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Thread: Hillbilly Elegy By J.D. Vance — On Sale —Group discussion

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    Hillbilly Elegy By J.D. Vance — On Sale —Group discussion

    Vance's Hillbilly Elegy as an ebook (also available in print) is currently on sale as an ebook book from the usual places for $4.99.

    I don't know how long this will last.

    Would people be interested in a sort of group-read-and-discussion thread? I'm definitely going to be reading it.

    It was a non-fiction NYT bestseller:

    From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class
    Here's an interview with Vance from NPR.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 06-28-2017 at 09:01 PM. Reason: I gotta stop startin' sentences with So; sloppy writing, sloppy thinking.

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    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    This one has been getting consistently decent circulation at the library since it first appeared, which leads me to suspect it's a decent read, as lots of these books tend to disappear after the initial flurry.

    Will have to consult my budgets, though - money and time...
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    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    Part of the problem I have with books and articles on this topic is that an awful lot of what the folks profiled in them "know" -- which led them to vote for Trump -- is bullshit.

    The idea that giving billionaires tax cuts will create jobs, is bullshit.

    The idea that the government should be run like a business, and therefore that electing a CEO makes sense, is bullshit.

    The idea that our national debt should be zero or close to it, is bullshit. The corollary that therefore we must slash government spending, because austerity is good medicine for what ails us, is bullshit too.

    The idea that feminism, or atheists, or trans-friendly bathrooms are a symptom of fundamental moral rot in our society, is bullshit.

    The idea that you should be more afraid of being killed by Islamic terrorists than fat old white-power Earl next door, or hit by a bus, or eaten by sharks, is bullshit.

    So I'm not sure I really need to read more about what voters in Appalachia or the Rustbelt believe. I'm pretty sure their beliefs are misguided.

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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Introversion View Post
    Part of the problem I have with books and articles on this topic is that an awful lot of what the folks profiled in them "know" -- which led them to vote for Trump -- is bullshit.

    The idea that giving billionaires tax cuts will create jobs, is bullshit.

    The idea that the government should be run like a business, and therefore that electing a CEO makes sense, is bullshit.

    The idea that our national debt should be zero or close to it, is bullshit. The corollary that therefore we must slash government spending, because austerity is good medicine for what ails us, is bullshit too.

    The idea that feminism, or atheists, or trans-friendly bathrooms are a symptom of fundamental moral rot in our society, is bullshit.

    The idea that you should be more afraid of being killed by Islamic terrorists than fat old white-power Earl next door, or hit by a bus, or eaten by sharks, is bullshit.

    So I'm not sure I really need to read more about what voters in Appalachia or the Rustbelt believe. I'm pretty sure their beliefs are misguided.
    [Emphasis mine.]

    Weel, I'm usually with you on a lot of things, but not that last line. That brushstroke is rather broad. I'm a product of that environment, and as far as my people are concerned I'm a factory reject. It has helped me in discussions to know not only what they think, but also why they think it. I don't think it's possible to combat anything you don't have at least some insight into. ymmv
    Last edited by Ari Meermans; 06-28-2017 at 09:08 PM. Reason: rong squiggly
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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brightdreamer View Post
    This one has been getting consistently decent circulation at the library since it first appeared, which leads me to suspect it's a decent read, as lots of these books tend to disappear after the initial flurry.

    Will have to consult my budgets, though - money and time...
    If you're OK with Ebooks, it's in most libraries' Overdrive collections, too.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 06-28-2017 at 09:06 PM.

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    Twitching ap123's Avatar
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    Thanks for the heads-up. I just downloaded
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    Disturbing Your Peace nighttimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    So Vance's Hillbilly Elegy as an ebook (also available in print) is currently on sale as an ebook book from the usual places for $4.99.

    I don't know how long this will last.

    Would people be interested in a sort of group-read-and-discussion thread? I'm definitely going to be reading it.

    It was a non-fiction NYT bestseller:
    Hillbilly Elegy stirs mixed emotions within me. I read the opening chapter online and found it quite interesting. Vance gives voice to a segment of the nation which the majority of time most Americans are blissfully ignorant of and when we aren't hillbillies are maliciously caricatured.

    However, I'm wary of going overboard in attempting to understand what poor and working class Whites and why they lined up so enthusiastically behind a guy who says he had their best interests at hand while advocating for policies best designed to make their lives harder, not easier.

    This is a sentiment shard by Frank Rich, a former columnist for the NY Times who absolutely shreds Vance and his book.

    Even before Trump’s victory, commentators were poring through fortuitously timed books like Nancy Isenberg’s sociocultural history White Trash and J. D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, seeking to comprehend and perhaps find common ground with the Trumpentariat. As measured by book sales and his appeal to much the same NPR-ish audience, Vance has become his people’s explainer-in-chief, the Ta-Nehisi Coates, if you will, of White Lives Matter.

    Vance has limited sympathy for his mother or the other drug addicts and “welfare queens,” all white, of his hometown. He describes in detail how they game entitlements like food stamps to support their addictions, whether to opioids or flashy consumer goods. Echoing Williamson, he accuses them of responding to the collapse of the old industrial economy “in the worst way possible,” by acting “like a persecuted minority” and blaming everyone but themselves for their plight: “We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese.” Like Hochschild and Joan Williams, Vance nonetheless goes out of his way to clear working-class whites from the charge of racism. What infuriates them about Obama, he writes, is not the color of his skin but that he is “brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor.” (That Obama, like Vance, was rescued from his problematic parental dynamic in part by his white Middle American grandparents goes unmentioned.) But that’s one of the few spirited defenses he mounts of those whom forgiving liberals like Hochschild, Kristof, and the rest want to usher into the Democratic fold. In nearly every other way, he, like Williamson, finds them to be a basket of deplorables even without leveling the charge of bigotry.

    At least Hillary Clinton and her party aspired to do something, however inchoate, for the white working class. Vance, Williamson, and Murray — every bit as anti-government as the dysfunctional whites they deplore — have little use for a federal safety net. They instead offer Trump voters lectures about the virtues of self-help. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance concludes by demanding that “we hillbillies … wake the hell up.” It’s a retread of the magical thinking Murray offered four years earlier (to no avail) in Coming Apart, in which he suggested that a “Great Civic Awakening” among the out-of-touch upper classes would somehow lift up the dysfunctional whites below. For his part, Williamson suggests that Trump-and-OxyContin- addicted working-class whites rent U-Hauls and flee their dying towns for an unspecified future, with no prospect of any government program to rescue them as FDR’s Resettlement Administration once aided Okies who packed up all they had in beat-up jalopies to flee the Dust Bowl.

    Vance, you’d think, would be more generous than this. As an alumnus of Yale Law School who ended up working as a Silicon Valley investor under the aegis of Peter Thiel, he is too successful and sophisticated to leave unacknowledged the government help he received along the way. By his own account, his grandmother’s “old-age benefits” kept him from going hungry as a child. He cites Pell grants, low-interest government loans, bargain in-state tuition at Ohio State, and the GI Bill (he enlisted in the Marine Corps after college) for their role in making his elite education and worldly achievements possible. Vance recently announced that he is moving back to Ohio to start a nonprofit organization to help combat the opioid epidemic. But in Hillbilly Elegy, he minimizes the usefulness of government programs and social services, which “often make a bad problem worse.” He approvingly quotes a friend who worked in the White House (presumably a Republican White House) as saying “You probably can’t fix these things” and that the best you can do is “put your thumb on the scale a little for the people at the margins.” In White Trash, Nancy Isenberg might as well be talking about Vance when she writes (of Nixon-era conservatives) that the “same self-made man who looked down on white trash” conveniently chose “to forget that his own parents escaped the tar-paper shack only with the help of the federal government” as he now pulled up “the social ladder behind him.”
    If Vance can prompt this sort of wrath from Rich, it may be a helluva of a backhanded endorsement of Hillbilly Elegy and make it worth the reading.
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    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    {Emphasis mine.]

    Weel, I'm usually with you on a lot of things, but not that last line. That brushstroke is rather broad. I'm a product of that environment, and as far as my people are concerned I'm a factory reject. It has helped me in discussions to know not only what they think, but also why they think it. I don't think it's possible to combat anything you don't have at least some insight into. ymmv
    I spent about half my childhood & young adult life in the rural Midwest, so I have some insights into the way many people there think about issues that govern how they vote. I doubt it's substantially different from the way people in Rustbelt urban areas think, or in Appalachia. (Some of us escaped or at least woke up. I'm not talking about us. We're already not Trump voters.)

    I've come to the firm belief that it's fruitless that I understand how a white farmer in northern Iowa thinks about the world and politics. If that farmer thinks that contrails are due to too many space shuttle launches, or that the world is cooling (I've met farmers who said both), I'm not likely to persuade them otherwise. If they say that Trump understands their challenges better than Clinton ever could because he's a businessman like them, I'm not going to be able to convince them that's silly.

    Sorry, don't mean to pee on your idea. Books on sale! Woohoo! I just think the Left spends too much time navel-gazing about how to reach out to Trump voters. Many of them are not reachable by logic or reason. Too much propaganda water under the bridge for that tactic to have a prayer of working. So, why bother? Work hard to reach voters who are open to logic and reason, or at least, appeals to good emotions like "we're stronger together than alone".
    Last edited by Introversion; 06-28-2017 at 09:23 PM.

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    Delerium ex Ennui Xelebes's Avatar
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    IN previous discussions elsewhere, the general conclusion by the readers of the book was that it was a riveting tale of growing up but the assertions of the "boot-strap" kept returning. It is the old fantasy of Horatio Alger that threads its way along through the book.

    I am in another debate from the same place about the opioid epidemic. Much of that Horatio Alger dreams are popping up again, but they are being questioned. It's not that the poor now suddenly have better access to health care that is the problem, but that the services they are now accessing is using bad practices and is making the problem worse.

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    Dead Men Tell No Tales Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    Would people be interested in a sort of group-read-and-discussion thread? I'm definitely going to be reading it.

    I bought the eBook and would love to have a group discussion. It would be really nice if the discussion didn’t focus almost exclusively on Trump and why people voted for him, though. That’s obviously not what this book is about, since it was published in June 2016, and we all know that means it was written and in the publishing pipeline well before the fiasco of the 2016 elections was underway.

    I’ve spent my entire life in rural Pennsylvania, so I’m certainly very familiar with the culture this book looks to be about, and can’t imagine I won’t find it interesting even if I disagree with some or most of the author’s opinions.
    “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. Not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs, but what a ship is, what the Black Pearl really is ... is freedom.” ~ Jack Sparrow

    “Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, and piracy itself can be the right course.” ~ Governor Swann




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    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    I've been wanting to read this; waiting on the pb. If I did ebooks, I'd get it at that price!

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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chasing the Horizon View Post
    I bought the eBook and would love to have a group discussion. It would be really nice if the discussion didn’t focus almost exclusively on Trump and why people voted for him, though. That’s obviously not what this book is about, since it was published in June 2016, and we all know that means it was written and in the publishing pipeline well before the fiasco of the 2016 elections was underway.
    I'm profoundly uninterested in making the book about Trump; it isn't. It is about something I've personally seen; it's about someone who moved away from a particular set of cultural assumptions without losing his cultural values.

    It's about someone standing between two cultures, and trying to make sense of the world and his lived experience.

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    Dead Men Tell No Tales Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    I'm profoundly uninterested in making the book about Trump; it isn't. It is about something I've personally seen; it's about someone who moved away from a particular set of cultural assumptions without losing his cultural values.

    It's about someone standing between two cultures, and trying to make sense of the world and his lived experience.
    Yes, that's exactly how I see it. I just felt I needed to mention it since a lot of the posts on this thread seemed to be focusing on Trump instead of the actual book.
    “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. Not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs, but what a ship is, what the Black Pearl really is ... is freedom.” ~ Jack Sparrow

    “Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, and piracy itself can be the right course.” ~ Governor Swann




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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    I read the Introduction and the first two paragraphs of Chapter 1 on Amazon. It did look interesting, so I downloaded it to Kindle. Yeah, I'm in. <g>
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    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    This piece expresses how I feel on this subject, better than I can. Took me awhile to dig it up again.

    An Insider's View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

    Quote Originally Posted by Forsetti's Justice
    I grew up in rural Christian white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area of the country with a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on on their rural farms. I dated their calico-skirted daughters. I camped, hunted and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure to a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a broken-down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves or the reasons for their anger and frustration.

    In deep-red America, the white Christian god is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, or change. When you have a belief system built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t that coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans. The problem is that rural America doesn’t understand itself and will never listen to anyone outside its bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views will be automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they will not even entertain the possibility that it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact that I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

    At some point during the discussion, they will say, “That’s your education talking,” derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response, because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are against quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to a certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief systems. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

    Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.

    ...
    I don't claim that everyone from rural America thinks as the author says. But I know from personal experience that many do.
    Last edited by Introversion; 06-29-2017 at 07:18 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    I've been wanting to read this; waiting on the pb. If I did ebooks, I'd get it at that price!
    This exactly. I almost bought it in hardback. Almost. Then I read an interview with Vance and got a bad taste in my mouth. But then, it was an interview on a conservative site. So there’s that.

    I’d be interested, but I want to buy it in paperback.
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    practical experience, FTW MaeZe's Avatar
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    CSPAN Book TV: J.D. Vance on Hillbilly Elegy

    Free online streaming, transcript included in the link.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Introversion View Post
    This piece expresses how I feel on this subject, better than I can. Took me awhile to dig it up again.

    An Insider's View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

    I don't claim that everyone from rural America thinks as the author says. But I know from personal experience that many do.
    That piece was eerily reflective of a lot of the values and experiences that I grew up in the middle of, but I have a very different cultural background. I'm a rural West Coastie, I've never even been to the Bible Belt.

    Reading Hillbilly Elegy was a different experience than the piece you've linked to; it helped me to see how all the values I grew up sharing with other fundamentalists are really just a veneer that can sit on top of drastically different cultural backgrounds. I liked the book, not in a "I agree with everything he said" way, but a "wow, this is interesting" way. I think of it as being far more reflective of hillbilly culture than fundamentalist culture.

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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silva View Post
    <snip>

    Reading Hillbilly Elegy was a different experience than the piece you've linked to; it helped me to see how all the values I grew up sharing with other fundamentalists are really just a veneer that can sit on top of drastically different cultural backgrounds. I liked the book, not in a "I agree with everything he said" way, but a "wow, this is interesting" way. I think of it as being far more reflective of hillbilly culture than fundamentalist culture.
    Hillbilly Elegy was definitely an interesting read and one I'll probably re-read. Even though the book is an autobiography and one viewpoint, it's relatable to my nuclear family—and even more so to my extended family in Arkansas, North Texas, and Louisiana.

    There are stats and snapshots of thought processes included that support the book's overall thesis, and those cover: the effect of migration on differing regions and cultures—whether an overlay (or veneer as you say, which is how the book presents it) or a melding of hillbilly culture and fundamentalism is hard to know and probably requires further study, at least on my part—an exploration of the fatalism and futility handed down generationally within the hillbilly culture paired with a desire for each new generation to have more and better than the previous one(s); and the up close and personal way the book shows the strange dichotomy in the relationship between economic downturns and work ethic.

    One thing that has always confused me is how fiercely independent personalities can just as fiercely adhere to authoritarianism. While the book didn't delve into that too deeply or provide a great deal of insight, it did give me much to ponder. How the book presents and explains that would also be great a great group discussion topic.

    Also, while the author identifies as conservative, the book is not an apologia for either hillbilly culture or fundamentalism; iow, the book presents but does not defend. I can see both sides shredding him and the book. just sayin'
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  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    One thing that has always confused me is how fiercely independent personalities can just as fiercely adhere to authoritarianism. While the book didn't delve into that too deeply or provide a great deal of insight, it did give me much to ponder. How the book presents and explains that would also be great a great group discussion topic.
    I've been giving that subject a lot of (incoherent, in-eloquent) thought lately, especially as I'm watching yet another IRL family implode because of that dynamic. It's such a complicated, heart-breaking and also facepalm-y mess.

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    People are not wearing enough hats JJ Litke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Introversion View Post
    This piece expresses how I feel on this subject, better than I can. Took me awhile to dig it up again.

    An Insider's View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America



    I don't claim that everyone from rural America thinks as the author says. But I know from personal experience that many do.
    This sums it up pretty well for me, too. Actually I keep thinking about reading What's the Matter with Kansas. My only conflict about that is doubt that it's going to inform me of anything I don't already know.
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    Twitching ap123's Avatar
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    I'm about 3/4 of the way through now, and I'm glad to be reading it (thank you again for the heads up on the sale), two things are standing out for me.

    One is how very familiar the setting and people feel. I expected to feel, I don't know, enlightened, and/or like I was dipping into a new culture, but so much of what he talks about could easily have been written about my growing-up years in south Brooklyn--minus Mamaw with guns, and my own childhood was about 20 years before his.

    In a way, my second point contradicts the first. In reading, it feels distant; while I can imagine him, his family and neighbors clearly, I have to say I'm not feeling any sense of yes! Now I can understand and sympathize with how they came to support the GOP. Maybe that's because I do see/feel similarities in my upbringing, so I do know several working class union folks who are directly campaigning against their own interests and supporting those who will harm them and lessen their circumstances.
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    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    I'm afraid I haven't read the book, so I have no opinion on it.

    However, here is an interesting recent survey that I think is relevant. It seems quite possible that cultural issues are more important than economic issues when it comes to politics and that rural versus urban is indeed more about culture than economics.
    Instead, the most significant differences are cultural more so than economic, and that’s probably more of what drove the electoral trends of 2016, which saw the nation’s major metropolitan areas becoming even bluer and the rural areas becoming even redder. A poll released several weeks ago by the Kaiser Family Foundation for the Washington Post focused on the urban/rural divide and delves much more deeply than the standard poll into these cultural questions. It’s interesting enough, and tells us a lot about what did and didn’t drive rural voters in 2016, that it’s worth unpacking in some detail.
    https://m.dailykos.com/story/2017/7/...tail=emaildkre
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    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Kos
    The “line” metaphor is the takeaway that just about everyone remembers about Hochschild’s book, but she also said one other thing in the book, almost as a throwaway line, that really stood out: that people don’t vote based on their economic self-interest so much as their emotional self-interest. And when the thing that you’re emotionally invested in is your community and the values that your community embodies … and you feel like that community is under existential threat from outsiders, whether it’s outsiders who speak a different language or practice a different religion or simply have a different sense about what matters in the world … then that big-picture stuffis absolutely what motivates your vote.

    Claims that such-and-such economic policy may save you some money, or maybe even abstractly save your life someday, just don’t have the same resonance.
    That may be true, and if so, is rather depressing because then there's no rational argument that can persuade (say) Trump voters in rural areas that they've 1) made a mistake and 2) next time should not vote for a similar GOP freakshow candidate like (say) Ted Cruz.

    It does explain, I suppose, why in so many comment sections I see people talking about how good it makes them feel to have Trump in charge, after what they characterize as eight disastrous Obama years. Their professed reasons for the latter always make little sense and/or are outright falsehoods, but it explains why their adamantine beliefs remain in place, no matter what is said.
    Last edited by Introversion; 07-11-2017 at 04:44 AM.

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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Introversion View Post
    That may be true, and if so, is rather depressing because then there's no rational argument that can persuade (say) Trump voters in rural areas that they've 1) made a mistake and 2) next time should not vote for a similar GOP freakshow candidate like (say) Ted Cruz.
    That really isn't what the book is about or says.

    Here's a related piece, from someone who disagrees with what Vance does say, though I personally disagree with some of the assertions the writer makes about Vance; I think he's not being fair.

    As I told a group of my students recently, I am heartbroken that Hillbilly Elegy will likely be the most popular and important book about Appalachia in a generation.

    Vance writes: "I don't know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better" (256). While this is not blatant victim-blaming, it comes close. This line of reasoning promotes the individualistic philosophy so prominent among those on the political right in the US. It sounds like it came directly from the pen of Ayn Rand. It calls for a bootstraps-up set of solutions for people who lack boots. It calls on poor people to fix their own problems by changing their culture. Vance calls it a "culture in crisis." What his book lacks, however, is the important historical and economic context that explains how Appalachia came to be impoverished. While he is critical of Appalachian culture, he doesn't bother to find out how it came to be as it is.

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