Tag Archives: Rockbridge County

Looking for America — again …

“Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/ They’ve all come to look for America … America …”

~ Paul Simon

But the place where I’m looking for America these days is not the New Jersey Turnpike.  Life here in Rockbridge County, VA is never dull. On the one hand, you have breathtaking views and a county seat of some 8,000 inhabitants of whom perhaps 25 are published authors.

There are two nationally known colleges –Washington & Lee University  and  Virginia Military Institute – both of which annually rank high in the ubiquitious US News & World Report liberal arts colleges ratings.

As Labor Day signals the start of a new school year,  tomorrow’s opening convocation speakers will be  Charles R Johnson at W&L, award-winning philosopher and scholar, whose novel  Middle Passage is being staged as a theater production in Chicago this fall; and at VMI, renowned foreign-policy observer and best-selling author Robert D. Kaplan.

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But scratch our polished surface and you’ll find a county where Trump-Pence lawn signs abound; where typically the town votes blue and the county votes red; and where both colors surface together pretty frequently in the form of the Confederate battle flag on T-shirts, trucks and alas, even flagpoles.

And that’s why I’m currently reading Hillbillly Elegy by J.D. Vance, recently interviewed on NPR’s” Fresh Air.”  I’ve said before how much of what’s happening in our country right now can be explained by the long-suppressed rage of  Angry White Men (another book touted on NPR). I cited Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War as the best explanation yet of why we’re in this mess: Why Donald Trump can incite riots at rallies; why we can’t rein in police departments run amok; why – fifty years after we thought we’d declared human rights as our nation’s civil rights — we are still struggling to leave a deeply stained past behind.

Yesterday in neighboring Buena Vista  — once the thriving industrial hub of our rural county, now the crossroads of Appalachia and post-industrial America – the Labor Day parade featured a near-life-sized figure of Donald Trump astride a rearing acrylic white stallion on a truck-drawn float. The parade’s slashes of red and blue  just served to underline in bold strokes  the deep divides in this deceptively pastoral county:  We have “from heres” and “come heres” ; multigenerational farm families who raise bees and know how to fix a tractor, and double-degree  academicians; mainstream Christians and fundamentalist evangelicals; people who support gay marriage and people who attend Tea Party gatherings. You name it, we have it: atheists, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews;  descendant of settlers from the 1700s and newly arrived Congolese refugees struggling with English … we are, in short, in this tiny community, a perfect microcosm of our strife-torn, battle-weary nation.

Pretty much the only thing we haven’t done here so far is start shooting each other – credit all of us for maintaining the frayed surface of civility, but it’s wearing thin. And that’s why I am reading Hillbilly Elegy. Because J.D. Vance explains how and why his “hill people” aren’t doing so well. How they left the destitution of eastern Kentucky to fan out across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, to Chicago and Detroit and beyond—to give their children a shot at the American Dream, and how that Dream turned its back on them. Why they are angry, and sick, and weary beyond telling.

Like Bageant, Vance acknowledges that the woes of impoverished  post-Appalachian whites are often self-inflicted. They cling to family even in dysfunction; they are too proud to ask for help;  they often blame everyone else for their failure; and – thanks to the post-World War II industrial boom — they are now spread all the way across this country. Their religion, what’s left of it, is and always was an angry, punitive Calvinist doctrine. They lack the community faith that has sustained black Americans through the worst adversity and the hope that propels arriving immigrants.

And that brings me to my plea:  Don’t judge, don’t excuse, but please read the background of what has brought us to this national divide, cynically manipulated by powerful interests. We know that the angry white  minority is just the lever those interests have long employed to keep the races, and more recently the entire nation, divided.

The crisis in this country IS a class war, and it has been in progress for a long time. It won’t be over unless and until everyone is included – whether we think they deserve it or not. And that means a national conversation that includes the out-of-work, down-and-out, gun-totin’ people of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia.

Read Hillbilly Elegy or Deer Hunting With Jesus.  Please.

 

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Omnivore, herbivore … the conversation continues

 

 

 

The Locavore Vegetarian, with a red pepper and some cranberries thrown in.
The Locavore Vegetarian, with a red pepper and some cranberries thrown in.

Thanks to Mark at herbfit.wordpress.com and to Mary Lynn at gapsconsulting.com for recent comments about the vegetarian/vegan/omnivore’s dilemma.  Mark points out that most soy currently being raised is fed to animals and that for the sake of the planet we’d do better to eat the animal feed than the animals!

For sure, say I. But I am still focusing on what monoculture crops are doing to the environment, and if you drive in this country through vast areas of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, for example, soy is one of those monocultures. They’re so potentially destructive, with their need for fertilizers and pesticides.

Mary Lynn mentions Weston A. Price’s research. As she says: “His conclusions about the link between food and either chronic degenerative disease or vibrant health came when he studied the diet of those not touched by ‘conventional’ (processed) food. His study, which spanned a decade and took place about 100 years ago, was compelling. He discovered what the healthiest peopl

e ate and he found not a single tribe or community of vegetarians. There was always some sort of animal (or insect) food found in those he studied though he secretly believed he would find healthy people who were vegetarian.”

She notes that our dental structure includes those canine teeth found in carnivores, and adds, “We secrete hydrochloric acid in the stomach which is meant to break down muscle fibers and other proteins.”

But many traditional cultures ate much less animal-based food than we currently do. I know that Mary Lynn doesn’t disagree — she advocates ghee and other animal-based products as well as vegetable fats.

Unfortunately, with a global economy, everyone on the planet now wants to have the opportunity to eat the way only the wealthiest could in the past. How are those of us in the “First World” to deny those who’ve never had the opportunity?

Thanks to both of you for moving this conversation forward. The question for me still remains, How are we going to manage ourselves on this planet in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere? As Mark notes, there’s no quick answer here. But let’s keep on working at it.