Monday, February 27, 2006

Screaming Into a Box - Revisited (I)

Screaming into a box... The title, I'm sure, was unclear. It referred to the feeling I receive when I argue a point or state a claim. It also refers to the "Free Speech" folks who seem to feel that speech has no consequences. I'll discuss both below.

I. ME screaming into a box. I seem to receive this feeling far more often after moving to the Bible Belt. It's not a religion thing, although I'm often disturbed by the religious climate in the deep south. It's more a feeling engendered by the feeling of closemindedness that accompanies religious fervor into the public arena, a feeling ever-present in my new home of North Carolina. I've lived most of my life in the south - I was born in Tennessee and went to high school in West Virginia; however, both areas in which I lived were home more to mountain folk than fire-breathers.

Mountain folks seem to have a "live and let live" attitude that goes hand in hand with the environment: the land is green, food is plentiful and cheap (the cost of a 30-06, ammunition, and a homemade fishing rod, or "fish pole" can feed a family for a lifetime), and nobody bothers you much when you live far from cities, rails, and don't make enough money to tax. You're more apt to be sociable when your nearest neighbor is two miles away on the next mountain; when you've got to be self-reliant in the extreme. This attitude has carried into the twenty-first century, and is threatened by the global media conglomerates who now shape worldwide public opinions.

In my opinion, this is a horrifying thought - look down on the Mountain State all you want, but realize that these are a highly independent, warm, and wise people who are ridiculed simply because they don't give a damn about material wealth when they're surrounded by the most pristine land south of Maine. When JFK visited West Virginia on the campaign trail and commented, "I have never seen such appalling poverty," the citizens of the state were shocked: they did not realize that they were poor. They had a different set of values, among which was independence, and made the things they wanted. Interesting factoid: mountaineers (not miners or city folks) live extremely long and healthy lives, most are active until their deaths around 87 or 88.

Moving from this environment into the southern land of neighborly judgment was a shocking experience. I came from a realm valuing independence and self-reliance to a land in which the neighborhood busybody committee had the ultimate say. If one chooses to not go to church, they feel something is wrong and immediately set out to "save" his soul. Upon learning that I'm Catholic, the BBB (busybody Bitch) immediately asks if I "worship Mary and saint statues." I'm sorry, but where I come from, we follow the old rule that polite people avoid discussing politics and religion with strangers (a rule set down by Henry Fielding, of all people, in the 18th century tract "On Conversation").

Old South ideology frowns upon difference. There was a long standing social heirarchy that became ingrained into the southern conscience: anyone different was automatically excluded and branded "rude" by the local populace. This tradition continues today. I'm not one of those "damyankee carpetbaggers" who comes south to criticize, demanding that things here conform to things in midtown Manhattan. I just want to enter a discussion without the suspicion of "outsider," without the brand of "ideologically-driven," without the assumption of "damyankee-hood" attached to me and therefore automatically predisposing participants to disregard my comments.

No comments: