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BEAST PAGE 3
The BEAST answers your letters
Mark Ames on his new book and the uniquely American phenomenon
of people freaking out and shooting everybody
Interview by PAUL JONES
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.