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06/21/2003 Archived Entry: "A symptom of our national thought-warp"

HERE'S ONE TINY SYMPTOM OF OUR NATIONAL THOUGHT-WARP. This morning on NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday," Scott Simon interviewed an old man from Larson, North Dakota, population 16, and an even older woman from Kent, Iowa, population 52. The occasion? Both towns had recently disincorporated -- that is, they had disbanded their city councils and put their tiny municipalities into the care of their respective county governments.

There's a lot that could be said, or asked, about events like that. Like why rural America is dying, or what it's like to live in one tiny town all you life, as both interview subjects had. Or what, if any, role government needs to play in a town of 16 or 53 or 1,500. But those weren't the questions Simon asked. It became apparent as he bumbled his way through the interview that, in his mind, both places had simply ceased to exist, because they no longer had local governments.

"Where will you tell people you live?" Simon asked the man. "Larson, North Dakota," he replied.

"And where will you tell people you come from?" Simon asked the woman, "Well, Kent, Iowa," she replied.

They both understood what Simon absolutely couldn't conceive -- that a community exists as a gathering of people and institutions. Although both Kent and Larson may well be dying and the disbanding of city government may be one step in that demise, the communities probably existed before they had town councils and continue to exist without them. Look at any map of rural American and you'll find hundreds of places like Moneta, Wyoming (population 10), which indubitably exist despite not having enough adult souls to fill up a government council table.

But to Scott Simon's Washington, D.C.-soaked mind, when government dissolved -- so did every single thing that made Kent Kent and Larson Larson. Disregarding what both interview subjects had said just seconds earlier, Simon pressed on with his blind belief. He closed the segment with one of his dramatic sighs over the "fact" (at least to anyone of his mindset) that Kent and Larson had been wiped off the map, and were gone without a trace.

This brain-glitch is a tiny cousin to some bigger ideas that plague our country -- like the pervasive belief that if something is worth doing, it must be done by government. Okay, I grant you this is NPR, which doesn't inhabit even the same universe as most of us. But it's still typical, familiar government-supremacist thinking.

Posted by Claire @ 01:35 PM CST

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