Why Would We Want to Be Red Staters, v. 2

Before I forget, here’s today’s counter agit-prop: “I will never give the UN a veto over our national security, and I will never give the World Trade Organization a veto over our economic security.” Really, Shrum et al., how hard is this?

So, some more on the red state-blue state divide. Let’s look at the blue states. They have a lower murder rate, lower divorce rate, higher marriage rate, lower teen pregnancy rates, and lower drug abuse rates (these data were taken from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the CDC). I think these are all good things. Now, much of the discrepancy has to do with poverty and lower educational achievement (these two are correlated themselves). To say that this directly has to do with ‘poor red state values’ is foolish (and for me, hypocritical, since I think people are poor primarily because they don’t have any money, not because they’re immoral-this will have to be a separate post at some point).

However, when states make a conscious decision to shortchange education, health care, environmental protection, child services, etc., this decision not only has profound effects on the quality of life in that state (see above), but it also reflects the values and morality of that particular culture. To abandon the weak among us, and then to blame the abandoned strikes me as cruel. Joan Didion, in her family autobiography, makes the point that the physical brutality and hardship in emigrating to California (before national railroads) created a political and social Hobbesian culture–if you have to leave someone behind in the snow to die or else the rest of you won’t make it, you better develop a perspective that can cope with this. Of course, one of the hallmarks of a civilized society with adequate resources is that we don’t have to leave the weakest behind, but old habitats seem to die hard (the other hallmark of a civlized society, at least according to the NRA, is the ability to return overwhelming firepower).

I’m starting to wonder if a similar phenomenon exists in the South (and I was raised in Virginia, so I’m not being a snooty blue-stater). Have several centuries of brutal slavery and Jim Crow hardened the South to the point where cruelty is acceptable? In this case, it’s not the result of Hobbesian struggle, but instead the psychologically necessity of learning how to ignore human-caused suffering.

Regardless of the reason, the red states overall perform miserably in quality of life statistics. If we are engaged in a battle over what America will look like, I wouldn’t mind if it looked more like the godless Northeast and less like the “heartland.”

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