The Thing That Makes Bubbles Worse

I thoroughly enjoyed Kevin’s piece today decrying the whole notion that any part of America is more “real” than the other. This paragraph is particularly good:

Russell Kirk, describing his “canons of conservative thought,” argued that to be a conservative is to appreciate genuine diversity, “the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” The Left is living up to Kirk’s expectations: The increasingly sneering attitude of coastal elites toward the more conservative interior, particularly for the poor communities there, is as undeniable as it is distasteful. But conservatives are not immune to these Kulturkampf tendencies, either. No, the whole country does not need to be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be Lubbock, Texas, either.

This seems so obviously correct, that one has to wonder — why the Kulturkampf? I get that differences over religious and political views are meaningful and important, but the Kulturkampf veers into virtually everything — the clothes we wear, the cars (or trucks) we drive, and the television we watch. I won’t bore you with link after link showing all our different national habits. The problem isn’t with the differences; it’s with the sneering. 

As a born-and-bred southerner who lived almost a decade of his life in the Northeast, I think there’s an under-discussed cultural phenomenon that helps explain at least some of the disdain. It’s not that New Yorkers, for example, never encounter Texans or Iowans, but the ones they do encounter are often regional refugees, people who — for whatever reason — found the towns of their birth stifling or limiting and wanted to try life in the big city.

For every Kentuckian in Manhattan who says, “I love Hazard; I’m just here for work,” in my experience you’ll find four more who say, “I hated that narrow-minded place. I couldn’t wait to get out.” This is particularly true in the arts, academy, and media — exactly the industries that do the most to manufacture elite attitudes and opinions. Everyone likes to hear that their way of life is the best, and when you encounter a stream of southern expatriates who more often than not reinforce your own lifestyle choices, it’s not only gratifying, it can deceive you into thinking you know more about a place than you do.

If you want to know the best case for a place, ask the person who’s happily put down roots there, not the person who left angry or who needed more opportunities. And that’s of course the person we’re least likely to encounter in our daily lives. So the bubble gets worse, even if a Columbia professor lives next door to a lawyer born in Mobile. 

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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