Tuesday, January 09, 2007

For King or Parliament?   posted by Razib @ 1/09/2007 09:48:00 PM

I am currently reading The English Civil War. When I read God's War, a history of the Crusades between 1100 and 1400, it was a rather detached affair. My conscious partisanship toward the West expressed itself in a mild sentimental bias toward its medieval Christian percursor.1 Nevertheless the medieval period is a distant land and it was a survey of a shadow alien landscape from which I wished to glean facts in the service of a general understanding of human affairs and action. Yet my reading of The English Civil War is different, I seem to always "root" for the Roundheads against the Cavaliers. Perhaps this is because I am an American, and will always smile upon the tribunes of the plebs who have the gall to rise against the armies of the king, but sometimes I wonder if the sentiment does not have deeper origins. In Albion's Seed David Hackett Fisher identified "Four Folkways" in the United States which derive from the pre-1776 British Settlers:
Families of zealous, literate Puritan yeomen and artisans from urbanized East Anglia established a religious community in Massachusetts (1629-40); royalist cavaliers headed by Sir William Berkeley and young, male indentured servants from the south and west of England built a highly stratified agrarian way of life in Virginia (1640-70); egalitarian Quakers of modest social standing from the North Midlands resettled in the Delaware Valley and promoted a social pluralism (1675-1715); and, in by far the largest migration (1717-75), poor borderland families of English, Scots, and Irish fled a violent environment to seek a better life in a similarly uncertain American backcountry.

My own personal background is at the nexus between the Puritan and Midland folkways. I once told a friend that when going through the Civil War period I always knew who the good guys were. (the Blues of course!) Only later on with the awareness of adulthood did I comprehend the nature of "the Lost Cause," or the reality that the Roundheads were arguably more tyrannical than the Cavaliers. Other biases lurk in my mind, when I read The Reformation I leaned toward the Protestants, even though I knew the rough sketch of the outcomes. This, though I am aware of, and attempt to ward myself from, the sin of anti-Catholic prejudice which suffuses the Anglo-American intellectual tradition.

I am immigrant, strictly speaking, to this nation. Though schooled nowhere else I am visibly different from the majority of the citizens, and was a conscious alien as a child. Nevertheless, it is clear that I have internalized the subtle biases and outlooks of the "the Yankee," whatever that is. Part of the explanation perhaps lay with the thesis of The Nurture Assumption, my peers have generally been northern Yankees, and so I became. Additionally, my teachers always knew who the "good guys" were, even if they wouldn't say it in so many words. I am curious, what biases do readers feel themselves stumbling upon? In our society we are taught to reflect & explore "latent" bias on the dimensions of sex and race, but what about the unconscious "folkways" which we imbibe through the banal processes of socialization?

1 - Though I have admitted a faint and reflexive attraction to the harmonies of the call to prayer because of childhood memories, in general I find Islamic civilization a cold and dour affair and am not particularly disposed toward it.