Jackson Kernion, a UC Berkeley graduate student and instructor, is the center of well-deserved media backlash. He recently tweeted that “I unironically (sic) embrace the bashing of rural Americans. they, (sic) as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions. Some, I assume, are good people. But this nostalgia for some imagined pastoral way of life is stupid and we should shame people who aren’t pro-city.”
Kernion’s tweet drew such an outpouring of online opposition that he deleted not only the original tweet, but his entire Twitter account. Most of the responses to his tweet responded emotionally to the first part of the tweet. It would be easy for me to get my feelings hurt, since I was born and raised in rural America and am raising my own children in the sticks. But I’m going to choose to be thick-skinned like a rhino and analyze Kernion’s statement from a factual point of view. Maybe some of us country folk have made bad life decisions, just like many city dwellers have as well. Statistically, more city people have made bad life decisions than country people, because more people live in the city.
Kernion should stick to philosophy (where everyone gets a participation trophy and the job prospects are nil), because analytical reasoning is not his strong suit. Neither are grammar, public relations, or fact-based logic. His claim that the pastoral way of life in America is nostalgic and imagined is supported by neither factual nor anecdotal evidence. Americans who live in rural areas lead lifestyles that are both real (as in “not imaginary”) and not purely nostalgic (as in “keeping up with modern technology”).
The so-called pastoral way of life is a fancy phrase for “country life.” As countless others have pointed out, vital industries such as agriculture, mining, natural resource management, and many more exist in rural America. There’s nothing nostalgic about farmers using GPS systems to plant row crops in perfectly straight lines. Old-fashioned sentiments don’t motivate loggers to fall timber and plant seedlings: Ensuring sustainable production of lumber, copy paper, and toilet tissue does. Today’s farmers are not chopping wheat with a scythe and hitching Bert and Bessie to the wagon to haul the harvest to market. They are using biodiesel to run heavy machinery that chops corn stalks, which are unfit for human consumption, into silage, which is nutritious for cattle. Nothing goes to waste, a policy which bestows both environmental and financial benefits.
Kernion’s call to “shame people who aren’t pro-city” makes me wonder who is not pro-city. I don’t live in the city, but I am pro-city. Mostly because if everyone left the city and moved out to the country, the country wouldn’t be the country anymore now, would it? Cities are a wonderful way for people to live near each other in an organized fashion. After all, human beings are a social species by nature. Cities provide a central gathering place for our society’s governing institutions, centers of higher education, medical establishments, and centers of art and culture.
Whether an American citizen wants to live in the city or a rural area because it makes him or her happy, then that right falls squarely under the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” clause of the Declaration of Independence. Calling for widespread shaming of a specific demographic due to personal prejudice is an example of unconstitutional bigotry. Berkeley prides itself on its progressive measures, like frog tunnels and natural gas bans, but it produced a philosophy instructor who has regressed hundreds of years with his poorly formed, anti-American rhetoric. Let’s hope Kernion is removed from his teaching position and thus prevented from spreading his regressive suggestions to more impressionable students.