Mark Ames talks to Jason Walsh
“Yeah, I think it’s already been argued that new forms of inner-city violence result from the way people are left out. The difference is, this is the first time that middle class people have struck back at their own society.
“A large number of them – there’s not a larger class consciousness about them – we don’t know, but many of the perpetrators of these crimes know what they’re doing. Many of them put it down to a change in corporate culture – how everyone below senior management is getting screwed.
“It’s just that the way it gets reported and absorbed into a culture is about some weak, half-crazy person cracking. On a larger cultural level, the [class] consciousness just isn’t there. When the slaves rebelled [in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries] they knew they were rebelling against slavery, wider society didn’t have a clue.
“I think most people who murder are people who are essentially ‘dead’, they feel completely destroyed. Some, by fighting back, are salvaging one last piece of dignity.
“America is a pretty scary place – it’s easy to feel as though you’re being silenced. When I was researching my book, I took a job at what I call a ‘cubicle plantation’ – [a] national processing centre.
“1,400 people in cubicles in a windowless, single storey building. The idea that you can build some community out of this is inconceivable. The workers and the unions mutually abandoned each other.
“It was a top-down, bottom-up thing: Reagan spread the feeling that unions were anti-American and that, as a result [of union activity], America was falling apart. This was a very strong feeling.
“People were victims of their own fucking stupidity. At the same time, the unions… most unions’ jobs, these days, are to work with executives to temper five to ten per cent [of] executives crazy demands.
“Workers definitely don’t have the protections they had. Robert Mack shot his supervisor, but he also shot his union representative.
“It’s a cultural disease as well. At Amazon, there was a drive to unionise. At the time, I read FuckedCompany.com and all the cubicle nerd-geeks jumped in to say how evil unions were – after all, the workers were ‘associates’. A lot of people get snowed-over by that shit: ‘A union is for people in blue collar jobs who’re destined to be downsized for the good of the economy.’
“As bad as [British prime minister Margaret] Thatcher was, there was a fightback. The most telling anecdote about the lack of dignity in Americans is the story of Al ‘Chainsaw’ Dunlap [‘corporate downsizer and disciple of embittered corporate raider, the late ‘Sir’ James Goldsmith.] He’s a classic sadist bully pig, really sadistic in making his wife cry. He had a philosophy of working people through fear, what he called ‘mean business’. In the sixties he got death threats, in the nineties, when he applied that philosophy to Scott Paper, he got away with it and even became a hero, not among CEOs – who don’t buy books – but among the suckers.
“It wasn’t like this before Reagan. Granted, Reagan was a representation of some part of American thinking. We, Americans, get out worst traits from Anglo-Saxons – the grimmer your life, the more worthy; the idea that if you suck-up to bosses they might nod at you art Starbucks – banal aesthetic elitism. When I went back to America, I learned to appreciate Walmart and Old Navy. I knew people were suffering as a result, but I was happy to get things I can afford.
“I was expecting [Going Postal] to be ignored [but during] the two weeks that I was able to dedicate to promoting it, I got a lot of radio interviews and press reviews. Everybody had a strong reaction to it. A lot of people thought what I think – that it’s obvious.
“Within America, it was best received by [both] the far-left and the business world. Mainstream liberals or literary types were bothered by it. Hipsters, typical eXile readers, were bothered by it being serious because serious things destroy their world-view.
“The thing about comic writers is that they tend to be more fearless, but it’s not an end.
“The business community responded well because they’re confident and they genuinely want to know why these things happen. People in the business world are not threatened by these office killings.”
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Mark Ames is an American-born journalist living in Russia. He edits an alternative newspaper, the eXile, and is author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine & Beyond [Soft Skull, 2005], an examination of workplace rage-murders in the United States, and published in the UK as Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion in America [Snowbooks, 2007].