The notion that America is becoming increasingly divided between a liberal-leaning, coastal- or urban-dwelling elite and more conservative folks living in “flyover country” has been around for some time. However, author Charles Murray put a bit of a new spin on it in his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.”
In conjunction with the release of his book in 2012, Murray composed a 25-question quiz designed to determine whether the quiz-taker is in touch with mainstream American culture or lives in one of the elite “bubbles” described in the book. The quiz can be taken at this link.
Some of the more unusual questions in the quiz include:
— Have you ever bought a pickup truck?
— Have you gone fishing in the past 5 years?
— In the past month, have you voluntarily socialized with anyone who smokes?
— Have you ever had any close friends who were evangelical Christians?
— Have you ever participated in a parade not connected with environmentalism, gay rights, or an anti-war protest?
— Who is Jimmie Johnson?
— What does “Branson” mean to you?
— In the past year, have you stocked your fridge with domestic mass market beer (e.g., Pabst, Budweiser)?
Go here to take the rest of the quiz and read Murray’s explanations of each question. I found the exercise both amusing and fascinating, along with the comments made by some test takers, which are adroitly summed up thus:
The responses to this survey are hilarious! They typically go something like this:
“How dare this survey make it sound like I’m an elitist! I support the common people! I hate corporate power! I question the fools who run our government!
I don’t see why just because I don’t watch mindless TV shows and corporate blockbusters, and because I don’t drive a pickup truck like some stupid redneck, and I don’t eat at chain restaurants with a bunch of middle-aged fat people, and because I hate ignorant evangelicals and love scientists, and because I chose to live in a neighborhood with creative educated people and not a bunch of conformists with office jobs, and because I don’t sit on Greyhound buses with smelly trashy people, and because I think NASCAR and country music are for neanderthals – why should any of these things make me an elitist!
It’s like I said, I’m down with the people and I hate elitists! All my college friends who majored in sociology with me at Berkeley feel the same way! We hate elitists! We are the 99%! It’s those Wall Street guys who are elitists! I’m burning over with populist fury and it’s too bad the vast majority of Americans are too stupid and fat and superstitious and brainwashed to agree with me. I love people and favor the brotherhood of man, and that’s what separates me from all the fundamentalist conformist mouth-breathing meat puppets that make up the majority of this country!”
Or, as Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt once said, “I love mankind — it’s people I can’t stand!”
Cultural differences aside, perhaps the real issue isn’t beer, sports, political affiliation, education or white vs. blue collar work. The real issue is whether we look at people as individuals, unique persons made in the image of God, or see them only as faceless representatives of groups or ideas. The emotions we have toward generalized groups such as “liberals”, “the rich”, “the poor”, etc., probably matter less in terms of our eternal salvation, than how we behave toward particular people who belong to those groups. Learning how to respect people of a different culture than your own starts, in many cases, with personal contact — getting outside the “bubble”.
A person who professes to care about “the poor” but treats homeless or poor people with contempt when he or she actually meets them is not practicing charity. Likewise, someone who is a die-hard Republican but has friends who vote Democrat isn’t necessarily being a hypocrite. In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis’ title character describes a similar situation involving his nephew’s “patient,” an English citizen living through the World War II Blitz:
As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life-they are lay figures modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train.
Hopefully, we used the past 5 weeks of Lent to develop a “pernicious habit of charity” toward others, and step out of our “bubble” or comfort zone. If we haven’t, Holy Week is still a pretty good time to start!