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exponentiation ezine: issue [3.0:culture]

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"Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond" by. Mark Ames. 284 pages. Soft Skull Press (2005)

It has been one year since Jeff Weise, the friendless, husky teenager with a broad chin characteristic of his Chippewa heritage, murdered ten people, including his grandfather on the Red Lake, Minnesota reservation and high school in what remains the largest American teen-rage murder since Columbine. Last April, as the media storm lingered over the motives (video games) and interests (Goth music) of the sixteen year old shooter, Mark Ames, writing in New York Press, offered a view that was apparently quite ludicrous to his journalistic peers:

"Jeff Weise is the offspring of an exterminated nation whose people suffer from rates of alcoholism, poverty and early death usually found in African countries. His father committed suicide; his alcoholic mother regularly beat him until she crashed her car and wound up a vegetable. It is easy to imagine that Weise connected his personal misery to the larger misery of his people...In that sense, Jeff Weise looks more like an insurgent than a simple psychopath.” *

Ames, dismissing the media's generalization of a deranged "Nazi", was only hinting at the widespread culture of bullying and intimidation assumed by America's educational and corporate institutions. His new book, "Going Postal" offers a detailed analysis of the psychology, background and future implications of this largely stateside, middle-class phenomenon. Key to his theory is debunking the general belief that rage-killers, like serial killers, can be profiled. Indeed, Weise, a poor Indian from the reserve is not the only subject to deviate from the common illustrations of white male anomie. Since it's impossible to lock onto a fixed criteria within the lives of these killers, common external factors must be the prime motivation. His argument is twofold; by attributing the contemporary environment of the workplace and high-school, a shift from paternal management toward an intentional climate of fear, to the economic practices of the Reagan presidency – cemented during Clinton's term of globalization, Ames contextualizes the dispiriting environments and cut-throat ideals that pervade each generation since.

For most Americans, work exists as a routine, not a vocation of skill. With its atmosphere of petty dictators, snitches, gossip-hags, cursed fluorescent lighting and forced cheerfulness implicit in customer service, employees trudge through their routine day after day, amongst tiers of both the sexless and sexually frustrated. These conditions are concurrent to all office-based jobs, increasing with the scale of the company. It's a real-world sentence involving what Evola called an "artificial increase" of human needs.** For those young enough, lucky enough or willing to take a risk, it may only last a decade before they're able to accumulate some savings and move on to something better. Most won't, no matter the indignity. It's this idea that consumes the second half of Ames argument, which draws comparisons between the contemporary employee and lowly slaves, touching on both the Romans and Arabs, but primarily concerned with America's early history. In the colonies slave rebellions were a rare occurrence. The reason? While those uprisings that did occur were squashed almost instantly, most did not want to leave their masters at all; contrary to the triumphant pictorials of slaves in modern education (read: television). But it was not so much fear of the military or the White Man's law which prevented escape; it was, as Ames reasons quoting Frederick Douglas, a fear of the unknown.

There are many convenient traps offered by America's quotidian model. For one, it fills an otherwise hapless existence with familiarity and responsibility. The same familiarity and defined space that helped keep slaves in tow, leading relatively untroubled lives so long as they conformed. Indeed, most Americans love work! It's built into our National ideal, which in the last few decades has taken on grotesque dimensions. As Ames notes "Entertainment is no longer about joy or escape. It's about reliving life at the office, even if you've just left the office fifteen minutes ago." But for all this dreary life of schlepping and sorting and keying in, it used to be more tolerable; at least American's were well compensated for it, receiving benefits and earned vacation time. Even for the ones privileged enough to receive either of these more humane accommodations today, many are afraid to take the advantage; wouldn't want to look like you're falling behind. Thus, when this rigid, consuming life of eat, sleep, laugh, shit work is disrupted, often in degrading shows of pseudo-strength and corporate apathy, the consequences can be legion. Is this mere rhetoric and hyperbole? Ingest these gems from former Intel CEO Andy Grove and the Wall Street Journal and then think when they were applicable to your life. (Although if you're European, with an average vacation time of six to seven weeks compared to American's ten to fourteen days off, it might be tough).

"The most important role of managers is to create an environment in which people are passionately dedicated to winning in the marketplace. Fear plays a major role in creating such passion. Fear of competition, fear of bankruptcy, fear of being wrong and fear of losing can all be powerful motivators."

"The workplace is never free of fear – and it shouldn't be. Indeed, fear can be a powerful management tool."

This sentiment has become manifest throughout decades in literal monsters like Andy Dunlap and sneering assholes like Neal Patterson down to the callous pit-bosses in Oklahoma, San Diego and Kentucky. And Columbine; for what are today's schools but farming systems for the next crop of drones? Shifting focus from education to selective discipline, aggravated disaster's like high-school were up until a few years ago, a place where bullying was just a fact of life -- preparation for the business world. Always concerned with teaching how not to think, one of the most curious themes explored by Ames is the media's convergence upon racism as a motivation for teenage killers, often in place of the more logical activators, such as humiliation and alternative-less defeat. Says Ames, "It is as if the adult world needs to find racist motives in the school shooters and plotters in order to bracket them as exceptionally ‘evil', rather than, as is usually the case, typical". As The Misfit's used to sing, "Blame it all on Nazi Youth!"


** "The turning point was the advent of a new life that...adopted as it's highest ideal an artificial increase and multiplication of human needs and the necessary means to satisfy them, in total disregard for the growing slavery this would inexorably constitute for the individual and collective whole." Men Among the Ruins pg 173. - Smog


Polar Shift
by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos (2005, Penguin, New York)

Writers of mainstream books know that they are essentially making written television, but a handful have decided to eschew the Dan Brown route -- making the mundane seem profound -- and try its inverse, or encoding the profound into mundane form. Look at the surface of a Michael Crichton or Clive Cussler novel, and you see people shooting machine guns out of helicopters and chasing dinosaurs; look inside, and you will see a subtle discussion of the philosophical and political demographics of our time. It is not like Schopenhauer, which is written about the individual; it is about the ideas individuals share that thus change our world by their currency in assumption.

"Polar Shift," like most of these books, combines far-out science with very real world conclusions, and in that alone are a warning for the Few Who Still Think, but as this plot unfolds, it gains sinister implications that warn us about some of our illusory thinking and our tendency to accept that people's stated motivations are what actually drive them. Without giving away too much of the plot, this book is about the technology for shifting magnetic poles of the earth developed by a Hungarian scientist, and how years after his death, a tussle erupts between corporate interests and counter-Elite revolutionaries -- who have some problems with ideological clarity that lead them closer to the state of their enemies than their actual friends. The action is fast-paced; the words are simple; the emotions very basic and as always, there's a beautiful chick somewhere who in a nod to women's rights is also a brilliant scientist. It doesn't take a magnifying glass to see through the formula, but as a great writer said, a book is not the techniques it uses by the ideas it provokes. - vijay prozak

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