average higher IQs than white populations in Southern states (excluding Texas). So, doing comparisons just within single races, there are IQ differences that show a North/South divide for both black and white populations. However, the difference is most clear for white populations. This can only be explained, as far as I can tell, by poverty being the central factor in IQ differences. Blacks experience higher rates than whites of poverty in all states, but whites mostly just experience high rates of poverty in the South.
It seems the maps of IQ are essentially just another way of mapping poverty. So, why does poverty show a North/South divide? I’d also include in this question the issue of wealth disparity which also shows a North/South divide:
10 States With Ridiculously Low Unemployment — And Why
The 10 Most (and Least) Tolerant States in America
California and Texas are good ways of disentangling the poverty from wealth disparity. Both are wealthy states with high wealth disparity which causes them to measure positively on some indicators and measure negatively on other indicators. However, excluding Texas, most Southern states are both poor and have high wealth disparity. Many Northern states have both wealth and low wealth disparity, but there are states like Iowa which are relatively poor and yet have low wealth disparity. In a developed nation like the US, wealth disparity rather than poverty seems to be the more important indicator of societal health (rates of high school drop outs, bullying, STDs, teen pregnancy, etc).
I extend this argument on IQ in another post:
White Supremacy Defeated… yet again
Here are two maps related to IQ. What is measured in these maps are such things as people with Bachelors degrees or more. The Creative Class, as defined and measured by Richard Florida, is mostly concentrated in the Northeast.
Creative Class & Human Capital
Also, these maps are showing the liberal hotspots which somewhat correlate to population density. There are two reasons for this correlation. Well educated people tend to be more liberal and areas of concentrated populations such as metropolises tend to be more liberal (with rural sparsely populated areas tending to more conservative). Partly, liberals move to such areas for the opportunities and for being near those of a similar mindset.
It’s not clear that Northerners are smarter because of some inherent reason such as culture or whether it’s that some reason such as good schools attracts smarter people to Northern cities. Likewise, it’s not clear whether liberals are inherently smarter or if being intellectually encouraged at a young age naturally leads to a liberal mindset. Either way, a correlation exists.
Beyond Red vs. Blue
Pew Research Center
[Liberals are the] most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)
Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent
The analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Study 1) and the General Social Surveys (Study 2) show that adolescent and adult intelligence significantly increases adult liberalism, atheism, and mens (but not womens) value on sexual exclusivity.
Conservatism and cognitive ability
Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated. The evidence is based on 1254 community college students and 1600 foreign students seeking entry to United States’ universities. At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education (e.g., gross enrollment at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels) and performance on mathematics and reading assessments from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) project. They also correlate with components of the Failed States Index and several other measures of economic and political development of nations. Conservatism scores have higher correlations with economic and political measures than estimated IQ scores.
College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds
By Howard Kurtz
By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.
The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.
“What’s most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by liberals.”
Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media
Pew Research Center
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All of this research and analysis was mostly me trying to confirm suspicions I had about my experiences of having lived in both the North and South. It seems to me that culture is centrally important in understanding this difference. To my mind, it’s not surprising that blacks and Southerners have been negatively impacted by the poverty caused by the history of a slave society with it’s class-based culture. Also, to my mind, there is a massive cultural difference between Southern fundamentalism and Northern religious traditions (Unitarians, Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, etc). This seems obvious to me, although it doesn’t seem obvious to others.
Despite having spent many years in the South when younger, I’ve always identifed as a Midwesterner. I get tired that many people think that the rural Midwest is just a watered-down version of the fundamentalist South. My experience of other Midwestern states is more limited, but I can state with certainty that moderate Iowans are far from having a culture similar to the Southern Scots-Irish. Iowa, even though not wealthy, measures very well on most indicators. Most Northern states, whether wealthy or not, measure well on most indicators. That seems like very important data to me. It’s obvious that Northern states are doing something very much right. And, I would argue, that it seems obvious that Southern states have much room for improvement. Southern states like to threaten secession, but no one takes these threats seriously. Many Northerners would be perfectly fine if Southerners seceded. Southern states, on average, take more in benefits from the federal government than they give in federal taxes (and vice versa for most Northern states). In short, Southern states are a financial drag on the entire country.
Here are two maps showing the correlation between taxation differences and voting differences:
The red state ripoff
Over at the Fourth Branch, they’ve got a nice map showing the states that receive more than a dollar back for every dollar they pay in taxes (which they’ve coded red), and the states that receive less than a dollar back for every dollar they pay in taxes (which they’ve coded blue). Just to repeat: Red states are getting a good deal, and blue states a bad one. Here’s the map:
Remind you of anything?
Fourth Branch comments:
There is a very strong correlation, then, between a state voting for Republicans and receiving more in federal spending than its residents pay to the federal government in taxes (the rust belt and Texas being notable exceptions). In essence, those in blue states are subsidizing those in red states. Both red and blue states appear to be acting politically in opposition to their economic interests. Blue states are voting for candidates who are likely to continue the policies of red state subsidization while red states are voting for candidates who profess a desire to reduce federal spending (and presumably red state subsidization).
As an egalitarian liberal who is far from being rich, I actually don’t mind financially helping poor people in states with high wealth disparity. God knows that rich conservatives in those states aren’t likely to offer much assistance to the poor in their own communities (because it goes against their ideology of a hierachical ‘meritocricy’). There is something that makes sense to me which is, for some reason, beyond the grasp of many conservatives. I’ve written many posts about wealth disparity and the data confirms the liberal theory of egalitarianism (or at least aspects of it), the theory being that helping others is to help oneself, that to help all people individually is to help all of society collectively.
For example, obesity rates (in developed countries) are correlated to both poverty and high wealth disparity (whereas, in developing countries, obesity and poverty are negatively correlated). So, societies with high wealth disparity tend to have higher obesity rates and societies with low wealth disparity tend to have lower obesity rates. But the real interesting part is that even wealthy people have higher obesity rates in societies with high wealth disparity. The explanation is that high wealth disparity societies tend to be more stressful places to live with higher rates of violence, bullying and social conflict. All of this stress impacts the poor and wealthy alike. The body responds, as a survival mechanism, to stress by increasing fat reserves. This is particularly true for babies whose mothers experienced high rates of stress while pregnant, in which case the body becomes permanently set at fat reserve mode.
I came across another example offering support for egalitarianism. Some conservatives like to point out the fact that gays have higher rates of suicide, implying homosexuality is unnatural and inferior. But, of course, it’s rather convenient for conservatives to ignore their own complicity. A study showed that “Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights”. When one group is singled out and treated unequally, all people in that social environment will suffer the consequences.
The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.
The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.
Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
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In the discussion that motivated much of my thinking, one person was arguing against my arguing for the cultural significance of this North/South divide. She was playing the politically correct card of multiculturalism. Every culture is different, but it’s not about one culture being better than another. We just all need to get along. I’m fine with that argument as far as it goes. Still, the facts are the facts… whether or not they’re politically correct.
Anyway, I found it ironic that she was using a socially liberal argument to defend the socially conservative South. It’s the social conservatives who are always making the argument for cultural superiority (often in tandem with the argument that they are the “Real Americans”): American culture is superior to the rest of the world (especially socialist Europe), white culture is superior to black culture, etc. When social conservatives stop making this argument for cultural superiority, I’ll stop pointing out that socially liberal Northern culture is superior based on many different factors. Of course, I don’t actually think so simplisitically. As a liberal, I realize and accept that many cultural differences are just differences. But I’m also intellectually honest in admitting that not all cultures are equal on all measures.
Let me summarize. The North/South divide includes all of the following: ancestry, dialects, religion, poverty, wealth disparity, violent crime, STDs, teen pregnancy, IQ, education level, and on and on. Not all states perfectly fit this divide, but most of them do. The divide is stark and the pattern holds across diverse data. This North/South divide has existed at least since the Civil War and quite likely goes back to when the earliest immigrants arrived. I don’t claim to fully understand all of the possible reasons for this divide, but the correlations are obvious. Also, much of this data has been correlated in other countries as well:
‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany
The key indicator seems to be wealth disparity. Unsurprisingly, conservative ideology promotes the acceptance of wealth disparity and liberal ideology promotes the challenging of wealth disparity. Does the difference in ideology cause the difference in wealth disparity? Or vice versa? I don’t know. What I do know is that this question is at the heart of the problems Americans are dealing with. Wealth disparity has been growing in recent decades during which conservative ideology predominated. Mere coincidence? I don’t think so.
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Nonetheless, there are always a lot of diverse factors underlying the diverse data. My conclusions, therefore, are tentative.
For example, consider the high rates of violence in the South. What is the cause?
It’s true that, in general, warmer climates (i.e., Southern regions in the Northern Hemisphere) tend to have higher rates of violence. I guess high levels of heat tend to make people irritable and feisty.
Even so, the research done by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen (mentioned above in some of the quoted material) shows that the violence in the Southern US is caused by factors besides just irritatingly hot climate. I still wonder about this. I imagine other factors similar to climate could also have an impact on culture. I did notice that many Northern Europeans immigrated to the Northern US. It seems there might be a correlation of factors involved in why particular people develop particular cultures in particular regions and why particular people with particular cultures are attracted to particular regions.
It’s always easier to point out correlations than to determine causations. Nisbett’s and Cohen’s research is a good example of this.
A Matter of Respect
James D. Wright
In sum, Nisbett and Cohen make a strong case that the South is truly (not just accidentally) distinctive in its attitudes and behaviors concerning violence. Unfortunately, that does not necessarily tell us very much, if anything, about the ultimate source of the distinction. To say that the observed patterns reflect a generalized “culture of honor” restates but does not explain those patterns. If there is, indeed, a culture of honor in the South that lends itself to violence, where did it come from? And why is it uniquely Southern? Here Culture of Honor is rather thin and unpersuasive: “We believe that the southern culture of honor derives from the herding economy brought to the region by the earliest settlers and practiced by them for many decades thereafter.” Elsewhere the authors refer to the Scotch-Irish origins of the early South, the hard-scrabble herding economy of the era, and the “worldwide” association between herding economies and “concerns about honor and readiness to commit violence to conserve it.”
Nisbett and Cohen call this argument “the weakest part of our thesis,” with good reason. The implication is that Yankees of Scotch-Irish origins would be just as prone to violence as Southerners, which is not likely to be the case. This is not to suggest that the herding thesis is wrong, only that it seems rather a stretch as argued here. One would like to see evidence on the origins of the Southern culture of violence that is as persuasive as the evidence of its existence.
It also can be easier to determine what isn’t the cause than what is. What Nisbett and Cohen found was that the violence was lower in slave regions than in non-slave regions, in black populations than in white populations, and in cities than in small towns. Even poverty was ruled out as a cause of this high rate of Southern violence. When all factors are calculated, it’s specifically rural white Southerners who are most violent. Therefore, it would be unfair to blame all Southerners. As the above quote points out, we can’t prove that it can be explained by culture… but, then again, it’s hard to imagine what else could explain it.
It’s true that Scots-Irish are found elsewhere and yet these high rates of violence aren’t found elsewhere. However, maybe the cause is twofold. Maybe Scots-Irish culture only manifests this kind of violence when placed in the context of a larger class-based culture (i.e., the Southern culture largely created by the Cavalier aristocracy). As such, Scots-Irish maybe are perfectly peaceful people until provoked by some authoritarian aristocratic elite.
Still, this is just speculation.
As another example, I recently analyzed a study that showed metropolises in the North were more ‘segregated’ according to the authors definitions and methods of measurement. The study seemed problematic to me in that, the focus being narrow, the data was very limited and hence easily misinterpreted. It wasn’t clear to me that the pattern found by the researchers was in the real world data or merely in the way the authors spliced up the data.
That relates to the danger of my present attempt at interpreting the data. I don’t know all the complex details of all this diverse data and so I could be misinterpreting. I offer so many examples in the hope of decreasing the possibility that I’m cherrypicking data to fit my own biases and preconceptions. Any single data could be wrong or misleading, but a perceived pattern becomes more relevant when seen across many sets of data.
I’ve made a case for a pattern I’ve noticed, but it’s up to others to decide if my analysis of the data is valid. I won’t claim any absolute conclusions. I prefer following my curiosity rather than merely trying to prove my own preconceptions. I just find all of this fascinating, whatever it may mean. The kind of data I’ve presented seems to say a lot about American society, seems to show that real differences do exist. I find it sad that the mainstream media rarely investigates such issues. At best, it gets portrayed in terms of red vs blue during election campaigns. My point, however, is that what we think of red vs blue is based on (or, at least mired in) deeper cultural and demographic issues.
The personal is political, and the communal is political as well. We individually are formed by our social environment and we collectively shape that environment. But too often we get lost in the details of life and so don’t see the big picture. And too often we are so focused on our own views and our own lives that we don’t see the larger society we are a part of. Culture matters. Demographics is destiny.
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Just for the fun of it, let me throw out some other mapped data.
I should point out that, looking at various data, I noticed there often is a West/East divide as well. The US can be divided in many different ways depending on what data is emphasized and depending on how small of pieces one wants to divide the country.
The next map is a simplistic and amusing portrayal of the North/South divide. It’s a bit inaccurate. I’m mildly offended that my home state of Iowa is included as part of Jesusland. In the last 23 years (i.e., last 6 elections), Iowa has gone to all Democratic presidents except for once (2004) which apparently is the year this map is based on. I want to secede from Jesusland.
United States of Canada vs Jesusland
A recreation of the Jesusland map; the colors differ from the original, and state lines have been added (Some versions of the map include Alberta in Jesusland)
On a more serious note, many people have attempted to divide America into regions. For example:
A New 10 Regions of American Politics Map
A group called MassINC created a map called the “10 Regions in American Politics” in 2004 and has now released an updated version. Some of the regions such as the “Upper Coasts” and “El Norte” are the same, although some other regions have been shuffled around. The area called “Appalachia” in the 2004 report, for example, seems to have been expanded westward and renamed “Cumberland.”
2008 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics
2004 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics
Quilted North America
But a different book, Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” has already survived the test of time. First published in 1981, it outlined a model for the nine socioeconomic regions of the continent.
The map speaks for itself, but I’ll just make a couple of comments about its strengths and weakness and also offer a side note.
- Strengths – Quebec and Dixie are indeed very unique regions. Secession is part of their DNA’s.
- Weaknesses – “The Foundry” is very clumsy.
- Side Note – Dixie correlates with SEC Country and the Breadbasket with the Big 12, while the Foundary is roughly Big Ten territory (if it were shifted a bit west).
Garreau’s “Nine Nations”:
I asked Joel Kotkin, the master demographer, what he thought of Garreau’s model and he emailed this response: “Garreau got the MexAmerica vs. Ecotopia right on the money. The divides are racial, cultural, climactic. Quebec is a no-brainer.”
One very interesting analysis is the Patchwork Nation. I’m reading the book based on the data, Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel. They also have a website: Patchwork Nation. I like the data because it looks at specific communities and then compares/contrasts those specific communities. It’s much more detailed than just looking at regions, but still it shows that particular community types tend to be found more in particular regions.
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Here is some more unusual and random data.
Wine vs Beer States
Where people swear in the United States
(more swearing = brighter red)
What’s Cooking on Thanksgiving
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I’ve wandered far from my original starting point, but that is fine. The main thing that my mind has been revolving around is the issue of culture. To end this discussion, let me put this all in a new context: personality traits. I think psychology can be a less threatening way of thinking about social differences.
The United States of Mind
By Stephanie Simon
Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state’s dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states — an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah — produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they’re also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don’t much like socializing, the research suggests.
As for high-anxiety states, that group includes not just Type A New York and New Jersey, but also states stressed by poverty, such as West Virginia and Mississippi. As a group, these neurotic states tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.
[ . . . ] While the findings broadly uphold regional stereotypes, there are more than a few surprises. The flinty pragmatists of New England? They’re not as dutiful as they may seem, ranking at the bottom of the “conscientious” scale. High scores for openness to new ideas strongly correlates to liberal social values and Democratic voting habits. But three of the top ten “open” states — Nevada, Colorado and Virginia — traditionally vote Republican in presidential politics. (All three are prime battlegrounds this election.)
And what of the unexpected finding that North Dakota is the most outgoing state in the union? Yes, North Dakota, the same state memorialized years ago in the movie “Fargo” as a frozen wasteland of taciturn souls. Turns out you can be a laconic extrovert, at least in the world of psychology. The trait is defined in part by strong social networks and tight community bonds, which are characteristic of small towns across the Great Plains. (Though not, apparently, small towns in New England, which ranks quite low on the extraversion scale.)
[ . . . ] It’s also a wake-up call for proud residents of the great state of wherever — some of whom aren’t fond of the findings. Mr. Rentfrow said he’s had to help some of them feel better. Yes, North Dakota and Wyoming rank quite low in openness to new ideas. But why label them narrow-minded and insular? Say, instead, he suggests, that they value tradition. New York may be neurotic, but he offers another way to put it: “It’s a state in touch with its feelings.”
Or take a cue from Ted Ownby, who studies Southern culture at the University of Mississippi. His state came up highly neurotic — and he suspects his neighbors would be proud.
“Here in the home of William Faulkner,” Mr. Ownby said, “we take intense, almost perverse neuroticism as a sign of emotional depth.”
If you go to the above article, there is a detailed interactive map. I’ll share two sets of static maps below showing the same data in two different ways: with state boundaries and without state boundaries.
What I like about the psychological perspective is that it’s neutral toward specific cultural values. These personality traits are neither good nor bad. In fact, the research shows that beneficial and adverse factors are correlated to all the traits. What we define as good and bad is dependent on the values we’re judging by. Any trait brought to an extreme tends to be problematic.
There are a few things I noticed.
High Neuroticism is found in the North. Neuroticism correlates with a tendency to internalize psychological problems. So, those with low Neuroticism will tend to externalize their psychological problems. It will depend on the culture whether internalizing is considered good or bad. I was guessing that high Neuroticism would correlate to high rates of suicide, but it turns out that it’s the opposite:
Suicide, Big Five Personality Factors, and Depression at the American State Level
By Stewart J. H. McCann
Multiple regression analysis showed that neuroticism accounted for 32.0% and agreeableness another 16.3% of the variance in suicide rates when demographics and depression were controlled. Lower neuroticism and lower agreeableness were associated with higher suicide rates. Lower neuroticism and lower agreeableness may be important risk factors for completed suicide but not suicidal ideation or attempted suicide.
I was surprised by that data. Some have theorized that suicide and homicide are negatively correlated, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Northeast has low rates of both suicide and violence (I assume violence rates are representative of homicide rates). The areas in the East with high suicide rates include, once again, Appalachia. However, all of the East looks relatively good compared to the West (excluding California). I’m not sure what is going on with suicide in the West. Most of the West scores low on all the traits except for Openness (maybe that is a bad combination, I don’t know).
Neuroticism was the one trait that showed the most North/South divide. In the Eastern US, the Northeast seems to have the highest rates of Openness. That is no surprise as Openness correlates with such things as education and IQ. Two traits that most of the Midwest scores highly on are Agreeableness and Extraversion. Certain parts of the South actually rate highly on Agreeableness and other parts of the South not so much.
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Anyway, I don’t know how much psychological factors may or may not cause or be caused by other factors I’ve discussed. The main thing that is compelling is that the distinctions between regions can be objectively measured according to diverse data. There may be no single fundamental factor, just many factors creating patterns over time with some of these patterns reinforcing one another. Maybe ‘culture’ is just the term we use to label patterns that are more consistent and enduring.
Filed under: history, Psychology, religion, Sociopolitical | Tagged: Albion's Seed, America, ancestry, Civil War, demographics, immigrants, immigration, Iowa, map, midwest, North, North/South, Northeast, slavery, South, states, United States, US | 19 Comments »