The verdict against Oberlin is emblematic, not just of a town versus gown schism, but of a much larger schism between urban America and the rest of us.
As you all know, a jury in Oberlin, Ohio, concluded that Oberlin College and one of its deans had behaved very badly indeed when they sided with those students who had claimed racism lay behind Gibson Bakery’s accusation that a student was guilty of shoplifting. The accused student was black, so the woke students stirred themselves into a frenzy aimed at destroying a family bakery in continuous operation since 1885.
Oberlin, rather than calming that frenzy, cultivated it and even took the policy step of canceling its standing order from the bakery. The bakery sued and a local jury awarded it $11 million. Oberlin promptly, and officially, announced that the verdict was idiotic, which was probably a bad move considering that the local Oberlin community jury still has the chance to award the Gibson Bakery another $22 million in punitive damages.
And no, I’m not kidding about Oberlin College officially stating that the jury verdict was stupid. Immediately after the verdict, it sent a mass email out in which it stated, among other things, “We are disappointed with the verdict and regret that the jury did not agree with the clear evidence our team presented.” There’s no other way to read it than to understand that Oberlin College contends that the local Oberlin jurors were too intellectually defective to understand the college’s exquisitely nuanced defense.
This whole thing prompted John Ringo to remind Glenn Reynolds about the “town v. gown” warfare that was long a fixture in towns hosting academic institutions:
One point that none of the commentors seem to be making/noticing is the ‘town/gown’ dynamic.
Oberlin is the classic small liberal college in a less liberal (though still very) town that exists entirely to support the small liberal college.
Thus the jury was made up of ‘townies’ who resent the college, the students and the administration and the college resented that the unwashed townies were ALLOWED to have any input on the actions and deportment of their superiors.
Throw in the many notable examples of the current ‘elites’ being both lacking in competence and unlacking in hubris and you get everything from the protests against an innocent (townie/unwashed/ignorant) baker through the hubristic email. Not to mention a jury that’s about to throw the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary at them.
Ringo nails it. After all, historically, those town v. gown hostilities can be really serious. In 1354, the Oxford townies took up arms:
One of the most infamous outbreaks came on St. Scholastrica’s Day (February 10) in 1354. It started innocently enough, when some students drinking at the Swyndlestock Tavern, close to the Carfax Tower, accused the landlord of serving them “indifferent wine”. The argument escalated until townsfolk came to the defence of the innkeeper.
The bells of St Mary’s church called townsfolk to arms, and for three days they beat and killed students and ransacked the colleges.
The fallout from the riot was severe. The city had to pay for repairs to the colleges, and the Mayor and burgesses of Oxford had to swear allegiance to the Chancellor of the University every year and pay token damages in a special ceremony. The ceremony continued well into the Victorian period.
I don’t recall such severe rioting in America’s college towns, but the distance between colleges and the communities in which they exist made it into at least one movie. In 1979’s Breaking Away, a townie boy, obsessed with bicycle racing, crossed the class lines (pardon the pun) to have a relationship with a college girl. Since I was at Berkeley when the movie came out, a town that moved in Leftist lockstep with the gown, I didn’t quite understand the hostility between the two sides, but it made for some great movie tension — and probably accurately reflected a lot of the simmering resentment townspeople feel for the coddled college students who look down on the working people who make those same coddled lives possible.
Given that America’s universities have moved left at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades, it’s reasonable to believe that the town v. gown schisms may fast approach those seen in Oxford in 1354 — or maybe they’ll be even worse. In Oxford, it was an economic fight, with each side believing that the other was taking gross advantage of it. In the movie Breaking Away, it was a form of class warfare, with working class townies and self-styled upper class college students sneering at each other. But what we’re seeing now is a profound cultural break, one that goes beyond fights over the price and quality of merchandise or whether someone is “better” or “worse” than someone else depending on their familiarity with Shakespeare.
Of course, to begin with, part of the problem is that Shakespeare has been kicked off of college campuses, along with all the other thinkers and creators underpinning traditional Western culture. America’s colleges and universities have jettisoned every single traditional American principle: patriotism, capitalism, constitutionalism, Judeo-Christian morality, traditional gender (not just gender roles but actual biology), racial equality (something true liberals once fought for), Western culture — even math, which is now part of the battle ground, for Leftists argue that traditional math is sexist, racist, and heteronormative, all of which must be destroyed. When it comes to the core beliefs and animating town and gown, there no longer exists any common ground.
That same schism that we’re seeing in Oberlin also plays out between town and country in ways that have a very profound effect on our national politics. As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately driving through America. In the past five months, at various times, I’ve driven through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. All told I’ve traveled about 4,500 miles in that time. That, my friends, is a sh*t-ton of driving — and I’ve done it all while remaining in just a fraction of the same country.
Had I covered not-quite-that-distance in Europe, I could have driven from Cardiff in Wales to Moscow in Russia (using the Chunnel), and then looped back to London via Budapest, with a couple of hundred miles to spare. That drive, by the way, would have taken me through myriad small and large countries: Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria.
I mention this because it’s only after you’ve put rubber on the road that you realize how vast America is. Sure, people who routinely fly from one coast to the other, or even from the coast to major cities such as Chicago or Dallas, are aware that they’re spending a lot of time in the air, but it’s still a five- or six-hour flight at most. It’s when you’re traveling for miles and miles, hundreds and hundreds of miles, through Southwestern desert, or Midwestern fields, or Southeastern primal forests that you realize America’s geographic enormity.
One of the other things you realize as you travel through America is how much emptiness there is. The same travel in Europe takes you from town to town to town to city to city to city. Europe has people and buildings everywhere. In America, there is so much . . . nothingness. It’s beautiful nothingness. It’s austere or lush, barren or bursting with natural life. But what it isn’t is filled with people.
In these vast spaces, the streets are clean, the skies are clear, and a car is an absolute necessity — and moreover, that car had better be traveling fast because otherwise you feel as if you’re not moving at all.
Keep this in mind when you think about Leftism. Leftists are urban creatures, creatures like Ocasio-Cortez, who measure distances by subway stops. To Ocasio-Cortez, life without a car is logical. Indeed, in New York, a car can be an inconvenience. It’s inconceivable to her that, in other parts of America, a car is not just a convenience, it’s a necessity.
The same holds true for those urban creatures who put their faith in electric cars (never mind that electric cars have filthy batteries and usually are as dependent as gas cars are on fossil fuel — it’s just that the fossil fuel is displaced from the car). Only in a densely populated urban area or equally densely populated Europe can you have a sufficiency of electric fueling stations to sustain vast numbers of electric vehicles. Moreover, electric cars do best in stop and go traffic, for the constant braking helps regenerate the battery. If you’re lucky, you’re barely braking at all when you traverse Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas.
Leftists also put their faith in government because the big cities that give rise to their ideas lack community. When you live in a small town out in Texas or in a cove in Tennessee, it’s your neighbors who are there for you, not the government. Meanwhile, in New York, you have no idea who your neighbors are, but you’re always just a subway ride away from the welfare office or emergency room.
[Since I posted this, a friend with whom I had a discussion on this subject emailed me. Her take on city versus country bears repeating here:
agree with you about Leftists and cities…I’m inclined to think that it has something to do with self reliance…in the country, if something breaks, you fix it. In a city, you call the landlord and tell him he has to fix it. The government often becomes responsible, so if you live in a city, you depend on the government for rules and support. In the country, if you want your road paved, you get it paved. As government moves in, you have to ask for it to do so, or at the very least, ask for a permit etc. The other thing is the density of population means that city folks have more power to control the government.
That’s a very important distinction and I’m glad she thought of it.]
In urban areas, illegal immigrants are just more guys in the barrio competing for a rather dense concentration of employment. In country areas, where jobs are as spread out as the people, every illegal immigrant is a burden on the employment situation. Moreover, to the extent that there are government services in these sprawling, relatively un-populated regions, that same lack of population density means government resources are spread thin (literally), so it’s a big deal when illegal immigrants hog those resources.
These geographic distances have profound political consequences, consequences that are as great as they were when the Founders created the Electoral College to make sure that each area of the new country had a loud voice in national elections. Back then, the issue was slave states versus free states. Today, the issue is still slave states versus free states: Will America become a socialist country with every citizen a slave to an overreaching government or will it remain a free country in which government is defined by what it cannot do and citizens are defined by the inherent rights they possess?
You might have read that Oregon just signed on to the National Popular Vote (“NPV”) movement. If you’re unfamiliar with that, the idea is that those states that enact the NPV promise that, no matter how citizens of that state vote, the electors of the state will always give their vote to the presidential candidate who received the most popular votes nationwide. For example, if the NPV had been in effect in 2016, those states that signed the compact, even if their citizens voted for Trump, would have had to give their votes to Hillary. This Prager U video from four years ago explains nicely the myriad problems with the NPV:
In the years since the above video, states with a total of 189 electoral votes have enacted the NPV. When that hits 270 (only 81 electoral votes to go), those states will have achieved an end run around the Constitution. That most-wise document was intended to give each state in America a voice in the election. The only way to change it should be through amendment, but the NPV bypasses that. I claim it’s entirely unconstitutional, but there’s no telling what havoc it could wreak before it’s tossed into history’s dustbin.
America’s voting population (both legal and illegal) is concentrated in urban areas that hew Left, hard Left: New York, Chicago, D.C., Seattle, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles Basin, Atlanta, and (with greater frequency) Dallas and Houston. The citizens in these places have no concept of America’s vastness or of the differing needs of citizens in those less populated regions, yet it is becoming increasingly likely that they can and will control our presidential and congressional elections for the foreseeable future. This is a town versus gown, or city versus country, schism on steroids. If the NPV gets its way, people in the outback of Oklahoma will be told that they need to give up their cars and the great cattle regions of Texas will find all of their cows consigned to immediate death for their farting sins.
If the NPV movement comes to your state, fight it tooth and nail. While it pretends to be about increasing democracy through the popular vote, it’s really about disenfranchising all non-urban America, just as the college towns are now actively seeking to disenfranchise and destroy the communities in which they live. The jurors in Oberlin pushed back and it’s up to the rest of us to do the same.