Book Strangers in Their Own Land Essay

Total Length: 1600 words ( 5 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 1

Page 1 of 5

Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild presents what she calls the "great paradox" of American society: why ultra conservatives vote against their best interests. By almost all accounts, red states are poorer economically, have much poorer health and educational outcomes, and a lower quality of life overall than blue states. That being the case, why would the reds continue to vote for the same platforms, even going so far as to make their situation potentially worse by voting in Tea Party candidates or the likes of Trump? The answer, according to Hochschild, is that conservatives tend to vote for emotional reasons. Because of its inherent irrationality, the great paradox cannot necessarily be resolved, as Hochschild points out. However, the great paradox can be understood with an empathetic viewpoint. Using empathy encourages understanding, which can in time tear down the cognitive and emotional barriers that create divisiveness and impede social progress and positive change.

Although the great paradox is evident throughout the nation, Hochschild focuses on Louisiana for several reasons. One is that it was essentially a convenience sample, as the Berkeley sociologist admits to not having any social ties to any other red state. Capitalizing on the social networks of her contact, Hochschild is able to conduct in depth interviews with a conservative white cohort to help her understand the great paradox. Second, using Louisiana as a case study allows Hochschild to explore the great paradox in greater depth than would be possible in most other states because of the state's low rankings on nearly every measurable outcome like health and education. Louisiana is the epitome of the great paradox because of the visible signs of environmental degradation and pollution that are direct results of the entrenched oil industry. The people Hochschild meets decry the pollution but refuse to restrict or regulate the petrochemical industry.

However, there is another reason Louisiana offers insight into the great paradox: its long and dark history with racism. Louisiana remains a racially segregated state, and outcomes for blacks in Louisiana are even worse than they are for whites. Moreover, outcomes for African-Americans in Louisiana are worse than they are in other states. According to Hochschild (2016, Kindle Edition), the average black person in Louisiana lives four years less, earns half as much money, and is half as likely to have a college degree versus a black person in Maryland -- which was also south of the Mason-Dixon line. A visual reminder of the persistence of racism in the South, Hochschild describes a cemetery in Louisiana that is divided into white and black sides, with the only grass on the white side being recently trimmed.
Yet "nowhere in spontaneous direct talk" was race an acceptable topic of discussion (Hochschild, 2016, Kindle Edition). Conservatives in Louisiana consciously support and maintain a racist culture without being willing to fully acknowledge their role and responsibility for social injustice.

Hochschild is mainly interested in the environmental question: one of the most important manifestations of the great paradox. Louisiana suffers tremendously from environmental degradation and pollution due to the unbridled petrochemical industry. Hochschild claims all the interview subjects expressed desire for a cleaner environment. Yet all the same people refused to agree to regulate polluters, and even regularly sided with them. The author does a brilliant job keeping her opinions and emotional reactions out of Strangers in Their Own Land, but many readers will find her neutrality frustrating even if empathy is a reasonable and sensible goal. A similar issue related to the great paradox in Louisiana is that Hochschild found small farmers had been voting with Monsanto, and stalwart small business owners were voting with WalMart, all the while criticizing the government for not supporting small businesses. The refusal to take personal responsibility for their own problems is something that needs to be addressed frankly. Hochschild builds her argument around the central assumption that conservative voters act on their emotions and a sense of cultural solidarity.

Hochschild (2016) captures the deep and disturbing levels of hypocrisy that allow the great paradox to perpetuate itself. The poorest conservatives, for example, will accept their food stamps and other social services like Medicare but they will also refuse to break party lines. The ultra-poor conservatives therefore opt out of voting entirely, choosing disenfranchisement over betrayal of the tea party. It only requires a few notches up on the social class ladder for people to vote against social services entirely, even for people who are dangerously close to poverty. Similarly, wealthy Tea Party advocates also take advantage of all the social services programs they can but admit they are "ashamed" of doing it in the same way they are too ashamed to….....

Show More ⇣

     Open the full completed essay and source list


     Order a one-of-a-kind custom essay on this topic


Hochschild, A. (2016). Strangers in Their Own Land. New York: The New Press [Kindle Edition].

sample essay writing service

Cite This Resource:

Latest APA Format (6th edition)

Copy Reference
"Book Strangers In Their Own Land" (2017, April 30) Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

Latest MLA Format (8th edition)

Copy Reference
"Book Strangers In Their Own Land" 30 April 2017. Web.1 July. 2022. <>

Latest Chicago Format (16th edition)

Copy Reference
"Book Strangers In Their Own Land", 30 April 2017, Accessed.1 July. 2022,