Hochschild’s research begins with a pattern she calls “The Great Paradox”: she wonders why people in red states who need government help the most nevertheless consistently vote against that help. Whereas conventional analyses explain voting behavior through political self-interest (they assume that people will vote for whatever improves their lives), Hochschild argues that this assumption cannot sufficiently explain the Great Paradox. Rather, she sees emotional self-interest as the driving force behind many Louisianans’ Republican votes: they want to preserve a sense of honor that corresponds to their ideal of the “endurance self,” and they feel a “high” when a candidate like Donald Trump affirms that sense of honor. Hochschild thinks that conventional researchers tend to overlook emotional self-interest’s central role in motivating political behavior, largely because it is difficult to quantify, but she believes that this is a huge mistake, since people vote emotionally, not rationally.
Federal data shows that people who live in more polluted counties are less likely to worry about the harmful effects of pollution, which seems to be an example of the Great Paradox, since the trend would be reversed if people voted based on their political self-interest. However, Hochschild argues that this is only paradoxical if one doesn’t factor in emotions, and to understand the emotions that underlie conservative voting behavior, she seeks out Louisianans’ “deep story.” Hochschild discovers that red state citizens do vote in their self-interest, but in a more abstract and emotional way than political scientists often assume: they vote to reclaim a dwindling sense of honor and to proclaim their distinctive values. Hochschild names this desire emotional self-interest.
Southern conservatives’ emotional self-interest revolves around their desire to preserve a particular narrative of selfhood, one that Hochschild calls the “endurance self.” Being able to suffer hardship without complaining or taking government assistance is something to be proud of in the South. So is working hard—in Janice Areno’s case, for instance, hard work matters much more than meaningful or well-paid work. Accordingly, Hochschild argues that Southerners reject government help because it weakens their sense of personal honor. She elaborates three expressions of the endurance self: the Team Loyalist, the Worshipper, and the Cowboy. Team Loyalists, like Janice Areno, prioritize long-term allegiance to the Republican Party; Worshippers, like Jackie Tabor, renounce their own desires in order to support others; and Cowboys, like Donny McCorquodale, place a premium on bravery. Each willingly endures suffering in the name of some larger commitment and thinks that complaining about that suffering would undermine their honor, and they vote for policies that are in line with their values and sense of selfhood—behavior that, in this light, doesn’t seem paradoxical at all.
Another essential aspect of understanding the endurance self is the conservative notion that this sense of self is under siege by the liberal “cosmopolitan self,” a narrative of self that honors diversity, adaptability, interconnectedness, and status in the global marketplace. The cosmopolitan self gained traction during and after the 1960s, when a variety of groups changed American public discourse forever through their struggles for civil rights. For the first time, women, African-Americans, LGBT people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and environmentalists (among others) were allowed to voice their experiences before a national audience. The government passed civil rights protections and the “culture of victimization” (which endurance-minded conservatives find so distasteful) was born. The cosmopolitan self enforces a certain set of “politically correct” feeling rules that conservatives find distasteful; these feeling rules try to compensate for marginalized groups’ discrimination, but the endurance self sees hardship as something that should be tolerated rather than complained about. Louisianans do not want to be told what to feel or whom to be sorry for—indeed, one central reason Donald Trump appealed to them so much was that he offered to throw out political correctness and openly treat white conservative blue-collar culture as the cornerstone of American society. This offered Louisianans “a giddy release from the feeling of being a stranger in one’s own land,” and so it was in their emotional self-interest to vote for him.
The endurance self and cosmopolitan self present a clash of opposing values: the former values patience, consistency, and traditional moral authority, but latter values decisive action, originality, and multiculturalism. As the cosmopolitan self has gained more traction in recent decades and Southerners increasingly feel dishonored in the nation’s eyes, they worry that their endurance self will be wholly displaced as they fail to keep up with the “shifting moral qualifications for the American Dream.” Hochschild realizes that conservatives are not voting against government regulation (and for the Great Paradox) because they want their education system worsened and their backyards polluted, but rather because they see government assistance as an affront to their honor and a threat to their traditional, homogeneous, tight-knit local communities. Her findings demonstrate that conventional political analyses need to take emotional self-interest seriously if they want to accurately explain what people vote for and why.
Personal Identity and Emotional Self-Interest ThemeTracker
Personal Identity and Emotional Self-Interest Quotes in Strangers in Their Own Land
As a sociologist I had a keen interest in how life feels to people on the right—that is, in the emotion that underlies politics. To understand their emotions, I had to imagine myself into their shoes. Trying this, I came upon their “deep story,” a narrative as felt.
We, on both sides, wrongly imagine that empathy with the “other” side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when, in truth, it’s on the other side of the bridge that the most important analysis can begin.
The Arenos didn't simply remember the good old days of a clean Bayou d'Inde. They remembered against the great forgetting of industry and state government. This institutional forgetting altered the private act of mourning. And not just that. It altered the Arenos’ very identity. They had not left Bayou d'Inde. They were stayers. They didn't want to leave, and even if they had wanted to, they couldn't afford to. The polluting companies had given them no money to enable them to move. And the value of their house had now fallen, for who would want to live on Bayou d'Inde Pass Road, even in a home as beautifully kept up as theirs? The Arenos had become stay-at-home migrants. They had stayed. The environment had left.
Churches typically ask parishioners to tithe—to give 10 percent of their income. For many this is a large sum, but it is considered an honor to give it. They pay taxes, but they give at church.
As a powerful influence over the views of the people I came to know, Fox News stands next to industry, state government, church, and the regular media as an extra pillar of political culture all its own.
The Tea Party listener felt Christiane Amanpour was implicitly scolding her. The woman didn't want to be told she should feel sorry for, or responsible for, the fate of the [sick or starving] child. Amanpour was overstepping her role as a commentator by suggesting how to feel. The woman had her feeling guard up.
As an ideal, the American Dream proposed a right way of feeling. You should feel hopeful, energetic, focused, mobilized. Progress—its core idea—didn't go with feeling confused or mournful.
You are a stranger in your own land. You do not recognize yourself in how others see you. It is a struggle to feel seen and honored. And to feel honored you have to feel—and feel seen as—moving forward. But through no fault of your own, and in ways that are hidden, you are moving backward.
Missing from the image of blacks in most of the minds of those I came to know was a man or woman standing patiently in line next to them waiting for a well-deserved reward.
“I don't mind somebody being gay if they want to be gay. Just be a regular person, go to work, mow the lawn, fish. You don't have to be shouting it from the mountaintops. Don't make me change and don't call me a bigot if I don't.”
Jackie's lesson ran counter to the deep story; one shouldn't wish too much for what seems like the next step toward the American Dream. That was grabbing. On the other hand, she had struggled hard emotionally not to grab for it.
“We need Mikes.” Don't be a Cowboy in enduring pollution, he seemed to say. Be a Cowboy fighting it.
How do you join the identity politics parade and also bring it to a halt?
For the Tea Party around the country, the shifting moral qualifications for the American Dream had turned them into strangers in their own land, afraid, resentful, displaced, and dismissed by the very people who were, they felt, cutting in line. The undeclared class war transpiring on a different stage, with different actors, and evoking a different notion of fairness was leading those engaged in it to blame the “supplier” of the impostors—the federal government.
While economic self-interest is never entirely absent, what I discovered was the profound importance of emotional self-interest—a giddy release from the feeling of being a stranger in one’s own land.
Louisianans are sacrificial lambs to the entire American industrial system. Left or right, we all happily use plastic combs, toothbrushes, cell phones, and cars, but we don't all pay for it with high pollution. As research for this book shows, red states pay for it more—partly through their own votes for easier regulation and partly through their exposure to a social terrain of politics, industry, television channels, and a pulpit that invites them to do so. In one way, people in blue states have their cake and cat it too, while many in red states have neither. Paradoxically, politicians on the right appeal to this sense of victimhood, even when policies such as those of former governor Jindal exacerbate the problem.
The history of the United States has been the history of whites cutting ahead of blacks, first of all through slavery, and later through Jim Crow laws and then through New Deal legislation and the post-World War II GI Bill, which offered help to millions of Americans with the exception of those in farm and domestic work, occupations in which blacks were overrepresented. And racial discrimination continues today.
For the most part, the real line cutters are not people one can blame or politicians [one] can thunder against. That’s because they’re not people. They’re robots. Nothing is changing the face of American industry faster than automation, and nowhere is that change more stark than in the cornerstone of Louisiana’s industrial wealth, oil.