Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wobbly times number 109

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
by Joe Bageant

These "Dispatches from America's class war" ring as true as America's Liberty Bell. Of course like the "Liberty Bell", the American Revolution's promise of "liberty and justice for all" cracked on first use. As with other bourgeois democracies, the ideals of the the American capitalist revolution were undermined by class rule. Liberty, equality and fraternity tended to break down under the rule of Capital, where, as the old wag's saying about the golden rule goes, those with the most gold, have made the rules. What Joe Bageant has done in DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS is to give his readers an up-to-date snapshot concerning the preemptions of America's revolutionary ideals as he focuses on the lower strata of the rural based working class. His microcosmic example is focused on the majority of the people who now live and work in his old home town of Winchester, Virginia. To be sure, he also shines in a light on his fellow workers' rulers: the lawyers, real estate agents, landlords and small business people (aka `cockroach capitalists', in Old Wob tongue).

Bageant describes Winchester's cockroach capitalists this way:

"Members of the business class, that legion of little Rotary Club spark plugs, are vital to the American corporate and political machine. They are where the institutionalized rip-off of working class people by the rich corporations finds its footing at the grassroots level, where they can stymie any increase in the minimum wage or snuff out anything remotely resembling a fair tax structure. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians has connections. It can get that hundred acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that two-thousand-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for big business, these folks, with the help of their lawyers, can raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God's gift to the big nonunion companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into--the right wing's can-do boys. They are so far right they will not even eat the left wing of a chicken." p.45

Mr. Bageant peppers his aphoristic style with enough humour to keep all the but the most dour social stoic smiling. In his chapter titled, "Valley of the Guns" (a piece of writing sure to upset liberal gun control advocates like Michael Moore), Bageant explains his book's title.

"To nonhunters, the image conjured by the title of this book might seem absurd, rather like a NUKE THE WHALES bumper sticker. But the title also captures something that moves me about the people I grew up with, the intersection between hunting and religion in their lives. The link between protestant fundamentalism and deer hunting goes back to colonial times, when the restless Presbyterian Scots, along with English and German Protestant reformers, pushed across America, developing the unique hunting and farming-based frontier cultures that sustained them over most of America's history. Two hundred years later, they have settled down, but they have not quit hunting and they have not quit praying. Consequently, today we find organizations such as the Christian Deer Hunters Association (, which offers convenient pocket-size books of meditations, such as "Devotions for Deer Hunters", to help occupy the time during those long waits for game. Like their ancestors, deer hunters today understand how standing quietly and alone in the natural world leads to contemplation of God's gifts to man. And so, when a book like "Meditations for the Deer Stand" is seen in historical context, it is no joke. For those fortunate enough to spend whole days quietly standing in the November woods just watching the Creator's world, there is no irony at all in the notion that his son might be watching too, and maybe even willing to summon a couple of nice fat does within shooting range." p. 124-125

The ideological crack between the more liberal, more urban, coastal based U.S. workers and their small town, conservative rivals, living in the interior of the country, is one of the main political thrusts of DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS. The gun control issue is but one of many sore points dividing the U.S. working class thus, making its members easier to rule. The elephant standing in the room is the issue of work-time. Too many hours sold to the bosses makes it difficult for small town wage-slaves to do much in the way of educating themselves, reading or expanding their views of the world beyond the easily accessed, instant, canned gratification available from conservative Republican corporate AM radio pundits and their brethren on the bully pulpits of the nation's fundamentalist Christian churches. The toilers of Bageant's home town are literally being worked to death at jobs which market for low wages, kept even lower by the anti-union ideology which is so common in their everyday parlance as to be taken for `commonsense'. The same can be said for their socially conservative cultural traditions concerning: race relations, the possession of firearms, Big Gov'mint, namby-pamby intellectuals and warlike nationalism. Across that great bellwether, the great crack in the working class remains unrepaired as left liberal workers sit and sit and sit, disdaining contact with their `benighted' fellow citizens thus, leaving both sides ignorant of what the other is saying or doing and by extension the potential of their power as a class united. According to Bageant, this is a recipe for continued impotent expressions of working class power, while serving to maintain a ruling class status-quo which is on track to continue cutting U.S. workers' living standards and furthering the commodification of human values and humane relations.

Joe Bageant has written a book which should be on every IWW organiser's shelf. DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS answers many of the questions concerning how and why the workers in the USA are largely blind to their own class interests.

The Australian edition of DEER HUNTING WITH JESUS comes complete with an Australian oriented preface.

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