265 of 288 people found the following review helpful
I can already hear the Hank Williams Jr protest song in my head...,
This review is from: Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 13, 2012 4:45:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 4, 2013 10:52:07 AM PDT
Hercule Poirot says:
In the movie Gods and Generals, one Confederate officer asks how the Irish could fight for the North due to the mistreatment that the Irish receive in America. Well, the same thing could be said about the Scot-Irish in the South letting themselves be misuse and abuse by the Southern business elite from colonial America up to today.
Posted on Mar 18, 2013 11:31:47 AM PDT
Marion Delgado says:
This is a great and thoughtful review. Brings back memories of my own Great Disappointment about what I saw as a Renaissance in the South in the 1980s (mostly musical but also cultural) that subsided almost completely ( with vestiges in the research triangle which account for NC and VA being less reliably conservative).
My biggest disagreement with Thompson would be over Texas. There's a venality there that I think belongs in the Confederacy. Clinging to it for economic reasons is like England did with Ulster - they didn't just break up Ireland along sectarian lines, but with an eye towards keeping the richest part. Since Texas is a reddish purple state we could divide it up somehow or expedite the exodus. :)
Posted on Apr 16, 2013 9:49:38 PM PDT
I suppose I'd be considered a 'Southerner' too. And, it's all in good fun.
Plus, it's true so... whacha gon do?
There would be a lit. response, if only we had some 1/2 decent writers, doh!
Posted on Apr 26, 2013 5:00:34 PM PDT
Patricia O'Tuama says:
>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.
This above all is the thing that most perplexes me about the modern south and makes me think the rest of the country (minus the Dakotas and Wyoming which also take billions of dollars in domestic aid with very little going to the federal government) should just say, fine, go away. Except then we'd get stuck having to fork over trillions of dollars in foreign aid.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2013 5:40:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 26, 2013 5:41:55 PM PDT
Hercule Poirot says:
Good observation, because then the South gets American money whether they are part of the USA or as an independent country (foreign aid).
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 9, 2013 11:44:11 AM PDT
C. Poupart says:
You forget that places like Wyoming and the Dakotas contain enormous natural resource wealth, esp. oil and gas, that contribute heavily to the national economy.
Posted on Oct 25, 2013 9:58:03 AM PDT
Larry G. says:
I wish Thomas Dilorenzo would post his review of the book here on Amazon. He calls it "The Bigot's Guide to Hating the South." It's probably as entertaining as Thompson's book.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 9, 2013 7:39:54 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 9, 2013 7:44:30 AM PST]
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