Idiot sodding stupidity

Stoll offers the ideal complement. He has set out to tell the story of how the people of a sprawling region of our country—one of its most physically captivating and ecologically bountiful—went from enjoying a modest but self-sufficient existence as small-scale agrarians for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to a dreary dependency on the indulgence of coal barons or the alms of the government.

Stoll refuses to accept that there is something intrinsically lacking in Appalachians—people who, after all, managed to carve out a life on such challenging, mountainous terrain. Something was done to them, and he is going to figure out who did it. He links their fate to other threatened agrarian communities, from rice growers in the Philippines to English peasants at the time of the Enclosure Acts. “Whenever we see hunger and deprivation among rural people, we need to ask a simple question: What went on just before the crisis that might have caused it?” he writes. “Seeing the world without the past would be like visiting a city after a devastating hurricane and declaring that the people there have always lived in ruins.”

The missing history is above all a story about land and dispossession. For roughly a century, starting before the country’s founding, the settlers of central Appalachia—defined by Stoll as the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and most of West Virginia—managed a makeshift life as smallholders. The terms of that “holding” were murky, to say the least: property claims in the region were a tangled patchwork of grants awarded to French and Indian or Revolutionary War generals and other notables, which were commonly diced and sliced among speculators, and the de facto claims made by those actually inhabiting the land. In some cases, those settlers managed to get official deeds by the legal doctrine of “adverse possession”; in many others, they were simply allowed to keep working the land by distant landlords who had never laid eyes on it.

That modest but self-sufficient existence is what the people in Appalachia are returning to. It’s just that now we think of that modesty as being abject poverty.

Yer 18th century farmer up there might have been gaining $5 in modern money a day from his efforts. That’s less than food stamps these days.

If you don’t understand how fucking poor the past was you’re never going to get anything right, are you?

13 comments on “Idiot sodding stupidity

  1. It never seems to occur to people that the reason for people moving off their delightful agrarian smallholdings to dreary coal mines might have been to improve the quality of their lives

  2. Stoll refuses to accept that there is something intrinsically lacking in Appalachians—people who, after all, managed to carve out a life on such challenging, mountainous terrain. Something was done to them, and he is going to figure out who did it.

    Covered already in the 1960s by Rena Gazaway in The Longest Mile

  3. @Diogenes – yes, it’s a regular trope of the left to assume that most people are incapable of identifying what works best for them (and therefore require a big state to guide them). You see the same thing going on today in the slums of (e.g.) Bombay: “How frightful” exclaim the Guardianistas, whose only experience of the subject is watching Slumdog Millionaire, unaware that people have moved there in search of a life with better prospects than trying to scratch out a rural agrarian existence.

  4. It’s estimated that a couple of years ago we switched to the majority of the world living in urban centres vs the countryside for the first time in history.

    There’s a reason for that and it’s not because they like soy lattes and art house movie theatres.

  5. No one is qualified to talk about the Appalachians who hasn’t at leat read A Brief History of the Redneck.

    The Scots-Irish immigrants, the rednecks, are the solid backbone of American democracy. They are the loyal, patriotic, dependable Americans. They are also the the source of both Jackson’s and Trump’s presidencies. And with Trump their voice is finally being heard.

  6. “No one is qualified to talk about the Appalachians who hasn’t at leat read A Brief History of the Redneck.”

    I haven’t read Brief History. But my mother is from Lansing, West Virginia. Her childhood home has been replaced with a national park.

    My grandfather was a coal miner til he got sick. Died of other causes in 1925. Perhaps union activity; the family gets quiet when he is mentioned.

    WV was home. The people did what they had to do to make a living. My mother worked her way though high school being an egg farmer.

    As with my father, from Lewis County, KY, poverty beyond our comprehension. But it was not unique. The world didn’t have today’s affluence, most people would be considered in poverty by today’s standards.

  7. Its like these people never stop to ask themselves ‘well, if farming is so good, why did these people stop to mine coal/work in a sweatshop?’

    Could it be because the mining jobs were far more lucrative? That these people actually lived better as miners than they did as farmers? That the vast majority of people don’t actually value being self-sufficient anywhere near as much as being able to afford a new dress?

  8. It never seems to occur to people that the reason for people moving off their delightful agrarian smallholdings to dreary coal mines might have been to improve the quality of their lives.

    Farming is regarded as unreservedly wonderful by a certain type of lefty who has never actually farmed and live in large metropolitan areas and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

    Kind of a modified Pol Pot vision of the world… Strong, healthy cadres of progressive hipster organic farmers emerging each morning to tend to their fields of kale and quinoa and feed their free-range, cage-free antibiotic-free poultry.

    Reading the faux-concern of some urban lefty about rural areas they’ve either never visited, or only briefly visited for the purpose of establishing ‘street cred’ on rural issues, is enough to gag a maggot.

  9. K. I read Brief History.

    I am stunned, as I am Scots-Irish (or Ulster-Scot, as we are also known in U.S.), with a Scottish surname. Brief History is my history.

    I’m sending link to my brothers.

    Thanks for link!

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