Individualism and Collectivism: U.S. State Comparison

For the map lovers out there, I found one of the more interesting maps that I’ve seen in a while.

It’s from a paper titled “Patterns of Individualism and Collectivism Across the United States“. The authors are  Joseph A. Vandello and Dov Cohen, the latter being the co-author with Richard Nisbett of Culture of Honor. Here is the summary:

“Although the individualism—collectivism dimension is usually examined in a US. versus Asian context,there is variation within the United States. The authors created an eight-item index ranking states in terms of collectivist versus individualist tendencies. As predicted, collectivist tendencies were strongest in the Deep South, and individualist tendencies were strongest in the Mountain West and Great Plains. In Part 2, convergent validity for the index was obtained by showing that state collectivism scores predicted variation in individual attitudes, as measured by a national survey. In Part 3, the index was used to explore the relationship between individualism—collectivism and a variety of demographic, economic,cultural, and health-related variables. The index may be used to complement traditional measures of collectivism and individualism and may be of use to scholars seeking a construct to account for unique U.S. regional variation.”

The map shows U.S. states according to their rates of collectivism (vs individualism). There is some of the typical North/South divide with the South showing high rates of collectivism (clannishness?), but that divide is actually seen more as you go west.

Iowa is the first state going in that direction that shows extreme low rates of collectivism. West of the Mississippi River is an entirely different place. This demonstrates how different Indiana is in comparison, the birth state of my parents. There is a good argument to be made about Indiana being part of the Upper South, at least culturally. It also indicates that California is most similar to the Deep South.

That doesn’t fit conventional thought about particular states and regions.

Borders of the Middle Border, Heart of the Heartland

I was reading my local alternative news and culture magazine, the Little Village. In the most recent issue, there is an article by Thomas Dean titled Mapping the Middle: What delineates the heartland. It is about how the Midwest is defined.

Dean mentions a mapping of the Midwest done by way of an online survey. He describes the results, from the Little Village article:

The eastern edges flow into New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma seem pretty solid on the map’s southern border. The western edges extend from the Texas panhandle as far as Idaho. And plenty of Canada is in “the Midwest,” too, extending on the north up to Calgary and Edmonton. Some responses even include Seattle, Las Vegas and much of northern Mexico. If the Midwest is a state of mind, this map redefines the idea of “expanded consciousness.”

The above links for the original website (sasaki.com) are now dead. I did find another article from the City Lab website (The Atlantic) that has info and also a map—Go Ahead, Try Drawing an Outline of the Midwest on a Map by Jennie Xie:

This is interesting survey as it includes respondents from all over the US and beyond. The map is interactive allowing you to look at the data according to where respondents were born and how long, if at all, they have lived in the Midwest. Depending on which category or categories is included, the Midwest’s boundaries shift, mainly centered in the same basic region but expanding or shrinking.

Dean mentions that, having taught in different states, he has had the opportunity to ask students about this topic. His “(unscientific) conclusion” was that, “The Midwest radiates out in a circle from the respondent’s location at the center.” He goes on to write:

When I asked the question in Michigan, Pennsylvania was often included; not one student mentioned either of the Dakotas, and I got only a smattering of the Minnesotas. When I asked students in Moorland, Minn. (just a wheat stem away from Fargo, N.D.), Montana and Colorado were popular answers, and it seemed as if they had never heard of Ohio and MIssouri. Nearly always, the responder’s own location was at the center of the circle.

That makes sense. We are subjectively biased, of course, the world extending outward from where we are. Besides, the Midwest is the Heartland and the heart is where your home is. Maybe that is why the results lead to such an extended defining of the boundaries of the Midwest by those outside of the Midwest. As I’ve argued, the Midwest is the standard by which many people judge being American. As America has grown, so has the Midwestern identity.

According to most mappings, Iowa appears to be about the center of what people think of as the Midwest. This is true for people born outside of the US and have spent no time in the Midwest. And this is true for those who were born in core Midwestern states and have lived in the Midwest their entire lives.

If you limit to Iowans who have lived in the Midwest their entire lives, you get the same boundaries as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Dean concludes with this:

Oh, and by the way, as I’ve solidified my own Midwestern map over the years to conform to the U.S. Census Bureau’s, Iowa City is about smack dab in the middle of that.

I’ve come to this view for my own reasons. As a long-term Iowa City resident, I’m biased toward Iowa (specifically Eastern Iowa) as the center of the Midwest. Most Americans seem to basically agree in that Iowa is somewhere in or directly around the center of the mapped results. This makes sense as this is the precise area where originated Standard American English (also called General American).

Midwest began as what was called the Middle West. It was seen as the expanding frontier in the main corridor through which early pioneers traveled. It seems that the Midwest has been expanding ever since. At this point, it has come to define the public perception of much of the interior expanses of largely rual landlocked states, especially any state that has a history of farming.

Iowa was once the far frontier, the Mississippi Rivr being the last major boundary of westward flow of settlements. Now Iowa has become the approximate geographic center of the Midwest, the Heart of the Heartland.

The Midwest is a major theme in my blog. Among other posts I could list, here are some related posts:

Midwestern Values of Community & the Common Good

Midwest vs Coasts: history, culture & politics

America’s Heartland: Middle Colonies, Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest

American Borg: On Assimilation & Family

Midlands Mestizo: Pluralism and Social Democracy

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

Midwestern Green

Iowa State Parks: Past and Present

To Be Iowan…

Iowa Biking & Rural Politics

Iowa Politics & the Younger Generations

Great Depression, Iowa, & Revolts

Radicals & Reformers of Indiana

Patchwork Nation: Evangelical Epicenters & Tractor Country

Appalachia Meets Midlands: My Kentucky & Indiana Family History

An Apology and a Clarification

“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
~ Howard Zinn

I called someone, a blogger named M.G,, a racist in a recent post. Actually, I called her blog post racist. In my post, there were quite a few discussions about racism and related topics. None of them seemed overly fruitful.

The least fruitful part was the discussion of the word itself. I was noting how odd it is that conservatives (and the conservative-minded) will criticize political correctness, except when they wish to use it themselves. I’m not a politically correct guy, but neither do I want to be mean-spirited. I wish to apologize for being mean-spirited.

Yes, M.G. made a blog post that was racially biased. Then again, we live in a society that is racially biased, pervasively and systemically. Going by studies, it is fair to say we all are racially biased to varying degrees and in various ways. It seems unfair to pick on M.G. who probably has no intent of being racist, just simply expressing a common attitude in our society.

Maybe it was wrong for me to call M.G. or rather her blog post racist. I could have called her racialist instead which some prefer. Racism implies intent to be racist whereas racialist is simply being racially biased. But that seems like pointless nitpicking. Tim Wise argues that intent is irrelevant or rather the specific intent is irrelevant. In terms of real world results, it doesn’t necessarily matter if your intent is to be racist or your intent is to not admit to the racial bias in yourself and not confront it in society; both end up supporting and promoting the continuation of racism. The real world results are what I care about, not what some blogger chooses to post.

In the comments section of my post (and in the post following it), I admitted to being an asshole. Or to put it in more polite terms, I was being mean-spirited. I was in a bad mood. I’m never far away from a bad mood as I’ve dealt with severe depression for a couple of decades now. It is a side of my personality I struggle with. I don’t like being mean. I don’t like being argumentative, critical and accusatory. My bad moods are my own problem.

However, I would argue, as Mark Fisher argues in Capitalist Realism, that mental illness like poverty and oppression are pervasive and systemic issues that get blamed on individuals, i.e., the externalization of costs translated into individualistic terms. This is a point that directly relates to what I’ve been trying to communicate to others. This is also why it is unhelpful to pick on individuals with racial bias. We are all products of our society. We need to put the focus on the source of the disease, not the symptoms. But we also need to realize that we are all part of the problem. We can’t just blame others. We have to take responsibility, myself included.

I apologize to any individual I picked on in that post, M.G. in particular. And I apologize to anyone involved for my overly confrontational behavior, my sometimes rude language. But no apologies will be offered for my passionate defense of truth (truth as I see it), even though it often leads me into conflict.

Now for the clarification.

In that same recent post, I also stated something that wasn’t stated as well as it could have been. It ended up being a distraction from the point I was trying to make. Here is what I wrote:

“We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America.

The key word here is ‘group’. This statement is true or false, depending on how groups are being defined, how the demographics are being divided.

If you divide people by race, blacks are the most violent group. But what is this group?

Blacks in America include a vast diversity. Some are Northerners and others Southerners. Some are urban residents and others rural. Some Christians, some Muslims and some not either. There are African immigrants who have no European genetics and no history of slavery. There are mixed race people from countries all over the world and so with different historical and cultural backgrounds. Then there is the historical population of American blacks whose ancestors were slaves, but the Gullah in South Carolina are quite different from the African Americans of New Orleans. One in ten of African Americans have more European genetics than African genetics; and so why aren’t they grouped with whites instead?

By shifting away from race, we can look at regional and area populations as I was doing. According to Culture of Honor by Nisbett and Cohen, another view of violence can be seen if we break things down into more specific details.

The South is more violent than the North. Some argue this is because of the South having more blacks, but what the authors found is that the precise regions of high violence are those with the fewest blacks and with the least history of slavery. The region in question is the rural South, typically associated with Appalachia but including what some call Greater Appalachia, mostly the Upper South extending over to the Ozarks. Appalachia and the Ozarks have a long history of violence. They were the most violent areas during the Civil War. This population has a tradition of vigilante justice and blood feuds.

The border areas between Kentucky and Tennessee has the highest historical rates of violence in the entire country. It is the most violent area in the rural South. The rural South is the most violent sub-region within the South as a region. And the South of course is the most violent region in the US. I might also add that the US is one of the most violent Western countries and one of the most violent developed countries in the world.

Broken down in this way, rural Southerners are the most violent group as a specific (sub-)regional population taken in toto. This also happens to be one of the whitest areas of the entire country.

How we group people determines what data we include and exclude. It determines what we see and don’t see, how we interpret and what we explain away.

With my statement, I was trying to demonstrate this point. If you divide people differently, you get different conclusions about who is most violent. I don’t think it is any more helpful to group all whites together as to group all blacks together. This is a point that most HBDers understand, whether or not they would make the same point as I’m making with the data.

My purpose certainly wasn’t to pick on poor whites simply because they are violent. I don’t want to pick on any poor people, no matter race, ethnicity or region. My fundamental purpose was to put the focus on poverty itself and the history of oppression behind it.

Here is the takeaway message:

All personal problems are also public problems.
All public problems are also personal problems.

This mixing causes life to be messy. There is a lot at stake in our daily interactions. Issues of emotion and miscommunication are to be expected.

I didn’t write this post in hoping to change anyone’s mind or to appease my critics. I simply wanted to communicate myself more clearly. I didn’t want to end with a sense of unresolved conflict, at least on my end. These are my final thoughts to the discussions in that post. I don’t want to be in the role of endlessly explaining all of this. If someone doesn’t see it as I see it, then so be it.