Strangers in Our Own Land: Empathy Walls, Deep Stories, and Shelters from Shame / Arlie Hochschild


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Arlie Hochschild discusses her book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, reflecting on how 2020 has made our mutual political alienation worse, and how we can implement deep listening, emotion management, hospitality, and create shelters from shame. Interview by Evan Rosa.

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Episode Introduction

How do we understand each other’s political lives? It’s all too easy to depend on the consistent narratives of bafflement at the political stranger. How could you possibly have voted for [fill in the blank]. I have no idea how you could support [you know who]. Maybe to stay baffled is a defense mechanism. It keeps the stranger strange. If you rely consistently on your inability to fathom another’s behavior or reasons or motivations—or the fears that underlie them all—maybe that helps you cope a little better.

Our guest on the show today turned off all her alarms, set aside the narrative of confusion, and set out to learn about the political other, when around 10 years ago, she began regular visits to Lake Charles, Louisiana, a working class Tea Party stronghold that followed suit with Trump support in 2016—suspicious of the government, struggling for their economic flourishing, feeling the whole time that they were being cut in line, that they were unseen, unrecognized, dishonored, alienated in a hidden social class war.

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild is Professor Emerita in Sociology at the University of California Berkeley and author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. In this episode, I ask Arlie about her experience of intentionally identifying her own ideological bubble, forging out to scale a wall of division, bafflement and hostility to find empathy, turning off her political and moral alarms and attuning her mind to hear the desires that inform the deep story of her friends in Louisiana. We discuss political division, resentment, and alienation; how the Trump presidency and subsequent 2020 loss to Biden has continued to make strangers in their own land; she explains the emotional roots of political beliefs and tribalism—especially those held by her conservative friends, the blind spots of progressive views of conservatives, and finally curiosity, humility, emotion management, and putting oneself in perspective. Thanks for listening. —Evan Rosa, from the introduction

Show Notes

  • How Arlie Hochschild decided to reach out to Tea Party Republicans from within her media bubble, befriend them, and then write a book about understanding how emotion informs political anger, resentment, and Trump support
  • The paradox of biting the hand that feeds you
  • Moving beyond political appearances and surface tensions
  • How to create a shelter from shame in order to connect and disagree in fruitful ways
  • What it was like to cross the empathy bridge, to meet people who live in a different bubble, who live with a different sense of what is true
  • Meeting Republican women in Lake Charles, Louisiana
  • The appeal of Rush Limbaugh: fighting against “feminazis,” “environmental wackos,” and “socialists.” And the deepest reason: protecting southern Republicans from the shame of coastal elites
  • Turning off one’s alarm system for the sake of genuine encounter across division, deep listening
  • When to turn the alarm system back on
  • “Things have grown worse”: One’s own government as a foreign occupying force
  • The deep story: we can’t do politics without understanding the deep mythology that informs it.
  • The right wing deep story: Waiting and being cut in line, Obama’s role, Trump’s role, and liberation from shame
  • Shaming the shamers: Trump’s appeal to those who have been "cut in line"
  • Belong before you believe: How tribalism drives the political drama of America
  • The religious overtones of Trumpism: Trump has connected with Hochschild's friends in Louisiana not only as their liberator, but their righteous sufferer, their shelter from shame.
  • A giant, hostile shame machine: counter-shaming has a backfire effect: “Our shelter from shame is being attacked by the shamers."
  • What is the greatest felt need for political combatants? What will discuss the vicious cycle?
  • Recognition of the other across disagreement; finding an opportunity for common ground that we so dearly need right now; encountering the better angels of the political other
  • Blind spots: Social class, particular economic value, and the wonder inspired by the skill of the working class
  • The Virtues of Climbing the Empathy Wall and Encountering Others’ Deep Stories: Curiosity, Humility, Emotion Management as a Service to Society, Putting Oneself in Perspective
  • Recalling the feeling of being a stranger in order to practice an emotional hospitality that makes space for the deep stories of the other

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