LORD CHRIST, SAVE ME FROM THE SELF-PROCLAIMED “ENLIGHTENED”
I listened to her interview on the radio as well.
This about says it all: ““Blacks, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans — all have cut ahead of you in line,” Hochschild writes. “But it’s people like you who have made this country great. You feel uneasy. . . . You’ve heard stories of oppressed blacks, dominated women, weary immigrants, closeted gays, desperate refugees, but at some point, you say to yourself, you have to close the borders to human sympathy.”
Oh my Lord Christ. No they haven’t and I don’t feel either uneasy or angry about anyone. Except for how they actually behave. The only people I’ve ever heard say tribal crap like this are liberals… who think they understand Conservatives… and secularists who think they understand Christians… and black liberals who think every decision made by someone else is first and foremost some kind of disguised and nefarious decision made about black liberals… or about blacks in general…
You’re so fucking elitistly hypocritical and disgustingly and backwardsly tribal you can’t even understand that you’re so fucking elitist and tribal that no one gives a shit what you think anymore. I’d just as soon see you abjectly weeping in your safe zone as running anything about this nation or the world.
I have kids to protect, and one day, grandchildren. I’m not interested in your “elevated navel-gazing,” or your petty race and class and sex and group sociological and self-sophisticated socialist obsessions. I’m not interested in your fucking race or class or sex or educational level and I’m both disgusted that you think I should spend all of my time thinking about them and repulsed by the fact that you’re so fucking petty that those things are your first, last, and middle thoughts. Fuck em all, your race, your sex, your class, your profession, and all of those pretentious petty tribal things can go straight to hell as far as I’m concerned and as far as most people I know are concerned. So here’s a thought for you sunshine – you’re just a fucking modern pseudo-intellectual with no plans to achieve anything real or important in life so you waste yours obsessed with ideals of never-ending socialist dystopias and endless rounds of sensitivity training. Yeah, I’ll pass ladies. I’ve wasted more than enough of my time and life and resources on you.
No, I don’t want to “understand you.” No, I don’t want to be “understood by you.” I just want you out of my way and out of the way of my children and family and friends. Life is more important than you modern libbies. It’s more important than me too. I know you don’t understand either one of those things. That’s precisely why you are a pseudo-intellectual and a pre-programmed modern liberal. But guess what? I’ve reached the point where it doesn’t concern me in the least.
Nor do I need to be protected from my own values, beliefs, words, or thoughts. By any of you enlightened types.
I have absolutely no fear at all of what you think of me. Or anyone or anything else.
More to the point I could absolutely care less… I am completely apathetic to you. I don’t hate you, I don’t fear you, I simply don’t care.
I’ve outgrown you entirely.
I’ve moved on to far more important things than what you think about what I think.
And trust me, you have absolutely no idea of what I think.
About anyone or anything.
Review of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” by Arlie Russell Hochschild
STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
By Arlie Russell Hochschild
The New Press. 369 pp. $27.95
The white working class is so hot right now.
When we look back on the 2016 presidential contest, we’ll recognize a moment when the beliefs and material conditions of low-income white Americans were deemed worthy of popular fascination, cable-news hits and nonstop cultural deconstruction. Are these people prejudiced or just frustrated? Economically victimized or culturally ostracized? Anti-elites or anti-everything? Let hot takes roll down like waters, and condescension like an everlasting stream.
Three new books, works that were set in motion long before Donald Trump declared his love for America’s poorly educated, try to go deeper, with varying success. “White Trash,” by historian Nancy Isenberg, explains how poor whites have been mistreated and disparaged over some 400 years, the blame for their plight invariably falling elsewhere. “Hillbilly Elegy,” by lawyer J.D. Vance, admonishes the poor to shape up and take responsibility for their fate; it’s less an elegy than an assault, though one bubble-wrapped in a bootstraps memoir of the author’s American Dream, from Appalachian destitution to the Gothic arches of Yale Law School. And now “Strangers in Their Own Land,” by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, is the latest and most frustrating of this trilogy.
Hochschild made 10 trips to southwestern Louisiana from 2011 to 2016, extended forays away from her perch at the University of California at Berkeley, to delve into her “keen interest in how life feels to people on the right — that is, in the emotion that underlies politics. To understand their emotions,” she writes, “I had to imagine myself in their shoes.” She interviewed some 60 people, including 40 professed tea party supporters, visiting their homes, communities and workplaces. It is the same technique Hochschild employed in “The Second Shift” (1989), a well-reviewed lookat how couples manage duties at home when both work outside of it. In this case, however, Hochschild arrives with so many preconceived ideas that they undercut the insight she claims to desire.
Hochschild preps for her conservative immersion by reading “Atlas Shrugged,” because we know tea party types are into that. “If Ayn Randappealed to them, I imagined, they’d probably be pretty selfish, tough, cold people, and I prepared for the worst,” this acclaimed sociologist writes. “But I was thankful to discover many warm, open people who were deeply charitable to those around them.”
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When she lands in Louisiana, Hochschild realizes, “I was definitely not in Berkeley, California. . . . No New York Times at the newsstand, almost no organic produce in grocery stores or farmers’ markets, no foreign films in movie houses, few small cars, fewer petite sizes in clothing stores, fewer pedestrians speaking foreign languages into cell phones — indeed, fewer pedestrians. There were fewer yellow Labradors and more pit bulls and bulldogs. Forget bicycle lanes, color-coded recycling bins, or solar panels on roofs. In some cafes, virtually everything on the menu was fried.”
Dear God, no yellow Labs or solar panels? How do you live?
Through Hochschild’s time in Lake Charles, La., and nearby cities and small towns, readers meet people who complicate our oversimplified “whither white America” moment. Especially memorable are Lee Sherman, who repaired pipes carrying lethal chemicals and drained toxic waste illegally into nearby waterways before becoming an environmentalist and, yes, a tea party supporter; and the Areno family, disagreeing over the benefits and risks of local industries, even as they watched turtles go blind and cows die from drinking polluted water. They are the strength of the book, yet Hochschild interrupts their stories to place everything in a formulaic big-picture context, a capitalized and italicized theory of the right. The author, we learn, hopes to scale the Empathy Wall and learn the Deep Story that can resolve the Great Paradox through a Keyhole Issue. These contrivances guide, and ruin, this book.
“An empathy wall,” Hochschild lectures, “is an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs.” The author has traveled to the South to conquer that wall, and she constantly refers to it. “As I was trying to climb this slippery empathy wall, a subversive thought occurred to me,” she says at one point. Or when she doesn’t quite get another person’s thinking, she feels “stuck way over on my side of the empathy wall.”
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Beyond the wall awaits the deep story. “A deep story is a feels-as-if story — it’s the story feelings tell, in the language of symbols,” Hochschild writes. “It removes judgment. It removes fact.” The deep story she unearths in Louisiana is that tea party supporters — “my Tea Party friends,” she always calls them, because only liberals rate pure, modifier-free friendship — see the American Dream as a line that they’re patiently waiting in, only to see others cut in front. “Blacks, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans — all have cut ahead of you in line,” Hochschild writes. “But it’s people like you who have made this country great. You feel uneasy. . . . You’ve heard stories of oppressed blacks, dominated women, weary immigrants, closeted gays, desperate refugees, but at some point, you say to yourself, you have to close the borders to human sympathy.”
The deep story helps Hochschild unpack the great paradox: that is, why people living in a region with such poor economic, educational and health indicators — and Louisiana struggles in all of them — still support politicians who call for reducing federal help in those arenas. Hochschild peers at the paradox through a keyhole issue: environmental protection. “Everyone I talked to wanted a clean environment,” she writes, and she spends much of the book chronicling the harm the oil and gas industry has wrought in the area. We learn of the industrial contamination of the Bayou d’Inde waterway, where the Areno family lived for generations, and of the massive Bayou Corne Sinkhole, which swallowed up 37 acres as earthquakes and ooze emanated from the ground, thanks to the screw-ups of a Houston-based drilling company. So why rally for politicians who want to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency?
Turns out, many people Hochschild spoke to simply don’t trust environmental authorities, often with good reason. The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources had known of the risks involved in Bayou Corne but had given out drilling permits anyway, Hochschild writes. She also describes the guidelines state health authorities had provided on how to eat contaminated fish. “Trimming the fat and skin on finfish, and removing the hepatopancreas from crabs, will reduce the amount of contaminants in the fish and shellfish,” they advised, featuring handy drawings of how to cut away the yucky parts.
When this is your experience of regulation, the great paradox loses greatness. But Hochschild continues her quest, concluding that tea party supporters grow to hate government because of religious faith, opposition to progressive taxes and the perceived “loss of honor” government imposes. She groups her tea party friends into reductionist categories that sound like they were dreamed up in the faculty lounge: the Team Players, loyal to business; the Worshippers, with their capacity for “meaningful renunciation,” forgoing clean lakes in exchange for steady employment; the Cowboys, who equate risky work with progress and scoff at wimpy regulators.
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Hochschild’s subjects are frustrated by the empowerment of new voices in American identity politics. “For the Tea Party around the country,” she writes, “the shifting moral qualifications for the American Dream had turned them into strangers in their own land, afraid, resentful, displaced, and dismissed by the very people who were, they felt, cutting in line.”
Then Hochschild attends a Trump rally in New Orleans, and it feels like a revival. “His supporters have been in mourning for a lost way of life. . . . Joined together with others like themselves, they now feel hopeful, joyous, elated,” she writes. “As if magically lifted, they are no longer strangers in their own land.”
This may well be the mind-set of some Trump supporters; certainly, it is the candidate’s pitch. But it’s hard to entirely trust Hochschild’s conclusions. Early in the book, she notes how federal assistance for strengthening environmental protections, combating global warming and reducing homelessness faces a “closed door” on the right. “If we want government help in achieving any of these goals, I realized, we need to understand those who see government more as problem than solution,” she writes. “And so it was that I began my journey to the heart of the American right.”
“Strangers in Their Own Land,” then, is not an academic’s impartial effort to understand conservatives but rather a means to an end — an end toward which the writer regards conservatives as obstacles to overcome.
There’s a deep story for you.
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