Frrrreeeeeddoommmm?????

Jared Dillian wrote an article simply titled, Frrrreeeeeddoommmm. I think we are supposed to imagine the title being screamed by Mel Gibson as his Braveheart character, William Wallace, is tortured to death. The author compares two states, concluding that he prefers ‘freedom’:

“If you want someone from Connecticut to get all riled up, drive extra slow in the passing lane. Connecticutians are very particular about that. The right lane is for traveling, the left lane is for passing. If you’re in the left lane for any other reason than passing, you are a jerk.

“So if you really want to ruin someone’s day, drive in the left lane at about 50 miles per hour. They will be grumpy for three days straight, I assure you.

“I was telling this story to one of my South Carolina friends—how upset people from Connecticut get about this, and how people from South Carolina basically drive however the hell they want—and he said ruefully, “Freedom…”

“He’s a guy who perhaps likes lots of rules to organize society, and perhaps he’d rather live in a world where some law governs how you conduct yourself in every aspect of your life, including how you drive. I tell you what, after growing up in Connecticut and then spending the last six years in the South, I’m enjoying the freedom, even if it means I occasionally get stuck behind some idiot.”

Here is my response. Mine isn’t exactly a contrarian view. Rather, it’s more of a complexifying view.

I take seriously the freedom to act, even when others think it’s wrong, depending of course on other factors. But there is no such thing as absolute freedom, just trade-offs made between benefits and costs. There are always constraints upon our choices and, as social animals, most constraints involve a social element, whether or not laws are involved.

Freedom is complex. Freedom from what and/or toward what?

The driving example is perfect. Connecticut has one of the lowest rates of car accidents and fatalities in the country. And South Carolina has one of the highest. Comparing the most dangerous driving state to the safest, a driver is 10 times more likely to die in an accident.

Freedom from death is no small freedom. Yet there is more to life than just freedom from death. Authoritarian countries like Singapore probably have low car accident rates and fatalities, but I’d rather not live in an authoritarian country.

There needs to be a balance of freedoms. There is an individual’s freedom to act. And then there is the freedom to not suffer the consequences of the actions of others. There is nothing free in externalized costs or, to put it another way, all costs must be paid by someone. It’s related to the free rider problem and moral hazard.

That is supposed to be the purpose of well designed (i.e., fair and just) political, legal, and economic systems. Freedom doesn’t just happen. A free society is a creation of choices made by many people over many generations. Every law passed does have unintended consequences. But, then again, every law repealed or never passed in the first place also has unintended consequences. There is no escaping unintended consequences.

There is also a cultural component to this. Southern states like South Carolina have a different kind of culture than Northern states like Connecticut. Comparing the two regions, the South is accident prone in general with higher rates of not just car accidents but also such things as gun accidents. In the North, even in states with high gun ownership, there tends to be lower rates of gun accidents.

In Connecticut or Iowa, it’s not just lower rate of dying in accidents (car, gun, etc). These kinds of states have lower mortality rates in general and hence on average longer lifespans. Maybe it isn’t the different kinds of laws that are the significant causal factor. Instead, maybe it’s the cultural attitude that leads both to particular laws and particular behaviors. The laws don’t make Connecticut drivers more safe. It’s simply that safety-conscious Connecticut drivers want such laws, but they’d likely drive safer even without such laws.

I’m not sure ‘freedom’ is a central issue in examples like this. I doubt Connecticutians feel less free for having safer roads and more orderly driving behavior. It’s probably what they want. They are probably just valuing and emphasizing different freedoms than South Carolinians.

There is the popular saying that your freedom ends at my nose. Even that leaves much room for interpretation. If your factory is polluting the air I breathe, your freedom to pollute has fully entered not only my nose but also my lungs and bloodstream.

It’s no mere coincidence that states with high accident rates also tend to have high pollution rates. And no mere coinicidence that states with low accident rates tend to have low pollution rates. These are the kinds of factors that contribute to the disparity of mortality rates.

It also has to do with attitudes toward human life. The South, with its history of slavery, seems to view life as being cheap. Worker accident rates are also higher in the South. All of this does have to do with laws, regulations, and unionization (and laws that make union organization easier or harder). But that leaves the question of why life is perceived differently in some places. Why are Southerners more cavalier about life and death? And why do they explain this cavalier attitude as being an expression of liberty?

To many Northerners, this cavalier attitude would be perceived quite differently. It wouldn’t be placed in the frame of ‘liberty’. This relates to the North literally not being part of the Cavalier culture that became the mythos of the South. The Cavaliers fought on the losing side of the English Civil War and many of them escaped to Virginia where they helped establish a particular culture that was later embraced by many Southerners who never descended from Cavaliers*.

Cavalier culture was based on honor culture. It included, for example, dueling and violent fighting. Men had to prove themselves. Recent research shows that Southerners are still more aggressive today, compared to Northerners. This probably relates to higher rates of road rage and, of course, car accidents.

Our culture doesn’t just encourage or discourage freedom. It more importantly shapes our view of freedom.

(*The apparent origin of Dillian’s article is a bit ironic. William Wallace fought against England which was still ruled by a Norman king, which is to say ruled by those whose descendants would later be called Cavaliers in their defense of the king against the Roundheads. The French Normans had introduced such fine traditions as monarchy, aristocracy, and feudalism. But they also introduced a particular variety of honor culture that was based on class and caste, the very same tradition that became the partly fictionalized origin story of Southern culture.)

On Teaching Well

I noticed that one of my older posts was linked to at another blog, U.S. History Ideas for Teachers. The author is Lauren Schreiber Brown and her piece was both detailed and thoughtful. The link in question is the second in this paragraph (from The 7 Things All Good Lessons Have in Common):

And realistically, that’s what a lot of us do. We know what we did last year, and yesterday, and so what comes next is comparing the North and South. But we should–every year–ask ourselves why do students need to know about the similarities and differences between the North and South? What is the point? How does this understanding help us better comprehend both the onset of the Civil War as well as its outcome? Do any of these differences still exist? In what way(s) does studying this topic improve the quality of our students’ lives?

I wanted to respond. But my response was too long for the character count at that blog. Plus, even the shorter comment I left there was never approved or else disappeared into the internet purgatory. So, I’ll make it a post, as I think it’s a worthy topic.

* * * *

I’m not a teacher, but I found this post interesting. I like how much thought you are putting into this. Education is important and teaching is a tough job. I’m glad to know teachers like you are out there are considering these kinds of issues and questions.

I noticed you linked to my blog, the post comparing the North and South. I spent my own grade school education initially in the Midwest and later in the Deep South. I never liked history, I must admit. I can’t say I had bad teachers, but they never quite found a way to make history seem to matter in my experience. In particular, I didn’t learn anything about the differences between the North and South.

I don’t even remember what I was taught in any history class. None of it ever stuck. I didn’t even know I enjoyed learning about history until I was well into adulthood. In recent years, I’ve taken history more seriously and have become fascinated about it, and not just about American history either.

I’m constantly coming across new data. It amazes me all the things I didn’t learn in school. History, if taught well, should be one of the most engaging topics for students. Yet so many people similar to me were bored silly by history classes. Why is that?

Early America was an interesting place. But before I started studying on my own, I didn’t realize that was the case. Most Americans, for example, are unaware that several colonies had non-British majorities. I was reminded again of this diversity recently:

“…from every part of Europe.”

At that post, I share a passage from The World in 1776 by Marshall B. Davidson. The part that most stood out to me is where he points out that, “One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants.” I never knew that.

That multicultural reality was a central point that Thomas Paine made in arguing for independence. He wrote that, “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

I realize that is just info. But a good teacher should be able to make it relevant by connecting the diversity of the past to the diversity of the present. It’s not as if America only became an immigrant country in the 20th century. We are living in a continuity of what came before. An effective teacher would bring history alive and get students excited through the teacher’s own engagement with the subject matter.

I know one thing that helped for me was doing genealogical research. That made it personally real. But that goes off into a different kind of learning experience.

Contrast that to how I was taught history when I was younger. I remember in one class that I took 20 pages of notes for a single test. The teacher wasn’t horrible and he did try to get us to think about what we were learning, but I remember just feeling swamped by endless factoids. I wasn’t able to assimilate the info and no one taught me how to do so. That is the biggest failure of school in my experience, the lack of teaching students how to learn which goes hand in hand with teaching the love of learning.

I was a fairly smart kid. I had a learning disability and that made it difficult, but I was able to learn when I felt engaged enough. Still, the way I was so often taught made me hate school. It felt like a pointless struggle. In a sink or swim education system, I usually found myself sinking.

I had to learn how to learn mostly on my own and mostly as an adult. And I doubt I’m alone in that experience. That is a problem for the education system, and it isn’t a problem that can easily be dealt with by individual teachers. I imagine teachers are too busy just trying to teach to the test that anything more involved than the basics is asking for the near impossible.

It makes me sad that teachers get blamed. Teachers don’t have the time and resources to be effective. To focus on one thing means to sacrifice everything else. I couldn’t imagine the amount of planning it takes to try to make it all work.

Your emphasis on a conclusion probably is important. More than trying to shove info into students’ heads, a teacher should help them to understand the significance, ideally both in terms of personal relevance and real world application. A conclusion should drive home some central point or issue. What is learned needs to be connected and framed for otherwise it will quickly be forgotten.

* * * *

I should point out that some of my favorite classes were also my most demanding.

I had an awesome art teacher. He was a professional artist and taught me some serious skills. But his teaching went way beyond that. He is the only teacher I ever had who taught me how to think on my own.

Of course, art is far different from history. Maybe more similar to history is a topic like English, which was one of my other favorite classes. I had an English teacher who was English and he focused on the classics. He didn’t shy away from teaching difficult works. I suppose it was in 11th grade when I took his class and one book we read was Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, a daunting piece of writing even for an adult. He simply taught me the love of engagement with a text, as it was clear how much he enjoyed what he taught.

It’s hard to know what is the difference that makes a difference. I’m sure there were students who were bored and disengaged even in those classes that I loved so much. Not everything is going to work well for all students. That is the greatest challenge, especially the more students there are in a single class. It’s easy for students to get lost in a teacher’s focus on the entire class.

In the end, I think the most important thing a teacher does is to model a particular attitude and sets of behaviors. Students won’t likely care about what a teacher doesn’t care about. On the other hand, a love of learning can be contagious, even for a subject matter a student normally dislikes. I ultimately think there is no such thing as boring material, even if some subjects are harder to teach than others.

* * * *

By the way, I thought I’d share with you some cool facts. Combined, they are an example of how cool facts can help make larger points and show greater connections.

William Penn died in 1718. That was the year Benjamin Franklin was indentured as a printer’s apprentice. Some years later as an older teenager, Franklin made his way to Philadelphia where he began to do his own printing. Pennsylvania was one of those colonies that had a non-British majority, as Penn had traveled in Germany and intentionally invited Germans among others to settle in his colony (it’s interesting to note that more Americans today have German ancestry than any other, especially in the Northern states). Franklin complained about all the Germans for fear they wouldn’t assimilate (sounds familiar?). But as a businessman he was quick to take advantage by printing the first German language newspaper there.

When Franklin was in London, he met Thomas Paine, both having in common their being autodidacts. It was also in London where Paine first saw major political and labor union organizing, along with regular food riots. I might note that it was in London that the Palatine Germans (in the early 1700s) first immigrated before many headed to the American colonies, although these aren’t the same Germans that mostly populated Pennsylvania. This particular influx of Germans did happen in Franklin’s childhood and so it was a major social issue at the time. Anyway, by way of Franklin, Paine made his way to the American colonies and he ended up in Philadelphia, which is the location of Germantown where among the Germans the abolition movement began, and also where Paine helped found the first American abolition society. It was in Philadelphia that Paine first experienced the diversity of the American colonies and so was inspired to see them as something more than a mere extension of England.

It is interesting that the British used so many Hessian soldiers. This was related to Great Britain having alliances with German states. King George III being the Elector of Hanover (ethnically German and the first in his line to speak English as his first language). In the American Revolution, there were Germans fighting on both sides. Many of the descendants of those Germans would also fight each other in the world wars, although then with Americans and the Britains as allies.

Thomas Paine died in 1809. That was the year Abraham Lincolon was born. Lincoln, of course, was famous for ending slavery (after Lincoln’s winning the presidency with the support of German-Americans, the Civil War was partly won because of the mass immigrations to the North, including the often idealistic and socially liberal German Forty-Eighters, refugees of a failed revolution). Less well known is that Lincoln was influenced by Paine’s writings and, like Paine, wrote a deist tract (the only copy of which was burned up by a friend who thought it threatened LIncoln’s political career).

About a half century later, Theodore Roosevelt would call Paine “that dirty little atheist.” That is interesting when one considers that Roosevelt, like Lincoln before him, helped to promote Paine’s progressive vision of America. Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would push that progressivism to yet another level. Although in a different party from Lincoln, FDR also was heavily inspired by Paine. As a side note, the Roosevelt family’s ancestry goes back to the Dutch settlers of the Dutch colony that would become New York, yet another part of early American diversity, and also the place where young Franklin first ran away to and where Paine would spend his last years.

Let me shift back to Lincoln’s lifetime. Karl Marx, who was born in Germany and saw firsthand the social unrest that led to the revolutions of 1848, was forced to flee to England. From there, he later wrote a letter to Lincoln to show his support for the Union’s cause in fighting slave power. Marx probably felt an affinity because Lincoln, early on as president, openly argued that “Labor is the superior of capital.” Charles Dana was a socialist Republican who, before becoming Lincoln’s Undersecretary of War, was the managing editor of the New York Tribune where he published Marx’s writings. Lincoln regularly read that newspaper and Dana had introduced him Marx’s ideas on a labour theory of value.

Marx’s ideas would then be a major inspiration for the ideological conflict that erupted into the Cold War. There was always an ethnic element to this as well, whether the enemy was Germans or Russians, but Germans unlike Russians were always seen as a greater threat since that ancestry was so large in America. German-Americans were always mistrusted, from the colonial era to the world wars. Early twentieth century saw the cultural genocide and forced assimilation of German-Americans, which saw many being sent to internment camps. Until that time, German-Americans had continually maintained their own culture with newspapers written and even public schools taught in the German language. German-American culture was wiped from the collective memory and this heritage was lost for so many.

All of that then leads up to where we are now. The world wars sent even more Germans to the US. Waves of German immigrants have regularly occurred throughout American history. That is why there are today so many Americans of German ancestry, including many students who are not being taught this history about their own ancestors. Sadly, most Americans have forgotten or else never learned about both the early diversity of America and the early radicalism of the likes of Paine.

There ya go. From colonial era to revolution to civil war to the present. That is how one makes history interesting and it was accomplished in only about a page of text. But why this can never be taught is because it is neither politically correct nor ideologically neutral, even though it is all entirely true.

* * * *

I had some thoughts about the example of cool facts that I offered.

There are several reasons why it demonstrates effective communication of history. Besides offering cool facts, multiple connections are offered, a larger framing is made to give context, the development of issues and ideas is shown over time, and a conclusion is offered that explains the relevance. All of that is accomplished in a few paragraphs.

My brain works that way. I make connections and I look for the big picture. That is part of my “learning disability.” What doesn’t work for me is factoid rote learning. Then again, that is true for most people, even if more extremely true for my weirdly operating brain.

So, why don’t teachers teach this way? Because the education system isn’t set for it.

In those paragraphs, I covered material involving multiple countries, multiple centuries, multiple individuals, multiple conflicts, and multiple issues. That doesn’t conform to how students are tested and so the system disincentivizes teaching in a way that would be the most effective. No standardized test will ever have a question that covers such a large territory of knowledge, even though that is precisely what makes interesting history, how it all fits together.

Still, a great teacher would find a way to bring in that style of teaching, if only in those rare moments when time allows.

Southern Blacks: From Old World to Americanized

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. I recommend the book and the audio version in particular.

I’ve had a longtime interest in migration patterns, both to the U.S. and between regions. Reading this book is companion to my reading about the migrations of Southern whites to the same regions Southern blacks headed, mostly the industrial Midwest and California. My previous posts on Southern white migration can be found here and here.

This touches on one of my most favorite blogging themes, the Midwest. I have even more posts about that which I won’t even try to list or link. Where this book touched on the Midwest theme is in contrasting the Northern and Southern cultures. In quoting immigrants, Southern blacks spoke of moving to the North (and other regions of the non-South) as becoming “Americanized”. Others spoke of the South as the “Old World”, as if they had immigrated to the North from a foreign country in some far off continent.

The following are four passages from Wilkerson’s book, the fourth and longest one is Wilkerson speaking of her own experience as the Northern child of Southern black immigrants.

* * * *

It turned out that the old-timers were harder on the new people than most anyone else. “Well, their English was pretty bad,” a colored businessman said of the migrants who flooded Oakland and San Francisco in the forties, as if from a foreign country. To his way of looking at it, they needed eight or nine years “before they seemed to get Americanized.”

As the migrants arrived in the receiving stations of the North and West, the old-timers wrestled with what the influx meant for them, how it would affect the way others saw colored people, and how the flood of black southerners was a reminder of the Jim Crow world they all sought to escape. In the days before Emancipation, as long as slavery existed, no freed black was truly free. Now, as long as Jim Crow and the supremacy behind it existed, no blacks could ever be sure they were beyond its reach.

One day a white friend went up to a longtime Oakland resident named Eleanor Watkins to ask her what she thought about all the newcomers.

“Eleanor,” the woman said , “you colored people must be very disgusted with some of the people who have come here from the South and the way they act.”

“Well, Mrs. S.,” Eleanor Watkins replied. “Yes, some colored people are very disgusted, but as far as I’m concerned, the first thing I give them credit for is getting out of the situation they were in.… Maybe they don’t know how to dress or comb their hair or anything , but their children will and their children will.”

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 5285-5297). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

Both men start to lament the changes all around them, the sadder effects of the big city of the North on the people of the South. George waxes on about the days when “people would come down to 135th Street with their house chairs, and they would baptize people in the Harlem River.

“We used to have a boat ride off 125th Street in the Dyckman section,” he says.

“Spread the blankets out. Midsummer, people didn’t have air-conditioning. People would stay up there all night and play card games.

“Things were so much different,” he says. “Drugs wasn’t heard of where I came from. When I came to New York, I didn’t know what a reefer was.”

“We got to being Americanized,” Reverend Harrison is saying. “It got to where we don’t help each other.”

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 8481-8487). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 * * * *

The hierarchy in the North “ called for blacks to remain in their station,” Lieberson wrote, while immigrants were rewarded for “their ability to leave their old world traits” and become American as quickly as possible . Society urged them to leave Poland and Latvia behind and enter the mainstream white world. Not so with their black counterparts like Ida Mae, Robert, and George.

“Although many blacks sought initially to reach an assimilated position in the same way as did the new European immigrants,” Lieberson noted, “the former’s efforts were apt to be interpreted as getting out of their place or were likely to be viewed with mockery.” Ambitious black migrants found that they were not able to get ahead just by following the course taken by immigrants and had to find other routes to survival and hoped-for success.

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 7605-7612). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

The seeds of this project were sown within me years ago, growing up with parents who had migrated from the South and who sent me to an affluent white grade school that they themselves could never have dreamed of attending. There, classmates told of ancestors coming from Ireland or Scandinavia with little in their pockets and making something of themselves in the New World. Over time , I came to realize that the same could be said of my family and of millions of other black Americans who had journeyed north during the Great Migration.

I gravitated to the children of recent immigrants from Argentina, Nepal, Ecuador, El Salvador, with whom I had so much in common as the children of newcomers: the accents and folkways of overprotective parents suspicious of the libertine mores of the New World and our childish embarrassment at their nervous hovering; the exotic , out-of-step delicacies from the Old Country that our mothers lovingly prepared for our lunchboxes; the visits to my parents’ fellow “immigrant” friends— all just happening to be from the South and exchanging the latest about the people from back home; the gentle attempts at instilling Old World values from their homelands, my father going so far as to nudge me away from city boys and toward potential suitors whose parents he knew from back home in Petersburg, Virginia , who were, to him, upstanding boys by definition and who would make a fine match in his view, which all but guaranteed that I’d have little interest in them.

Thus I grew up the daughter of immigrants, “a southerner once removed,” as the Mississippi-born poet Natasha Trethewey once called me. My parents bore the subtle hallmarks of the immigrant psyche, except they were Americans who had taken part in an internal migration whose reach and nuances are still little understood.

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 9802-9815). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sin of the North, Sin of the South

As with culture, the sin of the American North is different than the sin of the American South. I would go so far as to say the culture and the sin are aspects of the same thing. 

To criticize the sin of one culture isn’t to excuse the sin of the other culture. It’s just to say they aren’t identical. It’s not helpful to make a criticism that doesn’t apply. Teasing out the specific differences is important.

I see a problem in trying to unite separate cultures into a single culture. This is what has been attempted in America for centuries. I don’t think it has been entirely successful and it isn’t clear that it ever will be successful. Cultures don’t change easily, even when politics is used to try to force basic conformity.  The underlying separate cultures remain along with their respective sins, but only a patina of commonality is created, an unhappy compromise at that.

This is an argument, related to my thoughts on secession, that I want to follow. I don’t know how much I support this argument or rather how much the evidence supports it. Let me make the case, anyhow.

Between the North and South, I see several areas that demonstrate the distinctness of each region. The most basic of these is the raw data on social problems (poverty, economic inequality, violent crime, obesity, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy, etc) and on more neutral social conditions (union membership, gun ownership, religiosity, etc). The more complicated aspect more directly or obviously involves culture (ethnic immigration patterns, political traditions, economic patterns, etc). All of these factors overlap in various ways or can be interpreted as being interconnected, the question being do the correlations indicate a causal relationship.

I’ve already discussed much of this in my other writings and so I’ll keep it brief by using key examples. Let me begin by pointing out two common misconceptions — the divide between North and South is (1) a divide between urban and rural and/or (2) a divide between areas with and without a large white majority.

One example that truly hits home this regional difference is that of violent crime. The South overall has higher rates of violent crime than the North overall. Is it because the South is more rural? No. The rural North doesn’t have equivalent high rates of violent crime. Is it because the South is more racially diverse? No. The white majority rural South has higher rates of violent crime than is even found in the multiracial urban North. Heck, the majority white rural South even has more violent crime than the urban South, and so for certain blacks can’t be blamed. Even more specifically, most of the violent crime in the rural South is white on white crime.

The only thing that makes the rural South distinct is it’s heavy concentration of Scots-Irish population. I’d point out that the Scots-Irish have a very distinct culture that has become a point of pride for many white Southerners, especially in Appalachia. The fighting tradition of the Scots-Irish also has become identified with the Lost Cause worldview, and along with a fierce independent streak this has made the Scots-Irish culture symbolic of the entire Southern identity.

Another example is religiosity. This stood out to me when I was reading Chuck Thompson’s Better Off Without ‘Em, stated with dramatic flair (Kindle Location 322):

“It’s not just the overwhelming percentage of believers in the South, it’s the attitudes they bring to—or from—their religiosity. In 2009, a Pew Forum “Importance of Religion” study measured a number of variables (frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, and so forth) to determine the degree of religious fervor in all fifty states.

“Led by Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, nine of the top ten most religious states were southern. Oklahoma ruined Dixie’s perfect record by sneaking in at number seven. Of all southern states, only D.C.-infected Virginia and Semitic Florida finished just outside the top fifteen, edged out by such powerful fanatics as the Mormons of Utah and the pious enigmas of Kansas. The bottom half of the list presented a representative cross section of the rest of the country: Michigan, New Mexico, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Montana, New York, California, Maine, and, cordially sharing most hellbound honors, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“Not only is the South the place where 50 percent of American evangelicals live, it’s also the region from which the national movement draws its ideas and through which most of its fame and profit are harvested. Rabid believers are disproportionately southern—with around a third of the national population (counting Texas), the South accounts for 55 percent of the “electronic church” audience.

“Nearly every important evangelical figure of the past century has come from the South (Californian Rick Warren being an exception). A recent Trinity Broadcast Network program touting the national influence of southern Christianity proclaimed that Virginia was the most important state for “birthing national leaders on the religious front.””

This passage caught my attention because Iowa was listed as one of the least religious states, according to Pew. Iowa is below the national average for stated importance of religion, belief in God and frequency of prayer, although 1% above the national average of stated church attendance. On all the measures, Iowa is 20-30% below the most religious states.

That says a lot. Iowa is similar to the Southern states in many ways. Iowa has many working class people, especially farmers and those in the agricultural business. Iowa is mostly rural, and like the rural South mostly white. Along with these, another factor correlated to higher religiosity rates is an older population and Iowa has one of the most aging populations in the country.

The only clear difference between people in the rural North and the rural South is ethnicity.

The North had more settlers from Northern Europe. One of the differences with Northern Europeans such as Germans was that they were very skilled farmers who were used to high quality soil. They knew what high quality soil looked like which is why they chose to settle in the American North and, once settled, they knew how to cultivate the soil to maintain its viability.

The South had two agricultural traditions. They had the slave-based plantation model that came from Barbados and they had the yeoman subsistence model that came from the Scots-Irish. Both the plantation tobacco farming and the subsistence slash-and-burn ended up depleting the soil which wasn’t as rich to begin with.

This relates to an economic difference. Plantation farming and subsistence farming helped create an economy in the South that was less like modern capitalism. The plantation owners were so vastly wealthy that they didn’t build their own local industry, choosing instead to buy products shipped in from elsewhere. As an aside, the wealth of plantation owners wasn’t capitalist wealth (i.e., wasn’t fungible capital) because plantation owners tended to be heavily in debt as their wealth was invested in their land and their slaves. The subsistence farmers never harvested enough crops to make much in the way of profit, fungible or otherwise; and, as Joe Bageant points out, many of the small Southern farming communities were mostly cashless societies where people bartered and kept store tabs.

Modern industrialized capitalism was only strongly established in the South with Reconstruction following the Civil War. In being introduced, capitalism built upon the framework of the economic system already established in the South. This meant that capitalism incorporated the plantation mentality and the class-based rigidity. There were high rates of poverty and economic inequality in the Antebellum South and there are still high rates of poverty and economic inequality in the South today.

In one sense, you can blame the North for forcing modern industrialized capitalism onto the South. It’s possible that, if the South had successfully seceded, Southerners might have transitioned into a better kind of economic system… then again, maybe not. It’s not like capitalism wasn’t already beginning to gain footholds in the South prior to Reconstruction. It would be surprising if a Confederate South could have avoided capitalism’s ascent. Anyway, it wasn’t the North that forced onto the South a poverty-based, union-busting form of capitalism.

However, the South has always had its own native tradition of liberalism/leftism, not to mention reform-minded populism. It seems to me that, because of the effects of the Civil War, the Southern Left has been stunted and never given a chance to grow to its full potential. Many Southerns have come to think of liberalism/leftism as an ideology imported from the North and forced upon them by the federal government. Maybe the sin of the South has grown worse, or at least not lessened, because what Southerners perceived as non-Southern solutions being forced on them.

Whatever is the case, these are differences that make a difference. More than a century of political change following the Civil War hasn’t fundamentally changed this social reality.

The sin of the South was a caste-based society, later becoming a class-based society, that was built on slavery and the working poor. The sin of the North, on the other hand, was capitalism that was (and still is) brutal in its own way. There weren’t as many slaves in the North, but places like New York used a capitalist economy to profit off the slave trade. Northern capitalism has endless problems and I’m no fan of capitalism in general. Nonetheless, the sin of the North isn’t the same as the sin of the South.

This distinction seems important to my understanding, however one may wish to interpret it.

We are a united country, and that is what Abraham Lincoln was centrally concerned about. Even slavery for Lincoln was mixed up with maintaining the Union for he thought slavery would continue to undermine the country. Lincoln worried that, if secession were to happen, America would become balkanized like Europe. Instead of one big war, there would be endless small wars. I can see Lincoln’s perspective, but I think he put too much faith in the utopian ideal of unity.

The federal government could end slavery through force. What the rest of the country can’t do for the South is to solve it’s problems. We can send federal funds to deal with the worst issues of poverty and such, but the problem is structurally a part of the entire Southern society. Poverty doesn’t exist in such rates in the South because of a lack of wealth. The South’s economy is booming and yet the poverty persists. This is a problem of Southern culture and there may be little that Northern culture can do, besides exacerbating the problem by enabling those who are contributing to it.

By the way, the guilty parties would include some Northern corporations that go to the South to take advantage of weak regulatory enforcement and oppressive anti-union laws, the same reason corporations build factories in Mexico and China. This is corporatism, not free market capitalism. We shouldn’t allow American corporations to participate in social and economic oppression at home any more than we should allow it abroad.

Indeed, Northern culture has its own problems and contributes to the problems of others. Northerners have even sought solutions for those Northern problems. For example, a Northern city was the only place in the entire country that ever had a socialist government (i.e., the Milwaukee Sewer Socialists). Maybe the reason socialism couldn’t take hold in the North was partly because the South was so rabidly anti-socialist. Also, it is the anti-union South that has helped undermine the Northern unions by using unfair practices to lure corporations to build in the South.

The collusion of Northern capitalism and Southern aristocracy is a toxic mix.

I’m beginning to wonder if the North and the South have been getting in each other’s way and each bringing out the worse in the other. The culture of each region has its respective sin, but it also has the seed of potential for solving its own problems. Before public debate can ensue, there first has to be public awareness of the facts, conditions and cultures involved. Let’s be clear about the situation as it is, and then we can work from there.

After finishing this post, I realized I had forgotten one of my central points. I’ll just add it here at the end as an additional note.

Building up to the Civil War, both Northerners and Southerners were lobbing criticisms at one another.

In the North, slavery had been losing support for a long time prior to the Civil War. New immigrants were mostly coming to the North during this time and many went Westward to the frontier territories. These new immigrants didn’t want slavery to be expanded because they saw it as unfair competiion for Yeoman farmers.

White Southerners, however, had their own ideas about personal freedom. They saw the growing industrialization of the North as a menace to the Southern way of life, and it wasn’t only the aristocracy that felt this way. Many lower class whites countered the criticisms of slavery with their own allegations of Northern wage slavery where whites would simply be brought down to the level of menial labor.

Both sides made accurate criticisms. The average person wasn’t being offered a tremendous amount of freedom by either system. I’m sure Marx’s support of the Northern cause was mixed with much concern about the wage slavery of industrialized capitalism.

My Inheritance, North and South

Inheritance is an odd thing.

We take on so much from others and from the world around us. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. We are just who we are. We think of ourselves as indidviduals with lives built up from choices we’ve made, but ultimately we are just a conglomeration of factors that came together in a unique way, none of the factors being what we can take credit for. We may have some choice in the arrangement, not necessarily much else.

I’ve thought about this in many ways. As I’ve aged, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I’m a product of my environment, a result of the past. This life I was given certainly wasn’t of my own choosing, even if not to claim being a mere victim of circumstance. It’s more of an experience of being humbled by how immense and complex is the world. All of society (countries, ethnicities, communities, religions, families, etc) has been built up over centuries and millennia, shaped by the hands of forgotten generations of people.

The most obvious inheritance is that of genetics. Through genetics or other pathways, I’ve inherited all kinds of personality traits, cognitive patterns and behavioral tendencies. I’ve also inherited much from the culture around me, from being a part of Western civilization and specifically from being a descendant of immigrants from Northern Europe and the British Isles, from being a citizen of the United States which is a country that arose directly out of Enlightenment thinking, from having been brought up in the New Thought Christian Unity Church which itself came out of the Evangelical tradition during the Populist Era, from being born into Generation X as the Cold War was coming to an end, from being raised a Midwesterner right dab in the middle of the origin of Standard American English, from having spent many years of my formative youth and young adulthood in the South, etc.

There is, of course, an endless list of things I could add. It’s hard to imagine who I’d be if I changed even a single one of those factors.

Let me share more specific examples.

I have my mom’s scatterbrained mind with a certain kind of mental focus that has the potential for being nearly obsessive-compulsive. I have my dad’s intellectual curiosity and emotional sensitivity, of which he inherited from his parents; and apparently somewhat skipping a generation I manifest his mother’s spiritual sensibility and predisposition of laziness/efficiency along with shyness and a need for privacy/personal space, although my social awkwardness also seems to come from my mom. I have a large helping of depression and moodiness from both sides of my family. Sadly, I have a bit of an unforgiving nature and occasional interpersonal bluntness which goes along with the depression and moodiness of my mom’s family.

As for physcial attributes: I definitely have the features of my mom’s family, mostly seeming Germanic: large bones, big feet, long toes and fingers, thick hair, hazel eyes, bump on the ridge of my nose, and receding chin. But when younger I had features from my dad’s family (Steele) which seem more English such as straight, blonde hair, although oddly when really young I had eyes slanting in the way common with Asians.

For whatever reason, my mom’s genetics seem to be overall more pronounced in me. I do feel more of a connection with my mom’s family, partly just because I saw them more often growing up. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the Clouse family on my mom’s side. Her dad was definitely a patriarch and acted that way (her mother playing the submissive wife). He was an alcoholic which was probably his way of self-medicating depression. I can understand the self-medication part and I understand the addictive aspect of alcoholism, although alcohol has never been my preferred addiction.

I was particularly thinking about the Clouse tendency toward grudges that go on for years. I know I have some of this capacity as well and I’m not proud of it. It’s very sad the kind of impact it has had on my mom’s family. Her brothers and her dad were always fueding and sometimes refusing to speak to one another.

My mom’s dad didn’t even know the name of his grandparents and I suspect the reason for it wasn’t a happy incident. Interestingly, a lady on ancestry.com contacted me who is related on my mom’s side through two separate lines, Clouse and Edwards, which makes her both a third and fourth cousin of my mom on each of those lines. My maternal grandfather’s (Charles Eugene Clouse) grandfather was Charles E. Clouse who married Lucy Hawk. This person from ancestry.com is descended from James Clouse who was the uncle of Charles E. Clouse and who married Lula Hawk, Lucy’s sister.

(For anyone interested: The Clouse lineage descends from James Wesley Clouse of Kentucky and the Hawk lineage descends from Sampson Hawk of New Jersey. I figured both family lines were of German origin, but there are family rumors of Hawks having Indian blood and there is a photograph supposedly of Lula Hawk that could be interpreted as showing some Native American features. As for the Edwards lineage, this lady from ancestry.com and I share the same converging three lines. One descends from Hiram Edwards of Connerley Switch, Indiana whose father may have been from or at some time living in Kentucky. The other two descend through Thursie Mae Edwards of Indiana whose father was David B. Edwards of North Carolina and grandfather was Young Edwards of North Carolina and, on her mother’s side, whose grandmother’s mother was Susan Edwards of North Carolina, possibly descending from another David Edwards of North Carolina. Hiram Edwards’ son, Charles Lester Edwards, married Thursie Mae Edwards. The three Edwards lines then converged in their daughter, Inez Rosemary Edwards, who married Willie Clouse, the son of Charles E. Clouse. They also had another daughter, Jessie Ann Edwards, who is the person who is the ancestor of the ancestry.com lady. Thus, the Clouse and Edwards lines came together in at least two separate marriages just as did the Clouse and Hawk lines.)

This lady and I began corresponding about these links. I mentioned to her about my grandfather Clouse not knowing the names of his own grandparents and I told her about the Clouse inclination toward grudges. Her dad is a Clouse and she mentioned that her part of the Clouse family had the same inclination, her father not talking to his sister for years and not going to his sister’s funeral.

So, separate parts of the same family, unknown to one another in recent generations, manifested the same character trait. I’m sure at least some of it is genetics, but I doubt all of it is. I was wondering if it could be partly cultural. My mom’s family spent many generations in Hoosier Southern Indiana and before that many generations in Appalachia Kentucky. Their inclination toward grudges could be explained by the Southern culture of honor.

My mom’s dad was a very giving person, but it was the type of giving that established a hierarchical and paternalistic relationship for he would never accept charity from anyone else. He expected gratitude and deference for his gifts, maybe even a sense of indebtedness. He wanted to be respected and worked hard to escape the poverty of his working class family. As such, he wanted to be treated with respect and not be challenged. To have his authority, position or opinion challenged couldn’t just be forgiven and forgotten.

Maybe there is some predisposition of this in me, but it doesn’t manifest in this exact same way. I do have a mental checklist where I keep tabs on what people do and don’t do, say and don’t say; I can’t help it for such details of behavior just stick in my memory. And when someone crosses some particular line, I can be one of the most unforgiving people in the world. The difference maybe is that I didn’t grow up in that Southern/Appalachian honor culture and so my grudge-keeping tends to be more mild and suppressed.

It is the Southern/Appalachian culture with which I’ve tried to come to terms. It goes beyond my extended family. I too am partly a Southerner. Despite my self-idenifying as a Midwesterner and chosing Iowa as my home, I must admit that the South shaped me as well and probably in ways I’m unaware of. From 8th grade to graduation, I lived in South Carolina and went to desegregated public schools. I didn’t even know that regional differences existed prior to that time and it was a shock to my system when I first moved there, but after a while it became normal to me. I spent many years in the South following that time while in college in South Carolina and while working in the buckle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.

So, my experience of the South is very personal. My best friend was a redneck and I dated a girl who came from a hillbilly lineage (I don’t use those terms in a disparaging way). I even learned to talk Southern. I used to fall into a Southern dialect without even trying, especially when talking to my redneck friend. To this day, I can unintentionally speak in that dialect for brief moments.

I am and I am not a Southerner. There is both much that I like and much that I dislike about the South.

It’s because of my personal experience, both North and South, that I’ve come to self-consciously identify as a Midwesterner. The South is part of me, but I know that I’m not fully a part of the South. I don’t know it in the way someone knows it who was born and raised there, who lived there for their entire life.

Plus, I never experienced the full reality of what the Deep South once was. I arrived on the scene long after the Civil Rights movement. In high school, I knew kids who dated across the race line and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But hints of the Old South were still around such as my best friend’s mom referring to blacks as “niggers”. I was living in Columbia, South Carolina which is much more cosmopolitan. And in North Carolina, I lived near Asheville which is fairly liberal and alternative, especially for that area.

However, I know the Carolina region of the South better than I know the Mississippi Delta over to the Southern Border. My dad’s mom was born in Texas, lived in Oklahoma until her early teens, and went to high school in Mississipi. She then went back to Oklahoma for college and after that taught for some years in Mississippi and Georgia.

She died when I was so young that I hardly remember her and I’ve never visited any of those places she lived in prior to her moving to Indiana. So, the culture of that area isn’t familiar to me and didn’t influence me in any direct way.

Even as a Northerner, I know the Carolina region of the South better than the entire Northeast. My dad’s dad grew up in New England. But I’ve never visited there either. The closest I’ve come to New England is living in Iowa City which is a New England style college town (i.e., a small town dominated by a single college and surrounded by rural farmland).

My inheritance from my dad’s family feels rather skimpy on the cultural front. Identifying as a Midwesterner, one would think I’m culturally more similar to my Grandmother’s Oklahoma and my Grandfather’s New England… and maybe I am in some gneral ways, but those states aren’t part of my most personal sense of America. I don’t culturally identify as a Southerner in any broad sense and yet the South is intimately connected to who I am, even though I sometimes use it as a contrast to clarify my Midwestern sensibility.

I have lived in Iowa longer than anywhere else. Iowa is unique as part of the Lower Midwest. It is the only Lower Midwest state that isn’t on the borderlands of Appalachia and the only Lower Midwest state to be West of the Mississippi. Just follow the river south and there is the Mississippi Delta (much cultural diffusion went up and down the Mississippi river, in particular the 1927 flood in the Mississipi Delta sent many blacks to the North). Also, Iowa is the Lower Midwest state that is the most influenced by the Yankiedom of the Upper Midwest. The culture of Iowa is massively different than that of South Carolina. The only way to feel culturally further away from South Carolina would be to move to the West Coast.

Generation after generation, my mom’s family slowly drifted westward and northward. Finally, with my brothers and I, our family fully escaped the remnants of Southern culture that pioneers had carried with them into parts of the Midwest such as Indiana. I blissfully was ignorant of the South up to the beginning of my teens, but then my parents brought the family all the way down to the Deep South.

Moving to the South made me self-conscious about regional cultures from a fairly young age. Still, I didn’t begin to feel the depth of the differences until I got a summer job at a YMCA camp in North Carolina. As it was a YMCA, I was surrounded by Christians which in and of itself didn’t bother me. However, as it was in the Bible Belt, I was surrounded by Fundamentalists which made understand how far was the religious right or at least how far right were some of those part of the religious right. The religious right was a worldview that was outside my zone of familiarity. Living in the South, I heard the fire-and-brimstone preaching on the radio, but I had no direct contact with it. The girl I dated there was from a Fundamentalist family. Talking to her family gave me my first experience of a culture that seemingly had little respect for or interest in intellectuality and the broader world of knowledge.

After spending three consecutive summers at that YMCA camp, I permanently moved back to Iowa. In the following years, I was still visiting my parents and the contrast of the two worlds slowly formed into a distinct sense of difference about these cultures. Maybe I was becoming more influenced by the political moderateness of the Midwest and maybe I was becoming more influenced by the liberalism of Iowa City. At the same time, it seemed even more clear that my parents were becoming more stridently conservative the longer they lived in South Carolina. My parents were losing their Midwestern moderateness, although never coming close to the radicalism of God n’ Guns Fundamentalism.

Now, my parents have also moved back to Iowa City. I see them regularly which hasn’t been the case since the mid 1990s. We’ve been coming to terms with our differences which at times has been challenging, but other similarities have made it less difficult. This process, along with recent genealogical research, has forced me to also come to terms with these differences within myself.

How do I grasp all these influences? How do I contain within myself such diversity? What exactly have I inherited?

American Borg: On Assimilation & Family

Because of genealogical research, I’ve been neglecting my blog and so I thought I should put some of my recent thoughts down.

* * * *

The research and discussions with the parental units has kept my mind focused on family history and American culture. In a recent blog post, I discussed my family in terms of the similarities and differences of Appalachia and Midlands, specifically the Appalachia of Kentucky and Southern Indiana compared with the Midlands Midwest of Iowa (the latter being the location from which I write, the home of my childhood and the place I will always consider home).

My present contemplations have continued to revolve around this nexus, but there is an additional context: multiculturalism versus assimilation.

In exploring this context, I’ll use family as a beginning point and from there explore culture. This post is a very personal contemplation and so the personal will be my touchstone in analyzing what to me feels like challenging issues about identity and relationships. In sharing my thoughts about my own family, in speaking publicly about the personal, I wish to tread lightly.

* * * *

My mom’s family is largely pioneer stock.

She is proud of this, but I feel mixed… not exactly pride or shame. I don’t know what my dominant feeling is about the matter. There is some general sadness there related to a sad history of violence tinged with both empathetic understanding and righteous judgment along with my typical intellectual curiosity. I’m the product of this pioneer lineage, whether or not I like it. It has contributed to who I am and helped form how I see the world. The pioneers sought freedom and opportunity, even as they denied these to others, and I can’t deny that I have benefited from their sacrifices.

The early frontier was a fascinating time and place. Being a pioneer often meant, to varying degrees, some combination of being: courageous adventurer and desperate survivor, traumatized victim and hard-hearted victimizer, self-educated multiculturalist and ignorant racist, freedom seeker and genocidal oppressor, indian friend and indian killer, land developer and land thief, community builder and self-serving individualist, hardworking producer and agent of destruction, optimistic dreamer and cynical realist, etc. No single pioneer was necessarily all those things, but collectively that is what defined the pioneer experience and shaped frontier society.

My ancestry on that side includes those involved in the military from the era of British colonialism to the Revolutionary War, from the earliest Indian wars to the Civil War. As soon as America was a country, many lines of my family were venturing into Indian territory, either as pioneers or Indian fighters. I even discovered one ancestor who was born in Indian territory before the United States gained independence. At that time, according to British law and Indian treaties, it was illegal for my family to be in Indian territory. So, I descend from the original illegal immigrants and anchor babies.

* * * *

One thing that caught my attention was how many of my ancestors were clustered around or near the Cumberland Gap.

The Cumberland Gap is approximately the place where meets the borders of the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky; also near northwestern North Carolina where other lines of my family resided. This location was an easy access point for pioneers traveling to the frontier and also for Native Americans to attack white settlers. This is where Daniel Boone entered Kentucky and where he blazed the Wilderness Road, by following the trails used by Native Americans. Some of my family would have been associates of Boone or else moved in the same social circles, considering the first pioneers into Indian country were small in number.

In this context, I would note that many of my maternal-side ancestors were non-English ethnic immigrants, in fact some of the earliest immigrants among non-English as well as the English. They included those from violent borderlands such as Alsace, Palatines, and Ulster (interestingly, one of my ancestors had various records that alternately identified his place of origin as Germany, France, and Alsace; a bit of research clarified the fact that Alsace was part of France at the time and many generations had passed since it was previously a part of Germany, but was is most interesting is that on his own census records he had identified as German; other research showed that the people of Alsace spoke a German dialect and so apparently they were culturally German even as they were French citizens). A motivating factor for these borderlanders coming to America was to escape violence and oppression, but they sometimes found the English colonies to be violent and oppressive as well, at least to non-English ethnics. They escaped religious persecution of state-sanctioned religions in Europe and yet in America they found that most of the colonies also had state-sanctioned religions along with other forms of legalized oppression and prejudice. So, they escaped to ethnic communities or else, like my family, escaped to the frontier where they once again found themselves living on a violent borderland.

Intentionally or not, they made their new home in a place much like the homeland they left behind. Conflict and war, instability and poverty… this was their lot in life. These German, French and Scots-Irish border people helped form the culture of the border regions of Midlands and Appalachia. They were always at the border of the frontier as it slowly moved Westward. And they were on the border between the North and South when the Civil War broke out. They were in that contested zone where the soul of America was fought over.

(As a side note, I can’t help but be reminded of Derrick Jensen’s analysis of Western and American culture and history. Jensen shows how easy and how typical it is for victims to become victimizers, and most of the examples he uses are from America, especially early America. The colonists spread violence and oppression to the new world, the pioneers spread violence and oppression westward across the continent, and now the American military empire spreads violence and oppression all over the world. The victimization cycle seems to never end.)

* * * *

To get back to family history, my mom’s family came through Appalachia and spent many generations there. Only a generation before my mom, the family was still living in Southern Indiana which is right on the edge of Appalachia and culturally indistinct from Kentucky.

Even though my mom grew up in the more Midlands Northern Indiana, she learned to speak with that Appalachian-style dialect that is common in Southern Indiana (‘bush’ is spoken as ‘boosh’, ‘cushion’ as ‘cooshion’, ‘fish’ as ‘feesh’, etc). Even so, my mom identifies more with the midwestern culture of the Midlands. It apparently bothers her when people tell her she sounds ‘Southern’; she has mentioned at least two examples of this happening and apparently this is what led her to ask me to ‘correct’ her when she ‘mispronounces’ words.

(As an interesting piece of trivia, the North and the South weren’t as distinct of regions prior to the Civil War. I’ve read that it was only after the Civil War that, for example, a distinct Southern dialect formed and became a widely shared sense of cultural identity. Southerners simultaneously resisted assimilation to ‘American’ culture while assimilating to a newly created sense of ‘Southern’ culture, of which Appalachian culture somewhat merged with. This probably explains why some Northerners have mistaken my mom’s Hoosier dialect as being ‘Southern’.)

I personally am fond of dialects, ethnic and regional. It’s not an issue of supporting the liberal ideology of multiculturalism. I just think dialects are interesting. Dialects signify a person’s background and make people unique. As such, I’m perfectly fine with my mom’s Hoosier pronunciation of words. If she said ‘boosh’ or ‘feesh’ in public, I wouldn’t be embarassed. In fact, I wouldn’t give it much thought. I find her dialect charming which is why I got in the habit of repeating her Hoosier pronunciations when she spoke that way, but not with any intentions of mocking her; nonetheless, by doing this I guess I’m partly to blame for making my mom self-conscious.

So, what is undesirable in my mom’s mind about being perceived as ‘Southern’?

Maybe it bothers her because, having a career as a speech pathologist, she spent most of her life teaching kids to speak proper Standard American English (i.e., Midwestern dialect). By the way, as a social conservative this really bothers her in that it was her job to enforce linguistic assimilation in public schools, yet it was against the law for her to correct the pronunciation of African-American students for their dialect was deemed part of their culture and so legally protected; of course, white kids with dialects receive no legal protection of their linguistic culture.

I also wonder if it bothers her from another perspective. She is a fairly typical American conservative who is obsessed with cultural assimilation, judging people such as hispanics for what she perceives as a refusal to assimilate to WASP culture; and hence this refusal is taken as a direct attack on WASP culture, i.e., everything that made America great. To not speak Standard American English means to not have fully assimilated to Standard American Culture. To speak with a dialect is to be outside the mainstream and hence an outsider, to be excluded and potentially isolated, to be different and ‘other’; a fate worse than death in the minds of many conservatives. Even though proud to be of pioneer heritage, she apparently isn’t proud of this part of her heritage, despite the fact that her family probably has spoken this way for centuries.

There is another aspect to consider in my mom’s personal experience. She came to realize how much of a Northerner and Midwesterner she is when our family moved to South Carolina. She lived there for two decades and she never adapted to that regional culture. It was alien to her in so many ways: class-based, cliquish, plantation mentality, etc. That is everything her family isn’t. Her family is primarily Appalachian in culture which has sensitized my mom to both Southern and Northern cultures… for to be Appalachian means to be not fully one or the other, rather somewhere in between. Appalachians have a more egalitarian working class culture similar to the Midwest, but the Midwest is part of the North and Appalachians don’t feel a part of Northern culture.

On the other hand, my mom’s conflict with Southern culture is probably related to why her ancestors in Kentucky and Indiana sided with the North during the Civil War, although that war-time alliance was an imperfect and at times grudging. The two competing mainstream cultures in America are the cultures that dominated during the Civil War, neither of those cultures precisely fitting the Appalachian sensibility. That said, Appalachian culture did eventually become more aligned with Southern culture after the Civil War. My mom’s family is thus divided between Southern-leaning Appalachia and Northern-leaning Midwest, straddling the cultural borderlands. I think my mom has somewhat internalized this North/South conflict.

* * * *

Before going on, let me make one thing very clear.

I don’t wish to judge my mom, just as I feel reluctant to judge my pioneer ancestors. I don’t know her motivations. I don’t know what events may have shaped her early life experiences of being a Hoosier and being and American. I know even less about my pioneer ancestors. 

We are all products of our times. None of us can know how future generations will judge us. In this light, I don’t think my mother is wrong for wanting to assimilate to mainstream culture. We all make choices that seem best to us. Besides, speaking of familial ancestors, my dad’s mom supposedly often said that “Everyone is doing the best that they can for where they are at”. Hokey as that sounds, it is a basic truth that resonates with me. Also, it summarizes an element of my own liberal-mindedness, something I indirectly inherited from paternal grandmother as she was a West Coast liberal and introduced my parents to the Unity Church (along with other liberal forms of religion and spirituality).

In writing this post, I refer to my mom for the simple reason that she is the closest to an example of Hoosier/Appalachian culture that I know of in such intimate detail, an example I’ve given much thought to. Having never lived there, my mom is the main access I have to that regional culture. 

On a related note, I’d like to add one other point. In regards to my interest in human nature and culture, I must give most of the credit to my mom. It was during the many discussions I’ve had with her over the years that my understanding slowly formed. Many of the insights and observations I speak of either originated from my mom or came out of our ongoing dialogues. So, along with giving me access to her own family’s cultural background, she has helped shape my own way of thinking about culture.

I hope that I speak about my mother with empathy, not with judgment… and I hope that this intent is expressed well. As always, my foremost desire is to understand.

* * * *

Assimilation seems like a peculiar thing to my mind.

I grew up speaking Standard American English because I was initially raised in the Midlands Midwest (specifically Iowa which is right at the center of the region where this non-dialect dialect is spoken), but I never consciously decided to assimilate. I simply spoke as I heard my peers speaking.

I even unintentionally assimilated a bit to the South when I lived there during my teen years, picking up a bit of my redneck bestfriend’s Southern dialect (I sometimes forget which pronunciations of words are Southern and which are Northern or rather Midwestern); for a few years after returning to Iowa, strangers could still detect something not quite Midwestern about my Midwestern dialect, but alas since that time I’ve lost the feel for the Southern dialect and can no longer speak that way.

This is how most assimilation occurs. Few Americans ever intentionally assimilated, something conservatives don’t appreciate. It’s just that distinctly separate ethnic cultures over time begin to fade as cultures mix and as the living memory of the old homeland disappears from families. Assimilation as we know it now is a very recent invention that arose in response to two world wars and the homogenizing impact of mass media, not to mention early twentieth century laws that were designed to eliminate independent ethnic cultures. It’s true that many early ethnics chose to assimilate… they did so usually out of fear of violence and oppression, but few ever chose to do so freely.

The following is my liberal-minded multicultural view (as a member of the liberal-minded multicultural GenX who grew up in a liberal-minded multicultural era of high immigration rates, who went to liberal-minded multicultural desegregated public schools, who grew up in liberal-minded multicultural college towns, and who was raised in the liberal-minded multicultural Unity Church).

To praise assimilation is to praise one of the ugliest and most destructive features of our society, although I realize that isn’t the way my mom would see it; but as I see it, forced assimilation as practiced for most of American history is essentially cultural genocide. If you can’t physically destroy a people, you can destroy them as a distinct people by killing the very soul of their collective identity. Soul death can be just as brutal as mass killing. When a people forget who they are, part of them remains dead. The living memory is gone forever, impossible to ressurrect.

Thusly, we all become zombies of mass culture, repeating what the mainstream media tells us, not knowing what has been lost in the process. This is historical amnesia and it plagues the American population, undermining any possibility of democracy for it allows all the same mistakes to repeat again and again and again. All the alternative possibilites that diverse cultures present are eliminated and only one choice remains… and, sadly, we call it ‘freedom’. The freedom of one culture to dominate is by definition the unfreedom, the oppression of all other cultures. This all hinges on force and the conservative mind rarely sees the violence and oppression behind that which they praise; if anything they feel those seeking freedom are oppressing whites for how dare anyone try to define their own sense of freedom.

Sadly, too often one person’s freedom is another person’s oppression.

* * * *

On a more personal level, I was trying to probe the reasons behind my mom’s strong desire to assimilate (or, putting it in Borg terms, to be assimilated).

From my perspective, this is an acceptance of the oppressive force of a monolithic culture, a force that is backed by real threat of power and punishment. Also, this seems to be an act of the oppressed identifying with the oppressor, thus joining in and justifying the culture of oppression. It’s not that assimilation when freely chosen is necessarily bad; it’s just that it rarely is freely chosen.

However, none of this captures the everyday experience of my mom or others like her.

For my mom, assimilation is a purely good thing, the highest ideal of the American Dream: to be normal, to be accepted as part of the group, specifically to be part of a great nation, to share in that greatness by proxy. When my mom was a kid, to speak the dialect she spoke meant being lower class which in turn meant being socially inferior, i.e, a hick.

Appalachian people, rightly or wrongly, have always been associated with poverty, ignorance, and cultural backwardness. The English prejudice against non-English ethnics still remains. To be Appalachian, or more generally of the Scots-Irish culture, means to be a hillbilly or a redneck. Appalachian culture has gained some respect in recent years through folk art and music, but Appalachia continues to be a stigmatized region and it continues to be poor.

Appalachians have resisted assimilation to the ‘Yankee’ norm of American society. They are a proud people and yet simultaneously this is a sore point. To assimilate or not is a choice that every new generation is faced with. To not assimilate can come with great costs,  both for individuals and communites that exist outside of the mainstream norm. This is a cost that Appalachia has suffered with because of its proud refusal. This refusal is how Appalachians came to think of themselves as ‘Southerners’ after the Civil War, even in states like Kentucky that fought for the North. Many parts of Appalachia have been left behind in the dust of industrialization, factories and jobs moving elsewhere as the Appalachian people and their culture remained.

* * * *

As others have pointed out, America is less of a melting pot and more of a stew pot.

Most of my ancestry on my mom’s side seems to be German which is fitting since most of the ancestry of America is German as well, or to put it another way more Americans are of German ancestry than the ancestry of any other ethnicity. So, if America is a stew pot, the English may be seasoning but the Germans and other ethnics are the meat and potatoes. Heck, the most American of cities, New York City, was originally the New Netherlands colony; and the Germanic Dutch culture is what made New York City so distinctly ‘American’.

Maybe more than any other group of ‘white’ Americans, German-Americans have often resisted assimilation, even early on. They formed their own communities, not unusually out of fear such as in response to the nativist Know-Nothing movement (which made them wary of the early Republican Party because the Know-Nothings largely merged with the Republicans). They created organizations to maintain their culture and to take care of their own such as the Turner movement. They maintained churches and schools that taught in the German language, including public schools in German majority cities; the German language survived as a publicly spoken language in America through the first half of the twentieth century.

Also, German immigrants founded many utopian religious communities that fiercely defended their own culture and way of life. The German Harmonists, who were admired by many early Americans for their economic success, founded various socialist communities, including one in early Southern Indiana near where my family lived (a town, by the way, that was later made into a secular socialist utopian experiment by a Scotsman who was, along with his sons, very influential in 19th century American politics, including being an influence on the thinking of Abraham Lincoln). The American Amish and Mennonites have survived the onslaught of assimilation and to this day maintain their independent communities; the Amish still speak German and still refer to outsiders as ‘English’.

* * * *

Interestingly, it was on the frontier where a truly American identity first began to form that was fully distinct from the English cultures of the British colonies. On the frontier, there was a particular variety of assimilation but not as we think of it now. It was simply a multicultural place, sometimes cultures clashing and sometimes merging. No authority was forcing assimilation on the frontier. Different ethnicities intermingled and intermarried more or less freely, sometimes even across the divide between settlers and natives.

That said, even amidst such multicultural complexity, it was probably more common for ethnics to stick to their own kind; this was often true for my ancestors. Along with being multcultural, the frontier was multilingual as families maintained their homeland languages for generations. This forced pioneers to be more knowledgeable of diverse languages than Americans today.

The Native Americans themselves, specifically the Shawnee in the Ohio Territory (which included Kentucky and Indiana), also contributed to this American style of cultural mixing and haphazard assimilation. Daniel Boone, like many early pioneers, was adopted into a Native American family and he maintained friendly relations with them for the rest of his life. In Appalachia, for natives and pioneers alike, what mattered was kinship for no one could survive for long on their own. Such kinship, however, didn’t necessitate sharing the same blood or even sharing the same cultural lifestyle. Even when Boone went back to living among whites, he was forever considered Shawnee by the Shawnee.

* * * *

This incipient American identity, instead of protecting racial and cultural purity, led to the creation of the American mutt.

This probably explains why Appalachia remains the place where most people don’t know their ancestry, instead simply identifying as ‘American’ when asked. This is also the region where resides the melungeon population, AKA “the sweet blend” — a mixture of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Considering my family’s frontier past, I’m sure I have a broad mix of genetics hidden behind my Germanic appearance.

All Europeans and European descendants, most especially white Americans, are quite genetically and culturally mixed — between Neanderthal interbreeding, Mongol hordes, Arab invaders, Roman legions, and various influences from the Mediterranean and Black seas, including a significant amount of African genetics mixed in (most likely from the Roman legions). Racial purity is a joke. Even cultural purity is mostly a cultural creation, a cultural fiction formed and promoted by the governments of evolving nation-states, especially during the era of European wars and revolutions that led many people to immigrate to America. Historically, Europeans didn’t consider themselves a single white race and for good reason as genetics proves. And Europeans certainly didn’t consider themselves a single culture, especially considering most of the European wars were at least partly motivated by cultural differences, often in the guise of religious differences. Even the peoples of the British Isles were culturally divided and genetically diverse, including within England.

‘Whiteness’ as a race or as a culture is a nebulous concept, certainly not a scientific category. Many, if not most, of the African slaves in America had white fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, and on and on. After generations of such hanky-panky, many blacks were genetically and culturally more European than African, many even were as white or nearly as white as their masters. In one famous case, a slave took his master to court by arguing he couldn’t be a slave since he wasn’t black and indeed his skin was white, his hair was blonde, and his eyes were blue. Blackness and whiteness were cultural perceptions. Not unusually, someone was defined as being black because they were a slave and their enslavement was justified because they were perceived as black. American blacks today are extremely light skinned when compared to African populations. I remember seeing Obama standing in the middle of a crowd of Africans and I swear to God that he looked like a white guy. In the past, if a person of a ‘black’ family could pass as white, they would do so; and after a few generations no one even remembered there was black in the family (“a nigger in the woodpile”). Most white Americans have varying degrees of non-European genetics, in particular either African or Native American, but it is also unsurprising to find Asian or Polynesian genetics, not to mention Arab and Mongol.

At an earlier point in American history, even non-English European immigrants were considered to be questionable when it came to whiteness. The Irish, for example, were referred by the English as “white niggers”. Many Irish and Welsh along with other European ethnics such as Italians, Spanish, and Greeks have darker skin and curlier hair; and such populations do have significant amounts of Arab Moor genetics, Western African genetics, and/or North African genetics. To this day, most Americans don’t consider hispanics as ‘white’, despite their relatively light skin and despite their ancestors being from Europe.

* * * *

It is beyond silly the fear some whites have about the demise of their own racial demographic.

To be honest, all distinct genetic lines are endangered in that genetics are continually mixing to ever increasing degrees all over the world. Within the near future, in historical terms, there probably won’t be any ‘whites’ or ‘blacks’ left anywhere in the world. There will one day be a world population that has come to an approximate averaging out of skin color (along with kind of hair and facial features), but even then diversity will remain. Besides, someone who has white skin might not have a majority of European genetics and someone of black skin might not have a majority of African genetics, the genetics for skin pigmentation being unrelated to all other genetics. Skin color doesn’t bestow a specific culture upon a person when they are born.

Many Americans of African and Hispanic descent have begun to identify as ‘white’ or, like the mixed-breed Appalachians, simply identify as ‘American’. There is no way to distinguish between a light-skinned colored person and a dark skinned white person. If you call yourself white and others perceive you as white, then you are white. The definition and perception of white may change, but whiteness as a relative category is unlikely to go away in the immediate future.

As an interesting example, most people would never suspect that Martin Sheen is of hispanic ancestry. His birth name is Ramon Estevez, his having changed his name because of the racial prejudice even within supposed ‘liberal’ acting world, at least within the acting world of his early career. An even more interesting example is Louis C.K. who in his tv role is the archetypal American middle class white guy. Louis is both hispanic and Mexican. His first language is spanish and he retains Mexican citizenship. What is the difference between being a hypothetical ‘white’ person and simply being perceived as such?

White supremacists and isolationists (e.g., David Duke) along with more moderate WASP culture warriors (e.g., Patrick Buchannan and Charles Murray) are in a real pickle. They talk about white culture which they conflate, along with white skin, with conservative politics, especially fundamentalist Christianity; yet blacks and hispanics form the majority when it comes to being socially conservative and Christian. Hispanics, of course, traditionally are Catholic which is a questionable form of Christianity to the WASP mind, only slightly less questionable than Mormonism. It’s not just about who gets to define whiteness but also who gets to define conservatism and Christianity.

Hispanics are the most threatening of them all because they have their own competing version of ‘white’ culture, especially considering much of present United States was part of the Spanish Empire and remains to this day hispanic majority. What the WASPs don’t want to admit is that there is more than one white culture; not all whites are Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Hispanics, like many others of non-English European ancestry, have the arrogance to be both Catholic and hardworking, such work ethic supposedly being the sole provenance of WASP culture. On top of that, hispanics have the arrogance of being the original European-descended North Americans by way of having European ancestry that has been in America longer than non-hispanics. No white conservative wants to admit that the red-blooded American cowboy culture comes from the hispanics and that the independence of George W. Bush’s Texas was fought for by hispanics (and still to this day has a population that is majority hispanic and majority spanish-speaking).

All of this makes it hard for the bigoted social conservatives to continually justify their bigotry, and this puts the non-bigoted social conservatives in a tough spot as well in their desire to differentiate themselves from the bigots. In response, social conservatives are forced to decide what they care more about; and so they often are willing to accept the questionable Christians, the Catholics and Mormons, into their in-group just as long as they can maintain their fear and/or hatred of dark-skinned people and foreign-borns; others will be more accepting of dark-skinned people, especially relatively lighter-skinned hispanics, if it helps them gain support in attacking immigrants; still others will accept legal immigrants if it means that illegal immigrants can be scapegoated. The one thing none of them can accept is that America has always been and always will be multicultural.

* * * *

Obviously, not all those who praise assimilation are overtly prejudiced, most probably aren’t (the mild forms of racialism having mostly replaced the rabid forms of racism). My mom isn’t racist and isn’t strongly xenophobic in any sense. Like many conservatives, she simply fears the world she knew in childhood is slipping away.

What conservatives don’t understand is that the world of their childhood was just a single moment in the long history of North America and a moment that not all Americans perceived in the same way. Their 1950s vision of the American Dream was to others an American Nightmare, the period from Reconstruction to the early Cold War Era consisting of the most pervasive and systematic social oppression in American history (last of the Indian Wars and the final subjugation of the remaining free tribes, Native American boarding schools that violently forced assimilation, the rise of the KKK, propaganda films such as ‘The Birth of a Nation’, racially-motivated terrorism such as lynchings and church bombings, Jim Crow laws, political disenfranchisement of minorities and ethnics, overtly racist nativism, anti-Germanic oppression, Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, anti-communist witch-hunts, Hollywood blacklisting, union-busting, unconstitutional imprisonment of activists and organizers, violently brutal crackdowns on protests, business elites aligning with fascist states worldwide, the Business Plot, the growth of the military-industrial complex, military attacks on and oppression of innocent people such as the Filipinos, military aggression against Mexicans seeking freedom and democracy, the rise of an American version of militarized imperialism with colonial-like ambitions, the coming to power of oppressive and anti-intellectual fundamentalism, patriarchal anti-feminism, growth of both big government and big business along with the corporatist alliance between them, etc). To put it simply, assimilation in most cases was far from willing and even further from what we would deem moral by today’s standards. A single American culture was a violent and bloody creation.

To the degree that America is a melting pot, the melting took centuries. It slowly and imperceptibly happened many generations after the first immigrants came. If assimilation is to be promoted in a positive way without oppression, then it must be chosen freely and so the free choice must be given to maintain cultures as well. Assimilation happens naturally to some extent because it’s part of human nature, but it works both ways. It’s not just that the non-English assimilated to the English culture. History shows that Americans of English descent also assimilated non-English cultures. In this sense, it is a melting pot. There is no way to melt multiple cultures together while one of those cultures remains unmelted in the mix. A cultural melting pot is the complete opposite of cultural purity and therefore the complete opposite of the survival of separate cultures, WASP or otherwise.

* * * *

The further problem for conservatives is how white culture is conflated with English culture.

Even beyond the problem non-English white cultures challenging English white culture, there is still the problem in that there is no single English culture and no single consensus among English cultures (even in England, not all the English could be defined as WASP; there are very old conflicts between native pagan Britons, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and Norman Catholics). Which white culture are American whites supposed to be defending? 

In terms of English culture, there are the various peoples of Yankeedom, Midlands, New Netherlands, Tidewater, and Deep South (not to mention the utopian Georgia colony that initially was entirely separate from the slave culture of the South Carolina and Virginia); although Midlands was largely taken over by Germanic culture, New Netherlands had an original Netherlands culture with only a later overlay of English culture, and the Deep South had a culture that was English filtered through the slave culture of Barbados; plus, there were seperate ethnic communities in all of the colonies that helped define the development of the later states. These English cultures were widely diverse and the people in them didn’t fully trust or like the people in the other English cultures.

Furthermore, there was the many non-English cultures, white and non-white: of all the colonial borderlands such as in South Carolina backcountry, rural Virginia, Appalachia and the interior Midlands; of large sections of North Carolina; of New Jersey, Florida, New Orleans, the Southwest, and the West Coast; plus the Native American societies that were organizing on levels to compete with the colonies and in some cases forming new shared communities with ethnics and freed blacks. It was in contradistinction to the English cultures that the non-English peoples worked to create a distinctly American identity separate from Britain. It must be remembered that the American Revolution fomented from the largely ethnic working class, especially in the multicultural Midlands, before it was taken up by the British colonial elites. To be American in those early days specifically meant not being English or at least not identifying with the British Empire. The oppression of the British Empire wasn’t just political but also cultural. Many Americans, especially the ethnic and non-white majority, were seeking a new cultural identity, not just a new politics. Even blacks were active participants in this revolutionary era, not just waiting for British colonial elites to determine their fate.

If not for the vast differences between English cultures along with the differences of the ethnic cultures of the growing majority, the Civil War would never have happened. With social conservatives defining their preferred vision of ‘whiteness’, whose English or European culture gets to rule over all the rest?

* * * *

Anyway, what exactly is this supposed superiority of the white culture?

Research shows that racial prejudice against minorities is still rampant in all parts of our society; for example, blacks are punished more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes; and as another example, people are more likely to buy a product online if it is held by a lighter-skinned hand than if it is held by a darker-skinned hand. So, is this ‘superiority’ simply the social and political power whites have to force their culture onto everyone else and to punish or disadvantage anyone perceived as different? Even after the seeming decline of centuries of European colonialism, Western countries are still militaristically enforcing their wills upon non-white nations.

When a culture or society, a people or nation is judged inferior and dysfunctional, what does that mean and how did they get that way? It was white culture — through genocide, slavery, colonialism, and war — that destroyed, weakened or crippled so many other cultures… and this continues to this day, even if the means and methods have changed slightly. Whites have to take a major proportion of responsibility for the problems they have caused or contributed to… such as with the populations of blacks, hispanics, and various indigenous peoples.

Before complaining about all the ‘illegal’ immigrants from Mexico (a people who have an older claim to much of present US), we should stop continually causing all the problems in Mexico: the American Drug War creates dangerous black markets and cartels, the underregulated gun market in America leads to a flow of guns into Mexico thus arming criminals, gangs and cartels, NAFTA causes poverty and unemployment in Mexico such as among farmers, and a long history of American political and corporate intervention in Mexico has promoted fascism while undermining democracy. If we hadn’t been systematically fucking over their country for so long, most Mexicans probably would be perfectly happy to stay in Mexico.

Americans cause problems onto other people and then project the blame onto the same people. It is a sociopathic mentality. It’s time conservative Christians started paying attention to the log in their own eyes.

Let me pose the question of moral responsibility in stark terms:
Is the dysfunctional society the one that is victimized or the one that victimizes?

I would argue the latter. Authors such as Derrick Jensen and Noam Chomsky make good arguments in this regard. Besides, the conservative claim of white superiority is particularly questionable in America. The bastion of conservative whiteness is the rural South, the most conservative and the most white region in America and the very region that has the most violent population with all of the worst problems of American society: poverty, unemployment, welfare, low IQ, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy, STDs, divorce, low infancy birth weight, high infancy mortality rate, high adult mortality rate, obesity, diabetes, etc. Furthermore, this region of conservative whiteness is one of the biggest economic drains on the economy and on the federal government since red states on average receive more federal money than they pay in taxes, thus blue states paying for the problems of conservative whiteness.

That seems like damning evidence… or at least very inconvenient information.

* * * *

I feel divided on a very personal level. This goes beyond ideological arguments and analysis of data. The fundamental issues must be subjectively assessed, felt out, contemplated.

Like my mom, I’m a part of this same society and I’m a product of this same history. Whatever problems and failings exist, we all are complicit. I don’t judge my mom or any individual person… or at least I don’t want to make such judgments, non-judgment being the standard I try to hold myself to. I also don’t want to judge white conservatives as a whole… which would be just as prejudiced as racism against minorities. If there is guilt, it is collective. It has come to be this way through generations and centuries, the actions of individuals and groups adding up to a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s a slippery thing to grasp, mind-bogglingly immense and complex. Even as I try to discern, I hope to avoid unnecessary and unhelpful judgment as much as possible.

Whether we choose it or not, we are all assimilated to this society. That is how modern civilization functions. There is no escape from the repurcusions and the responsibilities entailed. Even the pioneers couldn’t escape the failings of western civilization even as they sought reprieve in the wilderness. Instead, they brought their problems with them and re-created the conflicts of their own ancestors. They brought the Old World to the New World. This different land allowed a new mix of factors, but the basic social pattern remained.

I focused on my mom’s desire to assimilate. Yet I’m not sure I’m all that different. The desire to belong, to fit in is a normal human desire, compulsion even. Assimilation is even worse for someone like me who grew up with Standard American English and the Standard American Culture that goes with it. The reason it is worse is that it is more invisible. My mom couldn’t avoid the fact that her way of speaking wasn’t ‘normal’. I never consciously assimilated. Instead, I was born into assimilation. My ancestors spoke like my mother for untold number of generations, but I never spoke that way. With my brothers and I, assimilation has finally been completed in my mom’s family line. We can now officially call ourselves “Real Americans” ( © 1776 Founding Fathers).

* * * *

With my concluding thoughts, let me share one last example.

On our trip down to Southern Indiana, my parents and I were discussing the culture and economy of the region, specifically such factors as: high rates of poverty, low rates of education, etc. My mom complained, and my dad concurred, that it is unfair to make comparisons between a place like Southern Indiana and a place like Iowa, the latter not having the same kind of problems. It might not be fair, but it is the reality of the situation.

Poverty and, more importantly, economic inequality correlate to so many other problems. This correlation is found in states around the US and countries around the world. This correlation points to a truth that is uncomfortable to conservatives in particular and uncomfortable to most Americans in general. We could argue about the meaning of this correlation, argue about the direction of causality, even argue if there is any direct causal connection at all or else both being results of some other cause. What can’t be argued about is the correlated data itself which comes from diverse sources and has been corroborated with much research.

My mom takes offense at the idea that her home state could be judged according to this data. This seems undeserving to her. However, I don’t see it as an issue of judging, per se. Besides, it is my mom who seemingly has made a judgment. I certainly never judged the Hoosier dialect as abnormal or unacceptable, but apparently my mom has. I don’t know why she has made this judgment. I can’t claim to truly understand. I just can’t help but notice it. I wouldn’t argue this necessarily implies a sense of shame on my mom’s part, shame being such a strong word, although it is true that her father suffered from an inferiority complex because of his social status. Shame or not, this desire to leave behind the outward forms of her ancestral culture does seem to give hint to something hidden behind her claims of pride about her pioneer heritage and her more general pride of being an ‘American’. There is some kind of cognitive dissonance at play here.

I feel frustrated by mom’s response and at the same time I understand, sympathize even. I can be just as defensive about Midwestern culture which is so often dismissed by those living on the coasts who perceive states like Iowa as flyover country. I suppose I also have some pride in being American with such a long family history going back to those early pioneers, especially when I think about certain early Americans who envisioned a different possibility than what has come to be.

Anyway, my opinions about my mom’s feelings and values aren’t important in and of themselves. The only relevance of this interpersonal conflict of views is that it is representative of larger issues in American society. This conflict is writ large while also being played out in the psyche of every American. It seems obvious to me that my mom is conflicted about her American identity and for damn sure I’m conflicted about all kinds of things, American and otherwise. This country is at its core a contradiction — simultaneously founded on liberty and slavery, on multiculturalism and cultural chauvinism. To be an American is to be conflicted.

America’s North/South Divide (& other regional data)

I’ve observed in the US certain regional patterns of culture and demographics, the North/South divide being the focus of my present analysis. The basic pattern of a North/South divide originated with the first colonies and was emblazoned upon the national psyche through the trauma of the Civil War. And, despite the change that has happened since, this basic pattern persists. It persists because culture is deeply entrenched and because demographics change slowly.

 

Some of the data I will present and analyze is:

  • voting trends
  • labor unions
  • social problems
  • wealth disparity
  • religions/denominations
  • dialects
  • nationalities
  • taxation
  • IQ differences
  • psychological traits

Be forewarned that my analysis is lengthy. If you lack the motivation or time to read it in detail, you can still grasp the gist of my analysis by skimming the text or even by just looking at the mapped data. I eventually plan on breaking this up into smaller posts, but until then it will remain as is.

By the way, I’m open to suggestions. If you think some of my data is incorrect or partial, then please offer links or other references. If you think my analysis is overly biased or inadequate, then please share your own views.

 – – – 

Let me begin with some comments about the region I consider home, the Midwest.

There is something many don’t understand about the Midwest. States like Iowa, where I live, have tended to be Democratic states for a long time (and, looking further back, much political activism happened in the Midwest during the Populist and Progressive eras… which laid the groundwork for the present Democratic Party). Even as Democrats have lost some power and popularity recently, Iowa and much of the Midwest has remained Democratic leaning. Isn’t that interesting?

Political Party Affiliation (2009)From ’08 to ’10

State of States Political Party Affiliation, 2008

State of the States Political Party Advantage Map, 2010

(If you’d like to see presidential election results going back to 1789, here is a useful interactive map. It’s interesting to see how the two parties flipped between the North and South.)

I want to make note of something very very important. The South isn’t strongly Republican, especially not in the way that the North is strongly Democratic.

So, why do Southern states so often go to Republicans? One obvious explanation is that wealthy Southerners tend to vote Republican and poor Southerners (in particular, the poorest of the poor) tend to vote Democratic, but the South is such a class based society that poor people (in particular, poor minorities) are almost entirely disenfranchised from the political system. If all the poor and all the minorities were to vote, the South possibly could become a Democratic stronghold (or, at least, far from being a Republican stronghold). Rich whites have known of this danger ever since Reconstruction followed the Civil War. It’s not unusual to hear conservative leaders speak about the dangers of democracy which they call mobocracy because they understand that a functioning democracy would undermine their own power (which is becoming a greater issue as the traditional white political elite face a world where whites are becoming the new minority; and which is specifically becoming an issue in the South as the recent census shows Northern blacks are moving to the South in larger numbers).

Now about the North. Why is it that the Democrats aligning with the Civil Rights movement caused the Democratic Party to lose the South (i.e., lose the rich white ruling class in the South) and yet not the Midwest? I could point out the fact that there is not much of a rich white ruling class in the Midwest. But why does this socio-economic cultural difference exist in the first place? Why has a socially and religiously traditional state like Iowa never entirely turned away from Democrats and even is one of the first states to pass a law legalizing gay marriage?

There is an extremely simple answer, but it’s maybe deceptively simple. Before I go into detail about that explanation, I want to provide some more specific data about voting habits in the North vs the South. The divide doesn’t just exist on the level of states but also on the level of cities:

  • racial diversity with many African Americans vs strong Caucasian majority
  • large concentrations of the poor vs large concentrations of the wealthy
  • a population of less educated vs a population of well educated
  • more single people vs more married people
  • large urban areas vs smaller urban areas,
  • former industrial cities vs white collar cities

Basically, Northern liberals vs Southern conservatives is a war of class and race. 

The Most Conservative and Liberal Cities in the United States
The Bay Area Center for Voting Research

America’s voting patterns are split by region, with the Midwest and Northeast predominantly voting for liberal candidates, and the West (with the exception of the coast) and South voting for more conservative candidates. These results confirm the preconceived notions that many have about the conservative nature of the South and liberal nature of the Northeast, but also surprisingly found conservative trends in the West and liberal leanings in the Midwest that defy traditional stereotypes about these areas of the country. 

A number of important demographic factors determine whether cities vote for liberals or conservatives, with race being the most important factor. Cities with predominantly large African American populations ended up as the most liberal cities in America, while the cities with the largest Caucasian populations wound up as the most conservative. These strong correlations seem to indicate that African American votes continue to support primarily liberal candidates. A survey of income and economic status indicates that poorer and less educated than average regions also tend to vote for liberal candidates at a higher rate than their conservative counterparts, indicating that liberal candidates may be ahead in capturing those with concerns about the state of government run social programs and poverty. 

Another major correlation appears between marriage rate and the tendency to vote for conservative candidates, as liberal cities appeared to have more single voters than conservative cities with marriage rates at or above the national average. This data indicates that family centered voters surprisingly voted more for conservative candidates, demonstrating the success of conservative candidates to appear as the more moral, family oriented candidates in a way that did not appeal as much to single voters. Population size also seems to have a significant effect, with larger urban environments tending to favor liberal candidates by a wider margin than those with smaller population sizes, demonstrating the success of liberal candidates in large metropolitan areas where concerns about social programs and poverty spoken of against the incumbent Bush administration were most salient. Suburban or mid-sized cities were on the whole more conservative and split in the 2004 presidential election, with conservative candidates receiving more votes in these areas than from their urban counterparts. These demographic issues indicate that racial makeup, income rates, regional location, marital status, and population size all combine to affect the propensity of American cities to vote on either side of the ideological spectrum.

[ . . . ] In addition, liberal cities tend to be former industrial and factory based centers such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Flint, and Paterson. On the other hand, conservative cities reflect the opposite. Colorado Springs, Orange, Garden Grove, and Provo are less industrial and more white collar and residential.

The above might create an apparently black and white picture (literally and metaphorically), but that isn’t quite correct. It’s more a matter of diversity vs homogeneity. The liberal cities have a wider range of everything. The Democratic Party attracts both blacks and whites whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts whites. The Democratic Party attracts both poor and rich whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts the upper classes. The Democratic Party attracts both the highly educated and the far less educated whereas the Republican Party mostly just attracts the highly educated.

The latter is interesting because the Democratic Party has both a wider range of IQ among its voters and a higher average IQ than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has both more people with low IQ and more people with high IQ (with the Republican Party apparently dominating the average middle of the IQ spectrum). So, the extremely smart, well educated liberals are truly the intellectual elite of the entire country (I discuss the issue of IQ in terms of race and North/South divide further down).

More interesting is the fact that those who are more oppressed and disadvantaged have consistently seen that their interests are more in line with intellectually elite Democrats rather than with wealthy elite Republicans. Also, I’d assume that the relationship goes both ways. The intellectually elite Democrats perceive their interests being in alignment with or inclusive of those who are more oppressed and disadvantaged.

Let me make this even more clear. It’s not that Republicans are inherently less smart, although conservatives do consistently test lower on IQ tests (sources for this claim can be found further down). It’s that the Republican Party in using the Southern Strategy eventually lost the highly intelligent liberal demographic that once voted for them.

Democrats may now be the more intelligent party
Half Sigma

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was the party of the less intelligent and the Republican Party was the party of the more intelligent.

But today, the Democratic Party is the party of both the less intelligent and the more intelligent while the Republican Party is the party of the middle.

 – – –

The simple answer I spoke of before relates to the Southern Strategy that caused the GOP to lose the Northern well educated class. The Southern Strategy was all about the North/South divide. Democrats had sided with the Civil Rights movement which opened up the opportunity for Republicans to gain the Southern vote. With the Southern Strategy, the GOP appealed to the Southern states that still had much racial animosity and still had a racially segregated culture. To win the Southern vote meant to take advantage of the bad feelings left over from the Civil War.

The Midwest and the Northeast, of course, had been on the side of the Union during the Civil War. Lincoln’s Republican Union had become the stronghold for Democrats in the latter half of the 20th century. The Republican Party remained the progressive party for decades following the end of the Civil War, but now the Democratic party is considered the progressive party. Essentially, the war of worldviews is still going on… just with the party labels switched.

Map of the Union and Confederate States

Map of the Union and Confederate States

The Civil War was, of course, largely even if not entirely about slavery. It wasn’t just an issue of federal power vs states rights. It was about whether new territories of the Western expansion would expand slavery or not. Southerners feared that if slavery didn’t expand then it would begin to shrink (thus threatening their own power).

Free States and Slave States, before the Civil War

Graphical Map of Free States and Slave States, before the Civil War
Map Key: Free Sates or Territories
Map Key: Slave States
Map Key: Territories open to slavery

Midwesterners were free-soilers who were against slavery or rather against a class-based culture built on slavery… because Midwestern small farmers saw the Southern plantation elite as a threat. Also, non-slave states didn’t like having the practice and institution of slavery forced on them through the fugitive slave laws. Take Kansas for example. The Kansas Territory wasn’t yet a state and so was open territory for the potential expansion of slavery. Kansans, however, were largely free-soilers and didn’t want slavery expanded into their territory. This is why Kansans fought on the side of the Union.

It’s true that international slave trade was illegalized in 1808, but it wasn’t strongly enforced and internal slave trade was still legal (a situation that allowed for a flourishing black market for smugglers):

Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the United States

It is difficult to explain why it was moralist sentiment was not strong enough to carry the day. One possible explanation is that even though there was strong sentiment to abolish the trade in Congress, constituencies in the South were able to exert sufficient pressure to weaken the force of the law. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention could not have forseen the effect that Ely Whitney’s cotton gin would have on Southern agriculture. The decades following the abolition of the slave trade show that United States did not have enough will to even enforce the laws they had passed.  Illegal slave trade continued overland through Texas and Florida, while ships continued to smuggle slaves in through South Carolina.27  Even though Congress passed a law in 1820 making participation in the slave trade an act of piracy and punishable by death, it was not strongly enforced.

In the 1820’s, the nature of the illegal slave trade changed somewhat. US ships were now primarily involved in the transport of slaves from Africa to other countries in North and South America like Cuba and Brazil. The British wanted cooperation from the Americans in the form of the mutual right of search and seizure. The Americans opposed this principle, not so much out of a desire to continue the slave trade, but out of a sense of national pride and an appeal to the freedom of the seas.28  The US’s refusal to enforce its own anti-slave trade laws, as well as cooperate with other nations allowed the slave trade to continue for decades to come.

Slavery and the slave trade were far from being stopped. There was big money in it. Those who benefited from slavery had lost one political battle, but they weren’t giving up. They were on the defense and were looking for ways to go on the offense. The territories that weren’t yet states were their one opportunity to expand their power (because the governments of new states were allowed to decide whether to legalize or illegalize slavery).

The Westward expansion was a vision of possibility, of what America could become. But conflict arose in the struggle for whose vision would dominate the 19th century. When people today argue about the causes of the Civil War, they are continuing that struggle about whose vision will dominate.

The Civil War had a massive impact on American society. And a majority of Americans say the Civil War is still relevant:

As the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War approaches, most Americans say the war between the North and South is still relevant to American politics and public life today.

More than half of Americans (56%) say the Civil War is still relevant, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 30-April 3 among 1,507 adults. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) say the Civil War is important historically but has little current relevance.

In a nation that has long endured deep racial divisions, the history of that era still elicits some strong reactions.

Another recent poll found similar results with one major difference. In their sample, a majority thought the Civil War was about slavery.

In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.

When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states’ rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

“The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exist a century and a half later,” CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.

When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.

Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.

 – – – 

Because this is such a central issue related to what continues to divide Americans, let me respond to those who think the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. The most obvious response is to point out that there were people on both sides of the war who openly stated that their reason or part of their reason for fighting had to do with slavery. Even official documents made this issue clear:

After 150 years, the Civil War still divides the United States

In fact, the South Carolina secession document […] is pretty explicit on the point. With Lincoln as president, it states, “the Slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy”.

In its own decision to secede, the state of Mississippi was yet more explicit. Slavery was “the greatest material interest of the world”, it insisted; attempts to abolish it would undermine “commerce and civilization”.

Those are strong words. Nonetheless, the politics and economics of that time were more complex and conflict-ridden than can be accredited to the issue of slavery alone. Even though slavery was an important issue in its own right, it was maybe even more important as a symbolic issue that inspired and gave a focal point for much public debate.

However, there wasn’t much collective will, at least among the political leadership, to stop slavery or the slave trade and the compromises made by way of laws were half-hearted. Yes, the Civil War was about states’ rights, to be specific, the states’ rights to continue with slavery if they so chose. Even though people feared slave revolts, there was still big money in slave plantations and that money was backed by entrenched power and traditional culture.

Greed not withstanding, fear was probably the greater force at play… with moral apathy being the result. Americans (by which I mean white Americans) were in what they perceived as a no-win situation. The slave population had grown so large that revolts were bound to happen and people had heard about the horrors of the Haitian slave revolt which led to outright revolution (1791-1804). Americans (ahem, white Americans) had just finished their own revolution and didn’t want a new one. On the other hand, trying to eliminate slavery presented other fearful possibilities. Giving blacks their freedom might just make them even more likely to revolt. You know how it is when you give someone a taste of freedom. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:

The one issue that best demonstrates the difference between moralists and pragmatists was the issue of forfeiture, or what should be done with the confiscated slaves.

Some representatives argued that it was not only the government’s duty, but its right to manumit the seized cargo. Mr. Sloan drew a comparison to British law where any slave who entered Britain was automatically freed. If the slaves were to be forfeited to the national government and became property of that government, it was Congress’ prerogative to set the slaves free.17 Others emphasized the moral hypocrisy of stopping the slave trade, but then turning around and selling the cargo anyway. Mr. Smilie of Pennsylvania argued that if the slaves are not set free, the United States cannot “avoid the odium of becoming themselves slave traders.”18  Representative Pitkin of Connecticut lamented that the profit from such forfeited slaves would be “lodged in the public coffers.”19

The pragmatists opposed the manumission of the slaves on the basis of practical matters alone, not  principle. Mr. Alston argued that because of the laws of the individual states, the government “cannot . . . prevent them from being slaves once brought into the United States, the only way is to prevent importation.”20  This, however required that there be sufficient incentive on the part of all states to enforce the law. Because nearly all the imported slaves arrived in the south, where slavery was legal, large numbers of blacks would be freed on Southern soil. Mr. Early argued that Southerners would be unlikely to cooperate with the law out of fear that large numbers of freed blacks would lead to insurrection and revolt.21  Forfeiture seemed to be the only means of prevention.

When people say that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, they are making the case that many made before the Civil War. Many people didn’t agree with or care about the moral argument against slavery. They saw it in terms of economics and in terms of the rights of states and of owners (the rights of blacks, specifically the right of blacks to own their own bodies, being conveniently left out of the equation). These people wanted to avoid the moral argument for the very reason they knew they couldn’t win the moral argument. Public opinion, on that issue, was moving against them. But, when stated in terms of rights, slavery became more palatable to many whites of the time (especially businessmen and investors; but maybe not so palatable to the free-soilers, though, who had their own vision of individual rights).

It’s interesting to consider the history of states’ rights. One of the early origins of this argument was in relation to Native Americans. The governments and local populations of states wanted the land Native Americans claimed as their own. States’ rights was a  way of trying to bypass the federal government in order to steal the land from Native Americans in a more direct fashion. So, legal and constitutional claims of states’ rights were used to deny the rights of Native Americans and then later to deny the rights of blacks.

Whether or not the end of slavery was inevitable, the Civil War was probably inevitable. The moral arguments and the pragmatic arguments simply couldn’t find a shared solution to the complex issues surrounding slavery:

The Congressmen themselves seemed to grasp the rift that divided them. Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the House believed all members were truly united in their goal: “I believe that on this subject there is but one opinion, which is effectually to prohibit the importation of slaves into the United States. This sentiment, I believe, pervades the breast of every member of the community.”22  While that may be true, he made his position clear in the debate on forfeiture: “I still consider this a commercial issue. . . .We derive our powers of legislation, not from the law of nations, but from the Constitution.”23  Mr. Smilie, making one last appeal to the supremacy of morality countered: “but this question is connected with principles of a higher order than those merely commercial.” He then refered to the Declaration of Independence and its central creed that all men are created equal.24  These two positions succinctly sum up the differences in thought over the means to abolish the slave trade. The question remained, who prevailed?

During January and February 1807, the House of Representatives and the Senate worked on developing mutually acceptable bills. The final vote in the House was 63 for, 49 against. President Thomas Jefferson signed the bill into law on 2 March 1807. In the bill itself, one can see that pragmatic concerns about implementation won out over the moralistic point of view. First, the bill contained provisions for the forfeiture of confiscated property, but such property would be under the jurisdiction of the district court were a slaving ship was seized. Provisions made for the “disposal” of confiscated slaves was not to “contravene” the laws of that specific state. This meant that if seized in Southern territory (which was the likely outcome), blacks would remain enslaved and be auctioned off nonetheless, completely contradicting the spirit of the act. Penalties were comparatively light, consisting primarily of fines.25  In December 1806, Mr. Hastings of Massachusetts had called for much stronger penalties: “It is  certainly a crime of the highest order. Piracy, forgery, and sinking vessels with intent to defraud underwriters, are all punished with death. Yet these are crimes only against property; whereas the importation of slaves, a crime committed against the liberty of man, and inferior only to murder or treason, is accouted nothing but a misdemeanor.”26  This is yet another example of the defeat of the moralists.

Looking into the history of that era, I sense the earliest emerging of that divide (prior to its more fully manifesting as North vs South). We still see this conflict of visions: moral (egalitarianism, human rights, etc) vs pragmatic (economics, ownership rights, etc). It’s the same basic argument of liberalism vs conservatism. The argument began even before the American Revolution happened. Thomas Paine was advocating a radically egalitarian vision (freedom and rights for all, including blacks and Native Americans; and an early version of social security to help the lower classes in their elderly years). Oppositely, many of the founding fathers such as John Adams feared democracy and wanted a political elite to be established so as to maintain order (the order of the ownership class that is, the fear of social conflict and division being the reason slavery wasn’t abolished with the writing of the constitution).

 – – – 

In the Eastern half of the country, the North/South divide remains as true today as it did a century ago. It’s not just a political divide. The two visions of America aren’t merely an issue of ideology. I’d argue it’s more fundamentally a cultural divide. We Northerners tend to be more supportive of social egalitarianism: civil rights, workers unions, et cetera. As long as you work hard, everyone should be given a fair chance to succeed. Despite both having a traditional culture, Midwestern traditionalism didn’t originate from a class-based society and Southern traditionalism did originate from a class-based society.

Most people don’t think of workers’ unions in geographic terms, but even union membership shows a North/South divide — see here:

Union Membership in the United States

 

Where unions are strong so is the Democratic Party. And where unions are weak so is the Democratic Party. Unions are the only organization that represents the working class. As I pointed out above, the Midwest was a hotbed for the Populist movement which set the groundwork for many Progressive policies. A main element of the Populist movement was the workers movement. Unions were born out of this. Also, this relates to the fact that the free-soilers were small farmers who, during the Populist era, joined forces with the labor movement. Notice that the unions are weakest, unsurprisingly, in the states which were formerly the pro-slavery strongholds. Unions are symbolic of the egalitarian ideal and the Northern culture that supports it.

Egalitarianism is a central ideal of social liberalism. It’s interesting that even gay marriage can be defended according to the social values that are traditional in states like Iowa. According to an analysis of various data, Northern states tend to be more tolerant and Iowa ranks as the 12th most tolerant. Also, notice how the above maps with their North/South divide match closely with a map of income inequality (which also correlates to the rates of social problems) and with a map of poverty:

Gross Domestic Product by Industry

% in Poverty Income Map

I can only credit such a divide, such a stark contrast with the power of culture. It’s not just a North/South divide in the whole country. The North/South divide only clearly shows up in the Eastern part of the US. The Southern states closer to the West coast (which also deal with high diverse populations) look relatively good on many rankings compared to the Southern states toward the Eastern coast. This Eastern North/South divide has consistently existed for at least since the Civil War and I suspect before even then. I find that endlessly fascinating. As I pointed out above, income inequality correlates to social problems. Here are just a few examples of social problems mapped out (compare the North/South pattern as seen in the maps of income inequality and poverty) — school performanceteen pregnancygun violence, obesity & diabetes, disability, unmarried & single parents:

schools_patchwork.jpg

Map of obesity rates by county. For data, see link above.Map of diabetes rates by county. For data, see link above.

Here is another map which would explain one cause of some of the health issues. It’s a map of areas that are food deserts. There are a high percentage of poor people living in these areas who don’t own a car nor are near a supermarket. This means they are forced to live off of food from convenience stores. It’s not that all food in a convenience store is unhealthy, but the cheapest food that poor people buy tends to be very unhealthy.

food deserts, food desert map, food

So, health problems are caused by an unhealthy diet which is caused by lack of access to healthy food, but that doesn’t necessarily get to the most fundamental cause. Why don’t supermarkets build in these areas? Is there no way to make a profit off of poor people except by slowly killing them with unhealthy food? I have to wonder if there isn’t more going on.

It’s in poor conservative areas like this that there are also less access to affordable health care. Conservatives are on average more against funding social services that help the poor (i.e., those judged as being undeserving by their low status on the ‘meritocratic’ totem pole). Not all poor areas have these problems. Why is it that California has an area of poverty and yet has no food deserts? Is it for the reason that California is more liberal and liberals (i.e., liberal communities and governments) take care of their own? Like California, Texas is also wealthy. Why does Texas have food deserts when California doesn’t? In one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, why does Texas have food deserts at all? Obviously, Texas has high wealth disparity which is a cause of food disparity, but why do conservative states have so much wealth disparity in the first place?

I was looking at population density and was wondering about the possible correlation to food desert regions.

To be fair, maybe the difference of food desert regions between California and Texas could be partly explained by a difference in population density. However, differences between liberal and conservative states in general, specifically between North and South, can’t be explained just by population density. Let me use my own state as an example again. Iowa, and this non-industrial part of the Midwest in general, has low population density and yet isn’t a food desert. Iowans have a fair amount of poverty. Why is it profitable for grocery stores to operate in poor Iowa but not in rich Texas?

– – –

Here is an interesting way of mapping together some of the above data along with other data as well. A recent study compared states according to the measurements of peacefulness (I discuss in detail the issue of violence further down in this post). The peace index consists of five main 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
  5. general availability of small arms

US Peace Index (state comparison)

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.

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.

United States Peace Index 2011 – Ranking

United States Peace Index 2011 - Ranking

Of course, high rates of social problems such as violence ultimately equates to low rates of experienced well-being.

Well-being of nation

– – –

For the sake of amusement, here are some maps to show social problems as translated into the 7 Deadly Sins:

Greed & Envy

Wrath & Sloth
 
Gluttony & Lust
Pride
 
It’s funny that the one sin the North excels at slightly is Sloth which is measured according to: “Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment.” Basically, it just means Northerners have more fun and have more high culture. As far as sins go, that is definitely the one to choose.

Another interesting thing is that the Midwest rates low on all the sins. It doesn’t look like Iowa gets touched by much red other than a bit of the Sloth. We Iowans apparently are a religiously pure people… who yet (at least, us Eastern Iowans) still know how to have fun and aren’t entirely uncultured.

Greed is the only sin that doesn’t at all follow a North/South divide. I don’t know what this particular data might mean as I’m not sure what exactly is being measured. Obviously, measuring the “Average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line” is not the same thing as measuring income inequality or poverty. The map shows the Northeastern states as being high on ‘Greed’ and the Southern states (excluding Florida and Texas) as being low on ‘Greed’. However, the maps of income inequality and poverty are the complete opposite.

 – – –  

Before I move on, I want to share a map that brings a lot of this together in a larger picture and shifts the way we normally think. The US is the wealthiest country in the world and so it’s easy to forget how big the divide is in this country. We talk about poor developing countries, but we don’t talk about poor developing states. Fortunately, someone decided to map the data.

Infographic: Does America Have “Developing States”? 

 

The Human Development Index is a metric that measures the life expectancy, education, and standard of living in an area. It’s usually used to sort the world into “developing countries,” like Bangladesh and Burundi, and “developed countries” like the United States and Western Europe.

But this interactive infographic actually uses the Human Development Index to show differences between the states here in America. The highest on the list are Connecticut, Massachusetts, and other states in the northeast. The lowest are the Appalachian states.

Should we start thinking of West Virginia and Tennessee as “developing states”? It’s a little patronizing, but it does make you think about the costs of America’s regionalized coal production, for example, in a new way.

 – – –

Pause for a moment and let all that data sink in. Look at all those maps, really look at them. Imagine all of that data superimposed onto a singular map that is our country. Instead of seeing abstract statistics, imagine the real people who are experiencing these problems, who daily face challenges and suffering that could break the best of us.

Look at the conservative areas of the South and Appalachia. Now imagine that all states, all regions, all the country was dominated by a similar conservative culture. Imagine that all government (local and federal) was run by a majority of conservative politicians. Imagine spread across the entire country the same degree of social problems, the same high rates of: poverty, wealth disparity, violent crime, incarceration, intolerance, broken families, illiteracy, high school drop outs, teen pregnancy, low birth weight, infant mortality, STDs, lack of healthy food and health care for the poor and working class, and on and on. Imagine all of that combined.

Imagine that America was a developing country where people still struggle for basic rights and opportunities. Imagine an America that had no strong tradition of liberalism, no liberal party that could compete with conservative Republicans, no rich liberal states to pay for the infrastructure and social services in poor conservative states. Imagine that a progressively liberal president like Lincoln was never elected and so slavery was never abolished, that no Populist movement ever arose to challenge the Robber Barons, that no Progressive era came to create a social safety net, labor laws, child protection and environmental regulation, that no Civil Rights movement ever happened, that segregation never ended, that women and blacks never fought for and won voting rights.

Heck, go back even further right to the beginning of the country. Imagine that there was no Thomas Paine to communicate to the masses an inspiring liberal vision about what America could be, that early Americans weren’t inspired by that radically democratic vision to such an extent that they risked their lives fighting for radical change against an established conservative elite. Imagine that the liberal values of social democracy never took hold on American soil, that we never gained independence, that a constitution of classical liberal values was never written, that an egalitarian society of representative democracy was never established.

Imagine an America with no liberalism whatsoever or else an America where liberalism forever remained insignificant and powerless.

I don’t know what America would be like if it were almost exclusively conservative in all aspects and in all regions. But, to speculate based on the known data, there is no reason obvious to me for why one would think it would be a better country… not that I mean to imply that the polar opposite would necessarily be better. I just want liberalism to get its due, to be acknowledged for the positive force it has been in this country.

I want to be clear, however, that I’m not arguing conservatism is inherently and inevitably a negative force. I could imagine a conservative country that didn’t have all of these problems originating from America’s radicalized conservatism obsessed with class and culture war and haunted by hyper-individualism and anti-intellectualism. A well established traditional conservatism could make for a very good society in certain respects. Some indigenous societies, for example, are both very socially conservative and very stable. But America’s radicalized conservatism isn’t the same thing as traditional conservatism.

In my mind, I can hear the conservative’s counterargument. They would argue that the US is a republic, not a democracy (the latter being identified with the oppression of the majority, with unconstitutional government overreach). They would, of course, say that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery but instead was about state’s rights, about the federal government infringing on constitutional rights of liberty and self-determination. They would say that slavery would’ve ended on its own because a free market would eventually result in slavery being unprofitable, that fiscal conservatism inevitably leads to liberty and that Lincoln’s brutally forcing the end of oppression against blacks led to an oppression against Southerners. They would argue that the real problem was how the Civil War caused immense destruction and how Reconstruction undermined Southern culture. The conservative imagines his own vision of America where the War of Northern Aggression never happened and no Reconstruction followed, where the Southern economies had continued to grow unthwarted, where none of these social problems ever developed. It’s a nice dream.

I’ve discussed some of this earlier, but let me add some further thoughts. Ignoring the revisionist history and the mindless debate about republic vs democracy, I’m not sure I have a strong opinion about the case being made for secession. I understand the argument that the federal government supposedly didn’t have the right to infringe on the rights of Southerners. But Southerners didn’t have the right to infringe on the rights of blacks. And neither had the right to infringe on the rights of Native Americans. There was a whole lot of infringing of rights happening on all sides. The Civil War was obviously not beneficial to the South in the short term, but it’s not clear that the South would have been better off if they had been left alone to continue on with their immoral system of slavery. Yes, slavery may have ended on it’s own if given enough time, but then again maybe not. Slavery easily could have gone on for another century. Or slavery might never have ended at all, might have taken on new form to adapt to the changing economy. I just don’t get the argument for not dealing with an immoral situation in the seemingly naive hope that it would eventually resolve itself.

My own view is that the most fundamental differences between the North and South are greater than and probably prior to the Civil War. The Civil War was just an outward manifestation of a conflict that had to be dealt with, one way or another. I see this conflict to be primarily on the level of culture (and the demographic issues and patterns underlying culture: religion, nationality, etc). The broad outlines of our present cultural divisions began to show with the earliest colonists. Some people interpret Alexis de Tocqueville as having predicted the Civil War with his observations of American culture. The seeds of conflict can be seen right from the beginning. Allowing slavery to legally continue was a concession made in order to unite the country, but it was a pact made with the devil. If the founding fathers had lived up their moral responsibility, Lincoln wouldn’t have had to confront the results of their moral failure. The Civil War was a bad solution to an even worse problem.

– – –

I’ll now shift gears by returning to the original impetus of this whole line of thought.

I had a debate where I was arguing about the cultural difference between the North and South (the very debate that led me to do much of this research and analysis). The central basis of my argument was that differences in religion are a factor behind this difference in culture. I hadn’t looked at the data closely enough at that point and so my argument was partly just based on my own experience of having lived in both the North and the South (along with a general familiarity with diverse data about different states).

I was specifically considering my experience of Iowa and what I thought makes it distinct.

If I recall correctly, the first church in the Iowa territory was a Unitarian church. Unitarianism was popular among Northerners such as some people among the Revolutionary generation. It’s important to note that the difference between Unitarians and the Calvinist fundamentalists (who are mostly in the South) is that the former believe that all are saved and the latter believe only a select elite are saved (a massive cultural difference).

The other thing I recall from Iowa history is that Quakers helped build the some of the early public schools. This valuing of education was central to the Populist and Progressive eras in the Midwest. Education was how farmers and the working class fought back against those who sought to exploit them. I think related to this is how widespread Catholicisim is in Iowa. Like the Quakers, Catholics built schools everywhere they went.

The last observation is that Iowa is Amish country. The Amish are Anabaptists who have been a driving force behind the pacifist tradition in American history (and the Southern Scots-Irish Calvinists have a culture quite opposite of pacifism).

There is something about these religions (Unitarians, Quakers, Catholics, and Amish) that is uniquely Midwestern and, more generally, Northern. As I was looking at the above maps, I was wondering what maps of religions would look like and whether they would confirm my personal observations. The following are the maps I could find for all the different religions. But first let me show you a map of atheism just for additional context:

Unsurprisingly, rates of atheism are lowest in the South. It’s particularly unsurprising that rates of atheism are highest in the Northeast. On the more surprising side, rates of atheism are (relative to the South) higher in the Midwest and even higher in Mormon country. So, in relation to the other maps, even atheism shows a North/South divide.

Let me now show a general map with several different religious traditions shown:

Do you happen to notice a North/South divide? However, the religious divide is less clear at the most Southern points of the US. Catholicism has been in Texas for a long time (almost certainly longer than Protestantism) and the Cubans have brought Catholicism into Florida. Now here are some relevant examples of maps for individual religions:

(To see more of these religious maps, go here.)

There are particular religions that are mostly found in the North or mostly found in the South. I think this is very significant for the reason that religious differences are a strong indicator of cultural differences.

I was also thinking about this in terms of the those who fought for American independence and helped found the country (after all, they had a greater impact on American culture than almost any other group in American history). The founding fathers, many of whom were born in or lived in the Northeast, were religiously diverse including a fair number (depending how terms are defined and what evidence is used) who were Deists and Unitarians or who held beliefs that were in part Deist or Unitarian (for further reading, see here).

The Revolution of Belief

Deist-Orthodox Charts

The chart below explores the differences between orthodox Christian action and beliefs and Deist actions and beliefs as it specifically deals with eight of the Founding Fathers.

I chose to look at the years from around 1770 to 1800 as the defining years to establish the particular belief set up in these charts. A couple of these men had a change of heart from earlier years, and a few have been rumored to have yielded to more traditional feelings of religion very late in life.

The Chart Categories

Much of what is inferred about the founding fathers and their religious beliefs cannot always be taken from their letters. There are other ways above and beyond their letters that I have outlined in their church actions. Again, this informational content comes from the book, “Faiths of the Founding Fathers” by David Holmes, although these tables are entirely my creation.

From their actions, the following ideas are considered indicators of Christian orthodoxy, Deism, or some combination of both:

U.S. Presidents
 

Actions: Communion, Confirmation, Church Attendance, Vocabulary

  Communion Confirmation Attendance Vocabulary
Washington No No Yes Mostly Deist
Adams, John not applicable not applicable Yes Both
Jefferson No No Yes Deist
Madison No No Yes Deist
Monroe No No Yes Mostly Deist
Franklin No No Yes Deist
Paine, Thomas No No No Deist
Adams, Samuel not applicable not applicable Yes Orthodox

Beliefs: Resurrection, Christ-Divinity, Trinity, Miracles

  Resurrection Christ-Divinity Trinity Miracles
Washington ? ? ? ?
Adams, John Yes Yes No Yes
Jefferson No No No No
Madison ? ? No ?
Monroe ? ? ? ?
Franklin No No No ?
Paine, Thomas No No No No
Adams, Samuel Yes Yes Yes Yes

Significantly, of 204 founding fathers, apparently only one was explicitly and solely identified as a Calvinist (Fisher Ames). However, others could be included as Calvinist (depending on whether Calvinism is being defined as a specific religious denomination or a general religious affiliation; technically, Calvinist denominations include: Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Reformed) or as partially Calvinist in terms of certain beliefs (such as the depravity of human nature; however, such a belief or similar beliefs were also common in other Christian denominations, e.g., Catholic original sin).

Most importantly, there are two distinctions to be made here. First, there is a vast difference between the Calvinism of the South and the Calvinism of the Northeast (the former being the main influence on the fundamentalist tradition and the latter being the denominations more common among the founding fathers). Second, Calvinism was popular in early America, especially among the general population, but it lost membership and influence over time. Some of the Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had been raised in Calvinist homes, only to renounce Calvinism as adults.

Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America

Religious Affiliation
of U.S. Founding Fathers
# of
Founding
Fathers
% of
Founding
Fathers
Episcopalian/Anglican 88 54.7%
Presbyterian 30 18.6%
Congregationalist 27 16.8%
Quaker 7 4.3%
Dutch Reformed/German Reformed 6 3.7%
Lutheran 5 3.1%
Catholic 3 1.9%
Huguenot 3 1.9%
Unitarian 3 1.9%
Methodist 2 1.2%
Calvinist 1 0.6%
TOTAL 204  

 – – – 

Now I’ll show some maps showing other indicators of cultural differences.

Here is some info about American dialects.

It’s interesting to note that the region I live in is the very center of Standard American English. Looking at this small region, it seems very odd how the English spoken here became Standard American English. From what I’ve read, the English of this region spread during the Dust Bowl years when many farmers left the Midwest and went West. Also, I suspect that early national radio and tv stations intentionally chose people from around this area to be news anchors. It’s the approximate center of the country, after all. Maybe this central location makes the dialect linguistically closer to and more easily understood by speakers of all other dialects. Also, the region of Standard American English is part of the larger regional dialect known as the Midland American English, specifically North Midland. The lower edge of the Midland region approximates the border between free states and slave states.

American English Dialects

And, of course, dialects are based in ancestry. Those concentrated in the South are Hispanic, African-American, and Scots-Irish. I’d also add the Cavaliers (the aristocrats and loyal Royalists) from Southern England who settled Virginia (which, along with the Scots-Irish and two other British immigrant groups, is discussed in the book Albion’s Seed).

File:Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg

English & German

File:English1346.gifFile:German1346.gif

Irish & French

File:Irish1346.gifFile:French1346.gif

Norwegian & Swedish

File:Norwegian1346.gifFile:Swedish1346.gif

Asian & Hispanic

Scots-Irish & African-American

File:Scotch irish1346.gif

File:USA 2000 black density.png

Two details interest me about the Scots-Irish.

First, there is a large clump of Scots-Irish in Texas (not so surprising) and a large clump in Southern California (more surprising). One thing that is mentioned in something I was reading (quoted below) is that the Scots-Irish and Quakers were two major groups pushing the Western expansion. It’s partly for this reason that the conflicting worldviews of these two groups have been central to what American society has become.

Second (and more relevant to my analyis), there is concentration of Scots-Irish around South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. This general area is part of Appalachia which also extends into some Northern States (such as Pennsylvania which is traditional Quaker territory, much different than Southern Appalachia).

White Voters, Obama and Appalachia

First, let’s define how we’ll be using “Appalachia.”  In the 1960’s, one out of three people in Appalachia   lived poverty, per capita income was 23% lower than the national average, and the region was rapidly losing population.  In 1963 the Appalachian Regional Commission was created by Congress and President Kennedy to address the problems in the area highlighted in the map.  Since the 1960’s counties near Atlanta, Huntsville AL and Pittsburgh have become wealthier much more developed.  But much of the region remains well below national standards in most measures of economic and social well-being.

The ethnic and cultural character of this part of the country has been more static since the 19th century than anyplace in America.  Outside of some of the new growth areas north of Atlanta or Huntsville, or in some of the college towns, most of the people in Appalachia trace their heritage back to immigrants from the borderlands of Northern Britain who began settling the region over 200 years ago.  Outside of the Northern part of Appalachia—Pennsylvania in particular—relatively few Eastern or Southern Europeans from the great waves of immigration that started in the 1880’s have moved in to the area.  It’s the most homogeneous region in America.  The region is home to few Catholics, and is heavily Baptist and Methodist.

In the 19th century, migrants from Appalachia moved west.  People from Appalachia settled and put their stamp on the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, on Okalahoma and the southern Plains, on North Texas, and eventually they were a big part of the initial growth of Southern California.

This same general region of and around Appalachia, interestingly, is also where there are concentrated those who identify simply as ‘Americans’. I find that amusing. It could be that these are just poor Americans who are unaware of their own ancestry and so simply identify as American. But I suspect it’s, at least, partly a cultural identity. The Scots-Irish are very ethnocentric and I’m willing to bet that this is the origin of conservative oft-stated belief that they are ‘Real Americans’. Why would conservatives want to claim their own European ancestry when they are always criticizing Europeans as socialists?

File:American1346.gif

I was recently reading Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant. It gave me great insight into the Scots-Irish culture. Bageant explained it in terms of a specific Calvinist tradition (Kindle location 2357):

“Since arriving in America during the first seventy-five years of the eighteenth century, Calvinist Ulster Scots have constituted a parallel culture to that of enlightened Yankee liberals. Scots-Irish Calvinist values all but guarantee anger and desire for vengeance against what is perceived as elite authority: college-educated secular people who run the schools, the media, and the courts and don’t seem to mind if their preacher is a queer. One Calvinist premise has always dominated: The word of God supersedes any and all government authority. Period. That same flaming brand of Calvinism brought here by the Ulster Scots launched American Christian fundamentalism. Now it threatens to breach the separation of church and state. Worse yet, its most vehement elements push for a nuclear holy war.”

This culture formed much of Southern tradition, especially the tradition of fundamentalism. These Scots-Irish weren’t the plantation owners. In fact, they were quite the opposite in being poor. But in modern America it’s the Scots-Irish culture that has come to define the South (and, more broadly, to add a distinct flavor to the American identity): kinship affiliation, family values, ethnocentric pride, nationalism, xenophobia, fundamentalism, working class identity, lack of prudishness, machismo, heavy drinking, gun rights, property rights, territorialism, libertarian values of autonomy, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, etc. The Scots-Irish were the complete opposite of the Puritans who first settled the Northeast, even though both were Calvinist. Talk about cultural differences.

 – – – 

The following is a very detailed article analyzing a particular set of British immigrants. The author explains much about the Scots-Irish and the historical reasons for their culture.

Yo, Pundits! Here’s What’s Up With the Republicans
By Geenius at Wrok

We have two dominant political parties. Each of those parties is built upon two of the four primary waves of migration from Britain that defined America in its earliest years. Historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, identifies these waves as:

  • Puritans, who settled in New England;
  • Cavaliers, who settled in Virginia;
  • Quakers, who settled in the Delaware River Valley; and
  • Borderers, who settled in the “backcountry,” as Appalachia and the Highland South were termed back then.

These four waves weren’t the only immigrants to bring their cultures to America — there were also Dutch colonists and Jews in the Hudson River Valley, French colonists in Louisiana and Maine, Catholics in Maryland and Huguenots in South Carolina — but they came to dominate American culture and politics, for two reasons. First, they held not just local power but regional power. Second, they migrated westward.

Through the 18th and early 19th centuries, politics revolved on a Puritan–Cavalier axis. The Civil War was fought, essentially, between Puritan abolitionists and Cavalier slaveholders. But in the late 19th century, the descendants of Quakers and Borderers settled the West, while the descendants of Puritans and Cavaliers mostly stayed east of the Mississippi River. Consequently, the balance of power began to shift, and the four cultures found themselves on more equal footing. Today, if anything, the Quaker and Borderer strains in our culture and politics are stronger nationwide than the Puritan and Cavalier strains. Since the political realignment of the 1960s, we have essentially had a Northern Party (the Quaker–Puritan Democrats) and a Southern Party (the Borderer–Cavalier Republicans), with the Great Plains and the Mountain West leaning toward the Republicans until just recently.

[ . . . ] Conflicts between the newly arrived Borderers and the Quakers who resided around the Borderers’ primary ports of entry, Philadelphia and Newcastle, Del., encouraged the Borderers to move upland into the Appalachian mountain range and south into Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, then across what was then the “Southwest” — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. In the 19th century, they crossed the Mississippi River and migrated into Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. These areas were already populated by proud and fierce Native American nations that tried to fight off the new settlers, creating a new environment of perpetual strife to replace the one the borderers left behind in Britain.

When looked at closely, aspects of this culture can appear hypocritical. For example, Southern states are socially conservative and yet rate very poorly on living up to socially conservative values.

The Borderers also displayed a degree of sexual freedom that appalled Americans of other cultures, and premarital sex and pregnancy were rampant.

Is this where the “Republican = Borderer” equation breaks down? True, no one can reasonably point to the Republican Party as the “pro–promiscuity and early pregnancy party.” But here’s an interesting fact: For all the Republicans’ family-values talk, the Highland South remains the region of the country where teen pregnancy rates are highest. In fact, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense: If you look around you and see social disorder everywhere, of course you’re going to panic and look to someone to save you from it. (If you live in another part of the country and don’t see that degree of social disorder, of course, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.) It’s also telling that, for all the talk of abstinence and purity pledges and so forth, when teen pregnancy happens under one’s own roof, suddenly it’s no longer a threat to the social order but rather a chance to show your love and forgiveness!

Relevant to my own thoughts, the author discusses how the Republican Party has incorporated much of the cultural worldview that came from the Scots-Irish. What is particularly relevant is how this culture originated in poverty and wealth disparity. Along with this, the author explains why property rights are prioritized over human rights.

Today’s Republican Party tolerates inequality of wealth because Borderers have historically experienced more of it than any other culture in America. Despite the myth of the meritocratic, sweat-of-one’s-brow frontier, the backcountry was characterized by “a system of landholding characterized by a large landless underclass of tenants and squatters, a middle class that was small by comparison with other colonies, and a few very rich landlords,” Fischer writes.

With some exceptions, landed wealth was always highly concentrated throughout the Southern highlands, as it would be in the lower Mississippi Valley, Texas and the far Southwest. Inequality was greater in the backcountry and the Southern highlands than in any other rural region of the United States. (749)

Violence has pervaded Borderer life for literally a thousand years. Rather than place their trust in the political systems that exploited them, Borderers developed their own system of retributive justice and vigilantism, one which punished property crimes far more severely than crimes against people: a rustler might be hanged, while the rapist of a young girl might be fined a shilling (768). Here we see the roots of American “gun culture,” the attitude that shooting trespassers is acceptable and the prioritization of property rights over civil liberties. We also see a tolerance of violent acts in general, from domestic violence to abortion-clinic murders to shooting wolves from airplanes.
.

This kind of violence seems strange. The data shows the violence concentrated in Southern states, but why? How does a culture of violence develop in the first place? Is it just violence perpetuating violence? Or is there something specific about a culture that predisposes people to violence?

The Scots-Irish Vote

Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen, psychology professors at the University of Michigan and University of Illinois, conducted an in-depth study in the 1990s examining what they dubbed the “Culture of Honor” prevalent in the South. In trying to find out why violence rates were significantly higher in the South, they discovered that white southerners tended to be much more likely to resort to violence to defend their property or honor than whites in other parts of the country. Their studies controlled for poverty rates throughout the region, as well as for other factors including weather (warmer areas tend to be more violent) and the legacy of slavery (areas with fewer blacks actually experienced more violence amongst whites, they found). This trend was not nearly as strong in the larger, more metropolitan cities of the South but was especially prevalent in the small, more isolated and culturally distinct small cities and towns throughout Appalachia and the rural South. These are the areas where the Hatfields and McCoys, the Turners and Howards (all Scots-Irish) feuded for years. The psychologists then ran a series of experiments where they antagonized both southerners and northerners, and found that southerners were much more prone to violence when slighted.

Nisbett argues that many of the cultural traits of the modern South can be traced back to the heritage of the population’s descendants. “The Scots-Irish were a herding people, while people from the north [of the U.S.] were English, German and Dutch farmers. Herding people are tough guys all over the world, and they are that because they have to establish that you can’t trifle with them, and if you don’t do that then you feel like you’re at risk for losing your entire wealth, which is your herd. This creates a culture of honor, and the Scots-Irish are very much a culture of honor, and they carried that with them from the Deep South to the Mountain South, and then out through the western plains.”

According to Nisbett, the Scots-Irish were a warlike people distrustful of a powerful central government, a result of the herder mentality as well as centuries of fighting, first against the English and Irish, then against Native Americans, then against the Yankees. As he points out, “The Scots-Irish are very much overrepresented in the military … and you find them there because they’re a fighting people.”

I find myself fascinated with the Scots-Irish. They have such a distinctive culture which has had an immense influence on American society. America would not be the country we know, good and bad, without the Scots-Irish. Having lived in the South, I’m familiar with how much of the culture is obviously Scots-Irish.

However, the South wasn’t initially and primarily defined by Scots-Irish. The Scots-Irish were escaping a class-based society, but they immigrated into regions (e.g., Virginia Territory) where the Cavaliers had settled. One of the most obvious elements of Cavalier society was that it was class-based. They were the aristocrats who initially brought along indentured servants and later introduced the large African-American slave population. You’d think the Scots-Irish would hate this, but it was just like their homeland and the Scots-Irish seemingly just reinforced this class-consciousness. The Scots-Irish apparently prefer to have an elite that they can hate and maybe secretly admire. For all their poverty, the Scots-Irish respect the rights of property owners like almost nothing else… and the Cavaliers had plenty of property. The Cavaliers and Scots-Irish were a match made in Heaven.

 – – –

Let me share some of my own anecdotal evidence here.

While living in South Carolina, my family was upper middle class. We had a neighbor lady who was an authentic Southern Belle, although she had married below her class. Still, she lived the life of an aristocrat. She didn’t work a job. She didn’t even do her own housework or yardwork. She had a personal servant (black, of course) who took care of her every need. This lady was no longer wealthy, but she was still living the life of wealth that she had grown accustomed to from her youth.

This Southern Belle wasn’t unusual. The way she lived her life was the norm for many upper class and upper middle class Southerners. In the South, only the working class (and Yankee transplants) do all or most of their own yard work. Why would a person with money dirty their fingers when there is cheap black labor?

My mom grew up a working class Midwesterner and she taught me the mentality of a working class Midwesterner. Such a mentality is the complete opposite of the mentality of Southern aristocracy. The Midwest doesn’t have an aristocracy, no history of indentured servitude, no history of slavery, no history of plantations, no history of Cavaliers. In the Midwest, it is a point of pride to do one’s own work. In the Midwest, it’s looked down upon for one to act superior to other in one’s community. Midwesterners don’t want to stand out. Midwesterners don’t hate the elite in the way the Scots-Irish do, but even so Midwesterners have little desire to become the elite. There is an informal neighborliness about Midwestern culture.

I should point that, since I went to public schools, I knew a variety of people while living in South Carolina. My best friend in school was your traditional redneck (a term I use endearingly). I don’t know his specific ancestry, but like most rednecks he was obviously a part of the Scots-Irish culture. Some Southern people can be quite friendly as well. The difference is that there is an element of formality that comes from traditional class and race distinctions. In the South, people tend to keep to their own group. The poor and rich, the blacks and the whites tend to not mingle as much, although interestingly a history of plantation slave culture has forced a closer proximity that might surprise some Northerners (the division between people tends to be less about physical distance and more about social distance). Desegregation has forced some more extensive intermingling, but culture persists (with the help of private schools).

I’ve often tried to pinpoint a major distinction between (my experience of) the North and (my experience of) the South. The defining factor of the Midwest seems to be community (community as extended family). If you move into a community, you are a member of that community. It’s not unusual for neighbors and welcome wagons to immediately welcome someone into the community (often bringing along baked goods). The defining factor of the South seems to be family (family as the definition of community). Kinship loyalty is strong (clan mentality of the Scots-Irish?). Southerners don’t seem to warm up to strangers as quickly. However, once a person is accepted, they are treated as part of the family.

Let me use another example to clarify this difference. In the Midwest, when someone invites you over for coffee, they more often literally mean it. Genuine neighborliness is a Midwestern tradition. Midwesterners like to help each other. In the past, this might have meant raising a barn together. Today, this often means something as simple as shoveling your neighbors sidewalk. In the South, when someone invites you over for coffee (or iced tea), they may not literally want you to come over for a visit. The Southern Belle I mentioned invited my mom over for coffee when we first moved into the neighborhood, but it immediately became apparent that the invitation was merely a formality. Of course, this dynamic is a bit different with working class Southerners (i.e., Scots-Irish rednecks) who are more informal, although I don’t think they are informal to the same extent or in the same way as seen in the Midwest.

(I admit that I’m less confident about my own observations because it can be dangerous to generalize based on anecdotal evidence. The reason I’m writing this post is to see if my personal observations can be confirmed by the data. I think they are confirmed to some extent, but I’m still not entirely sure.)

 – – – 

This brings me to the cultures of two other early immigrant groups that mostly settled in the North: Puritans and Quakers.

ALBION’S SEED – DAVID HACKETT FISCHER

Puritans (Virginia)

So important was the idea of a covenanted family in Massachusetts that everyone was compelled by law to live in family groups. The provinces of Conneticut and Plymouth forbade any single person to “live of himself.” These laws were enforced. In 1668 the court of Middlesex County systematically searched its towns for single persons and placed them in families. This custom was not invented in New England. It had long been practiced in East Anglia.

[ . . . ] Literacy was higher in New England than in any other part of British America… The zeal for learning and literacy in New England was not invented in America. The proportion of men and women in the Bay Colony who could sign their own names was almost exactly the same as yeomen and their wives in eastern England.

Quakers (The Deleware)

Persecution played a major part in driving Quakers to America, but it was never the leading cause. The primary religious goals of the Friends’ migration were positive rather than negative. An historian observes that the founders of the Delaware colonies wishes “to show Quakerism at work, freed from hampering conditions.”

At the center of Quaker belief was a God of Love and Light whose benevolent spirit harmonized the universe. The Puritans worshipped a very different deity — one who was equally capable of love and wrath — a dark, mysterious power who could be terrifying in his anger and inscrutability. Anglicans, on the other hand, knelt before a great and noble Pantocrator who ruled firmly but fairly over the hierarchy of his creatures.

[ . . . ] On the subject of gender, the Quakers had a saying: “In souls there is no sex.” This epigram captured one of the deepest differences between the founders of the Delaware colonies and their neighbors to the north and south. Of all the English-speaking people in the 17th century, the Quakers moved farthest toward the idea of equality between the sexes.

Acts of violence against Quaker women arose in part from their headlong challenge to an entire system of gender relations. In the 17th century, there mere appearance of a female preacher was enough to start a riot. As late as 1763 the spectacle of “she-preaching” seemed perverse and unnatural to many Englishmen

[ . . . ] Quakers refused to touch foods that were tainted by social evil. Some did not use sugar because it had been grown by slave labor. Others banned salt from their tables, because it bore taxes which paid for military campaigns.

Liberty of conscience was one of a large family of personal freedoms which Quakers extended equally to other. William Penn recognized three secular “rights of an Englishman”: first, “a right and title to your own lives, liberties and estates; second, representative government; third, trial by jury.” In Pennsylvania, these liberties went far beyond those of Massachusetts, Virginia and old England itself… The laws of Pennsylvania also guaranteed the right of every freeman to a speedy trial, to a jury chosen by lot in criminal cases, and to the same privileges of witnesses and counsel as the prosecution. These ideas went far beyond prevailing practices in England and America.

Quakers genuinely believed that every liberty demanded for oneself should also be extended to others.

The Quakers were among the most radical libertarians of their age, but they were not anarchists. Penn himself wrote in his ‘Frame of Government’ that “liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery.” Penn instructed his governor to “rule the meek meekly, and those that will not be ruled, rule with authority.”

The British, of course, weren’t the only immigrants to have such a major impact. Later in history, the German and Irish mostly immigrated to the Northern states (by the way, one side of my family are of German ancestry and settled in Indiana). The following map is a screenshot (go here to see the interactive map) of German immigration in 1900 (the Irish immigration looks similar).

German Immigrants

Irish and German Immigration

In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of IRELAND emigrated to the United States. So did an equal number of GERMANS.

[ . . . ] Impoverished, the Irish could not buy property. Instead, they congregated in the cities where they landed, almost all in the northeastern United States. Today, Ireland has just half the population it did in the early 1840s. There are now more Irish Americans than there are Irish nationals.

In the decade from 1845 to 1855, more than a million Germans fled to the United States to escape economic hardship. They also sought to escape the political unrest caused by riots, rebellion and eventually a revolution in 1848. The Germans had little choice — few other places besides the United States allowed German immigration. Unlike the Irish, many Germans had enough money to journey to the Midwest in search of farmland and work. The largest settlements of Germans were in New York City, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee.

With the vast numbers of German and Irish coming to America, hostility to them erupted. Part of the reason for the opposition was religious. All of the Irish and many of the Germans were Roman Catholic. Part of the opposition was political. Most immigrants living in cities became Democrats because the party focused on the needs of commoners.

I’ve thought about the Catholic influence more in recent years. When I’ve traveled in rural Iowa, I was always amazed by how widespread is Catholicism. I would suspect most people (or, at least, most non-Midwesterners) don’t think of Catholicism when they think of the small farming towns in the Midwest.

There are two factors that distinguish Catholicism, especially from Southern fundamentalism.

First, Catholics are extremely community-oriented. Catholic culture seems to have been very beneficial to small farming towns that were isolated and so required close-knit communities. The Catholic Church provided a strong social framework with a strong social safety net. Catholics have their own schools, their own orphanages, etc.

Second, Catholics are more suspicious of unregulated capitalism. Partly this is just because big business is a threat to religious authority. Also, the amorality of modern capitalism doesn’t fit well into the traditional Catholic worldview. These might be reasons why labor unions have high membership in areas where Catholicism has high membership. An example of this is Michael Moore who grew up in a working class family that was both Catholic and involved in union activism. Moore is still an active Catholic and claims that Jesus’ message of social justice is what motivates all of his work.

Social justice is a key element which ties together the factors of community-oriented and suspicion of unregulated capitalism. It’s not surprising that Catholicism has been central to the social justice movement in South and Central America. And it probably shouldn’t be surprising that Populism and Progressivism were particularly strong in the Midwest and North. It should be noted, though, that Populism and Progressivism also had some appeal to the Scots-Irish with their mistrust of monied elites. Populism, in particular, was able to bridge the Northern and Southern divide like no other movement since. Still, in reading about Populism and Progressivism, I’ve been amazed at how much of a role the Midwest played. Many of the policies that came out of that era such as Social Security were grounded in Midwestern ideas and values. As explained in What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank (Kindle location 251):

Certain parts of the Midwest were once so reliably leftist that the historian Walter Prescott Webb, in his classic 1931 history of the region, pointed to its persistent radicalism as one of the “Mysteries of the Great Plains.” Today the mystery is only heightened; it seems inconceivable that the Midwest was ever thought of as a “radical” place, as anything but the land of the bland, the easy snoozing flyover. Readers in the thirties, on the other hand, would have known instantly what Webb was talking about, since so many of the great political upheavals of their part of the twentieth century were launched from the territory west of the Ohio River. The region as they knew it was what gave the country Socialists like Eugene Debs, fiery progressives like Robert La Follette, and practical unionists like Walter Reuther; it spawned the anarchist IWW and the coldly calculating UAW; and it was periodically convulsed in gargantuan and often bloody industrial disputes. They might even have known that there were once Socialist newspapers in Kansas and Socialist voters in Oklahoma and Socialist mayors in Milwaukee, and that there were radical farmers across the region forever enlisting in militant agrarian organizations with names like the Farmers’ Alliance, or the Farmer-Labor Party, or the Non-Partisan League, or the Farm Holiday Association. And they would surely have been aware that Social Security, the basic element of the liberal welfare state, was largely a product of the midwestern mind.

– – –

Some people argue that the main difference about the South is simply that more blacks live there. Southern conservatives, of course, would love to be able to blame all the problems of the South on blacks. High rates of poverty, wealth disparity, high school drop outs, STDs, teen pregnancy. Et Cetera. All the blacks fault? That is giving blacks a lot of credit for having so much powerful influence on Southern society. Yes, blacks have higher rates of many social problems. They were, after all, enslaved and oppressed for most of American history. To this day, the data shows that racial prejudice continues to negatively impact the lives of blacks… which I have several posts about:

African-Americans didn’t choose to become slaves and be forced into poverty. It’s rather disingenuous to claim that it’s all their fault for supposedly having ‘inferior’ genetics. It’s also disingenuous to claim their culture is ‘inferior’ after centuries of white Americans destroying their culture. Even if their destroyed culture is judged inferior (by the Western standards of white Americans), it would be unfair and cruel to blame it all on them. Anyway, that misses the point that there is something distinctively different about all of Southern culture. African-Americans didn’t dominate Southern society for centuries. The society that exists in the South was created mostly by white people.

Let me bring in the context of IQ because it’s such a politically incorrect topic. The white supremacists love IQ because African-Americans on average have lower IQs. The white supremacists argue that this is genetic, but there is no conclusive evidence for this hypothesis and much evidence against it. For example, the IQs of all children tend to be more similar and significant IQ differences are mostly seen in later education. The most obvious and simplest explanation is poverty. There are many factors related to poverty that are known to impact brain/cognitive development and hence IQ: pollution (such as lead poisoning from older houses), malnutrition (especially during pregnancy and early childhood), social stress, lack of educational resources, etc.

Here is a map showing the IQ differences in America with, once again, the same North/South divide (with the exception of West Virginia with its Scots-Irish population). The source of the map was using it apparently to make an argument for racism/racialism:

“Finally, it can be viewed in relationship to race. Alone, the racial composition of a state‘explains’ 72% of that state’s estimated IQ, with the two correlating at a robust .85. Expenditures per student, teacher salaries, and classroom size combined explain a paltry 15%. Considered independently, they are statistically insignificant and explain virtually nothing.”

There are different measures of IQ. This map is measuring math and science test scores. There does seem to be a correlation between ethnic diversity and lower average IQ (such as with California and the Southern states), although the ethnically diverse Texas isn’t dissimilar to some Northern states.

This map, however, makes the issue of race seem simpler than it actually is. When looking at other maps of IQ data, black populations in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than black populations in Southern states. And, even more significantly, white populations in many Northern states have on average higher IQs than white populations in Southern states (excluding Texas). So, doing comparisons just within single races, there are IQ differences that show a North/South divide for both black and white populations. However, the difference is most clear for white populations. This can only be explained, as far as I can tell, by poverty being the central factor in IQ differences. Blacks experience higher rates than whites of poverty in all states, but whites mostly just experience high rates of poverty in the South.

It seems the maps of IQ are essentially just another way of mapping poverty. So, why does poverty show a North/South divide? I’d also include in this question the issue of wealth disparity which also shows a North/South divide:

The 10 Most (and Least) Tolerant States in America

California and Texas are good ways of disentangling the poverty from wealth disparity. Both are wealthy states with high wealth disparity which causes them to measure positively on some indicators and measure negatively on other indicators. However, excluding Texas, most Southern states are both poor and have high wealth disparity. Many Northern states have both wealth and low wealth disparity, but there are states like Iowa which are relatively poor and yet have low wealth disparity. In a developed nation like the US, wealth disparity rather than poverty seems to be the more important indicator of societal health (rates of high school drop outs, bullying, STDs, teen pregnancy, etc).

I extend this argument on IQ in another post:

Here are two maps related to IQ. What is measured in these maps are such things as people with Bachelors degrees or more. The Creative Class, as defined and measured by Richard Florida, is mostly concentrated in the Northeast.

Creative Class & Human Capital

Fig: 7.2: The Creative Class MapFig: 6.1: The Human Capital Map

Also, these maps are showing the liberal hotspots which somewhat correlate to population density. There are two reasons for this correlation. Well educated people tend to be more liberal and areas of concentrated populations such as metropolises tend to be more liberal (with rural sparsely populated areas tending to more conservative). Partly, liberals move to such areas for the opportunities and for being near those of a similar mindset.

It’s not clear that Northerners are smarter because of some inherent reason such as culture or whether it’s that some reason such as good schools attracts smarter people to Northern cities. Likewise, it’s not clear whether liberals are inherently smarter or if being intellectually encouraged at a young age naturally leads to a liberal mindset. Either way, a correlation exists.

Beyond Red vs. Blue
Pew Research Center 

[Liberals are the] most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)

Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent
Satoshi Kanazawa

The analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Study 1) and the General Social Surveys (Study 2) show that adolescent and adult intelligence significantly increases adult liberalism, atheism, and mens (but not womens) value on sexual exclusivity.

Conservatism and cognitive ability
Lazar Stankov

Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated. The evidence is based on 1254 community college students and 1600 foreign students seeking entry to United States’ universities. At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education (e.g., gross enrollment at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels) and performance on mathematics and reading assessments from the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) project. They also correlate with components of the Failed States Index and several other measures of economic and political development of nations. Conservatism scores have higher correlations with economic and political measures than estimated IQ scores.

College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds
By Howard Kurtz

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.

“What’s most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field,” said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. “There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It’s a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you’d expect to be dominated by liberals.”

Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media
Pew Research Center 

– – –

All of this research and analysis was mostly me trying to confirm suspicions I had about my experiences of having lived in both the North and South. It seems to me that culture is centrally important in understanding this difference. To my mind, it’s not surprising that blacks and Southerners have been negatively impacted by the poverty caused by the history of a slave society with it’s class-based culture. Also, to my mind, there is a massive cultural difference between Southern fundamentalism and Northern religious traditions (Unitarians, Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, etc). This seems obvious to me, although it doesn’t seem obvious to others.

Despite having spent many years in the South when younger, I’ve always identifed as a Midwesterner. I get tired that many people think that the rural Midwest is just a watered-down version of the fundamentalist South. My experience of other Midwestern states is more limited, but I can state with certainty that moderate Iowans are far from having a culture similar to the Southern Scots-Irish. Iowa, even though not wealthy, measures very well on most indicators. Most Northern states, whether wealthy or not, measure well on most indicators. That seems like very important data to me. It’s obvious that Northern states are doing something very much right. And, I would argue, that it seems obvious that Southern states have much room for improvement. Southern states like to threaten secession, but no one takes these threats seriously. Many Northerners would be perfectly fine if Southerners seceded. Southern states, on average, take more in benefits from the federal government than they give in federal taxes (and vice versa for most Northern states). In short, Southern states are a financial drag on the entire country.

Here are two maps showing the correlation between taxation differences and voting differences:

The red state ripoff

Over at the Fourth Branch, they’ve got a nice map showing the states that receive more than a dollar back for every dollar they pay in taxes (which they’ve coded red), and the states that receive less than a dollar back for every dollar they pay in taxes (which they’ve coded blue). Just to repeat: Red states are getting a good deal, and blue states a bad one. Here’s the map:

mapstatestaxes.gif

Remind you of anything?

Final2008USPresidentialElectionMap.jpg

Fourth Branch comments:

There is a very strong correlation, then, between a state voting for Republicans and receiving more in federal spending than its residents pay to the federal government in taxes (the rust belt and Texas being notable exceptions). In essence, those in blue states are subsidizing those in red states. Both red and blue states appear to be acting politically in opposition to their economic interests. Blue states are voting for candidates who are likely to continue the policies of red state subsidization while red states are voting for candidates who profess a desire to reduce federal spending (and presumably red state subsidization).

As an egalitarian liberal who is far from being rich, I actually don’t mind financially helping poor people in states with high wealth disparity. God knows that rich conservatives in those states aren’t likely to offer much assistance to the poor in their own communities (because it goes against their ideology of a hierachical ‘meritocricy’). There is something that makes sense to me which is, for some reason, beyond the grasp of many conservatives. I’ve written many posts about wealth disparity and the data confirms the liberal theory of egalitarianism (or at least aspects of it), the theory being that helping others is to help oneself, that to help all people individually is to help all of society collectively.

For example, obesity rates (in developed countries) are correlated to both poverty and high wealth disparity (whereas, in developing countries, obesity and poverty are negatively correlated). So, societies with high wealth disparity tend to have higher obesity rates and societies with low wealth disparity tend to have lower obesity rates. But the real interesting part is that even wealthy people have higher obesity rates in societies with high wealth disparity. The explanation is that high wealth disparity societies tend to be more stressful places to live with higher rates of violence, bullying and social conflict. All of this stress impacts the poor and wealthy alike. The body responds, as a survival mechanism, to stress by increasing fat reserves. This is particularly true for babies whose mothers experienced high rates of stress while pregnant, in which case the body becomes permanently set at fat reserve mode.

I came across another example offering support for egalitarianism. Some conservatives like to point out the fact that gays have higher rates of suicide, implying homosexuality is unnatural and inferior. But, of course, it’s rather convenient for conservatives to ignore their own complicity. A study showed that “Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights”. When one group is singled out and treated unequally, all people in that social environment will suffer the consequences.

The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.

The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.

Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

 – – – 

In the discussion that motivated much of my thinking, one person was arguing against my arguing for the cultural significance of this North/South divide. She was playing the politically correct card of multiculturalism. Every culture is different, but it’s not about one culture being better than another. We just all need to get along. I’m fine with that argument as far as it goes. Still, the facts are the facts… whether or not they’re politically correct.

Anyway, I found it ironic that she was using a socially liberal argument to defend the socially conservative South. It’s the social conservatives who are always making the argument for cultural superiority (often in tandem with the argument that they are the “Real Americans”): American culture is superior to the rest of the world (especially socialist Europe), white culture is superior to black culture, etc. When social conservatives stop making this argument for cultural superiority, I’ll stop pointing out that socially liberal Northern culture is superior based on many different factors. Of course, I don’t actually think so simplisitically. As a liberal, I realize and accept that many cultural differences are just differences. But I’m also intellectually honest in admitting that not all cultures are equal on all measures.

Let me summarize. The North/South divide includes all of the following: ancestry, dialects, religion, poverty, wealth disparity, violent crime, STDs, teen pregnancy, IQ, education level, and on and on. Not all states perfectly fit this divide, but most of them do. The divide is stark and the pattern holds across diverse data. This North/South divide has existed at least since the Civil War and quite likely goes back to when the earliest immigrants arrived. I don’t claim to fully understand all of the possible reasons for this divide, but the correlations are obvious. Also, much of this data has been correlated in other countries as well:

The key indicator seems to be wealth disparity. Unsurprisingly, conservative ideology promotes the acceptance of wealth disparity and liberal ideology promotes the challenging of wealth disparity. Does the difference in ideology cause the difference in wealth disparity? Or vice versa? I don’t know. What I do know is that this question is at the heart of the problems Americans are dealing with. Wealth disparity has been growing in recent decades during which conservative ideology predominated. Mere coincidence? I don’t think so.

– – –

Nonetheless, there are always a lot of diverse factors underlying the diverse data. My conclusions, therefore, are tentative.

For example, consider the high rates of violence in the South. What is the cause?

It’s true that, in general, warmer climates (i.e., Southern regions in the Northern Hemisphere) tend to have higher rates of violence. I guess high levels of heat tend to make people irritable and feisty.

Even so, the research done by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen (mentioned above in some of the quoted material) shows that the violence in the Southern US is caused by factors besides just irritatingly hot climate. I still wonder about this. I imagine other factors similar to climate could also have an impact on culture. I did notice that many Northern Europeans immigrated to the Northern US. It seems there might be a correlation of factors involved in why particular people develop particular cultures in particular regions and why particular people with particular cultures are attracted to particular regions.

It’s always easier to point out correlations than to determine causations. Nisbett’s and Cohen’s research is a good example of this.

A Matter of Respect
James D. Wright

In sum, Nisbett and Cohen make a strong case that the South is truly (not just accidentally) distinctive in its attitudes and behaviors concerning violence. Unfortunately, that does not necessarily tell us very much, if anything, about the ultimate source of the distinction. To say that the observed patterns reflect a generalized “culture of honor” restates but does not explain those patterns. If there is, indeed, a culture of honor in the South that lends itself to violence, where did it come from? And why is it uniquely Southern? Here Culture of Honor is rather thin and unpersuasive: “We believe that the southern culture of honor derives from the herding economy brought to the region by the earliest settlers and practiced by them for many decades thereafter.” Elsewhere the authors refer to the Scotch-Irish origins of the early South, the hard-scrabble herding economy of the era, and the “worldwide” association between herding economies and “concerns about honor and readiness to commit violence to conserve it.”

Nisbett and Cohen call this argument “the weakest part of our thesis,” with good reason. The implication is that Yankees of Scotch-Irish origins would be just as prone to violence as Southerners, which is not likely to be the case. This is not to suggest that the herding thesis is wrong, only that it seems rather a stretch as argued here. One would like to see evidence on the origins of the Southern culture of violence that is as persuasive as the evidence of its existence.

It also can be easier to determine what isn’t the cause than what is. What Nisbett and Cohen found was that the violence was lower in slave regions than in non-slave regions, in black populations than in white populations, and in cities than in small towns. Even poverty was ruled out as a cause of this high rate of Southern violence. When all factors are calculated, it’s specifically rural white Southerners who are most violent. Therefore, it would be unfair to blame all Southerners. As the above quote points out, we can’t prove that it can be explained by culture… but, then again, it’s hard to imagine what else could explain it.

It’s true that Scots-Irish are found elsewhere and yet these high rates of violence aren’t found elsewhere. However, maybe the cause is twofold. Maybe Scots-Irish culture only manifests this kind of violence when placed in the context of a larger class-based culture (i.e., the Southern culture largely created by the Cavalier aristocracy). As such, Scots-Irish maybe are perfectly peaceful people until provoked by some authoritarian aristocratic elite.

Still, this is just speculation.

As another example, I recently analyzed a study that showed metropolises in the North were more ‘segregated’ according to the authors definitions and methods of measurement. The study seemed problematic to me in that, the focus being narrow, the data was very limited and hence easily misinterpreted. It wasn’t clear to me that the pattern found by the researchers was in the real world data or merely in the way the authors spliced up the data.

That relates to the danger of my present attempt at interpreting the data. I don’t know all the complex details of all this diverse data and so I could be misinterpreting. I offer so many examples in the hope of decreasing the possibility that I’m cherrypicking data to fit my own biases and preconceptions. Any single data could be wrong or misleading, but a perceived pattern becomes more relevant when seen across many sets of data.

I’ve made a case for a pattern I’ve noticed, but it’s up to others to decide if my analysis of the data is valid. I won’t claim any absolute conclusions. I prefer following my curiosity rather than merely trying to prove my own preconceptions. I just find all of this fascinating, whatever it may mean. The kind of data I’ve presented seems to say a lot about American society, seems to show that real differences do exist. I find it sad that the mainstream media rarely investigates such issues. At best, it gets portrayed in terms of red vs blue during election campaigns. My point, however, is that what we think of red vs blue is based on (or, at least mired in) deeper cultural and demographic issues.

The personal is political, and the communal is political as well. We individually are formed by our social environment and we collectively shape that environment. But too often we get lost in the details of life and so don’t see the big picture. And too often we are so focused on our own views and our own lives that we don’t see the larger society we are a part of. Culture matters. Demographics is destiny.

– – –

Just for the fun of it, let me throw out some other mapped data.

I should point out that, looking at various data, I noticed there often is a West/East divide as well. The US can be divided in many different ways depending on what data is emphasized and depending on how small of pieces one wants to divide the country.

The next map is a simplistic and amusing portrayal of the North/South divide. It’s a bit inaccurate. I’m mildly offended that my home state of Iowa is included as part of Jesusland. In the last 23 years (i.e., last 6 elections), Iowa has gone to all Democratic presidents except for once (2004) which apparently is the year this map is based on. I want to secede from Jesusland.

United States of Canada vs Jesusland


A recreation of the Jesusland map; the colors differ from the original, and state lines have been added (Some versions of the map include Alberta in Jesusland)

“United States of Liberty & Education/Canada”, Canada plus blue states
“Jesusland”, red states

On a more serious note, many people have attempted to divide America into regions. For example:

A New 10 Regions of American Politics Map

A group called MassINC created a map called the “10 Regions in American Politics” in 2004 and has now released an updated version.  Some of the regions such as the “Upper Coasts” and “El Norte” are the same, although some other regions have been shuffled around.  The area called “Appalachia” in the 2004 report, for example, seems to have been expanded westward and renamed “Cumberland.”

2008 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics

2008 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics

2004 Version of the Ten Regions of American Politics

2004 Ten Regions of American Politics

Another example:

Quilted North America

But a different book, Joel Garreau’s “The Nine Nations of North America” has already survived the test of time. First published in 1981, it outlined a model for the nine socioeconomic regions of the continent.

The map speaks for itself, but I’ll just make a couple of comments about its strengths and weakness and also offer a side note.

  • Strengths – Quebec and Dixie are indeed very unique regions. Secession is part of their DNA’s.
  • Weaknesses – “The Foundry” is very clumsy.
  • Side Note – Dixie correlates with SEC Country and the Breadbasket with the Big 12, while the Foundary is roughly Big Ten territory (if it were shifted a bit west).

Garreau’s “Nine Nations”:

Nine Nations

I asked Joel Kotkin, the master demographer, what he thought of Garreau’s model and he emailed this response: “Garreau got the MexAmerica vs. Ecotopia right on the money. The divides are racial, cultural, climactic. Quebec is a no-brainer.”

One very interesting analysis is the Patchwork Nation. I’m reading the book based on the data, Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel. They also have a website: Patchwork Nation. I like the data because it looks at specific communities and then compares/contrasts those specific communities. It’s much more detailed than just looking at regions, but still it shows that particular community types tend to be found more in particular regions.

– – –

Here is some more unusual and random data.

Wine vs Beer States

Where people swear in the United States
(more swearing = brighter red)

Twitter and swearing

What’s Cooking on Thanksgiving

What’s Cooking on Thanksgiving, Mapped and Rankedpie-crust

Singles

Fig: 13.1: The Singles Map

– – –

I’ve wandered far from my original starting point, but that is fine. The main thing that my mind has been revolving around is the issue of culture. To end this discussion, let me put this all in a new context: personality traits. I think psychology can be a less threatening way of thinking about social differences.

The United States of Mind
By Stephanie Simon

Even after controlling for variables such as race, income and education levels, a state’s dominant personality turns out to be strongly linked to certain outcomes. Amiable states, like Minnesota, tend to be lower in crime. Dutiful states — an eclectic bunch that includes New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah — produce a disproportionate share of mathematicians. States that rank high in openness to new ideas are quite creative, as measured by per-capita patent production. But they’re also high-crime and a bit aloof. Apparently, Californians don’t much like socializing, the research suggests.

As for high-anxiety states, that group includes not just Type A New York and New Jersey, but also states stressed by poverty, such as West Virginia and Mississippi. As a group, these neurotic states tend to have higher rates of heart disease and lower life expectancy.

[ . . . ] While the findings broadly uphold regional stereotypes, there are more than a few surprises. The flinty pragmatists of New England? They’re not as dutiful as they may seem, ranking at the bottom of the “conscientious” scale. High scores for openness to new ideas strongly correlates to liberal social values and Democratic voting habits. But three of the top ten “open” states — Nevada, Colorado and Virginia — traditionally vote Republican in presidential politics. (All three are prime battlegrounds this election.)

And what of the unexpected finding that North Dakota is the most outgoing state in the union? Yes, North Dakota, the same state memorialized years ago in the movie “Fargo” as a frozen wasteland of taciturn souls. Turns out you can be a laconic extrovert, at least in the world of psychology. The trait is defined in part by strong social networks and tight community bonds, which are characteristic of small towns across the Great Plains. (Though not, apparently, small towns in New England, which ranks quite low on the extraversion scale.)

[ . . . ] It’s also a wake-up call for proud residents of the great state of wherever — some of whom aren’t fond of the findings. Mr. Rentfrow said he’s had to help some of them feel better. Yes, North Dakota and Wyoming rank quite low in openness to new ideas. But why label them narrow-minded and insular? Say, instead, he suggests, that they value tradition. New York may be neurotic, but he offers another way to put it: “It’s a state in touch with its feelings.”

Or take a cue from Ted Ownby, who studies Southern culture at the University of Mississippi. His state came up highly neurotic — and he suspects his neighbors would be proud.

“Here in the home of William Faulkner,” Mr. Ownby said, “we take intense, almost perverse neuroticism as a sign of emotional depth.”

If you go to the above article, there is a detailed interactive map. I’ll share two sets of static maps below showing the same data in two different ways: with state boundaries and without state boundaries.

neuroticism.jpg

extraversion.jpg

conscientiousness.jpg

agree.jpg

openness.jpg

What I like about the psychological perspective is that it’s neutral toward specific cultural values. These personality traits are neither good nor bad. In fact, the research shows that beneficial and adverse factors are correlated to all the traits. What we define as good and bad is dependent on the values we’re judging by. Any trait brought to an extreme tends to be problematic.

There are a few things I noticed.

High Neuroticism is found in the North. Neuroticism correlates with a tendency to internalize psychological problems. So, those with low Neuroticism will tend to externalize their psychological problems. It will depend on the culture whether internalizing is considered good or bad. I was guessing that high Neuroticism would correlate to high rates of suicide, but it turns out that it’s the opposite:

Text description provided below

Suicide, Big Five Personality Factors, and Depression at the American State Level
By Stewart J. H. McCann

Multiple regression analysis showed that neuroticism accounted for 32.0% and agreeableness another 16.3% of the variance in suicide rates when demographics and depression were controlled. Lower neuroticism and lower agreeableness were associated with higher suicide rates. Lower neuroticism and lower agreeableness may be important risk factors for completed suicide but not suicidal ideation or attempted suicide.

I was surprised by that data. Some have theorized that suicide and homicide are negatively correlated, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Northeast has low rates of both suicide and violence (I assume violence rates are representative of homicide rates). The areas in the East with high suicide rates include, once again, Appalachia. However, all of the East looks relatively good compared to the West (excluding California). I’m not sure what is going on with suicide in the West. Most of the West scores low on all the traits except for Openness (maybe that is a bad combination, I don’t know).

Neuroticism was the one trait that showed the most North/South divide. In the Eastern US, the Northeast seems to have the highest rates of Openness. That is no surprise as Openness correlates with such things as education and IQ. Two traits that most of the Midwest scores highly on are Agreeableness and Extraversion. Certain parts of the South actually rate highly on Agreeableness and other parts of the South not so much.

 – – – 

Anyway, I don’t know how much psychological factors may or may not cause or be caused by other factors I’ve discussed. The main thing that is compelling is that the distinctions between regions can be objectively measured according to diverse data. There may be no single fundamental factor, just many factors creating patterns over time with some of these patterns reinforcing one another. Maybe ‘culture’ is just the term we use to label patterns that are more consistent and enduring.