Strangers in Their Own Land

Strangers in Their Own Land

by

Arlie Russell Hochschild

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Strangers in Their Own Land: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Upon meeting Madonna Massey at Starbucks in Lake Charles, Hochschild immediately notes “how many people seem happy to see her.” They complement Madonna’s clothes and her singing; her friendliness “seems to cast a circle of warmth around her.” After first meeting Madonna at a Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana meeting, Hochschild explains, she followed up to meet for coffee.
Madonna’s central role in the Lake Charles community is immediately obvious to Hochschild simply from the way others greet her. The tight-knit, trusting, familial bonds Mike Schaff longs for seem alive and well here.
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Hochschild has “explored industry and the state” as key institutions in the “social terrain” of Louisiana, but she still has to look at the church and the press. She wonders whether people feel the same way about the church as Mike Schaff does about his community, where the government seems to be unnecessarily interfering. “Nearly everyone” Hochschild meets attends church more or less regularly, and they take pride in their children “being churched.” Churches are a “pillar of social life” in Lake Charles, which has twice as many churches per capita as Hochschild’s hometown of Berkeley. People pray before meals and meetings, recall the churches of their childhoods fondly, and even credit God with their successes in business.
Church seems to permeate every aspect of everyday life in Lake Charles, and locals’ pride in “churching” their children demonstrates that church is viewed as a site for them to develop proper moral values and senses of self.
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Hochschild visits the Masseys’ Living Way Pentecostal Church, where Madonna’s husband, Glenn, is the pastor. She sits next to Madonna in the front row as the 700 congregants trickle inside. Glenn gives a sermon, closing his eyes and raising his arms before speaking in tongues, and then the congregants bring their anxieties to his assistant pastors, who bless and weep for them. The parishioners lay their hands on one another, “forming a momentary still life of human connection,” before Pastor Glenn calls “everyone who needs to forgive or be forgiven” to the front. More than half the worshippers come to the front and “there is sighing, sometimes weeping, pats, and release.” The service ends; the congregants mingle and head home.
The congregation’s web of connections serves as a concrete expression of their solidarity as a community. Indeed, it seems as though the assistant pastors are feeling and playing out others’ displaced emotions through a sort of magical, intense empathy, and the uniquely expressive environment that Pastor Glenn fosters both releases people from the feeling rules to which they are subject outside church and imposes a different set of feeling rules: the passionate, unbridled expression of emotions.
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The Masseys’ church “focuses on human healing,” a role Hochschild suggests that “psychotherapy and meditation, as well as family and friendship” fill in other cultures. Other churches focus on different programming, from charity nearby to missionary work in the Global South. These churches “meet needs beyond the spiritual,” providing recreation facilities, sports leagues, summer camps, and addiction counseling. This is all funded by the parishioners themselves, who give 10% of their income to their churches. While Louisianans “pay taxes,” Hochschild notes, “they give at church.” Thinking about similar government-funded programs in San Francisco, Hochschild explains that she usually sees public services “filling the same cultural space” that church programs fill in Lake Charles. She notes that the services Silicon Valley companies provide for their workers are a different kind of private alternative to these public services.
Louisiana and California seem to invert the roles of public and private institutions: in Louisiana, private institutions like churches and corporations are seen as public benefactors, and in California, the state fulfills that same role. The Louisiana government’s failure to protect the public interest allows other institutions to step in. While Louisianans feel forced to participate in government by paying taxes, they willingly participate in church by giving financial donations—paying taxes is a regrettable obligation to a greedy government, but giving to church is an honorable act of selflessness.
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Madonna Massey moved to Lake Charles recently, so she has not heard about many of the environmental catastrophes that people like the Arenos and Mike Schaff are facing. Massey tells Hochschild that she is “so for capitalism and free enterprise” but hates regulations that decide “the size of my Coke bottle or type of lightbulb.” Yet she trusts “our system” to ensure her water and air are clean. She sees a forced choice between the American Dream and environmental protections, the same “either-or scenario” in which Hochschild’s other friends also feel trapped.
Madonna worries about government regulations that interfere with her choices as a consumer, but she trusts environmental regulations on blind faith. She is worried about the freedom to buy what she wants but does not consider her freedom from toxic pollution, perhaps because it is so invisible. Even though Dr. Templet disproved the “either-or” logic, it is still convenient for Louisianans like Madonna to assume that the conflict between oil and environmentalism must be a necessary one—that there is no world with oil jobs and without pollution.
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Massey grew up in “the poorest town in America” but “has since prospered beyond her wildest dreams,” releasing albums of her music and living a comfortable, affluent life. She credits the church with her success, and many others in her congregation feel the same way. But Hochschild notes that “there were rich churches and poor churches,” as well as white churches and black churches, in Lake Charles. The white churches tend to be the rich ones, and the black churches the poor ones, which leads Hochschild to worry that, if church could truly take government’s place, “the churched world [would] remain a highly unequal one.” But Madonna thinks that “with God’s help, […] everyone can rise as she has.”
Madonna Massey’s personal identity is deeply intertwined with her religious faith and practices of worship. Hochschild worries that private institutions like Louisiana churches would not truly serve the public interest because they represent segregated constituencies, but Louisianans have much the same worry about the government. Hochschild sees a church-based society as reinforcing whites’ disproportionate wealth, but white Louisianans worry that government is redistributing their wealth to people of color.
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Hochschild learns that Louisiana’s “religious community appreciates the outdoors” but notes that she cannot find information about pollution on the website of any major Lake Charles church. She explains how the National Association of Evangelicals and Christian Coalition have contributed to the rise of the “religious right” and recalls a PBS interview series where those organizations’ leaders referred Bill Moyers to Dr. Calvin Beisner, their media spokesperson. Dr. Beisner argues that extractive practices like coal mining and oil drilling are sanctioned by the Book of Genesis, and Hochschild notices that oil and mining companies fund Beisner’s Action Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. She also identifies smaller environmentalist factions within the growing Evangelical movement, although they seemed absent in Lake Charles.
Even though churches claim to value nature, they do little about the pollution that threatens Lake Charles. On a national scale, too, nature-loving evangelicals seem willing to destroy nature for the sake of profit. Beisner’s convenient Biblical interpretation helps conservative Christians differentiate between human problems that are worthy of moral concern and environmental ones that are not. It also demonstrates how corporations buy off religious figures in order to integrate conservatives’ economic dependence on extractive industries with their social and emotional dependence on church. Crucially, Beisner uses mass media to disseminate his ideas, which foreshadows Hochschild’s examination of Fox News.
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The churches Hochschild visited emphasized “a person’s moral strength to endure” above “the will to change the circumstances that called on that strength.” Like therapy, she suggests, church offers the emotional safety and support people need to endure hardship. Madonna Massey believes that the Second Coming is imminent and will bring believers like her to Heaven. This makes her ambivalent about environmental concerns because “the earth may just not be here.” While she confesses that she is “not well educated,” Massey asserts that “mine is a true belief.” And 41% of Americans share that belief, expecting the rapture by 2050.
Churches foster a particular version of the endurance self by elevating perseverance over action; they almost seem to tell Louisianans that it is morally better to live with problems than to solve them. This feeling rule foreshadows Hochschild’s description of Jackie Tabor as someone who renounces her desire for change in order to prove her capacity for endurance. Massey’s faith in the Second Coming (or Rapture) also dovetails nicely with these endurance-centric feeling rules because it encourages her to ignore environmental problems—which are under God’s jurisdiction, not the government’s—rather than acting for change.
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Internet depictions of the rapture, Hochschild realizes, show a minority of “svelte, well-dressed adults” rising up to Heaven. She suggests such depictions might be responding to “shared and understandable anxieties about an earthly economy.” This makes sense, since American men with high-school educations have seen a 40% drop in income since 1970. Older white men who have experienced this decline over the last half-century have declining lifespans, so Hochschild understands why “life may well feel like ‘end times.’” But she also sees that church encourages Louisianans to “turn concern away from social problems,” government help, and the Great Paradox.
Hochschild sees the particularities of Louisiana’s religious doctrine as a well-formed response to people’s particular, concrete economic circumstances: believing in the Rapture is emotionally compelling when life is getting worse because it gives people something to live for. But it also encourages them to turn their sights to a higher world and neglect the problems they face on Earth.
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Over tea, Madonna Massey shows Hochschild the conservative pundits, politicians, church leaders, and news sources she follows on Twitter. Fox News, Hochschild explains, is “an extra pillar of political culture all its own” among Louisiana conservatives. Nearly all the people she interviews prefer Fox, considering it a source of moral guidance. One woman even says that “Fox is like family to me.” Fox “stokes fear” about issues “with little direct bearing on politics.” Mike Schaff told Hochschild that “a lot of liberal commentators look down on people like me” and wondered why those commentators can call Southerners “rednecks” even though Southerners realize that they “can’t say the ‘N’ word” because it’s “demeaning.”
Hochschild probably paired Fox News and church in this chapter because both institutions offer Louisianans moral and emotional guidance in a world where they are accelerating toward poverty but have no safety net. Like church, Fox presents itself as a trustworthy “family,” and its anchors appear to understand everyday conservatives’ perspectives. In fact, this empathy game goes both ways: Fox personalities act out empathy with regular people, and then viewers start to trust Fox and empathize with its personalities’ perspectives and fears. 
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Yet Hochschild notes that “none of the people I talked to” echoed the “extreme language” of Fox, which used words like “tyranny, apparat, terrorist, and strangler” to decry liberal policies. One Louisiana woman watches other news channels but sees them as opinion; she says she can distinguish opinion from fact “by their tone of voice.” For instance, she feels scolded when CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour interviews a sick or starving child, as though Amanpour is “imposing liberal feeling rules” on her, telling her to “feel sorry for, or responsible for, the fate of the child.” Hochschild notes that “the social terrain” of southern Louisiana encourages people to refocus away from the needs of people like the sick child; she suggests that she has begun “backing into” the woman’s deep story.
Although Fox is full of passionate right-wing anger, Hochschild suggests that it serves less to prescribe feeling rules than to defend conservatives against liberal ones. The notion that people can tell truth from lies based on “tone of voice” exemplifies Louisianans’ pattern of prioritizing feeling over evidence, especially with politically controversial topics like climate science. Amanpour demonstrates and encourages concern for faraway people’s suffering, which conservatives interpret as the moralizing imposition of liberal feeling rules. Their distrust in Amanpour blocks them from thinking the child’s suffering makes any moral claim on them.
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After Lee Sherman exposed PPG’s illegal dumping, he joined the environmental activist organization RESTORE. In 1997, he helped sick Condea Vista cleanup workers successfully sue the company, but soon thereafter “a schoolteacher and his wife” joined their group and began to sabotage their efforts. When Lee Sherman’s wife found the teacher suspiciously using her computer, she confronted him, the group fought, and it fell apart forever. Ten years later, it was revealed that Condea Vista paid spies $250,000 “to infiltrate RESTORE.” Condea Vista’s supply-chain manager, Peter Markey, admitted in a deposition that “it was a surveillance operation” approved by the company’s president. Mother Jones magazine—a progressive publication that none of Hochschild’s interviewees had ever encountered—broke the story in 2008, but Louisiana newspapers barely mentioned it, and nobody Hochschild interviewed could remember the story.
While national stories on Fox dominate the Louisiana media diet, the local story of Condea Vista’s spy operation never truly got picked up. This contributes to the silence about pollution in Louisiana: nobody reports it, so nobody learns about it, and few act to stop it. Because Mother Jones is a progressive magazine, none of Hochschild’s friends in Louisiana would ever think to pick it up.
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Hochschild reflects on a general trend she has discovered in Louisiana environmental politics: everyone suffers from pollution, but nobody publicly acknowledges it. She declares that Louisianans are “victims without a language of victimhood” and believes that she is “working slowly backward toward an answer to the Great Paradox”: admitting that they have a pollution problem would force Louisianans to address it. Institutions are not doing so, and Louisianans balk at the idea of government regulation, even though they realize that the federal government is the only entity that could fix pollution.
Hochschild has shown that all four major social institutions she has studied in southwest Louisiana—industry, government, church, and media—intentionally divert attention away from pollution. These trusted institutions’ silence leads Louisianans to only think about the environment when they see a forced choice between their oil jobs and environmental risks.
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Hochschild returns to the idea of structural amnesia, suggesting that Louisianans focus on problems like people who “cheat the government” in order to forget the more severe environmental problems they face. To understand how an occasional case of welfare fraud makes Louisianans hate the whole federal government, Hochschild argues that she has to delve into people’s deep stories.
Hochschild sees that the relatively small scale of welfare fraud cannot compare to the environmental problems Louisiana faces—as a rational calculation, conservatives’ emphasis on the former makes little sense, but as a calculation of feeling, it likely reflects a deeper sense of feeling cheated by self-proclaimed “victims.” Naturally, Hochschild seeks to understand this feeling by trying to empathize with conservatives’ deep story. 
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