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Heaven for 7-Eleven
rots from the inside out as a nation of telemarketers and war criminals
parties on amid the stench.
By Joe Bageant
A spring Sunday morning and I am
at the politically incorrect 7-Eleven buying my cholesterol loaded half-and-half
for my peasant slave labor grown coffee. In the parking lot, car speakers
blare out Bob Marley from a grungy 1987 Olds Cutlass (the last year GM
made 'em), while the owner, a Haitian guy, sits on the curb eating his
Smokey Big Bite hot dog, sunshine pouring over the whole world sweet as
that quart of chocolate milk he is going to wash it all down with. Bob
Marley is singing "One Love" and that Smokey smells so damned
good I order one for myself and settle in next to that Haitian dude. And
I think, "Is this a great fucking country or what? Yessiree, the
world's best hope."
And it is. Or was. Or something. Ask
any poor suffering bastard in the garbage dumps of Mumbai or Caracas to
name the best place in the world to live and most will answer "The
United States." Maybe it's for all the wrong reasons. And surely
the image is driven by the global hype and bullshit of an America that
cannot get over itself—cannot pause from its huckstering long enough
to see that the America of both John Wayne and FDR quit circling the drain
thirty years ago. It has since been pulled asunder by spectacular greed
and the learned helplessness of the consumer state. And denial. The kind
that allows us to sanctify the young men starring in that horrific snuff
flick over in Iraq as "heroes." But we were talking about the
third world weren't we? Where if you are eating spoiled cat meat and getting
raped nightly in a Bangkok slum, things like a Cutlass gunboat with busted
springs and a Smokey Big Bite on a Sunday morning look good. Damned good.
There is not much that cannot be explained by population geography and
proximity to basic goods and services. This is not wasted upon the predatory
few among us concerned with capturing, holding and blackmailing others
for access to them under our free market system. It's a brutal process,
one we can only coexist with through ironclad denial. Did free people
make your clothes? Mine neither.
My Dutch friend Bram is mystified at our denial, which
he says "is spooky." "How can anyone sustain such a thing?"
Well, it's easy when you are born numb. Most of us born under American
extremist capitalism are inured to its sheer brutality. To Americans,
it's just the way things are. The world is a tough place. We agree that
god has blessed us; we deserve what we have and let it go at that. Citizens
born under the Third Reich felt the same way about their consensual reality.
Not many of us can grasp the national hubris involved, thanks to the heady
patrio-religious mythology of American exceptionalism in which we were
spawned and educated in preparation for adulthood as citizens of the consumer
state. Collectively, we feel exempt from human folly because our particular
god, the Christian God, the Jewish God, The Mormon God, the Seventh Day
Adventist God, Muslim God or whatever one's cult deems divine, has chosen
us. Whatever we think we are as liberals, your nation and mine, the government
we are responsible for has always acted on these beliefs, destroying whole
nations, peoples and the planet under that exceptionalist banner. At some
point, liberals and neocons and the apolitical alike, are going to have
to own all of America's history, not just the parts we prefer. For instance,
it was FDR who packed off all those decent Japanese families to internment
camps. Abraham Lincoln loved his nigger jokes. Bram remains mystified.
enough, the same predatory American capitalism that generates so much
of the world's misery renders its own citizens irrelevant save for their
purchasing power, to the entire process and therefore guiltless—in
their own minds at least—of the empire's crimes. Such is the unburdened
material happiness granted us. It is not hard for Americans to conclude
that we are outside of, and therefore irrelevant to global events or changes.
We are waaaaay over here on this vast continent with only a media generated
holograph to tell us who we are as a people and as individuals. And it
tells us we foremost are citizens of a state which suffers no diversion
from profitability. The vast majority of Americans don't even know there
is a global reality, except in the sense that the price of gasoline is
affected by some swarthy peoples living in a sandy place full of terrorists
somewhere else on the globe. We know the price of gas and we know what
we are going to rent at the video store on Friday. We know what we will
eat at the restaurant on Saturday and when the game is televised on Sunday.
Personally, I also know that four blocks from where I sit writing this
an old man named Virgil pulled one of his own teeth last week because
he cannot afford a dentist. Rather than kick out a little dough Virgil's
way, I poured a shot of Woodford Reserve and was grateful I have dental
insurance. Being "grateful for what we have" is the time honored
American mantra used to mask denial.
Thus we express gratitude for what the corpocracy bestows
us, convinced that we are flourishing in those big box store isles of
Kansas or in the soft leather booths of the martini bar off Central Park,
depending upon one's class. It only took a couple of generations to accept
and then enjoy the reduced humanity but increased flood of material stuff
as a bona fide life experience. Beat off to internet porn and NFL football
while the wife sleeps alone. The state generated hologram IS reality.
Reality IS the image, not the flesh. It's true of all of us. I have done
it and still do it. I know. And you more than likely do too. Let's not
kid ourselves here.
Even as the empire is coming down around us all, very
few can possibly believe it. Why should they? Nothing seems to have changed
their particular religious or political camps. Literate and thoughtful
liberals can still watch Brit-coms and send their kids to Shakespeare
camp. Less than literate Fox Network watching worker bee Republicans can
still sup on the easy piety of cross and flag… ogle Anne Coulter's
bony ass. And Joe Six-pack still scratches his belly in irrelevance as
the elites of two political priesthoods struggle, one to get their mitts
deeper into the national treasury, the other to convince us that Hillary
Clinton and Joe Biden actually have blood in their veins. The next elections,
both parties tell us, will determine the fate of our nation. Really? Regardless
of who wins, Joe Six-pack will lose. Virgil will lose. The rest of us
will continue being carried along by the media hologram of political lies
and profitable illusions that hold it all together. Today I read a news
story about how the massacre of Iraqi families in Hidatha "traumatized"
our heroes. What do you call a republic that dishes up such shit up to
its citizens? What do you call the citizens who mindlessly swallow it?
What do you call people who do not march in the streets and start fires
in protest of a horrific regime that guts small democracies, slaughters
whole families and villages abroad and rigs the ballot boxes at home?
What do you call such deniers of the obvious? Of course we can safely
call the latter modern Democrats, but that is another story.
In any case, most liberals/leftists/progressives, or
whatever the hell one calls such an ineffectual bunch of twits, refuse
to even consider open resistance. They exist in the same prison of learned
helplessness and planet devouring gluttony as conservatives, but with
New Age or pseudo-leftist wallpaper. I have an awful suspicion they will
never be brave again in their lives, assuming they ever were.
There seems to be no warning people of the lie they have
swallowed, the black thing they have eaten and which now devours them
from within. The "American lifestyle," the "good life,"
was such a comfortable lie to swallow. And because the material world
trumps the mind and therefore trumps less quantifiable stuff such as freedom
and insight quite easily, the black thing is now chewing at the Constitution
which, being essentially a property document, was never all that strong
to begin with. But it's all we have. As resident bully of human consciousness,
the reptilian brain so easily slashes and chaws through the limbic one,
announcing the supremacy of the fist and the gullet over the higher self.
"I can eat these tortilla chips (or perhaps nine dollar a pound organically
pastured chicken breast, or whatever it is that socially responsible rich
people eat) and watch plasma TV right now. But I would have to go to the
library to get On Walden Pond, which I’ve never heard of
anyway. Take to the streets? What for? Pass me the salsa, honey."
I do this myself almost nightly. There may be no saving me or the world,
or mankind in the world from itself. Realization will come the hard way,
which is how humanity learns: Too late and at a terrible cost.
Meanwhile, we remain obedient, not disturbing of our
comfort, save maybe once a year for a rote "demonstration" downtown
for or against something or other, the school bond or the war in Iraq,
during which we are flushed with joy at the site of so many of our own
kind, but having demonstrated only that such displays are just that—displays;
toothless displays in a predatory system that respects only the fang and
the claw. The newspapers print a photo next day, we dispute their estimated
number of demonstrators, and then we settle back into obedience.
Americans have always been an obedient people, proud
to be answerable and obedient to the nation's law and god, with one reinforcing
the other somehow in the national mind. Obedient people do not look up
from their assigned cubicles; do not ask if their work is meaningful or
contributory to mankind. Never question the way things are. Not in church,
nor in daily life. And if the air reeks of a republic rotting from the
inside out, you just hold your nose.
Consequently, we are forced to acknowledge the fiction
of self governance, though voting power never gets in the way of elite
agendas such as tax breaks and war profits (though it may slow them down
at times, giving the illusion of voting power to a nation with no memory
whatsoever). The pretense reaches its most absurd levels during national
elections, where self-governance is put to the test. For instance, no
matter who won in the 2004 presidential elections, this country would
still have been lead by a member of the Skull and Bones Society. What
are the odds of that happening? In a nation of 295 million people, our
choice came down to two members of one of the most exclusive and secretive
clubs on the planet. Do you really believe in coincidences like that?
I don't. Nobody does. But we pretend to, because the truth is just too
awful for anyone with more than an inch of forehead to contemplate.
Yet, unimaginable as it may seem, there are even worse
things afoot to contemplate. Forces such as the emerging Christian militia,
the Joshua generation, and a runaway military establishment, to name a
few, working fanatically to make our obedience ever more lethal. Yesterday
I saw a photo of 25,000 young fundamentalist Americans marching in Philadelphia
and San Francisco in support of a theocratic state. I can honestly say
I was completely unnerved by it. Those little electrical nerve waves went
through my entire body, the kind that happen when you see a car wreck
take place. I live around fundamentalist Christians, my whole family is
fundamentalist Christian and I know what they are capable of and indeed
are planning to do given the chance. They are being led by the same types
who formed the old white militia movements in the Seventies and Eighties
before Timothy McVeigh rendered their public position untenable. I couldn't
shut up about it to friends. But even the most "informed" ones
looked at me like I was crazy, or at the very least, weirdly obsessive.
These are not stupid people. They are simply Americans. And because we
are friends, we moved on to another topic. This is the sort of strange
national disconnect that has so many folks like myself silently screaming
inside our heads.
And that is when we must do something something to stop
the screaming, something utterly mundane and completely oblivious to break
free of the hysterical grimness of it all. Like sit in the sun with a
Smokey Big Bite and let Bob Marley "Stir it Up" right there
in the parking lot. Grin along with some Haitian dude and watch a white
trash mama in ridiculously tight shorts step around you, inches from your
face on that curb by the 7-Eleven door, an ankle tattooed, cheap perfumed
angel of god sent to remind us that, "Politics ain't everything Buster,
and the world ain't all bad. Not by a long shot! Now finish chowing down
that dog, get off your ass and go do the right thing."