Monday, December 20, 2004


When I left Ohio in 1996 to begin my nomadic lifestyle, I experienced a bit of culture shock, but not much. I fit in pretty well in the places I moved to, even though they were very different from each other. And I didn't have much trouble dealing with cultures I hadn't dealt with much in Ohio. I was already aware of hispanic culture, for instance, and so actually being around it did not greatly affect my views and opinions of it or the world.

But, on the other hand, my parents dealt with moving from Ohio to Los Angeles very differently from me. Confronted with other cultures on a daily basis for the first time, I found they displayed a racist streak I had never seen in Ohio. I don't know if racist feelings were always there, beneath the surface, but the lack of minorities kept them from displaying them, or if those feelings developed out of their experiences in LA. I found that they fit the stereotype of people moving from the Midwest to the coast and having their worlds rocked than I ever did.

Similarly, I have noticed people I know from Ohio act awkwardly, for instance, around Jewish people, which I find very strange. Even when I lived in places where there was not a great deal of Jewish culture to interact with, I was not unaware of it, nor did I think it was alien when I lived in places where I had more chance to experience it.

But, nonetheless, when I occasionally encountered some arrogance on the part of Los Angelenos or New Englanders about how insular the Midwest was and how parochial its people are, I vigorously defended Midwesterners. After all, I was from the Midwest, and I was aware of the rest of the country even before I lived in any of it. I don't think I was ever particularly parochial.

But then, what about all the other examples I have seen of parochialism on the part of my fellow Midwesterners? I really didn't think about it much until just recently.

I was speaking with my grandfather. He is 86 years old. He fought in WWII in the Pacific and was part of the occupation force in Japan. Given his age and the fact that he has, at least during the War, traveled to other nations would suggest a certain amount of awareness of the world. But, during this particular conversation, he asked me, "Didn't anyone invite you for Christmas?"

I replied, "My friends here are all Jewish. They don't celebrate Christmas." (I don't either. Merry Mithrasmas, everyone!)

And then he said something that really made me think. He said, "Well, when do they celebrate the birth of Jesus?"

From that simple question, I think I learned a lot. Within it, there is an implication. My grandfather assumed that people from another faith celebrated Jesus' birth. In other words, it did not occur to him that other people might have different cultures and values. It did not occur to him that Jewish people might be different from him and what he is used to.

And I began to wonder what this might mean to the political debate. For instance, in the debate about putting nativity scenes on public property, my grandfather probably would not really understand why that is offensive to some, and would be easily convinced to support measures to allow nativity scenes on public property. Not out of malice, but because he cannot perceive of how or why such things are wrong. If your life experience tells you that everyone believes in Jesus and celebrates the birth of Jesus, how could a nativity scene possibly offend anyone?

How many people out there think that gay people are intentionally and maliciously living in sin because it has never even occurred to them that anyone might think otherwise? How many people believe, as do my friends in Texas, that the Jews (and atheists, I would imagine) have intentionally turned away from God by rejecting Jesus, even though they must know in their hearts that Jesus is the Messiah, it never occurring to them that someone might not really be rejecting him because they never believed in him in the first place? How many people have never seen any government oppression or corruption in their lives and therefore believe that civil rights aren't that important, because they and everyone they know are good, honest people, and they have never run afoul of the law, and thus only bad people run afoul of the law?

I could go on and on. The point is, I wonder how much the red state/blue state problem might relate to this? I wonder if it isn't that Americans are stupid, but that so many have truly never experienced anything that make them think that the way things work in their small town in Ohio is not the way it works everywhere?

I don't know. I'm not sure why I understood that Centerville, Ohio, was not the entire world and yet my grandfather doesn't. All the people I know from Ohio who have surprised me with their tendency to be parochial had access to the same books, television, and movies as I did. How did they end up so insular and I didn't?

And, if this is really a contributor to the problems the left has in reaching the middle of the country, how do we break through to these people? How can you convince someone who has never met a gay person that gays are just people, not sinners, not followers of Satan, but just people in love who want to get married just like them? How can you alleviate ignorance that is so subtle that the person isn't even aware of it? How do you even detect this kind of ignorance that hides itself so well? A person who isn't aware of his or her ignorance cannot, by definition, even know to ask the right questions to learn and understand better.

And, also, what is it that we on the left are ignorant of that keeps us from connecting to these people? I am from the Midwest, but I never fit in there. Maybe that is why I didn't succumb to parochialism. But what is it that is going on there that even I, a native son, don't understand?

I think these might be questions that will haunt the left in America until we find the answers.


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