Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Destroying Diversity with Uniformity


Writing of the value of American cultural diversity in 1957, author Donald Davidson recognized that it could not flourish "if America was to subjugated to the ideal of uniformity, or to the ideal universe that some one section might generate."

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Destroying Diversity with Uniformity

"Those of us who still believe in the map of the United States know that it marks the residence of some diverse Americans who had better not go unacknowledged.  In Vermont, for instance, are people who are still Yankees; and in Georgia, and elsewhere, there are still Rebels.

I remember talking with a certain Virginian who watched a Vermont sunset with me, one summer evening.  The woods were as snug and precise as a Yankee kitchen . . . The streams were orthodox streams, almost model streams . . . often called "brooks" – a word that for Southerners existed only on the printed page.

The forebears of the Vermont Yankee had once failed to understand how Southerners could be devoted to both slavery and to democracy.  That old failure of understanding did not seem queer, or worth more than a passing sigh, to two Southerners who stood looking at sunset upon a land . . . cut to a discreet Yankee pattern.

But the human geography of America had now become a parti-colored thing, sprawling across the continent in a crazy quilt of provinces, or sections, each with its private notion of a universe.  No longer, as in the sixties, could the Yankee make bold and set up a general pattern for the entire Union.  He had enough to do if he would defend and preserve what was peculiarly his own – his very own, surely, in upper New England.

In such a purpose of preservation these two Southerners at last could make bold to sympathize, even to help if possible.  But preservation could not be achieved without recognizing a principle of diversity in American life.  But how could the principle of diversity be inculcated? 

On the negative side, certain false images, the product of legend or propaganda, must somehow be counterbalanced.  To the Virginian I recalled the horror of a good lady from the Middle West, who was motoring from Washington to Richmond.  Mount Vernon was all right, she thought; there the legend was safely frozen.  But beyond, on the road to Richmond, what had become of all the great mansions she had read about, the cotton fields with Negroes caroling, the old gentlemen in goatees and white vests, sipping mint juleps in the shade?

They were not visible. There were only a few scattered shacks and tumbledown barns in miles of impenetrable wilderness that looked for all the world as it must have looked when John Smith first invaded it.   If she could have encountered the legend, the lady would have been content. But not seeing it or knowing how to locate it, she was smitten with a housewifery desire to get at this ragged land with a good broom and whisk it into seemliness.

Other sojourners had been anxious to do a far more drastic tidying up.  The Harlan County visitors, the Scottsboro attorneys, the shock troops of Dayton and Gastonia asked no questions about genius of place.  Wherever they went on their missions of social justice, they carried with them a legend of the future, more dangerously abstract than the legend of the past, and sternly demanded that the local arrangements be made to correspond with it, at whatever cost.

And yet the only America that the visitors offered as a model was an overgrown urban America, forever in process of becoming one laboratory experiment after another."

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, pp. 232-234)