Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Culture Shock

What is Culture Shock? Typically it is defined as the anxiety associated with adjusting to a new culture or lifestyle. Its most easily recognized when one moves from one country to a very different country. The language, food and customs can all be radically different.

But it can also occur within the borders of a large complex country like the U.S. Despite the homogenizing effects of the mass media, there are still substantive differences between different parts of this country.

It’s not nearly as pronounced as it was 40 or 50 years ago, but it still exists. I think we all sort of assume, at the subconscious level, that everywhere is just like where we live or at least only marginally different. When it suddenly becomes undeniably obvious that’s not the case, there is a sort of an immediate defense mechanism that relegates “them” to an aberration. When it becomes clear that YOU may be the aberration rather than “them,” I think the immediate reaction is to try and re-establish what you view as the natural order of things.

I believe the recent spate of vitriolic political exchanges are sort of related to this phenomenon. How often recently have you heard someone on the right wing ask “what happened to my country?”

How often did you hear a similar sort of question from the left while Bush was in the oval office related to “what happened to my civil liberties?”

The fact of the matter is that there are two wings to this country and then there is the great meandering herd in the middle that ebbs and flows with the times. When the herd “leans right,” the left moans; when the herd leans left, the right cries.

It used to be conventional wisdom that only a moderate could win the oval office. This conventional wisdom doesn’t appear to be working recently. The reason it no longer works is that the two parties have shifted dramatically left and right. Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats went extinct a while back.

This means that the choices for Fearless Leader are getting to be more and more at the extremes. That means the moaning and crying becomes screaming and yelling.

I think this is a serious problem. If this continues, it sort of means that at any given point in time a reasonably large segment of the population is going to feel like strangers in their own country. Worse, it tends to also split among geographic boundaries. The South is by far the most conservative bastion, the Northeast and West Coast tend to be more progressive minded and the Midwest sort of gets caught in the middle.

As long as moderation prevails, this arrangement is sort of manageable. But I’d hate to be in a teeter-totter situation where the ruling junta swings back and forth between far right and far left. I don’t think that situation is stable.

It would be only a matter of time before one side or the other manages to elect a president that is totally unacceptable to the other side. I think the election of a black man strained the boundaries a bit. Racism is never far below the surface nor far from a conservative’s heart. The election of an openly fundamentalist Christian, bent upon dissolving the wall of separation between church and state, might well be an intolerable situation for the secular Northeast and West. The election of an atheist might be one for the Christian South.

Luckily I see no atheist on the horizon threatening to take the reins of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately I do see fundamentalist Christians looking to step to the head of the Republican Party.

When the second civil war comes, it will be fought over the interpretation of the first amendment. It will be fought between those defending the separation of church and state and those looking to end it.

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