Deer Hunting with Jesus

Joe Bageant was a journalist who wrote about how America misunderstood its white working class. He said in an inteview with the BBC in 2008 that white working class “rednecks” have political power, and were tending to conservative populism. Bageant’s comment on the financial crisis of 2008, Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball almost predicted the anger with elites triggered in the 2016 American elections by the Democratic candidate’s putting the white working class into the “basket of deplorables” who supported candidate Trump. His perspective and conclusions are “New Left”, and labor unionist – the working class has been oppressed by neoliberalism and neoconservativism.

Deer Hunting with Jesus is about the struggling, striving, suffering, white working class. It mentions gun culture, fundamentalism, alcohol, conservative talk radio, stock car racing, bass fishing, trailer parks, and country music.

Deer Hunting with Jesus mainly a book about the consequences for working class Americansof the collapse of the detente between capital and labour in America . It prefaces George Packer’s The Unwinding as an account of the hollowing out of the economy. Bageant addesses the disappearance of jobs ith stories about real people.

Bageant considered that much of the American working class has become hostile to “elites” who presume to teach, lead or influence working people. He identified some of the ideological and social influences, and struggles but struggles with history.

Bageant refers to the folk history foundation story of rednecks as the descendents Scotch-Irish immigrants. The common sense and widely accepted nationalist account of the history of working people, inequality and class in America history goes back to the bloodlines and culture of Scotch-Irish Americans and southern Poor Whites. This account endures was considered relevant by the author of Albion’s Seed and popularized in American Nations by Colin Woodard.

Migrants to America had to pay for passage – for 17th an 18th century immigrants from Britain, it meant joining a religious dissident group proposing settlement, or years of servitude and struggle. In America, settlers on the frontier occupied land and displaced the First Nations. This served English Imperial policy, until the settlers demand land and protection from the British Crown against hostile powers, including the First Nations. The American revolution was a revolution of American merchants and landowners against the institutions of colonial rule – a replacement of aritstocracy with oligarchy, in the guise of a democracy of hard-working strivers. The frontier culture favoured the strong and the brave – risk takers, prepared to resort to force to achieve worthy goals. This culture endures, but is not uniquely Scotch-Irish, British, Southern American, Appalachian, Western American or frontier. The history of people is a history of migration and struggle for shelter and subsistence.

Class, more than ethnic origins, is implicated. For instance, in the 1850’s the American Party proudly identified itself as the Know-Nothing party and engaged in violent protests that turned into riots. The history of class in divisions in America has been told in histories such as Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, summarized in this Washington Post book review. I will have to read and consider that book.

Bageant argues that rednecks are an oppressed class that has so thoroughly absorbed American culture that it lacks class consciousness. Bageant’s view of the history of the working class seems to be based on popular histories – perhaps the Howard Zinn view of American history. Bageant seems to accept and adapt the Chomsky-Herman Manufactured Consent idea or the idea of a Polico-Media complex. Bageant accepts the idea that right-wing populism in America is exceptional. It may be unique and different, but right wing populism has appeared around the world.

Working persons want sufficient wages to live well, and to advance. Investors and manager want to extract labour from workers at the lowest cost, and to extract profits by selling the lowest quality goods and services and the highest profits that can be extracted. Working people are compelled to work with unpleasant co-workers and customers, and to take orders from bosses with arbitrary powers.

The working person must act from behind several literal veils of ignorance. Not surprizingly, life will appear chaotic and unfair. A person may suspect misinformation and systemic unfairness. The American redneck assumes that he knows what he needs to know, and has the capability and instincts to decide well and be successful and happy. The Dunning-Kruger effect is real, and exists as a consistent feature of thinking. Some people are consistently wrong – or just unlucky. The redneck is sure that someone is holding him back.

Redneck identity politics focusses on perpetuating the advantages, such as they are, of conservative white working people, against elites. Grievance at social “privilege” is at the root of identity politics. The word elite refers to political, social or economic advantage or “privilege In redneck identify politics it may be people who have “unfair” advantages, or anyone who does not know their place in society. Redneck populism is egalitarian in a levelling way. It is disrespectful both of “elites” and of persons who may be trying to gain advanages over members of the working class. It is also rudely sceptical. Elites may include corporations, investors, educated persons, managers and marketers. Competitors for economic opportunity may include immigrants, workers in other countries, minorities, women, or members of other ethnic or racial groups.

The resentment of unfair competition intersects with nationalism, racism and fascism. Notoriously, 20th century European fascist theorists rationalized the identification of enemies as central to patriotism:

“The specific distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy,”
For Schmitt, the friend/enemy antithesis was integral, even “existential,” to politics. It was existential in three senses: the enemy needed to be “existentially something different and alien”; opposing such an enemy was the essence of identity; and, in the implicit combat that followed, these enemies posed an existential threat. “The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing”.

The terrifying rehabilitation of Nazi scholar Carl Schmitt“, The New Statesmen America, April 10, 2019

Who should the working person trust – oligarchs, managers, marketers, academics, politicians, revolutionaries, gurus, influencers?

American Nations

Tyler Cowen mentioned American nations : a history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America in his Marginal Revolutions blog as a partial explanation for support for the candidacy of Donald Trump among American working class and middle class voters in the 2016 American elections. I found a copy in the Oak Bay Branch of Greater Victoria Public Library.  It was catalogued as children’s nonfiction.  If it is a children’s book, the children in Oak Bay must be precocious.    Garrison Keilor said in his NPR broadcasts and books. “Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”.

Colin Woodard is a journalist and writer of explanatory nonfiction. American Nations presents a condensed introduction to a theory of American history: tracking regional culture back to the European settlement of different parts of North America by distinctive groups. Woodard accepts that the cultures of different parts of America evolved from the cultures of the first European settlers.  Consider this review and summary (Scott Alexander) of Albion’s Seed by David Fischer. Woodard summarized American Nations in a 2013 article in Tufts Magazine. (Map in the Tufts Magazine piece).

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Ribbons are Nice

Jennie Bristow, reviewing Sarah Moore’s Ribbon Culture for Spiked, nails the self-obsessed culture of advertising one’s moral quality by fashion accessories. Her review is called Untying the ‘ribbon culture’. The moral virtue of wearing ribbons is to show awareness or solidarity with a group of victims. Being a victim has become a way of attracting attention, building political support, explaining the lack of joy in one’s life, and selling media product. Cry, cry, cry. Frank Furedi’s column about faked victim memoirs, History-as-Therapy, complements the ribbon piece.

Yummy

The National Post has been publishing a series of articles titled “Beyond Belief”. A piece by Charles Lewis or Charlie Lewis (not the Charles Lewis of 60 Minutes and the Center for Public Integrity) titled “The Trouble with Mary”, featured at AL Daily, discussed the psychology and semantics of “belief” and “faith”. Lewis found a psychologist who was said that faith in miracles and faith in the future are equally valid because they are equivalent subjective events. He found some theologians and Churchmen to explain the meaningfulness of belief in miracles. This was good journalism. Religion is a hard topic for the news industry to configure as marketable news. The political and criminal acts of people who belong to a religious group are news but their inner lives, including their beliefs, are beyond description in a news story. The philosophical rationalizations for religious belief are like book reviews – the justifications offered for people’s likes and tastes are usually meaningless outside the circle of people who care about those things.

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Spinning the Golden Compass

The Golden Compass has been criticized for its negative presentation of organized religion. Its principal critic its the American Catholic League, a conservative body that speaks for conservative and traditional elements in the Catholic Church in America. The League says that the movie, like the books, promotes atheism, but their grievance appears to me to is that Pullman presents the history and traditions of Catholicism in a negative way. The criticism is a defensive reaction to Pullman’s presentation of the belief system and power structure of the Church as repressive, exploitative, manipulative, cynical, and dishonest. The League’s campaign brings to mind its reaction to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. It is incongruous for parents to take their children to this movie on Saturday, and then make them to Church and Sunday school. If you believe the Church is benevolent, why challenge your child or pay someone to insult your belief?
The shoe was on the other foot when the Christian churches in America were promoting the movie version of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories and defending Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
The challenge for self-professed faithful Christians is whether to deny their kids the experience of consuming the latest must-see fantasy product from the movie industry in the hope of consolidating their belief in the conservative Christian version of reality. It seems to me that parents who think they are insulating their children from secular ideology and popular culture by not taking them to one particular semi-animated fantasy film based on a coming of age novel are a little confused.

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Amour Propre

In Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, the title character is an American academic, fond of Paris, and prone to using French expressions. In one scene, he dismissively mentions some neighbours as self-satisfied bores, full of amour propre. Ravelstein was founded on Bellow’s friend Allan Bloom. Bloom after having studied and taught in Paris, was a life-long francophile. Amour propre was an idiomatic expression in Western Europe when Bloom taught in Paris. The English term would probably be snob, although dictionaries translate and define amour propre as conceit or excessive pride.
Bloom was a student and teacher of the works of Rousseau. Bloom favoured the cautious liberalism of Montesquieu over the Romantic liberalism of Rousseau, but he admired Rousseau’s passion. Rousseau understood, as Bellow has put it in Mr. Sammler’s Planet, that

The soul wanted what it wanted. It had its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.”

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Mars and Venus, Anon

A short entry, a link to an address to the American Psychological Association, last month, by Roy Baumeister, called “Is There Anything Good About Men?”. Denis Dutton, on the editors of AL Daily thought so highly of this address that he posted it to his own web site and linked to it from AL Daily. It asks questions about some of the central myths of our culture – that women are naturally wise and benevolent and naturally better parents and friends than men.

Therapeutic Man

Around the time that I was reading Christopher Lasch’s books, in 2005, I saw a few interviews with Philip Rieff at AL Daily. There is a long, penetrating essay about Dr. Rieff’s work by George Scialabba, “The Curse of Modernity, Philip Rieff’s problem with freedom” in the Boston Review. Much of Rieff’s work involved the continuing reevaluation of the insights of Marx, Nietzsche, Weber and Freud into religion as a social force. In Rieff’s 1959 book on Freud, he suggested, in Sciallaba’s words:

Until the twentieth century … three character types had successively prevailed in Western culture: political man, the ideal of classical times, dedicated to the glory of his city; religious man, the ideal of the Christian era, dedicated to the glory of God; and a transitional figure, economic man, a creature of Enlightenment liberalism. Economic man believed in doing good unto others by doing well for himself. This convenient compromise did not last long, and what survived of it was not the altruism but the egoism. Psychological man was frankly and shrewdly selfish, beyond ideals and illusions, at best a charming narcissist, at worst boorish or hypochondriacal, according to his temperament.

There is some force to some of these ideas.

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Consumer Religion

The Aquarians and the Evangelicals: How left-wing hippies and right-wing fundamentalists created a libertarian America” is an extract from Brink Lindsey’s book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture in Reason Online. Lindsey’s assessment of the social history of American through the second half of the 20th century seems to be well grounded. Lindsey’s review of the polarization of American society between New Age liberals and fundamentalist Christian conservatives, equally devoted to self-actualization, authenticity, and emotional experience, is astute and convincing.

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