Grassroots Cognitive Dissonance (Red State America)

For a fascinating journalistic glimpse into what cognitive dissonance looks like at the grassroots level  after Obama 2012 in Red State America, see this article in the Washington Post. It goes to show that perception, like politics, is always local. Not too terribly sympathetic, I’m nonetheless taking the sentiments expressed by the interviewed subjects seriously. These are people who clearly inhabit a political universe that is different both geographically and “morally” (“moral” as used in the sense used by anthropologists). I’d like to think that people like myself don’t inhabit this kind of bubble, but I know that this can’t be true. This newspaper report is  like something out of Kafka’s story “The Great Wall of China.” The news might travel more quickly from place to place than it does in Kafka’s parable, but the distant physical spaces and “otherworldliness” remain immense, even in this day and age of the internet.

“Virginia went blue? Really?” she said. “Southern-values Virginia?” “And Colorado? Who the heck is living in Colorado? Do they want drugs, dependency, indulgence? Don’t they remember what this country is about?” It was a country that she had thought she knew. As a kid, she had seen it from the back of a station wagon, traveling to 40 states in a blur of peanut butter crackers and Holiday Inns with a mother who taught U.S. history.

But I’m also thinking that “liberals” and “progressives” should be no less and not a little staggered about the potential implications of what 2012 has wrought, especially in terms of the way in which “we” think about “America” and what it means demographically, constitutionally, and “morally.” I’ll think about this more driving through north eastern Pennsylvania on my weekly commute between bubbles from NYC to Syracuse. In the meantime, let’s not forget that conservatives are not necessarily dumb, and that they too might figure out for themselves what these things about “America” might possibly mean. About conservatives, my liberal and progressive friends can often be, well, quite dumb and unthinking themselves.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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