Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yankee Sensibility

I have lived among Northerners all of my life. I grew up and went to college in Michigan. I spent the worse part of four decades in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., a bastion of Northern "charm." A village in a rural, western part of New York State claimed another three years of my life. I have now lived in Austin -- another bastion of Northern "charm" (i.e., rudeness, crudeness, and lewdness) -- for almost five years.

I am here to tell you that Michael Hirsh is wringing wet when he writes in Newsweek that
a substantial portion of the new nation [the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest] developed, over many generations, a rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores. Traditionally, it has been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest. But that latter sensibility has been losing ground in population numbers -- and cultural weight. The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue is unmistakable. (Quotation via Eugene Volokh)
The manners and mores of Northerners, as a "race," are inferior to those of true Southerners. (True Southerners are persons who can claim the South as the home of their ancestors, going back to at least the early 1800s. True Southerners are not to be confused with the merely geographic Southerners -- carpetbaggers -- who dominate the D.C. and Austin areas, among other so-called Southern locales.) The denizens of the village in New York (some of them) came close to exhibiting the manners and mores of true Southerners. As for the other Northerners in my life's experience: "fuggedaboutit."

I know whereof I speak, having been blessed in the course of my years with the love, friendship, and collegiality of many true Southerners. Their charm, hospitality, and kindness shine as a beacon in the darkness of Northern crudity, which (on the evidence of popular "entertainment") has engulfed most of the land. Whereas a Southerner says "please" and "thank you" and keeps his word, a typical Yankee's approach to social and business transactions can be summed up in "gimme that, shut up, and get outta my way, you creep." (There are glaring exceptions, of course. My father was one of them. He was an Anglo-Canadian-American with the soul of a true Southerner, even though he never ventured south of northern Ohio.)

"Sophisticated ... Yankee sensibility," indeed. "Communitarian"? Only in the sense that the coarsened sensibility of (most) Northerners finds expression through the coercive power of the state (i.e., socialism).

P.S. Whereas I am a Northerner who sees Northerners for what they (mostly) are, Hirsh (Tufts, Columbia) seems to be a Northerner who is blind to the foibles of his ilk. To change the metaphor, he is a fish in water.