Dividing America Into Nations Helps Explain Violence


Illustration courtesy of Brian Stauffer/Tufts Magazine

In grade school, most children are forced to memorize the 50 states and their capitols, and splitting America into states and regions has become our go-to way of thinking about American culture. But what if describing America in terms of states and regions is no longer fruitful? 

Author Colin Woodard, writing in Tufts Magazine, has broken America down into mini-nations, each with a unique history, set of inhabitants, relationships with neighbors, and cultural and political attitudes. He then applied a question to those nations: "Why is America so much more violent than other industrialized countries?" His conclusions are revealing.

"It all goes back to who settled those regions and where they came from," he wrote.

In the Deep South, for example, Stand Your Ground laws have been traced back to Irish and Scottish herding culture—but more importantly, to the legacy of slavery and the use of violence as a method of asserting control and enforcing old-world codes of honor.

"For now, the country will remain split on how best to make its citizens safer, with the Deep South and its allies bent on deterrence through armament and the threat of capital punishment, and Yankeedom and its allies determined to bring peace through constraints such as gun control," Woodard wrote.

Woodard places Idaho firmly within The Far West. Here's what he has to say about that region:

"The other 'second-generation' nation, the Far West occupies the one part of the continent shaped more by environmental factors than ethnographic ones. High, dry, and remote, the Far West stopped migrating easterners in their tracks, and most of it could be made habitable only with the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment, ore smelters, dams, and irrigation systems. As a result, settlement was largely directed by corporations headquartered in distant New York, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco, or by the federal government, which controlled much of the land. The Far West’s people are often resentful of their dependent status, feeling that they have been exploited as an internal colony for the benefit of the seaboard nations. Their senators led the fight against trusts in the mid-twentieth century. Of late, Far Westerners have focused their anger on the federal government, rather than their corporate masters."