The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up | Manage  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar


HeraldNet Headlines
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.
Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014, 1:00 a.m.

Is it possible W. Virginia is a cult?

After decades of suffering environmental torture at the hands of polluting industries, West Virginians might regard a chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 residents — and is still scaring folks after the dangers have presumably passed — as a last straw. But there never seems to be a last straw for them.
Though some state legislators have called for reforming the state’s famously lax regulations, the general response has been to yell at the media and outsiders. The battle cry: Others don’t appreciate the personal sacrifices West Virginians make to provide the nation with chemicals and coal.
It is true. Outsiders don’t appreciate them and, furthermore, don’t respect them. They can’t understand why anyone would let absentee landowners level their mountains and bury their streams in waste. Birds don’t dirty their own nests.
The hard-luck people of Appalachia deserve their reputation for physical courage and a strong work ethic. But they suffer more from servility than from bad luck. Outsiders wince when the natives angrily declare their independent spirit and then cringe before corporate polluters, however tawdry.
Freedom Industries owned the rotting tank farm that leaked poison into the Elk River, less than 2 miles upstream from the intake pipes for the state’s biggest water provider. One of its founders, The Charleston Gazette reported, was an ex-con who went bankrupt, was convicted of cocaine violations and failed to turn over $1 million in taxes he withheld from his workers’ paychecks.
The company is now controlled by partners living in Florida and Pennsylvania. State inspectors hadn’t visited the facility for 23 years.
As the latest disaster was unfolding, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met in Washington with coal interests, vowing to kill proposed new Environmental Protection Agency regulations. This is the same Joe Manchin who made almost $1.5 million in 2011 and 2012 off his coal brokerage company.
Manchin quoted the state motto: “Mountaineers are always free.” That served the dual purpose of flattering the voters back home and reassuring the industry that the munchkins were still with the program.
A different interpretation came from West Virginia native Eric Waggoner, an English instructor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. After the chemical spill, he drove to Charleston with 10 cases of bottled water for his extended family. He was in a “blind animal rage.”
“To hell with you,” Waggoner chanted in an essay for The Huffington Post. To hell with the “greedhead” operators who flocked to West Virginia for the lax regulations and exploitable workforce. To hell with the local politicos who wouldn’t enforce even the weak regulations they wrote.
But Waggoner’s most powerful “to hell with” was reserved for fellow West Virginians. These were people who bought into the idea of “constant sacrifice as an honorable condition” and who “turned that condition into a culture of perverted, twisted pride and self-righteousness, to be celebrated and defended against outsiders.”
Outsiders. Creating an aura of specialness that must be protected from outside influences is how cult leaders keep their members in check. It takes a good deal of mind control to turn mass sucker-dom into a bragging point.
“In West Virginia, we’re willing to do the heavy lifting,” Manchin told the coal bosses.
Waggoner again had a very different take: “To hell with everyone whose only take-away from every story about every explosion, every leak, every mine collapse, is some vague and idiotic vanity in the continued endurance of West Virginians under adverse, sometimes killing circumstances.”
He’s hit the nail as only an insider can do. West Virginians bursting with prideful self-pity should know that the outsiders pity them, as well.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

loading...

Herald Editorial Board

Jon Bauer, Opinion Editor: jbauer@heraldnet.com

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

Have your say

Feel strongly about something? Share it with the community by writing a letter to the editor. Send letters by e-mail to letters@heraldnet.com, by fax to 425-339-3458 or mail to The Herald - Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We'll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 250 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it. If your letter is published, please wait 30 days before submitting another. Have a question about letters? Contact Carol MacPherson at cmacpherson@heraldnet.com or 425-339-3472.