A wide range of opinion exists concerning America's increasing political,religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. Some hail it as invigorating renewal of a declining "old order" and others are equally vociferous in their condemnation of what they see as threatening trends undermining a cherished past ideal (imagined if not ever having fully existed). For example, one can view the recent influx of "vigorous" immigrants, legal and illegal, as a sorely needed and healthy renewal of an effete, exhausted culture or a dilution/corruption of a supposed national purity and unity.
There have always been sharp divisions and threats to the established order in the American experience since colonial days. The colonists, for example, barely managed to hold their competing interest groups together in fighting the War for Independence and forming a new Federal government. Everything nearly fell irreparably apart in the Civil War. Putting the broken pieces back together took perhaps a century at least (e.g., restoring/securing civil rights). We survived the severe economic dislocations of the Great Depression by the proverbial "skin of our teeth." Our current national "politics" are as turbulent, if not more so, as those in earlier historical periods.
A recently published book by journalist Colin Woodward examines, from his distinctive point of view, the current state of divisions/groupings in our culture. It's titled American Nations: Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Viking Press, 2011). Given the increasing mobility, geographic as well as social or economic, his use of place or region as the basis for his groupings initially seems out of touch with reality.
Although one can appreciate his careful and extensive research leading to his regional groupings (I am not quarreling with his overall analysis), looking more informally at our political/cultural landscape, an amateur observer could argue for a much simpler and admittedly less precise breakdown of just three broad groups based more variously than on geography or region alone. These groups are not entirely mutually exclusive and certainly nebulous from the inevitable over-generalization and imprecise "forcing" of everyone into a broad category. Thus the reader is forewarned that this analysis, rather than being scholarly or research-based, is folksy, anecdotal and derived from casual observations of "life's passing parade."
I. The progressives, including academia, the arts (mostly), mainstream media, pockets or enclaves of upscale suburbia and inherited wealth, liberal political class and public-employees (at least their union leaders). Traditionalists (see below) pejoratively call this group elitists. Progressives are typically naive or overly idealistic about practical realities (evil DOES exist and, yes, some people do hate and want to kill you) but they (progressives) actually find the arts worthwhile and believe you can still be an attractive, fully functional male even if you write and/or read poetry.
II. The traditionalists/conservatives, including "true believers" who feel the old political and religious ideals can still prevail over modernism (what they see as decadence), evangelicals, entrepreneurial/small-business types (the Marxist "bourgeoisie"), Ayn Rand capitalists and individualists. The progressives condescendingly "look down" on this group (and to some extent,on the "survivalists" below) as "unenlightened" at best and Neanderthals at worst. Some progressives, like some traditionalists, could be a bit more tolerant/understanding of others who are different. [On my home page, see my narrative essay, "Confronting the Other in Life.]
III. Survivalists, an amorphous somewhat malleable "g0-with-the-flow" middle group occupying the "no-man's land" or cultural space between the progressives and the traditionalists. They're not strongly commited to any ideology/belief system except their own daily survival and simple pleasures (some barely prospering and living "on the edge") in the so-called system. One might call them pragmatists who just want to satisfy basic, lower needs on Maslow's scale in their somewhat unthinking and mainly physical but sometimes passive routines (jobs, families, pop culture of TV, movies, music, cars, sports, weekend backyard grilling and relaxation, and annual camping/RV vacations with a volley ball net in the commons area, picnics, evening bonfires, fishing, hunting, boating, etc). Survivalists are often too preoccupied/self-absorbed in their own worlds to think much about other types or to THINK deeply at all (a little harsh but couldn't resist).
Just so there aren't any misunderstandings, all three groups are equally human, worthy and deserving of respect/empathy in their feelings (hopes, joys, sorrows, fears, insecurities, etc) and frailities. You can probably discern I'm primarily an observer of these curious phenomena while occasionally identifying (often at a distance) with one or more defining qualities of each group but always try to remember I am not "above" anyone who is different [Ref. my narrative essay "Confronting the Other in Life"]. Arrogance/puffed-up pride is unbecoming and uncalled for in all of us, often leading to a fall ["Pride goeth before a fall"]
Whereas Colin Woodward is not optimistic about our odds for preserving our fragmenting nation/ethos in any coherent, workable unity (e pluribus unum), one should not underestimate the capacity of the American experiment to renew itself. We've survived worse divisions in the past and have emerged, if not intact, certainly stronger in the "broken places" both from implementing reforms and having persevered and gained new vigor and wisdom.
Like the firebird or Phoenix, we have an amazing and proven capacity for arising in a rebirth from our ashes. As William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, referring to humankind broadly and not just Americans, "Man will not merely endure; he will prevail." The doomsayers for America doggedly counter, "This time is different." For one sobering and perhaps realistic scenario from this latter group, read Colin Woodwood's book, American Nations, and judge for yourself.
Causes Brenden Allen Supports