I'm reading the infamous Joe Bageant essay and I'm really underwhelmed.
Robertson Davies wrote that this sort of masochism is a Canadian thing, but I see it in Americans all the time. We never get tired of hearing how stupid, and in this case "inauthentic" we are. I'm sure fans of the essay will tell me that this is my internal dialogue speaking, but I've got my house in the suburbs, and I just don't live the life Bageant describes.
E.g.: When we do "get together with friends," there is little to talk about, other than one form or another of consumption, consuming music, or movies or whatever.
Conversations I've had (offline and in person) with my friends in the last few days.
1. Many, many talks about Margaret.
2. Trying to explain Rothko, and indeed all of abstract expressionism, to some of my friends. Failing.
3. Telling Joe-the-Math-guy about the conclusions Linguist friend came to about the Virgin Mary and consent issues.
4. Talking to Pam's daughter Lisa about the nature of prayer and odd things people pray for and whether God listens.
5. Whether it is a rationalization to say that people who overapply their negative experiences with one race or another and have a loose negative impression that they would never act on, aren't exactly racists.
6. What are the racism implications of dating preferences (e.g. A white guy who only dates white women, vs. a black man who only dates black women vs. a white man who won't date white women vs. a white man who only dates asian women)
7. It's not worth it to date very attractive people. They're not very interesting because they don't have to be and are typically very high-maintenance. true or false?
8. Smoking bans: Does it suck more when the government plays nanny or when inconsiderate people slighly endanger the health of others?
9. The situation in the middle east. Does Israel deserve our support?
And I've been staying with people who live in Laurinburg, North Carolina and watch Fox news!
I'd say that if Joe Bageant feels that he has no community, instead of bitching about the internet, he might want to go hang out with some people and make some friends. I'd suggest that he whine less, though.
I'm sorry, those of us who are going to pay for the air ambulances of guys like that who go off in the woods to commune with nature don't deserve to be insulted.
((Quick semi-related rant:
People who talk about how great it is to live off the land have forgotten what it's like to starve when the crops fail. When Mr. Back-to-nature breaks his leg, my tax dollars and yours will pay for a helicopter to go haul his ass out of the woods. It means that his tent will not leak because if he has any sense he will get camping equipment made of plastic. (For all their tough talk, I don't see most of these people drinking out of a canteen made of an animal bladder.) It means that if he, God forbid, should get some awful disease and shows up in the ER, modern medicine will do it's best to save him and will succeed much of the time. ))
To Bageant's credit, he wants to go live in a really touristy country not owned by America. I don't think he's as cool as he does for wanting to chuck it all and move to a honeymoon destination, and I think showing your objection to capitalism by moving to a monarchy is sort of precious, but hey, at least Queen Elizabeth will be paying his bills, not me. (Somone should really tell him about Great Britan's stand on the war, though. Moving from the USA to a British territory to show you're above such things is just dumb.)
Fifty bucks says his plan to rough it in paradise lasts as long as his Immodium does.
As for the bit about all of us being replaceable now, it's stupid.
If we don't make it, it someone else will. If we don't buy it, someone else will. Some other faceless person will step forward to fill in our place. The same goes for the engineers who created this computer and the same goes for your own job. The machine rolls on. With us or without us.
No more genuine community where people know each other and socialize together and work together exists than a small liberal arts college. St. Andrews is practically a kibbutz. I knew my friend and former professor Margaret very well, but I also understand that my college is going to hire another professor of archeology to take her place.
To look at this more directly, in the "good old days" that Bageant romanticizes, we might have known the guy who packaged our groceries a little better, but people were still replaceable. If the town grocer died in the olden days, his son took over or his wife took over or somebody bought the store. That we are replaceable is a general rule of any economy. Which is why the only people who take a strictly economic view of a way of living are either idiots or trying to make a point while ignoring conflicting facts.
I could go on, but you see my point.
My advice to Bageant would be to build a life he likes and work for a better world right where he is. But he's going to have to quit whining first.
You posted this twice, so I will respond to the first one. The part about that blog entry that bugs me is his use of the term "no one" does this or that anymore.
Actually, there are lots of people doing things like canning their own food, sewing their own clothing and bartering. They are not the majority of people, but if this is the type of community one is looking for, I see it everywhere. Maybe it is living in the Pacific NW, but when I mentioned to some friends a few weeks ago that I wanted to learn to sew this year, three of them (all under the age of 35) volunteered to teach me. Another friend is going to help me start a garden (another under 30 year old). I know lots of people who barter and swap goods for services, meal share and otherwise live highly interactive, communal lives.
I could do this, too, if I wanted. There is a wealth of information about how to do it. The thing is, no one is STOPPING me from doing this; I just have to choose it for myself.
Oh, and I also bristled at his use of the term "deserving poor native family." That just struck me as white, privileged BS.
Apart from that, I understand what he is saying because I know a few people like him, now-disillusioned and trying to figure out what's-left-for-me? I was raised to be disillusioned with the American dream, and the whole life of materialism and capitalism that our consumer culture is based on. Doesn't mean I haven't ever bought into it at times, but it's never thoroughly broken my heart, either.
Could this be an age thing, my 20-something friends? I hope so, and I am THRILLED that your lives are so far from what Joe describes. As for me, I thought it was the most right on, spot on, hard-hitting, truth-telling amazing post I have read all year. We (Chalice Chick, Sofia and I) so rarely disagree this way I'm kind of excited. It will make me think about it more.
I've already exchanged love mail with Joe B. and he's a dear.
CC, you're WAY too kind, cutting this bitter old windbag way too much slack. Not only was his screed suitable only for fertilizing roses, but I don't believe for a split second that he believes it himself- no one capable of mastering the language could be that divorced from reality.
I second all those things you said about the quality of conversation that can be had by anyone willing to hold the bile and actually listen to real people, even those met at random at the coffeeshop, (ok, a hobby of mine). Something else, too- I have stepped off the track up the ziggurat, accepting a lower pay, lower stress, fewer hours job so that I can pursue my writing and art. None of my friends said negative word one (although I imagine more than one was waiting to see if I really meant it, and how long I would stay off the fast track) Not the same thing as dropping out the way Joe is talking about, but on the other hand in this supposed consumerism chase the buck society that he sees you'd think I would have caught some flack- but the experience has been nothing but positive.
Joel-- I have to say that more than one friend has reacted to my job search by saying "Well, theCSO makes lots of money. Why don't you just take a year off and write novels?" That's an unrealistic suggestion given that we just bought a house, but another indication that this guy just has the wrong friends.
I don't know, I just felt like so many of his comments were about an idealized past that had little relation to the past that must have been.
For example, I can't imagine why the people who made clothes and grew food are were any less replaceable in the past. I would have known the people who did that for me then, it's true. But I know my hairdresser now. If my hairdresser were moving or something, I would be sad to see him go, but I would ask for a reccomendation for another stylist and that would be it.
And, I'm sorry, if you're going to drop out of society, moving to a huge tourist destination is just sort of silly.
hmm, I cant disagree with you CC, as I dont usually talk to folks about consumer goods either (wouldnt have much to say about that, so it would be a short conversation) - I would like to welcome you to my neighborhood though, as my wife works about 14 miles from Laurinburg (across the state line), although im a bit further south myself.....
Well, shucks, Steve. I just drove back up to Virginia today. I went to St. Andrews College in Laurinburg and was back there for the funeral of one of my professors.
If I go for alum weekend, maybe I will drive down your way and you and Mrs. SCUniversalist can have dinner with TheCSO and me or something. (Ooh... Tacos at South of the Border!)
who could actually take Joe Bageant to dinner anytime as Winchester, VA isn't far from her at all. But he doesn't sound like much fun to talk to. I hear all he talks about with his friends is consumer products.
Well, PB, we're nearly the same age, and I though he was a puffed-up geezer, too. Perhaps taking a different tack, but . . .
1. My family members who gew up how he described were more than happy to escape the reality tied to his fantasy.
2. The life-curriculum he describes is fine for the nearly-dead, but for the rest of us who hope to live a few more minutes and get a few more things done, well, less fine.
I read the Joe B. essay when Chutney first linked to it. I could see why it was a call to arms (or tears) for many, but it didn't quite hit me where I lived either, so I didn't comment on it.
I have to agree with CopperQueen that Joe seems to be idealizing a mythic past. Some of y'all are aware that my wife and I cared for my grandmother during the final years of her life. I vividly remember the day, at age 96, that she told us what a blessing TV dinners were. She and all the females in the family since the dawn of time had been stuck preparing meals, a process that used to take hours out of the day. It was TV dinners that liberated her from being shackled to the stove and gave her newfound free time to devote to personal activities. And this was a progressive women who'd worked as a chemist and came close to going to medical school. The old ways were interesting, perhaps "authentic" in a sense, but they were experienced as onerous by the ones who went through them just as much as they were experienced as meaningful.
I wonder if PB is right that this is partially a generational thing. I'm the first generation in my family for perhaps 1000 years or longer that has not been involved in farming. Things change. The fact that I wasn't FFA like my father doesn't mean I can't spot good livestock at the fair every year or that my wife doesn't can or otherwise preserve food that we buy at the farmer's market. Skills die out a lot slower than Joe B. thinks. Knitting is a favorite activity among my female grad school colleagues, every semester we've argued about theology and culture to the sound of clicking needles. All my friends and I saw the possibility of zombie life in the suburbs and we choose other paths.
I'm not sure we're a good sample. Overall, UUs are some of the least typical folks around. I grew up knowing that as a UU I was a permanent minority and that my core values would never be those of my own country. So maybe Joe B. is right and he's speaking for a majority that just isn't our experience on the whole.
Excellent comments everybody.
The TV dinner thing is one reason why the people wanting to go back to the good old days are usually men, IMHO.
Knitting is also big among my pals, though I'm really bad at it. I make a mean jar of raspberry jam, though, and make jam from my grandmother's fresh raspberries just about every summer.
I've lived in small towns and there is always the "in group" who go to the right church and feel they know everybody and get this warm buzz of "community." When I was a reporter I was accepted into it, when I was just working in a different small town, I wasn't and found a sweet little small town to be the lonliest place on earth. At least where I lived, African Americans had to have a completely different community, if they had one at all.
Wonderful conversation here. Some observations and comments.
1. I wonder if there is a correlation between family background and appreciation of Bageant's essay. Specifically, I'd like to know if those of us like it grew up with rural/blue collar roots, and if those of us who didn't grew up middle class. (Bageant talks about the former--the "mutt people"--here.)
2. If nothing else, Bageant's essay is about regret. He seems to be a rural salt-of-the-type who left home to be a hippie. Since then, he's sold out. Now he's trying to make sense of it all. Kudos to him for that.
3. I don't think he's idealizing the past, at least not personally. In the "mutt people" essay, for instance, he seems to have an opposite take on it. His description seems quite accurate from my own father's take, who was born just after the Dust Bowl and remembers when they got indoor plumbing. This sort of involuntary community is very real, necessary (as Bageant points out), and still here today (as CC points out). But its shrinking rapidly as the family farm declines.
4. As far as Bageant's style and tone, this is how we mutt people talk to one another. It's a way to show you're not BSing and that it's safe because no rich people (who own the factory/hog factory/etc. and go to the Episocopal church) are around. Talking otherwise (to one another) is considered selling out. And you're doing it wrong if there isn't a nice sprinkling of four letter words and hyperbole. If you're not familiar with it, it'd sound whiny and arrogant. To us mutt people, it's a sign of honesty and authenticity. (W is Prez in large part because he learned to talk like one of us, the damn faker.)
5. Bageant shows what split consciousness looks like among mutt people.
6. Over at a discussion of this essay at WealthBondage.com, church and liberal arts schools came up as examples of community too. But I take it Bageant is not religious and doesn't live in a small college town.
7. In the small city where I grew up, there is nothing to do except shop, drink and worship. Sounds like Bageant's home town is the same. Gardening and live music and book clubs are quite rare in the areas of the country that we mutt people settled.
8. I thought Bageant was being ironic when he talked about retiring to some sunny beach town. Because he'd still be selling(/cashing?) out, just for different reasons.
9. It's unfair to say Bageant isn't doing anything. He's writing, and he's publishing a book. We let a lot of liberals get away with no more than that. Why should Bageant be judged by a different standard?
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