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The Two Day Okie: Ben Shapiro
Ben Shapiro: What I learned in Oklahoma City

In the running for the "Silliest Thing I Have Ever Read" contest should I ever have one. I saw this link to Ben Shapiro's little homage to us "country folks" at Okiedoke (Thanks Mike!) and I just had to take a few minutes to make fun of it.

Because, it is, after all, Townhall.com, home of the looniest of loonies!

Let's start.

I'm a city boy, born and bred. I've lived in Los Angeles and Cambridge, Mass. Even though my parents are native Midwesterners (Chicago), the closest I've ever come to country living is vacationing in Wisconsin. So when I was invited by the people at Supertalk 930 WKY in Oklahoma City to guest host on one of their afternoon radio programs, I was very excited.

So excited that you have decided to come live in Oklahoma City? How nice, What's that, you're too busy going to Harvard Law School? Well shucks, what are you too good for TU Law School?

Notice of course, that many of these right wingers want us to lead the revolution but so very few of them want to come down here and live among us. Its all well and good for them all to sit in their Washinton D.C. think tanks and wax eloquently about the leisurely, moral way of life down amongst the "country" folks in Oklahoma City. But I wonder if Ben wrote this little essay as he high-tailed it back home to Harvard?

Moving on...

Many coastal city dwellers like to look down on religious red staters. It's no surprise that Hollywood paints inhabitants of the Midwest and the South as backward, often inbred, straight out of "Deliverance." Anyone with a twang is labeled a hick by those on the coasts. Looking down on country dwellers gives lots of city folk a sense of superiority, secure in their knowledge that they are more tolerant, broad minded and intelligent than the yokels in the boonies.

Some of the snobbery is true and some if it is undeserved, and some of it is perpetuated by disaffected transplants who have a bone to pick with their old hometowns. Here in the "country" there is a high value placed on conformity, and many people who flee this area for the places like L.A. and N.Y. do so to escape that atmosphere. You can't very well expect them to be gracious about a place that drove them away.

That, my friends, is a luxury for people that have never lived here.

After all, out in Los Angeles and Cambridge there are strong gun laws, high taxes and atheistic churches. What could be more enlightened?

I dunno... horrible roads, crumbling schools, a growing meth problem and some of the highest divorce rates in the country?

Well, after spending a few days in Oklahoma City, it's even clearer to me that the coastal elitists have everything upside down. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from folks who live in the heartland:

A few days!!! Just about par for the course in conservative thinking. They take a look around with their idealogical goggles on and see what they want to see. Nevermind that they never take the time to really think about what they are saying, as long as it conforms to their world view.

Looking people in the eye isn't a crime. It's amazing, but when you've lived in big cities all your life, you are conditioned not to look strangers in the eye. You're taught to be afraid of strangers. If you walk down the aisle in a supermarket, and you happen to catch someone's eye, God forbid, you're supposed to look away to prevent awkwardness. If you don't, they might think you're rude, simple or perverted. Saying hello is never permitted, but if you do say hello, make sure to be subdued about it. After all, it's not like these people are your friends . The basic assumption underlying the city attitude is this: People are natural enemies. Strangers are scary. Don't interact.

Remember that little Ben probably spent his few days in Oklahoma City wilderness surrounded by like minded people. But I'm still not sure where he spent his time, because its still taboo around here to talk to strangers without a good reason. My friend John, in one of his weirder phases once took it upon himself to start saying "hi" to random people that he met in passing. He got a mixed response but most of it was a confused suspicion, because here, as like most everywhere else, people that randomly approach you are usually trying to either sell you something or get you to join their "network".

I'm not sure if this qualifies me as a big city dweller, but I did spend a couple of years in Dallas, a city larger and more diverse than Tulsa. And I will say that when you're surrounded by that many people it would take way too much time to interact with everyone around you. During the day to day crush of coming and going you become insular and shut out much of the hustle and bustle around you. But that doesn't mean that you become less friendly. In fact, I found it easier to make friends in Dallas than I do here. I'm not sure why but it felt like there were larger networks of people that you could interact with. Around here, especially in the more suburban areas everyone seems pretty isolated from everyone else. When you are forced into more close contact with people you're more likely to make friends with more people. At least that's what I discovered.

In Oklahoma City, the opposite is true. You look people in the eye, you smile, you say hello. Maybe you even ask how they're doing. Looking away is considered rude and furtive. People aren't natural enemies, in the country view. In the city, such friendly effrontery is considered bold beyond belief.

I can't talk for people in other cities, and I'm not about to draw wider generalizations based on my own ignorance, but I also suspect that cultural differences play a key role in explaining people's behavior as well. We're often taught what is expected in our culture. Around here, I know, people tend to be very polite to your face, saying "thank you" and "pardon me" but they can also be very judgemental in private. I know it can be off-putting to learn that a person that smiles, shakes your hand and says "How's it going?" every day also secretly hates your guts.

But anyways.. more of Ben's two day insight into the Okie way of life.

While "morality" remains a dirty word in the big coastal cities, it's part of the regular lexicon in the country. Yes, people sin in the country, but at least they recognize that they're sinning. In the city, by contrast, people create alternative religions (see secular liberalism) to excuse their misbehavior.

Here in harsh backwaters of Oklahoma people use traditional religions to excuse their behavior. Much of the much vaunted "morality" that Ben finds so endearing is what drives many of our best people away. Morality is often used as a way of making yourself superior to other people around you and as a way to sheild yourself from much deserved criticism. Its not too hard to notice that many of the most publically moral people also turn out to be the worst private sinners.

Of course no more convenient example of this kind of "morality" can be found than in Ben's own words. As I'm sure many of the people that he terms as "misbehaving" probably find nothing wrong with they way they are living. It is in fact, Ben, who is using his "morality" to judge others. So yes, if by morality you mean sanctimonious rock throwing, then yes, we do lots of that down here in the country. That is, until the people that we're throwing rocks at get tired of it and leave.

But tell me more of our ways Ben...

There's plenty of time. In the city, everyone's in a rush. We walk fast, we drive fast, we talk fast. We are efficient, tireless and rushed. No matter how hard we work, there never seems to be enough time. Every minute must be packed with activity. In the country, people seem to realize that life is made up of millions of minutes and that driving yourself crazy isn't worthwhile in the long run. Yes, working hard is vital -- you won't find harder workers anywhere in the United States than in places like Oklahoma City. But family and leisure can be just as important and renewing as work.

Admittedly, people do drive really slowly in the passing lanes around here.

As for his condescending crack about us folks being "hard workers".... all's I can say is "Thanks boss, can I have another one of those jobs so I can pay my bills!"

And every state that a politician visits has the best football team too.

People in the country aren't ignoramuses; they aren't hicks; they aren't boobs. Speaking with a drawl doesn't connote sloth; fearing God isn't a vice; morality and kindness aren't mutually exclusive. Slandering those in "flyover country" is a hobby of many in the city, but it takes that same "flyover country" mindset to keep America prosperous, vibrant and strong.

...and I might add, voting Republican, so that Ben's friends can all enjoy the good life up there in D.C.

Ben and his Townhall buddies are in no rush to move down here. They are perfectly happy cheering us on as we vote to put them in power. But they want nothing to do with us. For all the talk about how great the Red States are, I don't see a rush of young republicans moving to Oklahoma. They still want to live in the big cities, party till the crack of dawn, and attend the best universities as they plan their road into politics, grabbing the reigns of the money-making machine that has become the republican party.

Its all well and good to go on about our morality and the valor of the troops dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. But you don't see these guiding lights of the conservative movement rushing to join the rabble they so quickly praise. Sure there are people in the blue states that look down on people here in Oklahoma, when the fact is that people here aren't all that different. Places like Oklahoma City and Tulsa aren't "the country" as Ben seems to think. Not everyone here is a moralizing gasbag, we just seem to attact the most vocal ones.

Just as its wrongheaded for coastal elites to look down on places like Oklahoma, so too it is condescending for people like Ben Shapiro to see the red states as his own little breeding ground for the footsoldiers of his movement while he stays a safe distance away, visiting to mingle with the common folk for a few days and coming away all "enlightened" about what it means to be an okie.

I find Ben's attitude even more appalling than just straight ignorance. He wants people down here to fight and die in his wars, fuel his political aspirations and serve as an example for his idealogical vision, while not actually wanting to be one of us.

Don't come back now, you hear?

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