January 22, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: In Defense of West Virginia: There’s more to mining than the shaft.

Suddenly it’s fashionable to beat up on West Virginia. Two weeks ago a chemical spill at a coal-processing plant fouled the Elk River, prompting a don’t-drink-the-water order that affected 300,000 households at the start and wasn’t finally lifted for the final 6,000 or so until Saturday, 10 days after the spill, as Reuters reports. . . .

Actually, what Harrop is describing is a basic feature of human (and indeed animal) psychology: the quest for identity. The feelings of kinship with in-groups (whether or not they are literally kin) and wariness or hostility toward out-groups are not deviant but normal. And out-group antagonism tends to escalate when it is reciprocated.

Harrop herself puts on quite a show of such antagonism toward West Virginians, for whom her column drips with aristocratic disdain. She “can’t understand” why West Virginians resist calls “for reforming the state’s famously lax [environmental] regulations.” After all, “birds don’t dirty their own nests.” She goes on to observe that “the hard-luck people of Appalachia” suffer from “servility” and are “bursting with prideful self-pity.” She concludes that they “should know that the outsiders pity them, as well.”

We read Waggoner’s piece after Harrop’s, which may explain why to our mind, the most compelling part of the harangue was directed against condescending intellectuals from out of state. “To hell with the person I met during my PhD work who, within ten seconds of finding out I was from West Virginia, congratulated me on being able to read.” Addressing this “stranger” in the second person, he notes: “Civility was plainly not your native tongue.” We know the type.

Meanwhile Robert Reich, while less lofty than Harrop, manages if anything to show himself even more clueless.

No small accomplishment. Read the whole thing. And remember that most lefty politics are about tribalism, insecurity, and dominance displays.