Arlie Russell Hochschild wanted to write a book about the environmental devastation of Louisiana. This is the subject that matters to her, that she knows on a profound level and that she writes about in a way that can leave nobody indifferent.
But nobody would buy such a book. Or at least, not enough folks to make it a bestseller. So Hochschild decided to sneak in the subject she cares about by hiding it in the ever-popular genre of “Why Are These Damn Rednecks so Stupid That They Fail to Vote in Their Own Interest?” Her book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right attempts to “scale the empathy wall” between the brilliant, svelte, trendy Berkleyans, such as herself, and the conservative Louisianans whom she studies with the kindly condescension of an entomologist approaching a boring and common species of insect.
Hochschild’s self-absorption and her capacity to congratulate herself on almost every page of the book for being superior to the dumb, primitive country bumpkins she believes she is interviewing are scary to behold. The infinite patience and kindness of her interviewees offer a great contrast to Hochschild’s complete lack of humility.
The reason why Hochschild never manages to answer her own question about the reasons why her interviewees are repelled by Liberalism is that she is incapable of seeing herself as anything but pretty damn perfect. She is blissfully unaware of how annoying the self-righteous, supercilious Liberals like herself are to everyone but themselves. The very premise of her book is based on the poorly concealed belief that “those people” are stupid and don’t know what’s good for them until a much smarter Liberal arrives from elsewhere to enlighten their dumb, barbaric souls.
Of course, the majority of Liberals are like me (or the readers of my blog) and not like Hochschild. But people like her are so loud, so smug and so ready to place themselves at the center of attention that they manage to repel many more people away from the movement than the more reasonable Liberals can hope to attract.
The genre of “What’s the Matter With Kansas and Everywhere Else People Are Not Like the Wonderful Me?” needs to go. Hochschild should write about the environment and learn to see herself just a tad less seriously. Anger and mourning are better than condescension and smugness because genuine human feelings will always win in the end.