on the recommendations of jayman and benjamin (thanks, guys!), i’m reading colin woodard‘s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and, so far, it is terrific!
except for this paragraph which appears in the introduction:
“Finally, I’d like to underscore the fact that becoming a member of a nation usually has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with culture. One doesn’t *inherit* a national identity the way one gets hair, skin, or eye color; one *acquires* it in childhood or, with great effort, through voluntary assimilation later in life. Even the ‘blood’ nations of Europe support this assertion. A member of the (very nationalistic) Hungarian nation might be descended from Austrian Germans, Russian Jews, Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, or any combination thereof, but if he speaks Hungarian and embraces Hungarian-ness, he’s regarded as being just as Hungarian as any ‘pure-blooded’ Magyar descendant of King Árpád. In a similar vein, nobody would deny French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Frenchness, even though his father was a Hungarian noble and his maternal grandfather a Greek-born Sephardic Jew. The same is true of the North American nations: if you talk like a Midlander, act like a Midlander, and think like a Midlander, you’re probably a Midlander, regardless of whether your parents or grandparents came from the Deep South, Italy, or Eritrea.”
what does woodard base his assertion upon? nothing. no references backing up what he says whatsoever (just a couple of little anecdotal news stories). his “a nation usually has nothing to do with genetics” statement just hangs there in midair like … something just hanging there in midair.
what do i base my “poppycock” reaction on? actual biological evidence:
nations — as in nasci (to “be born”) — exist as real, biologically based populations — with fuzzy edges, of course, because it’s biology that we’re talking about. that doesn’t make them any the less identifiable as populations (see map above). and different nations have their own, innate characteristics. those that are closer to each other are more alike to one another, of course, because it’s easier to swap genes if you’re neighbors (especially in the past — nowadays, with modern transportation, almost anything goes — theoretically anyway).
the population of the united states is, obviously, much more tumbled up than old world ones, but oddly people keeping spotting the fact that there are different regional cultures across the u.s. — different nations as woodard puts it. this isn’t (wholly) down to “culture.” and, despite all the ethnic/racial mixing in the country, this is probably very much down to biology — and woodard, unbeknowst to himself, explains how this can be:
“Our continent’s famed mobility — and the transportation and communications technology that foster it — has been reinforcing, not dissolving, the differences between the nations. As journalist Bill Bishop and sociologist Robert Cushing demonstrated in The Big Sort (2008), since 1976 Americans have been relocating to communities where people share their values and worldview<…. As Americans sort themselves into like-minded communities, they’re also sorting themselves into like-minded nations.“
americans (and immigrants to the u.s.) have been getting up and moving to areas of the country where they can find people like themselves. so american “cultural” regions — woodard’s nations — have persisted. thanks to self-sorting.
apart from that one paragraph, American Nations is really terrific! i, too, recommend it. (^_^)
(note: comments do not require an email. one of my favorite nations!)