I love me some serendipity, and it was just that which led me to Deer Hunting with Jesus, a truly engaging and provocative book.
First, I was reading about social class in the first century, and plagued with the thought that class struggle must be a contemporary reality, too, though I was generally unaware of it. Just then, I read a review of this book about class in the US. Further, the book was set in nearby Winchester, VA, which piqued my interest. So I ordered the book (used, since I like to think of myself as lower-class), and got it the day before I headed to the similarly poor and economically crippled small town of Clifton Forge, VA to do some retreating. Then, to my surprise, the book turned out to be a kind of blueprint for the McCain/Palin presidential campaign, from which (among other things) I was retreating, and a prescient prediction of the current financial crisis (another thing from which I was retreating).
Joe Bageant writes with passion, and with the bluster of a Tony Jones. He offers a devastating critique of “The American Hologram” which, among many other tricky moves, allows rich people to tell poor people that the most important value is ‘hard work’ (ie, not accepting any assistance, union, social, governmental or otherwise) and shifting an entire social landscape in the process. Too, the working poor are asked to fight and wage war, all for the predominant benefit of their social betters. As he delivers this critique, Bageant doesn’t pity or preach to these working-class folks who he calls “my people”, though he is undoubtedly patronizing (and I’d love to buy his friends a $2 Schlitz at the Royal Lunch and find out what they think of the book, except that Bageant is probably right in his estimation that they’ll never read it). No, he doesn’t pity or blame this entire class of people, but plainly states that their lives are defined by work, to such a degree that they don’t have the time or the energy to inform themselves of the deeper issues which affect their lives.
But what makes this book great is that Bageant is not partisan. Oh, sure, he rails against Republicans, but he openly mocks the Democrats, too. He’s an avowed leftist, socialist, and atheist, but his chapter on guns and hunting made me want to clean my guns (and it makes even the NRA look timid). In his eyes, both parties are selfish and opportunistic– he has equal disdain for the mean Right and the clueless Left, and for our universal and perverse distrust of ‘the other’.