SL 685

J. D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, writes,

I’ve long worried whether I’ve become a part of this problem. For two years, I’d lived in Silicon Valley, surrounded by other highly educated transplants with seemingly perfect lives. It’s jarring to live in a world where every person feels his life will only get better when you came from a world where many rightfully believe that things have become worse. And I’ve suspected that this optimism blinds many in Silicon Valley to the real struggles in other parts of the country. So I decided to move home, to Ohio.

Ah, the affordable housing stock in Columbus. But, oh, the opioid epidemic. In fact, Vance is moving back to start an organization aimed at combatting the epidemic.

Andrew Sullivan says that the opioid epidemic is the new AIDS.

It occurred to me reading this reported essay by Christopher Caldwell that the opioid epidemic is the new AIDS in this respect. Its toll in one demographic  mostly white, working-class, and rural  vastly outweighs its impact among urbanites. For many of us in the elite, it’s quite possible to live our daily lives and have no connection to this devastation. And yet its ever-increasing scope, as you travel a few hours into rural America, is jaw-dropping: 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015. That’s more deaths than the peak year for AIDS, which was 51,000 in 1995, before it fell in the next two years. The bulk of today’s human toll is related to opioid, heroin, and fentanyl abuse. And unlike AIDS in 1995, there’s no reason to think the worst is now over.

Dan Willingham, a UVA pyschology prof who specializes in education, has a daughter with a chromosomal disorder. He has some advice for parents whose kids gawk at his daugther.

Fun fact of the day, from the Atlantic:

According to a recent analysis of federal Department of Education data by Bloomberg, schools that beat performance expectations during March Madness receive a bump not only in public awareness, but also in the number of applications they receive.


18 thoughts on “SL 685

  1. There’s a rumor that J.D. Vance is looking to start a political career here in Ohio. It will be interesting to see if that pans out. I understand he’ll be working with someone very closely associated with Governor Kasich.

    For those of you not familiar with Columbus, there isn’t anything “rust belty” about it. It is doing quite well, its population is diverse, there are good restaurants, parks, museums and cultural events, a tech sector, and strong retail offerings. It’s cowtown days are long over.

    I would have been more impressed if Vance had moved back to his hometown, Middletown, which really is a miserable and dreary backwater. Or Toledo or Dayton or Akron or any number of other Ohio towns with next to no future.


    1. Ohio Mom,

      Ooooooh! That’s interesting.

      It is true that almost any real city these days (regardless of region) has a yuppie sector. (Pick up any copy of Country Living for proof.)


  2. I hadn’t really been paying attention to Hillbilly Elegy or Vance at his television appearances, but the NY Times piece caught my attention, because Vance is moving to what I would call my hometown (though I have spent more years where I live, as of 2011). I looked up Vance and the story. It’s an eye catching story, from the multigenerational addicts raising dysfunctional children to the marines, the GI bill, ohio state, yale law school and to Amy Chua and Peter Thiel and finally, the Hillbilly elegy (which turned into a book after being written for a Chua class). And, there’s a marriage to an Indian-American lawyer who has clerked for John Roberts. When I heard the story, I first thought Vance must be older, but it’s a recent story of using the GI bill to pull oneself out of dysfunction.

    I’m guessing the opiate program is Thiel seed-funded, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. I’ve been hearing stories of the opiate addiction problem, some of them at least second hand (which is interesting — it is a sign of how big the problem has grown if I am hearing even second hand reports, I am so distant from that culture). I do find interesting how significantly that problem has grown, under the noses of those who are completely out of the culture that has produced it. It shares some similarity with the AIDS epidemic, which developed in a subculture.


    1. I’m pretty suspicious of anything Peter Thiel funds, but I guess I’ll wait to see. If it’s not expanded health insurance and jobs creation or training programs, I’m not sure how the issue can really be helped.

      AIDS was a problem because it was a disease that the government had no interest in stopping the spread of. Opioid addiction is a problem because it’s a symptom of a much more intractable issue, the collapse of blue collar white rural America. Solving it doesn’t just mean getting people off opioids, it’s going to require giving them something else worthwhile to do. I’m having a hard time seeing that happen outside of a Great Depression make work program, the sort that Thiels are allergic to.


    2. I’m making the Thiel connection (because Vance worked for a Thiel venture capitol group). So, the statement should be considered a speculation until we find evidence. I too am skeptical of anything Thiel funds. On the other hand, I think we are running in a lot of circles about opiate addiction with ideologically driven decision making on all sides.


    3. I was there seeing the labs when the government finally woke up to the AIDS crisis. Although there might have been a period when the epidemic was seen as containable, that did change, and there was a massive government effort to fight the disease. I remember thinking the retrovirus problem was intractable, and that there would only be containment and seeing the relentless efforts of the scientists who came up with the treatment was a revelation to me. I was surprised, frankly. And I’m a scientist.

      The effort made me realize the eternal optimism of the true scientist, the belief that everything is possible, understandable.

      I do not, thus, believe that the only solution to the opiate crisis is economics, and think that’s one the ideological fixations. Now, believing that economics isn’t part of the solution is also an ideological fixation.


  3. I love where I live, and I think my family wouldn’t agree to moving there, but Columbus is my spiritual home, at least the Columbus I left many years ago (which was manageable but still had the university and small beauty and solidity).


  4. Eh, if people like Vance are moving to Columbus, it has about 5 years before becoming the next Portland or Austin. People forget that Portland OR was a sleepy blue collar city in the 80s and 90s, and only became hipster/yuppie central in the past 15 years. When I go home I don’t recognize the place I grew up. Portland was skinhead central for the PNW in the 80s, and it had a major meth problem in the 90s and early 2000s, all “white working class” problems.

    Milwaukee WI feels more like my childhood Portland than today’s Portland,


    1. Columbus is working on ‘becoming the next Portland’ – they have put up ads in the Metro in DC showing the swell hipster life available there AND YOU CAN BUY A HOUSE.


      1. We’ve also had a hipster outbreak in our part of Texas.

        It can happen anywhere, people. BE VIGILANT.


  5. I’d love to give my kids the same working class upbringing I had, but don’t think it exists anymore. I’m pretty sure by the time I had my childhood in the 80s and 90s, it was already 20-30 years out of date. I used to wander the streets unsupervised with packs of neighborhood kids until sundown, play in the dumpster in apartment parking lots, and a real treat was getting to have a cream soda from the neighborhood mom n’ pop shop with the sawdust on the floor.

    I’m not sure where I could make this happen now, except in a time warp.


  6. I have to say that what I find reported from sources such as the CDC leads me to think that Andrew Sullivan’s formulation of opioid overdose problem as a “white, rural” problem to be gravely mistaken. Perhaps the people he meets at cocktail parties don’t talk about it. It is a problem for all parts of society.

    Or perhaps it’s a symptom of his age. I can say that our very wealthy, very elite, very connected small town has young adult heroin addicts. The classes graduating from high school in the last decade haven’t had any unwed births. They have had overdose deaths.

    The obituaries usually don’t mention the cause of death. If a young person “died suddenly,” without an illness mentioned, it was either a suicide or a drug overdose. Apparently the local high school is now averaging about a suicide a year. If you have access to the network of families, you can find out. The young adults know, of course, because they’re all networked through social media.

    Per the CDC: The largest absolute rate change in deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone occurred in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia. The largest percentage increases in rates occurred in New York (135.7%), Connecticut (125.9%) and Illinois (120%) (Table 2). Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, and West Virginia experienced the largest absolute rate changes in heroin deaths, while the largest percentage increases in rates occurred in South Carolina (57.1%), North Carolina (46.4%), and Tennessee (43.5) (Table 2). Three states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Virginia) experienced decreases in natural/semi-synthetic opioid death rates, while increases occurred in five states (Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee) (Table 1).

    The entire article from the CDC is sobering reading, not to make a pun. It is even more sobering when you include the fact that narcan has been more widely used than before, so the increasing deaths occur at the same time Narcan has been saving more people from drug overdoses.


    1. The opioids are a huge problem. In some ways the big analogy is alcohol: huge problem, big social harm, and we figured out after ten miserable years that the harms from Prohibition were greater than the harms from booze. I don’t know whether the analogy is a good one – how much harm would there be from easy access to clean and pure heroin, compared to the harm the current regime is wreaking. All roads look bad.


  7. Interesting report from the CDC. But, it does say something about where the opiate problem is hitting the hardest. I wonder what the underlying differences are among the state differences? I’m never a fan of state level looks at sociological phenomena (’cause there’s too much variability within a state). I don’t have a gut level feel for the pattern, though my gut instinct doesn’t have a state level “age adjustment”, so that might be part of why I don’t see the pattern.

    California & Oregon and Hawaii are really not high, though. And neither is Washington, on a state level. Legalized marijuana? as part of the pattern?


  8. “I don’t have a gut level feel for the pattern, though my gut instinct doesn’t have a state level “age adjustment”, so that might be part of why I don’t see the pattern.

    “California & Oregon and Hawaii are really not high, though. And neither is Washington, on a state level. Legalized marijuana? as part of the pattern?”

    Yeah, that would be my theory, too.

    I’ve been surprised the last few times we’ve had the “good” painkillers at home how ridiculously cheap they are (pennies, really). So it doesn’t surprise me at all that they’re widely abused.

    Pot’s probably able to displace painkillers in areas where it’s legal by also being legal, but also being also relatively cheap, and being a plant that you can just grow more of. Apparently, legal marijuana prices have collapsing:

    Time to tweak the “don’t do drugs!” message?


  9. I don’t think it’s pot.

    Looking at the pattern of the 20 states with the highest death rates, there are clusters. Clusters along highways.
    So, TN, KY, WV, OH, PA, MI, MD, DE are a cluster. CT, RI, MA, NH, ME are another cluster. (Which makes New York and New Jersey real outliers, and why are they different?)

    Another cluster is AZ, NV, UT and NM.

    The three clusters above are contiguous states. I’d wager it likely has something to do with the drug cartels which control the traffic in those states.

    Hawaii? Well, to get there, don’t you have to fly? Which is much more risky than highway travel.

    There is variation by ethnicity. Interactive map:“colId”:”Location”,”sort”:”asc”%7D

    The rate of change is striking. Texas is striking, because it’s surrounded by states in the top 20 on the CDC list, but it has one of the lowest death rates per 100,000 population.


  10. So this is a ‘-well’ comment, two ‘Or-’s and a ‘Crom-’. I am grumpy about some long term trends in the academy and in public life in general, and this Middlebury crap is a good example of results of those trends, in my view. I think Hillbilly Elegy and Coming Apart have a common theme, on the classes splitting apart. I have strung together what I think are some pearls for defense of open discourse in the academy, which is clearly under threat here. Then, a plug for Coming Apart. Then, Bell Curve.

    So: Or- number one: Orwell:

    “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

    And, Crom-: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken.”

    So, there’s the long march through the institutions: Herbert Marcuse said “To extend the base of the student movement, Rudi Dutschke has proposed the strategy of the long march through the institutions: working against the established institutions while working within them, but not simply by ‘boring from within’, rather by ‘doing the job’, learning (how to program and read computers, how to teach at all levels of education, how to use the mass media, how to organize production, how to recognize and eschew planned obsolescence, how to design, et cetera), and at the same time preserving one’s own consciousness in working with others.”

    I see the grown-ups who have been excusing the thugs who attacked Murray and Stanger as Long Marchers. The Dutschke strategy has gone a very long way towards taking over the academy, and colleges and universities are now very heavily peopled with Long March proggies. Having attained predominance, they are trying to extinguish any voices not conforming to their views. I think it’s disagreeable, I don’t like it. One of their tools is what CS Lewis called Bulverism, and which we have seen from some commenters (you know who you are!) in this very pixel patch:

    “Bulverism is a logical fallacy in which one party simply assumes that the other party is wrong and explains their reasons for wanting to believe it rather than addressing the argument itself. It is a specific subtype of the Ad Hominem fallacy.
    The Other Wiki expresses Bulverism as:
    You claim that A is true.
    Because of B, you personally desire that A should be true.
    Therefore, A is false.
    In short, it can be summarized as “You’re only claiming X to be the case because you want X to be the case!”. This is fallacious, as whether or not someone wants something to be true has no bearing on whether or not it actually is.
    The term was coined by C. S. Lewis in an essay of the same name in which he describes the (fictional) origin of the fallacy: a boy named Ezekiel Bulver heard his parents arguing when his mother said “Oh you say that because you are a man.” at which point Bulver realized that “refutation is no necessary part of argument”.
    Lewis himself summed up the fallacy as “to assume without discussion that he [your opponent] is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.””

    Mark Krikorian in the WaPo talks about the Bulverism he is experiencing, from the nasty opportunists at Southern Poverty Law Center:

    “..Since 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center has methodically added mainstream organizations critical of current immigration policy to its blacklist of “hate groups,” including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Immigration Reform Law Institute and Californians for Population Stabilization, among others. In February, my own organization, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), got its turn.
    The wickedness of the SPLC’s blacklist lies in the fact that it conflates groups that really do preach hatred, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Nation of Islam, with ones that simply do not share the SPLC’s political preferences. The obvious goal is to marginalize the organizations in this second category by bullying reporters into avoiding them, scaring away writers and researchers from working for them, and limiting invitations for them to discuss their work..”

    More marginalizing:

    “In a letter to the editor that appeared Friday in Crain’s Chicago Business, Monk, who owns Worlds of Music in North Center with her husband Alexander Duvel, wrote that she has been subjected to steady bullying since the couple’s personal politics became public knowledge.

    The letter reads, in part:

    “Chicago, you have always been a Democrat-run town, but this year you have become a one-party city terrorizing anyone not in your party for their beliefs…. We will close at the end of April, because we are no longer willing to subject our staff, our customers, our neighbors and ourselves to the daily risk…. We have to leave. In the end, it wasn’t the high taxes, constant road construction or high crime. It wasn’t the unchecked gang violence or political cronyism. In the end, we have to leave because of the hate you are willing to tolerate…. You have a Trump-sized chip on that big shoulder, and it has turned you into a city of fear, hate and division. A city that encourages political bullying.””

    Andrew Sullivan on intersectionality refers to MORE Orwell (Or- number two!):

    ““Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.

    It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.”

    I like Sullivan’s piece a lot, and it seemed to me that this ‘intersectionality’ orthodoxy explains a lot of the confidence in their rectitude which the anti-free speech thugs at Middlebury displayed. Murray has not confessed his sin, checked his privilege, he must be shunned. Cornell West and Robert George just issued a statement on open discourse which I think is swell, but I would, wouldn’t I? “The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.”

    And now specific to Middlebury event: Murray Coming Apart –

    So Murray got on the double-plus-ungood list by writing (with Herrnstein, who promptly died as the book came out) Bell Curve. I read much of it at the time, it seemed plausible to me, still does. And he has not, as far as I know, recanted. The intended subject at Middlebury was his more recent Coming Apart, I think (I also read a large part of that and thought and think it is plausible), which is about life outcomes for different classes of white people in US – Wikipedia says of it “ Murray describes what he sees as the economic divide and moral bifurcation of white Americans that has occurred since 1960. He focuses on white Americans in order to make it clear that the decline he describes was not being experienced solely by minorities, whom he brings into his argument in the last few chapters of the book. Vance wrote on his family’s trajectory in Hillbilly Elegy, which has largely escaped the opprobrium which has rained down on Murray.

    Murray describes several differences he sees forming between and causing two emerging classes—the New Upper Class and the New Lower Class—among which are differences in or lack thereof in regards to religiosity, work ethic, industriousness, family, etc. Murray goes on to provide evidence that religiosity, work ethic, industriousness, family, etc., have either remained strong or have weakened minimally in the New Upper Class, whereas these same attributes have either weakened substantially or have become almost nonexistent in the New Lower Class.[1] Much of his argument is centered on a notion of self-selective sorting that began in the 1960s and 1970s, when he argues that cognitive ability became the essential predictor of professional and financial success, and people overwhelmingly began marrying others in the same cognitive stratum and living in areas surrounded largely by others in that same stratum, leading to not only an exacerbation of existing economic divides, but an unprecedented sociocultural divide that had not existed before in America.”

    Even if you don’t share my squeamishness about yobs shutting down public speech, I think there’s a plausible utilitarian argument that Proggies’ failure to notice and understand this split is why what he calls New Upper Class and I have elsewhere seen described as gentry liberals were so unable to see the peril to their hegemony which the Trump campaign and the New Lower Class posed. And the disdain for deplorable trailer trash which gentry liberals displayed both during and after the campaign was extremely unattractive. Comfortable people whose rising trajectory seemed assured did not heed the immiseration of their fellow citizens, who then gleefully voted for the Orange Crusher, to our surprise. Of course we were surprised! The NY Times and the Globe and the Post didn’t warn us! And then the wilful blindness continues, with the Middlebury shut-down of a talk by someone who had been describing just this chasm.

    Now, about Bell Curve. Murray wrote that the IQ scores of Americans identified as black are normally distributed, as are those of whites and East Asians. The three bell curves have different means: that of black scores is at a score which is about 1 sd below the mean score of whites, that of East Asians at a score about ½ sd above the mean score of whites. As far as I know, that’s unrefuted. His suggestion that this likely has a large hereditary component is cited in the fury against him. This seems to me plausible, but unpalatable. The world doesn’t necessarily do what we think it oughta, though. Whether true or not, I don’t like people shouting him down on that, and as I said above refusing to heed other things he is saying seems to me unwise.

    But about the bell curve: all of us are distributed on a bell curve which the Silicon Valley machers think leaves only a few of us – black white red or yellow – in the running to have creative and successful lives. Here’s a little gem from Baird and Mendonca at Development Set:

    “Last month, Y-Combinator, Silicon Valley’s blue-chip startup fund, announced a request for proposal to study a universal basic income. Sam Altman, the President of Y-Combinator, wrote in a separate essay that in the future, we will have a “smaller and smaller number of people creating more and more of the wealth. And we need a new solution for the people not creating most of the wealth..many of the minimum wage jobs are going to get innovated away anyway.”
    The people without jobs will be an “idle class”and the obvious conclusion, to Altman, “is that the government will just have to give these people money.” (Emphasis ours.)”

    So: bread and circuses for most of us. And, in a world where the tires get pulled out of the molds and put into shipping containers by robots, burgers are flipped and tomato-ed and onioned by machines, most of us have our noses pressed to the glass, looking in at the Google gods.


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