I read a quote this past weekend that gave me pause. The President was speaking in South Carolina and and made a claim. At first the claim sounded absurd, but then I thought about what he really said. After I gave the claim some thought, I realized that I agreed with what he said.
What he said was, "As long as you can go in some neighborhoods and it is easier for you to buy a firearm than it is for you to buy a book, there are neighborhoods where it is easier for you to buy a handgun and clips than it is for you to buy a fresh vegetable, as long as that's the case, we're going to continue to see unnecessary violence." My first thought was I'm within reasonable walking distance from a place to buy all three of these and I'd have to have a background check for the gun but not the books or the vegetables. In fact, I've bought books and fresh vegetables this past weekend.
But this isn't the sort of neighborhood the President was speaking of. And I think the link to these neighborhoods and violence is valid. For instance, we have plenty of access to all three products in question. We also have a lot of gun owners. We have no black market for weapons to speak of. The people in this community that own guns are often hunters and sportsmen that know the purpose and place for guns. They are also instilled with a moral code and a respect for human life. Most are somewhat educated and gainfully employed. And yes, they have access to books and nutritious food. There is very little violence, gun or otherwise, in this community.
But not far from here are communities where someone could buy a gun, cheap, tax-free, no background check, off a street corner. No questions asked. But in that same neighborhood, you won't find many, if any, stores that sell books or fresh vegetables. The neighborhood residents are poor, lack medical care, deal with high crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, and often, understandably, have lost hope.
This problem is magnified in large cities. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are the usual suspects. But this problem is just as bad, if not worse, in Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, and New Orleans, which logically have climates much more conducive to producing fresh vegetables.
Our problem is easy to recognize, but no one wants to admit it. So this is probably where the President and I begin to disagree. The problem isn't race because these neighborhoods represent every race in this nation. The problem isn't income distribution because wealth is not dealt like cards in a poker game. The problem isn't really even crime. These problems are all symptoms of the larger problem. America as a nation has lost its identity.
Let's go back to the infancy of our nation. Here's a list of people. Try to guess what they all have in common. The Minutemen at Lexington-Concord, four 0f the first five Presidents. The authors and 11 signers of The Declaration of Independence. The Father of the Constitution, The commander of the Continental Army. I could go on but this list is substantial enough to prove my point. Any idea what they all had in common? Give up? They were farmers. They may have also been lawyers, educators, inventors or military men but they were all farmers.
Our nation was based on an agrarian economic model. It's a very simple philosophy. An agrarian centered republic is how we were born. Over the years a series of events, some larger than others, have shifted that existence from the one our founding fathers intended to the present reality: an urban centered empire. A nation founded by farmers and small business owners has evolved into a nation run by big corporations and big banks in big metropolitan areas that dismisses large expanses of farmland as "flyover territory". Living off the land is now seen as backwards, even bizarre. A perfect example is the recent debate in Savannah over whether or not to allow residents to keep bees in their backyards in residential areas. This is the South, a major agricultural area and people are scared of the land and centuries old methods of interacting with its indigenous inhabitants. Another example is the efforts of city people in Portland, Maine trying to dictate bear trapping policy for the remainder of a very rural and forested state - against the advice of wildlife biologists. So the problem isn't even restricted to the South. As I often say, city people are funny.
Let's take a closer look at these city people. Big cities with big businesses. Everyone is a number. Trees are lampposts. Grass is concrete. Produce is asphalt. There is noise pollution, air pollution, and litter pollution. When businesses and jobs leave the inner-city areas, these people lose incomes and services. Sometimes this is crime. Sometime its plummeting property values or soaring tax rates. No matter the cause, it makes life in these areas difficult. People can't fend for themselves because there's nothing to fend with. When frustration and desperation set in, books become irrelevant, fresh vegetables become non-existent, and a black market gun becomes a means of survival. Eventually, having a gun and the guts to use it becomes a status - a distorted form of manliness. Eventually the criminal element has the power in the neighborhood. Gangs and drugs become legitimate ways to advance economically as kids and adults from the rich sides of town bring money to get their party supplies.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, fresh produce is sticking up out of the ground. It's literally growing on trees. They even have food that eats food and food that makes food. Farmers have the ability to be self-sufficient because they produce the basic needs of society. And the allegedly inhumane dairy farms you hear about? The cows all have names, the farmers know them on sight. They have healthy diets, access to medical care, and someone worries about them and cares for them all day long. Farm animals have better lives than city people.
A few ideas on how to fix this:
1) Inner city people, regardless of race, tend to think they are all in the same boat together and the fight is them vs. society. Put yourself in their shoes for a bit and the thought makes sense. But the good folks are going to have to take charge in their neighborhoods. They have to change the culture, reject the criminal element and overcome it by restoring hope and opportunity.
2) This nation has to understand the importance of family farms. We have to allow people to raise their own food. We need to respect the people that make the land produce sustenance. And we need policies that benefit farmers, especially non-factory farms like Brasstown Beef, Grassroots Farms, Schermer Pecans, and many others you'll find on the Georgia Grown website. (Non-Georgians should feel free to look for locally grown food in your area.)
3) We need to patronize and support businesses that can sustain our dignity and our economy. We need businesses that know us by name rather than by number. If your bank president doesn't work in your town, change banks. If Wal-Mart has it but a small store has it for a little more, pay a little more. Use a local hardware store, like Lavender Mountain Hardware, whenever possible. Eat at locally-owned restaurants like Heavy's BBQ rather than some chain drive-thru.
4) We have to get the operation of government as close to the people as we can. We need state and local governments calling more of the shots. The US is too big and too diverse to govern every corner from Washington. We need farmer votes to count for farmer issues. We need small business owner votes to count for business policy. And we don't need Georgia-specific laws to be made in Washington by the legislators of the other 49 states.
Basically, we need a return to a republic with a heavy sympathy for agrarian ideals. We need cities that encourage and empower their inhabitants to produce food, start neighborhood businesses, and create a culture of hope. We need books and fresh vegetables to be power and guns to be tools. Gun laws won't fix our problem. The philosophy we abandoned over the years will.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire