Monday, May 8, 2017

Activism Through Reading: Strangers in Their Own Land Book Review + Next Read

I'm back with another Activism Through Reading book review. In April I read "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right" by Arlie Russell Hochschild. In this book, Hochschild, a sociologist from Berkeley, spends time in Louisiana with Tea Party members to try to understand why they vote against candidates who policies they would benefit from.

I read this book to try to understand the thoughts of Tea Party members. In the words of Hochschild, I wanted to cross the "empathy wall." In her words, an empathy wall is "an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or ever hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances (p.5)."  Here are a couple of the main points I am taking away from this book, along with my thoughts:

- The Tea Party members she spoke to feel like they have been victims of "line cutters." Wage growth has been non-existent for many. According to Hochschild's research, real wages of high school educated American men have fallen 40% since 1970. For the bottom 90% of workers, average wages have flattened since 1980. Many people who are unemployed or lacking wage growth feel they have been waiting in line for more prosperity for a long time, and all of a sudden, there are all these people cutting in line. Hochschild sums it up by saying: "Blacks, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans - all have cut ahead of you in line. But it's people like you who have made this country great. You feel uneasy. It has to be said: the line cutters irritate you. They are violating rules of fairness. You resent them, and you feel it's right that you do. (p. 139)."

Thoughts: In my opinion, wage growth is lacking because our economy has drastically changed. We are not the manufacturing powerhouse we used to be.  We cannot compete with countries like China. You cannot solely get a high school education and expect wage growth that is on par with those with a technical or college degree. You need an education and a skill set that will allow you to thrive in this new economy. I have compassion for those who are living in dire circumstances. It would be awful to not be able to provide for your family. But I do believe that some that have been left behind think that things should be the way they were before globalization took hold.  That is just not possible.  I cannot imagine our country ever going back to being a manufacturing powerhouse. I understand the source of frustration toward 'line cutters' but some/many of those cutting in line are experiencing even more dire circumstances. There should be room for all of us to prosper.

- Since the author focused on the Louisiana oil region, there is a heavy emphasis on the environmental devastation of that area. Many of the people that Hochschild interviews cannot swim in or eat fish from the waters they live near due to the pollution by oil and other chemical companies. In an extreme case, some people's homes have even been swallowed up by a massive sink hole caused by drilling by oil companies. Birds, fish, and turtles have died. And yet - the Tea Party members Hochschild meets with want to do away with the EPA because they think regulation is not the answer. They want oil companies to continue to build plants in Louisiana because of the economic prosperity that should result.

Thoughts:  I think there is such a thing as over-regulation, but when our environment is at stake, I don't think we can eliminate environmental regulations and expect corporations to act in the best interest of the citizens of the communities they operate within. Clearly having environmental regulations in the first place didn't prevent the devastation that has occurred, but it seems like that should put fuel to the fire of having more monitoring to ensure companies meet the regulations. It seems like the views of the people Hochschild speaks to can be summed up by saying "capitalism is more important than our environment."

Closing thoughts:

I'm still struggling to relate to the views of the Tea Party members the author interviewed. I recognize that the people she spoke to are a small % of the Tea Party, and the Tea Party is just a small part of the Republican Party. But these kind of views seem to be the loudest views and they seem in line with Trump's views. I'm struggling to have hope that our political parties will find a way to compromise in the face of such differing and catastrophic views.

I'm glad I read this book, though, even though I didn't make as much progress in crossing the "empathy wall" as I wanted.  Hochschild did a really good job of telling the story of the people she met with in an engaging way. This book definitely read like narrative non-fiction. Hochschild really got to know her interview subjects and she became friends with them even though her views were very different.


My next read for my activism project will be "An American Sickness:  How Healthcare Become Big Business and How You Can Take it Back" by Elisabeth Rosenthal.

Excerpt from Goodreads:
Our politicians have proven themselves either unwilling or incapable of reining in the increasingly outrageous costs faced by patients, and market-based solutions only seem to funnel larger and larger sums of our money into the hands of corporations. Impossibly high insurance premiums and inexplicably large bills have become facts of life; fatalism has set in. Very quickly Americans have been made to accept paying more for less. How did things get so bad so fast?

Given the vote that occurred in the House last week, healthcare has moved up the list of things I need to become more informed about. I am disgusted by the bill that was passed by the House. The Senate will likely modify the bill but I can't believe that something so awful was passed by all but 20 House Republicans. Whatever form the final bill takes, it will potentially impact every person in this country - including those who have employer-provided health insurance. Outside of being concerned for the high number of people that will lose insurance coverage (which will result in more ER visits, which does not solve the problem of the escalating costs of providing medical care to the uninsured), I am particularly concerned because the cost of treating my RA is incredibly expensive (one of the slew of drugs I take costs $1,000 PER WEEK).  If lifetime or annual caps come back, that could have severe consequences for me.

I listened to the author of this book on the NYT Book Review Podcast recently. She was an emergency room doctor before moving into journalism so she has seen the healthcare system as a provider. I think it's going to be a really interesting read. I really wish that our Senators and Representatives could get to the heart of the problem of our healthcare system - the high cost of healthcare - instead of penalizing people, like myself, who have no control over the high cost of the drugs and treatments we need. Hopefully this book will help me become more informed on the topic.

If you made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS!  This was a lengthy post. Have you read any great non-fiction books lately?  Do you find yourself seeking out more non-fiction books given the state of our world and political system? That has definitely been the case for me as I feel like I need to read more about different issues that matter to me.


Charbelle4 said...

I think sometimes the loudest voices are not necessarily the ones who are the driving movement and honestly I pray that's the case in government as well. From what I've read the ones who voted for that disaster of a healthcare bill are hoping that it gets ironed out in senate. There is serious concern and what's really incredibly disturbing is the complete lack of knowledge regarding what the bill is in regards to the president. I read CNN and Reuters and my takeaway is even though I want to just ignore it all I can't. I still believe that knowledge is power. I also know that educators are a big catalyst for change. Many people fear what they don't know and instead of trying to see another side they just assume it's wrong. I'm thankful for the friends I have, and hopefully there are people like this down there, who are working with the children giving them dreams and teaching them and telling them that just because it's always been a certain way it can change with them.

missris said...

The willful ignorance that these people show with regard to voting against their own interests truly astounded me. Hochschild did a good job of providing data and showing that "attracting jobs" by offering tax incentives to companies actually did not do anything for the economies of states that practice this ineffective method of bolstering their economy. I also just want to scream at people when they say things like "I never took handouts" to justify why they shouldn't pay taxes that go toward things like welfare. Really, you've never driven on a road that was laid down by the government? You don't receive mail via the United States Postal Service? You've never gone to a public school, or sent your kid to one? You don't want fire departments? That's "big" government, folks. And finally, Democratic presidents have more GDP growth than Republicans, according to quarterly GDP data dating all the way back to 1947. Do NOT talk to me about the trickle down economics theory that so many republicans like to use to justify giving tax breaks and incentives to only the wealthiest of the wealthy. Ugh and don't get my started on healthcare. I just want to scream.

Jeanie said...

Very well reviewed and stated, Lisa. I remember when you started this and told me a bit about it. It really looks fascinating and well written as well. And I appreciate your honesty about the empathy wall but the main thing is that you are reaching out, trying to understand and we all need to do that more often.

The healthcare book sounds fascinating too. It's a tough one, with problems but so much better than before. I shudder when I think of the current bill going through although I know it will be much changed in the Senate and who knows what when. What worried me is individuals in Congress voting for THEIR agenda, versus that of their constituencies. I know that has happened in our state despite vigorous protest. Phase two will be interesting.

Carolina John said...

I only expect corporations to act in the best interest of their profit margin. They are not designed to take care of their employees or citizens of the areas of operations. it's not 'merican. That way of thinking usually is accompanied by the opinion that the government is only going to screw up, slow down, and over complicate anything that they try to do. So if the government is incompetent and the corporations don't look out for us, then nobody is actually looking out for the people. In reality, I think it's even worse than that, because the government is filled with politicians that are controlled by the corporations that they are trying to regulate. Every regulation and deregulation step only benefits the corporate profit margins, not the people they are supposed to represent. I'm not a fan.

Also I don't understand why 'mericans are so scared of universal health care. I think cynicism is going to be listed as a pre-existing condition soon.

Abby said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Ryan and I were just talking about our conflicted thoughts on oil. We dont want to be dependent on foreign oil - but the way its done in our country isn't exactly "right" either.... Our government is just too big and its such a mess to keep regulation profitable. I really want to read that book about healthcare. Especially being in my role of working for a big insurer... I feel like one of our #1 problems is the drug companies that drives costs. Its unethical.

Looking forward to your book review on the next one!

Stephany said...

Loved this post! I heard about that "line cutters" idea on a podcast, I think, and it reminded me so much of my father and other people like him, who don't make a livable wage due to circumstances of their own doing. It's just sad, really.

So, so interested in your review of your next book. Healthcare is an industry I've never truly understood all that well, but thanks to resources like Pod Save America, I'm getting more familiar with what it all means. AHCA is a disgusting bill and all these dumb politicians coming out and saying, "Well, just be healthy and you won't need health insurance," do NOT understand healthcare or health insurance or the fact that you can be the healthiest person in the world and still have a heart attack (re: Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser fame) or get cancer or some other illness/accident. Ughhhh. Obviously, I have A LOT OF THOUGHTS on this subject, and I know it hits even closer to home for you due to your RA.

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

I tend to prefer non-fiction books over fiction. That being said, I love to come across a fictional book that completely draws me in. I usually go for non-fiction in the areas of science, psychology, nutrition, health ...

Amber said...

I am on the waitlist for this book at the library! That way of thinking sounds very much in line with how a lot of people think in the town we now live in - especially since it's "oil and gas" country. That said, I work on a large resource project right now and the environmental regulations our company has to comply with are INTENSE. I am not sure that is the same for all big projects though.

The healthcare book sounds really interesting as well. It's something I know nothing about as being Canadian it's not something I've ever had to deal with. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it!