Scientific thinking requires that the more outlandish the claim, the more compelling the evidence must be. It is this thinking that rejects the libertarian’s love children: Freakonomics, The Bell Curve, or nearly any book by Malcolm Gladwell.
During lunch, I exhausted my daily newsfeed and started to troll the top hits on digg when I ran across this linked article in which a journalist and amateur geographer explains the Tea Party movement.
Here is the central claim that forms the basis for the author’s entire argument:
We’ve never been a nation-state in the European sense; we’re a federation of nations, more akin to the European Union than the Republic of France, and this confounds both collective efforts to find common ground and radical campaigns to force one component nation’s values on the others.
What a load of crap!
So bad, it’s laughable
The article analyzes the Tea Party from the perspective of the premise of the author’s book. The book’s premise is to divide America into eleven demographically distant regional cultures that are supposed to be as distinct as countries in the European Union. These regions are: Yankeedom, New Netherlands, The Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalacia, The Deep South, El Norte, The Left Coast, and the Far West. According to the author, all American politics is simply reduceable to the alliances formed during the war between “Yankeedom” and “The Deep South.”
Let me show you its flaws with just one example culled from the article:
(Recall that prior to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, the Republicans were the party of Yankeedom.) The presidents [Yankeedom has] produced—John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Barack Obama—have all sought to better society through government programs, expanded civil rights protections, and environmental safeguards.
This quote attempts to attribute the actions of four modern-era presidents to their region.
However, the greatest President of the modern era that has done more in thought and deed to create “better society through government programs, expanded civil rights, and environmental safeguards” is easily Lyndon B. Johnson, creator of the Civil Rights and Medicare Act as part of the Great Society. President Johnson hailed from the very epicenter of “El Norte” (“hotbed of revolutionary settlement”) “Greater Appalacia” (“Intensely suspicious of Yankee social engineers”), and the “Deep South” (the “bastion of white supremacy”) on the author’s map. All three regions are diametrically opposed to all things “Yankeedom.”
Oh yeah, who was the Republican architect of the Southern Strategy that split off the “Deep South” from the Democratic Party into the firmly red column? None other than Richard Nixon, a man who hailed from “the Left Coast” (“the staunchest ally of Yankeedom”). You know the only other American president who spent nearly his entire life on the The Left Coast? Ronald Reagan.
Then you add that both Bushes are from Connecticut (Yankeedom), that “liberal” Clinton is from “Greater Appalacia”. That’s five counter-examples in a data set of nine data points!
I could go sentence by sentence showing a weight of evidence contradicting each of the author’s statements, but I hope you get the idea that cursory critical thinking while reading explains why the author’s article (and book) is laughable. The fact that this was one of the most dugg articles is representative of why I stopped reading digg long, long ago.
I started this blog to write to create context for another to think. Without thinking, there is no insight. Without context, there is no thinking.
Digg is a site without context.
Gettysburg to today
The reality is we’re not eleven nations, we are one nation. That won’t get much airplay because—unlike Freakonomics, The Bell Curve, or anything by Malcolm Gladwell—it’s obviously true.
This nation is not anything “akin to the European Union.” For an exercise, you can read Colin Woodward’s article and then read this nearly year-old one by Paul Krugman that is premised on the opposite: the Euro zone is in trouble because it is not like the United States where federal money flows to the states, the big losses aren’t localized to any particular state, and people are highly mobile between them.
The last point is very true. I myself have found that I have lived a resident of three of the eleven “regional cultures.” I’m sure many of you can claim a similar count. This mobility is what it means to be a country.
My more liberal friends are found of complaining how the anti-government Red states receive more federal money then they give. This is a feature, not a bug. It shows that we’re one nation, indivisible.
Gettysburg to today
When it comes to statism or regionalism, there is only one state that is so statist that their residents have been seen “taping up their state flag inside their dorm room” as my brother put it.
Yet by historical standards this loyalty is pathetic.
If you go to my “home state” of Pennsylvania, there is a small town where the bloodiest battle of the Civil War took place. There you will see a Tomb of the Unknowns. What is interesting is that there is not just one tomb. Instead, the gravesite is divided by states. Each state has a tomb for its unknown soldiers, and then there is a tomb for the ones they couldn’t localize at all.
You fought with your state back then. Back than one’s “country” meant one’s state.
The next time someone refers to regionalism or a red-state/blue-state divide, politely remind them that this question came up once before in our history and we fought a war in which 620,000 soldiers and countless civilians died to settle the matter.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. —Abraham Lincoln