If you have read most of the posts I have placed on our Peeper Pond Farm website over the past three years, you have observed my determined efforts to explain the perspectives of rural farmers and how they differ from the common misperceptions of many (but not all) urban residents in today’s society. Having lived and worked in the shadows of modern urban society for most of my adult life, I have witnessed these common misperceptions in their varied forms. I have come to conclude, justifiably so, that many of them can be attributed to the lack of knowledge and experience an increasing number of urban residents have about rural lifestyles, the core values that frame them, and how they built and continue to support urban living. Today’s urban youth are three-to-four generations removed from ancestors who farmed and lived in rural areas. Over those generations, they have become increasing less knowledgeable about how the surrounding rural areas support their daily lives and the privileges they enjoy. Having been raised on a small, family dairy farm and made to feel ashamed of my heritage during my indoctrination into the outside modern world, my conscience has given me a strong determination to educate urban society of the value our rural traditions and heritage serve to them, even today.
Recognizing the importance and magnitude of this great educational challenge, I was deeply dismayed to learn about a November 5, 2019 social media tweet from a Harvard University educated Graduate Student Instructor at the University of California, Berkeley who adamantly and callously documented the level of ignorance to which urban attitudes towards rural lifestyles have declined. In doing so, he has also documented quite clearly something I learned during my first semester as a University of California, Berkeley graduate student in the mid-1980’s. Although, until that point, I was raised and educated in my native New England, where I was surrounded and nurtured by my conservative, rural base, I discovered during my first UC studio class that there was such a thing as close-minded liberals—people who professed to be open-minded, but could not tolerate being challenged to rationalize or even explain their views. How I came to learn it is another story that I have recounted many times in my past, but can’t devote the time to explain in this post.
Suffice it to say that I did not decide to attend the University of California by my own volition. I was strongly encouraged to attend the University by one of my undergraduate school advisors who insisted that I needed to “broaden my horizons” by attending a graduate school broadly recognized for being a bastion of open-minded thinking and “learning how people lived in a very different world from the one with which I was intimately familiar” (those being his exact words to me). My first choice of the five graduate schools to which I applied was McGill University, a small university and program in the big city of Montreal—the only home city of the graduate schools to which I applied (and was accepted to attend) that I had ever visited before. My strongest argument to attend McGill—that they agreed to give me a scholarship to attend—was defeated when UC, Berkeley awarded me with an out-of-state tuition waiver. Although I admit it was ultimately my choice to make, I was still transitioning into an outside world that I didn’t fully understand or feel secure within, and I deferred, as usual, to the advice of the modern society experts who were kind enough to guide me. True, my attendance there gave me a piece of paper (my Master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning) that was respected across the country and helped me secure jobs in my chosen career field. Over the years, I have struggled to accept (much less defend) the strange lines of thinking that have come from my graduate alma mater, but none more so than the recent “tweet” to which I feel compelled to discuss. I have never felt so embarrassed to acknowledge that I spent two years of my life attending that institution. Fortunately, my life there was confined to the College of Environmental Design (I never lived on campus), and I never encountered someone so blissfully ignorant of rural issues and needs as the student of whom I am speaking.
I do not mention his name in this post because it is irrelevant to the core issues he raised. I do not care to attack him, because he has undermined his own intellect enough by his own words that to do so would be a waste of my time, simply to apply salt to his self-inflicted open wound. If he doesn’t feel any pain from stabbing himself, there’s nothing I can say about him that would make him feel any sincere regret. I will confine my comments to his words, which is the knife he wielded publicly on social media. After all, he is not the only person I have known who has pontificated about rural issues and needs from an urban-centric ideology and perspective.
Mr. Urban (as I will refer generically to him), was corresponding with someone on his Twitter account on the broader issue of affordable healthcare for rural Americans. This is an issue that I have mentioned in recent website posts over the past two months, as we are struggle with the cost of my wife’s recent emergency surgery for a strangulated hernia. As I, and other sources that have critiqued Mr. Urban’s comments on the subject have noted and documented, the cost of healthcare has become one of the biggest contributors to rural poverty. On this point, Mr. Urban tweeted that, “Rural healthcare should be expensive! And that expense should be borne by those who choose to live in rural America.”
What he obviously did not understand is that is exactly what is already happening. Rural Americans (like us) who live on a fixed or limited farm income have so little access to affordable health insurance that we have struggled to afford it. My wife is currently required to have Medicare coverage and our required monthly co-payments for that coverage have made it too expensive for me (a fellow UC, Berkeley graduate school alumnus) to have any insurance coverage. Without insurance coverage, I can be freely billed (forced to pay) the full cost that any hospital and health care provider would choose to charge me, which is often highly inflated to make up for the money they would lose by accepting the lower payments that Medicare or other insurance providers will accept on their customers’ behalf. Consequently, it is the people who have no insurance coverage (a large percentage of whom are Rural Americans) who are forced to pay the full cost for their own healthcare, as well as the unpaid costs, whether legitimate or not, of those patients who do have insurance. This is the simplest and most fundamental reason why the issue exits.
However, Mr. Urban’s offensive criticism of Rural Americans and their way of life did not stop there. He went on to contend, “It should be uncomfortable to live in rural America. It should be uncomfortable not to move…I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans. They, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions…Some, I assume are good people. But this nostalgia for some imagined pastoral way of life is stupid, and we should shame people who are not pro-city.” First of all, I would like to ask all self-proclaimed “Progressives” out there how his statements would sound to you if the words “rural Americans” in his rant were replaced by “African-Americans, or Jewish-Americans. As I have said repeatedly in previous posts, I have heard many self-anointed “Progressives” claim that they are “inclusive, enlightened, sensitive, and tolerant,” only to prove by their own words or actions that they are not. Mr. Urban is just the latest person from that body of intellectual elites who, by their own words, clearly demonstrate that they are not. They can be just as capable of stereotyping a segment of people into a group so as to denigrate them with offensive labels as any other bigot. After all, a recent prominent “Progressive” politician once relegated a body of rural people in my state to a “basket of deplorables.” Is this any way to argue a point, whether you consider yourself conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat? I’d like to refer Mr. Urban to my February 14, 2019 website post on the subject of “Shame.” Hopefully, what I said in it will help make the image in his bathroom mirror a little clearer.
What many vocal critics of Mr. Urban’s comments and beliefs have justly pointed out (including me in many prior website posts) is that he fails to understand or appreciate where the food that supports his cherished urban lifestyle actually comes from. It is the rural Americans (like us) who grow the food that burgeoning urban populations depend upon to survive. It is also rural Americans and rural areas that produce or mine the essential natural resources that power our cities and serve as raw materials for the computer chips, transportation vehicles, and medicines that make their lifestyle possible. It is the fiber from livestock raised in rural areas that provides material for his clothing and overpriced, athlete-endorsed sneakers. Rural America has made it possible for our cities to exist and grow. If every American had to grow or produce his or her own food and domestic products there would be no cities. There probably wouldn’t even be enough arable land in this country to successfully house us all. This basic critical flaw in his thinking quickly undermines Mr. Urban’s argument.
Although Mr. Urban eventually deleted his offensive comments and deactivated his Twitter account, he offered no express or sincere apology for his stated sentiments. He only said that he was “pretty sure I did a bad tweet here,” and noted that he wanted to “reflect on it more later, but my tone is way crasser and meaner than I like to think I am.” I must agree with his sentiments about his self-image, but that’s the problem I see with today’s self-proclaimed Progressives. They so arrogantly believe they adhere to their idealistic values that they never consider how the things they say and do crosses those lines. Is it any wonder why our society is politically divided?
I do remember one lesson I learned from my rural farm upbringing that I would like Mr. Urban and his fellow progressive urban elitists to learn. It was a rural pearl of wisdom I saw in the mid-1970’s posted on the wall of a farm equipment dealer (R.N. Johnsons, Inc.) that we frequented on Charlestown Road in Claremont, NH. It simply said, “Be sure your brain is in gear before engaging your mouth.” That store has long since closed. More’s the pity. Since Mr. Urban is a student of Philosophy, I consider that to be good food for his further “reflection.” I guess this incident also explains why I say that our educational system should do a better job of teaching people how to think instead of what to think. What I’m trying to say is that the art of critical thinking has become lost in our desperate efforts to freely say and spread what we believe. If you would like me to elaborate on that statement, simply ask me to do yet another website post.