Language and Knowledge, Parable and Gesture

“Man exists in language like a fly trapped in a bottle: that which it cannot see is precisely that through which it sees the world.”
~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

“As William Edwards Deming famously demonstrated, no system can understand itself, and why it does what it does, including the American social system. Not knowing shit about why your society does what it [does] makes for a pretty nasty case of existential unease. So we create institutions whose function is to pretend to know, which makes everyone feel better.”
~ Joe Bageant, America: Y Ur Peeps B So Dum?

“One important characteristic of language, according to Agamben, is that it is based on the presupposition of a subject to which it refers. Aristotle argued that language, ‘saying something about something’, necessarily brings about a distinction between a first ‘something’ (a subject) and a second ‘something’ (a predicate). And this is meaningful only if the first ‘something’ is presupposed . This subject, the immediate, the non-linguistic, is a presupposition of language. At the same time, language seems to precede the subject it presupposes; the world can only be known through language. That there is language that gives meaning and facilitates the transmission of this meaning is a presupposition that precedes every communication because communication always begins with language. 2

“Agamben compares our relationship with language with Wittgenstein’s image of a fly in a bottle: ‘Man exists in language like a fly trapped in a bottle: that which it cannot see is precisely that through which it sees the world.’ 3 According to Agamben, contemporary thought has recognized that we are imprisoned within the limits of the presuppositional structure of language, within this glass. But contemporary thought has not seen that it is possible to leave the glass (PO, 46).

Our age does indeed stand in front of language just as the man from the country in the parable stands in front of the door of the Law. What threatens thinking here is the possibility that thinking might find itself condemned to infinite negotiations with the doorkeeper or, even worse, that it might end by itself assuming the role of the doorkeeper who, without really blocking the entry, shelters the Nothing onto which the door opens. (HS, 54)

[ . . . ]

“What is compared in the parable , as for example in the messianic parables in the gospel of Matthew, is not only the kingdom of God with the terms used in the parables (a field in which wheat and weeds are mixed), but the discourse about the kingdom and the kingdom itself. In that sense, the messianic parables in Matthew are parables about language, for what is meant is language itself. And this, according to Agamben, is also the meaning of Kafka’s parable ‘On Parables’. Kafka is looking for a way beyond language that is only possible by becoming language itself; beyond the distinction between sign and what is signified:

If you’d follow the parables, you’d become parables yourselves and with that, free of the everyday struggle.(TR, 43) 17

“What Kafka indicates here, according to Agamben, is an indistinguishability between being and language. What does this process of becoming language look like? Agamben sees a hint of this in one of Kafka’s journal entries. On 18 October 1921, Kafka wrote in his journal:

Life calls again. It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. This is the essence of magic, which does not create but summons. 18

“According to Agamben, this refers to an old tradition followed by the Kabbalists in which magic is, in essence , a science of secret names. Everything has its apparent name and a hidden name and those who know this hidden name have power over life and death and the death of those to whom this name belongs. But, Agamben proposes , there is also another tradition that holds that this secret name is not so much the key by which the magician can gain power over a subject as it is a monogram by which things can be liberated from language. The secret name is the name the being received in Eden. If it is spoken aloud, all its apparent names fall away; the whole Babel of names disappears. ‘To have a name is to be guilty. And justice, like magic, is nameless’ (P, 22). The secret name is the gesture that restores the creature to the unexpressed. Thus, Agamben argues, magic is not the secret knowledge of names and their transcendent meaning, but a breaking free from the name. ‘Happy and without a name, the creature knocks at the gates of the land of the magi, who speaks in gestures alone’ (P, 22).”
~ Anke Snoek, Agamben’s Joyful Kafka (pp. 110118, Kindle Locations 2704-2883)

Beyond the Stereotype of the Liberal Elite

I was rereading a few articles by Joe Bageant. He wrote about many topics, but one stood out to me this time: liberalism. He sometimes uses liberals as the contrast to the stories he tells about his fellow Appalachians from his hometown. I realized he was using liberal in a specific sense, not uncommon in the US, at least in the mainstream.

I was reminded of how many different liberalisms there are, most of them having to do with the dictionary definition of the word as liberal-minded. In my previously reading another author, Domenico Losurdo, it took quite a bit of struggle to grasp his European perspective of liberalism, which I came to realize included and emphasized what in the US would be called conservatism. Maybe Losurdo is onto something, as I discovered looking at Pew results showing a significant number of Americans self-identify as conservative even as they hold stereotypically liberal views across the board, socially and economically.

Bageant was certainly not using a European perspective or thinking about complicating survey results. He never clearly defines what he means by liberal, but it became clear through his usage. He seemed to be using the category, in the American context, as representing people with all or most of the following:

1) White, ancestrally and/or culturally WASP, identified with the dominant culture and social order.
2) Native-born American, with unconscious or unadmitted tendencies toward nativism and ethno-nationalism, their loyalty ultimately being to the status quo of white America, multiculturalist rhetoric aside.
3) Mainstream, born into privilege along with relatively more power and influence, a part of the system and invested in the system.
4) Gatekeepers of the mainstream, defenders of the status quo, middle-to-upper class economic elite, well-educated intellectual elite, salaried professional employees in academia, media, and other respectable fields.
5) Secularists and atheists, critics of the lower classes and low culture.
6) Democrats, partisan voters, politically involved as activists, leaders, politicians, pundits, and talking heads.

It is the stereotype of the liberal elite. As a liberal, I don’t fit much of that. I question this stereotype, popular both on the far right and the far left. I’m not arguing that only I, as a liberal, get to define liberalism. My point is just that there is more to liberalism than a stereotype.

One of the problems is that many people who get labeled by others as liberal don’t self-identify as liberal nor necessarily hold strong liberal views, maybe even holding some rather illiberal views. I like to use Obama as a case in point. He doesn’t claim to be liberal. Liberal rhetoric aside, he doesn’t act overly liberal. If liberal rhetoric is all it takes to be liberal, then most people in this post-Enlightenment world are liberal. That doesn’t seem helpful in understanding liberalism.

There are many Americans, like myself, who identify as liberal or who otherwise consistently hold strong liberal views. Most of these people probably don’t fit the stereotype of liberalism. There are working class liberals. There are even poor liberals, some of whom are homeless or unemployed. There are liberals in prison and in ghettoes. There are liberals in rural farming states. There are disenfranhised liberals and radical liberals. All kinds of liberals in all walks of life.

I might go so far as to argue this is the silent majority of liberals. They aren’t the liberal elite and so they aren’t heard. The average liberal gets less attention than the average conservative, because the mainstream narrative portrays the average American as conservative. But polls don’t support this assumption, this stereotype of a liberal elite versus the conservative masses. In many ways, the masses are more liberal than the elite.

It was unfortunate that an otherwise insightful thinker like Bageant fell into that trap of political rhetoric. He was asking about how do we get the poor and working class to become better educated and informed. A good question, if framed correctly.

What Bageant didn’t note was that there are and always have been many liberals like me. I’m well read and put a lot of effort into undersanding the world, but I’m not an elite of any kind, especially not an intellectual elite. My mostly working class family arose out of poverty in recent generations and, working class myself, I’ve lived below the poverty line before and don’t live far above it now.

There is a whole new generation that has been hitting adulthood during this new century. They are more well educated and have more access to info (including alternative sources) than any generation in history. They also have high rates of unemployment and poverty. It is becoming ever more common to find people with college degrees working minimum wage. Relevant to the discussion here, this young generation is also more liberal than previous generations, whatever they may label themselves.

I’m not sure what Bageant thought about these people. Most young whites in many Southern states are also quite liberal, according to the data. Many of the bought Obama’s hype, but they are hardly a partisan stronghold of Democratic loyalty. In writing about his hometown, what Bageant doesn’t talk about are the younger generation, many of whom have left behind that world but have not forgotten it.

Bageant’s Scots-Irish kinfolk aren’t represntative of most poor and working class Americans. They are a sub-population under great stress, a population with a specific history and culture. Generalizations shouldn’t be based upon them. They aren’t the heartland. They are just one of the many dark corners, places growing ever darker as the following generations merge on the socially liberal big cities and metropolises.

In speaking of liberalism and conservatism, we need to look beyond the stereotypes of the past, whether or not those stereotypes ever corresponded to reality.

Sin of the North, Sin of the South

As with culture, the sin of the American North is different than the sin of the American South. I would go so far as to say the culture and the sin are aspects of the same thing. 

To criticize the sin of one culture isn’t to excuse the sin of the other culture. It’s just to say they aren’t identical. It’s not helpful to make a criticism that doesn’t apply. Teasing out the specific differences is important.

I see a problem in trying to unite separate cultures into a single culture. This is what has been attempted in America for centuries. I don’t think it has been entirely successful and it isn’t clear that it ever will be successful. Cultures don’t change easily, even when politics is used to try to force basic conformity.  The underlying separate cultures remain along with their respective sins, but only a patina of commonality is created, an unhappy compromise at that.

This is an argument, related to my thoughts on secession, that I want to follow. I don’t know how much I support this argument or rather how much the evidence supports it. Let me make the case, anyhow.

Between the North and South, I see several areas that demonstrate the distinctness of each region. The most basic of these is the raw data on social problems (poverty, economic inequality, violent crime, obesity, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy, etc) and on more neutral social conditions (union membership, gun ownership, religiosity, etc). The more complicated aspect more directly or obviously involves culture (ethnic immigration patterns, political traditions, economic patterns, etc). All of these factors overlap in various ways or can be interpreted as being interconnected, the question being do the correlations indicate a causal relationship.

I’ve already discussed much of this in my other writings and so I’ll keep it brief by using key examples. Let me begin by pointing out two common misconceptions — the divide between North and South is (1) a divide between urban and rural and/or (2) a divide between areas with and without a large white majority.

One example that truly hits home this regional difference is that of violent crime. The South overall has higher rates of violent crime than the North overall. Is it because the South is more rural? No. The rural North doesn’t have equivalent high rates of violent crime. Is it because the South is more racially diverse? No. The white majority rural South has higher rates of violent crime than is even found in the multiracial urban North. Heck, the majority white rural South even has more violent crime than the urban South, and so for certain blacks can’t be blamed. Even more specifically, most of the violent crime in the rural South is white on white crime.

The only thing that makes the rural South distinct is it’s heavy concentration of Scots-Irish population. I’d point out that the Scots-Irish have a very distinct culture that has become a point of pride for many white Southerners, especially in Appalachia. The fighting tradition of the Scots-Irish also has become identified with the Lost Cause worldview, and along with a fierce independent streak this has made the Scots-Irish culture symbolic of the entire Southern identity.

Another example is religiosity. This stood out to me when I was reading Chuck Thompson’s Better Off Without ‘Em, stated with dramatic flair (Kindle Location 322):

“It’s not just the overwhelming percentage of believers in the South, it’s the attitudes they bring to—or from—their religiosity. In 2009, a Pew Forum “Importance of Religion” study measured a number of variables (frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, and so forth) to determine the degree of religious fervor in all fifty states.

“Led by Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, nine of the top ten most religious states were southern. Oklahoma ruined Dixie’s perfect record by sneaking in at number seven. Of all southern states, only D.C.-infected Virginia and Semitic Florida finished just outside the top fifteen, edged out by such powerful fanatics as the Mormons of Utah and the pious enigmas of Kansas. The bottom half of the list presented a representative cross section of the rest of the country: Michigan, New Mexico, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Montana, New York, California, Maine, and, cordially sharing most hellbound honors, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“Not only is the South the place where 50 percent of American evangelicals live, it’s also the region from which the national movement draws its ideas and through which most of its fame and profit are harvested. Rabid believers are disproportionately southern—with around a third of the national population (counting Texas), the South accounts for 55 percent of the “electronic church” audience.

“Nearly every important evangelical figure of the past century has come from the South (Californian Rick Warren being an exception). A recent Trinity Broadcast Network program touting the national influence of southern Christianity proclaimed that Virginia was the most important state for “birthing national leaders on the religious front.””

This passage caught my attention because Iowa was listed as one of the least religious states, according to Pew. Iowa is below the national average for stated importance of religion, belief in God and frequency of prayer, although 1% above the national average of stated church attendance. On all the measures, Iowa is 20-30% below the most religious states.

That says a lot. Iowa is similar to the Southern states in many ways. Iowa has many working class people, especially farmers and those in the agricultural business. Iowa is mostly rural, and like the rural South mostly white. Along with these, another factor correlated to higher religiosity rates is an older population and Iowa has one of the most aging populations in the country.

The only clear difference between people in the rural North and the rural South is ethnicity.

The North had more settlers from Northern Europe. One of the differences with Northern Europeans such as Germans was that they were very skilled farmers who were used to high quality soil. They knew what high quality soil looked like which is why they chose to settle in the American North and, once settled, they knew how to cultivate the soil to maintain its viability.

The South had two agricultural traditions. They had the slave-based plantation model that came from Barbados and they had the yeoman subsistence model that came from the Scots-Irish. Both the plantation tobacco farming and the subsistence slash-and-burn ended up depleting the soil which wasn’t as rich to begin with.

This relates to an economic difference. Plantation farming and subsistence farming helped create an economy in the South that was less like modern capitalism. The plantation owners were so vastly wealthy that they didn’t build their own local industry, choosing instead to buy products shipped in from elsewhere. As an aside, the wealth of plantation owners wasn’t capitalist wealth (i.e., wasn’t fungible capital) because plantation owners tended to be heavily in debt as their wealth was invested in their land and their slaves. The subsistence farmers never harvested enough crops to make much in the way of profit, fungible or otherwise; and, as Joe Bageant points out, many of the small Southern farming communities were mostly cashless societies where people bartered and kept store tabs.

Modern industrialized capitalism was only strongly established in the South with Reconstruction following the Civil War. In being introduced, capitalism built upon the framework of the economic system already established in the South. This meant that capitalism incorporated the plantation mentality and the class-based rigidity. There were high rates of poverty and economic inequality in the Antebellum South and there are still high rates of poverty and economic inequality in the South today.

In one sense, you can blame the North for forcing modern industrialized capitalism onto the South. It’s possible that, if the South had successfully seceded, Southerners might have transitioned into a better kind of economic system… then again, maybe not. It’s not like capitalism wasn’t already beginning to gain footholds in the South prior to Reconstruction. It would be surprising if a Confederate South could have avoided capitalism’s ascent. Anyway, it wasn’t the North that forced onto the South a poverty-based, union-busting form of capitalism.

However, the South has always had its own native tradition of liberalism/leftism, not to mention reform-minded populism. It seems to me that, because of the effects of the Civil War, the Southern Left has been stunted and never given a chance to grow to its full potential. Many Southerns have come to think of liberalism/leftism as an ideology imported from the North and forced upon them by the federal government. Maybe the sin of the South has grown worse, or at least not lessened, because what Southerners perceived as non-Southern solutions being forced on them.

Whatever is the case, these are differences that make a difference. More than a century of political change following the Civil War hasn’t fundamentally changed this social reality.

The sin of the South was a caste-based society, later becoming a class-based society, that was built on slavery and the working poor. The sin of the North, on the other hand, was capitalism that was (and still is) brutal in its own way. There weren’t as many slaves in the North, but places like New York used a capitalist economy to profit off the slave trade. Northern capitalism has endless problems and I’m no fan of capitalism in general. Nonetheless, the sin of the North isn’t the same as the sin of the South.

This distinction seems important to my understanding, however one may wish to interpret it.

We are a united country, and that is what Abraham Lincoln was centrally concerned about. Even slavery for Lincoln was mixed up with maintaining the Union for he thought slavery would continue to undermine the country. Lincoln worried that, if secession were to happen, America would become balkanized like Europe. Instead of one big war, there would be endless small wars. I can see Lincoln’s perspective, but I think he put too much faith in the utopian ideal of unity.

The federal government could end slavery through force. What the rest of the country can’t do for the South is to solve it’s problems. We can send federal funds to deal with the worst issues of poverty and such, but the problem is structurally a part of the entire Southern society. Poverty doesn’t exist in such rates in the South because of a lack of wealth. The South’s economy is booming and yet the poverty persists. This is a problem of Southern culture and there may be little that Northern culture can do, besides exacerbating the problem by enabling those who are contributing to it.

By the way, the guilty parties would include some Northern corporations that go to the South to take advantage of weak regulatory enforcement and oppressive anti-union laws, the same reason corporations build factories in Mexico and China. This is corporatism, not free market capitalism. We shouldn’t allow American corporations to participate in social and economic oppression at home any more than we should allow it abroad.

Indeed, Northern culture has its own problems and contributes to the problems of others. Northerners have even sought solutions for those Northern problems. For example, a Northern city was the only place in the entire country that ever had a socialist government (i.e., the Milwaukee Sewer Socialists). Maybe the reason socialism couldn’t take hold in the North was partly because the South was so rabidly anti-socialist. Also, it is the anti-union South that has helped undermine the Northern unions by using unfair practices to lure corporations to build in the South.

The collusion of Northern capitalism and Southern aristocracy is a toxic mix.

I’m beginning to wonder if the North and the South have been getting in each other’s way and each bringing out the worse in the other. The culture of each region has its respective sin, but it also has the seed of potential for solving its own problems. Before public debate can ensue, there first has to be public awareness of the facts, conditions and cultures involved. Let’s be clear about the situation as it is, and then we can work from there.

After finishing this post, I realized I had forgotten one of my central points. I’ll just add it here at the end as an additional note.

Building up to the Civil War, both Northerners and Southerners were lobbing criticisms at one another.

In the North, slavery had been losing support for a long time prior to the Civil War. New immigrants were mostly coming to the North during this time and many went Westward to the frontier territories. These new immigrants didn’t want slavery to be expanded because they saw it as unfair competiion for Yeoman farmers.

White Southerners, however, had their own ideas about personal freedom. They saw the growing industrialization of the North as a menace to the Southern way of life, and it wasn’t only the aristocracy that felt this way. Many lower class whites countered the criticisms of slavery with their own allegations of Northern wage slavery where whites would simply be brought down to the level of menial labor.

Both sides made accurate criticisms. The average person wasn’t being offered a tremendous amount of freedom by either system. I’m sure Marx’s support of the Northern cause was mixed with much concern about the wage slavery of industrialized capitalism.

Whites Understanding Whites

I’ve been struggling with negativity lately. It’s partly just the campaign season that had forced it to the surface. There is negativity in the media and I see it in other people in my life. I’m good at noticing negativity because I have a strong streak of it myself.

I have the dual problem of not being able to deal well with negativity and not being able to resist being drawn into negativity. I see so many problems in the world. I find myself judging people for being judgmental, criticzing people for being critical, etc. I’m overly sensitive and too often hypocritical.

My oversensitivity isn’t all bad. It’s also what helps me feel empathy and compassion. It is what helps me gain insight and understanding. Even my hypocrisy usually leads me back to self-awareness, eventually.

I was contemplating the failings of humanity mostly for reasons of my personal life. But at the same time other things were tumbling around in my skull.

I came across data about pollution causing a large percentage of deaths worldwide, a good example of unnecessary suffering. I was reminded of James Gilligan’s book about a particular cause of particular social problems, a good example of the type of understanding we need more of. Yesterday, I heard a public radio show about John Howard Griffin who sounded like an interesting guy, a good example of how compassion and lack thereof plays out in the real world.

I’ve already discussed the first two in recent posts. The third one I haven’t written about before and so I’ll explain a bit of why it interested me.

John Howard Griffin was a journalist and author. An accident in the army left him blind for 11 years before regaining his eyesight. During that time, he came to the realization that he couldn’t tell the color of someone’s skin just by listening to their voice as people from the same place have the same accent, no matter their race. Around this time, he wrote for a publication with a black readership and in talking to blacks he was told the only way to understand the black experience was to be black. So, he decided to do just that. After having a doctor darken his skin and shaving his head, he hitch-hiked across the Deep South and journalled about it which became the book Black Like Me.

He had some interesting observations and insights. He was surprised that people assumed he was black simply because his skin was dark, ignoring his ‘white’ features. He noticed that black people had a diversity of racial features as most American blacks are of mixed race. He also had the typical observations about prejudice. For example, it didn’t matter that he was well educated and had many practical skills. No one wanted to give him a job, besides the most menial of labor.

What stood out to me more than anything was his experiences of hitch-hiking. Mostly lone white males would pick him up and they would ask him about his sex life for they assumed all blacks were sexually uninhibited like animals. He was so offended by this kind of racism that he would confront these white guys. They usually made him get out of the car, but he at times felt threatened. One particular incident brought home an insight about racism. He looked into the eyes of one threatening white guy and he knew that it would be impossible to elicit empathy from such a person. What frightened him wasn’t that his life was in danger. Rather, he was frightened by how low human nature could fall. Racism didn’t just dehumanize blacks. It dehumanized the racist as well for their humanity was lost.

Anyway, I appreciated how Griffin felt compassion for both the victim and victimizer of racism. He didn’t just want to judge the racist and portray the ugliness of racism. He wanted to understand. That is the type of compassion I strive for.

The other aspect of Griffin’s experiment is that it wasn’t done as an outsider. He wasn’t a Northerner travelling down to the foreign land of the Deep South. He was born and raised a Southerner and was a white man. So, in this basic sense, he was trying to understand his own people.

This reminds me of two other authors. Joe Bageant wrote Deer Hunting with Jesus in which he explores the culture and history of his own people, Appalachian Scotch-Irish Evangelicals. I read that book a while ago and started another book by him, Rainbow Pie. The second author is Joan Walsh. In What’s the Matter with White People?, she explores her own people, New York Irish Catholics. I’m in the middle of reading her book right now and am appreciating the insights.

Along with Griffin, what is offered is three different inside views of white people. Each of these authors is sympathetic in  a very personal sense, although I’m less sure about Griffin as I haven’t read his book. The other two are definitely in the same category. Certainly, all three authors present the leftist trying to understand the conservatives around them (Bageant a Marxist, Walsh a liberal, and Griffin a lifelong Democrat).

As a Midwestern mixed ethnicity white (on the left side of the political spectrum), I appreciate getting a glimpse of how America looks from the perspective of other groups of white people, and the differences are large. In my blog, I have been presenting my own version of this type of book. I want to understand what makes my own family tick, my Republican parents and my Hoosier extended family on my mom’s side. I also want to understand the world I find myself in general. 

It’s easy to judge. The challenge is always in the seeking for genuine understanding.

Democracy & Literacy

Here is a particularly insightful passage from an insightful book. It’s about the sad relationship between illiteracy and a dysfunctional democracy.

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War
by Joe Bageant
Chapter 8, American Hologram: The Apocalypse will be Televized
pp. 249-251

“[ . . . ] of the 89 million to 94 million American adults—nearly half of the U.S. adult population—who are functionally illiterate. According to the National Institute for Literacy, they “lack a sufficient foundation of basic [literacy] skills to function successfully in our society.” Of these, 17 percent to 20 percent can read just a little. That means that they cannot fill out job applications, understand food labels, or read simple stories to their children. Another 25 percent can read, but not well enough to follow five consecutive paragraphs of text or dense documents such as sales contracts.

[ . . . ]

“Of course there is more to literacy than reading words. In our culture it helps to be able to contextualize an infomercial, not to mention Tom DeLay’s crimes. Almost none of the Royal Lunch crowd, however, even knows who Tom Delay is. They do not watch the national news unless the United States attacks somebody or there is a flood in New Orleans. Even if they took the trouble to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, none of them would see it as anything other than a story about animals.

“In our culture there is also the need to interpret legions of symbols and acronyms (IBM, CBS, GM, FBI, CIA, OBM, MCI, FEMA, HUD…) that turn up every day in advertising, product packaging, corporate brochures, government pamphlets, and news stories. Functional illiterates, however, cannot separate industry from government, or the news from an advertisement or an infomercial. Hence the inability of Carolyn (the old flame I bumped into in the Food Lion parking lot) to tell a nonprofit charity from a quick-buck manufacturer of magnetic yellow ribbons. From inside the American hologram an eagle is an eagle and a yellow ribbon is a yellow ribbon. Uneducated and trapped within the hologram, people like Carolyn and Bobby will never be capable of participating in a free society, much less making the kinds of choices that preserve and protect one, unless the importance of full literacy can somehow be made clear to them.”

Joe Bageant: On the White Underclass

I highly recommend reading Joe Bageant. I’m reading my second book by him, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, and I’m impressed by his insight.

He grew up in a poor white family living in rural Appalachia. His family and neighbors made their livings through subsistence farming. In the early to mid 20th century, most of these people moved to the cities where they became the poverty-stricken working class, that is when they could find work.

This is the white underclass that are rarely discussed by either liberals or conservatives, although the latter loves to rile up this demographic for political gain. This white underclass has little money, education, or opportunity. The only way they can experience the larger world is by enlisting in the military.

 
—-

This interests me personally because this is where my mom’s family is from. Bageant’s description of his own family more or less describes my family on that side. The main difference is that my mom’s family moved to the cities a generation before Bageant’s family. Also, my mom’s family moved into more Northern Indiana and so was able to escape the much worse poverty of Appalachia.

 
The first book I read by Joe Bageant was Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War. I happened upon it by accident. From what I understand, Bageant may be more popular abroad than in his home country. Certainly, he is speaking a truth that the American MSM has little interest in.
 
The book Deer Hunting With Jesus woke my mind up like few books ever do. The topic wasn’t dissimilar to what Thomas Frank Tackled in What’s the Matter with Kansas?, but there is a big difference between the two books. Bageant isn’t looking in as an outsider, isn’t studying the Appalachian people as a journalist or academic or economist. Bageant was able to portray these people, his people, as genuine human beings. They weren’t strange characters or mysteries to be dissected. They are just people struggling to get by, people trapped in their circumstances.
 
In reading that book, I immediately recognized my own family. I never before quite grasped who were my mom’s family or where they came from. I regularly visited Indiana as a kid, but I never lived there. Plus, my maternal grandparents were already a generation removed from the rural Hoosier communities of Southern Indiana and several generations removed from the Appalachia of Kentucky. Still, the Appalachian culture and dialect clung to them, even though it had lost its regional context.
 
I only knew them as working class whites, and the bias of my middle class Midwestern upbringing disconnected me from the Appalachian culture. But as Bageant makes clear, there is a lot more going on with working class whites than would first be apparent. Like most things in life, there is a long and complex history behind it.
 
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I recommend Bageant’s writings to others because he offers a unique glimpse into the dark heart of America as well as offering a remembrance of what came before. In my endless readings, I’ve never come across any other author who quite as fully sheds light on this particular issue.

I would add that this isn’t just about America for this country is representative of the larger shifts that have happened all over the world. All countries have similar underclasses. And most of these countries have a history of subsistence farming that was common just a few generations ago.

Joe Bageant isn’t just a voice for an often unheard sector of society. He speaks as one who personally knows about this world hidden out in the open. He speaks as a member of this culture for this underclass has had a hard enough time understanding themselves much less explaining how they came to be that way.