The Jeffersonian Ideal and the Internet

Many of the colonists who came to America from the British Isles came religious groups seeking a place where they could be free to practice their religions.  There were already pockets of Dutch, German, Spanish, and French colonists.  Even the differences between English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish settlers.  .. . Everyone settled in small communities based upon religion or ethnicity, and the they lived together in those close-knit communities, either in small villages and farms or in city ghettoes. 
This led to the “Jeffersonian ideal,” the homogeneous community.  Ironically, Jefferson himself expressed the hope that freedom of religion would lead to all Americans becoming Unitarians.  However, he still promoted the idea that the United States of America should be a perfectly subsidiarist system.

An extremely limited federal government was only supposed to regulate interstate and international matters–nothing more.

States may have had a little more power than the federal government, but most matters were to be handled at the local level.

This is where “town halls,” of course, came from: the literal town hall meeting of people in a local community.  And “parties” were just that: you got together for a barbecue with a bunch of like-minded people and decided which of your like-minded people you were going to put in office. 

People say today that the electoral college is “obsolete.”  It really isn’t.  It’s still the same thing.  The average person is never going to get to know any presidential candidate beyond a possible handshake.  But the average person *can* find out who his or her local elector is, and then get to know that person. 

Anyway, the idea behind our representative system was not just that representatives at state and federal levels would represent geographic regions but that those geographic regoins would, in turn, have common belief systems.  The presumption was that villages and towns would largely be populated by like-minded people, so the representative elected to serve a locality would reflect the beliefs of his or her locality; collectively, the state legislatures were presumed to represent the overall culture and beliefs of their states, which is why they elected senators.

All of this has been largely abandoned as our nation has grown.  Somewhere along the line, homoegeneous communities were replaced with melting pots as the American “ideal.”

This progressed to everyone learning to “get along.”

Ironically, today, the Internet has provided a new form of the “Jeffersonian ideal.” 

Our society has not become a melting pot so much as a soup.  We’re not all melted together into indistinguishable mush, though many of us are.  Instead, we’re a mixture of distinct beliefs and ideas. 

The problem is the mixture doesn’t always make a very tasty soup.  We’re not just a mixture of metaphorical carrots and potatoes and celery, but we’re like minestrone, chicken noodle soup, cream of mushroom, chili and clam chowder all dumped into the same pot.

So the lonely little pea in our culture spends most of his day floating in the gruel, trying to find someone he can relate to. 

That’s where the internet comes in.  Today’s homoegeneous communities are not to be found geographically but virtually, on blogs, and message boards, listservs and Facebook networks.

Whether it’s a commonality of religion, or politics, or morality, or gardening, or toy collecting or soap operas, people seek out those they share things in common with.

And these groups are sharing information amongst each other and unifying as voices for change.   Like minded people can share controversial news and take on whatever power structure it is–corporations, Hollywood, churches or governments–in a way that has been unprecedented, except perhaps for the earliest days of America.  That is why the “culture of the Internet,” so often derided, is very similar, whether one is speaking of fandoms, religious groups, consumer groups, hobbyists or political groups.

And that’s why it is so threatening to those in power.

The sociologists and other “experts” tell us how “dangerous” it is that people are connecting online, sharing ideas with likeminded people rather than mixing–kind of like what they say about homeschooling versus public schooling.

Is the situation dangerous for the individuals engaging in it?  Or is it dangerous for those in power, and the “melting pot” ideal that keeps them in power?

Ironically, the Internet is providing more than just a means for people to connect virtually and ideologically.  People meet online, whether through matchmaking services or just through regular social networks and discussion groups, based upon shared beliefs, and then get married, raising families based upon those values.

People organize get togethers, and eventually conventions, based upon their online relationships, adding greater cohesion to these new forming groups.  Indeed, realizing the limitations of online communication only, people do their best to use it as a tool to meet like minded people “in person” whenever possible.

*This* is what is so threatening to those in power. 

You can go online now and find a Latin Mass, or a Byzantine Liturgy, or, if it suits you, a clown mass with a gay priest.  Before the Internet, such selectivity was nigh-impossible. 

You can go online and find an NFP only pro-life physician.  You can find a homeschooling group.  You can find a house.  A job. 

A few years ago, I read about a fellow who found a small town with a low cost of living and  a fantastic Catholic parish.  He invited like-minded friends and relatives to come check it out, helped them find jobs and houses, and basically colonized the town with like-minded Catholics.

The Internet makes this possible. 

The very thing that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates thought would perfect the progressive ideal will end up sabotaging it, however gradually.

Most recently, it seems to be facilitating the progressives, as embodied by the Obama election.  But progressives have no core values to maintain their ideology.  Progressivism is a self-defeating ideology because it leads to anarchism.

I’ve long felt that those who voted out the Republicans in 2006 and those who voted in Obama last year were not so much voting *for* anything as *against.*  Obama campaigned on “change”.  Eventually, if you just keep “changing” for its own sake, you’re gonna end up with nothing left to change to except chaos.

Meanwhile, as Deacon Paul Weyrich predicted 10 years ago in his open letter declaring that we’d lost the Culture Wars, traditionalists are gathering in small enclaves, hunting down towns and parishes that are sympathetic, connecting online, homeschooling, etc.

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