NOTE: I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS VIDEO
I recently read Hillbilly Elegy. I hated this book. Imagine a country where a thin swathe of out of touch types, ignore the growing lack of middle class and above jobs, the crumbling infrastructure and where a book that blames the poor, especially white poor people for their own lot, becomes a best seller. Yes, that's America. It is the land of denial, and delusions. The people who love this book are probably mostly older evangelicals who all support Trump. Their lives probably still include out of state vacations and garden furniture. They call the millennials and Gen X folks who didn't obtain their same socio-economic level "losers" and "snowflakes". They are disgusted with us. We supposedly failed and it's our fault supposedly.
The media and ultra rich will tell us the economy is booming, even as we drive around our home-towns and see the emptied out stores, cracking parking lots, pot-holes, broken windows, unpainted houses and decaying bridges that look like they are ready to fall into our rivers. Sure the economy is doing fine for them but not for most of us.
One thing they are doing too, is playing the usual narcissist/sociopath games of telling people their economic failures are all their fault. As they tie people's hands and knock them about, they will tell them, "You did it to yourself". There's plenty of sold-out types to stand up and repeat the chorus. The elites who profit off suffering in this country don't want much honesty to break out about poverty or what is happening. Even when I and my husband visit some churches, for food pantries and food co-ops, the lecturing about moral lifestyles and living healthy, where we were told to 'exercise" at the last food co-op, never ends. Very little of reality is dealt with. There's no open discussion of real survival, it's all pretense.
I suppose many conservative evangelicals aren't much into reality in general. It's constant patronizing and lectures. I told my husband at the last food co-op meeting, "Why are we getting all these health 101 lectures, you can tell where the assumption is, that "WE ALL LIVE WRONG". It is a relief when we have had a better month, and don't have to be converted or talked down to for bags of food or hot dinners. At least the Lutherans are easier going but the constant pressure to join people's churches for charity does get tiring. How would a public and out atheist around here get any help? Don't forget most of these churches get money via government faith initiatives for the charity programs. Ignored is that with money comes more options.
J.D Vance loves his family, and his hard-working grandparents, even his supposedly rough uncles earn some of his respect but like others who have "made good" and won the job Lotto, he looks back at the younger members of his family as all "losers" who just decided to "drug" and "bum" their way through life. His success has brought him a giant dose of self-righteousness. This is nothing new to me. His mother has drug addiction problems and this is growing in our society but to hear J.D. Vance tell his story it's like every poor white person is starting each day with an injection of heroin instead of a bowl of cereal.
My mother came from poor farmers and could be called a "hillybilly" though more technically her family was Ohioan dirt farmers. She made it out to the upper middle class. She hated poor people and openly called them "losers" including me. I grew up with my better off parents, telling me "Only losers end up poor!" I certainly was not given life skills or knowledge regarding how the world really worked. J.D. Vance reminds me of one of my narcissistic uncles who went into business instead of law, but had nothing but disdain for those who did not get rewarded by his same efforts. That's my Tea Party uncle who is racist to the hilt and considers every poor person a bum. He too like J.D. Vance loved the older people of his family, he had affection for my hard working grandmother-- his mother and father who were farmers, and a lot less appreciation for anyone in the family who didn't escape the farm or the country or obtain the middle class. Older people became idealized in these cheery accolades to the past while younger people were "lazy entitled snowflakes". Reading this book was like reading a screed by my uncle if he had been literate enough to come up with one.
I grew up rather uncultured. In fact a lot of my own knowledge and culture came from meeting that ex-millionaire friend in college, and while the friendship went kaput 30 years later. I was basically introduced to the more's that JD Vance and Charles Murray keep waxing on about.
While at home it was meat and potatoes and processed cinnamon rolls with orange icing out of a can, and a few National Geographic magazines, at my millionaire friend's house it was the NY Times, health food stores, caviar, and other class-based things I had no inkling of. My ex millionaire friend introduced me to more upper crust pursuits. We would attend museums, nature centers, musicals and lectures. My interests switched to away from low brow TV and heavy metal music to PBS and British imports at the record store. It's ironic I probably was considered as being "too big for my britches" especially for a scapegoat became a snob to my family, while later, the real snobs, would kick me to the curb for being "too poor". Some here may point out but your family was upper middle class itself, but this came about from my father's STEM talents, the household culture still remained that of my mother's upbringing. These books seems even more ignorant to me because while they extol the virtues of education, proper "breeding" and "proper" living, most of these things cost money.
My mother read Harlequin novels and cookbooks. She was very low-brow. She had the cunningness to "make it" but she was a very non-intellectual woman. She was not someone I could talk to about art shows or documentaries. What is odder for me is that my father came from bluebloods, they were immigrants but once owned a multi-million dollar horse racing track. His father was disinherited though, and ended up working at a munitions plant that made chemical weapons. I was told it was a steel factory but found out some interesting things on my geneaology pursuits.
J. D. Vance's book was odd to me, I often wonder how no one who has gone the opposite way on the ladder is ever allowed a voice, it reminded me of Horatio Alger Stories, when books were published about immigrants who came to America and became millionaires. His book follows that formula too. So much of our society now is just like the 1890s gilded age as the divide between rich and poor becomes wider and wider. I suppose the formula of an impoverished boy making it to middle class and upper middle class stability is being revised. There too, the impoverished masses would be told they would be rich too with enough pluck and morality.
Ironically while my money nose-dived and I became a member of the lowest classes, my knowledge of the upper middle class world increased. Perhaps this led to more discomfort on my part. I had the odd mixture of being my mother's family's first college graduate ever but then entering a level of poverty where I became the "embarrassment". J.D. Vances fortunes were just the opposite of my own.
Most people won't see through J.D Vance's book, but I did. Here's the problem, it's really the re-telling of another book. I read Charles Murray's book, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 a few years ago. Remember the racist who co-wrote the Bell Curve? Yes, it's the same guy. These books converged in an odd way for me. J.D Vance actually does praise Charles Murray in this book. Why wouldn't he? They follow the same theme. The two have joined together in giving a lecture. While Murray's book Coming Apart, was an academic screed, and J.D. Vance's book a memoir the same message is the exact same. Here is that message stripped down to the core:
The American poor [now with the focus on whites instead of other races] are poor because they are immoral failures. They cannot blame society and have only themselves to blame for their failures.
Now Republican eugenics types have turned their jaundiced eyes not only above the "unwashed masses of other races" to debase but now they have turned those same eyes towards poor white people. While black people were told for decades, they were "too violent"and "not smart" enough by conservatives and deserved their ill-economic futures as the elite dismantled manufacturing after the northern migrations, the same spiel is now being used on poor whites.
This book is basically a memoir to back up these themes. People in America are not poor because of the jobs being sent overseas or automation or the 1 percent cleaning out the tills, or a sociopathic and narcissistic society, they are poor, because they are "immoral", because they "do too many drugs", or "are lazy".
“The wealthy and the powerful aren't just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores.”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis
Charles Murray followed those same themes, claiming that even for poor whites, low IQ means lower income, and higher IQ means higher income. Education is not really something that costs money but is obtained via higher effort and morality. Charles Murray is an apologist for the our neo-conservative/neo-liberal uber-capitalist oligarchs and so is J.D. Vance. Trump fooled the masses claiming his billionaire pals would bring in more wealth to average people and these authors carry the same message.
In Charles Murray's book, he prescribed the Protestant work ethic, morality, working harder, patriotism and other Calvinist prescripts as the answer to poverty. People weren't poor because they got laid off or the factories closed in America, they were poor due to their own "bad behavior" and other shortcomings. To be frank this entire country is being gaslighted by many elites and conservative academics, as the infrastructure and economy go into the trash. Charles Murray and J.D. Vance are definitely among their number.
Remember Murray followed this same formula on blacks and other races, where the Bell Curve claimed that some races all had "lower IQs" and now has turned his attention to poor whites. According to Murray, the rich are richer because they are "better people". He waxes on about the higher IQs of the wealthy as if intelligence is a guarantee for the money to pour into one's personal coffers. It's so bad, its nauseating, it's cemented and institutionalized classism.
I don't agree with either of these authors attitudes about intelligence, or better morality among the rich.
For those of us who have studied narcissism and sociopathy, we know this society is rewarding the amoral more then ever. Here we have neo-Victorianism shoved down our throats where to have money supposedly meant "better breeding" when the trappings that money could buy displayed that breeding to begin with. In today's more profitable STEM careers, there is a degree of elitism happening in some circles and those who focus on certain modes of thoughts as being more acceptable. Linear thinking as opposed to global thinking. Lack of empathy sadly seems to be one growing blight among the technocrats. Maybe this is why we are sending up with such obtuse social science such as from the likes of Charles Murray.
Even basic analytical thinking can call these two to task, what did the money bring first? What came first? The poor do not have the same access to ballets, museums, the same science educations--an impoverished school will not have an lavish lab. As they give judgment for the drug abuse, would be violence and perceived brutishness among the poor, they hide the bigger picture. They won't admit that the despair is leading to the drug use, or that poverty in itself breaks down civil order out of the desperation. They expect poor people to live like rich ones, ignoring the basic fact the money isn't there.
The conservative eugenics lens that once was focused on other races aka the Bell Curve to advance racism pertaining to African Americans and Latinos, has now been turned on poor whites. Sadly most in this country won't wake up. They will buy this feel-good story, with it's blame and disdain towards the poor and internalize it. Same as they bought the racism, they will buy the classism. They voted in Trump after all.
Hipcrime Vocab explained this quite well on reddit, and in various articles in his blog by the same name:
"Since African Americans did not own the land they farmed, and had few, if any, assets, they had no other choice than to become deracinated migrants and headed to Northern industrial cities in one of the largest internal migrations in world history, from 1940-1970 (the "Great Migration"). This was to places like the Atlantic seaboard, the Ohio Valley, Great lakes industrial cities, and Western cities which had significant manufacturing jobs (New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Oakland, etc.). America was the only major industrialized power to emerge unscathed from the war, and dominated the global manufacturing economy. Work was abundant. Blacks who had been primarily associated with the rural south became "urban" overnight.
These plentiful factory jobs allowed African Americans to develop burgeoning lower-middle-class urban communities. That all came to a halt starting in the mid-1960's, as a combination of automation and suburbanization decreased the number of jobs and moved them away from urban areas. Low-skilled occupations were the first to go, and African-Americans soon found themselves without jobs before they were able to build up significant wealth or assets. Inner-cities and downtowns became the empty, hollowed-out ghettos we simply take for granted today, as "white flight" promoted by the newly-constructed freeways allowed whites to follow the jobs to the distant fringe suburbs, purchase houses with Federally subsidized home loans, and build wealth to pass on to future generations. These opportunities were denied to African-Americans due to the cost of transportation, redlining, aggressive policing, etc. We all know that "job creation" is mainly suburban nowadays, from "office parks" to strip malls.
And what happened to African-Americans when their work disappeared? Their communities came apart. The only jobs left were government jobs which could not be suburbanized, and low-wage service work which did not pay enough to support a family (Popeye's, hair salons, etc.). Families broke down, drug abuse became epidemic, and many African-Americans rationally chose a shorter, riskier life of higher wages and self-respect in the black-market drug trade to the subservience and low pay of fast-food work. Were it not for government jobs (thanks to laws passed to favor the hiring of unemployed blacks), the inner-city unemployment rates and lack of good jobs would be even more acute. With no more use for their labor, blacks became virtual wards of the state, and a welfare-industrial complex allowed blacks to administer the conditions of their own dependence.
Entire cities became no-go zones for significant numbers of Americans, and creeping normalcy conditioned us to accept this situation as "just the way things are." We justified it by claiming that blacks are subhuman, have no self-control, have lower IQs, have poor family structures (which were destroyed by the legacy of slavery), were lazy, and so forth. Talk to any inner-city activist and what will they tell you is the root of the problem? "No jobs" (or perhaps poor schools, which is related).
Some escaped, but not all could. A small portion moved into the professional class and did well; a tiny handful became superstar millionaires in our winner-take-all culture (in entertainment, music, athletics, etc.), but by and large, African-American communities suffered a level of deprivation and destitution that most societies would consider literally inhuman. The success of the few escapees was used as a continued justification for the grinding poverty and ghettoization of the vast majority of the African-American community.
Meanwhile, suburban whites just avoided the inner cities their parents had grown up in and derided blacks as "lazy." The specter of "Cadillac-driving welfare queens" drove the now-suburban white working class into the arms of the Republican party, even in traditional Democratic strongholds in the formerly unionized North.
The mass incarceration of unemployed black males was the response to the unrest that automating and offshoring work had created. A "law and order" policy started under Nixon and accelerated under Reagan and his successors. The drug war was ramped up, and "three strikes" laws were passed. Blacks were portrayed as "superpredators," and we promised to "end welfare as we know it" (both under the Clintons). The end result: there are more African Americans in the legal/justice system today than there were slaves in 1860. One in four of the world's prisoners is in U.S. jails.
None of this was blamed on lack of jobs or automation/offshoring, rather it was "poor family structures," single parents, a lack of desire to get married, insufficient educational attainment, and so forth. Job training was touted as the solution, despite the fact that schools are funded by local taxes (and hence of poor quality in urban areas), and the fact that the jobs don't exist. Ghettos contributed to a self-reinforcing cycle of poverty. Many generations since the 1960's have never known steady work, and this is attributed to "work-resistant personalities" rather than automation, suburbanization and offshoring.
Now we're seeing the exact same arguments applied to lower-class whites. They just have poor work skills (which they never had before), it's just "bad behavior, "they have low IQs, they get married too soon, they talk, look and act wrong, they deserve their plight, blah, blah, on and on. Just like blacks, females are more able to secure jobs in the new "service/caring" economy because they are more amenable to low-pay/service work, while the men engage in self-destructive behavior because they can no longer afford a family. They are told, just as the blacks after sharecropping, to just get in the U-Haul and move to where the jobs are. Sound familiar?
We're now dehumanizing poor whites in the media the exact same way we did to blacks, because the media is owned by the same very corporations benefiting from offshoring/automation. The sneering derision of upper-class whites parallels the dehumanization of blacks when the jobs disappeared in the late 1960s and 1970's. You want to know why Trump? That's why Trump. Of course, keeping blacks and whites (and now, Hispanics) at each others' throats has been a fundamental tactic of the ruling classes since day one in America, which is why Trump supporters tend to despise Black Lives Matter, Mexicans, and Bernie Sanders supporters, despite the fact their core interests are aligned (higher wages, better jobs and working conditions, and getting the money out of politics). Whites' life expectancies are shrinking, family formation is down, single parenthood is common due to the lack of family-supporting wages (laughably blamed by conservatives as a cause, not as a result, of decreasing job opportunities), educational attainment is falling, social dysfunction such as child abuse is rampant, and drug use is reaching epidemic proportions (in this case, painkillers and opiates, predominantly). In other words, all the same pathololgies we attributed to the African-American community just being "different." Turns out, whites aren't so different after all.
The lesson of how African-Americans have been treated is an ill omen for the future, I'm afraid. Drive through any Rust belt inner-city today; that's the future, except now the faces will now be of every race instead of predominately African-American. Libertarian economists such as Tyler Cowen already predict massive favelas and giant ghettos housing 80+ percent of the American population in the years ahead thanks to outsourcing and automation.
Look at Detroit. That will be every major city in America in 20 years' time. A tiny sliver of prosperity behind walls and armed guards, surrounded by third-world poverty. That's what history tells us will be our future under mass automation, based on the African-American experience.
tl;dr: Automation decimated the African-American community and we turned a blind eye. The exact same dynamic is now unfolding for 80+ percent of White America. The outlook is not good.
I agree with this post.
Hipcrime Vocab has warned sociopathy in America is growing. I have discussions with my husband about how much I hate the culture of America, and how it has become racist too and "winner take all" and far more oppressive to people it has deemed "throwaways". We see now authors who defend the "winner take all" ethos. They defend the lack of empathy of this society. Their response to all these poor people is not real help or any future but just blame, and "work harder" and put your nose to the grind stone as the jobs go away. I noticed long ago in the evangelical world, no one wanted to talk about what was really happening. The prosperity gospel ruled even in the non-Word of Faith churches. They had the Charles Murray and J.D. Vance outlook on the poor, the whole "I got mine, tough for you" attitudes.
J.D. Vance in his book gives the same prescriptions to "stop being poor", work hard, be religious--he goes on about how church attendance is higher among better heeled people, and how the military whipped him into shape into being a man who followed rules and learned not helplessness but willfulness. If you think about this, isn't this the message that serves the powerful? Obey, Obey, Obey and don't question the system. I wonder what kind of lawyer he will be? Will the realities of our court and political system wake him up?
JD Vance follows the same themes as Charles Murray though using his own life as an example His own classism makes itself more then apparent.
“In the past few years, I’ve vacationed in Panama and England. I’ve bought my groceries at Whole Foods. I’ve watched orchestral concerts. I’ve tried to break my addiction to “refined processed sugars” (a term that includes at least one too many words). I’ve worried about racial prejudice in my own family and friends. None of these things is bad on its own. In fact, most of them are good—visiting England was a childhood dream; eating less sugar improves health. At the same time, they’ve shown me that social mobility isn’t just about money and economics, it’s about a lifestyle change. The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. When you go from working-class to professional-class, almost everything about your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Isn't lifestyle mandated by the money available? That reality is ignored by both Charles Murray and JD Vance. You can afford better food, you can afford more educational opportunities. They of course forget that the egg [the money] had to come before the chicken [the better and healthier lifestyle]!
In Charles Murray's world and JD Vance's world, the poor are simply lazy. Somehow they missed the memo on all the unemployed college educated people.
"“People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown. You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than twenty hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.”
― J.D. Vance Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
He forgets here, that many jobs now only offer part-time hours and one new thing, is to require that one have open scheduling hours even for those few hours.
Of course in J.D. Vance's world, people like my husband do not exist, who put in 12-14 hour shifts and who did work hard, and got laid off. He would not imagine that a woman like me once worked 4 and 5 part-time jobs at once to keep a roof over her head. Supposedly all the poor are bums who lost their jobs due to malfeasance.
“We’ll get fired for tardiness, or for stealing merchandise and selling it on eBay, or for having a customer complain about the smell of alcohol on our breath, or for taking five thirty-minute restroom breaks per shift. We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach. ”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
One thing I noticed about this book, is he kept repeating the phrase American Dream without exactly defining it. You mean the dream, that George Carlin used to say you have to be asleep to believe it? Here you get the usual lectures about "hard work", but even here I would say to have "hard work" work, you need the opportunities in the first place. I certainly heard a gutsful myself about the "fucking losers" who didn't make it.
“Mamaw and Papaw believed that hard work mattered more. They knew that life was a struggle, and though the odds were a bit longer for people like them, that fact didn’t excuse failure. “Never be like these fucking losers who think the deck is stacked against them,” my grandma often told me. “You can do anything you want to.”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
You know, America's a funny place, all this preaching about self sufficiency and independence. Maybe in agricultural and trapping and hunting days one could make their own way dependent on their own person. It's like a mythos has replaced reality in America, the self made man taking over, but I noticed J.D. got a string of lucky breaks. Did any of you know, that one of his professors was the lady who wrote the Tiger Mom book, and got him this book deal to begin with?
With attending Yale, he definitely learned a new lingo, and culture. When I read the below, what part of the money bought those good things that he does not get? One thing I learned as someone who fell down the ladder, twice now, out of the upper middle class the first time and out of the working class the second, that the one's who most often had the least empathy sometimes could be better off adults who were poor as children. They left behind their poor relatives, and looked back with a mixture of distaste and self-loathing. I suppose this describes some of the problems I had with my own mother. She complained of having no shoes and having to eat pop corn for dinner, and her built in loathing for her childhood poverty gave her no empathy for my adulthood fall into it.
“As a cultural emigrant from one group to the other, I am acutely aware of their differences. Sometimes I view members of the elite with an almost primal scorn—recently, an acquaintance used the word “confabulate” in a sentence, and I just wanted to scream. But I have to give it to them: Their children are happier and healthier, their divorce rates lower, their church attendance higher, their lives longer. These people are beating us at our own damned game. ”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
He sees the forest and not the trees, and with his religious blind spots, money buys that stability, money buys that happiness after a certain point. One researched pegged around $75,000 being that cut off point around 10 years ago. One of his major blind spots I notice is that his own grandparents escaped "hillybilly" destitution by moving to Middletown Ohio, where his grandfather held a good middle class providing factory job at Armco. His book, has an extreme disconnect in not tying the destruction of American manufacturing to the destruction of economic lives. Someone who worked hard and could provide properly for his family gave him the foundation to build his life upon. His lack of empathy for the very fact these opportunities have been removed from American people is sickening.
One could say I come out of a hillybilly past though these were Ohio dirt farmers on one side, they just happened to be "more north". For those who made good, there was a loathing for those who failed, it's one puzzle piece to my own story in why my family threw me away beyond the narcissism. I grew up being told to be poor, was to be a failure and money counted for everything. My mother's own family was divided with a crack between those who had "made it" and those who didn't. J.D. Vances' attitudes are not that foreign to me. I was the first to earn a college degree in my mother's entire family. Yes, I was the first. I remember the odd jealousy at the time, almost like I didn't deserve it. My mother did not go to college and got her good job via my father remember.
I lived in an area considered a "white trash"/"hillbilly"/"poor rural whites" area for over 10 years. The jobs disappearing affected that place. It went from a stable small town to having multiple abandoned houses, a problem with heroin, and home invasions. I knew the jobs disappearing destroyed family lives, and unlike J.D. who saw the drugs as the cause of the poverty, I saw drugs as a symptom of the despair that came to settle on my old small town and the future young people were losing out on. Sadly J.D Vance and those who support him see the drugs as the cause and not the result. They also ignore the fact that unlike his grandparents, the same jobs like they had at Armco are no longer there.
Older people with empathy would tell me they feared for young people and told me their lives were much harder. They realized the rug had been pulled from underneath people in being able to make livings or support families. Republican types like J.D. Vance of course blame people for failing in a system when the moorings have been removed. I would even try to tell people do what you can, to survive and succeed, but you wonder about those who serve as apologists for the system, and defend the status quo, in claiming poverty is a result of one's own laziness and immorality. I suppose that's the only answer for the right in America. After all it's easier to steal this place blind and refuse decency, while blaming the victims and gaslighting them about the true causes of their economic misery.
Gen X: The Scapegoat Generation is Dying Young