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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Is provincialism a necessary petrie dish for fascism?

Oxford defines parochialism this way:

A limited or narrow outlook, especially focused on a local area; narrow-mindedness, insularity, small mindedness, provincialism.

Merriam-Webster defines fascism this way;

A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

There is a tidal wave of verbiage, both oral and written, that is engulfing the American media in the wake of 250 mass killings in 2019 alone, much of it focused on “white supremacy” and “fascism”. Immigration, as it has done, and continues to do, is tearing the country’s heart open and bleeding. Fueled largely by the bigoted rhetoric of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the political atmosphere characterized by grief, desperation, loss and hopelessness is compounding what has been a protracted period of political obstruction, defiance, insouciance and paralysis. Obsessed by fear, anxiety, distrust and frayed nerves, evidenced by the panic that ensued following the “backfire” of a motorcycle engine near Times Square in New York, the American people are starting to ask some cogent, penetration questions.

Far from becoming a “post-racial nation” as some trumpeted immediately after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the U.S. has witnessed an unleashing of racial tensions, giving proof to the paradoxical notion that “having voted for a black president” and demonstrating that I am not a racist” now I can express the hatred, fear, contempt and bigotry I really espouse, without any concomitant guilt. Below the radar, the number of white supremacist groups began to spike after Obama’s electoral victory. And, in 2018, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, these groups exceeded 1000.

“Rapists” “murderers” coming over the border from Mexico were verbal bullets fired by the then presidential candidate in 2016 as he descended the “gold” escalator to announce his candidacy. And then there were his comments (“good people on both sides”) following Charlottesville’s ugly protests by opponents of white supremacy encountering the shouts of those very klansmen, “We will not be replaced by Jews!” echoing both the hatred and the danger reminiscent of the 1930’s in Germany. The Muslim ban, the shithole countries in Africa, the AIDS spectre from Haiti, all of these racial slurs erupting like lethal molten lava from the president’s larynx, underlined and removed any doubt, at least in the public mind (if not the “mind” of Senate Republicans) that the leader of the free world is, has been and will continue to be a fascist white supremacist.

And the answer to the question, “Is he a symptom or the root cause?” has to be the former. One man, even one as reprehensible as this president, so narcissistic, so depraved and so disconnected from the people, the history, the law, the traditions and the culture of the nation he is elected to protect and defend, cannot be held responsible for all of the “carnage” he so despises about America.

I spent nearly four years working in a county on the west side of the Continental Divide, at the end of the last century, a county that voted 87% for this president in 2016. As an “alien” in legal and definition terms, I was clearly an outsider, and reminded of my “alienation” each and every day I lived and worked there. There are so many examples of significant cultural and sociological differences between my home country, Canada, and this outlaw county that a catalogue would be excessive. Basque cattle and sheep herders lived and worked on the outskirts of the little town; within the town, coal miners and workers at the coal-fired power plant and a few merchants, with a smattering of ex-military personnel. Blacks were few and mostly invisible; liquor stores abounded; reading was disdained and conversation was restricted to hot sauces, hatred of environmentalist “tree-huggers” and contempt for the rich out of state whose homes were powered by the electricity from the local plant.

So deep was the hatred for those “California” wealthy, that one miner, an explosive specialist, injected a charge into a new hole and blew himself up, after leaving a piece of hateful scribbling. Bloviating about having “fought” in Vietnam, by a former marine who never set foot in that country, echoed over too many restaurant tables, on too many noon hours on days off, as did the bragging about having to “hide” for at least half of a ten-hour work shift by a unionized power plant electrician. Trophy wives, at least in the eyes of their spouses and their spouses male associates, abounded, as a single preponderant image, evidencing a dominant, if unconscious and closed patriarchy. As part of this ‘meme’ of course, was a contempt for any male interested in the arts, music (except country and western), books, hiking (except for hunting), and dance.

So narrow were the mental guardrails for the male population, and so submissive were the attitudes, words and actions of many of the women that even when a  twelve-year-old daughter begged her father, “Please don’t shoot!” he father nevertheless fired a shotgun into the sparrow on the clothesline right in front of her. One professional woman actually bragged about having purchased a new $50 portable television that she could watch alone, while her spouse indulged in ‘his’ preferred tv-pornography, after nearly forty years of marriage. Drugs, mostly methamphetamines, were couriered from the “south” through town, and on up north to more northern states, while supplying the local young men with their needed fix. I am uncertain if there were “meth” labs in the town. Drinking among high school graduates resulted in road deaths nearly every spring following graduation. A teen help-line, set up under the auspices of the local McDonald’s owner/operator, went silent because local teens did not trust the confidentiality of those volunteers who staffed it on weekend evenings and nights for several months. Meetings held in a home of a long-time resident, in what was literally sagebrush desert, both hot and dry, went without even an offer of a glass of water for participants, so alien from the human culture was the host.

During the time of the Bosnian war, there was little talk of or interest in world affairs, given that most television news was restricted to state boundaries, and few if any national newspapers were delivered to local residents. Almost nothing was either known or asked about the country to the north, Canada, from which I had emigrated. Disassociation, and also alienation from “outside” influences, was so apparent and so operative that one person felt compelled to inquire about the acceptability of a “black” relative from the state capital to a community celebration before granting permission for him to attend. The local community college attracted a low enrollment, offering training in manual and social service skills. Entertainment, outside of television, centred around rodeo activities, and the sign on the highway at the town’s entrance read, “The Real Wild West” as a proud, if hollow, claim to the land of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who had prowled the region decades previous.

Would I, and do I dub this picture the epitome of parochialism?

In a heartbeat, YES!

It sees only as far as the local hills and mini-mountains, the opportunity to hunt and to mine and to drink and to “do” drugs, with so little cultural, intellectual and social and political winds blowing through its valleys and tumble-weed scattered streets as to be virtually an intellectual, emotional and psychic wasteland. Hatred of the city, and even more profoundly of the “EAST” as represented by New York and Boston, Harvard and Yale, Columbia and all forms of government, these people were still mired in their own ignorance, and the walls preventing penetration were so thick, deep and high that nothing from “outside” except drugs and more evidence to instill anxiety were going to penetrate or subvert their mental prisons.

Male anger, regardless of the specific “root cause” flowed like a noxious and toxic gas up and down each street and out into the river valley and up onto the sandstone outcropping that offered a panoramic view of the town, itself dominated by some two dozen churches of different denominations, in a deliberate and almost military obsession to demonstrate moral, ethical and spiritual purity as integral to this exclusivity.

Reading, what little took place, was devoid of even a hint of poetry, given the literal and legal constrictions on the local mind-set and the false security that such an approach seemed to provide. Relationships were, predominantly, transactional, leaving nuances aside, and struggling merely to accommodate only the bare essential of getting by, both from a personal perspective and from a community perspective.

Of course, I detested this human wasteland, and the forces that guaranteed its permanence. Like a frozen iceberg, in a frozen tundra, this piece of human life was not ever likely to thaw into its full potential, and of course, welcomed the opportunity to thumb its nose at the world and the “effetes” like Obama from Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the EAST who had been in office for too long, in their mind.
Like an earnest eunuch, I banged my head against the walls of this community, and my fists into the walls of the house to which I had been assigned, until I broke….and had to leave.

Looking back, both my innocence and my earnest need to “break through” such walls of resistance, (as a career educator, whose challenges had never been so resistant or so successful in sustaining their resistance) were part of my undoing. I detest provincialism, racism, white supremacy and the vacuous and narcissistic individuals who peddle in this social and political anaesthetic.

Nevertheless, there are still millions, just like those “wild west(erners)” who never did and never would have accepted me, nor I them even if I had stayed for the past two decades.

Is provincialism a necessary petrie dish for fascism? I am beginning to think it might be.

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