By Harley Austin | United States
America is known for its pluralistic culture with a diverse selection of subcultures. Many call this the “melting pot”. However, a more accurate analogy would be a societal salad bowl: the coexistence of numerous subcultures creates the broader culture as a whole. Keep in mind that this analysis of subcultures will be speaking in terms of generalities, which, by definition, contain exceptions. This is also not an attack on certain ways of living or political affiliation. Merely, it is an analysis of a common pattern.
Of the numerous American subcultures, the sharpest divide exists between rural and urban. In this case, I will discuss merely the political differences, notably the theoretical views of government. Rural citizens have typically opposed the idea of big government and its policies, while urban citizens have shown more support for it. I place specific emphasis on the idea of big government as a concept because, in practice, both types of people usually vote for the two parties. Both, of course, are supporters of big government.
Many might view this pattern as relatively new, but versions of it exist throughout American history. This begs the question: what causes this divide? In some cases, each culture explains it by stereotyping the other as uninformed. Urban people sometimes stereotype rural people as ignorant, bigoted, and regressive. On the other hand, common stereotypes against urban people include that they are irrational and blindly utopian.
Of course, both of those are nothing more than fallacious name-calling. Neither does anything to address the sociological aspect of this divide. To analyze the real reason why different people theoretically oppose and support big government, we must delve into the lifestyles that create these beliefs.
First, we will be discussing urban life, the personality traits of who are attracted to it, and the political beliefs those traits. But to reiterate, this deals in generalities and is not universality true.
The desire to live in a big city often comes from the desire to be around lots of people. Many people view cities as the centers of civilized society, so they naturally attract interested individuals. This busy lifestyle and the tight living space are both factors that can lead to the creation of a big government supporter’s foundational belief: collectivism.
Collectivism, by definition, is “the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it.” Given the nature of city life, the adoption of this makes sense. Those who live in the city are one person out of the millions of other residents. Thus, a focus on groups rather than individuals is a frequent happening.
Without a doubt, the relationship between collectivism and big government is obvious. Collectivism brings the subversion of the individual to the group, which often occurs by force. Throughout history, governments are usually the ones that supply this force, and America has been no exception to this rule.
This brings us to the urban favoring of statism, the belief in a centralized state with large controls over social and economic life. Statism basically means the support of a big government.
The urban tendency to support this is simple: governments operate in cities and give them more overt benefits. In a city, especially capitals, government creations directly affect urban citizens. These include the massive public transportation systems, local government buildings, police, and much more. Urban local governments are also significantly more complex than their rural counterparts, hence the reason that city mayoral elections tend to be a bigger deal than most other local elections.
This creates a more personal relationship with government among urban types. Those in the city see government as more local and representative of their issues, therefore they support more of it (regardless of whether or not it actually is representative or beneficial). Having government closer to the people in the cities creates a belief that government is the people, instead of an external body from far away.
This brings us to the rural lifestyle, which creates the opposite beliefs in its inhabitants. This also deals in generalities and does not apply universally.
Opposite to urban life, the desire to live in rural areas comes from the desire to live one’s own life and to get away from the business other people. Rural life brings with it the traits of self-sufficiency and, most importantly, individualism.
Individualism, the opposite of collectivism, is “favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.” This also makes sense, given the small population of rural areas. People living in these rural locations tend to live their own lives, separately from others. The individuals in the community, in its small size, view each other more as individuals, and less as a collective.
The anti-government nature of individualism is also self-explanatory. Individualism includes the desire for the group not to exploit the individual. And again, this group generally manifests itself as a government.
The rural lifestyle also generates a tendency for anti-statist beliefs. While urban local governments are close by, and therefore, people believe it represents them, the government in the eyes of rural types is different. Many of them believe it is a distant entity that interferes in their otherwise peaceful life. In rural areas, public utilities and other government creations are not as common.
The most common rural interaction with the government tends to be taxes, regulations, and other negative aspects. This creates the impression that government is an external entity that negatively interferes in peoples’ lives. This creates the opposition to the concept of big government that is found in most rural areas.
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