Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Going Native

The WaPo seems to have cornered the market on these "get to know the Drumpfkins" pseudo-anthropological expeditions into Pennsyltucky and such like, to properly limn the narrative of the angry rube. Friday's profile of a clearly deranged Drumpfkin has ruffled some righteous feathers, and at the very least, I would say that the writer did much better work in her profile last year of racist murderer Dylann Stormfront Roof's circle of friends. But this is mostly due to the strictly fish-in-a-barrel nature of Melanie Austin's story, which you could say with a high degree of certainty will not end well.

And of course the trend continues today with an exhaustive study of the denizens of Middletown, Ohio. It never ends, as there are countless towns like this across the country that have been left behind in whatever economic recovery the United States -- as opposed to merely the inner cadre of wealthy and powerful people who actually run it -- has experienced, and they are all populated by angry, bewildered crackers who all appear to have bottomless wells of outrage, but zero will to actually do anything about their sorry lot in life.

After reading enough of these things, you can't help but wonder if they're cherry-picked, or if that's basically all there is to pick from when talking to Drumpfkins. They are startling in their near-perfect consistency, again expressing volubly their anger and bewilderment at how things have gone for them, but having no ideas about what they themselves can do, as adults in a free country who are responsible for their own volition.

Tonally these anthro-electoral jeremiads lean solidly toward pity rather than contempt, although their subjects might not always see it that way. I have not read Hillbilly Elegy, and frankly don't intend to, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that these incoherent goobers have already stolen enough of my time and attention over the last year or so, and they appear to be completely self-immunized from the diseases of reason and logic. But I agree entirely with writer J.D. Vance's observation that they are not taking nearly enough personal responsibility for the situations in which they find themselves.

It is not completely unfair to assume the standard trope that a (presumably) liberal reporter from a (mostly) liberal newspaper based in a (definitely) liberal city is not going to understand much about de-industrialized Rust Belt towns right off the bat. But what the town denizens don't get is that while there is an observational skew, it's that the reporter is almost always going to lean in the direction of pity, rather than contempt, even when the sentiments expressed are truly contemptible, both in sheer vitriol and inexcusable ignorance.

There is no excuse for adults to be that stupid about their facts and information, to spend their days on gubmint-funded disability ranting on Facebook about the same gubmint they sponge off of, to tell their thousands of like-minded fools the most idiotic conspiracy theories, that Michelle Obama used to be a man [Ed.:  So did Donald Drumpf!], that Joan Rivers was killed because she broke that secret, and on and on.

And so one might suggest that contempt might be the better, truer, more honest approach for these folks, Melanie Austin, the beer-swilling mooks at the Ohio tavern, the rest of the characters from all the other articles, because they're not even trying. The unexpressed fear of the reporter is that they might be perceived as a librul elite looking down on these salt-o'-the earth fokes.

So maybe I can help in this department. Without getting into too much personal detail, I come from blue-collar working-class cracker stock. My maternal grandparents left Dust Bowl Texas and Oklahoma for working-class jobs in Los Angeles, and my paternal grandparents were hardy desert stock, out toward Death Valley. None of my grandparents or parents had any education beyond high school, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that one or two of them didn't even finish.

I worked summer jobs from seventh grade on; there was no allowance in my house, not even rewards for good grades. It was understood that I would be purchasing my first vehicle, insurance, etc. When I first began attending Chico State right after high school in 1985, I didn't even finish the year, primarily because working for $3.35 an hour at a convenience store until midnight, and then getting over to Chico by 7:00 AM to find parking and make my 8:00 calculus class, just wore me out.

And so I spent the ensuing seventeen years or so working manufacturing jobs by day, and playing music in clubs by night. I knew neither one would ever make me rich, but they were fun, and both pursuits felt like something tangible and valuable was being produced. I quit the muzak bidness in 1995, because being in a band had become more trouble than it was worth.

So here's the point:  in 2004, I was laid off from my day job, which I had held for ten years. In fact, everyone but the single lowest-paid employee in that company got laid off, and they relocated back to the owner's garage. And it took me nearly a year to find another job, where I began climbing the ladder, only to see the entire factory closed down in 2008.

It was during that time that I took responsibility for having nothing more than a high-school diploma to my name, and expecting to find a job that paid above subsistence. So I went into debt, and put in the time and effort, to get those magical pieces of paper. With a day job, with a wife and a young child. I finished my bachelor's degree at age 42, my master's at 44, so I don't want to hear this shit from 30-, 40-, even 50-year-olds who would rather piss and moan about their shit jobs not coming back than move on and try to learn something new.

I should be doing a lot better than I am, but I definitely am doing much better than I would be if I had done nothing, just marinating my brain in cheap beer and cheaper lies, watching hillbillies drive in circles all day and commiserating with my equally aimless friends.

In other words, even though I had been laid off twice in less than five years due to macro-economic conditions that neither I nor my workmates nor my bosses had any control over, I made the decision to do something about it, to figure out what I could actually control and by god put some effort in. Hell, J.D. Vance did much more than that, joining the Marines, attending Yale Law, and now working out in Silicon Valley for a real billionaire (who ironically is supporting a fake one).

I keep hearing about the vaunted work ethic of the proles, but they seem to end at being (as in the Ohio WaPo article) a "machine operator at a box factory." I've had those kinds of jobs, and they're great for leaving you plenty of mental space to learn something better and more lucrative.

I've lost count of how many of these anthropieces I've read now, but I can't recall a single instance where one of these yokels said, You know what? After my job got outsourced, I did everything I could think of. I overhauled my resume, googled as many resources as I could find to think about what kind of job I wanted, looked into improving my educational credentials, started writing, reading, studying everything I could get my hands on, since information is pretty much free these days.

They have no marketable skills, have done nothing at all to learn new skills or improve existing ones, can't even be bothered to sort obvious lies and stupid conspiracy theories from the thicket of information that wheezes through day after worthless day. And not only do they not even have enough sense to be embarrassed about this state of events, they get their backs up about those darned "elites" looking down on them.

Well, you know what? They are looking down on you, and you fucking well deserve it. The elites' privileged upbringings and Ivy League schools have conferred a sizable advantage to them. They have experiences and knowledge that the rural blue-collar mutts do not. But what have the mutts done to close that gap? Again, information is free and accessible, every bit as much as the poison they happily swim in and forward to their Facebook friends. Get your fucking shit together already.

The elites are definitely not their friends; Wall Street looks at Main Street merely as beasts of burden to perform the heavy lifting. But if you're stupid enough to think that Drumpf is on anyone's side but his own, if you seriously think that the coinage "blue-collar billionaire" is anything more than an ugly oxymoron, then you deserve exactly what you get, whether or not he wins. Because in either instance nothing will change for them, because they are completely unwilling to change.

Say it one more time:  People do not change until they understand that the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing. A corollary to that might be:  If you are so averse to changing that you prefer to stake your faith on an obvious charlatan, that you'd rather blow it all up and wreck everything than change one thing about yourself, you still do not understand Rule Number One.

No comments: