When seen from the air at night the border between the US and Canada just north of where I am is very clear, as clear as the border between land and sea. The Canadians build as close to the 49th parallel as they can — most of their population is hours’ driving distance from the US. Yet the land and most of the weather is continuous on both sides. The difference is government, something that does not actually exist because it is only created by the agreement of the people. You can’t see it or hold it.
The actual distribution of people across the landscape is governed at base by the resources for existence like food or ways to make a living. But then it is scrambled and re-distributed by ideas and organization in minds. I used to remark in Missoula on the post-divorce, middle-aged women who came with their alimony to start life over in a place when they only knew a media impression. They often joined our little UU group because they had belonged to big UU churches in cities. Most only lasted until their money was gone. Some stayed by inventing a new business or service, like a boutique bakery.
Most concentrations of people are similar to each other and maybe grew up together, which accounts for why so much of business and service in small towns here are based on high school relationships. Those who get to college are sorted again according to whether they attend state schools or somehow get into the elite universities where they form new relationships, often in professions that are based on concentrated populations, big cities or other universities. They stay in the new system by formal interaction like the law in courts or occasional gatherings for study or setting parameters for their vocation.
When I said to my original UU minister that I wanted to become one of them so I’d be with them, he remarked that I would rarely see the other ministers. I would be with the parishioners. The steady shrinkage of small towns and their mainstream churches has meant that they must either combine or close. Some ministers here preach in three or four places, something like I did when I was circuit-riding. This creates new relationships that are stretched.
But a new diaspora is forming. Diasporas are populations who share values and behaviors, but are scattered. Originally discussed in terms of the Jewish dispersal over the world because of persecution, the phenomenon interests me because of my several favorite groups. One is the Blackfeet — once forcibly confined to a small area but then later separated in attempts to break up reservations, to draw on a labor pool during wartime, or as natural migrations to where there are more jobs. Today about half of the provenance-based enrolled members of the tribe live away from the reservation.
Another that I just started to think about is the diaspora of gay men (not women) that was always covertly present everywhere but separated by the need to fit in where they were; then gathered into a movement with a center in SF but always inclined to travel for anonymity, particularly to secluded places accessed by air like tropical beaches; and then scattered by the horrors of the HIV plague. Somehow the expansion, the disclosing and the resulting experiences have affected the larger population in many quiet ways. It’s not just the flamboyant defiance that woke us up, but the experience of men nursing dying friends and lovers has allowed men to be nurses and therapists, people who are not afraid to come close. The ethics of sex are no longer based on fertility.
Another effect that hits me and others at Christmas is the exaltation of the biological family unit as the basic and most valuable unit of civilization, which is emphasized by the glorification (literally) of the Holy Family, though the genetics are a little confused by artificial insemination. Or should I say transcendent insemination.
For a person who is solitary, like myself, and in a rural town like this place, one has a choice between treating the event as a festival, joining a crowd, or relating to an entirely new kind of diaspora, one based on internet sympathies and communication but never present physically, never having been a physical community. I’m talking about internet relationships of several kinds, but potentially of deep affinity that has nothing to do with screwing in the way the city has supported an alternative to family, pretending that encounters are about love.
I’m not scholarly enough to look it up now, but in the days when “America” was just a coast and the people who were from the northern part of Europe brought a tough, dark, ascetic kind of religion with them, the solstice (Dec 21 this year) was met with fasting, meditation, and pleas for survival. Think Ingmar Bergman. The jolly mercantilizing festivals that people are persisting in without masks, without staying apart, are more Victorian than Christian, more southern Europe than Scandinavian, and have replaced true religion with media brain washing called advertising.
There is a psych phenomenon called a “leap to sanity.” It’s about things like a fire in a mental hospital that causes even the most addled to fight effectively. But it can apply to a mentally compromised person who simply decides to be “cured” and sustains an imitation of health for a while. This has got to be related to the “leap to freedom” that the Africans crossing the Mediterranean or the South Americans walking to North America are taking in great numbers, knowing that the chances that they will die are as high as for the guy in a crowded bar without a mask. Maybe he’s trying to make a leap to normality, HIS normality — not mine.
But he or she is also making a set of alcohol-enabled relationships that are not based on biological family. Whether they would endure, is variable. My birth family, because of past generations who were alcoholic, refused bars. But my brother with the concussion participated by watching a television series, “Seinfield”, that was based on a bar and it worked almost as well. One branch of my family stumbled in the restaurant trade and recovered by owning “titty bars” where drinking makes the money and naked girls keep them coming. This has not sustained lasting relationships. In fact, it fractured the family system.
This post is really throat-clearing while I wait for some kind of principle to form. It’s about the invisible, sometimes intentional, lines and nodes that form across the continents. It is a big part of culture. I think the idea is something like “the economy is the ecology of culture.”
In an interview yesterday an economist said that the people living by the salary system will be destitute and starving without governmental action. But the minority living by the capitalist stock market will be all right so long as the price of shares in multi-national corporations stay up. Somehow they believe that the Repubs and even Trump are what keep the stock market high. The lady who manages our trash roll-off system told me the same. Her salary alone is not enough. Our very structure of survival is changing.