"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why Are States Always Red Or Blue?

Look at any political map over the last few decades and you will notice that the red and blue states are always the same.   Although in earlier years of the 20th Century many of the Southern states were officially blue, they were radical ‘Southern Democrats’ and soon changed their allegiances to red although their worldview and political persuasion remained the same.  The simply found a more congenial home within the GOP.  In the current color coding of the political map, given the configurations established in the 60s, Massachusetts will remain blue for a long time and Mississippi red.

This geographical political distribution did not happen by accident, of course, and in a fascinating article in the New York Times Steven Pinker (Why Are States So Red And Blue?) has concluded:

The American political divide may have arisen not so much from different conceptions of human nature as from differences in how best to tame it. The North and coasts are extensions of Europe and continued the government-driven civilizing process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that emerged in the anarchic territories of the growing country, tempered by their own civilizing forces of churches, families and temperance.

The fact that in red states voters predictably but surprisingly have similar positions on gay rights, abortion, states rights and small government, individual freedom, and other issues which characterize the Republican agenda.  Why should these seeming disparate views easily fit under one tent, and why are these accommodating tents all in the red states?  Because of a radical difference in worldview, says Pinker.  Conservatives have a Tragic Vision of human nature; Democrats a Utopian one:

[According to the] Tragic Vision of human nature, people are permanently limited in morality, knowledge and reason. Human beings are perennially tempted by aggression, which can be prevented only by the deterrence of a strong military, of citizens resolved to defend themselves and of the prospect of harsh criminal punishment. No central planner is wise or knowledgeable enough to manage an entire economy, which is better left to the invisible hand of the market, in which intelligence is distributed across a network of hundreds of millions of individuals implicitly transmitting information about scarcity and abundance through the prices they negotiate.

Humanity is always in danger of backsliding into barbarism, so we should respect customs in sexuality, religion and public propriety, even if no one can articulate their rationale, because they are time-tested workarounds for our innate shortcomings.

The left, in contrast, has a Utopian Vision, which emphasizes the malleability of human nature, puts customs under the microscope, articulates rational plans for a better society and seeks to implement them through public institutions.

The logical next question is where did these differing sets of beliefs come from? How did the residents of the South and the West acquire this Tragic Vision and those in the Northeast and on the Coasts the Utopian one?

The North was largely settled by English farmers, the inland South by Scots-Irish herders. Anthropologists have long noted that societies that herd livestock in rugged terrain tend to develop a “culture of honor.” Since their wealth has feet and can be stolen in an eye blink, they are forced to deter rustlers by cultivating a hair-trigger for violent retaliation against any trespass or insult that probes their resolve. Farmers can afford to be less belligerent because it is harder to steal their land out from under them, particularly in territories within the reach of law enforcement. As the settlers moved westward, they took their respective cultures with them.

By the time government had exerted its dominion over the lands of the West, these socio-cultural traits were so well ingrained that any attempt to establish the more inclusive, tolerant, and progressive traditions of Europe and The Age of Enlightenment that had taken root in the East, failed.

By the time the government consolidated its control over the West (and recall that the “closing of the frontier,” marking the end of American anarchy, took place just more than a century ago), the norms of self-defense through masculine honor, and the restraint of ruffianism by women and church, had taken root.

The clichés of the Wild West were based on fact. As Eastern migrants settled in the West and staked their claims on land distant from their neighbors; and where the only law was the six-gun, it was natural that a culture of independence, self-reliance, and primal attachment to the land emerged.

The South still retains much of the chivalric tradition inherited from Europe (See my blog post on the cultural traditions of the North and South which contributed to the causes of the Civil War http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/10/cavalier-vs-yankee-importance-of-myth.html)

Southerners today continue to manifest a culture of honor which legitimizes violent retaliation. It can be seen in their laws (like capital punishment and a stand-your-ground right to self-defense), in their customs (like paddling children in schools and volunteering for military service), even in their physiological reactions to trivial insults.

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