Joe Bageant on the United States

A friend who borrowed from a library a new book of essays by the American writer Joe Bageant (Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball, 2011) was so impressed that she passed it on to me before returning it, and it’s indeed very interesting. Bageant is not only a socialist capable of discussing class in a way few Americans do but he writes as a working class white male; reading him you have the sense that someone from a song by Bruce Springsteen is speaking. It’s a strongly written book, full of bad language and coming from a life in which gin, cigarettes and drugs have played their part. Bageant is not pleased with his country, and by the time of his death last year he was living in Mexico, where he felt more at home than in the US. He writes in his essay ‘Escape from the Zombie Food Court’: ‘We suffer under a mass national hallucination. Americans, regardless of income or social position, now live in a culture entirely perceived inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation and world that does not exist.’ What to do? He concludes his final piece: ‘Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe that 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 even if you choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.’

Doubtless both alternatives are necessary. Who could deny the need to struggle for a better world? Yet so often such struggle leads to burn-out and cynicism in those who participate in it, and when one problem has been overcome, another bubbles up; the crooked timber of humanity seems infinitely capable of twisting itself in bad directions.  The contribution those on the Holy Mountain make to the world is equally valid.

2 comments

  • Meryl McLeod

    I saw a long review of this in last weekend’s Age; it promises to be a fascinating read, especially from someone with his background and lived experience. According to this reviewer, it was Belize he moved to in 2007 – but a move to almost any Third World country would be as valid. (Tho’ Ecuador gives another perspective (see current G. Weekly)). As to Bageant himself, of whom I’ve never heard (not surprising), his conclusions seem remarkable to me only because of his being almost a lone voice; how many thousands of other writers and commentators are living out their lives in the USA without being drawn to think as he does. Blinkers, anyone?

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