Tag Archives: Donald Ray Pollack

The Voice of Reason is Small But Persistent

31 Oct

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball by Joe Bageant

With the exception of Matt Taibbi, Barbara Ehrenreich, Belen Fernandez and the Baffler cadre (Thomas Frank, John Summers, Rick Perlstein) and Tom’s Dispatch, the voices of dissent and defiance are drowned out by a mainstream noise machine and dwindling population (RIP Howard Zinn, Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal, Joe Bageant) WHat you say, who is Joe Bageant?

Joe Bageant (Rainbow Pie and Dear Hunting With Jesus), who passed away last year, was one of the few American writers who wrote about the White underclass with out stereotype and condescension (see also Frank Bill, Donald Ray Pollack, Daniel Woodrell and Bonnie Jo Campbell). There is a newly published anthology of 25 of his essays Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball: The Best of Joe Bageant edited by Kevin Smith that is rich with insight and humor, from a vantage point rarely voiced in our helter skelter culture. One of Joe Bageant’s last tracts, “AMERICA: Y UR PEEPS B SO DUM? Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga” begins:

If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? That wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

But a more reasonable explanation is that, (A) we don’t even know we are doing it, and (B) we cling to institutions dedicated to making sure we never find out.

And this gem of analysis:

Cultural ignorance of one sort or another is sustained and nurtured in all societies to some degree, because the majority gains material benefit from maintaining it. Americans, for example, reap huge on-the-ground benefits from cultural ignorance — especially the middle class Babbitry — from cultural ignorance generated by American hyper-capitalism in the form of junk affluence.

And then a somber, resonant conclusion

Still, the void, the meaninglessness of ordinary work and the emptiness of daily life scares thinking citizens shitless, with its many unspeakables, spy cams, security state pronouncements, citizens being economically disappeared, and general back-of-the-mind unease. Capitalism’s faceless machinery has colonized our very souls. If the political was not personal to begin with, it’s personal now.

Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe 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 if you even choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.

Currently reading Wilderness by Lance Wheeler (Bloomsbury)