Sunday, August 24, 2008

What will America look like in two years? - Joe Bageant

A letter to and response from Joe Bageant


In "Life in the Post Political Age" posted on your web site, the anonymous political consultant wrote:

"His very presence, the color of his skin, the very strangeness of his name is the best guarantee of his betrayal of the expectations of the constituencies that will vote to elect him. Barack Obama is in short order a far more reassuring prospect for the continued dominance of the financial elite than another four years of neo-conservative rule which in an almost historically unique combination of greed, ill will, incompetence and stupidity have brought the country to the edge of disaster."

OK Joe, broadly I agree. I suspect McCain is going to win anyway, so can I invite you to write up what America will look like two years from now on the other side of the disaster's edge?


Oxford, UK



I can tell you a few conclusions at which I have arrived (without going into the years long process by which I arrived at them):

America is now a totalist state. This seems not so apparent because of the glossy "commercial skin" over everything. Shining goods, much meaningless commercial activity, the energy of every able person dedicated to profit making activity in the name of "the economy," which has become god, yet no one can define it except in the language of Wall Street and the stock market -- a faceless god in itself. Interestingly, the stock market goes up when people are paid less or more people are unemployed, etc., yet people have accepted its terms as the definition of their well being.

The rise of this state has required increased police forces and heavy-handed enforcement, thus we hold one-quarter of the world's prison population, though we are only six percent of the earth's population.

The elections are an illusion. A totalitarian state loves nothing more than elections, which gives the illusion of choice on the part of the people. The people, after so many generations of this illusory choice, believe it themselves.

America is already a second world nation, but the aforementioned shiny commercial skin and charming digital gizmos leads the citizenry to believe otherwise. No health care, no guarantee of anything really, except competitive struggle with one another for work and money.

Americans are presently comfortable because we have always been very materialistic from the beginning. And so comfort and goods have always trumped thought and morality. But now that natural resources are being heavily stressed globally, we are left without enough concern for the common good to save ourselves as a unified entity. The problem with American style democracy is that it is all well and good to say, "I owe no man anything. And no man owes me. I am free unto myself." And, unfortunately, alone. No grasp of the common weal. And so we are left to depend entirely upon the state to do everything man does collectively, while we are each left to seek out the latest personal comfort or amusement.

Neither comfort nor amusement are boundless. And never do they replace or fulfill the moral and philosophical.

There is indeed a sort of unease. But not nearly so much as you might think. And that unease is inchoate because the language needed to describe its causes has vanished into, or been neutralized by the state's economic consumer culture. There is almost no discussion of the meaning of anything, just the emotionalism managed by politics, marketing, etc.

And so the big "debate" about Obama vs McCain is really an emotionally based one of "good guy" vs "bad guy" dressed up in non-issues. The real issues are of course, global, ecological, population, etc. But the capitalists who sponsor all the candidates can never respond to the disappearance of fundamental resources underlying American comfort (the extravagantly wasteful but profitable lifestyle.) The notion of an inexhaustible world of resources is central to the idea of constant "economic growth" upon which capitalism is founded.

The American economy will at some point collapse completely. Americans cannot believe that is possible. In fact, they think a devaluation of currency means total collapse. Yet you Brits have experienced at least one in my lifetime -- and you are still doing OK. No American believes such a things can happen here. Despite the nearly one million home foreclosures underway, each believes it cannot happen to him. (Remember, he owes no man and no man owes him. Those who lose their homes are not his concern.)

It's going to take what most people outside the US would consider a ridiculous level of disaster before most Americans understand that something is deeply wrong with the trajectory of their nation. Personally, I think we are years away from that realization -- decades away if we can steal enough oil and keep printing enough fiat currency to keep the public fooled.

No candidate is going to deal with any of these larger things because:
1. It is political suicide to even mention them.
2. There is no commonly accessible language in which to publicly discuss real and very serious weaknesses in the American system. There isn't even an opposition party, just one party. The party of business, wearing two masks.

Even the best of humans here are left with only the illusion of a humane candidate -- Obama. He has become a cult figure, a messiah to some, merely because they know that at least he will not attack other nations without reasonable provocation. And that, my friend, is a sad state of affairs. Choosing a president simply because he is not a cold blooded killer. Of course, there is an equal number who would choose a candidate because he IS a cold killer -- it makes them feel safer.

Meanwhile, I am of the same camp as the rest of Americans. It's still quite a comfortable place to live -- if you don't mind living in a police state, living a life with only two parts, the inside of your house and the inside of your assigned workplace. I am stuck here in the US for a while on book business, Fortunately, when I am here I tend to be satisfied with alcohol and television, so at this particular moment I have no complaints. I am truly an American.

In art and labor,



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