Monday, June 5, 2017

Strangers in Their Own Land - Arlie Russell Hochschild

Strangers in Their Own Land
Title: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Author: Arlie Russell Hochschild
Publication Date: 8/16/16
Pages: 288
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics, discussed it for their book club.
Date Completed: 5/14/17

Summary: Hochschild, a member of the UC Berkeley community, sets out to Louisiana to answer what she calls the Great Paradox. Why do some southern conservatives often vote against their own interests?

What I Thought: Oh, man. I could talk about this book for days. It is SO GOOD. I'm gonna try and reign myself in a bit, but prepare yourself. I have a lot of thoughts.

I picked up this book after the ladies at Pantsuit Politics talked about it for their podcast book club. By the way, if you aren't listening to their podcast, you must. They are on fire and the perfect companions for interpreting our crazy world with nuance and empathy. Once I heard the podcast conversation about the book, I knew immediately that it would be a must-read for. I had also recently had a conversation about American poverty and politics with a dear friend, so I texted him and we decided to read it together. No luck so far getting our spouses interested. We haven't actually chatted about the book yet, but I wanted to share my thoughts while I still have the book from the library and it's all still fresh in my mind.

Because I have an abundance of scattered thoughts about this book and made about 1000 highlights and notes throughout my Kindle copy, I am going to do this post a little differently. I'm just going to bullet point my thoughts along with the quotes that inspired them. Hopefully that makes for easier, if more disjointed, reading.

  • "The split [between parties] has widened because the right has moved right, not because the left has moved left."
    This totally fascinates me. Why? Why have conservatives retreated into this ideology? Why are we vilifying government? You can absolutely believe in small government without believing we should have no government at all or as little as possible. There's a breakdown of logic there for me. Just because there are fallibilities in government shouldn't mean we out it all together. Of course, I'm saying this from the perspective of someone who believes strongly in the importance and place of government. Still, this shift in conservative ideology makes no sense to me.
  • "A healthy democracy depends on a collective capacity to hash things out."
    We're missing that right now in our country. 
  • "Through appeal to abortion bans, gun rights, and school prayer, Mike and his like-minded friends are persuaded to embrace economic policies that hurt them."
    I see this as one of the major issues in our country right now. Your social politics seem intrinsically tied to your fiscal politics. It shouldn't be this way, and, yet, we've pigeon-holed ourselves into only two points of few. In fact, the political spectrum has room for way more nuance. 
  • "Some feel proud of a 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses' Statue of Liberty America, while others yearn to feel proud of a Constitution-abiding, work-your-own-way-up America."
    I'm solidly in the first camp here, so I recognize my bias. This statement really recalled for me the struggles within the modern American church. Is God loving or just? Is America loving or just? The answer for God, of course, is both. But can the answer be the same for our country?
  • "I think they over-regulate the bottom because it's harder to regulate the top."
    Such a powerful statement. There are far more pressures on working class citizens to play by certain rules than there are for the wealthy and/or powerful to do the same. 
  • "By contrast, from 2007 to 2015...Governor Bobby Jindal drew $1.6 billion from schools and hospitals to give to companies as 'incentives.''
    This disgusts me.
  • "'How can you tell straight news from opinion?' I ask. 'By their tone of voice,' she explains. 'Take Christiane Amanpour. She'll be kneeling by a sick African child, or a bedraggled Indian, looking into the camera, and her voice is saying, 'Something's wrong We have to fix it.' Or worse, we caused the problem. She's using that child to say, 'Do something, America.' But that child's problems aren't our fault. ...I don't want to be told I'm a bad person if I don't feel sorry for that child.'"
    To me, this is the crux of the disconnect. Where is this woman's empathy? I know I'm being completely without nuance or empathy here myself, but this quote made me completely sick. Opening our eyes to suffering around the world should never be a bad thing. It doesn't mean we don't have problems or people to care for within our own country, but can we at least acknowledge that we are not alone on the planet? We have power to affect change within our own boarders and beyond. How can we ignore that? The final splintering crack in my heart here is that the woman who said this is a gospel singer who claims her ideologies stem from her Christian faith. 
  • "The moralizing North."
    As a northern transplant to the South, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the difference between the two cultures. We've lived in the South now for three years and this book did more to help me recognize and understand the deep-held beliefs in the South. They are affecting so much more than we realize. It was mind-blowing to me in a lot of ways. 
  • The "Waiting in Line" Deep Story 
    Hochschild's image of Americans waiting in line to achieve the American dream is a really apt way to get the emotional experience of conservative politics across. I don't love the image that this is a line. The premise seemed off to me. However, reading her one paragraph at the end of the book about the progressive deep story being one of a town square in which public infrastructure is shared and valued probably explains why I don't like the idea of a line. I'd love to read a whole book by her on the progressive deep story, though I don't need it explained to me. 
    • "Missing from the image of blacks in most of the minds of those I came to know was a man or woman standing patiently in line next to them waiting for a well-deserved reward."
      This, for me, is one of the biggest issues with the line (as metaphor or worldview). Only people who look/think/act/pray like you are in the line. That's not America, for better or worse
In case you didn't gather from those small snippets, I loved the book. I think it's fantastic. It's easily the best of its kind that I have read. I think anyone wrestling with American politics right now should read it, needs to read it. I think if we start trying to understand one another's "deep stories" a little better, it would lead to better bipartisan work and more real problems being solved. The book is very readable and its powerful. I learned so much and also walked away with so much to think about, too. That's a big win for me. 

Rating: ★★★★★
Will I Re-Read: I'm not sure if I'll reread this one, but I want to read more of Hochschild's work for sure.
If You Liked This, Try: White Trash / Big Girls Don't Cry / Half the Sky

A Reduced Review: A fascinating look at southern conservatives, what drives their political views, and how they are driving the politics of the country.

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