Life as a Cog
by Mike Jaynes / August 30th, 2008
The disturbing feeling of Cog-ness is slowly creeping into our nation’s educated citizens. By educated, I do not mean those of us with various alphabet soups behind our gentrified names, but those who have begun to realize this American Dream isn’t what we signed up for. And by Cog-ness, I mean the Machine. Much has been written on our quaint and overly mechanized materialistic system and its class slavery, but there is even more ground to cover. The wheel of the world keeps spinning around its eight-to-six slave driving and passionless axis while the outer rim of the super wealthy continues to be supported by the spokes of hard working American types who never take a day off unless they have to and believe in words like Freedom and Justice while possessing neither. And the wheel of America, in its ever accelerating downward roll, continues to squash any country and every culture that happens to wander into its path. For confirmation, examine the tread marks on flattened Iraq, Sudan, and the like. Or google “factory farming” and look at our wonderful factory farmed meat industry. Real warm and fluffy. Hopeful, you know.
We’ve been told that if we work hard, stay honest, do our best, and floss every day we will have good lives. We’ve been told not to complain, believe in God, and keep our heads down; keep a low profile. We’ve heard this our whole lives. The problem, and what inspires considerable stress related gastrointestinal cramps in The Man, is that the inherited sociocultural beliefs of past generations won’t do anymore. They are no longer relevant. Across the country, people are beginning to pay attention and complain with the best of them. But stay in line, we are told. Corporations weed out possible rebels and free spirits with standardized personality and drug testing and the university realm of academia scoffs at any would be teachers lacking multiple graduate degrees on their resumes. As if jumping through various systematic hoops of academic accomplishment proves one dynamic enough, creative enough, and worthy to educate the up and coming troublemakers of tomorrow. The low wage workers, as researchers such as Barbara Ehrenreich tell us, are told to value hard work and not complain and continue to pull the hard unforgiving yoke on the ground floor of the machinery.
And then there is God. Or rather, the popular Americanized version. The drifting vagrant Christ who said Love each other and Do the Right Thing before adorning some knotty pine seems not to be present. America holds God up as a threat to these low wage worker slaves showing them: See? Jesus had it way worse than you, and he didn’t complain. And often the low wage view is skewed as well. Here in East Tennessee, on UT football nights, God is undoubtedly inundated with countless southern inflected twangy voices begging for the Vols to make those two last yards for the first down. This is distressing, and it seems best if we just left the whole subject out of the quest for personal freedom. Often my students are confused, and we examine beliefs on God much like Serge A. Storms’ in Triggerfish Twist: “I’m not saying God doesn’t exist. I believe in God. But he’s not a micromanager, so stop asking Him to drop the crisis in Rwanda and help you find your wallet.”
However, in my experience as a university lecturer in English and the Humanities and an animal advocate, plenty of students are catching on. They are getting the vague and uneasy feeling that overly reductionist religious systems and outdated social codes are selling a comfy cell block box with all the trimmings in which to live, in which to stay in line. Our jailers are masters of deception, and they use chains with such subtle disguising craftsmanship Hephaestus himself would be proud of them. In our comfy ornate boxes, the jailers give us pretty shackles to wear. Not only do we wear them, but we must go out and purchase them and pay for them with our hard earned money (nah, just charge it). Akin to docking a prisoner for his meals, we pull on the woolly snug chains of comfort in complete ignorance. Ipods, absurdly large and flat television screens on which we watch absurdly large and fake heroes. More clothes than anyone could wear, Hummers, overly aggressive predatory student loans, and more. Oh yes, don’t forget the wholesale slaughter of countless animals who think, live, and acutely feel pain. Sure, I realize many feel these purchases are their right. They earned the money or have the credit, so who am I to say these excesses are wrong? Who says we can’t eat animals? I do. The minute you find yourself plopping down huge percentages of your monthly income for unneeded things, you are wrong. I’ve been there as well, so save your righteous indignation. If you have not examined the reasons behind your desire for things, you need to rethink, or perhaps simply think. And that is why my writing and classes often inspire controversy…I feel no reason to subscribe to a hypocritical system of political correctness in which I do not believe. So I feel I am someone who is right and not hesitant to admit it. It is not ego; it is simply truth.
Ah yes, it is a part of my dilettante palm-tree-methodology and life path to live and let live, so don’t expect me to come fire bomb any Hummer dealerships. Been there, done that, so to speak. If you want to eat the cooked flesh of a tortured animal, that is your choice; it is our choice to live as we chose. That, in fact, is one of the only true values America has to offer us. Therefore, hateful small minded responses do not anger me. Rather, I am quite entertained by them because there always is the possibility that my paradigm could be flawed in some way unbeknown to me. You know, I could be wrong. But, materialism, class division, animal slavery, overly reductionist religious institutions, and ignorance are the problems in this society as I see them and unlike so many millions who have came and gone before me quite unnoticed, I don’t have a big interest in faking sincerity and keeping my head down.
Predatory credit card companies, criminal mortgage lenders, slaughterhouses and factory farms, absurd student loan companies, and well spoken politicians who truly do not care about the plight of commoners are all too vocal and powerful and committed to exploiting the lower classes for outrageous financial gain. So why should people who realize the version of Freedom we have been sold has come at the cost of soulless conformity remain politically correct and silent? Why should the cogs keep evenly greased and silently turning? The squeaks of social unrest, class consciousness, and animal/civil rights are quickly greased by cheap government bureaucrats with six part plans efficiently going nowhere. The truth is the poor are simply minor speed bumps on the road to upper class elitism, a minor annoyance with no real teeth, nothing to damage the SUVs of the Very Well Adjusted and Upwardly Mobile. So go ahead, crush them as you ladder climb because it’s completely your right to do so. Go ahead and destroy them and their hopes, you won’t hardly even think about it; it won’t trouble you at all.
Being a system in which one can rise above one’s situation, achieve a higher level of socioeconomic successs, and then haughtily look down on members of one’s previous socioeconomic class, America may not be as Great as they once told us. The present wealth oriented America system depends on the ignorance and placidity of us cogs to stay silent and take what they can give us. Then, after an adult lifetime of crushing labor, we can get a company watch and know that we never started any trouble and kept to ourselves. Perhaps the tombstones of the current American low wage workforce could have a single inscription above a collective mass grave: Good American. Worked Hard. Never Caused Trouble. Socially Accepted. Historically Irrelevant. Not that their one track activism is always the correct approach, but as those mysterious maskers at A.L.F. and E.L.F. would no doubt tell us, there is talking and there is doing. Until the majority of Americans realize our superimposed socioeconomic slavery and decide to raise complete and holy hell, this article — and all others like it — is the worthless talk of self-important academics. Thanks for reading. I’ll be around.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Life as a Cog