Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Booknote: Deer Hunting With Jesus

I just finished reading Deer Hunting with Jesus (link to WorldCat record). This is a book that will either confirm what you think you know about white poor people, or it will make you angry, or both, or maybe it will make you think. As I finished the book, I had some mixed feelings. A lot of the problem is plain ignorance: a serious and appalling lack of education. But it is also a systematic victimization, abuse, and neglect of certain wealthy elements who basically shamelessly exploit the poor white workers in the area that Bageant is describing. For me, on the one hand, you know the stacks are against them, yet they keep voting for the same people that basically screw them over (and I am trying to be polite). On the other, ignorance only goes so far. After a while, you know some of them are willfully ignorant and choose to get screwed anyways. Overall, this is a book that should make a good number of people think as well as make them angry. The book also reinforces how the Democratic Party and liberals in general have pretty much abandoned that part of the country, leaving it to the Republicans and their exploitation by default. There are passages in this book that are very moving; if you are not moved, you are either a "not-so-compassionate" conservative, or you are dead. And if any "conservatives" wish to comment, come right over. How your party and people have allowed medical care to become a "money first, people last" enterprise is simply atrocious and has no defense. Pure and simple, and if it offends some people to hear it, so be it. They need to hear it.

This is one of those books that I found myself making little notes. By the way, a trick I have adopted is to put a sticky note on the back of the book and then jot the page number with a small reminder of what I was thinking, which helps later in making notes like this.

  • Most people, when they think of the poor, they think of Blacks and other minorities. Well, guess again: "Yet slightly over half of all the poor people in the United States are white. Poor whites outnumber all poor minorities combined. Black poverty consumes a larger percentage of black society, to be sure. But that does not negate the fact that there are at least 19 million poor and working-poor whites and their numbers are growing" (9).
  • And then there are the minorities who make it worse, plus the educated people usually have no clue, in large part because they fail to even listen: "Even well-meaning educated liberals have a difficult time with white poverty and semipoverty. If they recognize it, they usually fail to grasp its scale. If they do acknowledge the scale of it, they are often mocked by minority antipoverty groups. The available antipoverty funding that exists is jealously guarded by the groups receiving it; they do not want to spread it even thinner than it already is" (9).
    • I always said that if minorities were smart, really smart, they would actually all unite and demand what they need and deserve. If they were smarter, they would bring aboard the working white poor as well. Instead minorities often bicker with each other, which of course suits the Establishment just fine. For them, it's a basic divide and conquer tactic.
  • The blame goes both ways: "Besides, if liberal America has been somewhat smug of late, my working-class brethren have been downright stupid to be so misled by the likes of Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, and the phony piety of George W. Bush" (15). So there is plenty of stupidity to go around. How about you stop pointing it out and instead actually do something about it. And for those working-class people, how about you get a clue and actually vote in your interest for a change? Because I am sorry, but after a while, I have to say you deserve what you get if you keep voting the same morons into office. And to the liberals who all but abandoned them, how about actually talking to those people, having a few beers with them, and maybe do a little educating while at it? Your work is cut out for you.
  • More on progressives and what they need to understand and do: "It's going to be a tough fight for progressives. We are going to have to pick up this piece of roadkill with our bare hands. We are going to have to explain everything about progressivism to the people at the Royal Lunch because their working-poor lives have always been successfully contained in cultural ghettos such as Winchester by a combination of God rhetoric, money, cronyism, and the corporate state. It will take a huge effort, because they understand being approximately poor and definitely uneducated and in many respects accept it as their lot. Right down to being sneered at by the Social Security lady. Malcolm X had it straight when he said the first step in revolution is massive education of the people. Without education nothing can change" (27).
    • And don't even get me started on that Social Security lady. Talk about a lack of charity.
  • And here is why education in a massive scale is so hard: "But no one in America is about to say such a thing out loud because it sounds elitist. It sounds un-American and undemocratic. It might also get your nose broken in certain venues. In an ersatz democracy maintaining the popular national fiction that everyone is equal, it is impermissible to say that, although we may all have equal constitutional rights, we are not actually equal. It takes genuine education and at least some effort toward self-improvement just to get to the starting line of socioeconomic equality" (28). But in the end, the bottom line is someone has to say it, and someone has to work towards that goal of educating others. Maybe that is a large reason why I became a librarian.
  • Too much reading equals lazy: "The absolute worst thing that a redneck can say about anyone is: 'He doesn't want to work,' which is generally followed by, 'Hell, I don't want to either, but I have to.' By the same logic, educated liberals who have time to read, who in fact read so much that they join book clubs, are suspect" (70).
    • On that basis, I must be the laziest guy around. However, I have not joined any book clubs. Not exactly the greatest logic since, in reality, I have to work for a living.
  • Where liberals failed, and the catch is, they should not have failed: "If the left had identified and dealt with this dissatisfaction early on, if they had counteracted the fallacies the Republicans used to explain that dissatisfaction, if they had listened instead of stereotyping blue-collar angst as 'Archie Bunkerism' (itself a stereotype of a stereotype delivered unto their minds by television) and maybe offered some gutsy, comprehensible, and practical solutions, we might have witnessed something better than the Republican syndicate's lying and looting of the past six years" (81-82).
  • And how could this get scarier?
    • "And if fascism comes, they will like that too if the cost of gas isn't too high and Comcast comes through with a twenty-four-hour NFL channel" (91).
    • "Meanwhile, for the people, it is football and NASCAR and a republic free from married queers and trigger locks on guns. That's what they voted for--an armed and moral republic. And that's what they get when we stand by and watch the humanity get hammered out of our fellow citizens, letting them be worked cheap and farmed like human crop for profit" (91).
  • Bageant's chapter dealing with the gun culture is a bit long, but it is definitely one of the most interesting ones. It is well-worth reading. Let's just say there is more to the hysteric anti-gun rhetoric that liberals in this country have adopted.
  • As for the chapter on religion and fundamentalism, that one can be disturbing. The fact that many "pastor" are barely literate (to put it mildly) is but one of the issues: "Lack of broader higher education is a hallmark of fundamentalist ministers and goes completely unremarked by their congregations, in whose eyes a two-year technical school or community college, and specially a seminary of their ownm is on par with nearly any of the vile secular universities. In fact, the 'Bible colleges' are better because they don't teach philosophy, science, the arts, or literature in any form a secular person would recognize" (162-163).
    • First off, I will say I have nothing against two-year schools and community colleges. On the contrary, they do fulfill an important mission. But do look at the context of the paragraph above before you gripe.
    • And by the way, this is not just Christian fundamentalists. Go ahead and look at other fundamentalists segment of religions like Islam (i.e. what Osama Bin Laden might preach, or wahhabism in Saudi Arabia).
    • The three traits of fundamentalists in the U.S. are: "They are whiter than Aunt Nelly's napkin, and, for the most part, they are working class and have only high school educations" (164).
    • And they are infiltrating society by the way. That whole notion of separation of church and state? Meaningless to them: "Fundamentalist strategists make it clear in their writings that the purpose of homeschooling and Christian academies is to create right-wing Christian cadres of the future. To goal is to place ever-increasing numbers of believers in positions of governmental influence" (173). So much for "render unto Caesar."
  • The hope? You need to do what the Christian Right and Republicans did if you want change at the end of day because "they came to power primarily through elections and can be dealt with in the same way: 'Anyone who wishes to displace them needs to become more engaged in electoral politics than just watching it on television. You need to become engaged and bring your friends. And your family'" (192). As already stated, it won't be easy, but as long as we still have elections, it can be done (in theory at least).
There is a lot more I could jot down from the book. The part about health care will simply make your hairs stand on end, if you have any sense of compassion that is. If you think on the other hand that "non-profit" hospitals (quite the scheme) are just fine in milking people for profits rather than taking care of their health, then you probably will not care. I happen to think that maybe, just maybe, there may be a few things more important than making a buck. And you can possibly care for people and still make a living with some dignity and ethical behavior. Just a thought. Anyhow, I highly recommend the book.

Similar books:
  • Nickel and Dimed (my note on it here).
  • Take It Back (note here). This one is likely closer in reading appeal. I found myself thinking back to this book as I read Bageant's book.
  • Foxes in the Henhouse (no note, but it is on my GoodReads list. Link to the list on the right column of this blog). This was another book I often thought about as I read Bageant's book.

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