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BEAST ARCHIVES

The eXile's Mark Ames on his new book and the uniquely American phenomenon of people freaking out and shooting everybody
Interview by PAUL JONES

Mark Ames, co-founder (along with Matt Taibbi) and editor of the Moscow-based expat newspaper The eXile, has written a new book examining the uniquely American phenomenon of workplace and school shootings. In Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond, Ames traces the origins of these massacres to the cultural shift and widening wealth gap ushered in by Ronald Reagan’s presidency; and attempts to frame them as modern slave rebellions. He read excerpts from his book last Tuesday night at Junno’s in Manhattan and was gracious—or high—enough to answer some questions from The BEAST.

You began your reading humorously, imagining an updated “Leave it to Beaver” replete with a haggard Ward and a disaffected, trench coat-wearing Beaver. The crowd loved it, but once you moved into the slavery material, they listened almost reverently. Does that reflect what you were going for in the book?
It’s a good question because I initially intended the book to be a lot more comic, but if you read it, it’s essentially not very comic at all. It’s a big departure from my normal stuff. I thought [black humor] would demean the material—the material is so fucking good—it just wasn’t right. I actually started writing the book in an eXile style, but the material was so great and painful. I think the thing about comic writers and comics is that they’re the most fearless people. But if I were to treat this material comically, it would actually just demean it.

II did do more comedy and Richard [Eoin Nash], my publisher, rightfully cut it out. There’s a section on the Battle of Negro Fort. It’s so brutal, but so potentially funny. And when I wrote, I had a parallel scenario with Bugs Bunny as Andrew Jackson and Yosemite Sam as [slave insurrectionist] Garson, but it destroyed the whole book. So, I’ll have to save that for another book.

What do you mean exactly by profiling workplaces and schools—do you mean examining the culture at large, or do you think there’s an actual profile for a company or a school? Have you developed a profile or tried to predict where or when a shooting might occur?
My profile is this: any white middle- upper-middle class suburban public school, and any middle/lower-middle class rural school; any workplace that adheres to the post-Reaganomics ethic of maximizing shareholder value at any cost to the workers, to middle management and below. The point is that profiling for preventative purposes is pointless; profiling is necessary only as a means of understanding what our lives are really like today, all that flat misery and bland injustice that we refuse to see because it’s all too contemporary, too obvious. It’s not an easy thing to profile.

Doesn’t Going Postal express a mixture of empathy and disdain for American workers? The idea workers are also, in very stupid and petty ways, to blame for their circumstances?
Yes, [there is a] mixture, and yes, they are partly to blame for being craven suck-up serfs. How can you not have disdain for them? Even pity is a form of contempt.

Presently, one of Buffalo’s largest employers, Delphi Corporation, is attempting to break a union contract, reducing worker wages and benefits in order to offset reported company losses and ease its impending bankruptcy. Rapid and widespread deunionization— the loss of workplace protections—obviously fuels the fear, insecurity and discontent so many employees feel today. Yet ant-union sentiment is stronger than ever and scapegoating remains a reliable strategy for politicians, as well as for preserving the wealth of their executive constituency. Why are so many Americans vehemently anti-union?
People have a subservient mindset. The lower classes and middle classes don’t fight for their own interests, but they all think they’re going to get in on the lottery and make it rich. There’s a great passage in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five—and clearly Vonnegut wanted to say this, but he put in the mouth of a horrible character—in which an American POW who collaborated with the Nazis says:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves… They mock themselves and glorify their betters… They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves…They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.

You know, in France—we laugh at the French—but, Jesus Christ, they lose one day of vacation and there are tomatoes in every street. So, it’s just a very weird thing that, in fifty or a hundred years, people are going to look back and say, “What the fuck was wrong with Americans?” I think there’s something specific about America where people blame themselves and they accept the cultural propaganda that says, “If you haven’t made it, it’s your fucking fault.” I don’t think there’s another culture in the world like that.

How do you reconcile the plight of African slaves and contemporary American workers who, while facing falling wages, declining wealth and deteriorating workplaces, clearly profit from their work and enjoy the world’s highest standard of living?
It’s more psychological than material. Also, remember many slaves did get paid a wage of sorts. Fear is another common motivator; both slaves and white-collar workers are afraid of ditching their wretched lives because they fear the unknown misery to the known one. The fact that most slaves didn’t rebel isn’t proof that they were generally happy, although that point is always made.

The fact that most modern workers don’t rebel and shoot up their companies is similarly not proof that it’s working and fine. Rather, the fact that there are SOME rebellions is proof of a much larger widespread misery, which is actually quite easy to trace. You also hear this about Iraq, that only onetenth of one percent of the population is actually involved in fighting us...so therefore... they’re all happy!

In Going Postal, you note, “the 2003- 2004 academic year was the bloodiest year since the Columbine academic year.” Are rage killings are on the rise?
That was, if not the worst, then one of the worst years. But record years are irrelevant. There weren’t any record years in slave rebellions or slave violence. The point is that they continue to happen because the conditions are still there and getting worse. Meanwhile we live in this crazy culture which actually thinks that those conditions are both inevitable and even a good thing. Even though these conditions make them miserable and transfer their wealth and pleasure up the chain.

Are we heading toward a national catastrophe, something decisive? Is there any reason to hope or expect things can and will improve?
I’d doubt there will be anything cataclysmic due to the murders. Americans have an amazing capacity to delude themselves in the face of any awful reality, and to even enjoy a very grim, wretched life. You are already seeing more kids of color doing or plotting rage massacres, such as at my old high school.

But I think, overall, most people will just continue to take it and take it, because of that powerful slave mentality in America, and it will take some huge cataclysm, something like a world depression or something we can’t imagine, to wake the suckers up. But as we have seen, these rampage murders aren’t waking anyone up at all. It takes a lot to do that. Just look at the way Americans love George Bush and the Iraq war. He’s been skull-fucking the very people who voted for him for 5 years now, and they’re just slowly starting to get it. It takes 5 fucking years for these rubes to make a connection between the guy who’s robbing them blind right in front of their faces, and the fact that they’re being robbed, and the fact that being robbed is not a good thing.

A really fucking pathetic excuse for a society, today’s Americans, and in fact they’re a good argument in favor of abandoning democracy for something like a military junta. Except that sadly, there’s nothing most Americans would like more than to be ruled by a brutal military junta, so it wouldn’t teach them anything.

Are there any schools or companies that have experienced multiple rage killings over time?
Many schools which had shootings had serious threats of more afterwards. Columbine had another shooting after the Big One, and also had a few kids arrested for drawing up hit lists just a couple of years ago. My own school first had an Asian kid busted with a hit list, then a couple of years later another Asian kid busted by the FBI hoarding explosives to blow up the school. As for companies, they often die or radically transform after a big massacre.

One of your points is about rage killers wanting to destroy the institutions, which often involves killing co-workers or students who aren’t always overtly hostile, but are perceived as part of the machinery of oppression. Did rebelling slaves ever target other passive slaves—other than those who may have actively aided in suppressing a revolt—or did they just attack their masters, overseers and so-called “house slaves?”
In the few slave rebellions, like Nat Turner’s or John Brown’s even, there were always slaves killed by the rebels, and there were almost always slaves who rallied, fiercely, to their master’s side to defeat the slave rebels. The fact is most people who wind up killed are generally “innocent.” Even the not-innocent ones, like the master family Nat Turner killed, he admitted he liked them very much and had nothing personal against them. But they had to die for larger reasons, which at the time was seen as unbelievably evil, but today seems totally justified. As for office massacres, if you’ve ever worked in an office, heard the way people talk, their craven mixture of boot-licking, backstabbing and parroting the Soviet/corporate party line, you’ll know that it’s not uncommon for a freethinking person to harbor thoughts of massacring not just the executives who are squeezing them, but all the cheerful collabos they have to put up with by the coffee machine every day.

At one point, you ask of newspaper accounts describing the homogenous setting of an office shooting, “Did the journalists who wrote these descriptions understand that they were describing part of the murder spree’s cause?” Are the media guilty of ignoring the underlying causes of rage killings?
Well, I think the media’s reflecting most people’s impression. It’s just one of those things that is so banal—the setting and the conditions—that people can’t really see it. When you live in a foreign country [as I do] you kind of see your own culture as a semiforeigner, yet you know the nuances well enough that you understand what’s fucked up about it. Whereas, when you’re deep inside the culture, you can’t contextualize. You tend to repress it and so that’s why it usually takes fifty years to write about something horrible that happened fifty years earlier. I really don’t think you can blame the media because it’s really difficult to see outside of your current timeframe.

You emphasize there were fewer than a dozen slave rebellions. Given your point about underreporting of rage killings, do you think there’s a historical de-emphasis or studied ignorance of small-scale slave revolts or resistance? How, if at all, would you square the frequent non-violent fleeing, or isolated/individual acts of violent opposition, by slaves with modern rage killings?
People would say, “If these rage murders are slave rebellions, why aren’t they done in groups?” My answer is that in slave times they didn’t do it in groups. They simply snapped and lashed out one day, burned their master’s house down or clubbed their master’s bratty child to death in a fit. The point is that it’s almost impossible to form a cohesive slave rebellion in a country like ours because our slave mentality is so deep and widespread, and because our means of suppression are so effective. Yet we now see all of those seemingly random acts of slave violence as political acts; in the same way, I believe we will see all of today’s rage murders as precontextualized political rebellions against intolerable conditions.

If pharmaceuticals aren’t an actual cause of killings, are they a numbing agent that prolongs suffering and keeps people from recognizing their true misery—conditions that may eventually result in a shooting?
Depends which meds you’re talking about. I can think of plenty of good meds which would ease my suffering, and in fact I have a couple of them on me right now, one even in me. As for anti-depressants, I have heard from some people that because they make you so numb, you might be more inclined to shoot. In the same way, if we didn’t have guns so widely available, it would be harder to shoot. That doesn’t explain WHY these are happening now, only now, only in America. It just explains why it’s a bit easier logistically. Anti-depressants have been around a long time. So has depression. Rage massacres just started in the middle of Reagan’s presidency.

Matthew Beck, the Connecticut state lottery killer, dispatched his first victim with a knife. Is that common?
Good question. I have a feeling he really hated the fucker, although the real villain seems to me to be the CFO, Linda Mlynarczyk, whom he shot. There are some stabbings but it’s rare, like the New Jersey postal worker who plunged a samurai sword into his former supervisor and killed her. It’s not a very efficient way to kill, as a rule - people are fairly hard to kill, and you have a better chance with a gun than with a knife. The knife, however, is more personal, and therefore presumably more satisfying.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
 

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