Liege & Lief

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?

Liege & Lief

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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From AL Daily, top of the page on June 26/07, the Commencement Address by Dana Gioia to the graduates of Stanford University on June 17, 2007. Worthwhile and quotable. Speaking of the media and culture in the 1950’s:

I don’t think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.
I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.
The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.
Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.
The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture’s celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young.
There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.
Of course, I’m not forgetting that politicians can also be famous, but it is interesting how our political process grows more like the entertainment industry each year. When a successful guest appearance on the Colbert Report becomes more important than passing legislation, democracy gets scary. No wonder Hollywood considers politics “show business for ugly people.”
Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.
I have a recurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo’s incomparable fresco of the “Creation of Man.” I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam’s finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.
When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn’t trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book, or a new vote?
Don’t get me wrong. I love entertainment, and I love the free market. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.
But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything.
The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.

Liege & Lief

Another Meth Story

The Free Press has published a couple more stories about crystal meth addiction and the governments’ strategies to restrict supply of meth.
Last Tuesday, January 4, 2006, there was a Bruce Owen, “Mom blames crystal meth for daughter’s death”, published electronically at McIntyre’s site. On Friday, January 6, 200, there was a story that pharmacists had agreed to move products that contain ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine behind the counter, and to limit the amount sold.

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The Discovery of Meth

The Winnipeg Free Press discovered crystal meth this year. There were a few stories, usually tied to the meetings of the Western Canadian provincial premiers, over the last year or 18 months. A few weeks ago, the Free Press discovered the real source of the problem and the government instantly solved it. I am of course being sarcastic, and not completely fair to the Free Press. Some of the information in the recent stories was more useful than the usual daily wad of infomercials and propaganda between the Superstore section, the Canadian Tire section, the Wal-mart section and the Future Shop section.

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The story of the fatal shooting on Sargent Avenue on October 10, 2005 was presented in the media intensely over a short time, and then persistently for several weeks. I summarized the coverage in my entry Unlucky.
There are a few things to be said about perspective. The media are trying to meet the needs of readers, as journalists and editors read those needs. This affects the the questions they address, facts they leave out, and the way they tell the story, The media seldom tell the whole story, and often doesn’t try to get differing perspectives. The media often tries to make a story colourful or accessible by writing about people, instead of facts and issues, which can also make a story intrusive.

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If you live in Winnipeg, you will know this story, which was in the headlines for several consecutive days, and in the headlines repeatedly over the following weeks as civic authorities announced new initiatives in the war on crime. I was distressed by the story, because it involves the death of a young man – only 17 years old.
On Monday October 10, 2005, a young man was walking on Sargent Avenue crossing Maryland Street, with another man, a casual acquaintance. Around 11:00 PM, about a block away, other young men, identified by the police as associates or members of a new gang of teenaged criminals called the African Mafia, fired a .22 calibre firearm, from a house, identified by the police and local residents as a crack house. Members of a rival gang, the Mad Cowz, had been at the house and had fled in the direction of Sargent and Maryland. The police suggested that both gangs were comprised of recent immigrants from Africa. One or more of the occupants of the house had discharged firearms. As the story unfolded, they may have been attacked or believed they were under attack, or just trying to shoot their rivals who had come near the house, and the fled. One young man, named Philippe, was wounded in the abdomen, and he died. A .22 calibre bullet has enough force to penetrate clothing, skin and muscle, and to damage vital structures, although it does not have the momentum to cause massive shock. He was unlucky to have been in the line of fire, unlucky to have been hit, unlucky to have died within blocks of Winnipeg’s major trauma hospital, the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre. Phillipe’s companion was wounded in the arm.

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Deborah Hope riffs on the many meanings of Respect in the Australian. She’s right. It has become a flexible word, prominent in the vocabulary of relativism. All beliefs are entitled to respect (but especially mine …) She might also have said that the discourse of respect is usually self-centred and blaming. Feeling disrespected is a more common sentiment than feeling ashamed for disrespecting others.
The Guardian reports in a story headlined ‘We’re not germs or louts. Sarkozy should’ve said sorry’ that some French rioters are complaining that the French government doesn’t respect them. It sounds like gangster-talk, and it might be dismissed as posturing. However, there is merit to the complaint that French society disrespects its underclass. French immigration and
social policy has tended to marginalize East European, African, and North African immigrants and their children. Some French politicians have used inflammatory language toward everyone who lives in La Zone, which has helped keep the anger and crime going. Some political and media figures are explaining the riots as a mass protest against social conditions. The rioters have the government’s attention, which is a kind of respect.

Categories Liege & Lief

November 7, 2005

Wikipedia’s start page has a daily featured article, an entry selected as the article of the day. For football fans, on November 7, 2005 the featured article is about the Arsenal Football Club which plays in the FA Premier League in England.
The French urban riots made the front page of the Free Press today – a picture of firefighters trying to put out the fire in a burning car. Wikipedia had a problem with the story over the weekend – competing rewrites and disputes over whether the article overstated the role of Islam in the rioting. They had an objectivity flag on the story on Sunday, but they have worked that out. Their article is now called 2005 French Urban Violence.

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La Zone

The Winnipeg Free Press has been running news stories about the riots in French cities, on the inside pages. I don’t think the National Post or the Globe and Mail have treated these stories more prominently, although their stories have had more depth.
The Wikipedia entry has been regularly updated since the riots started, and it links to a number of media sources. The most recent BBC Online story on November 5 links to earlier stories and to stories that try to analyze the background and the political situation. Wikipedia links to Theodore Dalrymple’s essayin City Journal, in August 2002, The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris, which took a hard-headed view of the cités of La Zone. (For a note on Dalrymple, see this book review of Dalrymple’s Our Culture, What’s Left of It: the mandarins and the masses in the New Statesman).