“The Vibe in North Houston”: A Report on Working Class Men Betrayed and in Angst
Yves here. I’ve hoisted a series of comments from reader Amfortas the hippie that he made originally in Water Cooler on Tuesday. It’s a report from his cousin in North Houston on the anger and frustration among working class men over mismanagement of Covid, which has left them without work and short of income.
Notice that no one in this cousin’s circle is politically engaged or even repeating Trumpian memes. But they are fuming and stymied, to the degree that the cousin and Amfortas are worried about the potential for violence. That’s an even more realistic concern given that one of few options these men are considering is leaving the country. I doubt work prospects are much better in Mexico, and emigrating anywhere else is unrealistic save perhaps for those with immediate family in more promising destinations. But even then, as we’ve explained longer form elsewhere, most Americans have no clue how difficult it is to emigrate if you don’t have a corporate sponsor or a spouse with a foreign passport. And most countries are pretty savvy about testing the validity of marriages.1
Reader Wyatt Powell confirmed: “he situation is much the same in Southwest Missouri.”
As Amfortas said later in the thread:
One thing I get from cousin, and via him, all the people he hangs out with, as well as the local specimens…is that they’re not Klan….whatever racism is evident in them is mostly habit, learned at the knee, as it were.
And, in spite of his troubles with relationships (married 3 (i think) times, 2 kids with different women)…and him settling into his “Manwhore” lifestyle…he doesn’t think of himself as misogynist or even all that sexist.
His often selfish prickdom is both color and genderblind,lol…
Anyhoo…we really don’t know all that much about so many things that are right there in front of us.
lumping this particular subculture into MAGA or deplorables misses a lot of subtlety, and allows the too easy writing off of their grievances….as well as our continued ignorance of drives, perceptions and motivations.
As above, I’ve added line breaks and capitalization to facilitate reading. With mobile devices, many eschew the finer points of drafting in favor of speed.
By Amfortas the hippie
Anecdote on the vibe in North Houston 2-3-2021…feels very germane to this part of the zeitgeist:
Cousin calls, and says he’s coming up…same worry in his voice as a year ago, when he came out here to hide from the pandemic and correlated uncertainty. (He stayed til late April).
This time, his worry is civil unrest, violence, insurrection.
He’s a self-described “manwhore”…never nailed down….having numerous women all over Texas that he breezes though and stays with for a while when work brings him near (he’s a roofer and tree expert and heavy equipment operator…with ample talent in all of them). The women in question are all divorcees, and seem happy with the arrangement: playing happy married to a hot guy who leaves before he becomes a chore.
Anyway…lately, he’s been hanging around North Houston…where we’re both from. Woodlands, Magnolia, Tomball, etc.
He lives in his truck on a spread of pineywoods he inherited…and gets a hotel room off and on, for a week at a time.
He spends a lot of time in bars, beer joints, dancehalls and clubs.
It is this part of his life where we find the Doom:
He says the clubs, etc are at best 1/4 populated…and that the ratio of men to women is, at best, 3 to 1.
Of course this is the pandemic, and all…we both understand that…although he chafes at the mandates more than I do.
The scary part is the sentiments of the remaining men in these stag halls: “f&&k it….I ain’t doing this any more…they’ve screwed us all…” etc.
the way he puts it: ”They’re tired of everything….the pandemic, the half-assed attempts at mitigating the pandemic, the economic results of those half-assed attempts, the lack of material support to mitigate the half-assed mitigations…and on and on in that vein…”
I interject: “So….blue balls, combined with hopelessness and angst.”
So I ask what he thinks will become of this mood/vibe….
Him: one of two things are being bandied about in these spaces: 1 run to the hills, and hunker down (essentially the way I’ve lived for 25 years)…and 2.”Leave…as in leave the country.”
I ask if there’s been any talk of warlordism or becoming land-pirates or marauders…he says no…but if the other two options are frustrated, that may well be.
These are working class guys…generally white…and towards the upper end of working classdom…small contractors, parts store managers….guys who made enough pre-pandemic to have a nice truck and a bunch of tools, and maybe a decent little house somewhere…many of them had women in their lives, but now do not (I get the gist that this is due to pandemic-related economic and emotional stressors).
They feel betrayed and left behind and ignored, and are casting around for purpose and some goal to look forward to…none of them(he stressed this part) were all that politically engaged…so no Trump trains, here…just regular guys in their late 20’s through late 40’s….with no prospects and declining chances.
Of course, one wants to berate these guys…their antagonism to taking the dern virus seriously a year ago is a large part of our current malaise, after all (why are they in a bar?—I’d be avoiding bars right now just as a question of ethics)…but such berating and acrimony will only serve to further isolate them.
While we were having this conversation, my mind kept going to Nietzsche..and his warning about “200 years of Nihilism”.
I, myself, have been well aware of just how broken our Social Contract is for as long as I can remember…and it was this same cohort (among others) who berated me for thinking it.
Now that it’s come for them, something must be done, obviously, lol.
Cousin says that anything less than a full blown New New Deal will be too little and too late…and that it may be too late, any way…that the Vibe in these spaces is such that he feels the need to run off to my Hill Country Redoubt, because it feels imminent…whatever “it” is.
Some of this, of course, is his own depressive state….all the conditions laid out above apply to him (women troubles, no prospects, etc)…but he’s finding ready reinforcement from the other guys just like him at the various bars, beer joints and dancehalls.
This disenchantment and inchoate anger and nebulous sense of betrayal is almost never reported…so when it boils over in some orgy of violence, we’re always shocked and at pains to explain it.
My take is that the Demparty better get their shit together, cease the bipartisanship fetish and send in Bernanke’s helicopters full of cash. Start dumping it in the suburbs and exurbs, and expand it from there. It’s only money, after all…and we can make more if need be, as evidenced by all the repeated bailouts of the rich folks.
As for me, I’m ready for the extra labor….I have too much to do, and not enough body to keep up with it all.
I’m finally getting the dump-trailer manana, and absconding with 10+ loads (40+ cubic yards) of mulch from the county dump, as a substrate for the expansion of the gardens…bringing me to a whole acre of raised beds.
4 tons of well rotted manure…already here, or right down the highway waiting for me…and mostly horse…goes in top…and then I can relax a bit, and resume tinkering and puttering about, in my usual…much less frenzied…style.
* * *
And here’s The Week’s resident dour curmudgeon, referencing the cohort I’m speaking of.
What Trump recognized was that there are millions of Americans who do not oppose or even care about abortion or same-sex marriage, much less stem-cell research or any of the other causes that had animated traditional social conservatives. Instead he correctly intuited that the new culture war would be fought over very different (and more nebulous) issues: vague concerns about political correctness and “SJWs,” opposition to the popularization of so-called critical race theory, sentimentality about the American flag and the military, the rights of male undergraduates to engage in fornication while intoxicated without fear of the Title IX mafia. Whatever their opinions might have been 20 years ago, in 2021 these are people who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, accept pornography, homosexuality, drug use, legalized gambling, and whatever GamerGate was about. On economic questions their views are a curious and at times incoherent mixture of standard libertarian talking points and pseudo-populism, embracing lower taxes on the one hand and stimulus checks and stricter regulation of social media platforms on the other.
These are the guys that repair your roof, landscape yer yard, fix your plumbing, or build yer house…rather, the guys that yell at the Mexicans doing all those jobs.
Wife got the house, alimony and child support are regarded as Kafka-esque regimes, everything costs too much, and one night stands are a necessary part of their existence.
Ugly and primitive as we might see them, from their barstool, – or truck stuck in traffic on the way to the job – the world has collapsed, and there’s a sense of drifting and purposelessness, and an almost total lack of meaning.
Again, deploy the helicopters full of $$$.
I sure wish Bernie were president right now.
1 For instance, in Australia, not only does the partner have to have been married to the Aussie native for two years, but immigration officials separate the couple and independently ask all sorts of intimate questions, like where they met, who was the best man, how many people were at the wedding, how many cousins does their spouse have and where do they live, what color are their sheets, what do they usually do on Friday nights, what is the other spouses favorite food/drink….the list goes on and is changed very frequently.