There’s a reason the first chapter of Machine Sickness starts in the South. There’s a reason Deirdre Davis is a southerner. That wasn’t by chance, and it wasn’t solely because I chose to follow the classic writer’s advice to “write what you know.” I have lived in the southern USA for more of my life than anywhere else, but I was born in the West, grew up in New York City, went to undergrad school in Chicago, got my Doctor of Chiropractic degree in Atlanta, and now I live in Mexico.
The shame and rage that Americans feel about the hypocrisy of a nation supposedly based on freedom that compromised that principle for political unity, is othered and alienated and transferred to the South. To read mainstream media, you would think that slavery, legally-mandated segregation, racial massacres, and lynching were isolated only in the South and performed only by Southerners, whereas the truth is that these abhorrent practices were common in the North even after slave importation was banned and even after the passage of the 13th Amendment. Reading mainstream media, you’d imagine that the people whom it is still okay to refer to by ethnic pejoratives like “redneck” and “hillbilly” (usually preceded by the word “ignorant”), were the ones responsible for slavery, when the “poor white trash” of the South were overwhelmingly not slave owners and some suffered from a job market depressed by slave labor. While the elite generals of the Union were wined and dined by plantation owners, the 1-percenters of their day, these people were scorned. The plagues of domestic violence, alcoholism, and learned economic helplessness descended through generations.
The historical awareness among Scots-Irish descendants of being on the losing side of the Civil War is exacerbated by the tradition of military honor and clan loyalty passed down from their gaelic-language-speaking ancestors of the British Isles. The sense of unfair play of small holders, sharecroppers, and agricultural workers, whose red necks came from exposing white skin to the Southern sun while growing the raw materials for Northern factories, yielded a coarse and sometimes grim sense of humor, so that DD remembers her mother saying she was “always one to call a spade a goddam shovel.”
In DD, you have a character somewhat like Detective Clarice Starling in the Hannibal Lecter stories. In one prison interview scene, Hannibal gets under Clarice’s skin by pointing out that she is only a couple of generations removed “from poor white trash.” DD is a brilliant scientist, a highly educated woman, but she will never completely shake the hypervigilance and pragmatism of her background; her family relationships reflect a modern alienation as well as epigenetic dysfunction; she doesn’t design or engineer, she tinkers. She’s acutely aware of physical threats to her safety in ways that people who’ve always felt safe are not, but what goes unstated is that she’s also aware of those who are superlatively safe and don’t feel like it.
Yet, the Eupocalypse is an opportunity to start over in a world where notions of class and wealth, risk and safety, are recalibrated. It’s a world where the materials of modern life are lost, but the ideas are not.