Friday, November 21, 2008

We'll always have Paris

Do we want an America in which each side of the culture wars (real Americans/"Jesus police" on the one side; fake Americans, godless gays, and heathen Jews on the other) 'gets' its own parts of the country? To summarize the discussion thus far:

Jillian:

The beauty of our situation is that if you feel so strongly about gay marriage, you can move to Connecticut or Massachusetts. If you feel strongly about keeping the Jewish Sabbath you can move to certain section of New York City or Miami Beach. We avoid religious tyranny by the majority through states being able to make their own laws.

E.H.:

There is no beauty in ghettoizing gays, Jews or any other minority. Any migration forced by social stigma should not be acceptable in the U.S., or anywhere.

Paul:

I think I’m less concerned than you are about just embracing the self-segregation discussed in the comments to your ladyblog post and saying “let the Jesus police run Kansas, and we’ll keep California and New York.” Part of that is probably my — dare I say it? — gentile privilege, or something like that. That is, I don’t feel the same sense of menace that it sometimes seems you feel (am I right?) about being ostracized by middle-America, because I don’t have the same kind of historical context that you do for it. Instead, my urge is generally to say “let them stew: we have everything worth having in this country, as well as almost the whole economy, on the coasts anyway.”

Here's my take, but I'd be happy to see others' in the comments.

The impulse to want everyone to fit into a box of 'normal real American' or 'different urban American' has something in common with Helen Rittelmeyer's suggestion to modern-day singles, "If you want to be a nice girl, commit to being one. If you are hanging out in a bar, you are a hussy and should commit to that." (Note before I continue: I have no idea what Rittelmeyer thinks about gays/Jews/cities, and am referring only to the way the "hussies" argument resembles the way the urban-rural one has been constructed, that if you want to be gay or Jewish, that's fine, but don't expect to do it in the heartland.) 'Nice' Americans can live anywhere they'd like, whereas marginal types should know their place, and their place is New York, Connecticut, San Francisco...

As I see it, this view stems from misunderstanding. We (we-society, not we-royal) are convinced that gays and Jews are especially creative and eccentric, that they all gravitate to cities because they're where they can fulfill their grand ambitions, that they think small towns would pin them in. For some it's true, but for most, not even a little bit.

Regarding gays, it's simple. Gay people do not magically spring up in places where they're wanted. Instead, a certain portion of the population is born (or 'turns out' if you prefer) gay, in each and every town, worldwide. Not all gays are meant to be brilliant Barneys window-dressers; why can't the non-fashionable majority of gays stay put and lead dull, married lives in their hometowns? How is this not better for both the majority of gays themselves, and the majority of Americans wanting as many people as possible leading conventional/conservative lives? (See also this, via.)

Jews, on the other hand, tend to be born into Jewish families and communities, often in or near major cities. If your priority is maintaining a strict observance of Shabbat, marrying your kids off to other Jews, finding kosher food, etc., you really do need to live around many other Jews. While Jewish communities that permit this lifestyle do exist in the US, you'd have good reason to consider Israel, where that life would--even taking into account Israeli secularism--come more easily.

But! Not all Jews have those priorities. Just as not all gays require a short subway ride to 8th and 23rd, not all Jews require a proximity to Zabars. One can be unobservant but still Jewish enough to be 'different,' be it culturally, physically, religiously... A number of us are essentially not-Christians. What if we get a job (ahem, academia) or spouse out in 'real America'? We don't mind the absence of a kosher butcher, we don't need an eruv. Why must huge portions of the country be no-go zones for us in terms of settling down? How would it not be better for both non-observant Jews and the rest of America to allow for internal migration at will?

So, my take: Jillian's on the right track, but misses where preserving the "beauty" of cultural diversity can turn into outright exclusion on those who want to lead unhyphenated lives, but who, due to facts of birth, are prevented from doing so. Paul makes a good case, but underestimates both the interest in gays/Jews in living outside of cities, and the interest of the "Jesus police" in policing... larger jurisdictions. And E.H. makes a good point, with more elegance than I could have done, which I say not only because she's my mother.

6 comments:

PG said...

Another argument against segregation is that many people who aren't Christians nonetheless could fit pretty happily into a conservative social circle once the sectarian element is removed. My parents raised their children more conservatively than even my Southern Baptist, abstinence-only peers: they at least could watch family-oriented TV shows and go on dates, whereas my mom covered our eyes when even married couples smooched on TV, and forbade us to date at all. There probably are a lot of Muslim families that would do the same.

The intolerance of some Christians toward people of other faiths is killing their ability to form social conservative alliances. Perhaps they'll eventually get over this, much as Roe v. Wade galvanized an alliance between Catholics and the evangelical Protestants who had called the Church the Whore of Babylon (and a few of whom who still do, cf. Rev. Hagee), but it looks to be a long ways off still.

There's also the problem that non-Christian religious conservatives in the U.S. are instinctively reluctant to politicize their preferences because they are self-conscious about their minority status. My parents never asked that the world change to accommodate what they wanted for their kids; they knew they had left India and its prohibition on kissing and would have to put up with Americans' looseness. They just created their own world in which "Family Matters" was moderately racy TV.

JMR said...

Paul makes a good case, but underestimates both the interest in gays/Jews in living outside of cities, and the interest of the "Jesus police" in policing... larger jurisdictions.

The activists of the "godless coastal fake Americans" are just as eager to expand the jurisdiction of their policing.

Or is imposing values only bad when religious Christians do it?

Phoebe said...

Is anyone suggesting banning hetero marriage? Making culturally-Jewish atheism the state religion?

PG said...

Phoebe,

Actually, the godless coastal fake Americans have succeeded enforcing all kinds of evil values even outside the coasts:

- rape shield laws so sexual assault survivors can't be properly shamed for their sexual histories;
- encouraging a reading of the Constitution that doesn't allow people to be imprisoned for burning flags, joining disfavored political parties, getting abortions... in fact, liberalism on the Supreme Court probably is the biggest imposition of liberal values because their decisions apply nationally. Those damn liberals give Mormons and Catholics who are getting harassed in rural Texas a forum for complaint, instead of having those Mormons and Catholics forced out to more welcoming territory.

Liberal values are legally imposed on the interior of this country by not allowing conservatives to impose their values on their heretical neighbors.

Hitting kids still seems to retain popularity outside the coasts, though. At least when I was in school in Texas, there was an annual signing of permission for the school to paddle kids who misbehaved. My parents signed it every year with much hilarity because they thought the school was really lax in discipline, and they figured that if we did anything bad enough to warrant a school paddling, we'd already have gone underground and changed our names to escape our parents' wrath.

Paul Gowder said...

I take your point here; pity the gay or Jewish person with middle-America values and tastes. Although... although... I'm not sure our geographical/cultural diversity is so shallow as to exclude their finding places as well. Consider LaGrande Oregon, Lawrence Kansas, Moab Utah. Still, the point remains.

(I'm trying to remember who it was who recounted to me, years ago, the story of being in Minnesota [Minnesota! The bluest of red states!] and being asked, in all seriousness, "what's a Jew?")

Phoebe said...

Oh, there's corporal punishment in schools on the coasts (at least the one I'm on). In one of my high school classes, even.