Joe Bageant Essays

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Few educated liberals will ever find themselves sucking down canned beer at the local dirt track or listening to the preacher explain the infallibility of the Bible on every known topic from biology to the designated-hitter rule or attending awards night at a Christian school or getting drunk to Teddy and the Starlight Ramblers playing C&W at the Eagles Club. You can make lightbulbs at the GE plant, you can make styrene mop buckets at Rubbermaid, or you can “bust cartons,” “stack product,” and cashier at Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

But whatever you do, you’re likely to do it as a “team assembler” at a plant or as a cashier standing on a rubber mat with a scanner in your paw.

Bageant believes many of his people are intelligent.

But many aren’t — about half of American’s are minimally to functionally illiterate, the majority of them poor or working class.

Here, nearly everyone over 50 has serious health problems, credit ratings rarely top 500, and alcohol, Jesus, and overeating are the three preferred avenues of escape.

These days the neighborhood looks as if it was painted by Edward Hopper, then bleakly populated with gangstas, old men with 40-ounce malt liquor bottles, hardworking single moms, and kids on cheap, busted plastic tricycles.

My part of Winchester, the North End, contains the most hard-core of the town’s working-class neighborhoods, where you are more likely to find the ,000-a-year laborer and the ,000-a-year fast-food worker.

I grew up here, my dad worked at a gas station here, and my mom worked at a since demolished textile mill whose rattling looms were the round-the-clock backdrop of our lives.

There are 32 million functionally illiterate adults, one in seven, who can’t read, write, and calculate for their own and their community’s development. If they could read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, none of them would see it as anything other than a story about animals.

Bageant says this illiteracy means that most of the folks in Winchester Virginia don’t know who Tom Delay is and don’t watch the national news unless the U. They have no idea what acronyms like IBM, FEMA, or HUD mean and can’t separate industry from government, advertisements and infomercials from the news.


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