By Joe Bageant
Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico
People often comment on the intelligence and insight, the humor and sincerity, of the letters Ken and I receive on joebageant.com. And they say that the readers write as if we have known each other all our lives. I respond that yes, we have, but just did not know each other's names. And that many of us have been pretty much invisible and voiceless except to each other. And that, yes, my friends out there are indeed intelligent and clear eyed citizens. The American populace is often underestimated.
The fact is that America's finest minds and souls have no voice in this chilling new corporate state that has evolved. And if we are not allowed a voice, if our monolithic system ignores us, pretends we do not exist, then for all practical purposes we do not exist. Therefore it does not have to offer us political candidates representing our views or change laws to reflect them. Nevertheless, we are out there — millions of us.
One of my biggest regrets regarding this site is that the success of Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War increased the volume of email to the point where I cannot answer it all like I used to do. I do however, read every one, and answer as many as is feasible these days.
This morning's mailbox was the usual wonderful variety of letters, mostly responding to the current post, "Shoot the fat guys, hang the smokers." Many offered heartfelt smoking cessation advice, all of it from personal experience, honest and eminently more sensible than anything I've read elsewhere.
As to the strange new politicizing of behaviors such as smoking and overeating, some brilliant insights came in, along with the prescient observation from Spain that "the fat gays will be the first to go." We should all watch out for that particular canary in the coal mine in which we all toil.
A couple of emails objected, though not meanly or with excessive vehemence, to my calling the Democratic leadership a bunch of fickle, sleazy, traitorous "cunts." I'm not gonna defend such language. Heavens no! It's downright loathsome and detestable. This is why I use it. Then too, I have called the Democratic leadership dicks and dickheads and pussies scores of times, and there were few options left. In passing I will add that I do not believe that any words or terms whatsoever should be beyond the reach of a writer or anyone else for reasons of political correctness. The masses are controlled through controlling their language, which in turn controls the concepts they are capable of grasping.
I try to remember that it was during the most brutally repressive period of communist China that the Communist Party came up with the concept of "political correctness of language." I have always been amazed that Americans could bring themselves to even use the term "politically correct," given the murdering bastards who coined it and perfected its implementation as a social control tool. As we have seen here in America with the exclusion or purposeful demonization of words such as liberalism, socialism, welfare state, controlled economy, once words are demonized or made off limits something is lost, no matter what the word. And once the people are sufficiently indoctrinated to ideology, they will police the language among themselves in the name of political correctness. If the language used by writers such as Mark Twain or Hunter S. Thompson were stripped of politically correct words such as nigger, faggot, etc. — their chronicles of their times would not convey the full mood and ambiance of the world they saw around them. But enough of that.
Documenting the empire's decline has its funny moments. In the "Iron Cheer of Empire" essay, I opined that the American dollar's value seems to be "thrashing around down there with the Bangladeshi taka." Whereupon a Bangladeshi reader politely informed me that the Bangladeshi taka is strong and doing quite well, thank you. There ya go. Proof that I am as guilty of chauvinism as the Americans I complain about.
Another email depicting the dollar's decline came in yesterday, from a world traveler named Arnie, who was shopping in Rome last September. Arnie has always carried American dollars as fallback currency. But in Rome he was informed by a pretty dark haired clerk that, "I'm sorry, but we do not accept the American dollar anymore."
"She told me," writes Arnie, "about the types of coin they would accept, including the Albanian lek. Now I now know that the axis of the world has shifted. Not having any leks in my wallet, I paid her in euros. I wonder how much sausage gravy you can buy with 20 leks?"
Among the most rewarding are the letters from readers with a similar white underclass background to mine. They too spent a good part of their lives ashamed of their working poor backgrounds — until they eventually came to realize that the white underclass is the largest demographic group in this country, and decided to own their personal histories. "It's like coming out," wrote one reader. "As long as the true condition of white underclass is kept hidden, and as long as they are kept ignorant and politically manipulated, and as long as they are scorned by liberals, real liberalism doesn't stand a chance."
We get fascinating (and dismaying) reports from around the world. Reports from Australia that the Aussies have embraced credit card debt and ridiculous mortgages that have driven house prices into the stratosphere as everyone expects to get rich "flipping" their house at a higher price. We get reports of the German and Scandinavian citizenry clamoring for American style privatization of public services and facilities. Residents there tell me it's mostly the result of boredom with decades of safety and security. That plus boredom with their elections, which are nowhere as entertaining and brutally fought as in America. For god sake doesn't anybody ever learn anything at all? Must everyone learn the hard way? Let them have John McCain and Sarah Palin for a while. Inside of a year Switzerland would be attacking Japan.
Scores of emails come in asking for advice, particularly about immigrating to another country. Or how to deal with the depression that has engulfed so many once hopeful folks of principle and good will.
I really don't know much about immigration, or becoming an expat, other than it is a different situation for every person. And more complex that one might think. My personal choice was Belize, which many quite decent Americans find a little too rough and primitive for their tastes (such as not flushing your toilet paper, torrential seasonal rains or an unheard of number of things that crawl, fly, bite, sting or just burrow into your hide and lay eggs — the bot fly comes to mind). My wife is one of those Americans.
So now I find myself rather comfortably dividing my time between Jalisco, Mexico, Belize and America (because to write books about America you gotta be there on the ground). Right now I am in Ajijic, Mexico and will return to Belize for a stay after Christmas.
This is one ole hillbilly boy who could never have imagined he would reside on two such fine parts of the world, one among the Garifuna by the Caribbean, and one in the arid hills in an ancient town by a lake once fished by the Aztecs. And on very small bucks too. My point being that it's just something you gotta go ahead and do and see what happens. Would-be expats can never really plan how their expatriation will play out (unless you're well heeled old blue hairs or retired car dealers who buy a condo in one of those gated communities that look the same the world over, and your idea of a foreign experience is bossing a maid named Rosa). And besides, a rigid super planned life is what we're trying to escape, right? Why bring the disease with us?
Then there's the mail regarding that black despair permeating American society, the one nobody really talks about. Not the mainstream media. Not even the lefty sites. However, readers do write about it here. And others read and say, "Thank god! I am not alone, I am not weird, and I am not going crazy." I cannot tell you how many thousands, yes thousands, of letters we've received over the years expressing exactly that feeling of relief. Even conservatives write of that national low level depression hovering over our country. It plays no favorites. We also get many letters from people of both camps who've come to the conclusion that the American political process has become so corrupted as to be hopeless, and have given up on trying to fix things.
In a masterpiece of clarity brevity, one reader this week said: "Joe, every day this country makes me want to puke. Any advice?"
Hell, I dunno. Clear liquids?
But the most soul wrenching for me are those that ask: "When I look at what my country has become, I get so depressed that I could cry. Joe, do you think it's hopeless?"
Most days I do. But one thing I know is that while America may be a hopeless cause, the world is not. I am sustained every day by its joy and mystery. The Mexican school kids run by my house at 3 PM, their laughter crashing giddily down these ancient cobbled streets. Iron horseshoes clatter outside my casita window at dusk as "horsemen pass by" on their homeward journey back up into the desert mountain chaparral. In Belize it is raining and in Virginia tonight my wife lights the fireplace, and with our elderly dog at the foot of the bed, will sleep the sleep of the innocent. Any time now snow will fall there, and next morning yet again will appear the miracle of cardinals and chickadees, like dancing peppercorns in the snow.
I just cannot give up on this world.