The Palpable Ugliness of the Predominant Culture of the American South [updated]

Update appended.


You may have seen this photo before. It was taken last August at the scene of a dog fighting raid, and it has been used in ASPCA advertisements all around the Internet and on TV. It can be hard to look at—a small, vulnerable puppy tied to a heavy chain, alone and cowering in fear. With just the quick snap of a camera, this single moment captured so much about the fatal sport of dog fighting, and this puppy became the face of abused animals everywhere.

That puppy’s name is Timmy, and he was one of 367 dogs rescued from a multi-state dog fighting ring that spanned Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. After the raid, Timmy and the other dogs were taken to a temporary shelter where ASPCA responders gave them medical examinations, behavioral assessments, and the care and love they had previously been denied.

But Timmy’s story doesn’t end there. This sweet puppy was placed in foster homes that helped train him to become a well-adjusted pet. His final foster parents, Brian and Nadine DeCicco, just couldn’t give the little pup up and adopted him this past May. “We didn’t have any concerns about bringing a dog who had been associated with fighting into our home,” says Brian. “We’ve both had dogs our whole lives and know that they can reflect the way they are treated. Both of our previous dogs were pit mixes and they are just so unbelievably affectionate.”

The Face of Dog Fighting Gets the Life He Deserves, ASPCA website, Jul. 24

The article goes on to describe Timmy’s idyllic life with the DeCiccos, who live in Maryland.

Which brings me to the reason for this post, which is to ask rhetorically: Why, so very, very, very often, are news stories about brutality toward animals about incidents in a Southern state or in Texas?

Not all are, of course.  And certainly the Southern states have no American monopoly on brutality, including by local or state government employees; institutional brutality by state, local and federal officials (including, most certainly, judges) and rank-and-file employees who play some role in the criminal or civil justice system is a deeply institutionalized American characteristic—one that distinguishes (so to speak) this country from most other Western societies.

But I don’t think it’s possible to deny in good faith the predominance—the almost thorough permeation—of a culture of abiding meanness and overt brutality in so much of the South and Southwest. And although it has spread now well beyond those regions, courtesy of the Conservative Movement in general and the Conservative Legal Movement in particular, there is still a difference in breadth if not in kind.


*UPDATE: I posted the following comment—the 35th comment in the thread—in response to the varied opinions expressed by the commenters:

I don’t think it’s genetic or, for that matter, ethnic–other than that British and Scottish ethnics have never been a disfavored ethnic minority in this country, which I think may play a psychological/political/cultural role.  I think that, at its essence, the brutal aspect evident in much of the American South’s predominant culture is a result of the centuries’-long, deep ideological belief that is at the heart of the “states’ rights” mantra: that the states are entitled to create and protect the right of individual members of favored groups, and of state and local governments themselves, to do, really, anything, however horrible, to non-members of the favored groups.  The centuries’-long defense of slavery in the guise of “states’ rights” is at the core of the brutality, and also is the theoretical root of the current Conservative Legal Movement’s neo-federalism.

That was my intended point in this can-of-worms post.

Yes, freedom! Liberty!

7/27 at 5:47 p.m.