Thursday, November 30, 2017


Even though I live in Manhattan, I have long been aware of the huge cultural differences that separate our privileged bicoastal enclaves from the heartland. With my ex, who loved driving, we would sometimes head West. As soon as we crossed from New Jersey into Pennsylvania I noticed a marked contrast. 
Based on the recommendation of a friend, I read The Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, hoping to find there an overall explanation of this Other America. That is not what I discovered, for the book is basically a personal account of Vance's growing up in a dysfunctional extended family in Kentucky and southern Ohio, where there was a lot of substance abuse and violence. 
Vance overcame this heritage by joining the Marines. The lessons he learned there enabled him to go to Ohio State University and Yale Law School. 
It is hard to gauge what degree his upbringing is typical. Once upon a time, I can affirm, it was not. Both pairs of my grandparents were farmers in rural East Texas. As a child I boarded for a while with my paternal grandparents, who ran a dairy near Fort Worth. The lives of all these people were, as far as I could tell, boringly conventional. They did not act out, or resort to alcohol or other stimulants, but concentrated on making an honest living in the circumstances they were given. To be sure, this was during the Depression, a major shot of reality for those who experienced it. 
Recently, there has been, in the heartland, much joblessness and opioid addiction. In this light, the Vance approach would benefit from a diachronic orientation - then vs. now. There is also a need for comparison with other regions.


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