Sunday, November 12, 2006

On Diversity & Community

In the mid-70s, when I was a teenager, I traveled a couple times a year from my mountain home to my cousin’s home near Atlanta. Being a year older than she, I could drive when she couldn’t. What I remember is driving all around and never knowing where I was. Everything looked the same. Big intersections, big roads, lots of traffic, this shopping area and that one. It didn’t seem to matter to my normally good sense of direction that a Bennigan’s was on this corner and something else on that one, I’d still end up at the Big Chicken suddenly not knowing quite how I got us there.

I’ve been reminded of this every time I’ve been out lately by the ultra-sameness of everything, the overriding consuming restless sameness. Of everything. The endless cars after cars after cars, ceaselessly moving to nowhere. It isn’t just metro-Atlanta, or metro-Knoxville, or metro-Richmond. It isn’t just college-town Blacksburg, or college-town Boone, or college-town Asheville. It is everywhere. College town Wise for the Gods’ sakes. Metro-Bristol for the Gods’ sakes. No matter where you are going, the road goes around, avoiding any possible place of interest for the easy-on, easy-off safe sameness. The Mexican restaurants are all the same, and you can’t find a bowl of beans outside a Cracker Barrel. The hardware stores don’t actually have hardware anymore, few nails or brads or bearings and barely any saw blades -- they have flooring and appliances and guaranteed installers.

I’m always glad to get back to my little holler where every little house, every little curve in the road, every little holler, has its own story to tell. And every person who lives here too. My little holler, where a septuagenarian half-blind gay man can live on one corner, a racist homophobe on the next, with a Baptist Chapel and a moonshiner in between them. All peaceably. Where the two chicken breeders, one Mexican and one not, both raise fighting cocks, and where that sport bridges the racial divides that otherwise are not broached, just as in Chicken George’s time. Where the slightly retarded twins up the road can live their lives pretty much as they see fit, along with all us other misfits either born to this place, or come to adopt it.

It seems easy for people not from around here to label us hillbillies as closed-minded. They seem to think diversity is people of all different colors and different religions and different socio-economic levels who all believe exactly the same things, who all have exactly the same values. What passes as diversity with those people is exactly what passes as diversity in the urban sprawl -- differences that are without distinctions.

Yep, when I look around this holler, I don’t really have a thing in common with anyone. Except of course, me and Noad can talk horses from daylight to dark. And Theron has always read the latest book that I’m always interested in. And Cal knows the latest goings on. And Tim and Sarah are great to do business with. And about 5 families go in together on the pig killing every year with Dwayne’s extended clan. And if you need a tree down, call Garnett. Or a part for your car, call Stewart and see if he has it. There’s Doug and Bessie who are just the finest people. And Clay who has a fine jack and a fine garden too.

I don’t go to the same church, or hold the same political beliefs, or raise my children the same way, or live the same way, or think the same things are important, as any of these people. Except that it is important to all of us to live together in this holler in peace, to work together when we can, to help each other out, to find our differences amusing or confusing rather than infuriating or threatening. Not to create an artificial atmosphere of tolerance, but to create, by actions and in reality, a common community.


Ren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the Contrary Goddess said...

Ren, I don't believe you are ever going to decide to hear anything at all I have to say.

Joe Tornatore said...

if you want to get lost again, try Mexico. we just came from there.

laura said...

i just want to say real quick that i hate the word "tolerance" least the way it is used most of the time. and if i had time i'd go into it...but that might be something for another time or a blog entry...but not today.

Jim said...


Beautiful writing, and your little hollers sound exactly like the kind of places where people can live full, rewarding, and relatively self-sufficient lives, enriched with the diversity of individuality.

When neighbors all know each other on a first name basis, and when we can put faces, lives and places to those names, then we have genuine community. Our differences can be of great value, bringing to our lives, more fruitfulness, more interest, more understanding, more tolerance, or maybe just plain old humor.

Where I lived in the '60s and '70s was like that, and Big Bear was very much like that in the '80s when we moved here. But the sameness is creeping in all around us as alpinesque McMansions go up on the hillsides to sit vacant 48 weeks of the year.

The mountains and national forest all around us are still wild and wide-open. The small cabins in our old neighborhoods are all different, mostly hand-built by their owners, or the old-timers who owned them previously. Ours was built in 1969 by the man we bought it from in 1980, and every improvement to it has been done with my own hands, while Peggy and I still know the great majority of the people here by their first names.

But the little road two-lane road through the City of Big Bear Lake was widened some years ago to four lanes, and now accomodates the sameness of establishments like Taco Bell, McDonalds, Carl's Jr., Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Denny's, Sizzler, Starbucks and K-Mart.

Down the road and around the bend, in the unincorporated area of Big Bear City, where we live, the highway is still two-lanes, there are no fast food chains or supermarkets, just one little grocery store, Community Market, and a bunch of small mom & pop businesses.

But the sameness ever-creeps and I wonder how long before the real estate people and developers win their fight to incorporate Big Bear City into Big Bear Lake, before code enforcement cops tell me my clothesline is an eyesore, and that my chickens are illegal.

As much as I love these mountains, and their snowy winters, their clear blue skies and the quiet solitude of their forests.

As much as I enjoy living in a smallish town where I've known everybody for 25 years, I know I won't be able to stay here, if and when, the City of Big Bear Lake annexes my little town.

I hope the real estate boomtown mentality stays a great distance from your little hollers there CG.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Ditto on the word "tolerance" la. There is a great quote on that I have somewhere . . . maybe I'll put that up next. I expect equality, not tolerance. I do not acknowledge the innate superiority of any other who might deign to "tolerate" me.

And Jim, oh yeah, creeping sameness. There were several things that recommended our land to us, among them a deed restrictions and being past National Forest -- we don't *think* they'll annex past that.

But you never know. Do-gooders have recently been on a tear to bring CITY WATER out here. I mean, it is crazy. Everyone *has* water, no one's water is contaminated, there aren't enough people out here to EVER make it financially feasible . . . and yet the grant monger do gooders go on.

Freedom is not something many people want.

Hmmm, and you know something about the diversity here? The homophobe KNOWS the gay men are gay . . . but hate really only goes to people you don't know. The nearest gay man neighbor . . . hates Bush, what are the odds. People know we're different but don't quite know why. And yet, all these differences fall by the wayside of neighborliness.

And maybe neighborliness isn't what people expect it to be. There are neighbors that I see and talk to only once a year or so. But if they needed something, or if I did, we'd be there for each other.

The Nearings moved and started over. It could happen to us too.
Maybe I'll just have to hunker down. And keep praying for high gas prices because that surely keeps people out of here.

Ren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mushy said...

The interstates and franchises changed the world as we knew it and it changed it to all look alike.

I like my little corner of the world too and would not want to live anywhere else on this earth.

I'm content - live is good - bring it on.

Anonymous said...

The 'creeping sameness' mentioned by several commenters here reminds me of the novel A Wrinkle in Time where evil was defined as everyone doing the same thing, acting the same way, every one in sychronous rhythm.

I've picked up a small job of work with a crew who erects floor displays in chain stores. It is amazing the extent to which they go to make sure very store is identical in every detail. I'm also reminded someone I know who ran a hotel which failed inspection NOT because it was below standards of comfort, cleanliness, and service, but rather because it did not conform to the IDENTICAL standards of the franchise to the point of whether sausage was served with breakfast on Tuesday instead of Wednesday as the master plan dictated.

The talk of diversity reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek bit I did a while back in the form of a glossary of educational terms. When and educator says "works independently" they mean anything but independently. They mean that the poor child is so indoctrinated and brain washed that they will continue to behave in the prescribed manner like a wind up automaton even when the teacher isn't looking. Faced with REAL independent working the educator freaks out and wants to put the child on drugs until they conform to the plan.

Like that I see time and time again the word 'diversity' being used to describe anything but. If the Christian, Jew, Moslem, and Hindu all say "Oh, you are so wonderful and I respect you so.." , all of them do exactly the same thing, we call that diverse. As well we might say that we are using a great many different methods to fix the car, we are beating it with a blue hammer, then a green hammer, then a yellow hammer ..... very diverse approach.

On another blog someone who espoused this type of diversity went on a diversty awareness seminar in Ashville NC and when they met some good old boys in a pick up truck festooned with a Confederate flag they berated them for being ignorant and bigoted, not at all like those going to celebrate diversity.

REAL diversity is pretty earthy and heady stuff. The Christian can say, "You are going to Hell" and the mystic can say, "You are obviously not enlightened" and the Moslem say "You are an infidel" they still get along ....WITHOUT having to lie and pretend about what they really think.

Injecting that sugared icing of reducing our differences down to fluff and insubstance is not diversity ... it is just the opposite.

Ren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
laura said...

>>When and educator says "works independently" they mean anything but independently.<<

so true. you can never learn to work independently while in a school setting. i learned this in college when i took my first "independent study" and fell completely apart. i had no idea what to do when i wasn't being told what to do...i just couldn't get over that hump. constantly being told what and where and how and why and even who strips you of being able to think for when a student is finally numbed and sitting there quietly not bothering anyone the teacher thinks they've accomplished something...and they have.............and in the background you hear "the wall" by pink floyd starting to play..........and there's a giant meat grinder.....and everybody jumps on to.

i mourned for the loss of my ability to work independently...but since i was in charge of the funeral it just never got planned and nobody came...............

Ren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the Contrary Goddess said...

umm, Ren, it is amongst the favorites on my profile. Gene Logsdon is one of the deep thinkers of agraianism. I'd say we first read him in the 1980s, along with the Nearings, Jeavons, Seymour, maybe some others. He raised a lot of his own food when he lived in the city of Philadelphia.

And la, do ya need to do a funeral? I know some wonderful music -- I've been saving it up for your Death by Country CD I'm eventually gonna make you!

Sierra said...

Too funny. I don't usually look at profiles very often. I know very little of the book, it was the title that made me think of you...of course.

the Contrary Goddess said...

ummm Ren, are you having an approach-avoidance thing with the comments? what?

Ren said...

Just so you know, you can't edit comments after sending them. YOu can delete and then re-write which takes a lot of time. It's easier to delete.

the Contrary Goddess said...

yeah, I know, but deleting after other people have commented on your comments . . . just seems a bit rude to me.

Ren said...

So you want me to go back in and recreate them? I mean asked me to edit, I did the easiest thing.

the Contrary Goddess said...

naw, it is on flickr where you used my given name instead of CG that I asked you to edit. Lawd have mercy me to ever ask someone to edit their expressions of thoughts in my comments, not at ALL.

laura said...

no, i can't imagine you wanting anyone to edit their thoughts of the no brain editor!!! LOL

ren, i also wondered about the use of her name in some places...couldn't remember where, but i figured she'd ask you not to do that sooner or later...but she would never ever want you to edit your ideas.

the Contrary Goddess said...

well, like I said to Ren in an e-mail, I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.