Death Embrace • 8 September 2008

It has been asked: Do rural people really feel hated?

Yes. (Insert a decade of ever more alienated returns home. Also, many painful slips of the tongue on all parts. Cf, when professors say things like religion has no sociological relevance because it’s “atomistic” or that rural America is “empty,” they don’t look smart.)

I think there are two streams of feeling here. The first is straight up fear—the libertarian strain of rural feeling. Giuliani’s sneering use of “cosmopolitan” points to the sensation that rural people have interacting with the cosmopolite: they feel authentic, hardworking and sincere… talking to hypocritical, affected lazyasses. I actually love the critique of hipster-bourgeois consumption (latte-drinking, volvo-driving liberals) that goes along with this.

The second is the desire to be hated for one’s own righteousness, as the New Testament promises—the evangelical strain of rural feeling (for pure distillations of this see Matthew 10:22, Vengeance Rising, etc. etc.). Martyrdom is a really common sentiment all over the place, and (together with anti-conservative haters and liberal snobbishness) it feeds the anti-snob politics that have worked brilliantly for the GOP since Nixon. The GOP’s line that “they won’t like Sarah in Washington but we sure like her” trades on this martyrdom-turned-aggressive vibe. And the thing is, the left keeps feeding it. The too-good-to-hate-you hatred is everywhere. And it’s easy for a progressive to begin to feel it when her own freedoms from sexism, racism and homophobia are being attacked.

I broke down and joined Facebook this summer when I got all sad that my trip home was falling through. The trendy timesuck factor of Facebook always put me off; and the idea of my three main networks coming together made me cringe. But I wanted to feel connected to certain people from high school, and letting those networks intertwine in a single node required a level of self-honesty that was good for me. I don’t want to be particularly available to people, but I also don’t need to hide from them. In the end though, it’s not about who sees me. It’s about who I see with a degree of connectivity. Who I see is SAHM conservative activists, a diesel mechanic, a few people who escaped MT by the one dependable route—joining the military. And the rest who I still remember so sentimentally: they aren’t online. Because they’re working and poor, and don’t live the kind of lives where far-flung global social networks are a reality.

It raises the question: where do we learn about the world? I mostly learn through reading history books, mainstream internet sites, datasets on demographics and public opinion, and making my friends who live really diverse experiences tell me about their lives. How high quality are my data? Why are the people with the best data in the world—American political parties—using it in such different ways? Seriously. I’m asking.