Common wisdom seems to hold that, come November, Americans will need to make a choice between two radically different ideologies about the use and size of our federal government. Now, I can read a map. I see red states in the hinterland, and blue states on the edges (mostly). And I know that blue means cities, and red means fly-over farmland. And I realize that blue means big, and red means remove yourself from my property. But why is this so? What is it about sharing space with many people that makes you desire a larger hand in your healthcare, and, conversely, why do open ranges make you regard government as slightly demonic?
At first, I considered that the difference lay in the types of people who occupied farms and cities. That farmers were made up of the last vestiges of that pioneering spirit, that can-do principle that founded this vast land. That they saw little need for oversight, just as their forebears had carved themselves homesteads out of wilderness despite a lack of government to help them along.
But that simple explanation didn’t suffice. That easy answer made it seem, in contrast, as though city dwellers were not doers and shakers; that large populations somehow sucked all initiative out of individuals. And I know that’s not the case. After all, the Founding Fathers themselves were city folk, relatively speaking. Not one of them trudged back from his sod house in Nebraska to cast his vote for liberty. True, some of them had plantations, but they were on previously tilled soil. And some, like Benjamin Franklin, were scions of the largest cities around. So it wasn’t necessarily pioneer spirit that infused them with the lust for liberty. In fact, it takes a fair bit of learning to create a new form of government—learning that comes only from the resources that are available to city folk.
So what is the difference between city and country? Why are farmers so dead set on protecting their own, while urbanites prefer to look to others for protection? And is there any way to reconcile the two?
As for the last question, I don’t know if there is a quick and easy answer, for if our natures are at opposite ends of the spectrum, we may be consigned to eternal seesawing. But I do have some insight into the first two, and it has to do with the nature of community and the role of religion in society.
In rural America, it is likely that in a particular community: 1) the people who live there were born and raised there, 2) the members know and/or are related to most of the other people who live there, 3) most people attend church of some kind, and 4) multiple generations of families live there.
It is more likely in cities that: 1) the people who live there were not born and raised there, 2) the citizens do not know/are not related to most of the other people who live there, 3) a fair few of the citizens do not attend church of any kind, and 4) multiple generations of a family are separated.
Looking at the situation in this way, some things become immediately obvious. If it takes a village to raise a child, that village is still pretty much well in place in rural areas. But that is not necessarily the case in the city. Take, for example, the recent strike by the Chicago teachers. That strike left a lot of parents scrambling for child care, because they did not have other resources to turn to. For most, their only option is to use the government-provided babysitting service in the schools.
In contrast, in rural areas, there would likely be multiple resources: Grandma, the sister-in-law who’s home with her toddler, the neighbor who watches three other children but says, “One more isn’t any bother, hon.” The church might even open its doors for short term day care. There is no need for government intervention, because the community is there to pitch in.
There are numerous other examples of how a community that is a community can step up to help its members in times of trouble, from rodeos to bake sales to church socials to a timely visit from a pastor. I’m not saying that rural communities are heaven on earth, or that no one who lives in a city has access to a support network that isn’t government-supported. I’m merely pointing out tendencies between the two that may explain some of the voting differences between the coasts and the flyover states.
So, what, if anything do we do about it? Do we appease the farmers, and cut off most support for those who live in cities? Or do we do the opposite, recognize that city dwellers don’t have access to the same resources as farmers do, and acknowledge that it is our job as fellow citizens to help out those who need it? Or some combination of the two?
I do see some hope in, what else, the internet. Some sad stories tend to go viral, like the poor bus monitor who was bullied by the students on the bus. Sympathetic folks ended up pledging somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000 to assuage her hurt feelings. If we could come up with some mechanism that would tone down the level of giving for one person, but increase the support for people overall, we might be able to reduce the level of reliance on the government. Sort of what charities attempt now, except they do not seem to be able to amass the necessary resources to help everyone out.
It may be, some one hundred years or so from now, that our descendants will look back at these tumultuous times with pity, and wonder how we ever survived ourselves. That is, maybe we just keep struggling through until some answer just seems to be right. I’m sure that by then, though, some other problem that we can’t even foresee right now will have cropped up.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is that either side demonizing the other is not going to provide any real answers.