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article imageOp-Ed: Berkeley sociologist spotlights the forgotten conservatives Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jan 23, 2017 in Lifestyle
Prominent sociologist Arlene Russell Hochschild presents a very down-to-earth and personal view of the conservative-right population of America. Yet what pulled this reporter to read her new book, "Strangers in Their Own Land", was something different.
What drew me to the book was the fact that people who identify as 'right-wing conservative" are everywhere. But more importantly, as Hochschild reveals in her candid writing, is that they are everyday people like any where U.S.A. that are struggling with difficult times. While popular areas of the nation like California seem to be immune to their circumstances, the very same circumstances that impact the people Hochschild spotlights could very well happen in more prosperous places like California; at least that is what this reporter sees in the accounts she presents.
In its review The New York Times said, Hochschild's work was "a generous but disconcerting look." And whether we describe conservatives as "Tea Party" types or not, they are part of the nation.
I could not help but see the divide that still continues between 'North and South' and 'East and West' in terms of our nation's collective bounty and overall economic well-being. When an industry moves away or "out-sources" to another location, the impact made upon the local people is devastating.
Hochschild as well as many others have noted that outsourcing has a tremendous impact upon the traditionally rural and industrial parts of the country. The history of our nation's industrial and rural aspects still have an integral part of our collective identity. But unlike the West Coast, the Mid-West and deep South still resonate much of America's spirit from days not that far away, when the U.S.A. was a major producer of goods and exporter of food to the world.
The West Coast has its "high tech" industry, its Silicon Valley and of course, Hollywood. But areas like the old South and 'The Heartland' are not made the same way as California and the West Coast. Even amid a rapidly changing landscape which has seen tremendous population growth, Hochschild notes a working class in these areas that resents government help. More alarming is that the resentment in many in these areas of the nation is growing and often in ways that keep people in turmoil, rather than find resolution.
While Forbes praised the book calling it "an important book and a delight... almost anthropological," some did not. The Washington Post in its review this past fall said Hochschild's award-nominated book is "frustrating" in its perspective. And despite the fact that the well-respected sociologist and professor interviewed some 60 people, including 40 professed tea party supporters —visiting their homes, communities and workplaces — the Post review criticized that the book "arrive(s) with so many preconceived ideas that they undercut the insight she claims to desire."
Even with this criticism, reviews such as Newsday and others note Hochschild completed the book before Donald Trump won the presidential election.
Her book makes note of the complicated paradox between government and nation, between bureaucracies and the people they are supposed to serve. The various reviews, like the one in Forbes mention this. Yet to me, amid the many accounts that Prof. Hochschild writes about is the failures at Bayou Corne, Louisiana. Since 2012 the residents of the sleepy little marsh town have lost their homes to one of the worse sinkhole disasters in recent history.
Mike Schaff has been a persistent voice amid the residents, pleading, demanding that something must be done. While there is some debate on the exact details of the mishap, the sinkhole at Bayou Corne is an example of corporate greed over environmental dangers.
A resource for salt minerals for generations (since as early as the 1700s) Bayou Corne had been mined for salt. Over time, large caverns were left behind. As archived by Wikipedia, Schaff has been a crusading force to try to save the beloved bayou. Two corporations Texas Brine and Occidental Petroleum ignored environmental concerns amid their dealings, allowing the sinkhole incident to emerge with disastrous consequences.
Needless to say, Schaff was among the last to leave, when efforts to save his family home were pointless against a massive geological occurrence. To this day the sinkhole continues to expand, already consuming over 26 acres. If this sounds familiar like that of Hurricane Katrina, it is!
The lack of clear insight on the part of various bureaucracies of the government is one of the many reasons why the people of these areas see things the way they do, with or without prejudices. And, as Hochschild points out, the people are abandoned to suffer in the aftermath.
It is easy to look at the current national social landscape and say, "well, then it's time to reinvent ourselves." After reading Prof. Hoschschild's book I am asking, "how?" In the face of such situations like that of Bayou Corne, and its environmental crisis, can high tech solve these types of conditions?
What if a sinkhole were to occur in Southern California? Or what if that long-anticiapted "big quake" where to finally shake the West Coast off its hinges? How would the marvels of our high tech society help?
If anything, whether you agree with conservatives — Tea Party members or not, the life of our nation is more than just an economy. It is part of nature. It is so easy in our tech-driven world to forget that we live on a planet that needs to be respected. Rather than view Hochschild's book as a narrative of "South versus North" or tech versus agriculture and traditional industry, I see it as a narrative of "Future Shock." Much of her book reminds me of the ground-breaking book by Alvin Toffler.
Rapid change and growth has dramatically changed the landscape and pace of our lives. And, it has made a global impact on the planet. This is an issue that will not go away with the latest version of a new software or technological design. Hochchild's "Strangers In Their Own Land - Anger and Mourning on The American Right, is a conversation, a dialog that will continue as the 21st Century moves along.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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