The masses have become lazy, fat and stupid
The following article was written by Joe Bageant and published on, December 11th, 2006.


In your essay “Sons of a Laboring God“, you wrote: “Anyone who actually believes that all these poor working puds can beat this system, lift themselves up by their bootstraps, is either a neo-con ideologue or the child of advantage.” I grew up on welfare. I had no central heat, our well ran dry most summers for up to a month, and at one point I only had two pairs of ripped, ill-fitting jeans and five stained T-shirts to wear for several months.

I starved my way through college and am now making $75,000 a year — and I’m only 27. I made it through by the skin of my teeth, fearing every moment that I wouldn’t make tuition, that I’d be kicked out of the dorms and have nowhere to live. When they gave me my diploma, I was crying so hard I couldn’t see. I forgot to shake the dean’s hand. It wasn’t easy, but with a little sacrifice it was possible. Upward mobility in the U.S. is neither a myth nor a pipe dream.

The reason these people you talk about can’t move up in life is nobody’s fault but their own. They are the reason I despair for this country. We have become lazy, fat and stupid. I appreciate your attempts to exonerate the masses, but unfortunately, even without “The man keeping them down” most of these people would be still doomed to failure. There’s no reason they can’t go to college. They just don’t want to.

Let’s hope the tide turns for our country soon, at any rate.


*     *     *

Dear Kelly:

I used to think that way too. Then I came to understand how working class Americans came that way over generations through conditioning. You gotta stand waaaaay back to see how it works.

Look at it this way: The empire needs only about 20-25% of its population at the very most to administrate and perpetuate itself — through lawyers, insurance managers, financial managers, college teachers, media managers, scientists, bureaucrats, managers of all types and many other professions and semi-professions.

What happens to the rest? They are the production machinery of the empire and they are the consumers upon the empire depends to turn profits. If every one of them earned a college degree it would not change their status, but only drive down wages of the management class, who are essentially caterers to the corporate financial elites who govern most things simply by controlling the availability of money at all levels, to to bottom, hence your hard struggle to pay for college in an entirely capitalist profit driven economy. In every other modern post industrial economy you would have attended for free as long as you chose to, and been given free healthcare and a stipend to live on while you did it.

Clawing down basic things like an education in such a competitive, reptilian environment makes people hard. And that’s what the empire wants, hardassed people in the degreed classes managing the dumbed down, over-fed proles whose mental activity consists of plugging their brains into their television sets so they can absorb the message to buy more, and absorb themselves in the bread and circus spectacles provided them through profitable media corporations operating mainly as extensions of the capitalist state’s propaganda system, such as “buy  this,” or “you have it better than anyone in the world,” (not at all true). The more generations subjected to this, the more entrenched ignorance, materialism and lack of intellectual drive becomes. So you are right to the degree that we live in a degraded society. But the dumb mooks down on the corner did not do the degrading. They never had that much power.

At the same time average household income in America is  $34,000. So a guy like you making $75,000 has two choices. He can feel like the money justifies a superior attitude, or he can take some time to think about things other than the capitalist state’s stamp upon his brain that, yes, he is superior because he can buy more things, and he can call other Americans lazy because they did not make the same choices he did.

Only about 20-24% of Americans get a college degree. One quarter of Americans do not finish high school. Interestingly, they are beginning to come together, though they don’t know it. Right now we are seeing the proletarianization of college graduates, as increasingly more of them are forced to take service and labor jobs. (Remember that it only takes a limited number to directly or indirectly manage the working masses, which these days includes workers like hospital technicians, and a thousand other occupations we have not traditionally thought of as working class.)

You are a young person. America will go through its most profound changes ever within your own lifetime. When the ecological and economic collapse comes, and it is now unavoidable, you may well find yourself gutting chickens at a Tyson poultry plant. Be nice to the Mexican-American guy standing next to you. He got his college degree the same way you did.



Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory