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Hillbilly Culture and America’s Future

on October 18th, 2016 by admin

I just finished reading an intriguing memoir about a segment of American society that is virtually ignored.  Writer J.D. Vance chronicles his life story in Hillbilly ElegyVance highlights the terrible consequences of bad ideas passed from generation to generation.  These bad ideas include eschewing education, using violence as a means to settle disagreements, drug addiction, chronic unemployment, an overall unstable home life for children with a revolving door of unstable relationships.  This is the cultural milieu the writer grew up in.  I couldn’t help but compare hillbilly culture with inner city, ghetto culture among a segment of black America.  If you want to learn more about the origins of hillbilly culture, check out this post.

The white working class is declining before our eyes.  Rampant drug addiction, and the loss of manufacturing jobs has created a social/moral calamity.  Here are some examples.  Just like the Great Migration of southern blacks fleeing Jim Crow, the writer’s family had what one could call a Hillbilly Migration.  Moving to the Rust Belt for the manufacturing jobs, Vance’s grandparents were never able to leave the destructive aspects of Hillbilly life.  Vance tells a story of his grandparents destroying a pharmacy and attacking the clerk because the clerk chastised his uncle when his uncle was a child.  Vance’s mother ended up creating the same chaotic home with her violent, irresponsible, inept behavior.

Even though his Grandparents did not instill a stable home, it was his grandmother, paradoxically, who ultimately saved him.  In all her hillbilly ways she instilled in Vance the importance of bettering oneself.  She even spent $180 on a graphing calculator for a math class.  That was money she did not have.  But that gesture instilled in Vance a sense that he mattered and that learning matters.  Ultimately Vance graduates high school, enters the Marine Corp, and eventually graduate from Yale Law School.

Upon reflecting on Hillbilly Elegy I couldn’t help but think about the implications for the country as a whole.  The moral and cultural decay that is afflicting the white working class could easily reach the entire population.  To a certain extent it already has.  What is undermining the white working class, urban blacks, and our culture as a whole is a lack of values.  Those uniquely American values of individualism and personal responsibility–that made it possible for a ragtag group of individuals to fight the mighty British Empire.

What exactly are values and what role do they play in society and individuals’ lives?  Values are something one acts to gain or keep.  They are a positive.  Values are a way to help an individual better oneself.  They are a guide to actions that further one’s life. What happens when a culture no longer reinforces values?  I was reminded of an article by my favorite philosopher Ayn Rand titled “Our Cultural Value Deprivation”.  Rand focuses on a science experiment conducted in the 1950’s where participants were deprived of all sensory stimulation.  As the experiment progressed participants began experiencing psychological meltdowns; they could not reorient themselves to reality.  Rand was able to juxtapose the connection with our culture’s lack of values and the destructive impact it has on individuals to that sensory deprivation experiment.  What happens when a culture no longer reinforces values?  You get an environment where J.D. Vance barely survived.

Unfortunately, this hillbilly culture is spreading and it is slowly destroying our nation.  As Vance pointed out public policy can only go so far.  In fact, welfare has made the situation worse.  How can we all as Americans ensure that the ambitious poor are given their chance at bettering their lives?  For starters, look at your own lives and reward positive behavior.  Make sure your home life is in order.  Never let bad behavior go unchecked.  Speak out.

Bookish Babe

Update: Removed a sentence and corrected punctuation mistakes.

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