Reading: Strangers In Their Own Land

51b54MMSZnLI recently started reading the political narrative, Strangers In Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild. It’s a narrative of her journey through Loyisana in search of the Great Paradox: why residents of one of the poorest and most polluted states in the nation would bend so loyaly to the polluters and Donald Trump, and agsainst a federal government that wanted to protect them from the environmental damage that threatens their lives and livlihoods.

The book read with swimming ease, and the writing of Ms. Hochschild brings to life the people and plces of the Louisana bayou, the small town Cajun stomosphere and the Tea Party sensibility of the politics of Louisana.

One of the more amazing points of my read of Strangers thus far has been the following:

“An unlicenced vendor can sell handguns, shotguns, rifles, or assult weapons, and larg capacity magazines. A person can buy any number of guns and, except for handguns, need not register them or report a theft of one, or hesitate to take them into a parking lot or state parks.

Indeed, a gun vendor in Louisiana can keep no records, perform no background checks, and sell guns to an array of customers forbidden in other states: those with violent and firearms-relarted misdemeanors, people on terrorist watch lists or “no fly” lists, abusers of drugs and alcohol, juvenile offenders, and criminals with a history of mental illness or domestic violence.”


This is of course all justified under the pretense of the 2nd Amendment, which itself is widely misunderstood.

The Great Paradox that Hochschild’s book reveals is exemplified only a few short pages after these starltling facts about gun sales in Lousiana. The complaints of the people there are not about the unlimited threats upon their lives and health, but on the government for intruding on their right to destroy themselves and others.

“At a meeting of the Republican Women of Southwest Louisana, across-the-table talk of regulation focused on the promotion of  florescent light bulbs: “The government has no right to regulate the light bulbs we buy,” one woman declared. “I made my husband change all of the bulbs back to the old ones.” Others complained of all of the “forced” salads on the menus in fast food restaurants now. “I don’t need the government telling me what to eat,” one woman complained. … Others were irritated by a local ban on driving on the sidewalk, or having more than one RV in your yard, and still others by child protective devices. … “We let them throw lawn darts. smoked alongside them, “she said, “And they survived.”

The real value of the book lies in assertions like the one above. That the regulation by the government in the name of public safety has been unnecessary and intrusive, and that people would be just a fine or even better off without it.

This simply ignores the reality of government regulations for safety. Of course, like any human endeavor, government regulation has failures and excesses, but generally the regulations serve a common good. The belief that all government regulation is by definition bad just all illogical as the belief that a;l government regulation is good. The failure to see the error of logic is what the above comments reflect.

To what end?

The end is to see large polluting corporations as noble and ideal. It is to blame circumstance or “life:” when pollution or malfeasance leads to illness of injury. This view creates a feedback loop of confirmation bias, creating assumptions that are predictable in their impact and their frequency.

downloadSadly it is not a trap from which escape is easily achieved. In some ways it is like the experiment with the frog and the boiling pot of water. In this metaphor, one throws a frog into a boiling pot of water, but the frog immediately jumps out. The awareness of the danger creates the flight instinct, and the frog escapes the terrible end.

However, if one starts with the frog in the pot of water and slowly increases the heat until the water boils, the frog will not jump out. It will sit still and slowly boil to death. It does not have the awareness that there is danger, and therefore it never flees to safety.

America is currently like a frog in a pot of water slowly reaching the boiling point. It is very likely that the belief that the political situation does not represent a threat to our safety will lull us into a false sense of security, like lambs lying down with wolves in sheep’s clothing. (please forgive the endless metaphors!)

Perhaps history can guide us here. The Romans had a phrase for our times that we might employ to understand… “Caveat Emptor ~ Let the buyer beware.” Americans have bought into a belief system that corporations are community members, and that the government is a threat. The buyer must beware that the threat can come from the corporation as well as the government, and that only eternal vigilance can keep us safe and free.

Jehan-Georges_Vibert_-_Polonius_behind_the_curtainSince this post is full of metaphors and warnings, I might end it with Polonius, the Shakespearean advice giver who famously said:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee.

Author: historydojo

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher with nearly twenty years of experience teaching high school history. I blog about teaching, history, current events, the law and social justice.

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