This is kinda an “open letter” to the two writers I discuss below. If you haven’t done so already, please, Please, PLEASE read these three items:
- Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
- J. D. Vance Interview with Rod Dreher at The American Conservative
- Blog Post by David Wong, (AKA Jason Pargin), Executive Editor of Cracked.com
I hope that this post pops up on David and J.D.’s radar – if it does, then David, meet J.D. – J.D., meet David.
David, you need to read J.D.’s book if you haven’t already, and J.D. you need to connect to David – you guys have a lot of background on which to compare notes.
I want to thank both of you for your observations and your bringing in a new perspective from which we can begin to understand the horrible things that our nation is experiencing right now.
Context – I’m an upper-middle-class liberal “elite” nearing retirement (like in two months) having been employed for the past 10 years in digital advertising for a major ad agency, son of a woman who was raised in a working-class single-parent household in Evansville Indiana, and a father who was raised in a middle-class urban household, WWII veteran, a high-school drop-out but who became a highly successful serial entrepreneur. I’ve enjoyed all of the advantages of a white upper-middle-class environment, and despite some extremely bone-headed choices in life, managed to get very lucky. I’m married to a medical social worker who grew up in urban poverty, but like J.D, she was able to transcend her circumstances, and who sees daily first-hand the struggle of both white and minority people dealing with their own poverty.
J.D. – I thought your book was absolutely great, and I’ve lost count of the number of people to whom I’ve recommended it. David, your piece was equally as enlightening, and I have to admit even more stinging in it’s rebuke of liberal attitudes than J.D.’s book, but you were using a short-form channel, so you you had to cut to the chase…
We live in Michigan and our state like others has been subjected to aggressive gerrymandering by the Republican majority that was in control after the census of both 2000, and 2010. I made a comment to my wife a couple of months ago that if you look at the map of state districts and their representation in Lansing, that the gerrymandering seems to be less along partisan lines, and more along an urban-rural divide.
J.D.’s book suggests, and David’s article states explicitly that this is no accident.
I think that your analyses are spot-on, and valuable in understanding what is happening in our country right now. Unfortunately, neither of you (and I’m not stating this as a criticism) offer any solutions, whether they be personal or policy-based.
I. Want. To. Fix. This.
This election has been the ugliest I’ve seen in my life, and I started observing electoral politics with the 1968 election (Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace were on the ticket). I want to try to do what I can to make this the nadir of national electoral politics in my lifetime, but I’m just one guy. I know that I’m not going to make any huge shift in people’s attitudes, but I think that some of us have to start talking about the issues that you both raise before we all run off a cliff.
I was reminded of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and how their differing views on human nature are played out today in partisan world-views. I kept coming back to this fundamental difference, looking at how it affects people’s politics and their view of other groups in our communities, nation and world. I was convinced that developing some kind of social discourse that recognized and embraced these differing and divergent philosophies, rather than trying to argue them, might lead to the civil society so many of us yearn for. I still think that this is the case, but I have realized that while there may be a few more adherents of Hobbes among Republicans/conservatives, some of the followers of Bernie Sanders (and long before him in other extreme left-wing movements – remember the Weather Underground?) show that this kind of world-view can also strongly influence liberals in their propensity to demonize certain groups e.g. business & the financial industry, the wealthy, religions. However, your writing has also shown that there are other complex factors that overlay this fundamental view of human nature that we have to keep in mind if we are going to re-establish some kind of civil social and political discourse.
Finally, I don’t think we can ignore the fact that communication technology has pushed the extremes of our society (e.g. rich/poor, rural/urban, educated/working-class) into very close proximity, but in a very distant and impersonal way. This of course began with television, but that was one end of a continuum that has continued through cable networks, the internet and social media. All of this made it easy to derisively say “look at THEM!!” coupled with political leadership that was quick to use the dissonance of this impersonal in-your-face confrontation of cultures and values to deepen and widen the divisions between us for political gain. How much of our current situation is a matter of basic tribal instincts, and how much has been exaggerated and magnified because it makes it easier for some to get elected?
What must come to pass to inoculate ourselves against the tendency of political leaders to encourage our hatreds and fears? At one time, the news media had at least the potential to act as a buffer against inflammatory rhetoric (and sometimes even stepped up to the challenge). However in recent years some outlets have become active participants in the division of our people, some just enjoy the ratings boost from the carnival, and still others endeavor to be “fair and balanced” for fear of appearing “partisan”, all accompanied by much public rhetoric that devalues any institutional influence they may have had.
J.D. – two take-aways from your writing keep coming back to me. You mentioned in your interview with Rod Dreher that “we need to judge less and understand more”. I do so strongly agree. I see so little effort being made to REALLY understand people that live very different lives than the ones we may lead. The other take-away was that you had some good role models growing up which you credit in large measure with your being able to escape the destructive cycle of many of your kin. This too is a failure of understanding, is it not? Look what happened to you when you were in the Marines when people helped you to understand “how the other half lives” and showed you how to start making good choices.
Anyway, thanks to both of you for bringing in some new and valuable perspectives on what we’re all going through. If you or anyone else reading this has any ideas about what I can do, personally to help move this conversation forward, please give me a holler!!