Despite the bad name he has with liberals these days, Jesus
did have the right idea. He�d get right down there on the street and grunt with
the people, feeling them all over and healing their boils, feeding them and
preaching his ass off while everybody hollered and saw the light as blind men
popped open their eyes and lame folks started doing the Dead Sea Macarena. No
maintaining a professional distance, no opinion polls for that guy. He just
went out there and �got �er done� in plain sight of everybody. Including the
Jewish religious mafia ands the Roman super-state thugs of the time -- which is
why he got whacked.
But he left the world impressed enough that an influential
book about his exploits is still on the best seller list today, dispelling
publishing industry wisdom that people will not read a book over 300 pages.
Jesus seems to have left no heirs to receive royalties, contrary to the
speculations of Da Vinci Code
readers, The Da Vinci Code being the
middle-class equivalent of the Left
Behind series. Anyway, Jesus ain�t on my shit list and I surely hope I am
not on his.
Two thousand years later, the public expects more from their
miracles than leprous hides instantly infused with the pink blush of health, or
Lazarus dragging his rigor mortis locked bones into a fully upright position,
then strolling off down the street as if death itself was no more than a bad
case of the flu. Computer animation rendered all that pass� decades ago, thus
we seculars remain unimpressed. A wardrobe malfunction by Mary Magdalene might
punch up the New Testament a little, but it�s never going to budge the Neilson
numbers, except at Easter and Christmas, and never going to register unless we
see it on television or in the cinema, where Jesus on a pole is acceptable,
providing he spills enough blood a la Mel Gibson while he is up there.
Call it consumer-conditioned numbness, which it is. But it is
safe to say most Americans give not a happy damn about the rest of humanity,
starving infants, the homeless and whatnot, so long as the unhygienic swarms
stay the hell out of our yards and don�t bring up that tired commie stuff about
our lifestyle being based upon armed global theft and sweatshop misery. In that
way, we all test positive for the Devil�s hickey.
Republicans may flaunt their hickeys like high school kids
in the locker room, but guilt-plagued Democrats, feeling the smart of the mark
of the beast, console themselves that they can banish it at the ballot box, if
only they close their eyes and wish upon a star. Thus their comfortable
self-delusions that the Tiger Woods of the Democratic Party, the technically
black Barack Obama, is somehow blessed with an inner moral compass lacking in
the rest of society, and, therefore, does not bear the damnable mark. Wiser
souls, aware that Obama possesses a net worth of several millions, a Harvard
law degree and a career born in that venerable political whorehouse called
Chicago, assume the Devil�s mark is probably located on his posterior where we
cannot see it.
Another political wish upon a star is that Hillary Clinton,
a woman marked by so many hickeys that she looks like a victim of massive
hemangioma -- but with botox -- will reform our brutal health care system
without pulling up her skirt for the insurance industry. Like she says, there
is �no possible governmental solution that does not include the insurance
Of course not. Industry is
our government. Our votes merely decide which industries have front spots at
the public trough for the next four to eight years. Lately it has been Big
Pharma and the credit industry, and what a run they�ve had. Mandatory mental
health screening in schools stuffs more prescription drugs into children. The
credit card industry�s new bankruptcy laws wring the last drop from consumers,
instead of giving them the fresh start our forefathers had in mind when they
established debtor�s laws. But in a new twist on incarceration, they make one�s
home the new debtor�s prison, a place where we sleep while we work off usury
interest payments on debt.
Meanwhile, out there in the vast looms of our
government-as-corporation, the fast food industry weaves the Cheeseburger Bill,
giving itself immunity to lawsuits as it fattens a nation of steers whose sole
purpose is to consume, never to be butchered, except in the wars that protect
the corporate cheeseburger. Even on the battlefront, it turns profit on
millions of burgers and fries that are served to those who fight the oil and
cheeseburger wars. American consumers watch this on TV and see it as
comfortably familiar. We cannot possibly be doing so badly in Iraq if a soldier
can get a Fishwich, a Red Bull, and a Puff Daddy CD on the battlefield. Right?
Which is true enough, if you have been conditioned to see a Fishwich and a CD
as a symbol of liberty and the utmost accomplishment of the republic -- if you
see it as �our way of life.� And indeed it is that. Oblivion with an order of
Children of the
When it comes to such oblivious pursuit after senseless
commerce, the sheer turnover of goods and consumption as happiness, we cannot
blame the Devil�s hickey entirely on capitalism. America was not even a capitalist
country during its early years, yet people still chased the same illusions. By
1848 we seem to have had the disease. Alexis de Tocqueville -- that damned guy
holds up well, doesn�t he? -- observed that Americans seemed to live for the
chase after transactions, after change, consistently throwing away satisfaction
in the process:
�In America I saw the
freest and most enlightened men, placed in circumstances the happiest to be
found in the world; yet it seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung on their
brow, and I thought them serious and almost sad even in their pleasures. Maybe
it's the price you pay for living in a society based round not happiness per
se, but its pursuit.� -- Alexis de Tocqueville
Toqueville pointed out that Americans no more than got a
nice family home built, than we turned around and immediately sold it for no
apparent reason, other than the joy of the transaction. Then they were off to
pursue some other transaction. I cannot help but think about the house I am
trying to sell right now, the fifth one I have owned and sold. It was all so
unnecessarily wasteful and destructive of creativity and thought in every way,
the home-owning lifestyle being what it is (you never own it, just rent it from
our monolithic extractive financial system.) In any case, we seem to have found
what we were pursuing -- the anesthetic of consumer capitalism. Lots of
transactions, lots of goods, with the directions for pursuit televised so we
don�t even have to get off the couch -- just lie there and watch house hunting
shows and lifestyle shows on Home and Garden Television, which are classified
as �education/learning� by the rating system.
The couch is a reasonable place to be these days, given that
there is no real work left in America for sane functioning human beings. There
is just survival (although the upper 20 percent of Americans safely isolated
from the perspiring classes seem to think they are thriving, because they more
resemble the people pictured in slick lifestyle advertisements than most
people. But it is still just a more elaborate form of survival amid the
pointless and thin joy of consumerism, and the inherent material and spiritual
wastefulness of life here in the designated global landfill of that next rising
We are nowhere near rich, we are just conditioned to buy and
throw away more expensive stuff. Not that we are entirely alone; Western
Europeans are about a gnat�s ass behind us in our wretched consumer excesses.
But not being alongside or leading the pack, they are quick to point up our
gluttony. When America�s population drops dead from morbid obesity, Europeans
will scale the mountain of our fallen porcine ranks, then jump into their newly
inherited SUVs and drive off in search of a mall. But until then, they are left
with a relatively equitable, sane society as a consolation prize, for a while
longer at least.
Here in China�s global landfill, tens of millions of
Americans are prisoners -- including me. And that is not counting the quarter
of the world�s incarcerated population who are American citizens physically
held in the US prison system. The rest of us serve a life sentence, released on
personal recognizance to pull our time in our own homes, processing goods for
the Great Asian Goods Landfill Culture, here at the end of their new globalized
Silk Road of Confucian capitalism.
At this end of the electronics Silk Road we are prisoners of
consumption, rather like those caged French geese that are force-fed corn so as
to produce fatty livers for pate. But in a marvelous marriage of psychology,
psychometric marketing and the gulag, our system imprisons its people from the
inside out. We even punish ourselves without supervision -- to doubt the system
is its own punishment, purely for the social and personal anxiety it causes.
Given enough insight, a thoughtful person can nearly question himself or
herself to death. (Does the Department of Homeland Security really need access
to my medical records and grocery receipts, or am I just paranoid? Will being
uncircumcised put me on the no-fly list?) I do it every day and so do many of
you. The system counts on that.
On the whole though, our infantilized citizenry is having
too much fun to question itself. In the drive for a harder hard-on, faster
everything, and round the clock stimulation, we have created an artificial and
frivolous citizenry, one that is incapable of serious thought or deeper humor
-- a nation of children completely happy to stay that way. America�s childish
material gratification is so grotesquely satisfying that it smothers the most
basic sort of reason, much less philosophical thinking. Fuck it all. Nietzsche
and Rimbaud are too goddamned hard to read anyway.
Beyond that, Western philosophical tradition is based on
grief and suffering. So is most great literature. I�ve never been a fan of the
Van Gogh ear school of creativity, but I have to admit that the few truly great
American writers I�ve met wrote with at least one foot planted in pain. Who
wants to read that, when entertainment of every imaginable sort sparkles in the
great hologram of our national illusion-delusion, right there for the plucking?
For that matter, who can pull themselves away from such brilliant distraction?
Not me. The only way to beat it is to leave it. Get outside the hologram.
Americans are left facing the dilemma of a senseless life of senseless work,
insensate sex, Oprah�s flaccid moralizing books, cinema as high culture, fast
food, guns and Jaaayzus. It is irrational that any culture born in the Age of
Reason would turn out to be so irrational -- so completely in unquestioned
contradiction it cannot be persuaded by argument, no matter how compelling. It
seems doubtful that reason will ever provide the answer to this dilemma. I can
tell you from experience that standing up in a KFC holding a �Buffalo Snacker�
and yelling �Do you people really eat this shit?� is not taken as a call to
reason. Meanwhile, the boys in corporate land are cooking up a thousand fresh
hells for us, including a 24/7 Pentagon TV channel and The Superbowl, KFC's new
Chicken Potato Cheese Gravy Wad o� Food -- ample proof in itself that
civilization is about done for.
I poop in a bucket . .
. and when the sun comes out I grab a shovel and bury it under the guava trees
behind my house, where fallen passion fruit litter the ground like huge yellow
Easter eggs. Poop out, passion fruit in, ancient organic system. But that
doesn�t matter. What does matter is the Idea of the Week. Every week, for
fifty-two weeks, I think about one idea. One idea that is never discussed in
American society. And the idea we need to pursue right now is: wouldn�t we get
more respect and cooperation from the rest of the world if we gave the world
food, not bombs, medicines, water purification technology, and grains? Wouldn�t
we? --Rich Zubaty, �The Rude Guy,� a homeless person living in his truck in
I am here to tell you, dear hearts, this is one ole boy who
does not intend to see the next fresh hell served up. Indeed I ain�t! Why in
the hell not turn off the television, park the car and just walk away? Why
would anyone care to remain part of such a sorry-assed system, a government of
war criminals ruling over a fearful nation of fattened livestock that probably
will not change until the economy collapses, and then only after trying to kill
half the planet in a desperate effort to preserve the Olive Garden lifestyle
and 116 cable channels?
What kind of citizenry consistently sneers at a candidate
like Kucinich who openly declares for world peace to the most militarized
nation on earth? (Hell, it�s no crime to be three feet tall.) Or stands up
against corporate ownership of our government like Nader does (It is no crime
to be smart like Nader either, just don�t be so damned smart you bore everyone
to death, like Al Gore.) Simple action is available. Non-action really. If a
quarter of Americans did not pay their bills for one month the hologram would
come crashing down. The government would either come crawling on its knees, or
expose itself for the police state it really is.
For me, salvation is at hand, as the preachers say. After
more three years of ups and downs and setbacks, I am finally off to Central
America to eat rice and beans, and to do a little more good in the world than
just process and deposit toner cartridges, beer bottles and triple AAA remote
control batteries into the landfill. And do a little writing by the sea to
boot. Perhaps I�ll be lucky enough to eventually die there and be washed out
into that great god-created soup from which life sprang. I ain't gonna kill
myself to do it, but it is the preferred scenario at this late age. I do not
expect it to change.
However, this being America, any move on the board is at a
cost. We must pay. The system makes sure of that. So I risk losing family and
social position (ha!) and an economic stake in present American society. (Which
is fine by me, but please, oh lord, don�t let the Republicans steal the Social
Security kitty too -- I can make do on half the SS I paid for and smoke
ditchweed pot, but good gin is a price stable commodity.) I�ve already thrown
away health insurance by quitting my magazine editorial job, and am happily
left to figure out how to conduct the rest of my breathing hours, no small
issue for a COPD victim such as myself. So hell, why not go to Belize? Or
Madagascar for that matter? Or sleep forever on the beach in Mexico. Sure, sun
and sand are the easy paint-by-numbers notion of paradise for Americans, but it
depends upon where said sand is located. Cancun and Aruba ain�t everybody�s
idea of heaven. Personally, I can live with a few lizards in my kitchen and the
occasional hurricane if the people around me are decent. In truth, I�ll be
thrilled pissless if this little adventure in aging lets me spend half the year
out of the country. Any escape from the hologram is an empowering thing, if you
can possibly find a hole in its shroud.
None of this requires much money by American standards -- at
least not until the dollar, in its present descent, starts hovering somewhere
next door to the Bangladeshi taka. Which appears to be sometime next week. But
when I stop to consider that it was money and the things it will buy that got
our asses in this jam to start with, well, it seems like a good idea not to
have too much of it around. So why not live on about $4,000 to $5,000 a year? I
picked the number as globally equitable, based upon the advice of a couple of
very good economists. Obviously, neither of them were American. And guess what?
They over estimated the cost of happiness, because my first choice was
squatting by the burning ghats of India. Almost no cost at all. Bring your own
firewood. Just the godhead in your eyes every waking hour. Delusional? Naw,
it�s just a matter of one�s goals and tastes. It is quite true that writers
care only for themselves and their art in the end -- especially in the end.
I�ve seen good people rendered madmen and hermits by our
system and I do know this: It will destroy me if I keep living inside its
machinery, dally too long on the landfill. It�s more than a hunch. Too many
days my nerves are shot if I think about it very long. Call me weak, but I�m
calling time out -- an end to trying to buy material security in a nation so
addicted to it there can never be enough. We all carry our own asses down the
path to the boneyard. The question is whether to drag your feet as you go, by
spending your life in meaningless employment hell just so you can have health
insurance (thereby living longer so you can spend more time in employment hell)
or jog the path. Grim as this may be to the young�uns reading, I can hear the
old fucks laughing along with me.
In any case, there are plenty of paths to the boneyard.
There are fluorescent lit fitness centers, so you can die in top condition;
there is the American �career path,� chasing the buck in harness with untold
millions so you can engorge your carcass with fine wine and cheese and have a
koa wood casket with gold fittings. Liquor is another path. For the morally and
financially challenged writer, there is the classic combination of booze,
nerves and cigarettes.
My wife�s anguished voice asks, �Why did you start smoking
again? Didn�t the doctor tell you it would kill you?� Kill me, for fuck sake?
There have been times when I asked myself how many sedatives purchased online
constitute an overdose. Looking back, I consider that progress. As Kafka said,
when you find yourself considering suicide, you are beginning to understand the
human race. And it becomes obvious that the death of one individual by smoking
pales against the mass sacrifice of 300 million American�s humanity to the post
modern god whose scripture is the spreadsheet and the P&L statement.
Ah, but this is America and every individual consumer ass is
solid gold, even if as a nation, we are a throng of numb obese killers on its
way to the gym for a workout. Has everybody lost all sense of proportion and
sheer gravity in this country? How can we continue to make jolly amid the
escalating wars and death from which we all profit? What is this? The damned
German interwar cabaret society of diversion?
Fortunately, just like everywhere else, darkness and sleep
comes to the glittering landfill, ending unpleasant arguments about smoking and
the cabaret society alike. I awoke last night to the warm odor of fluffy baby
chicks filling the bedroom. My grandfather used to raise chicks when I was six,
and by some nocturnal alchemy the long trapped childhood ecstasy of putting a
handful of them to my face in the warm brooder house came flooding back. Upon
closing my eyes again, an image of the blackish red spilled blood of a gunshot
wound puddled on a blue tile floor in some desert place. The cabaret music
rises, drowning the muffled screams from our empire�s far flung network of �black
sites,� and all those other unpleasant things that happen in the dark rippling
wake of our happiness.
Joe Bageant the author of a forthcoming book, Deer
Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for
spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the
thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found at: www.joebageant.com. Feel free to contact
him at email@example.com.