I read a great article by Colin Woodard over at Ten Miles Square, Violence Is a Regional Issue. It is based on the work in his book, American Nations. In it, he divides the United States up into eleven regional cultures. I haven’t gotten the book yet, but he provides historical and sociological reasons why the the regions are different.
For example, he notes that “Puritans, Quakers, and Dutch farmer-artisans” settled the northeast and the midwest. Their sense of working together for the common good resulted in a more liberal culture. Compare this to the deep south that was settled by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values… from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honor and virtue.” Hence the conservative attitude of that region, “Every man for himself and if you become a slave, well, you deserve it!”
What most struck me was this map:
In my lifetime, I’ve only ever lived in three places for any amount of time: San Francisco, Portland, and Settle. So The Left Coast really stuck out to me because Woodard is absolutely correct: we are a distinct culture. And although we share a lot with our El Norte neighbors below, we are distinct from them. And we are utterly distinct from The Far West. So I’m inclined to take his theory very seriously and I look forward to reading the book.
Most of the article is simply about another piece Woodard wrote, Up in Arms. You should check out the whole article because he describes each of the regions. But he highlights how conservative areas are also more violent: both in terms of legal and illegal violence:
Kieran Healy, a Duke University sociologist, broke down the per capita, age-adjusted deadly assault rate for 2010. In the northeastern states—almost entirely dominated by Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Midlands—just over 4 people per 100,000 died in assaults. By contrast, southern states—largely monopolized by Deep South, Tidewater, and Greater Appalachia—had a rate of more than 7 per 100,000. The three deadliest states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, where the rate of killings topped 10 per 100,000—were all in Deep South territory. Meanwhile, the three safest states—New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota, with rates of about 2 killings per 100,000—were all part of Yankeedom.
Not surprisingly, black Americans have it worse than whites. Countrywide, according to Healy, blacks die from assaults at the bewildering rate of about 20 per 100,000, while the rate for whites is less than 6. But does that mean racial differences might be skewing the homicide data for nations with larger African-American populations? Apparently not. A classic 1993 study by the social psychologist Richard Nisbett, of the University of Michigan, found that homicide rates in small predominantly white cities were three times higher in the South than in New England. Nisbett and a colleague, Andrew Reaves, went on to show that southern rural counties had white homicide rates more than four times those of counties in New England, Middle Atlantic, and Midwestern states.
The pattern for capital punishment laws is equally stark. The states dominated by Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West have had a virtual monopoly on capital punishment. They account for more than ninety-five percent of the 1,343 executions in the United States since 1976. In the same period, the twelve states definitively controlled by Yankeedom and New Netherland—states that account for almost a quarter of the U.S. population—have executed just one person.
He doesn’t make any value judgments about this. But it is interesting that the regions of the United States that are most inclined to consider themselves the “real America” are the places that are the most violent and intolerant. Think about that they next time you hear Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz demagogue about Red State America.