What percent of Americans are rational?

Preface. Why does rationality matter — what’s the harm in believing there’s a fat old “Santa Claus” God in the sky noting down every time you’re naughty or nice on trillions of inhabited planets in the universe every second of the day, and has been for trillions of years? There’s no harm at all, people have always believed odd things.

But that’s not always true. Evangelists are trying to force the rest of us to see the world their way and voting for totally irrational people.  They and others who can’t tell fake from real news and believe in conspiracy theories threaten Democracy and consequences could be as high as launching nuclear weapons.

For example, 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump and they are 26% of voters. No other religious or non-religious group delivered as many votes to Trump: 42 million (mainstream Christians 27.8 million, white Catholics 16.8 million).  And this despite knowing he stiffed thousands of workers, grabbed women’s asses, hung out with gangsters, which should have resulted in losing his casino license, laundered money for the Russian mafia, and much more (Johnson 2016).

Andersen (2017) estimates that only a third of us are more or less solidly reality-based.

The polls below show Andersen may be too kind. One poll concludes that only 27% of us are rational.

It may be even less than that, because there isn’t any survey that covers paranormal, supernatural, and basic knowledge of the world. For example, the National Science Foundation survey of basic knowledge of the world found that 26% of Americans think the sun revolves around the Earth, and only 48% in evolution — that human beings developed from earlier species of animals.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

What percent of Americans are rational?

In a really strict sense none of us are 100% rational due to cognitive biases, framing effects, fallacies and so on (wiki lists over 250 of these). To be human is to be irrational. But we’re all capable of improving our critical thinking skills and our understanding of the world.

So I’ll stick with the paranormal, pseudoscience, scientific knowledge, and conspiracy beliefs.

A Gallup poll in 2005 found that “Three in four Americans believe in Paranormal”, and found that 73% believe in one or more of these: ESP, Haunted Houses, Ghosts, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Astrology, communication with the dead is possible, Witches, reincarnation, Channeling. Only 27% of Americans thought none of them were true.

And it might have been even lower if irrational beliefs had been expanded to include conspiracy theories, scientific understanding, evolution, climate change, creationism, the Devil, Hell, angels, miracles, and other beliefs.

Paranormal and supernatural beliefs. 

Multiple numbers reflect results from several surveys:

  1. Angels: 77%,  72%, 72%   88% of Christians, 95% of evangelical Christians
  2. Astrology: 25%, 26%, 29%
  3. Channeling: 9%
  4. Civil war wasn’t about slavery but states’ rights: 48%
  5. Climate Change not due to man-made activities: 40%
  6. Clairvoyance: 26%
  7. Communication with the dead is possible: 21%
  8. Creationism: 36%
  9. Devil: 61%, 60%, 58%
  10. ESP: 41%
  11. Ghosts: 34%, 42%, 42%
  12. Haunted Houses: 37%
  13. Heaven: 71%, 75%
  14. Hell: 64%, 61%
  15. Jesus born of a virgin: 73%, 61%, 57%
  16. Jesus is God or son of God: 73%, 68%
  17. Jesus’s resurrection: 70%, 65%
  18. Life after death: 71%, 64%
  19. Miracles: 76%, 72%
  20. Reincarnation: 21%, 20%, 24%
  21. Sun revolves around the Earth: 25%
  22. Telepathy: 31%
  23. UFOs: 34%, 32%, 36%, extraterrestrial beings have visited 24%
  24. Vaccines cause autism: 56%
  25. Witches: 21%, 23%, 26%

Conspiracy theories  (Chapman 2016)

So what is a conspiracy theory? It’s (1) a group (2) acting in secret (3) to alter institutions, usurp power, hide truth, or gain utility (4) at the expense of the common good.

There’s no way to stereotype people who believe conspiracy theories, they exist across gender, age, race, income, political affiliation, educational level and occupational status.

Education makes a difference though. 42% of those without a high school diploma had a high predisposition to conspiracies.  A much lower, but still shockingly high 23% of those with postgraduate degrees also had a high disposition for conspiratorial beliefs (Uscinski 2014).

Only 26% of Americans disagreed with all 9 conspiracy theories below, and 33% even believed in a made-up conspiracy researchers called “The North Dakota Crash”.  The percent who said that the government is concealing what they know about….

  1. The 9/11 attacks 54.3%
  2. The JFK assassination 49.6%
  3. Alien encounters 42.6%
  4. Global warming 42.1%
  5. Plans for a one world government  32.9%
  6. Obama’s birth certificate shows he’s a foreigner 30.2%
  7. The origin of the AIDs virus 20.1%
  8. Death of supreme court justice Scalia 27.8%
  9. The moon landing  24.2%

People who believed in the highest number of conspiracies are also more likely to believe that “The World Will End in My Lifetime” (uh-oh, those evangelists again), as well as more likely to be fearful of government, less trusting of other people, and more likely to take actions such as buying a gun to overcome their fears.


National Science Foundation Questions 2014

The questions below are followed by correct answer and the percent who got it right:

  1. The center of the Earth is very hot. True 84%
  2. The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move. True 83%
  3. Does the Earth go around the sun, or does the sun go around the Earth? Earth around sun 74%
  4. All radioactivity is man-made. True or false? False 72%
  5. Electrons are smaller than atoms. True or false? True 53%
  6. Lasers work by focusing sound waves. True or false? False 47%
  7. The universe began with a huge explosion. True or false? True 39%
  8. It’s the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or girl. True or false? True 63%
  9. Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. True or false? False 51%
  10. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. True or false? True 48%

Not surprisingly, the higher the education level the greater the number of correct answers.

The world

Below is a poll of over 17,000 adults all over the world (Ipsos 2017) asking if they think that Religion does more harm in the world than good.  In my opinion, YES, DOES MORE HARM is a sign of rationality.  If you do too, then the rational nations are: Belgium, Germany, Spain, Australia, India, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Canada, Hungary, Argentina, Poland, Italy, Serbia, Mexico, and Turkey.  All of these 15 nations who scored higher than the U.S. But congratulations to the 44% of Americans who answered correctly.

Related Posts:

Critical Thinking

Posts showing good critical thinking

Surveys, references

Andersen, K. 2017. Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire. A 500-Year History. Random House.

AP / GFK. December 8-12, 2011. Poll in 2011. Associated Press.  1,000 interviews. Error: +/- 4%

Baylor. 2017. American values, mental health, and using technology in the age of trump. Baylor religion survey.

Chapman. October 11, 2016. What aren’t they telling us? Chapman University Survey of American Fears.

Gallup. 2005. Paranormal beliefs come (Super)naturally to some.

Gallup. 2005. Three in Four Americans believe in Paranormal.

Gallup. 2016. Most Americans still believe in God.

Harris Poll. 2009. What People Do and do not believe in.

Harris Poll. 2013. What do Americans Believe?

IPSOS. July 2017. Ipsos global poll: Two in three Australians think religion does more harm than good in the world.

Johnson, D. 2016. The Making of Donald Trump. Penguin.

National Science Foundation. 2015. Belief in the Paranormal or pseudoscience. Science and technology: public attitudes and public understand.

Politico. August 3, 2017. How the CIA Came to Doubt the Official Story of JFK’s Murder Newly released documents from long-secret Kennedy assassination files raise startling questions about what top agency officials knew and when they knew it. Politico.com.

Reardon 2016. Reardon, S. October 18, 2016. The scientists who support Donald Trump. Nature.

Uscinski, J.E., et al. 2014. American Conspiracy Theories. Oxford University Press.


Posted in Critical Thinking, Critical Thinking and Scientific Literacy, Religion | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The electric grid: fragile, filthy, poorly managed, polluting, inefficient, corrupt

Preface. Most forms of alternative energy depend on the electric grid (nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower). But the Grid is falling apart.  Most people who care about climate change believe electrifying everything will solve our problems. This energy section of energyskeptic and my book “When trucks stop running” explain why we can’t have a 100% electric grid or run heavy-duty trucks, tractors, harvesters, cement and other construction trucks, logging, mining, and all the other trucks that do the actual work of society via batteries or overhead wires.

And here’s yet another problem – the grid is falling apart because of privatization and the splitting of the grid into thousands of competing, uncoordinated entities where there’s no economic incentive or subsidy to maintain the grid in tip-top shape.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


A book review of:

Munson, Richard.  2008. From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity 

We’ve only been able to use electricity about a century, with profound changes in lifestyle.  We stay up late, move about on streetcars and elevators, use electric motors throughout industry or at home in our washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, ovens, television, computers, and so on.

There are still about 2 billion people who don’t have access to electric power, and population is growing faster than electrical wires are expanding.

Electricity can’t easily be stored, and delivering it is incredibly tricky, with the grid needing to balance supply and demand every microsecond.

It’s a huge business – electric utilities have assets worth over $600 billion – the nation’s largest industry.   It’s extremely capital intensive, requiring massive amounts of investment – up to 100 times more investment per delivered unit of energy than oil systems.

The electric industry donated over $21 million dollars to politicians,  mainly for subsidies to allow old and dirty plants to keep polluting.  Utilities also court Wall Street, which sells their bonds.

You could consider the electric grid of North America to be the world’s largest machine, with wires stretching from coast to coast.

The grid is complex, fragile, and has a lot of problems:

  • 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines that must balance electricity consumption second-by-second
  • Despite advanced computers, much of the electricity transmission system relies on mechanical circuit breakers and controls from the 1950s.
  • Threats to the grid include sagging power lines, trees, hurricanes, and terrorists.
  • The most frightening threat is if just one nuclear weapon were exploded at high altitude — 70% of the U.S. power grid could fail from EMPs causing cascading failures
  • The efficiency of the utility industry hasn’t increased since the late 1950s
  • 66% of the fuel burned to generate electricity is lost (i.e. 3 lumps of coal to deliver 1 lump of electricity).  As electricity travels along the lines, another 10% of energy is lost.
  • Power blackouts and surges cost Americans $119 billion per year – a 44% surcharge
  • Electric power generation is the largest pollution source, spewing mercury, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and many other pollutants into the air and water
  • Power generation plants are old, inefficient, filthy.  The average plant was built in 1964 with 1959 technology.  More than 20% of plants are more than 50 years old.
  • The electric grid is fragile.  Munson calls our grid a “rickety antique”.  Transmission lines were not built to handle the huge amounts of electricity transmitted now, which overloads them and leads to blackouts.  In 2003, it only took 3 minutes for 50 million Americans and Canadians to lose their electricity, the 4th catastrophic failure in 10 years.  2 million lost power in 1996 when the conjunction of a squirrel burning on a transformer and a power line in Idaho came in contact with a tree caused an outage.  In 1998 an ice storm cut power to parts of the United States and Canada.
  • Expansion. It’s hard to expand the grid because construction costs are high, the best corridors are not available because of urban development or go through wilderness areas, military reservations are in the way, and NIMBYism.
  • It’s polluting and filthy. After Carson’s 1962 “Silent Spring”, American activists attacked utilities for the air pollution they generated that could lead to emphysema, lung cancer, and heart disease.  Electric power was the source of more than half of the nation’s sulfur dioxide emissions.

Thomas Edison saw electricity as vastly superior for lighting than gas lamps, which flickered, emitted ammonia and sulfur, blackened glass globes and rooms, and had to be lit and snuffed one by one.

The early electrical industry was:

  • Ugly: in New York alone 20 different companies strung up their own wires on poles and buildings. The New York Times described downtown streets as “darkened by wires”. Wires remained up after business failures, sometimes fraying and causing short circuits.
  • Corrupt: bribes of aldermen to get permits, price fixing (which led Congress to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act)
  • Had no standards:  plugs were different sizes, voltages varied. If you moved, you risked your appliances no longer working.
  • Bad for horses: exposed wires and fault insulation threatened horses wearing metal shoes pulling trams about on streets.
  • Inefficient: large plants were most likely to fail and cost the most to construct. Turbine blades twisted, furnaces didn’t stay hot enough, and many other defects reduced reliability and performance.

Nuclear generated electricity – why it will never happen despite peak oil

Cost overruns on reactors nearly drove some power companies into bankruptcy.   In 1984 the Department of Energy calculated more than 75% of reactors cost at least double the estimated price.

Utility WPPSS in Washington state defaulted, scaring investors, who once thought there’d be over a thousand reactors running by 2000 with electricity too cheap to meter.  In fact, only 82 plants existed in 2000 and power prices soared 60% between 1969 and 1984 due to the cost overruns.

Nuclear executives tried to blame their problems on too much regulation and environmentalists, but regulations only came after reactors began to break down.   Intense radiation and high temperatures caused pipes, valves, tubes, fuel rods, and cooling systems to crack, corrode, bend, and malfunction.  Only then did the public create the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to regulate nuclear power facilities.

Munson lists quite a few problems, but you should search on “Nuclear Reactor Hazards  Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century” to get a real good understanding of the magnitude of failures despite regulation.  Indeed, even the Wall Street Journal was forced to admit at one point that reactor troubles “tell the story of projects crippled by too little regulation, rather than too much.”

Some of this stemmed from nuclear engineers seeing uranium as just a complicated way to boil water.  But a reactor is not simple, there are over 40,000 valves, the fuel rods reach temperatures over 4,800 F, and it isn’t easy to contain the nuclear reactions.

Management was poor as well, with Forbes magazine calling the U.S. nuclear program “the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale.”

Deregulation has been a disaster

Electricity generators make more money constructing more power plants, but not transmission and distribution due to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act in 1978 and the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

While power demand went up 30%, transmission capacity only grew 15%.  Suddenly there are a lot more companies moving power in unprecedented amounts, and they aren’t coordinating their efforts as well as the fewer, regulated utilities did.  There are no financial incentives to cooperate.

According to Michigan’s top utility regulator, “It would surprise a great number of Americans to know there is presently no government oversight of the reliability of this country’s electric transmission system”.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would like to stop this balkanized system, but utilities have successfully fought off such regulation so far.  Munson says that this “greed, of course, only forces the rest of the nation to live with an old and uncoordinated transmission system”.

How to improve the industry

Munson spends many chapters explaining how utilities could be better regulated, encouraged to cooperate and innovate, how to discourage Enron-like behavior, and build more efficient power plants.

My own conclusions

I think it’s too late to do much about the poor state of the electric grid and how it’s operated — oil probably peaked in 2005 (science magazine) or 2006 (international energy agency), so the energy to fabricate, deliver, and maintain new infrastructure and fix existing facilities means it’s too late to add wind, solar, and so on to fill in the fossil fuel gap.

And don’t forget, this is a LIQUIDS FUEL CRISIS.  99% of transportation is oil-based.

At the same time, the financial system is in the largest bubble ever and on the brink of collapse. Where will the investment come from?  How can such delicate, fragile systems operate as social unrest grows?  How will it even be maintained let alone increased in size and stability as declining resources make growth impossible in a finite world?

Posted in Alternative Energy, Blackouts, Books, Electricity, Energy | 3 Comments

Book review of Democracy in Chains, the history of how extremist Republicans stealthily stole our Democracy


I can’t do justice to this book in a book review (so buy it), especially the history of how the right-wing libertarians came to be so powerful, their huge influence on congress, the judiciary, and laws enacted, and how this was done with great stealth.

At the heart of what they want to do is change the U.S. Constitution, in ways that would benefit the superrich and harm everyone else.  They’d do this by putting even more locks and bolts on it to any change.

As it is, the Constitution already has a lot of locks. It restrains what the people can do to a degree not seen in any other democratic nation.  It has too many checks and balances, veto power, and vast power is given to rural states, which tend to be conservative, by giving them more votes to them than populous states.  For instance, consider that Wyoming and California both have 2 senators, but California is 70 times more populated, so a vote in California has 70 times less weight than a Wyoming resident’s vote.

Although it has made our system more stable, it has also made our Constitution the least responsive of all.  It takes huge crises to make change, such as the civil war, Great Depression, and civil rights which create the rare moments when a super-majority can vote changes into place.

A study by Alfred Stephan and Juan J. Linzes compared the number of obstacles democracies put in the way of citizens having a say in the legislative process.  Our system has the most veto power of any system, four:  absolute veto power for the Senate, House, and president (unless outvoted by a two-thirds majority) and two-thirds of the are states required to amend the Constitution.  Further obstructing majority rule is the winner-take-all Electoral college, and the 10th amendment that steers power toward the states.

The libertarian revolution also wants to control federal courts to veto measures voted for by the public and passed by their representatives at all levels of government.  This is why they are funding state judicial races to record-breaking amounts of money.

Libertarians know that it is easier to control a state than municipal levels of government, so they are also busy trying to pass legislation that allows the state to quash local rules voted for by the public, such as raising minimum wages, protecting the environment, banning plastic bags, and so on.  And they’re getting away with this because the Press doesn’t cover state level affairs enough.

In the end, this repressing of the public’s rights also serves their purpose of less voting as people get cynical about changing anything.  America is 138th of 172 democracies in voter turnout.  Gerrymandering has already significantly reduced representation of suburbs and cities in favor of rural voters as well.

Libertarians would like to make the Constitution even more strict and hard to change to prevent government from responding to the will of the majority unless the wealthiest Americans agree.  They’ve already stopped class action lawsuits and forced the public into mandatory arbitration where the rules were written by corporations who can choose the judges. We have reached the point where businesses are able to opt out of the legal system in many ways.

Basically libertarians see the only legitimate role of government is to ensure the rule of law, guarantee social order, and provide for the national defense.  So it won’t surprise you that their vision is:

  1. The end of taxes
  2. The end of regulations of any kind
  3. Cutting the budget for education
  4. The end of public education, only private and religious schools that will cost enough to keep minorities out, and to prevent community values from being taught in schools
  5. Ending Social Security and Medicare by privatizing them
  6. Privatizing employer-provided pensions and insurance
  7. Privatizing the U.S. Postal Service
  8. Getting rid of minimum wage laws
  9. Allowing child labor
  10. More private, corporate, for-profit prisons
  11. Stopping foreign aid
  12. Getting rid of unions of any kind
  13. Getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and all air, water, and earth protections
  14. Selling off public property to private investors
  15. Outsourcing public services to corporations
  16. Lying about their goals to achieve their fifth column desire to end democracy
  17. Getting extremist candidates elected to do all of the above
  18. Convincing the public to vote against their interests, not vote at all
  19. To convince the poor to vote for leaders who will keep them poor
  20. No government promotion of public health, sanitation, or Obamacare
  21. Control the judiciary, legislature, and executive branches
  22. To influence federal judges by “luring them with luminaries and luxury accommodations”. By 1990, more than 2 of 5 sitting federal judges had participated in this Koch-backed curriculum
  23. To rewrite the constitution to get rid of check and balances and make the interests of the propertied class paramount
  24. Require 2/3 or 5/6 of the legislative body to approve new expenses
  25. Pass a balanced budget amendment
  26. Educate and place extreme right-wing students in government, universities, and think tanks
  27. Make tax and spending cuts so large that government can no longer provide a safety net or education
  28. A School prayer amendment
  29. A Flat tax amendment to get rid of the graduated income tax 16th amendment

To enforce their goals, any congress(wo)men who don’t toe the right-wing line are ousted at the next election by their funding of other candidates.  Since the libertarians are a minority party and could easily be out-voted by Democrats if they voted, they will go after any group that will support them, such as evangelists, white supremacists, and the NRA.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

Nancy MacLean. 2017. Democracy in Chains. The Deep History of the Radical Rights Stealth Plan for America. Viking.

[My comment: some of this I have paraphrased, some of this is verbatim, and meant to give potential readers a flavor of the book ]

To most Americans living in the North, Brown vs. the board of education was a ruling to end segregated schools—nothing more, nothing less. And Virginia’s response was about race. But to many in the South, Brown boded a sea change on much more. At a minimum, the federal courts could no longer be counted on to defer reflexively to states’ rights arguments. More concerning was the likelihood that the high court would be more willing to intervene when presented with compelling evidence that a state action was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection” under the law. States’ rights, in effect, were yielding in preeminence to individual rights.

It was easy to imagine how a court might now rule if presented with evidence of the state of Virginia’s archaic labor relations, its measures to suppress voting, or its efforts to buttress the power of reactionary rural whites by under-representing the moderate voters of the cities and suburbs of Northern Virginia. Federal meddling could rise to levels once unimaginable.

To many whites, this decision meant that Northern liberals were going to tell the South how to run their society, and tax property owners more for improvements.


To counter this, the University of Virginia created a school with a political agenda to maintain Southern rights, headed by James McGill Buchanan, who, along with his team, was the main founder of the Koch brothers and other billionaires with a similar philosophy game plan of how to go about getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, and other new Deal Programs.   The Koch’s discovered Buchanan in the early 1970s.

Although this began many decades ago, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that the rest of us began to sense that something extraordinarily troubling had somehow entered American politics.  MacLean gives many examples, one of which is that several GOP-controlled state legislatures inflicted flesh-wounding cuts in public education, while rushing through laws to enable unregulated charter schools and provide tax subsidies for private education. In Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Iowa, these same GOP-controlled legislatures also took aim at state universities and colleges, which had long been integral components of state economic development efforts—and bipartisan sources of pride. Chancellors who dared to resist their agenda were summarily removed.

Then came a surge of synchronized proposals to suppress voter turnout. In 2011 and 2012, legislators in 41 states introduced more than 180 bills to restrict who could vote and how. Most of these bills were aimed at low-income, minority, young people and the less mobile elderly.

Then the movement went national with its all-out campaign to defeat the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. When they could not prevent its passage, they shut down the government for sixteen days in 2013 in an attempt to defund it.


Numerous independent observers described such stonewalling, vicious partisanship, and attempts to bring the normal functioning of government to a halt as “unprecedented.” When the Republicans would not agree to conduct hearings to consider the president’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant after Justice Antonin Scalia died in early 2016, even the usually reticent Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas spoke out. “At some point,” he told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, “we are going to have to recognize that we are destroying our institutions.

All of these actions and more not listed above were part of a well-planned and well-coordinated national campaign, some of it promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which kept its elected members a secret. It was producing hundreds of “model laws” each year for Republican legislators to enact in their states—and nearly 20% were enacted. There were laws to devastate labor unions, rewrite tax codes, undo environmental protections, privatize public resources, and require police to take action against undocumented immigrants.

In 2010, the brilliant investigative journalist Jane Mayer alerted Americans to the fact that two billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, had poured more than a hundred million dollars into a “war against Obama.” She went on to research and document how the Kochs and other rich right-wing donors were providing vast quantities of “dark money” (political spending that, by law, had become untraceable).  [My comment: Read “Dark Money”, a great book].

After the Koch brothers saw what the small Virginia school was doing, they went on to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on institutions to create operatives to infiltrate government and other institutions with their libertarian ideas, such as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the State Policy Network, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Tax Foundation, the Reason Foundation, the Leadership Institute, and more, to say nothing of the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries itself. Others were being hired and trained here to transform legal understanding and practice on matters from health policy to gun rights to public sector employment.

Still others were taking what they learned here to advise leading Republicans and their staffs, from Virginia governors to presidential candidates. The current vice president, Mike Pence, a case in point, has worked with many of these organizations over the years and shares their agenda.

Very early on, Buchanan and the Koch brothers realized that “the American people would not support their plans, so to win they had to work behind the scenes” and lie about what they really wanted: no rules, no regulations, and a government whose only function was the maintenance of order and military defense, and stopping taxation of wealthy individuals to pay for an increasing number of public goods and social programs they had had no personal say in approving. They viewed taxation to advance social justice or the common good as a mob attempt to take by force what the takers had no moral right to: the fruits of another person’s efforts.  It began with individuals, powerless on their own, who had figured out that if they joined together to form social movements, they could use their strength in numbers to move government officials to hear their concerns and act upon them.

Charles Koch did not just become a convert to the ultra-capitalist radical right. He is the sole reason why this movement may yet alter the trajectory of the United States in ways that would be profoundly disturbing even to the somewhat undemocratic James Madison.

To right-wing libertarians, it did not matter whether the movement in question consisted of union members, civil rights activists, or aging women and men fearful of ending their lives in poverty. Nor did the justness of the cause they advocated, the pain of their present condition, or the duration of the injustice they were attempting to reverse matter.

Charles Koch multiplied the earnings of the corporation he inherited by a factor of at least 1,000. He though capitalism should be free of governmental interference to achieve the prosperity and peace he felt that only his vision of capitalism could produce. The puzzle was how to achieve this in a democracy where most people did not want what he did. He decided ordinary electoral politics would not work. So for the next three decades he spent a great deal of money to identify and groom the most promising libertarian thinkers in hopes of somehow finding a way to get what he wanted.

He especially liked Buchanan’s idea of shifting the focus from who rules to changing the rules, and figuring out how to put legal and constitutional shackles on public officials, shackles so powerful that no matter how sympathetic these officials might be to the will of majorities, no matter how concerned they were with their own reelections, they could do nothing to follow the will of the majority.  The only way to make the restrictions permanent was a “constitutional revolution”.

After 2008, libertarians began to call themselves conservatives, knowing full well that the last thing they wanted was to conserve, but seeing advantages in doing so. A similar cynicism ruled Koch’s decision to make peace with the religious right, and men like Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed mobilized white evangelicals for political action. These religious entrepreneurs were happy to sell libertarian economics to their flocks—above all, opposition to public schooling and calls for reliance on family provision or charity in place of government assistance. The Koch team also learned how to leverage wider corporate backing.

The Koch team’s most important stealth move, and the one that proved most critical to success, was to wrest control over the machinery of the Republican Party, beginning in the late 1990s and with sharply escalating determination after 2008. From there it was just a short step to lay claim to being the true representatives of the party, declaring all others Republicans in name only. But while these radicals of the right operate within the Republican Party and use that party as a delivery vehicle, make no mistake about it: the cadre’s loyalty is not to the Grand Old Party or its traditions or standard-bearers. Their loyalty is to their revolutionary cause.

The new men in the wings respect only compliance; if they fail to get it, they respond with swift vengeance. The cadre targets for removal any old-time Republicans deemed a problem, throwing big money into their next primary race to unseat them.

U.S. senator Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, one of the first longtime Republicans to lose his seat for his failure to obey, referred to those who undermined him as “cannibals” who seek “the end of governing as we know it.” Others learned from experience how to survive. The Reagan Republican and six-term U.S. senator Orrin Hatch of Utah exploded after being targeted by a challenger from his own party in 2012: “These people are not conservatives. They’re not Republicans. They’re radical libertarians. . . . I despise these people.” He was right that they were not what they said they were, but the scare taught him to stop bucking and comply to keep his job. And, of course, there is John Boehner, the former House Speaker, who in 2015 finally gave up and walked out, calling one of the leaders of this cause inside the Capitol, Ted Cruz, “Lucifer in the flesh”.

Our trouble in grasping what has happened comes, in part, from our inherited way of seeing the political divide. Americans have been told for so long, from so many quarters, that political debate can be broken down into conservative versus liberal, pro-market versus pro-government, Republican versus Democrat, that it is hard to recognize that something more insidious is afoot, a shrewd long game blocked from our sight by these stale classifications. So not having words to fit what Republicans have become, we assume that what we are seeing is just very ugly partisanship, perhaps made worse by social media. But it is more than that. The Republican Party is now in the control of a group of true believers for whom compromise is a dirty word.

Their cause, they say, is liberty. But by that they mean the insulation of private property rights from the reach of government—and the takeover of what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands, and much more) by corporations, a system that would radically reduce the freedom of the many.

The libertarian network had so much money and power at its disposal as the primary season began that every single Republican presidential front-runner was bowing to its agenda. Not a one would admit that climate change was a real problem or that guns weren’t good. Every one of them attacked public education and teachers’ unions and advocated more charter schools and even tax subsidies for religious schools. All called for radical changes in taxation and government spending. Each one claimed that Social Security and Medicare were in mortal crisis and that individual retirement and health savings accounts, presumably to be invested with Wall Street firms, were the best solution.


But then something unexpected happened. Donald Trump, a real estate mogul and television celebrity who did not need the Koch donor network’s money to run, who seemed to have little grasp of the goals of this movement, entered the race. More than that, to get ahead, Trump was able to successfully mock the candidates they had already cowed as “puppets.

He promised to stanch it with curbs on the very agenda the party’s front-runners were promoting: no more free-trade deals that shuttered American factories, no cuts to Social Security or Medicare, and no more penny-pinching while the nation’s infrastructure crumbled. He went so far as to pledge to build a costly wall to stop immigrants from coming to take the jobs U.S. companies offered them because they could hire desperate, rightless workers for less. He said and did a lot more, too, much that was ugly and incendiary. And in November, he shocked the world by winning the Electoral College vote.

Are the right-wing billionaire libertarians a “fifth column”?

Is what we are dealing with merely a social movement of the right whose radical ideas must eventually face public scrutiny and rise or fall on their merits? Or is this the story of something quite different, something never before seen in American history? Could it be—and I use these words quite hesitantly and carefully—a fifth-column assault on American democratic governance? The term “fifth column” has been applied to stealth supporters of an enemy who assist by engaging in propaganda and even sabotage to prepare the way for its conquest.  A movement that knows it can never win majority support is not a classic social movement.

Their hostile takeover maneuvers very much like a fifth column, operating in a highly calculated fashion, more akin to an occupying force than to an open group engaged in the usual give-and-take of politics. The size of this force is enormous. The social scientists who have led scholars in researching the Koch network write that it “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party” and employs more than three times as many people as the Republican committees had on their payrolls in 2015. This points to another characteristic associated with a fifth column: the tactic of overwhelming the normal political process with schemes to disrupt its functioning. Indeed, this massive and well-funded force is turning the party it has occupied toward ends that most Republican voters do not want, such as the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, and education.

Rather than subverting democratic processes, they should fully inform the American public of their real goals and leave the decision to the people, once the people have been told the whole truth. What we are seeing today is a new iteration of that very old impulse in America: the quest of some of the propertied (always, it bears noting, a particularly ideologically extreme—and some would say greedy—subsection of the propertied) to restrict the promise of democracy for the many, acting in the knowledge that the majority would choose other policies if it could.

What this cause really seeks is a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few. It would like to reinstate the kind of political economy that prevailed in America at the opening of the 20th century, when the mass disfranchisement of voters and the legal treatment of labor unions as illegitimate enabled large corporations and wealthy individuals to dominate Congress and most state governments alike, and to feel secure that the nation’s courts would not interfere with their reign.

The American people have used their power to do many significant things that required tax revenues: provide public education, develop manufacturing, build roads and bridges, create land-grant universities, protect the safety of food and drugs, enable workers to speak as one through unions, prevent old-age poverty, fight discrimination, assure the right to vote, and clean up our air and water, to name a few. These are achievements in which most citizens have taken pride.

[My comment: Most of the book is about the history and main players in the libertarian revolution.  I’ve left most of this out, even though it is interesting, to spend more time on what they’re up to and what they want.  One of the early originators of what they think was John C. Calhoun, a strong proponent of slavery. Although libertarians would like everyone to think they are followers of James Madison, the leading architect of the Constitution, it was Calhoun a generation after the nation was founded who is the real origin of their view. And just like Calhoun, their appeals to the public are aimed at white racists, and their policies have always been disenfranchisement of black and other minority voters and keeping them ignorant with poor schools].

To claim Madison as the origin of their thinking is absurd. Sure Madison was eager to protect property rights, but he also wanted a lasting majority self-government, with protection for minority interests [my comment” such as wealthy right-wing extremists]—but not domination by them. When John C. Calhoun made his case for minority veto power, Madison made clear in unequivocal language that he rejected it, saying that to give “such a power, to such a minority, over such a majority, would overturn the first principle of free government, and in practice necessarily overturn the government itself.”

The South

The right-wing set out to burnish the South’s reputation by cultivating an image of the South as having been victimized by northeastern elites, and portrayed the militant white former Confederates who had used violence to drive black voters from the polls as merely engaging in self-defense.  They evoked an evil national government, enlarged by northeasterners who acted selfishly and in bad faith, first by setting the abolition wind blowing and later by pushing workers’ rights and federal regulation. Such ideas could never arise from American soil. They were “alien” European imports brought by malevolent characters.

White southerners who opposed racial equality and economic justice knew from their own region’s history that the only way they could protect their desired way of life was to keep federal power at bay, so that majoritarian democracy could not reach into the region.

A main goal of right-wing libertarians became breaking down trust between the governed and the governing, even those who supported liberal objectives would lose confidence in government solutions [my comment: and not vote].

Left unspoken was how right-wing members of the propertied class could both keep their taxes low and deny basic services—schools, roads, and sanitation—to those who could not pay for them.


Virginia and other states ignored Brown Vs. the Board of Education, and began setting up a new infrastructure of private academies that, being private, had no obligation to integrate under Brown.

They wanted to do away with the “public school system,” and see its buildings “leased off to individual groups of citizens and operated on a private basis.”

To make this happen, they argued that public schools lacked adequate competition, because on their own, few parents could afford alternatives. As a result, like all monopolies, state-run schools had no incentive to improve. “Privately operated schools,” by contrast, would have to compete for students, so they would have a strong incentive to try out a “diversity” of curricula, not only encouraging experimentation but meeting different tastes.

Nor should students be expected to go to high school, because no other nation ever attempted to keep so many children in school so long. It was an excess of democracy to try to educate so many and would cost taxpayers too much money.

Those who opposed school desegregation were coached to invoke the Constitution rather than white supremacy as the reason for their stand.

Governors and state legislators under the influence of the capitalist radical right have been moving aggressively to transform public higher education. After 2010, as a Koch-funded project moved forward in the states, its representatives sought to slash their states’ public university budgets while simultaneously raising tuition, ending need-based scholarships, limiting or curtailing tenure protections, reducing faculty governance, and undermining support for the liberal arts curriculum (particularly those parts of it most known for dissent).

The blueprint of the radical right at the state university level is to turn them into dissent-free suppliers of trained labor, run with firm managerial hands and with little or no input from faculty, and at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers. The underlying idea is that if you stop making college free and charge a hefty tuition that’s enough to cover the entire cost of each education, you ensure that students will have a strong economic incentive to focus on their studies and nothing else—certainly not on trying to alter the university or the wider society. This would also make their goal of educating far fewer Americans easier, especially lower-income Americans who could not afford full-cost tuition.

They also thought to change the way people think about government with a sound perspective by training teachers at community colleges with their libertarian thinking.  That would reach much larger numbers of students.

Because the money would not come from the politicians’ own pockets, politicians would continue to distribute the money of third-party taxpayers for self-gain as long as it remained in their interests to do so. Worse yet, the system encouraged profligate “logrolling.” In order to get the backing of colleagues, elected officials engaged in exchange: saying, in effect, I’ll support your proposals (and grant the money) if you support mine. Because much of this money had to be overseen by bureaucracies, the bureaucrat, too, had an incentive to keep this money flowing, because the more money there was going out, the more important their jobs and the greater the likelihood of their own fiefdoms expanding.


Attempts to make the public angry about taxes backfired. Although lower- and middle-income taxpayers would like to pay less in taxes, their solution was to  the wealthy and corporations to pay more. The demand for “tax justice,” as this campaign became known, proved popular, scoring successes at the local and state levels and inducing alarm on the right.

To get the public to shift the blame elsewhere, libertarians used racially coded stereotypes to blame freeloading black welfare recipients, laid-off steelworkers granted unemployment compensation, students provided low-cost tuition at state colleges and universities, and retirees who received more from Social Security and Medicare than they had paid in as the cause of higher taxes.

The original Populists

The first populists praised the ordinary men and women who produced needed goods by the sweat of their brows and reviled as “parasites” the mortgage bankers, furnishing merchants, and robber barons who lived in luxury by exploiting them. They called on the federal government to intervene, as the only conceivable counterweight to the vast corporate power altering their society. Because that government was representative of the people (or could be made so, through organizing), they saw it as wholly legitimate to endow Congress with new powers that the people believed it needed to ensure justice in a land changed by concentrated corporate power.

Spreading the word

Another effort was made to proselytize to like-minded capitalists and economists. Starting with a founders group, each of them would teach the basics of libertarian philosophy to 200 people, who in turn would teach others.

[My comment: the book spends a lot of time recording all the ways in which the goals of large numbers of right-wing organizations were unified and communication between them improved].

Their efforts led to many corporate donations. By 1980, their ranks included Exxon, Mobil, Shell, Texaco, Ford, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank, U.S. Steel, and General Motors, backed by the Olin, Scaife, and Smith Richardson Foundations.

Law professors were also sought out as inductees, especially those who supported the rights of property owners and fought anti-trust law.

[ Most problematic of all — to me ]  was the effort to train journalists in an approach to law that was sympathetic to corporations that found themselves in court.

The “campaign for the courts”

A movement to mold a new jurisprudence that would radically change the way justice is dispensed in our society was begun as well, with a goal of making the protection and enhancement of corporate profits and private wealth the cornerstones of our legal system. The Koch’s invested heavily in this effort.

Koch was so dedicated to his vision of what made people superior or inferior that when he married, he insisted his wife be indoctrinated into these ideas (she was and shares his views now).



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Book review of Hillbilly Elegy and why hillbillies voted for Trump

Source: David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

Preface. I bought “Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis” because I’d like to understand why anyone would vote for Donald Trump. Before the election, it was well-known that he should have been in jail several times, was a billion dollars in debt because he lied to the banks about what he’d already borrowed from other banks. He was allowed to stay in business because the banks figured that way they’d get some income from his hotels versus nothing at all.  It was well-known he was a gangster, a lousy businessman, and stiffed thousands of his employees.  Read all about it in the 2016 book “The Making of Donald Trump”.   

Many websites say this book is the best one to understand Trump voters.  But it isn’t. Instead, it is yet another memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional family and culture.  Now I do like these autobiographies, but it doesn’t begin to touch the hardships endured in “Glass Castle” or “A long way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”.   

There are no insights about why hillbillies went from voting Democratic to becoming right-wing Republicans and evangelical Christians who’d like to replace America’s Constitution with Biblical Commandments.  For that, you’ll need to read One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse (2016) or my review of this book in post How corporations used conservative religion to gain wealth and power and undo the New Deal.

Or why blacks and Hispanics, who have suffered far more from poverty and dysfunctional families vote for Democrats, not Republicans.

If you really want understand Trump voters, the best book is the highly entertaining  book by Joe Bageant “Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War“.

For a big picture view of how Trump voters came to exist, then the book for you is “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” which  goes back to the founding of the U.S. and beyond to the Calvinist Scots-Irish immigrants who came here.  It will be a shocking book to many who haven’t read much history, because it shows why and how it came to be that Americans have never been equals, and never will be.  If you didn’t own property by 1700, chances are you never would.  Unfairness goes back to the very beginning of the United States and the immigrants from Europe.

The main reason given for voting for Trump is that their standard of living is going down, and Trump promised to change that by cleaning out the Swamp.  But why is poverty growing?  Because we’ve hit the limits to growth of energy and natural resources. Even if we hadn’t, only a certain amount of resources can be extracted per year, and the population is still growing exponentially, which means less stuff per capita, period.  So in the end both Republicans and Democrats are absolutely nuts.  They both offer the solution of “growing our way out of it”.  Obviously, on a finite planet, endless growth isn’t possible.   But the parties are different, make no mistake.  Republicans are willing to take the brakes off the runaway engine and allow rules protecting the health and wealth of the public to be removed, get rid of the New Deal which basically means stealing from the poor and middle class for the sake of the already rich.  On the other side of peak oil people will desperately wish they had leaders that rationed energy and food fairly, it will become a matter of life and death.  But if The People vote for Republicans like Trump, or worse, well…

What follows are kindle excerpts from Hillbilly Elegy.  And since they’re yanked from various parts of the book, there’s no narrative flow, but it may give you an idea of whether you like his writing enough to purchase the book.  If you like hard luck memoirs that may be enough reason.  It’s certainly a way better book than “Strangers in their own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” by Arlie Russell Hochschild written by a middle-class outsider in boring, academic language that bends over backwards to be kind and understanding.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


J. D. Vance. 2016. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Harper.

I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember. I have, to put it mildly, a complex relationship with my parents, one of whom has struggled with addiction for nearly my entire life. My grandparents, neither of whom graduated from high school, raised me, and few members of even my extended family attended college.

I was one of those kids with a grim future. I almost failed out of high school. I nearly gave in to the deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone around me. Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bullshit. Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me.

It was Greater Appalachia’s political reorientation from Democrat to Republican that redefined American politics after Nixon. And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery.

What is more surprising is that, as surveys have found, working-class whites are the most pessimistic group in America. More pessimistic than Latino immigrants, many of whom suffer unthinkable poverty. More pessimistic than black Americans, whose material prospects continue to lag behind those of whites. While reality permits some degree of cynicism, the fact that hillbillies like me are more down about the future than many other groups—some of whom are clearly more destitute than we are—suggests that something else is going on.

Indeed it is. We’re more socially isolated than ever, and we pass that isolation down to our children. Our religion has changed—built around churches heavy on emotional rhetoric but light on the kind of social support necessary to enable poor kids to do well. Many of us have dropped out of the labor force or have chosen not to relocate for better opportunities.

When I mention the plight of my community, I am often met with an explanation that goes something like this: “Of course the prospects for working-class whites have worsened, J.D., but you’re putting the chicken before the egg. They’re divorcing more, marrying less, and experiencing less happiness because their economic opportunities have declined. If they only had better access to jobs, other parts of their lives would improve as well.” I once held this opinion myself, and I very desperately wanted to believe it during my youth. It makes sense. Not having a job is stressful, and not having enough money to live on is even more so. As the manufacturing center of the industrial Midwest has hollowed out, the white working class has lost both its economic security and the stable home and family life that comes with it.

The problems that I saw at the tile warehouse run far deeper than macroeconomic trends and policy. Too many young men immune to hard work. Good jobs impossible to fill for any length of time.

There is a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself. This is distinct from the larger economic landscape of modern America.

Jackson is a small town of about 6,000in the heart of southeastern Kentucky’s coal country. Calling it a town is a bit charitable: There’s a courthouse, a few restaurants—almost all of them fast-food chains—and a few other shops and stores. Most of the people live in the mountains surrounding Kentucky Highway 15, in trailer parks, in government-subsidized housing, in small farmhouses, and in mountain homesteads like the one that served as the backdrop for the fondest memories of my childhood.

I was obsessed with the Blanton men. I would sit among them and beg them to tell and retell their stories. These men were the gatekeepers to the family’s oral tradition, and I was their best student. Most of this tradition was far from child appropriate. Almost all of it involved the kind of violence that should land someone in jail. Much of it centered on how the county in which Jackson was situated—Breathitt—earned its alliterative nickname, “Bloody Breathitt.” There were many explanations, but they all had one theme: The people of Breathitt hated certain things, and they didn’t need the law to snuff them out. One of the most common tales of Breathitt’s gore revolved around an older man in town who was accused of raping a young girl. Mamaw told me that, days before his trial, the man was found face down in a local lake with sixteen bullet wounds in his back. The authorities never investigated the murder, and the only mention of the incident appeared in the local newspaper on the morning his body was discovered. In an admirable display of journalistic pith, the paper reported: “Man found dead. Foul play expected.” “Foul play expected?” my grandmother would roar. “You’re goddamned right. Bloody Breathitt got to that son of a bitch.” Or there was that day when Uncle Teaberry overheard a young man state a desire to “eat her panties,” a reference to his sister’s (my Mamaw’s) undergarments. Uncle Teaberry drove home, retrieved a pair of Mamaw’s underwear, and forced the young man—at knifepoint—to consume the clothing.

Uncle Pet was a tall man with a biting wit and a raunchy sense of humor. The most economically successful of the Blanton crew, Uncle Pet left home early and started some timber and construction businesses that made him enough money to race horses in his spare time. He seemed the nicest of the Blanton men, with the smooth charm of a successful businessman. But that charm masked a fierce temper. Once, when a truck driver delivered supplies to one of Uncle Pet’s businesses, he told my old hillbilly uncle, “Off-load this now, you son of a bitch.” Uncle Pet took the comment literally: “When you say that, you’re calling my dear old mother a bitch, so I’d kindly ask you speak more carefully.” When the driver—nicknamed Big Red because of his size and hair color—repeated the insult, Uncle Pet did what any rational business owner would do: He pulled the man from his truck, beat him unconscious, and ran an electric saw up and down his body. Big Red nearly bled to death but was rushed to the hospital and survived. Uncle Pet never went to jail, though. Apparently, Big Red was also an Appalachian man, and he refused to speak to the police about the incident or press charges.  He knew what it meant to insult a man’s mother.

Some people may conclude that I come from a clan of lunatics. But the stories made me feel like hillbilly royalty, because these were classic good-versus-evil stories, and my people were on the right side. My people were extreme, but extreme in the service of something—defending a sister’s honor or ensuring that a criminal paid for his crimes. The Blanton men, like the tomboy Blanton sister whom I called Mamaw, were enforcers of hillbilly justice, and to me, that was the very best kind.

On a recent trip to Jackson, I made sure to stop at Mamaw Blanton’s old house, now inhabited by my second cousin Rick and his family. We talked about how things had changed. “Drugs have come in,” Rick told me. “And nobody’s interested in holding down a job.” I hoped my beloved holler had escaped the worst, so I asked Rick’s boys to take me on a walk. All around I saw the worst signs of Appalachian poverty. Some of it was as heartbreaking as it was cliché: decrepit shacks rotting away, stray dogs begging for food, and old furniture strewn on the lawns. Some of it was far more troubling. While passing a small two-bedroom house, I noticed a frightened set of eyes looking at me from behind the curtains of a bedroom window. My curiosity piqued, I looked closer and counted no fewer than eight pairs of eyes, all looking at me from three windows with an unsettling combination of fear and longing. On the front porch was a thin man, no older than 35, apparently the head of the household. Several ferocious, malnourished, chained-up dogs protected the furniture strewn about the barren front yard. When I asked Rick’s son what the young father did for a living, he told me the man had no job and was proud of it. But, he added, “they’re mean, so we just try to avoid them.

That house might be extreme, but it represents much about the lives of hill people in Jackson. Nearly a third of the town lives in poverty, a figure that includes about half of Jackson’s children. And that doesn’t count the large majority of Jacksonians who hover around the poverty line. An epidemic of prescription drug addiction has taken root. The public schools are so bad that the state of Kentucky recently seized control. Nevertheless, parents send their children to these schools because they have little extra money, and the high school fails to send its students to college with alarming consistency. The people are physically unhealthy, and without government assistance they lack treatment for the most basic problems.

The truth is hard, and the hardest truths for hill people are the ones they must tell about themselves. Jackson is undoubtedly full of the nicest people in the world; it is also full of drug addicts and at least one man who can find the time to make eight children but can’t find the time to support them. It is unquestionably beautiful, but its beauty is obscured by the environmental waste and loose trash that scatters the countryside. Its people are hardworking, except of course for the many food stamp recipients who show little interest in honest work. Jackson, like the Blanton men, is full of contradictions.

After my cousin Mike buried his mother, his thoughts turned immediately to selling her house. “I can’t live here, and I can’t leave it untended,” he said. “The drug addicts will ransack it.” Jackson has always been poor, but it was never a place where a man feared leaving his mother’s home alone. The place I call home has taken a worrisome turn.

Jackson’s plight has gone mainstream. Thanks to the massive migration from the poorer regions of Appalachia to places like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, hillbilly values spread widely along with hillbilly people.

As the economies of Kentucky and West Virginia lagged behind those of their neighbors, the mountains had only two products that the industrial economies of the North needed: coal and hill people. And Appalachia exported a lot of both.

It is certain that many millions of people traveled along the “hillbilly highway”—a metaphorical term that captured the opinion of Northerners who saw their cities and towns flooded with people like my grandparents. The scale of the migration was staggering. In the 1950s, 13 of every 100 Kentucky residents migrated out of the state. Some areas saw even greater emigration: Harlan County, for example, which was brought to fame in an Academy Award–winning documentary about coal strikes, lost 30% of its population to migration. In 1960, of Ohio’s ten million residents, one million were born in Kentucky, West Virginia, or Tennessee. This doesn’t count the large number of migrants from elsewhere in the southern Appalachian Mountains; nor does it include the children or grandchildren of migrants who were hill people to the core. There were undoubtedly many of these children and grandchildren, as hillbillies tended to have much higher birthrates than the native population.

To Papaw and Mamaw, not all rich people were bad, but all bad people were rich. Papaw was a Democrat because that party protected the working people. This attitude carried over to Mamaw: All politicians might be crooks, but if there were any exceptions, they were undoubtedly members of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition.

Still, Mamaw and Papaw believed that hard work mattered more. They knew that life was a struggle, and though the odds were a bit longer for people like them, that fact didn’t excuse failure. “Never be like these fucking losers who think the deck is stacked against them,” my grandma often told me. “You can do anything you want to.

Their community shared this faith, and in the 1950s that faith appeared well founded. Within two generations, the transplanted hillbillies had largely caught up to the native population in terms of income and poverty level. Yet their financial success masked their cultural unease, and if my grandparents caught up economically, I wonder if they ever truly assimilated. They always had one foot in the new life and one foot in the old one. They slowly acquired a small number of friends but remained strongly rooted in their Kentucky homeland. They hated domesticated animals and had little use for “critters” that weren’t for eating,

Hillbilly culture at the time (and maybe now) blended a robust sense of honor, devotion to family, and bizarre sexism into a sometimes explosive mix. Before Mamaw was married, her brothers had been willing to murder boys who disrespected their sister. Now that she was married to a man whom many of them considered more a brother than an outsider, they tolerated behavior that would have gotten Papaw killed in the holler. “Mom’s brothers would come up and want to go carousing with Dad,” Uncle Jimmy explained. “They’d go drinking and chasing women. Uncle Pet was always the leader. I didn’t want to hear about it, but I always did. It was that culture from back then that expected the men were going to go out and do what they wanted to do.

I couldn’t believe that mild-mannered Papaw, whom I adored as a child, was such a violent drunk. His behavior was due at least partly to Mamaw’s disposition. She was a violent nondrunk. And she channeled her frustrations into the most productive activity imaginable: covert war. When Papaw passed out on the couch, she’d cut his pants with scissors so they’d burst at the seam when he next sat down. Or she’d steal his wallet and hide it in the oven just to piss him off. When he came home from work and demanded fresh dinner, she’d carefully prepare a plate of fresh garbage. If he was in a fighting mood, she’d fight back. In short, she devoted herself to making his drunken life a living hell.

Mamaw told Papaw after a particularly violent night of drinking that if he ever came home drunk again, she’d kill him. A week later, he came home drunk again and fell asleep on the couch. Mamaw, never one to tell a lie, calmly retrieved a gasoline canister from the garage, poured it all over her husband, lit a match, and dropped it on his chest. When Papaw burst into flames, their eleven-year-old daughter jumped into action to put out the fire and save his life. Miraculously, Papaw survived the episode with only mild burns.

During her sophomore year of high school, Lori’s boyfriend stole some PCP, and the two of them returned to Mamaw’s to indulge. “He told me that he should do more, since he was bigger. That was the last thing I remembered.” Lori woke up when Mamaw and her friend Kathy placed Lori in a cold bathtub. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, wasn’t responding. Kathy couldn’t tell if the young man was breathing. Mamaw ordered her to drag him to the park across the street. “I don’t want him to die in my fucking house,” she said. Instead she called someone to take him to the hospital, where he spent five days in intensive care. The next year, at sixteen, Lori dropped out of high school and married. She immediately found herself trapped in an abusive home just like the one she’d tried to escape. Her new husband would lock her in a bedroom to keep her from seeing her family. “It was almost like a prison,” Aunt Wee later told me.

Bev (my mom) didn’t fare so well. Like her siblings, she left home early. She was a promising student, but when she got pregnant at eighteen, she decided college had to wait. After high school, she married her boyfriend and tried to settle down. But settling down wasn’t quite her thing: She had learned the lessons of her childhood all too well. When her new life developed the same fighting and drama so present in her old one, Mom filed for divorce and began life as a single mother. She was nineteen, with no degree, no husband, and a little girl—my sister, Lindsay.

Today downtown Middletown is little more than a relic of American industrial glory. Abandoned shops with broken windows line the heart of downtown, where Central Avenue and Main Street meet. Richie’s pawnshop has long since closed,

If you need a payday lender or a cash-for-gold store, downtown Middletown is the place to be.  A street that was once the pride of Middletown today serves as a meeting spot for druggies and dealers. Main Street is now the place you avoid after dark.

This change is a symptom of a new economic reality: rising residential segregation. The number of working-class whites in high-poverty neighborhoods is growing. In 1970, 25% of white children lived in a neighborhood with poverty rates above 10%. In 2000, that number was 40%. It’s even higher today.

In other words, bad neighborhoods no longer plague only urban ghettos; the bad neighborhoods have spread to the suburbs This has occurred for complicated reasons. Federal housing policy has actively encouraged homeownership, from Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act to George W. Bush’s ownership society. But in the Middletowns of the world, homeownership comes at a steep social cost: As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. Even if you’d like to move, you can’t, because the bottom has fallen out of the market—you now owe more than any buyer is willing to pay. The costs of moving are so high that many people stay put. Of course, the people trapped are usually those with the least money; those who can afford to leave do so.

People didn’t leave because our downtown lacked trendy cultural amenities. The trendy cultural amenities left because there weren’t enough consumers in Middletown to support them. And why weren’t there enough well-paying consumers? Because there weren’t enough jobs to employ those consumers.

Growing up, my friends and I had no clue that the world had changed. Papaw had retired only a few years earlier, owned stock in Armco, and had a lucrative pension. Armco Park remained the nicest, most exclusive recreation spot in town, and access to the private park was a status symbol: It meant that your dad (or grandpa) was a man with a respected job. It never occurred to me that Armco wouldn’t be around forever, funding scholarships, building parks, and throwing free concerts. Still, few of my friends had ambitions to work there. As small children, we had the same dreams that other kids did; we wanted to be astronauts or football players or action heroes. I wanted to be a professional puppy-player-wither, which at the time seemed eminently reasonable. By the sixth grade, we wanted to be veterinarians or doctors or preachers or businessmen. But not steelworkers. Even at Roosevelt Elementary—where, thanks to Middletown geography, most people’s parents lacked a college education—no one wanted to have a blue-collar career and its promise of a respectable middle-class life. We never considered that we’d be lucky to land a job at Armco; we took Armco for granted. Many kids seem to feel that way today. A few years ago I spoke with Jennifer McGuffey, a Middletown High School teacher who works with at-risk youth. “A lot of students just don’t understand what’s out there,” she told me, shaking her head. “You have the kids who plan on being baseball players but don’t even play on the high school team because the coach is mean to them. Then you have those who aren’t doing very well in school,

There was no sense that failing to achieve higher education would bring shame or any other consequences. The message wasn’t explicit; teachers didn’t tell us that we were too stupid or poor to make it. Nevertheless, it was all around us, like the air we breathed: No one in our families had gone to college; older friends and siblings were perfectly content to stay in Middletown, regardless of their career prospects; we knew no one at a prestigious out-of-state school; and everyone knew at least one young adult who was underemployed or didn’t have a job at all. In Middletown, 20 percent of the public high school’s entering freshmen won’t make it to graduation. Most won’t graduate from college. Virtually no one will go to college out of state.

Students don’t expect much from themselves, because the people around them don’t do very much. Many parents go along with this phenomenon. I don’t remember ever being scolded for getting a bad grade

People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown. You can walk through a town where 30% of the young men work fewer than 20 hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.

Of course, the reasons poor people aren’t working as much as others are complicated, and it’s too easy to blame the problem on laziness. For many, part-time work is all they have access to, because the Armcos of the world are going out of business and their skill sets don’t fit well in the modern economy.

Alongside these conflicting norms about the value of blue-collar work existed a massive ignorance about how to achieve white-collar work. We didn’t know that all across the country—and even in our hometown—other kids had already started a competition to get ahead in life.

Mom and Bob’s problems were my first introduction to marital conflict resolution. Here were the takeaways: Never speak at a reasonable volume when screaming will do; if the fight gets a little too intense, it’s okay to slap and punch, so long as the man doesn’t hit first; always express your feelings in a way that’s insulting and hurtful to your partner; if all else fails, take the kids and the dog to a local motel, and don’t tell your spouse where to find you—if he or she knows where the children are, he or she won’t worry as much, and your departure won’t be as effective. I began to do poorly in school. Many nights I’d lie in bed, unable to sleep because of the noise—the furniture rocking, heavy stomping, yelling, sometimes glass shattering. The next morning I’d wake up tired and depressed, meandering through the school day, thinking constantly about what awaited at home. I just wanted to retreat to a place where I could sit in silence. I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on, as that was far too embarrassing. And though I hated school, I hated home more. When the teacher announced that we had only a few minutes to clear our desks before the bell rang, my heart sank. I’d stare at the clock as if it were a ticking bomb. Not even Mamaw understood how terrible things had become. My slipping grades were the first indication.

Even when the house was ostensibly peaceful, our lives were so charged that I was constantly on guard. Mom and Bob never smiled at each other or said nice things to Lindsay and me anymore. You never knew when the wrong word would turn a quiet dinner into a terrible fight, or when a minor childhood transgression would send a plate or book flying across the room. It was like we were living among land mines—one wrong step, and kaboom.

Seeing people insult, scream, and sometimes physically fight was just a part of our life. After a while, you didn’t even notice it. I always thought it was how adults spoke to one another.

Over time, I started to like the drama. Instead of hiding from it, I’d run downstairs or put my ear to the wall to get a better listen. My heart would still race, but in an anticipatory way, like it did when I was about to score in a basketball game. Even the fight that went too far—when I thought Bob was about to hit me—was less about a brave kid who intervened and more about a spectator who got a little too close to the action. This thing that I hated had become a sort of drug.

One day I came home from school to see Mamaw’s car in the driveway. It was an ominous sign, as she never made unannounced visits to our Preble County home. She made an exception on this day because Mom was in the hospital, the result of a failed suicide attempt. For all the things I saw happening in the world around me, my eleven-year-old eyes missed so much. In her work at Middletown Hospital, Mom had met and fallen in love with a local fireman and begun a years-long affair. That morning Bob had confronted her about the affair and demanded a divorce. Mom had sped off in her brand-new minivan and intentionally crashed it into a telephone pole. That’s what she said, at least. Mamaw had her own theory: that Mom had tried to detract attention from her cheating and financial problems. As Mamaw said, “Who tries to kill themselves by crashing a fucking car? If she wanted to kill herself, I’ve got plenty of guns.

Within a month, we moved back to Middletown, and Mom’s behavior grew increasingly erratic. She was more roommate than parent. She had new friends, most of them younger and without kids. And she cycled through boyfriends, switching partners every few months.  Though Mom had been many things, she hadn’t been a partier. When we moved back to Middletown, that changed. With partying came alcohol, and with alcohol came alcohol abuse and even more bizarre behavior.

Mom [rarely apologized, but one time] was extra-apologetic because her sin was extra-bad. So her penance was extra-good: She promised to take me to the mall and buy me football cards. Football cards were my kryptonite, so I agreed to join her. It was probably the biggest mistake of my life. We got on the highway, and I said something that ignited her temper. So she sped up to what seemed like a hundred miles per hour and told me that she was going to crash the car and kill us both. I jumped into the backseat, thinking that if I could use two seat belts at once, I’d be more likely to survive the impact. This infuriated her more, so she pulled over to beat the shit out of me. I leaped out of the car and ran for my life. We were in a rural part of the state, and I ran through a large field of grass, the tall blades slapping my ankles as I sped away. I happened upon a small house where Mom found me, broke down the woman’s door and dragged me out. The woman had dialed 911. So as Mom dragged me to her car, two police cruisers pulled up, and the cops who got out put Mom in handcuffs. She did not go quietly; they wrestled her into the back of a cruiser. Then she was gone.

Religious institutions remain a positive force in people’s lives, but in a part of the country slammed by the decline of manufacturing, joblessness, addiction, and broken homes, church attendance has fallen off. Dad’s church offered something desperately needed by people like me. For alcoholics, it gave them a community of support and a sense that they weren’t fighting addiction alone. For expectant mothers, it offered a free home with job training and parenting classes. When someone needed a job, church friends could either provide one or make introductions. When Dad faced financial troubles, his church banded together and purchased a used car for the family. In the broken world I saw around me—and for the people struggling in that world—religion offered tangible assistance to keep the faithful on track.

I was a curious kid, and the deeper I immersed myself in evangelical theology, the more I felt compelled to mistrust many sectors of society. Evolution and the Big Bang became ideologies to confront, not theories to understand. Many of the sermons I heard spent as much time criticizing other Christians as anything else. Theological battle lines were drawn, and those on the other side weren’t just wrong about biblical interpretation, they were somehow unchristian.

I admired my uncle Dan above all other men, but when he spoke of his Catholic acceptance of evolutionary theory, my admiration became tinged with suspicion. My new faith had put me on the lookout for heretics. Good friends who interpreted parts of the Bible differently were bad influences.

As a young teenager thinking seriously for the first time about what I believed and why I believed it, I had an acute sense that the walls were closing in on “real” Christians. There was talk about the “war on Christmas”—which, as far as I could tell, consisted mainly of ACLU activists suing small towns for nativity displays. I read a book called Persecution by David Limbaugh about the various ways that Christians were discriminated against. The Internet was abuzz with talk of New York art displays that featured images of Christ or the Virgin Mary covered in feces. For the first time in my life, I felt like a persecuted minority.

In my new church, on the other hand, I heard more about the gay lobby and the war on Christmas than about any particular character trait that a Christian should aspire to have.

Morality was defined by not participating in this or that particular social malady: the gay agenda, evolutionary theory, Clintonian liberalism, or extramarital sex. Dad’s church required so little of me. It was easy to be a Christian. The only affirmative teachings I remember drawing from church were that I shouldn’t cheat on my wife and that I shouldn’t be afraid to preach the gospel to others.

The world lurched toward moral corruption—slouching toward Gomorrah. The Rapture was coming, we thought. Apocalyptic imagery filled the weekly sermons and the Left Behind books (one of the best-selling fiction series of all time, which I devoured). Folks would discuss whether the Antichrist was already alive and, if so, which world leader it might be.

I remember watching an episode of The West Wing about education in America, which the majority of people rightfully believe is the key to opportunity. In it, the fictional president debates whether he should push school vouchers (giving public money to schoolchildren so that they escape failing public schools) or instead focus exclusively on fixing those same failing schools. That debate is important, of course—for a long time, much of my failing school district qualified for vouchers—but it was striking that in an entire discussion about why poor kids struggled in school, the emphasis rested entirely on public institutions. As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.

I don’t know what happened the day after Mom and I escaped Ken’s to Mamaw’s for the night. Maybe I had a test that I wasn’t able to study for. Maybe I had a homework assignment due that I never had the time to complete. What I do know is that I was a sophomore in high school, and I was miserable. The constant moving and fighting, the seemingly endless carousel of new people I had to meet, learn to love, and then forget—this, and not my subpar public school, was the real barrier to opportunity.

Those three years with Mamaw—uninterrupted and alone—saved me. I didn’t notice the causality of the change, how living with her turned my life around. I didn’t notice that my grades began to improve immediately after I moved in. And I couldn’t have known that I was making lifelong friends. During that time, Mamaw and I started to talk about the problems in our community. Mamaw encouraged me to get a job—she told me that it would be good for me and that I needed to learn the value of a dollar. When her encouragement fell on deaf ears, she then demanded that I get a job, and so I did, as a cashier at Dillman’s, a local grocery store. Working as a cashier turned me into an amateur sociologist.

Some folks purchased a lot of canned and frozen food, while others consistently arrived at the checkout counter with carts piled high with fresh produce. The more harried a customer, the more they purchased precooked or frozen food, the more likely they were to be poor.

As my job taught me a little more about America’s class divide, it also imbued me with a bit of resentment, directed toward both the wealthy and my own kind.

I also learned how people gamed the welfare system. They’d buy two dozen-packs of soda with food stamps and then sell them at a discount for cash. They’d ring up their orders separately, buying food with food stamps, and beer, wine, and cigarettes with cash. They’d regularly go through the checkout line speaking on their cell phones. I could never understand why our lives felt like a struggle while those living off of government largesse enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about.

Mamaw listened intently to my experiences at Dillman’s. We began to view much of our fellow working class with mistrust. Most of us were struggling to get by, but we made do, worked hard, and hoped for a better life. But a large minority was content to live off the dole. Every two weeks, I’d get a small paycheck and notice the line where federal and state income taxes were deducted from my wages. At least as often, our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else. This was my mind-set when I was seventeen, and though I’m far less angry today than I was then, it was my first indication that the policies of Mamaw’s “party of the working man”—the Democrats—weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

Political scientists have spent millions of words trying to explain how Appalachia and the South went from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican in less than a generation. Some blame race relations and the Democratic Party’s embrace of the civil rights movement. Others cite religious faith and the hold that social conservatism has on evangelicals in that region. A big part of the explanation lies in the fact that many in the white working class saw precisely what I did, working at Dillman’s. As far back as the 1970s, the white working class began to turn to Richard Nixon because of a perception that, as one man put it, government was “payin’ people who are on welfare today doin’ nothin’! They’re laughin’ at our society! And we’re all hardworkin’ people and we’re gettin’ laughed at for workin’ every day!

At around that time, our neighbor—one of Mamaw and Papaw’s oldest friends—registered the house next to ours for Section 8. Section 8 is a government program that offers low-income residents a voucher to rent housing. Mamaw’s friend had little luck renting his property, but when he qualified his house for the Section 8 voucher, he virtually assured that would change. Mamaw saw it as a betrayal, ensuring that “bad” people would move into the neighborhood and drive down property values.

Despite our efforts to draw bright lines between the working and nonworking poor, Mamaw and I recognized that we shared a lot in common with those whom we thought gave our people a bad name. Those Section 8 recipients looked a lot like us. The matriarch of the first family to move in next door was born in Kentucky but moved north at a young age as her parents sought a better life. She’d gotten involved with a couple of men, each of whom had left her with a child but no support. She was nice, and so were her kids. But the drugs and the late-night fighting revealed troubles that too many hillbilly transplants knew too well. Confronted with such a realization of her own family’s struggle, Mamaw grew frustrated and angry.

From that anger sprang Bonnie Vance the social policy expert: “She’s a lazy whore, but she wouldn’t be if she was forced to get a job”; “I hate those fuckers for giving these people the money to move into our neighborhood.

She’d rant against the people we’d see in the grocery store: “I can’t understand why people who’ve worked all their lives scrape by while these deadbeats buy liquor and cell phone coverage with our tax money.

These were bizarre views for my bleeding-heart grandma. And if she blasted the government for doing too much one day, she’d blast it for doing too little the next. The government, after all, was just helping poor people find a place to live, and my grandma loved the idea of anyone helping the poor. She had no philosophical objection to Section 8 vouchers. So the Democrat in her would resurface. She’d rant about the lack of jobs and wonder aloud whether that was why our neighbor couldn’t find a good man. In her more compassionate moments, Mamaw asked if it made any sense that our society could afford aircraft carriers but not drug treatment facilities—like Mom’s—for everyone. Sometimes she’d criticize the faceless rich, whom she saw as far too unwilling to carry their fair share of the social burden. Mamaw saw every ballot failure of the local school improvement tax (and there were many) as an indictment of our society’s failure to provide a quality education to kids like me.

Mamaw’s sentiments occupied wildly different parts of the political spectrum. Depending on her mood, Mamaw was a radical conservative or a European-style social Democrat. Because of this, I initially assumed that Mamaw was an unreformed simpleton and that as soon as she opened her mouth about policy or politics, I might as well close my ears. Yet I quickly realized that in Mamaw’s contradictions lay great wisdom. I had spent so long just surviving my world, but now that I had a little space to observe it, I began to see the world as Mamaw did. I was scared, confused, angry, and heartbroken. I’d blame large businesses for closing up shop and moving overseas, and then I’d wonder if I might have done the same thing. I’d curse our government for not helping enough, and then I’d wonder if, in its attempts to help, it actually made the problem worse.

Mamaw could spew venom like a Marine Corps drill instructor, but what she saw in our community didn’t just piss her off. It broke her heart. Behind the drugs, and the fighting matches, and the financial struggles, these were people with serious problems, and they were hurting. Our neighbors had a kind of desperate sadness in their lives. You’d see it in how the mother would grin but never really smile, or in the jokes that the teenage girl told about her mother “smacking the shit out of her.” I knew what awkward humor like this was meant to conceal because I’d used it in the past. Grin and bear it, says the adage. If anyone appreciated this, Mamaw did.

The problems of our community hit close to home. Mom’s struggles weren’t some isolated incident. They were replicated, replayed, and relived by many of the people who, like us, had moved hundreds of miles in search of a better life. There was no end in sight. Mamaw had thought she escaped the poverty of the hills, but the poverty—emotional, if not financial—had followed her. Something had made her later years eerily similar to her earliest ones. What was happening? What were our neighbor’s teenage daughter’s prospects? Certainly the odds were against her, with a home life like that.

I was unable to answer these questions in a way that didn’t implicate something deep within the place I called home. What I knew is that other people didn’t live like we did. When I visited Uncle Jimmy, I did not wake to the screams of neighbors. In Aunt Wee and Dan’s neighborhood, homes were beautiful and lawns well-manicured, and police came around to smile and wave but never to load someone’s mom or dad in the back of their cruiser.

So I wondered what was different about us—not just me and my family but our neighborhood and our town and everyone from Jackson to Middletown and beyond. When Mom was arrested a couple of years earlier, the neighborhood’s porches and front yards filled with spectators; there’s no embarrassment like waving to the neighbors right after the cops have carted your mother off.

As millions migrated north to factory jobs, the communities that sprouted up around those factories were vibrant but fragile: When the factories shut their doors, the people left behind were trapped in towns and cities that could no longer support such large populations with high-quality work. Those who could—generally the well-educated, wealthy, or well connected—left, leaving behind communities of poor people. These remaining folks were the “truly disadvantaged”—unable to find good jobs on their own and surrounded by communities that offered little in the way of connections or social support.

Wilson’s book spoke to me. I wanted to write him a letter and tell him that he had described my home perfectly. That it resonated so personally is odd, however, because he wasn’t writing about the hillbilly transplants from Appalachia—he was writing about black people in the inner cities. The same was true of Charles Murray’s seminal Losing Ground, another book about black folks that could have been written about hillbillies—which addressed the way our government encouraged social decay through the welfare state.


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Book review of “Deer Hunting with Jesus”. Best book to find out why people voted from Trump.

[ Joe Bageant grew up in poor, conservative Winchester Virginia, which is like tens of thousands of other small towns in America. He is one of the few who escaped and got a college education.  So when he retired there in 1999, he knew hundreds of people.  Bageant gives readers a visceral, gut-level understanding of what life is like in “red” Republican bible-belt territory. He paints vivid portraits of the locals he knows and cares about, the feudal economics that keep them poor, how Christian fundamentalism is woven into their lives, and why they vote against their own interests.  Best of all, the language is brilliant and fun to read.

Bageant believes many of his people are intelligent.  But many aren’t — about half of American’s are minimally to functionally illiterate, the majority of them poor or working class.  There are 32 million functionally illiterate adults, one in seven, who can’t read, write, and calculate for their own and their community’s development.   

Bageant says this illiteracy means that most of the folks in Winchester Virginia don’t know who Tom Delay is and don’t watch the national news unless the U.S. attacks somebody. If they could read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, none of them would see it as anything other than a story about animals. They have no idea what acronyms like IBM, FEMA, or HUD mean and can’t separate industry from government, advertisements and infomercials from the news.  They can’t really participate in a free society or make the kinds of choices that preserve and protect one.

I’m convinced from this book that they can’t be convinced to change their minds about Trump, short of North Korea dropping a nuclear bomb on Alabama and other red states. And the survivors might still vote for Trump.

This book explains why that is. Basically, they’re embedded in a spider web of propaganda.  The 20% of wealthier Republicans who control the town and who the poorer folks all want to emulate someday mix with the poor in bars, churches, and fraternal clubs.  They hammer them with the Republican line.  So do the churches.  So does Rush Limbaugh and other hate talk radio for their 8 hour shift at Rubbermaid and other deadening jobs.  Land of the free my ass! This is some of the most sophisticated brainwashing I’ve ever seen.  The fake news and propaganda is not done at re-education or concentration camps, where people would realize what was happening to them.

I felt like I understood more about why people voted for Trump after reading this book than the  academic nicey-nice bend-over-backwards to be sensitive “Strangers in their own land” by Arlie Hochschild or “Hillbilly Elegy”. The best book on how these people came to be historically is “White Trash, the 400-year untold history of class in America” that explains how it came to be that poor whites who arrived in America had very little chance of ever owning land or a business after 1700. Another good book about how the politics of resentment came to be what it is today is Nick Reding’s “Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town”.

Below are excerpts of the book, as usual disjointed because of that, but hopefully will give you an idea of his writing and convince you to buy this excellent book.

Joe Bageant. 2008. Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War

On the morning of November 2, 2004, millions of Democrats arose to a new order. Smoke from neoconservative campfires hung over all points southward and westward. The hairy fundamentalist Christian hordes, the redneck blue-collar legions, and other cultural Visigoths stirred behind distant battlements. In university towns across the country, in San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder, in that bluest of blue strongholds, New York City, and in every self-contained, oblivious corner of liberal America where a man or woman can buy a copy of The Nation without special-ordering it, Democrats sank into the deepest kind of Prozac-proof depression. What, they wondered, happened out there in the heartland, the iconographic one they’d seen on television and in magazines, the one bright with church spires, grange halls, stock-car races, and community heritage festivals. And why had the working class so plainly voted against their own interests?

One thing the thinking left and urban liberals have not done is tread the soil of the Goth—subject themselves to the unwashed working-class America, to that churchgoing, hunting and fishing, Bud Light–drinking, provincial America. To the people who cannot, and do not care to, locate Iraq or France on a map—assuming they even own an atlas. Few educated liberals will ever find themselves sucking down canned beer at the local dirt track or listening to the preacher explain the infallibility of the Bible on every known topic from biology to the designated-hitter rule or attending awards night at a Christian school or getting drunk to Teddy and the Starlight Ramblers playing C&W at the Eagles Club.

Well, ho ho ho! Welcome to my world! Here in my hometown, Winchester, Virginia, it is impossible to avoid the America that carried George W. Bush to victory in 2004.  Winchester is one of those southern places where the question of whether Stonewall Jackson had jock itch at the Battle of Chancellorsville still rages right alongside evolution, gun control, abortion, and whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. is half the driver his daddy was. The area is solidly fundamentalist Christian and neoconservative, steeped in the gloomy ultra-Protestant assumption that man is an evil, worthless thing from birth and goes downhill from there.

You can make lightbulbs at the GE plant, you can make styrene mop buckets at Rubbermaid, or you can “bust cartons,” “stack product,” and cashier at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. But whatever you do, you’re likely to do it as a “team assembler” at a plant or as a cashier standing on a rubber mat with a scanner in your paw. And you’re gonna do it for a working-man’s wage—for about $16,000 a year if you’re a cashier, $26,000 if you’re one of those team assemblers. Yet this place from which and about which I am writing could be any of thousands of communities across the United States. It is an unacknowledged parallel world to that of educated urban liberals—the world that blindsided them in November 2004 and the one they will need to come to understand if they are ever to be politically relevant again.

in 1999, when, after a 30-year absence, I decided to move back to my hometown and saw the creeping (and creepy) way the lives of my working-class family members, my neighborhood, and my community had been devalued and degraded by the forces against which left-leaning people have always railed—the same forces my family and town so solidly backed in the voting booths. My part of Winchester, the North End, contains the most hard-core of the town’s working-class neighborhoods, where you are more likely to find the $20,000-a-year laborer and the $14,000-a-year fast-food worker. I grew up here, my dad worked at a gas station here, and my mom worked at a since demolished textile mill whose rattling looms were the round-the-clock backdrop of our lives. I smoked my first cigarette here and married a poor white girl from down the street. My forebears are buried here, and all my ghosts are here—the ghosts of 250 years of ancestors, the ghosts of old love affairs, and the ghost of my youth. I know everyone’s last name, whose daddy was who, and who boinked whom when we were in high school. So when I moved back after 30 years out West, it was as if my heart was back where it belonged. Which lasted about three months.

It didn’t take too many visits to the old neighborhood tavern or to the shabby church I attended as a child to discover that here in this neighborhood in the richest nation on earth folks are having a hard go of it.  And it’s getting harder. Two in five residents of the North End do not have a high school diploma. Here, nearly everyone over 50 has serious health problems, credit ratings rarely top 500, and alcohol, Jesus, and overeating are the three preferred avenues of escape. These days the neighborhood looks as if it was painted by Edward Hopper, then bleakly populated with gangstas, old men with 40-ounce malt liquor bottles, hardworking single moms, and kids on cheap, busted plastic tricycles.

The working class here in what they are now calling the “heartland” (all the stuff between the big cities) exists on a continuum ranging from complete insecurity to the not-quite-complete insecurity of having a decent but endangered job. It is a continuum extending from the apathy of the poorest to the hard-edged anger of those with more to lose.

Being born lower class in working America makes some of us, probably most of us, class conscious for life. Consequently, a good deal of this book is about class in America, especially the class from which I sprang, the bottom third of Americans constituting the unacknowledged working-class poor: conservative, politically misinformed or oblivious, and patriotic to their own detriment.

In the course of that circuitous journey between leaving Winchester, penniless and dumber than tree bark, and returning at age 53, a modestly successful journalist and editor, I am now approximately a member of the middle class and one of the liberals at whom I so often poke fun.

What I see is that my people, the working folks in the old neighborhood—though they own more electronic gadgets and newer cars—are faring worse than when I left in quality of life and basic security. And then there are those who’ve joined the growing permanent underclass in America. You see them everywhere.

For example, I am standing in the checkout line at one of the most low-rent supermarket chain stores, Food Lion, watching the fellow in front of me, Eddie Coynes, receive his change with nicotine-stained fingers and stuff it into the breast pocket of his shirt. His wife is telling the clerk how her church rallied to buy her and Eddie a secondhand truck after theirs was repossessed: “It needs a spare tire, but we can come up with that.” “Praises be to Him!” exclaims the clerk, as if God had come down with a five-piece band and personally delivered that 1990 Toyota himself. Obviously they are all born-again.

I know which ones cannot get full-time hours at the plant, and I know which ones kid has “a dope problem,” and was busted for OxyContin—the poor man’s heroin. The clerk is not doing much better; I’ve seen her make purchases with food stamps as she goes off shift. Every one of them has worked all his or her life and lost ground for the past 25 years by Middle American standards.

When the middle-class citizens of Winchester or of the new suburbs of America—the 20% or so of Americans whose lives most closely resemble media images of the middle class—do cross paths with these struggling workers, they do not often recognize them as struggling. That smiling, wise old fellow in the orange vest in the pipe department at the local Home Depot, the one who knows everything there ever was to know about plumbing, is limping around at age 67 on bad knees and has two bone-grafted disks earned through a life in construction labor. He is working solely to purchase heart medicine and the private insurance he must have if he doesn’t want to lose to hospital bills the rundown bungalow he and his wife bought in 1964.

If you had lived his hard working life and had a philosophy of never wanting any handout from the government, you too would be conservative.  You would be cautious and traditional enough to vote for the man who looks strong enough to keep housing values up, to destroy your unseen enemies abroad, and to give God a voice in national affairs.  These working people both young and old—mostly whites with only a high school diploma—are nameless (except for the most obviously worst-off, who do have a name: white trash).

The myth of the power of white skin endures, and so does the unspoken belief that if a white person does not succeed, his or her lack of success can be due only to laziness.

Universal access to a decent education, however, would lift the lives of millions over time, especially considering that many of the worst aspects of poverty stem from the intellectual bareness and brutality of the environment.

Never experiencing the life of the mind scars entire families for generations.

It is a class thing. If your high-school-dropout daddy busted his ass for small bucks and never read a book and your mama was a waitress, chances are you are not going to grow up to be president of the United States, regardless of what your teacher told you. You are going to be pulling down eight bucks an hour at shift work someplace and praying for overtime to pay the heating bill. And you are going to be pitted against your fellow workers and a hundred new immigrants on the other side of town to hang on to that job.  And you are going to draw the inescapable conclusions that it’s every man for himself. Solidarity be damned.

If we define “working class” simply as not having a college degree, then fully three-quarters of all Americans are working class.   Working class might best be defined like this: You do not have power over your work. You do not control when you work, how much you get paid, how fast you work, or whether you will be cut loose from your job at the first shiver on Wall Street.

A self-employed electrical contractor is not a small business person or an entrepreneur. He is a skilled worker whom construction companies refuse to hire because they do not want to pay Social Security or worker’s comp or health insurance for employees. Instead, they contract with him, and he assumes the costs of those programs, and takes orders from a manager and shuffles through the farce that he is one of America’s ever-growing crop of dynamic, self-employed entrepreneurs. Our self-employed electrical contractor is not about to resist the system.  Who is offering to back him up if he resists? Which he has no idea how to go about doing.

In the days before the spine of the labor movement was crushed, back when you could be a gun owner and a liberal without any conflict, members of the political left supported these workers, stood on the lines taking beatings at the plant gates alongside them. Now there is practically no labor movement, and large numbers on the left are comfortably ensconced in the true middle class, which is only about 20 to 30% of Americans.  From that vantage point, liberals currently view working whites as angry, warmongering bigots, happy pawns of the American empire—which begs the question of how they came to be that way, if they truly are.

Meanwhile, we have what my people see as the “liberal elite,” the people still living the American Dream in relative economic safety. Yet the liberal elite—and verily they are an elite group—don’t think of themselves as elitists. Overwhelmingly white and college educated, they live among clones of themselves. As far as they know, American life is about money, education, and homeownership.

At the other end of the melanin-and-money meter are blacks. And alongside them are low-earning, uneducated rednecks, bred from generations of low-earning uneducated rednecks, clustered in whole neighborhoods of the same.

The middle class, both liberals and conservatives, are utterly dependent on my people, the great throng of the underpaid, undereducated, and overworked.  We are the reason inflation stays low and the private retirement accounts of the middle class have remained stable. Meanwhile, the working class is left entirely dependent on the Social Security program, which eventually will be slashed and privatized by some backdoor method by the ownership class in order to boost (in a wonderfully self-serving loop) the stock market, which serves primarily the upper middle and upper classes.

It is easy for conservatives, who were born into the upper quarter and have never needed entitlement programs, to be against them.

No Democrat or leftie seems to grasp that much of working-class theocrats’ eagerness to join the corporatists at putting the liberal yuppies in their place is revenge based. Working-class people can perceive the upper-middle-class snobbery toward them. But that snobbery emerges only when the rough edges of the two worlds rub against each other. Most of the time the true middle and upper classes are scarcely aware that real working people exist.

My working-class brethren have been downright stupid to be so misled by the likes of Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, and the phony piety of George W. Bush.

The fact is that liberals and working people need each other to survive the growing economic calamity delivered to us by the regime that promised to “run this country like a business”.

In what might be viewed as a series of closely linked essays, we start off with a night at Royal Lunch, one of the local taverns, where you will meet Dottie, Dink, and the other good working folks who populate this book. Then it’s on to meet some local employees of Rubbermaid and take a hard look at the ways globalism plays out for people in this town. In Chapter 3 we buy a mobile home and in the next chapter we visit the heartland gun culture that few gun control advocates ever set foot in. After our get-together with the inhabitants of the gun culture, it becomes apparent why the antigun forces in America can never win. These Americans love their guns for perfectly legitimate, if not always comforting, cultural reasons that go clear back to that battle-hardened swarm of Calvinist Border Scots who came to America, happy enough to kill off “the feathered and painted godless heathen.” Over the past few years we have watched their descendants fighting in Iraq, having their guns and bodies blessed by attending clergy as they go forward to scrub yet another nuisance from the path of democracy and righteousness. To understand why they believe God might want such a thing done, you are invited to read Chapter 5, in which we meet some Christians who want a theocratic state. In Chapter 7 we visit a nearby small town, one of America’s many cheap labor and nursing home gulags that nobody is talking about these days, where local karaoke singer Dottie ends up. This opens a can of worms about how married women who work are cheated out of their Social Security dollars and how fake nonprofit hospitals dominate American health care, failing to help uninsured and low-income sick people while spending billions to put small local hospitals out of business and open multimillion-dollar spas and fitness centers.

And in the last chapter I try to answer this question: How in the hell can it be that one part of a nation knows so little about the lives of the other? What great illusion in the theater of American life holds us so captive that we cannot even see those around us, much less persuade them not to vote against their own best interests?

This book is written from a changing town in Virginia, but this class of mine, these people—the ones who smell like an ashtray in the checkout line, devour a carton of Little Debbies at a sitting, and praise Jesus for a truck with no spare tire—exist in every state in our nation. Maybe the next time we on the left encounter such seemingly self-screwing, stubborn, God-obsessed folks, we can be open to their trials, understand the complexity of their situation, even have enough solidarity to pop for a cheap retread tire out of our own pockets, simply because that would be a kind thing to do and surely would make the ghosts of Joe Hill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mohandas Gandhi smile.

Faced with working-class life in towns such as Winchester, I see only one solution: beer. So I sit here at Royal Lunch. I call it my “learning through drinking” program. Here are some things I have learned at Royal Lunch: 1. Never shack up with a divorced woman who is two house payments behind and swears you are the best sex she ever had. 2. Never eat cocktail weenies out of the urinal, no matter how big the bet gets.

Dink is 56. His undying claim to fame in this town is not his Waylon imitation, it’s that he beat up the boxing chimpanzee at the carnival in 1963. This is a damned hard thing to do because chimpanzees are several times stronger than humans and capable of enough rage that the pugilistic primate wore a steel muzzle.

To readers who wonder whether people really have names such as Dink and Pootie: Hell, yes! Not only do we have a Dink and a Pootie in Winchester, we also have folks named Gator, Fido, Snooky, and Tumbug—whom we simply call Bug.

By the time my people hit 60, we look like a bunch of hypertensive red-faced toads in a phlegm-coughing contest. Fact is, we are even unhealthier than we look. Doctors tell us that we have blood in our cholesterol, and the cops tell us there is alcohol in that blood. True to our class, Dottie is disabled by heart trouble, diabetes, and several other diseases. Her blood pressure is so high the doctor thought the pressure device was broken. And she is slowly going blind to boot. Trouble is, insurance costs her as much as rent. Her old man makes $8 an hour washing cars at a dealership, and if everything goes just right they have about $55 a week left for groceries, gas, and everything else. But if an extra expense as small as $30 comes in, they compensate by not filling one of Dot’s prescriptions—or two or three of them—in which case she gets sicker and sicker until they can afford the co-pay to refill the prescriptions again. At fifty-nine, these repeated lapses into vessel-popping high blood pressure and diabetic surges pretty much guarantee that she won’t collect Social Security for long after she reaches 63, if she reaches 63.

Dot started working at 13. She has cleaned houses and waited tables and paid into Social Security all her life. But for the past three years Dottie has been unable to work because of her health. Dot’s congestive heart problems are such that she will barely get through two songs tonight.  Yet the local Social Security administrators, cold Calvinist hard-asses who treat federal dollars as if they were entirely their own in the name of being responsible with the taxpayers’ money, have said repeatedly that Dot is capable of full-time work.

Although it might seem that my people use the voting booth as an instrument of self-flagellation, the truth is that Dottie would vote for any candidate—black, white, crippled, blind, or crazy—who she thought would actually help her.

Dink and Pootie and Dot are the least likely Americans to ever rise up in revolt. Dissent does not seep deeply enough into America to reach places like Winchester, Virginia.   Never has. Yet, unlikely candidates that they are for revolution, they have nonetheless helped fuel a right-wing revolution with their vote.

In the old days class warfare was between the rich and the poor, and that’s the kind of class war I can sink my teeth into. These days it is clearly between the educated and the uneducated, which of course does make it a culture war, if that’s the way you choose to describe it. But the truth is that nobody is going to reach Dink and Dot or anyone else on this side of town with some elitist jabber about culture wars. It is hard enough reaching them with the plain old fact that the Republicans are the party of the dumb and callous rich. As far as they are concerned, dumb people in our social class have been known to become very rich. Take Bobby Fulk, the realtor we all grew up with. He’s dumber than owl shit but now worth several millions. And he still drinks Bud Light and comes into Royal Lunch once in a while. Besides, any one of us here could very well hit the Power-ball lottery and become rich like Bobby Fulk.

We are going to have to explain everything about progressivism to the people at Royal Lunch because their working-poor lives have always been successfully contained in cultural ghettos such as Winchester by a combination of God rhetoric, money, cronyism, and the corporate state. It will take a huge effort, because they understand being approximately poor and definitely uneducated and in many respects accept it as their lot. Right down to being sneered at by the Social Security lady. Malcolm X had it straight when he said the first step in revolution is massive education of the people. Without education nothing can change. What my people really need is for someone to say out loud: “Now lookee here, dammit! We are dumber than a sack of hair and should’a got an education so we would have half a notion of what’s going on in the world.

Americans are supposed to be so disgustingly healthy, educated, rich, and happy. But I have seen half-naked Indians in Latin America eating grubs and scrubbing their codpieces on river rocks who were a whole lot happier, and in some cases more cared for by their governments.

But no one in America is about to say such a thing out loud because it sounds elitist. It sounds un-American and undemocratic. It also might get your nose broken in certain venues. In an ersatz democracy maintaining the popular national fiction that everyone is equal, it is impermissible to say that, although we may all have equal constitutional rights, we are not actually equal.

Why are my people so impervious to information? Despite how it appears, our mamas did not drop us on our heads.  The lives and intellectual cultures of these, the hardest-working people, are not just stunted by the smallness of the society into which they were born. They are purposefully held in bondage by a local network of moneyed families, bankers, developers, lawyers, and businesspeople in whose interests it is to have a cheap, unquestioning, and compliant labor force paying high rents and big medical bills. They invest in developing such a labor force by not investing (how’s that for making money out of thin air!) in the education and quality of life for anyone but their own. Places such as Winchester are, as they say, “investment paradise.” That means low taxes, few or no local regulations, no unions, and a chamber of commerce tricked out like a gaggle of hookers, welcoming the new nonunion, air-poisoning factory.  Big contractors, realtors, lawyers, everybody gets a slice, except the poorly educated nonunion mooks who will be employed at the local plant at discount rates.

At the same time, and more important, this business cartel controls most elected offices and municipal boards. It also dominates local development and the direction future employment will take. Which makes for some ridiculous civic scenarios: When our town’s educators decided to hold a conference on the future employment needs of our youth, the keynote speaker was the CEO of a local rendering plant, Valley Protein, a vast, stinking facility that cooks down roadkill and renders deep fryer fats into the goop they put in animal feed. He got a standing ovation from the school board and all the Main Street pickle vendors, and not a soul in that Best Western events room thought it was ironic.

Meanwhile, the conservative Republicans ballyhoo “personal responsibility” to working-class employees like the guys and gals here at Royal Lunch. Most working people around here believe in the buzz phrase “personal responsibility.” Their daddies and mamas taught them to accept responsibility for their actions. They assume responsibility for their lives and don’t want a handout from the government. They see accepting public help as a sign of failure and moral weakness. Consequently, they don’t like social spending to give people a lift. But self-reliant as they are, what real chance do they have living on wages that do not allow them to accumulate savings? What chance do they have living from paycheck to paycheck, praying there will be no layoffs at J. C. Penney or Toll Brothers Homes or Home Depot?

According to Republican economic mythology, human beings are economic competitors; the marketplace is the new Olympia where “economic man” cavorts; the almighty market is rational and rewards efficiency, thrift, and hard work; and free competition “rationally” selects the more worthy competitor, and thus the wealthy are deserving of their elite status. According to the conservative canon, if you haven’t succeeded, it can only be because of your inferiority. Nearly everybody at Royal Lunch feels socially inferior. But in any case, they feel they can at least be self-reliant. They can accept personal responsibility.

We first started hearing about the average Joe needing to take complete responsibility for his condition in life, with no help from the government, during the seventies, when Cold War conservatives Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz dubbed themselves “neoconservatives.” In doing so, they gave a name to an ultra-rightist political strain that passionately hated taxes and welfare of any kind, and that favored a national defense strong enough to dominate any part of the world—or the whole world—at any given time. Neoconservatives hated the counterculture and saw it as the beginning of everything that was wrong with America. And they saw plenty of evidence of a shift toward a welfare state, most notably Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which for the first time funded school districts, college loans, Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and cut poverty in half. America was close to being a Communist welfare state, and people had better start taking some personal responsibility, they thundered. We find neoconservatives today all but owning the Republican Party and attempting to axe Social Security and slash unemployment insurance in the name of “personal responsibility.

But what sort of personal responsibility is possible in the neocon environment? A wage earner’s only asset is his willingness to give a day’s work for a day’s pay, the price of which he does not determine. So where does he get the wherewithal to improve his circumstances? He gets that wherewithal from the wages he earns. But in the new neocon environment, that wage does not support savings. It does not support higher education. It only allows the wage earner to survive from paycheck to paycheck, hoping he doesn’t lose his job

Conservative leaders understand quite well that education has a liberalizing effect on a society. Presently they are devising methods to smuggle resources to those American madrassas, the Christian fundamentalist schools, a sure way to make the masses even more stupid if ever there was one.

Until those with power and access decide that it’s beneficial to truly educate people, and make it possible to get an education without going into crushing debt, then the mutt people here in the heartland will keep on electing dangerous dimwits in cowboy boots.

This is a terrible and silent crisis. Working-class passivity, antipathy to intellect, and belligerence toward the outside world start early. They begin at home and continue in grade school.

Working-class people who own homes have no equity left due to refinancing to pay credit card debt or medical bills. And the working poor have even less of a chance. They rent until they die, with no hope of passing along to their children any accumulated wealth in the form of equity in a home.

So over the generations they stay stuck or lose ground. And they stay dumb and drink beer at Royal Lunch and vote Republican because no real liberal voice, the kind that speaks the rock-bottom, undeniable truth, ever enters their lives.

One of the few good things about growing older is that one can remember what appears to have been purposefully erased from the national memory. Fifty years ago, men and women of goodwill agreed that every citizen had the right to health care and to a free and credible education. Manifestation of one’s fullest potential was considered a national goal, even by Republicans.

Nobody kidded themselves that Republicans—the party of business—would look out for the education of the working class, or for the health of working-class children and oldsters, or for anything else other than their own bottom line. That’s what Democrats and liberalism stood for: working people and collective progress. Between 1932 and 1980, Democrats held comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress in all but four years (1947–1949 and 1953–1955). You’d think that sometime during those 48 years the party of Roosevelt would have done the right thing about health care and education for everyone. Especially during the fat nineties. But the stock market was booming, and middle-class professional and semiprofessional liberals had their diplomas in hand and their student loans paid off. They had jobs and those newly established 401(k)s that begged to be fattened, and airfare to France was cheap and…well…you know how it is. I cannot point fingers here. I was certainly among them at the time.

So now I sit at Royal Lunch looking out the window at the people on these old streets who not only fail to get what they rightfully deserve but do not even get what they need. Not sustenance. Not a roof over their heads. Not even a touch of mercy, right here in my own town. In Winchester, as in many historic towns in eastern America, the ancient brick veneer hides much poverty. Three-quarters of the town earns less than three-quarters of the national average, and a large portion lives entirely on Social Security. The town has as high a percentage of slum rentals as any big city. Fifty-six percent of residents rent, paying the highest rents, based on income, of any town in the state. Rental housing codes have never been enforced because big landlords and slumlords have constituted a majority on the city council. Over time they have made the town a slumlord’s heaven. It’s that way not just here but in thousands of small and midsize towns around the nation.

When I came back to Winchester in 2001, things were worse than ever. So in 2004 I began raising hell at city council meetings, pulling stunts like presenting the council, in front of television cameras, with dead rats collected from children’s bedrooms and hypodermic needles picked up from playgrounds. It had no effect whatsoever. So I gave up trying to embarrass these people and spent the next two years organizing the Winchester Tenants’ Board, the state’s first tenant union. We did not dare call it a union because union is a term so despised in this “right to work” state that nobody would have joined, and the word itself would have made us targets for union-hating and right-wing city and state politicos.

Things were rough. Board members were physically threatened by slumlords and their managers. One landlord pushed me down a flight of stairs, then called the police, alleging I had assaulted his seventy-year-old wife.

All the elements of a class war were present—a fact not overlooked by the local neoconservatives and right-wing editorial writers, who accused the organizers of attempting to stir up a class war

Mary Golliday was certainly homeless when I first saw her standing in the winter rain—toothless, wrinkled, addled. The manager of a children’s store on Main Street called me, asking if the Tenants’ Board could do anything for her. In a rare act of enforcement, the city health department had condemned Mary’s apartment for general violations. The landlord responded by throwing her into the street and hauling away everything she owned—mostly thrift-store junk—in a dump truck. The two months’ rent she had somehow managed to pay in advance had vanished. I called the city sheriff, whose job it is to deal with illegal evictions. Under law, only our city sheriff can conduct an eviction. Listening to Mary’s story on the phone, the sheriff replied, “Oh yes, Ms. Golliday. We’ve had trouble with her before.” And that was it.

An illegal eviction in Virginia is a civil matter. She would have to get a lawyer and take the landlord to civil court. This was not very likely to happen, given that she was living on a monthly Social Security check of $500 and change, $400 of which went to rent. Besides that, no lawyer in town would take a tenant case against any landlord. The lawyers drink at the country club with the landlords and make substantial fees in rental real estate transactions.

Mary’s case is by no means unusual, nor is her treatment at the hands of local institutions and agencies, which do almost nothing because they are deliberately underfunded by the city government and are managed by people who understand that their job is to keep costs, and thus services, down. To do something would require raising taxes, and Virginia is a much-ballyhooed low-tax state. The effort within agencies to deny services gets ridiculous at times.

Churches and, more recently, faith-based initiatives are supposed to take care of all that.

Without trying too hard, you can find millions of Mary Gollidays across this country. The only difference is that here in the South when individuals like Mary are down, we stomp them. The operating Christian principle is that one should always kick people when they are down—it gives them incentive to get up. After that, they can try again to dance to the rhythm tapped out by the invisible hand of the free marketplace.

By now we all understand that it was Ronald Reagan’s powerful coalition that first turned Mary and her kind out into the streets

Remember when welfare mothers were robbing us all blind and driving Cadillac’s? Thirty years and a couple of Democratic administrations later, things are only worse. Republicans do not own all the blame. Bill Clinton was more enamored of his own hubris regarding NAFTA and a republic of yuppie mutual-fundsters than of ordinary working Americans, despite the urban folklore surrounding his humble birth in Hope, Arkansas, in 1946.

The misery of folks like Mary Golliday may be a result of national policy, but it is also part of America’s one-sided class war being fought at the local level. The problem is that only one side understands that a class war is going on, the side that gets to do the ass kicking. It’s like being tied up inside a burlap sack trying to guess who is clobbering you with that baseball bat. Certainly no one here at Royal Lunch has ever heard the term class war. And the average construction worker at this tavern certainly does not grasp that the multimillionaire housing developer for whom he gratefully works is one of the people clobbering the burlap sack.

The small cartel of southern families that traditionally have run our little banana republic at the top of the Shenandoah Valley, they continue this proud tradition. Today they are raking it in from super-heated over-development, leaving the taxpayers stuck in traffic jams and holding the bag for all those new schools that come with development.

But the truly dangerous ones are those ankle biters trying to get a bigger piece of the local action. I am talking about the realtors, lawyers, and middlemen willing to cooperate in whatever it takes to destroy land-use and zoning codes, bust unions, and generally keep wages low, rents high, and white trash, liberals, and “Afroids” (as one local old-line realtor calls them) down.

Despite globalism, owners of small and medium-size businesses run much of the heartland. Many of those picturesque towns you whip by on the interstate are small feudal systems ruled by local networks of moneyed families, bankers, developers, lawyers, and merchants. That part of a community’s life you cannot see from the road or from your Marriott hotel room, and it certainly does not appear in tourist brochures.   It is in the interest of these well-heeled conservative provincials to maintain a feudal state with low taxes, few or no local regulations, no unions, a cheap school system, and a chamber of commerce with the state senate on its speed dial. At the same time they dominate most elected offices and municipal boards.

Members of the business class, that legion of little Rotary Club spark plugs, are vital to the American corporate and political machine. They are where the institutionalized rip-off of working-class people by the rich corporations finds its footing at the grassroots level, where they can stymie any increase in the minimum wage or snuff out anything remotely resembling a fair tax structure. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians has connections. It can get that hundred acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that two-thousand-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for big business, these folks, with the help of their lawyers, can raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God’s gift to the big nonunion companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into—the right wing’s can-do boys. They are so far right they will not even eat the left wing of a chicken.

In any other era, Buck might have won the game. But not this time. These days the geet is siphoned off long before he sees it, sucked up by the rich sons of Bush oil men and the rest of the new class of financial kingpins. So, unlike our mutual friend developer Mifflin Cooper, who was born with a silver spoon in every orifice, Buck finds that there’s no room for him at the trough. He is not part of the old-money Byrd family, which owns our local and regional newspapers, or the Lewis family, which owns our conservative talk radio station. And when, after kissing these people’s asses all his life, Buck allows himself to realize that it’s never going to happen, he turns nasty, breaks bad on the world.  He had the right stuff and deserved to be wealthy, so somebody else must be to blame. It must be the welfare bums. It must be all of those taxes for “social programs for minorities’,” code for “throwing money at blacks and Mexicans.” Or tax-and-spend liberals. Or “big government.” It can’t possibly be because of the rich elites, because, dammit son, rich is what Buck is trying to be!

I doubt Buck has ever looked at the federal budget to see how much of his taxes, maybe 4% at best, goes for what he calls “socialist programs.” And he sure as hell never questions the 25 cents of every income tax dollar that goes for interest payments to super-rich bondholders, or the cost of nuclear carriers, stealthy bombers, and the far-flung legions it takes to maintain the American empire. In fact, he’s proud of the empire.

To make sure the little guy never becomes a real threat, the current administration again cut funds to the Small Business Administration. Why? Because the real players calling themselves small businesses are not so small at all but are local and regional cartels.  They are taken care of. They are big campaign contributors.  No need to waste a money on a loan to Raynetta Jackson, who successfully raised six kids of her own and is trying to start a day care center, or on Bobby Jenkins, who believes he could operate a pretty good body shop if he only had some startup cash.

Here are some of examples of why it is hard to change their beliefs:

When Bageant asks his anti-union son Tom, who works at the Rubbermaid factory, to give him one example of a union demanding a 20% pay increase for zero productivity growth, it doesn’t work. People don’t cite real facts.  They recite what they’ve absorbed from the atmosphere, a combination of things that sound right, a blend of modern folk wisdom, cliché, talk radio, and Christian radio babble.  There’s no point in me telling my son that corporations do everything they can to increase productivity except increasing wages and benefits, or that they’re beholden to Wall Street, not the workers, and prefer Asian sweatshops.

In the heartland, no one talks about universal health care or education, paid parental leave, affordable housing, unemployment compensation, food stamps, or Head Start. These are shameful “entitlements, damned government giveaways”.  If people really want more, they’ll get up off their lazy asses and work for it.

One of the slickest things the Republicans ever did was label necessary social costs as “entitlements.” After 30 years of repetition, the working class associates the term with laziness, something for nothing. This propaganda is made easy because who has the time to deal with anything other than their jobs. The Tom DeLay and Abramoff scandals, Republican cronyism, payoffs, and so on doesn’t register.  The main thing is that the narrative is simple and makes clear who to love and who to hate.  Ever since Reagan, Republicans have been good at coming up with such stories.  Anyone who could sell people on the “trickle down” theory that working people’s best interests are to give as much money as possible to the already-rich for instance.  The working class simply doesn’t have enough awareness of the world to debunk the Kerry Swift-boat story, partly driven by class resentment of rich Yalies, whereas George Bush cuts brush on his ranch while Kerry is windsurfing at Martha’s Vineyard.   Many people in the hinterland don’t know a single registered Democrat, making them even less likely to hear another point of view.

The working class has no time to listen to anything but Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan and other right-wing talk jocks at work.  This is their main source of knowledge about anything political.  Most don’t subscribe to a newspaper, and if they do find time to watch TV news, listen to Fox.

In Winchester and other towns, the Republican’s everyday lives are woven into the fabric of the community in a way that the everyday lives of the left have not been since the Great Depression and social justice movements of the 60s. Despite the class system, many rich Republicans still meet the small business and working class on their own turf, and working-class people encounter then at churches, fund-raisers, local small businesses, fraternal organizations like the Elks Club, and at the local bar where they hang out.

They often know these wealthy republicans from childhood, and greatly admire them, and hope to become wealthy like them some day, so they hang on their every word in case they say something useful.  One of their wealthier friends who shows up at the bar is a landlord who spends a lot of her time at city hall fighting tenant’s rights and proper taxes. At the bar she badmouths progressive politics and anything related to the Democratic Party. No one questions her veracity – being wealthy is proof of God’s love.  The Democrats in Winchester simply don’t interact at the grassroots level to spread another perspective on the world, nor do they have radio shows to counter the hate-talk right wing radio stations people listen to at work all day.

Republicans also attend city council meetings, write letters to the local papers, and consequently have a unified response to any liberal message.

At the small town level, local candidates are raised and groomed for state and national office.  From these local grassroots GOP business-based cartels a vast army of campaign volunteers, political activists, and spokesmen spring.  This is why the rightists succeed at forcing their vision of America – they’re committed to organization and communication.

Liberals chatter among themselves online or at social gathers and make little attempt to engage, much less convert, the heathen tribes.

Of course all the Republican shit stirring the world would be useless if there were no working-class anger or anxiety to be tappedThey may not spend much time mouthing off about politics, but many sure as hell fester inside about their lives and livelihoods.  This deep anger has little to do with gays or the sacrifice of unborn children, it’s born out of the daily insults they suffer from their employers, the government, and educated fellow Americans such as doctors, lawyers, journalists, academics and so on.

The brutal way in which America’s hardest-working folks have been forced to internalize the values of a gangster capitalist class continues to elude the left, which doesn’t understand how the political and economic system has hammered the humanity of ordinary working people.  These people, who do our hardest work and fight our wars are not altruistic and probably never were. They don’t give a rat’s bunghole about the world’s poor or the planet or animals or anything else. Not rally. They like cheap gas, chasing sales, and if fascism comes, they will like that too if the cost of gas isn’t too high and Comcast comes through with a 24-hour NFL channel.

Genuine moral values have jack to do with politics. But in an obsessively religious nation, values remain the most effective smoke screen for larceny by the rich.  What Christians and others who voted Republican in 2000 and 2004 were voting on was fear of human beings unlike themselves, especially gays, lesbians, Muslims, and non-Christians.

I have seen hate in others and I’m seeing more of it now than ever before in my lifetime, which is saying a lot since I grew up in the Jim Crow area.  Fanned and nurtured by neoconservative elements, the hate is every bit equal to the kind I saw in my people during those violent years. Irrational. Deeply rooted. Based on inchoate fears.

They’re too busy to read and learn, many work second jobs after work, or fix their homes and cars.  When they have any spare time, they watch televised sports, drink lots of beer, and remain stupid and blind to the world.  Working folks seldom talk politics or current events except during the final weeks before an election or when lefty agitators like me or local Republican operatives from the middle class approach them in the bar with a deep understanding that their psyche is one of emotion substituted for thought, fear, ignorance, and propaganda.  The intellectual lives of most working-class Americans consist of things that sound as if they might be true, which is why millions are spent on sound bites and sloganeering.

But the main reason Republicans dominate is that rightists tapped into their dissatisfaction by attributing loss of community and values to the cultural left’s feminism, anti-racism, gays and so on.  The Republican message, baloney though it was, is all that reached them. The Democrats didn’t have any message at all.  Only the right-wing politicians paid any attention to them. 

Getting a lousy education, then spending a lifetime pitted against your fellow workers in the gladiatorial theater of the free market economy does not make for optimism or open-mindedness, both hallmarks of liberalism.  It makes for a kind of bleak coarseness and inner degradation that allows working people to accept the American empire’s war without a blink.  They believe violence can solve foreign political problems.

For many of them, bombing anyone anywhere helps purge some unarticulated inner-rage—rage that the easy truisms that once seemed to lend nobility to the dullest of lives are no longer believable, such as that Americans are brave and true and exceptional and looked up to by the rest of the entire world.  His son Toms blames this on “weirdo university professors, union racketeers, and the rich California ACLU types who never worked for a living. It all started to go to hell during the 60s”.

The forebears of today’s rednecks were people for whom not working meant their families would starve. Literally. So the work ethic is burned into their genetic code.  I’m not talking about white trash here. I am talking about rednecks, the difference being that rednecks work themselves to death and will never accept a handout.  White trash folks do not have the same hang-up.  In the redneck mind, lazy is the worst thing a person can be—worse than dumb, drunk, or mean, worse than being a liar and a jailbird or crazy.  The absolute worst thing that a redneck can say about anyone is: “He doesn’t want to work,” generally followed by “Hell, I don’t want to either, but I have to.” By the same logic, educated liberals who have time to read, who in fact read so much that they join book clubs, are suspect.

Our culture is based on two things: television and petroleum.  Whether you are Pootie or the president, your world depends on an unbroken supply of both.  So it is small wonder that we all watch a televised global war for oil as brain-wave entertainment.  As a consequence, we receive the conditioning required to sustain our acceptance of the state brutality occurring at the edges of the empire in the quest for oil.

We live in an age of corporate dominion just as we once lived in an age of domination by royal families, kings, and warlords.

Okay, end of the excerpts, time to order the book so you can also find out about:

  • What it’s like to work at the Rubbermaid factory and meeting the people who work there
  • Real estate and debt before the 2008 crash, which Bageant and so many others, can see coming.
  • The gun culture and why it’s not nearly as bad as liberals fear, and a sure-fire way to keep them Republican. But Bageant shudders to think about what will happen one day if things spiral out of control.  What happens when this country finally hits peak oil demand and the electrical grid starts browning down and even little things become desperately difficult or unaffordable? What happens if the wrong kind of president declares the wrong kind of national emergency? What will be the reaction of millions of gun owners?
  • Fundamentalist churches their belief in the End Times (the Rapture), how they influence politics.  Evangelicals would scrap the Constitution and institute Biblical Law, the rules of the Old testament, and they take the long view toward the establishment of a theocratic state.
  • How deeply entrenched this culture is, going back to the Calvinistic beliefs of Scots-Irish from the old country who came here.
  • What the poor experience in the American health system. One of his friends told him “Honest to damned, I think these [incompetent] doctors are here to take out the old and crippled people in this country. Kill ‘em off in out-of-the-way plces were the public can’t see. They treat all of us like they expect us to die and like they expect to make money on us right up to the last minute”.



Posted in Critical Thinking and Scientific Literacy, Human Nature, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The dangers of relativism, of not being able to criticize anyone or anything because all of our beliefs are equal

[ I’ve been criticized for attacking right-wing Republicans, fundamentalist Christians, astrology, medicinal quackery, and so on.  This is dangerous nonsense. It means I can’t criticize Hitler, because after all, he was a product of his times.  I can’t tell my friends who smoke or shoot up heroin to stop because they are killing themselves and ruining the lives of those who love them. I can’t criticize herbal supplements that have never been tested for efficacy or potential harms.  Or be upset that Republicans  and fundamentalist Christians want to dismantle the social safety net and replace it with corporate welfare and the Constitution with Biblical Law and end the separation of church and state.  Or object to fundamentalists who want to take my right to control my own body and fate by denying me birth control and abortion.

The whole idea of being nicey-nice and not hurting anyone’s feelings has gotten us into a huge irrational mess. Relativism is the same thing as the darkness of superstition and ultimately leads to facism, demagogues, oppression of women, extremely unfair distribution of wealth — there are consequences to relativism. Because after all, you can’t fight against racists and fascists, you might hurt their feelings.

Relativism means that science is no more correct than astrology. Really? Science measures, tests, improves our understanding of how the universe works, it is a method that constantly modifies what we know, not a fixed religion where every word written 3,000 years ago is true.  If the findings of science contradict what an astrologer or evangelical would prefer to believe, the answer is not to attack science, but to become scientifically literate.  Which is of course, very unlikely, but Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic magazine and author of many books on morality and critical thinking, made the journey from fundamentalist beliefs to science, and has since then dedicated his life to trying to get others to see the light. Carl Sagan called science a “candle in the dark”.  Relativism seeks to snuff the candle out.

How can understanding how the universe works not be better than the constant terror of a vengeful irrational God, or random stars chosen to depict Virgo by a few Greeks thousands of years ago that are capable of sending malice and changing the fates and personalities of 1 in 12 people?

If you still don’t think so, read my recent book reviews of the fabulous book “Fantasyland” which I broke down into 9 posts, with many more dangers of relativism.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Brittanica.com (shortened and paraphrased):

If ethical relativism is correct, it would mean that even the most outrageous practices, such as slavery and the physical abuse of women, are “right” if they are permitted by a society. Relativism therefore deprives us of any means of raising moral objections against horrendous social customs as long as those customs are approved by the societies in which they exist.

But shouldn’t we be tolerant of other cultures?

Critics reply that it depends on what sort of social differences are at issue. Tolerance may seem like a good policy where benign differences between cultures are concerned, but it does not seem so when, for example, a society engages in officially approved genocide, even within its own borders. It is a mistake to think that relativism implies that we should be tolerant, because tolerance is simply another value about which people or societies may disagree. Only an absolutist could say that tolerance is objectively good.

Moreover, we sometimes want to criticize our own society’s values, and ethical relativism deprives us of the means of doing so.

If ethical relativism is correct, we could not make sense of reforming or improving our own society’s morals, for there would be no standard against which our society’s existing practices could be judged deficient. Abandoning slavery, for example, would not be moral progress; it would only be replacing one set of standards with another.

Critics also point out that disagreement about ethics does not mean that there can be no objective truth. After all, people disagree even about scientific matters. Some people believe that disease is caused by evil spirits, while others believe it is caused by microbes, but we do not therefore conclude that disease has no “real” cause. The same might be true of ethics—disagreement might only mean that some people are more enlightened than others.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Human Nature, Politics, Religion | Tagged , | 5 Comments

How Christians were manipulated by Pat Robertson into becoming right-wing Republicans

In 1984, Pat Robertson’s evangelical Christian show the”700 Cub” raised $248 million

[Now that the right-wing Christians are changing everyone’s lives by electing Tea Party and other right-wing Republicans, it is long past time to do something, anything to stop them. Over 20% of Americans are evangelist / fundamentalist Christians, and 80% of them voted for Trump.  The leaders they elected are busy getting rid of regulations that protect Americans health and wealth, women’s rights, and a new tax system that grossly rewards the super rich over everyone else.  Their nutty belief system is impinging on our health, wealth, and ultimately freedom.

I’ve been accused of Christian bashing, but I am only concerned about right-wing, not mainstream Christians, because they’ve stepped over the line into politics.  And their crazy beliefs in a literal bible make it easy for them to believe fake news and outrageous conspiracy theories.  They believed there were millions of Satanic cult baby killers and rapists and succeeded in jailing 200 of them over 10 years in the biggest Witch Hunt since Salem.  They are a danger to society, a threat to democracy, to science, and rationality.  

The Christian Broadcasting network is overtly political, yet they got $295 million, tax free in 2015.  Pat Roberson ran from President in 1988, yet the CBN got $248 million in revenue in 1984 (can’t find 1988 revenue), TAX FREE.

They tell their congregations who to vote for, but do they ever donate money to politicians?  Who knows? It is terribly easy to funnel “dark” money through a series of untraceable “charities” (see Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money”).  The Koch brothers aren’t the only billionaires influencing politics.

This book is of interest because it describes one of the many important right-wing Christian institutions that grew to have a great deal of political power and influence.

The book review is of “The Gospel of self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.” It was written by an evangelical Christian for evangelical Christians to show them how he, as the senior producer of Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club” duped them out of their morals and money.

Pat Robertson played a key role in shifting the GOP to the far right.  He established the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1960, eight years before  Rush Limbaugh’s national radio show, and 16 years before Fox “News”.   

Heaton feels responsible for his role in shifting fundamentalist religion in an extremely selfish and right-wing direction.  So successful that followers appear to be permanently brain-washed. It’s not clear how they could ever become less extreme.

But Heaton hopes to change evangelical minds with this book, because Christians are the only ones who can make this right. The angry mob of the early 21st century won’t listen to anybody else—certainly not outsiders—for they’ve been taught that everybody else is in it for unrighteous reasons. This is the sad state in which we find ourselves today.”  Yet later in the book, Heaton admits this is unlikely: “The church desperately needs a season of self-examination and the courage to stand up and say, “Enough!” The hope for this is virtually nil, however.”

Heaton goes on to say that “The degree to which fundamentalist Christianity dominates people of lesser intelligence and education is one of the most under-reported cultural shifts of modern times. Consequently, these people tend to come off as clumsy, radical, and dangerous, and their actions often defy even an ounce of reason. Their faith seems able to override sense as poor Southerners vote with the Republican Party, which has little or no regard for their status whatsoever. Religion, as a result, can influence people to vote against their own best interests in the name of social issues that aren’t really under the authority of the church in the first place. Such contrarian decision-making is found in those who can’t or don’t really take the time to study or learn to think for themselves, and it’s truly as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking. Pat says some remarkably insensitive and indefensible things today on The 700 Club, and …his current followers have likely become even more narrow and insensitive as a result.”

In the conclusion, he muses: “Over years of introspection, I gave a great deal of thought to what we had done in those years in the 1980s. We had actually redefined what it meant to be a conservative Republican. We altered the balance of power in the GOP by bringing in millions of Christians who were able to look completely past the reality that Republicans represented the wealthy first. This was an amazing accomplishment, but one that has left our culture in a really bad situation, for fundamentalist Christians were a key element of Donald Trump’s election.”

I doubt his book will change Christian minds because few, if any, right-wing Christians will read it. You can rule out the 28% of Americans who didn’t read any books last year. And those who read any books at all mainly read fiction. Those with only high school (or less) educations only read one book a year.  Even college educated Americans read just 7 books a year. Sad and shocking to me, I read about 200 a year as I walk to run errands and also get my fitbit’s demands I get 10,000 steps a day.

Below are excerpts and paraphrased material from the book. That makes it somewhat disjointed, so to reduce that I’ve put his observations into category.

Related posts and books:

  • How corporations used conservative religion to gain wealth and power and undo the New Deal
  • Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Terry Heaton. 2017.  The Gospel of self. How Jesus Joined the GOP.   

John Kenneth Galbraith : “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Thomas Paine: “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead. “

Selfish Jesus

Selfishness and self-centeredness are the most dangerous epidemic facing Western Civilization today. And what is extreme selfishness but intolerance itself?

Selfishness breeds intolerance, especially in religion and politics. Why should I have to tolerate you if I’m right? My religion, my political party, my opinion is what’s right and best, so everybody just get out of the way. The mind of an ideologue like Pat Robertson is totalitarian, and nothing gives purity to such deception like the zeal of religion, especially if the perception of absolute authority governs that religion. It’s not really my opinion then; I’m speaking for God!

Evangelical Christianity has refined the message over the years and turned it today into the means for blessings in this life as well. What was once a powerful motivator for overall good behavior in the community has become a motivator for obtaining a better position in life, and it has profoundly altered everything in our society, especially politics.

The evangelist’s message has always been self-centered, for it preaches the gospel as a means to saving one’s own ass from eternal hellfire and damnation in the afterlife.

Pat’s acclaimed manual for living, The Secret Kingdom, is a diagram for using the Bible to justify a lifestyle that is built around self, self-gain, and self-betterment based on these selfish beliefs — a self-help book disguised as theology. Every “law” proclaimed is designed to help individual people, families, and communities get ahead in the realm of human competition. You can make yourself healthier, wealthier, safer, happier, and more dominant in the culture simply by living within these “laws of the Kingdom.” It’s further evidence that we were really teaching a very insidious form of selfishness, the gospel of self.”

Heaton laments bringing the Republican selfish Jesus about at Pat Robertson’s show The 700 Club.  “We altered the course of political power in the United States. Taking positions on social issues such as the sanctity of life, religious liberties, patriotism, family, school prayer, and respect for individualism and tradition, we spoke to primarily rural and suburban Christians on behalf of the Republican Party.

Even if one can make the case that the heart of Jesus might be closer to the Democrats, that’s not how it’s being played out today.  Instead, a deeper examination reveals that the gospel being most preached today is a form of self-centeredness: the gospel of self.

This form of Christianity blends in well with the Republican Party because both are formed around a circle with self at the center.

Pat saw our task as one of building faith even if we had to stretch the truth. Hence, our mandate was to show that God was busy doing miracles today just as He had in the days of Jesus.  We were trying to stir the faith of individuals everywhere, so that they could claim results for themselves. This is a direct appeal of the gospel of self, especially for people in need for themselves, their families, their friends, their communities, etc.

How Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network pushed the GOP to the far right

We presented as Biblical mandates or “laws” economic views that catered to the haves of culture, teaching that being one of the haves was available for everybody.

Our arguments and teachings helped move the GOP to the right on the political spectrum and created a following that continues to baffle even the smartest political analysts in the country who are confounded by how such people would act against their own best interests in giving power to Republicans.

I was a willing participant in his social engineering, because I agreed with him that the world was going to hell, and I was proud to be at his side in trying to change that.

We created—or at played a major role in the creation of—the extreme Christian element that has dragged the Republican Party today to the edge of fascism. There is no zeal quite like that of religious zeal, for it comes with blinders to alternative views of reality. When this zeal is aimed at pleasing God Himself, it’s impossible to negotiate or reason with it or its consequences.

The stakes are simply too high for us and for our progeny to ignore the facts of what we did and mostly how we did it. Fast-forward 30 years, and America is now a bitterly divided nation. It is as though a new civil war has emerged led by polar opposites on the political spectrum.

Pat Robertson, a master manipulator, showman, and salesman has seized power in Washington by exploiting fear, repeating themes that resonate with certain Americans, and promising simple solutions to complex problems facing the country.

This is why evangelicals (and fundamentalists and Pentecostals and charismatics) voted for Trump.

Intellectuals, media, and political observers are still puzzled by how Donald Trump was elected President and are positing theory upon theory as to why his followers heeded his call.  The reality is that they were never heeding his call; he heeded and responded to their call. Donald Trump is skilled at deciphering the voice of those who feel disenfranchised by the culture and where it’s heading. As a salesman, Mr. Trump sensed an entry point into the minds of his sales targets, initiating his innate ability, which then enabled him to articulate a product that sold. All he had to do was to paint a black and white, dystopian view of America and offer himself as the solution. This is not original thinking, for all he was doing was repeating the things discussed in the back rooms of white evangelicals, and we at CBN were the ones who planted many of those thoughts. These people are many of the same ones we organized and nurtured 30 years ago with The 700 Club, and I feel responsible, at least in part.

Evangelicals are now so connected and important to the Republican Party that those wishing political office within the GOP, including Donald Trump, must cater to their every wish. It makes it very difficult to judge the character of Republican candidates outside the circle of faith. What had started as an attempt to arm Christians with the tools of government has turned into a celebration of fools who seem to believe that their religious convictions qualify as a trait of good character and that these convictions make amends for intellectual deficiencies. This is what happens when religion and politics cross paths, especially with Evangelical Christians, where faith bridges any gap in logic and reasoning.

I helmed every part of what we put on TV, the result of which was a very deliberate and profound turning of the Republican Party to the right.

We knew exactly what we were doing. Armed with research at every step, we presented a form of Christianity that included getting involved in politics at every level. [It was clear to us that] God wanted us to wrest control away from those who were destroying the Christian foundation of the country.

Everything we presented was done with a sense of urgency due to what we felt was the pending return of Jesus Christ as prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Israel was the key to our understanding, for certain Christian teachings state that Jesus won’t return until God has given Jerusalem back to Israel, which had begun in 1948 when Zionists—through an executive order from the United Nations following World War II and the subsequent “war” against Arabs who disagreed—began to seize land, water, and structures from Arabs who had lived in the Holy Land for millennia. Now that Jerusalem was back on a map labeled “Israel,” we taught that the return of Jesus was imminent, and that meant we had to prepare. This gave us license to say and do whatever we felt was necessary in establishing God’s kingdom on earth.

This belief was furthered by the words of many others and in books like 1970’s The Late Great Planet Earth and later in the Left Behind series of novels, which reference the re-establishment of Israel. We taught a literal interpretation of Jesus’ proclamation that, in the end, He will remember those who support Israel and cast aside those who do not.

We certainly weren’t alone in this task. Billy Graham had been telling the story of salvation for decades and was the friend of presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority grassroots political movement was certainly also vocal. However, CBN had at least two unique aspects to the ministry that would put us at the forefront of change. One was Pat Robertson, his pedigree, his knowledge, and his insightful and brilliant political mind. Two, we fronted for Charismatic Christianity, which was a key part of the revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This gave us advantages over other Christian leaders and ministries and made our work singular in shifting Republican Party emphasis to the right.

If the Jews of Israel were our friends, then the Muslims of the Arab world had to be the enemy, for there were no shades of grey in the worldview we presented.

At the 700 Club, we transformed everything into a doable action plan for people who were angry over the direction in which the country was headed.  We were heroes swooping in to rescue America from the influences of the devil. And we were quite serious.

It would be foolish and naïve, however, to portray this fully as a religious movement, for to do so would dismiss very similar strategies and tactics we saw during the candidacy of Donald Trump. We were the ones, after all, who led the movement of politics to the right, the result of which we have with us today. Christian or otherwise, the Republican Party is now so far to the right that it’s beginning to resemble historical fascism.

Mr. Trump bragged that he was the only candidate telling “the truth” about Muslim immigrants.

Pat Robertson went on the air the day after the Orlando massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub, and condemned both the killer and the gay victims, saying that Christians should just wait on the sidelines and let the homosexuals and the Muslims kill each other.

Pat Robertson, and now Donald Trump, address the same people, those who practice a form of Christianity so foreign to orthodoxy that it truly boggles the intelligence. We stood high atop our satellite-based pedestal in the 1980s and shouted down to a citizenry whose minds were fertile for a different perspective. We fed them. We nurtured them. How we did it and got away with it holds a key to unraveling the frustrating reality we have before us today.


CBN was a ministry. It paid no taxes as a media company, and the tax exemption was worth far more than any for-profit business model.

Here’s what motivates people to give to CBN, and in this order: It helps me. It helps my family. It helps my community. It helps my nation. I’m fulfilling the great commission, spreading the gospel to the world. It’s my duty. I’ll get blessed if I do. I’m helping others who are poorer than me. Helping the poor is at the bottom of the list.

We knew what percentage of 700 Club Members—at 15 dollars a month—would covert to 1000 Club Members—at 83 dollars a month—and we knew, on average, how long that conversion would take. We had the same data in terms of converting 1000 Club Members to 2500 Club Members, and turning those members into Founders Club members. Based on past growth, this allowed us to extrapolate a budget projection, and that’s what we used to make our plans.

I learned how to raise money directly from Pat Robertson, and his methodology might surprise the faithful, for it is built on self-centeredness. And if the core of its ability to raise money is built on selfishness, then it must follow that the CBN message itself must do likewise. This is the secret truth behind what we intended to present as a movement of God’s spirit on the earth.

We don’t necessarily have to present everything as a crisis, but it’s impossible to make a change when everybody feels good about existing circumstances. That’s the mistake Reagan has made. He got re-elected but now faces difficulty in implementing change, since he sold the country on the fact that everything is hunky-dory.

We took in $248,000,000 in contributions during 1984, in what turned out to be a record for the ministries of CBN. That’s an enormous sum of money even by today’s standards—over half a billion in 2016 dollars.

At the beginning of 1984, Pat came back from the mountain with the message from God that the year would be one of “deep darkness and trouble” for the nation, and we followed that theme throughout the whole year on The 700 Club, especially when it came to fundraising. The theme of our record-setting telethons that year was “deep darkness and trouble,” and the evidence that it really did resonate with our viewers was their $248 million in contributions.

On one show, Pat said “I’ve been in prayer. I put this out as what I feel God is telling me. Here’s what I see in 1984: Toward the end of 1984, there will be a period beginning of deep darkness on our nation. I believe that we’re going to have a time of trouble. And I believe that there may be convulsions in the world, shifting of leadership in a number of nations. As the shifts in leadership take place, there’s going to be a call for Christians to understand how the system works and to prepare for sort of a general collapse.  And to God’s people, God will give wisdom, and He’s going to give solutions to them just like He did to Daniel and to Joseph and those people who found favor in God’s sight.  We will understand the solutions to the world’s problems. And so the world is going to start coming and saying, “You’ve got something we don’t have.

[ Trump followed the same script of painting a dark future and is part of why he was elected.  No wonder 80% of evangelists voted for him—Robertson had prepared the way].

All that money was viewed as a blessing from God and validation that we were in His will in everything we set our hands to accomplish.

I would like to be able to say in truth that all of that money was used for righteous purposes, but I can’t. Most of it went to running the ministries of a television network with over 2,000 employees, but some went to our foreign ministries, such as operating a radio station in southern Lebanon, and that had both political and missionary motivations; some went to political activities, such as funding the Freedom Council; and some went to interfering with government policies, such as helping fund the Contras in Nicaragua.

We exploited everything possible in the spreading of our message, including the powerful motivator of envy. Testimony stories about healings or fiscal prosperity always led to the proclamation that “this is available for you.

Presenting the suggestion that we had a hotline to God was also helpful in the extreme when it came to fundraising or offering Pat’s political views, for who could argue with somebody capable of bringing about miracles like that?

Contributions fell off a cliff in the wake of Oral Roberts’ pronouncement during his January 1987 telethon that unless he raised $8 million over the next couple of months, God would “take him home,” a Christian euphemism for ending his life. This preposterous and self-centered statement gave reporters in Tulsa the ammunition they needed to open the doors of the “faith healer’s” ministry, and soon coverage spread nationwide and beyond.

At nearly the same time, Jim Bakker fell from grace at his PTL (Praise The Lord) ministry in Charlotte, North Carolina. The discovery of his tryst with Jessica Hahn and the subsequent cover-up broke a dam of pent-up mistrust of televangelists in the press, and what followed was a broad brush with which they painted every television ministry, including the one founded by the guy now in the White House. The Bakker debacle occurred on March 19, 1987, just weeks before my return to CBN. The ugly spotlight was on everyone, as the ghost of Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry visited all levels of society, including those we had worked so hard to recruit since the beginning of the 1980s. It is impossible to overstate how badly these events impacted Christian ministries, and especially evangelicals on TV, including the ministry of Pat Robertson.


The CBN’s “the 700 club” mission statement said nothing about politics, and yet, as the son of a US Senator, Pat Robertson was a political animal, perhaps even ahead of his calling to the ministry.

The fine line between preaching and government influence was breached time and again and included such activities as funding political action with ministry money.

As the Republican Party drifts farther to the right, Evangelical Christians find themselves in the position of having to deny that they’ve become exactly what they despise—a group of elites trying to force their beliefs on others. Within this denial, the twisting of truth is self-serving. Democrats are demonized as socialists, communists, Marxists, and of course, liberals who want to steal from them in the name of government control of their lives. The obvious conflict here is the idea that God is somehow unable to deal with this absent their help.

During one show, Pat said that since our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, only Jews and Christians were qualified to run it.  Many people—including NBC News—pointed to this moment as evidence that Pat was far outside what journalist Daniel C. Hallin calls the “sphere of legitimate debate,” because the Founding Fathers were more inclusive and tolerant.  But Pat was speaking directly to his constituency and didn’t care how his critics would interpret it.

At a staff prayer meeting, Pat prayed that God remove those Supreme Court justices who voted against prayer by any means necessary, including their deaths. It’s hard to say if Pat actually calculated or even considered his words before making statements like killing Supreme Court justices.

Pat envisioned himself in the driver’s seat of a great vehicle that God Himself had provided for the purpose of moving America away from its liberal drift. Pat didn’t like liberals and thought they were a curse on society because they placed dependence on government ahead of dependence on God. Pat was also a strong proponent of personal responsibility and rejected any thoughts that people needed others to take care of them. Democrats were liberals, so Democrats were easily thought of as deceived enemies of God.

We relentlessly painted Democrats—all Democrats—as a liberal enemy that was after everybody’s money. Our show turned many to the Republican Party.

When arguing against so-called “liberal Democrats,” Reagan called them “tax and spend” liberals, meaning they wanted to take “your” money and use it for social programs that would benefit the have-nots. If one honestly examines this premise, however, those most concerned about having “their” money taken away are those who not only have it but will be the ones to lose the most dollars with the programs of liberals. They are the modern-day Pharisees, who preach a form of religion but actually serve the “gods” that gave them wealth. A perspective that points this out would truly represent a Biblical worldview, but that was not the case with us at the ministry of CBN.

As the months and years went by and the Reagan presidency was beginning to wind down, The 700 Club became more and more political. In retrospect, we were preaching that having faith in God to change people’s hearts and in that way change culture wasn’t enough, and that He wanted us all to get involved in politics. It was a subtle shift, but we weren’t alone. The entire televangelist world was slipping away from its first love and drifting into the traps of power and influence. As The 700 Club evolved, we were educating people that the Republican way was God’s way, and that went on to become one of the most remarkable feats of social engineering of the twentieth century.

Before Fox News ever claimed to be “fair and balanced,” there was CBN News. Moreover, the study of life deep within a major Christian ministry is unlike studying any other kind of organization, for Christian people are capable of expressing great love as they’re stabbing you in the back or otherwise trying to get their way. People don’t stop being human just because they proclaim Christianity, but Christian behavior is often quite the opposite. One would think that the common bond of being in the same lifeboat would produce a sweet form of humility, but it more often did the opposite, and nowhere was this more evident than in our political views. Despite proclamations that our war was spiritual, we fought at the grassroots of culture to “win” for God at all levels.

The “Biblical worldview” that we offered was overflowing with conservative political perspectives, largely because political conservatives—the Republicans—seemed most likely to embrace our point-of-view. They were with us on abortion. They were with us on prayer in schools. They were with us on Israel, and many, many other issues. Fox News would never have found the success it has known if CBN News hadn’t blazed the trail.

The choice of directing believers to the Republican Party is illogical and unreasonable. I can say without question that the ministry of Jesus was most definitely not one of “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work!” This is why we are reminded many times throughout the Bible to “plead the cause of the poor and the afflicted,” for this is the very heart of God.

Ronald Reagan was running for re-election in 1984, and CBNoffered a book raving about him to our viewers to remind them of the president’s Christian upbringing, roots, and thinking. The book jacket notes that … the president’s faith will be welcome information to everyone who genuinely cares about our nation, under God.

Pat Robertson wants Christians to take over the world starting with a shadow government

God’s people are coming to the fore. You know, God said we were supposed to be the head and not the tail. We’re supposed to be on top and not on the bottom. And I think the long-range trend is that God’s people are going to move into positions of leadership—I mean in all kinds of areas. I mean, there’s going to be general growing prosperity and blessing for the people of God. Now that’s my opinion, but I think that’s going to happen. It’s going to get better and better and better, and God’s going to begin to thrust His people into positions they never dream they were capable of taking on. They’re going to move into new areas of responsibility in the next few years.

“We must form a shadow government,” he began. “We must begin to find and train Christian people, so that they can be placed in every position that matters, because the country is on the verge of collapse. The Lord is showing me that when it goes, nobody is going to know what to do, and they will turn to us, because we will have answers. We won’t be afraid. We’ve got to work to make sure God’s people are in the schools, the school boards, the city councils, the county commissions, the trash collectors, the tax collectors and all local government positions. We need to be in the state legislatures, the statewide offices, Congress, the courts, everywhere.

To prepare God’s people for this reigning and ruling during or after this period of “confusion,” Pat believed we needed to assist in creating a shadow government that would “take over” when everything collapsed. But “we can’t be overt and obvious about this; we must create a shadow government quietly”.  A government be run by Pat, who believed that God had called him to run for president.

[ You can imagine what sort of a President Robertson would have been when Heaton describes Robertson’s ministry as ] “not like a business corporation, where power and control flow down a hierarchical pyramid. A ministry more closely resembles a cult of personality, where the person with the “calling” is the sole authority, and everyone else is assembled to bring that about. I viewed my own personal calling as helping Pat Robertson do just that.

Taking over the country for God wasn’t posited as a duty; rather “you need to do this for yourself and your family, which is a much more powerful motivator, and its outcome has been chaotic, divisive, and dangerous.

We’ve got to wipe out the forces of evil; in prayer, in Bible knowledge, in evangelism and that kind of thing. There’s got to be an effort like never before, especially in prayer for revival. And if there’s one word, I would think, is the concept that the Church is getting ready to reign and rule. That is what God has in mind.

Pat had been trying to encourage conservative Christians to get involved in the political process since at least 1981, when he formed the Freedom Council, a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization with the authority to lobby on behalf of political candidates. But the Freedom Council was a part of the CBN family, and as such it received attention on The 700 Club and especially during our telethons. The reality is that we used the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of CBN’s ministries to raise money that went to the Freedom Council.  During 1985 and 1986, according to the New York Times, we gave $250,000 a month or more to the Freedom Council “to mobilize Christian voters behind Mr. Robertson’s candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1988.” The total estimate reached as high as $8.5 million to the Freedom Council, according to the Times.11 Despite the fact

The real weakness and danger of Pat’s shadow government can be seen in Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and vice presidential running mate of Senator John McCain in 2008. Readers need to understand that before Sarah Palin ran for anything, she was an outspoken charismatic, Evangelical Christian who believed in the “gifts of the Spirit” as practiced by many other fundamentalist believers. She spoke the language and knew how to communicate on the edge between faith and politics.

Sarah Palin was a fan of The 700 Club and learned the many phrases and tactics that eventually put her in the Wasilla City Council, the mayor’s office, and on to the governor’s office in Juneau, Alaska. At every step, she brought along issues like abortion, gun control, term limits, and others that resonated with conservative Christians and, more importantly, Republicans. They had nothing to do with local government, but she was very effective.

The sad thing to me is that only a comic, satirical television program like The Daily Show is willing to talk about Sarah Palin, and the dark side of evangelical Christianity.

The Coming of Jesus Christ

The Christian Broadcasting Network The mission of CBN and its affiliated organizations is to prepare the United States of America, the nations of the Middle East, the Far East, South America, and other selected nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our ultimate goal is to achieve a time in history when “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Evangelicals perceived to be ignorant, overweight, polyester-wearing bible-thumping morons for whom church going was a cover for hypocritical behavior

Everything about The 700 Club was carefully researched and strategized. We had as our guide the work of Pat’s great friend George Gallup, and his studies of religion in America. We knew how evangelicals were perceived, and a key component of our strategy was to counter those views. Most people thought of evangelicals as ignorant, overweight, polyester-wearing, Bible-thumping morons for whom church going was a cover for hypocritical behavior.

We were, in fact, largely talking to ignorant, polyester-wearing, Bible-thumping morons, and they didn’t possess the wherewithal to do anything but parrot and follow. This is a big part of the problem today.

We showed the young, handsome, slim people, avoiding testimonies of those who were overweight. We wanted stories of smart, young people, who would give the appearance to our viewers that evangelicalism was a good thing for them and their families. They could love God, have a strong family, be prosperous, feel a sense of “rightness,” be respected leaders in their communities and make a difference. We needed to recruit people outside the bias demonstrated by Gallup, and that meant “coloring” our program to reflect different kinds of people while avoiding those who fit the stereotypes.

Many of the intelligent, upscale, young, and attractive people we recruited abandoned the ministry—all TV ministries—in the wake of the televangelist scandals that were to come. This left few except the stereotypes.

What began as the dream of building a political army of intelligent, thinking people for the GOP has produced the opposite.



The prosperity gospel

Personal income was one of the major themes of the ministry of CBN. The idea that God wants His people to prosper in all ways—and especially financially—is based on an interpretation of certain scriptures, including John’s letter to Gaius, also known as 3 John. Here’s Chapter 1, Verse 2, in the King James translation: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Since Christians are God’s beloved, this appears to be a message straight from God to believers and is open to interpretation as wealth. In the New Living Translation, however, it’s presented thusly: “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” Now, I’m not a deep expositor of scripture, but the letter is from John to Gaius, and the verse clearly is John’s greeting to him and not a message from God to certain believers.

The Year of Jubilee—the ancient Jewish resetting of the economy—has been conveniently removed from modern times; for it would do the opposite of providing vast wealth for the few.

We chose stories of prosperity for the ministry only of people who met our criteria. They were young. They were good looking. Their testimony provided a witness that others would wish to emulate. They always ended up on top. They were always prospering after giving to CBN. In this way, we presented the tilted view that those who gave money to CBN—the greater the donation, the bigger the blessing—were always blessed by God.

Jon created a pilot in which his character tried to use the Law of Reciprocity (from Pat’s Secret Kingdom that referenced “Give and it shall be given unto you”) in order to pay his bills. If he needed one-hundred dollars, he would give ten dollars, and so forth. He wound up deeper and deeper into debt and finally gave up, looking at the camera and asking with arms outstretched, “What am I doing wrong?” I thought it perfectly represented what we were trying to create, and I was very proud to show it to Pat. It was funny. It was right on, because we knew that this was one of the trouble spots for people in living out their Christian lives. Pat Robertson was not amused, not in the least. He stared at the screen as I played Jon’s tape. We were alone in the dressing room, and I grew more uncomfortable the longer his eyes didn’t blink. When it was done, he looked at me and said, “If you put this on the air, it will cost this ministry millions.” He explained that we were all about helping people with their faith, and we dared not put anything in the show that might—not would, might—produce the opposite.

Evangelicals embrace the idea that everything in life is a choice. Everything.

I remember being lectured by a Christian friend after rehab and entering into Alcoholics Anonymous that if I could trace back my life, I would discover that at some point I had made a decision to sin and that while it may have been imperceptible at first, eventually the different path I had chosen separated farther and farther from the path of God. This is a form of logic that begins at the wrong place and presents a very simplistic, black and white, all or nothing view of life. Armed with this logic, it’s easy to understand how, to Christians, everything that doesn’t match their path is sin, to which the answer is always Jesus. One is either for or against us.

If I could trace back my life, I would discover that at some point I had made a decision to sin and that while it may have been imperceptible at first, eventually the different path I had chosen separated farther and farther from the path of God. This is a form of logic that begins at the wrong place and presents a very simplistic, black and white, all or nothing view of life. Armed with this logic, it’s easy to understand how, to Christians, everything that doesn’t match their path is sin, to which the answer is always Jesus. One is either for or against, and there is no middle ground.

Evangelicals make perfect Republicans, for many conservative political beliefs flow from this same kind of logic. Welfare is a good thing only insofar as it directly aids the poor, but when, in their judgment, it becomes a crutch for those who are otherwise able (to get a job), it falls into the category of sin. Never mind all of the other factors contributing to poverty.

To turn our backs on poverty, because our core belief is that the poor are somehow faking it, is a violation of our calling as a religious people. 

[ I’ve left much of the book out, if you want to find out more, buy the book! ]

Posted in Critical Thinking, Critical Thinking and Scientific Literacy, Human Nature, Pat Robertson, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fantasyland 9. Myths and infotainment

Preface. This is the last of the Fantasyland review series.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]


Kurt Andersen. 2017. Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire.  A 500-Year History. Random House.

The Gold Rush: the start of impossible dreams, luck, and the shape of reality

For Americans, I believe, the Gold Rush was an inflection point, permanently changing the way we thought about impossible dreams and luck and the shape of reality. Maybe there would be an eternal heavenly reward, but life right here could become a fabulous romance, reality as marvelous as any tall tale. Personal reinvention was not just theoretically possible but suddenly happening wholesale.

Gold in California resurrected the distinctly un-Puritan ambition of the first Virginia settlers—the individual and piratical freedom to grab for instant wealth, with little or no adult supervision.

Right around the time Tocqueville arrived and the Gold Rush happened, its meaning expanded to encompass people starting every sort of business. “I know of no country where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men,” Tocqueville observed. “Love of money is either the chief or secondary motive in everything Americans do.

The myth of the South: how Southerners came to think of themselves as civilized gentlemen and ladies who had been opposed forever by the same breed of unromantic fanatics

Following the first colonists in Virginia, the ones whose dreams of gold came to nothing, a generation of aristocrats arrived from England with titles to large American estates. They came because they’d been on the losing side in the English Civil War against…the Puritans. Just as Puritan was originally a slur against Protestants, the Puritans in turn had denigrated their opponents as imperious and snobbish Cavaliers, who adopted the name themselves. The transplanted Southern Cavaliers set about re-creating feudal Olde England in the New World, with black slaves instead of white serfs.

By the 1800s, of course, not many Southerners were either well-to-do or aristocratic, but the myth endured. And as the North grew still more northern—urban, calculating, censorious, grasping—and started phasing out slavery, the Southern myth was fomented and believed more devoutly than ever.

Southerners’ fictionalized self-conception was encouraged and shaped for decades by novels that enshrined the Cavalier myth and depicted the plantation system as idyllic.  Swallow Barn, published in 1832, was immensely popular. “I am quite sure they could never become a happier people than I find them here,” the narrator says of the fictional slaves on a Virginia plantation. “No tribe of people has ever passed from barbarism to civilization whose…progress has been more secure from harm, more genial to their character, or better supplied with mild and beneficent guardianship, adapted to the actual state of their intellectual feebleness, than the Negroes of Swallow Barn.

Walter Scott’s books—such as Ivanhoe, Waverley, and Woodstock, or The Cavalier—are overwrought, sentimental historical fictions of English and Scottish knights and lords and ladies of centuries past. There had never been an author more popular. He published a new novel every 18 months between 1814 and 1832, just as Southerners became desperate to justify and romanticize their slave-based neo-feudalism.

Mark Twain noticed this, and wrote in Life on the Mississippi: “Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments,” and the change of character can be traced rather more easily to Sir Walter’s influence than to that of any other thing or person. By his single might [he] checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion;…with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs…and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote….It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war…. Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war.

Twain’s conclusion still bears repeating: a particular set of historical fictions and fantasies led to secession and Civil War.

Southerners were driven by nostalgia for the time before slavery started becoming untenable. The overriding theme of the first great popular songwriter, Stephen Foster, was nostalgia for a South that he imagined from up north in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Southern Nostalgia brings the KKK into being

Robert Love Taylor, Tennessee’s former governor and future U.S. senator, lectured throughout the country on the glories of the Old South. “Every sunrise of summer was greeted by the laughter and songs of the darkies as they gathered in gangs and went forth in every direction to begin the labors of the day,” he’d say. “I never shall forget the white-columned mansions rising in cool, spreading groves. And stretching away to the horizon were the cotton fields, alive with the toiling slaves, who, without a single care to burden their hearts, sang as they toiled from early morn till close of day.” This was typical of the treacly, long-sigh fantasy visions of Old Dixie being propagated in the early 1900s.

In 1915 the director D. W. Griffith released a motion picture that was more cinematically ambitious, sophisticated, and compelling than any so far—the movie of the year, of the decade, hugely profitable. It was The Birth of a Nation, a shameless three-hour-long piece of propaganda for the mythical Old South and its Ku Klux Klan redeemers.

During the next decade, the popularity of the revived Klan exploded. Along with the hideous nostalgia for unquestioned white supremacy,

As a million and a half black people migrated from South to North during the 1910s and ’20s, four of the five states with the largest Klan memberships were Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. At its peak in the early 1920s, probably 5 percent of white American men were in the KKK. The meteoric rise and fall of the Klan aside, white Southerners’ myth of their own special goodness—honorable, honest, humane, and civilized guardians of tradition, unlike the soulless Yankees—did not wither. It endured in new forms in the new century, with Daddy’s and Granddaddy’s Civil War a noble and glorious Lost Cause that tragically failed to preserve their antebellum golden age. Slavery qua slavery? No, no, no, the war hadn’t really been about that; slavery was a detail. In fact, white Southerners had fought the war to defend their right as Americans to believe anything they wanted to believe, even an unsustainable fantasy, even if it meant treating a class of humanity as nonhuman.

Slavery’s spread was stopped, but not the nationwide spread of certain unfortunate Southern habits of mind, along with increasingly berserk versions of Christianity.

Mythologizing of American Leaders and others

We started to believe attractive falsehoods about our founding. Successful leaders had been glorified always, but America’s mythologizing happened immediately and had a particular sanctimonious flavor. The best-known fact about Washington’s first 45 years, concerning the cherry tree—“I can’t tell a lie, Pa…. I did cut it with my hatchet”—was a lie in a bestselling biography that appeared months after he died. One of the best-known facts about his war service, the time he knelt in prayer at Valley Forge, was almost certainly untrue.

A bestselling work of fiction in the 1800s, The Legends of the American Revolution, 1776, included a story called “The Fourth of July, 1776.” A quasi-angel—“a tall slender man…dressed in a dark robe”—mysteriously appears among the Founders in Philadelphia and delivers a five-minute speech (“God has given America to be free!”) that makes them finally stop arguing and sign the Declaration. Then he mysteriously disappears. Americans from across the religious spectrum chose to regard that fantasy as historical fact, and they still do today.

As the Yale religious historian Jon Butler has written, the early United States was an “antebellum spiritual hothouse,” Christian faith blending freely with folk magic—belief in the occult, clairvoyance, shamanic healing, and prophetic dreams, much of it old folk superstition no longer constrained by Puritan doctrine and order. America was ripe for and rife with magical thinking of every kind.

Boone lived 37 years as a celebrity, surviving and thriving on the edge of the American wilderness as he made it progressively less wild, more pastoral. His life, authentic and extraordinary but also fictionalized even as he lived it, became for his fellow citizens a real-time, real-life fantasy of the ultimate American Natural Man, an early version of the kind of super-celebrity that Buffalo Bill would fictionalize and monetize a half-century after Boone died.

The American pastoral ideal also grew out of the new Christianity that considered itself more perfect because it was more pure and primitive. Americans’ loathing of Catholicism and later of monarchy devolved into a loathing of Europe and of cities as well. All of which made it easier for Americans to turn the lemon of the New World—the horrifying wilderness—into lemonade, to make the new nation one in which (tamed) nature was ever present. Americans wanted it both ways, the prosperity and comfort that required towns and cities and factories and railroads, but also the picturesque fantasy that one was still Boone-like, living near where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play.

Henry David Thoreau invented a certain kind of entitled, upper-middle-class extended adolescence. After college he hung around the nice Boston suburb where he’d grown up, taught some school, wrote the occasional essay, networked, became personal assistant and protégé to a famous local writer (Ralph Waldo Emerson), decided eating meat was bad,

Then, at 27, in 1844, he hatched a high-concept plan for a project that epitomized the pastoral fantasy that American suburbanites and hippies and country-home owners have reenacted ever since. On a wooded lot that Emerson owned, young Henry built a one-room cabin. He moved in on the Fourth of July—nice touch—and imagined he was an American hinter-lander, rustic and self-reliant, fully communing with nature, pure and virtuous.

Then, at 27, in 1844, he hatched a high-concept plan for a project that epitomized the pastoral fantasy that American suburbanites and hippies and country-home owners have reenacted ever since. On a wooded lot that Emerson owned, young Henry built a one-room cabin. He moved in on the Fourth of July—nice touch—and imagined he was an American hinter-lander, rustic and self-reliant, fully communing with nature, pure and virtuous.

Walden was the book of pensées he published chronicling his two years “in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself…and earned my living by the labor of my hands only….I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life….Instead of no path to the front-yard gate in the Great Snow—no gate—no front-yard—and no path to the civilized world.

In fact, his cabin, which his friends helped him build, was barely a half-hour walk from the prosperous old town where his mom and dad and a couple of thousand other people lived, and only a seventeen-mile trip on the new railroad from the third-largest city in America.

When Thoreau left Walden Pond to spend a couple of weeks in the true wilderness of northern Maine, he was horrified—“grim and wild,” “vast, Titanic, inhuman Nature.” After 800 days living deep and sucking out all the marrow of existence, he returned to town, helping run his father’s pencil-making business, living for the rest of his life at his parents’ big house on Main Street. Thoreau epitomized this particular have-your-cake-and-eat-it American fantasy, a life in harmony with nature as long as it’s not too uncomfortable or inconvenient.

In addition, Thoreau believed in fairies and astrology and thought the full moon enabled him to have out-of-body experiences. He and Emerson were Transcendentalists, the lightly Asian-flavored link between the bland, educated Protestantism of the American Enlightenment and the spicy potluck animism and mysticism efflorescing when I first read Walden. “Standing on the bare ground,” Emerson told an audience shortly before Thoreau published Walden, “my head bathed in the blithe air, and uplifting into empty space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” Humans are essentially good. All creation exists in a magnificent web of interconnection. Nature is God and God is nature. What’s not to like?

‘Live in the all,’?” Melville wrote to Hawthorne. What nonsense!… This “all” feeling…there is some truth in. You must often have felt it, lying on the grass on a warm summer’s day. Your legs seem to send out shoots into the earth. Your hair feels like leaves upon your head. This is the all feeling. But what plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion.

Citizens in the 1800s with idiosyncratic ideals—political, economic, nutritional, sexual—set out into the countryside to form better, more perfect micro-nations within their new nation. More than a hundred utopian communities were established across the American countryside during the First Great Delirium.

The other settlements ranged in size from a dozen to hundreds of people, ridiculous and fascinating and adorable American fantasias. Except for the free-love Oneida Community, which had multiple branches in the Northeast and lasted for decades before morphing into a major cutlery and tableware company, they were short-lived—but in the late 1960s, at the birth of modern American Fantasyland, they reincarnated as communes.

The American Dream required living in a little house on the prairie, in the big woods, on the banks of a creek or shores of a lake. Or rather, as the 20th century proceeded, in some plausible facsimile of such a place. It was a perfect amalgam, nostalgia for the pioneer life along with a sense of spiritual purity. And so, going on two centuries after Thoreau played backwoodsman, most Americans today live in suburbs.

Fake News

The New York Sun was the great pioneer penny paper, and in 1835 it published an extraordinary six-part, 16,000-word series. Every day for a week, a battalion of newsboys—also an invention of the two-year-old Sun—shouted the extraordinary news on the streets of America’s largest city: famous astronomers at a new super powerful telescope in South Africa had discovered life on the moon! The moon had forests, oceans, lakes, rivers, birds, tiny bison and zebras, blue unicorns, giant shellfish, beavers walking upright and carrying young in their paws.  To venture to express a doubt of the genuineness of the great lunar discoveries, was considered almost as heinous a sin as to question the truth of revelation.

Three years later, long after the story had been exposed as an entirely fictional hoax, a New York writer remarked that “very many in our city [still] regard those revelations with more of reverence and confidence than any of the established truths in physics.

The second founder of infotainment

Barnum was America’s first great commercial blurrer of truth and make-believe, the founder of infotainment, but the second was Cody.

The true story of Cody’s life is like a work of fiction. For a dozen years, from boyhood into young manhood, he was a scout, soldier, buffalo hunter, and Pony Express rider on the Plains and in the West. Then at 23e, he featured as the title character in a highly fictionalized “true” story, “Buffalo Bill, King of the Border Men,” published in a New York newspaper. And starting at twenty-six, the year he won the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading a squad of cavalry against some Sioux, Cody became a theatrical performer: he played himself in a play called Scouts of the Prairie—written by the author of the earlier newspaper story, who also published dime novels about Cody. Buffalo Bill had become a star. In his late twenties, he started publishing his own dime novels starring himself, and he toured the East in more theatrical productions playing Buffalo Bill—even as he continued working off and on in the far West as an Indian fighter.

In the summer of 1876, three weeks after General George Custer’s catastrophic defeat, Cody was riding the Plains with the army a few hundred miles to the southeast of Little Bighorn. One day, wearing his Buffalo Bill stage outfit—black velvet, red and lace trim, silver buttons—he killed and scalped a Cheyenne warrior called Yellow Hair. Within a few months, Cody was back east, touring a new play based on that event, The Red Right Hand; or Buffalo Bill’s First Scalp for Custer. Yellow Hair’s weapons and scalp were exhibited in each town where the show played. According to Cody, the show provided “ample opportunity to give a noisy, rattling, gunpowder entertainment, and to present a succession of scenes in the late Indian war.” Buffalo Bill was thirty, and from then on, for forty more years, he devoted himself exclusively to live-action cartoon portrayals of the “settlement” of the West.

Cody’s own extraordinarily successful traveling pageant, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, featured Indians playing Indians and white performers playing soldiers and settlers. Each reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand was immediately followed by Buffalo Bill—the actual person—riding in to reenact his killing of a particular Indian, played by an Indian. The show started in Omaha, in eastern Nebraska, in 1883; in the western part of the state, the Indian Wars continued. Cody enlisted the Lakota Sioux chief Sitting Bull, who’d been one of the commanders of the forces at Little Bighorn, to be his co-star.

His Wild West was the prototype from which movie westerns evolved. But the shows were even more importantly peculiar and unprecedented, a key milestone in our national evolution. Practically in real time, Cody—no, Buffalo Bill!—turned news and history into entertainment, turned real-life figures of historic consequence (himself, his pal Wild Bill Hickok, his enemy Sitting Bull) into simulated versions of themselves, riding real horses and firing real guns outdoors.

During the 19th century, a new form of nostalgia emerged as an important tic in Americans’ psychology, an imaginary homesickness for places and times the nostalgists had never experienced and that had in some cases never existed. In politics, just when Americans started using the phrase olden times, Democrats were driven by nostalgia for the America of their youth, before large-scale capitalism.   Fenimore Cooper, the first famous American novelist, specialized in nostalgia for the earlier American wilderness, and Twain wrote his greatest books about the bygone America of his antebellum youth. So by the time Buffalo Bill became a professional fabulist in the 1870s, Americans were completely ready to accept the virtual reality of his Wild West tableaus. The nostalgia he stoked and served was new in several ways. It was jolly, giddy.

It was instantaneous. It was also anticipatory, nostalgia for the end of a western frontier that hadn’t yet ended—like the nostalgia of Southerners years before the Old South passed away. Buffalo Bill distilled the previous half-century of the Old West into a montage using actual participants and artifacts, for audiences who had mostly never been west of the Mississippi. Forever and everywhere in the world, the popular imagination tends to blur reality and fantasy over time, but now the two were being immediately and systematically fused.

We’d been a rough frontier nation the day before yesterday. From the turn of the century through the 1920s, new spiritual fads and kooky religious denominations arose, along with aversion to migrating hordes—Italians and Jews over from Europe, African-Americans up from the South. But to the self-confident mainstream, all those reactionary outbursts looked like last gasps, rear-guard actions by primitives, exceptions to smart-set modernity that proved the rule.

But in America, and pretty much only in America, that rationalism was viscerally opposed by lots and lots of people who didn’t cotton to the inrushing newness—fancy foreign art and ideas, jazz, movies, sexual looseness, racial equality, women’s suffrage—let alone science that contradicted their understanding of the first book of the Bible.

TV, movies, video-games, and other media encouraged fantasy even more

Starting in the 1900s, from coast to coast and seven days a week, Americans more than anyone on Earth could immerse in the virtuosic fantasies created and sold by show business and the media. This was a new condition. As we spent more and more fabulous hours engaged in the knowing and willing suspension of disbelief, experiencing the unreal as real, we became more habituated to suspending disbelief unconsciously and involuntarily as well.

My argument here is that movies (and then television, and then videogames and video of all kinds) were a powerful and unprecedented solvent of the mental barriers between real and unreal—not that that was Hollywood’s explicit intent

Americans were now being entertained and fooled and fed fantasy on several fronts. Such as advertising. Marketing had just acquired its modern meaning, and advertise, until recently a general term for publishing information, came to mean only the paid promotion of products (and ideas and people) by whatever mix of facts and fiction and dazzle did the trick and made the sale. Advertising became ubiquitous, produced by a huge, formal, American-dominated industry essential to almost every other industry. Patent medicines had been fantasy products advertised as cures for serious problems, but in the twentieth century, advertising gave mundane problems like hygiene new fantasy subtexts

Newspapers and most magazines had always sold advertising space, but the ads had been pretty strictly informational, small and printed in small type, and not the main revenue source for most publications—until the 1900s.

Even cheap newspapers cost a few cents. So when the magical new medium of radio came along, because there was no way to charge listeners, its founding American impresarios required some time to figure out a business model. The wheel they reinvented was the medicine show: they could broadcast a mixture of entertaining fiction (Amos ’n’ Andy, Mystery House, Let’s Pretend) and occasional information (news) and give it all away, because their actual business would be—d’oh!—charging companies to broadcast mixtures of information and entertaining fiction in the form of advertisements.

For the first time, most of the most famous Americans were not politicians or military men or writers or painters but actors—people renowned for pretending to be people they weren’t.



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Fantasyland 8. Religion the main factor in America’s descent into the darkness of superstition

[ This is the 8th of nine posts about Fantasyland.  Andersen believes all of the madness and superstition in America originally springs from our history of religiosity.

The scariest part of the insanity is that there are Christians trying  to make Armageddon happen ASAP so that they can be raptured into the sky and bring Jesus back, as depicted in the fictional Left Behind series (75 million sold). Now millions of Pentecostals, fundamentalists, evangelists, and charismatics (PEFC) believe the Antichrist is an actual person, who will unite the entire world under a satanic religion. So many of thought Obama was the antichrist that snopes.com felt compelled to state that this was false, and why it was false (for starters, Revelations never mentions an anti-Christ).  

It is also appalling is that religious leaders like Billy Graham and political leaders like President Reagan spoke many times about the end times being near. And the media was silent.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Kurt Andersen. 2017. Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire.  A 500-Year History. Random House.

Mainline Catholics and Protestants, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and so on are now outnumbered 3 to 1 by, as Tom Wolfe put it, “a little Hallelujah!…Praise God!..ululation, visions, holy rolling, and other non and anti-rational practices”.  Nearly all evangelical denominations are suffused with holy-roller, speaking in tongues, and faith healing.

By the 1980s, 40% of Americans were watching evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and charismatic religious shows on TV. The audience for Pat Robertson’s show “the 700 club” was 7 million, three times larger than Fox today.

Christians make a huge deal about atheism, but only 7% of people were in 2014. Americans are more religious than any other developed nation with 80% saying they NEVER DOUBT the existence of god, and about 90% who believe in some sort of “universal spirit”.

The reason the Roman Catholic Church is far more sane than the Protestant churches is because “tenured grown-ups, from the Vatican on down, have consistently been in command, tamping down and pinching off undesirable offshoots.  Only 25% of Catholics consider the Bible to be the Actual Word of God, versus 50% of Protestants.  The Catholic church declared evolution to be true in 1996.

Most rational of all are the Jews, perhaps because they are more educated; 6 in 10 have college educations vs 1.5 in 10 of Christian Pentecostals, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatics (PEFC from now on).


In the 1960s Billy Graham made this off the charts nutcase belief respectable, saying that the signs indicate these are the last days spoken of on the Scriptures, and that Armageddon and Jesus’s return were at hand.  By the 1980s, when President Reagan and some in his administration said the same thing, the news media was silent.

Basically in a single generation, belief in apocalypse and return of Jesus because the faith of a large fraction of Americans who viewed every new war in the Middle East as potential fulfillment of The Prophecies.  Each event was yet one more foreshock leading to the end, Armageddon.

Even before the madness began, Armageddon had already been fictionalized in the Left Behind series and the rapturing off of Christians to leave everyone else on Earth in Hell.  These books sold 75 million copies.  Many EFC believe that the Antichrist is a real person who will unite the entire world under a satanic religion, and 7 years after that the Christians will be raptured into the sky before the Messiah returns to beat the antichrist up, followed by 1,000 years of paradisiacal perfection under King Jesus.

58% of the PEFC believe Jesus will return by 2050. Only 17% of Americans said he definitely wasn’t coming back by then.

By the 1990s, Christian colleges that rejected evolution in favor of Creationism were able to get accredited, thanks to the 1991 Bush administration.

When it comes to evolution, 33% believe in a God-free evolution, 33% think that God took his time and maybe used evolution to create living creatures, and a third that God created humans.  Since the 1990s, the fraction not sure about evolution has TRIPLED.

Andersen splits Christians into the 2 camps.  The Horror-Story Christians see natural disasters as God’s punishment for our sins.  Here are some of Pat Robertson’s sinner stories: Stock prices dropped 3% because the government funded Planned Parenthood, Hurricane Katrina due to laws permitting abortion, tornadoes in the Midwest because he wasn’t hearing enough prayers, the Haitian earthquake deaths because their ancestors’ had made a pact with the devil, 9-11 was God angry about feminism, homosexuality, free speech, and paganism.

Happy Christians, especially charismatics, tell believers that prayer will bring them wealth now, on Earth, not a work ethic.  You can persuade God to make you rich!  You will never hear sermons or writings from the prosperity gospel about Mark 10:21 (Go sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heave), Matthew 6:24 (No man can serve 2 masters…Ye cannot serve God and mammon), Matthew 19:24 (it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God), or James 5 (Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you).

Ever wondered if you’re blessed with the ability to cast demons out of afflicted people?  Take the Wagner-modified Houts Questionnaire.  There are about 100 questions, such as: can you recover sight to the blind, tell whether person speaking in tongues is genuine, have heard demons speaking in a loud voice, or spoken to evil spirits who obeyed me.

Interestingly, the Catholic church believes that speaking in tongues are signs of satanic possession…

There are Christians who have spiritually mapped their region so that demons can be cast out of Satanic places like Planned Parenthood clinics, Mormon temples, Catholic churches, Masonic lodges, meditation centers, LGBTQ gathering spots, strip clubs, and shops selling tarot cards or dreamcatchers.  Spiritual warfare expert Wagner said on NPR’s Fresh Air that Satan has enlisted Emperor Akihito in exchange for the sun goddess visiting him and having sexual intercourse. Wagner also believes that many U.S. politicians are possessed.

Why, why, why are Americans so irrational across the board, from believing in astrology to angels and the Rapture?

The bottom line is that PEFC DOESN’T SELL outside of America.  In all other nations, prosperity and a sense of security correlate with less religious belief.

Here are some stats comparing the U.S. with other developed nations.

  • In 1968, only 5-14% of Scandinavians attended church once a week, versus 43% of Americans then.  In 2012, half of the U.K. said they had no religion.
  • A majority of Americans pray every day, but in the developed world it ranges from 10 to 20%.
  • In the U.S. 10% never pray, in the developed world 50%.
  • We believe more in Heaven and Hell than 20 other developed nations, only three match or believe in this more.
  • In nearly every developed country devil believers are tiny minorities.
  • 25% of Americans believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, 4-10% elsewhere.
  • As far as belief in evolution, 32 developed countries believed in evolution more than the U.S., which ranked only ahead of Turkey.
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Fantasyland 7. How America became the world’s biggest theme park


[ This is the 7th of 9 posts about Fantasyland. Some theme park quotes: 

  • One of America’s first theme parks was created in 1894, Black America, with 500 pretend slaves advertised as “Fun for the Darkies” and the “Fun-Loving Darky Old Slavery Days”.
  • Suburbia and TV became so pervasive so fast we lost any sense of the radical peculiarity of our fantasy-drenched postwar way of life. The average American watches more than five hours of live television every day, consuming fictions and advertisements in a quasi-hypnotic state.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Kurt Andersen. 2017. Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire.  A 500-Year History. Random House.

The first theme park: Black America

In 1894, Nate Salsbury, Buffalo Bill’s producer, created a mock plantation in Brooklyn called Black America and recruited 500 “Southern Colored People, actual field hands from the cotton belt” to occupy the 150 rustic slave cabins. The New York Times advertised it as “Fun for the Darkies” and “Fun-Loving Darky Old Slavery Days”. For two months they pretended to be enslaved, picking cotton bolls from a recently planted acre and processing them in a real cotton gin. Tens of thousands of white people watched “the labors that the Negroes of slavery days engaged in, and the happy, careless life that they lived in their cabins after work,” a New York Times reporter wrote. Black America was a hit, and it toured the Northeast before returning to Madison Square Garden in New York.


America’s century of wholesale suburbanization was another part of its happy fictionalization, a nation morphing into Earth’s biggest theme park.

In the 1930s Frank Lloyd Wright was not only channeling Americans’ disgust with the big bad city—“throw it away,” he said—but grandiloquently giving his stamp of approval to suburban life. “Our pioneer days are not over,” he wrote, because our new manifest destiny was to make America a coast-to-coast suburbia, what he called Broadacre City, “the only possible city of the future,” “this city for the individual,” with no higgledy-piggledy downtowns at all, each family in its own house on its own acre, every American transformed into “landed gentry,” the Jeffersonian fantasy realized at last.

Back east at the turn of the century, the Coney Island amusement parks were built adjacent to America’s largest city. In southern California in the early 1900s there was no huge existing city, so an ambitious new entertainment zone instead became urban protoplasm: just southwest of Los Angeles, by the beach, a real estate developer (and eccentric utopian) named Abbot Kinney built an amusement park around an artificial lagoon, with canals and gondoliers, calling it Venice of America. Other developers extended the conceit, building more canals; the whole storybook confection quickly started becoming an actual town, Venice, and in the 1920s officially part of Los Angeles.

One way to track the nation’s transmutation into Fantasyland is to look at where Americans moved during the 20th century. In 1900 only two of the 20 largest cities, New Orleans and San Francisco, had temperatures that seldom got below freezing. Today, 14 of the 20 largest cities are places where there ain’t no snow and the sun shines every day.

The 1950s were freaky and fantastical. Start with two defining pieces of the stereotypical American 1950s—TV and the suburbs. Both were expressions and enablers of our American appetites for immersive make-believe. After suburbia and TV became so pervasive so fast—Currier & Ives on the outside, private electric cinemas inside—we lost any sense of the radical peculiarity of our new fantasy-drenched postwar way of life. When my eldest sister was born, just seven years before me, a fraction of 1% of Americans had TVs; by the time I started school, there was a TV in practically every household.

Television’s supply of super realistic fantasies (including the ads) was free and abundant and required no reading, no trips to theaters, not even the imaginative work of listening to radio plays. By the end of the decade, the average American spent a third of his or her waking hours watching TV. Nowhere and never had more people spent more time consuming fictions and advertising, and never in such a continuous quasi-hypnotic state.

At the beginning of the century, two-thirds of Americans still lived in old small towns and on farms. By 1960, only a third did—and another third now lived in suburbia’s new simulations of old-time countrified America. As the land closest to cities became built up and saturated and more distant parcels developed, the implicit nostalgic model shifted from the New England village to the pioneer homestead.

No other developed country has such a huge fraction of its people living at such low densities on such massive amounts of land.

Disneyland and modern Las Vegas were born simultaneously. Disneyland had been inspired by disapproval of “questionable characters” and “honky-tonk” atmosphere. In the badlands three hundred miles across the Mojave Desert, Vegas was created by questionable characters to be honky-tonk,

Just as Disney did with amusement parks, the creators of the new Vegas took seedy American artifacts—gambling halls and roadhouses—and reinvented them as something grand. It was Adventureland for people who hungered after a different hormonal and neurotransmitter mix, one requiring high-stakes indeterminacy—the chance of getting instantly rich or laid, going broke or on a bender. Vegas and Disneyland were just two different new brands in the expanding line of the fantasy-industrial complex.

The proof of concept for its transformation into a satanic Disneyland happened during World War II, as tens of thousands of aviators came through for training at the Las Vegas Army Airfield.

Hefner’s genius was not just in providing more upscale make-believe—color pictures of unequivocally beautiful women shot by good photographers, skillfully retouched and printed on glossy paper—but in building out a 360-degree fantasy that seemed normal, an aspirational template for his wankers to reimagine their everyday lives fantastically.

One of Hefner’s brilliant innovations was to provide a few details about Playmates’ lives, the more banal the better—their hobbies, their favorite books and foods. The fantasy seemed more real. And the rest of the magazine allowed its readers (and “readers”) to imagine themselves living fantastically sexier lives. You are not a scared, lonely chump with dreary domestic responsibilities and a crappy job, every page told them. You are masculine and sophisticated and witty and suave and well dressed and cool, with good taste, in a fun America full of women eager to have no-strings sex with you.

While reading Casino Royale or Goldfinger, one knew that James Bond wasn’t real, whereas Playboy was mainly, nominally nonfiction. Its photo spreads of naked women, its advice columns, its articles about (and ads for) hot cars and cool bachelor pads and hi-fi and hep new cultural products, constituted an imaginary world presented as perfectly real and available. Reality and fiction were a total blur for Hefner.

A few years after inventing a magazine that allowed men to fictionalize themselves, Hefner stepped through his looking glass, turning his own life into a full-blown public fiction, with himself as its main character: the pipe, the bathrobe, the friendship with the Rat Pack, the Playboy Mansions, the harem of permanently youthful Playmates in residence, the whole shebang. Hefner and his magazine were ambivalent about the Beats. They were members of adjacent new Fantasyland denominations—sex! booze! bennies! jazz! selfishness!—but mutually contemptuous, not unlike the two-way suspicion between Christian evangelicals and Pentecostals. Hefner even coined and used the term Upbeat Generation to distinguish his affluent go-go sophisticates from the slackery beatniks.


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