What is Past is Prologue

VeldeDutchShipsBy Astra Navigo

Recently, an article reminded me of a book I’d read almost twenty years ago – in it, historian David Fischer pointed out that there were four distinct migrations to the shores of America, and that each one laid the groundwork for the social structure which led to the Civil War and the cultural divide we have between the northern and southern states today.

Revisiting that book was an interesting experience this week, as I was compelled to view the material in a new light – a far darker and less-romantic vision of America, as the fundamentals of our makeup have led us to this pass – the reaction to 9/11; the ascendancy of the Right, and especially the all too real possibility of another civil conflict.

Fischer identifies these waves of migration as follows:

1. Puritans, who settled mainly in New England.
2. Cavaliers, who settled in Virginia.
3. Quakers, who settled mainly in the Delaware Valley and surrounding regions.
4. Borderers, who settled in the backcountry of the rural South.

While these weren’t the only migrants – there were French Canadians and French who settled Louisiana, for example – these were minor migrations which did not materially affect the fabric of American society, save for their local influence. It was the four major migratory ‘waves’ which literally created America.

In the 1770’s-’80’s, the Revolution was fought primarily due to a union between the Puritans of New England and surrounding northeastern states and their Cavalier counterparts in Virginia. The American Civil War of the 1860’s was more of a continuation of that conflict than a ‘new’ war – the Puritans, wanting an end to slavery, could not force the hand of the Cavalier culture in the South at the time the Constitution was written. This happened when the two cultures turned on each other in the 1860’s, settling with a Constitutional amendment the issue of human slavery, and settling (for the time being) the ideas of states rights and secession – more on that later.

Approaching the whole as a socio-anthropological study gives us the ability to detach much of the emotion from the thing, and look at our past from a very human standpoint, devoid of the twin concepts of politics and religion. It’s the aftermath of the Civil War period which gives credence to the concept, and gives us pause as we ponder our future as a nation – it also gives us the framework by which to answer a perplexing question – why is nearly half of the nation – made up almost exclusively of working-class people who are (or should be) at fundamental odds with the core tenets of, yet are supportive of, the political party of the ‘ruling class’.

The startling thing about this map is that it almost exactly reflects the Borderer migrations pre and post Civil War. While the Republican party has maintained some of the classic Cavalier philosophies of money and privilege, paradoxically the Republicans have also, in order to gain a broader base, adopted a Borderer culture with Borderer values.

Who are the Borderers?

The Borderers are those peoples who resided on or near the borders between Scotland and England. In a state of near-constant conflict since the 1100’s, the border regions were finally ‘pacified’ (read: Militarily defeated) in the 1700’s. Many of them – in fact, entire regions along the borders were stripped of indigenous populations, these people suffering wholesale-deportation to America.

Capitalists from England came to the border regions to create estates from the newly-vacated land. Not content with what they had, mass evictions of Scots and border-English families became common – the evicted took ship for America in droves.

These people were not like the Puritans, who aspired to education and who had loftier reasons for leaving England – religious and political freedom; the ability to speak one’s mind without sufferance. The Borderers came to America with one goal in mind – material improvement in their lives.

The lands to which they were relegated were in the backcountry of America at the time – the southern regions of the colonies and westward to what is now Kentucky and Tennessee. These areas were already populated by First Nations peoples, and the Borderers wasted no time inflicting on them the same treatment they had suffered themselves.

Borderer politics were rough-and-tumble; Andrew Jackson is probably the best example of this, along with John C. Calhoun. Their religion was also far less structured, taking the form of field meetings and prayer-groups, with semiliterate preachers giving broad-ranging interpretations of the Bible and its meaning. Living a hardscrabble life, these people were easy converts to the teachings of people like John Darby and the Dispensationalists; pre-millenial ‘rapture’ was prominent in their church culture, and the desire to hasten Christ’s return (when, ostensibly, life would be better) was also a prominent feature.

Coming from a culture of definite superiors and inferiors based on material possessions (mainly land and cattle), which gave rise to an order based on social rank, the Borderers who came to America mimicked this structure in their New World lives. Conservative to an extreme, they routinely ostracized people who didn’t conform to the ‘rules’. Whereas they had well-defined notions of ‘freedom’, the freedom to dissent wasn’t one of them.

Indeed, violence in Borderer culture was ingrained for a thousand years before any of them came to America. The concepts of shooting trespassers; the beginnings of America’s ‘gun culture’; favoring property over civil or human rights – all are hallmarks of Borderer culture.

Fighting ability was valued highly – to the extent that favoring anything military (if you’ll pardon the almost-pun here) bordered on worship.

On the other hand, there were things which were not valued in Borderer culture – top of that list is education. In England, education was only reserved for the most-promising or the most-wealthy; while schools were built in backcountry America, most adhered to the ‘blab-school’ concept, offering very little in the way of genuine education, save the little a child could learn by rote or repetition.

Again paradoxically, early American backcountry sexuality was dominated by the twin concepts of promiscuity and Calvinism – the ‘shotgun wedding’ literally got its start in America’s backcountry. Girls became pregnant as teenagers; illegitimacy was rampant, and due to the low population both in English-Scottish Borderer country and America’s backcountry-South, the population didn’t draw such a fine-line regarding sexual congress between close relatives.

Always an insular culture brought on by the differences they brought and the remoteness of their location, Borderers were always quick to join-ranks against any outsiders – or outside ideas. Their own peculiar brand of conservative activism prevented the dissolution of slavery during the Constitutional convention, and led to the Civil War in the 1860’s. American Backcountry xenophobia, wrapped up in a culture which predates the founding of the nation, exists to this day.

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So, what of today?

Some of the dots are easy to connect – the Republican Party is the party of the conservative South and America’s backcountry; it espouses much of what Borderer culture has become, and while it represents a fixed-point cultural anachronism in American society, it also has the benefit of great financial support from America’s ruling class, and a ready-and-willing set of culturally-ingrained servants – a form of political servitude not much distanced from its 16th and 17th-century roots in the border-ridings of England and Scotland.

In fact, much of traditional Borderer values are present in recent headlines and conservative gatherings. A quick look:

— Fear of religious persecution
— Promotion of a ‘thugocracy’ – beating-down the ‘liberals’
— Shooting abortion providers
— Actively calling for a ‘Christian revolution’
— Conservative activism, carried to extremes (assault-rifles at speeches; etc.)
— Defense of ‘traditional marriage’ at the expense of the civil-rights of others
— “Taking their country back” (through force of arms and a gun-culture, if necessary)

This ‘culture-within-a-culture’, while not unnoticed, has caused many a journalist, politician, and other pundit no small amount of alarm and confusion. Until we examine its sociopolitical and anthropological roots, however, we can’t begin to understand its meaning.

The polarizing effect of this culture is evident both religiously and politically. With pastors calling for ‘a new Christian revolutionary war’, and with Congressmen like Joe Wilson shouting ‘You lie!’ from the floor of the House, it’s not hard to see that there are highly-charged emotions running rampant over common sense.

This sort of thing, regrettably, isn’t new to the American political scene. Let’s connect a few dots:

Borderer culture gave rise to John C. Calhoun, the firebrand of the senate during the years prior to the Civil War; it was Calhoun who advocated (as early as 1832) outright secession from the United States, and who later stated that slavery was a ‘positive good’ in America.

We cannot forget another Borderer, Preston Brooks (who, like Calhoun, was also from South Carolina); Brooks beat fellow senator Charles Sumner almost to death with his cane, having disagreed with Sumner’s speech vilifying then-recent pro-slavery violence in Kansas.

It appears that Calhoun-style politics has raised its head again in America, thanks to the persistent Borderer culture.

We only have to look at the rhetoric of Michele Bachmann, who has called for a ‘revolution in America’ so that Liberals ‘can’t achieve their ends.’, or the recent calls from Governor Rick Perry of Texas for outright secession.

Ignoring the media at this juncture is a mistake. We only have to look at the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly to see the true nature of Borderer-culture-made-manifest in modern American politics.

Economic marginalization has always been part and parcel with Borderer culture. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see right-wing extremism – seated in ‘red’ states with heavy Borderer ancestries – on the increase.

The ranks of disaffected Americans are growing. The recession has disrupted the plans of 1 in 3 Americans – a level not seen since the Great Depression. Extreme philosophies; honed for decades by ‘red’ state residents, have greater appeal with the advent of a bad economy.

On one side, we have a philosophy which espouses property rights over human and civil; xenophobia over openness, and a culture of violence over a culture of peace. On the other side, we have a philosophy of enlightened, educated reason.

If I’m right, we have the rest of this year and the next to straighten things out. If we don’t, our own history and cultural differences suggest serious civil conflict – this time, as before, a cultural divide, but the stakes are actually far higher: We’ll be deciding whether we remain a republic which values property over people, or whether we become a true social democracy.

The choice, I fear, will be made by those with the loudest voices.

About astranavigo

Astra is one of the clever monkeys occupying space on the Third Planet From The Sun. While it was an early wish of Astra's to be one of the first to go to Proxima Centauri, he knows this is not to be; instead, you can find him here (some of the time) using simple tools to create communication. Holding up a mirror and saying 'Looky! Mistofer Emperor! Y'ain't wearin' no clothes!" is but one of the services he provides here. Others are subverting prevailing wisdom, peeing in people's Cheerios, trashing on their Imaginary Friends (he does this a lot,) and shifting paradigms without benefit of a clutch. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he hopes he'll never have to learn the true meaning of some of his dystopian fiction.

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6 Comments on “What is Past is Prologue”

  1. An interesting look at the lines that run deep through our history. If I am not mistaken the Boarders where also joined by some of the well beaten Jacobites who may have escaped with thier skins intact but no funds. Seeing an opportunity in their displaced countrymen they made posititions of power such as militia leaders, break-away religious preachers, etc. In fact it seems this segment was already ripe for the pickings of religious experiementers and charlitans of all sorts as they were pissed at the state church of England and disliked Catholics as well. This propensity for religious zealotry seems to have been passed down to the present day, with the same sort of zeal and lack of loyalty. For example it is not uncommon for families to leave a church if a pastor pisses them off by teaching something resembling oh I don’t know…free will, truth, and charity. Love thy neighbor has a hard sell.
    My fear is that this group which has festered in the American South is on the move due to econmoic and sociological changes and the outcroppings are in areas which are more wide-spread and in some cases unexpected. This is probably due as you say to the defunct economy and more people who thought they had something coming to them facing a future of either nothing or rebuilding. Rebuidling is hard and we have become complacent.
    The picture you paint is a frightening one to contemplate. Only a couple of years! I pray it isn’t so, but frankly am prepared for almost anything at this point. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if Klaatu touched down to tell us ” pursue your present course and face obliteration!”

  2. The borderer mentality is not only materially oriented, it’s highly invasive. Take any small town, set in a picturesque landscape; not enormously poor; but not particularly wealthy, either. The borderer discovers it. The primary goal is first to win over the leading community members and governing body to create statutes applicable to insuring the borderers prosperity. If the borderer has invested in real estate or development, the borderer wants laws that set building codes that are unaffordable to the not so rich occupants. The property taxes go up. The ability to make modest home improvements is arrested. If the borderer is interested in sales, the laws are manipulated so that the prices and exchange of goods or products work most favorably for the borderers with few chances or avenues for competitive alternatives. They work within statutes; laws made in secret that directly conspire to legally steal your homes, your jobs, your decision making abilities; even your children.

    The borderer has already infringed on every settled and unsettled area. You can’t go to Antarctic without finding uber rich cruise ships stomping down with their enormous, environmentally harmful footsteps. It has wrapped up all the ends of the globe, and like the ravenous animal it is, has turned back upon the urban masses from which it sprang, to find yet another resource in human automatons.

    It uses religion because of the ease with which it can excite fervor. It uses gun control to nurture the fears of the paranoid. It nurtures prejudices and biases that have laid secretly within the recesses of the mind for years, bringing them to life with magic words of, “it’s not wrong because i feel the same way you do.” They do this, not because they give a rat’s ass about religion, your color, your sexual preferences, your quality of life, your gun rights, but this is the way they have power and control over you. This is the way they can continue to remain invasive. This is the way they keep you their slave.

  3. Karla; Grainne – your description of the Borderer mentality is far harsher than mine, but with good reason – in this piece, I was really attempting to bring some of the skills I’d learned studying anthropology so many years ago to bear on the subject by way of some objectivity.

    What’s really happened is akin to the invasion of Hawai’i by the Western Yellowjacket; absent real enemies; they build half-mile nests in lava tubes and kill everything in sight for food.

    The use of religion and grand-causes to further an agenda is nothing new, but it’s endemic to Borderer culture – at this point, it’s almost genetic.

    Lay waste, and move on – or, as my father used to say, “Get all they can; can all they get; poison the rest.” Enlightenment isn’t called for here; just an observation of Genesis (‘…conquer the earth, and subdue it….’)

    The choice will, indeed, be made by those with the loudest voices.

  4. Yet part of this seems created by generations of displacement and disenfanchisement, which is why it seems so important to pay attention to it. If the Scottish border folk hadn’t had generations of displacement tracing back to the Romans then would we be left with a genetic ‘dispostition’ for keeping the world at bay? Grinding others under their heels? Who knows. But it is always the disenfranchised that make things happen, sometimes good, most times bad.

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