Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cardinal Virtues of American Regions: the Midwest

In my quest to offend Americans of every stripe, I'm conducting a study to determine the cardinal virtue, or esteemed trait, that particular regions prize. Today we examine the Midwest to discover its key trait and then to evaluate it.

The cardinal virtue of the Midwest is calmness. In place of heated passion, cutting cynicism, or airy epicureanism, Midwesterners seem to strive for a certain equilibrium about themselves. Everything is fine; nothing is overwhelming; all is going to be well. Conversation with Midwesterners can be an interesting affair. Sometimes it seems like they are engaged in an internal struggle with themselves to remain as calm about everything as possible. It's a sort of Stoic self-competition that usually brings the satisfaction of victory, because few Midwesterners I know emote much. Come thunder-cloud or drought, the Midwesterners are going to be just fine.

We might trace the Midwestern prejudice of calmness to their geographic region. The Midwest is based on agriculture, with huge farms that grow all sorts of things that are then shipped all over the place to be consumed. Farming as an occupation does not breed frenzy as a lifestyle. It's a studied, measured affair where one simply cannot panic on a day-to-day basis. The family depends on the farm, and has all its assets tied up in it (land, equipment, etc), and so must simply stick with the perpetual work of farming. Bad seasons come, good seasons come, and through it all the Midwesterner stands, unbowed by catastrophe, unhurried by promise. We humans are shaped by our work. When your work is based on slow, measured cultivation of the land, you will be measured and calm.

The benefits of this virtue are obvious. Calmness is hugely important in much of life. Perseverance and studied living come in hugely helpful in the adult years, when adversity visits and the trajectory of life resembles a Californian Richter scale. Ask a President, or a quarterbacks coach, or a husband who he wants by his side, and you can guess that he'll desire a person marked by calmness and perseverance. The calm type, however, may also be hard to read, may struggle to express themself as they truly feel and think, and may lack an ability to experience some of the highs (and lows) of life as they were meant to be experienced. Additionally, in conversations, one may find it very difficult to read the plain expression of a Midwesterner. All this said, when I'm off to start my farm, you know who I'm going to call.


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