The Walking Dead

Why is “The Walking Dead so successful?  My take is that it captures what has happened to all of us in the U.S.  in an entertaining way.   Some Americans do try to escape the “deathless  and faceless machines” called corporations because we know that they are not persons.  They “have no soul or human emotions.”  They are relentless and everywhere. (It is no accident that the original series was the concept of Frank Darabont who was the screenwriter/director of the great “Shawshank Redemption”, another escape movie.)

Joe Bageant discusses this idea of zombie corporations in an address to psych students called  “Escape from the Zombie Food Court”.

“You are as conditioned as any trained chicken in a carnival. So am I. When we go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder. You will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do — mostly along class lines. “

“For instance, as university students, you are among the 20% or so of Americans indoctrinated and conditioned to be the administrating and operating class of the American Empire in some form or another. In the business of managing the other 75% in innumerable ways. Psychologists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, accountants, sociologists, mental health workers, clergy — all are in the business of coordinating and managing the greater mass of working class citizenry by the Empire’s approved methods, and toward the same end: Maximum profitability for a corporate based state. “

Lex commented on the Bageant idea on’s blog piece “Parasitism and Pooling.”

“Oddly, the bureaucracy doesn’t look like the British Empire at all. It looks downright Soviet. The nomenklatura may be out of favor, but aside from a few being tossed aside, their power remains and keeps institutional momentum. They are supported by great numbers of apparatchiks, who concern themselves mostly with institutional survival (pleasing the correct nomenklatura at the correct time) and cannot/will not question the institutions. You can’t win an argument with an apparatchik.

Perhaps the difference is that the US has more layers of apparatchiks than the USSR did with its monumental and singular state mechanisms. In the Bageant quote, he’s talking about them without using the Russian word. They’re not the think tankers, lobbyists, government employees, or political staffers/media, but they’ve got their shoulders to the same wheel.”

So everybody on MSNBC and their guests, Fox News and their guests,  The Nation editors and their writers, union staffs, Sierra Club lobbyists, gun lobbyists, all, all at the service of the corporate state.

Bageant’s conclusion:

“Given the financialization of all aspects of our culture and lives, even our so-called leisure time, it is not an exaggeration to say that true democracy is dead and a corporate financial state has now arrived.”

Raging against the machine is an old idea, but still a good idea.  And I thank Joe for doing it again in such an eloquent way.  Is there any escape from this machine? He says to start by giving up on the idea that we are unique and instead embracing the idea that we are all “swimmers in an ancient rushing river of humanity,” who have felt the emotions of love and fear, joy and sorrow.  That indeed is a worthy way.  We are as Paul said in Romans, “all of one body, but with gifts differing.”  This is, not coincidentally,  the title of the Jungian practitioner, Isabel Myers.  Her book on psychological type is called “Gifts Differing.”

Bageant reminds us that other visionaries knew about this concept of being one with each other and within nature from St. Francis to Einstein.  And he reminds us that it is possible to escape the theater state of the corporations.  We can seek balance in our lives, yin and yang.  We can embrace social justice and believe that the arc of the moral universe is indeed long, but we can start right now to bend it towards justice.  It doesn’t just bend by itself.

It isn’t justice that only the 20% and the 1% they serve are allowed to dream and have lives of meaning.  It is not justice that the children of the poor can only look to the military for lives of purpose as David Graeber points out.  It is not justice that most Americans are barely “Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive”.  It is not justice that some of us get to ride up the elevator promising to send it back down to get the rest.  We must all go up together.

I feel these ideas, but don’t always live them.  I do succumb to the delight of a new car’s leather seats warmed by some energy draining mechanism.  I do succumb to the hunt for a jaunty fedora on  I do succumb to the lure of age defying creams and rubs.   I have been called a “purist” for believing in ending poverty and living more communally, but am hardly pure.

Bageant lived part time in Belize.  There the people are poor, but they are guaranteed a piece of land on which to build a house and most of them do.  They have free health care and they can retire at 60 so the younger ones can take over the work.  Without TVs, they spend time telling tales and singing songs and dancing.   That is sounding better and better to me.

2 responses to “The Walking Dead

  1. I swear, Boy Scout’s honor, that I left the comment at Ian Welsh before I read your latest post. Bageant was a comet streaking across the sky – the world is lessened by his passing. I’ve been consumed by some powerful ideas presented by David Abram, in Becoming Human: An Earthly Cosmology. He launches a torpedo amidships the entire edifice of modernity. If you want to be blown away, I highly recommend the book!

  2. And I swear I wrote this before seeing your comment at Ian’s. whoa! Okay, david abram it is. But I am getting behind. Only part way thru “dancing in the streets”.

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