Why Authoritarian Practices Exist in Rural American Cultures

Waters Creek, Wilderville, Oregon (image mine)

Open Cultures Grow Democratic Norms

Open cultures create the conditions that feed and grow democratic norms, which are embodied in human practices: what individual humans say to one another and what we do in relation with each other. Democratic practices in a culture create trust, make space for vulnerability, nurture creativity, support difference, and foster expression — all necessary conditions to grow power-sharing (democratic) practices. Democratic practices are open and inclusive: they “turn-toward” and seek out and embrace diversity in all its forms.

Rural American Cultures are Closed, but Becoming More Diverse

Rural American Cultures are often closed and disconnected, creating stagnant, poisonous information puddles of outdated mediated knowledge and misinformation. As a result, many of those citizens live in a world of conspiracy theories and threats of imminent race wars, the fear of which is spread in human relational practices.

The Data

I worked for 19 months fully immersed in study of power relations and cultural norms in poverty-ravaged, deep-red rural Josephine County, Oregon*, and the data confirms the conditions described above. My second full immersion immediately afterward into rural Sea Ranch, California, for another 19 months, adds further support to the description of non-democratic conditions.

Changing Grassroots Communication Patterns Changes Cultural Norms

Change in U.S. rural cultures has historically been driven by economic “development,” and that body of literature reflects the development approach in its language and focus on creating change. Previously, social and communication scientists relied on development approaches that framed research in terms of “development problems,” which were primarily associated with developing nations’ rural cultures, not U.S. rural cultures. In each case, the starting point was at the top: in economic analyses that rendered economic approaches and solutions. Capitalist interests in agriculture research ignored and excluded the relational basis of change: the social and communicative conditions within which solutions were planted.