…I'm confused. Usually you're deeply and reliably snarky. This is… ambivalent?
Naaah, dawg. This here be a powerful book.
Perhaps it's due to what you think of as a unique background.
My background is hardly unique -
Tell them where you're writing this from.
…Seat 1A, first class for my fourth flight of this young month. But it's not like I paid for it.
Who's comparison-shopping Porsches and Mercedes in his spare time?
I drive a '95 Dodge. I'm looking at used cars. My cousin likes to call himself an opportunistic depreciation monkey. If I blow $15k on a used Porsche it'll be less than I spent on my wife's Honda.
Wouldn't happen to be the same guy who spent half a day on Rodeo Drive looking at quarter million dollar watches, would it?
Like I was gonna buy one of those. Market research for a career I'd need an associate's degree to pursue.
Pretty sure I saw an IWC Schaffhausen Portuguese Tourbillon on your wrist not a week ago.
I have also driven Ferraris. That does not mean I will purchase one.
Because you can't, fucker. You're a deeply aspirational sonofabitch but you and I both know that your ass grew up on food stamps, that cockroaches and mice were regular roommates and that Rit dye turns Thriftown scrapings into sort-of new clothes and having relatives that live in the poor hispanic community down the hill doesn't make you cool, it makes you an auslander, even if their 1600 square feet and half acre of beans is the largest house you've ever seen. You know what, kid? Nobody else's parents told them to hit first, hit hard and look out for knives. Nobody else's mother used a stilletto to peel apples. Nobody else's dad told them that the easiest way to kill a mouse is to step on it, even if you're barefoot. Nobody else's parents saved the bladders out of boxes of Gallo wine for storing used motor oil. You could BUY that Ferrari and you'd STILL be white trash.
I'll have you know my great grandmother hosted Daughters of the American Revolution meetings. Four generations of Herwits went to Harvard. They still do.
You're not a Herwit! You're three generations removed from that, white trash. They kicked your grandfather's folx out when they ran out of money, and they kicked your grandmother out when she married your loser goy grandfather. And what about the dirt farmers on your dad's side? They finished what, sixth grade?
Sixteen hundred square feet. A veritable mansion. Built it out of masonblock themselves, didn't they? You buried them in a dirt lot so far out of town you'd never been there before, after the Masons forgot their song mid-way through.
Shut up. They bought those plots themselves back in the '60s. We never knew.
Sweet tea, wasn't it? Six Lipton bags and a cup of sugar? And what did you call her cookies? "white trash cookies?"
What the hell else would you call a box of yellow cake mix with all the liquids replaced with Wesson. My great uncle helped invent LORAN -
You never met your great uncle. The family stopped talking to your grandfather when he dropped out of Harvard upon knocking up the Jewish girl. Your family drove two hours out of their way, went around his lake, parked in his driveway, and then left without so much as knocking on the door. You might as well have been singing "Here's your one chance Fancy", White Trash. Your grandfather was a machinist.
A machinist who was regional president of the AFL -
yes, yes, yes, white trash, who was mandated early retirement and died bitter in a two bedroom hovel in dirt-poor Albuquerque, surrounded by Hispanics. Funny thing about Hispanics in New Mexico - lots of their families have been there four hundred years and have counties named after them. They might be poor, but they'll never be trash like you.
Can we talk about the book, please?
There is no "we", white trash.
So the interesting thing about this book is it lays bare the fact that here in the land of the free home of the brave, we have since the very beginning followed the exact same classes and structures as English society but that due to our foundation as a representative democracy we have to pretend we haven't. Isenberg starts by pointing out that most of the immigrants to the United States were indentured servants who faced worse contracts than they got in England, that they tended to die a lot, that they always got the shittiest land even when they were free and that the power structures in place were such that whatever valuables they had were generally consolidated into the holdings of genteel land-owners who recreated an Elizabethan social structure where the elites still held 99% of wealth with only 10% of the population. Further, that the exploration of North America has always been a process of "waste people" moving into undesirable lands, dying by the droves, establishing a toehold and then being swept aside by the desirable class. American history is one long lather-rinse-repeat process whereby a frontier is bought dearly by the poor who are then swindled by the rich and the reason we accept this is - actually she never says why we accept it.
I think this book is valuable to me through synthesis of some other stuff I read. There's a fascinating book called "Fame Junkies" wherein the reasons why we follow gossip are explored. And fundamentally, we have a biological imperative to align ourselves with the strongest members of the tribe, and we have a sociological imperative to find common ground with strangers through gossip. Therefore, you're going to follow a leader just because he's a leader and you're going to talk about leaders because you have nothing else to talk about. And while Isenberg spends dozens of pages laying out chapter and verse how eugenics was practiced on the poor, how you can't have a discussion in the US for the past 200 years about the poor without discussing breeding, and how stereotypes of morally lax inbred hillbillies are older than the United States, she misses some big stuff that only hit home because fuckin'A, there aren't a whole lot of people you can make fun of anymore. Furries and Honey Boo Boo. That's pretty much it.
Allow me to break the narrative for a moment but one of the things that both Methland and The Great Unwinding hammered home is that in the United States, if you're successful it's because you deserve to be and if you fail, it's because you're immoral. You didn't work hard enough. You didn't strive. But here in these United States it isn't the proletariat we worship, it isn't Tom Joad, it's fucking Kennedys and Kardashians. I've got friends that are friends with Max Landis and allow me to say this once and for all that the way you get ahead in Hollywood is by being rich and related to someone else who got ahead in Hollywood and if you aren't, Fuck You. I knew James Coburn's son briefly. Coburn never did shit for his kids. It horrified everyone I talked to because fuckin'A why don't you do shit for your kids? What's the point of nepotism if you can't go by Emilio Estevez wink wink nudge nudge? Nicholas Cage totally got to where he was by being talented, not by being Francis Ford Coppola's nephew, right?
And look. That's me. Eating a warm chocolate cookie at 30,000 feet, a complimentary double of Woodford Reserve at my elbow, pissed to fuck that I'm not getting the same opportunities as Uncle-Frank-Directed-Godfather. Let's say you're my grandpa in Bastrop County Texas and it hasn't rained in a year and the cows are dying and nobody's giving you shit and you gotta put your kids in the trailer and drive around for two years looking for fuckin' work before you luck out and get an apprentice plumber job with the AEC. Except it isn't 1952 it's 2017 and your kid's got real promise and she might actually make it out except apparently some Asian kid in Denton is gonna get her slot or some black kid in Houston is gonna get her slot or some Mexican kid in Fort Worth is gonna get her slot because if you're Hispanic or Asian or Black you're a minority but if you're not? And you can't afford school because fuckin'A you can't afford cheese? Well, you, son, you're
And you don't deserve shit.
It has been argued - conclusively - that the hardships faced by minorities eclipse the hardships faced by white people, particularly when controlling for socioeconomics.
Sure. But what that means is that a poor black kid might get to go to college while a poor white kid gets to shoot meth. And the thing about the demagogues? They don't blame the poor people. The white folk get to look around and notice that everyone has an excuse why everyone around them isn't succeeding but if they're not getting ahead, it's because they're fuckups. They lack breeding, they lack drive, they lack ambition, they lack intelligence, they lack pluck, they lack.
That sure looks like you slagging on your peeps, white trash.
Call me a follower.
How are you not doing exactly what you slagged on that dumb bastard for doing? Isn't that a rags-to-riches story about a kid who used the social safety net to escape poverty?
He didn't UNDERSTAND it, though. One thing about this book - it makes the point that you improve the livelihood of everyone in the US by employing and educating the poor white trash. Roosevelt's New Deal did this; LBJ's Great Society did this. And ever since -
You mean the LBJ that signed the Civil Rights Act and promptly lost the South to Democrats for the next fifty years at least, right?
The very same.
This is perhaps the least focused review you've ever done. Just sayin'.
Fuckin' Trump, yo. On the one hand, he was mostly voted in by rich pricks who want to pay zero marginal tax. On the other hand, we keep pointing to his base as these poor dumb pricks that vote against their best interests every chance they get because Democrats are shiftless atheists that aren't doing their best to keep Darkie down. And what it really comes down to? What it really fuckin' comes down to? Is we need to throw money and education at the poor dumb bastards so they'll be less poor and less dumb. Clinton said "when people think, we win" but thinking has been discouraged amongst the poor since sixteen diggity two. I look at that heinous graph I linked yesterday and I know two things: (1) Piketty made it really goddamn clear that being middle class is an ephemeral thing but once you're a goddamn rentier it's fuckin' hard to fall and (2) that fuckin' bleeding-hot 99.9th percentile wealth class are the guys who can afford quarter million dollar watches and if the past thirty years prove anything, they prove that those guys are winning the economy.
"100 year goals", as Gem said. I really like that. That really stuck with me. My hundred year goals, from 30,000 feet drunk on $40/bottle bourbon, are fucking socialism. We follow the alphas and the alphas are rich and so long as we're stupid and struggling we're gonna watch Kardashian and live Boo Boo and we're fucking doomed and I would really like my grandchildren to not live in a neoVictorian shithole. And this book, more than any I have read, point out what a neoVictorian shithole we've created for our poor, how fucking little we ever do about it, and how our entire social structure makes the poor and uneducated the only group in America that we can all make fun of, that we can all slag on, that we can all blame for our plight without ever once going
wait a minute
if they don't know any better are they really to blame
Because we DO. We DO know better and somehow we all thought we'd get our message across with clever Youtube videos. The shows most of America watches are not the shows the intelligentsia watches and sweet jesus christ we've got a machine-made reality TV star running the goddamn country and I know like six people that worked on that show that spent weeks or months hanging out with Trump, spent their days on the goddamn jet, and here I am, flying back to work from a quick weekend with my family, daughter at private school wife with a private practice in a half million dollar build-out
to mix some reality TV
and there is blood on my hands.
Success is climbing high enough up the ladder to piss on your forebears.
And if my daughter goes to Harvard I will have erased three generations of societal decline, getting my goddamn bloodline right back to where it was in 1938. Jesus Christ what a fucked up society we've created. LET'S FUCKING DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's not get carried away. These things are supposed to be infrequent.
They seem to like it around here, though, contrived narrative structure be damned.
Well it won't be Water Knife because while Bacigalupi is occasionally brilliant, that book is garbage. And I doubt anybody gives a fuck about Toland's Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. So I guess they'll just have to subscribe to the tag.
Wait a minute. Isn't it like 9am?
I cheated. hard to post from space. Here there be proofreading. dealwithit.gif