Thursday, August 11, 2016

Flyover Nation: You Can't Run a Country You've Never Been To

I had the pleasure of reading Dana Loesh’s ‘Flyover Nation’ not too long ago, and while I don’t really do book reviews, I have been noodling a bit on what struck me most in reading it, and as tomorrow(today), Friday the 12th of August, she is wrapping up her book tour in St. Louis (signing books at 6:00 at Gander Mountain), now might be a good time to post those noodlings (‘better late than…’ ‘ahhh shaddup!’). However if you’d like a brief (on my blog?), noodle free thumbs up or down on whether and why you should you buy Flyover Nation, I can give a definite two thumbs way up, and a couple quick points as to why:
  1. It's an enjoyable read, humorous, insightful and informative.
  2. Her first hand descriptions of both Flyover and Coastal America, both of being a child and raising her own children, and the battle to live and work as adults in our two Americas', provides you with a lot of perspective to think about both.
  3. The observations in this book cover the map, clarifying what life is like in both Flyover and Coastal America, what it is that fundamentally divides them, and the importance of realizing that the divide is real and is there for all to see, and what it is that best equips us to both understand the other, and to let them be.
  4. It’s an engaging and often funny book to read. I won't try and reproduce the humor, but to pick out one issue, if you can pass through the discussions of the differences between funeral's in Flyover and Coastal America without laughing out loud, you're a far stonier person than I am.
  5. If the understanding of Flyover Nation that Dana conveys, were better understood by those on the coasts, it would be a far better nation for us all to live in, no matter where you settle down within it - read this book - and get a copy for your neighbor!
For those of you who didn’t land on this blog by accident, lets get to digging a bit into one of the core distinctions which intrigued me in what Dana identifies in how Flyover America and Coastal America see themselves, and how they behave towards each other. Interestingly, I think she hit on a point of their divide that is actually shared by most of the Coastal persuasion, though of course they understand it from a very different perspective.

This leapt out at me in reading her account of how, as a newly uprooted young girl, having moved with her single mom away from the close knit community of Flyover Ozarks, for the anonymous opportunities of the city, she characterized that absence she felt in the city, as if:
"I had no tribe."
You might recognize this sense from another perspective, through a term that has long been central to Coastal views: their angst over the ‘alienation’ that individuals supposedly suffer in Western Society in general, and America in particular. This is a theme that came out as far back as Rousseau (particularly in contrast to the ‘noble savage’); it was a key device of Marx’s, that of individuals being 'alienated' from society, and it has been a staple of academia and the sniffy set ever since.

As Coastal's generally engage in this 'alienation' attack on the West, they tend to see it as an inherent feature of Western Civilization, and of America in particular, while, as Dana’s despairing comment highlights, those in Flyover tend to see it as the effects of that same civilization being diluted or painfully withdrawn from their lives and communities.

Why such mirrored reflections of us?

Life in Flyover Nation revolves around family, religion, community and the support and defense of them; the standout experience is that you are a living part of something that is bigger than yourself – not because you’re small (as the Coastal’s tend to prefer you to feel), but because of the chosen and/or accepted obligations of those oft mocked institutions of family, religion and community, as well as a shared history and reverence for those principles and ideas that our nation is formed from, and the moral need to actively support and defend them, and those in the military who do defend them even at the cost of their lives. This all translates into thousands upon thousands of little sparks of connections for each person, and even with each pulling this way and that, with and against each other, all of which creates a very un-uniform appearance, yet it palpably links them all together, knitting each person into an individual part of that greater whole.

Where the coastal views prevail, on the other hand, family tends to be devalued, its roles blurred and permanence shattered – not just through divorce (that sadly is nearly universal), but their regard for it. Religion is either disdained or sterilized, their community tends to be corporatized, and talk of our nation is mostly shunted out to the schools who discuss it antagonistically, if at all, and serving in the military is commonly either disdained or feared, which can be summed up in this quote on the prevailing Coastal attitude towards military service, from a report referenced on pg 92 of Dana’s book,
" idea expressed by many, including many in the upper classes, that it is somehow more moral to refrain from military service than to serve, because that way one can avoid an 'immoral' war."
The differences that results from these differing perspectives are stark.

It may be ironic, but it is no fluke that the angst over individuals in Western Society in general, and America in particular, as being 'alienated' from society, is something felt most intensely in the coastal areas and inner cities in particular; as their people feel that alienating anonymity most – but how surprising is that actually? Seriously, what’s not to alienate you?

The approach of each America to these and other problems, is just as distinctive. While Flyover tends to look to each other in order to overcome and strengthen their communities from within, the Coastals tend to look outwardly to their collective society through the powers of Govt, or through other large and impersonal organizations or foundations, to bind them together in satisfying conformity. In the introduction, Dana notes that:
"I've noticed on the East and West Coasts, whenever a problem is identified the solution is always to appeal to government, and the more the solution costs, the better the solution. Not to mention that these solutions always include some limitation of the rights of others."
, and you don't need to look far for examples of that, as Medicare, 'No Child Left Behind', and so on, are examples of Coastal approach to solving their (and our) problems – from outside and above, either through government or other equally anonymous, distant, large, foundations (Note: GOP and Democrat are not reliable means of telling Flyover from Coastal, nearly all of Dana's family in the Ozarks are Democrat). There is an anxiety among the Coastal mindset, even a fear, in allowing each individual person to act on their own decisions – somehow they miss the fact of human nature, that real community can come into being in no other way.

Where do the Coastal’s suppose that their connection and sense of belonging, is to come from? In practice, they think and behave as if they expect them to come through obtaining things provided to them, often through the efforts of one anonymous agency of the collective, or another. Their problems have no means of being felt through the connections of family and community and their mutual efforts and shared experiences in response to them. Instead, their anxieties come to them, again, anonymously, from the news media, through economic indicators, through crime reports, and so they run, not to each others arms and heartfelt interactions, discussions or even heated arguments, but to where power is most centralized and anonymized: into the hands of an ever more centralized power, preferably by way of Govt.

Correspondingly, their own power to connect and act on their own initiative, and in cooperation with other people in their community that they may have some real connection to, is removed from the very hands of people in the community they are a part of, and handed over to those in some position of ‘authority’, in those ‘communities’. As a result, belonging to something that might be seen as being 'bigger than you are' is most likely to be felt through its forcing people down into predefined niches and slots, compressed into a one size fits all, faceless group conformity. Those thousands of points that would bind you together in Flyover, are withdrawn and given to others to manage for you – how could that not nurse a bitter sense of alienation?

An important effect of this tendency to give power and control to anonymous others, comes out in a passage on the moral necessity which our 2nd Amendment protects, that of the need, especially by women, to have the ability to defend themselves, and what seems to follow when we don’t take that necessity to heart ourselves,
“…They’re what our moms and dads teach us to use to defend ourselves against someone who wishes to do us evil. To us women, they’re the difference between being a victim and being a survivor. I sometimes wonder if living dependent upon the company of others and in proximity to others for so long degrades and devolves our innate instinct for individualism and survival….” [emphasis mine]
That is something that I think is huge. In cases of one-way dependency you relinquish some or all of your input, your control, into your own life, you give it to another, and when there is no personal relationship, no reciprocity, no human connection in an actual relationship to them, it is just gone. It degrades and devolves your individuality and you become anonymous, alienated from yourself and those around you.

In Flyover Nation that something 'bigger than you' is kept from overwhelming and stripping you of yourself, by their common respect for the customs of family, religion and community, and through laws which conform to our Constitution and so preserve and defend each person's individual right to live their own life, to enjoy it, and to defend it, as they choose to.

So who's alienating who?

Coastal blindness to Flyover, doesn’t mean Flyover is blind to Coastals
The full name of this book is "Flyover Nation: You can't run a country you've never been to", and I heard one talking head, who obviously hadn't read the book (sorta like the 1 star reviews on Amazon (you should read them, sensible people's replies to them are a delight), try to turn the book's subtitle "You can't run a country you've never been to", against it, with the comment:
"Isn't the reverse true? Can't you say that Flyover Nation can't run Coastal nation, because it doesn't know it either?"
, and the answer to that is a loud and clear: No.

Why? Well for one thing, Flyover Nation virtually has been to Coastal Nation, they have its 'New York Values' put in their faces throughout the day, every day, through the news, media, academia, entertainment, fashion and of course, more and more every day, by law. Flyover Nation has been deeply immersed in the country of the Coasts, and has decided that while they might be nice places to visit, they choose not to live there. It is worth noting that those values of Flyover Nation, are what enable them to let their Coastal Cousins be, and without feeling their Coastal Cousin's compulsion to force them to live as they do, which makes them fully able to 'run their country' without ruining their lives.

Unfortunately the Coastal's simply can't return the favor. Instead they give free and exuberant reign to their compulsive need to dictate who you must bake cakes for, and who has to be allowed in the bathroom with you, that 'live and let live' attitude of Flyover is a practice that Coastal's simply have not mastered, and without that, they can only run the entire nation into the ground.

The view from across the Coastal Divide
While the topic of tribes and 'alienation' aren’t explicitly addressed in Flyover Nation, they are implicitly there in countless contrasting observations she gives on life in Flyover and Coastal America; they engage you, and lead you, to wander about with them in your own thoughts for a bit. It was in doing that myself that I began comparing my impressions from her book, with another book I’d just read, and brought these points to really stand out. This other book, a little 'Sociology' book called "Tribe - Homecoming and Belonging", is specifically about that theme of Tribes and Alienation, which caught my eye in the bookstore, with its comparisons between tribal societies and military veterans, and what they can tell society about 'healing today's divided world'. The Amazon blurb describes it:
“Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations...”
Unfortunately, his is a book that I can’t recommend very highly, and without going too far into it, it does still provide an interesting case of the blinkered views of the Coastals, of their tendency to see all things by their own sterile lights, and to assume that competing views are known, understood, categorized, and easily dealt with through the occasional snide remark, and then safely dismissed in order to pursue their own views. It’s a little 138 page book with 30 pages of footnotes, written by a war correspondent and "New York Times Bestselling Author!" (‘The Perfect Storm’, and others), who tells an engaging tale but manages to get his conclusions, for the most part, painfully short of the mark or just wrong.

It has some interesting observations, but it's incredibly tone deaf and almost deliberately misses the point of its own thesis, by way of its glaring and exclusively Coastal perspective, that of materialism, socialism, anti-business, etc – that ‘Govt can make us more connected through more programs to bring us together’, etc.

Naturally he starts right off attacking the West in general and America in particular, in how some early American colonists after being kidnapped by Indians, when rescued, didn't want to return to Colonial society. And naturally it attacks Christianity and while he goes into the gruesomeness of Indian atrocities, he ultimately excuses and even romances them above the West, since, after all, the Church used the Inquisition to 'burn people at the stake regularly', etc., and so on. Leaving the leftist wacademic hysterics aside, credible estimates are that 3,000-10,000 people over the course of 400-500 years, were put to death, with most of those done by Govts, not the Church. Which of course is still not good, but... c'mon, the single Indian raid he discusses so sympathetically by Chief Pontiac, claimed over 2,000 lives~ how does that even compute?).

One of the things that struck me right off in reflecting on these two books of our two Americas, was how much more clearly Dana’s book identified the reality of our society's problems, which, with his 30 pages of footnotes, he almost entirely misses. Nearly every interesting point that he almost made, missed any real value by seemingly deliberately avoiding the core of his own thesis, by materializing every benefit of 'tribal society'. For instance, this passage identifies real hardships felt by returning soldiers… but it is blind to their cause, while blaming modern society as such (and by ‘modern’ in disparaging terms, he means Rule of Law and Free Market) for those problems, when in fact his ideals – centralized power – is what is responsible for them:
“…A modern soldier returning from combat – or a survivor of Sarajevo – goes from the kind of close-knit group that humans evolved for, back into a society where most people work outside the home, children are educated by strangers, families are isolated from wider communities, and personal gain almost completely eclipses collective good. Even if he or she is part of a family, that is not the same as belonging to a group that shares resources and experiences almost everything collectively. What-ever the technological advances of modern society – and they’re nearly miraculous – the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.

“You’ll have to be prepared to say that we are not a good society – that we are an antihuman society,” anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz warned when I tried this idea out on here.”
What Junger fails to acknowledge, or even to see past his ideological snowblindedness to realize, is that it is precisely the ever growing centralization of power and authority away from individuals, separating them from society and responsibility, is what is directly responsible for people working far from home and neighbors, for children being educated by strangers, for families being isolated from their society. It’s worth pointing out that his fellow anthropologist, Abramowitz, belongs to more NGO’s (supposedly well intentioned groups that siphon money from govt, to private entities, separating representation and responsibility from those it ultimately depends upon, anonymously), and other monolithic institutions is difficult to count, but which all can be summed up as the enthusiastic support for centralizing authority, distanced from those it is taken from, to carry out ‘good intentions’. It is precisely the Coastal ideals that are responsible for taking power away from individuals, giving it to anonymous, unknown authorities over their lives, and creating that dreaded sense of alienation.

An interview with NPR highlights this:
JEFFREY BROWN: Does the notion of tribes allow us to have a cohesion that we also think we need as a country?
SEBASTIAN JUNGER: Yes, it’s a great question.
I think what you’re seeing in this political season are political camps deciding that they are their own tribe and it’s us against them. And I think the trick — and this country is in a very, very tricky place socially, economically, politically — I think the trick, if you want to be a functioning country, a nation, a viable nation, you have to define tribe to include the entire country, even people you disagree with.
Disagreement is great, debate is great, conflict is great. It’s how we all get better.
SEBASTIAN JUNGER: What you can’t do is have contempt for your fellow citizens. That is destructive. [emphasis mine]
The tragedy is that they mistakenly equate larger and larger swaths of enforced conformity, providing institutional services, and goodies, with the responsible individuality that a healthy ‘Tribe’ must have, or otherwise collapse into their dreaded alienation.

They don’t know it. They won’t know it. They refuse to look deeply enough to see or know it. They prefer reality to be as anonymous to them as they themselves are to their fellows, except to posture as figureheads, visually recognized, but as unknown as celebrities, or pawns. What that produces is profound alienation. Coastal’s tend to think of power as a causal tool, rather than as a result, and mistaking it as a democratic cure-all, and somehow they don’t see what it does to people and communities, when such distant power is exerted anonymously upon them, from far above, and distantly outside their sphere, rather than flowing from own efforts, sentiments and desires, guided by their connection with those ‘other’ people known to them.

Without that, it becomes anonymous, and, surprise, alienating.

What the Coastal mindset produces most is humanity in a mass, but without the actual connections that people make between each other on a person to person basis, without their actively sharing in their shared values, instead, what they think we need instead, is govt, and even entities a step removed from govt (NGO’s, centralized foundations, etc.) to care for people, and to produce even more programs for industrializing person to person interactions, and for govt to do more things for them ‘for their own good’, yada yada, woohoo. Unfortunately they miss out on all the good they intend to do, because the means of connecting one person to another and establishing relations, are replaced by people performing with an official title, the role of one centralized functionary or another, filling out forms, passing out food stamps, pills, checks, band aids. The people under the Coastal system are anonymized, the ideas they promote are abstractions which have no real connection to those they intend to help, except through those anonymous functionaries, which has the effect of truly sucking the life out of all of the good they would do, leaving them to settle for anonymous things, from anonymous people, serving non-existent relationships in service to anonymous ideals.

The Coastal enthusiasm for the noble savage, would do well to be leavened with what the views of those they prefer to flyover, and especially to take to heart Dana’s comment quoted above, that,
“… I sometimes wonder if living dependent upon the company of others and in proximity to others for so long degrades and devolves our innate instinct for individualism and survival….””
What connects people to each other, and which when lacking, produces emptiness, misery and alienation, are points which Dana's book nails over and over again in examples from Flyover society uniting through family, church and local community, with the expectation that individuals should retain their own power to live and defend their own lives – in concert with others, not alienated from them or self - rather than yielding that all up to distant and anonymous powers and principalities.

Just mind boggling the Very real divide between Flyover and Coastal.

Govt’s Blue Light Special
Dana's Grandpa made a comment about that compulsion that draws people to Washington D.C., like flies drawn to the bugzapper:
"...That light attracts people, even the good people, and it kills 'em."
It seems that that tantalizing lure of govt power, fires them with a certainty that, because they feel that what they think is best for themselves, it has just got to be best for everyone else, they arrogantly and with great self satisfaction, push their ideals onto Flyover with little real regard for, or knowledge of, those lives which it is made up of - and who wants to be governed by such a sad, sad country as that?

Glenn Reynolds, remarking in regards to Brexit, referenced Dana's book, in that:
"America, of course, faces the same kind of division, as Dana Loesch writes in her new book, Flyover Nation: You Can’t Run A Country You’ve Never Been To. Every once in a while, she notes, a publisher or a newspaper from a coastal city will send a reporter, like an intrepid African explorer of the 19th century, to report on the odd beliefs and doings of the inhabitants of the interior. But even the politicians who represent Flyover Country tend to spend most of their time — and, crucially, their post-elective careers — in Washington, DC.

Over the past few decades, Washington has gone from a sleepy town with restaurants and real estate priced to fit a civil servant’s salary to a glittering city with prices that match a K street lobbyist’s salary. The disconnect from regular Americans is much greater. And the public expressions of contempt toward ordinary Americans — Loesch’s book collects quite a few — make things much, much worse"
A last reflection on the blue bug zapper sums it up:
"... spare a thought for the folks you see scurrying in and out of the government buildings in Washington, the folks who've been there too long. Maybe they had dreams once too. They were like those bugs I saw droning toward the zapper on my grandparents' porch - they got sucked in and had the life zapped out of them."
I highly recommend you read Flyover Nation - especially if you are a Coastal Cousin - you'll better understand why Flyover is a place that is not only worth visiting in person, but is worth your personally understanding it, for the good of the entire nation.

Or not.

Flyover wishes you the liberty to make that choice yourself.

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