Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Small Town Values Suck

Sarah Palin, in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, ended up quoting known racist, right-wing writer (via Pandagon). The quote she used was:
We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.”

Let's ignore, for a minute, who she choose to quote (and whether or not she was even aware of it) and focus in on the substance of her statement. She is claiming that people in small towns are more moral than the rest of us: those of us who live in cities. Now, first and foremost, this statement irritates me because of it's vagueness: I live in a "city" in North Dakota, but you can drive across it in less than twenty minutes. Do they raise "good people" here, or are we dishonest, and insincere, and undignified?

But, beside the ambiguities of "small town", I'm still going to call shenanigans on her statement. People in small towns are no more honest, sincere, or dignified than people in cities, and a lot of times, they are substantially less so.

I have lived in multiple communities, in multiple states, that are various sizes; and nobody was de facto more moral. My bike has been stolen in small towns, whereas my wallet full of money was returned to me in a big city. I was threatened in a suburban school by a white girl, and I was tortured by guys in a small town. I have met cultured people in towns in the middle of nowhere, and complete neadrathals in cities. The number of people you're around doesn't make you a better or worse person.

In general, there are a few differences between small towns and large cities.

Small towns compared to cities:

A greater percentage of people feel comfortable being openly racist, sexist, heterocentrist, and discriminatory to non-Christians in more public places. That doesn't mean that there aren't racist people in cities, or even the same amount in sheer numbers. But, I think it tends to be that if you live in the city, at some point you actually have to run across people of different ethnicities, belief structures, women in more than one career field, and non-heterosexual people, than if you live in a small town.

Small towns are filled with gossipers. Big towns, are too, but because of sheer numbers, it is impossible for everybody to know everybody else's business. There are no secrets in small town.

Small towns lack culture. They generally have one community theatre (if that) that puts on nonthreatning plays like Okalahoma and Shakespearean plays that most people don't know are dirty. The variety shows that they put on are likewise the only form of concerts, generally, except for an extremely local band for county fairs and the like. The theatres put on completely mainstream movies, about two weeks after they are released, and even they get filtered a lot. Compare that to a city which, at any given night, you have your choice of performances, concerts, clubs, museums, whatever.

There are pros and cons to living anywhere, but to suggest that people are more moral in small towns means the person doing the suggesting doesn't know what "moral" means.


At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The logical leap that I guess don't see here is how "we grow good people in small towns" became "we do not grow good people in big towns" or "we grow better people in small towns than they do in big towns".

Extolling the (admittedly exaggeratedly idyllic) virtues of small town life does not diminish the offerings of big towns.

...just like praising one child in classroom for being kind does not mean that I'm saying that the other children are not kind or are less kind

...just like telling my husband that I really like his Sunday morning omelettes is not implicitly saying that I hate everything else he cooks...

We are a nation of big towns that has a romanticized idea of small town life. But I don't read the antagonism in her quote that you do. Just another opinion.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...

I would say that the context of her speech make it sound like she is in fact diminishing people living in the city, like how "She didn't need to do focus testing" because "she knew everyone in her town". She makes multiple references to small town life, contrasting what are aspects of big cities.

The virtues of small town life are non-existent: there are some aesthetic qualities to small-towns, but they aren't more or less virtuous.

At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that small-town life is incredible...for some people.

I would say that the intimacies of small-town life are incredibly virtuous...for some people.

I don't believe you can say definitively that small-town life is better...or worse...than large-city life. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Obviously, nothing that comes out of the mouth of a national politician wannabe is unplanned, off the cuff, or unscripted...So a lot of people must participate in the same ethos about small towns.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...

Yes, lots of people believe in the ethos of small towns. I believe they are wrong. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn't make it true, nor is there a lot of evidence to support their assertions.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure what "evidence" one could provide to "support their assertions". What is pretty clear is that there are lots of people who prefer to live in small towns. They must have their reasons.

Are you saying that anybody who prefers small-town life or sees value in living in a small-town is simply "wrong"?

Could it be that your experiences involving small-town life are dissimilar to the experiences of others? In statistics, a sample size of one (person's experience) would be woefully inadequate to draw such bold conclusions as you seem to have drawn.

At 7:41 PM, Blogger Aly said...

I grew up in a big city but prefer the large town to small city life. For clarification purposes, my rough approximation after looking at a list of ND cities is: population above 2000 to be considered a large town but certainly less than 80,000 to be a small city – this arbitrary guideline excludes Fargo (but not Bismarck) on the high end of population and Mayville (but not Rugby or Grafton) on the low end.

The way that I perceive it: things are less rushed outside of the city, people are friendlier and you get to know your neighbors, crime is lower, and traffic is nonexistent. I also enjoy the nearness to nature, even in Grand Forks it only takes 20 minutes to get to "nowhere" where you can see the stars or just enjoy the quiet. Being able to hunt within a short drive is nice, too.

As far as culture, I could give a damn what is playing at the Ordway or the Guthrie -- it costs $40-$70 or more per ticket to enjoy such culture. Concerts tend to run about the same, and I don’t enjoy clubs. These types of entertainment are just not that valuable to me, and on the occasion that they would be (Weird Al at the West Fargo Fair, summer musicals at Trollwood), I’d just drive to the city to go see them.

For me, big cities offer nothing to me except employment. If I can find employment outside of a city, I'll gladly take the reduced pay and consider myself much better off in the end. Ideally, I’d love to live in Hillsboro (pop. 1500) or Lincoln (1700) while working and shopping in the neighboring population center.

There certainly are differences between small towns and big cities in the personalities that are attracted to them. But as far as morality goes, I won’t be so foolish as to presume that population density makes a difference either way. I imagine that her speechwriter, regardless of who he quoted, would feel the total opposite of what was said that night -- I believe he is a vegan, animal-rights activist and somehow I just don’t think he would enjoy the hunter’s mentality of rural North Dakota. But then I could be wrong!

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...


Could you write a name down? I prefer making sure I'm not mixing various "anons" up.

Generally, "ethos" means "showing moral character". In order for their to be evidence for small towns to be more moral, I'd need first a definition of that morality, and then some evidence to support that. I'd need statistics, or some strong evidence, comparing cities in small towns. For instance, if one is making the claim that it is "more moral" to be intimate with one's neighbors, I'd need to see what moral structure that falls under (the definition of morality) and then something that demonstrates that they are actually more intimate with their community members(hours spent with people in your community, money raised for community, both in general and in particular, heck, I'd even take "self-reported").

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and like I said in the post, there are some aesthetic qualities that some people prefer in small towns. But beauty =/= morals.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...

I have seen no evidence to suggest that small towns are less rushed, friendlier, or less criminal. (I'll give you the traffic :)).

It is a matter of personal opinion, but I have the right to point out that making towns more idyllic than they actually are is stupid.

Somehow, I can't see an animal-rights activist writing speeches for Palin. Is there a link or something for that one?

At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Jake said...

You really need to change your title to teller of half truths. I noticed that you neglected to point out the fact that Palin had to defend small towns because the media and Obama portrayed her and everyone else from small towns as retarded inbred hicks incapable of holding any real office.

How, as a self proclaimed Feminist, who seems to hold that value highest, can you not be outraged at the way this woman is being treaded by Obama and the Media, regardless of her politics?

As for this statement,

“I have seen no evidence to suggest that small towns are less rushed, friendlier, or less criminal. (I'll give you the traffic :)).”

Then you are an idiot. Obviously you have never been to a small town. Compared to small towns big cities have more road rage and traffic violations, rushed, more assholes who will give you the finger for looking at them, and staggeringly higher rates of violent crimes per capita. Not to mention more visible signs of racism, the Black or Mexican part of town, and more instances of hate crimes. Outside of campus here in Grand Forks, I have never seen protests for or against homosexuality, or taking one side or another on religion. But I sure did when I was living at home.

Being from a small town in Southern California commonly referred to as San Diego, I can tell you that this assertion, “Small towns compared to cities: A greater percentage of people feel comfortable being openly racist, sexist, heterocentrist, and discriminatory to non-Christians in more public places”, is simply a generalized fantasy idealization about city life from an ignorant girl incapable of seeing things for what they really are.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...


I'm tempted to just delete your comment for being boring and contributing nothing, but since any and all of your insults are stupid rather than malicious I'm going to simply respond.

Palin was doing more than simply "defending" small towns: she was downright saying they were better. Show me where Obama has said that small towns are "retarded inbred hicks" and I'll consider your comment valid. What I remember him saying was condescending (even if it has a hint of truth to it), but not vindictive.

I do care about the SEXIST attacks against Palin. If you're interested, Shakesville has a great series where it is pointed out all of the sexist attacks against Palin and condemns them. I don't have a similar thing at my site, but then again, I barely update this site, and Shakesville already does it better.

But, just because I condemn sexist attacks against Palin, doesn't mean she should be shielded from criticism. If she says untrue, blatantly stupid things, she should be called on them (like male politicians are). If she is grossly inexperienced and under qualified, that should be called on too. You can't use a magical "she's a woman shield": THAT would be sexism by low expectations (which is as bad as "sexism by ridiculous expectations).

Oh, and finally: you really should start reading the post, particularly the "multiple communities, multiple states, various sizes" part. I have lived in tiny-ass towns more frequently than I've lived in cities. Heck, the place I'm living in now just barely QUALIFIES as a city.

And if you're going to say that small towns are more friendly et cetera, I really am going to require something more than just your say-so. Otherwise, you're just spouting off your own perspective. This is just as valid as my perceptions (I didn't cite anything either), but don't expect it to be persuasive (as you obviously didn't expect my view to be persuasive).

Finally, if you wish to continue to post here, I'd like to helpfully suggest that your chances of not being deleted will increase if you avoid the following insults:

Idiot, girl (when used as a diminutive, as you did).

Also "feminist" has no need to be capitalized, and I'd appreciate if you'd not imply that I'm a liar.

Finally, if you think that just because there isn't a protest, there isn't a problem, I'm going to have to ask YOU to open your eyes a bit.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Aly said...

"The Palin-Scully pairing is anything but a guaranteed fit, though. Palin is known as an avid hunter; Scully is best known for his vigorous defense of animal rights. A vegetarian who is regularly critical of the NRA and much of the hunting community, he is a passionate advocate for doing away with the more brutal versions of blood-sport, including aerial hunting, which Palin supports." -- Time

Obviously "friendlier" and "rushed" cannot be empirically measured. But like I prefaced, it is just the way I see it.

As far as crime goes, I'm sure there are statistics somewhere. Problems with crime statistics aside (Does 1 assault = 1 buglary = 1 rape? Perhaps people in small towns under report?), I'm really not trying to prove that point anyway.

Only that I prefer small towns. I'm not trying to convince anyone, in fact, it would be against my own best interests to do so. =)

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Teddy said...

Arrest Data for 2007, from the FBI. Straight out of the horses mouth.

Be aware that this is arrest, not necessarily actual crime. Next is reported crimes in a similar breakdown.

And looking at the data preliminarily, metropolitan areas take the lead for violent crime, followed by communities outside of metropolitan areas (suburbs) and then non-metro. Cities closely follow suburbs for property crime, with small towns in the tail.

There is more crime in cities than in small towns, factually. In this researcher's opinion, this says nothing about the quality of person in a city or town, only about the population density of the criminally-minded and percieved opportunity to commit and get away with crimes of either a violent or property nature. I myself still prefer city life because of the abundancy of stuff to do and see, not all of which costs $40-$70. It's not nearly that much to go wander around, say, a military surplus store or walk down Nicollet Avenue.


At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Small towns are filled with people who think the same as Sarah Palin... also known as selfrightous hicks.

At 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very small cities are also like that.

At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Small Town Survivor said...

I lived in a small town for about a year and a half recently and it made me a little bit racist. I now completely despise redneck, backwoods, white-trash, a-hole hicks.

Small towns suck. That's why they're small -- the good people always leave for better opportunities and culture and leave the idiots behind.

And I have found that small town people are far less moral, far more two-faced, far less educated, far more hateful, far less intellectually curious, and far more corrupt than those who live in cities.

And stating that per capita crime rates are lower is complete hogwash.

At 5:27 AM, Anonymous Small Town Survivor said...

Oh, and Sarah Palin is a blazin' idiot. But then, she is the Messiah for general small-town prejudice suckery. The uneducated racist homophobes in Ruraltown, USA, think she's just the friggin' bee's knees.

Let them have her and she them.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Small towns are for people who are going no-where. Nothing to see so they talk about each other. Crime is abundant in small towns, most of it just do not get taken care of. Small towns are full of druggers, hiding from the detectives in cities.
I lived in the city and in small town America - to me there is no comparison. Small town suck literally.


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