CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the aftermath of the most recent environmental disaster to hit my home state of West Virginia, I have been wondering how it is that we continue, year after year, to allow the polluters to contaminate us, sicken our people and rip apart our beautiful mountains. Is there something endemic to the area that we welcome and even encourage those who rape our land, steal our patrimony and belittle us all at the same time? You bet there is.A monoculture economy, geographical isolation, lack of opportunity and a set of cultural adaptations perpetuate the misery. In an extractive economy, it's easy for a few people, or a few families to dominate the way in which wealth is generated. A few oligarchical families, many of them residing outside our state, control our industry and business, guide our leaders robotically and hold the rest of us hostage.Our most talented people -- those unlucky not to be the sons and daughters of the oligarchs, meaning most of us -- learn quickly (if they don't flee) that the only jobs that aren't down a hole or in a poison factory consist of maintaining the status quo and serving the ruling families. So the educators, civil servants, political and legal class are bought out easily.As for most of us "Crikkers," when all that's open to you is a future down a hole, or in a poison factory, (or in prison) you learn obedience rather than individuality, and that becomes the "right" way to teach your children.
And of course, the most powerful tool for teaching these children that authority is absolute and must be obeyed without question is religion. The fundamentalist cult of personality/social club that is the Appalachian Protestant church is ideally suited to teaching the kids that it is their lot to labor, and to die, and as the old song says, "There'll be pie in the sky by and by."On the whole, it is a misery-industrial complex, and that's why most people who have talent, means, or even good looks flee as quickly as they can. The Kanawha Valley, and most of Southern West Virginia beyond it, is a blighted land, willfully ignorant, active only in perpetuating its misery and that of its children. It will not change. It does not want to change.Not even God could save Sodom, because the people were complicit in their own misery, and willfully blind to reality. So it is in my home, and I weep for it.Rabel, of Alum Creek, is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, author and a native of West Virginia.