Outliers: The Story of Success | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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Outliers: The Story of Success | Part 2, Chapter 6 : Legacy (Harlan, Kentucky) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • There are more "family feuds," or disputes between generations of families, in the South, particularly in the Appalachian region—the region running parallel to the Appalachian Mountains, from southern New York to northern Mississippi—than anywhere else in the United States. Sociologists believe these feuds, which nearly always result in multiple deaths, are caused by the region's "culture of honor."
  • Cultures of honor generally originate in areas that aren't agriculturally fertile. This type of area includes mountainous regions, such as Appalachia. When people originally settled in those places, it was nearly impossible for them to farm the land. Many people earned a living raising goats and sheep instead. Farmers survived through cooperation with their communities, but herdsmen were all on their own. Herdsmen also had to worry about thieves stealing their animals. The constant threat of losing their livelihood involved aggression and instilling a good amount of fear in their adversaries. Good herdsmen had "to be willing to fight in response to even the slightest challenge to [their] reputation." This protective aggression is the basis for a culture of honor.
  • The original settlers of Appalachia were mostly Scotch-Irish, which meant they were from the lowlands of Scotland, the northern counties of England, and Northern Ireland. These borderlands were "remote and lawless territories that had been fought over for hundreds of years," and they were also terrible for farming. When the first Scotch-Irish settlers came to Appalachia, they brought with them the herdsman mentality, strong family bonds, and a culture of honor.
  • Gladwell acknowledges "making these kinds of broad generalizations about different cultural groups" is how racial and ethnic stereotypes form. Still, he insists the key to understanding life in different parts of the country is to examine how life used to be hundreds of years ago.
  • A psychological experiment conducted at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s confirmed the Southern culture of honor is alive and well in the modern era. Researchers annoyed and insulted young men and analyzed their responses. Those who became aggressive or angry in response were all from the South. Conversely, Northerners showed almost no reaction at all, or cooled off more quickly when they did become angry. The weirdest part about the study is the Southern students weren't the direct descendants of Appalachian herdsmen—they mostly came from upper-middle-class families, showing the power of cultural legacies. Even when "economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished," they still direct attitudes and behavior of future generations.
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