A Young Experiment

We forget how young is this country and how early on we still are in this social experiment.

When the country was founded, even the wise founders had almost no comprehension of what was meant by ‘republicanism’ and ‘democracy’, as these were mostly just things they had read about in ancient accounts. The old order of feudalism was still surviving in parts of England while in the US an entirely new system was being attempted. Feudalism would last throughout the 19th century in large swaths of Europe, not being fully ended until later revolutions and reforms. Monarchy and aristocracy lasted even longer, to this day retained in places such as England.

When my grandparents were children, people were alive who had personally met the founding fathers. And the last of the Indian Wars were fought when they were entering adulthood. In my parent’s early life, the last Civil War veterans, former slaveholders, and former slaves were alive (and consider how slavery was a way of extending the last remnants of the feudal order into modernity). Many blacks who voted for the first black president spent much of their lives without even the right to vote. Legalized racism is well within living memory. Some sundown towns were being maintained into my own childhood.

Just a century ago, most Americans were still rural small family farmers, whereas Europe began major urbanization centuries ago. The majority of American blacks were still rural a half century ago. Into the mid-20th century, subsistence farming and the barter economy continued to operate in some rural farming communities in the South. And it seems some of the most rural communities in Appalachia have maintained that old mentality of survival through kinship and community, not capitalism.

Before mandatory universal public education was created, few Americans had much if any education at all and most were functionally illiterate. When intelligence testing first was done over a century ago, the average IQ was amazingly low compared to present standards, as abstract thought was rather uncommon before the spread of education and urbanization. To this day, the number without a high school education remains surprisingly high. And more than three quarters of Americans don’t have a college degree.

Yet we complain about the experiment having failed. We’ve barely got this experiment going. We still haven’t attempted to implement a functioning democracy. We are in the stage of dreaming about and aspiring toward democracy, like a young kid having fantasized over and over about asking out on a date that girl he has a crush on. It’s time to take the risk and see what happens. That will be the next step.

We are too impatient, wanting the result without the effort. We are a country barely over a couple of centuries old, while other countries look at the world with a perspective of millennia of history and tradition and, yes, experimentation. The US is like an adolescent going through mood swings because he doesn’t always get his way, without a clue about what lies ahead. It’s time for America to embrace it’s national adulthood. But we’re afraid to leave our childhood behind.

The future is uncertain. That is always the case. We can’t avoid what is to come. But we can prepare for it.

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27 thoughts on “A Young Experiment

    • That expresses my own attitude. Too many Americans, left and right, act like the problems came out of nowhere when their side loses power. But neither side will take responsibility when they do have power.

      We will only have democracy when most Americans want and demand democracy, not just in their government but in their own behavior. Democratic accountability applies both to the government and the public. But at the moment we have little accountability in any part of our society.

  1. I would not be surprised if WWIII happened. I would be shocked, as it would be absolutely terrible, but not surprised. The world is in a similar situation to the way it was when the first two world wars happened. New technology has come around, people are starting to become loud because of new means to, and they are electing loud political leaders. The people who didn’t want these things to happen are becoming uneasy, and terrorism is happening as a result. There have been many global economic issues in these past few years, and oil is just as valuable. What worries me is Einstein’s quote “I do not know what weapons World War III will be fought with, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones” is becoming increasingly accurate.

    • No one saw WWI coming. They had no concept that such a war could happen. European powers kept pushing situations further toward conflict, not realizing how much the world had changed since the old imperial wars. Many leaders today seem equally clueless.

      It is those in power who are pushing us toward the edge, as if it were game. That has always confused me. Why do those in power want to push us toward world war, revolution, or whatever it turns into? There is no possible way they will benefit from what happens. We will all be screwed. It seems like the ruling elite have given up and become suicidal.

  2. The problem is that America is a very big place with different ways of life. Without the electoral college the big states would be able to completely ignore the small states. While not part of it’s original design the electoral college helps racial minorities be heard as well. Blacks are less than 15% of the country. In a popular vote election that would be mostly irrelevant but instead they are an extremely important group for winning elections.
    How it worked out this election is fairly simple. Obama’s economic recovery was really only on the coastlines, while middle America continued to decline. Clinton promised four more years of the same and that got even the traditionally blue parts of middle America to stand up and shout “NO”. Their problems were big enough they were able to override the majority position. In a popular vote election their problems would remain unaddressed.
    It’s not a perfect system but it’s the best we got. Only thing I can think of to improve it is to get rid of first past the post voting. Other than that I can’t think of a better way to run a country like the United States.

    • The problem is the only minority protected by the electoral college is rural white people. Most blacks don’t live in small population rural states. So, the electoral college actually disadvantages blacks and gives even further power to the white majority.

      The second point is sort of correct, but far from entirely. Iowa, along with the states immediately west and north of it, were almost entirely untouched by the recession. These are farming and natural resource states whose economy is great even during down times. That said, the rural communities have been dying for generations now, especially these past decades, and so has little to do with the recession or recovery.

      Iowa, compared to most of the country, has low rates of unemployment, poverty, inequality, violent crime, etc. Iowa hasn’t been any worse off this past decade than it was before. It’s a state that gets massive subsidies from the federal government, but still tends to pay more in taxes than it receives in benefits. Iowa had gone to Democratic presidential candidates for decades, until George W. Bush in 2004 who won it narrowly. Then Iowa went back to the Democrats for the next two presidential elections, for the black guy.

      So, why did a typically Democratic, historically unionized, and economically stable state like Iowa go to Trump? Even with the electoral college, Trump is not the kind of candidate most Iowans tend to vote for. The better question: Why were Iowans so uninspired this time around to vote for the Democratic candidate? If Clinton had pretended to care about the people living in these states and not assumed they were in the bag, she probably would have won.

    • That still seems to miss the point. That isn’t really an example of diversity.

      In Switzerland, those appear to be simply separate and geographically isolated communities with no diversity within the communities. They act as semi-autonomous ethno-nations, similar to Native American reservations or the Spanish Basque and Romani communities That isn’t even an example of segregation because it isn’t enforced.

      In countries where there is segregation such as the United States, it is because of a history of institutional/systemic prejudice that created it, laws that enforced it, and/or economic inequality exacerbated it. Diversity doesn’t cause that segregation. And in diverse societies with less segregation over long periods of time, there is more stability and tolerance and peace.

      All of that remains unexplained by that study. So, obviously, that study still is ignoring confounding factors which means it still is perpetuating ignorant bigotry, even if unintentionally by refusing to question misinformed assumptions and bring them to light. How is that helpful? How does that further knowledge and public debate? Well, it doesn’t. It’s cluelessness leading to further cluelessness, ad infinitum.

    • I’m not feeling forgiving these days toward ignorance and simplemindedness, even if unintentional. We are long past the point where we can allow our society to be dominated by unquestioned prejudices and intellectual laziness. We need to finally get serious about understanding our situation.

        • There are real problems. But the point is they are complex. Simply yelling ‘diversity’ over and over again explains nothing. Measures of diversity typically act as proxies for a thousand other confounding factors. Speaking of diversity is a way of avoiding the complexities. That is problematic because it is only in the complexities that we will find understanding and progress.

          Diversity is just a word. There is no country in the world that isn’t diverse. The question is why do we forget the diversity exists and sometimes paper it over with a perception of homogeneity. The question isn’t why homogoneity exists but how the perception of it is created.

          Whites in America are among the most diverse people in the world, but they have come to be perceived as some penultimate example of lacking in diversity. WTF! You could get rid of all the non-whites in the country and the whites from different backgrounds would go on fighting with each other. Most homogoneity is a perception built on contrasting with some other population, but the homogoneity has no real substance.

          The whole world is endless, often hidden, diversity.

          Take another interesting example. Semitic Jews have more ethnically in common with the Semitic Palestinians (the Jews who never left) than with non-Semitic Westerners. So, why do so many Jews see Westerners as natural allies and Palestinians as natural enemies? Could it be because there are historical and cultural connections that can connect and divide people, no matter the ethnicities involved?

          Besides, what exactly do we mean by an ‘ethnicity’ other than people identify with other people for reasons they can’t even fully explain to themselves? Ethnicities are always invented traditions and often invented quite recently.

          Not that long ago, the border people between Scotland and Ireland were a diversity of ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and religions. But now many of the people whose ancestry originated from there simply identify as Scots-Irish, American, or white. How is it that a few centuries of the Scottish, English, German refugees, French Huguenots along with some Irish fucking each other (and then fucking Native Americans and African Americans) somehow results in an ‘ethnicity’ with a proud history as if they were an ancient noble race?

          They are goddam mutts and nothing else. We are all goddam mutts.

    • Such bigoted ignorance pisses me off. It has nothing to do with diversity. That is just a word.

      I live in a city with a diversity of people with different races, ethnicities,languages, national origins, and religions. It’s not even an entirely stable population because probably half the population is associated with the university.

      Yet it has extremely low rates of conflict and violence. Why is that? Because there is little segregation, poverty, and inequality.

      It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. All that it requires is someone who isn’t an ignorant bigot.

    • Might it also be important to note that Western countries intentionally have promoted instability and conflict in the Middle East, ever since the forced dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after WWI. The best way to create peace is for Western countries to stop being evil, sociopathic, authoritarian power-mongers in the world. That would be a good start, especially considering that Western countries are also among the greatest contributors to climate change problems.

  3. For me in-group out-group is tough because I don’t automatically feel more affinity with my demographic, ASian American women. If anything I have trouble identifying with people of my exact demographic because I don’t relate well to them. I’m not sure what my in or out group is. My in and out group seem to be more strongly based on personality and type rather than race.

    http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0190272515612403

    • Diversity is a perception. Britain is one of the most diverse populations in the world. It has its origins in multiple ethnicities, languages, and religions.

      That diversity led to the war between the Germanic/Scandinavian/Celtic tribes and the Romans and then later Normans, the English Civil War, the wars between England and Wales and Scotland and Ireland, the constant fighting with the ethnicially mixed border people, the endless conflict between Pagan traditions and Catholicism and Church of England and Puritans and Quakers, etc. Some of the most violent terrorism in recent European history came from Ireland, in their fighting centuries of foreign imperialism and religious oppression from England.

      Yet today many perceive Britain as a homogeneous place where the problem is those few Islamic immigrants. Are these ignorant bigots utterly fucking clueless about history? Britain has a long, bloody history based on conflict between diverse groups. It shows how quickly those old conflicts can disappear during times when poverty, inequality, and segregation lessened.

  4. “Or are people who live near Latinos on average poorer and drawn to Trump for other reasons? This article is interesting but doesn’t explain how you statistically untangled your data. Also, among all the links it’s hard to find scholarly work that might include some science, why not add a couple references at the bottom?

    I enjoyed your article and the research provided, however I have to agree with Andrew Q to some extent regarding economic positions for those whites living in primarily Latino communities or neighborhoods. The extent to which I agree does center on the premise that there is more white support who may be of lower income in these Latino area’s, however considering the past eight years I do believe there is a race element that exists despite income. As immigration was pushed more and more under the Obama administration, there very well may be a correlation between the rise in white identity politics given Trumps message as you mentioned, but I believe it was more heavily influenced by President Obama’s rhetoric and actions during the previous eight years. In almost a “perfect storm,” identity politics that the democrat party has embraced since the 60’s has seemed to have substantially backfired during the 2016 election. I would even go further to argue that this “backfire” was beginning during the 2010 midterms. The majority of Trumps base was arguably white, blue collar males. As these individuals were seemingly skipped over in new policy implementation or felt to have been segregated under the Obama administration, Trump was able to turn identity politics in favor of the GOP. As was stated in the closing paragraph, getting race out of the democratic process is going to be increasingly difficult, however one might suggest both sides of the aisle need to back away from identity politics. Instead of running a campaign focusing on rights and policy benefiting groups X Y & Z why not generate a campaign message that empowers all Americans? I believe Sanders had the best shot at this, and Clinton tried, however Clinton was a flawed candidate, unable win over key votes in some heavily blue collar states.”

    https://theconversation.com/donald-trump-and-the-rise-of-white-identity-in-politics-67037

    • Here are some complicating factors. The following two issues don’t fit the mainstream narrative.

      First, Trump received more votes from middle-to-upper class whites than from poor working class whites. His initial support didn’t come from the upper classes, but neither did it come from the lower classes. The earliest Trump supporters were above average in wealth, just the standard middle class.

      Second, Trump did no worse among minorities than past Republican candidates. He actually did better than some. It was with the help of minorities that he won states like Florida. Some data I’ve seen showed that he also won stronger support from rural Hispanics, not just rural whites. Minorities, like whites, aren’t a monolithic demographic with a single set of experiences and values.

      We probably shouldn’t read too much about any of this data. So many Americans didn’t vote at all. And those who did vote were faced with such horrible choices, at least in terms of the two main candidates. Even a large part of Trump’s supporters admitted that they didn’t necessarily like, trust, and/or agree with Trump. And Clinton was barely less despised and feared.

      • The article I believe was more about how whites who lived near a lot of latinos were more conscious of their whiteness

        Though it did mention that those conscious of their whiteness was more likely to support trump

        • Then again, in a society like ours, that would be true for many demographics. Rural Hispanics who voted at higher rates for Trump were probably more conscious of their Hispanicaness, along with their ruralness. Cuban-Americans and Haitian-Americans who helped Trump win Florida were probably more conscious of their ethnicity.

          I’d add one more thing. Most whites who voted for Trump aren’t much different than most whites that voted for Clinton. They are primarily urbanites and suburbanites who don’t live around many Hispanics.

          Even a rural state like Iowa is one of the whiter states around with very few towns that have a concentration of Hispanics. Trump won most of the Northern states that have the least number of minorities in the country and that have the least experience and worries about immigration. In polls, populations in the most Northern states tend to be moderate on immigration issues, neither strongly for or against, probably because it is mostly a non-issue to them.

          Interestingly, the Southern part of the country doesn’t follow expected patterns. The majority in Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Georgia, and Florida (all states Trump won) think that “Immigrants strengthen American society”. Even in other Southern states, the divide on attitude toward immigrants is about evenly split. Only 4 state populations in the entire country have a stronger negative attitude toward immigrants where more than 60% see immigrants as a threat.

          Some of the states in the Northeast, strongly Democratic, have among the most negative attitudes toward immigrants in the country. Yet states like New York with some of the highest rates of Hispanics in the country also have a larger majority supporting immigration. Actually, the states with the most Hispanics are the states with the most support for immigrants, although the contrary doesn’t show a any clear and consistent pattern.

          None of that is to say there isn’t a correlation, at least in some populations in some areas, between minority populations and attitudes of whites. But looking at larger sets of data does indicate it is much more complicated. Those looking for prejudice as a main explanation are often sifting through masses of data in order to find relatively small differences related to correlations that may or may not have any direct causal relationship.

          I live in a town with a large foreign-born Asian population. But I’ve noticed no negative attitudes toward Asians here. The difference is that this is a wealthier town with a stable economy and these Asians, mostly students or university staff, are wealthier.

          Economic stress tends to create a different kind of social dynamic. In the early 20th century when job competition was high, Northern whites hated Southern whites immigrating North, just as WASPS hated ethnic whites and US-born whites hated immigrant whites. Whatever new population that is coming in during economic hard times won’t be welcomed, no matter their race or ethnicity.

          One complicating factor for this election is that race and ethnicity get conflated. We talk about white attitudes toward Hispanics. That ignores the fact that many Hispanics identify as white and, in many cases, look as white or whiter than many Southern Europeans. Even among Hispanics, their is strongly divided opinion over immigration issues. The majority of Hispanic voters either support “Better border security and enforcement” or support it equally to a “pathway to citizenship”.

          So, why are we so idiotically surprised that there would also be strongly divided opinion in the rest of the population as well? Most Americans are in the middle of this issue, not at the extremes. It’s similar to how most Americans simultaneously support both gun rights and gun regulation, simultaneously support both women’s right to choose AND lessening abortion rates. There is no contradiction, therefore, that the largest portion of Americans simultaneously supports both pathway to citizenship and immigration enforcement.

          Look at Republicans alone. The majority of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship. Even among Trump supporters, it is about even split down the middle. Almost half of Trump supporters support a pathway to citizenship. When the Republican Party is as divided over immigration as are Hispanics, you have to consider the possibility that the main divide we are looking at here is not primarily racial and ethnocentric. So, why are the partisan hacks and corporate media putting so much effort into pushing this particular narrative?

          http://www.pewhispanic.org/states/

          http://www.prri.org/research/poll-immigration-reform-views-on-immigrants/

    • As so often is the case, there are some things this misses.

      Trump also won many states that had low rates of addiction, alcoholism, suicide, etc, including some key states that Democrats often win. I don’t doubt that the worst off communities voted for Trump instead of someone as horrendous as Clinton, but then again they probably would have preferred Sanders over both Clinton and Trump.

      Ignoring that, it remains a fact that most voters for Trump weren’t desperately poor people in desperately poor communities. The average Trump voter was a middle class urban resident. Why is there this obsession over the minority of Trump voters while ignoring the majority of Trump voters?

      Anyway, it doesn’t explain why Florida was won by Obama and then won by Trump. Nor does it explain why places like Minnesota, Virginia, and New Mexico were won by Obama and then won by Clinton. Heck, why has Minnesota not gone to a Republican presidential candidate in almost a half century, not even with a crappy Democratic choice like Clinton? Minnesota is majority white and rural, stereotypical flyover country.

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