The political and cultural commentator Walter Russell Mead is always entertaining and almost always spot-on (though IMHO he can sometimes can miss the boat). He recently wrote about what he termed the Mormon utopia in Utah, by which he mostly meant that a Gallup Poll indicated Utah was a pleasant place to live.
Now, Mead does like to point out Blue State foibles, but he didn’t go out of his way to pick a fight with this post, which for the most part could be taken at face value. But we are in a polarizing place at the moment in our culture, so a number of his commentators decided to read the post in blue and red terms, and to point out seeming contradictions. One sneered that if Red States are happier, why is Minnesota number two in the poll? Another wrote:
Right up there with Utah is that increasingly blue state, Colorado. Down at the absolute bottom are Obama-loathing West Virginia and Mississippi.
Take that Doctor Mead!!
It is a bit of a muddle until you bring Albion’s Seed into the picture. That’s the book by David Hackett Fisher that documents the continued importance of the four separate English folkways in the United States: the Puritans (settling New England), the Cavaliers (the South), the Quakers (the mid-Atlantic) and the Scots-Irish (the back country). As Razib has written, Mormons, while seemingly conservative, are far from classic Red Staters in Albion Seed terms. Rather, they are in effect descendants of the Puritan tradition, not the red-meat and red-state lovin’ Cavaliers or Scots-Irish. Under this reading, Utah and Minnesota are the truer kindred spirits.
This may account for why, despite my being flummoxed over Mormon doctrine, I feel totally comfortable and at home with Mormons as opposed to say, rural Americans of the Scots-Irish variety.
This may also account for my partiality, as a native New Englander, for upstate New York. Readers of Albion’s Seed will know that the Puritan tradition spread west from New England through upstate New York and into the Upper Midwest. By contrast, the Scots-Irish spread up through Appalachia as far as Central Pennsylvania. Which may explain why I feel somehow at home with rural New Yorkers but slightly out of place with rural Pennsylvanians, at least those west of the Quaker-Scots-Irish divide in the eastern part of the state. And yes, the trees are the right height in Puritan country too.