POSTED: 13 JANUARY 2008 - 2:00pm HST

What's Wrong With New Hampshire?

image above: "Stark Winter" evening in New Hampshire. So cute it hurts.

by John House Wilson on 8 January 2008

So I just got back to New Paltz, New York. I was in New Hampshire doing some volunteer work for John Edwards' campaign. It is now Tuesday, 11:00pm, January 8, 2008 and Hillary was just announced as the winner of the New Hampshire primary. Looks like the Granite State just voted for another four years in Fantasyland.

New Hampshire… how to describe New Hampshire. Well. First things first - It is white. Real White. In fact, it is 95.7% white. And it is rich. Seventh in the nation in per capita income. Rich, and white, and educated, and clean.

Here in New York State you can’t go ten minutes without seeing somebody with bed-head, brown socks or snot on their Giants jersey. That's not the case in New Hampshire. On the surface New Hampshire is just the kind we would all love to live in. Cute towns with brick buildings and litter free streets thronged with college educated well-to-do seemingly well-intentioned white people. Have I mentioned how freaked out this made me?

Freaked, but at the same time…mmmm - a lack of trash, small successful downtown businesses, good food (ate amazing organic flatbread pizza on Friday). Even before the flatbread and good beer, I was starting to run out of faults to blame for my discomfort and paranoia. What the hell was there to critique and rail against. I sadly admit a need of a cause or an injustice to rail against to function properly.

At first, New Hampshire even seemed impervious to a reliable criticism I usually bring to bear against wealth and order… “This place is visibly segregated along the lines of race, ethnicity and wealth.” (like most of Connecticut, my home state). But no! New Hampshire can’t even be segregated by wealth and race, Its too fucking white and rich.

Usually when I am confronted with the rich white and clean combo (or RWC) I am able to point out a number of other flaws in the RWC scene that make me feel justified in disliking it. These problems can be simple things like… gated-communities full of golf-enthusiasts who are unwittingly fascist, or ugly "Tony Soprano" style McMansions in the hellish landscape of tacky new-money suburbs.

Although New Hampshire has some of both, these are counter-weighed by its cute and functional farmland, wooded mountains and the aforementioned walk-able and thriving small towns.

So I grasped at other reasons to dislike the RWC combo. “Ah! no good music,” I thought, but then I saw some fliers with blues bands and pink haired girls with accordions on 'em and… BLAST! I was foiled again.

So… what's to dislike? I couldn’t find any easy answers so I delved inside my psyche, as I often do, to explain my urge to pass judgment. First thing that popped up, of course, was my childhood in wealthy suburban Connecticut and my family's quick and complete descent into the subterranean world beneath the upper-middle-middle class when my parents divorced. In the land of the richest we were poor. Crack-heads in the basement, broken down Chevy on the street and suffering under cheap haircuts. You know poor.

Its all pretty obvious at this point. I am uncomfortable in wealthy, clean, rich places cause I grew up in one, wanted to be accepted into its world and wasn’t able to quite make it to Aspen to ski for Christmas vacation.

Growing up like that, I became an outside observer able to find a rationale to dislike the RWC world in order to feel better about myself by not being a part of it. This revealed to me the all the greed, stupidity, arrogance, selfishness and destructiveness of the world of wealthy suburbia. What it was, and still is.

That revelation has guided me since my teenage years. As I have gained experience my ability to critique has become keener. And, as my knowledge expanded the focus of my critique expanded as well. It was no longer just the wealthy and white that I disdained, it was even inanimate objects like highways and concrete retaining walls; just about every aspect of modern suburban civilization.

You can give me a toothbrush and I can tell you at least three ways it is destroying beauty and ruining everything you love. Once again sounds pretty up beat eh? Must be just grand to hang with an jerk like me just full of criticisms.
YET! Here is my saving grace. Instead of just staying a critic; you know, the unloved blogger writes hilarious send-ups of crap movies and pop celebrities; I actually started learning how to script and direct the film of life. I started learning how to build, grow and plan for a better designed, less easily criticized world. A world I would be happy to live in - a civilization I could enjoy.

I started learning about how to create what I think is positive change. I’ve even had times where I have been full of compliments for healthy communities, green design and smart decisions (there are some out there).

This has made me much happier and a lot more fun to be around. As crazy as I was, this makes me feel more empowered and too busy to fret and worry. The alternative is to stop caring and die from the inside out, which is icky smelly AND boring.)

SO!! When I was confronted with the affluence and order and cuteness of New Hampshire I and came up empty handed. What could possibly be wrong with the place?

Well for one thing, New Hampshire is segregated! Just not internally. You know how there are rich neighborhoods in most cities and large towns. The entire state of New Hampshire is that rich neighborhood. Any of the real poor folks stay in their part of town, you know Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine or New York.
New Hampshire, on top of being rich, white and clean also has the 44th lowest tax burden in the country; no sales tax and no income tax. The property taxes lower than in most of neighboring New York.

So at first super low taxes might seem like another reason to actually like New Hampshire. Lord know a lot of folks in Massachusetts wouldn’t mind paying less out of their pay check and probably have been tempted to work or shop up north.
But wait a minute! Last time I was in New Hampshire I talked to a resident in the town of Derry who had been fighting to bring kindergarten to his school system. That’s right, cute and rich little Derry had no kindergarten in any of its public schools … not even half day kindergarten. And its not just Derry.

Seventeen towns in New Hampshire offer no kindergarten programs at all. Which seems nuts when, time and time again, kindergarten programs have proven to have huge benefits for the development of children. Kids with kindergarten do better throughout their school careers and are better adjusted.

So what do parents in New Hampshire do if they want their kids to get a jump-start on learning and social development? Well they pay to send their kids to private kindergarten schools or other day programs or they just spend time with there kid reading playing, talking, learning (also known as that lost art “parenting”) because they have the time.

And hell, New Hampshire is 4th in the nation is college graduates; so this seems to work. Seems like a win-win huh? It might even seem like the perfect example of why Republicans keep yammering about low taxes, low taxes, low taxes. And why Libertarians keep talking about more choice, less government and the potential destruction of the Department of Education.

Hey, look at New Hampshire - low taxes, smart wealthy people… and don’t forget clean streets! But wait a minute what about reality! What about poverty, what about the one out of every ten people without health insurance and the millions upon millions of stressed out single mothers who can’t afford to send their kid to “Inquisitive Acres the private kindergarten for inquisitive minds” and other such cute little off-limits places.

What about the reality that every major city in America has to deal with. Poor people, sick people, crazy people (you know my kind of people) AND dilapidated bridges, subways and the rest.

New Hampshire just doesn’t have to cope with those realities. Sick poor people stay in Massachusetts or New York where there are better programs to assist them. Single moms stay in places with discount school meals and full day kindergarten. People who can’t afford to buy a home stay in a place with cheap rents.

So New Hampshire didn’t have a real poverty problem or an education crisis because it has established a system that predominately serves rich and white people and keeps the “others” away.

Now I know you may asking “what sane state or town would ever purposely attempt to become attractive to the impoverished or sick or uneducated?” They drive down property prices, burden existing services and potentially filth up the streets.

States and towns like to attract wealthy people, educated people, people who can help bump up those income and property tax revenues a bit. People who can shop at fancy stores and go out to eat. In this, New Hampshire has succeeded with shining colors. Its attracted wealthy retirees, outdoor enthusiasts, skiers and shoppers in droves making tourism one of the most important sectors of the economy.

So now think of that, not only is New Hampshire like most communities in America in its strong bias towards attracting wealth it has created a tourism industry that is partially dependant upon everything looking cute, clean, white and wealthy (you know free of poverty).

Cute downtowns to shop in. Cute mountains to hike up. Its exactly because the streets are clean and cute that people from out of state like to wander about them.
Like James Kunstler says, a lot of folks take vacations to get away from their dirty and poorly planned homes and walk around places that seem like coherent well planned, clean places full of educated folks. No one goes to Jersey City or the Bronx for vacation, vacations are supposed to be upbeat and comforting.

So to state it bluntly, although it may seem like New Hampshire is the America we should all be striving for, New Hampshire is a living Fantasyland free from the realities of America and the rest of the world. Which is not to say that people in New Hampshire don’t care about the rest of the world. Many do. The older couple we stayed with had a Peace Corp poster on the wall and was looking into volunteering in Belize.

It is just that they keep poverty at bay and deal with it in a very limited way. That may also seem fine, its hard to deal with poverty and sickness and ignorance, even for people who commit there lives to fighting these hardships. Its easy to get burned out. But fuck! New Hampshire could use a little burnout.

If folks in New Hampshire really want to help America they should move into poor neighborhoods and depressed regions with their wealth and college degrees and help the fuck out. I’m not jokin’ as far as I can tell this is probably one of the only things that could end real poverty, cultural instability, urban decay and segregation in this country.

Yet to be fair, New Hampshire is 7th in the country in the numbers of refugees per capita. New Hampshire is inviting some of the most needy people of the world into their state. Good job.

Still there is a basic problem here that is true of any wealthy community. If people in wealthy communities want the poor people down the road, or on the other side of the tracks, or across the state border to stop being so poor, they need to go bring their wealth and skills to those in need and help them out!

Instead, most wealthy folk complain about poor people and they’re inability to pull them-selves up by the boot-straps (or mullets). They support people like Mitt Romney, who say that a free market and fewer taxes will raise the tide of wealth and that tide will raise all boats. Well guess what? poor people don’t have boats! A rising tide lifts all yachts and drowns the poor!

And beyond all this national class-warfare stuff that I like to spout. There is the issue of international trade, human rights and the environment.

Although New Hampshire manufactures some stuff like - granite table-tops, refined wood products - most of the manufactured goods consumed come from out of state (likely from foreign countries). Sound familiar? That’s because here in America we stopped manufacturing but kept on shopping. What does that mean?

It means that folks in New Hampshire can buy a new Gap fleece jacket every winter, nice warm Muck brand boots and a flat screen TV for every room - all at incredibly cheap prices. And where does it all come from? China. And who absorbs all the environmental damage? China. And who has to mine and burn coal constantly to fuel its industry? China. Whose children have to breathe polluted air and drink poisoned water? Whose teenagers must labor for long hours to build plastic crap for the first world? Well not New Hampshire’s teenagers I’ll tell you that!

If every fleck of ash, gallon of dirty effluent and pile of hazardous waste created while manufacturing New Hampshire’s flat-screens and other unnecessary products was shipped to the good old Granite State, the place would look like god dammed Chernobyl.

And that’s really the heart of New Hampshire. The unseen, unspoken externalities. The real costs that are kept at bay. And that’s the really story of America. Its what we hide that defines us. The kids picking through the trash in a landfill in Mumbai, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and the hungry people in our American cities and rural communities. The rest of our identity is largely a mask we use to hide this and to hide behind and when America is at its worst its just a blatant lie.

BUT WAIT!! What about the good old New England downtowns, the crime free streets, and organic pizzas? Well they are, I must admit, adorable, comforting and tasty in that order. And they are actually to be admired. We need more walking downtowns, college graduates, and organic food. We need more stable communities. New Hampshire does have a lot to teach us about good urban design, land conservation and civility (important things in coming years) but not a lot about how to deal with the most urgent problems we face collectively as Americans or humans.

We need stable communities that don’t leave behind the poor and don’t further impoverish other countries. Communities with real economies based on real wealth - not on tourism dollars and cheap (and deadly) shit from China. We need real unity and prosperity and universal kindergarten for those working single moms. We need to confront the reality of traffic, taxes, pollution and erosion, hunger, and the poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Because if we don’t even beautiful places like New Hampshire will become a wasteland.

So how was New Hampshire? Well it’s all of what America wants to be and lots of what it shouldn’t be. It’s the kind of place I’d like to live if I could give up on the morality of unity and equality and helping those in need. If I could just forget what I have seen and who I am. In the end New Hampshire seems like perfection for those who want to believe in it.

Oh! Did I mention those cute little towns are often surrounded by strip-malls and Walmarts?

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