In a country as divided as ours, especially under the pressure of approaching climate calamity, it is easy for myths to grow about the places we aren’t and the beliefs we don’t share. That has been particularly the case over the last ten years around here, when a goodly portion of the rest of America headed off in a direction markedly at variance with our own. The local result has been the legend of Dumbfuckistan, a kind of reverse El Dorado on the other side of the Sierras where the wrongheaded and shortsighted apparently hold sway on all fronts. Say Dumbfuckistan out loud and everybody here knows what you’re talking about.
It came up during my lunch with Nestor at the taco palace back in December. He and I talk every now and then about climate disturbance. So far, Nestor’s half of a PhD in Anthropology had earned him six months fixing cars after his grant ran out and he’d been looking for something new to do. I scheduled our December lunch after he left me a message that he wanted to catch up. He said he’d finally figured out what to do.
We started our conversation with what a strange winter this was looking like and eventually got to once again hashing over “the changes” that seem to be brewing. Nester pointed out that getting enough agreement to reverse our carbon saturation while there was still the possibility of holding the worst of it at bay was almost impossible to imagine. I agreed that it was at least extremely daunting. The participation and consensus required for meaningful change probably demanded a “super majority” of political agreement. Maybe seventy percent or even more—no small task for a country in which bitter deadlock at fifty one percent is the most we’ve been able to muster. And just that much seems to have consumed all our political energy. Still, I thought it was possible. More than that, necessary.
“But,” Nestor interrupted, “what about Dumbfuckistan?”
“Yah,” Nestor continued, “Dumbfuckistan. That big stripe down the middle of the country. Dumbfuckistan. They’ll never go for it. How do we ever get them on board?”
“You never can tell,” I said. “I’m from Fresno and I figured it out. People change. Their eyes get opened. Their hearts get moved. They learn the hard way. The trick is providing the option that will evoke that rethinking.” Perhaps, I suggested, we needed to learn more about just who the Dumbfuckistanis were and what they want before we give up hope. Maybe there was a common cause we could share lurking somewhere in their life.
Nestor jumped on that last statement like he’d been waiting for it since he walked in. “Strange you should mention that,” he said, then he segued right to the decision he’d mentioned in his message. “I’m going to Dumbfuckistan.”
“You’re going to Dumbfuckistan?”
“I’m an unemployed anthropologist, but I am still an anthropologist. So I’m going to do what anthropologists do. I’m tired of fixing cars. I broke up with my girl friend. I need a little adventure and I feel like exploring. I want to pursue some new truths. And what do we really know about the Dumbfuckistanis, anyway? I’ll study their culture, like the Margaret Meade of the Republican Republic. At the very least, I will add to the body of collective knowledge. And who knows? This kind of interface could open a profound reconciliation of the middle of America with its edges. It really could. I’m headed east in my van.”
I told Nestor I’d be interested in what he might find out and he promised to send me an email after he got there and had done some preliminary field work.
The email finally showed up last week:
I have now spent enough time with the Dumbfuckistanis to have made some sobering observations. Frankly, a number of my assumptions about the suitability of this work have been severely challenged and I’m afraid my vision is flagging somewhat. But if you put yourself in my shoes for a moment, this recession of hope makes more sense. Consider the rituals and practices I have thus far encountered inside Dumbfuckistan, having only scratched the surface. My entire list is actually four times this long but you’ll get the drift with just this partial sample:
1. Dumbfuckistanis think the gun is the most important tool ever invented. Unarmed is widely considered a state only slightly better than cancerous.
2. They assume almost everything on either coast is either hopelessly tainted or the product of a conspiracy ultimately aimed at installing socialism, taking their guns or making them have an abortion.
3. They think climate change is a hoax manufactured in order to install socialism and, of course, to take their guns or make them have an abortion.
4. They like having our armies actively plying their trade around the world, prefer that as many people as possible be frightened of us, and favor attacking first, then sorting out the details later.
5. They consider Fox News fair and balanced.
6. They hate government when it subsidizes anyone else but them.
7. They have a personal relationship with Jesus and are very suspicious of anyone who doesn’t.
8. They think the world is 5,000 years old.
9. They hate bureaucrats but cut bankers and hedge funds an enormous amount of slack.
10. And they don’t think there’s anything for us to discuss.
Truedog, this feels hopeless and more than a little scary. The more I learn, the worse it gets. I’m afraid I need to put Dumbfuckistan as far behind me as I can, as soon as possible. I’ve had it with Crisco, cheese whiz, and Wonder Bread.
I, of course, emailed right back:
“Remember, Nestor, we were all Dumbfuckistanis once upon a time.”
Nestor then fired back a response:
“Maybe so, Truedog, but I’m selling the van and heading to Paris while the getting is good.”
I haven’t heard from Nestor since.