Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Here's a Stumper

Stephen Pinker, writing for the New York Times Opinionator wonders, "Why Are States So Red and Blue?"

Yes, of course, red states and blue states have different ideas about government and vastly different social values, but "why do ideology and geography cluster so predictably?"

Words not appearing in this article: slavery, slaves, nullification, secession, Civil War, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, race, patriarchy.

Yes, the fundamental differences in our conception of government, personal autonomy, and commonweal that erupted into a Civil War along geographical lines a few generations ago linger on. Go figure.

It's somewhat amazing to me that someone can frame a thesis about the South's "culture of honor" without mentioning the white supremacist and patriarchal foundations of that culture, specifically as they align with modern political issues from women's sovereignty over their bodies to the "moochers vs. makers" mindset. I am equally floored by his wilderness/frontier/civilizing framework. I mean, I know historians have had a hard time communicating to the general public, but I thought that we could probably get the Harvard professors of social science to pay some attention to some of the major works written in the past 30-odd years. A short reading list for Professor Pinker might include Stephanie McCurry's Masters of Small Worlds, Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, and Patricia Limerick's Legacy of Conquest.

I mention this article mostly as a note to myself to bring it up to my advisor next time I see her. At a recent meeting, she told me that it was unsporting to go after Albion's Seed with knives drawn because it is hopelessly dated and has been thoroughly debunked and discarded. True though that may be, this is the second time in a week I've seen it used in a major media outlet, so it clearly needs a bit more hammering.