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Did Tara Westover Really Walk Away from Her Right-Wing Roots?

1,459 words

Tara Westover
Educated: A Memoir
New York: Penguin, 2018

The original marketing plan for Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover was as a “fish-out-of-water” story. In this case the fish is young Tara, the daughter of survivalist, fundamentalist Mormons who live off the grid in Idaho. Despite no schooling and the bizarre, violent behavior of her fundamentalist family, Westover manages to escape to college at Brigham Young University (BYU), where she excels. She eventually ends up at Harvard, and receives a PhD in history at Cambridge. But even as she triumphs, misfit Tara is still making amusing “backwoods” mistakes, like wearing painfully unfashionable clothes, not washing her hands after using the bathroom, and never having heard of the Holocaust.

Tara Westover

Why this book is of interest to Counter Currents readers is the fact that it might be a fake – or a partial fake – in the service of the Leftist narrative. At the very least, the memoir has been influenced in this direction. From this perspective, Tara’s survivalist family is a stand-in for the “far Right,” and Tara’s arrival at BYU is the beginning of a journey toward enlightened Leftism. This odyssey reaches its heartwarming conclusion when she finds her way to Professor Steinberg at Cambridge, a legendary professor of Jewish history. Steinberg (who no doubt recognizes the public relations possibilities of Tara’s miraculous story) pledges his support and sponsorship. Tara is set for life. She’s finally found a home.

Cambridge University

The only problem is, Tara herself does not appear to be all that sympathetic to the Left. Since the story requires it, she repeats several times how guilty she feels for not knowing about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement, but these details sound forced, like something a narrative-conscious book editor might suggest. Or maybe Tara, being a shrewd young lady, and writing this book after several years in academia, put them in herself, sensing that such details would ensure her book’s success.

That’s basically what all non-Leftists have to do when they prepare a novel or memoir for a major New York publishing house. They must ask the question: How can I align my work with the Left-wing gatekeepers in a way that will have the least negative affect on what I am trying to say? If Tara Westover’s real motivation for writing this book is to come to terms with the ugly truths about her family, she might be perfectly willing to add some Leftist tropes to please her editors. But that doesn’t mean she believes them.

Westover obviously did feel a sense of relief when she got clear of her abusive family. But from the moment she arrives at college, Tara seems deeply ambivalent about this new world of materialism, worldliness, and the hypocritical liberal posturing that her ultra-conservative father has been warning her about. At BYU, Harvard, and Cambridge, Tara never really rejects her family’s lessons, nor does she embrace the “sinful” distractions to which she now has access. It seemed to me like she found this new world of vacuous college students and their random consumerism to be empty and depressing.

Still, her life in Idaho was not a great alternative. Her family was fucking nuts and Tara was in physical danger whenever she was near them. Most likely Tara’s book editors urged her to emphasize this point as much as possible. Since the Westovers are basically “far Right extremists” (if you subtract their religion), they of course have to be evil psychopaths. Much of the book is spent detailing just how evil and psychopathic they are.

The father is depicted as being so crazy that you sometimes can’t believe what you’re reading. He continuously subjects his children to extremely hazardous working conditions in his junkyard, where they are all required to work. Tara, as a pre-teen, finds herself scrambling around the mangled cars and broken machinery, where she quickly learns to avoid the flying car parts her father hurls in her direction. At one point she has to throw herself out of a loading bucket, ten feet off the ground, to avoid being dumped into a pile of jagged metal.

All the Westover kids do their time in the junkyard. An older brother nearly burns his leg off when his gas-soaked jeans catch fire and he can’t get them off because he’s used bailing twine for a belt and can’t untie it. Another brother loses a finger. Another gets his arm torn apart in a sheet metal shredding machine. The father gets a dose of his own medicine near the end of the memoir when he ignites the gas tank of a junked car he’s working on. The explosion literally melts his face off and burns the rest of him nearly to death.

Complementing her father’s recklessness is the vicious cruelty of Tara’s psychotic brother Shawn, who frequently beats, tortures, and manipulates his siblings in every imaginable way. The repetitive descriptions of the beatings and psychological abuse Shawn inflicts on Tara are the hardest parts of the book to read. These scenes sound like they’re from a horror novel or a psychological thriller, which strains the memoir’s credibility.

But again, the terror and cruelty might be purposeful. The intention here is to have the reader seething with rage at these two evil white men, both of whom – when not victimizing their family members – are espousing their hateful, sexist, reactionary views. In other words, Educated: A Memoir is effectively just one more piece of propaganda from the Left-wing American entertainment industry

Some examples of these hateful views: Tara’s father believes that his obedient wife belongs in the kitchen and his obedient children in his junkyard. He believes Satan rules over contemporary society, that modern women are whores, and that Western medicine is a sham and a con. His kids don’t even legally exist, as they don’t have birth certificates and don’t attend public school, lest they be brainwashed with lies and propaganda. He believes the federal government is ruled by the Illuminati, that the FBI are hired killers, and late in the memoir, it is said that he believes that the Second World War was planned and initiated by Jewish financiers.

When Tara initially sneaks off to BYU, she takes a psychology course and decides her father is probably bipolar, or possibly schizophrenic. Her mother, who appears to possess some intelligence, doesn’t have this excuse for her own complicity in her father’s fundamentalism. Though she occasionally asserts herself (she becomes a faith healer and starts a successful business selling herbal remedies), she never quite breaks the manipulative hold her husband has over her. In the end, she remains the victimized wife; another woman of talent destroyed by the merciless patriarchy.

Tara is rescued from the toxic white males of her family by the kind, generous instructors she encounters at the universities, especially Professor Steinberg, who seems to understand that Tara’s story will inevitably find its way into the larger world, confirming for everyone that academia lifts up the poor and marginalized and helps them reach their full potential. (Thanks to this book, that’s exactly what happened.)

While reading, I could never stop wondering how much Westover’s editors influenced its content. Did they tell her to emphasize the “abuse” parts? Did they encourage her to show her monstrous father and brother in the worst possible terms? Or did they leave Westover to sort out the difficult father/daughter conflict on her own? I can’t believe they would allow the latter, because Westover might have mistakenly shown love or sympathy. You don’t sell books by apologizing for abusive fathers. Better to be overtly biased than show any nuance when it comes to evil.

That said, I wonder if the real Tara would be capable of dismissing her father entirely, and if she’s really the model progressive she is now assumed to be. Personally, I don’t think so. I say this because not one moment in Tara’s academic experience as described in the book suggests she had genuinely turned her back on her father’s basic worldview. Our culture is controlled by Satan, modern women are whores, and Jewish financiers did contribute to the Second World War. I think it’s possible that Tara still sees that there might be some truth – if only metaphorically – in these ideas.

But the book asserts otherwise, suggesting that Tara has seen the light. She’s been rescued. She’s one of the good guys now. Following the book’s success, Tara Westover has sat down with Oprah and Bill Gates, and she’s been on PBS NewsHour and CNN. So maybe it’s true. Maybe she is a pure blood Leftist now. But in my humble opinion, when I look in her eyes I don’t see liberal progressivism. I see something more complicated. And more interesting.

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  1. John Wilkinson
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    The thing that really angers me about this kind of book is that for every example of extreme, nutty “right wing extremist” one can find, there are equivalent (if not worse) examples of wacky leftists in spades.

    The mother who forces her 8 year old son to chemically castrate with female hormones. The nudist family that has pubescent daughters walking around naked in front of their father. Parents who think nothing of using illicit drugs in front of their kids, (or worse, WITH their kids) or watching pornography in front of them.

    These are all extreme examples of “enlightened” leftist behavior that is accepted, even promoted, in certain circles, that is perverse and wicked in my mind…things that even our liberal media would have scrutinized 30 years ago, because there was once still a smidgeon of “conservative” consciousness imbedded in the establishment.

    Not any more.

    • Corday
      Posted November 26, 2019 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      I was going to say the same.

      I’m also wondering how her father made the argument about Jewish Financiers inspiring World War II without reference to the Holocaust. You would think that would come up naturally while explaining his thinking on this. Also, of course, we see here the Leftist idea that knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, the Holocaust, and slavery is 1) all you need to know of history and 2) as mandatory and enlightening as knowledge of basic hygiene.

      • Ian Smith
        Posted November 27, 2019 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        I grew up in the 1990s, and slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust took up about 50% of our humanities education, with occasional detours to things like the internment of the Japanese in WWII. The only thing we ever learned about Communism…was that Joe McCarthy was a very, very bad man! We were literally required to read Howard Zinn, which might be excusable if we got to read something for balance, like Paul Johnson or something.
        This Westover book gives off the same vibe as those tragedy porn ‘memoirs’ by the likes of James Frey and ‘J. T. LeRoy’ that were so big in the 00s. Westover is of my generation and I have a hard time believing that she hadn’t at least heard of the Holocaust before college.

        • Corday
          Posted November 27, 2019 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          I grew up in the late 90s/early aughts. Same experience.

          • Randy
            Posted November 30, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

            I grew up in the 70’s/80’s and we heard zero about that stuff. Thank the gods.

    • Richard
      Posted November 26, 2019 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      …one can find, there are equivalent (if not worse) examples of wacky leftists in spades.

      The mother who forces her 8 year old son to chemically castrate with female hormones. The nudist family that has pubescent daughters walking around naked in front of their father. Parents who think nothing of using illicit drugs in front of their kids, (or worse, WITH their kids) or watching pornography in front of them.

      I was once friends with a European-American woman who fit into the above mold of wacky leftists. We became friends through athletics and started to train together for quite some time. As our friendship progressed, she started to divulge many of her far-left ideologies to me. This woman was middle aged and extremely fit. In addition to her past accomplishments as a competitive athlete in multiple sports, she became a Masters Figure Competitor. Outside of athletics and fitness, she was into the underground Goth club scene — often with her adopted, biracial son.

      She grew up in Europe and moved to the United States in her early twenties. Several of years later, as a self-proclaimed Communist, she and her husband adopted a biracial boy who was from a broken African-American family. Her son was riddled with emotional baggage, but he became a world-class athlete and was very successful for a while – until he became involved with drugs and the wrong people.

      She and her adopted son would often workout together. They both had ripped bodies and were exhibitionists. She’d tell me about — and show me — the artistic nude pictures from a plethora of photo shoots that they did together. Many of these images were quite provocative. This woman was brilliant — but flawed. She blamed everyone — especially Conservative Whites — for both her and her adopted son’s problems. She exemplified everything that’s wrong with the Left’s school of thought.

      Specifics were excluded for the purpose of anonymity.

      • Mike R
        Posted November 26, 2019 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        She sounds very bizarre; almost predatory. No doubt she contributed to her adopted sons problems.

        • Richard
          Posted November 27, 2019 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          Indeed. The aforementioned examples barely scratch the surface of her absurdity. Many of people were put off by her bizarre mannerisms. She struggled with friendships for that very reason.

  2. Ed bower
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    These publishing phenomenoms usually turn out to be for the most part fake and I suspect this one will have been embellished to the point of unreality as well.

  3. Esoteric Du30ist
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Her name, if this is all not a hoax, is symbolic: West. OVER.

    • frederick dixon
      Posted November 26, 2019 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      Maybe. But Westover is a genuine English place name and Mormons are more likely to be of English origin than most Americans, so it’s probably her real name.

  4. rhondda
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Not having read the book, I probably should not comment. However, having no intention of reading it, the first thing that came to mind were those fake holocaust memoirs where the authors had to admit it was not true, but it was emotionally true. To my mind emotionally true means fiction or a trauma/drama. At the same time I must admit that Derrick Jensen also wrote a harrowing book that included abuse in his Mormon home, but not entirely about that. (more about native Indians’ relationship to the land)
    I have a feeling that the ‘me too’ movement encourages these kind of things. After all nowadays just how do you get on Oprah? I await her confession.

  5. EF
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    “Our culture is controlled by Satan, modern women are whores, and Jewish financiers did contribute to the Second World War.”

    That is absolutely true.

    2 Corinthians 4:4
    In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

    SATAN » The prince » The god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)

    Too many women, today, are whores.

    The reality of of WW2 is beyond dispute as is the First world war as well.

    There was a Russian General who came to America after the (((BOLSHEVIKS))) took over his homeland.
    Arthur Cherep-Spiridovich wrote a book “Secret-World-Government” in which he identifies the (((group))) that was working to genocide the White race, i.e. the Aryans. Cherep-Spiridovich was something of a prophet by all accounts.
    His Wikipedia page under the heading LINKS lists his book but NO LINK is there. He was murdered in NYC and the cops were CROOKED even back then, in 1926, the same year his book was published.

    The Mormons were a strong segment of White propagation. Then they were sold out, like every other religion. The man who started it Joseph Smith was a hard core pro-White guy who wanted blacks on a reservation. Spencer Kimball in 1979 gave priesthood to the blacks.
    That was the end of LDS.

    Now we see little boys and girls getting hormones by MDs and then getting surgery removal of breasts and penises and so forth. And .gov is happy with that.

    Jesus would not be happy with it.
    Luke 17:2
    It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

    They were something the Mormons but now…well look at ALL Christian churches today.

  6. gregor
    Posted December 2, 2019 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    “…Tara’s arrival at BYU is the beginning of a journey toward enlightened Leftism.”

    Haha. That’s not a phrase I ever thought I’d see. Of course, these things are relative. At virtually any other school she would have received a much stronger dose of “enlightenment.”

  7. Alexandra O
    Posted December 8, 2019 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I find that most of my leftist friends (I live in California, so have few venues for social life) always conveniently blame their problems, and the problems of the country and most of the world, on the rich, rather than on themselves and their way of life. And of course, they believe that all rich people are capitalists and most are white. I am supposing they have not researched Michael Bloomberg, now an announced Democratic candidate for the presidency, who is worth $58 Billion. He has enough money for a coup d’etat. I am astounded at the unrelenting ‘blame game’ rhetoric that comes from the mouths and pens of the leftists in our midst, and how our gullible college students just uncritically lap it up. Ms. Westover is a perfect example of a puppet in their hands.

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