Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hard America

All things considered, Jonah Goldberg really is your best entertainment value. His latest stroke of genius is to elucidate the political differences between "dairy states" and "beef states":

When you think about it, cow-rich states dedicated to dairy seem to have more left wing politics than cow-rich states dedicated to meat production.
Where's the evidence for this? There isn't any. Goldberg has done "no research whatsoever and [is] merely going by stereotypes about cheese and steak...." In other words, he's using his patented brand of know-nothing laziness as a shield against criticism. He's just throwing some ideas out there, you see. If people like them, he can go further and fare better. If people criticize them, he can claim that he was just being funny and frolicsome. It's kind of amazing that his pals at the Corner haven't noticed this hedging strategy yet, 'cause he indulges in it pretty often.

Goldberg may have no evidence, but he's got three explanations, and each one's a winner.
First, the sorts of people who historically went into dairy production were Scandinavian socialist types while the people who went into meat production were Scotch-Irish cowboy types.
Regarding "Scandinavian socialist types," I'd direct Mr. Goldberg's attention to a book called Wisconsin Death Trip, which paints a somewhat dour picture of how the 19th-century nanny-state functioned in the environs of Prairie Du Chien. Had Goldberg lived there and then, I'll bet you dollars to donuts he would've been the very first inmate of the mental hospital at Mendota.

Before I move on to Goldberg's theory number two, I suppose I should mention that both dairy and beef farmers have been and continue to be recipients of government subsidies and other taxpayer-funded handouts.
Two: Perhaps dairy regulation occurred a lot earlier than meat regulation. This generated a culture of state-intervention and therefore a politics to match (or vice versa).
It didn't, and it'd actually be pretty weird if it had. Slaughterhouses have always posed a much greater public nuisance and health hazard than dairies, and have accordingly been the subject of more public complaint.

State regulation of cattle goes all the way back to the colonies. However, the first Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed in 1906, replacing a relatively toothless law passed in 1891; the National Cattlemen's Beef Association says that the 1906 Act was "welcomed by cattlemen," and that the Association "successfully lobbied for the inspectors to be paid by the federal government."

Go figure, eh Jonah?
There's also a more metaphorical - i.e. b.s. - theory: dairy is nurturing. It's about sustainability. Dairy farmers can afford to fall in love with their cows. Making cows into steak, handburger and wallets requires more tough-mindedness. Dairy is soft America. Meat is hard America. Or Something Like That.
Hard versus's amazing how often ideas are accepted or rejected not on their virtues, but according to their imagined position on this vague continuum. At any rate, Goldberg's unblushing invocation of "hard America" provides further evidence that conservative ideology is a sort of patent medicine designed to improve the self-confidence of psychosexual cripples.

Some might argue that sustainability is tough-minded, inasmuch as it requires discipline, careful attention to detail, and occasional acts of self-denial. But Goldberg doesn't see it like that. To him, being "hard" means vacuously catering to and coddling himself, while getting a vicarious thrill - felt mainly in the sweaty creases of the perineum - from the thought of the big boys working the bolt gun down at the slaughterhouse. Moderation and gluttony have somehow switched places in the conservative moral firmament, and the result has been a flock of Goldbergs: a gaggle of pudgy, self-satisfied, willfully ignorant layabouts with the attention span of a squirrel.

Incidentally, Goldberg doesn't realize that cattle ranchers generally didn't kill their animals. Instead, they sent them to meatpackers:
Stockyards provided the accumulation points for cattle coming in on the rail cars. Cattle were not fed as in today’s definitions, but rather sorted and distributed out to packers. There were no feeder or stocker cattle, and heifers were never slaughtered.
Chicago, despite its legendary status as "hog butcher to the world," seems to be comparatively progressive nowadays. Maybe the fact that meatpacking plants were an important breeding-ground for unionism had something to do with it.

And of course, dairy ranchers routinely slaughtered cattle. Still do, in fact.

All the same...outside of being completely ill-informed, and finding absurdities plausible simply because they crept into his empty skull to die, Goldberg's really hit on something.


Anonymous said...

That image is disgusting.

He should wear gloves before mandling meat products.


Anonymous said...

Uh...that would be "handling."

Wow. Freud was really on to something, wasn't he?

Phila said...

Wow. Freud was really on to something, wasn't he?

I guess so. Maybe I better give him a second glans...

juniper pearl said...

i don't know, phila. i think there's a strong chance that "handburger" probably is hard america, or at least contributes to it. for my part, i stay away from both meat and dairy, thereby remaining politically independent.

Phila said...

i stay away from both meat and dairy, thereby remaining politically independent.

Ditto. But you know, despite growing up in a radical liberal enclave, I grew up eating meat three meals a day, and was intimately acquainted with things like smokehouses, hog-slaughtering, pig roasts, and so on. I caught things and gutted them and skinned them. And plenty of hippies eat meat because it's, like, a natural thing, man...part of the, like, dance of life.

Still, most of the meat eaters I know are no less liberal than my own sweet self.

The key to this is Goldberg's hard/soft dichotomy, which (IIRC) Mary Midgely recognized as being a foundational problem with politics. People who are inordinately concerned with seeming "tough" think that eating meat contributes to that image, as though slaughtering a penned animal - or, more to the point, buying shrinkwrapped parts of it in a supermarket - instantly turns someone into a Mighty Hunter. It's overcompensation, IMO, like the militant anti-gay folks who are obviously closet cases (you saw that Hummer ad that said "reclaim your manhood," didn't you?)

Anonymous said...

My family tree has many people who used to be involved in the meat packing industy. Mum's family ordered dad's family to chop up Bessy and the rest of the herd.
By the way, when an old dairy cow has finished her milking and calving days, she is turned into hamburger not retired to some grassy meadow.
Love the picture, by the way.
G in INdiana

juniper pearl said...

i did see (and cringe at) that ad, and if i hadn't hated hummers before, that would have been the thing that turned me. i think someone should start a "real men ride bikes" campaign.

my family loves its meat as well. i veered off the path somewhere toward the end of my education, which involved a lot of animal-tissue examination and an externship in a large-animal hospital. it was all about the cells and their chaotic assemblage. plants are constructed in nice, even rows.

you know, when i think about it, the omnivores i know can go either way, ideologically, but everyone i know who is as or more liberal than me tends to stay pretty far away from red meat, if not all meat. it would make for an interesting study.

Phila said...

everyone i know who is as or more liberal than me tends to stay pretty far away from red meat, if not all meat. it would make for an interesting study.

Interesting. In my case, it's pretty evenly split. And my closest vegan friend is probably a bit more conservative than me, in some ways. Judging from Eschaton, it seems like most of the "radical" types over there are omnivores...I'm one of only two or three vegans over there, that I know of.

There are a few vegetarians there, too, but by and large, I really haven't seen a strong correlation one way or another. Which actually does surprise me a bit.