A few years ago, when I delved into the morass of narcissism and even more unsavory isms that comprise facebook, I half-jokingly started a group called the Virginia Diaspora, for people like me who had been born in the Old Dominion, but had subsequently fled in search of asylum, or peace, or just a change of pace and place. Few people joined, but I did re-connect with a few dozen people I'd known from the neighborhood and school. Many still lived within a half-hour SUV ride of where we'd grown up, some had migrated elsewhere in the Commonwealth or the Mid-Atlantic, and a few had flung themselves farther.
While it was interesting (sometimes) to learn what had become of people, this virtual homecoming reminded me of why I'd left, and set me to wondering how it could have gotten worse than Reagan Era Virginia, which was what had sent me running in the first place. On display: a rainbow of bigotries, a robust sense that rich white heterosexuals were sorely victimized, worship of mammon and guns (and among some, an old white man known as "God"), and intolerance. By no means all of them acted this way, but it was enough to shake my faith in progress, and eventually to turn my back on the virtual place the same way I had on the red clay of my birth-land.
Like I say, not all of the fb "friends" (never has a word been more drained of its soul than when it became synonymous with a single reflexive click) were right-wing ogres. Some had led interesting lives, had opened themselves to more than we'd been raised to accept. A small few became people I kept up with even after the fb environs grew too creepy for me to inhabit. One, I even visited a year ago, when I made my first foray back to Virginia in half a decade.
Which is when I realized (duh) that the virtual world ain't real. The avid gardener hadn't raised more than weeds in years, and was ditching country life for sprawlburbs. Having recently inherited millions, the inheritance tax had become injustice, and people were now threatening to take advantage, including me, when I let her pay for a breakfast biscuit (or, 0.00001% of said inheritance). Roughly an hour from the malaised middle class suburb where we grew up, she was in pretty much the same place, only with more liberal-ish shopping preferences, unable to see the difference between Whole Food Inc. and sustainable foodways.
It would have been easier to take had I not been in shock at what had happened to my old haunts during years of absence. All the farmland and forests were gone, paved over for shopping places that will fade and fall into ruin, and for road after road after road. People doing exactly as the President said in a rare moment of candor, clinging to their god and their guns. Real profits (for a few) and false prophets (for the many) twisting the message of their nominal saviour to justify greed and hatred. Again, not everybody was this way, but enough to make a lefty evolutionist like me damned nervous.
Recently, the news has been no better. A burning trainload of oil falls into the river I once canoed and from which my relatives still get their drinking water, and still the shrill calls for end to government regulation. On Easter morning, people awoke to find eggs in their yards proclaiming racist slogans, and the response was, "Kids are too young to see this," as if it would be comprehensible in a few years. My former US Congressman, Eric Cantor, not ideologically pure enough, is being challenged from the right wing, as people laugh off the concept that there could ever be a Democrat in his position.
I could rant, and I guess I just have (and probably will again), but it would not change anything. Ever since its founding as a commercial colony to benefit the few, Virginia has been driven by wealth and "conservatism." Hell, even the leaders of the revolution against the king started out and ended up being filthy rich, retaining ownership of human beings, and controlling politics in what turned out to be a very English patrician way. Generations later, having jettisoned even the pretense of Enlightenment thinking, Virginians practiced a religion that justified slavery, and backed it up with a war that was, for even the whitest of the common folk, disastrous. From Jim Crow to Massive Resistance to demonized Welfare Queens to the Tea Party, the wealthy string-pullers have mobilized the faithful pawns to protect the interests of the few at the cost of the many.
Maybe it's chickenshit of me to do so, but I choose to be in the Virginia Diaspora rather than stick around and pay taxes to a state so bent on backwardness. I walked away, again.