Friday, December 06, 2013


Every now and then someone divvies up the not-so-united North American States into regions based on some criteria or other.  The latest version is eleven regions defined by Colin Woodard according to politics as they’ve developed over the history of the coalition.  The book is “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.”  

I failed to record where I found this handy list:

Yankeedom: Founded by Puritans, residents in Northeastern states and the industrial Midwest tend to be more comfortable with government regulation. They value education and the common good more than other regions.
New Netherland: The Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world when New York was founded, Woodard writes, so it’s no wonder that the region has been a hub of global commerce. It’s also the region most accepting of historically persecuted populations.
The Midlands: Stretching from Quaker territory west through Iowa and into more populated areas of the Midwest, the Midlands are “pluralistic and organized around the middle class.” Government intrusion is unwelcome, and ethnic and ideological purity isn’t a priority.
Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.
Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”
Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.
El Norte: Southwest Texas and the border region is the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas. Hard work and self-sufficiency are prized values.
The Left Coast: A hybrid, Woodard says, of Appalachian independence and Yankee utopianism loosely defined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and coastal mountain ranges like the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas on the other. The independence and innovation required of early explorers continues to manifest in places like Silicon Valley and the tech companies around Seattle.
The Far West: The Great Plains and the Mountain West were built by industry, made necessary by harsh, sometimes inhospitable climates. Far Westerners are intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government.
New France: Former French colonies in and around New Orleans and Quebec tend toward consensus and egalitarian, “among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy,” Woodard writes.
First Nation: The few First Nation peoples left — Native Americans who never gave up their land to white settlers — are mainly in the harshly Arctic north of Canada and Alaska. They have sovereignty over their lands, but their population is only around 300,000.

To my eyes this is a history of transplanted Europeans plus a quick “oh, yeah” postscript for the pre-existing peoples of the continent.  As such, it perpetuates the wars that started with the establishment of Euro-nations, as modified by territorial ecologies of this continent.  (Unacknowledged in this list.)  There is no allowance for the Asian people, the Indiohispanic people, the Middle Easterners, the Russians and “India-Indians” or the African-Americans who did NOT come as slaves, who had origins on the east coast of that continent.  Like tree-roots under sidewalks, all of these were much stronger and more active in what goes on than the walkers think -- until they trip on the upheavals.

My next reflection would be about the influence of scale in this thinking.  I could easily divvy up Montana into similar regions:  the Western valleys between mountain ranges, the High-line that’s roughly along the 49th parallel, the prairie parkland and short grass east slope which extends n/s on both sides of that parallel, the southern belt of broken mountains that includes Yellowstone, the high grass country to the east, the badlands.  Each has its its own Euro-immigrant history and economic base rooted in trade:  small grain, residue of the inland sea including the oil created by cretaceous swamps and the minerals from much earlier vulcanism, scenery from the upthrust of mountains, underground aquifers created by the melting of the glaciers ten thousand years ago, today’s grazers that have replaced the bison and so on.  All established on top of the pre-existing subsistence-in-place tribes.

Valier could even be divvied into regions:  the original arterial n/s main street that I live on with its mix of new and old (my house was built in the Thirties, some are older), residences and business.  The town hall and the post office are on this street, but so is a former bank now housing an embroidery business, the new bank, the Medicine River Trading Post, and an unbuildable lot contaminated by an early service station.  This street was originally the road to Cut Bank and the bars were built on it.  The cross street is really the east/west highway: the library, the two cafes, the garages, the motel, the pizza-and-beer parlor.

Euro-historically Lake Frances and the water system that feeds and drains it is “constructed” on top of natural waterways and is the main source of commerce.  A rail spur serves the elevators, which are a little old-fashioned now.  Toward the west are the newer better houses near the school complex.  Toward the lake are the quite respectable middle-class houses but mixed with the occasional trailer.

Even here the real action controlling so much is on the international, intercontinental scale. International corporations are allowed to claim the privileges of human individuals though they have supranational powers, are able to control governments which normally rule persons -- our main source of order until now.  Global warming -- a result of the planetary industrial revolution -- is a part of this: China suffocates her people in order to put a lander on the moon and to create a middle class.  (The reach of these planetary enterprises extend through the solar system.)  International drug trade and sex trafficking are part of this, but not interplanetary yet, though you could count satellite use.

The internet is a long web drawing us into relationship -- it IS interplanetary, isn't it?  Talking to the machines headed past Neptune -- supporting a trade based on information rather than raw commodity or manufacturing.  The technology reaches past any language or alphabet into image and graphic math, allowing participation by the unschooled and the very young.

But all this time that the lawyers were playing tug o’war over structuring everything, there were organic (and therefore more resourceful and resilient) layers of society that are utterly secret.  Media stories constantly speculate on what they’re up to -- concluding that there’s a lot of murder involved, because that’s the way the visible world works when laws are burst through by the indignant and tortured --  they express themselves in violence.  I suspect that in these often family-based systems there is less need for murder because everyone gets taken care of.  And now, in the US, we have a penal society, confined but echoing what the industrial revolution created in terms of capital and labor, echoing the military.

This book about USA regions only addresses political governments that have the not-quite-admitted goal of persuasion towards some point of view.  That’s useful, but there’s so much more than that, some of which is capable of disrupting any kind of order.

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