Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is Sympathy Fatigue?

    “Sympathy Fatigue” is the term the author uses to describe the internalization process in which sympathy and empathy for members of other social groups is transformed into skepticism and suspicions that they are being taken advantage of by those very claims to sympathetic understanding. This is a complex system of reasoning that also facilitates the natural rejection by conservatives that they possess an inherent bias. Many conservative Americans actually relate stories of profound emotional turmoil at seeing the negative consequences of being a member of a marginalized group when the put-upon are seen as distinct individuals. Over time, however, as more and more members of that group make claims to being treated in discriminatory fashion or—especially—when government programs are enacted provide what is seen as unfair special treatment to those groups, fatigue sets in, empathy is lessened and sympathetic understanding transforms into self-victimization and the subsequent feeling that they are now part of a marginalized group deserving of the same understanding they once extended outward.

  2. 2

    To what concept of which renowned sociologist does the author attribute the cult-like sense of wildly enthusiastic crowd behavior at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies?

    The author calls upon the works of one of the founding fathers of sociology, Emile Durkheim, to explain what outsiders view as a fundamentally unusual and overzealously excitable demonstration of crowd-thought and mob mentality exhibited at the campaign rallies for Donald Trump. Durkheim coined the term “collective effervescence” to describe the emotionally intensified state of vivacious excitement shared by the collective members of a crowd when they discover they are surrounded by like-minded members of a “moral or biological tribe.” Durkheim’s original formulation resulted from studying the behavior of indigenous tribes in various spots around the world and the author insists that his description of what he found in common among these biological tribes can easily be applied to the behavioral patterns of supporters at these rallies who gather around a charismatic “totem” with whom they identify individually and with whom they choose to associate with as a collective entity of “worshippers.”

  3. 3

    What is the real root cause of the casual racism that many conservatives in Louisiana—especially older ones—project when leaving African-Americans out of their portrait of the overlooked class just looking to be rewarded for hard work?

    The underclass of non-privileged white conservatives whom the author focused on in her study in Louisiana generally picture themselves as being victimized by the “line cutters” who have been given unfair shortcuts to realizing the American Dream while they have spent their entire lives vainly working for it in the way the dream is supposed to work. The “line cutters” include those taking advantage of special opportunities extended only to minority or other marginalized groups. As a result, there is certain strain of racism in this vision because of its notable absence of including black Americans who are as a rule designated a member of the line cutting class. The author suggests an intriguing explanation for this perspective as an alternative to its seemingly forthright origin in racial prejudice.

    The members of this white conservative class in Louisiana—and here the author is limiting her sociological perspective to just the group being studied—have led lives with so little genuine and significant interaction with black society that they have developed just two limited perspectives on that culture which is based almost entirely on media exposure rather than one-on-one interaction. The black people they see in movies, and on TV and news reports are either just as privileged as their white peers—athletes and entertainers—or they are disproportionately reduced to being a member of the criminal class. With no room in between these extremes and no limited person experience, the inability to see that black Americans have been “doing the right thing” by honestly working all their lives becomes an issue of empathy rather than racism.

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