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Thread: America: Y ur peeps b so dum?

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    America: Y ur peeps b so dum?

    Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga
    By Joe Bageant

    Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico - If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

    One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? That wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

    But a more reasonable explanation is that, (A) we don't even know we are doing it, and (B) we cling to institutions dedicated to making sure we never find out.

    As William Edwards Deming famously demonstrated, no system can understand itself, and why it does what it does, including the American social system. Not knowing shit about why your society does what it makes for a pretty nasty case of existential unease. So we create institutions whose function is to pretend to know, which makes everyone feel better. Unfortunately, it also makes the savviest among us -- those elites who run the institutions -- very rich, or safe from the vicissitudes that buffet the rest of us.

    Directly or indirectly, they understand that the real function of American social institutions is to justify, rationalize and hide the true purpose of cultural behavior from the lumpenproletariat, and to shape that behavior to the benefit of the institution's members. "Hey, they're a lump. Whaddya expect us to do?"

    One would have thought the sheer volume of available facts in the digital information age would produce informed Americans. The Founders of the republic, steeped in the Enlightenment as they were, and believers in an informed citizenry being vital to freedom and democracy, would be delirious with joy at the prospect. Imagine Jefferson and Franklin high on Google.

    The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of cherry picking the blogs and TV channels to reinforce their particular branded choice cultural ignorance, consumer, scientific or political, but especially political. In a nation that equates democracy with everyman's right to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous, this was probably inevitable. After all, dumb people choose dumb stuff. That's why they are called dumb.

    But throw in sixty years of television's mind puddling effects, and you end up with 24 million Americans watching Bristol Palin thrashing around on Dancing with the Stars, then watch her being interviewed with all seriousness on the networks as major news. The inescapable conclusion of half of heartland America is that her mama must certainly be presidential material, even if Bristol cannot dance. It ain't a pretty picture out there in Chattanooga and Keokuk.

    The other half, the liberal half, concludes that Bristol's bad dancing is part of her spawn-of-the-Devil mama's plan to take over the country, and make millions in the process, not to mention make Tina Fey and Jon Stewart richer than they already are. That's a tall order for a squirrel brained woman who recently asked a black president to "refutiate" the NAACP (though I kinda like refutiate, myself). Cultural stupidity accounts for virtually every aspect of Sarah Palin, both as a person and a political icon. Which, come to think of it, may be a pretty good reason not to "misunderstimate" her.

    Cultural stupidity might not be so bad, were it not self-reproducing and viral, and prone to place stupid people in charge. All of us have, at some point, looked at a boss and asked ourselves how such a numb-nuts could end up in charge of the joint.

    Cultural ignorance of one sort or another is sustained and nurtured in all societies to some degree, because the majority gains material benefit from maintaining it. Americans, for example, reap huge on-the-ground benefits from cultural ignorance -- especially the middle class Babbitry -- from cultural ignorance generated by American hyper-capitalism in the form of junk affluence.

    Purposeful ignorance allows us to enjoy cheaper commodities produced through slave labor, both foreign, and increasingly, domestic, and yet "thank god for his bounty" in the nation's churches without a trace of guilt or irony. It allows strong arm theft of weaker nations' resources and goods, to say nothing of the destructiveness of late stage capitalism -- using up exhausting every planetary resource that sustains human life.

    The American defense, on those rare occasions when one is offered, runs roughly, "Well you commie bastard, I ain't ever seen a sweatshop and I got no Asian kids chained in the basement. So I've got what the guvment calls plausible deniability. Go fuck yerself!"

    Uh, don't look now, but the banksters own your ass, your country has become a work gulag/police state and the most of the world hates you.

    Primary truths elude us because of the junk affluence and propaganda. We get buried under a deluge of commodities that suggest we are all rich, or at least richer than most of the world. A mountain range of cheap shoes, cars, iPods, ridiculous amounts of available foodstuffs, and the entire spectacle of engorgement defines, and is enforced as, "quality of life" under materialistic commodities capitalism. The goods we have in our clutches trump the philosophical, or even the most practical considerations. "I may die early eating unidentified beef byproducts soaked in waste chemicals, but I'll die owning a 65-inch HDTV and a new five speed automatic Dodge Durango with a 5.7 L Hemi V8 under the hood!"

    The "American Lifestyle," increasingly suspect as it is these days, is heavily soldiered and policed in the name of keeping we self-defined lotus eaters safe and secure from a jealous outside world. Which according to cultural consensus is a world that is at this very moment is stuffing its under drawers with explosives and buying plane tickets to Moline. Cultural ignorance dictates that the best way to stop foreign terrorists flying into the country is by humiliating American citizens flying out of the country. Go ahead, grope me, X-ray my dick and for god sake don't let anyone bring a large bottle of shampoo on board. In an obedient, authority worshipping police state, physical insult and surveillance are proof of safety.

    It's profitable too, and not just for scanner manufacturers. The brouhaha over body scanners and crotch groping provide media with titillating fuel for ratings, thereby driving up TV advertising rates, which is passed on in the price of products we buy. So we pay to be insulted, have the hell scared out of us, and to unknowingly have our behavior shaped. Under American style capitalism, this mobius strip of cultural ignorance is called a win-win situation for everybody.

    This also conveniently distracts us from the everyday human insult we practice on one another, as a result of state manufactured cultural misinformation -- fear. Ten years of orange alerts and post 9/11 fear mongering have led us to draw some paradoxical cultural conclusions.

    Let us briefly careen off into one of these paradoxes. For instance, that we can taser our way to domestic security and tranquility. Yes, it's ugly business, but tasing the citizenry must be done. And besides, in these days of high unemployment, it's a paycheck for somebody -- usually, the guy who sat behind us in grade school happily eating chalk.

    With taser packing police officers in thousands of schools, even grade schools (a weird enough cultural statement to begin with -- needless to say, the resulting deaths and injuries of school kids have personal injury lawyers shouting eureka and contemplating new recreational sail craft moored at Martha's Vineyard. Such are the rewards of righteous works through cult-ig.

    In any case, the chance at a juicy lawsuit is accepted as a satisfactory offset to any screaming and writing in our school hallways. What are 50,000 volts and a little nerve damage, compared to a shot at paying off the credit cards, upgrading the family ride, and maybe remodeling the kitchen too?

    But we gotta stick to the subject of cultural ignorance here, mainly because I wrote the title first and am determined to maintain some illusion of a theme here, or at least bullshit the reader into thinking that I have.

    The truth is that we live in a society which sanctions semi-electrocution of its own children on the grounds that it is not fatal, and therefore not true electrocution. It springs from the same streak of cultural cruelty that deems semi-drowning by water boarding not to be torture because it is seldom fatal.

    This is not to be uncharitable to American communities willing to pony up tax money for school tasers. They've amply demonstrated their affectionate commitment to their children by bringing creationism and pizza-for-breakfast into the schools. But there remains the question, "What kind of community comes up with the idea of tasering its own children?"

    Cyberspace by nature feels very big from the inside, and its affinity groups, seeing themselves in aggregate and in mutual self reference, imagine their role bigger and more effective than it is. From within the highly directed, technologically administrated, marketed-to and propagandized rat cage called America, this is all but impossible to comprehend. Especially when corporate owned media tells us it is.

    Take the world recent shaking WikiLeak's "revelations" of Washington's petty misery and drivel, which are scarcely revelations, just more extensive details about what we all already knew. Come on now, is it a revelation that Karzai and his entire government is a nest of fraudulent double-crossing thieves? Or that the US is duplicitous? Or that Angela Merkel is dull? The main revelation in the WikiLeaks affair was the U.S. government's response -- which was to bring US freedom of speech policy firmly in line with China's. Millions of us in cyber ghettoes saw it coming, but our alarm warnings were shouted inside a cyberspace vacuum bell jar.

    The WikiLeaks affair is surely seismic to those whose asses ride on the elite diplomatic intrigues. But in the big picture it will not change the way the top lizards in global politics, money and war have done business since the feudal age -- which is to say with arrogant disregard for the rest of us. Theirs is an ancient system of human dominance that only shifts names and methodologies over the centuries. Two years from now, little will have changed in the old, old story of the powerful few over the powerless many. In this overarching drama, Obama, Hillary and Julian Assange are passing players. Watching the sweaty, fetid machinations of our overlords with such passionate involvement only keeps us from seeing the big picture -- that they are the players and we are the pawns.

    Still, I for one am in favor of giving Assange the Médaille militaire, the Noble Prize, 15 virgins in paradise and a billion in cash as a reward for his courage in doing damned well the only significant thing that can be done at this time -- momentarily fucking up government control of information. But "potentially stimulating a new age of U.S. government transparency," (BBC) it ain't."

    Which brings us to back to the question of cultural ignorance. For ten points, why was Julian Assange forced to do what the world press was supposed to be doing in the first place?

    Bulletin: PayPal has caved to government pressure to pull WikiLeak's PayPal account for contributions. However, the feds generously let PayPal keep its porn and prostitution clients.

    In the historical view, cultural ignorance is more than the absence of knowledge. It is also the result of long term cultural and political struggle. Since the industrial revolution, the struggle has been between capital and workers. Capital won in America and spread its successful tactics worldwide. Now we watch global capitalism wreck the world and attempt to stay ahead of that wreckage clutching its profits. A subservient world kneels before it, praying that planet destroying jobs will fall their way. Will unrestrained global capitalism, with all the power and momentum on its side and motivated purely by machinelike harvesting of profits, reduce the faceless masses in its path to slavery? Does a duck shit in a pond?

    Meanwhile, here we are, American riders on the short bus, barreling into the Grand Canyon. With typical American gunpoint optimism, we've convinced ourselves we're in an airplane. A few smarter kids in the back whisper about hijacking and turning the bus around. But the security cop riding shotgun just strokes his taser and smiles. Not that yours truly has the ass to take on the security surveillance state. Hell no. I jumped out the window when the bus shot past Mexico.

    Shy of open insurrection, a nationwide refusal to pay income taxes would certainly shake things up. But broader America is happy in the sense they know happiness as an undisturbed regimen of toil, stress and commodity consumption. Despite the way it looks in the news, most Americans remain untouched by foreclosure, bankruptcy and unemployment. So risking loss of their work-buy-sleep cycle in an insurrection looks to be sheer lunacy to them. Like cows, they are kept comfortable in the pure animal sense to be milked for profit. Animal comfort kills all thoughts of revolution. Hell, half of mankind would be thrilled with the average American's present material situation.

    Once unencumbered by self-induced and manufactured cultural ignorance, it becomes clear that politics worldwide is entirely about money, power and national mythology, with or without some degree of human rights. America still has all of the above to one degree or another. Yet for all practical purposes, such as advancing the freedom and the well being of its own people, the American republic has collapsed.

    Of course, there is still money to be made by the already rich. So the million or so people who own the country and the government use their control to convince us that there is no collapse, just economic and political problems that need to be solved. Naturally, they are willing to do that for us. Consequently, the economy is discussed in political terms, because the government is the only body with the power to legislate, and therefore render the will of the owning class into law.

    But politics and money are never going to fill what is essentially a public vacuum that is moral, philosophical and spiritual. (The latter was instantly recognized by fundamentalist Christians, disfigured by cultural ignorance, as they may be.) Not many ordinary Americans talk about this vacuum. The required spiritual and philosophical language has been successfully purged by newspeak, popular culture, a human regimentation process masquerading as a national educational system, and the ruthlessness of everyday competition, which leaves no time to contemplate anything.

    Still, the void, the meaninglessness of ordinary work and the emptiness of daily life scares thinking citizens shitless, with its many unspeakables, spy cams, security state pronouncements, citizens being economically disappeared, and general back-of-the-mind unease. Capitalism's faceless machinery has colonized our very souls. If the political was not personal to begin with, it's personal now.

    Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe the best we can do is to find the personal strength to endure and go forward on lonely inner plains of the self.

    Doing either will take inner moral, spiritual and intellectual liberation. It all depends on where you choose to fight your battle. Or if you even choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.

    http://www.joebageant.com

  2. #2
    Ridin Dirty dom's Avatar
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    That was one of the best write-ups I've read in a very long time.

    He really encapsulated a lot with those few words.

    I'm going to have to read it at least one more time.

    Everything mentioned sounds right on target, just amazing!

    "Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato "
    -Mussolini
    All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dom View Post
    That was one of the best write-ups I've read in a very long time.

    He really encapsulated a lot with those few words.

    I'm going to have to read it at least one more time.

    Everything mentioned sounds right on target, just amazing!
    I disagree with him on some stuff, but he's a great writer and seems like a decent person, too.

    I have a copy of one of his books; gonna send it to you....

  4. #4
    Ridin Dirty dom's Avatar
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    I'm kind of surprised others didn't chime in with opinions/thoughts on this post.

    "Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato "
    -Mussolini
    All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

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