Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rural Maryland

Our visit to Deep Creek Lake and Rocky Gap made me think how wonderful it might be to perhaps live there. This was not metropolitan Washington: "local" TV is from Pittsburgh and Steelers shirts rather Redskins shirts abound. Compared to Washington, DC, the costs of living are certainly lower and life is perhaps simpler, for lack of a better word. The people there were friendly and it almost seemed like everyone knew everyone. (I realize that may sound clich├ęd.) But the thing that disconcerted me was the fact that I am foreign and from the coast and will for a long time be considered a visitor if we do move there. Plus, the fact that we are not religious and not Christian will accentuate the feeling of being on the outside. Why do I think religion is important out there? Perhaps it is the existence of blue laws. Compared to some other places that we have driven through there did not seem to be a larger than expected number of churches along the highway. So perhaps my insight is not so insightful after all.

In any case, all these thoughts came about due to recent posts on how the Democrats don't seem to respect rural folks and certainly I think that there is a lot of truth that there is a fair amount of condescension shown by East/West Coast "elitists" (by definition, all who live in big cities on the coast are elitists) and I certainly felt it when I first arrived at this country from (goodness me, a 3rd World Country!). Here are some excerpts:

I think Mark Thoma's posts pretty much summarizes my feelings:
1. "When you grow up in a small or mid-sized town, over time you come to realize that people from bigger towns, in general, have a condescending attitude about how and where you grew up. ... Learning how to dress a deer in the field is something that happens on a hunting trip with your father, grandfather, uncle, maybe a few of their friends. It's a family time, a time to bond as "men", and it's a tradition that has passed from father to son for as long as you can remember (my mom's family helped to settle the area of California where I grew up). It's partly men drinking and telling stories around the fire, partly the serious business of hunting (where alcohol is strictly forbidden). But most importantly it's a family tradition, something that passes from father to son. You bring deer jerky to school to share with your friends as a symbol that you bagged a deer, that kind of thing. It's embedded in the culture. When we make fun of knowing how to field-dress a moose, we are also making fun of the family traditions behind it, and we send the wrong message to this constituency."
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2. "Do you truly, in your heart of hearts, respect the beliefs of a religious fundamentalist, someone who has a strong relationship with their church, opposes abortion, has doubts about evolution, and so on? If you found out your child had these beliefs, how would you react? Would your first inclination be to try to change their beliefs, to explain through gentle (or not so gentle) persuasion why other beliefs - your beliefs - are better? Or would you fully respect the beliefs as much as you do your own?
Having faced this myself, and having handled it poorly, my first reaction was to try to change the beliefs, to argue why my way of looking at the world was better. The result? I gave the impression, probably a true impression at the time, that I did not respect, and even had disdain for the beliefs I was arguing against, particularly those with religious roots.
But over time I hope I have learned something. I think my way of viewing the world is best, or I'd change it, but that doesn't mean I have to look down my nose at anyone who holds different beliefs, and I hope I no longer do - my position is not necessarily better, and I certainly cannot prove that it is.
Do you truly respect those with fundamentalist views? How do you really feel about bowling? Or about people living in trailers? Are you one of those who thinks life outside of big cities must be boring? Not as culturally rich?"

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3. "There is a divide amongst us, I think, but I don't know what the answer is. Here's a way to think about the divide and the issue of respect. When I go home to see my mostly Republican family, politics will inevitably come up as I have to listen to the rants they pull off right wing radio or wherever they get them. So I speak up when it's about econmics and say, no, that's not how it is. I have a Ph.D., I am involved with these issues day in and day out - I think I know what I am talking about. I don't actually say that, of course, but I am the "elite", the one with the college education, and in my mind they ought to defer to that. If I say no, that's wrong, here's the truth, I expect them to listen and believe me, to change what they believe. But that's not what generally happens. They listen intently if I let them do the asking - I can then explain and rail away to my hearts content. But the minute I "put on airs", or appear to do so in any way, if I try to correct them, I meet with resistance. And when that happens, I feel disrespected. I know this stuff I think, why aren't they listening? But maybe they aren't as dumb about economics as I think. And maybe they think they are fully capable, even without a fancy degree, of figuring out things for themselves. Maybe I disrespect them by simply assuming that they are rubes when it comes to economics and they should just automatically fall into line with anything I say. That doesn't respect their intelligence at all. I suppose it's partly it's the approach. So I do think that rural areas feel disrespected -- it's part of the experience, but is it valid, or just a chip on their shoulder? I keep hearing from people in cities that they feel disrespected too. Why isn't their lifestyle as valuable as "real Americans" they ask. The religious feel disenfranchised, disrespected, but there are others who feel that the religious want to impose their views on the rest of society, i.e. that their views aren't respected by the religious right. Atheists complain that nobody, but nobody respects them."
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4. The above 2 posts also linked to others. First, from Clive Crook at the Atlantic:
"Democrats speak up for the less prosperous; they have well-intentioned policies to help them; they are disturbed by inequality, and want to do something about it. Their concern is real and admirable. The trouble is, they lack respect for the objects of their solicitude. Their sympathy comes mixed with disdain, and even contempt.Democrats regard their policies as self-evidently in the interests of the US working and middle classes. Yet those wide segments of US society keep helping to elect Republican presidents. How is one to account for this? Are those people idiots? Frankly, yes - or so many liberals are driven to conclude. Either that or bigots, clinging to guns, God and white supremacy; or else pathetic dupes, ever at the disposal of Republican strategists. If they only had the brains to vote in their interests, Democrats think, the party would never be out of power. But again and again, the Republicans tell their lies, and those stupid damned voters buy it.It is an attitude that a good part of the US media share. The country has conservative media (Fox News, talk radio) as well as liberal media (most of the rest). Curiously, whereas the conservative media know they are conservative, much of the liberal media believe themselves to be neutral."
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5. From Megan McArdle also at The Atlantic:
"I'm surprised--though I shouldn't be, of course--that any number of liberals who are (presumably) comfortable with concepts like unconscious discrimination and privilege when it comes to race, have not even stopped to consider that the same sort of thing might be operating here. Let's be honest, coastal folks: when you meet someone with a thick southern accent who likes NASCAR and attends a bible church, do you think, "hey, maybe this is a cool person"? And when you encounter someone who went to Eastern Iowa State, do you accord them the same respect you give your friends from Williams? It's okay--there's no one here but us chickens. You don't.Maybe you don't know you're doing it. But I have quite brilliant friends who grew up in rural areas and went to state schools--not Michigan or UT, but ordinary state schools--who say that, indeed, when they mention where they went to school, there's often a droop in the eyelids, a certain forced quality to the smile. Oh, Arizona State. Great weather out there. ... Red America exaggerates the contempt, of course. It's also true that if you're expecting racism and sexism, you'll probably end up misinterpreting perfectly innocent remarks. But the fact that they aren't right in every particular does not mean that, in general, they've got it wrong. For one thing, in both DC and New York I've spent a fair amount of time listening to liberals make jokes about red states that would horrify them if they were told about blacks. But even if that weren't true, I wouldn't be the best person to assess whether there is prejudice or not. I'm so close to it that I can't see it. "
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