Monday, September 1, 2008

The system is the problem, it's rigged - Joe Bageant

Photo from: HT Neighbors

A letter to and response from Joe Bageant


Reading the letter "What will America look like in two years" evoked a memory of what America looked like to me two years ago.

At the checkout of grocery store in the US, I came across a food bin by the door, collecting food for children. For children! My being appalled bemused my American born and reared cousin. As I explained to my cousin, in my sheltered life, living on the two relatively wealthy continents of Europe and Australia, I had only ever seen something like that once before. The bin I had formerly encountered collected food ... for dogs.

When I relayed this to my cousin, she pointed out that Americans expect parents to look after their children. I got cranky at this point and snapped, "So you let starve children to teach them to have better parents?" Normally with any contentious issue she would argue the toss or concede the point, but this time she didn't do either. She said nothing. Her eyes glazed over.

Is that survival in a totalist state?

We anglosphere outsiders tend to shrug off this sort of thing with a sardonic, 'Only in America.' A few of us fear we are not that far behind our American cousins.

When people ask me what I thought of America, the phrase 'bloody awful' is never far from my lips. I am not anti-American but the image of a place that begrudges feeding it's children's saddens me immensely.




It's things such as you pointed out that chill me to the bone regarding my country. It really makes me want to cry. And I see dozens of such examples social callousness and mean spiritedness as I walk around in everyday America. Most of them are right up there with that of Nazi Germany (actually, Hitler's regime treated Germans better) and the Spartans, who are much admired in America for their war making skills, mostly on the grounds of what the military class was willing to suffer.

What makes it so chilling is that if you point these things out to most Americans, one of two things will happen. Either they will give you a blank look of incomprehension (they see you as weird) or they will leap to the defense of America with some ideological piece of shit that sounds perfectly reasonable to them because of their life-long indoctrination.

I've been stuck in the States for a while now due to business. And I find myself pretty much staying at home, avoiding social gatherings and shopping altogether. Both activities put my ability to keep my mouth shut to the test, and I always fail. Sometimes I pause and doubt my own sanity, just as I did before I left for Belize. After all, man is a mimicking animal and society is basically a consensus based reality. And this sort of social cruelty is the consensus established norm. Despite what the American left believes, we cannot blame politicians and corporations for everything. At some point waaaaay back there it was our human and social responsibility to stand up, throw ourselves "onto the wheels of the machine," as Mario Savio put it forty years ago. And we did not. Instead we allowed and continue to allow the persecution of those who did or still do. And on and on it goes. Forty-five years after Allen Ginsberg wrote "Howl" I am still seeing the best minds of my generation sobbing on the madhouse steps. Seeing them be medicated, lose marriages, rant on the Internet for years, then give up hope. It's like screaming into a vacuum. You mouth moves but the somnambulant crowd passes silently by in oblivion.

I do speaking engagements and radio interviews when I am here. And I find that I must tone down the truth into something that fits into the consensus reality, even when speaking to lefty crowds. I have to pretend more or less that I think it can be fixed, that some politician can be elected who will turn around 200 years of observable social trajectory. People say, "Well, at least some people are trying to fix the problem from within the system. And I want to scream: THE SYSTEM IS THE PROBLEM! IT'S RIGGED, YOU DUMB FUCKERS!

I wish I could at least call this denial. But if people are incapable of even perceiving the facts because of state conditioning, serving up the facts is useless. Which is why all that powerful truth out there on the net has no real effect. It exists outside our indoctrination's reference framework. Therefore it does not exist. What exists is the system. The ward on which we all live and secretly fear Nurse Ratchett. But it is still the system and the U.S. is still a ward in which the citizen patients are carefully observed and managed to best result for the corporate state. Best result meaning economical producers and consumers for (allegedly) free market capitalism. And every patient and affinity group has a cherished unreality which allows them to live in denial. For instance, there is the cherished notion among liberal and left leaning Americans that all this is recent, and sprang up simply because George Bush was elected. I don't think so friends. No one man can establish cruelty in 300 million people in eight years. He can only heighten it by squeezing the people harder, encouraging fear and alienation and coldness of spirit.

How much more time the American people can muddle along, the muddle slowly becoming an even more mindless slog toward the unthinkable? My guess is until we hit that economic and ecological wall we are careening toward. In which case we will start killing anybody in the way of arbitrary conquest of resources in the age of peak everything. Even people who understand what is coming are hedging their bets -- as in, "Well, I won't be around when it all comes down." Or "I can make enough money to be in a safe place when the shit hits the fan." Or simply "America right or wrong."

In any case, I seldom met an American who grasps the full scope of our aberration as a nation (which requires standing back and simply watching observable and obvious symptoms). And when I do it is always over the Internet.

Now I have met another one. Thank you for writing.

In art and labor,




  1. This photo you have used here is the best I have ever seen depicting the homeless. It has also been utilized on websites from Australia to Amarillo, TX - and no telling how many others. The photo is copyrighted and you really should seek permission from the copyright holder of photos, before helping yourself to them. I know, because I took this photo in San Francisco, back in the late 1980s and while I have no objection to your utilizing it on your website, it would certainly have been nice to have a request ahead of time. I have allowed the use of my photos many times for use on various websites -(usually free of charge, I might add.) Not only is it the most ethical and the right thing to do - I like to share the info about my photos with friends and family. I also prefer to have my website published along with my photos on the web - - exposure, you know. Thanks.

    - HT

  2. Please accept my sincerest apology for the lack of credit to you. I don't recall where I came across the photo but I could have checked the properties to see.

    I will remove it if you wish. Perhaps you could give me permission to repost this photo at a later date with due credit to you.

    In any case, it is a great photo and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.