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Constructive Self-Criticism

In praise of Joe Bageant, who joins the favored ranks of renegades, skeptics, and dissidents.

Book Digest In fits of attempting constructive self-criticism (also known as navel-gazing), I ponder the possibility that my disaffection with mainstream politics and my lifelong drift from left-leaning liberal to socialist to anarchist is mostly a result of my biography. That probably is supposed to matter, especially to people who think that “balance” and “objectivity” are viable constructs or values or whatever. I am drawn to renegades and skeptics and dissidents—Howard Zinn, Kurt Vonnegut, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, the Berrigan Brothers, Staughton Lynd, Eduardo Galeano—and even to the right lurch of Christopher Hitchens. (I have not abandoned a healthy respect for his analytic and rhetorical skills.) For some time now, I have caught glimmers and rays of Joe Bageant at his site and at Mark Woods’s web site/media bonanza.

Among other of my cogitations about Bageant was a puzzlement that his commentary did not have a wider audience. Consider this illumination from his Aug. 27 entry, “What will America look like in two years?”:
It’s going to take what most people outside the US would consider a ridiculous level of disaster before most Americans understand that something is deeply wrong with the trajectory of their nation. Personally, I think we are years away from that realization—decades away if we can steal enough oil and keep printing enough fiat currency to keep the public fooled.
Last year Bageant published a book, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War, the title of which tips off why he has not been lapped up by the mainstream. Bageant mentions, and in fact insists, that there are class divisions in America. Which contradicts one of the basic myths of our republic. Here’s Studs Terkel’s take:
This recounting of lost lives—of white have-nots in one of our most have-not states—has the power of an old-time Scottish Border ballad. It is maddening and provocative that the true believers in “American exceptionalism” and ersatz machismo side with those stepping all over them. Bagaent’s writing is as lyrical as Nelson Algren’s, and if there’s a semblance of hope, it’s that he catches on with new readers thanks to the alternative media.
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