Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why do Alabama Fans and Auburn Fans Kill Each Other ? Blame the British

The article of the week  , at least in my political social media circles , has been the White Ghetto by Kevin Williamson.

This fascinating yet highly depressing article in National Review  looks at the social and economic problems of largely white folks area we call Appalachia region of the United States.

It is depressing because it's not clear what anyone can do to help these folks. The article is worthy of some criticism though he is a native that has " escaped " . For instance it perhaps paints with a broad brush or at least that is what some other natives have said after seeing their home described this way. Still so much of this seems to be accurate.

Which leads me to one of the most fascinating blog posts of the week. That is White People &;  The Persistence Of Culture by Rod Dreher .

Rod takes this piece to argue that culture is very hard to change. In fact White folk culture or to more exact cultures is the result of 4 distinct British migrations in the early days of our American history that has a direct impact on our social and indeed clashes of political life to this day. The whole thing is worth a read and as someone that loves genealogy I kept shaking my head up and down as read part of it.

 .... But we’re talking about poor white people, mostly from Appalachia. After yesterday’s thread, I went to bed last night with my doorstop-sized copy of historian David Hackett Fisher’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways In America. Fischer’s thesis is that American culture, even to this day, primarily consists of four basic patterns established by early British settlers in North America — Britons from different regions of the United Kingdom, who brought with them meaningfully different cultural attitudes. 

Here they are, via the Wikipedia entry for the book: 

East Anglia to Massachusetts The Exodus of the English Puritans (Pilgrims influenced the Northeastern United States‘ corporate and educational culture)[3] 

The South of England to Virginia Distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants (Gentry influenced the Southern United States‘ plantation culture)[4]

 North Midlands to the Delaware The Friends’ Migration (Quakers influenced the Middle Atlantic and Midwestern United States‘ industrial culture)

[5] Borderlands to the Backcountry The Flight from North Britain (Scotch-Irish, or border English, influenced the Western United States‘ ranch culture and the Southern United States‘ common agrarian culture. 

It’s difficult to impossible to sum up this book in a blog entry, but I’ll do what I can for the purposes of this discussion. Fischer observes that these four distinct British folk cultures brought with them to North America ways of seeing and ordering the world that both clashed with each other, and powerfully set the framework for the societies that emerged in the regions in which they settled. I mentioned yesterday that I had never quite grasped the subtle but discernible differences between the white people in my Louisiana parish (county) and the white people in our neighboring county. It’s something everybody knows (“everybody knows”), but no one can quite put a finger on. We all look exactly alike, and have the same income level. We are all equally rural. Most people are Protestants of some sort. But the folks from East Feliciana descend from (in DHF’s terminology) Britons who came from the Borderlands, while the folks from West Feliciana descend from South Of England folk.

I love that point that Rod said about white folks in his Louisiana Parish and those in the Parish next door. In family research I started to get a glimpse of these patterns and how these cultural values linger on to even me.

Moving on

DHF says this sort of thing matters a lot more than most of us realize today, in part because these cultural patterns persist even when the ethnic make-up of a region becomes much less Anglo-Saxon. For example, however secular it has become, New England remains strongly determined by the values of the Puritans, even as the region has, over time, become far less ethnically English. We hold on to these patterns of behavior without knowing where they came from. I smiled in recognition when I read Fischer talking about how the Tidewater culture developed by southern English gentry was unusually (for America) hierarchical, which emerged from those settlers’ attempt to recreate an English aristocratic culture on American soil. This kind of culture, DHF writes, will be marked by a strong sense of honor governing social relations and behavior, a particular sense of esteem devoted to the aged (of all social classes), and an ethic that valorizes the liberties of ruling-class white males. Yes, in all of America of the past, white males had more power than anybody else, but DHF’s point is that among the descendants of Cavalier culture, the idea that society was meant to be governed by white male elites was meaningfully more ingrained.

Rod then goes on and gives some fascinating examples of how he has seen this play out in his own life.

Rod then says :

DHF’s cultural template for explaining contemporary America defies our customary explanatory categories. Why do so many Southern whites, poor as they are, remain immune to rationalist progressive programs for ameliorating their condition? Why do so many establishment Republicans defer so habitually to party elites, while so many Tea Party Republicans embrace GOP populists who thunder against those elites, typically in intemperate tones and formulations? Why do Southern whites, despite their apparent social conservatism (with its implied valorization of order and self-discipline, have among them so much more violence and disorder than New England whites (and their West Coast cultural descendants), despite the social liberalism of the latter? It’s not economics, it’s not race, and it’s not the frontier experience (“New England was once a frontier too,” says DHF); it’s culture. Specifically, it’s British culture of 300-400 years ago, persisting today. It’s why our regions remain fundamentally irreconcilable; depending on your point of view, it’s what’s the matter with Kansas, and Alabama, and Massachusetts, etc. (though this is slowly changing). And the thing is, you cannot understand the American character without reference to all of these cultures.

Rod's piece is a fascinating read and he ends with a rather perhaps stark social and political reality

We must not be cultural fatalists, but we should come to terms with the realities that culture’s importance imposes on our ideals. Progressive reformers of the left and the right think that people are blank slates and rational actors, often because they mistake the behavior of their own regions or classes as normative for all people. This is certainly not to say that reform shouldn’t be attempted — to give up on that would be to accept fatalism — but it rather is to educate those who wish to improve conditions for poor people and others about obstacles to reform of which they are not fully aware.


Anonymous said...

I read that National Review article, and I wonder if Kevin Williamson might be some arrogant yankee, trying to carry on the tradition of William F. Buckley to look down his nose at the rest of the world. What I can readily perceive is that he has some other agenda besides telling the truth about Southern rednecks.

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