Northern Valley Beacon

Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains----- E-Mail: Enter 'Beacon' in subject box. Send to:

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


How low can we sink?

You begin with some irrefutable facts that make South Dakota a very bad place to live for those who revere freedom, equality, and justice:

The list of where the state ranks at the bottom of social, cultural, and the more uplifting enterprises goes on and on.

So, how is a state allowed to remain such an unattractive place for many people? The fact is that many people in South Dakota have deep roots here, find aspects of life here to their liking and advantage, and they want to make things better. They are the first to admit that they aren't very successful.

Why? The answer is South Dakota politics. South Dakota politics is what I call the town cafe variety.

One of my favorite assignments in critical analysis was for students to profile their hometowns with objective data illustrated by their personal observations. I admit that I liked the exercise because it was a way to learn about places when you did not have the opportunity to actually go visit them. I have read thousands of such papers. And one thing emerged in the papers about the small towns that seemed to be a constant: their town cafes.

While some students were amusedly tolerant of the town cafes, I cannot think of an example where students found much positive about them. In fact, most students deplored them and thought the town would be better off without them.

What they deplored was the fact that people, mostly seniors, gathered in them over coffee at various times of the day and generated malicious gossip about everything and everybody. My colleagues in social psychology explain the causes of this activity, but I will not go into a detailed explanation. It is a matter of resentment of others, a need to exercise some kind of power over other people, and a need to feel that "we" are better than "them." High school students seemed to be a special victims of the maligning and the defamations .

As I read what are allegedly political blogs in South Dakota I find the malicious gossip from town cafes being promoted as political commentary. Perhaps the latest example concerned governot candidate Jack Billion. Dr. Billion is against the South Dakota abortion ban because he thinks it intrudes government into decisions that should be left to individuals in consultation with their physicians and their spiritual counselors. His brother, also a physician, is for the ban. He is among those who believe that life in the womb needs the same protections as a fully formed and functioning human. So, there is a disagreement in a family.

Jack Billion's opponents trotted out the malign forces from the town cafes to start the gossip mills grinding away. The result was one of those nasty, debased series of exchanges that makes one ashamed to be part of the human race. They could not wait to intrude into family affairs and apply their malign conjectures and maledictions to the Billion family.

This is what politics has become. It is the rule in South Dakota. Bloggers think defamation is smart politics. Yes. It wins elections. But it destroys the reasons people want to live in America. Or South Dakota. Or anywhere. There is no democracy when malignant power rules.

Like our ancestors who came to America to get away from the malicious and tyrannical discriminations and denials that ruled Old Word culture, we keep looking for places where America might start anew. We work for candidates who represent progress and decency. But we are realistic. These are the politics that have kept South Dakota so low in measures of freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice.

It pays to have options.

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