Commentary on ‘Strangers in Their Own Land’

Neoliberalism and the self-harm faithful

An introduction

I’ve been exercising what passes for my mind with THE GREAT DIVIDE that currently occupies much of the debate about the state of the [American] nation. Forgive my anything but slick allusion to that address given by the US president, but it’s almost incumbent on anyone with an even partial interest in the state of the world to worry about the U.S. and its TWO PARTY poisoned chalice. This GREAT DIVIDE is not just a U.S. issue, of course  [which is why an Australian who just experienced nearly 10 years of ruinous neoliberal government is reading  about it]. It reflects a split – a global chasm – that is growing between haves and have nots.

That the ‘chalice’ is poisoned refers to the growing trend – aided and abetted and especially poisonous in this social media era – of  political use of those who are feeling disenfranchised. One of the great political divides that most exercises my mind is the potential right wing populism vs liberal progressive binary that is a real risk in countries dominated by two party systems such as we have in Australia, the U.S. and U.K. The poisoned chalice that is the current Democrat V Republican divide is not just an American reality.

I’ve read Robert Reich on why we need to save capitalism from neoliberal mandates. I’ve read Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists, I’ve read Chrystia Freeland on the modern Plutocracy,  Jared Diamond’s Guns and Germs and Steel. I’ve read a number of editions of Limits to Growth, and – by way of contrast –  Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I’ve read all about what’s wrong with GDP as a measure of societal growth and wellbeing. I’ve even read Naomi Alderman’s fictional Power. A lot of that reading has been about me trying to make sense of the great divide and why it’s happening… happens.

Because I – we – need to make sense of it? It’s one of the most important questions of the 21st century.

Strangers in Their Own Land, Anger and Mourning on the American Right’ offers a response to the question; I might reframe this question thus  – why does the apparent growth of corporate power and the enriching of just a few [see Noam Chomsky’s explication of the mythology of  the American Dream] not turn the poor, the disadvantaged, onto progressive, liberal – and BIGGER – government? Why do many of those who are poor, hungry, systemically disadvantaged… still vote for neoliberal interests? Let’s state the obvious and reframe who they specifically vote for [if they vote at all] – why do they vote for the Republican Party that Trump represents?

Strangers…’ was published in 2016 and so predates the Trump presidency and pandemic, but it does have a 2018 Afterword[i].

The key purpose of Hochschild’s book is to apply a sociological lens to this question – ‘Why do many of those who are poor, hungry, disadvantaged still vote for neoliberal interests?’  Hochschild calls it the great paradox; and puts it down to a deep story related to feelings of betrayal by the government and some elements of a more general society. She spent years interviewing people on the other side of what she called an ‘empathy wall’. She visited Louisiana – her litmus test area for reasons the book makes clear – and met with many of those who would happily recognise themselves as being of the American Right – and many of whom were not the stereotyped white honky of a certain jaded public perception. Good, kind people. With very human stories.

As I read the book I’ve made notes and observations. I’ve also cross referenced some of Hochschild’s observations with other texts in this separate word file.

Why am I doing this? I need a break from writing Parts II and III of  a Data mining fiction trilogy (Gaming, young discontents and geeky gamers, Cambridge Analytical clones, building walls, Adolf Hitler look-and-act-alikes, love and aliens – enough to drive me back to ‘normality’ every now and then). The first part of the gaming as a venue for data mining trilogy is being published [2024] in an anthology by Running Wild Press. And because heavy (for me, somewhat heady) non fiction topics to do with sociology politics and the polity interest me – and I got turned on to Hochschild’s excellent and thought provoking book via [ I think, but that’s a quick stab at memory] a Guardian article I decided to write this.

And what I propose is a deep dive into what I make of the fact that in so many parts of the world there are people who are strangers in their own lands. I’ll pull together my researched and extra readings take (as opinionated and biased as that may be; hopefully it will also be thought provoking and offer wiggle room for others to add to or contradict  what it – or Ms. Hochschild – says) on those notes I made as I read the book.

So I’ve started this ‘series’ with this introduction. Hope you join me… thoughts, arguments. Alternative perspectives most welcome.

[i] More on that afterword later.

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