#194 Why the Red States Are Red

When I started the Rat’s Eye View, way back in 1998, I imagined it might become something like Capitol Hill Blue or truthout.org. I had delusions of making a difference in the national dialog and of something resembling journalism. Scott’s generous and kind submission is as close as I got to my dream.

By Scott Jarrett

Surfing the Web today, two days after the 2008 Presidential election, I went to look at the final map of Blue and Red States as they represented victories for the presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. It dawned on me that there are two substantial characteristics that all the red states share, and with the exception of New Mexico and Colorado, some important characteristics shared by the blue states as well.

The first thing I noticed was that the Midwestern red states are all land-locked. In other words, they have no direct commerce with the rest of the world through shared waterways. Even Indiana, whose border just barely brushes against the Great Lakes, went blue. One could argue that the Mississippi River cuts a border between some of the red states, but the Mississippi doesn’t serve much international commerce like the Great Lakes do.

The second thing I noticed was that the red states that are connected to international waterways –mostly Southern states – are all former slave states. And the chief commodity traded internationally through these coastal red states is oil.

All the red states are either completely disconnected from the rest of the world in terms of social exchange, or are at best connected only by the culture of corporate oil.

So what? In the 21st century even Kansans and Tennesseans get the Internet, TV, radio and other media. Aren’t they making decisions based on the same available information as the rest of us? Aren’t they as well-informed?

The answer is: “Yes, except that all information exchanged between humans is processed within a social context.”

Let me defend this statement. Language itself evolves socially, as can be seen simply by observing different accents in different parts of the country. On a more subtle scale, meanings differ greatly in different regions. An example might be the use of the word “ma’am”. In the South it is still customary to address a woman with this polite term. In many southern circles it would be considered rude to omit the word. But if you were to call a woman “ma’am” in some parts of the Northeastern United States, you might get punched. Ma’am in these regions is equated with “madam” (from which it is contracted), and this word has long had the connotation of referring to a woman of ill repute. So even with the same vocabulary, we are saying vastly different things.

Here’s fodder for a red and blue conflict: does the offensive connotation for the word “ma’am” derive from some deep-seated Yankee view that Rebel women are prostitutes?

These kinds of issues are why people are repulsed by the idea of voting for a presidential candidate whose middle name is Hussein? Hussein is a very common name in the world. What if a candidate’s middle name was Bubba, or Jesus? How would your colloquial language spin dictate your voting responses if the candidate for president had one of these very common names as a middle name?

My point here is that since information is conveyed between humans through language, and language evolves socially and locally, there is little hope that any pure information can be processed without this inherent “colloquial spin”. The only possible way that information exchanged between humans can be processed objectively would be to expose the information to a diverse set of social filters and then openly invite possibilities other than those automatic ones you have around you in your comfortable social context. You would basically have to be tolerant of many diverse perspectives; even willing to embrace them.

My contention after looking at the electoral map today is that the red states can’t possibly escape their own colloquial language spin to correctly process objective meanings from the facts that we all have access to on the Internet, etc. They lack the exposure to diverse interpretations in their daily lives. They are too cut off. The blue states do all the interacting with the rest of the world for them. In fact, if you look at the map you will see that the blue states totally surround and protect the red states. One might argue that the red states are good states to live in if you are afraid of the outside world.

It is an interesting observation that the red states are the ones least likely to suffer from an attack from another country. Can anywhere be less of a target for terrorists than Arkansas? Yet the good citizens of these states act out of fear that they will come under attack by some foreign power unless the US actively protects them. So they vote on behalf of the Industrial-Military Complex and the corporations that feed it. Why aren’t they afraid of the corporate takeovers of their good farmlands that have been going on for decades? The terrorists don’t have nearly as much interest in their farms as the corporations do. Is it because their farms are being taken over by people they perceive to be Americans like them, so it is all right somehow?

In conclusion, I believe that the red states vote as they do not from a lack of available information, but from an inability to break through the “surface tension” of their isolated, colloquial sense of the world as expressed and understood through their use of the language in their social context.

November 2008

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