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Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion by Mark Ames

going-postalMark Ames is one of those writers who comes up with so many original ideas and observations that the stupid shit he frequently says—whining about racism, inventing Koch conspiracies out of whole cloth—is excusable. Going Postal is a great example of why. This is easily one of the most important books in modern America, because it advances a theory that is utterly sensible, yet extraordinarily difficult to talk about in public: the idea that spree shootings aren’t random acts of violence, but the only logical response to a world that dehumanizes and enslaves us.

The idea that spree shooters aren’t simply deranged wackos is a little more acceptable now today than when Going Postal was originally published back in 2005, but it’s still largely anathema to both sides of the political spectrum. The left wants to pretend that banning guns will somehow solve the problem; never mind that as Ames demonstrates, workplace and school shootings were essentially nonexistent before the 1980’s. The right thinks that violent video games and death metal are driving kids to ventilate their own classmates, as if teenagers are brain-dead automatons who can be turned into murderers with the flip of a switch.

The idea that our society is so dysfunctional that it’s driving people to murderous rage is too horrible for Americans to contemplate.

Ames’ thesis in Going Postal is that workplace and school shootings are a modern form of slave revolts, every spree killer a Nat Turner for the Information Age. That mere sentence is enough to generate a kneejerk reaction from even the most limp-wristed peacenik liberal: “America’s standard of living is the greatest in human history! You work a cushy office job, live in an apartment with central AC and can afford to spend your free time jacking off and playing video games! Your ancestors had to shovel shit for fourteen hours a day just to put food on the table, so quit bitching, you pussy!”

This kneejerk reaction is possible because our culture has done a great job of hiding the reality of slavery in the antebellum South. As Ames discovered, the Northern Puritan idea of slavery being an inhumanly oppressive institution is false:

Most slaves lived by a dull schedule of work, recreation and sleep. Slaves generally weren’t kept behind barbed wire or cuffed to a ball and chain (except as punishment in the rare case that they tried to escape). Instead, many slaves were allowed to walk into town (they had to carry their identity papers with them), permitted to visit slaves at other plantations, and given leisure time, so long as it did not affect the slave’s work habits. Many slaves were even paid cash or allowed to sell excess crops like serfs or sharecroppers. They used the money to buy clothes and goods, to court a spouse, to raise a family, or in some cases to buy their own freedom.

Ames contends that the reason why the U.S. had so few slave revolts compared to other countries in Latin America or the Caribbean is because American slave owners developed foolproof psychological techniques for making their slaves docile and obedient. Their methods of psychological control are virtually identical to the ways that modern corporations condition their workers, including making slaves believe that their masters’ interests are the same as their own and giving them a surprising amount of personal freedom (as detailed above). Additionally, Ames points out that Southerners and even Northerners to a certain extent legitimately believed that they were doing Africans a favor by enslaving them, which deprived slave uprisings of a context in which they could be framed. Without this context, slave revolts of the kind led by Nat Turner could be dismissed as acts of psychotic, pointless murder, or blamed on scapegoats such as the Catholic Church.

But if spree shootings are the same thing as slave revolts, why the sudden uptick in the past three decades?

The answer: Ronald Reagan. When Reagan became president in 1981, his administration transformed the American workplace—and to a lesser extent, public schools—into a cutthroat competition, where workers are forced to work longer hours for less pay, all to make the rich richer. He crushed unions (literally in the case of PATCO), supported outsourcing and downsizing, and encouraged corporations and employers to slash their workers’ pay and benefits. And as it turns out, there was absolutely no rational basis for this, as the conservative/libertarian claim that the economy was ailing under Jimmy Carter was a complete and utter lie:

…The truth of the matter is that on a macroeconomic level, the difference between the Carter era and the Reagan era was minimal. For instance, economic growth during the Carter administration averaged 2.8 percent annually, while under Reagan, from 1982 to 1989, growth average 3.2 percent. Was it really worth killing ourselves over that extra .4 percent of growth? For a lucky few, yes. On the other key economic gauge, unemployment, the Carter years were actually better than Reagan’s, averaging 6.7 percent annually during his “malaise-stricken” term as compared to an average 7.3 percent unemployment rate during the glorious eight-year reign of Ronald Reagan. Under Carter, people worked less, got far more benefits, had greater job security, and the country grew almost the same annual average rate as under Reagan. On the other hand, according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 1996, under Reagan life got worse for those who had it worse: the number of people below the poverty level increased in almost every year from 1981 (31.8 million) to 1992 (39.3 million).

As it turns out, the only people who were suffering during Carter’s presidency were the rich. The indignity of only being able to afford two summer homes instead of three was too much for them to bear, so they pushed for the election of a president who would let them rape and loot as much as they wanted. And we’re living in the world they created, a world in which 90 percent of college grads are forced to move back home, where health insurance is increasingly impossible to obtain, and where sociopaths like Donald Trump and Jack Welch are regarded as folk heroes for humiliating their employees and firing them in mass layoffs.

The spree shooters are the people who’ve decided that they’re not going to take it anymore.

Workplace shootings began among Postal Service employees (hence the phrase “going postal”) because the USPS was the first victim of Reagan-style slash-and-burn economics. Under Richard Nixon, the Postal Service was forced to become profitable (a requirement never imposed on any other government agency), which resulted in a series of employee benefit cuts and a new crop of sociopathic managers seizing control. Post office shootings were blithely dismissed by the public until 1989, when Louisville, Kentucky-based Standard Gravure employee Joseph Wesbecker became the poster boy for workplace rage:

The presses churned, moans and cries were muffled. Bodies lay strewn from the white-collar elevator entrance on one end of the building all the way to the opposite end, the break room. The company was destroyed. His mission accomplished, Wesbecker stepped out of the press room, pulled out his German SIG-Sauer 9mm semiautomatic, put it up to his face, and pulled the trigger. After nearly thirty minutes, the first modern private workplace massacre in American history, the rage murder that would spawn so many, had ended. Seven were killed, twenty were wounded.

Ames demolishes virtually every myth about spree shootings, from the idea that shooters can be profiled—there have been shooters from every racial group, bachelor shooters and married shooters, and even some women shooters—to the claim that their targets are random; Wesbecker and other shooters deliberately spared certain employees and targeted others. The goal of a workplace or school shooting is to destroy the school or company the shooter is subjected to, which means murdering the people who run it and work for it.

And given that every single employer in America is equally inhumane to its employees, the libertarian cliche of “if you don’t like your job, get another one” is bullshit.

Fans of Ames’ other writing will be surprised by the tone he takes in Going Postal; I certainly was. His writing style is devoid of his usual vitriol, assuming an almost sympathetic tone. Despite this, his prose still is great to read; this is no dry academic work, with cutting jokes and cultural references from The Simpsons to Heathers all over the place.

Ames’ analysis of school shooters such as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold makes Going Postal doubly worth the price of admission. Much like how he destroyed the American workplace, Reagan’s education policies also ruined public schools by placing an undue emphasis on standardized test scores and college admittance, a policy that has continued all the way up to the present day with Bush’s No Child Left Behind. I can attest to this: AP classes, SAT prep courses and the like were hugely popular at my old high school due to the obsession with academic achievement. Add to this a school environment where “popular” kids are allowed or even encouraged to bully other kids—as was the case at Columbine—and many of the bullied kids simply snap.

The most chilling aspect of Going Postal, in my opinion, was Ames’ notes on how schools and corporations have reacted to spree shootings: by doubling down on the policies that caused them in the first place. People shocked at how 9/11 unleashed our current regime of invasive TSA strip-searches and NSA spying haven’t been paying attention to how the private sector has been deploying similar policies for two decades in the form of security badges, reading employees’ private emails, and fostering an environment where workers are encouraged to stab each other in the back. As for schools, we have “zero tolerance” policies leading to elementary school kids getting arrested for biting a Pop Tart into the shape of the gun and anonymous tip lines that let bullies snitch on the poor schmucks they humiliate on a daily basis.

It’s almost like we’re unwilling to accept that the entire structure of our society is completely fucked!

Going Postal’s biggest flaw is that it ignores the role of mass immigration in worsening life for American workers. Because Ames is a leftist, he’s blind to how the plutocrats he rails against use immigrants to lower wages and reduce benefits for their employees, whether it’s agribusiness lying about “crops rotting in the field” or Zuckerberg agitating for more Indian wage-slave programmers to be brought in on H1-B visas. Indeed, Ames briefly bashes former California governor Pete Wilson for being “anti-immigrant,” even though Wilson’s policies against illegal aliens were a boon to the poorest Californians.

The fact that all of the Koch-funded libertarians infesting our discourse—from Megan McArdle to Bryan Caplan—are in favor of open borders should give Ames pause.

Despite this oversight, Going Postal is a groundbreaking and amazing book, a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the clusterfuck that is modern America. It’s not a happy book, nor is it a book that provides solutions. Are there any solutions? Even today, with the Reaganomics economy in shambles with no relief in sight, Americans by and large are still screaming “Thank you sir, may I have another?” at their corporate slavemasters. Not even the “socialist” Obama wants to touch the sick workplace and school culture in this country.

If this is how America ends, then frankly, you morons deserve it.

Click here to buy Going Postal.

Read Next: The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi

  • What happened has for noticed for a long time. The Greeks called it Hubris followed by Nemesis – and Hubris originally mean to humiliate someone in public, often with a sexual connotation to it. Nemesis is of course revenge.

    The Bible called it Pride going before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

  • PA

    “Ames briefly bashes former California governor Pete Wilson for being “anti-immigrant,”

    Fuck Ames.

  • Jack

    I’m surprised at you for ingesting Ames bullshit leftist propaganda, praising a beta loser like Carter and totally mischaracterizing Reagan.

  • Jack: I’m surprised at you for not offering any factual refutations of Ames’ argument, instead lashing out like a menstruating feminist. If you’ve got data disproving the thesis that Americans were better under Carter than Reagan, I’d like to hear it. (Economic data: just about everyone with a brain acknowledges that Carter was a massive fuckup foreign policy-wise.)

    Fact is, aside from his willful ignorance on immigration—which I already brought up—Ames gets it pretty much right from my perspective.

  • Gauge

    ” If you’ve got data disproving the thesis that Americans were better under Carter than Reagan, I’d like to hear it. ”

    I’ve got no rational argument against you Matt, so I’m just gonna talk about how great it is to suck corporate cock. Yummy yummy yummy, Koch semen in my tummy! Everyone should be a brainwashed libertard like me!

    [The patented MattForney.com CensorBot thanks you for your frankness.]

  • Jack

    You cite crushing unions and cutthroat competition as bad things, and your hatred of the rich is reminiscent of the Occupy crowd. By your own, and Ames admission, growth was stronger under Reagan. Yes, more of the gains went to the top, but assuming you aren’t a loser, that’s a good thing. Unions are by definition socialist institutions designed to shield subpar workers from the consequences of their ineptitude. Maybe the real reason shootings have been so common lately is that the gap between workers sense of entitlement, and their actual productive value to the economy, has never been greater?

    Regardless, my main reaction to this article is surprise that you embrace so many leftist economic ideas, yet still call yourself conservative. Even your point about immigration used to be leftist/union boilerplate until very recently, while libertarians were the ones pushing for open borders (and conservatives have consistently supported border control). Liberal economists like Paul Krugman acknowledge that failure to control immigration would lead to the destruction of the welfare state that leftists cherish so dearly.

    That said, I take no issue with your point of view on the economics of the country under Carter versus Reagan. Just the fact that you don’t seem to understand you’re embracing liberalism.

  • Jack:

    You cite crushing unions and cutthroat competition as bad things, and your hatred of the rich is reminiscent of the Occupy crowd.

    Occupy was an incoherent mess, but they got some things right. Read James Burnham’s book The Managerial Revolution. We no longer live in a society of entrepreneurs and trailblazing industry tycoons like Andrew Carnegie, but in a society where managers—bureaucrats, supervisors and CEOs—control the means of production. When you defend the rich, you’re defending people like John Corzine and Lloyd Blankfein who earned their wealth not through honest work or providing a valuable service, but through manipulating the financial system for their benefit.

    By your own, and Ames admission, growth was stronger under Reagan.

    Growth increased by less than one-half of one percent under Reagan. Ames’ point is that the the measly growth rate increase under Reagan in no way justified the sweeping changes he introduced.

    Yes, more of the gains went to the top, but assuming you aren’t a loser, that’s a good thing.

    Are you serious? Every single economic metric has shown that income mobility has fallen off a cliff since the eighties. The gap between the rich and the poor is wider than it’s ever been, the lion’s share of wealth is concentrated in fewer hands than ever before. Youth unemployment and underemployment are through the roof. If fewer people are able to rise out of poverty—or out of the middle-class into the upper class—after the eighties than before it, then we can conclude that Reaganomics was a well-meaning failure at best.

    Unions are by definition socialist institutions designed to shield subpar workers from the consequences of their ineptitude.

    Chambers of Commerce by definition are socialist institutions designed to shield subpar business owners from the consequences of their ineptitude. U C WAT I DID THAR

    Unions exist to protect employees from predation by their employers. Does that mean occasionally protecting subpar employees? Yes. But I’d say that what they brought America—higher wages, a forty-hour work week, pensions and health insurance—was worth it. The reason why tradesmen, for example, still earn high wages is in part because it’s one of the few fields where unions are still strong. If business owners can come together to cartelize their fields through Chambers of Commerce and other trade organizations, then workers are perfectly justified in doing the same thing.

    Maybe the real reason shootings have been so common lately is that the gap between workers sense of entitlement, and their actual productive value to the economy, has never been greater?

    This has to be the most moronic line of argument I’ve ever heard. Get out of your fairy-tale Randroid world and look around you. Can anyone argue that there’s any connection between “productive value to the economy” and reward anymore? What exactly is George Soros’ value to the economy? Lloyd Blankfein’s? Jack Welch’s? John Corzine’s? Any one of the CEOs who get golden parachutes despite driving their companies into the ground? All of your corporate heroes have zero value to the economy—a definite negative in Soros’ case seeing as he made his fortune in short-selling currencies, and in Blankfein’s considering he basically threw a temper tantrum and threatened to sink the economy if Bush didn’t bail out AIG back in 2008—yet their net worth keeps going up.

    Compare to Joe Wesbecker—Ames has plenty more examples in the book—who was a valuable employee at Standard Gravure because he worked the “folder,” easily the most dangerous job because it exposes the worker to toxic fumes. Despite being a loyal and productive employee, he repeatedly had his pay and vacation time cut and later had his requests to be transferred off the folder denied, even after he presented medical evidence to his supervisor that toxic exposure was threatening his health.

    What sort of asinine logic can justify the argument that people flip out and commit mass murder because they’re entitled?

    Regardless, my main reaction to this article is surprise that you embrace so many leftist economic ideas, yet still call yourself conservative.

    You might want to inform Pat Buchanan, Taki Theodoracopulos, Paul Gottfried and the other paleocons that they’re leftists too, since they advocate the same things that I do.

    I’m not in favor of an invasive cradle-to-grave welfare state, but right now we have the worst of both worlds: a government that keeps expanding (NSA, gov’t bureaucracy, higher taxes) yet leaves the average Joe to compete in a lawless economy in which he can lose his job for any reason (or no reason; there’s actually a law in my native New York state that allows employers to fire workers for no reason at all), works long hours for shit pay and is humiliated by his supervisors on top of it all. In a world where starving Chinese peasants will work twice as long for half the pay as American workers, the “free market” is a lunatic fantasy.

    You also ignore—as do most so-called conservatives—that the majority of the CEOs and corporations empowered by Reaganomics are leftist to the core. Microsoft. Facebook. Google. Apple. All of them making billions a year, all of them foisting cultural Marxism down our throats. Even the supposedly “right-wing” corporations like Koch Industries are further to the left than most conservatives (the Koch media empire is fully in the tank for open borders). Please tell me why I should support economic policies that empower people who want to tear my country apart.

    Your arguments remind me of a relative of mine whose argument for Reagan came down to “He gave me a raise.” She was in the Air Force at the time and didn’t receive a single raise when Carter was president; mind you that she was making the modern equivalent of $60,000 a year during Carter’s presidency. That’s the essence of Reagan’s legacy right there: “Fuck you, I’ve got mine.”

    Some “conservatism.”

  • Johnycomelately

    Top post, commenting and review.

  • Exocet

    Do Ames discuss spree killers in other conutries?.

    Not only the US has had someone snapping with a weapon.

    And how about pre-Regan spree killers?, like Howard Unruh,Charles Whitman or Stanly Graham to name a few

  • Exocet: Yes on both, but here’s the thing: the U.S. has far more spree shooters than any other nation, and the number of shooters spiked starting in the eighties. Any moron can see that there’s a trend here.

    Additionally, Ames also delves into the motivations of pre-Reagan shooters. He names one school shooting that happened during the Carter years; the woman who started it basically said that she was bored. All of the spree shooters since Wesbecker have shown the same motive: anger at their employers/schools.

  • Jack

    I’m impressed. You bring up a lot of good points (too many for me to address properly in a blog comment) and I see where you’re coming from, even if I don’t agree with all of it.

  • Slumlord

    Interesting thread.

    Just a couple of comments.

    Modern America is the product of the Reagan revolution. If you look at U.S Debt to GDP levels, the Reagan years mark the beginning of the modern debt boom. It was during his tenure that the checks and balances which restrained Wall St were removed. The movie Wall St and Gordon Gekko embodied the zeitgeist. America began deindustrializing at this time and the judgement of pointed headed economists assumed ex cathedra status. In the end an expanding bottom line justified all.
    Short term profit trumped long term investment.

    But it would be wrong to blame Regan for everything. The flower-turds of the 60’s finally started assuming the positions of social power en-masse. While the government was nominally conservative the social culture was drifting left. Thus we see the breakdown of social mores during a period of conservative government.

    I don’t think that those “going postal” are somehow modern day Spartacuses. The overriding feature of most of these guys is their sense of narcissism and self-worth. They’re not so much rebels as spoilt children who feel that world owes them.

    I see guys like Wesbecker all the time. Low in social status, having an overriding victim mentality (no matter how unjustified) and wanting vengeance. Their overriding sense is that they have been wronged and that someone has to pay. It never occurs to them that there could be good reasons why they lost their job, can’t get a girlfriend or don’t win American Idol. They feel wronged and that’s all that matters. They’re not bucking the system as much as they are taking the law into their own hands.

  • Scott

    Increasing growth from 2.8% to 3.2% isn’t a .4% increase, It’s a 14% increase. After 10 years at that difference, you’re economy will be 4% bigger. After 100 years, it will be 47% bigger. Those “Half a percents” matter. I agree our society it completely dysfunctional but it goes back to before Reagan and Carter.

  • Steve

    One thing Ames will never do as a leftist is examine how immigration and diversity have changed the US in the last 40 years. And not only the downward pressure on wages, the crowding of schools with kids who can’t speak English, the dollars spent on social services, and other things of that nature, but the way diversity corrodes social capital, as noted by Bowling Alone author Phillip Puttnam. Puttnam himself didn’t want to publish his data, because like a good leftist, he has an almost religious commitment to diversity and open borders.

  • Steve

    One of the best critiques I’ve read of Reagan came from pale-libertarian Murray Rothbard: http://www.lewrockwell.com/1970/01/murray-n-rothbard/conservative-con-man/

  • vitabenedicta

    “The answer: Ronald Reagan. When Reagan became president in 1981, his administration transformed the American workplace—and to a lesser extent, public schools—into a cutthroat competition, where workers are forced to work longer hours for less pay, all to make the rich richer.”

    I’m not convinced that a single person can take all the credit (or blame) for the economy. Feminism probably played a role too, by creating an oversupply of workers and also by instituting a nightmarish regime that micromanages the individual worker in the name of preventing “sexual harassment.”

  • Jean

    To quote:
    “… leaves the average Joe to compete in a lawless economy in which he can lose his job for any reason (or no reason; there’s actually a law in my native New York state that allows employers to fire workers for no reason at all), …”

    I believe that is actually the case in alll 50 states – I think all states have adopted “At Will” laws, meaning they can just tap you on the shoulder and say, “You’re done now.”

    I also note that ObummerCare means that there will be a significant downward pressure on consultants and contract workers – who are often also entrepreneurs and small business owners. Contractors as self-employed entitites are usually incorporated – so they pay both parts of the FICA tax (SS/Medicare) and now will have to find ways to get insurance for their “employees” without the benefits of a “group rate.”

    Funny how that works, isnt’ it?

  • I love your rewriting of history. The 1980 election was a coast-to-coast landslide, the worst defeat of a sitting president since Hoover. All because the rich decided Carter was cutting into their profits. After the PATCO strike (Reagan offered the union an 11% raise, and they demanded 100%), the rich gave Reagan an even bigger landslide against Carter’s VP four years later.

    Too bad only the rich are allowed to vote, because everyone else really liked the swell job Carter was doing!

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