Please, please go forward, let this town live. All the Granola’s can go back to where they are from (not here!). We are not back in the 1800’s.
- public comment received on the proposed Davidson mine in Smithers, BC
I was reading this interesting article in the New York Times the other day (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/us/politics/30trail.html): “At Rallies of Faithful, Contrasts in Red and Blue.” It’s about the cultural differences between democrats and republicans in the US.
Obama and Biden rallies tend to be more transactional than those of their Republican counterparts. Warm-up speakers spend several minutes urging everyone to call or text-message a certain number in order to get into the “pipeline,” so the campaign can contact them to volunteer, or at least vote.
Republican speakers issue obligatory reminders for people to call their friends, make sure they get out and vote. Then they move on to the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of patriotic songs (“The Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful”).
After a group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at a Palin event in Salem, N.H., this month, someone in the crowd yelled out, “Say that, Obama!”
All these elements of cultural difference—the food we eat, the way we dress, the technologies we use, how we recreate, one’s attitude toward the national anthem—are not important politically. They don’t lead to difference stances on where government should spend money, for example. But they have become markers, markers that indicate values, And the values are politically significant—for example one’s attitude toward violence as a way to resolve conflict (husband to wife, race to race, rich to poor, country to country).
We’re not in a culture war, in that it is not really culture that is warring. We are in a values war. But because we recognize our side and the other side by our cultural attachments, in a practical way it can be called a Culture War. Granolas vs. Steak eaters.
A couple of years ago here in BC there was a political debate about a possible ban on bear hunting. On the whole, people from what we call the “Lower Mainland” (read, Vancouver) were in favour of an end to bear hunting in the province. The mayor of Prince George, a rough-and-ready, resource-extracting town in the north was not; and he called his opponents “a bunch of cappuccino drinkers.” What’s important is that he didn’t fault them on their animal-rights values. He called them out for their choice of drink.
The culture war is more intense now because the values war has become more intense. Political debate used to be (back into the 1970’s, for example) about political issues: where to allocate the budget, which countries to be allied with, what the minimum wage should be. Now political debate is increasingly about values, and so every value is out there for debate.
Ms. Emrich would like to attend another [Sarah Palin] rally later that day in nearby Shippensburg, but can’t. “I have to work,” she explains. “I’m a Republican.”
Ouch! She’s saying the culture gulf is so great that people on the left actually don’t work! But she’s saying it to make a point about values: she values supporting working class people, and her opponents don’t (ooh—ironic!). Note that culture stands in for values.
A Democrat might respond by calling Governor Palin, a “moose-hunting beauty queen.” This is not what political debate used to be like. Think back to 1970. Could you have made a political statement by accusing the other side’s candidate of wearing camo? Today it’s tantamount to saying someone is for the Draft: branding an individual as a hunter, and ATV driver, a—god forbid—snowmobiler.
The fact is that the values wars have cleaved American society in two, and Canada’s in a similar, if a little less extreme, boat. We used to stick to issues, and that insulated us from the raw personal reality of how our opponents related to the issues. Now we’re debating values, and it’s very raw. That’s why the political rift today seems so huge compared to three decades ago.
Every Republican cheering Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin and every Democrat cheering Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden claim to have dear friends in the other party, even family members. But the other people in the other party can seem to be in a whole other world, especially now.
The candidates say as much. “When I hear some of those Republican ads, I think, ‘What planet are they on?’ ” Mr. Biden said at a rally in Charleston, W.Va.
Likewise, it is inconceivable to Bill Howland, a McCain supporter in New Mexico, that Barack Obama could win on Tuesday. “When I think of the other side, I think of a giant troop of lemmings,” Mr. Howland said. “I see their eyes spinning while they’re walking over a cliff together.”
So Kate and I are hanging out at the fisherman statue at the entrance to Smithers yesterday, and while the boys are climbing on the statue I am looking at the people driving into town. The proposed mine has been on my mind a lot recently, and I am evaluating, as each car goes past, how its driver feels about the mine—knowing of course that most people are in fact unaware of the issue.
The mine is just the latest issue we’ve had here that strikes values and therefore feeds the culture wars. We had the fight over whether Walmart could come to town. We cappuccino drinkers lost that one. We had the fight over whether a big resort company could expand the ski area—the rod-and-gun-types lost that one. We had the fight over motorized access to the backcountry—us backcountry skiers lost that one. We had the fight over the Galore Creek mine up in the remote Coast Mountains—we lost that one, but it went bust anyway, so the snowmobilers lost too.
So naturally I’m evaluating the cars going by using their cultural markers. Driving a big Ford pickup truck, ATV in the back? Pro-mine, pro-development at any cost. Pulling into Canadian Tire to buy more made-in-China landfill crap? He’s allied with the first guy. Japanese car, Yakima rocket box on the roof? That must be one of our people. And so on. Culture wars. Is it fair?
No, its’ not fair. It’s not even accurate.
Later we drive by the old crappy Saan store. It has gone out of business—but before it did, it sold, if you’ll excuse my French, cheap crap to unsophisticated people who don’t know any better and couldn’t find any alternatives in this town anyway. We bought lots there—‘cause it was the only place you could get certain things. Today the new owners are putting a new sign up: The Bargain Store. Oh great. Another crap bazaar, and it feels—but is this actually true?—that the values of the valley are failing to becoming more liberal. That we are stuck in a nightmare of the religious right.
But the reality is that we just re-elected our NDP member of parliament (that’s the left of centre party for those of you unfamiliar with Canadian politics). The reality is also that some of our most vocal opponents of this mine are dairy farmers, telephone linemen and retired auto-plant workers. It would be a big mistake to think that cultural markers tell us a whole hell of a lot about people.
Here in the valley we also have a six sub-cultures, not two. There are the progressive, organic food, hybrid-driving, off-the-grid, folk-music types. There are the golf-playing real estate brokers and businessmen. There are the Christian fundamentalist Dutch farmers. There are the camo-wearing logging- and mining workers. There are the first nations. And there are the scientists, bureaucrats and consultants who, yes, grew up down south and moved up here to live on acreages and be away from the rat race.
But the reality is that most people actually fall into more than one of these groups. Weird, but it gets you thinking.
I think what I’ve got out of this is that while I might react to cultural markers, I need to be wary of them too. I know more than a few moose-hunters here, and I think I know a few girls who used to be beauty queens. They are nice people—important people. The cultural markers are fun, but they’re…misleading.