Issue LXIII: American Hypothesis – The Death of the North

15 Feb

This year, I am going to try making a stab at making some hypotheses about the United States and the world.  These have been based on conversations, travels, and readings I have made.  Random facts have come to me from places off the beaten path that I think lend themselves to a pattern.  This issue, I will elucidate my first theory towards American mass identity confusion lays in the death of a regional culture.

The Death of the North

Growing up in the South, I felt a kinship and understanding of places I had never been to in the South.  To Kill A Mockingbird seemed it could have been written in my hometown.  I felt I understood Alabama or Georgia or Tennessee or the Carolinas even though I really hadn’t been to any of these states.

Not too long ago, someone with a thick Southern accent told me about something at work in Ohio and about how someone was coming in from Alabama.  I said, “It sounds like you came from Alabama yourself.”  “Well….” he said, “I am from Arkansas but I have been living in Alabama until this year.”  When I told him I was from Texas, he said, “It is nice to talk to a fellow Southerner.”

He hung up.  I smiled in recognition.

Then I thought, “What the heck?  I have never even BEEN to Alabama or Arkansas.”

In my mind, I thought there must be some sort of inverse in the North.  A “fellow Northerner” feeling or “fellow Northeasterner” or “Midwesterner” feeling.

There really isn’t any such thing.  There is no kinship at all.  No understanding at all.  Within Ohio, people do not have anything in common.  Nor do people in the Great Lakes Region seem to share a certain city they can all claim (to me, it should logically be Chicago).  There is not much interstate or intrastate travel that unites people into a shared consciousness, nor is there any art form or shared metaphor (even as cheesy as a Sweet Home Alabama or Waterboy).  That nod and wink between people of a shared region seems absent.  Was this always so?

How the Northeast Colonized Westwards

A historical first thought would be, what about the Civil War?  What about the Union?  Should that have created a shared memory and mentality that defines them the way the South defines itself (haziness and inaccurate nostalgia notwithstanding).

Well, it seems to me that at least once a upon a time the Yankee moved west from Boston and spread his culture across a large swathe of land.  As they traveled they founded universities like Oberlin, Grinnell, and the University of Kansas.

The New England Colonization Society sent settlers west to fight pro-slavery forces in Kansas.  They were given a Bible and a Beecher Bible (a rifle) to go fight the Missouri ruffians.  John Brown came from Massachusetts lived in Akron and came to Lawrence, Kansas to fight the slavery forces.  Portland, Oregon’s name came from a coin toss between a man from Boston and a man from Portland, Maine.  The Mainer won the coin flip.

This was the social, cultural, and economic geography of the North.  Roughly, interstate-90.

How do you maintain ties to your ancestral land?  You maintain it via education, travel, shared experiences, and marriage with those from your homeland.  When I see the education and travel patterns of President McKinley (R-OH), educated in Pennsylvania and New York, I see that at that time northern states traveled east for education and moved west for business.  Southern contemporaries often did the same, travel to the eastern Southern states for education.

At the Woodrow Wilson’s home tour in Washington D.C., I was told that it was very important for Wilson to have only married Southerners.  He was born in Virginia.  Despite being known as the governor of New Jersey when becoming president, his second wife tried to insist that his portrait in the White House upon retiring label him being from Georgia not New Jersey.

How and why did the northern unity fall apart?  Was it ever that strong?  I do not know.  But the collapse of the historic links between New England and the people of the Great Lakes and the Plains States may explain the vast identity crisis felt in the industrial Midwest.  This identity crisis has been filled currently with authentic anger and vague displacement as reality and prosperity fall apart around them.  This void has been filled by retrograde (often Southern-inflected) religiosity, intolerance, and Tea Party hysteria.

New England’s civilizing educational mission (their “City on a Hill” in Puritan times) has been a historic boon for the social development of the United States.  It was crucial in the struggle to end slavery, labor abuse, and voter disenfranchisement.  This mission has been replaced with fleecing the world with expensive private education to produce a homogenously mediocre “cosmopolitan” class of occasionally second rate writers, third rate politicians, and even worse philosophers and economists and media personalities.  Their obligation to their northern brothers seems dead.

How did northern unity fall apart?  I leave that up to you readers to give me ideas.  But why is a place a place and a region a region?  One thing is for sure for this Texan, the South is a place and the North is decidedly not.

Unless Minnesota decides to run off with the term.


KCUR – “Why Minnesota Should Break up with the Midwest



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