Monday, March 28, 2011

Joe Bageant is gone

As I wrote in the first post in this blog:

I'll also post reviews of other blogs about societal collapse and what to do about it. There are plenty of them out there, and they all deserve a good meta look.
That was going to be Kunstler's Clusterfuck Nation, but breaking news changed my mind. Instead, Joe Bageant's blog gets the honor. That's because Joe died this weekend.

After a vibrant life, Joe Bageant died yesterday following a four-month struggle with cancer. He was 64. Joe is survived by his wife, Barbara, his three children, Timothy, Patrick and Elizabeth, and thousands of friends and admirers. He is also survived by his work and ideas.
A moment of silence, please.

In a perverse way, I think it's fitting that Joe gets the honor of first review over Jim. It turns out that I helped introduce the two. I'll let one of the first commenters on CN to bring up Joe begin telling the story.


When I read your contempt for your social inferiors, and hear it echoed by your fans, I can't help comparing it to Joe Bageant's rueful sympathy for his own benighted tribe of origin, which is also mine. (Go to Guess which of you comes off as the more admirable and mature person. But then, Bageant has a real class analysis, and you don't. He asks how these deluded right-wing populists got to be the way they are, and rightly blames the capitalist system itself. So does Chomsky, so did Howard Zinn and many others. Check out Theodor Adorno on the psychosocial roots of the original, non-cornpone Nazis. Be more serious, less glibly journalistic.
As Neon Vincent, one of my other noms de net, I responded:

I've been wondering when Joe Bageant's name would appear here in response to Jim's mocking of the rural working class. While both Joe and Jim think their response has been wrong-headed and not in their best interests, and that the system has been hollowed out (Joe calls it "The Hologram" while Jim calls it "The Consensus Trance"--same thing, really), Joe is much more understanding of their plight and explains how they got there, while Jim displays a visceral dislike of the same people that seems to border on a defense against fear of them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I think dialog between Joe and Jim would be a good thing. At the very worst, it would degenerate into an entertaining display of verbal pyrotechnics. At best, it would be a fruitful exchange of ideas between two people who are feeling different parts of the same elephant. Either way, I'd enjoy the result.
I should be careful what I wish for. For the rest of the year, Kunstler's commenters brought him up. Believe it or not, Kunstler paid attention.

In his 2011 Forecast, which I really need to analyze, Kunstler wrote:

We're already looking like a nation of ax murderers and cannibals with our tattoo fetish, strange costumes (baby clothes for young men; hooker get-ups for the ladies, which should tell you that adulthood is the new final frontier of the American Dream), and our retarded patois of like-like-like and go-go-go speech - all set in a porn-saturated total immersion huckster hologram (thanks Joe Bageant) of visually incoherent, civically-impoverished, and economically spavined suburbia. I'm sorry, but we just look like a nation of goners. Surely the levels of clinical depression are high out there, and a lot of our fellow citizens are suffering profoundly inside - but is acting like killer-clowns the only option?
Looks like I got half my wish. Did I get the other half? Yes, I did.

Hi Joe,

Greetings from one of the attic dwellers in Canada.
Joe, many questions come to mind, but one of the most pressing is this: can you point readers to some kindred spirits of yours on the web who write in the same mold?

And, do you see any Hunter-esque gonzos coming down the pike? If he sensed a new rot creeping into the scene back in the early 80s, his ashes must be doing the funky chicken over Obama not even bothering to coat the horseshit with honey these days.
Writers in the gonzo-esque mold? I really don't know any more than you do on that matter. I'd say James Howard Kunstler for one. You may not think of Jim that way, but if he were writing his stuff in 1970, he would have been seen as gonzo. But I'm not sure just who is out there. I really don't cruise the web as much as you might think.

But Hunter was one of a kind. Realistically speaking, Matt Taibbi is probably as good as Hunter was in many respects. But Hunter was the first. Taibbi is better than Hunter in nailing down the facts, but strains too hard at times to be entertaining (who doesn't?) Still, I have a lot of respect for Taibbi. Also, Hunter's political position inasmuch as he had one other than personal freedom, might be called armed and drugged-out libertarian. It was a different era. If Hunter were starting out today, I doubt Hunter could get published by mainstream mags and book publishers. Publishers' legal fears and all.
In that same piece, Joe also showed that he wasn't a Crazy Eddie.

Like anyone else who has soberly observed this age of peak everything, and the avaricious clowns in charge of our future, I'm a doomer. Even if Abe Lincoln, FDR or Gandhi were in charge at this point, I'd be a doomer. But with enough booze, I can gut it out in relative cheer.
But I digress. Joe cited Jim favorably again.

Jim Kunstler, never at a loss to describe a ludicrous situation, sums up the paper economy's engineering of our collapse nicely:

"Wall Street -- in particular the biggest 'banks' -- packaged up and sold enough swindles to unwind 2500 years of western civilization. You simply cannot imagine the amount of bad financial paper out there right now in every vault and portfolio on the planet … the people fabricating things like synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) had no idea what the fuck they were doing -- besides deliberately creating documents that nobody would ever understand, that would never be unraveled by teams of law clerks ... and were guaranteed to place in jeopardy every operation of the world economy above the barter level."

Not only did I get my wish before I died, I got my wish before either one of them did as well.

As for a review, Joe was a keen observer of politics, culture, and economy, especially as it related to the modern American condition and how that condition is contributing to economic and social collapse. He wasn't strong on the science, but he didn't need to be. It's not for lack of science that we are both in the fix were in, know what kind of fix were in, and know how to get out. It's because of all the human factors that Americans are in the mess there're in and only now have the barest glimmer of how big a mess it really is. Joe was also a masterful writer. His prose was gripping and his subject matter was and still is compelling.

He thought he'd escape the ultimate fate of our society by either living abroad or dying first. He got his wish; he did both.

Joe had many memorable posts, but I especially recommend this one: Escape from the Zombie Food Court. It's the one where he best explains "The Hologram"--the corporate-controlled media projection of reality that substitutes for the real thing and which has Americans in its thrall. Happy Reading.

Goodbye, Joe. You'll be missed.

ETA: Jim Kunstler provided the capstone to their interaction in his post today.
I was just informed this morning about the death of Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus and the soon-to-be published Rainbow Pie. Joe was a brave and funny soul and we will miss him very much.
Remember this moment; it isn't often that Jim says something nice about another person in his blog.


  1. I was actually very surprised that Jimmy didn't know Joe.

  2. You and me both. It turns out that Joe's readers had been engaged in a multi-year campaign to get him to read Jim's blog as well. Joe enventually relented and posted what I quoted above.

  3. Reading the Zombie Food Court essay, I was struck by this sentence:

    It is fair to say that television and the American culture are the same thing.

    Exactly. In conversation, I refer to America's TV addiction alongside, and sometimes as more dangerous than, its oil addiction. If somebody could travel into the world of Star's Reach and explain television to Trey sunna Gwen, he'd instantly understand why the old world ended in general, and specifically how the Merigans of that time were so very able to ignore reality long past the point where any other people would've had to face it.

    1. America's TV addiction is something I've yielded to, both on the blog and off. Note how much I write about entertainment here. That's because one of the best observations I've made while writing for my blog is this one summed up by Nebris, who is known (not very fondly, I might add) at the Archdruid Report in the comments: "Americans will take all manner of social, economic and political abuse, but will rise up with righteous fury when you disturb their Entertainment."

  4. I caught your remembrance of Bageant today on Kunstler's site. (I'm glad your comments tend to appear high in the thread, coz that way I see them. I sometimes read the first dozen or so replies on Kunstler, until the neo-Nazis begin crapping it up and it becomes not worth the waste of electrons to keep my screen lit up any more. And JHK -- whew! -- he's gone off the deep end into Trump Defender Syndrome and is barely worth a look any more either.)

    I had the privilege of meeting Joe Down Undahere in 2006 on his "Deer Hunting" book tour. He was giving a chat at a bookstore that'w well-known for hosting authors, and I persuaded my wife-at-the-time to attend. She was reluctant at first, because she was (then) not as much of a Doomer as me. But she found Bageant charming, in part because she had worked for a while in the Appalachian region that Bageant described so well. It was great to be able to shake his hand, buy the book and give him good wishes from a fellow American.

    Bageant is surprisingly well-known in Oz, perhaps even moreso (per capita) than in the U.S. Not long after seeing his talk, the (now-ex) wife was chatting to a pharmacist in the suburb of Melbourne where we lived, the topic of Merkin politics came up (as it invariably does because of our accents) and HE knew of Joe. One of my local social groups, a band of readers of the Archdruid, also has some Bageant fans. I loaned out "Deer Hunting" to one and made a convert of him too!

    Whenever I want to reflect that there is no Cosmic Justice in the universe, I am reminded of the fact that Bageant is dead while Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney continue to draw breath. Of course, that's probably because they're undead demons sent by Satan to spread evil amongst mankind /snark/ but still, NO FAIR!

    1. Your three comments here made my leaving a comment at Kunstler's blog worthwhile all by themselves. As for the high placement, that's deliberate. I try to catch Jim's posts as soon as they come up. About half the time, I succeed, as I see them with 0 comments yet posted. I also work on responding to the first comment, which is more effective than trying to be the first; I usually end up being third or so. Those comments end up being pushed farther down the page as the day wears on.

      As for the other commenters there, I think they have become more conservative, if not downright reactionary, over the past decade and have pulled Jim off to the right with them. One of the effects of that is that it has reinforced Jim's dislike of certain kinds of social change. It has also made him more sympathetic to Russia. If I didn't know any better, I think he spends too much time around Dmitry Orlov!

      Thanks for telling me about Joe Bageant's fame Down Under. That is something I wouldn't have expected. And, yes, this is not a just world. In fact, there is a Niven expression for that -- TANJ! There Ain't No Justice!

  5. "As for the other commenters there, I think they have become more conservative, if not downright reactionary, over the past decade"

    Maybe I'm reading too much into a dynamic because of my own biases, but when it comes to comments on teh Internets tubez, I think reich-wingers are where left-whingers were with that 10 years ago.

    When I first got interested in blathering on comment sections, circa the early 2000s, the majority of opinions expressed were of a leftist vibe. I reckon that was because forward-looking people tended to adopt new technologies, such as spouting their opinion on the glowing screen, before people who are instinctively shy of new things. The latter are conservative, of course. As Internet communication became part of the conventional American social zeitgeist, via Fakebook and other social media platforms, more kkkonservatives caught the habit of shouting their biases on opinionated forums. My suspicion, backed by nothing but my own prejudices, is that "perception management" forces aligned with vested interests such as Big Oil, also began more paid-posting propaganda schemes. They're not going to sway the minds of left-wing people who are well-informed and committed, but astroturf comment-floods can make it SEEM that there is a bigger right-wing groundswell than there is. This not only "rallies the troops" of people with right-wing views, when they see that others (who might be fakes, but who can tell?) are in there with them, but it can also bolster kkkonservative politicians when they (and their staff members, who do most of the real work in legislative offices) see a lot of comments with conservative slants.

    There's a Gresham's Law ("bad money drives out the good") dynamic in play, though. Many people who are progressive have given up commenting because what's the point of jumping into a mudfight? I don't bother to comment at most sites, especially newspaper ones. Having a peek at small-town newspaper story comments about any crime story (where the papers even HAVE comment sections any more) is an education about the revolting racism embedded in society. I barely even read them any more, except for a smattering at the top of comment sections, as a way of seeing what the reich-wing talking points are. Looking at them from a "meta" sense, as in how much the authoritarian types are openly calling for murdering their opponents now as compared to a decade ago. It's also funny to see how many comments it takes for a story about ANYTHING to descend into a "Hate Trump/Love Trump" stupidfest. Generally it takes less than 10 comments. Even on Aussie newspaper stories it happens. Trump truly does suck all of the oxygen out of the room.

    I appreciate smaller blogs such as yours where there's intelligent conversation. Also because it suits my confirmation bias! Do you read the Naked Capitalism econoblog Pinku? It's got tonnes of posts and links about financial things, but also a lot of social commentary from a leftish perspective. The comment section there is a great place to learn more, especially about foreign (i.e. non-U.S.) topics because commenters chime in from all over the world. NC's Brexit coverage has been fantastic, f'rinstance. The main reason the comments are classy, though, is because the main people behind the site police the responses and will tell off the shit-posters. It got so nasty not long after Trump took office that they shut the comments entirely for about a month. In the long run, I expect that free-for-all Internet commenting will become passe.

    1. Well, yes and no. No because ten years ago, the Left had Daily Kos, FireDogLake, Booman Tribune, and a whole bunch of sites like Michigan Liberal that ran off a now-defunct blogging platform. The right had Red State and Free Republic, but had just lost Little Green Footballs to the Left (the owner finally figured out what kind of site he had been running and decided to move Left to avoid the racism and other bigotry that his readers would pull himself into after Obama was elected). So there were plenty of places online for conservatives to meet.

      Yes because the Tea Party movement and then the alt-right hadn't emerged yet and conservationism hadn't taken over the chans and Reddit yet. There was no youth movement on the online Right then other than a few skinheads on Stormfront. There is one now. I think that makes a difference.

      I'm not surprised that you have run into the eliminationist rhetoric from the right. David Neiwert, who has been writing about the American Right for a couple of decades at least, wrote a book about that phenomenon called "The Eliminationists." And, yes, Trump does suck all the oxygen out of the room. That's why I decided to write less about him a couple of years ago. I didn't want to give him the attention.

      I used to read Naked Capitalism about a decade ago during the depths and immediate aftermath of the Great Recession. I moved over to Calculated Risk after that because I use the graphs in my teaching. Just the same, thanks for the recommendation. I have a tab open to it as I type!