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Proud To Be A Upstream Downstream American

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Since last Wednesday morning, I’ve been hearing a lot about the prominent role moral values played in the presidential election. I, an alleged card-carrying member of the Northeastern liberal elite, and my liberal comrades, have been told repeatedly that we are not only not members of mainstream America, but that we just don’t [or willfully won’t] understand mainstream America.

Funny, I kind of look and feel like a mainstream American. I’m middle-class, have been married for 12 years to a man I met in college, drive a six-year-old minivan, live in a 3-bedroom house on a quiet, suburban street, have two children and a dog, meet my daughter at the bus stop every afternoon and shuttle her to soccer games on the weekend, and work part-time in an attempt to achieve a palatable work-life balance.

And I’m white!

So how is it that I’m on the banks of the mainstream, rather than in its currents? I’ve been told that I fail a litmus test: I don’t attend religious services [unless someone gets married, christens a baby, or dies], and I don’t believe in a higher being. In particular, I’m not a Christian, and I am therefore outside the mainstream, in spite of all my other mainstream traits.

Some other non-Christians are occasionally swept into the mainstream, but only when it’s convenient. Jews who practice Judaism conservatively and Muslims who practice Islam liberally are brought inside the mainstream when they’re needed, such as during discussions of why George W. Bush won a second term, or why federally funded “faith based initiatives” are such a wonderful invention. Conservative Jews and liberal Muslims are marginalized most of the time [and liberal Jews and conservative Muslims all the time], but they’re convenient to the mainstream because they have just enough faith in an ancient book to be occasionally useful, but few enough practitioners that they pose no real threat to the real mainstream. Of course, Buddhists or anyone who practices a minor religion are clearly outside the mainstream.

Since I’m a non-believer, I’m told, I don’t share the moral values of mainstream America. Again, I think I look and feel like a mainstream American, morally speaking. I have no criminal record — heck, I’ve never even had a speeding ticket — I’m married, and I work, pay my bills, pay my taxes, respect my neighbors [even though I wish they’d do something about those damned leaves], do volunteer work, love my children and teach them to be kind to their friends [I think it will work, eventually], donate to charities, and support equality for all Americans.

On the whole, I think those are mainstream American values, don’t you? Well, all except for that last one — the belief that all Americans should be treated equally and have equal access to the American dream. Apparently, equality is not a mainstream moral value. In fact, the word “equality” doesn’t appear in the original ratified U.S. Constitution. I’m not surprised: those who wrote and ratified it believed wholeheartedly in inequality. Any reference to equality in the Declaration of Independence and other early American writing applies strictly to white men. Everyone else was put in his or her unequal place.

So, as this recent election has illustrated, the American mainstream maintains something akin to a Colonial-era adherence to the idea of equality. It values selective inequality and discrimination, justified by a particular moral code, and I think that’s immoral. I haven’t read that in a book anywhere; it just seems obvious that it’s immoral for a majority of people to willfully deny a specific minority of people access to the same things they have.

Since equality is obviously not a mainstream value, what kind of value is it? I’m going to call it a upstream downstream value. It’s a value that is running ahead of the mainstream and that I believe — well, I hope, at least — the mainstream will catch up to in the relatively near future. [Sometime in my lifetime would be nice. We can always dream.] I can already hear the cries of elitism — some of you are very loud. But that’s okay. If it’s elitist to believe in equality, in actually ensuring equality for all Americans, and in not amending our constitution to specifically deny equality to a particular group of Americans, then I’m proud to be a downstream American.

[Also posted at Bitch Has *Word*.] [Edited to change “upstream” to “downstream,” so as to remain in the linguistic mainstream.]
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About bhw

  • nice post bhw. I hope your fellow USians realise this applies more generally to all countries, really.
    In some ways we’ve come a long way in the last couple of centuries, in others we haven’t really moved at all.

  • bhw – maybe that’s the problem…you’re ‘upstream’ and those folks that are in the water think your peeing in it!

  • Brilliant post, and so true. I’m also proud to be an elitist, an upstream American…whatever you want to call it…if this is what it means.

  • bhw

    If equality = pee, then I guess so, andy.

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent, very important, thanks!

    A few thoughts: if you’re “running ahead” wouldn’t that make you downstream?

    Equality is a very slippery word: do you mean equality of result, equal opportunity, equality of expression, societal approval (as verified by law), etc?

    Being a flat-out atheist puts you outside the mainstream, but most Americans profess to be Christian but don’t go to church all that often

  • bhw

    Damn, now you made me go to the dictionary. “Upstream” means going against the current.

    So, [as she furiously thinks of a response] to spin it positively for me, I have appropriated the word “upstream” to give it new meaning in this context. I’m not going against the mainstream current, because I am definitely a part of the mainstream in many ways. For example, on another BC thread, the mainstream has been identified as white America. That’s true but incomplete if you look at it from more than a racial perspective. I am definitely not mainstream in my religious views. But what about all those other mainstream traits that I have?

    As for equality, more good questions. I don’t believe in manufacturing equality of outcome, but I do believe in laws that provide equality of opportunity and that prevent the majority from discriminating against a minority. Of course, some people’s opportunities are another person’s outcomes [like Affirmative Action admissions policies at colleges — I see those as opportunity, others see it as outcome].

    I don’t know that we need societal approval, per se. It would be nice, but the laws would give all people equal access to what’s available in our society, like marriage. It’s reasonable to assume that some people will still disapprove of other people’s lives, but that happens right now anyway. I don’t approve of people getting divorced and remarried four or five times, for example, but that’s no reason to outlaw it. Why should my particular moral stance on that limit someone else’s “pursuit of happiness” [futile as it may be in that case]?

    I guess people need to stop looking at laws that govern personal behavior as the implementation of societal approval or disapproval of personal behavior. In this regard, I’m pretty much a libertarian. Regulate the people as little as possible, and when you do regulate them, do it equally to all.

    But that’s not how the majority/minority thing really works, unfortunately.

  • Eric Olsen

    hmm, interesting. My vision of downstream was being out ahead of the pack, leading the way, boldly going where no mainstream had gone before, blah, blah. Upstream as far as I know mainly means closer to the source from which the water originates, so a mountain top would be the ultimate upstream.

    As far as equality goes, I too favor equality under the law, which I interpret generally as equality of opportunity, enforceable by law where that opportunity is denied or infringed upon.

  • bhw

    Alright, I’ve edited the post to reflect my, um, non-mainstream use of the word upstream.

  • bhw

    Yes, downstream is further “up” the stream, in the direction of the current.

    Maybe I’m really a downstream American. Hm….

  • bhw

    Okay, edited one more time, using downstream instead of upstream. Shows you the value of not writing in a vacuum. Thanks for the feedback, Eric.

  • Antfreeze

    Yes but the struggle is to move upstream, toward the mountain top. One thing I’d like to say is that the election was decided by only a few percentage points. Keep that in mind when the smugsters start spouting off about a mandate etc. I don’t think too many people were really voting FOR Mr. Kerry, but nearly half of America were definitely voting against GW.

  • Ah, bhw, thank you for so eloquently putting into words all that has been floating around in my head for the past week. Our lifestyles are very similar (although I’m way older, my only child is away at college now, and my minivan is only four years old), but I look around at my hopelessly suburban, middle-class, family-oriented, Ozzie-and-Harriet life and wonder which mainstream it is that I’m out of. I hold the same (non)religious views that you do, and don’t think that it’s any worse to admit to being a non-believer than it is to say you believe and then go to church once a year, if that. We’ve raised our son to be respectful of other peoples’ beliefs to the extent that they’re respectful of his. The other part of the “liberal elite” equation that I don’t quite get is the use of the word “educated” as if it’s some kind of insult, or as if people on the coasts are the only ones with educations. I’m educated. My husband is educated. We both come from working class backgrounds, and in my case, from grandparents who came here in the early 1900s with no English and no discernible job skills. I happen to think we embody the American dream, but maybe that’s just me being out of touch with the mainstream.

    Oh, and hey — we’ll try to do something about those leaves this weekend.

  • bhw

    I see what you’re saying, antifreeze. At the mountaintop, you can become the source of the mainstream and imbue it with your values.

    Or perhaps the struggle is to bring the mainstream further downstream [or faster] so that when it reaches the ocean of diversity, it’s ready to deal with it.

    Or I could just stop trying to extend the metaphor. 😎

  • bhw

    Thanks, Distorted Angel. I’ve been thinking about it all week, too!

  • After reading Angels comments I just had to make an observation…

    one of the things I hear coming from the left all the time is how we need to take care of people that can’t seem to take care of themselves…but I bet when Angels granparents came to this country they didn’t get any govt handouts…they learned english, learned a trade…and became Americans! The govt didn’t help them. They may have received some help from neighbors if they did like my grandfather did when he came to America in the late 1800’s and moved to an italian neighborhood in NYC. He lived near people like him…people that spoke ‘broken’ english, but mostly italian. Even when I was a kid and would visit that little neighborhood in the Village, there were still plenty of italian speaking folks running the little stores and stuff. They spoke english, but much rather prefered their native tongues. The thing is, they never expected the govt to hepl them..the ycame here beleiving that America was the land of opportunity…and it is…but the opportunity is not supposed to be handouts.

    Equal access to the American dream? Why does that have to mean taking money from my pocket to fulfill someone elses dream?

    I’m not anti abortion…I personally don’t care if you kill all your offspring! But why is it so bad that some people that believe that life begins at conception want to try to protect that life? Be it the abortion issue or the stem cell research issue. They believe that they are saving a life. Anti death penalty people try to do the same basic thing, which is save a life.

    Why is it that people opinions that differ from yours or from the excepted norms are ridiculed and called stupid?

    I believe that civil unions are fine…and this should get me ridiculed…but I have a problem with the word marriage when it deals with anything other than one man and one woman…I never heard this kind of outcry for the crazy’s out in northern AZ that are polygamists!

    I guess what I’m asking is…what makes YOU so right…and EVERYONE else so wrong?

  • bhw

    I have to go to work [and impart my elitist knowledge on the youth of America!], so I’l be brief:

    Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.

    Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t marry someone of the same sex?

    Don’t like birth control? Don’t use any.

    Just keep those specific morals out of the law and let each individual make his own way. I’m not forcing anyone to use birth control, have an abortion, or marry someone they don’t want to marry, so why should anyone be able to prevent me from doing those things.

    Gotta run!

  • …but I bet when Angels granparents came to this country they didn’t get any govt handouts…they learned english, learned a trade…and became Americans! The govt didn’t help them.

    You’re right about that, Andy. Another part of the story concerns the fact that my mother’s family was desperately poor. My mom, who was very intelligent, wanted to go to college and become a teacher. Instead, she left high school at sixteen to work in a dress factory because she needed to help support her family. I would have liked it very much if a little help from the government could have enabled her to stay in school and kept her family from going hungry while she did so. I actually don’t know any liberals who are in favor of giving away gobs of their own money to support people who don’t want to work — I don’t know where conservatives get that idea from — but I am very much in favor of giving people a hand up when they need it, and I’m also mindful of the fact that often the people who suffer the most from poverty are children, who really shouldn’t be made to suffer as a result of their parents’ inability to get their act together, regardless of the reason. Society pays more for that in the long run. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or even one good answer, to this problem, but I don’t like your “every man for himself” approach very much, either. Perhaps there’s a middle ground that we both might feel comfortable with.

    As far as abortion is concerned, I don’t think it ought to be a political issue at all. It’s a matter that is between a woman, her conscience and her doctor, and it belongs in the privacy of the doctor’s office, period. End of story. Having said that, I am very much against legislation that denies women control over their own bodies.

    I would like to see the benefits and protections of marriage extended to gay people, and I would like such unions to be recognized by every state in the country. I have no issues with terminology — if it makes you uncomfortable to call it a marriage, so be it. To me, it’s just words. The fact that more people want to establish stable households within committed relationships (particularly in the face of soaring divorce rates) just strikes me as a good thing rather than a bad thing, and doesn’t have an impact on my own marriage at all, regardless of what it’s called.

    And where do you get the idea that it’s only the folks on the left that call people with different opinions “wrong”? Seems to me there’s enough of that going around all over the place.

  • You’re right DA…it does happen on both sides…I apologize for that…

    I have no problem with a helping hand…but when it becomes endless is where I see the problem. When I was a kid, I used to help my little brother get up in that tree…but once I gave him the boost to the first branch…he was on his own!

    The point I was trying to make…is that I’m not sure if my own opinions are right or wrong..they’re nothing more than my opinions. But just as surely as people believe with all their hearts that something may be right…there are probably just as many that believe otherwise…and who’s to say which group is right and which group is wrong?

    And I have heard the phrase educate now or incarcerate later…refering to kids…and I agree with that…when I lived in AZ a few years back I helped fight for a local tax override to make sure our schools had enough money…but there’s another problem…in the school system my kids were in there were way to many kids, in HS, that couldn’t speak english, IN HIGH SCHOOL!!! How do you get to 9th grade without being able to SPEAK english? We won’t even get into the subjects of kids born here that can’t read and write…To much money had to be diverted to english as a 2nd language classes because of people that enter this country illegally, pay no taxes and reap the benefits from those of us that do pay taxes!

    AZ passed a law this last election, that many screamed was racist, requiring any person seaking govt funds to provide ID. Like one artical I read said, if I have to show ID to rent a movie at blockbuster, why shouldn’t I have to show one for anything the govt might give away for free?

  • Well, I think the larger point, with regard to opinions, which bhw has already made (probably more than once) is that your opinions become more than your opinions if you are trying to codify those opinions into law. And some people’s opinions are just flat-out wrong, from both a moral and a factual standpoint — I will point to white supremacy groups as but one example of this. And yet I will not deny them the right to hold those opinions.

    Anyway, Andy, I thank you for the conversation. I doubt we’re going to solve the world’s problems anytime soon, but I think talking about them from across the fence is a good thing, yes?

  • most definately! I’d say that it’s good that we can stand at the fence and actually HAVE a discussion and not get all pissy about it. No name calling or any of the other BS that happens sometimes when people start to discuss things like this.

    I would also agree that some opinions are most definately flat out wrong.

  • boomcrashbaby

    well, bhw, should you ever want to connect with those who do represent the mainstream, like Bill O’Reilly, Jack Ryan, those wonderful Republicans in Nebraska, Texas Gov. Perry, Arnold and his mainstream treatment of girly girls, etc., you’ll definitely want to make sure you don’t try to go back upstream without this.

    In the meantime, you are more than welcome to wade on the bank downstream, with us gypsies and fairies. Perhaps you might even see some elves (protectors of woodland animals).

  • Bhw, you fit the demographic profile for the Pacific Northwest very well. It is is the most unchurched region of the country. People actually say the words ‘agnostic’ and ‘atheist’ out loud. Higher proportion of college-educated people than the norm. The anti-gay marriage amendment passed here, but by a smaller margin than elsewhere.

    When I’m in the South to visit family, people ask what church I go to. When I meet people here, they ask what bar I hang out in.

  • Eric Olsen

    which proves there should be more drinking in church

  • amen!

  • bhw

    If there was more of that, I might actually attend church once in a while.

  • believe it or not, here in nottingham, we have a bar in one of our churches! ok, i’m pretty sure it’s no longer actually used as a church. Also, the prices are there are quite steep (maybe they give a %age of their profits to…the church? =+)
    That’s what I like about living in a heavy-drinking city – we have bars of every kind you can think of.

  • Scoota Rey

    I heard that if an eraser freezes, it explodes.

    Also: Do you think Adam & Eve had navels? (I don’t belive in the story, but I think its a good question.)

  • no, they had valencia’s.

    …or maybe honeybell’s.

  • boomcrashbaby

    I don’t understand why creationists can’t combine evolution with creationism.
    The bible says God made man in a day, but man wasn’t here, so who says it was a 24 hour period? And one of God’s days could be 100 million years. So man was made from dust (evolved from the primordial ooze), in a day.
    I don’t understand why, when it with health (parenting, stem cells, etc.) or with creationism, or with just about anything else, the fundamentalists have to be opposed to science. Did they grow up watching too many Vincent Price movies?

  • bcb – I tried to clarify this in my own mind when Iwas younger, going to a catholic school as I did, I was taught both and they really didn’t appreciate anyone questioning the bible(as was evidenced by the slap I got when I asked how a virgin could have a kid), so I had to figure out a way to make it work for me. What I came up with was that as prehistoric man evolved, once he became self aware, that must have been God’s doing. And that time that it took for man to evolve from whatever to selfawareness was the 6 days. Like you said, there weren’t any clocks or calendars, so 6 days could have been 600 million years. It made it easier to reconcile science and religion, at least when I was a kid. As I reread it now…hmmmmmm…

  • boomcrashbaby

    As I reread it now…hmmmmmm…

    Yes? You make it sound like you discarded one, either the science or the belief.

  • bhw

    But many Christians, the more fundamentalist ones, in particular, reject outright the idea that man evolved from apes. The Bible says man was made in God’s image, so that part of evolutionary theory is just wrong in their eyes.

    But my husband agrees with you, Boom. He thinks that evolution doesn’t disprove the creation theory, and vice versa. Why can’t they coexist?

  • bcb – all I can say is that as I get older and farther away from the church and I guess a little more cinical about life in general I find it hard to reconcile a lot of things in the bible…I guess my ‘faith’ has dissipated a bit over time.

  • Scoota Rey

    It has nothing to do with your faith. If you belive in God but people in your “faith bracket” disagree with the exactness of what happened in the Bible–START YOUR OWN RELIGION! I’m sure there will be many people who will agree with you.
    Also, the reason why people don’t believe in the bible is because there are many contradictions in it and part of it (no, most of it) really isn’t historically based. Well, you shouldn’t read the bible that way. You have to read the bible with the mindset that it’s spiritual truth rather than historical or logical truth. It should also be read in context rather than word for word. You should also understand that many stories (especially those found in the Old Testament) in the bible were written for people of that particular time period and not for our time period, so some of those stories that seem farfetched shouldn’t deter you from the moral lesson in the story.
    For example, the story of Moses when he’s in Egypt and all that isn’t necessarily true in a logical, scientific or historical sense. The idea of Moses crossing the Red Sea is very farfetched. What might’ve happened is that they crossed the sea at an abnormally low tide. Nevertheless, the main idea morally was that God protected and rescued his people through Moses.
    I’m not a preacher or anything, but I just wanted to share my thoughts.

  • Amen.

  • for an unintentionally funny (and just a little sad) viewpoint on the election, read the bob jones congratulatory letter to president bush.

    gee, i didn’t know i was part of a pagan agenda.