Saturday, June 3, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Yale Law graduate JD Vance grew up poor, in a neighbourhood full of abuse and irresponsibility. In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, he tells the reader what it was like to grow up in Middle America.

Now that Vance finds himself immersed in a new culture, he recognizes that those in his new culture know little about what life is like for many in Appalachia. That includes me, as I learned a ton from this book. I have had little real-life exposure to the culture Vance lived (though I have seen it depicted on tv/film), so it was educational for me to read about what his life was actually like.

Unfortunately, the negative elements of that culture are not unique to that culture. I recognize some of them among my own family/friends. But when these elements are spread out across a community, there's a stronger support structure to help solve some problems. Unfortunately, there seem to be processes combining that are increasing the concentration of these negative aspects in specific geographies, which makes it very difficult for following generations to break out of some of those cycles.

It's not until the end that the author has some suggestions for improving the situation in these regions, but there is some good stuff there. It seems unlikely that we'll ever totally get rid of the problems, but there is probably a lot we can do to improve the odds of those on the margins. I highly recommend Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis to anyone interested in this topic.

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