Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Very Old Story

Digby at Hullabaloo has a long and interesting post on Southern exceptionalism. It's worth your time to read it. Here's the concluding paragraph:
It sure looks to me as if they've been nursing a case of historical pique for more than 200 years and that resentment no longer has any more meaning than a somewhat self-destructive insistence on maintaining a cultural identity that's really defined by it's anger toward the rest of the country. They are talking themselves into a theocratic police state in order to "crack the whip over the heads of the northern men" and it's not likely to work out for them any better this time than it did the first time. The real elites in the church, the government and the corporations will take them down right along with us when that comes to pass.
As someone who's from the South, I really don't know what to make of all this (I've been a Yankee for over a decade now). I'm as peeved as any other blue stater about being lectured to by people who claim I'm lecturing them while they pocket the tax money their states disproportionately suck from blue-land. I find the religious right offensive at best, scary at worst.

There is little doubt that the South really does consider itself exceptional. A great essay that points this out (sotto voce) is "The South: Where is it? What is it?" by John Shelton Reed. [Emphasis added.]
It tells us that the South is, to begin with, a concept and a shared one. It's an idea that people can talk about, think about, use to orient themselves and each other. People know whether they're in it or not. As a geographer would put it, the South is a "vernacular" region.

Stop and think about that. Why should that be? Why can I write "South" with some assurance that you'll know I mean Richmond and don't mean Phoenix? What is it that the South's boundaries enclose?
Click on the map links in the linked essay-- Reed uses maps that delineate the South in different ways: where cotton can be cultivated, where kudzu grows, percentage of dentists per capita, or where the word "Dixie" appears in telephone directory listings:

I'll never understand why getting your ass kicked in a war where you fought for the "right" to own other human beings is such a source of pride. My ancestors, dirt-poor hardscrabble Scots-Irish who never owned slaves, didn't bequeath to me any of the feelings of superiority or exceptionalism or religious zealotry that I hear from the contemporary South.

But pointing that out won't help Democrats win the South. I'm not sure what -- if anything -- will. The prairie states, however, are a different matter.

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