aging, CO, confirmation bias, Craig, groupthink, Music Man, Roosevelt, small town life, Small towns, UT
Small communities are two kinds of special. A small community can be a place of good people who would do anything for each other and will help out a stranger if needed. They also can have a darker side of illegal activities, whispered gossip of secret knowledge, and a narrow view of the rest of the world. It is the Jeckle and Hyde personality of a small town that is never discussed, but almost always there.
Ruts of a Small Town
Change happens in small towns, but it often follows a counterintuitive logic. If the change is rational, involving a relatively workable plan of implementation, it is often viciously opposed by some people in the community. If the change is a Music Man-type (see video clip below) change consisting of unproven goals with lofty promises, a small community often embraces it.
What that means is that small communities often don’t change significantly over time. The ‘BIG’ change that is going to reinvent the community typically falls flat. That results if a fear of change. Without change, life becomes a rut that everyone falls into.
Aging and Small Towns: The ‘Comfort Zone’
Growing up in a small town is an interesting window into human development. Ask high school students what they want to do when they graduate and often the response is, “Get out of this hick town as fast as possible.” Small towns often don’t have enough jobs for high school graduating classes. College is often the best way for children to break out of the small town cycle.
But even those who go off to college sometimes return because there is a ‘comfort zone’ in living where hu grew up. As people grow older, the desire to ‘get out of Dodge’ is replaced with the fear of living somewhere else. That fear is eventually replaced by an intense loyalty to small-town life. Usually, older the person, the more defensive they are about living in a small town.
Small Towns and Confirmation Bias
In a small town, everyone knows everyone. As people age, they have a select few friends that they have significant contact. In some cases, daily contact. Unlike cities, people in small towns may see the same people at work, at school, at the grocery store, at church, etc. This immersion with other people creates intimate friendships that are as close, possibly closer, than marriage relationships.
People in small towns have limited experiences with people outside of their community and intimate friendships. They tend to develop a groupthink about the world and people outside their community. When all your close friends have the same lack of knowledge and experience with the rest of the world, people are exposed to ‘confirmation bias.’ This bias occurs when friends confirm a person’s beliefs, and other information that might counter those beliefs are ignored or unknown by the group.
Typically, confirmation bias fosters negative attitudes about people who are not like them. That leads to a conservative mindset that is easily exploited. It is not a coincidence that rural environments are ripe for politically conservative influence because they focus on telling rural communities exactly what they want to hear.
Small Town Black Holes
All of this is a generalization of small town people. To be fair, problems of larger communities, such as traffic, noise, pollution, homelessness, etc. are not the ideals of any community; however, small towns have an environment that generates the same patterns over and over. Children in a small town will often grow up to be like hu’s parents. People living in a marginal society disjoined from the world.
I hate small towns and I hate small town mentality. I 1000% love this article and I agree with most things you mentioned in it. I’m a 27 year old African American woman. Your experience greatly matches my experiences of growing up in a horrible, boring, close minded southern small town in NC where the people have a lot of the same attitudes that you’ve mentioned. My experiences were almost exactly the same as yours. Shelby, NC is full of people who can be stuck in the past and resistant to social change or any new ideas; this is a small town where the older generation especially, but many of the younger people around my age, still have this mentality of settling down right after high school or in their early twenties to have a few kids out of wedlock or within some coupled relationship or marriage just because that’s what their parents or peers expect them to do; they’ve been brainwashed since their earliest years to think that they’re obligated to become parents at a young age and the culture pushes them to have kids just because….that’s the way it’s supposed to be or the way it’s always been done. It’s probably rarely presented as a choice whether they ultimately have kids. They’re just expected to because it’s an obligation or something that’s always been done.
I have nothing against people who simply value the lifestyle of having children at a young age and those who emphasize family life. Those are their values, but I don’t agree with that kind of lifestyle. I hate that lifestyle. I think that having kids in your early twenties or right after high school is a boring, restrictive, undesirable lifestyle for someone like me who prefers my peace, quiet, solitude and prefers spending time doing my favorite hobbies and interests. I’ve never wanted to have children of my own and I’m not going to have children of my own unless I become a foster care parent and adopt two children from foster care. I’m also happily single and I’ve always enjoyed my choice to not be in a relationship because, again, I prefer my peace, quiet and solitude and time for indulge in my interests. The only time I desired to have a boyfriend was during some of my earlier college years. Someday, it’d be nice to get a husband. But people are commonly stigmatized or at least criticized and thought of as broken, lonely or “something’s wrong with you” if they don’t conform to the norm of getting a partner and some kids by a certain age in this small town area.
Many of both the older and younger population in Shelby, NC stigmatize any non-traditional, liberal or left-leaning ideas, values or beliefs. It’s a place where most people just listen to Fox News all the time and where only Fox News plays on the channels at certain businesses. I’m a liberal; I have moderate – liberal political values, both Christian and secular values, liberal political views about specific issues but I also believe in some conservative moral values, conservative social values, and some right-wing political views about certain things based on what I’ve found in facts, evidence and my own priorities and values. I fully support LGBT marriage and LGBT adoption of children. I am a happy and proud feminist, because I believe that feminism has improved society as a philosophy and social movement. Shelby, NC is a culturally and politically conservative small town that has always resisted new ideas or different ideas that didn’t conform to the status quo; it also has a long history of allowing white supremacist violence, racial discrimination and lack separatism. The highway called East Dixon Blvd. was named after a very racist writer who was born and raised in Shelby, NC. I was fully indoctrinated into a fundamentalist, evangelical, conservative Christian church called the Seventh-day Adventist church but I drank all the Coolaid because I was expected to believe that without question. But, I went to college and decided to start thinking for myself and live my life according to my preferred values rather than the ones imposed upon me through being indoctrinated into an authoritarian religion and authoritarian culture.
I’m from a small town in NC (Shelby) where the culture and mentality is full of the hypocritical, cherry-picking, cultural Christians who ignore parts of the Bible that they don’t like and they don’t actually follow its lifestyle teaches when it pertains to their lifestyle. Yet they call themselves conservative and they stigmatize atheists and “the liberals” to some extent. The hypocritical, cherry-picking, closeminded cultural Christians never go to church, don’t read the Bible or obey what it says but church is a glorified social club for them even when they ignore many of the Bible’s teachings. These are the same people who have premarital sex, sleep around with different people and have a few kids out of wedlock by three different people but these same hypocritical people will condemn homosexuality and they condemn gay marriage and they’ll quickly call a man “gay” if he doesn’t seem to conform to some narrow standards of masculinity as defined by the community. You have people who care so much about having kids or acting a certain way just to follow someone else’ expectations for how to live, because they never questioned the values they were taught, or to fit in with their peers or to fit in with the dominant norms and they stigmatize those who are happily single and don’t want a relationship or they stigmatize people who don’t want kids or they stigmatize people who are different in some ways that doesn’t fit in with the dominant norms of talking, thinking and acting in the small town. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, there was probably more stigma against those things.
Especially during the earlier 90s and 2000s, as I grew up, there was a lot of close mindedness toward people for being different in even the silliest, non-consequential ways. I was picked on and disrespected for being a quiet, reserved black girl; I was picked on because I spoke differently from others; if you were a black person listening to rock, you’d be criticized or teased; I was accused of “talking white” and “acting white”. I say that most other black people around me have been my own worst enemies because it’s true; it’s been my experience that most of the people who harassed or criticized me for being different were other black people who were close minded, immature and misguided black people who learned toxic ideas from their own close minded upbringing. A lot of them followed the expectations to get knocked up with a few kids right after high school or in their early twenties because that’s what they were taught in their hood culture, churches and family backgrounds. I’m thankful for my wonderful mom, who never pressured me to have kids or to be in a relationship just to follow someone else’ expectations or to fit in with boring, traditional and close minded people.
I was born and raised in a small town in NC where I was surrounded by very intolerant, closed minded and disrespectful people. They were also hypocritical. It’s still like that, to this day. Everyone is expected to live, think and act the same. They’re intolerant toward anyone who’s different or anyone who doesn’t fit in. I hate southern U.S. small town culture. It’s all about worshipping that lame, boring NFL and American football sport. They care about nothing else. They don’t even appreciate more interesting sports like soccer or gymnastics; it’s all about that lame, non-artistic American football. People just lay up with someone from high school, have kids at 22 and just stay in the same old boring small town and never leave or explore other places. If you’re vegetarian, non-religious, interested in thinking outside of boxes or interested in things that aren’t a part of mainstream culture, you won’t fit in. I’ve always hated the place and I’ve never tried to fit in there and I left after I graduated high school.
But I also hate the northeast U.S. too. I hate the culture of the Northeast; I hate the materialism, narcissism, emphasis upon ivy league schools and university degrees, lame drinking culture/lame happy hour culture, elitism prevalent amongst white collar professionals, the unfriendly, rude and hostile people, the high cost of living, high taxes, horrible climate with the horrible and harsher winters.