Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The price of submission

Joe Bageant, posted in The Smirking Chimp:

Take away America's Wal-Mart junk and cheap electronics and what you have left is a mindless primitive tribe and a gaggle of bullshit artists pretending to lead them. ...

Never in all history has there been such a lonely, inauthentic civilization. ...

I loudly declared American middle class life to be a crock of shit and vowed to kiss it off. Go someplace simpler. Run nekkid in the surf in Saint Kitts or smoke pot in Belize. Catch my own damned salmon on the Galician Coast. But whoaaa hoss! This bad news just in: Not only do you have to buy your way into the American middle class through forceful consumption of the lifestyle, but you have to buy your way out of it.

I'll reply to Bageant's essay in an upcoming post.


At 2/09/2006 07:17:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

Never in all of history have a heard such a crock of BS statement like, "Never in all history has there been such a lonely, inauthentic civilization. ..."

I mean the simple fact that such a statement like that can be put into a personal Blog and published on the Internet for the entire world to see lend credence to the fact that the statement is simply untrue. There are more bookstores, even more discount bookstores, then there has ever been in the history of this country. Let's not even get into the ability to make and publish your own media in whatever form you choose, along with all the vast "underground" cultures that follow those various media forms and we all of a sudden can see that today's society has more forms of expression available to it than any other culture in history has ever had. Computers and their networks have created a vast cultural revolution as far-reaching as the printing press.

I'm not sure I can buy into anything else in that article just based on that one completely false statement alone. The rest just seems like whiney BS to me, but at least he has the freedom to express his feelings on the subject and comisserate with others who seem to feel that same way.

At 2/09/2006 07:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the contrary, the fact that people on the internet don't have the face-to-face personal interaction that we used to have makes that statement very true.

How many friends do you actually spend time with on a daily basis? How many neighbors do you share chores with? Do you really NEED people any more? You can shop, play, work, and communicate via the internet. That is kind of lonely, if you ask me.

I'm fortunate enough to have neighbors that do help with chores. We take turns shoveling/snow-blowing for each other. My neighbor helped my husband take out our old sidewalks and put in new ones. (A tough job, by the way....) We didn't ask for help, he just came and did it. Most communities aren't like that any more.

That was a great essay. I'm linking to it on my blog. Thanks for sharing that, Schroeder.


At 2/09/2006 09:01:00 AM, Blogger Rob said...

For once, I don't have an opinion. I just like his bitter, drunken style, no matter the accuracy of what he writes. But I am looking forward to what Schroeder has to say about it.

At 2/09/2006 09:40:00 AM, Anonymous ashley said...

Ditto, Rob.

Of course, if he is slamming typical US middle class culture (Thanks Houston!), then he's slamming the world.

My wife is from Prague, and I remember not that long ago going through Eastern Europe and recognizing a distinctly different culture.

Now, the main difference, is that "I'm lovin' it" is translated into the local language at McDonalds. Usually. In, say, Slovakia, they don't even try.

At 2/09/2006 01:40:00 PM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

So, mixter, you're saying that you do have neighbors that you talk to and have friends, etc., but you're convinced that despite your having these things that MOST of middle-America, in indeed ost of America in general, does not have these things?

There was a time when what is being termed here as loneliness was considerd a sabbatacal, or even common when one lived in a rural environment and did not have the most common conveniences that ready access to transportation provides these days. Communication consisted of the rather impersonal method of putting down words to paper, instead of on a computer screen, and waiting weeks, or longer, for responses. Not all THAT different, epsecially considering the decrying of how illiterate our modern society supposedly is.

Yet today in middle-America we are writing on things like blogs, forums, internet chat rooms and such at a phenominal rate unheard of in human history. We are exposed to far more varying ideas and ideologies through the vast media we are exposed to as well as through our interactions with our vastly expanded list of neighbors that still include our physical neighbors but now include neighbors from all over the globe.

Is that really loneliness? I can more easily stay in touch with friends and family now, despite living in our far more mobile society, than I would ever be able to otherwise. How can our civilization truly be considered lonely when we have more interaction now than we have ever had? How can we be inauthentic when we have far more avenues of cultural expression now than we have ever had?

In a way this goes back to the posting I made regarding race on this very blog. It's that inexplicable "other". These other sub-cultures in America have some aspect about that them doesn't quite sit right with your or my personal views and so these inexplicable "others" somehow seem to be an indication of what is wrong with all of those "others" out there in the world.

Maybe some feel more lonely only because they have grown to recognize just how vast and huge the world, indeed the universe, is. Maybe some feel lonely because they can recognize they are but an infinitesmilly small piece of a gigantic cosmos. This, to me, is a piece of self-awareness that is truly phenominal and ultimately praisworthy.

The next step, however, is to re-recognize that we are not at all alone in this position. That the same vast body of all of humanity is here with us. So very, very many of those folks will always be a part of that intextricable "other". Never quite understandable until you make the attempt to understand them. Some of them will never be understandable and some of us will simply never have the appropriate capacity to understand some of them just because of how our brains are wired compared to them.

That doesn;t mean we don't have something in common with a quite a large number of these other folks. Maybe it only means that since the playground is bigger that maybe we are a little more afraid to interact since we feel we might be considered part of the "other" by those we meet? Do we feel the pressure of possibly greater rejection? And what of those many, many, folks who have such difficulty in face to face interaction (that have ALWAYS been with us throughout human history) but now have a way of taking those first steps to greater interaction because of the supposed "impersonal" nature of the medium we are currently communicating on?

Does any of this make us any less aware of opposing viewpoints? I would argue that it shouldn't make us any less appreciative of those viewpoints.

Here is an article that I think nicely expresses a reasoned approach at looking just how expansive our "culture" really is, despite the constant decrying of how much lack of culture we supposedly have. "All Culture, All the Time: It's easier than ever to make and buy culture. No wonder some people are so upset." By Nick Gillespie (

Maybe I'm just a glass-half-full kinda guy, by I think we're in a lot better position, and a lot less lonely (or at least no MORE lonely than our ancestors), than that blog article makes us all out to be.

At 2/09/2006 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

All good points Lenny, and Mixter. Not that I have any authority to judge. I don't think anyone is necessarily right or wrong, but I do believe these are times that require reflection on the forces that are driving our society and whether they add or subtract from the quality of existence. My own view? Obviously, I think there's quite a bit of truth in Bageant's perspective. There are always exceptions. I would like to differentiate what I think Bageant is talking about versus what you're talking about Lenny. True -- communication and information are infinitely more abundant than they used to be. Bageant, I think, laments the loss of the sort of kinship and community that comes from depending upon others for survival -- when you have to confront your mortality together, bonds are created that are far stronger than when you, for example, chat with someone on the other side of the country in IM. The question I would raise is, what is the content of the communication and the quality of the connections we can make in the information era. Everyone has their own experience when they go home, of course, but I certainly wonder if the bulk of humanity here in the United States really isn't living up to its creative potential, living in close communion with their neighbors. I am concerned that the pattern of modern existence is more characterized by people leaving their houses, getting into their cars, driving to work, working, leaving work, parking in their driveways, watching TV or gaming all night, and doing the same thing day after day until the weekend comes around, and then going shopping for stuff. Bad stereotype, or is there a little truth in there?

At 2/09/2006 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schroeder kind of answered for me, Lenny.

Sure, I can e-mail my sister in New Mexico. But I'd much rather have her living next door to me and sharing our life experiences with our families.

My sisters and I and our families are meeting at Yellowstone for a week this summer. While that is nice, I would like to go back to the old days where extended families stayed in the same town and did things together, for each other, etc.

I'm fortunate enough to live in a small town where our neighbors get together, but it's not necessary for survival like back in the past.

We've given up close, personal, face-to-face communication and togetherness for this, basically. Bloggers chat with each other and become "friends," but how many of us sit around a fire with our neighbors during the summer nights? (I do! I'm lucky.)


At 2/09/2006 04:34:00 PM, Blogger BadTux said...

I live in an apartment in California. I do not know who my neighbors are. They don't know who I am. We don't talk to each other if we meet on the way to our apartments. We go to our apartments, we close the doors, and that's that. Then we get onto the Internet and communicate with people who think the way we think, people who read the same news sources we read, people like us. If we are right-wing, we don't talk to nasty evil commie liberals. If we are left-wing, we don't talk to nasty evil reich-wingers. We seperate into our groups like oil and water, never communicating except to occasionally fling feces over the boundary like howling chimpanzees who've spotted members of another tribe of monkeys.

I've lived all over the United States, from sea to shining sea. The only place I've lived that is *NOT* like that is Louisiana. When I lived in rural Louisiana, I knew my neighbors. Hell, I was related to most of them. And when I needed help digging a trench for my water line, or discing some land to plant a garden, neighbors helped out. When my fruit trees bore fruit, the neighbors asked if they could pick the fruit to make preserves, and I said sure, just give me a jar of the preserves when you make them. When my cucumbers made far too many cucumbers (I ended up filling close to 40 pickle jars), I gave away pickles to my neighbors. That's just how it worked. How it used to work everywhere. But not anymore, except in a few very special places.

It is far, far too easy to be in one place, and assume that everyplace is like that. But Louisiana isn't the United States, or even much like it anymore, in my opinion. And arguing that "Louisiana isn't like what Joe says, thus Joe must be full of it!" is about as useful as saying "I'm a white guy from Louisiana, thus everybody must be a white guy from Louisiana!". It just ain't so. There's a whole nation outside Louisiana, and from my experience, most of it is like Joe says -- a soul-less place where nobody knows their neighbor and nobody talks to anybody who doesn't think like them.

- Badtux the Louisiana Penguin

At 2/09/2006 11:26:00 PM, Blogger TravelingMermaid said...

zimmerman, you stated almost exactly what I was thinking as I read this "essay" - what a crock of whiny, bitter BS!
In your second comments you very eloquently stated my basic feelings as well.
I would only add two observations. First, the trap he feels he is in is of his own making. He chose the second mortgage for a bigger & better house, he chose the SUV (or equivelent) that costs as much as some peoples homes, he chose to buy into the latest electronic gadget, etc, and all to keep up socially and economically with the people he chose to associate with. He chose to bow down to the adult form of high school peer pressure to accumulate "stuff" so as not to be different from anyone else. Not everyone, believe it or not, lives that way.
Second, people still do can peaches and help each other haul hay. They still pull over on the side of the road in respect when a funeral procession passes and bring food to feed the grieving family. They still go to their neighbors homes to help care for a sick friend or cook for the family. They still go out of their way to drive a friend to their storm ravished home after a hurricane. They still take in evacuees and give them food and shelter, asking nothing in return.
Where do you live? I don't think it's middle class America.

At 2/10/2006 05:46:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

This is fantastic. I love all of the perspectives offered here. I don't know why, but the topic certainly gets people's attention. Does that in itself suggest a problem?

Thanks for your contributions to expanding the discussion. I've learned a little from each of you, and after all, that's why we do this, isn't it? These are just ideas -- they're not hurting anyone.


At 2/10/2006 06:19:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I think Traveling Mermaid hits the nail on the head here. I've also lived and traveled to many, many places around this country and even in Europe. And I would agree with badtux that Louisiana is one of those places where neighbors do tend to be a little more "neighborly" as a part of our general culture. But that is a culture of our own making, just as not knowing your neighbors someplace else is a culture of your (speaking in the general plural, there) own making. If one feels isolated from their neighbors, then do something about it! Go meet them!

Although it may seem as though we only expose ourselves to left/right/authoritarian/libertarian viewpoints (sorry, but I just cannot ascribe to the two-party axis of political thought, it misses WAY too much), the honest truth of the matter is that when this country was more isolated, when we didn't have those avenues of communication that we have now, folks were often more ignorant because regional culture tended to breed a greater need for conformity and similarity in viewpoint. In some places that is STILL true today.

It may seem that folks have narrowed their viewpoint, but we are constantly bombarded by differing opinions, We are certainly exposed to more viewpoints and ways of life. For some that narrowing may well be simply a reaction to that, but it doesn't mean they don't get exposed to those views.

The funny thing for me is that all of this ties into what I think are some of the most endearing qualities about Louisiana, but are also the very qualities that make Louisiana so very frustrating and leave us in much the predicament we are in. Namely that we very strongly hold to a culture that is endearing and embracing, that in many ways is almost "old fashioned" in character. It's almost an attempt to limit our exposure to the outside world, to opposing viewpoints, it seems to me. You ask someone from Dallas where they are from and they will mostly likely proclaim "Texas!" Ask a New Orleanian, particularly, and they'll say "New Orleans!" We are local folks, first and foremost, and often view the world outside of our little corner of it as not really affecting us. As not really a part of us. Politics is more entertainment and maybe trying to do a little bit of "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine". We just figure if something doesn't go our way that somebody else's back got scratched, but we'll likely get ours next time. Or as we've often said "Better the crook you know..."

We revere the past (although, the tirade in question does much the same) without noticing the promise the future can bring. Broadening our horizons might mean we have a little less attention to give our neighbors while we concentrate time and effort on the things that mean the most to us outside of our myopic little world. Maybe that is a sad loss indeed. But with a little effort do we really need to lose it?

Perhaps Louisiana in particular is now in a more unique position. We've held onto that culture of Southern Hospitality more dearly than many places and maybe we can still hold onto it while now realizing that the events of the world DO affect us. That getting ourselves out of the "the old ways are the best ways" mindset might help us to move forward and actually look at what kinds of politicians we are electing, at what kinds of buisinesses and people are constantly leaving our state and our economy because we stubbornly refuse to move our businesses beyond the "good ol' boy" networking we've so long clung to.

Yeah, we really don't know all of the consequences of what looking to the future will bring. But has it really been THAT bad so far? Or are we just choosing to see "generic" middle-America without really bothering to get to know our neighbors out there to find out that maybe they really are just as unique and original as we believe ourselves to be? Maybe they really aren't "sheeple".

I must admit I've certainly met many folks out there in the wide world that I simply couldn't agree with and probably fit that stereotypical middle-American mold oh so well (and I've met those folks not just in America, and through reading I've met them all over the world throughout history), but I've also met so very many more who are the "characters", the truly unique folks we so revere in a place like New Orleans. They are out there, in abundance. You just have to make the effort to get to know them.

Yes, there is certainly something in Bageant's tirade that speaks to all of us on one level or another. Let's face it, we grew up in a society where the primary propoganda for the past 200+ years has been to rever the uniqueness and exceptional qualities and power of the individual. (How many movies can you think of that revere being a conformist?)

Yet human nature is social, tribal even. When we don't find our exact match in views in others it's easy to feel as though they mus be that "other" that is the abboration of conformity, while we are obviously different and therefore the heoric individualist! Of course that mindset might also make us feel a little lonely at times, and understandably so. I guess the other part of the equation is just how much time do you want to spend on that constant internal conflict of apporpriate levels of conformity to fill our social need and how much on individualism to fill our need to prove our worth to ourselves, if no one else? A bit of a psychological see-saw, I suppose. :) Maybe Mr. Bageant is decrying the fact that he, himself, is out of balance on that precarous see-saw. We all are, at times. I just think maybe we could all use a little perspective an remember that it's not ALL bad.

At 2/10/2006 08:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great discussion. And you all bring up very valid points.

Thanks again for posting this, Schroeder!


At 2/10/2006 09:38:00 AM, Blogger BadTux said...

For the guy talking about Joe and the second mortgage: Outside of Louisiana and a few other states in the Central U.S., you basically can't do without debt. Easy credit has led to inflation of everything needed to live to the point that if you want to do without debt, you end up renting a small cheesy apartment and eating a lot of beans. And even tiny crackerbox houses cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the American economy seems almost designed to cause people to run up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt.

Again, it's easy to say "That can't be so!" when you've never lived outside of Louisiana. But again, Louisiana is different, mostly because Louisiana is *poor*. When pretty much everybody in a place is poor, nobody plays the credit games to drive up prices to the point where you can't afford them without going into debt and gambling that when you sell your house in ten years that prices will have gone up so far that you'll be able to pay off your debts with the profits.

It's easy making fun of folks like this from back in Louisiana. Takes your mind off of Louisiana being such a poor state, I suppose. But like I said before, Louisiana isn't America, or much like it anymore.

As someone else mentioned, Louisiana is conservative in the old fashioned sense of the word -- a state that doesn't embrace change easily or with enthusiasm. Which is both good and bad, since the "good old days" weren't all good, especially for non-whites, and the poverty of the "good old days", beside which Louisiana's current poverty is virtually streets paved with gold, seems utterly forgotten. As an elderly great-aunt who was a share-cropper back in the early part of the 20th century told me, when talking about how they lived in a shotgun house with an outhouse in the back and walked down the hill to a spring to get water for cooking and washing, "That was a hard life." She had absolutely no desire to go back to those "good old days". The point is that conservatism is good to a certain extent... but not all change is bad. Louisiana's challenge going forward is to keep looking at change skeptically, but quit dismissing it out of hand as inherently bad. Otherwise an economy battered by Rita and Katrina is never going to recover to the point where the outflow of young smart people can be staunched.


At 2/10/2006 02:26:00 PM, Blogger TravelingMermaid said...

BT has given me something to think about. I have always had empathy for those less fortunate than myself and, I confess, not much patience with the affluent who want to cry about how their lives suck. Maybe I am making assumptions about the author of the essay and I know I need to work on "assuming". But I would NEVER make fun of anyone and that is not what I was doing. We here in LA are not isolated from the rest of the country or world. I have lived other places and I have family & friends all over the US. I know other states (mainly cities) have a much higher standard of living and it's difficult for many. But I believe the lifestyles of those areas are not representative of alot of middle America. I grew up in rural MS in a family that I guess was poor. I never thought of it that way. My great-grandmother didn't have running water & I remember as a child drawing it from the well. Now I live a quite comfortable life because I planned it that way. I have lived in the same house in N.O. for 26 years when others on the block ran when the neighborhood started integrating. I am proud to say my block is a mixture of white, black, hispanic and asian and I like it better this way. We all watch out for each other and lend a hand when needed.
But, I digress. I believe to a large extent one creates their life. If you are unhappy, change it! If material possesions are pulling you down and stressing you out, get rid of them. IF you feel alienated from your peers, affect a change. If you truly want a simpler life, it can be done. Especially if you have the means and the opportunity that money can afford you. And even if you don't there is this thing called "will" and "persistence". In this country you can have what you want if you want to make it happen. I did.


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