Here is a video about a local shooting of a man in his home by an officer. You might think this would lead to outrage, but these Midwesterners in typical fashion are calm. Instead of outrage, they simply want resolution and understanding. That is the complete opposite reaction of what I’m used to seeing, especially in other parts of the country.
In my post about the North/South divide, I made an argument that there are cultural differences between Northern and Southern states. Specifically, I wrote about my experience of living in Iowa as compared to my experience living in South Carolina. One difference I noted was that Southerners tend to treat their family as their community and Northerners (or, at least, rural Midwesterners) tend to treat their communities as family.
In watching the above video, it jumped out to me how important ‘community’ was to these people. They explicitly talked about community rather than about individual people or individual families. This is an event they all are experiencing together. And it is an event that threatens the fabric of their community. To attack the officer for his actions would feel like an attack on the whole community.
These people may become more angry later if it turns out the shooting was unjustified or if the officer doesn’t act adequately remorseful. But, for now, their immediate concern is ensuring a sense of community is maintained.
This community-obsessed culture makes sense when you consider the history of the region. Small family farmers in these rural areas were extremely isolated early on when these towns first formed. They depended on and still depend on one another. This is the origin of Midwestern neighborliness.
It’s easy to forget communities like this still exist. This is the most clear example I’ve seen in a while.
It reminds me of the speech Zach Wahls gave. Zach is a native-born Iowan who was raised by gay parents. Some might find it strange that Iowa would be one of the first states to legalize gay marriage, but along with the community-centered culture there is an egalitarian sense of everyone deserving to be treated equal.
Zach naturally used a conservative defense of gay marriage. He didn’t portray his life as being special nor that he wanted special treatment. He didn’t portray himself as defending gay rights but as defending human rights. There is a conflict-avoidance in this attitude. It’s not us vs them but us together as a community (and society just being community on the largescale). Zach made it even more clear by stating that his family was a normal Iowan family and by describing himself as a hardworking Iowan. He said, “And if I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I’d make you very proud.”
Growing up in the Midwest, this way of viewing the world is a part of my sense of reality. It’s not that Iowa doesn’t have it’s own ideologues that like to fear-monger and stir up trouble, but such people just seem against the grain of the culture here. They are more the exception than the rule. I made this argument in another post. As evidence I quoted a Tea Party speaker to show how different the Tea Party is in Iowa as compared to other states:
Doug Burnett, the event’s first speaker, urged the crowd to stress the positive rather than the negative.
“Let’s watch our words. Thoughts become attitudes, attitudes become words and words become actions. I hear too often people saying, ‘I’m scared. I’m scared for my country. I’m scared for my way of life’ and I don’t doubt the sincerity of that sentiment, but I do question the accuracy of the words.
“Scared is negative. It’s powerless. It’s debilitating. Scared is what happens when you wake up in the middle of the night to that bump, right?
“We’re frustrated. We’re angry. We’re concerned and trust me, many times I look at our elected leaders and I see the boogey man, but we are the Tea Party and we aren’t scared of anything. Are you scared? We don’t do scared.
“Think of words that are positive and accurate, like ‘I’m engaged. I’m empowered. I’m moved to action.’”
A Tea Party that is positive instead of fear-mongering. Watching the mainstream media, it’s hard to believe such a thing exists… and yet it does exist, at least here in Iowa. Even the Tea Party in Iowa isn’t interested in dividing the community.
Whether a defender of gay rights or member of the Tea Party, Iowans seek a common vision to unite the community. When something threatens that sense of community, the response is to bring community closer together.
WASHINGTON—At a press conference Monday, visibly embarrassed leaders of the Republican National Committee acknowledged that their nonstop, effusive praise of Ronald Reagan has been wholly unintentional, admitting they somehow managed to confuse him with Dwight D. Eisenhower for years.
The GOP’s humiliating blunder was discovered last weekend by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who realized his party had been extolling “completely the wrong guy” after he watched the History Channel special Eisenhower: An American Portrait.
“When I heard about Eisenhower’s presidential accomplishments—holding down the national debt, keeping inflation in check, and fighting for balanced budgets—it hit me that we’d clearly gotten their names mixed up at some point,” Priebus told reporters. “I couldn’t believe we’d been associating terms like ‘visionary,’ ‘principled,’ and ‘bold’ with President Reagan. That wasn’t him at all—that was Ike.”
“We deeply regret misattributing such a distinguished and patriotic legacy to Mr. Reagan,” Priebus added. “We really screwed up.”
Following his discovery, Priebus directed RNC staffers to inform top Republicans of the error and explain that it was Eisenhower, not Reagan, who carefully managed the nation’s prosperity, warned citizens of the military-industrial complex’s growing influence, and led the country with a mix of firm resolve and humble compassion.
“Wait, you’re telling me Reagan advocated that trickle-down nonsense that was debunked years ago? That was Reagan?” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said upon hearing of the mistake. “I can’t believe I’ve been calling for a return to Reagan’s America. I feel like an asshole.”
According to sources, millions of younger Republicans have spent most of their lives viewing Reagan a stalwart of conservative principles, and many were “horrified” to learn that the former president illegally sold weapons to Iran, declared amnesty for 2.9 million illegal immigrants, costarred in a movie with a chimpanzee, funneled aid to Islamic militants in Afghanistan, and suffered from severe mental problems.
Romney claims he wishes he'd never aided helpless sick people.
BELMONT, MA—Though Mitt Romney is considered to be a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the national spotlight has forced him to repeatedly confront a major skeleton in his political closet: that as governor of Massachusetts he once tried to help poor, uninsured sick people.
Romney, who signed the state’s 2006 health care reform act, has said he “deeply regrets” giving people in poor physical and mental health the opportunity to seek medical attention, admitting that helping very sick people get better remains a dark cloud hovering over his political career, and his biggest obstacle to becoming president of the United States of America.
“It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them.”
~ John Adams, in reference to a representative assembly
(from Taking Back Our Republic)
America is getting more and more diverse—for instance, our Hispanic population grew by 43 percent in the past decade alone—but you’d never be able to tell it by looking at our Congress. Here’s what the House and Senate look like today, and what they would look like if they were demographically representative of our nation.
One thing not noted on this infographic is that, besides being nothing like America in terms of race, sex, or religion, our senators and representatives are also wholly different from most Americans in terms of wealth. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: The average American’s net worth is $96,000. But the average Senator’s net worth?$13.4 million. For House members that sum drops to “just” $5 million.
I noticed that you linked my blog post about conservative ideology and economics. I like all the other articles you linked. You’ve brought a lot together in this post. Some of your related articles remind me of various issues I’ve been thinking about.
First, Ron Paul said something the other day which was important. Despite disagreeing with domestic social spending (i.e., ‘entitlement’ spending), Ron Paul said it was a bad idea to start cutting with programs that are popular and that are designed to help people (their effectiveness and value being a separate issue). He sees there are bigger issues to worry about and that we should begin with military spending.
Every so often, Ron Paul says something that massively impresses me. This is such a moment. It’s a fact that a majority of Americans support domestic social spending and don’t want it cut. Ron Paul is demonstrating that he isn’t out of touch with the average American, that he puts people above merely seeking his own preferred ideology. He sees that military spending is the more central and much larger problem, a problem which most Americans agree about. Ron Paul is seeking to focus on an area of bipartisan agreement. That is an attitude I respect.
This is how I see it. Let’s do massive cuts on military. Let’s end our military empire. Let’s close down or otherwise lessen the funding for military bases in countries all around the world. Let’s end pointless wars that destroy lives and bring our troops home. Let’s end the profiteering of the military-industrial complex. After we do all that, then we can discuss issues of whether to cut domestic social spending or not, whether to give the rich tax cuts or tax hikes.
“I always find it funny that rightwingers think CNN is liberal. This guy is espousing social conservatism. I have no problem with that. His opinion seems reasonable, even if I don’t entirely agree. But please please don’t tell me this is liberal media.”
I understand the point he is making, but I think he is missing a distinction. In my post, I reference psychological research showing dogmatism is one trait which predicts conservatism. There is a major difference between dogmatic ideology and non-dogmatic ideology. The latter tends to be more open-ended and broadly inclusive, more open-minded and willing to compromise, more intellectually humble and open to change with new data. I’m not saying there is no value to dogmatic ideology. Conservatives would describe it as sticking to their principles and sometimes that is a good thing, but sometimes not.
Some commenters at the Krugman link brought up similar thoughts:
“I do think, however, there is a difference between having core values and being rooted in pragmatic approaches to realizing those values in the world of politics and believing in a “one-size-fits-all” doctrine that reduces complex problems to a single solution”
“Well, yes, but there is a way to tell the difference between the two. The ideologue will go on and on about there received truth without any reference to facts even when those facts clearly contradict what they’re saying.”
One other commenter brought up something which is relevant to what bothers me about ideology, especially in politics:
“In economics, what is referred to by the media as “ideology” is often just self- or class interest. In politics, reference to ideology is often an attempt to identify opponents with an enemy country or bloc – “socialism” still means identification with the Soviet Union/Russia or China to many people.
“Everyone may have an “ideology” at any given moment, but for many politicians the professed ideology can be changed according to partisan needs. Republicans pretend to be concerned now with the deficit, but this will change if a Republican is elected President. The current political debate is not ideological, it is a class conflict. One reason the plutocrats are winning is that those in the opposing class(es) think that they stand to benefit from the “ideology” supposedly adhered to by those who actually dominate government policy.
“The use of the term ideology should be restricted to principles that are consistently applied and not just based on material or political advantage. The media are not qualified to evaluate the validity or sincerity of “ideological” claims, but they can and should evaluate who stands to benefit from particular policies or actions.”
I’m less bothered by ideology, even dogmatic, as principles someone genuinely believes in (depending, of course, on the specific principles). The main problem is that principled/dogmatic ideology is easily used as rhetoric by politicians, pundits, and preachers who seek to manipulate people in order to achieve their ulterior motive. As a liberal, I prefer ideology loosely held because it counters and lessens this danger of rhetoric.
Another aspect of this problem is that rhetoric tends to win over facts which means principled/dogmatic ideology tends to win over ideology loosely held. Liberals, on the political battlefield, are at a disadvantage. This is how the far right has dominated the political narrative for decades. This is why fiscal conservatism has been the dominant ideology, even among Democratic politicians: neoliberalism, supply side economics, tax loopholes & tax havens for corporations, tax breaks & cuts especially for the rich, Two Santa Claus Theory, Starve the Beast, ‘free’ trade agreements, NAFTA, repeal of Glass-Steagall, deregulation, putting business friendly people at the head of regulatory agencies, cuts on domestic spending such as public services & infrastructure, attacks on entitlement spending & public education, union-busting justified by cost savings, and on and on and on.
Too often, fiscal conservatism is just a superficial facade for social conservatism. I wish politicians would just be upfront and honest, but I realize that is probably asking too much. Politics would be more interesting, maybe even inspiring, if we had real public debate about real issues… instead of endless ideology and manipulative rhetoric, cynical political spin and empty campaign promises… while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, while the debt grows and the problems are compounded.
Until recently, there hasn’t been as much public debate about many of these issues. Even now, Obama seems to be, according to his actions and not his rhetoric, more in agreement with conservatives than with liberals. This is an odd situation considering that Obama won the popular vote because he preached a progressive liberalism most Americans support. Polls show most Americans are more progressively liberal than apparently even most Democratic politicians. How can fair debate of real issues happen under these conditions? Why does the mainstream media often pay more attention to a liberal issue when a right-libertarian brings it up?
This is an interesting video, but not because I agree with this person’s views, especially not on economics (that is, to the extent I understand economics).
I have a different worldview. I’ve always been a liberal in a general sense. I’ve found insights from many social, religious and political systems of thought (anarchism, socialism and libertarianism; psychology, sociology and anthropology; Christianity, gnosticism and philosophy; Et Cetera), but I’ve never been drawn to identify with any single ideology… which to me seems like liberalism at its best (or, if you’re a conservative who hates relativism, liberalism at its worst).
I’ve never understood the ideological mindset, especially when dogmatic. I respect anyone who with self-awareness and intelligence can change their mind. As such, I have basic respect for how the guy in the video has been willing to change his opinions as discovered new info and new perspectives. Nonetheless, I don’t resonate with the life story he shares. I’ve come across a few people like him who started life off with an ideological version of Christianity and spent many years jumping from ideology to ideology hoping to finally find the one true ideology. It’s odd to me. Such a person sees the problems in the ideology they previously held, but they often don’t see the problem in the ideological mindset itself. This guy, however, does seem to have come to a point in his life where he is beginning to step back from the ideological mindset.
I’ve struggled with trying to understand the attraction to ideology. I’ve written about how ideology is more attractive to those with right-leaning worldviews and mentalities (Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism and The War on Democracy: a personal response). It apparently is rooted in the correlation between conservatism and thick boundary types, along with other psychological traits. An ideology is a thick boundary and becomes ever thicker the more dogmatic it is held.
Jost et al.’s (2003) meta-analysis conﬁrms that several psychological variables predict political conservatism. The list includes death anxiety; system instability; dogmatism; intolerance of ambiguity, low openness to experience, and uncertainty; need for order, closure, and negative integrative complexity; and fear of threat and loss of self-esteem.
As a liberal, I find something inherently repulsive about the ideological mindset. I’m sure this is the reason why liberal atheists and conservative theists are always at each other’s throats. There is just some irreconceivable difference between these worldviews, these attitudinal predispositions.
Looking beyond my own biases, I wonder about the positive results of the ideological mindset. I can see how such a mindset would be beneficial in a traditional society, but there does seem to be benefits in general. From the same above link:
Recent evidence indicates that some existing stereotypes are not supported by the available data. For example,Brooks (2006, 2008) reports that conservative sengage more than liberals in charitable activities and people on the political right are nearly twice as happy as those on the left. The work of Napier and Jost (2008) shows that con-servatives tend to be happier than liberals because of theirtendency tojustify the current state of affairs and because theyare less bothered by inequalities in the society.
It’s kind of humorous. Conservatives are less bothered by inequalities and yet more likely to be involved in charitable activities.
I think some factors are being conflated here. In the US, conservatism correlates with religiosity. Being a part of a well established social institution such as a church makes one more likely to be involved in charitable activities. If this factor were controlled for, the difference might disappear. To clarify this, a study would have to compare church-going conservatives with church-going liberals or compare non-religous conservatives with non-religious liberals.
However, it’s possible that dogmatic people are more attracted to religion. A study would be necessary to compare conservatives and liberals in different countries. In a non-religious country, are non-religious conservatives more likely to be involved in charitable activities?
My other complaint about this kind of data is that liberals give more money and time by way of government and political activism. Unlike conservatives, liberals are bothered by inequalities. Liberals spend more time involved in political activism that the liberals themselves would perceive as charitable. Also, liberals are more likely to work as a public servant for less money than they would in the private sector because they like the idea of personally sacrificing in order to work for the common good. Furthermore, liberal states give more money in federal taxes than they receive in federal benefits, whereas the opposite is true for conservative states.
For some reason, social scientists (and pollsters) often seem to use a conservative definition of charity when measuring charitable activities. Still, that doesn’t undermine the charity conservatives do, even if they only do it because their minister told them to or because they’re afraid of going to hell.
– – –
There is one criticism of liberalism in this video which I don’t know if it is generally true but I know is true in my own case. I have an analytical mind & so I’m sure I could learn about the complexities of economics, but I’ve never had much interest in it. As for systems of ideas, philosophy, theology & politics seem more relevant to my own life than economic theories. As for systems of facts, sociology, psychology & anthropology often seem more based in concrete facts than economic theories.
I’m not sure if my liberal mindset has anything to do with my bias against or at least disinterest in economics. I’ve never understood the type of conservative, right-libertarian or anarcho-capitalist who sees all the world through economics. I don’t dismiss economics. It just seems like one small piece in a big puzzle. I wish I knew more about economics in the way I wish I knew more about anything and everything. But I don’t want to see the world through any single lense.
Still, it is a curious observation that liberals might have less interest or understanding of economics. Or. to be more specific, that a conservative would perceive liberals this way. I can’t see any fundamental reason that would make a liberal less capable of understanding economics.
It could be just that the two groups tend to understand economics differently. I think this relates to the ideological differences found in higher education.
Unlike the relationship between area of study and political stance with respect to social issues, a significant effect of area of study code group on self-rating of political stance regarding economic issues was found. Based on the post-hoc comparison, business and economics students were found to be significantly less economically liberal than the students in the biological/related lab sciences, social sciences and fine arts students.
Interesting. Business and economic students tend to be more fiscally conservative. I’d guess that business and economic professors, teacher assistants, and textbook writers also are more fiscally conservative.
Why is this the case?
A possible explanation for this could be that, because business students often encounter more economic problems in their curriculum than those studying other concentrations, their increased knowledge of the effects of economic issues could make them act more conservatively when considering these issues. Another explanation could be explained by the self selection theory; when students enter the university they have their political views and select their major by finding the one whose views most closely matches their own.
Does this mean that economically well informed people are more fiscally conservative for the very reason of their being economically well informed? Or is it just that business and economic departments are dominated by fiscal conservatives? Considering that fiscal conservatives have dominated American society since Reagan, it would seem that the latter possibility is more likely.
This could be tested by finding a school that has fiscally liberal business and economic departments. Assuming such things exist in this post-Reagan era: Would a fiscally liberal curriculum attract fiscal liberals? Or is business and economics inherently attractive to fiscal conservatives no matter what the bias? I could make an argument for the latter.
Conservatism as a psychological trait predisposes one to being more more focused in a thick boundary sense and predisposes one to be attracted to ideology (i.e., systematized ideas and beliefs). Economics is a very theoretical field, more coldly pragmatic. Unlike psychology or physics, economics seems to be less grounded in researched facts because it’s very difficult to study large systems involving so many factors (individual humans, cultures, politics, environment, international influences, etc). An economic theory is more pure, more absolute than a psychological theory. Many conservatives, especially fiscal conservatives, are suspicious of scientific research and most suspicious of social science research. Conservatives are attracted to economic theory for the very reason that it seems above all the messy subjective factors, whereas liberals love all the messy subjective factors.
Contemporary economics, as it is taught and practiced, fits the conservative worldview. But that isn’t to say that is the only or best way economics could be taught and practiced.
Additionally, I see one major problem that no one ever deals with. What gets called fiscal conservatism doesn’t seem very conservative. The meaning of conservative is to conserve, to maintain social order, to uphold institutions of authority, to resist radical change. Accordingly, what Americans call fiscal conservatism seems radically liberal in essence.
Fiscal conservatism in the form of laissez-faire economics is extremely unstable with booms and busts and with a wide variety of deregulation fiascoes.
Fiscal conservatism in the form of supply side economics (trickle down, Reaganomics) has led to increasing poverty and wealth disparity which also creates an unstable society with a lot of social problems.
Fiscal conservatism as a minarchism that sees military as the only role for government has undermined the government’s ability to regulate in order to maintain economic order and has created massive debt with military spending.
If fiscal conservatives are more well informed about economics, why has fiscal conservatism failed so massively at the very time when it’s held the most influence over the entire economic system of the US and of the world? And why do fiscally liberal countries like Germany have such strong economies?
If fiscal conservatives understand economics better, why are most liberal states economically better off than most conservative states? And why do liberals put more priority on balancing the budget deficit than any other demographic, are more willing to raise taxes and cut major expenditures to balance the budget?
One interesting finding of this study was that, for each code group, the mean rating for political stance with respect to economic issues for each group was less liberal than their mean rating of political stance with respect to social issues, with the exception of the fine arts group, whose mean ratings did not differ. This means that, with the exception of the fine arts group, all code groups on average reported that they were less liberal economically than socially. This result is consistent with the findings of Hodgkinson and Innes (2001) in which all participants gave responses that were less pro-environmental when the condition involved an economic/environmental tradeoff. This implies that students in most areas of study become less liberal when an economic policy is in question. A possible explanation for this could be that people feel more directly affected by economic issues than they do by social issues, leading them to be more conservative in their perception because it is more likely to affect them. For example, having a neighbor who loses their job does not directly affect you, because your neighbor not having a job does not change your own circumstance. Yet, if a neighbor’s house is foreclosed on, this directly affects the person because it in turn decreases the value of their house and a person will more likely take greater caution in dealing with this issue than the previous one.
This once again shows the confusion in defining fiscal conservatism (and conservatism in general). What is conservative about helping oneself at the cost of others? What is conservative about destroying (i.e., not conserving) the environment? What is conservative about forcing future generations to deal with problems that we are creating now? What is conservative about putting greed and profit, ambition and hyper-individualism above all other values and issues?
Part of the problem is there are very few people putting economic issues in fiscally liberal terms. And Americans are notoriously uninformed and misinformed about social issues such as related to economic inequality and about scientific issues such as environmental science. Contemporary economics (along with contemporary politics, media, culture, etc) is dominated by a fiscally conservative worldview which has become so ingrained in our society that it seems like commonsense, that it seems like pragmatic ‘reality’.
It’s not surprising that, when presented with an issue in a fiscally conservative framework, many people give fiscally conservative responses. But that probably doesn’t say anything about the merits of fiscal conservatism. Nor does that probably say anything about the economic learnedness of those espousing fiscal conservatism.
To counter the conservative ideology, I’ll end this post with a video series that presents the argument for the fiscally liberal worldview.
I just noticed a reference to David Sirota’s recent book, Back to Our Future. It looks interesting. After reading some reviews and hearing some interviews, I decided to purchase the book on my Kindle. So far, I’ve only read the beginning and skimmed later sections. This post is more about my initial response, but it’s a very thorough initial response.
To put it simply, this book provides analysis of 80s culture’s impact on politics and how that impact continues.
•Atari: Best-selling videos Missile Command, Combat and Space Invaders sold techno-militarism to a generation of future drone pilots.
•Rambo: Embittered vet refought America’s wars and “gets to win” this time.
•Ghostbusters: The movie’s lesson: When government fails, these private security contractors saved us from interdimensional “terrorists.”
•World Wrestling Federation: Theatro-sport in which American good guys like Sgt. Slaughter body slammed foreign bad guys like the Iron Sheik.
•Mr. T: No matter what character this Mohawk-wearing strongman played, he represented racial stereotyping and threw it back in our faces.
•The Cosby Show: The pre-Obama image of the “post-racial” brand, the Huxtables were the first black family to dominate TV.
•Ferris Bueller: John Hughes’ cheeky truant glorified “going rogue” years before Sarah Palin.
•Air Jordans: Best-selling sneakers pushed the idea that we can each be superstars if we “just do it.”
•The Yuppie: Upwardly mobile wealth-obsessed Alex P. Keatons rejected ’60s idealism for modern materialism.
•“Greed is Good”: Gordon Gekko’s line from Wall Street became the decade’s most famous phrase — and its most enduring ethos.
– – –
My discovering this book was serendipitous. I happened upon a reference to it the other night. A few hours prior, while at work, I had been talking to a coworker about all things apocalyptic, the Japanese nuclear plant problems being the starting point of the conversation. She mentioned something about a tv show and I was reminded of how many post-apocalyptic movies there were in the 1980s when I was a child. Between that and evil children movies, a child of the 80s was almost inevitably warped in the head.
I’m a child of the ’80s, and I was deeply impacted by that decade and that pop culture — and for many reasons, that pop culture is back in a lot of ways. So I started thinking about why it’s back — and some of it is Hollywood laziness, some of it is coincidence — but it’s really kind of eerie, too, with the crisis at the Japanese nuclear power plant happening; you know, the last time that kind of thing was happening was at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in the ’80s. So there’s a real zeitgeist of the ’80s returning.
I don’t know that Sirota discusses the post-apocalyptic genre, but it seems to fit in with his overall analysis. The nuclear accidents back then made nuclear apocalypse an increasingly real possibility which was imaginatively portrayed in various entertainment media. As a GenXer born in 1975 (the same year Sirota was born), I’m well aware of the impact of 80s culture.
Sirota takes this a step further and says this impact is continuing as if the 80s somehow stunted America’s natural development. The country was going in one direction with the civil rights movement, environmentalism and other things, but then the 80s came and a different attitude took over: hyper-individualism, capitalist greed, paranoia of government, aggressive militarism, ultra-nationalism, racial fear-mongering, class war, culture war, radicalization of religion, etc. Americans haven’t yet collectively recovered from the trauma of the 80s. There were the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, and it’s been the 80s ever since. An endless nightmare as if Reagan were still president.
[T]he ’80s speak to us today for one simple reason: “Because it’s still the ’80s. The calendar doesn’t say ’80s, but we’re still looking through an ’80s mind-set.” Think Charlie Sheen. Think Lehman Brothers. Think McMansions.
As William Faulkner said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
The ’80s set the stage for our lives today, Sirota says, and he explains it best in his introduction: “Almost every major cultural touchstone is rooted in the ’80s. … The Sopranos was an update of an ’80s Scorsese flick (Raging Bull and later Goodfellas).The Wire was Baltimore’s own Colors. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a Los Angeles-set Seinfeld. American Idol is Star Search.” And so on.
[ . . . ] “The reason you see so many remakes is not just because nostalgia resonates,” Sirota says, “but because (’80s movies) are still culturally relevant.”
Part of his argument relates to his realization that most people aren’t political at all, or rather don’t consciously identify as political, don’t consciously think out their political views. And, even those who are consciously political as adults, usually didn’t identify as being political when growing up. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that everyone has political views. Even children, when asked, can offer views on political issues. We all gain our political views from somewhere. Sirota thinks that pop culture has a greater impact on our minds and worldviews than we normally realize. He even goes so far as to see it playing a role of pseudo-propaganda in some cases and outright propaganda in other cases. This can be seen to some extent as part of the normal enculturation process, but the 80s were anything other than normal… and, in the process, a new norm was created for American society.
So I’d been reading some social research, and one thing that’s been coming up is that pop culture and entertainment — especially for children — is just as formative to how we see the world as news; as children, this entertainment that’s packaged as non-political, it can be as reality-shaping as reality is.
All the buzz in the entertainment/tech world about the blockbuster new video game Homefront brings back memories of the 1984 film Red Dawn — and rightly so. The creator of Homefront is none other than John Milius, the writer/director of the 1984 film that later became the deliberate namesake of the most famous operation in today’s Iraq War. But it should also bring back memories of the larger militarist themes that continue to define our entertainment culture — themes that ultimately bring up the direct but little-examined connections between the Pentagon and the entertainment industry. It is the legacy of those connections, first intensified in the 1980s, that continue to embed militarism in seemingly non-political products like video games and action movies.
As I show in , much of the video game industry was subsidized by the military and military contractors, and many of the earliest games were consequently martial in thrust. Think: Atari Combat and Missile Command, which then grew into a larger video game world that, as one Konami executive said in 1988, “takes anything remotely in the news and makes it a game.” You could see that in Nintendo’s Iran-Contra era game Contra just as you can see it in today’s hits like Call of Duty. And in almost each of these games, the ideology of militarism (i.e. military action solving all problems) is reiterated and reinforced.
Same thing when it comes to the Pentagon-Hollywood relationship since the 1980s — only in that case, we’re now seeing military officials quite literally line-editing scripts to make them more pro-military.
– – –
Several points stand out to me in Sirota’s analysis.
First, Sirota argues that the 80s was when violence became normalized. Violence became a central part of our collective psyche: movies, video games, etc. Part of this had to do with the Vietnam War, the first major military loss that shook America’s collective confidence and righteous nationalism. Americans had internalized the violence from the Vietnam War footage and were now trying to come to terms with the sense of national failure that came after the withdrawl from Vietnam. It was maybe something like a collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sirota does mention the Vietnam War. He talks about the explanations given such as what he calls the “hands tied behind their backs” myth. I guess the idea was that if the soldiers weren’t held back, they could’ve demonstrated some real violence that would’ve forced the enemy into submission.
Second, the obsession with violence was inseparable from the obsession with hyper-individualism. This partly was represented by fear and hatred of government, the belief that the government can’t do anything right, that the government is the enemy of the people, of local governance, the enemy of communities, of religions, of capitalism, the enemy of all that is good. In general, all collective action and activism was looked upon with suspicion. Nothing good could come from people working together cooperatively toward the common good. Only individuals (or else individuals working together for the purpose of profit, i.e., private contractors: The A-Team, Ghostbusters, etc) could solve problems. People couldn’t rely on government, the FBI, or the police to solve their problems… and, so, people instead had to hope for a hero figure to come to town. And it was considered admirable when things got done, even if it meant breaking laws and committing violence. This hero worship also led to our culture of idolizing celebrity and wealth (a celebritocracy borne out of a distorted vision of meritocracy).
“A lot of the changes that happened (in the ’80s) weren’t good,” Sirota admits. “The deification of celebrity, for instance. The individual. Michael Jordan could soar above all the rest. It wasn’t about the team anymore. That wasn’t so good.”
[ . . . ] “It was the outlaw with morals. The guy working on the inside for the common good,” Sirota says. He says that trend translated to sports, pointing to a poster of bad-boy Barkley. “He broke the rules but he was a good guy.”
As for ’80s greed, the examples are endless both then and today.
He cites Michael J. Fox’s The Secret of My Success (1987) as glorifying the ’80s goal of “working your way up to huge sums of wealth.”
But another 1987 movie perhaps summed up the era best. Wall Street (which co-starred Sheen) lives on because of three famous words uttered by Michael Douglas: “Greed … is good.” The sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, was released last year. Still relevant. Bernie Madoff, anyone?
“The young of the ’80s didn’t want to save the world,” Sirota says. “They wanted to get rich. It became the norm, and it’s the norm today.”
Third, Sirota explains how all of this was disconnected from reality. It had become a collective myth that couldn’t be questioned. He gave some examples about the enemies the media and government demonized during the 80s.
The US government was using propaganda about the Godless commies for the purpose of justifying the building up of the military-industrial complex, but the US government had plenty of data in their own reports that the Soviet Union was technologically inferior by far and was destroying itself trying to keep up with US technological advancement. The US government knew the commies were no real threat, but the myth of a powerful enemy was necessary and desired. To have a powerful enemy, gives a nation a sense of meaning and purpose even if it’s an utter lie.
The other example shows how lies when repeated enough become collective reality. On some level, I suspect most Americans were aware that the commies couldn’t be used as a scapegoat forever. The Cold War was drawing to a close and so the search for a new great enemy was already beginning. The new enemy to be feared was Islamic terrorists (which was already at that time starting to become the new standard enemy in American entertainment).
In our fighting the commies, we had at times aligned with radical Islamic fundamentalists and theocrats. I think many people realized that this would eventually lead to blowback, that our allies once we were finished using them would turn against us. More importantly, we just needed an enemy. If we had to create that enemy by funding, training and arming radical Islamic fundamentalists, by overthrowing democratic governments and supporting oppressive regimes in the Middle East, then so be it. Creating enemies is no easy task. It takes a lot of money and time, a lot of effort and planning, a lot of destruction and loss of life. But what the 80s have taught us is that endlessly fighting enemies of our own creation is something worth fighting for.
– – –
Here is another related factor that Sirota may or may not touch upon. The attitude of seeking enemies was an all-encompassing way of making sense of the world and hence of making public policies.
Worst of all, the demented paranoia of the 80s even led to the American people becoming the enemy. There was evidence of this mentality from earlier times such as with COINTELPRO from the decades prior, but the 80s brought it to a whole new level. COINTELPRO only targeted specific groups. The War on Drugs, however, targeted the entire American population. In many ways, it was worse than even McCarthyism. The War on Drugs has done more damage than probably any other public policy in American history. I doubt there is any US policy that has led to more people being imprisoned, more people having their lives destroyed, more increase in violence, more increase in a corporatist elite profiting off of the suffering of others, more targeting of the poor and minorities. My God, even Prohibition wasn’t this damaging. The War on Drugs has been going on for decades which has only led to an increase in drug use and drug-related violence. Now, the War on Terror (funded by the black market for drugs) has ratcheted up even further this paranoid oppression and authoritarian fear-mongering.
The 80s created a schizophrenic mentality. The government was the enemy and yet the government was necessary to fight the supposed even greater enemy of commies, terrorists, and drug dealers. The government was the enemy and yet the government was necessary to fight the enemy that is hiding within. Any American potentially might be a commie, a terrorist, or a druggy (or a gangsta, or a welfare queen, or an illegal alien, or an eco-terrorist, or a radical liberal). Everyone potentially was an enemy. No one could be trusted. It was everyone against everyone. A society of trust and cooperation was a thing of the past. The role of the government in helping average Americans was seen as evil and the power of the government to hurt the enemy was seen as good.
So, spending on social services and infrastructure (what conservatives like to call socialism) were reduced as the military-industrial complex (along with the alphabet soup agencies) continued to grow (along with the debt). Both fiscal and social conservatism were ironically used as part of the propaganda to increase the power of the ruling corporatist elite. Fiscal conservatism!?! Give me a fucking break! Neocons like Reagan believed in fiscal conservatism in the same way a pedophile priest believes in God. Even if their belief is genuine and earnest, those negatively effected would hardly find much comfort. I don’t know if a laissez-faire ideology correlates to reality any more than Christian theology. What I do know is real are the impacts that those who believe in such things have on the real world and on real people. And the enduring results of 80s culture of greed ain’t pretty.
– – –
What appeals to me about David Sirota’s view is that he is putting this all in the context of the larger history of the 20th century. The 80s concretized a particular worldview of culture war that continues to this day, and it continues to be grounded in mainstream culture. He explains this well in giving a summary about his book:
The book really has four basic sections. There’s a section about how the 1980s redefined our memories and our ideas of the 1950s and the 1960s, basically by remaking our memories of the 1950s into this idyllic time of calm and prosperity, and remaking the 60s into things that are bad, things like chaos and assassination — and so that ’50s vs 60s battle is still something that influences groups like the Tea Party and so forth, and it really divides along political lines.
[ . . . ] You know, the 1980s really was the time when there was this conflation between entertainment and real — Reagan was constantly referencing movies and pop culture in his speeches; you know, he’d been an actor himself. And so people might say, oh, The A Team wasn’t a big deal, Dukes of Hazzard wasn’t a big deal — but The A-Team, this one one of the highest rated shows for preteens, this show with the premise of four, you know, private contractors on the lam from a government that can’t do anything right. This stuff has a real impact on how you think about your world.
“You know what’s wrong with parents today? They still think they can change the world.”
With all the angry right-wingers, fear-mongering fundies and cold-hearted neocons these days, it’s hard to remember there was a time when a Republican could be portrayed as being a genuinely kind, lovable character. With all the horrifying results of trickle down economics, all the rampant crony capitalism following deregulation and all the cynical class war against the working class, it’s hard to imagine that fiscal conservatism once upon a time could’ve been shown as almost quaintly charming in it’s innocent naivette. It’s understandable that many at that time were persuaded, inspired even, by Michael J. Fox’s role:
The world has changed. The contemporary equivalent of Alex P. Keaton would be Eric Cartman from South Park. In the episode “Die, Hippie, Die”, Cartman sees hippies as dangerous vermin to be exterminated.
“Every time one of these ex-hippies comes prancing in from yesteryear, we gotta get out the love beads and pretend we care about people.”
~ Alex P. Keaton
“For the past several days I’ve been noticing a steep rise in the number of hippies coming to town.… I know hippies. I’ve hated them all my life. I’ve kept this town free of hippies on my own since I was five and a half. But I can’t contain them on my own anymore. We have to do something, fast!”
~ Eric Cartman
Alex as the charming fiscal conservative has morphed into Cartman the not-so-charming bigoted conservative. And yet both capture some basic essence of the desire of many contemporary conservatives to rebel against society (a corrupt, lazy and generally inferior society that deserves being rebelled against).
The radicalization of the conservative movement is one of the oddest phenomena in US history. There were always radical elements in American society, but something about Goldwater’s campaign allowed the radicals to take over the entire conservative movement. Now we have Cartman-like pundits on the radio and on cable. They still rail against mainstream culture despite having become so much apart of mainstream culture that they now help to shape it. That, of course, doesn’t stop them from acting like victims as if hippies were somehow still a dominant force. The right-wing mindset is forever stuck in the past which blinds them to the present. To the right-winger, Cartman’s paranoia is the reality they live in.
Alex P. Keaton continues to be relevant more than a couple decades after Family Ties ended. Having gained power, the conservatives inspired by the likes of Alex may now feel disgruntled by their failure which has inevitably followed from their success. But that doesn’t stop them from believing, doesn’t give them pause, doesn’t cause them to doubt their ideology. It remains relevant because the True Believers keep it relevant:
Still, it’s tempting to conclude that Keaton’s near-iconic status requires more explanation. Last summer in the New Republic, Rick Perlstein, the left-leaning author of a book on Barry Goldwater, argued that, even now, after years of Republican rule, the “culture of conservatives still insists that it is being hemmed in on every side.” Having been “shaped in another era [the mid-1960s], one in which conservatives felt marginal and beleaguered,” conservative culture—Perlstein had in mind everything from “Goldwater kitsch” to Fox News—still feeds on this antagonism, reflecting a sense that righteousness is always at odds with the decadent mainstream.
Alex P. Keaton fits this vision perfectly. Throughout the show’s run, he was on his own: His parents were liberal, his sister was a ditz, and his one conservative ally, Uncle Ned, was a fugitive and then a drunk. Still, he persevered.
Conservatives nowadays have plenty of Uncle Neds who may seem like frauds and failures to those who don’t share their capitalistic idealism. Still, conservatives persevere.
– – –
Not only do they persevere, their becoming disgruntled has made them even more rabidly motivated. And big money has given their minority voice a big megaphone. This is what the Tea Party is or has become, arguments aside about how it began. Tea Party leaders and icons, such as Beck and Palin, represent this tendency toward nostalgia that Sirota writes about (Back to Our Future, pp. 27-8):
Now, during the Obama presidency, the Tea Party opposition is an exact analogue to the Reagan vanguard, all the way down to the latter-day roots of its very name—in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the The New York Times labeled what were then the first contemporary antigovernment/antitax revolts “modern Boston Tea Parties.” Not surprisingly, the goal of today’s Tea Party protesters is a return to the politics of the fifties-worshiping, sixties-bashing 1980s.
Tea Party protesters and their leaders in the conservative movement acknowledge this intrinsically in their choice of language and extrinsically in their most unfiltered declarations. For example, an essay posted on the website of Freedom Works, the organization that sponsors Tea Party demonstrations, says protesters are enraged by “the sense that the country that they grew up in is slipping away right before their eyes.”
[ . . . ] Glenn Beck, the Tea Party’s media field general, says it is about “real outrage from real people who just want their country back”—and he’s very clear that “back” means before The Sixties™. In one recent diatribe, Beck praised Joe McCarthy for “shin[ing] the spotlight on the Communist Party” in the 1950s. In another, he insisted “fifty years ago people felt happier” than they do today because today “we have less God,” prompting his guest to agree by saying, “Something happened in the 1950s where everything went down … that’s when they started taking God”—“they” being the hippies, “God” presumably being a reference to mid-twentieth-century courts barring prayer in school.
This kind of nostalgia now slashes its way through today’s politics and policy debates, and its lack of connection to specific issues betrays its eighties-crafted anchor in intergenerational conflict.
[ . . . ] “It’s kind of a time for another Eisenhower,” Bob Dole told Politico in a discussion about 2012 presidential candidates.
The language—“back,” “real people,” “deviating from,” “slipping away,” “the way it was,” “different country than I grew up in,” “legacy,” “better time”—underscores the fierce yearning for a fantastical authenticity and conformity of old-time fifties America, sans the real-world downsides like lynch mobs, religious bigotry, burning crosses, chauvinism, union-busting, and smokestack pollution that plagued the mid-twentieth century. Whether or not Tea Party leaders are specifically pointing to the actual 1950s is less important than that the broader movement is advocating that bigger, 1980s-manufactured concept of The Fifties™.
The tragedy, of course, is the elimination of the kind of moderate Republicanism that once played a pivotal political, cultural, and legislative role in the real 1950s and 1960s. Conservatives today accept no compromise positions on taxes, national security, social issues, or anything else, because to Republican leaders, conceding such middle ground is akin to aiding and abetting the hippies—an unthinkable proposition, but not just to them.
That passage caught my attention. I’ve been thinking about the Tea Party for quite a while now. Last year I started to write a post about the documentary Generation Zero. The documentary created quite a buzz at the time (at least, on Fox News), but it is mostly unknown outside of the Tea Party crowd. I only heard about it because of a blog I follow which focuses on the topic of generations. The documentary is based on the generation theory of Strauss and Howe.
I never finished writing my post about Generation Zero. I felt like I was missing some element to bring my thoughts together. Sirota’s analysis may be that missing element. It wasn’t a bad documentary per se. However, it did fall into this mythology of everything wrong with America is the fault of the hippies.
Sirota is correct that the nostalgic worship of The Fifties has become popular again. And Sirota is correct that this nostalgia is disconnected from reality, from the actual history of the 50s. John Oliver of The Daily Show did an awesome clip (Even Better Than the Real Thing) which utterly lambasted this naive vision of the past that is favored by right-wingers.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with looking for the positive in the past. But one can’t learn from the past by turning it into a Hallmark movie or a Norman Rockwell painting. One particular detail that caught my attention in the above passage is Bob Dole’s saying that, “It’s kind of a time for another Eisenhower”. If only Republicans were genuine about their reverence for the good ol’ days, many liberals would be more than happy to cooperate. In the good ol’ days of the first half of the 20th century, liberalism was triuphant and politicians were usually unwilling to publicly denounce liberals for fear of their political careers being destroyed by doing so. As Eric Alterman pointed out in his book Why We’re Liberals (p. 4):
It may shocking to some to discover that for much of the past century, the term liberal suggested, in the words of historian John Lukacs, “generosity nay, magnanimity; not only breadth of a mind but strength of soul.” A liberal was someone “free from narrow prejudice,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Even the enemies of liberalism sought legitimacy within it. In 1960, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published an article by the philosopher Charles Frankel in which he observed that it would be difficult to locate a single major figure in American politics who could not find a favorable remark or two about American liberalism. Indeed, he wrote, “Anyone who today identifies himself as an unmitigated opponent of liberalism…cannot aspire to influence on the national political scene.” Frankel noted that even politicians who indulged in attacks on “liberals” were usually sufficiently cautious in their criticism to attach qualifiers to the word, lest they be accused of antiliberalism themselves. Southern conservatives, for instance, complained about “Northern liberals,” often insisting that they themselves were liberals in matters of social welfare. Even Joe McCarthy usually restricted himself to attacking “phony liberals,” leaving open the inference, as Frankel put it, “that he had nothing against genuine liberals, if only he could find one.”20 Later the same year, “Mr. Republican,” Senator Robert A. Taft, claimed the liberal label for himself, stating—accurately, as it happens—that he was in reality “an old-fashioned liberal.”21 The party’s successful 1952 presidential candidate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was also on board: “To be fully effective,” Ike explained, “we need in Washington liberal and experienced members of Congress.”22 As late as 1968, voters heard this moving tribute to the virtues of liberalism: “Let me give you a definition of the word ‘liberal.’…Franklin D. Roosevelt once said…It is a wonderful definition, and I agree with him. ‘A liberal is a man who wants to build bridges over the chasms that separate humanity from a better life.’” The speaker? That famous liberal presidential candidate: Richard Milhous Nixon.
Eisenhower was more progressively liberal than most Democratic politicians are today. So, these right-wingers aren’t being genuine when they reference the past as if, prior to the hippies, all of American society was ruled by the far right. Today’s Republicans, unlike Eisenhower, aren’t moderate about anything. Moderate Republicans are an endangered species. How can the right-wing loons of today bring up Eisenhower’s name when the right-wing loons back then thought Eisenhower was a commie (and mainstream Republicans back then thought such right-wingers were radicals and extremists). You’d be hard pressed to find even a self-identified liberal in contemporary mainstream politics who would make the type of statements Eisenhower made such as (Letter to Edgar Newton Eisenhower, November 8, 1954):
“You keep harping on the Constitution; I should like to point out that the meaning of the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is. Consequently no powers are exercised by the Federal government except where such exercise is approved by the Supreme Court (lawyers) of the land.
“I admit that the Supreme Court has in the past made certain decisions in this general field that have been astonishing to me. A recent case in point was the decision in the Phillips case. Others, and older ones, involved “interstate commerce.” But until some future Supreme Court decision denies the right and responsibility of the Federal government to do certain things, you cannot possibly remove them from the political activities of the Federal government.
“Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this–in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
“[ . . . ] I assure you that you have more reason, based on sixty-four years of contact, to say this than you do to make the bland assumption that I am surrounded by a group of Machiavellian characters who are seeking the downfall of the United States and the ascendancy of socialism and communism in the world. Incidentally, I notice that everybody seems to be a great Constitutionalist until his idea of what the Constitution ought to do is violated–then he suddenly becomes very strong for amendments or some peculiar and individualistic interpretation of his own.“
– – –
So, what exactly are conservatives today reminiscing about? Where did they get their revisionist history from?
Sirota argues that much of this revisionist history and 50s mythologizing came from the 80s. That is the origin of the problem we now face. The 80s is the source of much revisionist history because the 80s is the point where the country started heading back toward some of the worst elements of the past. An example of this is how bigotry was championed in the 80s and was put in deceptive packaging to make it more socially acceptable. This racism has been disguised in the language of culture war and class war, but the underlying racism is obvious for anyone who has their eyes open. Most recently and most obviously, there has been a resurgence of this racism which can be found in the Tea Party. As Sirota wrote in his book (p. 212):
In light of the blitz, to blame Obama for seeking “to transcend, if not avoid, the issue of race” is to yet again avoid blaming the real culprit: the white America that since the 1980s demands reticence on race from all black public figures as the price of public support. Sure, as a purely tactical matter, you can credibly argue that Obama’s Cosby-esque deal with white America is a self-defeating Faustian bargain. Survey data show roughly six in ten whites openly admit to believing in at least one bigoted stereotype, and a recent study showed that when asked about health care legislation, a significant number of whites expressed less support for the exact same bill if it was coming from President Obama rather than from a white Democratic president. A black leader who tries to circumnavigate that intense bigotry by avoiding race may be emboldening the bigotry inevitably coming his way. Similarly, American politics is increasingly steered by a largely white Tea Party movement whose supporters are, according to polls, disproportionately motivated by racial resentment. An African American leader who goes out of his way to downplay that right-wing racism to the point of rebuking former president Jimmy Carter for criticizing it—well, that only helps the Tea Party opposition play its duplicitous dog-whistle games.
I was already aware of this. I have a post about the study done where Tea Party supporters admitted to having racially prejudiced views. Of course, this is nothing new… but I guess that is why it’s so disheartening. One of Sirota’s basic points is how we as a nation are atavistically mired in our own dark past. We are stuck in this manner because the distorted 50s mythology has appealed to what has been a white majority in this country, and the appeal becomes stronger as whites increasingly lose their majority status. In the words of Sirota from the article, “The Motto of Mad Men”:
As one tea party leader told The New York Times: “Things we had in the ’50s were better.”
To the tea party demographic, this certainly rings true. Yes, in apartheid America circa 1950, rich white males were more socially and economically privileged relative to other groups than they are even now. Of course, for those least likely to support the tea party—read: minorities—the ’50s were, ahem, not so great, considering the decade’s brutal intensification of Jim Crow.
But then, that’s the marketing virtuosity of the “I Want My Country Back” slogan. A motto that would be called treasonous if uttered by throngs of blacks, Latinos or Native Americans has been deftly sculpted by conservatives into an accepted clarion call for white power. Cloaked in the proud patois of patriotism and protest, the refrain has become a dog whistle to a Caucasian population that feels threatened by impending demographic and public policy changes.
I’m not sure how many people understand the way this came about. I’ve met many conservatives who seem to have a dim awareness that the world was once different when they criticize the Democratic Party as being the party of racists because it used to have it’s stronghold in the old KKK South. What conservatives forget, in making this criticism, is that the Republicans are now the party of the South. Republicans purposely gained the South by using the Southern Strategy which was an often overtly racist strategy. It began with Nixon, but became even more important with the campaigns of Reagan and Bush Sr. From Sirota’s book (p. 18):
The magma of resentment politics that had been simmering underground since the late 1970s exploded during the stretch run of the 1980 presidential campaign. In August of that year, Reagan channeled white rage at the civil rights movement by endorsing the racist euphemism states rights, an endorsement that came during a speech to a Confederate-flag-waving audience in the same Mississippi town where three civil rights workers had been murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
I remember reading last year about Reagan’s campaign. I was shocked and amazed by the bravado of so blatantly referencing a violently racist past just for the sake of winning an election. You can’t get any more cynical than that. As I recall, the speech that started off his campaign was that very speech given at that town which was famous for having previously hosted the Ku Klux Klan’s murdering of civil rights workers. That was the beginning of the Republican Party and conservative movement we know today. That is the past America that conservatives feel nostalgic about.
– – –
I find myself simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by this history of American culture. I’m generally interested in any analysis of generations. It’s very strange how whole generations can get caught up in a single worldview, especially with our mainstream media today which offers everyone the same entertainment and news.
We live in interesting times. Boomers are losing power as GenXers are coming into power. Whites are losing majority position as minorities are gaining majority position. Religious fundamentalism and politicized religion is becoming less popular as religious diversity and non-religiousness are becoming more popular. We’re in a new century with a media of the likes never before seen. The world is becoming globalized and Americans are trying to find meaning and purpose in a time when everything is shifting.
Not everyone responds to this change with a positive attitude and an open embrace. But I, for one, am ready to leave the era of the 80s behind.
– – –
Note: I think that is all I have to say right now. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts once I read more of the book. Maybe I’ll continue my thoughts by eventually finishing my post on the documentary Generation Zero.
I’m, of course, not surprised. It makes sense why such patterns exist once you understand some of the underlying factors. We might not normally think about their influence, but history, demographics and culture have a major impact on a society and on communities within a societiy. These patterns don’t change easily or quickly.
We’ve all heard that crime doesn’t pay. Peace, it turns, out does.
The newest edition of the U.S. Peace Index, developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranks states by level of peacefulness. The index is based on five primary indicators: (1) number of homicides per 100,000 people, (2) number of violent crimes per 100,000 people, (3) number of people in jail per 100,000 people, (4) number of police ofﬁcers per 100,000 people and (5) general availability of small arms.
Combining these figures, the U.S. Peace Index calculates a number summarizing the overall peacefulness of each state, with low numbers being safer. Currently, the national average is 2.056.
Since 1995, the U.S. has become 8 percent safe, according to the index. Not all states have improved, though. New York’s become 32.3 percent safer since 1991, but other states have actually become more dangerous, like North Dakota (47.7 percent more dangerous) and Tennessee (9.3 percent more dangerous). Generally, Southern states tended to be the least safe, with the region scoring 3.13 on the index, compared with the Northeast, calculated to be the safest region with a score of 1.99.
Reducing crime seems to have more benefits than just an increased sense of well-being, too, with the index’s authors hinting that safety might have notable economic benefits. If the United States peace index was as low as Canada’s (1.392 compared to 2.056), for example, the U.S. Peace Index’s authors argue that state governments could save up to $89 billion in incarceration, medical, judicial and policing costs. Add to that an increase in nationwide productivity equivalent to a $272 billion stimulus, as well as 2.7 million newly-created jobs, and it starts to become pretty clear: peace pays.
Indicators are weighted, allowing homicides to carry the greatest significance, while availability of firearms carries the least. The index also groups into four categories an additional 37 secondary factors like high school graduation rate and median income: politics and demographics, education, health and economic conditions.
The inaugural United States Peace Index, created by the international think tank, Institute for Economics and Peaceis the first-ever ranking of the fifty U.S. states based on their levels of peace. The U.S. Peace Index (USPI) shows Maine is the most peaceful U.S. state, while Louisiana is ranked the least peaceful.
The USPI report reveals that peace in the United States has improved since 1995 primarily driven by a substantial decrease in homicide and violent crime.
First-ever ranking of peace in the U.S. shows the nation has become more peaceful since 1995
Reductions in violence and crime to levels equal to Canada would yield an estimated $89 billion in direct savings, $272 billion in additional economic activity, and potentially create 2.7 million jobs.
New York, California and Texas record highest increases in peace since 1991, while North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana see largest declines
Peace is significantly correlated with factors related to economic opportunity, education and health
Peace is politically neutral – neither Republican nor Democratic states have an advantage
Economic Impact – potential to create 2.7 million jobs
The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that at a time when states and lawmakers in Washington are struggling to balance budgets, the USPI shows reductions in violence, crime and incarcerations to the same levels as Canada would result in $361 billion in savings and additional economic activity. This additional economic activity has the potential to create 2.7 million jobs, which would significantly reduce unemployment.
Education and health outcomes correlate strongly with peace
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.
The ten most peaceful states as identified by the USPI are (from 1 to 10) Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota,North Dakota, Utah, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Iowa andWashington.
Maine was ranked first overall because it topped the list of states on three of the five USPI indicators: number of violent crimes, number of police officers and the incarceration rate.
The ten least peaceful states are (from 50 to 40) Louisiana,Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas,Oklahoma, South Carolina and Maryland, respectively.
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.
The total cost of violence per person in a state ranges from$656 in Maine to $2,458 in Louisiana. The USPI estimates that the economic effect of decreasing violence in states by 25 percent ranges from $126 million in Vermont to $16 billion in California.
New York experienced the most significant increase in peace as a result of decreases in violent crime and the homicide rate.
Conversely, South Dakota saw the largest decline due to a steady rise in incarcerations and the number of policewithout a fall in the incidence of homicide or violent crime.
However, the HuffPo data seems to imply counterintuitive conclusions. According to the methodology of the study, the Northern ‘metropolises’ show more ‘segregation’ than the Southern ‘metropolises’. Less surprisingly, the Eastern ‘metropolises’ in general show more ‘segregation’ than the Western ‘metropolises’.
The Southern states should be given their due. They’ve come a long way, baby. Federally forced desegregation did wonders for the South. It has never quite been the same since. I went to a desegregated public school in the Deep South and so I can attest to this fact. One commenter said it well:
Southern cities were the first cities under mandatory court supervision to practice desegregation with bussing, anti-redlining experiments and a variety of mandated reforms. In my view many of those practices and reforms were successfull in reforming some of the big cities of the old south. That naturally doesn’t include Texas, Arkansas or the rural areas of the south. Those places are only bitterly desegregated. I don’t think we’re talking necessarily about race hatred in this article but about old died-in-the-wool housing, schooling, and industrial patterns. The north is clearly lagging in that respect, while the west because of it’s almost complete freedom from those patterns is the default leader. Southern cities get kudos for enlightened desegregation efforts, while certain Yankee communities need to be recognized as bastions of liberty and prosperity. Vermont I’m thinking of you. As an immigrant westerner I am biased and have to say “The West Is The Best.”
Yes, some valid points… which many Southern conservatives would deny to the end of time.
That said, I disagree with his assessment that Northern cities need to become more like Southern cities. The South in general has a lot of problems (which I go into great detail about in my North/South Divide post linked above). No city should emulate the South. Yes, desegregation has had value in the South, but the Northern states also don’t have segregated schools and such. The social situation of Northern cities is different, faced as they are with other issues.
As for the West, I don’t know that it’s the best. The West, especially the Northwest, is no doubt more predominately white and lacks the deeply embedded racial history found in the East. Anyway, it’s inaccurate to say that the division is East vs West. The East and West coasts have much more history of racial and cultural diversity since, in the past, immigrants typically entered by way of the coasts. The Midwest, on the other hand, only experienced the arrival of larger minority populations when industrialization began.
Bsmooth: “Wow people in this country are stupid. For those of you trying to make the incorrect point that they are all East Coast or a majority from the East, only 4 of the 10 or 40% are from the East Coast or East.
The Midwestern United States (in the U.S. generally referred to as the Midwest) is one of the four geographic regions within the United States of America that are officially recognized by the United States Census Bureau.
The region consists of twelve states in the central and inland northeastern US: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. A 2006 Census Bureau estimate put the population at 66,217,736. Both the geographic center of the contiguous U.S. and the population center of the U.S. are in the Midwest. The United States Census Bureau divides this region into the East North Central States (essentially the Great Lakes States) and the West North Central States.
Chicago is the largest city in the region, followed by Detroit and Indianapolis. Chicago has the largest metropolitan statistical area, followed by Detroit, and Minneapolis – Saint Paul. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is the oldest city in the region, having been founded by French missionaries and explorers in 1668.”
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There are a few factors and details that get lost in the analysis of this study. It would appear that either the researchers have some unconscious biases in how they chose their methodology or they were intentionally massaging the data by seeking out a methodology that would give them the results they wanted. Or I suppose they could just be so narrowly focused on a piece of the puzzle that they merely failed to grasp the larger picture. The latter is probably the most likely explanation. I don’t have any reason to doubt that they thought they were making a useful clarification in focusing on what they considered relevant comparisons.
First, the choice of terms is a bit misleading. The study is measuring ‘segregation’ in ‘metropolises’, but the terms are being defined in a specific way. So, what is being measured isn’t necessarily what most people would think is being measured. ‘Segregation’ is a term that has a historical context of laws requiring races to have separate neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, bathrooms, drinking fountains, swimming pools, etc. But the researchers are using ‘segregation’ in an apparently idiosyncratic sense by defining it both more generically and more narrowly. ‘Metropolises’ is a more general term in common language, but is being used in a technical sense here and so is being defined more specifically and more narrowly. This study isn’t comparing all cities, only ‘metropolises’. If I’m understanding correctly their use of this term, these large ‘metropolises’ by definition are going to be mostly found in the old industrial cities of the North. It would be more interesting and probably more insightful to see a comparison of racial diversity and racial violence between all urban, suburban, and rural areas, between all states, and between all regions; or, if racial segregation was to be used, to have all other factors controlled for (e.g., socioeconomic segregation).
LogicalMathMan:“Some reasons for dubious criteria used in this study: 1) the study measures the level of integration in a metropolis, 2) the definition of a metropolis is not specified, 3) the measure of integration based on transient population is ignored, e.g. If NY shows an increase in ‘integration’ compared to a smaller ‘metropolis’ in the deep south, it merely suggests that there was more of a transient population that was integrated into the most cosmopolitan city in the world, 4) no reasons are given for why cities in rural Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana should be excluded but for the erroneous reason that they do not qualify as ‘metropolises’ under the authors’ criteria, 5) If metropolitan areas that were designated as cities based on the authors’ criteria for the start of the duration under study ceased to be considered as cities at the end of the duration due to the criteria being set, then an in-transient population with declining minorities would not be considered.
Overall, IMO, this study is seriously flawed.”
Artos: “Yeah isn’t it. Not nearly as interesting as all those tiny little Southern Burgs where segregation is commonplace. Course only the big ones got noticed.”
Erik Larsen:“I’m really not clear on the term “segregated” vs “racially or culturally self-selected non-diverse neighbourhoods”. For example, does a Chinatown or Little Italy mean “segregation”? Would it surprise people that immigrants from Somalia would tend to congregate in a certain area of town?
Segregation is a loaded term with a lot of sinister historical baggage. Hmmmm.”
dannarasm: “Identifing segregation by race was important during the civil rights movement because it showed that segregation did, infact, impact an individual’s ability to obtain an general education, which in turn effects an individual’s ability to obtain acceptance to higher education. Because of this, governmental social programs were enacted to “balance” the disparity in soci-economic divisions between “races”.
Today, the importance is because the governmental social programs rely upon this data for governmental funding and continued support for the national laws that prohibit “segregation” by race. Most important is how schools are funded. Schools are funded in part by property taxes. Those who live in wealthy areas are benefited by schools who have far more money for the schools and education, than those in less affluent areas. De-segregation was a means of removing social-economic segregation in education where children in poor areas were able to receive a better education by attending schools in more wealthy areas which normally they couldn’t because of socio-economic segregation.
However, one can take the term intergration and apply it to segregation to find out that yes, individuals prefer to live, work with those of similar race and religious beliefs regardless of laws against segregation. Individuals segregate themselves and prefer to not intergrate themselves with others who are not in the same socio-economic/religious groups. Thus the form of “classes” in which an individual, simply by being born in a certain socio-economic area, remains in that socio-economic area.”
Second, the study is only measuring the ‘integration’ of neighborhoods, measuring how the rates of diversity in a given neighborhood match the rates of diversity in the entire ‘metropolis’ which the neighborhood is a part of. So, even during slavery times, the South probably would have measured low on ‘segregation’ as it’s being measured in this study. Slaves lived on the plantation with the slave owner. They weren’t ‘segregated’ in the sense that they were all living in the same neighborhood.
Azuki: “If I’m understanding correctly, the compares the overall city demographic to local neighborhood demographic. The higher the concentration of a certain group in a certain location, the higher the segregation score. This study does seem to show people gravitate toward living with other people of the same race. It also shows certain races tend to live in more impoverished neighborhoods. It does not, however, show segregation is the cause of the impoverishment. I would argue the impoverishment came first. Reporting the study as some sort revelation on race relations in this country is irresponsible. The race issue does exist, but it’s much higher up on the chain. Therefore, I’m not sure how this helps anyone solve the actual problem. Again, all we’re doing is focusing on consequences and being reactive rather than proactive.”
kbrown2225: “Actually the South has always been more integrated even in the time of Jim Crow. The south relied heavily on the legal system of segregation (i.e. whites only accomodations rather than wholesale segregation of the community.) With a legal system keeping the races seperate in accomodations whites did not feel as great of a need to segregate in terms of location (although segregated areas certainly existed). The North on the other hand never had a legal system of segregation but rather relied on a segregation of residence (i.e. whites only neighborhoods etc.) much of which still remains. By the way I was raised outside of Birmingham, Alabama.”
Third, the study was primarily measuring ‘integration’ of blacks and whites while largely ignoring the bigger picture of diversity and integration. So, ‘metropolises’ that are ‘integrated’ between blacks and whites may or may not be ‘integrated’ in context of Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners, etc. Actual percentages and rates of diversity weren’t being measured. Many of the ‘metropolises’ measured as more ‘segregated’ might also measure as more racially and ethnically diverse. And many of the ‘metropolises’ measured as being less ‘segregated’ might also measure as less racially and ethnically diverse.
valkrye131: “Philadelphia is more than 40% black. While segregation remains prevalent in some neighborhoods, and schools, in real life interaction it’s almost non-existent. Anyone who actually lives and works in the city must count a fair number of persons of other races/ethnicities among their friends, co-workers, and acquaintances unless they are deliberately segregating themselves.”
Hmuir: “I was born and raised in Suffolk county New York, To some extent the neighborhoods are segregated BUT it is the school that makes the difference. Nearby towns were absolutely segregated because the population of the school were mostly if not all white. I went to a school that was diverse even though that part is never mentioned, we may live in seperate neighborhoods but we all came together monday through friday, we all got along most of the time. I had more friends that did not live in my neighborhood than those that did! I am grateful that my schools were diverse because I learned a lot more than others that grew up in a truly homogeneous town!”
The index is figured by comparing the racial make-up of a neighborhood within a city to the racial make-up of the entire city. So, the easiest way to be “unsegregated” is to not have much racial diversity in your city. An all-white city will be completely unsegregated by these metrics.”
Fourth, the study was only measuring the ‘integration’ of blacks and whites within individual neighborhoods of ‘metropolises’. So, this study seems to falsely assume that having ethnic neighborhoods is the same as being ‘segregated’. A ‘metropolis’ can appear to be not ‘segregated’, according to this study, for the simple reason that there are few minorities and little diversity. Of course, a ‘metropolis’ with large concentrated minority populations will tend to have more clumping of those populations. If there are very fewer minorities in a ‘metropolis’, it might be more difficult and less likely for them to clump together in separate neighborhoods. Also, this study completely ignores how much a ‘metropolis’ embraces multiculturalism and how welcomed people feel no matter their race or ethnicity.
CabCurious: “The reports of segregation across NYC are misleading. It’s time we stop thinking of integration in terms of making milky soup and start thinking in terms of mosaics. Outside of central Manhattan, NYC is a model for a mosaic of humanity living together without creating a milky soup devoid of culture and community.
Obviously most of Manhattan is off-balanced compared to the rest of the city. But the census reporting doesn’t respect that the city is grown out of a MOSAIC of different communities deeply interconnected in ways that this kind of report doesn’t get at.
Queens and Brooklyn are the most diverse places on earth.
To call the segregated because there are traditional ethnic communities is a disservice to the dialog about ethnicity and culture in america.”
CabCurious: “Let’s stop thinking of integration in terms of whiteness and superficiality. Let’s start thinking about equal opportunity and how to value diversity.”
Fifth, the study only compares ‘metropolises’ to other ‘metropolises’ (and even that comparison is narrowly focused because the definition is narrow). So, this says nothing about how these cities compare to rural areas or how these cities compare to states (or how rural areas compare to rural areas, or how states compare to states). In the South, ‘segregation’ probably happens more between wealthier cities and poorer rural areas, with poor whites being ‘segregated’ in the rural areas outside of the ‘metropolises’. In the North, I would suspect there is less difference between cities and rural areas, the difference instead being between urban and suburban areas (both of which are included in the same ‘metropolis’), with poor blacks being ‘segregated’ in the urban areas at the center of ‘metropolises’. The North has less economic disparity which is a significant factor. Race, in America, correlates to socioeconomic class. Going by the same method as this study, if states were being compared (throwing together urban, suburban, and rural areas), then Southern states might show more ‘segregation’. This, however, is speculation as the data being provided is so narrow in focus.
Yeuk Moy: “I would be curious to know if the dissimilarity index would significantly change if income was factored out.”
deanleto: “well, if they did it on disparity of income, then racial disparity would seem like a love fest”
andwhatarmy: “This is so bogus. If they had assessed relative incomes, then they’d have a handle on why the dissimilarities exist. Then they could begin to do something about income disparity...but probably not until the likes of Donald T-Rump stop building incredibly costly high-rises only the top 2 percent can afford, or until the Bouvier-types and movie-star types decide they really don’t like the privacy of the dunes in the Hamptons. I can’t speak to the situation in the other locales, as I have only lived in those two–Nassau-Suffolk and NYC. But I can assure you, if the finances in either place permitted integration, it would be more likely to happen there than a lot of the other places mentioned.
And if, for instance, little Southern towns have less dissimilarity, it is because both African-Americans and low-income rednecks are equally poor and downtrodden, kept in place by one or two oligarchs only, thus they share the cruddy side of town. I lived in a few of those places, too (Athens, GA and Bristol, TN), and saw it as I said it.”
salesdude: “All the cities listed had a large mfg based economy that drew southern blacks during the wars, and when the factories and jobs left, the people were virtually marooned in their neighborhoods with no means of upward mobility. As the cities lost tax revenue and the white citizens left for the suburbs, the city centers declined, which even further isolated the black community. Drugs took over bringing violent crime and city services declined even further to the point that almost all these cities now have generations of families who live hand to mouth. Worse yet, the public school systems are substandard which further dooms the residents because without an education you are stuck there. For many inner city kids the only escape is to join the military.”
jeanrenoir: “I’m a white living in Baltimore, the epicenter with Detroit of the tragedy of urban black paralysis and dysfunction. I live in the middle of the city, in the only genuinely integrated neighborhood in town; most of Baltimore is overwhelmingly white or black. Who can blame either whites or blacks for fleeing from the crime, chaos, blight, dirt, and drugs of urban black America? And the urban black poor can’t afford to leave. So it’s going to be a LONG time, if ever, before “segregation” is “overcome” in America. Meanwhile, the black middle class keeps growing, prospering, and leaving the dysfunctional urban blacks behind, just as the formerly urban whites have. Black America experiences great progress for the educated middle class, and unchanged paralysis for the hapless, uneducated poor. And blacks and whites who can get as far away from the latter as possible. What a shock.”
eugeneregard: “It has more to do with job loss than anything else. Union manufacturing jobs moved to right to work for less southern cities leaving their money base ruptured. As the right to work states lose their jobs to China it will happen there too. The ability to make money makes more choices for more people. Our “free trade” policies have committed economic treason against this country.”
LogicCircuit: “I’d say in big cities the dividing factor is money. Segregation made African Americans poor decades ago and the raw capitalism ruling this country today is making sure they stay poor.
I suppose at least in today’s modern society the forces of a capitalistic market don’t discriminate. As a general rule, all poor will remain poorer and the rich will get richer.”
Sixth, Northern cities are also older cities and have been the entry point into America for many immigrants, especially for earlier immigrants. So, Northern cities have a long history of racial and ethnic diversity. The ethnic neighborhoods in Northern cities have been there for a very long time. In earlier periods of history, immigrants were more isolated by culture and language. They often chose to live close together for a sense of familiarity and safety. And new immigrants today still are attracted to their respective ethnic neighborhoods. Why shouldn’t they? Ethnic neighborhoods aren’t inherently bad, despite the fact that they measure as being ‘segregated’. Without ethnic neighborhoods, much of America’s ethnic diversity would have disappeared long ago. Ethnic diversity can be a good thing. And the melting pot ideal isn’t always a good thing. In the South, there is less ethnic diversity between blacks and whites because whites in previous times intentionally destroyed the slave’s African culture and forced slaves to conform to white culture. It was when freed black slaves moved to the industrial North (e.g., Harlem) looking for jobs that they began to develop their own independent and distinct culture (e.g., Harlem Renaissance).
rigormrtis: “Most of the cities listed are much older. The southern mega-cities have experienced their growth more recently and pulled people in from all over. They are more cosmopolitan as a result.”
mpls mas machos: “This is banal, but the reason there aren’t more southern cities on this list is simply because the south urbanized later than every part of the country. For example, Metropolitan Atlanta, historically the largest and most urban city in the south, had a population in 1960 of @ 1.5 million (city and suburbs), and has now nearly quadrupled in size. Big Eastern cities are old, ancient relative to most others, and have long histories, with entrenched neighborhoods. If anyone has bragging rights, it’s not North or South, but the West that does.”
I think this has a lot to do with the fact that these “neighborhoods” lack history, and are new on the order of 15 years old. If people should choose to live here, it has nothing to do with neighborhood identification, but proximity to work, schools, and affordability.”
Eyal Neval: “This survey is mind blowingly flawed. The most diverse city, NYC, gets the lowest score. Why? Because the survey states that neighborhoods were examined to see how many people need to move for that neighborhood to become as diverse as the city as a whole. So if the city is really homogenous, very few people will have to move in a certain neighborhood to match that city diverseness, but if the city is as diverse as NY, some neighborhoods are white, some are black, some hispanic, some mix- that’s not segregation, that’s cultural diversity and it means a lot will have to move to match the city wide stats, but that’s pointless, there is no goal of having a solid gray mush all over the city, it’s good that some neighborhoods have greek character, some Dominican, and some African American. People can choose which character fits them best and find new friends. There is no segregation in NYC, the opposite is true; due to economic reasons there is a strong gentrification.”
merger: “One of things I have noticed in my frequent visits to NYC, is that immigrants tend to move into neighborhoods where there are more people of their nationailty. I am sure they feel safer, and it is an easier transition if you are unfamiliar with the language and the culture of a new country. Americans that move to foriegn lands to live, work, and retire tend to live in “American” communities. It makes one feel more comfortable in a foriegn land.”
ZombyWoof: “There are all sorts of political and economic forces at play but one cannot minimize the fact that most of these cities are very culturally diverse, and ethnic enclaves are naturally going to be a consequence of this fact. This in turn encourages entrepreneurship catering to that fact which itself further enhances the “flavor” of those neighborhood serving as a magnet.”
Seventh, as I pointed out, the researchers weren’t measuring wealth disparity nor were they measuring poverty nor many other factors: races besides blacks and whites, mixed race people and mixed race marriages, how ethnicity correlates to racial identities, percentage of racial diversity rather than just rate comparisons, racial conflict and violence vs tolerance, multiculturalism, etc. So, we can’t use this data to easily ascertain patterns, correlations, and causal links. For example, in the South, there is a lot more poverty and greater wealth disparity. History has forced Southern blacks and whites to live closer together, but that doesn’t change the fact that the rich white kids are sent to private schools and that doesn’t change the fact that the churches tend to remain segregated. Stating Southern ‘metropolises’ are less ‘segregated’ according to this methodology doesn’t in itself tell us much at all. Without looking at the larger context and the minute details of all the relevant factors, we miss out on finding anything meaningful.
littlebrowngirl: “What the study should say is that there are very few diverse areas in the country.”
ZombyWoof: “By harkening back to fair housing laws passed 40 years ago this article seems to suggests that there’s been little progress and that’s just absurd; I’ve been around long enough to see the change from decade to decade.
I’m a Latino who grew up in the projects in the Bronx when it could be said there was real segregation. I currently live in Washington Heights which is predominantly Hispanic, (although my section is less so), but prior to that (except for some years in San Francisco and Bloomington MN) I have lived in Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Park Slope. All these neighborhoods are predominately one ethnicity or other but I would never consider them segregated as I have always had neighbors from many cultures.
There is still some discrimination and other factors, particularly economic (including education funding), have to be considered, but we have to come to grips with the fact that many people of similar backgrounds like to congregate in the same areas and there is nothing wrong with that so long as there are no efforts to keep out those “others” whomever they may be.
Also there are other considerations, sometimes you want the convenience of having shops that sell products that cater to your culture and grew up accustomed to being able to obtain without a hassle. In my case I can finally sink my teeth into a nice pernil whenever I want that wasn’t made by my mother and only on special occasions.”
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This is an example of an article about a study where many of the commenters offer more insight and understanding than the article and maybe even more than the study. However, I haven’t looked at the study in enough detail and so I don’t want to necessarily or entirely blame the researchers. It seems the terminological definitions made it easy to misinterpret the complex set of data, but the author of the article should have understood that and helped clarify the issues in order to not encourage problematic and confused interpretations.
lensman3: “This article has been spun in a *VERY* misleading manner. Completely misleading if you look at the last table of the report.
Shame, shame on you Mr Bradford. Your a racist….
Shame, shame on Huffingtonpost for even posting the article.”
bepa: “Yes the table shows that people nationally have declining black/white segregation
Another problem with the report…anyone who says they are of mixed race is classified as black
In the 200 and 2010 census there were people who classified themselves as mixed race..particularly the young… Mixed marriages are very common today…and the children are fine …that would not be reflected in this report”
I don’t think the author of the article was intentionally trying to mislead nor that he is a racist. But the author could have provided more detailed data and careful analysis. And I’m sure the researchers weren’t intending a racist interpretation by classifying anyone as black who is even just partly black. But that does play into the history of racism where anyone who had any non-white genetics was considered non-white as if ‘white’ represents some pure category. From the report:
Our approach for handling multiple race responses in 2000 and 2010 is to treat a person as black if they described themselves as black plus any other race; as Asian if they listed Asian plus any other race except black; and as Native American/other race for any other combination.
This brings into question the results of this study. If white people who acknowledge they have some black genetics (maybe from a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent) are categorized as black, then neighborhoods with a lot of mixed race people will be measured as being segregated according to these definitions.
Although the study is largely focused on blacks and whites, it also looks at data of Hispanics and Asians (although with the same issue with categorizing mixed race people). One problem is that, in looking at regions, the researchers used whites as the standard for comparison. So, they did comparisons of Black-White segregation along with comparisons of Hispanic-White segregation and of Asian-White comparisons. But they didn’t do segregation comparisons for regions between Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. And they didn’t include all races together in looking at overall diversity in relation to segregation. As such, the researchers still fell short in creating a truly helpful analysis of segregation in America.
There were also many commenters who were apparently confused about the data because of the way the study was designed along with how it was explained in the article. But some of this was just the normal ideological preconceptions that are always found in comment sections. Some conservatives, of course, wanted to simplify it into Democratic cities bad, Republican cities good. And some conservatives wanted to conflate this idiosyncratic, narrow definition of ‘segregation’ with the broader cultural issue of racism, implying that liberals are the real racists. Other commenters had their eyes open for such ideological biases and misinterpretations.
dentuso: “What most will not recognize is the fact that this study takes into acct the volume of minorities per city. Simply; if a city is 50% AA who live predominantly in the south, it will show that a massive racial shift would have to occur.
Transversely, if a city is only 5% AA, the study as conducted would show that no major shift need take place.
You can guarantee that those in the south won’t understand how this study is done, and spout that northerly cities are racist. Guaranteed.”
Cilantro: “This has little to do with being a so-called “progressive” city (code: Democrat party leaders) and more with the history of these former industrial cities which are very old compared to the Southwest, South east and West Coast of USA and their respective histories dating back to over 100 years ago. Many of these cities have experienced major “white flight” to the suburbs in the 50s, 60s & 70s. Are you suggesting if pro-billionaire, racist leaning republicans (ie. “unprogressive” ) were in charge these places would be an equalized salad bowl mix of multi-races? Give me a break!”
josh2082: “Loving all the comments that go something like: “Aren’t those all blue/Liberal cities?”
Yes they are. Let’s think about WHY…
1) Metropolitan areas skew more Democratic
2) Metropolitan areas also tend to be more racially diverse, and cities with large African-American populations also tend to be more Democratic or left-leaning.
3) Look at a list of extremely Republican leaning cities- with some exceptions you will probably see a very homogeneous population of mainly white people.
Perhaps in the Southwest larger portions of Hispanics will be found, but that’s not the focus of this study. Being white doesn’t make you Republican, but the numbers don’t lie. Most registered Republicans are white.
So to me it is no surprise at all most of the cities listed here lean left. After all, you have to have significant populations of diverse racial groups to even have to address segregation.”
The last comment is partly correct, but missing a couple of factors.
Some Southern cities aren’t ‘segregated’ in the sense that the population is more mixed together which is simply a result of history. According to segregation being measured in this study, neighborhoods with plantations during slavery wouldn’t be considered segregated because the black slaves lived in the same neighborhood with the white slaveowners. Much of the segregation in the South isn’t based on locate but is instead based on class, culture, prejudice, and also previously based on laws.
Furthermore, the South actually isn’t as solidly Republican as it seems during elections. Minorities tend to vote Democratic when they vote, but minoritiess don’t vote as much as do whites. If all minorities voted as much as whites, the South would probably be a mix of Democratic and swing states. The reason minorities don’t vote is because of a history of disenfranchisement. We saw this even in recent years with the Florida fiasco where black-sounding names had been removed from the voting registry.
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Anyway, I don’t mean to say that this study was worthless. It presents data that should be considered, but one should consider it in the context of the data being extremely limited and easily misunderstood. It’s the problem of a lot of research. I’m a fan of science. I can’t stand anti-intellectuals who dismiss science. On the other hand, scientific studies are only helpful and interesting to the degree one has the intelligence, insight, and education to understand. But we all exist in varying degrees of ignorance and confusion.
I spent all this time analyzing this study and I can’t be sure that I’m not misunderstanding some important aspect of it. Like the author of the article, I’m in the position of either explaining the study well or not. Hopefully, I at least made clear the complexity of the issues involved.
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In case anyone is interested, here is an interactive US map of racial/ethnic distribution:
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