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Living in Plantation America
July 2, 2012 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Southern Values Revived: How Our Elites Have Become Worse "It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are. Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now."

A little over exaggerated and historically deterministic; Jimmy Carter was pretty clearly Southern and the neocons pretty clearly weren't, but a very interesting take with a lot of truth to it. I couldn't help but think of Highland Park here in Dallas the whole time I was reading it.
posted by bookman117 (131 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
see also
posted by Afroblanco at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


@Afroblanco: Yeah, sounds like a really interesting book I'm gonna have to check out. That and the Albion's Folkways book also mentioned in the article sound pretty cool.
posted by bookman117 at 2:09 PM on July 2, 2012


Hi. I've lurked here since 2001, and I finally decided to throw in the five bucks to respond to this. Unfortunately, now that I'm here, I can't think of how to even begin to wrestle with the ugly stupidity of this article. Let's start with this:
"For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic ofnoblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society)."
which succeeds very shortly a sentence pointing to the election of George W. Bush as proof of the rise of a sinister, oligarchic Southern aristocracy who are intent on crushing the life out of the US in order to establish complete, feudalistic control of every aspect of their fellow citizens' lives.

W. was born in Connecticut, went to Yale and Harvard -- after he was turned down by the University of Texas Law School -- and is the latest in a long line of extremely unpleasant Northerners who have worked quite hard at ruining this country to their own personal gain. It might behoove the author to acquaint herself with, for example, the illegal war George H. W. Bush conducted against Nicaragua, one for which I believe the UN has ordered the US to pay reparations (which we have failed to do). These are the actions of one of our proper, blue-blooded, Ivy-educated Northern political scions? What a surprise; the acts of the son resemble nothing so much as those of his father.

Scapegoating the South is one of the ugliest, most divisive things the American left is doing today. It's a favourite of those who ended up on the left because they wanted a tribe to belong to, rather than because they believed in its political philosophy.
posted by samofidelis at 2:15 PM on July 2, 2012 [105 favorites]


with, for example, the illegal war George H. W. Bush conducted against Nicaragua, one for which I believe the UN has ordered the US to pay reparations (which we have failed to do).

But that has nothing to do with the article, which is about the domestic Democratic tradition, rather than the propriety of foreign adventurism.

W. was born in Connecticut

I believe the article is saying that he was an avatar for that value system, rather than an genetic member of it.
posted by spaltavian at 2:19 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


This plays into every liberal northeasterner's ideas of the way the world works a little too much for me to get fully on board. "Oh look, it says here our political opponents are the direct descendants of those awful people who used to own SLAVES! I knew it all along!"

To me the thing that's most interesting about the global elite is the way they seem to totally transcend such base things as regions. Where are the Koch brothers "from"? What about Mitt Romney? At a certain level I can buy them seeing themselves as the true spiritual descendants of the Yankee elites: They're smarter and harder working than the masses (why else would they have so much money?) and thus it's their duty to transform America into the efficient, market-based society it needs to be.
posted by toxtethogrady at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


The wrong rich people are in charge?

Nice try, "right" rich people.
posted by DU at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2012 [57 favorites]


It's a favourite of those who ended up on the left because they wanted a tribe to belong to, rather than because they believed in its political philosophy.
okay, smart guy, what tribe do I join then
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:21 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I see their point on a lot of the stuff about the South. In fact, the older I get and the longer I live in the North, the more I see the South as a warped, quasi-feudal society that seems to in a lot of ways pine for a time before the US was a developed country with a large prosperous middle class.

But if we have to map it to a geographical location, I'd say the new "I Got Mine, Fuck You" ethos is Western. It's all about individualism and the feeling that buying into the social contract is some kind of evil ploy. That plus the gun obsession is basically the ethos of the Old West, isn't it?
posted by Sara C. at 2:22 PM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Many of the people who settled the Western states were refugees from the white slaver south. When they got to the Western states, they set about ethnically cleansing the west of all those inconvenient blacks, Latinos and Chinese. You can read more about it in the book Sundown Towns.
posted by wuwei at 2:27 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sara C that explains why the same stink is coming from Alberta from a Canadian perspective. The old English elites were making life awful for the rest of us forever but they weren't so in-our-faces about their moral right to do so.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:27 PM on July 2, 2012


But if we have to map it to a geographical location

We don't. This article gets it backwards, I think. The Southern elite didn't own slaves because they had an authoritarian ideology of rigorous hierarchy, they had an authoritarian ideology of rigorous hierarchy because they were a slaveowning elite. If the contemporary American ruling class has inherited that ideology, it's not because of some secret conspiracy of Southern ex-plantation-owners, it's because contemporary capitalism is increasingly run like a plantation. (Of course it's more complicated than that, regional culture is a real thing and so on, but I think there's a lot more truth in this economically-oriented simplification than in the article's culturally-oriented one.)

Also:

the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God

I searched in vain for any mention of the names "Washington" or "Jefferson," both in the article and the comments--not because either or those two figures (or any other particular Southerner) represents an insuperable problem for this kind of argument, but because as potential counterexamples they are so brain-hammeringly obvious that you'd think Robinson would say something about them.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 2:35 PM on July 2, 2012 [30 favorites]


As a Mississippian of at least six generations, this article makes me feel like an orc who just sat down at the computer with a cup of warm blood. I'm not addressing her points, at least yet -- maybe I'll come back later if I have time, maybe not -- but if she has a solid point and we of the South did invent being evil, rich and against human rights, then I am uncertain what I, short of ritual suicide, could do to help.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [19 favorites]


Yes, all Southern Sneetches) rich people are one way, all Northern Sneetches rich folk the other and the Northern type consciously kept power away from the Southern kind....

Even if there might be something interesting hidden within the article about different ideas about power (and that is a big if) it is totally spoiled by the hatemongering way in which it is written.
posted by caddis at 2:39 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is the lady unaware that four of our first five presidents were from the slave state of Virginia? This includes the father of our country (Washington), the man who wrote most of the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson), and the man known as "The Father of the Constitution" (Madison). That most of the unscrupulous robber barons were from the north? I really don't see what geography has to do with it.
posted by ubiquity at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you're seeing this as an attack on "the South", you're missing the point. It's about comparative power structures, regional elites that do indeed have certain pedigrees. Not just families, but alma maters, fraternities, law firms, brokerages, local political machines, etc.
I grew up in small-town South (Louisiana), and saw this all around. Local, state, . . .
Now I'm in Louisville, KY, which is much more (in the sense of "American Nations") Greater Appalachian with a strong vein of Yankee-ism among the local elites. And the values among the elite here are very different than the ones back home.
Anyway, I accept that American history (all of the Americas) is a history of warring regions with bickering elites driving much of the strife. Seems to explain a lot.
I will admit, though, that it DOES seem to be okay among a lot of liberal folks to use Southern Culture as a blanket euphemism for any kind of universal dumb-assery. Toward that, check out Redneck Manifesto:How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (from Jim Goad - previously) if you've mind too . . .
posted by pt68 at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


The argument that America has been historically characterized by two competing notions of liberty is a strong one.

Rooting that argument in geography is misguided.

What about all of the factory towns of New England, where business men paid a wage but controlled the lives of the young women who stitched shoes, for instance? The "plantation" vs. "town meeting" distinction might sound useful, but it really just detracts from the better argument: is liberty a communal value or an individual one?
posted by jefficator at 2:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


The tone of voice in that article is generally one I find in the crazy Southern fed antics of people who refer to the "War of Northern Aggression" or opt to write horrendous revisionist histories of the South and to a lesser degree, can't admit that States Rights equals the right to own slaves.

I am suppose to respect an article that ends:

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.

I mean, holy crap!

Now granted, I am a Southern of the Upper South variety, you know, the area that gave us Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, etc...but to single out one region of our nation and claim that it is inherently the most wicked and vile, that it is the root of our problems, is ridiculous. There is no one region that does not have its faults, be it slave labor on plantations to slave labor in factories. Incidentally, all the "Southern" presidents since Bill Clinton have been educated in the North, "exposed" to those virtuous ideas and teachings. A cite to Woodrow Wilson, as one of the Yankee examples, is particularly amusing, as Wilson was born in Virginia, and definitely had a bit of Southern aristocracy about him in how he viewed the world.

The author wants to throw a hoop and a label around the people who she feels are ruining America. I can sympathize, but it's just not that easily done. Arguably, it was "Yankee" industrialism which helped give rise to modern corporations and businesses following the Civil War, and their growing power thrown behind candidates who wish to see them unharnessed and unrestrained which has given birth to the politics that in her eyes, and somewhat in my own, are destroying this country. Ultimately, her thesis just doesn't apply or work.
posted by Atreides at 2:50 PM on July 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


is liberty as divided into "individual" versus "communal" really such a good idea

communities can be evil too!
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:52 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, this article will enrich my next viewing of True Blood.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:53 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's the finance sector, based in NYC, in league with the neo-feudalists of the South and West. The Southerners and Westerners provide the footsoldiers.
posted by wuwei at 2:54 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The map is good but the labels are wrong.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2012


Scapegoating the South is one of the ugliest, most divisive things the American left is doing today.

Thanks for ponying up the five bucks to join the fray.

I've lived in the South most of my life, and unfounded criticism gets my back up, too. However, I thought the article was mostly dead on. We're only a couple of generations out from the horrifying racism that characterized the South in the latter part of the Twentieth Century; one can still find Confederate flags proudly flying, and people referring to the Civil War as "the Northern Aggression". That attitude is bred in the bone, and will take another couple of generations to die out. In the meantime, I'm hoping that the progressives will take stock and realize that they're up against a dedicated and organized faction, and will develop the same steely resolve as their opponents and work to regain power.

On preview: lots of injured Virginians weighing in here; we're not really the target of the article.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:56 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, okay, "Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished", but some of them chose slavery and there was a time when that was felt to serve "the greater good"

@wuwei

yeah, whenever I hear people talk about how NY is a City on a Hill I am like, "Manhattan" and "Wall Street"
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:00 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


DaDaDaDave and ubiquity,
In the books, Virginia has a whole different cultural genealogy . . . as Tidewater, it is seen as more wholly British in influences (including a tiered aristocracy), and the Deep South is described as descended from the British through Barbadian slave colonies (basically privately funded colonies run as mini-dictatorships)
posted by pt68 at 3:01 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, the most enduringly amazing irony of American history is how much angrier Southern whites are that their slaves were taken away from them than black people are that they were enslaved for three hundred years in the first place.
posted by jamjam at 3:09 PM on July 2, 2012 [32 favorites]


@This, of course, alludes to you:
NYC as a base of leftist activism pretty much died when manufacturing left NYC.
posted by wuwei at 3:10 PM on July 2, 2012


Having lived on the East Coast (Connecticut and Washington DC) and the West Coast (Los Angeles) and seen the incredible levels of incivility among a broad spectrum of people there (many people were very sympathetic and well mannered, of course), I have a difficult time believing that the Neo-Conservative Corporatist takeover of America is rooted in the South.

I live in Austin Texas which is sort of a microcosm with very different cultural mores than the rest of Texas, which itself is composed of a tremendous number of mores itself.

It seems to me that this new Neo-Conservative bent has emerged more from Corporations being put in an incredible position of power in the post WWII era. They were given massive projects to work on during the war (and did them very well). Of course this was very profitable for them and so they set about finding a way to maintain this state of affairs. They had a unique bargaining position because, while each corporation’s objectives was very limited by Washington standards (they were after a specific monetary goal based on a contract, order or specific industrial initiative through a government agency or steering committee), the people who hold the levers of power generally have broad objectives. They wield power, but only as a group of people whose individual power is weak but whose mandate is very large, spanning every economic sector and every type of issue. Meanwhile, the Corporations had tremendous funds that proved very effective at shifting the ground in what, by Washington standards, were their very narrow initiatives - making money. These initiatives could easily be hidden.

These groups began to band together and they ultimately realized that they could use a lot of the industrial mobilization techniques created during wartime to create a broader power base - and since they were doing this for a living rather than as concerned citizens, they could afford (literally) to do this in an incredibly targeted and systematic manner, using social science, databases and social engineering as a way to assess and drive the "will of the people" through statistical assessments and carefully setting up wordplay and false situations and perceptions to distract voters away from what they were doing.

Ultimately, this understanding of how to assess and manipulate average voters and groups of voters became more and more sophisticated and these groups began to attack and subvert the very language of politics using hot-button words to distract people from economic issues. During these postwar years, there was tremendous interplay between Corporations and Intelligence Agencies who were buying vast amounts of computer equipment, petroleum and goods in general. These people were moving in the same circles and had a lot of contact with one another and so Corporations learned to work off of the intelligence playbook, creating red herrings, distractions and misinformation as a way to achieve their objectives.

Ultimately, this became “Disaster Capitalism” and the disheartening truth is that Corporations learned that they could make a tremendous amount of money off of a broken society, because when people have their backs to they wall, they are susceptible to being led down a false path. They will also consistently choose an evil if they perceive it to be the lesser of two evils.
So things have become very bizarre (on purpose) and it is disheartening as we watch every sector of our economy from Healthcare to Education to Heavy Industry look more and more dysfunctional and corrupt – which it is.

The ultimate manifestation and fallacy of hypercapitalism is that it is a planned economy. Yes… it is a planned economy. Here’s why: Because most of the goods and services that make up our Economy are made up of commodities in "mature" markets by economic standards, just about everything that we need in life is conveyed through a virtual monopoly as a mature market, by the definition of Michael Porter - Professor of Harvard Business School and author of the business classic Competitive Strategy (Read - NOT a bleeding heart pinko liberal socialist). A mature market is therefore a consolidated market and is composed of two primary companies, one that competes on the basis of quality and the other that competes on the basis of price. Think Walmart and Target. Kmart is a classic example of getting "squeezed" out of the market by a consolidating market (hyper-big box retail). Meanwhile, by Michael Porter’s very own theory, these remaining market players engage in cartels to set prices. Therefore, we live in an economy that is monopolistic and not capitalistic and therefore more and more of a planned economy every day.

Using so called “free-market” economics (in reality there is no such thing as a free market without regulation) and Ayn Randian “Objectivism” as philosophical playbooks, Corporations have whittled away at the idea that there can ever be a “public good” or publicly shared resource. In doing so, they wish to privatize everything and turn it into a revenue stream for those who have money. Labor and knowledge are belittled in favor of capital. A “public good” is cynically seen as just something more to be looted by a profit seeking enterprise and in a devastating twist, this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Look around you – schools, hospitals, railways (Incredible irony there), utilities never should have been profit making enterprises. Because the primary objective of those enterprises should never be about making money. Money creates conglomeration.

Finally, Corporations are incredibly adept at using important social issues like gun control, abortion, feminism, racism, gay rights and now drug policy to be perceived as progressive and contemporary even though their ultimate agenda is feudalistic. This is an even more disheartening thing, to watch many legitimate issues get hijacked by people that just want to make a quick buck so they can live in a gated community or another country where they don’t have to be around they type of people that they pretend to embrace in order to appear progressive.

Meanwhile, in a mental jujitsu powerplay that would make any intelligence agency proud, they have one party that pretends to embrace the progressive causes above, all the while pursuing the one agenda that matters to them - making more money. Meanwhile, the other party pretends to vehemently oppose this "progressive agenda" even while they often secretly embrace it. Welcome to "the Narrative"

Welcome to the Corporate Oligarchy.
posted by Dr. Peter Venkman at 3:14 PM on July 2, 2012 [38 favorites]


To me, the funny thing is that the piece is really about a particular historical subset of Southerners and their actual and philosophical descendents, represented by exactly none of the Southerners here in this thread. The aristocrats are the ones being compared here, the aristocrats of the South v. the aristocrats of the Northeast, and even then those Southerners are made more specific: the British Barbadan major plantation-owning aristocrats, into which group you can't honestly shoehorn Washington, Jefferson et al.

This particular writer is using some pretty broad brushstrokes and some alienating language which occludes her point and maybe the points of the books in question, but the pushback you see in this thread isn't really to the point at all. This is about aristocrats, but it's the people (way) down the ladder who are going to read this as a broad attack on all things Southern and go all cavalier against a conjured host. The tradition of grunts seeking any reason to supply themselves as cannon fodder for an invisible elite probably goes back before the dawn of civilization.

Southern mefites, we're all roundheads here.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:15 PM on July 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


@This, of course, alludes to you:
NYC as a base of leftist activism pretty much died when manufacturing left NYC.


A motivation buried beneath all the twaddle about the profitability of outsourcing.
posted by jamjam at 3:16 PM on July 2, 2012


@wuwei

surely my twitter feed counts for something, though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:20 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yankees are like this, but Southerners are like that, AMIRITE?
posted by rmd1023 at 3:23 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this is a good article, on balance, but I wish that you'd linked to the Alternet source instead of the Salon reblog (though I like Salon too, and they're linked now, I just get hinky about reblogs and wanted to mention it for future consideration).
posted by klangklangston at 3:23 PM on July 2, 2012


Sorry, hit post too soon — I think this is reinforced for me, the reblogging versus source stuff, because so much of that article is based on better books worth reading.
posted by klangklangston at 3:26 PM on July 2, 2012


Yankees are like this, but Southerners are like that, AMIRITE

Somebody said something about aristocrats.
posted by uraniumwilly at 3:26 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the books, Virginia has a whole different cultural genealogy . . . as Tidewater, it is seen as more wholly British in influences (including a tiered aristocracy), and the Deep South is described as descended from the British through Barbadian slave colonies (basically privately funded colonies run as mini-dictatorships)

Native Virginian Florence King explores the demarcation between the Upper South and Deep South in Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, and the split also comes up in Jim Bouton's Ball Four; both books are relics of earlier decades, so this split between the different "types" of the south has been more or less common knowledge in some parts of the country for decades.

I'm still chewing over the Salon piece; I wish the author would have looked at each state's economy and tax base, examined how those state economies are doing relative to the upper south, New England or Cascadia (Washington, Oregon, California), then analyzed how healthy things like voter turnout, educational levels and free press were in those states. In other words, numbers to support a modern argument about a plantation mentality.

(Also, as a Virginian gone Californian, I wonder why it is that so few writers look at the elites coming out of the Cascadia region? There are a ridiculous amount of very wealthy people who invent entire industries here. Surely we're not laboring under the 19th-century bias that civilization stops shy of the Middle West?)
posted by sobell at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


On second read, this article isn't as good as I thought it was, and I think I only liked it because it appealed to my biases and prejudices.
posted by klangklangston at 3:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have a difficult time believing that the Neo-Conservative Corporatist takeover of America is rooted in the South.

The article states that it WAS rooted in the South, but that as an ideology it has spread and taken root across the country. It's not really an indictment of anyone currently living in the South, or from the South.
posted by hermitosis at 3:34 PM on July 2, 2012


The Kochs are from Wichita. Thinking Kansas is culturally part of "the South" is some confused Yankee shit, I tell you what.
posted by naoko at 3:37 PM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


The article states that it WAS rooted in the South, but that as an ideology it has spread and taken root across the country. It's not really an indictment of anyone currently living in the South, or from the South.

Large Scale Heavy Industry in the North was never communalized, nor was it about the public good. Any good book on labor relations will attest to this, although labor did make inroads into helping to create and maintain a middle class. Industry was always a top down affair, governed by individuals who had their own self-interest at heart. LSHI won the Civil War for the North - it won WWII and realized it didn't want to have to sit around and wait for another war.
posted by Dr. Peter Venkman at 3:42 PM on July 2, 2012


The article states that it WAS rooted in the South, but that as an ideology it has spread and taken root across the country. It's not really an indictment of anyone currently living in the South, or from the South.

Um... the founders of the neo-conservative movement were New Yorkers, mainly Jewish. But please do continue to tell me more about this scourge that southerners have unleashed on the nation.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 3:42 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Here is someone for you to hate" always gets my hackles up, regardless of ideological bent.
posted by Mooski at 3:42 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you need incontrovertible proof that the South is culturally, intellectually and probably genetically inferior to the North, you need look no further than ...

... "Southern Rock."

(Someone had to say it.)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:43 PM on July 2, 2012


I love how the critical turning point in this article's fevered historical recounting is the New Deal... In a perfect world, FDR would never have made this fatal mistake and would have instead ensured that the South (+ California!!) stayed an impoverished backwater so that fluffy Yankee kittens could have flourished happily elsewhere
posted by Bwithh at 3:45 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sara Robinson is a trained social futurist

what
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 3:47 PM on July 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


You can tell that a YANK wrote that trash article by virtue of the fact that they posted a mockup Texas license plate first thing. People from the Deep South refuse to believe that Texas was ever a part of the confederacy despite beaucoup evidence to the contrary.
posted by 200burritos at 3:54 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Glad to see that the homogeneity of the country has been firmly established.
posted by mygoditsbob at 4:00 PM on July 2, 2012


In the books, Virginia has a whole different cultural genealogy

Good point. To her credit, Robinson does specify that she's talking about "the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC around to New Orleans." To her discredit, though, her article does almost nothing to substantiate the claim that the problems she lists at the end of the article represent some kind of specifically Southern legacy. I mean, look at the first three things she mentions:
Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.

The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.

The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.
Is there anything here beyond "You know who else tortured people, abused their employees, and flaunted their wealth? Southern slaveholders!" None of the facts she mentions (the South has electricity now! people moved from the South to Los Angeles!) supports this "argument" in any way whatsoever.

I mention these problems not because I want to defend the South's honor--I come from big-hats-and-oil country, not plantation country, so by Robinson's reckoning I'm not from "the South" at all, and anyway I've spent the last decade in the North--but because this article is sloppy as hell.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 4:09 PM on July 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


ZenMasterThis: "If you need incontrovertible proof that the South is culturally, intellectually and probably genetically inferior to the North, you need look no further than ...

... "Southern Rock."
"

Whatever. We don't need you around anyhow.
posted by brundlefly at 4:10 PM on July 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


The existence of millions of African-American and Latino people in the South, along with their legacy of political engagement and activism in shaping contemporary Southern culture, seems to merit only three words as victims in the linked essay. In my neighborhood, MLK is much more important than Lee as an icon of "Southern Values."

And that strikes me as a problem that underlies most of the attempts to reify ideology as regional stereotype. The modern South is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural (more so than my %90 white Yankee hometown, with a historical sundown town on one side and discrimination in state parks a living memory on the other). From state to state, %20-40 are African-American. If you're going to talk about Southern politics and values, you need to look at the bare simple fact that those values are in conflict, and the battle lines are not North/South, they're urban/exurban/rural. They're neighborhood/neighborhood. They're possibly correlated with race and culture, but not determined by race or culture. They're socioeconomic.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:11 PM on July 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


"If you need incontrovertible proof that the South is culturally, intellectually and probably genetically inferior to the North, you need look no further than ... "Southern Rock.""

The hell you say (says this so-Yankee-she-was-raised-in-New-England).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reductive to the point of absurdity. It's not the ugly strains of the tea party that have hollowed out our economy and collapsed the shell, for example. Mitt Romney is not an exemplar of Southern values, nor even of Southern faults. Mainstreaming the nastiest elements of the South is only one of many, many ills afflicting us.
posted by tyllwin at 4:17 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


CBrachyrhynchos: That's a really brilliant point, and one that really hit when I went over to Amazon and read about this Albion's Folkways thing. I get that Anglo culture has always been dominant (to an extent?) in the US, but claiming that all America can be explained by four waves of British immigration is... simplistic as fuck.

Even if you step aside from the race thing, the mere notion that somehow Scandinavians and Germans in the Great Lakes, Jews and Italians in the Northeast, Francophone Cajuns, and Spanish-speaking Tejanos all assimilated completely into the dominant Anglo-British culture without bringing their own values to the table is just utter nonsense.
posted by Sara C. at 4:24 PM on July 2, 2012


Good night what a steaming stinking flyridden pile of an article.
(NC represent!)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:28 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll buy that the rich are becoming every day more brazen in their actions, but this talk of regions is wankery. Wankery, sir!

This is about the one percent line, not the Mason Dixon line.
posted by Trochanter at 4:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The nice thing about Albion's Folkways--which I read earlier this year--was that it didn't attempt the kind of overreach made in this article. Saying the folkways influence modern American culture is one thing. Saying they're the only influence, especially in the 21st century, is ridiculous.
posted by immlass at 4:44 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This book does a lot to explain and expand upon the different notions of freedom that the author mentions. It's the best textbook, well, ever, and well worth reading.

I get why the author wrote this way... but, man, the ax grindiness made it hard to take seriously.
posted by Athene at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2012


I get that Anglo culture has always been dominant (to an extent?) in the US, but claiming that all America can be explained by four waves of British immigration is... simplistic as fuck.

That is not at all what Albion's Seed does or claims to do. For the most part it's more descriptive than anything else. I mean, he spends a fair amount of time documenting architectural styles, vocabulary and speech patterns, and attitudes towards magic and food. To the extent Fischer does make the argument you think he does, it's more nuanced and less ambitious than you'd (apparently) think from looking at the Amazon page. It's a really great book.
posted by asterix at 5:17 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thinking Kansas is culturally part of "the South" is some confused Yankee shit, I tell you what.

really? REALLY??!! Bleeding Kansas? Don't talk to me about "confused Yankee shit", until you actually take the time to learn some history.
posted by Chrischris at 5:46 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You guys make some good points against TFA, but I dunno.....are you also "trained social futurists"?

There are some really interesting ideas in there about how the concept of "freedom" is articulated in our political culture, but I tend to agree that the analysis is tendentious. Also: what about the West? Surely there is a major role for the Western mythos in this kind of explanatory project, isn;t there? Also he whole conservative movement obtained political power by forming an alliance of Southern and Western states, if I recall correctly. This does include, of course, pandering to the Southern desegregationists, and exploiting their dissatisfaction with LBJ, Brown v Board of Education, etc to entice them into the alliance and keep them satisfied. But the Southern element doesn't seem to dominate the ideology; it's the property owning and big business/finance exploiting element of society in general that seems to be at the wheel.
posted by thelonius at 5:51 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Robinson article aside, can anyone speak directly to the quality of Woodward's American Nations?
posted by BinGregory at 6:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Considering how much I'm enjoying Bill Bryson's digression on Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, and Palladian architecture in At Home, I am now DEFINITELY making Albion's Seed my next kindle purchase. I kind of thought it was going to be all politico-historical and full of hackneyed theories about John Locke's experiments with the Georgia penal colony.
posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on July 2, 2012


I'll admit that sometimes, I've succumbed to anti-Southern stereotypes about how scary it is below the Mason-Dixon line.

This article is extremely valuable, if only for showing me how ugly those prejudices are strongly enough that I will try really hard not to do so in future.
posted by corb at 6:13 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The way I've heard it described is like this: there are stupid people everywhere, but the culture of the South tends to promulgate the idea of ignorance as a virtue. People don't want to be seen as thinking they are "better" than their peers (or god forbid, be seen as "uppity"). I'm sure this is a gross oversimplification; any Southerners care to weigh in?
posted by MattMangels at 6:23 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thinking Kansas is culturally part of "the South" is some confused Yankee shit, I tell you what.

really? REALLY??!!


I'm not about to defend this simplistic article, but it's not as tied to geography as many commenters believe. It's about a particular Southern value system that has been exported nationwide, and that plays a central role in our politics. Bible Belt Christianity and country music stations--not to mention Stars and Bars license plates--did not used to be the norm in all rural areas of the US. Today they are. Of course, the Corporatists are in the driver's seat, and of course allegiances have been made (including by famous GOP presidents from California). But that's not really the point. The white-resentment-laden memes and dog whistles used to stir up the voting id on the right has a decidedly Old South flavor. Are you all actually denying that? You do know what the "Southern Strategy" was about, right?

Corey Robins' analysis of the Reactionary Mind is consistent with this view, but he does a better job of not falling into the trap of mere region-bashing. He instead talks about reactionary ideology as historically being about maintaining hierarchy and status, and thereby does a better job of explaining how lower and middle class voters can be lead to vote against their economic interests than, say, Thomas Frank did in What's the Matter With Kansas.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ignorance? Sure, growing up in the South, I have seen the effects of that old rural attitude: you (a man!) only need know enough to read your Bible, sign your name, and do some figuring at market time. But, don't we read of the same distrust of "book learning" described in the memoirs of writers who grew up in blue-collar Northern neighborhoods?
posted by thelonius at 6:36 PM on July 2, 2012


Yeah this is pretty stupid. You can find obnoxious rich people everywhere. It's because their lives are so different they have no understanding of what it's like to actually worry about not having any money or any rich friends or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 6:38 PM on July 2, 2012


I feel like I would have found this interesting if I could have gotten past the framing of 'the northern rich people always wanted only what was good for the poor, but the evil culture of the Southern people has invaded the beautiful North and where before nary a violent cop or a segregated neighborhood could be found, now everyone is as dumb and violent as those people from Alabama.'
posted by geegollygosh at 6:48 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


My gosh.....I'm a 5th generation Atlantan, I'm fortunate enough that both grandmother's went to college on full scholarships (yes, even in the South, in the 1920-30's) I come from a long line of proud, educated Southerners.....I live smack dab in the middle of Atlanta today and the crazy comments in this thread floor me. Is there racism? Is there an old boy network? Sure, unfortunately, yes... but every day is a new day, the south is becoming a wonderful place for people of all races to plant their roots. The only way to kill racism completely is by giving the South a chance. The automatic assumption that we are just backwoods yokels burns me up.....You can find this kind of ignorance ANYWHERE and this attitude and bias toward the South only keeps the people who are trying to make a real change from reaching their goal. And there are lots of people working toward that goal. Now, y'all be nice....give us a chance to show you what we can do.....Although the temp today was 105, we may have to show you tomorrow.....We don't sweat well.....
posted by pearlybob at 6:50 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could have gotten past the framing of 'the northern rich people always wanted only what was good for the poor...

Exactly. Really, really dumb.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:50 PM on July 2, 2012


The Robinson article aside, can anyone speak directly to the quality of Woodward's American Nations?

It's very good, highly recommended. This article is a fairly clumsy way of applying some ideas from that book to a particular political context.
posted by atrazine at 6:56 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


there are stupid people everywhere, but the culture of the South tends to promulgate the idea of ignorance as a virtue. People don't want to be seen as thinking they are "better" than their peers (or god forbid, be seen as "uppity"). I'm sure this is a gross oversimplification; any Southerners care to weigh in?

Moderately self-loathing, lifelong Southerner here:

I dunno. In my experience, we're very good at producing snobs, strivers, toadies and socialites of every stripe, from debutante to dowager. (My horrible grandmother claimed she could smell new money.) Most of them are well (or rather, expensively) educated and a not insignificant number may well vote left of center. In fact, among the "aristocrats," I have found that they mostly resemble their northerly WASP counterparts, except that they wear more seersucker, eat more shrimp and consider membership in a Greek organization a mandatory part of any decent liberal arts education and a measure of lifelong success.

In general, across class and race lines, I find many southerners are much less concerned about appearing uppity than they are about not being rude. Which explains why complete, epic bastards will make you the best coconut cake ever conceived if a family member dies, smile and nod through an thick fog of candy-coated condescension as they comfort you and then go directly home and tell their husband that you're going to hell.
posted by thivaia at 7:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


It is interesting to compare Mount Vernon (Washington), Montichello (Jefferson), Montpelier (Madison), and Oak Hill (Monroe) with Peacefield (Adams, Quincy Adams). One of these places isn't like the others (Hint: it's the one you can see while going by on the Red Line).

I think it's rather obvious that, owing to regional differences, there are two very different concepts of wealth and power on display here amongst our first few Presidents, and I wouldn't be surprised if these cultures continue to shape how elites see themselves with respect to the rest of the world--as gentleman farmers overseeing the activities of their isolated country estates of hundreds (or thousands) of pastoral acres, or influential citizens living within walking distance of the center of a bustling coastal town.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:07 PM on July 2, 2012


There is an anti-intellectualism to Southern culture. But then there's plenty of that in the North, too.

The working class anti-intellectualism, Old Time Religion, knee-jerk conservatism, and identifying against one's own interests is one side of what it means to be Southern, and I think that's the butt of most of the Yankee jokes. Of course it's completely idiotic because the North has its own version of that which is just as predominant but manifests in different ways.

The real problem with the South isn't that most people really just want to drink Bud Lite on Saturday and go to church on Sunday. The problem is with the elites. Which is the part where I (to an extent) agree with this article.

I grew up in a pretty unconventional Southern family. Most of my ancestors were Cajun or Scotch-Irish nobody farmers. And then Mawmaw married a Yankee. A Yankee nerd with the G. I. Bill who migrated down south and decided to pursue a career where he worked with his mind rather than his back like polite Southern nobodies are supposed to be content with. And their son, my dad, decided he wanted to be a doctor.

It is absolutely SHOCKING the degree to which this made my family social pariahs in my hometown.

It's something I didn't really realize until I was an adult. Growing up, I knew we were "weird". I assumed it was an individual sort of weirdness, that we just happened to be an unusual family.

But then I started to realize that we were "weird," as in, an aberration. We were not right. By ceasing to be low class nobodies (and especially since the big cheat code came in the form of an Outsider who didn't know his place), we broke all the rules of rural Southern society.

When my dad started his practice, there were only two families of doctors in our town. Yeah. Families of doctors. There are two last names you can have in my hometown where everyone assumes, from birth, that you will grow up to be a doctor. It's fucking medieval.

My dad doesn't have one of those last names. And thus we were not accepted among the "elites" in town. My dad wasn't invited to join the Mardi Gras krewe. My mom wasn't in the Junior League. I was the school outcast. As a teenager I was often asked where I was from, which is probably the only Southern insult worse than "Bless Your Heart."

And then the really weird shit happened. My parents divorced, and my mom married a guy who is a to-the-manor-born Southern Elite. I love my stepdad. He's a great guy, and he and my mom really love each other. But some of the things that come out of his mouth. I'm not talking about the usual lolRedneck stuff. I'm talking about the worst generalizations in the FPP. The assumptions of privilege based on birth. The talk about "heritage". The equation of freedom with authority to rule, and the assumptions that those without racial and class privilege do not deserve the same rights as others. The sorts of lines that, if they were put in the mouth of Jamie Lannister or Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess character on Downton Abbey, you would think were hilarious scenery-chomping cliches.

I could go on, but I feel like I'd be airing a lot of dirty laundry and also completely wasting the material for my sprawling Southern Gothic novel. Suffice it to say that these people really do exist, and they really do believe what the FPP asserts that they believe. The article gets a lot wrong, but that part is exactly right.

Sometimes generalizations are true.
posted by Sara C. at 7:23 PM on July 2, 2012 [33 favorites]


Ok, 'trained social futurist' is a joke? I'm from the south, so maybe I'm just too dumb to pick up on the humor.

I'm in Alabama. Yes, I'm quite ashamed of my state on many occasions. Many. But I'm also proud of most of the people I know here and choose to be friends with.

This piece is lazy. Super lazy. I half expected Abraham Lincoln to be killing vampires by the end of it.
posted by dig_duggler at 7:25 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was trying to figure it out. I think I'm an 8th generation southerner??? It's still our fault? Wow! I can't even read this shit.
posted by Carbolic at 7:28 PM on July 2, 2012


really? REALLY??!! Bleeding Kansas? Don't talk to me about "confused Yankee shit", until you actually take the time to learn some history.

Yes, really. I'm familiar with Bleeding Kansas. But a) the upshot of that Kansas joining the Union and b) Kansas culture has very little in common with Deep South culture. I have grandparents from Kansas on one side and Alabama on the other. On the Alabama side, we have an ancestor who was a French sugar plantation owner who fled Haiti to South Carolina during the Haitian Revolution (and dragged his slaves along with him). On the other side are people who look like the American Gothic couple and drink "pop." I rest my case.
posted by naoko at 7:36 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The assumptions of privilege based on birth. The talk about "heritage". The equation of freedom with authority to rule, and the assumptions that those without racial and class privilege do not deserve the same rights as others. The sorts of lines that, if they were put in the mouth of Jamie Lannister or Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess character on Downton Abbey, you would think were hilarious scenery-chomping cliches.

But do you really think that there's no one in the North who endorses this?
posted by corb at 7:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's rare enough that it's unlikely that any given Northerner would have direct experience of it, outside of certain rarefied social circles. And even then, it's probably not something people say. And if people do, they're assumed to be assholes of the highest order.

I don't get the impression that my Southern hometown is particularly unusual about this stuff, or that my stepdad is a huge outlier. He's also not all that elite, in the grand scheme. He's, like, a prosperous local business owner. I think you would have to be Rockefeller level, at least, for that kind of shit to fly in the North. And even then, it wouldn't.
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on July 2, 2012


If this author is basing her provocative label on a supposed Barbados-populated crescent of plantations in this country, she has omitted much bigger islands and two even older aristocratic traditions distinctly different from the British--both the Spanish and the French. Plantations along the lower Mississippi were French, not English. The "Americans" came later.

New Orleans today is full of descendants of all those people--a very rich melting pot due in no small part to the French penchant for supporting and educating the children of their liaisons with women of color and to the French and Spanish acceptance of this practice. Another part of heritage is from the substantial number of free people of color and artisans who fled the Haiti slave uprising and became middle class New Orleanians.

New Orleans is also one of those blue dots in a sea of red, like Austin and many university towns in the South but town or gown, some of us are very attached to our stupidity. Much like the Yankees.
posted by Anitanola at 7:58 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


As much as I'd like to blame Great-great-great-great-grandpa Berkeley's weltanschauung, in my view things really started to go to hell when the Apuli, Tyragetae, Costoboci, Burs, Krobyzoi and Suci gave up the fight against the Latifundia system. That was back around the year 100. As Herodotus observed, the Dacians were "the most brave and honest amongst all Thracians" which may be damning with faint praise but their plundering hordes did have seem to sport tatoos and resist hegemony. Then the Imperium shows up with its huge agricultural estates and its fancy cultural apparatus and its extractive industries (silver and gold mining) and screws it all up enough that eighteen centuries or so later Kapuscinski can rightly state that "Romania is situated in that part of Europe which was inhabited by peasant masses, ruled for centuries by sovereign lords, landlords, clan leaders, and autocrats. They held the power of life and death over their underlings. Being themselves the law, they were above the law. They were all-powerful and went unpunished. From ancient times these people were the objects of a blind and slavish worship." Not that it did the Romans much good, mind you, for as Pliny observed, "latifundia perdidere italiam" - the latifundia destroyed Italy.
posted by jcrcarter at 8:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sara C. - I think this has as much to do with with the particular location or your particular family than the south.
posted by Carbolic at 8:10 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


This reads a lot like projecting current trends backwards, which seldom makes for good history. As others have pointed out, the article ignores the Southern slave penitent founding fathers. It also ignores the fact that the "community minded" North produced Harvard and Yale while the South produced the earliest and still some of the best public universities in the country.

There's plenty of problems with the political culture in the South, and I have no trouble admitting that even as a proud Southerner. Historical just so stories don't help matters though.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:12 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


than the south = than it does particularly with the south. Self hating southerner?
posted by Carbolic at 8:13 PM on July 2, 2012


I think you would have to be Rockefeller level, at least, for that kind of shit to fly in the North. And even then, it wouldn't.

I think the difference is just that that sort of thing is coded in the North. So people won't say, "I don't want to live near those dirty so-and-sos." But they might say, "It's such a shame that the property values are going down in that neighborhood." Or, "I just don't think it's the right sort of environment." Or, "I think it's better to have more diversity." They don't say, "I'm rich, so I get to make the decisions." But they might say, "Really, I think it's a good thing that the PTA/advisory council/whatever is made up by those of us who have such flexible schedules, and the time to devote to really learning about the issues."
posted by corb at 8:13 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


corb - Oh, wow. You really are naive.

That sort of thing would be shifty egalitarian Librul talk, in the South I grew up in.
posted by Sara C. at 8:24 PM on July 2, 2012


And, the south is f-up in all sorts of ways just like most everywhere just tired of it being the mefi whipping boy.
posted by Carbolic at 8:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]



But do you really think that there's no one in the North who endorses this?


Here's the thing: an awful lot of rich people are complete assholes. Whether being an asshole is a symptom or a cause (or possibly both) of being rich is still up for debate, but it does seem like a larger percentage of rich people are assholes than in other sectors of the population. I don't have an answer. What I do know is that assholery tends to sound a bit more grandiose when intoned in finely aged, upmarket Lowcountry by some bow-tied middle-aged bloward with a fratboy haircut and a habit of referring to his aging parents as "Mama and Daddy." Blame the Civil Rights era if you must, but be advised that an entitled, high humidity drawl may the asshole factor of a rich asshole comment by something like 100%.


I think the difference is just that that sort of thing is coded in the North.


There are all sorts of coded behaviors in southern culture as well, most of which allow for the illusion of hospitality to persist alongside (and simultaneous to) wholesale rejection. At it's most convoluted this can turn into a near pathological adherence to guess culture protocols played at a macro/community level, in which no one ever gets a real answer because no one would ever be so rude as to ask the question.
posted by thivaia at 9:09 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


May increase the asshole factor, rather.
posted by thivaia at 9:11 PM on July 2, 2012


Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush

Is Wilson a good example? He wasn't exactly a New England-based Yankee. Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia and raised in Georgia and South Carolina. He went to Princeton for college, then returned to the South to study law (one year at UVA and a couple of years of independent study) before becoming a lawyer in Atlanta for a year. Then he got a doctorate in history and political science at Johns Hopkins. He taught at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan before joining the faculty at Princeton, where he became the president of the university. He was at Princeton for 8 years before becoming governor of New Jersey, served two years, and was elected president in 1912.

Wilson's father was a reverend, slaveowner, Confederate supporter, and was briefly a chaplain in the Confederate Army. His "father was one of the founders of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) after it split from the northern Presbyterians in 1861." Over slavery: the Southern Presbyterians supported it.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:50 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is it possible that some Americans are so ready to vilify the present day South as part of a subconscious attempt to distance themselves from the sad story of oppression in this country? An attempt to compartmentalize our common history and credit the crimes of past generations to one fraction, so that they can convince themselves they have no share in America's shame? "It wasn't us, it was never us, it was them. It was someone else who did these things. We would never."

I don't know; this might not be a real thing. I haven't thought about this enough. But it seems that we're usually quite good at seeing the bigotry or callousness in people as a sign of some injury they've suffered -- often self-inflicted -- but we're willing to act as though the South is somehow different, that there is something in the water, or something in their blood, that makes some small -- and it is small -- fraction of people hateful (to say nothing of the history and present day state of race elsewhere in the US).
posted by samofidelis at 11:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The article was poorly conceived and delivered. The South being the whipping boy of mefi is distracting, and the mere existence of the South is neither a necessary nor a sufficient explanation for most of what's presently wrong the US. All that having been said...

When in the last 200 years has the South - as expressed by the votes of it populace and its congress people - ever been on on the right side of history?

When you look at it that way, it's understandable that people keep trying to "figure out" the South.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:19 AM on July 3, 2012


I'm talking about the worst generalizations in the FPP. The assumptions of privilege based on birth. The talk about "heritage". The equation of freedom with authority to rule, and the assumptions that those without racial and class privilege do not deserve the same rights as others.

Wondering: how does he rationalize the fact that stronger "elites", such as the Wall Street ones, may wipe out/dispossess him of the little he got (in comparison with the aforesaid superelites) without batting an eye and that he couldn't even complain, as that very behavior would be entirely compatible with his worldview?

It seems like he believes that the past accomplishment/goals of his ancestors "entitle" him to something, that he should reap in the present the rewards of a past behavior OF OTHERS (if THEY did well in the past YOU'll go to paradise) with no consideration for the fact we live in a moment and not in a "better" past.

That is fear of uncertainity wrapped in a system that makes it absolutely certainy you'll NEVER be certain of anything, unless you're the one and only King.
posted by elpapacito at 1:43 AM on July 3, 2012


I grew up in Charlotte and most recently lived for 7 years in Durham, NC and now Atlanta. Atlanta, where the elites are graduates of Morehouse and Spelman. Large portions of the south are majority-minority: African-American and Native American, of course, and more modernly Latino and African and Asian immigrants as well.

Is there anything more ironically racist that consistently only meaning "white people" when talking about the south?
posted by hydropsyche at 4:30 AM on July 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


The point of my comment (a long way up) about 80% of the first five famous founding fathers being from Virginia was not that they were from the South, or even from a slave state (though in fact, they all owned slaves), but that, whatever they were, they were not Puritans. Certainly not Jefferson. Yes, they thought they had some kind of obligation to leave the world better than they found it, but there are no geographical, religious, educational, or socioeconomic limitations on that idea — or ideas to the contrary.
posted by ubiquity at 5:28 AM on July 3, 2012


This happens every time there is some attempt to do cultural analysis of the South. There are wonderful, big-hearted, tolerant people in the South (as anecdotes in these type of threads will always attest), but the real question is whether they represent the dominant strain of the culture of the South. I think you can reasonably argue that they do not. By any metric, Southern culture has been less egalitarian and democratic than Northern culture. This does not mean that there haven't been great Southern populists in American history, but as a cultural generalization, egalitarianism has been less present in the South than the North, simply because the South was built on plantation slavery and the North was not (although slavery did exist in the North before the Civil War).

The writer in the FPP makes a complete hash of David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed, but he has a good summary of the cultural differences between Puritans and Virginia cavaliers that get at some of the North/South cultural differences alluded to in the article:

Each of these four folk cultures [Puritians, Cavaliers, Quakers, and Scotch-Irish "backcountry" folk] in early America had a distinctive character that was closer to its popular representation than to many academic "reinterpretations" in the twentieth century. The people in Puritan Massachusetts were in fact highly puritanical. They were not traditional peasants, modern capitalists, village communists, modern individualists, Renaissance humanists, Victorian moralists, neo-Freudian narcissists or prototypical professors of English literature. They were people of their time and place who had an exceptionally strong sense of themselves, and a soaring spiritual purpose which has been lost beneath many layers of revisionist scholarship.

The first gentlemen of Virginia were truly cavaliers. They were not the pasteboard protagonists of Victorian fiction, or the celluloid heroes of Gone with the Wind. But neither were they self-made bourgeois capitalists, modern agro-businessmen, upwardly mobile yeomen or "plain folk." Most were younger sons of proud armigerous families with strong Royalist politics, a devout Anglican faith, decided rural prejudices, entrenched manorial ideals, exalted notions of their own honor and at least the rudiments of an Aristotelian education. The majority of Virginia's white population were indentured servants, landless tenants and poor whites--a degraded rural proletariat who had no hope of rising to the top of their society. Not a single ex-servant or son of a servant became a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses during the late seventeenth century. The mythical figures of Virginia cavaliers and poor whites were solidly founded in historical fact.


Note that Fischer is both more nuanced than the writer in the first post, but that he also finds a very inegalitarian strain in the culture of the Upper South, not just the Deep South.

Culture still matters, and it matters a great deal what regional culture our elites have come from. To assert this is not region-bashing, but a truth we must all deal with.
posted by jonp72 at 6:08 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


When in the last 200 years has the South - as expressed by the votes of it populace and its congress people - ever been on on the right side of history?

Check the voting results by state for the 1932 and 1936 elections; FDR got outlandish percentages of the vote in the Southern states. The opposition to the New Deal was mainly (though not exclusively) a Northern phenomenon. The South also had a very viable Progressive movement in the early part of the 20th century as well. The Southern Progressive were almost all horrible racists (Woodrow Wilson is a good example of this), but they were on the right side of things like public education and child labor laws.

It's not a rosy picture either, it's a complicated picture, which is why simplistic analysis is basically useless.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:15 AM on July 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


the only Southern insult worse than "Bless Your Heart."

Visitors to the South should indeed be informed that "well, bless your heart" means "I hope you die in a fire and your dog eats your corpse and that he gets sick from this and dies too"
posted by thelonius at 6:23 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


A ham sandwich on the Democratic line would have won those elections. Those results were more about the relative strength of the party than a statement on the progressiveness of those states.

Air Conditioning and Right-to-work laws are what created the modern south.
posted by JPD at 6:53 AM on July 3, 2012


20 years earlier when Debs and Roosevelt ran. Look at the results by state.

So when the progressive candidates were not Democrats they underperformed in the south relative to the rest of the country.
posted by JPD at 6:58 AM on July 3, 2012


Visitors to the South should indeed be informed that "well, bless your heart" means "I hope you die in a fire and your dog eats your corpse and that he gets sick from this and dies too"

Perhaps indicative of the misinterpretation of the South is the fact that everyone assumes that "Bless Your Heart" is automatically code for dismissive and demeaning thoughts or considerations. It can also be and often times is, an expression of sympathy.

The problem in this thread is that while no one is denying the South is without its faults, there are those who are arguing from that platform but failing to distinguish their opinions from the venomous spirit of author in the article. Likewise, what has not really been better established in this discussion is that the South is not just one word. The South is better described as a collection of smaller regions which may share some characteristics but not all characteristics. My Southern heritage is actually based in Southern Appalachia, additionally I was raised in the Piedmont of Virginia, which means that my experiences and outlook are conceivably different than someone who grew up in a small Louisiana town or a bustling Georgia city. There is no heterogeneous North, there is no unified common South (the South wasn't even unified during the days of the Confederacy). Raised hackles are more easier avoided if we could all be more specific and understanding of the existent diversity of the region.
posted by Atreides at 7:07 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


A ham sandwich on the Democratic line would have won those elections. Those results were more about the relative strength of the party than a statement on the progressiveness of those states.

And a ham sandwich on a Democratic line would win Vermont in 2012, but I don't see anyone claiming that means Vermont is not a progressive state. If you want to deny the South any roll in being on the "right side of history" I guess you can contort yourself to that position, but it requires you to assume that people weren't really voting for the things they were voting for and at that point there's no way for the South to win.

You're also being disingenuous about the 1912 election; large support for Wilson is support for a progressive candidate, even if he was less progressive than others on the ballot. The fact that a Southern progressive candidate out performed non-Southern progressive candidates in the South isn't an indicator of much other than that all politics is local.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:16 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the things this article misses about the South and about most pre-Reagan era elites was the notion of paternalism that drove everything. Yes they thought they were better than everyone and yes they firmly believed their good fortune and wealth were a direct reflection of good breeding and manners. But many socially conscious movements came out of this paternalism. The majority of ladies aid societies throughout the south and north contributed a great deal to the idea of the socially responsible elite.

I was born and raised in the South, and my grandmother, a debutante and card-carrying member of the UDC, was constantly volunteering and donating to the less fortunate. During the Depression, she and my grandfather took on far more hands than they needed on the farm because she couldn't bear to see those poor folks go hungry. Whenever someone lost a job in the county or fell ill, she and her "ladies" would descend upon the family with pies, casseroles, and hot lunches because they were "passing by." These were women who had someone to clean their houses and would still "drop by" a recently ill person's house and clean for them.

Watching her while growing up I learned two very important things, first was that if you have extra and someone else needs it, you give it to them and don't make a fuss about it. The second was that not helping, not returning good fortune back to the community was a sign of poor breeding, low class, and general wretchedness. Taking wealth from the community was okay, as long as there was the return of assistance when needed. And while my family wasn't actually wealthy, we were better off than many folks. As a result, I've helped make more casseroles, fix fences, clean houses, babysit, and volunteer more than I ever realized. It's only as an adult and as those old money elites started to fade away did I start to hear the "I got mine, screw you" attitude.

There's a lot I didn't like about my grandmother and her peers, but their understanding of the social contract wasn't one. They all saw it necessary to help others just because you could. The very definition of noblesse oblige.
posted by teleri025 at 7:21 AM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm being as disingenuous as you are. I'm not saying the south wasn't progressive. I'm saying " Look how many of them voted for Roosevelt" during a time when the south was essentially a one party state is not an indication of their progressiveness, rather an indication of the strength of the party.

Alabama was blue in 1932 because the republicans were still unelectable because of reconstruction and the civil war. And the south stayed that way until the 70s.

If the south really was "progressive" on non-race issues as you claim then you would have seen a change in those voting patterns when the non-democrat was more progressive.
posted by JPD at 7:26 AM on July 3, 2012


And a ham sandwich on a Democratic line would win Vermont in 2012, but I don't see anyone claiming that means Vermont is not a progressive state.

And I'm not claiming "because a state votes with party x they are progressive" so I don't see how there is some argument there. You are the one claiming that actually.
posted by JPD at 7:28 AM on July 3, 2012


And I'm not claiming "because a state votes with party x they are progressive" so I don't see how there is some argument there. You are the one claiming that actually.

Your claim is that you can through out the votes of single party states; my point was that the fact that a state will always vote for the same party doesn't mean that the people of the state don't actually support the party. You can't ignore how people vote, even in single party states. The request was for a time when the South, as evidenced by the votes of its people, was not on the wrong side of history; I provided that.

My claim is not that the South was especially progressive or more progressive than the North, but it did have a progressive movement that made reforms on non-race issues and produced progressive leaders like Wilson and Huey Long. The image of the South as monolithically conservative throughout all of American history is just wrong (at least on issues other than race)
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


My claim is not that the South was especially progressive or more progressive than the North, but it did have a progressive movement that made reforms on non-race issues and produced progressive leaders like Wilson and Huey Long. The image of the South as monolithically conservative throughout all of American history is just wrong (at least on issues other than race)

The South isn't monolithically conservative when it comes to race either. Not that everything is lovely and perfect, but I don't see how progressives can talk about Civil Rights and ignore the continuing activity of multiple Civil Rights movements in the South.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:09 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


My claim is not that the South was especially progressive or more progressive than the North, but it did have a progressive movement that made reforms on non-race issues and produced progressive leaders like Wilson and Huey Long. The image of the South as monolithically conservative throughout all of American history is just wrong (at least on issues other than race)

See I believe this, I'm happy to agree with you. I'm just saying the evidence you are providing isn't strong evidence of that. I'm not agreeing with the premise of TFA, I'm just saying "look they voted for Roosevelt" isn't persuasive.
posted by JPD at 8:34 AM on July 3, 2012


Many of the people who settled the Western states were refugees from the white slaver south. When they got to the Western states, they set about ethnically cleansing the west of all those inconvenient blacks, Latinos and Chinese. You can read more about it in the book Sundown Towns.

For the record, the most notorious such Sundown Town was actually up north - it's Darien, Connecticut. It's the town that Gregory Peck went to investigate in Gentleman's Agreement. (There's a reason Auntie Mame referred to the WASP family she didn't like as "the Aryans from Darien".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


History matters -- history is living. Regional and cultural differences matter. The South is not "the same" as other places, just as New England is not the same. ("It really is different here," can be said about either region.) That there are assholes, racists, selfish elites, and oppressive structures throughout the U.S. does not change this.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:51 AM on July 3, 2012


Yeah, but the bullshit of the article is that there's a spread of some southern ethos that's leading to the craptastic way the rich are behaving these days. If someone claimed it was because of all the jews in banking, how would that go?
posted by Trochanter at 9:10 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


History matters -- history is living. Regional and cultural differences matter. The South is not "the same" as other places, just as New England is not the same.

Sure, and The South is not the same after you cross certain streets in my city. You cross the threshold of two churches that stand on the same block, and you'll find yourself in entirely different Souths. The same is true for groceries and clothing stores. Those differences also matter.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:25 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK this is getting far away from TFA, but the fact of the matter is: since the Southern Strategy, the South, as a mostly homogenous political whole, has voted constantly anti-progressively with very few exceptions. This holds true, certainly on the federal and state level and increasingly on the local level.

So in that sense, it is perfectly legitimate to want to know what is up with "the South" no matter how nice your Southern town or neighbors might be, because the rest of us have to live with the laws that your congresscritters make.
posted by digitalprimate at 10:17 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Southern Tradition: the Achievements and Limitations of an American Conservatism is a fair treatment of the subject, and written when the author was still Marxist. Connecting the traditional Southern political tradition with neoCons and classical liberalism's Whiggery and ultra capitalism is an astonishing error.

" Because the rest of us have to live with the laws that your congresscritters make."

Damn, a democratic republic sucks, doesn't it? I'm sure the anti-progressives feel likewise about your voting habits.
posted by katyh at 10:34 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the anti-progressives feel likewise about your voting habits.

No, they don't because I took my family and moved out of the country in part because of how the South's congresscritters were voting.
posted by digitalprimate at 10:36 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


digitalprimate: So in that sense, it is perfectly legitimate to want to know what is up with "the South" no matter how nice your Southern town or neighbors might be, because the rest of us have to live with the laws that your congresscritters make.

If you want to know what's up "the South," you're going to have to come to terms at some point with the fact that non-Hispanic whites are only 35% of my community.

It's an inherently racist and patently absurd bit of conservative revisionism to talk about the legacy of slavery in terms of the sons of the Confederacy and erasing the descendants of slaves, and to talk about the civil rights movement without the men and women who boycotted and engaged in civil disobedience. And it astounds me that progressives who are otherwise twitchy about erasing minorities from view would choose to do so in this case.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:46 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


...to talk about the civil rights movement without the men and women who boycotted and engaged in civil disobedience.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I was speaking specifically of the voting record of the Southern populace as a majority and of their representatives in particular, something that is not a matter of opinion.

I don't think TFA or this discussion has been about the brave people who have tried to change the voting habits of their contemporaries, although perhaps it should be.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:04 AM on July 3, 2012


I don't know that the classic Southern Strategy can work demographically for another generation. Southern Whites can still swing a fair bit of unearned privilege, and social networks are still highly segregated, but insistence on the one-drop rule makes maintaining electoral majorities a lost battle.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2012


So in that sense, it is perfectly legitimate to want to know what is up with "the South" no matter how nice your Southern town or neighbors might be, because the rest of us have to live with the laws that your congresscritters make.

That's a simplistic yet common view of the issue, and partly due to those stupid blue/red electoral maps and partly due to stupid articles like this. I prefer the maps that break it down by county, or show the vote in shades of purple. It's a lot harder to make sweeping statements about "the South" when you're looking at a map that shows that the urban Southern counties are blue, and the rural middle of the country is very red (all the way up to such non-Southern states as Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, etc.). Look at the red counties in Pennsylvania and western New York and the string of blue counties just in from the coast down in North and South Carolina, and a whole bunch of blue along the Mississippi River.

As for the exact way our current rich people suck, it seems like the unrestrained corporate power and abuses of the titans of finance are more easily traced to the northern robber barons and industry than the southern plantation owners.
posted by Mavri at 11:40 AM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


DaDaDaDave: "I searched in vain for any mention of the names "Washington" or "Jefferson," both in the article and the comments--not because either or those two figures (or any other particular Southerner) represents an insuperable problem for this kind of argument, but because as potential counterexamples they are so brain-hammeringly obvious that you'd think Robinson would say something about them."

The problem is that these two names are tirelessly invoked by people who have very little knowledge of the actual history and ideology of those two people, or the relevance of the hypothetical opinion of a guy who's been dead for 200+ years. Given the number and ideological diversity of the founding fathers, you can find a quote from one of them to support virtually any opinion on any subject. Hell; half the time, the quotes are completely made-up.

Comparisons to Jefferson are like the Godwin's law of discussions about Virginia -- I can't count the number of times that "What would TJ do?" came up during the UVA debacle. It's meaningless noise in the conversation, and I'm frankly rather glad that it wasn't included in this debate. (To make another sweeping generalization, the South really needs to step back from its historic figures, and hold them in a bit less reverence. Speculating on TJ's opinion about building a subway line to the airport is a completely insane argument to be having in 2012.)

Then there's the Virginia issue. As others have mentioned, it's not really a part of the South, or at the very least had some very different influences than the other states. Although parts of Virginia tend to be very Southern when it comes to self-identity, the state's "southernness" tends to vary from "not at all" to "somewhat of a mixed bag." The South is not a monolithic entity, and this is especially problematic in places like Virginia, because even the people who live there tend to treat it as such. The fact is that the NoVA suburbs, Tidewater region, upper peninsula, Appalachia, and the southern border of the state are all extremely distinct from each other, and only the southernmost part of the state actually seems to fit in with the "deep south" stereotype.

There are parts of Virginia that vociferously identify as "Southern," but could be picked up and dropped in the middle of New Jersey with hardly anyone noticing.
posted by schmod at 11:49 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


digitalprimate, I was reading your comment as if you were complaining about the South's voting record affecting the nation as a whole, not Southerners keeping back other Southerners. My apologies.
posted by katyh at 11:50 AM on July 3, 2012


Mavri: "That's a simplistic yet common view of the issue, and partly due to those stupid blue/red electoral maps and partly due to stupid articles like this. I prefer the maps that break it down by county, or show the vote in shades of purple"

These maps are really problematic because they're not weighted by population. Cartograms solve this problem, but are a complete mindfuck to look at.

Even at that, closely-matched states like Florida still don't actually look all that closely-matched.

I'm just not sure that we can use colored maps to make any sort of meaningful generalizations.
posted by schmod at 11:52 AM on July 3, 2012


...and partly due to those stupid blue/red electoral maps and partly due to stupid articles like this.

Well put, Mavri. I heartily agree with your comment about all states being essentially purple. But the potential force of this type of analysis (not well represented by the bad article) is not really about the average voting pattern. It's about a cultural-historic analysis of "values". It's about a specific ethos that, it is claimed, is readily identifiable with the ruling class of the slave-holding Old South, and that is having a major influence on the tone and texture of our politics today.

Much of this thread had really missed this point. It's fine if everyone wants to critique the idea that one can do such a cultural analysis (certainly I can see that it is problematic in many ways), but criticizing the article based on electoral patterns, or the fact that there are many good progressive people in the South, or that Northern bankers and industrialists (like the classical robber barons Rockefeller and Carnegie) are assholes too, seems to me to be wildly missing the point. It's a straw man argument.

Taken to its logical extreme, many of you seem to be saying that slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction, etc. don't have anything to do with our politics today.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm saying that while the southern style of being rich may account for the way southern rich people are dicks, it has nothing to do with why and how the rich from other regions are being dicks. And further, I submit that this former-plantation-owning style of southern rich dickishness has little to do with the dickishness of, say, a southern oil-rich dick.
posted by Trochanter at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


mondo dentro: ... It's a straw man argument.

Taken to its logical extreme, many of you seem to be saying that slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction, etc. don't have anything to do with our politics today.


I think that's a false dilemma. The alternative to biased and irresponsible history (such as that presented in this article) isn't an absence of history, it's a responsible history that accounts for 150 years of political conflict that has shaped the region. And you just can't do that if you adopt the conservative revisionist frame that The South is all about white elites.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:43 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fact is that the NoVA suburbs, Tidewater region, upper peninsula, Appalachia, and the southern border of the state are all extremely distinct from each other, and only the southernmost part of the state actually seems to fit in with the "deep south" stereotype.

The South was divided, generally, between the Upper South and the Deep South. That dissimilarities existed and continue to exist between the two regions is not surprising or shocking. One needs only to look at the manner in which the Southern states seceded to see the division between the regions. You can also break down the other "deep south" or "upper south" states into different regions similar to how you can break down Virginia. Virginia is a Southern state, it may not be similar to every other Southern state, but then neither do any of the other states.
posted by Atreides at 1:19 PM on July 3, 2012


I think it's also really sad to see the amount of people in here who are reproducing the problem while feeling really superior about the South.

The South does tend to vote in certain ways, yes - but how much of that is because they feel a wash of hatred for any of their cultural values? The South is about far more than "racism, y'know."

Let's assume that the South is made up of a culture that came from cavaliers, and the North came from a culture of Puritans. I think there are absolutely some amazing insights that could be had from that - from the cultures that developed. But those cultures are not, cannot, be as simple as "Puritans good, Cavaliers bad."

Let's talk about the work ethos of Puritans, and how the North gave rise to the first soul-crushing factories because work, bone-crushing work, was holier than rest. Let's talk about the Appalachian pockets of Irish/Scottish culture, and how much of that produced a deep beauty and interconnectedness of community, as opposed to the culture of strangers that we've produced in the North. Let's talk about not just how the culture of slavery changed the South, but how the culture of Reconstruction changed the South - how the feeling of being constantly treated like recalcitrant children affected them, or how being forced into poverty affected them.

The South has the influence of slavery, yes. But it also has the more recent experience of subjugation that affects their habits, and I think it's certainly equally important.
posted by corb at 7:17 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that the South's "subjugation" is equally important to slavery in determining politics and habits is absolute bullshit. I can understand wanting to move past a simplistic understanding of Southern identity, but you have to have a real thirst for false equivalency to trot that out.
posted by klangklangston at 9:45 AM on July 4, 2012


I am beginning to think the phrase "false equivalency" is dragged out way too often and abused too much.

What I'm saying: The recent experience of subjugation and the less recent experience of slavery are both equally important in understanding the South.

What I think you're hearing: The South's subjugation was worse than the slavery they practiced.

This is not what I'm saying. I am saying, in a completely morally neutral way, that both of these are significant factors, but slavery is not the sole factor - and to make the sole factor for behavior one in which the South is to blame is probably going to blind you to actualities.
posted by corb at 10:47 AM on July 4, 2012


I love a lot of the issues brought up in the thread, but . . . the original article is about elites, not "common" people. Outside of the history of the elites, sure, there are incredibly complex histories of mass culture, religion, politics, race, economics, etc . . . but what about elites?
Even in mentioning Jimmy Carter, bookman117 actually makes an in interesting point about the elite and that time in U.S. history. Carter was a complete non-elite. What was going on then that someone so far removed from the oligarchy could ascend to the highest office? Well, Nixon and the implosion that was the '70s.
And what of the non-elites who have been president since then? They, it would seem, had access to the elite through either their college affiliations or through direct political courtship.
So, thoughts on the elite?
posted by pt68 at 10:55 AM on July 4, 2012


"This is not what I'm saying. I am saying, in a completely morally neutral way, that both of these are significant factors, but slavery is not the sole factor - and to make the sole factor for behavior one in which the South is to blame is probably going to blind you to actualities."

No, I wasn't hearing you say that the subjugation was worse, I was hearing you say that it was equal, and it's not. You don't have to think they're equal to acknowledge that there are other factors beyond slavery in the South, but in saying that the subjugation of Southerners is "equal" you're specifically making a "false equivalency" because they are not equal. That's not an abuse of the phrase — if you think it is, you are contorting yourself to ignore the obvious, literal meaning.

I do believe that by arguing that the factors are equal, you're diminishing the impact of slavery on the South in a way that both leads to sloppy thinking and ignores the weight of history on institutions, while simultaneously reframing Southern identity with an excuse for some legitimately troubling aspects. It's apologia and it's dishonest.
posted by klangklangston at 11:32 AM on July 4, 2012


I agree with everything said in this essay.

However, I have a natural suspicion of anything featured on a site with a social media toolbar you can't minimize.

So there's that.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:10 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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