Friday, March 30, 2012

Southern Culture discussion in email thread

Seth Galbraith writes:

So there are two distinct kinds of very religious states in the USA:

  • Southern type: religion is pervasive, but there are many degrees of religiosity
  • Mormon type: religion is compartmentalized, but it is taken very seriously.

Lance Miller writes:

I like the distinction made back in your original post about Southern style religion.

I've been way busy lately, but a lot of postings....on anything US political or US economic...I've wanted to scream something about how the Southeastern US has always held an antithesis to the American identity and narrative.

During the Revolution it was Tory/British sympathetic. It stood at a cultural standstill while the rest of the US industrialized. It is a place where average or lower economic order people capital H hate socialist/anarchist schemes to distribute goods or status to the poor.

While there are plenty all over the US who think of themselves as Conservative, they are reliant on the Southeastern US as the Hollywood and New York City of their platform...the Southeast is where the stuff is stored in bulk, especially through progressive phases of America.

There, i got that off my chest.

Seth Galbraith writes:

Until recently the South was predominantly agricultural, making the South a target of colonization as much as a colonizing power. Southerners were significant in conquering the Banana Republics of Latin America during the early 20th century. Because of it's very different labor laws the industrialization of the South is essentially a form of "offshoring" labor from pro-union to anti-union states. (And in the long run, just as the world is becoming flatter in a race to the bottom, so the United States is becoming internally flatter and more Southernized - but from the Southern POV, the South is being invaded by Yankees.)

If the politics of the South begin as the politics of the British Empire, then the Plantation tradition may originate in the Ulster Plantation - the colonization of northern Ireland by wealthy British landlords and their protestant minions from all over Britain, but stereotypically Scottish Presbyterians. This started around the same time as the first British Plantation in Virginia. (Note the etymoloigical connection: "plantation" = "colony". The plantation lifestyle of the Old South is a colonization system.) Many of the Ulster colonists ended up coming to America. We call them Scotch-Irish.

In a very crude and stereotypical way you could say that Ulster Plantation = Scotch-Irish = Appalachians = Hillbillies. Virginia Senator Jim Webb and self-proclaimed redneck wrote a book called "Born Fighting" which credits the Scotch-Irish for all sorts of rebellious American ideas like mistrust of government.

There is something appealing about thinking of the South as a colony being developed by rich British merchants and guarded by Scotch-Irish protestant minions who still believe they are fighting an ancient blood feud against the Antichrist in Rome and other popish persons and still waiting for the Apocalypse which was supposed to start in 1666. But this also seems like a huge stretch and gross oversimplification. For example the Scotch Irish included more Patriots than Loyalists (basically the new Scotch-Irish colonists were still loyal to the crown while the 2nd and 3rd generation Scotch-Irish colonists further north were ready for independence.)

Viewed from outside the USA, the "history" of the Southern United States is a comical notion. Americans don't dig up Roman ruins when we lay the foundation for a new shopping center. And we construct things in an ephemeral way (we invented baloon frame construction and ghost towns) which ensures that history never gets started. We are savages and our narrative is an oral tradition that mixes old and new stories.

The stories of the Old South, the Hillbillies and the British Dissenters are all mixed together into a sort of Nashville Cargo Cult which is as much a product of the 20th century revisionism as 18th century imperialism or 19th century conquest. Country music for example is a politically correct, Madison Avenue approved, sanitized and bowdlerized euphemism for hillbilly music. The 20th century romance of the hillbilly is often about the narco-terrorist lifestyle of the moonshiner, drawing a long twisted path connecting the guerilla warfare of the American Revolution with the insurrections of Prohibition Era warlords.

Speaking of which, after Prohibition ended, Eliot Ness and his "Untouchables" joined the Alcohol Tax Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which later became the ATF and the IRS. The ATF (sometimes under the IRS and sometimes under the Justice Department) continued to wage war against hillbilly moonshiners until the high price of sugar in the early 1970's put an end to that great way of life. That's right, the ATF is an elite national police force for reenacting Prohibition with live ammo.

The ATF then turned it's attention to guns, but rather than focusing on guns used in crimes, they went after the low hanging fruit: law-abiding gun owners, spreading misinformation about regulations and then prosecuting gun collectors for borderline technical infractions, and frequently refusing to return guns when the owners were acquitted.

So during the late 70's and early 80's, as the militia movement was just getting started and gun crimes were on the rise, the ATF was doing it's damnedest to make sure all the hillbillies had a new reason to fear and hate the government. This led to the 1986 Firearm Owner's Protection Act, which still didn't keep the ATF from triggering the holocaust of the Branch Dravidian cult in the 90's or selling 2500 guns to mexican drug cartels in the recent operations Fast and Furious, Too Hot to Handle and Wide Receiver (because they are classy like that.)

  • Nashville continually reinvents the Hillbilly as a proxy identity for the American People because we have no History.
  • Colonization does not merely exploit poverty and backwardness. It actively creates poverty and backwardness.
  • Cops are not politically neutral actors who only desire to "protect and serve." In their career-building zeal they can and frequently do escalate violent situations and make insurgencies worse for their own personal gain and glory.

All this suggests that the South and all it's atavisms are not merely accidents of history but significant parts of the social and political structure of America, and that they need to be understood not merely as a reaction to progressivism, but as projects that benefit specific interests, including obviously the music industry, manufacturing and law enforcement, but probably also all the usual suspects who profit from alienation, exploitation and violence.

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