"...buy and sell catastrophe in the market of calamity..."
Joe Bageant only lasted four months following a diagnosis of cancer. Here's a link to one of his essays, "Nine Billion Little Feet," from which the above quote was taken.
Following is a small excerpt (yes! there is so much more!) from his blog post, "AMERICA: Y UR PEEPS BE SO DUM? Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga:"
"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.
As William Edwards Deming famously demonstrated, no system can understand itself, and why it does what it does, including the American social system. Not knowing shit about why your society does what it makes for a pretty nasty case of existential unease. So we create institutions whose function is to pretend to know, which makes everyone feel better. Unfortunately, it also makes the savviest among us -- those elites who run the institutions -- very rich, or safe from the vicissitudes that buffet the rest of us.
Directly or indirectly, they understand that the real function of American social institutions is to justify, rationalize and hide the true purpose of cultural behavior from the lumpenproletariat, and to shape that behavior to the benefit of the institution's members."Hey, they're a lump. Whaddya expect us to do?"
Doubting readers may consider America's health institutions, the insurance corporations, hospital chains, physicians' lobbies. Between them they have established a perfectly legal right to clip you and me for thousands of dollars at their own discretion. That we so rabidly defend their right to gouge us, given all the information available in the digital age, mystifies the world.
Two hundred years ago no one would have thought sheer volume of available facts in the digital information age would produce informed Americans. Founders of the republic, steeped in the Enlightenment as they were, and believers in an informed citizenry being vital to freedom and democracy, would be delirious with joy at the prospect. Imagine Jefferson and Franklin high on Google.
The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of cherry picking the blogs and TV channels to reinforce their particular branded choice cultural ignorance, consumer, scientific or political, but especially political. Tom and Ben could never have guessed we would chase prepackaged spectacle, junk science, and titillating rumor such as death panels, Obama as a socialist Muslim and Biblical proof that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs around Eden. In a nation that equates democracy with everyman's right to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous, this was probably inevitable. After all, dumb people choose dumb stuff. That's why they are called dumb.
But throw in sixty years of television's mind puddling effects, and you end up with 24 million Americans watching Bristol Palin thrashing around on Dancing with the Stars, then watch her being interviewed with all seriousness on the networks as major news. The inescapable conclusion of half of heartland America is that her mama must certainly be presidential material, even if Bristol cannot dance. It ain't a pretty picture out there in Chattanooga and Keokuk.
The other half, the liberal half, concludes that Bristol's bad dancing is part of her spawn-of-the-Devil mama's plan to take over the country, and make millions in the process, not to mention make Tina Fey and Jon Stewart richer than they already are. That's a tall order for a squirrel brained woman who recently asked a black president to "refutiate" the NAACP (though I kinda like refutiate, myself). Cultural stupidity accounts for virtually every aspect of Sarah Palin, both as a person and a political icon. Which, come to think of it, may be a pretty good reason not to "misunderstimate" her. After all, we're still talking about her in both political camps. And the woman OWNS the Huffington Post, fer Christsake. Not to mention a franchise on cultural ignorance.
Cultural stupidity might not be so bad, were it not self-reproducing and viral, and prone to place stupid people in charge. All of us have, at some point, looked at a boss and asked ourselves how such a numb-nuts could end up in charge of the joint.
In my own field, the book biz, the top hucksters in sales and marketing, car salesman with degrees, are put in charge of publishing the national literature. Similarly, ex-Pentagon generals segue from killing brown babies in Iraq into university presidents and CEOs. Conversely, business leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld who fancy themselves as battlefield commanders and imagine their employees as troops to be "deployed," find themselves happily farting behind Pentagon desks. On the strength of having mistaken Sun Tzu's The Art of War as a business text, they get selected by equally delusional national leaders to make actual war on behalf of the rest of us.
But the most widespread damage is done at more mundane operational levels of the American empire, by clones of the over promoted asshole in the corner office where you work. At least one study demonstrated that random selection for corporate promotions offset the effect significantly. Research again confirms what is common knowledge around every workplace water cooler in the country.
Save my spot in the gulag, I'm off to Wal-Mart
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.
Purposeful ignorance allows us to enjoy cheaper commodities produced through slave labor, both foreign, and increasingly, domestic, and yet "thank god for his bounty" in the nation's churches without a trace of guilt or irony. It allows strong arm theft of weaker nations' resources and goods, to say nothing of the destructiveness of late stage capitalism -- using up exhausting every planetary resource that sustains human life.
The American defense, on those rare occasions when one is offered, runs roughly, "Well you commie bastard, I ain't ever seen a sweatshop and I got no Asian kids chained in the basement. So I've got what the guvment calls plausible deniability. Go fuck yerself!"
Uh, don't look now, but the banksters own your ass, your country has become a work gulag/police state and the most of the world hates you.
Such a thriving American intellectual climate enables capitalist elites to withhold and ration vital resources like health care simply by auctioning it off to the richest. Americans fail to grasp this because the most important fact (that a helluva lot of folks can't afford to bid, and therefore get to die early) never gets equal play with capitalist political propaganda, to wit, that if we give free medical attention to low income cleft palate babies, a wave of Leninism will seize the nation. That is cultural ignorance. We breathe the stuff every day of our lives.
But when Americans too poor to buy health care nevertheless vote to retain the corporate auction process, that is cultural stupidity.
(Let us now pause to clutch our hair in our fists and scream AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!)
Like the old song says, "Them that don't know don't know they don't know." I venture to say that even if they did, they would not know why. Primary truths elude us because of the junk affluence and propaganda. We get buried under a deluge of commodities that suggest we are all rich, or at least richer than most of the world. A mountain range of cheap shoes, cars, iPods, ridiculous amounts of available foodstuffs, and the entire spectacle of engorgement defines, and is enforced as, "quality of life" under materialistic commodities capitalism. The goods we have in our clutches trump the philosophical, or even the most practical considerations. "I may die early eating unidentified beef byproducts soaked in waste chemicals, but I'll die owning a 65-inch HDTV and a new five speed automatic Dodge Durango with a 5.7 L Hemi V8 under the hood!"..."