Booze, rage and justice in the participation age
I know it's painful for you to observe what is happening here in America, and a lot easier to stay drunk and not think about it in Mexico, but some of us are still sticking it out here and we depend on you to help us feel less isolated. That's probably more responsibility than you or anyone would want, but you started the conversation that confirmed our vague feelings of being screwed. Now you're the de facto leader of your own political movement. Betcha didn't mean to do that, huh?
Please don't make us all wait so long for each new essay, don't be one more person that hangs us out to dry. Sober up and post more often. The laboring classes need you and, believe it or not, your voice makes a difference to this country. Help us take it back from FOX, CNBC, and CBS.
The great thing about the "participation age" in this Web 2.0 world is that the old media gatekeepers really don't have as much control as they used to have. I know, I was a journalist in my former life. So, if you want to do more than rail against the system and stay drunk in Mexico, here's your opportunity. We're all waiting, every day.
Thanks for what you're doing. Just do it more often.
Leader of my own political movement, huh? Hooboy! First the Tea Party, now the Cocktail Party. Rest assured I will sell everybody out at the first good offer.
Seriously though, for me, blogging has been somewhat ironic. I never wanted to be a blogger, and still don't. Hell, I've been a regularly published writer for over four decades. But never say never, of course, because it tells the Devil exactly what to lay on our sorry asses. Anyway, the blog posts have always been something I do on the side while making a living. In the early years it was done on company time, and later while writing a book or meeting magazine deadlines. Doing the stuff that paid for the beer, bud and beans.
That's not to denigrate the online essays. I have always tried to do them with all my heart and whatever little truth I might glimpse. Which like most people, ain't much. However, there are a lot of us. Also like most bloggers, I seldom have an idea, and never a new one. So I stay away from any regular schedule of posting and having to "come up with something for the blog," (the one my webmaster reminds me is a website, not a blog). I also keep my sense of self-identity and worth uninvolved with the essays and books. That took a while. Moving to Central America, then Mexico helped immensely.
Your advice to "Sober up and post more often" reminds me once again of the complexities of reader perception. I write about drinking far more than most writers these days. So it's natural that readers assume I drink a lot. And I probably do drink more than most people in this politically correct and health conscious age, though not nearly as much as the writing might seem to indicate. For me, drinking comes with being a man of the old school. Like smoking, or changing your own oil, it's something you do to smell like a man. And occasionally, act like one.
Southerners have traditionally told drinking stories, or included drinking in their tales, probably due to their Scots and Irish cultural heritage. It allows for looseness, humor, and frankly, is more interesting and fun than, say, your average Yankee version of the same. Writing about life with a little drinking thrown in gives an excuse to dance (or cry) a little in the prose, and gives the reader a reason to forgive the writer (as in: "Joe cannot possibly be that stupid, so he must be drunk.")
It goes without saying there are many occasions when I have been obnoxious, bullet proof drunk. I'd say that calling the city councilman's wife a "money loving power slut," and a "shit-for-brains Republican hose beast" is some barometer of obnoxiousness, if not bullet-proofness. Hypertension, COPD and diabetes eventually fixed that problem.
The truth is, however, that when it comes to booze and writers, I fully understand why alcohol is called "the giant killer." I am no giant. However, I have seen the juice destroy more piss-ants and fools than literary giants, so I have managed not to let the sauce to get this fool. I have also been fortunate in that I am not prone to alcoholism — my talents rest in the area of drug abuse. Been there, done that, so now I settle for a few snorts in the evening at home, or maybe once a week at the local watering hole, assuming good enough company. Or sometimes not.
Besides, it is the straight sober world and its truths that are hard. Alienation. Inner rage. Many of my essays were born in an attempt to communicate working class alienation, separation and rage — which is the same as middle class rage, but self-described and expressed differently. Most of the liberal thinkers I know still do not grasp that the anxiety working people have, even the Tea Partiers, are rooted in the same things as their own. Yes, the right is definitely cruel. And yes, it can by now be called fascist. However, to deal with what has happened, one must come to grips with what produced the internal distrust upon which fascist empires are built.
The brutal way Americans were forced to internalize the values of a gangster capitalist class continues to elude nearly all Americans. Most foreigners too. This is to say nothing of how our system replaced our humanity with ideology, our liberty with money, and fostered fascist nationalism through profound degeneration of the people's mind and spirit. It's not as if one can ever escape that sort of thing, either by going to a place like Mexico, getting drunk or whatever. We are made in Americas' image, whether we admit it or not, and America's image is the face on a ten dollar bill
Liberal or conservative, money is what we care about — period. From birth, the empire has made one thing very clear to us: If you do not produce or acquire enough of the green stuff, meet the quota, you will be ground beneath the heel of the machine we call a society. No universal health insurance or higher education, no guaranteed minimum income, no worker rights, nothing for you suckers but the tab. So keep humping.
With such a national ethos, who can blame Americans for caring most profoundly about money? Everything is secondary to money. The future of the world's children, the planet, everything. I've been watching the horrific BP oil spill on CNN (doncha love the way they call it a "spill," as if it was a cup of coffee?) The first and biggest ongoing question has been, "Who is going to pay for it?" Right off hand I'd say the fish, birds and wetlands will pay for it, along with future generations. One quart of motor oil will pollute 250,000 gallons of water, and already there have been millions of gallons of oil blasted into the earth's waters from this single spill. Yet the big question has been "Whose money and how much is going to change hands here?"
EVERYTHING is a money transaction up there. Which is why I am here.
And so here I sit waiting for the book tours to begin in the fall. I find that I have changed over the time it took to write the new book (Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, due out in September). Every time I do a book, even an essay really, I work out some stuff in the process, in my case, mainly rage.
It is now clear to me that the people's rage is a tool in the hands of the new electronic and digital corporate state. Its various channels, eddies and pools, regardless of type, can be directed toward all sorts of mischief and profit. Left or right, the angry throngs on both sides can be managed and directed. They can be sent chasing various injustices, denouncing evil characters on Wall Street, Times Square bombers, BP executives, or whatever, worked up into slobbering outrage over Sarah Palin, and thus kept divided and working against each other for the benefit of last gasp capitalism.
Once outside the furious drek of American political and economic life, and having finished the last book I will ever write, I found myself asking: "Why did the good in the American people not triumph? How can it be that so many progressive, justice-loving citizens failed? Their positions were well reasoned. The facts were indisputably on their side. Obviously, there was, and is, more going on than merely losing battles to demagoguery and meanness. Why do we lose the important fights so consistently? What has kept us from establishing a more just kingdom? Something is missing.
I think it is, in a word, the spiritual. The stuff that sustained Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and gave them the kind of calm deliberate guts we are not seeing today. I am not talking about religion, but the spirit in each of us, that solitary non-material essence, none the less shared by all humans because we are human. When we let our capitalist overlords cast everything in a purely material light — as material gain or loss for one group or another — we played the oppressor's game.
It was always a game with no vision. Just good guys, bad guys, pissed off people, or apathetic disenfranchised ones, amid one helluva lot of money changing hands. Mostly the wrong hands. That game drives us to the petty the larcenies we perform against one another in the name employment, and the atrocities abroad to which none of us lay our rightful claim as beneficiaries of the empire's pillage. Our purposeful blindness to such things necessarily eliminates any universal vision. All the best ones are universal.
Yet down inside human beings is a love of justice. Honestly. The psyche seeks balance, and therefore seeks justice. Regardless of the perversion of its definition, and therefore the laws, by those who own nearly all of our country and damned well intend to own the rest, we know.
While those elite forces can own everything around us, and have proven they can make life quite miserable if they care to, they cannot own that thing inside us. The one that gives out the last sigh before sleep, and travels the realms of the great human collective consciousness alone. This is the consciousness that ebbs and flows between all external events. There is nothing mystical about it. Go sit in any quiet place with your eyes closed for a half hour or so, and that self will invariably say hello.
This is also the self that our oppressors can never allow a moment's rest. Because when it finds rest, it finds insight, and can fuse the spiritual, psychological and material worlds into some transcendent vision that can at last seen and sought after. It makes Buddhist monks rebel in Sri Lanka and creates indigenous liberation theologians in Latin America.
Fortunately for Wall Street, the world's bankers, the military industrial complex, there is science, which they love so dearly they purchased it outright. Scientism has successfully sold the notion that spiritual awareness is superstition. By that accounting, the mind is no more than the brain, and love is a body sack of chemicals interacting. (A stunningly successful new public relations campaign by BASF chemical corporation campaign actually declares that love is chemical. Its success both here and in China would give Orwell the heebie jeebies.)
This will in all likelihood be the last philosophical and political battle with capitalist totalitarianism, assuming it can even be called a battle. I am not seeing much thinking and no genuine struggle on the American people's part. Consumer capitalism's material gratification has been so grotesquely satisfying, that it has shredded most of thinking in the country and all of willingness to take risks.
The blinking reptilian elites now own our entire material needs hierarchy chain, top to bottom. You eat, shit, work, fuck and die at the pleasure of their Great Machine. The presence of six billion others, most of whom are in the same situation, all but guarantees this as our material destiny on a finite and increasingly poisoned planet, before the big hasta la vista.
Meanwhile, win or lose, we are left with our inner selves to sustain each day (if only because Oprah has not yet gained copyright). In doing so we can discover the only kingdom that was ever ours. The same one gurus, messiahs, martyrs and hairy-assed sages the world over have ever agreed upon. The kingdom within.
I'm sure many readers bailed out back there when I first mentioned the spirit. "That crazy old peckerwood Bageant has finally blown a head gasket!" And as many more said "fuck this" at the mention of a kingdom within us. That goes to show the level of our indoctrination against anything that cannot be measured, counted, computed (and thereby controlled by the corporate state). I find it fascinating that we can so easily bandy terms such as fascism, or American free market capitalism — two of the filthiest concepts ever devised — yet piss all over terms indicating some higher value or quality in human beings.
What has all this to do with blogging? Everything and nothing of course. When I do get around to blogging, I serve up whatever the ole puddin' between my ears has been festering on. Mostly what happened around me that day, and what it may suggest about the world.
Sometimes it is a topic as big as the empire, other times as small as reflections on my latest batch of tortillas. In any case, I am the same as my reader friends, ordinary and fearful. Enough so, that they can identify with my ramblings. I don't write to them. I don't write for them. And I don't write at them. We merely live on the same planet watching the unnerving events around us, things the majority does not seem to see. So I write about that. And maybe for just a moment, a few friends I've never met do not feel so alone. Nor do I.
Which is why god made blogs, I guess.
However, beyond that, we are each on our own, most of our waking hours, for the rest of our days. There are more chapters to come in our lives, and this time next year, I do not plan to be blogging. Having glimpsed that kingdom within, I am very much interested in its pursuit, which is individual and does not much involve rage or politics. In other words, shut my pie hole and grow stronger, and with luck, a little wiser.
I hate writing this sort of me-me-me stuff. But I felt your letter addressed a question I've been asked often lately, and deserved my best effort at an honest reply.
In art and labor,