Occupy protesters in a sit-down protest in solidarity with a general strike in Spain. (Photo from OccupyWallSt.org)
Although I have resided in New York City for many years, I was born in the Deep South. On a daily basis, I negotiate Manhattan's gridded streets and avenues; yet, in many ways, the terrain of my heart still winds like an Indian trail through a pine forest. I visit the South on a regular basis; the stain of red clay will never be scoured from my soul.
To this day, I retain close ties to a number of Southern friends and contacts who did not venture far from home. As the years trundled on, I've witnessed the quality of life and emotional well-being of these friends, hailing from both laboring and middle-class origins, experience a steep, accelerating decline.
I've gazed upon the tormented faces of men I know, now deep in middle age, who are facing the prospect of never again holding a steady job that affords them a sense of dignity. As a consequence, all too many of these men -- men who I thought I knew well -- have been rendered sullen, spiteful, and, much to my heart's duress, an unreachable shell of their former self.
As their economic prospects diminished, their denial and displaced rage grew malignant. In the case of a couple of my friends, their resistance to reality became so vast, toxic, and all-encompassing that any attempt at dialog proved prohibitive.
Emblematic of this situation is my strained-to-the-limit friendship with Vince (not his real name) who, due to the carnage inflicted on the U.S. laboring class by so-called free market "values," has been chronically under or unemployed since the Wall Street bankster-perpetrated crash of late 2008.
Yet Vince remains stubborn in his refusal to connect his dismal plight with the reality-resistant political notions he clutches. To this day, he describes himself as a "conservative libertarian -- a proud believer in the values of the free market." This conviction, coming from a member of the laboring class, is analogous to a slave proclaiming he is a believer in the auction block and the verities of his master's whip.
Worse, as the day-to-day humiliations exacted by the corporate state continue to inflict deeper, more emotionally debilitating wounds, the more Vince reacts like a wounded animal ... lashing out at all but those who bestow him with the palliative of right-wing demagogic lies that distort the source of his suffering by means of directing his rage at a host of scapegoats i.e., phantom socialists (and, of course, their OWS dirty hippie dupes) whose schemes, he insists, have denied him his rightful place among the serried ranks of capitalism's legion of winners.
My apologies to Vince and all of his like-minded brethren of my native region: Although we rose from the same Southern soil, I've never had a knack for telling reassuring lies ... for conjuring the sort of displaced emotional resentments and engaging in the brand of bigot-whispering that is the stock and trade of contemporary red-state conservatives.
Conversely, I have shown some promise in encouraging people to embrace the reality of their circumstances, and passing on the hopeful news that they are stronger than they know. ... Withal, the act of carrying the burden of denial in a marathon flight from feelings of angst and despair is the force that exhausts one's energy and demoralizes one's spirit.
This is why such a large number of those whose lives have been degraded by the deprivations of the present economic order will not focus their anger at Wall Street grifters: If capitalism, by the very nature of the system, allows a swindlers' class to not only legally exist -- but to thrive -- then it follows that there must be something flawed about the nature of capitalism itself.
Accordingly, a depressing revelation waits at the margins of Vince's (and other downtrodden true believers in the existence of free-market fairy dust) sense of awareness: that the energies of one's life have been devoted to the maintenance of an elaborate lie; not only have your labors been for naught -- but your sacrosanct convictions have laid the groundwork for the crime that was committed against you. You have spent your life as an accessory to your own robbery.
Your faith in capitalism has left you in a similar position to the followers of a fanatical cult who were instructed to stand upon an isolated hilltop, so that, at midnight, as prophesied by their charismatic leader, their ranks will be lifted to heaven upon chariots of glinting gold " but who now stand stoop-shouldered before the breaking dawn, shivering into the cold light of day.
Rather than admit error, one's pride can compel one to blame phantom enemies for humiliating circumstances. Thus, as Vince's prospects shrank, his gun collection grew to mini-armory proportions.
Perhaps, he believes the weapon's heft in his hands will stem the inexorable drift of his life into purposelessness; perhaps, his firearms will bestow a sense of security, in a life buffeted by uncertainty; perhaps, if he squints down the site of his rifle long enough, he can target the phantoms that made off with his hopes.