The Representativeness of Extremes

One of the reenactments that will be ongoing during the next four years is simply unintentional.  That is, people (the media, bloggers, commentators, etc., as well as many other folks) will seize upon an expression of extreme views or extreme behavior and offer it as representative.  Lots of people do this.  White southerners risk being reduced in certain representations to a bunch of rabble-rousing rebels with more beer than common sense as they proclaim that it was all about states rights, for example, as the media seems intent on making sure to seek out those folks for commentary.  In turn, many of those folks (and others) talk about “Yankees” and “politically-correct leftist academics” and so on, being sure to draw clear (to them) distinctions between North and South, northerners and southerners (it’s never clear how many people west of the Mississippi fit into this scheme, nor does the typology make allowance for issues of ethnicity and race, although here and there you see religion sneak in, and rarely in a nice way).  The ongoing debate over how Americans should remember the Civil War is shaped fundamentally by the decision to focus on the extremes, especially as refined through the creation of self-serving stereotypes, and then claiming that those extremes are in fact representative.

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