Southernification of Rural America
Rural-urban is now a bigger divide than North-South.
Will Wilkinson, who I knew a bit years ago when he was living in DC and working at Cato, is now back in his native Midwest and thinking a lot about changes in the culture. He’s a few years younger than me, in his late 40s, but has noticed something interesting within his own lived experience:
When I was a kid, the accents changed. Driving north from central Iowa through the corn toward Minnesota, the dialect would gradually get a little Fargo — a little Norwegian bachelor farmer — maybe an hour or so from the border. Past “the Cities,” you’d encounter the Oop! Uffdah! deadpan in full hilarious effect.
Likewise, heading south, the accents would gradually trend Joe Dirt as Missouri drew near. Below I-70, the twang whistled Dixie.
In the intervening forty years, these differences have become harder to hear. They’ve grown faint. Regionalized accents reflect differences in historical patterns of migration and settlement. Swedes didn’t flock to the Ozarks. Scots-Irish didn’t cluster in St. Cloud. It shouldn’t surprise us that linguistic and cultural connection to ancestral settler communities would attenuate over many decades and waves of newcomers who alter the local ethno-cultural mix. I suppose I shouldn’t find it surprising, then, that the distinctness of Iowa, Minnesota, and Minnesota’s rural white cultures have faded, too. But I do find it striking. When I tour the hustings these days, that’s what strikes me: it seems so much the same wherever you go.
That the country—and, indeed, much of the world—has become gradually less provincial and more homogenized is hardly a novel observation. Mobility, mass media, globalization, and other forces have naturally pushed us in that direction. But Wilkinson notices something peculiar:
America’s increasingly placeless, homogenous white rural culture isn’t of blend of all our various regional cultures. Rural Iowans and Minnesotans sound more like rural Missourians than the reverse.
He cites Census data showing that America’s cities have been steadily growing while its rural areas have hollowed out and analysis from political scientist David Hopkins that “the partisan difference between large-metro and rural residents has now become much larger than the gap between northerners and southerners.”
Wilkinson thinks this helps account for the weird phenomenon of Trump supporters in the Northeast and even the Northwest rallying behind the Confederate battle flag.
The North has drifted out of the countryside and concentrated itself into our cities. At the same time, America’s rural and exurban counties have slowly become more and more homogenously Southern. The South has risen again … in rural Maine?
In the Density Divide, I argued that the key to answering “Why did white ethnonationalism finally work to win the GOP nomination and then the White House when it didn’t even get close to working for Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul?” was that residential self-selection on ethnicity, personality, and education had made lower density parts of the country progressively more homogenously ethnocentric and socially conservative, which finally made it possible to unify and organize rural and exurban whites as a single constituency.
I’m confident that this is correct, as far as it goes. However, I think it’s an incomplete explanation without something like the Southernification thesis. Before it could be successfully organized politically, America’s increasingly ethnocentric non-urban white population needed to be consolidated first through the adoption of a relatively unform ethnocentric white culture.
Proving that this has happened, beyond anecdotal observations about accents and flags, is difficult. And, indeed, the brief rise of NASCAR as a national phenomenon took place, along with the Garth Brooks-led nationalization of country music, took place in the 1990s before returning to something like normal.
Wilkinson’s archetype of the phenomenon is the comedian “Larry the Cable Guy,” who he notes is from Nebraska. But that act is merely a persona adopted by Daniel Whitney, who doesn’t talk that way in real life.
Daniel Whitney has built a career on his “awe-shucks” country alter-ego Larry the Cable Guy. He is so convincing onstage that people assume Whitney is Larry. But Whitney, a former drama and speech major in college, is much less exaggerated than his onstage persona.
The interview reveals the thought behind Larry the Cable Guy. Whitney describes himself as a “linguistic chameleon” and finds that he tunes into the accents of those around him, whether they are from the mid-west or the deep south. That ear for accents helps him understand the people around him and connect. Psychologists find that many people subconsciously do this as a means of empathy. Whitney uses it for comedy.
Regardless, there’s likely something to the thesis.
I was trying to find something to comment here but realized that I have no one in the extended family that is anywhere near rural. Most of the strands of my family left the farms and countryside back in the 1880s/90s to participate in the post Civil War industrialization of the North. And that is usually a one way journey.
I find I have very little in common with those folks.
Even prior to Trump, Confederate flags have been a thing in rural New England:
I recall seeing them occasionally as far back as I can recall.
The thread about on the article on Twitter points to a bunch of Political Science and History work on the phenomena.
The thread is here:
A couple of the works that back up Wilkinson’s general hypothesis include:
James Gregory’s “The Southern Diaspora”
John Egerton’s “The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America”
Personally, I think that shifts in Country Music towards the celebration of a very specific type of “dying/threatened country life” (moving it away from from its bluegrass and blues roots) and the rise of national Conservative Talk Radio (which ate up a LOT of rural stations) and Christian Radio (versus local stations) probably had a lot to do with this.
Is it urban v. rural or college v. no college? Using census tract data, the states that we normally see as rural, have pretty urban population distributions. While here in New England, which isn’t thought of as being rural, is pretty rural using census tract data. But the politics doesn’t follow the his supposition. Yes northern Maine is very conservative, but Vermont? In NH the more liberal congressional district covers the part of the state that most would agree is more rural, while the more urban/suburban district runs more conservative. Though at present both are represented by Dems.
Wilkinson makes some interesting points, but I’m not sure that they’ll stand up to scrutiny.
My hypothesis: rural areas have become dumber and more racist, as smart people have moved to the cities, where the money is.
The most recent, and thus the only authentic, Confederate flag was white.
Pretty sure this is not a new thing. There is a reason Serpenthead (aka James Carville) in 1992 stated that “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.”
I thought country music went mainstream with Johnny Cash? Or Hee Haw?
This theory seems pretty high on anecdote and low on data.
Plus there is the significant problem of the binary census classification of urban-rural which treats even low density suburban areas the same as urban cores.
A majority of Americans live in suburbs with the remainder roughly equally divided between true urban areas and rural areas. Plus the proportion of the suburban population continues to increase.
I think this is spot on. The underlying rural / urban divide itself has more varied causes, but I think the specifically Southern character of the rural side of that split is almost entirely due to the factors mattbernius describes here. Basically, the cultural archetype of the Southern good ol’ boy, along with that archetype’s standard set of political grievances, was mass-marketed as the authentic expression of rural identity, and like mass marketing in every other area of life, it simply overwhelmed and supplanted local variation. I watched it happen in real time in my rural Vermont hometown over the course of the 80s and 90s.
During the 2016 campaign there was polling analysis that contended that the likelihood of a a voter to support Trump was proportional to how close the voter lived to his/her community of origin. Conversely those who ‘moved away,’ likely supported Clinton. That raises the question that in demographically rural communities, does the percentage of the population that is homegrown v. migrant effect the communities political beliefs and how?
The whole issue of ‘the sort’ is fascinating but there will be no small groups of reasons that will explain it.
It’s a longstanding truism that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburg with Pennsatucky in between. And the same is true everywhere, even Kentucky. The upstate New Yorkers I’ve met are as gritsby Trumpist as my neighbors here in suburban FL. Wilkinson focuses more on cultural homogenization and sees it as an explanation of political homogenization. But aren’t both just the result of national media? He speaks of “residential self-selection”, but how many people are choosing to move to rural Arkansas. Isn’t it more a matter of hollowing? It’s been a meme in ND since before we invented the word meme that the state’s major export is educated sons and daughters. Politically it’s more FOX “News” than any Southernification. Seems to me Wilkinson is discovering something that’s been widely known forever and making it a deal more complicated than necessary. It almost seems like he’s trying to construct an origin story for white ethno-nationalism with racism removed.
I’m leaving shortly to visit family in Minnesota. Including the rural ND niece and her family, I’ve noticed they all still have a recognizable Minnesota Scandahoovian twang, but just barely. I don’t think a stranger in, say, Ohio, would even notice it. And nobody here in SW FL seems to have a noticeable southern accent.
This highlights that Republicans have chosen to become a rural party in a country with a rapidly declining rural population. And it makes all the talk of secession a seem bit silly. If Texas decides to secede, Houston ain’t going with them. The grits may have the guns, but Houston’s got the money.
Well, Johnny did perform “God Bless Robert E. Lee.”
The Confederate flag is the flag of a losing team. Many rural folks have adopted the aggrieved, defeated, self-pitying way of thinking formerly confined to the bayous.
That’s all true. But I think there’s an element of rebelliousness, or perversity, involved. It’s kind of the same impulse that leads people to refuse to get vaccinated. If the “elite” tell you to do something, you do just the opposite.
Also, self-styled outlaw bikers have been bedizening themselves with Confederate regalia along with Nazi regalia for ages.
@CSK: “If the “elite” tell you to do something, you do just the opposite.”
And somehow they convince themselves that this is a more sophisticated or genuine behavior than doing exactly what the elite tell you.
The British used to have many regional dialects, some of them intelligible to each other. Now everyone speaks “BBC Received”, after decades of hearing a homogenized vocabulary by BBC radio and television announcers.
Over here, we’ve coupled that with the American idea that we can pick and choose which aspects of a national identity we want to wear, like mixing and matching t-shirts with your jeans and trainers. NASCAR-mania crashed and burned (if you’ll pardon the pun) when drivers and organizers proved more mainstream in their social and cultural views than the Newly Rebs wanted.
I think it’s the sign of a nation struggling to come to grips with who we really are in a world where change is both frightening and exciting. It’s just us being us, again.
Sorry – make that “unintelligible to each other”. Apparently the edit button is a thing of the past?
Pat Buchanan got almost a quarter of the GOP vote in the 1992 primaries against a sitting president. So the party was pretty much on its way to where it is thirty years ago. As the rural areas depopulated, ethnonational representation increased just by sheer demographics. All it took was a black man getting elected president and a coarse and vulgar man for this sect to get over the top. I will disagree a tad about the accent thesis, Iowa always had southern tilt, despite what Ann Landers claimed. Do not know much about the midwest northern accents but I’m skeptical they could have changed that much.
I don’t think they believe it’s more “sophisticated,” because “sophistication” is an evil quality associated with city slickers. I do think they believe it’s more “genuine,” in the sense that it’s more, in their eyes, authentically American.
Remember Pat Buchanan and his peasants with pitchforks? Remember Sarah Palin stepping into some small town in the South and calling it “the real America”?
American popular culture has always portrayed the small town or farming community as the repository of virtue.
Sure. They’re the little guys, the plucky few, the underdogs, but with the difference that they know they’re losers and have no expectation of ever being anything else. If you find yourself driving around Pennsylvania in a pick-up truck with a confederate flag in the window, it’s not because you think you’re on the path to a better life. You’re not thinking, ‘Off to college and a career!’ You’re thinking, ‘I’m a loser, I’ll remain a loser but a defiant angry one, now I want beer.’ It’s the moral equivalent of a face tattoo.
(BTW, before someone decides I’m a heartless prick, that’s just analysis, not reveling in anyone’s fucked up life.)
We’re getting into a sort of Eloi and Morlock situation. The overly precious, easily bruised intellectual elite doing intellectually elite jobs on the one hand, and on the other hand the Morlocks doing the dirty, dusty, sweaty job of making physical things and delivering them in Amazon packages to the Eloi.
@Not the IT Dept.:
The edit button is available for any comment not requiring editing.
The Morlocks ate the Eloi…
Damn Michael, you’re beginning to sound like Kevin Williamson
@Michael Reynolds: The edit button is available for any comment not requiring editing.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. My thanks for your wisdom!
And they were probably as tender as milk fed veal.
Silk slippers descending, hobnail boots rising.
Also, complete aside, I continue to wonder to what degree the combination of things like the Allman Brothers Band (and Southern Rock in general) plus the Dukes of Hazard played big roles in elevating the battle flag of the army of northern Virginia.
He’s right. Boiled down to its most basic element: the smart ones, the ambitious ones, the energetic and capable ones, all leave rural areas, which means the ones still living in Cowpaddy are the less smart, less ambitious, less energetic and capable ones. You know what they say about New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. No one says that about West Virginia.
We are sorting by IQ. Smart people are doing fine. Average people are holding on by their fingernails. Less smart people are slipping and have been for decades.
Let’s keep the Allman’s out of this!!!
(But you are probably correct about bands like Lynyrd Skynrd.)
@Michael Reynolds: I recall the George Carlin riff where he says something like, “50% of people are of below average intelligence. Think about how stupid the average person you know is. Then realize that 50% of people are more stupid than that.”
A black couple I used to attend church with are big Trump supporters, according to what I see on their Facebook pages. They say ridiculous things like, such as if they see a photo of Trump looking up or down, “wow, he’s such a man of prayer!” I didn’t get it at all, then I remembered something. I didn’t know them well until I was in charge of organizing a charitable project at church and they volunteered to help. Giving them the most basic of instructions was nearly impossible.
This is something I probably would have been loathe to admit several years ago, but this couple is part of that 50% who are of below average intelligence.
Christian radio has been around forever, if anything it’s much diminished from what it once was.
I do think a lot of music has less crossover appeal than it used to and this isn’t just a change in country music. I’m guessing here, but I remember a lot more “working class” music that spoke to the urban and rural working-class which doesn’t seem to exist anymore. After googling around, I see that “heartland rock” was a thing in my youth that died out.
Like so much of society, music seems to have fragmented into niches with few acts able to command broad appeal.
Earlier on, I wrote how my family post Civil War migrated to the cities. Well, that was Ohio. In Ohio, post Civil War, there was the legacy of the abolitionists. There were the Social Gospel Movement christians, temperance crusaders, suffragettes. Every town in Ohio seemed to have its liberal arts college. Every house had a piano. It was progressive as progressive could be. Even on the farm and in the small towns, education was a big deal and universal.
So what changed to make it all go downhill in a 100 years? Money? Self selection? One thing that’s not mentioned is income inequality which I believe is a huge factor in how our society is structured.
@Michael Reynolds: I don’t even think it’s the initial IQ. I think it’s the mental form of oxycontin: paranoia and willingness to wallow in self-pity. Nothing is ever one’s own fault. All the problems in one’s life is due to “them” (whether “them” is Democrats, dark-skinned people, Hispanics, Jews, “the elites”, or whatever other scapegoat group is out there.)
I had a friend who went down that rathole. After several years of marinating his brain in self-pity he’s turned into someone I have no contact with and have no interest in having contact with.
This is true and has long driven me absolutely nuts (I’m edgy today I guess, LOL).
There is an entire genre of American entertainment (books, TV shows, and movies) that has a plot line that goes roughly this way: small town boy (or girl) goes to college and moves to The Big City, where he (or she) is moderately successful but vaguely unhappy. He (or she) has to return home to Small Town for some reason and find happiness in town’s simplicity/virtues/finds true love. There’s always a smattering of locals who have Witty Wisdom.
The entire trope is that the small town is all that is good and genuine, and cities are cold hard awful places.
Now, I prefer living in the quiet, rural area we are in, but I don’t romanticize one over the other.
I think this is the sort of broad claim that requires some evidentiary support before it’s taken seriously.
@Sleeping Dog: I’ve not read J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a practice I intend to continue. From the second and third hand accounts I’ve seen, it sounds like the Williamson piece you quote could have been lifted from it. I haven’t seen anyone comment that it’s the same thing they say about Black inner cities, the Calvinistic formula that they’re poor because they’re morally inferior. Republican and neoliberal economic policies have created the same conditions as inner cities, no jobs, poor schools, middle class flight, no opportunity, and produced the same outcomes, crime, addiction, failing families. You’d think maybe there’s a lesson there. But apparently to conservatives, what were racial characteristics are now shared by white people, or at least poor white people. But there’s no contradiction motivated reasoning can’t get around.
@Jen: Ha! That’s every Hallmark Christmas movie. Which are all filmed in Canada.
I don’t buy the thesis. There’s a Southern-style that is being marketed to rural folks across the country, and the racists have decided to try to become mainstream again (thanks, Obama), but if you look at nearly every map of America showing syphilis, illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, non-vaccination, childhood poverty, or whatever indicator you want of a sad, pathetic, failed existence, the lines of the Confederacy still hold.
And those lines still hold when you get to county level maps.
Sure, there are folks with confederate flags in rural Maine, but do they have syphilis? They ain’t Southern if they ain’t got syphilis.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
Crap. I was thinking Skynrd! Total brain fart.
Mmhmm. Once upon a time, we had places (factories) where these individuals could (thanks to the nice post-war monopoly America had for a while on industrial production) earn a fairly comfortable life. That was obviously always going to end, and did. Factories migrated, as they were always going to migrate, in search of cheaper labor once they found themselves faced with actually meaningful competition for a fairly finite marketplace.
They’re dealing now with the consequences of their inability to adapt to an economy which increasingly doesn’t have a place for them any longer. I’m not sure that I find any schadenfreude there (Well, dummy, if the factory closed, move somewhere else) because, let’s face it, there is nowhere else for the less intelligent to move to that won’t be any less barren of opportunity for them than where they left. It’s the nature of post-industrial societies – once the industrial leaves, a whole lot of folks are just going to be left behind.
The Williamson piece is several years old and in the same article he points out that much of the criticism that he is leveling against rural whites, echos that is lodged against blacks by conservative whites. The entire article is behind the NR paywall and I remember reading it around the time of the original publication.
It is typical Williamson viciousness and he doesn’t hold back. Part of his point is that if the same behaviors occur in one community and that community is accused of moral failure, then if the behaviors crop up in a different community the same accusation should be levied. Charles Murray made a similar criticism of poor whines in Coming Apart.
Was that intentional? 😀
I agree with the premise (the Southernification of Rural Areas) as stated but not as James intended. To me the most pressing difference between the former Confederate states and the rest of the country is their respective views of what government is for. For the Confederates the primary purpose of governance is to keep people in their place, primarily by setting groups against each other and keeping most people poor so as to make it difficult for them to change their circumstances. For the rest of the country, governance is primarily about promoting the common welfare, improving and maintaining infrastructure, preparing for/mitigating and leading the recovery from natural disasters, etc. in my view, Southernification of rural areas has much more to do with a shift in expectations for governance and what is defined as “success”, and damn near nothing to do with country music.
Education level is the closest we have to an intelligence measure in the stats. Are rural people roughly as well-educated as urban/suburban people?
Another way to look at it may be to look at college towns, as graduates have a tendency to cluster near their alma mater. Or you could look at professions – lawyers, doctors, engineers – per 1000 in rural vs. urban/suburban.
A crude method might be to use states. Looking at educational attainment by state, the bottom ten, from somewhat better to worst, (using a BA as the stat) are: NM, IN, AL, OK, NV, KY, LA, AK, MS and WV. The best educated: MN, NH, NY, VT, VA, CT, MD, NJ, CO and MA. Looking at advanced degrees as a percentage of population you see roughly the same distribution.
Take a look at those states through the prism of major universities. The bottom ten all together don’t have as many first class universities as the environs of Boston or Washington, DC.
One thing to remember is that the rural dislike of “city folk” hasn’t happened in a vacuum. You can see a lot of the reason right here in the comments–the condescension and conflation that “rural = uneducated hick”.
And that comes out in legislation. When Sacramento decides they’re going to tell farmers in all 50 states how to run their farms… expect some blowback.
So many here get in a huff when Oklahoma or Montana use an unbalanced system to push for what they want, but have absolutely no problem with California dictating car emissions, farming practices, or product labeling.
Of course there’s going to be animosity building up. While I tend to agree with a fair amount of what California is trying to do, I can absolutely see why it’s creating such a push-back from rural states and rural residents–even those in the north.
The thing is if you’re living in Coalcough, West Virginia, the distress is quite real, they really are fucked. When you’re fucked what are you going to do? Blame your parents and grandparents? Blame your church? Blame the guys you hang out with at Moe’s? Or God forbid, blame yourself? All of that just makes it feel worse, whereas pinning the blame on some ‘other’ keeps peace in the community and of course ensures that nothing will ever be done to make things better. Despair goes down easier with a fistful of fentanyl and a scapegoat.
As an aside it’s interesting watching progs and libs try to deal with this. We’re all about compassion when it’s a Black or brown person who’s fucked. But when it comes to the pale fucked we either blame them or pretend the problem doesn’t exist, pretty much the mirror of how conservatives look at inner city pathologies.
IQ is obviously just a convenient way to refer to a host of characteristics, most of which, like IQ, are not within the control of any individual. They deal you a hand of cards at birth. A few people get a royal flush right off the bat. Some people get junk. We aren’t supposed to think that way though as it contravenes the holy Protestant Work Ethic and the Declaration’s assertion that we are all created equal. But in reality there’s no equality at birth and we cannot all just pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Life is unfair, which is one of the things government is meant to help with.
Wilkinson might want read Thomas Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks & White Liberals’
if only for his discussion of the cultural evolution in transplant areas. What he categorizes as “Southern” is likely just the propagation of the old words and forms of speaking that survived in the US compared to their origins in Europe. A close examination is likely to find an admixture, though possibly “Southern” dominate because there’s been more Scots-Irish “Southern” in popular media.
Wait until Wilkinson discovers this link which messes up his rural/urban conflict narrative.
Perhaps this is why urban white Liberals express such racist attitudes about urban blacks, like how they don’t know how to get id?
@Andy: It’s not something he deduced. It’s an article of his “hard core liberal” faith.
It is not condescension to accurately state a fact. In general rural areas are behind on educational attainment. Facts first, then solution. The facts are that rural America is and has been in steep decline by just about every measure. This is a deep and perhaps intractable problem, (and one that is international in scope) but we can’t even start to address the issue if we have to pretend it doesn’t exist.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
No, it’s just reality. I presented evidence in response to Andy, and it’s ridiculous to pretend that rural America is equal in educational attainment to suburban/urban America. Denying it because it hurts fee-fees is not the path to improving the situation.
Just like you, Sowell fell all over himself to excuse the myriad allegations of rape against Trump, as well as his abject racism.
So, as they say, consider the source.
@Jen: @Scott: The irony for me is that I grew up until I was about maybe even 13 or 14, that I lived in a small town–Seattle. I was in my teens before I really understood that I lived in a big city and it wasn’t a metro until I was in my 30s.
When the Seattle Pilots (anybody remember them?) franchise was granted, the big question was “how does a little hick town like Seattle get off thinking that it can support a major league team.” It may be the root of the concept of “big league city,” I don’t know, but the question/concept was transformational here. (And not positively, either.)
@Mu Yixiao: “So many here get in a huff when Oklahoma or Montana use an unbalanced system to push for what they want, but have absolutely no problem with California dictating car emissions, farming practices, or product labeling.”
Wow, talk about entitlement. California isn’t dictating Oklahoma’s car emissions. They’re dictating their own. So many cars are sold in California that automakers will tend to take the California standard as their national standard — that’s not California’s demand. You seem to think that the 40 million people in California should not be free to run their state the way they see fit because the 4 million people who live a thousand miles away in Oklahoma might get a sad.
It’s the same with farming practices. Californians decide they don’t want to eat pigs and chickens that are essentially tortured all their lives, and are willing to pay more for meat to ensure that animals are treated humanely. No one’s telling anyone in Montana they’re going to have to eat bacon from a pig that was raised humanely. It’s just that the giant pork and poultry producers may find it inconvenient to raise animals in two different ways, and choose to cater to the much larger market.
But then, this is the essence of all Republican small-state thinking: “It’s not fair that I get outvote just because there are fewer people with my opinion — I demand the right to tell the majority what to do.”
The evidence is clear.
Furthermore, anecdotally, I have driven across the country twice in the last four years, pre-covid. On both those trips, I turned the normal 3 day drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles and turned into a 10 day trip, avoiding the interstates unless there was no choice, and instead taking country roads and spending the night in small and VERY small towns. Towns like Graysville, AL, Fourmie, AR, Chickasaw, OK, El Reno, OK, etc. The largest “city” I stayed overnight in was Gallup, NM, population around 20K.
Every single one of those small towns is hollowed out. Every main street is almost deserted with less than 30% of storeftonts occupied. They’re dead but they don’t even know it. Most of the people I encountered were over 50. Kids were few and far between. I spent anywhere from 4-18 hours is most of these places. The brain drain is obvious. Those towns are not coming back. Those factories are not coming back. Anyone with even half a brain, and some desire for any sort of financial freedom or success, has moved to Oklahoma City, Memphis, Little Rock, Albuquerque, Birmingham, Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Tulsa, etc. Downtown Tulsa has a surprisingly active and very popular arts district, with Teslas and Prius’ outnumbering pickup trucks and SUV’s.
The evidence is clear. Brain drain from rural America is a fact.
@Michael Reynolds: Yeah. I believe that about my faith articles, too. Metaphysics works that way.
@Andy: I think you make some valid points/criticisms.
I would note, however, that suburban is still urban (at least when we are talking about urban v. rural as it pertains to this discussion). Maybe there is a case for a threefold classification, but since most “urban” areas are not high-density, I don’t think you can limit the definition in that way.
Los Angeles county is very much urban, but its also low density on balance. Ditto Houston and DFW.
Perhaps you have a more specific definition/level of density in mind?
The rural area I’m most familiar with for policy purposes is the US Great Plains (maps here, Great Plains counties in white, first map flat and second map a population cartogram). Population density averages about a tenth that of Appalachia. Population total for those counties peaked in the 1930 census and has been declining for the last 90 years. “Brain drain” over generations is very much a documented thing there.
Go back and read Thomas Jefferson, for example.
Speak for yourself. We’re all prone to a little hillbilly bashing, I’ve done it myself. But I noted above @gVOR08: that policy largely did this to them. I’m on record here and elsewhere as saying many of the grievances of the “economically anxious” are valid. Our elites have fracked them over, along with the rest of us. It’s the part about electing a New York “billionaire” who lies like a rug to address their grievances that makes no sense. Obamacare is aimed at rural poor as much as urban. SNAP feeds them as much as anyone. That’s how rural southern states become a net drain on the federal budget. (That and military bases.) I don’t think liberals generally are pretending rural problems don’t exist.
You sure you want to go down the IQ road? For instance its been used by a lot of racists to explain why the minority of their choice is doing poorly (especially after the book about the Bell curve), and there are many very good articles explaining why IQ is a very poor measure of intelligence — and this isn’t new, for instance “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stefan Jay Gould was published in the early 80’s.
And as in most things human, there’s also a trend for extremely successful academics and artists (especially musicians it seems) to move away from cities to rural areas (such as the Gulf Islands on the West Coast of Canada). Trends are never as simple (or uniform) as we’d like them to be.
The condescension comes in the “Don’t worry, we know what’s best for you” attitude.
@JKB: I wouldn’t recommend anyone read anything of Sowell’s. And I certainly wouldn’t accept anything he said as a conclusion.
Shining examples of his “intellect” include:
* Claiming that Barack Obama was just like Adolph Hitler because he created a relief fund in the wake of the BP Oil Spill.
* Claiming that Global Warming is a manufactured controversy created by academics who want research grants.
If you want an explanation why his theories about culture are disassociated from reality, I suggest you read What’s wrong with Thomas Sowell?
And all of the magical small towns in those movies are way cooler than the small town with which I am accustomed. They all seem to have cool coffee houses, bars, and/or restaurants (and nice shops).
I would love to see one of those movies have the courage of their convictions and have the choices be the Waffle House (or McDonald’s) for coffee, some chain semi-fast food place for dinner, and maybe no bar at all.
See my earlier comment…
Which isn’t to say their grievances aren’t real, only that they are too dumb to look after their best interests. “Keep the Government out of my SS!!!”
@Steven L. Taylor:
Also…many are, indeed, filmed in Canada. But many are filmed right here in CT, too.
I was talking to a doctor years ago, right after I had been forced by economics to move back to my hometown, and he said, you know if the average IQ here is not 100 right? I said, what do you mean? He said smart people typically go to college and never come back, and dumb people will get a job with their dad in this place down the road. Over time that means the average IQ here is below average.
If you have to be untruthful in your claims, that suggests that your argument isn’t very good and, moreover, that you know it.
Or is the goal just to lie?
American popular culture has always portrayed the small town or farming community as the repository of virtue.
Often in a weird way. The moral of It’s A Wonderful Life, as I understand it, is that without George Bailey the entire town turns to shit.
On the other hand, high culture from Blue Velvet to the Snopes trilogy has put a more accurate portrayal of American small town life.
Overall, I feel like we’ve kind-of whitewashed how negative working-class Americans were portrayed in the 80s. That’s when these humble people deserved to be eaten by the Japanese, because of all of their lazy unions and inefficient workers with their breaks and stuff. That kind of attitude–which went to middle-management and ‘right-sizing’ the useless–was pretty common, and it cleaned the house, basically, for everything to hollow out and become terrible. When Wal-marts moved into small towns, you couldn’t be an anti-corporate crank because that meant you were a loser who was unable to compete with Sam Walton, a real nice American hero.
The vaxx rates here in North Florida are about 40%, because Trumper dumbasses, but I bet Tractor Supply is making a fortune on Ivermectin.
@Michael Reynolds: What no one wants to address in our laissez faire capitalist economy, is the continued automation of more and more “unskilled labor”, or even “skilled labor”. I think no one wants to address it because this is a trend which started way back at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and no one knows what to do about the people who have had their jobs automated out of existence. It used to be that if you couldn’t do anything else, someone would always hand you a shovel and you could dig ditches. Now, of course, we’ve got all sorts of machinery and robots to take the place of such individuals. It also used to be that if one unskilled job was mechanised out of existence, you could always hop down the road to another location and pick up something else. But what happens when ALL such jobs are disappearing?
But as said, the huge chip-on-the-shoulder we’ve seen from many people stuck in such a situation doesn’t endear them to the policymakers or anyone else who might actually be able to do something. (And the politicians have found it much easier to wave scapegoats in front of them to draw their anger and get votes rather than actually do anything.)
Plus there’s our Calvinist attitude towards work, which is “if you’re failing at something, it’s because you’re not working enough and it’s your own fault.”
who, if you read about the guy, was a real piece of shit.
Anybody who starts with a few thousand and becomes a billionaire seems to be a psychopath.
Except that I make no pretense that I know what’s good for them. You’ll notice I offered no solutions for the excellent reason that I don’t have a solution. Don’t mistake me for someone who thinks he’s got all the answers to life, or thinks he succeeded because of virtue. Jesus, I know all my bad decisions, and I know full well that I have what I have through a fortuitous combination of DNA, environment, the few right choices I made, and sheer damn luck.
Bear in mind that ‘these people’ we’re talking about are the people I worked with starting as a 16 year-old Toys R Us stock clerk. I had a revelatory moment actually, at Toys R Us. I worked there for I don’t know, six or seven months. Then I quit to hitchhike around Europe. When I was leaving the store manager called people off the floor so he could hold me up as an example to them of hard work and dedication. ‘Those people’ were staying in the job, I was outta there, and I was getting the praise. I knew exactly why I could get out and they couldn’t. And I no more knew WTF to do about it then than I do now.
Good grief. It’s not that anyone “doesn’t KNOW” how to get an ID. It’s that for some people, particularly RURAL Black voters, the barriers that are being erected make it difficult to secure a photo ID.
Maybe I’m mistaken, but weren’t you a military brat? I feel like anybody who grows up roaming from place to place knows they are not stuck.
My father grew up in a super small town in Pa where his family had been since the 18th century. He left at 18 and joined the Navy, just like his older brother. His oldest brother drank himself to death and his younger brother made it about 3 miles north. The two brothers I met–the one who got out and the one who didn’t–were not much different than my dad. It’s just a matter of luck, maybe.
Exactly. Whenever I point out that larger and larger percentages of people are competing in the labor market against machines, I get lectures on the Luddites and how it’s all going to even out because it always has in the past. But it isn’t all going to even out, it’s going to get worse. I love that restaurant workers are finally standing up for some level of decent treatment, but one of the results will be to spur automation. With available technology right now we could be running McDonalds stores with a single human employee. At some point the rising wage line on the graph will blow past the capital cost of automation.
Yeah, it is largely luck. Being an Army brat turned the whole world into a potential home. DNA, Environment, Free Will and Random Chance. We live our lives in that swirling, overlapping Venn diagram.
We’ve reached the point where we can admit that accidents of birth in the form of race can have a big effect on your life. We are not yet at the point where we recognize that race is only one among many ‘privileges.’ Life isn’t fair, it isn’t equal. Government is meant IMO to at least sand down the sharp edges of inequality.
Is it condescension when someone else really does know what is best for you? Or maybe better put, best for us?
Or do climatologists hold their tongue on the scientific evidence that should inform car emissions standards out of respect for the denizens of Montana?
@Michael Reynolds: One of my friends in CS has pointed out that the tipping point for incorporating AI into decision systems will be, not when the AI decisions make no error, but when they make fewer errors than the average human.
And then all bets will be off. (I’m working as a patent examiner in an area that is getting to be AI-heavy and my-oh-my you should see what’s coming down the pipe, technologically.)
Final result? a) Rebellion and revolution from the lumpenproletariat when there are no jobs left, b) Government ends up putting all the great unwashed (and unemployed) on “disability”, or c) U.S. business finally realises that automating away every single job they can means fewer customers to buy anything and they’ve been pulling a Henry-Ford-in-reverse.
A quick story… Years ago, again, in London, I purchased an electric clock radio I needed for my apartment. When I got home, I opened the box, and it didn’t have a plug and the end of the cord. And there was no plug included. I went back to the store and said “My clock doesn’t have a plug”. After looking at me like I had three heads, the guy calmly says “Yep. They’re right there. They cost a pound.”
The American in me says, “What? Are you kidding? I have to buy a plug?”
Salesman: “Yep. And you can take it the plug bloke a few doors down and he’ll connect it for you another 2 quid’.
Me: “Seriously? Why can’t you just sell it with the plug attached.”
Salesman (after looking at me like I was from Mars): “Then the plug guy wouldn’t have a job, would he?”
I often think of the jobs available to people when I was growing up that are gone forever. Gas Station attendants. Milk delivery men. Door to door salesmen. As late at 1995, I wouldn’t have imagined a world without Sears, or Toys R Us, or Kodak. Times change, and with AI, it’s just a matter of time that even more jobs disappear.
Other countries are way ahead of us in preparing for this,, mostly by better tax structures. In the Nordic countries the high taxes on the wealthy keep the social safety net viable, so one can focus on life rather than working to the death. Alot of the US problems could and would be solved by a progressive tax that taxes the hell out of ANY income over 20 million annually. Maybe to the 91% we had in the 50’s
Pro-tip: If the *only* Black scholar you read and cite is one who agrees with you on most if not all issues, then you’re not reading them to get a perspective of what black folks actually think.
This is a great example of how poor your understanding of arguments you don’t agree with. Any of us have repeatedly explained the nuance of this issue. If every argument you have relies on a strawman, that tells us a lot about the intellectual confidence of your positions.
@Steven L. Taylor: “Or is the goal just to lie?”
I believe the goal is to feel for one tiny, fleeting moment the slightest trace of victory over people he knows don’t give a damn about him. Not sure why he thinks that annoying people counts as a victory, but I guess if your life is just one endless string of failures, it’s something.
@Steven L. Taylor:
I was thinking of Jefferson and his “natural aristocrat.”
@Michael Reynolds: “Whenever I point out that larger and larger percentages of people are competing in the labor market against machines, I get lectures on the Luddites and how it’s all going to even out because it always has in the past.”
Somehow those anti-Luddites always forget to mention the part about how the last time it “evened out” we traded skilled craftsmen for menial laborers — including children — in dangerous and even deadly factories.
That sentence was poorly constructed. What I was trying to get at is that both Conservative talk radio and Christian radio both nationalized due to both the rise of syndication and the loosening of media ownership laws. That, along with the rise of satellite TV, flattened the media landscape in rural America in really important ways (along with the loss of local news sources).
Well, I disagree that education is a measure of intelligence and believe the evidence agrees with me. But more than that, if you’re going to assert that education is a proxy for intelligence, and that rural people are therefore “less smart, less ambitious, less energetic and capable” merely because of where they live, then do you also apply that to Native Americans, most of whom live in rural communities and are uneducated, or rural blacks in the south? Or if a lack of education is a proxy for the lack of intelligence generally, what does that say about the wide array of educational attainment among various demographic groups?
No, I reject that. Because the same argument you’re making can be (and is) deployed against impoverished communities in urban areas and it is just as flawed in that case. For the same reason, we shouldn’t claim that people who live in endemic poverty on the Southside of Chicago are “less smart, less ambitious, less energetic and capable” because they don’t move to somewhere better.
@Steven L. Taylor: The small towns in Hallmark movies are suburbanized small towns from the 50s and 60s. My dad grew up in Cle Elum, Washington, a small mining town in the East Cascade foothills, population 2oo4. We used to go visit my grandparents there several times a year, and it really is kind of picturesque–in a poor mining town sort of style. I just looked up what’s there on the interwebs and I recognize the Sunset Cafe and the Cottage Cafe (and motel/trailer court, IIRC). What I don’t remember from my childhood is any drive-in restaurants at all (and there still aren’t any) and the more recent (as in since I went to grad school 25 miles farther east 30 or so years ago) fine dining steakhouse, the Lebanese and Thai restaurants and 3 or 4 Mexican restaurants. And the bakery that was there when I was a kid has apparently expanded next door to open…a coffee shop.
I will grant that Cle Elum being 94 miles from Seattle (with a metropolitan census tract boundary that goes almost to Snoqualmie Pass), probably helps. But it’s entirely possible that at least SOME people who move to small towns (and probably MOST of the types who are likely to be Hallmark stories) are living in pretty nice places. I would move back there to retire, but I can’t afford what a house costs now and there are few (probably closer to zero) rentals of the type I’d prefer available. My grandparents house was sold long long ago. Drove by one day. The remodel the owners did was really nice. I can see they love the house. 🙂
@Steven L. Taylor:
The binary division, IMO, is arbitrary and not very useful. Urban, according to the census bureau, is essentially any municipality over 2500 in population or areas of some arbitrary density that happen to be close to a major city.
Just as one example, I live in a pretty standard subdivision built in the 1990’s with smallish lots and single-family homes. I’d consider my area exurban because it’s not in a municipality. Nevertheless, the census classifies by area as “urban.” Meanwhile, two blocks away is a neighborhood with larger lots and larger houses, populated mainly by wealthy professionals that commute 40+ minutes to jobs in Denver – they are “rural” according to the census bureau – presumably because the bigger lots mean less density while at the same time not being close enough to a major city.
In short, I don’t think it’s very useful to classify an exurban subdivision like mine, a small city of 3,000 people, and Manhattan Island all under the same label. And the way the census does it, anything that doesn’t fit the very broad “urban” criteria becomes “rural” by default.
As an analytical framework, I don’t think it’s very useful. We know, for example, that the dense urban cores skew heavily D in elections and the rural areas skew heavily R. Elections are won and lost in the space between these two extremes, but the census labels that entire area as “urban” and the political debate becomes “urban vs rural” when it’s really about urban vs urban.
In short, I generally think that binaries are bad, particularly when used to classify a highly diverse nation of 330 million people.
The condescension comes a bit farther down the road. The irony is that most of the people in rural areas want more for their kids–they want them to go to college, get an education, and get a good job that pays well. Then those same kids come home and point out that maybe climate change is a thing and everyone gets angry (I’ve actually heard the phrase “book learnin'” used as an insult).
@Scott F.: Comparing the bloviations of Cracker (or another person I’ve already picked a scuffle with today, so I substituted myself, if that’s okay) to the presentations of research by climatologists strikes me as a false equivalency. YMMV, as always.
Here’s a big reason why: Black and Brown folks are not busy calling liberals “not real Americans” and “baby killing commies out to destroy America.” The rural white folks want to dish it out, but can’t take it.
Climatologists are scientific experts and should certainly educate us on why better fuel mileage is important.
It’s condescending when IT guys in SF who drive Smart Cars to work insist everyone should be driving the same because “nobody really needs a big truck”. Completely ignoring farmers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.
And yes… I’ve actually seen people say that.
There are some blue-collar urbanites who have the same attitude: “If if the loadin’ dock was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my kid!”
My sister, who’s been involved in higher ed administration for her entire career tells some sad stories of blue-collar parents who refused to let their kids go upwardly mobile. One had to do with a father who refused to pay for his daughter’s college education, but bought her a brand-new car when she gradauted from high school. Another really painful anecdote involved a young woman who won a full ride to Harvard. Her parents convinced her she wouldn’t fit in there. But they allowed her to go to Salem State College.
@Jen: I thought it was “book larnun.” Do I have that wrong?
Aside from the current “let the antivaxxers just die already” sentiment, I don’t know anyone who wants rural America (there are more than just white people in rural areas, btw) to just collapse. It’s just hard to solve those problems, so there’s no consensus about what to do, other than treat white drug addicts way better than we treat black drug addicts.
It’s the wealthy white folks we chortle about when they get fucked over. And anyone with a confederate flag.
And at a national level, most of the Democratic senators have significant rural reas in their state. We don’t have senate control without folks like John Tester, John “I saw Deep Throat with my mother” Hickenlooper (so weird) and others, who are advancing rural causes.
But ineffective solutions don’t bring in the voters the way that ineffectively blaming someone else does.
@EddieInCA & @Michael Cain
I think you’ve both missed my point with Michael.
Yes, people are moving out of rural areas, something that has been ongoing for over a century. I’m not disputing that and I’ve seen the hollowed-out towns too.
I’m disputing Michaels’ characterization that anyone who doesn’t leave rural America is “less smart, less ambitious, less energetic and capable” and the implied value judgment that “urban” people are therefore smarter, more ambitious, more energetic, and more capable. I don’t believe that characterizing people’s intelligence and abilities by the geography they choose to live in has any evidentiary basis.
Let’s just say that it was a Kinsley gaffe
Education is the best proxy we have for intelligence. It’s obviously not exact, but it’s close enough. I say this despite having a GED.
Presence or absence of ability is not a function of race, so obviously the same factors apply across racial lines, though with different levels of effect. People who are more able, do better than those who are not. Full stop. Where race plays a role is in raising the bar for Blacks of equal ability. A White man with average ability is somewhat better off than an identically-endowed Black man. True?
If IQ makes you uncomfortable, look at the brute economics of it. Are rural people better off economically? If they were my theory would fail. But of course they aren’t better off, if they were their population would be increasing not decreasing. By just about any measure you want to apply, rural people have a harder life than urban/suburban people, even taking into account city problems with homelessness, racial disparities, etc… Again, if rural life were better there’d be more people seeking it out.
Let me be clear: I’m not blaming. Quite the contrary, I think DNA and environment define the terrain as rigidly as class defined 18th century Britain. We are not born equal. Everyone does not have the same chance to make it. That whole fable is simply false. Some people get a great hand, some people don’t, and to the extent that American/Protestant morality insists this isn’t true, that is the source of blame and shame. I no more blame a person for their DNA or upbringing than I would blame a brunette for not being blond.
An interesting table buried in a Pew report on this: In 2012-16 educational levels broke down like this:
Urban % with:
Some Coll. 27
Some Coll. 30
Some Coll. 30
Add the Some College and Degree numbers and you get:
Add the bottom numbers:
There is a clear disparity, even when compared to urban areas with large minority and immigrant populations, even with all the problems urban areas have. If you compared white rural to white suburban and urban the disparity would be even more stark.
I suspect this tracks with income and things like life expectancy.
Background: There is limited research on rural-urban disparities in U.S. life expectancy.
@Mu Yixiao: The other habit I’ve run across with IT/CS people (especially the younger ones) is the automatic assumption that everyone has access to a T1 line….
I’ve had to patiently explain to would-be entrepreneurs working in the social media/web space that no, they can’t automatically assume everyone has the bandwidth necessary for Their Greatest Idea Since Sliced Bread.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Good heavens, you are right. My mistake!
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
Over the years I’ve spent a night in 42 of the 48 lower states, traveling on a motorcycle, almost exclusively on blue highways (thank you William Least Heat Moon) and past through far too many towns where the state should give the remaining citizens a but ticket to somewhere. But in each state, I’ve found a few towns that are prospering. There a few decent restaurants, coffee shops, retail, along with professional services. Sometimes it is evident why that town prospers, be it geography or a college, but at times I’d ask myself, why this town?
@Andy: I agree that the stark dichotomy is problematic.
But as problematic as it is, I am not sure that “suburban” adds much (or even density) without other variables being added as well.
@Steven L. Taylor: Not just Hallmark movies..Derek Zoolander came from small coal mining town if I recall.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Sure. My real point, apart from poking a little fun at Hallmark movies is that those movies, like some of the mythology, present a very specific vision of a fairly affluent small town that does not truly reflect what a lot of small-town America is like. Nor do they really get into why a highly educated professional from Manhattan probably isn’t, ultimately going to find peace and contentment in a one-traffic light town (although, they might, of course).
@Steven L. Taylor:
The insidious part of Hallmark movies to me is the recurring subtext that for a woman to move away from her hometown to pursue a professional career can only lead to unhappiness, and that to be happy they need to move back home and become a housewife to some guy who never tried to rise above his “station”.
I think Michael’s sorting argument works for a specific sort of town – one in which opportunities were much greater a generation ago than now.
Some rural towns are like that – the plant closed, the people able to and interested in embracing change to advance themselves left, and the less ambitious ones stayed. I’m not sure this is IQ, per se, but since IQ is a thing that measures a behavior, unlike height, it’s got to be related.
Other towns, such as the small town I grew up in, have not seen that transformation, and maybe have seen a bit of growth. They experience some sorting – people like me can’t do the work they want to do and live there. The effect is much less pronounced, though.
(That small town had pop 3000 when I lived there. There were 63 in my HS graduating class.)
And as an aside. I’m not rejecting IQ as a factor, but it has a lot less impact on life success than you would think, or than people like me would like. Emotional characteristics and habits such as diligence have as big or bigger effect. So a lot of things – behaviors – that we might label as “smart” or “dumb” are better explained by reference to emotional characteristics or habits.
@Jay L Gischer:
My HIGH SCHOOL had 3400 people. A nearby high school to where I live, Granada Hills High school, currently has almost 5300 students.
Talk about different upbringings.
None of that is proof that rural people who don’t move to urban areas are “less smart, less ambitious, less energetic and capable.”
Sure, but the problem I have with your argument is you are attempting to apply that logic in a sweeping fashion to apply to about 60 million people based solely on the geography they reside in using educational attainment as a questionable proxy for intelligence and ability.
Even assuming that education attainment is really a proxy for intelligence and ability (I don’t think it is), then the fact that rural areas, on average, statistically have more poor dumb people than urban areas doesn’t prove your supposition that the smart people move to urban areas and the dumb people stay in rural areas.
Plus there are other possible explanations for these differences. One is age. Rural America has, on average, an older population for a variety of reasons, one of which is that younger people tend to move away from rural areas for more economic opportunity. Older people have less educational attainment, are more likely to be “settled” in a community and reluctant to relocate, or are retired, in which case educational attainment is irrelevant to the reason they live where they do.
I hear plenty of twang just South of you. But we also have a couple fairly populated areas inland that are likely targets for Deep South transplants that I don’t think your area has. I’ve seen a coal roller or two here as well.
Plus, go inland and hit some of those towns and you start to hear some of it.
Must be why I made so much money in NYork doing NYorky things.
The great resurgence of the Klan in the 1920’s was mainly a northern phenomena. The northerners have eschewed the robe and hood, same as the southerners, but have adopted the Confederate flag. Used to be they carried the stars and stripes. I have a hard time imagining anyone in this time sports a Confederate flag without a desire to piss off black people.
@dazedandconfused: Yah, having a Confederate flag on one’s clothing or car does tend to scream out loudly how much of a jerk you want to be…
Sorta like the rightists in the sound trucks with the Nippon flag flapping at all corners who used to circle our block in Tokyo for hours.
Funny. As one of the few rural commenters here, I really don’t have anything to say.
Much ado about nothing.
Way late to the party here but I grew up in a medium sized midwestern town, and it’s hard for most people to appreciate the economic changes that happened there and resulted in the rural radicalization. After WWII, good jobs were everywhere – unions kept wages high and housing and expenses were low. Students in HS in my hometown in 1979 could work at the local factory PT after school and make $18-20/hr with full benefits. This went up if they stayed full-time after graduation – At a time when a large house cost $80-120k! Why go to college?At the same time farmers in the area did well and reasonable costs.
Then Reagan was elected, the economy tanked and the unions went bust. Those factory jobs disappeared or dropped to $9/hr. Costs for running a farm went up but crop prices dropped and smaller farmers were wiped out. After 40 years of stability, in 5 years the entire landscape shifted, and the whole damn thing fell apart. These people didn’t make bad decisions so much as they fell down a well.
In my generation, if you had brains or money (that wasn’t tied to the land) you GTFO and never looked back. If you stayed, you probably had some pride and were looking to blame someone on the outside so Rush and Fox will tell you who to hate.
That’s the exact story of about 10,000 small towns across the country. It’s sad, but true.
@Stormy Dragon: Agreed.
I never had time to weigh in on this part of the thread but did want to agree that educational attainment is not a good proxy for intelligence (or ability). I suspect educational attainment likely tracks better with wealth (both personal and community) more than it does with intelligence or ability.
@Steven L. Taylor: I’d say there’s a very large correlation with the culture you grew up with. If your family pushes education and learning, you’re going to end up with at least a college degree if not higher. My father’s family were farmers–immigrants from Poland at the time of WWI. All of the children went to college. My father ended up as a professor at a Ivy League university.
There’s a reason why we’ve got the trope of the Jewish mother or the Asian mom pushing her children to become doctors and lawyers. Certain cultures will sacrifice like HELL for the kids’ education. Others will not–and then complain bitterly that their kids have to compete with “those damn furriners and joos.”
@keef:..so much money…
Let’s see your tax returns.
I don’t read Thomas Sowell “to get a perspective of what black folks actually think”. I read Thomas Sowell to get a perspective on what Thomas Sowell thinks. He is an educated man in a world with so few who are truly educated. And getting his perspective, along with those of others, on a topic is very good way to form a reliable opinion on a topic.
Then why do you only seem to cite him on topics revolving around race? Or at the very least the only Black person you seem to cite on those topics?
There seems to be an implied connection there that you consider him an extra credible authority on those topics. I wonder what that might be…
@JKB: “He is an educated man in a world with so few who are truly educated. ”
And yet you generally have nothing but contempt for all those educated elite people. Could it be you like Sowell because he’s an educated elite who recites the pap you believe in but uses fancy words so it looks like he’s being smart?
Everybody is but 6-7 missed meals away from revolution. People will rally around whatever symbol seems handiest, believe whoever seems the most confident. We should focus less on the symbols and more on why they are rallying.
I tried to ignore this article and the comments. Will Wilkinson’s use of simple correlation to a analyze a very complex problem is laughable. And then the comments about rural Americans that ridiculed without much insight.
I am the daughter of a man who was raised in rural SE Kentucky and and the wife of a man whose family settled in Arkansas. To this day I cannot understand why some of my siblings, in-laws, and cousins, whom I love and respect, are far-right Republican Trumpists and others are moderate or liberal. Education and literacy varies on both sides of the political spectrum.
Some of the deep-rooted mistrust of government stems from lingering hatred of the English for their abuse of the Northern Irish and the American colonists. There is also a lingering tension between the vision of a Jeffersonian agrarian economy and our present day industrial economy. My Kentucky and Arkansas kin (Swiss, Dutch, Welsh, Scot, Irish, English), in general, wanted to stay put and farm (some using enslaved labor), although many took advantage Andrew Jackson’s push for western expansion. My cousins on my mother’s family (Puritan, Scots-Irish, English, Swiss) were, in general, better educated and willing to migrate for a better life.
These are, of course, gross generalizations.
For example, Oregon and California lured Kentucky and Arkansas cousins to the west coast before the Civil War. Despite Oregon’s pro-slavery posture, my relatives came west for the promise of gold, adventure, ranches and farms, scenic beauty, Mormon teachings–and, perhaps, to get away from slavery. They were assimilated into the western frontier culture. And not to be thrown into the rubbish bin of history are my Puritan cousins who migrated to South Carolina to get away from the Salem witch hysteria. Their descendants joined their friends and neighbors in supporting the Confederacy.
It has been a revelation to learn of the significant diversity of my European ancestors and their religious beliefs.
My father’s ancestors included Catholics, Lutherans, and Quakers, although his kin who remain in Kentucky are firmly influenced by the protestant Bible Belt. Both my mother’s and husband’s families had members who became Mormons and migrated west.
Also significant was the influence of wealthy protestant Scots-Irish and English ancestors as compared to the indentured servants who were Irish and highland Scot.
The Kentucky feuds were, mostly, energized by post-Civil War hatred among those who craved the wealth of their enslaving Virginian and Maryland ancestors and those who were abolitionists. Then a man named James Anderson Burns convinced the grand-parents and parents of the feuding parties to lay down swords for plowshares and create a school to educate their children.
Two of my Kentucky great-uncles played poker during WWI and with their earnings started a typewriter business that earned them millions. They never attended college, but they left the mountains of Kentucky behind. What inspired them to make such a brilliant business investment? I don’t know for certain, but I’m sure it was being exposed to new technology during WWI. I suspect that if my great-uncles were still alive, they would be pro-business Republicans who supported Trump. However, they gave significant financial gifts to the school started by James Anderson Burns. I don’t know how many children’s lives were changed by their contributions, but I do know that my great-uncles’ nieces and nephews highly valued education. One of their nieces earned her PhD and taught at the University of Kentucky.
Some Arkansas kin dispersed during the Dust Bowl. My husband’s father joined the CCC and later served in WWII (he survived serving on two ships sunk by Japanese). He and my husband’s mother chose to be migrant workers–they loved the freedom. The constant moving did nothing to support the education of their children. Only one child received a high school diploma, although my husband earned a GED, two associate’s degrees, and retired as an E9 from the Navy. His cousin retired from the JAG Corps, USA and serves on the Arkansas supreme court. Educated or not, all were talented–indeed, brilliant. Most benefited from the New Deal, but despise social economic benefits, even though some receive SSI. Some support COVID mandates, others don’t. Some express pro-Trump views, but I’m not certain they even vote. I can’t sort out what shaped their life’s choices and views, and probably never will.
Like many from rural SE Kentucky, WWII dramatically changed the trajectory of my father’s life. He met my mother during a Army troop train lay-over in Pasco, Washington. He saw the country and served overseas. Most importantly, he earned GI Bill benefits that enabled him to attend college, receive advanced degrees, and become an educator–while supporting a family. He left the Republican party over Watergate and Iran-Contra. Like many I know who received veteran educational benefits, he had a blind eye about the significance of this social benefit because he believed he earned it through service to his country as a B24 flight engineer. He also held-down part-time jobs while attending college. In contrast, his first cousin–more like a brother–was flown (his only airplane trip) straight from Army boot camp to be deployed at the Battle of Bastogne, had his should shot off, and was eventually shipped back to the US via troop ship. When able, he returned to Kentucky and never left. I can imagine why.
My brother served in Viet Nam. He was always politically conservative (e. g., Ayn Rand, Bill Buckley). A lot of his pro-Trump support stems from the rise of women in the political and business landscape and, perhaps, the loss in Viet Nam. He is not an ignorant person. But I do believe he bears internal wounds that made him receptive to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. He vehemently denies that he is a racist; rather, he believes that white men have been disadvantaged in today’s world. I don’t know if he has ever met a Muslim; however, he supported Limbaugh’s fearmongering about Sharia Law. My brother would rather drop dead than fly a Confederate flag.
I now live in rural SE Oregon, which is mostly white, old, and pro-Trump. There are legitimate reasons why rural Oregonians are angry about the dominance of urban Oregonians in policy- and law-making. I won’t be surprised if my county votes to support becoming part of Greater Idaho. There is a renewed effort to become a 2nd Amendment sanctuary county. We are currently witnessing turbulent board meetings about masking and vaccination mandates and employer rights to fire those will not get vaccinated. Our two state legislators have come out against the mandates. The number of COVID cases is rising sharply. Thankfully, I have not witnessed overt intimidation of people of color or LBGTQ community members, although I hear that it is more prevalent than realized. There is insufficient housing and lots of poverty. But people stay. Many are ranching families; some are professionals working in government, healthcare, and the schools; some are Northern Paiute tribal members; and some are living off welfare and just getting by. Most are ardent Republicans and Trump supporters, but for different reasons. The wealthy ranchers support pro-agriculture policies and low taxes (especially inheritance taxes). The middle-class is highly active by their various faiths (Baptist, Mormon, Catholic) and supporting their children in school and sport. Those living in poverty are generally not educated (not necessary before the timber was all extracted and the ranches had more hands) and rely upon government social programs. I suspect they vote mostly for Trump Republicans–if they vote at all.
Four years of Trump–the Divider-in-Chief–had a significant influence on my community. We did not fracture completely during Bundy occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but the politicization of COVID public heath measures, fear of critical race theory, etc. is taking its toll.
So let’s get down to the real nitty-gritty of Wilkinson’s article: (mostly) uneducated white males who drive trucks with Confederate flags waving in the breeze through-out America. These folks do not find value in government, law, and civil behavior. They value in guns, conspiracies, militias, and intimidation. They would rather follow a huckster (e. g., Amon Bundy, Trump, for-profit preachers and conspiracy theorists, fascists like Steve Bannon like Tucker Carlson) than someone who believes in role of freely-elected representative government and the rule of law. They tend to blame corrupt politicians rather than acknowledge the responsibility of those who voted them in.
In short, I believe Wilkinson has made a generalization of these folks as being motivated by southern culture when actually they are motivated by those who provide simple answers for a complex world and a sense of belonging.
I provide links to two articles to support my views.
The first, “All Theories of History Have to Ignore Historical Events,” by William Hogeland addresses the messy complexity of history.
The second, “Why People Latch on to Conspiracy Theories, According to Science,” by Jillian Kramer addresses why people cling to misinformation.
It discusses the lure of conspiracy theories in a chaotic world, collective narcissism, the role of charismatic leaders, the need to cling a perceived truth even if disproved by facts.
In my view, the lure of authoritarian government and conspiracy theories cannot be attributed only to the influence of southern Americans; it speaks to something deeper and more universal. The Confederate flag may be its symbol, but not its cause. My list of causes includes 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2008 Great Recession, outsourcing jobs, automation, wealth inequality, Citizens United, the influence of social media, the loss of frontier, the gig economy, fear that bettering the lives of minorities will threaten the security of whites, and decades of divided government that keeps kicking the can down the road instead of making laws and policies that mitigate the negative impacts of very complex, hard problems for modern society.
I just randomly remembered Ben Shapiro saying that global warming wasn’t a problem because people would just sell their houses and move, and the guy who Shapiro blocked for responding, “who are they going to sell their underwater houses to, Ben? Fucking Aquaman???”
Is Thomas Sowell still alive? He made quite a career off of being The Black Conservative, but he’s been superseded by Candace Owens etc.
My dad was a Reagan Republican, graduated high school in 1968, immediately started working at a union manufacturing company making dishwashers, for middle-class wages. Voted for every telegenic Republican asshole who told them he was gonna cut Their taxes, too, once They were millionaires. Died asking why my brother couldn’t get a job that would afford rent.
Still alive, although for how much longer who can say? He’s 91
I am contemptuous of the credentialed “elite” persons. Magic parchment an educated parchment does not make.
This describes it quite well, but today, instead of forcing the students to bloom, the universities and colleges create hot house flowers to delicate for the harsh world
@JKB: Thanks for yet another super keen insight into the way the world works today from a century ago.
I hope next you’ll quote from Marks’ novel from the following year in which he warns of the other college dangers of “hazing, smoking, drinking, partying and petting.” Or maybe we could all await the motion picture version starring Clara Bow.
While you seem to have been hawking this little bit of text all over the internet in pursuit of your “I hate elites” agenda for at least a decade now (Econlib? Arnold Kling? Here? Econtalk? Yankee Farm …) you’ve managed to – deliberately I suspect – dissect out one small snippet in a far larger piece that makes exactly the opposite argument you’re trying to peddle it as making.
I’ll give you points for consistency, even if it’s only consistently being, well, you. None for style or substance though … No cheese? We’ll go through then, Mr. Brown.
My suggestion is that folks read it in its entirety. Mr. Marks did indeed have a way with words.
Pale pink skin?
I was particularly struck by the assertion that “most college men do not have college-educated fathers”. That may have been true in 1923, but surely it is not even close to true today.
@DrDaveT: “That may have been true in 1923, but surely it is not even close to true today”
Shut the front door! Are you saying that some of the century-old texts that JKB routinely uses to describe contemporary life might not be 100% applicable?
Would you fly in a plane designed by people who have a lot of Internet reading as their replacement for engineering and physics degrees? Would you drive over a freeway bridge designed by self-educated Internet surfers? Would you let someone whose surgical expertise comes from watching Youtube videos do heart surgery on yourself or someone you love?
That–selective quoting–happens a lot with JKB. It’s almost as if his homespun education didn’t really get into a real in-depth understanding of how to read and cite texts. I also suspect that’s why while he names the works, he rarely links to them. I’ve made it a habit to search them out and read the larger pieces for exactly these reasons.
BTW, I’ll note that the author Percy Marks was an English Professor (one of those darn elites again) who taught at elite institutions. And you’re right HL, he is a hell of a writer. The essay is a delight.
HA! Actually the text is a good reminder of how little has changed in someways from that hallowed time (or at least how little undergrads have changed):
I should also note that based on his comments here, it’s clear that this is a lesson that JKB has yet to learn either.
Most people with pale pink skin aren’t successful either. You mean pale pink skin and parents with a lot of money. The ability of conservatives to get progressives to forget about the class element (ie the extremely large and quickly growing difference between the well-off and everyone else) has been their biggest coupe. Poor and middle class whites have far more in common with poor and middle class minorities than with the 1% of any race, but the conservatives have convinced them otherwise — and progressives are going along with that deception for reasons I just don’t understand.
Look at your comment — no mention of the class they were born into in it, though that’s the single biggest factor in success.
My takeaway from Mr. Marks was that he’s saying that college is not inherently so much a place where one learns to DO, although that is (or can be anyway) one of the outcomes, so much as it is a place where one learns to LIVE. Percy was essentially railing against the tendency to view a LA education in the context of a trade school (which is clearly how JKB views it, IMO). To take that narrow position about it rather misses the actual point of it entirely.
That’s my read as well, which also makes sense considering Marks was teaching the liberal arts at the time (at Brown or Dartmouth).