“We haven’t been a nation of small towns for nearly a century. […] She embodies the most basic American myth — Jefferson’s yeoman farmer, the fantasia of rural righteousness […]
[…] the patina of cultural homogeneity that camouflaged 1950s suburbia has vanished. We have become more obviously multiracial. There are lifestyle choices that were nearly unimaginable in 1960 […]
With the advent of television, these changes became inescapable. They intruded upon the most traditional families in the smallest towns.
— Sarah Palin’s Myth of America , Time
Whether you live in the USA or not — I don’t — you’ll recognize these themes, these ideas, as they’re true for most developed countries: small town simplicity, small town life, small town morality is a) gone and b) was never really here to begin with. In its place there’s a bunch of people happening to live between the same borders but with desires, ideas and values so widely apart that coming to a new cultural agreement we never had anyway will never ever happen. Ever.
It’s a view of our society that leaves you and many others like you feeling cut off from the rest of the country, your country. Usually just a little bit, just before you harden yourself again and become realistic in a global economy type of way.
By having our idea, our desire, posed as an anachronism we’re being denied not only the target of our desire but the desire itself. The same mechanism prevents anything from having to change or be improved upon, prevents a Vision, a Goal, because, remember, there’s nothing to work towards to. We’re all just a bunch of scattered random sets of values.
And that’s a shame because this desire for some kind of richer life through simplicity, honesty and righteousness, this desire to go back to what we know once was, seems to me to be a major unifying factor.
A Small Town Desire
Small town patterns and desires are part of our everyday life.
We may live in a megacity like New York, a universe in its own right, yet we move in small, predictable ways, usually moving no more than 10 km (about 6 miles) max.
Big city, small town.
6%, and growing, of the USA’s households live in gated communities. We’re not talking rich, powerful and exclusive here either. Renters are 2 1/2 times more likely than buyers to be living in a gated community. Nor is it a white affair: Hispanics are more likely to live in a gated community than blacks or whites.
And what is it they’re looking for there? Apart from a sense of security they’re looking for a sense of togetherness, a place where “everybody knows your name”.
A Small Town Life
If you don’t have a physical place to belong, one where everybody knows your name, we still have the Internet where small communities of a handful of people interacting socially are now Big Word Labeled “social networks”.
Updating your status on Facebook is not just convenient; it’s wanting people to know you and what you’re doing.
That’s small town in a big way.
Between The Ears
Small Town USA is a desire, and by and large a destination, between our ears.
It’s a desire for scalability and scale itself. A desire to be connected, interconnected, recognized and acknowledged. To see not just cars pass by but life.
I think that this desire is so broadly shared its fulfillment could be a goal, an ideology in itself. Should be. To use our diversity as a culture, a species, as an excuse to not fulfill our dreams because we might disagree about the ways we fulfill them would be a waste. An error. Our shared desire is the very homogeneity we’re looking for.