Red-State Values

So, for your Sunday, a rambling sermon. Or rather, a series of at-least-somewhat thematically related links.

First up, from the Web-challenged LA Times (login required; cypherpunk98/cypherpunk works): Creationism in science class angers educators:

Last month, when the board examined its science curriculum, language was added calling for “various models/theories” of origin to be incorporated.

The decision provoked more than 300 biology and religious studies faculty members to write a letter last week urging the board to reverse the policy. It follows a letter from 43 deans at Wisconsin public universities.

“Insisting that teachers teach alternative theories of origin in biology classes takes time away from real learning, confuses some students and is a misuse of limited class time and public funds,” said Don Waller, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Actually, Wisconsin school boards time-traveling backwards to mandate teaching evolution in science class can’t be labeled a “red-state” story per se, in that Wisconsin went blue in the election. But Burnett County, WI, where the Grantsburg school board has been pushing to dumb down the curriculum, went for Bush 51% to 48%, thereby making it a nice little microcosm of the national mood. (Maybe’s Wisconsin correspondent Adam Blust can enlighten us about where Burnett County and/or the city of Grantsburg sit in terms of Wisconsin’s larger political geography.)

But really, as this other piece from today’s LA Times points out, this wasn’t a “Bicoastia-vs.-Heartlandia” election. That perception is certainly created by a casual glance at the electoral map, but the clustering of blue votes on the coasts is merely an artifact produced by the location of cities. What really happened in this election is that city dwellers were beaten by rural/suburban/exurban types. See this item from Princeton history prof Sean Wilentz (again, silly LA Times login of cypherpunk98/cypherpunk required): Hicks nixed slicks’ pick.

This matches my own experience. I grew up in Los Angeles (broadly speaking), and it’s clear to anyone that pays attention to southern California politics that while the densely packed heart of the city is very much Kerry country, you don’t have to go far at all to find yourself in the Other America, where heartland values hold sway.

You see it south of LA in Orange County (which went huge for Bush), a land of tract housing and a certain raised-on-television sensibility that sent me fleeing for my sanity after an ill-considered first year of college at UC Irvine. You see it east of LA in the Inland Empire, where I lived until I was 11, a region of alllooksame developments containing a soulless monocrop culture of ill-educated humanity. They bake in the heat, breathe the city’s wafted-in smog, and give way, on the edges, to a sparsely populated desert known mainly for sex criminals and meth labs.

And you see it north of LA, where you eventually come to the county I live in today, Santa Barbara County, which, were it not for the liberal concentration in Santa Barbara itself, would be as red as Wyoming.

We’ve seen plenty of moving tributes to red-America values over the last few days. But a big part of the mental scaffolding that sustains those values is a lack of critical reasoning, and its replacement by a willingness to be influenced by emotional imagery that doesn’t demand, and in fact is incompatible with, too much thought.

This is the part of the country that went big for the version of Bush presented in the Ashley ad, as discussed in Salon (watching the ad for the one-day pass required for non-subscribers): The TV ad that put Bush over the top. And while I’m not saying that Bush didn’t really feel a father’s protective sympathy during the moment when he hugged that girl, I do think the resulting snapshot provides an inadequate basis for judging his overall character, and his suitability for the presidency.

We of blue America have values, too. But they’re the values of the Enlightenment, rather than those of jihad. And thanks in part to the cynical calculations of people like Karl Rove, they’re in jeopardy. See this opinion piece by historian Garry Wills: The day the Enlightenment went out.

America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values – critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed “a candid world,” as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush’s supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.

The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies.

Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.

I’m running out of links for today’s sermon, but I can’t give you my benediction and let you go without this item from LA Times editor Michael Kinsley (once again, cypherpunk98/cypherpunk login required): Am I blue?

There’s just one little request I have. If it’s not too much trouble, of course. Call me profoundly misguided if you want. Call me immoral if you must. But could you please stop calling me arrogant and elitist?

I mean, look at it this way. (If you don’t mind, that is.) It’s true that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose and where gay relationships have civil equality with straight ones. And you want to live in a society where the opposite is true. These are some of those conflicting values everyone is talking about. But at least my values — as deplorable as I’m sure they are — don’t involve any direct imposition on you. We don’t want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?

We on my side of the great divide don’t, for the most part, believe that our values are direct orders from God. We don’t claim that they are immutable and beyond argument. We are, if anything, crippled by reason and open-mindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist? Which is more contemptuous of people who disagree?

Anyway, we’ve now got the government we collectively deserve. And may a merciful deity grant us that the resulting lessons in the efficacy of reason over feeling not be too painful.

In the meantime, for you in red America, please take a moment to think about your kids’ intellectual needs. Maybe when you’re granting their letters-to-Santa wishes for the latest first-person shooter for the Xbox, you could throw in something with a little more practical educational value. A chemistry set, maybe.

Okay; I’m done. Go with God, and peace be with you.

4 Responses to “Red-State Values”

  1. brayden Says:

    Ooh, that Kinsley editorial is great. Nothing irritates a loser (and I mean that in the kindest possible way) more than being told that he/she is elitist.

  2. Adam Says:

    We’re living in a new world. (Even in Wisconsin.) Your churn and loom best be silent on the Sabbath, Goodman.

  3. Patriot Says:

    What happens to your famous liberal “tolerance” when it comes time to teach life-origin philosophy?

    (it’s all philosophy anyway, not science, because biogenesis, spontaneous generation, light/dark division and the Big Bang cannot be observed or tested in controlled experiments)

  4. Patriot Says:

    This proves that even though the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy doesn’t value tolerance as a virtue, it is more tolerant than you are.

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