When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

28 January 2006

A letter to Joe Bageant

Hey, Joe.

A friend forwarded your "Mutt People" essay to me, and it thoroughly kicked my ass. I believe it to be one of the three best things I have ever read about the land and culture of my birth (the two others being David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed," at least the "borderlander" sections, and James Webb's "Born Fighting"; W.J. Cash and V.S. Naipaul, brilliant though they are, are a distant tie for fourth behind the three of y'all. Oh, and Tom Wolfe's Esquire profile of Junior Johnson definitely gets an honorable mention.)

Your sociology, if not your socialism, resonates deeply with me; I have forwarded the article (and your blog link) to quite a few of my friends, including a college buddy who now teaches high school history in a poor county in the NC mountains; I think it pretty much made his head explode. That's quite a cracker chain-lettter you seem to have spawned.

I am a Scots-Irish hillbilly mutt to the bone, though an overeducated one now living in the big city of New York, with a whip-smart liberal Jewish wife and a bunch of (mostly) limp-dicked left-wing intellectual types for friends and colleagues.

It was my *parents*, not me, who got out of the Western North Carolina textile mills and off the sharecropper's farm (Mama and Daddy, respectively) and got themselves an education. In addition to giving me a good Christian raising, they did their damnedest to make sure that I'd never have to do "honest work" of the kind they so determinedly escaped back in the day, and it's largely because of their determination and drive that I'm not an unemployed linthead in some tiny little town somewhere trying to keep my F-150 out of the hands of the repo man.

Though I soaked up white-trash culture with mother's milk (literally) it was a peculiar blend that involved an almost religious mania for education; after working their way through school with no help from anybody (not, as you cannily observe, that they'd have been likely to take it if offered) Mama taught school and Daddy became an engineer, and the house, crucially, was full of books and music in addition to the other necessities of life.

For me to as come as far as they did from their upbringing, I think I'd have to become President of the World Bank or discover cold fusion or something.


Education is the answer. Period, end of story. To quote that brilliant philosopher, George Clinton - "Free your mind and your ass will follow...the kingdom of heaven is within."

And I hate to say this, but given the prevailing class prejudices among the liberal elites, crackers are gonna have to save themselves; nobody else will do it for them. (If I want to play epater le bourgeois up here, all I need to do is talk about George Jones or NASCAR at a cocktail party; hell, one hint of a drawl escapes my mouth and the automatic assumption from most liberal New Yorkers is that I've got a set of Klan robes hanging in the closet at home, and that I can be found on Sunday mornings handling snakes and speaking in tongues.)

My suggestion, and you may not like this much, is that we try to vaccinate cracker kids with an authentic libertarian strain of conservatism to protect them from the trumped up, phony religious-right variety. Wild-eyed libertarianism--the full Jacksonian don't-fuck-with-me social-liberal, economic-conservative package--should appeal to the Scots-Irish in their very DNA (it hooked me at an early age) and if nothing else might serve to wean them away from the criminal mooks currently running the Republican Party.

Some of the libertarian-inoculated may go on to become full-blown liberals, which would make you (if not me) happy, but I suspect that quite a few of them, in any event, would be philosophically driven to educate and better themselves, which I think would please both of us no end.

Once we do that, of course, the trouble becomes - who the hell do we point them TOWARDS?

The crackers already know that the Democrats view them with contempt. Sooner or later, they are going to realize that the Republicans have been using them like cheap whores at a bachelor party for the last forty years or so... and I mightily fear what's going to happen when they do.

If your book tour brings you to New York City, let me buy you a drink.

All best,

Barry Campbell

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