I would call most of what I do on this blog ‘commenting’ – I have a look at what people are saying and doing, and talk about how I think it’s good or bad for America. I like to play the Devil’s Advocate, questioning concepts that we take for granted, looking at the bad ideas that are often floating around, extending them out to their often frightening logical conclusions, wondering aloud how our society could be better if we could just break out of lazy, routine habits of thought. I do not believe that our future as a nation has already been decided by an all-knowing deity somewhere at the center of the cosmos; we, ourselves, will decide our own future, either through purposeful action or blind inaction, for good or ill.
Sometimes, however, while looking for something germane on which to comment, I encounter a real prophet. In doing some research about Scots-Irish immigration to America, I ran across an irreverent essay written by Joe Bageant, How the Scots Irish Screwed Up America. That’s actually the subtitle; I’ll warn gentle readers that the main title might offend. Bageant’s writings show an understanding of the plight of the used-to-be middle class better than other I’ve read. Here’s an excerpt from his essay Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball that truly explains our economic problems today:
“As an Anglo European white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age, as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot. Yes, we have lived, and still live, extravagant lifestyles far above the rest of you. And so, my sincere thanks to all of you folks around the world working in sweatshops, or living on two bucks a day, even though you sit on vast oil deposits. And to those outside my window here in Mexico this morning, the two guys pruning the retired gringo’s hedges with what look like pocket knives, I say, keep up the good work. It’s the world’s cheap labor guys like you — the black, brown and yellow folks who take it up the shorts — who make capitalism look like it actually works. So keep on humping. Remember: We’ve got predator drones….
Capitalism is about one thing: aggregating the surplus productive value of the public for private interests. As we have said, it is about creating state sanctioned “investments” for the workers who produce the real wealth. Things like home “ownership” and mortgages, or stock investments and funds to absorb their retirement savings. That crushing 30-year mortgage with two refis is an investment. So is that 401K melting like a snow cone (on) the beach.
As the people’s wealth accumulates, it is steadily siphoned off by government and elite private forces. From time to time, it is openly plundered for their benefit by way of various bubbles, depressions or recessions and other forms of theft passed off as unavoidable acts of nature/god. These periodic raids and draw downs of the people’s wealth are attributed to “business cycles.” Past periodic raids and thefts are heralded as being proof of the rationale. “See folks, it comes and goes, so it’s a cycle!” Economic raids and busts become “market adjustments.” Public blackmail and plundering through bailouts become a “necessary rescue packages.” Giveaways to corporations under the guise of public works and creating employment become “stimulus.” The chief responsibility of economists is to name things in accordance with government and corporate interests. The function of the public is to acquire debt and maintain “consumer confidence.” When the public staggers to its feet again and manages to carry more debt, buy more poker chips on credit to play again, it’s called a recovery. They are back in the game.
Dealer, hit me with two more cards. I feel lucky….”
Unfortunately, Joe passed away in March, 2011, so his prophecies have come to an end. I am enjoying the work he left behind little bits at a time so that I can savor every word. If you haven’t yet read Deer Hunting with Jesus, grab a copy; he really understands what makes America’s white underclass tick.
Still alive and kicking – and seemingly as mad as a hornet – is another doomsday prophet, James Howard Kunstler. Where Bageant seems annoyed, Kunstler is truly pissed off. And, like any good prophet, he predicts a host of calamities that will soon beset the world order as we know it. If you want to know how 2014 is going to turn out, have a look at a Burning Down the House, a recent post on his blog, the title of which, once again, may offend the gentle reader. Here’s a sampling of some of his least frightening observations:
“Sorry to skip around, but a few stray words about the state of American culture. Outside the capitals of the “one percent” — Manhattan, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, etc. — American material culture is in spectacular disrepair. Car culture and chain store tyranny have destroyed the physical fabric of our communities and wrecked social relations. These days, a successful Main Street is one that has a wig shop and a check-cashing office. It is sickening to see what we have become. Our popular entertainments are just what you would design to produce a programmed population of criminals and sex offenders. The spectacle of the way our people look —overfed, tattooed, pierced, clothed in the raiment of clowns — suggests an end-of-empire zeitgeist more disturbing than a Fellini movie. The fact is, it simply mirrors the way we act, our gross, barbaric collective demeanor. A walk down any airport concourse makes the Barnum & Bailey freak shows of yore look quaint. In short, the rot throughout our national life is so conspicuous that a fair assessment would be that we are a wicked people who deserve to be punished.”
Old Testament doomsayers such as Ezekiel or Nehemiah could hardly have said it any better. Is anyone paying attention?
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Also, check out my newest blog – nevercomingback – for tales from my travels abroad.