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Thursday, November 04, 2004

Rural vs. urban--the conflict is never going away

There's a lot of gnashing of teeth going on about the great divide that has been uncovered in this election. Can we even live together, some wonder. Of course, because it advances their one and only goal, more power, Republicans are pushing the notion that their voters are the "real" Americans. (I just hope they don't get the idea that purges would be fun for everyone.) Talk about giving in or splitting the country is appealing, but it wouldn't solve any problems.

First of all, there's no way to split the borders. Separate Texas from the country, and you still have blue enclaves like Austin, for instance. The fact of the matter is that the Republicans exploited an eternal divide that affects all countries all over the world--the rural/urban divide. They've gone directly to rural people and started sowing seeds of fear and distrust that take root better in isolated, homogenous communities. It's simply easier to believe in the pantheon of mythological villians that the Republicans conjure for their constiuents to hate and fear if you don't have much exposure to the "outside" world.

A number of my friends in Austin grew up in the sheltered communities that wield so much political power in this country, as did I. Our stories are all tedious and the same--small community, knows crap about the outside world. Small town kid, yearning to see the bigger world who got the hell out of small, sheltered town and now has the not-at-all pleasurable experience of being treated like a freak when he/she gets home. (Not that we are innocent of treating those who stayed behind like hopeless hicks and laughing at them.)

Without actual experience knowing a diverse array of people, sheltered small town types have to rely on third party sources of information to establish an opinion of others. It's as simple as that. And therefore, if someone slimy like James Dobson wants to fill in the gaps of knowledge with outrageous misinformation, he has a perfect opportunity. And once the misinformation is in a sheltered community, it's difficult to correct it because the members of the community reinforce it to each other and are rarely, if ever, corrected. And when they do get correction, it's from an outsider, who is obviously not going to be a trusted source.

Talking about "back home" with people, you get some pretty hilarious if obviously troubling stories about wild misconceptions that people have about the more diverse populations you'll find in the cities, particularly welcoming cities like Austin. Say, like the time when a somewhat distant relative found out from my mom that I was moving here and he said, "You'd better not let her go. She'll come back all pierced and a lesbian." The operating misconception there is that homosexuals recruit, and that one is not a lesbian until one falls in with other lesbians. The correction that needs to happen when someone claims that you go to the city and come back gay is to say that one is born gay and that gays and lesbians just come out in the city because it's welcoming.

Of course you'll come off as condescending. This is kindergarten stuff, and there's not a nice way to say you know better than someone else. However, I find that if you address the real gap--personal experience--then it makes it a lot easier to correct misinformation someone might have and possibly even get them to rethink the situation. For instance, in this situation where the misconception is that gays recruit, simply say, "The gay people I know say they were always this way but they just moved to the city to be out with it." (Presumably, you are straight or your audience wouldn't be saying such things to your face.)

It's probably the most effective thing, because you are not only addressing the experience gap, but you are also sowing some of the much-needed shame by making them reflect on the fact that their opinions are hurting actual friends of yours. Of course, this is the sort of thing that only comes up when in conversation with your hick friends and family, but I think that people who intend to "reach out" need to heed this advice as well. Couch as much of your argument in the personal as you can--that's how small town people really do think. Counter, "I heard that so-and-so went to San Francisco and came back queer," with personal stories of your own.

By the way, this extends way beyond gay and lesbian issues. I just single that instance out because gay marriage swung this election. But it's also relevant to a lot of the bugaboos that the Republicans use to drum up support. For instance, it's easier to support the notion that all Muslims are terrorists if you've never actually met a Muslim. Or that the cities are crime-ridden hellholes if you never go to them and see the sunshine and peace, but only watch TV shows like "Law and Order". Small town people often don't mean to have misconceptions, and many are extremely embarrassed to find out that they fell for some stupid stereotypical bullshit out of ignorance--I think there's plenty to work with there.

As for reaching out to voters, David Neiwert, who like me is an urban dwelling liberal raised in the heart of anti-government conservative farm country, has some fantastic advice that has a simple elegance to it: Make farm renewal a front and center part of the Democratic platform.

7 Comments:

Blogger Earnest said...

Let's not limit small-mindedness to small towns, though. I read a post-election NY Times article that infuriated me. Most of the people here in New York have no idea where Oklahoma is, let alone Tulsa.

11/05/2004

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"David Neiwert, who like me is an urban dwelling liberal raised in the heart of anti-government conservative farm country, has some fantastic advice that has a simple elegance to it: Make farm renewal a front and center part of the Democratic platform."

This is madness. I currently live in a country where blue states like Massachucetts pay more in Federal taxes than they receive in services from the Federal government. Meanwhile red states like Montana recieve more Federal money than they pay out in taxes. An important chunk of this money flow is farm subsidies. In other words, liberals are taxed to keep farms going in red states. The conservatives living on the farms in red states show their gratitude to Massachucetts liberals by cursing every damned thing about their lifestyle and values.

Why can't Massachucetts offer universal health care to all its citizens? It can, but it would easier if it kept home the money that it currently sends to Montana (and Alabama and Texas, etc).

To suggest the Federal government should pay out more in farm subsidies is to suggest that taxes should be raised on liberals so that more money can be given to conservatives. Why, oh why, oh why would any progressive suggest such a thing? A true progressive has no animosity towards farmers but should have great animosity toward farm subsidies.

1/01/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you are one of the few who has been noticing this split, and talking about it... I grew up urban and liberal, and I have never... NEVER... Seen the major News networks show the simple polling samples of Urban V Rural. They hedge around it, but they don't want the "poser kids" to know how much the people they imitate have come to resent this administration... Particularly following the Hurricane.
My brother spends his days in a bullet-proof vest... He is not in Iraq, he is a counselor in our urban public schools.
About all that rural power... The 2000 census counted locations over 50,000 as Urban... 20% of this country lives in rural areas... 80% in urbania. Perhaps there is a problem in something beyond attitutudes.

9/18/2005

 
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