Friday, March 17, 2017

A Bag of Rocks

I've been reading Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Hochschild is a highly regarded sociologist who specializes in close up looks at groups of people who might be unfamiliar to many of us. Here she ventures into the heart of Tea Party country in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She prepped for the trip, she tells us, by rereading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which is something of a Bible for the Tea Party founders. That alone tells me that her pain tolerance is a heck of a lot higher than mine.

The area around Lake Charles is densely packed with petrochemical plants and has been devastated by pollution. Some of the nation's most productive rivers and estuaries used to be here, but many of them have now been killed by the deadly flood of chemicals. Hoschschild wanted to get a look into the mind of the Tea Party, and thought the pollution issue, which has devastated many, might be what she calls a "keyhole" into their thinking. Her lead characters include many who have been personally devastated by the polluting industries: friends and relatives crippled or dead of cancer, homes and livelihoods destroyed.

One interesting tidbit comes from a study that was commissioned of the best places to situate a noxious pollution source. It concludes that it should be a community of "least resistant personality types," which it concluded were:

•​Longtime residents of small towns in the South or Midwest

•​High school educated only

•​Catholic

•​Uninvolved in social issues, and without a culture of activism

•​Involved in mining, farming, ranching (what Cerrell called “nature exploitative occupations”)

•​Conservative

•​Republican

•​Advocates of the free market

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (p. 81). The New Press. Kindle Edition.

This fits the local profile almost perfectly. On the other hand, her characters (as she notes) are nothing like Rand's soulless creeps. They are warm, kind, and deeply frustrated by their situation. Still, it's hard for me to understand how they can keep voting for a gang of crooked Bible thumpers who are in the pockets of the oil companies (and devoted to emptying the taypayer's money into oil company coffers). Maybe the rest of the book will give me a clue.