Wednesday, September 28, 2016


This is more a link round-up than it is an actual exegesis on the subject, but it's a really, really interesting bit of work.  I think this is one of the biggest contributors to understanding social and political issues in America, and its only starting to be recognized as such; most regular Americans will never have heard of it, and only specialists in their field are really generally aware.  I've read both Fischer and Woodard's books (and they're excellent) and I've tried to keep myself up to date on developments in the field since then as much as I have time and access to the work in question to do so.

Reading this brought to mind an off-hand comment my father once made to me, which didn't really mean much to me at the time, but which in retrospect, now that I understand this, makes all kinds of sense and seems really significant.

With the exception of one thin line of Portuguese ancestors from the island of Madeira (which gets a lot of attention because it's unusual and different; not because it really contributes meaningfully to our culture or DNA either one) our family is almost completely made up of Borderers, or Appalachians to use Woodard's terminology.  From the northern English England/Scotland border area and northern Ireland from the Scots-Irish area (which means that they were Scotsmen living in Ireland, who found themselves opposed both culturally and politically to the actual Irish, most often), they grew up in a relatively lawless area, without much in the way of supervision of king and country.  They were competitive, fractious, did not necessarily seek out conflict, but also did not shy away from it when it presented itself, and had an incredibly stubborn resistance to authority.  Their area had been a border region since time immemorial; between the Romans and the Celtic barbarians to the north of them, between the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria and the nascent Scottish of places like Galloway, Strathclyde, and the Mairches, between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danelaw, etc.  It goes on and on as a rough and tumble frontier region for literally millennia.  It's no wonder that in the early 1600s when it was finally good and pacified by the Pax Anglicana of the Stewart and Tudor kings that my ancestors found the new regime either boring, or stifling, or otherwise intolerable and came to America before the 17th century was over, and once there, made immediately for what was then the backwoods frontier regions of parts of South Carolina and northern Georgia.

My father once said that on moving to Texas, he finally saw some context that explained the behavior, attitudes and cultural beliefs of his family, which despite spending four generations out West, turned out to never assimilate into western culture, remaining stubbornly "ethnic Southerners" until his triumphant "homecoming" to a territory where our culture and values are more the norm (this is less true of Texas than it was even when we arrived; the mass influx of people from both south of the border as well as within the United States due to greater economic opportunity in Texas has greatly diluted Texas' cultural heritage over a matter of mere decades.)  The same is true for me; although I now live in Michigan, I have significant cultural dissonance with the way that Michiganders think and live, in many ways.

It also explains much of my disconnect with the cultural aspect of fellow members of my church, especially those from Utah and whatnot, who are largely the descendants of New Englander Puritans and while massively augmented by immigration from England and Scandinavia, still exhibit a very strong founder effect towards neo-Puritan cultural values.  I frequently find the exhibits of casual busybody-ness and community level petty totalitarianism extremely off-putting.  It's not doctrinal to the church, it's cultural to some people of the church who've grown up in a culture where that kind of thing is tolerated or even encouraged.

In any case, Julie (my wife) sometimes despairs of making of me a civilized person that can be taken to nice places; she often finds me iconoclastic, possessed of an overly "big", over-bearing or even intimidating personality, stubborn beyond all reason, and strangely contentious.  I never thought of myself as any of those things growing up, necessarily, but then again, I grew up in an environment where my native cultural traits were relatively commonplace.  It's only now (well, not only now, but especially now) where my native cultural traits contrast with my environment that it is really obvious.

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