“The hillbillies are a rich seam of grant money“
September 6, 2019 9:13 AM   Subscribe

“Depopulation, vocational training, growth centers: these kinds of schemes might have made sense to a handful of glassy-eyed bureaucrats, but as you can imagine, they didn’t go over well with the people who still lived in dying hollers and towns. In 1974, Whitesburg’s Mountain Eagle newspaper spoke with a former coal miner in Hazard, Kentucky, “wheezing with black lung but denied disability compensation,” who explained that a local ARC bureaucrat had suggested he retrain as an elevator operator. The miner was confused about how this would work: Hazard had only one building with an elevator, “but the damn thing is push button.” The anecdote was a perfect illustration of how disconnected the commission was from the region they were supposed to be helping.” Hollowed Out, against the sham revitalization of Appalachia (The Baffler)
posted by The Whelk (40 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
By the end of the 1960s, however, this strategy didn’t appear to be working, so the ARC began calling for depopulation instead. According to Ralph Widner, ARC executive director from 1965-1971, all Appalachia needed was a “residual maintenance population.” The region’s tiny towns were not going to thrive, in his view, and the residents would need to move to growth centers. Appalachia’s many highways, built with ARC money, are testaments to this logic: get the people to move.

....have these people ever met an Appalachian person? I. My dudes. If people are holding onto their communities and their families and clinging onto life in the region in the face of poverty, widespread derision, and very little to hope for out of sheer cussedness and determination, going "well, why don't you just move then?" seems incredibly unlikely to have any useful impact.

They've considered moving. They don't want to. What's your next plan?
posted by sciatrix at 9:56 AM on September 6, 2019 [22 favorites]


Well, he's certainly right that there's a lot of money being made by grant takers.

But he doesn't seem to offer any hint as to what would be effective. He talks a bit about getting poor people together to talk, and that's never a bad thing, but it isn't going to solve the problem of Appalachian poverty.

I'll admit that my back is a bit up with his use of right wing know nothing proud ignorance sneering at "technocrats" who imagine that science might help solve problems. What, exactly, would he prefer? Idiocrats who make decisions based on intuition and prejudice?

And that's the problem with the whole piece, he has nothing to offer but criticism because the truth is that the depopulation argument is correct.

There was never anything in Appalachia except coal, and now there's not much coal left, and frankly coal mining jobs were never anything but backbreaking, health destroying, labor done for a pittance while the owners wallowed in extreme wealth.

Even if we discovered some new super important resource to be extracted from the Appalachians all it'd do is build a new generation of dead end backbreaking poverty wage jobs.

So the only way out seems to be to get out. Like he said, there's no profit there so nothing will ever happen to give the people there money.

They've considered moving. They don't want to. What's your next plan?

You tell me. If we had fully automated luxury gay space communism going they'd be fine because the fact that the area they're so stubbornly clinging to is economically worthless wouldn't matter.

But we don't have fully automated luxury gay space communism, and they hate the idea and vote against people who might get us there so clearly they don't like the solution being "they can stay there and live on a basic income/welfare without working".

So what's your fix? I've offered mine: get the hell out of the rural deathtrap and make a better life in a city. That's literally the only thing that has ever worked for people in dying rural areas. Like the article points out, everything else that has ever been tried has failed utterly.

And sure, I'm 100% down with putting in more infrastructure, but it's not going to give the poverty stricken people of Appalachia a future without crushing poverty.

I'm also down with a basic income to help the people there. And they hate the idea and vote against everyone proposing it and wear MAGA hats and blame brown people for their problems.

So what's the fix? How do we help them? Neither you nor the guy in the linked article make any actual suggestion there. And I think neither of you do, because you know that the only solution is depopulation.
posted by sotonohito at 10:18 AM on September 6, 2019 [47 favorites]


Additionally, I think younger people want to and *are* moving, which creates its own set of problems when it comes to medical/elder care for the people who remain.
posted by Selena777 at 10:34 AM on September 6, 2019 [13 favorites]


I'll admit that my back is a bit up with his use of right wing know nothing proud ignorance sneering at "technocrats"

I get this guys righteous anger at these programs, and I totally agree that 'targeted programs' rather than direct assistance is the issue, but every single specific complaint the writer had shows how out of his depth he is.

Here's what that hotel is dealing with: Termite swarms coat sidewalk at Daniel Boone Hotel $500k isn't going to cover it. That barely enough for the historic renovation of a decent sized single family home.

$100k isn't enough to run internet cables anywhere.

Also I know it sucks, but Appalachia isn't the only poor place in the US, funding is severely limited, so 'feasibility studies' make sure the feds can help the most people.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:45 AM on September 6, 2019 [11 favorites]


Well, he's certainly right that there's a lot of money being made by grant takers.

But he doesn't seem to offer any hint as to what would be effective.


Well it is The Baffler, they don't so much do solutions as they do screeds on capitalist excess. And the article does do just that pretty well, pointing out all the money wasted on nevergonnahappen schemes that others made bank on while Whitesburg gained little to nothing. That in itself surely should be addressed, the money would be better spent just giving to the small population there, but there isn't much that seems likely to be done about the rest.

Really, that there has been so much attention placed on Appalachia for the size of the population is sorta remarkable in itself as there are plenty of others that could also use help but don't quite fit the same neat well known grouping that "hillbillies" and coal miners do in stirring up talk around elections. Not that the people of Whitesburg and surrounding areas should just be ignored, but it sure seems a better use of funds to put them towards things with clearer solutions for people needing help first rather than funding more feasibility studies for fantastic scenarios.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:51 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I mean the reason why they get comparatively so much attention is easy enough to parse, being, as they are, one of the clearest indicators of the idea of "white pride" without having to actually say that out loud. The refusing to move part is key to selling their importance as a major thing to consider as refusal to change is at the heart of white dominance and identity.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:11 AM on September 6, 2019 [18 favorites]


I'll admit that my back is a bit up with his use of right wing know nothing proud ignorance sneering at "technocrats" who imagine that science might help solve problems. What, exactly, would he prefer? Idiocrats who make decisions based on intuition and prejudice?

Skimming the piece, I'm sure he would prefer the local government to be run by idiots, and thinking about it, I'm sure it's inherently right-wing and anti-scientific to use "technocratic" in the pejorative sense of "fussy, overly narrow, and too optimistic about technology's ability to solve deep-rooted problems."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:22 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Universal basic income will arrive someday regardless of whether the people who need it most support it, and they will come around once they get the idea (that it’s not welfare). The harder question is how to meaningfully occupy oneself, to stay sociable and to grow and learn in a sparsely populated area. Kids raised there need to acquire the skills needed to compete in a more urban context (virtual or actual), to allow any real choice as to place.
posted by mmiddle at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


They've considered moving. They don't want to. What's your next plan?

I don't know if my grandfather wanted to move from the beautiful corner of PEI where his family had lived since 1803, fresh off the boat from the Scottish highlands. But he did, because there were no jobs. He's buried there, but he lived all of his adult life 1500km away.

My aunt moved back, but to do so, she made sure she trained in a field (healthcare) where she could work in a small region. And even then, her husband's industry changed and they ended up moving out to the west for his sake, leaving the (simple but beautiful) dream home they'd built together. That house looks out across the straight to where her father grew up, she can almost see where the boats landed in 1803. But now she lives in Newfoundland, yet another move for work.

It sucks. It sucks to hear the news about how the cannery shut down in Canso, Nova Scotia, where my grandmother's family was from. They actually had left in 1930 to go to New York City (for work, obviously), but still considered it "home". It sucks to see the empty houses - or worse, empty half-houses - in Glace Bay. It sucks when the kid you meet working at the local museum tells you her dad's been in Alberta for weeks or months.

I don't know what the plan is. It would be wonderful if every small place could be a going concern, providing a good quality of life, opportunities and community. But I don't know that we really can: the cod stocks that fed that cannery were devastated decades ago, and I would never advocate for the re-opening of coal mines - dangerous, unhealthy work to produce something we shouldn't even be using (see the above bit about black lung).

My family's solution has, obviously, been to move on, and now my branch are occasional visitors and less and less connected to the place with each generation. But we also got to have jobs and education and to live, so there's that.
posted by jb at 11:33 AM on September 6, 2019 [29 favorites]


Skimming the piece, I'm sure he would prefer the local government to be run by idiots, and thinking about it, I'm sure it's inherently right-wing and anti-scientific to use "technocratic" in the pejorative sense of "fussy, overly narrow, and too optimistic about technology's ability to solve deep-rooted problems."

The writer is a communist podcaster, so I think this may be a bit off the mark.
posted by turntraitor at 12:05 PM on September 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


"well, why don't you just move then?" seems incredibly unlikely to have any useful impact.

They've considered moving. They don't want to. What's your next plan?

--sciatrix

The west is littered with old ghost towns that used to have sizeable populations, and when the silver/gold/whatever was gone, became completely empty.

The coal mines have been going on for so long that people have planted deeper roots, but it is basically the same problem. What's the plan? Should we have had a plan for these ghost towns to keep them around?

Our country is all about growth and is really bad with abatement, whether it is companies, towns, or even major cities. Just look at Detroit. There is no plan because we don't know how to plan for this. We are good at coming up with 'revitalization' plans and spending lots of money on them, but that's not what's needed here.
posted by eye of newt at 12:46 PM on September 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


Really, that there has been so much attention placed on Appalachia for the size of the population is sorta remarkable in itself as there are plenty of others that could also use help but don't quite fit the same neat well known grouping that "hillbillies" and coal miners do in stirring up talk around elections.
It is a well-known fact that the residents of Appalachia are overwhelmingly white and thus provide an opportunity to spend social welfare funds on people who aren't Those People. It's not so much the "stirring up talk around elections" as trying to defuse the accusation that social welfare programs are not aimed at Real Americans.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2019 [13 favorites]


I am with people need to move if their skills and as importantly, their physical abilities do not involve being able to live mostly if not entirely off the land.
What does also need addressing is that telling people to move to the cities is also kind of bad because of outrageous housing costs. It’s obvious that 20th century infrastructure is not an answer either.
Many parts of Appalachia are hopelessly polluted by extraction industries. Some combination of reforestation with HARDWOOD trees, small farming traditional industries like small scale whiskey production, decentralized power generation and Internet, combined with niche tourism some kind of transit for people without cars and income supports would work better than sending massive numbers of people to the big cities to end up living in horrible encampments. I mean without subsidized housing anyone with income under $3000 a month cannot obtain the necessities of life.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:06 PM on September 6, 2019 [22 favorites]


sciatrix: "They've considered moving. They don't want to. What's your next plan?"

This is a bit much when the article makes it clear that plenty of people have moved:
Because my small Appalachian county has roughly half the people it did in 1950, and because coal mining now only employs about a hundred and forty people in the county on any given day, downtown Whitesburg is not as thriving as it once was.
"Outmigration" is a very real phenomenon. Plenty of people have considered moving, maybe don't want to, but do it anyway.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:03 PM on September 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


“residual maintenance population.” I keep coming across versions of this thought when I look into rural American futures.
posted by doctornemo at 2:04 PM on September 6, 2019


I was born and raised in Appalachia (if the more fashionable, resorty side of) and probably 60% my family has been living there (less fashionably) for something like 250 years. I can’t stand the place and endlessly talk shit about it. I spent my entire youth trying yo get away and much of my adulthood working to make sure i won’t have to go back for more than a visit.

That said, it’s not a total wash as a region. Have you been there? The people that live there are not all embittered racist white Republicans. And anecdotally, relocation/depopulation may ultimately be a solultion, but, like, it’s unlikely my several dozen 60+yo relatives are going to up and leave because they have better jobs and healthier grocery stores in Atlanta or wherever.
posted by thivaia at 2:09 PM on September 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


The studies show people don't re-train for a different job. I think it's a lot to take on, especially if you're hurting financially and aren't sure it's going to work out. I'm talking out of my ass, but I would just give them new jobs. You've got a new job, we ensure a salary while we train you. That's part of the job. Show up here tomorrow.

And it would be great if everyone got enough through a UBI program to cover the basic necessities of living. There are a lot of models that show if you simply cut the overhead on the management of government programs you could cover the costs. In other words, stop with the rules of what people buy when and how through assistance and just give them the money.
posted by xammerboy at 2:13 PM on September 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


I'm sure it's inherently right-wing and anti-scientific to use "technocratic" in the pejorative sense of "fussy, overly narrow, and too optimistic about technology's ability to solve deep-rooted problems."

You are either leaving out a word or being ironic, right? Cause the back part of that sentence certainly doesn't support the front part as written.
posted by atoxyl at 2:13 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Some combination of reforestation with HARDWOOD trees, small farming traditional industries like small scale whiskey production, decentralized power generation and Internet, combined with niche tourism some kind of transit for people without cars and income supports would work better than sending massive numbers of people to the big cities to end up living in horrible encampments.

I occasionally joke about turning Appalachia into America's largest national park & just doubling down on healing and stewarding the land. Kick out the coal companies (I'm sure their friends in Congress would make sure they're amply compensated for their trouble), grandfather in all the residencies for people who want to stay, provide ample work within the parks economies (all those wilderness outfitters and rafting companies and mountain bike trails need to be launched and they need workers, so do lodging and restaurants and farm-to-table operations), and just run an experiment on how to responsibly restore a region. If the area's so economically meaningless, then it's not too much of a loss to the national economy if we try something aimed at restoration instead of exploitation.

In the meanwhile, Sarah Taber's thread on West Virginia's agricultural opportunities and these recent articles on coal towns turning to the outdoors economy for revitalization suggest that individuals and companies are kind of seeing the opportunities for doing this piecemeal. It lacks the grand optimism of something like a national effort to restore a region to a shining place in natural and national history, but perhaps we'll get there one day.
posted by sobell at 2:34 PM on September 6, 2019 [24 favorites]


I've read two studies on appalachian migraton today. The first found a quarter of the population left between 1985-1990 but a larger number of people moved to the area in the same time period.The second, more recent and focused on a small area of Kentucky, found similar patterns.

The former study concluded that "the migrants entering Appalachia had lower-status jobs, lower incomes, less education, and were more likely to be in poverty than the people migrating away from the region."
posted by joeyh at 2:52 PM on September 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


It lacks the grand optimism of something like a national effort to restore a region to a shining place in natural and national history, but perhaps we'll get there one day.

You can check out the Trilbillies Podcast episode on the article (they’re kinda rambling and more conversation and shoot the shit then I like my podcasts but they do live there and interact with these issues daily, the first half is just about the Harlan County coal worker strike) and they underline the argument that these “revitalization” programs are just the old extraction economy model in a different way, someone gets 2 million dollars to “retrain” a bunch of people for jobs that don’t exist and then flees town, there’s no investment, not in anything past the current quarter. They give the example of agricultural training they know “over a dozen” people who got small farms, organic farm, traditional farm training from ARC and such and could. Not. Make. It. Work because you can’t compete with large scale monoculture agribusiness with the not so great farmland - as mentioned in the article, they seem to think markets and nudging can help set up new local economies spontaneously while ignoring the larger, richer, more, powerful markets already in place.

Now if say, organic, traditional, best carbon practices and local varietal farming was subsidized and say the food grown integrated into a solidarity economy/municipalism frame work of free food programs and composting initiatives along side long term ecological repair and restoration work under some comprehensive GND umbrella then maybe more people would stay, more jobs could be made available, a program to reurbanize (re small townize?) existing town centers and historical districts so more building could live in smaller areas using less carbon (public transit) and remaining land could be rewilded. A social work WPA lifting the burden of childcare or elder care off individuals in new families and existing ones. Give people the actual choice and freedom to repair their communities without being forced into bad choices by the insanity of the market.

But that involves reinvestment and sharing power and regional self-determination and not rounding up a few million to give to a rich organization so they can pay themselves big salaries and teach a handful of people a single skill.
posted by The Whelk at 2:59 PM on September 6, 2019 [19 favorites]


The author mentions prior unsuccessful attempts to encourage tourism, some of which occurred prior to a lot of the mining-related environmental destruction.
posted by Selena777 at 3:33 PM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


So what's the fix? How do we help them?

Pyramids. A series of hand-crafted Artisanal pyramids, built using traditional tools and materials. One pyramid can occupy 20,000 part-time workers for 20 years. Regions can compete to have the largest and most polished pyramid.

Before you reject this out of hand, consider; is this welfare plan really any worse than the ones described in these articles?
posted by happyroach at 4:01 PM on September 6, 2019 [16 favorites]


"turning Appalachia into America's largest national park & just doubling down on healing and stewarding the land" - a la EO Wilson's Half Earth idea?
posted by doctornemo at 7:32 PM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


all those wilderness outfitters and rafting companies and mountain bike trails need to be launched and they need workers, so do lodging and restaurants and farm-to-table operations

Seasonal work with no health care and low wages, you'll end up with injuries and broke as a joke in your late middle age with no retirement money. May as well work in a coal mine.

I'd love to live in a beautiful area on some land surrounded by family and friends too but that's not really how our economy works anymore, sadly.
posted by fshgrl at 9:29 PM on September 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'd love to live in a beautiful area on some land surrounded by family and friends too but that's not really how our economy works anymore, sadly.

Yeah but ..it could.

Universal Medicare For All and such. Healthcare is a big plank in that. Give people the freedom to do work they want to do.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 PM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


So is no one going to mention the green new deal? All that land is great for growing soil and forests, mountains have potential for wind power. Mountains make clean water.

There s a lot of work to be done restoring the damages of coal mining. It a not profitable under capitalism, unless you need to reconfigure the economy to sequester carbon.
posted by eustatic at 1:10 AM on September 7, 2019


Millions of jobs in the American economy of 2019 (with or without the W-4s of traditional employment) can be done from anywhere with a broadband link and maybe a post office. Writing, editing, transcribing, data processing and analysis, crafting and selling on Etsy, and many other ways of making a living are not tied to a particular location. They may even be easier to do from a depressed rural area with a housing surplus and low cost of living. Where you can get a home for $60 grand or a $300 mortgage, you don't have to hustle so hard and have more time to explore the outdoors or spend with your family. Or you can pool resources with your relatives or social circle to purchase several homes and start a mail-order business or sustainable commune.

Eastern Kentucky indeed continues to experience population decline, both from negative natural increase and net out-migration. American Factfinder has the best data, but not the best interface -- add geographies -> popular -> county -> Kentucky -> all and close the popup to see the figures. Every county the Medium article regards as Inner Appalachia experienced three-figure negative net migration in the last year for which figures are available. There may have been a lull in the exodus during the 2008-2012 study period, but the recent sharp decline in underground mining has forced thousands to seek their fortunes elsewhere. This follows decades of declining employment and population as machinery displaced workers, leaving tens of thousands of homes vacant and depressing prices for the remainder. So people who own homes outright or have $300 mortgages aren't able to sell or able to afford to.

Telling these people to pack up and move to the city is inhumane. MetaFilter acknowledges the affordable housing and homelessness crises and recognizes that the humane and economic solution is to give people places to live. It is not to uproot people from their homes and communities so they wind up on the streets.

The difference between coal towns in Appalachia and ghost towns in Nevada is that the mixed mesophytic forest is bounteous. It has temperate weather and plenty of water and reasons to live there other than mineral extraction. The biome can easily sustain the current population -- indefinitely, if the environmental consequences of coal are mitigated.

The jobs program to revitalize the region and keep people in their homes is ecologic restoration. Seal the mines, reclaim the spoils, restore the creeks, rebuild the mountaintops, replant the forests. This will take millions of man-hours and will be a drop in the bucket for a federal government that can literally print money and chooses to squander it in thousands of ways such as those Tarence details in his article.

Coal miners do not want to spend all day underground breathing dust. They want to make a living wage in their own community, where people speak their dialect and understand their accent, and to work alongside the neighbors they've known for years. For generations, that has meant mining coal, because offloading the costs of remediation has allowed coal operators to essentially offer workers hazard pay. And now operators are going bankrupt leaving taxpayers to clean up their mess.

All those public dollars can pay for Appalachia's transition to a sustainable economy. If, as Tarence and The Whelk emphasize, those communities get to determine how federal dollars are spent. Because what appeals to outside funders and bureaucrats can be orthogonal to what each community needs. And as living through a nine-figure cleanup operation has shown, neither state and federal officials dispatched from job to job nor the mercenary contractors they hire are invested in the places they work. Local control is mandatory for injured communities to receive the most benefit from recovery funding. Which is, I believe, at the heart of Tarence Ray's article.
posted by backwoods at 3:25 AM on September 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


So the economist in me is completely and utterly ticked off that probably the most basic counter-cyclical investment in every developed economy is being completely ignored for every region suffering un/underemployment

PUBLIC HOUSING

Build a highway, solar array, windfarm, network, etc in a downturn - who turns up to buy it when the upturn arrives? Bankers, venture capitalists, pension funds - leeches and parasites - the lot of them

Build houses, terraces, semi-detacheds, apartments in a downturn -who buys in the upturn? EVERYBODY who likes the town, area, region, coffee-shop, climate - ...

If the housing stock is in decline - REMEDIATE and rent

AND you can target the building for the areas with the worst un/underemployment. Which as the issuer of government money costs you NOTHING as current interest rates are ZERO

How did these duffleheads ever come to be regarded as good economic managers?
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:53 AM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


If any of you all haven't read Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan Metzl, you need to, right now. I have lived Appalachia-adjacent most of my working life and have spent years taking care of these people, and that book laid out clearer to me why they are as they are (and why they'll vote down any public option, even ones designed specifically for them).
posted by basalganglia at 4:53 AM on September 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


While there are excptions, tele- jobs that can be done anywhere tend to be done in suburbs or second tier cities. Part of that is that most people like the amenities that come with population, but economic factors also matter. Remote areas don't encourage serindipidous collaboration or skill aquisition. It's hard to network meaningfully remotely. It's hard to get your next job 100% remote. when you are young and talented and trying to get a big paycheck a city is a better place to be. As the article points out, the ability to do electronic work with remote teams isn't going to save the countryside, especially now that the self selection spiral has taken away so much talent. Spending a billion on fiber for a loosely populated area won't change that; it's another pointless satellite.

While it's true that city growth depends on many capricious factors, It isn't clear to me why the rest of the country is obligated to make living in the Eastern mountains economically viable for anyone who wants to. The loss of house stock value is really unfortunate and a general problem with the idea that personal wealth should start with real estate. Depopulation after loss of a primary industry is natural. If there were a natural replacement industry low wages and property costs would attract it. Industry isn't shy about asking for handouts when they can make it work.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:04 AM on September 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


So is no one going to mention the green new deal?

anywhere with a broadband link and maybe a post office

These are actually covered in an existing GND policy platform and a Postal Banking system would be a huge boon to facilitate real revitalization and not this smash and grab stuff.

PUBLIC HOUSING

You might be interested in the HOMES GUARANTEE

The solutions to these problems exist, it just means abandoning the failed politics of the last 40 years. Dream bigger.

Industry isn't shy about asking for handouts when they can make it
work.


Except industry hand outs don’t work Give money and power tompeople not businesses.
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on September 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's sort of interesting to me how often people say that coal miners need not just any new job, but a job can take pride in and identify with. I agree, but what about everyone else in general? The same candidates that say these things also say we need to stop robots from replacing cashiers, etc. What about real jobs for everyone?
posted by xammerboy at 8:09 AM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]




"the same candidates that say these things also say we need to stop robots from replacing cashiers"

Really? There seems to be a total acceptance of the inevitability of automation among politicians along with a profound failure to defend any working class job coded as feminine (for instance, if the retail apocalypse were happening to a male dominated industry, politicians would give it at least a casual mention).
posted by Selena777 at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's like an unholy union of big-city homeless policy and treating the entire area as the Love Canal of capitalism. If I never again read the word "makerspaces" in redevelopment stories it'll be a sign of improvement.
posted by rhizome at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


You are either leaving out a word or being ironic, right? Cause the back part of that sentence certainly doesn't support the front part as written.

Well observed! And here I thought I had laid it on too thick.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:45 PM on September 7, 2019


I'm explicitly **NOT** endorsing horseshoe theory here, but while they approach it from different directions both the left and right can involve anti-intellectualism. The right seems far more prone to it, but it is possible (though hardly inevitable) to reach an anti-intellectual space by making (wrong) assumptions about what radical egalitarianism would involve.

Ray's article seems to have gone down that path and entered into a space where, perversely, they and a right winger would be in agreement that pointy headed intellectuals in ivory towers are the real problem. Doubtless Ray would argue it was because those intellectuals were tools of the bourgeoisie liberal movement that is trying to keep the Appalachians in bondage to capitalism, while a hypothetical right winger would argue they were bad because they were disrupting the natural hierarchies with their book learning, but the outcome is the same: both reject the idea that intelligence, science, and learning have a place in finding a solution.

I'd argue that just as the authoritarian/anarchist political spectrum is largely (though not wholly) disconnected from the left/right spectrum there's also an intellectual/anti-intellectual spectrum that is also mostly disconnected from the left/right spectrum and as a result it is possible for people to be in agreement on hating intellectuals despite disagreeing on most other topics.

I brought up the right wing because in contemporary America we mostly hear the anti-intellectual arguments coming from the right and I keep trying to pretend that my fellow leftists are immune to such thinking. I'll agree that it was a thoughtless, kneejerk, way to frame the problem. Ray sort of blindsided me because I'm used to hearing anti-intellectualism from the right and getting a blast of it from the left was (foolishly, because it shouldn't be) surprising and disappointing as I keep wanting to think that my fellow leftists would reject it though clearly some do not.
posted by sotonohito at 6:34 AM on September 9, 2019


I'm late to the party, but this article is taking me a little while to read.

The Southwestern PA entrepreneurship program referred to is almost certainly Innovation Works, or one of its sub-programs, AlphaLab, both of which are funded by the State of Pennsylvania. The author was really sketchy about discussing results, but IW publishes regular reports on results. I know because my company is one of the ones that has been helped by their programs and I have to fill out the paperwork. We employ a dozen people and pay better than a living wage for an adult with two kids to all of our employees, some of whom do not have college degrees. I don't think our program had a place in the narrative (which is otherwise hard to deny) and so got the editorial brush-off.

For a quick summary of impact, check out this PDF celebrating 20 years of service for IW. There is more extensive data on their website if you want to check it out.
posted by Alison at 7:23 AM on September 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is a well-known fact that the residents of Appalachia are overwhelmingly white and thus provide an opportunity to spend social welfare funds on people who aren't Those People.

I think the Tennessee Valley Authority is a perfect example of this. The federal government dumps billions, possibly trillions in today's money, into giant public works projects to improve the whitest lives in the south. Jobs, recreation facilities, power, water, etc. Black communities are conveniently "in the way" of plans and are bulldozed or simply allowed to sink under the rising lakes. (These same lakes today host thousands of MAGA dads each weekend, fishing in government-created lakes on their bass boats they no doubt paid for with bootstraps.)
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:46 AM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


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