What is Excess America?

A Thesis of sorts..

It may just be that I’m the type of person who can’t stop questioning things, but for a long time I’ve known that there are always people who get the shitty end of the deal. I’ve also realized that a great deal of the things I’ve been taught about how the world works have turned out to either be extreme wishful thinking, outright lies, or demonstrate implicit, yet very powerful assumptions.

People can become very powerful by using such assumptions to bestow authority and legitimacy upon themselves, when large enough groups believe in them. You may recognize this at work in things like the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the Prison-Industrial Complex, International Neoliberal Finance (a.k.a. the “Free Market”, but in actuality the dominance of a concentrated, rent-seeking oligopoly), and the Great Speedup (or why you aren’t getting paid shit but corporate profits are soaring).

Besides things like the Occupy Movement that frame the issue in a conceptual perspective and have real data on their side to solidify their arguments, I’ve also felt that there’s a human, personal element that we can feel on a regular basis, usually when we are forced to contemplate unpleasant socioeconomic realities in public.

Because as Americans we are taught that talking honestly about class and money is taboo, it is difficult putting into words, much less acting in our own best political and economic interests. We are taught to trust institutions and powerful people (or even just your boss), who are supposed to act in our best interest, but instead end up exploiting us. However, recent history demonstrates that the most salient political division is no longer liberal vs. conservative, but rather pro-establishment vs. anti-establishment. That is, whether someone can admit that our current political and economic systems operate on corrupt, self-serving incentives. When people are well-informed and start following their beliefs instead of partisan branding, you never know what kind of batshit crazy political bedfellows might result.

Besides the usual explanations of institutional racism, socioeconomic inequality, and corporate avarice, I believe that there are small, subtle ways we express political preferences that make us falsely limit our options for challenging things we find unjust. When you keep asking the same types of shitty questions that are weighed down by preconceived notions and powerful agendas, you get the same kinds of answers that perpetuate bullshit and blind assumptions instead of challenging them. For example, see this list of CNN’s vs. Reddit’s interview questions for Sen. Bernie Sanders; regular people asked him substantive questions about his policies while CNN only focused on why anyone should care about him, because Hillary’s already got all the money and is so popular.

This is a side effect of when political campaigns and votes devolve into marketing campaigns and commodities, respectively, which can be bought and sold. Frighteningly, because of its profitability we are now exporting this model to other countries. I believe that this trend closely follows the global spread of neoliberalism. Advertising and marketing, when used maliciously, complicate otherwise simple realties for your exploitation.

One of the few writers who is able to express the human element of this tragedy in unsparing but eloquent fashion is David Simon. You may recognize his name as the guy who created The Wire. The name of this blog comes from an interview he gave:

“The Wire depicts a world in which capital has triumphed completely, labour has been marginalised and moneyed interests have purchased enough political infrastructure to prevent reform. It is a world in which the rules and values of the free market and maximised profit have been mistaken for a social framework, a world where institutions themselves are paramount and everyday human beings matter less. Unemployed and under-employed, idle at a west Baltimore soup kitchen or dead-ended at some strip-mall cash register – these are the excess Americans. The economy staggers along without them, and without anyone in this society truly or sincerely regarding their desperation. Ex-steelworkers and ex-longshoremen, street dealers and street addicts, and an army of young men hired to chase and jail the dealers and addicts, whores and johns and men to run the whores and coerce the johns – and all of them unnecessary and apart from the new millennium economic model that long ago declared them irrelevant. This is the world of The Wire, the America left behind.”

(Emphasis Added)
-David Simon
(Source)

Essentially, the economy lacks enough real opportunities to offer to the structurally unemployed. Rather than investing in our people as have other countries to create such opportunites, we have chosen to use the criminal justice system to generate profits for private prisons as well as the police from the resulting human chaos. These Excess Americans are now the human grist for the for-profit criminal justice system.

Our elected officials are too concerned with which corporate teats will fund their next election to notice our exploitation, except for when we occasionally use the internet to shout about something meaningful.

These are the types of unpleasant economic realities I’m referring to. But quite simply, what Simon is talking about is that many of us feel forgotten, that we’re consistently on the shitty end of the deal or just being failed or exploited by institutions that are supposed to exist to help us (law enforcement, healthcare, courts, elected officials, the companies we work for).

I’m writiing from an American perspective, but because of globalization and the grotesque dominance of neoliberal capitalism, many of these experiences can be felt regardless of what country you live in. All of our experiences are converging, for better or worse, as a result of having the internet to connnect us and being subject to increasingly similar market forces and supply chains.

It’s some crazy fucking times that we live in, but no matter how weird things become I hope I can say that I was trying to pay attention.

I suppose I need to introduce myself. The important things to know are that I’m an underemployed computer geek with a political science degree that loves critical writing but doesn’t want to get further exploited by the higher education industry. I’ll mostly cover political topics, but outside of the usual Red vs. Blue narrative and from a pseudo-academic perspective.

Technology will also be a heavy focus. I believe that it is possible to liberate onself by using technology in a self-empowering, creative way instead of the passive, consumerist, version that we’re sold but exploits us via surveillance and data-mining.

If you’ve made it this far, and you have something interesting to say, leave a comment or send me something (PGP preferred!).


 
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