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Middle Class Lockdown

By Joe Bageant  Posted by 2LT Morrisseau (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 2 of 2 pages)
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Now making complicated plans just to croak has always seemed rather
excessive to me. Millions manage to do it without much planning or
the need for highly paid experts. I don't care about financial
planners or plans for elder care and such crap in my old age. I'm
willing to die wretchedly and maybe even unnecessarily, if doing it
the right way means blowing a couple hundred thousand dollars I do
not have to buy few extra months drooling and talking out of one side
of my mouth following that stroke I so richly deserve, given my
debauched life. To hell with health care as we know it in America,
which is to say as a tool used to blackmail every working person in
this country. Better to work less, own less and escape the plague of

You would think owning jack sh*t and expecting nothing would allow a
guy slightly more freedom from toil, would you not? Yet, even though
I never wish to own a car again, or ever own another house, don't
care about clothes, could easily live on grains, fruits and
vegetables, and am willing to work maybe 20 hours a week at some
mindless occupation so long as it does not contribute to the world's
misery and doesn't require heavy lifting or good memory, and willing
to live in the tiniest of rooms, it's still impossible to do so
inside this nation, once you've signed the middle class blood oath.
Even if I managed to talk my wife into such a life, this is the one
thing I am not free to do in the good old land of the free. In this
country, buster, you keep paying the going rate, even if you don't
care about going. Like the Cajuns say, you will know when you are
dead because the bills will quit coming in.

And so about a year or so ago I swore in print and on the net that I
was going to buy a cottage in some warm and simpler place abroad.
Someplace VERY cheap that I can go and write and make music with
these hands and this tired but willing voice. And I am getting closer
to that goal, despite the blackmailers. For starters, I have gotten
over the American fetish of ownership -- I can rent a place from some
deserving poor native family who needs the income. Maybe build an
addition onto their house for them for free. Maybe we can go into
business together, a small bodega on a dusty street, mango stand,
take in laundry or whatever. I will be the old white guy who lives in
the back room, plays banjo and guitar and writes. This is the one
promise I intended to keep to myself. I still do.

But I never in my life imagined it would be so hard to escape the
various American forms of institutionalized extortion and blackmail.
Becoming debt free was the least of it. And having everyone you know
and love believe your have slipped your moorings is just the
beginning. Meanwhile, you become a Kafkaesque character wondering if
you've gone nuts, as you simmer in the ambient wrongness pervading
American society and watch the futility of our vast life-consuming
program of intense management and control of everything, the money,
the bombs, the roads, the retirement fund, the communications, the
propaganda, the entire buzzing tower of bullshit so massive as to
make Babel look like a chicken coop. And you ask every passing
stranger in the shopping mall "Is all this f*cking necessary?" Only
to discover that you are in an isolation chamber, a vacuum, a void in
which no one can hear your voice at all. They are sleepwalking. They
are shopping. Shhhh ...

The loss of our human kinship identities has left us to define
ourselves by what we own, where we live or what sports teams we
support. But even more insidiously, our lost stories of community and
kinship are replaced by the work of unseen professionals over the
distant horizon. TV and movie producers, the news media and
educational establishment. They provide the answer to the most
important spiritual kinship and identity question we will ever ask
ourselves: Who are my people? Some of the worst people on the planet
are ready to answer that question for us in a way that serves their
own ends. They stand ready to answer other questions too, such as,
where did we come from? Why are we here? They are the cadre of
empire's paid professionals who write the history and the news
stories that fill the deep need for a "story of the people." The most
horrific events of history have nearly always been set in motion by
manipulation of this national story.

After a while, it does not matter that the story was manipulated.
Deep need for a national story drives most to come to love and accept
the story over time. It is the only one they have. And if the story
is sufficiently intolerant and mean, we don't care about Iraqi
deaths. And we come to love empire and capitalism. Beyond that, many
would have become bullies anyway, without any help from the national
storyline. They don't value democracy, or the ecology or liberty, but
they do believe in authority and discipline. Aw come on! It ain't
just Dick Cheney and his pet president Sparky doing all this. At
least half the country is loving the queer bashing and the bombing
and the god rhetoric. We should quit pretending that a very large
portion of Americans are not degraded human beings. They are.
Skeptics are welcome to visit me here in the armed and inbred
environs of Winchester, Virginia. It no longer matters what or who
degraded them. Much time has passed and this is how many Americans
have become. Fundamentalist cults abound, both religious and
economic. Millions upon millions of Christians live in hermetic
worlds of their own, with their own books stores, schools, media.
Millions of middle class Americans both conservative and liberal live
in suburbs and condos and brownstone row houses completely surrounded
by their own kind, all of them worshippers in the American value
cult, commodity fetishists. They are differentiated mainly in their
own minds and the narratives they have made up for themselves. And of
course in their consumption.
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After 35 years of inattention to these not-so-nice Americans among us
(in another time they would have been called fascists, but now they
are considered merely a political "base," which is in itself a
strange sort of national acceptance of cruelty as part of the
national character) we are now watching them consolidate power. For
the time being they control the presidency, the Congress, the media,
the Supreme Court, the federal courts, most governorships, and most
state legislatures. And if their manipulation of congressional
districts stays put they could feasibly stay in power indefinitely.
Do these people, this half of our population which cheers on
unprovoked wars abroad, spying on the citizenry and demonizing of the
poor truly hate democracy? f*ck if I know. But after generations of
brainwashing and psychological molding and exploitation of their
fears, I suspect they never really knew what democracy was.

If anyone is going to turn the ship of the republic around, put us on
a course more in the direction of liberty and openness, it will
require the navigational help of those among us who can still
remember what it was like before totalistic capitalism took such
grip. People who can remember that genuine good will and intent were
once alive in the hearts of most people even if never in the halls of
Congress. Remember when at least some human and social progress was
evident around us, thereby giving reason to hope.

And these sorts of people are indeed still with us, though quiet,
perhaps out of insecurity. Only last Saturday I saw them at the Jiffy
Lube. Sitting in the waiting room with our little Jiffy Lube paper
coffee cups, waiting for our cars to be finished, we were watching on
CNN the placement of the casket of Coretta Scott King in the rotunda
of the Georgia State Capitol. To my right there was the huge black
lady with corn rows and two bright eyed children hanging on her
ankles. There was the thin young 30-something half-black dude who had
just got off his cell to his wife (Yeah honey, it's on CNN. Bye.)
There was the very straight suburban blonde yuppie woman with her
sculpted pony tail sticking through the back of her aubergine Eddie
Bauer ball cap. And as those Georgia state troopers on CNN, looking
so much like the very same kind who once struck fear into the Martins
and the Medgars of the South, were climbing those marble stairs under
the gray February Georgia sky, one step at a time, then a pause, then
one more step ... There was not a dry eye a dry eye in that Jiffy
Lube waiting room. It was not just the cheap emotionalism of
televised pandering. Everyone there remembered, by God! Remembered or
found reason to believe in, an America that at one moment in history
at least, rose from its stupor to struggle forward toward something
higher. Something better. And yes, noble even.

And when I was finished blubbering inside, I thought to myself,
"Well, that small room in St. Kitts, or the tarpon fishing in Belize,
they can probably wait one more year."

Email Joe Bageant at joebageant@joebageant.com

Copyright 2005 by Joe Bageant
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