Cultures and Determinism

Culture isn’t deterministic in an absolutely predictable way. We can measure certain factors within a culture that can probabilistically predict outcomes, but a culture as a whole is constantly shifting even as patterns of collective identity are maintained. Cultures aren’t just limits, but also potentialities. A cultural worldview is a reality tunnel that, while closing down particular possibilities, opens up other possibilities.

This became clear to me in reading Colin Woodards American Nations. He described the development of California. It seemed like a perfect example of how cultures interact to with unforeseen consequences.

California (and the Ecotopia Northwest) is a unique area, very different from the Eastern part of the country. Americans normally identify the Scots-Irish with the Appalachian South, but Scots-Irish are concentrated in many different areas. Scots-Irish immigrants mostly entered through Pennsylvania where there still are many and they have assimilated to the Quaker Midlands culture there. Extending from Pennsylvania, there are many Scots-Irish in the Lower Midwest border area, although interestingly there are fewer Scots-Irish in the Upper Midwest than in New England. The largest concentration of Scots-Irish is actually in the region around the Northwest, including Northern California and the Northern Far West.

It’s equally interesting to consider all the areas the Scots-Irish have intentionally or unintentionally avoided for the most part. As I pointed out, the Upper Midwest is almost entirely devoid of Scots-Irish. The population of the Upper Midwest is a combination of Germans and Scandinavians, and it is the area of the US known for having one of the strongest traditions of socialism and communitarianism, certainly the only area that had a city run by a socialist majority political leadership for about a half century. The only other areas with comparatively low percentage of Scots-Irish are Florida and the Lower Southwest, both Hispanic areas of the former Spanish Empire and once part of Mexico.

California, specifically Northern California, has a connection to New England Yankeedom. It seems strange to see how many Scots-Irish chose to move to both of these areas heavily influenced by Yankee culture and politics. I’m not sure if the Scots-Irish assimilated in New England, but in Northern California it wasn’t a perfect assimilation for anyone involved. Mexicans had settled in Southern California more and they maintained their culture there while New Englanders came after to Northern California where they had a majority in government while also operating the first churches, schools, and newspapers. Following the New Englanders settling the mostly coastal areas which became urbanized, the Scots-Irish spread out mostly in the rural areas. Yankee dominance was never complete for New Englanders were outnumbered by those of other ethnicities.

This created a weird amalgam in California not found anywhere else. The New Englanders brought the Puritan tradition of industriousness and utopian social reform. The Scots-Irish brought their love of independence and grassroots populism. The two cultures conflicted at first which lessened certain aspects of both cultures while magnifying other aspects. Strangely, the Scots-Irish undermined the Puritan religious impulses and helped secularize California which is completely the opposite of how the Scots-Irish embraced evangelical fundamentalism in Appalachia. Also, the Scots-Irish population in the Northwest shows less gun violence than in Appalachia.

Different social conditions lead to entirely different results.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s