11/12/2004

Daily Kos :: The Cultural Crisis Is Economic

Daily Kos :: The Cultural Crisis Is Economic: "Liberals, especially in Blue areas, are perplexed by the poverty of the Red States and their continued support of the Republican party. Of the 20 poorest states (according to 2000 census figures), only one -- Maine -- is blue, and the poorest 10 are some of the reddest in the union. By the same token, all of the 20 wealthiest states are blue, with the exceptions of Colorado, Virginia, Alaska and Nevada (and 3 of those have purplish hues).

With poverty comes shame, and with shame, resentment. The income gap is increasing, a permanent underclass is crystallizing. What makes this worse, though, is that the poorest Americans know what they're missing. They can see it on "Friends" or "Live With Regis and Kelly." There is a good life being lived, and it's not being lived by them. It probably never will be.

So their resentment has a target. It is urban, and everything that comes with it. It's gay, it's black, it's jewish, it's feminist, it eats sushi, it hugs redwoods. It's a cartoon, but one straight out of a nightmare. And so, one of the few ways to alleviate the shame of being left out of our so-called economic bonanza is to convince yourself that one day, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. That the urban culture, and all that comes with it, will face judgment in the next life, just as surely as rural America is judged by it in this life.
A nationful of people voting for anything but their economic interests, it would seem. But I think this conclusion is superficial and wrong. This phenomenon is entirely economic.

Poverty changes people. Deep poverty, spread out among entire communities and regions, coupled with little opportunity for advancement or escape, is a dangerous thing in a liberal democracy. FDR had a marvelous quote: 'People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.' I was raised in poverty, for several years in rural Texas, as a matter of fact; I know what this looks like. It's a feeling of hopelessness that pervades even the low-to-the-ground pre-fab strip-mall non-architecture of the landscape. It's why rural drug use is beginning to eclipse urban drug use (see: Oxy). It can be literally soul-crushing, and it's the norm for a large section of our country.

That poor people can be seduced by reactionary extremism is nothing new -- one has only to look at the rise of Fascism and National Socialism in Europe, and the cult of martyrdom and fanatical Islamicism in the Middle East. We seem surprised that irrational fundamentalist extremism has taken hold in many of our poorest states, but we shouldn't be. When this life is awful, filled with awful days and nights in which one endures awful things done by awful people; when hope is a fairy tale on your television set, why not concentrate on the next life? What, after all, is there in this one?"

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