Northern Case For Southern Secession

I finished two books on the same day:

What’s the Matter with White People
by Joan Walsh

Better Off Without ‘Em
by Chuck Thompson

I’ve been in the process of reading a ton of books, but these are two I started some months ago and finally got back around to completing. I thought I might appreciate Walsh’s book more than I did, although it was still worth reading. Thompson’s book, on the other hand, was surprisingly insightful.

The authors are both Northern leftists and their books are, in a way, complementary. Both are about American culture and politics, both compare liberals and conservatives, and both focus on specific regions of the country. However, in another way, they are immensely incongruous. Walsh is a serious-minded do-gooder wanting to unite Americans in a common purpose. Thompson is a humorous travel writer advocating for secession so that the North and South can happily go their separate ways.

In reading Joan Walsh’s book about her Irish family, I was hoping for something akin to Joe Bageant’s writings on his Scots-Irish family. She is smart and she does offer me some perspective on an ethnic group with which I have little direct experience. Bageant, however, is a much more entertaining writer (Thompson being more similar to Bageant in writing style).  Walsh maybe takes herself too seriously. Besides, her mainstream liberalism irritated me on occasion, very different from Bageant’s left-wing outsider viewpoint.

Criticisms aside, I liked her positive intentions and I liked the way she expressed her position. She does a good job of explaining how our country became so divided and maybe why it doesn’t need to be that way. It was her personal anecdotes about her family that drew me in the most. Like a good liberal, she was sympathetic toward even those she disagreed with.

I don’t know what Chuck Thmpson identifies as, but he doesn’t act like a well-mannered housebroken liberal. He presents himself more as a cantankerous rabblerouser. I didn’t hold his opinionatedness against him for he remained amusing, even when or especially when ranting. I realized that few people would read a book like his without it having entertainment value.

The main reason I picked up his book was simply because it was provocative. Not many people these days advocate for the South to secede, and those who do tend to be right-wing Southerners rather than leftist Northerners. You’d think he would advocate for Northern secession, but he seems attached to the United States as the name of his country and so thinks the South should reinvent the Confederacy, although for some reason he feels reluctant to letting the South take Texas.

He played up the hyperbole and some would perceive his writing as mean-spirited. He used caricatures for humorous effect, but he also used a massive amount of data to make a serious argument. Although I’m well read about the North/South divide, even I learned a fair amount from his book. I discovered some new authors that I’ve added to my reading list.

The comparison and contrast is fascinating between these two books I finished. I typically come across more books like Walsh’s where the argument is for unity of the country, for compromise and cooperation, for everyone trying to get along. But Thompson points out we’ve been trying to do that for a long time and maybe it’s tme to give up on the myth of a single American identity that is supposed to be embraced by all, whether willingly or through coercion.

Here is what Thompson writes about this dilemma of diversity and division (Kindle location 4911):

“Nothing really new there. As Abe Lincoln said of slavery in the run-up to the Civil War, “Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the entire controversy.”

“It takes little imagination to apply that statement to many of the fundamental divisions still hamstringing the country: religion, abortion, federal governance, taxation, education, health care, assistance for less fortunate neighbors, distribution and ownership of public wealth and resources. These are philosophical and moral problems with no definitive answers, issues that simply come down to one side thinking them right, and the other side thinking them wrong.

“In his “House Divided” speech, Lincoln also said that he did not believe the American house would fall. “I do expect it will cease to be divided,” he said. “It will become all one thing, or all the other.”7

“But Lincoln was wrong about that one. Unity hasn’t ever really come. Slavery is gone, but the cultural milieu that produced it and a raft of other cultural toxins still exists.”

I’m in agreement with Thompson.

Having grown up between the two regions, I’ve experienced the cultures of both the North and South. I’ve spent recent years reading every book I could get my hands on about this topic. I’ve thought long and hard about it. I’ve written about it over and over. I honestly don’t feel confident that there is enough commonality to hold these regions together.

(Plus, I’d add an argument for secession based on minarchism and decentralization. Our country is too vast, our population is too large, and our government is too unwieldy. We definitely don’t have much of a functioning democracy at this point. For the sake of civil liberties, I suspect we’d be wiser to opt for a smaller direct democracy or rather democracies and, while we’re at it, smaller localized economies. Small is beautiful, as it has been said. Secession would be good for all involved.)

In the earliest history of this country, the South had become dominant in both the military leadership and in federal politics. After the Civil War, the North took the lead role for quite a while. Now, the South is coming back into power and reasserting its influence over the whole country. It’s an endless vying for control of the nation, but it never leads to any fundamental unification of culture and certainly no common vision of politics and economics.

As accurately portayed by Thompson, this divisiveness is experienced and expressed most strongly in the South. No other region of the country has such a strong sense of shared identity. The Civil War may not have brought the country together, but it sure did bring the South together.

I was never called a Yankee and I never thought of myself as a Northerner until I moved to South Carolina in middle school. It never previously occured to me that I was part of a region called the North, although I may have vaguely been aware of the Midwest as a region. To the degree I thought about identity at all, I would probably just have considered myself as American.

Living in South Carolina, I regularly saw the Confederate flag. It used to fly over the capitol when I was growing up there. Even though the South lost the battle for being a separate country, they did succeed in creatng a separate national identity that is only rivaled in distinctiveness by some Native American nations.

Thompson makes a strong argument for why this is problematic. The reasons he gives are many, but one in particular stood out. The core of the problem is that, in thinking of themselves as separate from the rest of the country, Southerners act as if they aren’t part of America’s shared societal enterprise. Instead, they act like competitors looking out for their own interests and no one else’s.

On the political front, there isn’t now nor has there ever been a Solid North in the way that a Solid South exists. The South essentially has a one-party system. This doesn’t lend itself to playing well with others in a democratic sociey. Thompson has doubts that a one-party system can be considered as democratic at all, and I suspect many Southerners would agree in a sense by asserting they live in a republic, not a democracy.

The economic role the South plays isn’t dissmilar from that of Mexico and China, countries that aren’t known for having well functining democratic political systems. They don’t protect workers’ rights or the environment. They leave their population poor and under-educated. And they disenfranchise their citizenry.

Southerners, or rather the Southern political elite, refuse to raise their own local and state taxes to pay for their social infrastructure and social services, preferring to suck on the government teat of federal funding which means the rest of the country pays to keep the South from turning into something like aa third world country. They take what little tax money they do take in and give massive subsidies to corporations so as to lure them away from other states. Overall, the South is an economic drain on the United States.

On top of that, their luring corporations to move to the South has caused people to move to the South looking for the jobs taken away from them. This increased population is giving the South increased representation in Washington and hence increased political power.

Meanwhile, we in the North (and West) are enabling the South to rob us blind. I take this personally, as I happen to live in one of those states that pays more in federal taxes than receives in federal funding. Why am I helping Southerners to live beyond their means? If the South has such a booming economy, isn’t it time for them to take responsibility by carrying their own weight and paying their own way?

None of this is to imply that I have an overall dislike of the South or that I think most Southerners are bad people. It’s just that the South has some serious dysfnction going on and Southerners keep voting the same people into power. Nothing is likely to change in the South, at least not in the near future. Like Thompson, what concerns me is that the South might end up changing the rest of the country instead and I doubt such changes would be positive.

For some concluding thoughts, I’ll let Chuck Thompson explain what liberals like Joan Walsh don’t understand (Kindle location 4923):

“In the same fashion that people across the South had denied culpability to me, had winked at all the issues that needed addressing in their own part of the country, every one of those who’d gathered at the Globe had in some form or other insisted that they themselves did not embody the predictable characteristics and behaviors (I’m not calling them stereotypes, I believe I’ve provided enough evidence to back up my contentions) that I was using to portray the less attractive side of Dixie.

“We aren’t crazy religious—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who you’re thinking of.

“We aren’t dedicated political obstructionists—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who you’re talking about.

“We aren’t racist—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who have a problem.

“We aren’t the ones keeping public school budgets at barely functional levels—that’s just a small percentage of southerners that don’t appreciate the inequities in the system.

“We aren’t against basic rights for workers—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who you have an issue with.

“We aren’t single-issue abortion voters or the ones who have a problem with gays—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who the media unfairly fixates on and uses to vilify the rest of us.

“All of these statements may be true. The majority of southerners are not loudmouthed, uneducated, redneck fuckwits flying Confederate flags from the backs of their Kia and Mercedes lynch wagons. To what extent they were ever true many of these notions are comically outdated. Operative word “comically,” which is why I’ve employed them from time to time in this book, since few things are as hilarious to the northerner as a well-placed Snuffy Smith zinger.

“What the majority of southerners are, and have always been, however, is willing to allow the most strident, mouth-breathing “patriotic” firebrands among them to remain in control of their society’s most powerful and influential positions.

[ . . . ]

“Maybe the fanatics do represent a minority, say one in three southerners—that’s a fair guess, in my estimation. That’s still an extremely potent one-in-three that the rest of the South enables—or succumbs to—or aligns with—or votes for—year after year, decade after decade, century after century. Theirs are the voices that perpetuate the agenda because theirs are the voices that ring with the most sincerity, that are most bereft of apology, that in their bellicosity resonate as the most authentically “southern.” If there’s one thing about the South that hasn’t ever changed it’s the hypnotic influence of the angry crusader.”

9 thoughts on “Northern Case For Southern Secession

  1. “It’s just that the South has some serious dysfnction going on and Southerners keep voting the same people into power. Nothing is likely to change in the South, at least not in the near future. Like Thompson, what concerns me is that the South might end up changing the rest of the country instead and I doubt such changes would be positive.”

    This is, however, a myth, but one with a grain of truth of in it so I am not going to chastise you for this. Instead I am going to really push you on this because I think as a clear thinker, you will be able to see Thompson’s mistakes. The myth here is NOT that the South isn’t doing this: the myth is that it is just the South, and not the rural regions white regions of the entire country doing this. Thompson’s constant sighting of Republicans from the upper-midwest and mountain west as if they were Southerners (Beohner, John Shimkus) and ignores that the Solid South was Dixiecrat under the in the 1990s when the Southern strategy flipped it. While the Dixiecrats were in general horrible racists, they did actually have economically populist ideas: see the HOPE scholarship in Georgia which was an attempt to deal with the poverty issue within the state itself. That was spirit was crushed by a mixture of the Democratic party abandoning the South after Clinton, and the revenge of the Southern strategy and the deliberate relocation of Northern conservatives to Southern states. This still ignores that the Mountain West, which has NO relationship to the South culturally, is actually consistently more conservative than it.

    So what does that make for the thesis: Another one is the blindness to Northern and Mid-western racism. I grew up in the South: I have a Korean aunt, black cousins, and I am a jew. I am not going to lie and say that it was some post-racial promise land. I lived in Canada for six years during my pre-teens and early teens, and going back to semi-rural Georgia was a shock. Schools in my area still had black and white homecoming courts until we ended it by vote, but both black and white students were uncomfortable. It was only the massive influx of Latino and Asians who broke the categories don’t that ended it. Now things are better when I left the South for East Asia, but I also lived in rural PA and in Ohio: the largest Klan rally I ever saw was in upper state New York and the second was in Ohio.

    And like this black writer from Nashville said, it is shocking how racism and unself-aware a lot of the elite areas of New England and the mid-Atlantic northern states actually are (http://artsnash.com/books/back-pages-south/). It was shocking to me as a Southerner both what they thought I would be okay with (as a mixed race Southern Jew who looks white) and what they thought of race itself. Particularly in the South, and honestly, Thompson’s book was full of passages like this: “are arranged along the lines of Third World horror shows; wide streets lined with opulent, plantation-style homes sitting just around the block from apocalyptic Negro wastelands.”

    Now that I have traveled the world a bit, I am less inclined to defend the South, but more inclined to ask liberals like you to ask yourselves why did it happen that region that promoted William Jennings Bryant as its primary candidate turn into the region of Tea Partiers, and then look at both immigration of richer conservatives too the South as tax havens and sources of cheap labor and noticed that this happened almost immediately in the end of the reconstruction period.

    The money that goes to the South–(http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_reckoning/2012/10/25/blue_state_red_face_guess_who_benefits_more_from_your_taxes.html)

    At first, it looks like your entirely right, but look at what the money goes too: It’s not infrastructure that the Southern politicians are letting rot. It’s vastly military spending, and the bases are in the South for reasons of the civil war in the first place. Then it is farm subsidies, mostly to agri-business. Again, that’s not an infrastructure problem: it’s a class-based money grab by corporations, many of whom are also head-quartered in Northern and Western states.

    Then in several of those top ten states, it is Indian reservation money, and, honestly, they don’t get nearly enough. The Southern states that get the most anti-poverty aid, well, they are the poorest, and also have a tendency to be the brownest too. Some Southern states, like GA, actually pay almost actually what they get back despite the fact they have a large percentage of people who non-Tax payers to the federal government income tax. What does that tell you?

    Thompson doesn’t deal with any of this because frankly he isn’t concerned about the truth. You are. I promise you, the problem here is cultural but cultural with an economic and racial history in which the Northern East in particular has benefited until very recently in encouraging. If the South left, the problems would probably shift into the Mid-west west and Mountain west where they already are for a large part of the time anyway.

    I have been thinking about writing a good Marxian response to Thompson, which would go into the history of class war hidden in the failure of reconstruction and the Northern elite complicity and benefit from that until the 1990s. Then I realized it would be a book, but here’s something from Daily Kos (a bit liberal for my taste, and a bit not leftist enough but still worth considering) that makes some of my points:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/09/1129102/-In-defense-of-red-state-socialism#

  2. I was actually thinking about you as I wrote this. I’m glad you responded. I’ll give you a fuller response later on. For now, I’ll make few comments.

    My own view is probably more complicated than that of Thompson, but it is hard to know even how seriously Thompson is proposing actual secession. As far as that goes, I’ve wondered how seriouly I take it a well.

    I come at the whole issue more from a cultural angle. Politics aside, I’ve come to the conclusion that regional cultures play a larger part than most people realize. I just don’t see how we can get a well functioning government out of this mess.

    In writing this post, in no way was I declaring the South is the source of all problems. Also, history shows how entangled the problems are between North and South. I would simply say that these issues are somewhat irrelevant to my thinking. Ultimately, the problem isn’t any single region. The size and diversity of the country is just too much to be governed well, assuming we all would like to have a functioning democracy.

    I’m likely to go even further with secession than Thompson. Even with the South as a separate country, the United States probably still would be too big to govern as a democracy. I’ve even have more or less convinced my conservative dad about the problems of regional culture, and he is one of those who would like to believe in a shared culture that unites us all.

    I’m sure Thompson’s argument would be easy to criticize from various perspectives. The basic thing I came away with, however, is that it would be hard to argue against the problems of cultural division, whatever solution one might propose. I’d love for the whole country and the whole world united in democracy, but I just don’t see it happening.

    • That was my main complaint with Joan Walsh’s analysis.

      What she presents is mostly fine. I wasn’t really interested in her opinions about why she thinks all leftists should support the Democratic Party. I wanted her to dig deeper below the political battles.

      Relevant to Chuck Thompson’s analysis, she does go into a lot of detail about the race issue in the North. I found particularly interesting her discussion of the Irish and abolitionists.

  3. “This is, however, a myth, but one with a grain of truth of in it so I am not going to chastise you for this. Instead I am going to really push you on this because I think as a clear thinker, you will be able to see Thompson’s mistakes. The myth here is NOT that the South isn’t doing this: the myth is that it is just the South, and not the rural regions white regions of the entire country doing this.”

    I would challenge you. If you look at the data, you’d see that most of the rural areas outside of the South (especially blue states) don’t have the same high rates of social problems: poverty, income inequality, obesity, teen pregnancy, STDs, divorce, high school dropouts, illiteracy, etc. That is the data, not a myth.

    “Thompson’s constant sighting of Republicans from the upper-midwest and mountain west as if they were Southerners (Beohner, John Shimkus) and ignores that the Solid South was Dixiecrat under the in the 1990s when the Southern strategy flipped it. While the Dixiecrats were in general horrible racists, they did actually have economically populist ideas: see the HOPE scholarship in Georgia which was an attempt to deal with the poverty issue within the state itself. That was spirit was crushed by a mixture of the Democratic party abandoning the South after Clinton, and the revenge of the Southern strategy and the deliberate relocation of Northern conservatives to Southern states.”

    You make a good point. The Republican Party has become more right-wing across the country, but the stronghold for the right-wing is still the South. There is a good reason Northern conservatives were moving to Southern states rather than Southern conservatives moving to Northern states. None of this is to say that there isn’t also a strain of populism in the South. During the Populist Era, the Northern and Southern lower classes were able to organize to some degree.

    “This still ignores that the Mountain West, which has NO relationship to the South culturally, is actually consistently more conservative than it.”

    I have no problem with conservatism. Thompson also says in his book that he has no problem with conservatism. The problem is with right-wing ideologies backed up by a reactionary anti-democratic culture across an entire region.

    “So what does that make for the thesis: Another one is the blindness to Northern and Mid-western racism. I grew up in the South: I have a Korean aunt, black cousins, and I am a jew. I am not going to lie and say that it was some post-racial promise land. I lived in Canada for six years during my pre-teens and early teens, and going back to semi-rural Georgia was a shock. Schools in my area still had black and white homecoming courts until we ended it by vote, but both black and white students were uncomfortable. It was only the massive influx of Latino and Asians who broke the categories don’t that ended it. Now things are better when I left the South for East Asia, but I also lived in rural PA and in Ohio: the largest Klan rally I ever saw was in upper state New York and the second was in Ohio.”

    Thompson mentions the fact that racism exists everywhere, but he also points out that it isn’t as equally strong and pervasive in all places. It’s the way that racism is embedded in the Southern culture and how both are part of aristocratic political tradition. Pennsylvania and Ohio, by the way, are those border states where the Southern Appalachian culture bleeds up through the Southern parts of these states. The same is true with Southern Indiana (i.e., Hoosier culture) and Southern Illinois. As for New York, that was part of the Middle Colonies as well and it has a distinct cultural that isn’t identical to New England, Pennsylvania or Midwest. New York has always gone its own way, although New York has become symbolic of the North to many Southerners.

    “And like this black writer from Nashville said, it is shocking how racism and unself-aware a lot of the elite areas of New England and the mid-Atlantic northern states actually are (http://artsnash.com/books/back-pages-south/). It was shocking to me as a Southerner both what they thought I would be okay with (as a mixed race Southern Jew who looks white) and what they thought of race itself.”

    I’m shocked about how Americans in general and humans in general are racist and unself-aware. This is true almost everywhere. The argument of Thompson’s book isn’t about self-awareness, anyway. It’s about culture which largely operates without much self-awareness. The North has many problems as well, but for the problems being discussed the North is generally less worse. I realize arguing for less worse is a weak argument, but it is a legitimate argument.

    “Thompson’s book was full of passages like this: “are arranged along the lines of Third World horror shows; wide streets lined with opulent, plantation-style homes sitting just around the block from apocalyptic Negro wastelands.””

    The strongest criticism of Thompson is that he is being an asshole, but still his data is correct. He realizes he is exaggerating and using caricatures. He even admits doing so. He is trying to grab people’s attention and in that he accomplished his purpose. The question is what do we do with this damning data now that attention has been drawn to it. Thompson as the messenger can be dismissed, just as long as the data isn’t dismissed.

    “Now that I have traveled the world a bit, I am less inclined to defend the South, but more inclined to ask liberals like you to ask yourselves why did it happen that region that promoted William Jennings Bryant as its primary candidate turn into the region of Tea Partiers, and then look at both immigration of richer conservatives too the South as tax havens and sources of cheap labor and noticed that this happened almost immediately in the end of the reconstruction period.”

    That is something i ask myself all the time. I don’t need a Southerner to ask me. I’ve read about the history of the South. I realize every region has a complex history.

    “At first, it looks like your entirely right, but look at what the money goes too: It’s not infrastructure that the Southern politicians are letting rot. It’s vastly military spending, and the bases are in the South for reasons of the civil war in the first place. Then it is farm subsidies, mostly to agri-business. Again, that’s not an infrastructure problem: it’s a class-based money grab by corporations, many of whom are also head-quartered in Northern and Western states.”

    Thompson mentions how the South underfunds education and, as I recall, takes in more federal funding for education. For example, he mentioned a governor who took away over 200 million from school funding and in the same year gave over 300 million as subsidies to a couple of corporations. As for military spending, I noticed a good comment about that:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_reckoning/2012/10/25/blue_state_red_face_guess_who_benefits_more_from_your_taxes.html

    Lord Calvert wrote:

    “It should be noted that during the mid-90s, when the military budget was slashed (reducing federal spending) and bases were closed, that the Gingrich-congress deliberately chose to eliminate bases in liberal states while keeping open bases in conservative states. Gone were Ford Ord, California. Gone were Griffiss AFB in upstate New York. Gone were Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan. The usage of military bases as welfare for conservative states was made most apparent during the first Gulf War. III Corps, stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, is the US’s largest and most powerful military formation. During the late 80s, when tensions with the Soviet Union had decreased, they began to be trained and equipped to fight principally in the Middle East instead of Central Europe. When GEN Schwartzkopf asked GEN Powell for a heavy corps to take offensive operations against the Iraqis, III Corps would be the most logical fit. They had the training, they had the equipment and they had the transport to get into theater. Inexplicably, the Bush administration sent VII Corps from Germany to fill that role, completely unprepared for the task without significant retraining and reequpping and needing to negotiate with the Gorbachev regime in order to do so. Why? Because the Republicans know that III Corps isn’t there to defend the country. It is there as welfare for the Texas economy and taking them all out for an extended period of time would have been economically devastating for the President’s home state.”

    Even ignoring subsidies and military spending, the South still gets a lot of government benefits:

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/02/12/us/entitlement-map.html

    By the way, Thompson points out that “it’s a class-based money grab by corporations” and I doubt he’d be surprised that “many of whom are also head-quartered in Northern and Western states.” Many of the corporations in Nazi Germany were head-quartered in the US, but that doesn’t make the US Nazi. The point is that, no matter where they are head-quartered, it is the South that is using unfair practices to lure corporations to build in the South.

    “Then in several of those top ten states, it is Indian reservation money, and, honestly, they don’t get nearly enough.”

    I totally agree.

    “The Southern states that get the most anti-poverty aid, well, they are the poorest, and also have a tendency to be the brownest too.”

    The question is: how did they become the poorest and why did they remain the poorest? The policies in the South keep people poor by disenfranchising them from the political system (something we saw in the 2012 election), by underfunding education to keep the population poorly educated, and by putting into place anti-union laws.

    “Some Southern states, like GA, actually pay almost actually what they get back despite the fact they have a large percentage of people who non-Tax payers to the federal government income tax. What does that tell you?”

    It just tells me some Southern states are worse than others. Even so, Georgia still probably is doing all of the same practices as other Southern states to keep the poor poor.

    “I promise you, the problem here is cultural but cultural with an economic and racial history in which the Northern East in particular has benefited until very recently in encouraging. If the South left, the problems would probably shift into the Mid-west west and Mountain west where they already are for a large part of the time anyway.”

    Now, you’re getting to more interesting issues. Capitalism has been ruthless. Even though the Antebellum South wasn’t overly capitalist, Reconstruction created a truly oppressive capitalist society in the South. It may have been less worse than outright slavery, but it is hardly a desirable state. The North was without a doubt complicit in this. If the sin of the South is slavery, the sin of the North is capitalism. Unfortunately, the sin of the North is still going strong. This supports my position of decentralizing politics and at the same time decentralizing the economy, thus disempowering the alliance between big gov and big biz.

    “I have been thinking about writing a good Marxian response to Thompson, which would go into the history of class war hidden in the failure of reconstruction and the Northern elite complicity and benefit from that until the 1990s.”

    I’m willing to bet that left-wing politics would have a better chance in the North, though, without the South. It was only in the North that there ever was a US city run by socialists. And it is only in the North where there is major organization of workers.

    “Then I realized it would be a book, but here’s something from Daily Kos (a bit liberal for my taste, and a bit not leftist enough but still worth considering) that makes some of my points:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/09/1129102/-In-defense-of-red-state-socialism#

    I’m actually supportive of that general liberal principle from the article:

    “But even in jest, that cannot be the answer to our dissastified countrymen. That’s just not the American way. After all, the Constitution still calls on us to “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” for all Americans, everywhere. Red states may be “takers, not makers” and leaders in just about every category of social pathology you can imagine, but that doesn’t make their residents any less (or blue staters any more) American. Lincoln’s calls to “the better angels of our nature” and for us to act “with malice toward none, with charity for all” was not a one-time request, but a continuing obligation. Americans everywhere should want Americans anywhere to have the resources for the education, health care and anti-poverty programs they deserve and may badly need. Even if some of their politicians say no to the help.”

    The problem, as I see it, is that we may not be actually helping the Southern poor. Instead, we may be enabling the Southern political elite to keep the South poor. Without Northern money, their would be more civil unrest in the South and so maybe a majority of Southerners would begin to demand more from their own government.

    However, times are changing. Maybe Southerns will finally force their government to account. Certainly, liberal and leftist ideas are becoming more popular in the South. The majority of the youth white in many Southern states even voted for Obama in 2008.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/11/22/807083/-The-Young-South-is-Ours

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/10/02/789020/-Second-Civil-War-or-Tipping-Point

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/02/21/839137/-Neil-Gaiman-on-Anti-South-Prejudice

  4. I feel divided on this issue. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in and visited different states within these regions.

    I don’t have any hatred of the South. My experiences growing up there were mostly fine. I saw the Confederate flag everywhere and some white people still would use the N word. Even though the traces of the Old South abounded, Columbia seemed like any other modern cosmopolitan city. Of course, I can’t speak about the rural Deep South for I never lived there.

    However, I still don’t feel comfortable with the racial and class consciousness I saw in South Carolina. It was weird how there were poor black neighborhoods right next to wealthy white neighborhoods with only an invisible boundary separating them, but everyone knew that boundary existed. I was always aware of what neighborhoods I shouldn’t be in.

    I went to public high school in the 90s. I did know one interracial couple, but the black girl involved was light-skinned and upper middle class. For certain, even relationships between whites and light-skinned blacks was extremely rare. I knew black kids in school. There was no overt racism for the most part. Nonetheless, kids tended to segregate themselves in school and especially outside of school.

    The contrast to Iowa City, Iowa could not have been greater. I spent 3rd through 7th grade in Iowa City public schools. I was close friends with black kids, Hispanic kids, and Asian kids. Even so, it never crossed my mind that skin color meant anything. I was truly colorblind at that stage in my life. Kids were just kids. No one would have ever used a racial slur or segregated themselves.

    That said, my experience in Iowa City can’t be generalized to the entire North. The complicating factro is that there is no single North and no single South. In some ways, the Midwest and Appalachia have more in common than does the Midwest have with New England Yankiedom or Appalachia has with the former slave plantation regions of the Deep South. Even if the two regions separated into two countries, it’s not entirely clear which side certain states might choose.

    Also, if culture is the central problem undermining national unity, there will have to be more than a North/South division. I don’t know if the majority of people on the West Coast would want to remain with the Northeastern states. Even the West Coast isn’t culturally homogenous. The North and South in the Western half of the country is almost as culturally different as the North and South in the Eastern half.

    This cultural diversity has plagued America since colonial times. The Amerian continent was originally divided up by at least five different empires: British, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Russians. Plus, there was the cultural divisions among Native Americans. We’ve tried for many centuries to create some kind of social and political cohesion amongst ll this division and divisiveness. Maybe we haven’t done all that bad in maintaining some basic form of unity, but it as been far from a raging success.

    Here is the basic problem. If the future is just going to be more of the same as we’ve known for centuries, we might eventually have to give up on unity despite the appeal of such a grandiose ideal. In trying to hold onto this ideal, we might be doing ourselves more harm than good.

    An example of this might be the federal enforcement of laws onto the South. Liberal/leftist revolt and resistance maybe has never been given a chance to form on its own terms in the South. Because liberalism/leftism has so often come from the North, it has been harder for many Southerners to identify with the native strains of liberalism/leftism. This might always be the case as long as the South is part of the United States where it constantly has non-Southen ideas and policies forced upon it.

    Then again, there are signs that liberalism/leftism is beginning to grow in the South, as well as in the North. It’s possible that a new generation will grow up with less of a regional consciousness and so not held back by these old cultural battles. I guess time will tell.

  5. It took me a long while to grasp the reality of how different the South is. Living in SC, I realized there was a cultural difference from the Midwest, but I didn’t yet have a full sense of a distinct North/South divide.

    I think it was because I lacked a context in which to place my personal experience and observations. I only gained that context because my curiosity led me over the years to look at various national data. I wasn’t looking for a North/South divide, but I kept coming across in diverse data that had no clear connection.

    I did further investigation. It wasn’t just rural states versus urban states for even Northern rural states didn’t show the same pattern as the Southern states. With that in mind, some might think it is simply a matter of race with more blacks and Hispanics in the South. However, the rural areas of the South are about as white as the rural areas in the North for minorities are concentrated in the urban areas. For example, the white majority rural South has a higher violent crime rate than other area of the country, higher than the white majority rural North and higher than the minority majority urban areas.

    The realization of this regional divide shocked me. It was so stark and so consistent. I would never have guessed that such a divide could exist and yet there it was, again and again.

    I have never been able to explain this divide except through culture. Even the Civil War doesn’t perfectly explain it. Kentucky was part of the Union, but it has more of a Southern culture and it fits closer to the pattern of Southern states.

    I’m open to new explanations, Marxist or otherwise. I just haven’t yet come aross a better explanation than that of culture.

  6. Having read his book in its entirety, I have some sense of what Chuck Thompson is about. On the face of it, he is simply being a rude provocative asshole with a tasteless sense of humor. He basically admits this in his book. So, if he is self-aware of this fact about himself, why did he choose to be this way in a book that would piss off a lot of people?

    Not only have many Southerners taken offense, but also many politically correct liberals with delicate sensibilities and many patriotic Unionists as well. He is bound to irritate a large variety of people. Was he trying to do this?

    I think Chuck Thompson understood perfectly well the response he would get for the way he wrote his book. He wanted to provoke debate and argument. He wanted to garner attention from all the national and local media. And he wanted to do so while being entertaining in an over-the-top kind of way.

    In seeking to accomplish this goal, he used hyperbole and caricature. He ranted and made juvenile arguments. He did all of this while presenting some of the most damning facts ever presented in a single book. And he accomplished his goal of forcing people to confront these facts, even if they disagreed with his silly proposal about secession.

    I really don’t think he took his own proposal that seriously. As i recall, he admits it is unlikely to ever happen. He is just pushing an idea to its absurd conlusion. More importantly, he is calling the bluff of those who do seriously propose secession. He is advising we take these people at their word and turn the whole game around.

    You may disagree with what Chuck Thompson was trying to achieve in writing his book, but you can’t deny he accomplished it. A massive public debate has ensued across the country. He has gotten responses and reviews from secessionists and unionists, from Southerners and Northerners, from scholars and media.

    I applaud his accomplishment. We need more public debate like this. Call him an asshole or a fool. Dismiss him as a serious writer and thinker. Laugh off his secessioonist proposal as silly and simpleminded. But whatever you do, let’s have this discussion.

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