on October 13, 2012
First things first; I'm a Southerner, born and bred (not inbred, I think). Chuck Thompson's new book "Better Off Without 'Em" should make me angry, and it does. But not for the reasons you might think, what with this review coming from below the Mason-Dixon line. Much like Bill Bryson before him, Thompson uses sarcastic and acid-tongued humor to arrive at some uncomfortable truths. How you respond to those is your call, but I'm writing this review.
There are a lot of things here that Thompson uses to indict the South that strike me as of the "duh!" category (slavery, Jim-Crow-era-and-beyond systemic racism, backwardness, Larry the Cable Guy)in terms of "reasons to hate the South and wish it gone" (as he advocates quite clearly in his subtitle, "A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession"). But he also uncovers some facts that show pretty clearly that we as a region are indeed dragging down the rest of the country.
Labor unions are unwelcome in the South, which boasts a "pro-business" mindset that would make Charles Dickens weep. Wages and benefits in the South are the lowest in the country, and we've managed to poach Detroit's auto industry because we bend over backwards to accomodate outside businesses (to hell with the workforce as a result). Racism is everywhere, but in the South it's the not-so-subtle motivation behind "Christian academies" and the subtle motivation behind the closing of an historic all-black elementary school in Biloxi because it outperforms white schools. The BCS, which is supposedly how the college football rankings are arrived at "scientifically," seems to favor the SEC at the cost of other conferences (many with better overall records, as Thompson shows). Even relations between white and black churches aren't above suspicion, as the white churches became primary organs of the Klan in the wake of the Civil Rights era.
All this is damning stuff, but Thompson has more: for a region that eschews national government and demands to be "left alone" by Washington, the South bellies up to the bar for federal aid (with little paid back) more than any other region. The South also boasts the largest population, in terms of mass: we are and always will be fond of greasy food that leaves us in ill-health from the cradle to the (before our time) grave. Violence in the South is tied to the way in which we settle for the absolute lowest common denominator in terms of education and economy (we don't train our kids to use their brains for anything other than as a conduit for beer to go through after a long day making a few cents at the factory). All of this should be the primary cause for people to find outrage at Thompson's book.
However, I'm guessing the reaction most people in the South will have is predicted by Thompson, who seems even to encourage it with his confrontational style: we'll get our backs up and take offense at Thompson, not the facts. Like I said before, Thompson is in the grand tradition of Bill Bryson and Anthony Bourdain, a snarky and opinionated individual who isn't won over by the usual platitudes of genteel tourist brochures and skirting-the-truth historical sites. And he is vicious when dealing with people whose mindset does not equal his own, in ways that can seem positively childish and mean-spirited. But here's the thing: he's right about the facts he cites, and while his solution seems far-fetched, he goes to the trouble to examine why it is that the South is both the political leader and cultural doormat of the rest of the country. An elite who prospers by keeping the working man down (the same working man that country music supposedly celebrates while at the same time pandering to) is the real villain here, not Thompson. I don't know that I'd grab a beer with him, but I wouldn't leave my seat if he came over to sit down.
The South, of course, is no more one stereotype or the other: we have honest-to-goodness diversity that we can be proud of. And writers from Faulkner to Walker Percy have given us a literate, introspective voice that goes beyond the hoary platitudes and lip-service paid to the South by those who benefit from our supposed backwardness and slow-mindedness. I'm a Southerner, yes, and I know firsthand that our education system is not conducive to actual critical thinking (as the only person to come out of Walhalla High having read "The Scarlet Letter" instead of the Cliff's Notes, I'm qualified to speak on such things). Chuck Thompson serves up a fiery, uncomfortable brew in "Better Off Without 'Em," but it doesn't mean that he doesn't speak the truth.
on October 5, 2012
This is a gritty, hard hitting, political commentary on why our political system is in trouble. Thompson will gain no popularity, in southern political circles, for his "tell it like it is" appraisal of the south. As a southerner, I see first hand exactly what Thompson exposes. Those people who study political systems will see the book as a likely start in opening a dialog where the myths of the southern systems are opened to full examination.
If you believe that humans rode dinosaurs, that the BCS is a fair system, and that education is not something that everyone is entitled to, then this book is not for you.
If you're even debating the purchase, then you may already have a more liberal stance on social issues than is prevalent throughout the south.
Thompson backs up his assertions with references, and although his commentary is laced with his own brand of sarcasm, he makes case after case that the south has not yet decided to join mainstream America.
Fascinating reading, well put together. This would not be something that I would take to the local gun club in SC to read while waiting my turn at the range.
on August 29, 2012
I spent the first 31 years of my life in the northeast, followed by the next 19 in Atlanta, and the last two back in the northeast. Thus, I feel qualified to speak about the topic of this book. As other reviewers say, there is still some good in the south, some good people, good educational institutions, etc. However, the good are overwhelmed by the majority this book describes, stuck in the past, wanting to govern by religion and only their religion and their interpretation of religion at that, clueless as to what constitutes a good education, unwilling to fund public education sufficiently, uncaring about the well being of others as long as they personally are okay - I could go on. As the U.S. becomes more diverse and multicultural, the South fights to remain the country of the white male. I can only hope that the younger generation in the South starts to wake up and change things, or we will be "better off without 'em." If Southerners are offended by this book, then I would ask them to look in the mirror and do something about it. For me, this book was a catharsis. For others who feel as I do, you will find yourself nodding your head in agreement as you read this book just as I did.
on October 15, 2012
Unlike most of the one star reviewers, I actually read this book. To be sure, this book is obviously a polemic. In between statistics are a lot of .stories like the one of the Maryland black state senator from ten years ago who stopped in a Florida bar and was told "we serve blacks in the back room." In short, the south is full of racism and uneducated people many for which the "War of northern aggression" happened yesterday. I wouldn't recommend this book if it was just an amusing polemic, but it comes at a time when the Supreme Court is set to invalidate major portions of the most significant civil rights legislation, The Voting Rights Act. The Court is also set in this term to overturn affirmative action in college admission (ironically Clarence Thomas, who benefited more from affirmative action than anyone in America, is set to cast the deciding vote against it). At the same time the South is increasingly causing significant economic damage to the U.S. and it's reputation by being the refuge of Northern industry (eg Boeing), high wage European companies (eg Ikea) and auto manufactures worldwide who want a nonunion U.S. factory.
on August 30, 2012
Not surprised to see a mix of 5 star and 1 star reviews, but hopefully the latter spent time to actually read the book beyond the first several pages to recognize the hyperbole. I found the book to be extremely well-written, insightful and humorous. The facts that stick with me include the data on very low property tax rate structure in southern states relative to the rest of the country and the social, economic, and cultural impacts that has had through generations. Do southerners really take more federal assistance than they contribute, while other parts of the country have positive ratios? Interesting read that I would recommend to others who appreciate a dose of humor with their politics. Thompson has nutz to take on the topic under this title. That much is inarguable. The author uses the premise to pull out some thought-provoking insight and facts. I guess everyone understands that he's not really serious -- right?
on January 12, 2013
I stumbled on this book quite by accident and am so glad I did. I was born in Louisiana, now live in Florida and know many intelligent individuals in those states but the overall culture is exactly as the author describes....closed-minded, anti-intellectual, prejudiced and clinging to their past. I have never understood why they haven't progressed from the civil war beliefs, but many seem to hold on to those beliefs like they happened yesterday. This author provides clarity to the problem and a solution (I think "tongue-in-cheek" but maybe not) to let the south form their own country so the rest of us can get on with our progress. Of course, I will have to move first!! California, here I come. Great, thought-provoking book!
on December 22, 2012
If you are "outraged" by this book, you've either not read it or are in denial. His opinions may make you mad but check his facts - any of them. Go ahead. I've spent an equal amount of time living in both the North and the South and from my perspective this book is in many ways right on but again, read it for yourself.
You may be surprised how many ways Thompson points out the South contributes to and yet helps decimate parts of the US. For example, some may be incensed that American jobs are being sent overseas. Corporations have found a way to fatten their pockets with cheap, non union labor and these fat cats have found also refuge in governments who fancy deregulation for money over the health of their citizens. While places like Detroit were being stripped of its unions and its jobs, Southern states were trying to outbid each other, to give tax breaks to corporations who would call their state home. In the meantime, governments were taking from its citizens form places like its education funds to pay for these huge corps to come to town. So go ahead and add lack of education to the list of things corporations like in their overseas workforces.
Well gee, places like Georgia and their "Right to Work" state has created a mini-China -- except for those silly Federal laws that say you have to at least pay minimum wage and your workers have to be of a certain age. But never fear - several Republican Reps have already talked about getting rid of those last two pesky Federal intrusions once and for all. Oh, and you should ask GA about the state of their public education... yikes. Places like Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina are fast tracking a corporation takeover of all things. All I can say is, good luck with that. ANYWAY --
In this book you will also find many open debates and no, not all go Thompson's way. It's not like the author drove through the South. He spent a couple of years in many different parts of the South, interviewing tons of people, getting to know the locals, observing, debating, learning, and... keeping an open mind. He explores the many contributions of the South, its heritage, its people, its day-to-day norms so again I say, having also lived in the South and having experienced the very things Thompson speaks of, I maintain his book is very much on target.
on September 21, 2012
Southern seccession - hell yes! Ever since "Dubya" Bush 43* was appointed our (p)resident in that judicial coup d'etat twelve years ago, I've felt that we ought to give Texas back to Mexico. And now that Chuck Thompson mentions it, I guess we might as well throw the rest of Dixie in for the bargain. As Thompson irrefutably makes clear, the old confederacy states are (a few blue islands of urban civilization not withstanding) still a profoundly backward red sea of un-evolved retrograde thinking, Taliban-like anti-diluvial religious extremism, and corrupt to the core politics; a place where the lives of those in society's lower castes are frequently valued with the same kind of cheapness one typically finds in third-world war zone bordellos.
As far as I can see the only redeeming qualities of the South are some of their food (BBQ), and music (Elvis & Willie Nelson). But fortunately for us, the South doesn't need to be part of the USA for true Americans to enjoy those things; Italy and Jamaica are both foreign countries too, but we eat all the pasta we care to, and nothing keeps us from listening to Ziggy Marley sing reggae on our MP3 players or in concert when his tour comes to town.
There are of course those who say "we all need to calm down in this nation." Well, I have been calmly watching the Republican southern strategy pander to this backward southern mentality for all of my adult life, and I've calmly watched this country go down the toilet for the past forty years because of it. At a certain point when you realize that a bunch of crazy religious extremists have seized control and are now flying the plane, being calm is no longer an appropriate response; you need to get mad, and I mean dead serious mad, and then like they did on Flight 93 you need to at least try to take back control of the plane before it's too late. If that means tossing the hijackers out the door in mid-flight then so be it.
It has been 150 years since the Civil War, and appeasing the regional sensitivities of a bunch of crazy people has obviously not worked; it is time to admit that reconstruction is a failed policy. Exiling them to their own little country sized padded cell asylum is looking like a far more reasonable proposition these days. Mr. Thompson got it exactly right. It's time to kick the crackers out once and for all. If you are a Southerner reading this and that opinion shocks you, then maybe you should get this book and give it a careful reading. Then after you have read it, get off that southern hindquarter of yours and finally do something about cleaning up that toxic southern state political-culture cesspool of yours, because it has poisoned the national well of good will that we all used to draw water from.
Frankly, the time is long past due for the South to publicly admit that the North did you Southerners a gigantic favor when it fought and shed its blood to keep you included as a part of this great country. But has any Southerner ever said "thank-you" to a "Yankee" for the price the North paid in the Civil War? Hell no! And I'm not holding my breath waiting. Over the past century and a half the South has repeatedly made it quite clear it doesn't want to be a part of this country. As I see it, "y'all" ain't real Americans anyway, you never wanted to be, and with that long-standing attitude of southern resentment "y'all" never will be.
So fellow Americans, it's time to take this regional albatross from around our nation's neck, good riddance to bad rubbish, don't let the screen door hit ya where the good lord split ya, and as Chuck Thompson says: "Better off without 'em." Because, after 150 years of failed attempts to Americanize the South, I'm ready to call it quits. So Bubba here's your eviction notice, and bye-bye Johnny Reb, bye-bye!
on November 22, 2014
As a Northerner who has now lived 1/4 of my life in Tennessee, I was curious about this book. Over the course of a few hundred pages, Thompson makes a lot of valid, fact-based arguments for the idea that the South (mostly the former Confederacy) and the North are culturally, ideologically, politically, and socio-economically two different countries that would actually be better off separating themselves from each other. Unfortunately, every valid argument is immediately undermined with vicious (but often funny) sarcasm and vituperative hatred of all things below the Mason-Dixon line. Thompson is unable to find a single positive thing about the South in his hundreds of pages of interviews and visits, so this book only serves to alienate the Southern half of the audience. The South is not a perfect place, but neither is the North, and painting one side as fully negative in every possible way does not present a balanced argument.
on August 21, 2012
"All the powers of earth cannot restore to them their slaves, any more than their dead grandfathers. Next year their lands will be taken, for in war we can take them, and rightfully, too, and in another year they may beg in vain for their lives. A people who will persevere in war beyond a certain limit ought to know the consequences. Many, many peoples with less pertinacity have been wiped out of national existence." -General Sherman
My review for this book is going to be short and (maybe not so) sweet. I got to page 154 of Thompson's book and had to stop reading. Not because the book is bad, but because he depicts the mentality and politics of the South so accurately that it depresses the hell out of me. I couldn't read another word.
I earned a master's degree at LSU. I also grew up in an area of southern Ohio that Thompson correctly refers to as "Little Dixie." I know first hand what it's like to live in the South.
The South is a political sewer. There's no way to sugarcoat this fact. Its political culture is shaped by a bunch of political criminals and treasonous rednecks who are still licking their wounds over the fact that they got their butts kicked in a war 150 years ago. They imagine that their Civil War cause was "pure and just", then moralize their failure as resulting from some type of higher purity that the barbaric, heathen North was able to exploit.
Nietzsche refers to this phenomenon as "ressentiment". Losers aren't able to accept the fact that they lost a cause, so they invent a moral explanation to help them feel better. This leads to all sorts of self-loathing: sanctimonious Southern politicians preaching morality on TV while visiting hookers on the side; fat, white Southern men taking business clients to topless bars on Saturday night then dropping to their knees to pray with their wives on Sunday morning; Southern women praising pregnancies resulting from rape as "gifts from God"; denouncing the war of "Northern aggression" while being the first to scream for war and intervention in the Middle East; denouncing the "welfare parasites that suck away my tax dollars" (read: black women) while being the region of the United States that sucks up more federal money than it returns in taxes.
The South is an economic and moral drain on the rest of the country. I wish the South would leave. However, I despair that they probably won't. They know that, if that were to happen, the farm subsidies, highway funds, defense contracts and military bases would all disappear--not to mention all the racist bluehairs who would yell and scream when the social security money begins to dry up.
I'm getting sick and DAMN tired of being governed by these psychotic, right-wing lumpenproletariat. Lincoln's heart was in the right place, but his brain was out to lunch. Let's correct his mistake and kick them out of our Union. The new C.S.A. will, in short order, become a Third World cesspool that will make Haiti look like a shining example of modern governance.
OK, Johnny Reb--hit that "no" button below.