Joe Bageant, the self-described “redneck socialist” writer who died this week at age 64, enjoyed exploring the great divide between the working class and the limousine liberal establishment. Sometimes he seemed one of the few progressive-minded author/social critics who even acknowledged this divide.
Bageant didn’t have the high visibility of the mainstream pundits who opine from safe, upper-middle class perches about the state of the nation (David Brooks, you weasel!), but he clicked with readers who loved his bemused disdain for American culture and his talent for tempering scathing critiques with smart, ornery jokes and curmudgeonly concern for the poor and dispossessed.
The other day, while writing about the bankers who were rewarded huge sums for grand theft and incompetence, I thought of this from Bageant’s essay “America: Y Ur Peeps B So Dumb”:
Cultural stupidity might not be so bad, were it not self-reproducing and viral, and prone to place stupid people in charge. All of us have, at some point, looked at a boss and asked ourselves how such a numb-nuts could end up in charge of the joint.
In my own field, the book biz, the top hucksters in sales and marketing, car salesman with degrees, are put in charge of publishing the national literature. Similarly, ex-Pentagon generals segue from killing brown babies in Iraq into university presidents and CEOs. Conversely, business leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld who fancy themselves as battlefield commanders and imagine their employees as troops to be “deployed,” find themselves happily farting behind Pentagon desks. On the strength of having mistaken Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for a business text, they get selected by equally delusional national leaders to make actual war on behalf of the rest of us.
But the most widespread damage is done at more mundane operational levels of the American empire, by clones of the over promoted asshole in the corner office where you work. At least one study demonstrated that random selection for corporate promotions offset the effect significantly. Research again confirms what is common knowledge around every workplace water cooler in the country.
Bageant’s writings are medicine for cultural stupidity and a respite from the world of corner offices and over-promoted assholes. Read Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War if you haven’t already, and Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, and the many essays on Bageant’s website. It’s a real shame there won’t be any more of them.