Hillbilly Paradoxes

J. D. Vance's bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is an excellent primer for liberal city folks who want to learn about the culture that voted Donald Trump into office: if you go by Vance's assertions, then these white mainly Scotch-Irish generally non-college educated majority-minority "hillbilly" folks are a bundle of paradoxes:

1) they are often fiercely loyal and protective of family, especially to outsiders, but within the family there is much violence, divorce, infighting, and abuse;

2) they are vocal about the value of hard work and express a desire for jobs, but often awful about actually working-- because of factors such as frequent absences, addiction, lack of motivation, self-entitlement, refusal to pursue training and education, teenage pregnancy, and general feeling of victimization;

3) they are vocal about religion, Jesus, and church, but often awful about actually attending church-- especially in Appalachia and rural Ohio; in southwestern Ohio, church attendance is the same as in "ultra-liberal San Francisco," but folks there are afraid to admit they don't go to church, so reported church attendance is high, but actual attendance is low;

4) for those that do attend church, according to MIT economist John Gruber, people are happier, make more money, liver longer, have better health in general, drop out of high school less frequently, commit fewer crimes, and all sorts of other good stuff . . . and this appears to be "causal . . . church seems to promote good habits" but while these hillbillies-- in Kentucky or transplanted elsewhere-- are "deeply religious but without any attachment to a real church community," and thus, not receiving any of the benefits of that people  who regularly attend church enjoy;

5) though liberals see them as people that could use social safety-net programs and benefits, within the community the hard-working folks see the people who take these benefits (and often game the system) as scoundrels, who are "laughin' at our society! we're gettin' laughed at for workin' everday!" and this results in the weird situation that Thomas Frank has so often written about, that the people who need the government assistance most often vote against their best interests, but it's because they often can't stomach the people in their society that need and use these programs;

6) they lionize the American military and are jingoistically patriotic, but they are disgusted with the results in Iraq and Afghanistan;

7) despite their patriotism, they don't embrace the ideas that could vault them out of their social class-- they don't trust the mainstream media, think the deck is stacked against them, and believe that if you attend a superior college and develop critical thinking skills, then you're "too big for your britches" and "uppity," and even Vance still suffers from this cognitive dissonance . . . he made it out, but still often feels regret at the culture he lost, and finds himself an alien in the oddly nice, well-adjusted, healthy, well-educated liberal elite circles that he now frequents . . . these people don't understand that the kind of folks that join the military (as he did) are far more various than the liberal stereotypes and they don't understand the kind of folks that might take a circular saw to someone's leg because of a familial insult (as his uncle once did) and they don't understand these very very tough people that need to get even tougher (and a bit more flexible) because government policy isn't going to be enough to help them . . . they're going to have to be tough enough to shed some of their old-fashioned ways and tough enough to trust the institutions and the the liberal culture they find soft and unappealing and tough enough to love their kinfolk a bit less and the future a bit more.


zman said...

There's a Drive-By Truckers song about this.

rob said...

is there a drive-by truckers song not about this?

Dave said...

duality of the southern thing

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