Some Thoughts on Division

I heard a professor talking about visiting and getting to know a family in Montana. There were six children in the family and every one of them had served in the military, not because of the economic draft but rather because there is a tradition of military service in their community and family. The professor (from Harvard or somewhere like that) was reflecting on the fact that back at his campus he didn’t know anyone with a child who had served in the military.

Recently I heard Mark Halperin discussing talking with a group of Democratic donors in New York. He asked for a show of hands for how many of them had been to Europe in the past year, and lots of hands went up. Then he asked how many of them had been to Staten Island. Zero hands went up.

Maybe we’ve always been divided culturally, but it seems to be getting worse. Largely gone now are the regional/sectional divisions of the past. Last night we went to hear an American history professor from UNC give a talk about one of his books on the presidency. He said that nowadays (in contrast to the past) affluent suburban people outside of Atlanta vote the same way as affluent suburban people outside of Detroit. Our divisions seem to be increasingly socio-economic.

Among rural people who aren’t highly educated (meaning almost all of us), it seems that the dominant culture not only doesn’t share our values, but rejects and ridicules them. Basic traditional fundamental values like patriotism and religion are seen not as virtues, but indicia of ignorance.

And if this is to be a culture war, where does it leave me? Affluent and educated (at least by country standards), I don’t share many of the biases and political preferences of my friends and neighbors. But country-born and raised, with deep and profound roots here, I take offense at, and want nothing to do with, the contempt and derision being directed at my people by my socio-economic peers.

There is a great old song that asks the question on my mind: what do you do with good old boys like me?

When I was a kid Uncle Remus would put me to bed
With a picture of Stonewall Jackson above my head
Then daddy’d come in to kiss his little man
With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand
He talked about honor and things I should know
Then he’d stagger a little as he went out the door

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head

When I was in school I ran with kid down the street
But I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed
But I was smarter than most and I could choose
Learned to talk like the man on the six o’clock news
When I was eighteen, Lord, I hit the road
But it really doesn’t matter how far I go

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

And in these days, with folks like us cast as the villains of history (scapegoats might be a better word), Mr. Berry has wisdom to offer.

Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Men

Come, dear brothers
let us cheerfully acknowledge
that we are the last hope of the world,
for we have no excuses,
nobody to blame but ourselves.
Who is going to sit at our feet
and listen while we bewail
our historical sufferings? Who
will ever believe that we also
have wept in the night
with repressed longing to become
our real selves? Who will
stand forth and proclaim
that we have virtues and talents
peculiar to our category? Nobody,
and that is good. For here we are
at last with our real selves
in the real world. Therefore,
let us quiet our hearts, my brothers,
and settle down for a change
to picking up after ourselves
and a few centuries of honest work.

Wendell Berry
1997

These are growing pains I suppose–just another of the countless transitions humanity has experienced through the millennia. We’ll all come out of it just fine in the end, hopefully without unduly impoverishing our imaginations and our history.

In the meantime, if I could offer some advice from the perspective of someone who straddles both worlds (often uncomfortably) I would urge people to think charitably. That is, don’t assume the worst about the motives of those on the other side of the fence. In the end we’re shaped by things we have little control over. The vast majority of us want the same things ultimately–even if we disagree on how to achieve them. And for every fault we see in those with whom we don’t agree, we can find plenty of things to praise and admire if we only choose to look carefully for them.

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19 comments on “Some Thoughts on Division

  1. Joanna says:

    Not much to add, and with you all the way. I am still on the left politically, sort of, although I would go for a change in neither direction but one where love and respect is uppermost, but what I do know is that the right is okay as long as they take seriously the need to care for the poor, the widows and the aliens amongst them. Those on the left are okay too, as long as they take personal responsibility seriously too. Neither works if people do not respect and care for others but walk the ideological road without compassion. It took two years in the US to help me understand that. Let’s pray for a kinder future

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Laurie Graves says:

    Because I too come from a rural state—Maine—conservatives don’t bother me a bit. In the town I live in, there’s a good mix of conservatives and liberals—and Lord Almighty—we all get along. I do however, have a problem with the radical right and their hard take on life. In countries where the radical right prevails, the picture isn’t pretty. As Madeleine Albright once observed, if you don’t believe in government services, go to a country—such as Sudan—that doesn’t have any and see how you like it.

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    • Bill says:

      I think we tend to get along much better face to face with those we disagree with than we do from behind a keyboard. I see really good people saying some pretty ugly things on social media and I’m convinced that would never happen in a face to face conversation. I’m also of the opinion that we’re prone to exaggerate the views of those on the “other side.” I doubt there are any people who sincerely want to see the country converted into Sudan or the Soviet Union, for example. I’ve come to believe that our political opinions are to a very large degree products of genetics and social location and despite how often the word “hate” is used to describe those on the other side, I’m convinced it’s almost never appropriate. A mix of conservatives and liberals helps us maintain a well-balanced society, in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, it does seem as though our country is in a culture war right now. There are so many issues that cause major disagreements between good people. I guess it’s why I like gardening so much. Nature is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It kind of sounds a bit religious but it is the season of reflection on my Christian heritage beliefs. I do believe that every day is one day closer to Christ’s return. My challenge every day is to try my best to find the good things in those that I come in contact with and encourage them in those areas. Some of my best friends have opposing views on many things but my goal is to choose to listen and discuss and try to avoid arguments. Some times I just have to let them vent and not say any thing. I have this ability to know if I can discuss things or not with folks. There’s a lot of frustration in people right now with government and political views and some times they just need to vent it out. I’ve always said that I’m a great listener. I’ve learned to actually listen beyond what they are saying and feel the emotion behind the some times not so kind words that are said. I don’t claim to be any thing special but at times the soothing ointment is nothing more than a listening ear.

    Have a great Easter Day Celebration

    Nebraska Dave

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    • Bill says:

      I used to argue for my political beliefs but I have mostly quit. There is good evidence showing that when confronted with arguments that challenge our political beliefs we not only don’t change our beliefs, but we become more entrenched in them. So arguing not only doesn’t change anyone’s mind, it tends to harden their opinions. Of course I still do it sometimes, and when I do I always regret it. I can’t think of anything that is more divisive these days than politics.

      Happy Easter Dave. I’m very glad that Lent is ending!

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  4. Michelle says:

    Thank-you for that last paragraph, and for the three comments before mine. If I didn’t have the blogging community, sometimes I would feel as if I had no community at all, so few and far between IRL are those who DON’T draw a hard line in the sand and dare you to tell them which side you’re on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      It’s sad to see good people (even good friends and family) trashing each other over political issues they won’t even remember this time next year. As I mentioned in another comment, I think we’re prone to say things on the internet that we’d never say in person. And I agree with you about the blogging community. I’ve made some great connections that way, learned a lot, and never had any harsh run-ins with anyone. 🙂

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  5. Daniel Wilcox says:

    On this topic, I strongly disagree with you, Bill.

    “With a picture of Stonewall Jackson above my head
    Then daddy’d come in to kiss his little man
    With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand…”

    You wrote, “The vast majority of us want the same things ultimately–”
    and
    “And in these days, with folks like us cast as the villains of history…”

    Stonewall Jackson killed many thousands of humans as did the other
    conscientious God-following, honorable, dutiful Southerners and Northerners.
    (For better and worse, I am an authority on the Civil War and American
    literature/history, have done the Civil War trails, been to Jackson’s field headquarters,etc.)

    Both sides of the divide are very wrong,
    but tragically the rural, God-following,
    dutiful, honorable, patriotic side is the most wrong.

    It’s us devout honorable ones who cause the most havoc in history:-()

    Bill, I grew up in that–
    wanted Goldwater to win, was a Baptist to-be warrior; let’s bomb Hanoi, etc.

    …grew up in a village of 250 conservative people in Southeastern Nebraska,
    earned my God and Country Award in Scouts,
    worked on a large ranch in Montana, brought stray cattle down out
    of a box canyon with my horse when it was 30 below zero and snowing,
    been to an 3 secular universities, finally got my B.A. after serving as
    a conscientious objector–have lived on both sides of the divide…

    Both do lots of horror and injustice because they mean well:-(

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I appreciate your perspective and thanks for sharing it. My rural conservative “uneducated” friends and family can be maddening at times (and I’m sure they feel the same way about me), but I love them, many of them would take a bullet for me, and I’ve seen countless examples of their goodness. I feel blessed to know them and I’ve met no finer people anywhere.

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  6. Ed says:

    This post really speaks to me having grown up rural, still living rural, and considered affluent and educated compared by my peers. I am also in the middle politically which always makes it tough during elections when I get hammered by both sides for my political beliefs.

    However, I’ve always felt that being in the middle allows one to see both sides without polarized glasses.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I remember someone once saying that if your liberal friends think you’re conservative and your conservative friends think you’re liberal, then you’re in a good place. That makes sense to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. shoreacres says:

    For me, the current issue wasn’t so much politics as religion: how to write about Easter while respecting the diversity of belief among my readers.

    To a certain degree, I think I succeeded. The ones I know to be church-going Christians responded to the Easter references, while the ecologically-minded went a different direction. People often talk about the need to respect others, but I think that a certain humility is just as important. Saying “This is what I believe, and I’m willing to offer it up for your consideration” is much different than saying, “This is what I believe, and you’d be a heck of a lot better off if you believed it, too.” 🙂

    I still giggle at the thought of writing that book: “I Passed For Blue Collar.”

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Political division is just a subset of a much larger issue it seems to me. I cleared my mind of all this by listening to a discussion of the meaning of time. Makes it all seem trivial by comparison. 🙂

      Happy Easter Linda! May it be filled with beauty and joy.

      Like

  8. theburningheart says:

    I have a friend who I seat with, to read and drink coffee, and argue a little bit, he is somewhere in the conservative left in politics, served in the navy many years ago, and old boy like the song and he likes to tell me:

    “The problem with us, is that we defend political positions like we do in sports, it doesn’t matter how lousy our home team is, we root for it, we also like to buy the car brand our father did, look at me I ride this piece of trash car, when I will do better to buy German, or Japanese, but I bought my wife a small German car since I do not want her to be left stranded on the road, as often as I am. We choose political positions, out of loyalty, and we want to believe we are doing the right thing, meanwhile both parties have changed for the worst, and no longer are on our side in almost anything, on the real issues that matter, when it come to deeds, they sold themselves to the banks, Wall street, and the rich, they know our loyalty and take us for granted. I keep waiting for Americans to wake up, or a third party, who would put them out of business, but we are so loyalty stubborn!”

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Absolutely. It is like team sports. As damaging as ideology can be, some ideological consistency among party partisans would actually be a refreshing change.

      Like

  9. I loved the honesty in your post so if you don’t get anything from what follows just toss it aside and look at it as someone attempting honesty in return,The divisions are there for our opportunities to demonstrate “Love/Jesus” in action because one of the dimensions of “love” is the overcoming of separation.

    “But the function of equality is purely protective (the only defense against one another’s cruelty). It is medicine, not food. By treating human persons (in judicious defiance of the observed facts) as if they were all the same kind of thing, we avoid innumerable evils. But it is not on this that we were made to live. It is idle to say that all men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense – if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining – then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loves us not because we were loveable but because He is Love. It may be that He loves all equally – He certainly loved all to the death – and I am not certain what the expression means. If there is equality it is in His Love not in us. Equality is a quantitative term and therefore Love often knows nothing of it.” [C S Lewis]

    Have you ever read “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr, and/or “Practice Resurrection” by Eugene Peterson? From the title of your blog I am guessing you have read the latter? The former gives a very wise perspective of the two halves of life, Justification and Sanctification and indicates that Sanctification (Practicing Resurrection/Discipleship/seeking first His Kingdom), and the righteousness, peace and joy, that come with it come only after we have reached the end of our own efforts at Justification.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and much to ponder. I don’t think there is anything inherently bad about division. The world would be a less interesting place without diversity of thought and opinion. What I’ve been worried about is that we seem to be dividing along lines that are mostly based on education and affluence and that kind of division is dangerous and unhealthy, imho. Hopefully this is just part of the growing pains of moving into whatever is next for us.

      Like

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