Strangers In Their Own Land
"As strangers in their own land, Lee, Mike, and Jackie wanted
their homeland back, and the pledges of the Tea Party offered them
that. It offered them financial freedom from taxes, and emotional
freedom from the strictures of liberal philosophy and its rules of
feeling. Liberals were asking them to feel compassion for the
downtrodden in the back of the line, the 'slaves' of society. They
didn't want to; they felt downtrodden themselves and wanted only to
'look up' to the elite. What was wrong with aspiring high? That was
the bigger virtue, they thought. Liberals were asking them to direct
their indignation at the ill-gotten gains of the overly rich, the
'planters'; the right wanted to aim their indignation down at the poor
slackers, some of whom were jumping the line."
It there was ever a book that came out precisely when it was
needed, Arlie Russell Hochschild's Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger
And Mourning On The American Right is that book. Many of us were
aghast when the current occupant of the White House won the election.
Many of us were perplexed when the results were broken down. The
majority of his voters were people who would be harmed by his policies
and mandates. How could they be so clearly voting against their own
Hochschild had become concerned about the increasing political
polarization in America and inability on both sides to communicate
across a widening gap. She was also puzzled by what she calls the
great paradox. Although red states are poorer and suffer from more
environmental degradation and poorer citizen health, they are also the
states where people are intent on downsizing government and
eliminating the agencies and regulations that could help them. What
was up with that?
Hochschild travelled across the country to gain some insight
into this paradox. She went to Louisiana, the South being the
epicenter of the right. She had chosen the environment as the lens
through which to focus.
(I must note, however, that the thinking she encountered is not
exclusive to the South. Maine is about as far north as you can get
without crossing into Canada. Governor Paul LePage's recent state of
the state speech hit the same themes.)
Over a period of five years, Hochschild spent time in a part of
southwest Louisiana that had become a magnet for heavy industries with
very poor environmental records. Beginning with one contact, she
befriended people she met in focus groups and social events and
followed up on their recommendations. She attended luncheons, church
services, a tent revival, card games, and campaign events. She
visited subjects' homes and invited them to show her where they grew
up and went to school. She amassed 4,690 pages of transcripts.
Strangers In Their Own Land is the fruit of her labor. It reads
beautifully as a narrative. You really get to know the people
Hochschild befriended, the places they come from and occuppy, and
their senses of self, hopes, and fears. Background information is
introduced in a way that clarifies, rather than overwhelming.
Hochschild leads us up to what she calls the deep story: ...the
story feelings tell in the language of symbols. It removes
judgement. It removes fact. It tells how things feel. Such a story
permits those on both sides of the political spectrum to stand back
and explore the subjective prism through which the party on the other
side sees the world. And I don't believe we understand anyone's
politics, right or left, without it. For we all have a deep story."
When I read this deep story it made a major shift in my
thinking, sort of turning a kaleidescope and seeing a new pattern. I
would highly recommend Strangers In Their Own Land to all seeking to
understand just what went down in the most recent presidential
election and what we can do, moving forward, to understand and
communicate with those with whom we disagree.
On a personal note, First Friday Bagels and Coffee, held at the UMaine
Commuter Lounge was as always a treat. It's one of the wonderful
traditions there we can look forward to. Another we've recently
enjoyed is having wonderful materials with which to make valentines.
a great big shout out goes out to the wonderful people who run the
commuter lounge, especially their benevolent boss, Barbara Smith.
Sent from my iPod