Happy Halloween! Wanna be scared? Read this article in the Times about a library in rural Arkansas. It’s an eye-opener and a hair-raiser. The folks in coal country have a world view that is frightening in every way. These values are so diametrically opposite to everything I hold dear that the city dwellers I speak with find it hard to believe that this is so.
The author lays out a core belief in rural America today: no one should receive help, ever. Not at the state, local, or federal level. Taxes and services are anti-American, even when they help you and yours. (I’d question that one, since I’m pretty sure many of those people are receiving social security. They don’t consider that a federal assistance program, so let’s leave that aside. )
Read this under the covers with the lights out. I dare you to prove me wrong.
Core Belief — If you need help, it’s your own fault
If you need some public assistance, it’s your own fault. If I need anything, I deserve it. Why? Because my way of life is the right way. You’re probably just looking for a handout, whereas I have a solid work ethic and never ask for anything unless I need it.
Core Belief — Someone Owes Me an Industry
In rural areas, people are very upset because the industry they rely on has dried up. It may be farming, manufacturing, or mining. Everyone knows those industries aren’t coming back – even if your president promises they are. They aren’t. New York is not immune, either. All those masters of the universe who make piles of cash on Wall Street? They are getting replaced by bots.
Core Belief — Higher Education is Useless And Possibly Downright Evil
This one is hard to believe for those of us from families who saw education as the one, shining way forward to prosperity. Yet, in rural counties across America, a fundamental rejection of education is an attitude held by quite a few “decent folks”. It ranges from a benign wink at someone who had “too much schooling” for their own good, to active resistance to any form of education as being pernicious to one’s spiritual health. Education confuses your mind and makes you turn away from the true church – we’ve seen that happen too often! It prompts people who seek it to leave their birthright both physically, because they move away, and mentally, because they question all those things that should never be questioned. It makes family members leave the fold. It damns their soul for all eternity. It is an evil that should be eliminated.
Core Belief — I am the Yardstick by which All Things Should be Measured.
My radius is about 100 miles circumference, with me at the center. If you aren’t in that circle, you might as well be living on another planet. I don’t understand people who are different because I’ve never met anyone who didn’t go to my church or work in my industry or look just like me. If you betray the Kurds to the Turks it doesn’t mean a thing. It’s less real to me than when Lando betrays Han Solo. I have zero mental image of a larger world, of political or geographic maps. I know my town and the areas around it, and nothing more.
Core Belief — The Nation is Broke
We can’t spend money on services for people, because the nation is broke. This belief arises from the fact that the rural towns are in decline. Everyone in your 100 -mile area has no savings, no money for extras. Because they have no personal experience of the vast bags of loot that the very wealthy are sitting on and the immense power of the US treasury, they have no concept of how economics actually works. They live in places that have one major industry, and when that industry collapses there’s nothing to pick up the pieces. People move away or live in decay.
Core Belief — Someone is to Blame
I need to blame someone, usually an outsider. Because I believe in the myth of total self sufficiency, I will never accept that life often depend on factors outside of my own control. Because I am the yardstick by which all things are measured, I will never accept that the industry that sustained my parents and grandparents is not coming back. Because people who need help are reprehensible, I will never believe I should change my ways.
And because of the electoral collage, rural people have an outsized voice in national politics. The urban centers have all the money, and none of the political power of the vote. The rural areas have none of the money and all the political power.
This is not a stable situation. There may be solutions, but we’re in a different world right now. We’re in a phase of destruction, of racism, of soldiers snatching babies from the arms of mothers. I am not sure an understanding is possible. This is a fight, so come out from under the covers now. You’ve been warned.