Small Towns and Mating

February 10, 2014

                There was a time when most Americans assumed that the early American settlers were Winners.    Early American history tended to be portrayed in heroic terms.  The early settlers were adventurers, pioneers, scouts.   They were courageous, forward-looking people who heard of the frontier, saw an opening, and raced toward it, fighting for religious freedom and for opportunity.

                At about the time that I became socially aware, this image began to crumble, and a realization swept the culture that this was not accurate, or even reasonable.  The people who came to America were not the Winners in the places they were before; they were the Losers.   The poem on the statue of liberty has it about right: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Most of the people who came to America came here out of desperation, fleeing wretched conditions in other countries and escaping debts that they would never be able to repay and obligations they would never be able to meet—and yes, they were often successful in this country, but very often that success came after a generation or two generations of suffering and sacrifice.

                Every sophisticated American knows that, now, and accepts that it is true—but there is a very similar misconception that still dominates American culture today, and which I would bet most of you accept because you have never been challenged to think about it.  A hundred years ago more than 90% of Americans lived on farms or in small towns; now, we mostly live in cities or in suburbs.  Who was it that left the small towns to go to the cities:  the Winners, or the Losers?

                Most people, because of bias toward the cities, assume that it was the Winners who left the small towns to find happiness in the big cities.   One sees this not infrequently, reflected in social commentary and in political commentary, since America has now divided politically with the city people on one side and the more rural people on the other.  It is the city people who write 99.9% of the political commentary.  I remember Norman Mailer writing, and rather too often, about the bitterness of the small town losers who were left behind when the cool people moved to the towns.

                Think about it rationally.   One of the most critical factors driving the population from small towns to cities was:   Mating. People who write about the urban migration write about it in economic terms, and tend to assume (and assert) that it was economic forces that drove the population from small towns to big cities.  That played some role, yes—but almost all of the economic things that are done in big cities could perfectly well be done in a small town.  I would bet that an equally large or larger cause of the urban migration was (and is, in the places where the urban migration is still occurring) that small towns don’t work particularly well in terms of mating.

                We look for very specific things, in a mate; it’s a very narrow spectrum.   The person we are looking for has to be of a certain age, of a certain look, of a certain background; we look for people who share our belief systems, our interests, our habits.    We are a thousand times more demanding when we are trying to select a mate than when we are trying to select a bank or a grocery store.

                This is an illustrative exaggeration, but just as a starting point.  . .let’s take a town of 200 people.    How many of them are young and single?   Forty, fifty?    Twenty or twenty-five of each gender?   What are your chances of finding the person you are trying to find, in that population?

                In my graduating class in high school, there were 18 people—13 of one gender, 5 of the other.    How does that match up? 

                OK, that’s misleading for a series of reasons.   I grew up in a town of 300 people.    First, a town of 300 people isn’t really a town of 300 people; it’s 300 people in the town and 500 or a thousand people living on farms around the town.   When you grow up in a small town, you know all of those people and all of their daughters.   Second, eight miles from you in any direction is another small town.   And third, men have ways of finding women, and women have ways of attracting men. 

                My father was born in 1907.   When he was about 20 years old, he took a course that taught him how to shear sheep.     Shearing a sheep is not something that any farmer can do; you have to know what you are doing, you have to have equipment, and you have to be physically strong enough to wrestle sheep for ten straight hours.    For two or three years he would make periodic tours around the surrounding counties, shearing sheep for farmers, usually boarding with farm families while he worked with them.    My father would never have said that he was travelling around looking for women, and would probably not have admitted it if you had asked him, but. ..what do you think?

                My wife’s grandfather was about ten years older than that, born about 1897.    He was a Lutheran of German descent. Her grandmother was also a Lutheran of German descent, but she lived in a different small town 50 miles away.   We have letters that he wrote when he was courting her.  It was very difficult for them to get together.   There was no rail line that united the towns, the roads were just mud, really, and to say that the automobiles of that era broke down once in a while would be like saying that Mark Reynolds occasionally strikes out.  If he tried to make a 100-mile round trip to see her, he WOULD have car trouble, almost beyond any question; he’d be stuck in the mud, or have a couple of flat tires, or be unable to get the thing started, or something.   

                We don’t know how these two met—but somehow, he found her; somehow, although she was very shy and never went anywhere except to church, she attracted him.  People have ways of finding mates that extend the normal boundaries of their lives.

                Still, having said that, a small town was not an ideal institution from the standpoint of finding a mate.    In many ways, small towns were tremendously successful units.  Comparing small town life a hundred years ago with urban life now, there were many very significant advantages to the former.    In most ways small town people were much more tolerant and accepting that city folk; we’ll argue about that another time, but I was there and I know.  In other ways they were less accepting, less tolerant.  In terms of pressure, tension, fear of crime, security. ..no contest.  In every possible way, small town people did a better job of caring for one another than we do today.

                But there were a certain number of people in every generation. ….and I was one of those people, and Bob Dylan was one of those people, and Johnny Cash was one of those people, and Willie Nelson was one of those people . .who were just absolutely never going to find a suitable mate in the small town where they happened to be.    Think about it:  Who has trouble finding a mate in a small town?   The banker’s son?   The quarterback of the football team?   The prettiest girl?   The cheerleader?  The nicest girl, or the nicest guy?

                No, of course not; it was those of with dirt on the back of our necks who had to get the hell out of there to have any chance.  OK, a few of us became Winners once we got out of there, but we certainly weren’t the Winners while we were there.   Small towns have been driven to the brink of obsolescence not because the Winners left, but because, in every generation, 15 or 20% of the people had to get out of there to have any chance to find their Other Half.    Every generation, 15 or 20% of the young people leave. . .it bleeds you dry, after a while.  Economics follows yet harsher realities: a community has to work as a mating center, or it doesn’t work.

 
 

COMMENTS (52 Comments, most recent shown first)

bjames
And for you to justify your bigotry with this kind of logic.. ..


I had grown up in a similar little town within the confines of NYC (Bensonhurst, where I went to the same high school as Sandy Koufax and John Franco--obviously a Jewish-Italian enclave) and I felt the same limitations Simon was ripping in that song: no one encouraged me to become a writer, a professor or a painter, or even to get much of an education, the parents (and many of the kids) kept their eyes on the gutter, not on the prize, and had very low-level ambitions for their kids and for those of us who expressed our hopes otherwise, they could be brutally unkind.


Jesus Christ, man. . .do you not suppose that people who defend ugly prejudice against blacks or gays or latinos. ..do you not suppose that they ALSO cite these kind of narrow-minded interpretations of their negative experiences with blacks or gays or latinos in order to justify their own pettiness and vindictiveness?

Also, it seems to me that you are making two diametrically opposed arguments: 1) that Simon was referring only to his OWN small town, and that I am not allowed to be offended by it because I am from some other small town, and 2) that Simon's hate speech rings true to you because you are from a SIMILAR small town.
10:44 PM Feb 26th
 
bjames
You were reprimanding Simon in your original piece on "My Little Town" in the 1980s for inaccurately characterizing the "customs, conventions, practices" of small towns, weren't you?

No, I absolutely was not. To lack imagination, for example, is neither a custom, a convention, or a practice. It is a defect, a flaw, a benighted condition. To accuse a group of people of this--ANY group of people--is despicable. It is bigotry, plain and simple. And that you EMBRACE this form of bigotry, that you celebrate it. ..to do so is no less despicable than if the people who were being libeled were black or Jewish or disabled.
10:28 PM Feb 26th
 
bjames
You're saying that I can't paraphrase you in any way. You absolutely did castigate Simon

But Steven, of course I did not say that you can't paraphrase me in any way. What I am saying is that you paraphrased me in such a way that I am unable to recognize any of my own thoughts in your pair of phrases about them.
5:52 PM Feb 26th
 
OldBackstop
erm......group hug?
3:09 PM Feb 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Oh, and "mores"? Here's what you get if you google "define mores":


"mores
[mawr-eyz, -eez, mohr-] Show IPA
plural noun Sociology.
folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group.
Origin:
1905–10; < Latin mores, plural of mos usage, custom

Synonyms
customs, conventions, practices."
You were reprimanding Simon in your original piece on "My Little Town" in the 1980s for inaccurately characterizing the "customs, conventions, practices" of small towns, weren't you? The whole piece was about the unfair criticism of small-town "customs, conventions and practices" from the ignorant perspective of someone who never lived in a small town, wasn't it? "Mores" was your subject--that was the issue you differed so strongly on from Simon.
5:20 AM Feb 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
You're saying that I can't paraphrase you in any way. You absolutely did castigate Simon: you "reprimanded [him] severely." (dictionary definition of "castigate')--if you're unwilling to accept paraphrases of what you wrote, and if you want to evade criticisms because they use accurate paraphrases that you want to pretend are "misquoting" you or distorting your meaning, then evade away. Like I said, I can't stop you--it's your site. But it's pretty weak tea, in my book.
5:10 AM Feb 23rd
 
JohnPontoon
Just a clarification as to why the aforementioned interviews-first magazine included distracting centerfold pictures: Those were all nice ladies who were shy about leaving rural American towns, but still desirous of mates. PB was doing them a public service.
11:15 AM Feb 21st
 
bjames
Steven, there isn't anything in your characterization of my comments which ISN'T entirely wrong. You're using words like "castigation" and "mores". . ..I don't use those words; I recognize them, but I don't use them. I don't do no castigatin'. I don't know whether you're accusing me of castigating somebody or accusing me or accusing Simon of castigating. I don't know who is castigating what. I don't see ANY similarity between my comments and your representation of my comments. And I don't think I said ANYTHING about mores.
5:33 PM Feb 19th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Bill, I need you to quote whatever "points [that] were totally and absolutely unrelated to what I was trying to say" in order for me to show where I drew upon your writing. I promise you I didn't try to misconstrue your words, so I think I should be able to show you where my paraphrases came from in your writing, and I will try to do so if you quote me getting you wrong. Thanks.
7:15 PM Feb 18th
 
Cooper
I can't wait til we get around to breaking down "Cecilia"....it's a long winter.
9:18 PM Feb 16th
 
doncoffin
A (somewhat left-wing) British economist on changes in marriage patters--including declining rates of marriage in the UK and the US--which is at least tangentially related to some parts of this discussion (did I hedge that enough?):

stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2014/02/love-class.html

7:33 PM Feb 15th
 
OldBackstop
Thanks, shthar. Didn't seem like a Gallagher joke, but as soon as you said it, I remembered. Are you Professor Shitbar? That would make this more interesting.

Okay, I'm so bored being snowbound in NJ that I am going to obsess on this song and its Ralative Reality Equality (RRE. after my pals' band Railroad Earth).

First thing....it certainly didn't bring to my mind that the song was about Queens, with the "coming home from school riding bikes past the gates of the factories". Sounds like a mouthbreather flyover state, like Kansas or Canada or whatever.

But S&G both attended PS 164 (aka Queens Valley, and incorrectly cited in Wikipedia as "PS 174" ) elementary with 627 kids today, off the Van Wyck in a somewhat treed and grassy area, (google map "138-01 77 AVENUE QUEENS, NY 11367") where I suppose kids could ride a bike rather than a subway to school. I weight this a 7.5 on an RRE scale of 10.

Secondly...are you like me? A bigot? Cuz I saw all the God shit and assumed Christianity was getting a whack, but several candle-making S&G syncophant hippies on the intrawebthing said that the line "pledging allegiance to the wall" meant the "western wall", like, man. (Simon and Garfunkel both being Jews). Simon has written some atheisty songs lately; e.g.:

'How can you live in the Northeast :

How can you be a Christian?
How can you be a Jew?
How can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?
How can you?

Garfunkel seems to be the more religious of the two, and his life has been marked by at least one happy miracle, hooking up with Penny Marshall without producing whatever spawn that would have looked like. So, on the religious stuff, I'll call this an 8.2

re: Factory reference. After hours of spreadsheet analysis and a glance at Google Earth, It seems to me that the PS 164 region (PS164R) of Forest Hills is almost totally retail/or residential. But the bike reference could mean when they went to high school together, Forest Hills High School, whose alumni include Burt Bacharach, The Ramones, and Captain Kangaroo, which would have made a great Breakfast Club sequesl.

However, that research into the historic enrollment drawing perimeter I can not determine without more research than I can put in right now with satellite photos of development and census analysis. Readers? At any rate, it does abut Shea Stadium, and every time my white bread suburban ass goes there I look out the window of my S-Class at the Mad Max landscape, spatting out cursing elitist rants like John Rocker with his hand in a car door, so I'll give the factory reference a 6.8,

Lastly, could the lyrics hold any other clues? Do they pass the black ink test?

In my little town
I grew up believ--ing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
And I coulda said fence
An obscure Jewish reference
Do you think I recall?

My little town

Coming home after school
Playing fast and loose with analogies
Flying my bike past the gates
Of the "factories"
Please note the quotation mark
Cuz it could have been Kew Gardens Park

My mom doing the laundry
Or maybe with Art's mom Audrey
Hanging our shirts
In the dirty breeze
where there were possible factories?
Perhaps I recall

My little town
3:21 PM Feb 15th
 
shthar
The comedian with the wagon wheel joke, was Gallagher.
7:09 PM Feb 14th
 
CWright
Just on the subject of the immigrants from non-city life preferring non-city life here, my great-grandfather grew up on a European farm, landed in NYC and as fast as he could, moved west to found his own farm. A charming letter from a satisfied Irish immigrant in Butte, MT to relatives back in Ireland advised that if they were going to immigrate: "Don't even stop in America, go directly to Butte."

5:53 PM Feb 14th
 
jdw
Does this mean someone is going to have to go back through Bill's books to find the discussion of Simon and the song to transcribe it? It's not one that sticks in my head as much as say the Galileo vs Pope analogy (which I actually transcribed a decade and a half ago to make a point), or various witticism about Enos Cabel.
6:36 PM Feb 13th
 
bjames
Regarding the question "I was trying to paraphrase your words as accurately as I could. What specifically did I paraphrase in a way you think is inaccurate?" I have no idea WHAT it was in my work that you were trying to paraphrase. To me, your points were totally and absolutely unrelated to what I was trying to say, and I don't have any idea how you drew that nonsense out of what I said.
3:59 PM Feb 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Exactly, steve161. And particularly those talented women in the centerfolds that so bedeviled Bill. ​
11:05 AM Feb 13th
 
steve161
Good, now we seem to have the facts straight. (I remember neither the song nor the interview nor Bill's original remarks, so I'm grateful for the citation of actual information.) The next step is to understand what is being said about the facts.

If I'm reading him correctly, Steven is not "trying to insinuate" that "the intelligentsia does NOT sneer at the uneducated." He doesn't seem to address that one way or the other. His argument is, if I understand it, that the suburban mass tries to drag down its most able neighbors to its own level, to discourage excellence and creativity.

Periander, the 7th Century (BC) tyrant of Corinth, became notorious in legend (if not in fact) for wiping out the intelligentsia, seeing in it a source of opposition. He compared the population to a wheat field, saying that when a few stalks grew taller than the mass the best thing to do was chop them down to the level of the rest.

If that's what Steven is saying, I can only agree with him. I see it especially applied to talented women.
8:40 AM Feb 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
OK--Bill, I'm sorry that you think I was misquoting you. I was trying to paraphrase your words as accurately as I could. What specifically did I paraphrase in a way you think is inaccurate? Mauimike, yes, that's me. Jemanji, is it a quibble to point that Bill had claimed that Simon's song was supposedly written about a literal small town and it was an attack on small town life, whereas in reality the small town he was writing about was a NYC neighborhood that Simon himself had grown up in? What in hell does the intelligentsia and the uneducated have to do with the song, or with Bill's point about small town life, for that matter? Did I claim Simon was writing about (or for) the intelligentsia?
8:36 AM Feb 13th
 
bjames
Jemanji. ..thanks. Not to diminish Steven's point; he IS no doubt correct about Forest Hills, I was no doubt wrong to say that he was factually in error based on 30-year-old memories of a Playboy interview. In my defense, I was very distracted by the centerfold. . .never did understand why they put those things in there. Anyway, while Steven certainly has a point, I think I have one as well. Which you stated better than I did.
5:31 PM Feb 12th
 
jemanji
Looks clear to me that James is making a valid and important point about Paul Simon's song.

But let's say that sgoldleaf's quibble is accurate. What's his point? That the intelligentsia does NOT sneer at the uneducated? Is that what he's trying to insinuate?

Let's move the discussion forward.

.
3:51 PM Feb 12th
 
jollydodger
Does farmersonly.com have what it takes to reverse this?!?
3:01 PM Feb 12th
 
steve161
Leaving a pack to find a mate is common in nature, especially among mammals, especially by males, so I have no doubt that Bill has identified a factor in the migration from small towns to big cities that is evident over the past couple of centuries, not only in America. Indeed the exodus of many Europeans to such far-flung destinations as America and Australia is the tip of the emigration iceberg and happened for a whole complex of reasons.

In the specific case of the urbanization of America, it's worth noting that advances in technology over the past two hundred years or so have meant that, while the yield of arable land has increased manifold, the number of people needed to generate that yield has shrunk dramatically.

There is never only one explanation for a complex phenomenon. No doubt finding a mate was a motivation to move from farm and small town to city, but I'd bet that finding a job was at least as significant.
2:34 PM Feb 12th
 
bjames
Steven, if you were trying to hold an honest and intelligent discussion, why would you put words in my mouth that I haven't used? Why not stick to what has actually been said?
9:03 AM Feb 12th
 
mauimike
I wonder if sgoldleaf, is Steven Goldleaf, Professor of English at Pace University, Coauthor of the Critical Study "Richard Yates", and author of "John O'Hara." I just came across your blurb on the back dust jacket of, "A Tragic Honesty, The Life and Work of Richard Yates," by Blake Bailey. This just makes the exchange a little more interesting. The Professor, the insider vs. Mr. James the outsider.​
9:04 PM Feb 11th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Ridiculous. Simon claims (in the Playboy interview you cited as your source) that it was an intentionally nasty song –you claim that you read (somewhere) that in writing it, he was castigating the values and mores of the “little town” that Art Garfunkel grew up (and out of). The problem is that you mistakenly believed that Art Garfunkel had grown up in a little town far removed from NYC when in fact he had grown up in a neighborhood of New York City that had tried to stifle little Artie’s creativity and artistic vision. So, far from validating your preconceived offense at Simon’s condescending attitude towards little towns, middle America, rural areas, whatever (which the song has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with), “My Little Town” is a nasty excoriation of Garfunkel’s (and Simon’s) small-minded section of New York City. If you want to take offense at it, I can’t stop you, but you have shown zero evidence that it is a song about literal “little towns.” It is a song using the metaphor of “little towns” but applied to a neighborhood of the nation’s largest city. You might still find the song “stupid,” of course, but if Simon was stupidly insulting anyone’s hometown, it was much more my home town than yours, and I find the insult perfectly appropriate—New York City is filled to the rafters with idiots threatened by original artists and visionaries. We can agree on that, I think.
8:43 PM Feb 11th
 
jdw
sgoldleaf is arguing the it wasn't aimed at (i) a true Small Town, nor (ii) at a Midwest Small Town. That's pretty clear from his first post on it.

You both agree that it was written about Artie's home town. Which is Forest Hills. Which also happened to turn into Paul's home town growing up. Which is neither (i) or (ii) above.
8:18 PM Feb 11th
 
bjames
Goldleaf certainly APPEARS to be debating whether it is a nasty song, and that is the essence of the debate, to me. If Goldleaf agrees that it is a stupid, nasty song which intentionally libels small town life in order to settle personal scores, then we're agreed.
7:52 PM Feb 11th
 
jdw
This doesn't seem terribly complicated:

sgoldleaf:

"My Little Town" was Paul Simon writing --NOT about a mythical little town in some flat interchangable hinterland--but about Forest Hills, which as a neighborhood in boring old Queens

Bill:

goldleaf is factually wrong in saying that Paul Simon wrote the song about Forest Hills. He talked about the writing of that song in a Playboy Interview in the 1970s. He actually wrote it not about HIS background, but about the little town (whatever it was) that Art Garfunkle came from

sgoldleaf:

Bill, you couldn't be more wrong about Paul Simon, not withstanding the fact that Garfunkel was born in Forest Hills, met Simon in grade school there, and was "from" Forest Hills as much as anyone could be

sgoldleaf says it's about Forest Hills. Bill says it's not about Forest Hills, but the little town where Artie was from. sgoldleaf, and others, point out that Arties was born, raised and eventually met Paul in Forest Hills.

ergo, Bill declares victory.

Whether its nasty is really is besides the point, and not disputed by anyone.

This is a rather disappointing Elias Bureau level response when presented with the facts. :/
7:16 PM Feb 11th
 
jdw
Songs have different meanings to different people, even to their own authors at different times. We all remember how various people in 1984 viewed Born In The USA as a jingoist patriotic song, right? They focused on the chorus, missing that the verses cast it as something very bitter and ironic rather than uplifting.
7:05 PM Feb 11th
 
bjames
Wait a minute. . you just quoted material that demonstrates that I was correct. . .and then stated that it proved that I am wrong. It DOESN'T show that I'm wrong; it shows that I am right.
6:50 PM Feb 11th
 
Steven Goldleaf
The part of Bill's original vehement remarks almost 30 years ago that struck me so forcefully was that was one song that I completely understood. I had grown up in a similar little town within the confines of NYC (Bensonhurst, where I went to the same high school as Sandy Koufax and John Franco--obviously a Jewish-Italian enclave) and I felt the same limitations Simon was ripping in that song: no one encouraged me to become a writer, a professor or a painter, or even to get much of an education, the parents (and many of the kids) kept their eyes on the gutter, not on the prize, and had very low-level ambitions for their kids and for those of us who expressed our hopes otherwise, they could be brutally unkind. It took some guts to visit Manhattan, acquire some culture, meet some people from outside our own little sphere--and that was what Simon was describing so well in that song. I really had no clue where Bill had picked up all this stuff about big-city-snobbery-toward-tiny-towns, or how he read regional hauteur into Simon's tone. My first two girlfriends lived in Forest Hills (a long subway ride away) and I saw how that, too, was a similar enclave.
4:47 PM Feb 11th
 
jdw
That's one of the great things about living in the burbs like Paul, Artie and a lot of the rest of us: we tend to think of our 50K+ city/neighborhood/town as some small little town. It's the borders of a lot of our life, so that's how we see it.

But if you took someone from midwestern small towns, and drove him from one end of Queens to the next, then through the next Borough of NYC... and the next... it's all one big mass, or at most several masses. It's little different here in Los Angeles. If you drive from my city to the west, east or south, only the signs saying the change of the city would make you notice. Housing to a degree, but even within by city of 50K there are different ages and sizes in houses and building, so as they gradually chance from city to city, it's a blur. Going to my folks I cross the border from LA County to Orange County, and someone from a small town wouldn't notice the difference without reading the signage as cities blow by.

But if you live in it, you know the city.
1:44 PM Feb 11th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Bill, you couldn't be more wrong about Paul Simon, not withstanding the fact that Garfunkel was born in Forest Hills, met Simon in grade school there, and was "from" Forest Hills as much as anyone could be. Here's the excerpt from Simon's PLAYBOY interview (1984) in which he discusses "My Little Town":

'Playboy : You were talking with Garfunkel again by then. In fact, you recorded
My Little Town with him, which was on Still Crazy and on his solo album,
Breakaway.
Simon : It was written originally for him. I said, "Art, I'm going to write a
real nasty song for you, because you're singing a lot of sweet songs and it'll
be good for you to sing a real nasty song." Then, when I'd actually written
it, I said I'd sing it with him. And he said, "I know you. If you're going to
sing on this, you're going to feel bad it's just on my record. Why don't we
put it out on both of our records?" And I said, "You're right. Thanks a lot."
It was quite an act of generosity.'

Nothing about some little town in middle America that he was deliberately treating nastily, at all. That's just your defensive projections onto what Simon had in mind.
8:19 AM Feb 11th
 
taosjohn
Bill--

Paul Simon was born in Newark but his family moved to Kew Gardens, Flushing, Queens when he was four, and he spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence there. Art Garfunkel was born and raised in neighboring Forest Hills and they met at age 11 when they both participated in an elementary school play. They were schoolmates until college.

While Kew Gardens and Forest Hills are not Hell's Kitchen-- the boys would have been acquainted with the color green and the notion of "space"-- it is still rather odd to see neighborhoods of one of the NYC boroughs referred to as "little towns." Artie killed time in his adolescence playing schoolyard hoops and Paul hustled up streetball games-- they didn't hunt and fish...

Though less detailed, it is really the same song as Springsteen's "My Home Town"-- Except that they each read more personal things into it, seeing in the imaginary town of the song elements resembling the rather cloistered Jewish communities of their Flushing childhoods. To quote the Wiki article on it:

"Simon has stated that the song is not autobiographical; instead he says that it is about "someone who hates the town he grew up in. Somebody happy to get out."[2]

Garfunkel has explained that the song was about his own childhood, how he "grew up in an area where a career in music was not seen as either desirable nor exciting". Garfunkel's parents insisted he gain some qualification aside from his singing (he earned a bachelors degree in arts history in 1965, and a master's degree in mathematics in 1967). Garfunkel, upon the break-up of the duo, worked as a teacher in Connecticut, a draftsman in New York and a math tutor in Los Angeles, before working on a solo album himself, coincidentally, at the same time as Simon."

I certainly never saw the song as commenting on all small towns-- but anyone who has played football on the road in Mineville NY or painted houses in Torrington Connecticut can't help but see it as telling a truth, if not the only truth.

None of which has anything essential to do with your thesis, of course.

7:57 AM Feb 11th
 
raincheck
Immigrants today head to cities in the same way that all of us do. But my wife and I have studied our ancestors, and as a result immigration in general, and in earlier immigration waves the tendency was that people moved from farms in small European villages to farms in small American towns, often in clusters of people from similar places. Alsatians leaving after the Franco Prussian War and creating Alsatian clusters. Germans really tended to cluster. And they tended to mate within their group for one generation before branching out.

The Irish were more likely to go to cities, perhaps because the reason many came was because the whole farming thing wasn't going so well there.

One of the first things immigrants did was find a mate. It was difficult to be successful on your own, there was so much work to do to run a farm and maintain a household, so much you had to do for yourself. Upon arrival there was a strong tendency to be married within a year.
7:38 AM Feb 11th
 
OldBackstop
I forget what comedian did this bit, but he made his case for the superiority of Californians by saying all the cowards stayed on the east coast too afraid to go to Alaska and the San Francisco and hunt for gold. Those people that made it had to be courageous and innovative and adaptive. They had to be able to change the wheel on the covered wagon when it broke down in the middle of nowhere half way there. While courageous, the other people now populating America just gave up and stayed where their wagon broke down. You can still see the wheel sitting at the end of the driveway by the mailbox :-)
2:19 AM Feb 11th
 
bjames
Responding to a couple of things. . .goldleaf is factually wrong in saying that Paul Simon wrote the song about Forest Hills. He talked about the writing of that song in a Playboy Interview in the 1970s. He actually wrote it not about HIS background, but about the little town (whatever it was) that Art Garfunkle came from--and he specifically said, in that interview, that he intended for it to be a nasty, negative hit piece on small towns. Garfunkle was having some kind of trouble making a psychic break with the folks back home, and he wrote the song as a way of pissing on Garfunkle's little town, pushing him to make the leap. That's why I reacted to it the way I did. . .I thought it was a lousy song written for base motives.

Also, abiggoof is apparently buying into the common misconception that immigrants who came to America all or mostly came to the cities. They didn't. Many, many many immigrants went right through the cities and out to the small towns and farms. The little town in which I grew up had many second-generation immigrants. My wife's great-grandparents came to this country from Germany in the 1880s. . .came straight to Kansas. Tens of thousands of people did. But popular culture has located all of the immigrants on the east coast, so people assume that's the way it really was.
12:22 AM Feb 11th
 
mauimike
sgoldleaf & jdw, you folks could meet in one of those side by side toilet, bathrooms in SoChi, Russia. (Its nice to have Russia to brash around again.) An argument can be made and Claude Levi-Strauss, made it, "from nature to culture," that civilization was started because of mead, a honey alcoholic beverage, that later became beer. You can imagine that the ladies must have gotten tired of all that hunting and gathering and roaming around. Being 8 months pregnant and dragging little ones around, probably got old pretty quick. So some how they found or made some fermented honey, gave it to the boys. They got drunk and the boys said, we want more. Well, we need to plant this, grow that, wait.......etc. Cities, its been all down hill since then, but the beer been good.
11:42 PM Feb 10th
 
Hal10000
In terms of mating and big cities. I think you're absolutely right. My dad grew up in Atlanta, which had a large Jewish community. His cousins and second cousins and third cousins twice-removed were often from small towns which ... didn't. So when he was growing up, he always had a few cousins living in his house to look for husbands or wives in the big city. They didn't openly *say* that's what they were doing. But it's what they were doing.
9:39 PM Feb 10th
 
jdw
The final sentence is of interest for a digression, which may or may not be along the lines of where Bill is headed...

One way to deal with the 15-20% bleeding that Bill speaks of is to expand (or looking at it from another direction - Not Limit) who can Mate.

In my lifetime, and of course Bill's, Loving v VA eliminated one barrier to Mating. At the time of their conviction of violating the Virginia's Racial Integrity Act, 24 of the 49 sates (Alaska had just been admitted) banned the two from Mating. By the time Loving vs VA was decided, 16 states still had laws on the books banning their Mating.

What % of bleeding can be dealt with due to the elimination of Anti-miscegenation laws and expanding the potential people that someone might mate with?

Granted, these are Small Towns, so perhaps its less likely there. But the term in the final sentence was Communities, which is something beyond just Small Towns.

Perhaps no 15-20%, right?

Well, we still have our current version of waiting for another Loving vs VA moment. The rest? Come June (with IL), we'll have 17 states along with DC that allow Same Sex Marriage. There are four additional states that have a same-sex marriage equiv: OR, NV, WI and CO. SOL, if you understand the meaning of that.

Even that states that have allowed it are largely recent additions.

So what's the impact on Mating? Well, you might just be more willing to stay in your Community if you can Mate with the person you chose to be your Mate. Regardless of race... or sex.

Do we get up around that 15-20% once we universally eliminated both those barriers over the past 40-50 years?

Yes.

Is that "Mating" reasonably close to something else underlying Bill's piece: "Procreate"?

Yes, actually. You don't actually need to be of "different sexes" to become parents. More than that, you don't need to be of different sexes to make the decision to bring life into the world. I have two friends, part of two different same sex couples, who made the decision to have kids in the past few years. Their respective sons would not exist if they didn't make that decision, put in the time & effort & money to explore artificial insemination and using a surrogate mother. But beyond the technical aspects, their sons wouldn't exist if they were not "Mated" in a couple with someone else, regardless of the sex of their partner.

So when Bill talks of Small Towns being more tolerant of some things, if one wants to truly address the Mating issue, along with the Procreate one, some of that Small Town tolerance is probably best applied to things like Loving vs VA and the coming equiv of it for same-sex marriage. Those two combined go a long ways to addressing the old 15-20% issue.
5:38 PM Feb 10th
 
abiggoof
Migration to the big city only accounts for a portion of the change in the urban/rural percentages. It might be a majority, I don't know, but I venture to posit two factors that I suspect are larger.

1) Immigration is largely to urban centers. Not only the immigrants, but their children who stay in the urban centers have heavily altered the balance, especially in the last 130 years. Many found their mates in the cities, but others came with them or for other reasons.

2) Conglomeration and growth of former small towns. Cities grew and gobbled up their neighbors, some of which were small towns. And the growth of sleepy suburbs into their own cities has also massively changed the balance.

Still, Bill's point is valid: This is a nation of winners that was built by losers, and of cities built by losers from small towns and abroad. I am now in a small city after living in a small town and growing up in a suburb. My latest move was mate-related.
5:26 PM Feb 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
great --another STONER fan. We hold our annual meetings in a phonebooth. (Hmmm--there are no phonebooths anymore--where can we hold our meetings now?)
4:24 PM Feb 10th
 
jdw
Re sgoldleaf's comment: Stoner is an exceptional novel. It's rather staggering that Williams lived close to another 30 years and released just one more novel - the equally exceptional Augustus.
4:02 PM Feb 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Jimgus--this is twenty or thirty years after the fact, but I remember reading Bill's screed on "My Little Town" and feeling like writing some corrections to it. Amazingly, I remember all (I think) of my objections, little and big: 1) Paul Simon came from Queens, not Brooklyn--specifically Forest Hills in Queens, but Bill called him a guy from Brooklyn. Not very significant, but my point was that Bill would have minded if I wrote that he was from Iowa. You know, one of those flat boring states out in the middle of nowhere. 2) "My Little Town" was Paul Simon writing --NOT about a mythical little town in some flat interchangable hinterland--but about Forest Hills, which as a neighborhood in boring old Queens bore some of the same disadvantages--provincialism, conformity-- that Bill was complaining Simon has attributed to the midwest. 3) something else, but I can't remember after all if it was big or little. Boy, that feels good to get off my chest.
3:55 PM Feb 10th
 
jdrb
Here's the same story on a micro scale. I run a small guide service, very large percentage of guides are male. We used to be based in a beautiful small town with harsh winters and very very few single females and we seldom kept guides more than a few years. Once we relocated offices to a middle sized town with a university (think coeds), guides came and have stayed. Many have married and started families and still guide for us. So yes I find very convincing the argument that mating plays a huge role in the migration to the cities.
2:27 PM Feb 10th
 
jimgus
Bill,
Here's the "small town vs. big city" point that you have carried in the past. Specifically, I recall your article in an abstract (maybe the first Historical) that discusses Paul Simon's bias against small towns, particularly as seen in his song, "My Little Town." you seemed more angry (defensive?) in that older article than you do now.
This one has good points (the older one did, too).
Cordially,
JimmyG
1:48 PM Feb 10th
 
cderosa
As Bill points out how some urban biases color our preconceptions, I thought I would throw out a recommendation for a book I read a few weeks ago:

David Vaught, The Farmer's Game: Baseball and Rural America (Johns Hopkins, 2013).

Vaught argues that in debunking the Doubleday myth, students of baseball went overboard in insisting that baseball was essentially a city game. Then he has a bunch of fascinating case studies about how baseball figured in the lives of several rural American communities (in 19th-century New York, California, Texas, and in 20th-century Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina). I thought it was really good.
1:29 PM Feb 10th
 
78sman
Economics migration theory includes many factors, and chances of finding suitable marriage partners is typically one of those factors. I think that people tend to migrate if they have better prospects elsewhere, and if they have the ambition to try to improve their prospects.
1:09 PM Feb 10th
 
David Kowalski
I was watching a documentary called Out of Egypt where an archeologist was examining, among other things, the birth of cities. It is a ringing endorsement of your theory. Hunters-gatherers (does that sound clumsy) took up agriculture and it is usually presented as a great success. Well, it made it possible to support a lot more people in a much harder life. Diseases started attacking people. Before there were no crops to attract vermin so without the carriers there were few diseases. Instead of the occasional hunt, the men went out every day. The women had it worse because raising crops with primitive tools was a back-breaking job. To top it all off, all this work did not lengthen the life span. It stayed at 40 until 1900 in America.

The assumption is that it was the smart people, the risk takers, the lucky ones who pioneered agriculture and invented cities. It turns out that the opposite was true. Agriculture (and cities) were pioneered by the losers.
1:08 PM Feb 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Bill--I recommend the novel STONER (which is NOT about youthful druggies--the main character is named William Stoner) for an illustration of these principles (and much else). It's a great novel of small-town US (and also academia) written by John Williams, who was my professor in grad school. Best novel no one's ever heard of, and it addresses much of this topic.
11:44 AM Feb 10th
 
OldBackstop
I would have looked at this topic on the whiteboard and dealt with it differently, I think, between my coming of age in the early 1980s and watching my kids and their peer group in the present day. The first cut comes when you see the weekly newspaper listing college plans for seniors. Not listed? Community college? Might take over dad's roofing business and be a lifer. Going out of state to school? Really? Who comes back? You meet your mate at college, and she is probably from Somewhere Else and not interested in hanging around your childhood fishing hole beyond the lips-pursed fake interest on the first visit. That was my generation. Now, an economic counter-weight to this has crashed down on society in more recent years -- kids have no economic choice but to move back into their parents' basements. That is a sea change. It is interesting to speculate on how those young people will move forward, literally and figuratively, over the next few years. I would actually appreciate you speculating on it, because I wass thinking of getting a pool table.
11:28 AM Feb 10th
 
 
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