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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Happiness Is Just a Thing Called . . . 

Although we have not been posting his stuff since he opened his own establishment, we hope you are visiting our good friend Joe Bageant on a regular basis. Not just for the essays --
Still, it's not easy being an upscale suburban white middle class American. There is a certain amount of guilt involved. (Cut to forty million black Americans laughing hysterically.) Waking up to suburban life's true global cost is like finding out that you have a hundred slaves in some unseen place on the other side of the world making your clothing, working in your mines and harvesting your Gevelia coffee. It's more than a conundrum. It's a moral confrontation with real justice and values. Jefferson had the same conflict about his slave ownership. He never came to grips with it either. Old Tom never freed that piece of side action, Sally Hemmings. Nor are we about to demand freedom for the sweatshop slaves who turn endangered nyatoh rainforest trees into Sears "classic and timeless patio furniture." Who is gonna turn down an Everyday Martha Stewart Stockbridge 5-Piece Bistro set for a hundred and fifty bucks? "Fuck the eco-kooks, what they need is a good bath and a character-building hitch in the Marines, preferably in Iraq." Of course we never say such things. We never even think them. We don't think at all when the in-laws are coming in from the West Coast and we need that patio set for entertaining. The renunciation of earthly goods is no easy thing if your father-in-law fought his way across Italy in the Big War, then came home to work 70 hours a week building up a business so you could "have it better than we had it," and is damned proud of the way his kids and grandkids are flourishing in what he considers a consumer paradise of goods and opportunities. What's to renounce? "Life is good here in Brambleton. "Hell, why don't you kids get a Hummer? You have the children's safety to think of, you know." "Yes dad, we thought about a Hummer, but we're holding off for GM's new Huey commuter model helicopter gunship" . . . .

All of this has reshaped America politically. For starters, these tribes of the consumer savannah lands are never liberals, regardless of their claimed political allegiances. Certainly not here alongside Washington DC at the heart of power, influence, financial regulation a lawmaking and the defense contracting business. They have benefited immensely from the "financializing" and militarization of our economy. These are the winners of the national "lifestyle" game, and they will vote for whoever looks most likely to keep raw materials and goods flowing from the far-flung corners of the Empire, even if it must be done at gunpoint (which is known as establishing democracy around the world). They don't need no steenking global sheriffs to preserve social justice or anything else. They need a "strong leader" who will spread democracy and protect the American Lifestyle. As George Bush has said repeatedly, "the American lifestyle is not negotiable." We might add that neither is global warming. Having the highest per capita number of bathrooms on the planet will not compensate for the Atlantic Ocean creeping into the hollers of Kentucky. Just a hunch . . . .

American extreme capitalism's blackmail is based upon basic human need -- especially health care. For example, my wife is on my employer's insurance. She works for a local public library which grants insurance, even crappy insurance, only to a select few because the library never knows when its funds may be cut, now that the need for depleted uranium artillery shells has superceded the need for children's books in the national scheme of things. So its board, in all its wisdom, keeps costs so close to the bone the marrow shows. That means employees with no benefits or insurance. Thus, I must keep my job creating military magazines -- the pervasive symmetry of a military-industrial consumer-based economy never ceases to amaze me -- so we can both have insurance, even though I could give a damn about insurance for myself, despite my lousy health. The day-to-day consequences of cooperating with the beautiful system's insurance-as-blackmail racket are staggering, and most surprisingly, lead to increasingly poorer health. It's quite literally killing me so I can have the insurance that is supposed to keep me healthy. Smothering me to death, actually.
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