Long Weekend, Long Drive
Prayer requests

Big Town, Small Minds

A recent piece in The New Criterion—I can’t even remember which one now—mentioned in passing that the writer had seen advertised in the New York Times t-shirts which read “I Fear Americans.” I thought that was a pretty striking sign of how deeply estranged some of our urban sophisticates are from the rest of the country. I don’t know to what degree they really believe this sort of thing, but it seems to make them feel good to say it. I think a more accurate word than “fear” would be “loath;” that seems pretty clearly the case, but it wouldn’t give the t-shirt-wearer the same sense of moral superiority.

New York City of course has plenty of its own “Americans,” in the sense of this t-shirt, but I suppose they’re used to this sort of thing

This weekend I heard a story of something similar, only this time it was person-to-person, and not an anonymous slogan. Someone I know, an Alabamian, had occasion to be at a gathering of affluent, educated New Yorkers, many of them involved in show business. The gathering was at a Manhattan club for Yale graduates, which should tell you what the socio-economic as well as political profile of the group was. All was friendly except that the Alabamian began to realize that most of the people there thought that Alabama had not changed since the 1930s or so. The revelatory moment came when the Alabamian said to a dinner companion, with whom she had had previous dealings and become pretty friendly, “You should come down and visit us sometime.”

“Oh no,” came the horrified response. “I couldn’t do that. I’m Jewish. I would be killed.”

My informant was hurt and offended, as I probably would have been had I been in her place. As it was, I laughed out loud, and my next reaction was “Didn’t she ever see Driving Miss Daisy?” (which, if you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, involved a Southern Jewish family). That merely to exist as a Jew in the South constitutes mortal danger would come as great news to those Jewish families who have been living here quietly for generations. I don’t say they never suffered prejudice or mistreatment, but for all its faults the southern United States is not a land of pogroms.

This sort of insularity is instructive as well as maddening (or funny, depending on your mood or temperament). What was so striking about this story was not just that the holders of a deep and stubborn prejudice were precisely the people who pride themselves on their tolerance and openness, but that they were utterly unconscious of it, and closed to any challenge to it. I venture to say that the average Alabamian knows more about New York City than the average New Yorker knows about Alabama—after all, we in the provinces have television and movies and journalism from New York coming at us continually—and the average educated Alabamian probably knows far more. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the Alabamian may well be more conscious of what he does not know. He knows that he doesn’t know all about New York, but does the New Yorker know that he doesn’t know all about Alabama?

After reflecting on this for a while, though, I began to take it more seriously. As a sub-rational fear and hostility, it may be having a more serious and destructive effect on the country than is immediately apparent. The point has been made more than once that too many of our elites, too many people with wide influence and power, really do not like the country in which they occupy a highly privileged position, viewing the masses outside a few big cities as savages who must, above all, be restrained, and prevented from practicing the violence and oppression which is their natural impulse. This must account in part for the impression one gets from, for instance, the ACLU, that, where southerners, Christians, and other unenlightened persons are concerned, the Constitution exists mainly to suppress freedom rather than to enable it, and that a Christian prayer at a high school graduation is one small step toward genocide. If these un-liberal liberals were to see such prejudice exercised against a group with which they had any sympathy, they would see it for the bigotry it is.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

When you combine the self-importance of some New Yorkers and New Englanders with the self-righteousness of liberalism/progressivism you get Yankees. And as you well know, Mac, not all Northerners are Yankees.

That meddlesome do-goodism combined with the "we-know-best" superiority is about the most annoying thing in the universe. I've run across it more than once here in Pittsburgh in visitors/transplants from NYC and Boston. Unfortunately it even affects some conservatives.

As annoying as that stuff can be, I think it would be much worse to be Canadian.

Also, easily 80 percent of people I know here in DC and work with are from Michigan. Most of the other 20 are from Ohio.

True, but Canadians just get belittled, they aren't demonized. Although...I don't know, maybe it's more flattering to be demonized. Sort of makes you want to jump up and go RAWWWRRRRR!!! in somebody's face.

I've definitely seen that in some conservatives, Rob. You find some who give a lot of lip service to the heartland, ordinary people, blah blah blah, but at bottom are almost as snobbish as their liberal peers.

I suspect the people we're talking about would find Pittsburgh almost as appalling as Birmingham.

Well, I guess Pride is a common sin for most of humanity. Perhaps people of different political persuasions just exhibit it differently. And we are treated to more of it in our media from the "left."

I am humility personified, of course...

"I suspect the people we're talking about would find Pittsburgh almost as appalling as Birmingham."

As a Northern city of its size goes Pittsburgh gets a rap from liberals as being "too parochial," "not progressive enough," "not diverse enough," "not gay-friendly enough," etc., etc. Yet we consistently get voted as one of the most livable cities in the nation. My own somewhat limited experience with other cities seems to indicate that the more "liberal" they are, the less livable.

Despite their impatience with places like Pittsburgh, I still think that such folks have a special disdain in their hearts for the South, so my guess would be that a Northern city, however parochial, would appear much more attractive to them than any city in the South.

"such folks have a special disdain in their hearts for the South, so my guess would be that a Northern city, however parochial, would appear much more attractive to them than any city in the South."

Undoubtedly. The South of course has its wretched history of slavery and (legal) segregation, which will never be forgiven, though I think at this point the racial situation here is no better or worse than in other parts of the country.

I think the livability of those progressive cities varies a lot, though I don't really have much first-hand knowledge. Seattle seems to be pretty nice, for instance. But though it's "progressive" it's not very "diverse."

I was in Baltimore a few years ago -- which I think would be considered a northern city, yes? -- and I was astonished at the racial divide that I saw: everybody driving a car was white, everybody waiting for the bus was black; everybody eating at the restaurant was white, everybody working in the kitchen was black. I'd never seen anything like that before. I've never been to the southern states (except California), but I can't imagine it could be much worse than that!

Some would make the argument that parts of Maryland are southern, but Baltimore?--no way. You would see some of those same disparities here, but they might not be quite as pronounced as you described. At least, I would be if anything surprised to see all-white clientele in most restaurants--depending on where they are and how expensive.

This was a pretty expensive restaurant, right down in the Baltimore Harbor area. That might go some way to explaining it.

I was disappointed, because I was sort of hoping to see Stringer Bell.

Remember the scene of D'Angelo and his girlfriend in the expensive restaurant? They definitely felt out of place, and as I recall the staff didn't help much.

[SPOILER for The Wire follows]:

One day, when I was either near the end of or had recently finished The Wired, on my way into the grocery store I saw a guy who looked a lot like Bubbles, the cleaned-up version, and was on the verge of walking up to him and telling him how glad I was that he had turned himself around. I think the realization that stopped me first was "no, wait, that's not him" rather than "no, wait, Bubbles is a fictitious character."

I don't think you would see that in Memphis even in the most expensive restaurants. While there are plenty of poor black people, there's also a pretty large and growing, black upper class.


Another instance of the disdain for the South--Recently a news item about the high rate of pregnancy in a Memphis high school has gone national and yesterday it was the topic of a discussion on the Today show. Dr. Janet Taylor said this, "Reportedly, there is no OBGYN in that county," Taylor said. "So when you talk about reliable, accurate information, there's a disconnect that really happens."

Reliable, accurate information. There is no OBGYN in the 19th largest city in the US? Physician heal thyself!


I see I should have proofread. I knew I was going to make a mistake on this one because I was talking about someone else's mistake.


Hardly of the same magnitude, though. Anyway I had to read it over before I noticed it. Anyway I'm not completely awake yet.

Anyway, it wasn't just this one woman, the interviewer and the other omniscient member of the Illuminatae were nodding their heads in the way of the wise listener.


I can certainly see the convenience for a journalist of maintaining good solid prejudices, especially a tv journalist. It would dispense with some of the need for research and investigation, and allow one to concentrate on one's all-important personal appearance and simulation of gravitas.

Which is not intended to disparage those who really work hard and do a good job.

This morning I finished reading 'A Cry of Absence' by the very fine Southern novelist Madison Jones. The book, published in 1971, is set in a small town in Tennessee in 1957. It concerns the murder of a black civil rights activist and the fallout on the town which results from it, esp. as it touches one white Southern family. The book is realistic in the sense that no one is portrayed in a completely positive light. The old Southern upper class families have difficulty distinguishing between their innate conservatism and their racism. They see the challenge to segregation as a threat to all the 'old ways.'

On the other hand the Northern upper class whites, who have come to the town because of a factory that will be built there, are right in their condemnation of segregation, but their condescension and self-righteousness toward the Southerners, along with a do-gooding zeal and a desire to "stir things up" hinders the efforts to move forward racially in a peaceful manner. The various blacks in the story, whichever way they lean, are to some degree stuck in the middle between these two factions.

One character, a white Southern college student, is torn between the two sides. He feels that segregation and mistreatment of blacks is wrong and has to stop, but on the other hand he feels the connection to home and family that the older Southerners perceive is under threat. At one point he wonders if either side really cares about the people involved and that if instead he is part of a battle between two "abstractions."

The story is a tragedy, and as such is in no way a "feel good" read. But it's wonderfully done, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the problems inherent in the struggle between conservative and progressive mindsets.

Thanks, Rob. That sounds like a must-read. I've never read anything by Madison Jones, but am aware that he's highly regarded.

In addition to what you say about the broader conservative-progressive dialectic, this has, as you might expect, some direct personal relevance to me. I'm somewhat in the psychological position of that college student, still. Not that the struggle between segregationists and integrationists, to use the terminology of the times, is at issue any longer, but in the sense of having an awareness that there is still a lot of ambivalence attached to the whole question, as the fruits of integration have not been exactly what was hoped. I really could write on this at some length.

My mother, who was born in the mid-1920s, has lived all her life in or near the same small Alabama town, and she's often talked of the sense of community the town had when she was growing up, and how that has completely disappeared. She's not talking about segregation or being nostalgic for it; she's more or less on the progressive side of our politics, and voted enthusiastically for Obama. But one can't help being aware that segregation was an integral part of the community she experienced, and that it didn't feel so benign to those on the other side of that fence.

One can agree that segregation, and more importantly all the particular forms of oppression that went with it, was wrong and had to go, and still recognize that something was lost. The black community lost a lot of its cohesion as well. There are a couple of memoirs that seem to deal with that which I've wanted to read.

It's me, Mr Contrary...

Personally, I fear Americans, too, and I am not an urban eastern sophisticate. Why do I fear ordinary Americans? Because I have seen them whipped into war frenzy whenever the government and the media unite, as they generally do in the early stages of warmongering. After 9/11 some 90% of Americans supported invading Iraq, which had nothing to do with the terror attacks, and which ended up having no weapons of mass destruction (intelligence about Iraq was screened of anything that would undermine this contention). It is important to remember that the Times, the Post, and other so-called mainstream media were behind the president all the way; they tend to be onboard until the cakewalk becomes a quagmire.
I fear Americans because I cannot comprehend any atrocity they will not support, if the propaganda appeals to their nationalistic pride (most Americans to this day defend Allied tactics of mass destruction, including the atomic attacks on Japan, though they condemn radical jihadists who use the same consequentialist logic for their own attacks on noncombatants).

As for the Jewish lady in NYC who irrationally feared coming to Alabama, while I know that Southerners are sensitive to such slights, and to broad stereotypes about their homeland, methinks this is something that is just natural to humans. For example, there are lots of folks in Alabama and Ohio who would be terrified at riding the New York subways, though the danger is really minimal. But what is unfamiliar and strange is scary to us, however unreasonable it is. I know when I lived in the DC area in the 80s, when the DC murder rate was through the roof, Michigan friends expressed concern that I would walk around the city at night. But even in very violent times, it is unusual for violence to be directed at strangers. Tourism was down in those days, but attacks on tourists were so rare that in the one instance I recall it made international news. (In contrast, if a young black DC man was killed he shared a paragraph in the Local section of the Post).
What you cite may involve prejudice, but that is hardly unique to New Yorkers; I suspect the reverse is also true among Alabamians or Ohioans...

And thanks to everyone for the prayers; I am otay...

Only Americans?

No, of course not only Americans; certainly this is true of most if not all nations. Americans are no more likely to engage in war crimes than say Germans,but as America is, for now anyway, the preeminent power in the world, I think they are the scariest.

A journalist is an intelligent person who chooses to be a professional idiot.

Now, now that's much too broad. I know some very capable journalists, both personally and through their work. But they're print journalists. I'm not sure it's possible to do good tv journalism, even with the best intentions.

Well, Daniel, I don't think that t-shirt is talking about the same thing you are. At least I presume you don't actually walk about in fear for your personal safety at the hands of Americans in general.

And I wonder that you are so indulgent of the irrational belief of the Jewish woman who thinks most people in Alabama want to kill her, and so intolerant of what you deem similar unreason on the part of others. Granted, the woman is not going to start a war, but I think you would not excuse that degree of prejudice in other contexts.

I don't excuse it, but I don't think it particularly helpful to zero in on one example that offends....

And I think the comment by Paul, directed at "journalists", is directed at me, a onetime magazine editor. Maybe I am also oversensitive, but it is beginning to seem that if one contests the common wisdom on this site, so noted by its civility, well, look out...

It never crossed my mind that Paul was referring to you. And now that it has crossed my mind, it strikes me as most unlikely. I assumed he was continuing the complaints about ignorant journalists from earlier in the discussion. But he can clarify that. As far as I can remember you've identified yourself here only by your day job.

Well, even the people you know best will fool you occasionally, but I would be amazed if Paul's statement was directed at you, Daniel. I suppose he's picked up from hanging around here that you edited a magazine, but I wouldn't be too surprised if he didn't even know that. Not to mention that he couldn't really aim that barb at you without hitting Maclin as well.

I suspect his remark had more to do with Mac's earlier statement about journalists.


Hmmm. Well, mine would have posted first if I hadn't had to change browsers to get it to post. ;-)


FWIW, Daniel, I thought you made some very thought-provoking points. I must say, that I don't fear my fellow Australians in the same way, mostly b/c we are far too apathetic about politics to get whipped into much of a frenzy about anything. That's not a virtue, even if it means we're less likely to get on a bad band-wagon. But I don't have a very high regard for the intelligence of many of my fellow Aussies, given the things so many of them say (whether on talk-back radio, in the papers, or in the shopping centres). I don't mean, either, that I only respect the intelligence of those who agree with me - it's just whether or not people can articulate good reasons for their ideas. I fear that most Aussies would be persuaded to support euthanasia, for example.

Also, I have no doubt that Paul's remark was about journalists in general and in no way aimed at you. His remark was sweeping to be sure, but I liked it anyway - very funny.

I can certainly see the convenience for a journalist of maintaining good solid prejudices, especially a tv journalist. It would dispense with some of the need for research and investigation, and allow one to concentrate on one's all-important personal appearance and simulation of gravitas.


I take it as axiomatic that most people do not engage in precise moral reasoning. Rather than beat on them, I look more to the cultural foundations that provide them with their moral bearings. That's where our crisis lies, I think.

And also FWIW, it's not that I totally disagree with Daniel's specifics. It's that I think the indictment as a whole is very unbalanced.

FWIW further, I don't disdain journalism as a whole. My son-in-law is a journalist, and a good one, and there are a number of same on our local paper. What I grit my teeth at is partisan journalism that won't admit it's partisan. And then also, as I mentioned, I'm not at all sure anyone can do really useful journalism on tv.

Maclin, your comment about moral reasoning and culture is very good. Most people in most places are not going to critique the narrative of their time and place. That I consistently have done so is no doubt due to my natural contrariness: I tend to be overly sympathetic to whoever is being villified by the culture at large. Not necessarily virtuous, that, but handy sometimes.
But as for the cultural underpinnings that can counter the tendency for the masses to march off on some evil mission thinking themselves righteous, look at Europe in the last century; with all the Christian foundations and just war traditions it still fell into genocide and mass destruction.
The problem is humanity, not America per se. As an American, and one watching helplessly as my country slips further and further into the abyss, it is the particular form that evil takes here that draws my attention.

And I see I was probably misreading Paul, oversensitive because the last time I disagreed with the consensus here Artie Decor suggested that I was being uncivil...

Well, I'm glad to see us arrive at some common ground here. "The problem is humanity, not America per se." Exactly. And normal human faults are more dangerous in the world's most powerful nation, it's true. Only--let's not lose sight of the good aspects of the U.S., e.g sincere and substantial efforts to bring material and political improvement to the rest of the world, e.g. Haiti and tsunami relief, the challenge (however weak) to China on human rights, etc. Granted, some of this is misguided and even harmful at times and much of it is done in support of overall foreign policy goals, but it's still there.

I think Europe's 20th century turmoil has less to do with the failure of Christians to live up to their calling than with the receding of Christianity as a culture-shaping force. Coincidentally, I picked up Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences again yesterday for the first time since reading it 25 years or so ago, and I'm astonished at the accuracy of its diagnosis. I think today's SNJ is going to be about that.

Well, I don't think you can blame Art Deco on us. I can't remember the last time he posted here before that comment you mentions.


Still, I think that the nation with the largest, most destructive military in all of history may just have a bit more potential for evil than your run of the mill country; indeed it has been our role to pioneer the technology of death, beginning with the Civil War and continuing through Hiroshima and subsequent carpet bombing campaigns. Of course recently the military claims to engage in "precision bombing", an oxymoron, and to try to avoid civilian casualties, even though recent "shock and awe" campaigns have targeted urban infrastructures (including water purification plants, electric power grids, bridges, etc)....

My comment was primarily intended as agreement with Daniel's that, on the Iraq War, the Times, the Post, and other so-called mainstream media were behind the president all the way; they tend to be onboard until the cakewalk becomes a quagmire.

But of course, it was much too sweeping to be taken literally, and certainly wasn't meant personally. I'm afraid I don't know Daniel from Adam, and find it curious that he should take it for granted that I should disagree with him, simply because I comment on this blog without being him, let alone that I would insult him.

Oh, I see, now your observation makes more sense. The herd mentality that often seems to drive the national media is an often-remarked phenomenon. The late Joseph Sobran described it as being like the behavior of a hive.

Still, I think that the nation with the largest, most destructive military in all of history may just have a bit more potential for evil than your run of the mill country;

That seems to be a fair remark.

Maclin, you are right about most people not engaging in precise moral reasoning and where that occurs in a society which has a generally good moral code, it's not much of a problem. The West is still so much better than many other parts of the world in this respect, but it is fast losing what it had. The main thing that gets my goat, is the lack of precise moral reasoning, combined with a lack of basic observation, combined with that self-righteousness which accompanies the New Morality. You described it in these terms:
"partisan journalism that won't admit it's partisan."

Now, self-righteousness is one of those things which is probably also commmon to humanity, but in the Official Narrative, only religious people (i.e. Christians) are self-righteous.

I find I get some relief by beating on such people, so now I guess I just have one more thing to take to confession... :(

At this point I think political liberals take the prize for self-righteousness, partly because by and large they just don't see it in themselves at all. Christians are on the defensive and most sense it. When Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in the '70s he felt confident that most of the nation did in fact see things more or less his way. By the time he died that was not a tenable position.

That is where we disagree; I don't think either side "takes the prize"; I think most everyone in the current knock 'em sock 'em robot roadshow is oblivious to their own self righteousness, including the likes of me.
Everyone could use a big dose of ironic reflection.
As it stands, we have two oblivious enemies, demonizing the Other.

If I lived in the States, Daniel, I might agree with you - if only b/c I think there is *some* opposition to the liberal view, from what I've read. There isn't much here in Oz that I can see.

Maclin, I think TV journalism is an oxymoron.

Let's admit the worst about each other:


Re the self-righteousness: I wasn't clear. I was actually thinking of something more narrow than the general left-right conflict. I was thinking of secular liberals vs. Christians about "social issues" e.g. gay rights in the public sphere where there is at least an attempt at debate. In a society where tolerance is pretty close to the ultimate value, the advantage of moral confidence is all on the liberal side, and Christians end up being somewhat diffident and even apologetic. Within their/our own ghetto they can still be self-righteous, but you don't hear them nearly as often now talking as Jerry Falwell once did. Whereas liberals on these issues are absolutely certain that they are right. Libs in general vs. cons in general, yeah, I'd agree, not much difference.

Zmirak can be quite funny. But I'll have to wait till later to read this.

I was thinking of secular liberals vs. Christians about "social issues" e.g. gay rights in the public sphere where there is at least an attempt at debate. ...Whereas liberals on these issues are absolutely certain that they are right.

Yes, I agree with that. Not a lot of room for "diversity" there!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)