Going Postal examines the phenomenon of rage murder that took America by storm in the early 1980's and has since grown yearly in body counts and symbolic value. By looking at massacres in schools and offices as post-industrial rebellions, Mark Ames is able to juxtapose the historical place of rage in America with the social climate after Reaganomics began to effect worker's paychecks. But why high schools? Why post offices? Mark Ames examines the most fascinating and unexpected cases, crafting a convincing argument for workplace massacres as modern day slave rebellions. Like slave rebellions, rage massacres are doomed, gory, sometimes inadvertently comic, and grossly misunderstood. Going Postal seeks to contextualize this violence in a world where working isn't—and doesn’t pay—what it used to. Part social critique and part true crime page-turner, Going Postal answers the questions asked by commentators on the nightly news and films such as Bowling for Columbine.
Mark Ames' argument : rage murders – workplace and school massacres – started in the 1980s and now there are a LOT of them. Americans blame this that and the other thing for all this hideous violence but they frantically avoid looking at the real culprit because to do so would mean they would have to face some harsh unacceptable political truths : it’s the conditions of life in workplaces and in schools, the toxic pressures of American middle-class life, which cause it all. In one word : Reagonomics. Or : rageonomics.
So this is an unabashedly leftist book which strongly reminds me of a title of an old union song – I wonder why it was never a big hit – “Can’t You See This System Is Rotten Through And Through?” Because Mark Ames does think that. Through and through.
Some characteristic quotes :
A person’s ability to adapt and grovel as much as required is almost the definition of normal. p41
We moderns are just as slavish and painfully docile as African slaves. p41
Kids are demonstrably more miserable today than they used to be. p226
Here’s Mark in an alliterative frenzy :
the normal and natural instinct is to resist reconsidering what one had once taken for granted as grossly unjust
As if you hadn’t guessed, Mark is saying that the socioeconomic pressures of unfettered capitalism make people miserable and then drive them mad. They encourage bullies and little Hitlers who get a free pass called “cost-cutting” and “efficiency savings”. But – here’s the thing – we do not acknowledge these modern psychological pressures because it’s all been normalised – everywhere is the same. Ain’t no more jobs for life. That’s gone like spats and galoshes, real gone. So MA makes this comparison – in slavery days many (at one time most) Americans didn’t appreciate that slavery was wrong or oppressive. No! They thought the slaves were better off in America than in Africa. So they were shocked – shocked and hurt! – when very occasionally a few pitiful slaves revolted. Ingrates! The Devil made them do it. They just didn’t know how good they had it, down on the plantation. Same thing now – office and factory workers and school students are the new slave class, and when some of these new slaves rebel, go crazy and shoot up the plantation we reel back and say – the devil made them do it, they’re evil, it was the parents’ fault, it was video games, it was drugs, the internet, breakup of the family, lack of religion, too much religion, blah blah, but we don’t say – yes, it was the oppression of being a slave and being treated with bullying contempt along with a maniacal work ethic and an obsession with success which made them do it.
It isn’t the office or school shooter who need to be profiled – they can’t be. It’s the offices and schools.
Yes, now we see, this whole system is rotten through and through! We don’t ever say that out loud, so MA is spelling it out for us. It will not make him the most loved author.
I have been conditioned to believe that Americans always rise up against oppression and that the good side always wins. The reality is that the oppressed rarely rise up, they always lose (in this country anyway) and they always collaborate with the state against those rare rebels to make sure they remain oppressed.
Whew! Mark Ames’ predicted earnings as an after-dinner speaker in 2012: zero.
One very striking part of MA’s portrait of American corporate life as oppression is the stats he gives on American’s disappearing holidays. I myself get 36 days off per year and I work a 37 and a half hour week and this is fairly normal in England. Compare this :
our 14 day average is just half of the European workers’ vacation time. That’s if an American even gets paid vacation time : today 13% of companies don’t even offer it, up from 5% in 1998. But even this exaggerates Americans workers’ holiday time. many Americans are reluctant to take even those few days off that they’re allowed, fearful of falling behind or giving the wrong impression to their superiors…. According to a 2003 survey by Boston College, 26% of American workers took no vacation time at all in the previous year.
Wow. (Now compare with that : in China no-one takes any holidays at all except the super-rich.)
On overtime there’s another huge basket of stats, leading up to :
Americans work 350 hours more per year than their European counterparts.
There’s a vast irony going on here. All the new voices which began to be heard in the 60s and 70s – racial minorities, feminist women, gay people – located the source of their oppression in straight white male culture, the despised patriarchy. Now, it’s the straight white males who are shooting up offices and schools and Ames is telling us that yes, all these years they’ve been oppressing themselves too. Kind of funny when you think about it. Or not, of course.
I like books which make strong in-your-face arguments, which are bristling with info without being scholarly, which are slangy and which grab you by your metaphorical lapels and say “Listen kid, this world is nothing like what they been telling you it is!”, which take on some urgent issue ripped from yesterday’s papers, which are the print form of the agitprop documentaries we see on the big screen these days, Fast Food Nation, Sicko, Capturing the Friedmans (you haven’t seen that one? you MUST see that one). And I love books which argue with and yell and poke at each other – books have been doing that since Socrates – and even though Columbine (the book) was published after Going Postal, Dave Cullen wrote enough articles about it to get Mark Ames’ complete goat. Here’s Cullen on Eric Harris:
Eric was an injustice collector. The cops, judge and Diversion officers were merely the latest additions to a comically comprehensive enemies list, which included tiger Woods, every girl who had rejected him, all of Western culture, and the human species.
Cullen summarises Eric Harris’ personal hatreds in one word : inferiors. And he thought everyone was his inferior. Ames inverts this. Not inferiors, that was just showoff stuff. Instead : superiors. When you analyse these shootings apolitically, as Ames accuses everyone of so doing, your chosen aetiology is always the personal, so you say : these people snapped, they were mentally ill, psychopaths. Can’t do anything about that, get those types everywhere. Move along, show’s over folks. Nothing to see here. (The NRA are quick to do this.) From MA’s point of view, this is a giant copout.
Ames (p61) :
Cullen’s breakthrough is essentially this : Eric Harris murdered because Eric Harris was an evil murderer. Cullen rides this line of reasoning further down the light rail of idiocy.
In pages 211 to 213 MA goes after Cullen like a he's a dangerous dog. He lists all the ways that Eric Harris’s life was a living hell because of treatment meted out to him by the jock bullies of Columbine. NONE of this is in Cullen’s book (I just read that one). Frankly, I’m amazed. One of these guys is right, but I don’t know which one.
FROM A BRITISH PERSPECTIVE
In Britain the kind of rampage this book debates, the latest horrible example of which we are still reeling from, does not happen very often because we have truly draconian gun control laws. Actually, three such rampages have happened here - one in which a guy walked around the small town of Hungerford and shot 14 random people in 1987; the second, similar to Newtown, in which a guy went into a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1997, and shot 16 five and six year old children plus one adult before shooting himself; and one in June 2010 in Cumbria, a tranquil beautiful part of the Lake District, in which a taxi driver shot and killed four people he had problems with and eight random others. I often hear an argument from Americans against gun control which says – if you restrict gun ownership you will take the guns out of the hands of lawful people and leave them in the hands of the criminals. And also – the knowledge that lawful citizens could be armed is a powerful prophylactic for criminals. None of that means a tuppeny halfpenny damn to a guy stepping into his office with a duffel bag full of semiautomatics or a 15 year old with his dad’s rifle. None of these office/school shooters have ever been gunned down before they’ve shot their victims and themselves. The argument doesn’t work at all. Also, and this is a strange point - no hardened gangsters have ever gone on a rampage and shot a dozen people. That's a crime done by civilians, people who the police had never heard of.
Stats from today's paper:
Gun homicide per 100,000 citizens :
Mexico - 10.0 USA - 2.98 Australia - 0.1 UK - 0.03
The message from Britain is that gun control laws work. But I’m not preaching to Americans. The toothpaste is out of the tube, you couldn’t get guns under control if you wanted to. I am so sorry.
Although I think this is a brave book with a solid urgent argument, Mark Ames beats his reader to a pulp and leaves him limp and bleeding by the end. The last 50 pages are a total slog, there will be no one who doesn’t involuntarily shriek “Mark Ames, enough already, I can’t take it anymore” to the consternation of their partners, neighbours, offspring or pets. One huge problem about MA’s argument-book is that aside from a total Year Zero Pol Pot style revolution or a 1000 megaton Love Bomb I don’t see what can be done about the horrors catalogued in Going Postal. Two terms of Obama will not do the trick, I’m afraid.
[2022 edit: I'm going to re-read this in light of...well, everything lately...and see if it hits different. Original review: 2014]
I don't even know where to start with this book. It took me half a year to read, and not just because I've been having vision issues. This is one seriously dense read, and at times your eyes will probably glaze over because statistic after statistic gets kind of monotonous. But I have no choice but to give it three stars because Ames did incredibly extensive research about toxic workplaces and school environments, and he related some incidents that I'd not known about before. So...three stars it is.
Why isn't it higher?
The three main running theses in this book are:
1) today's life of workers in cubicles under insanely wealthy power-tripping bosses is exactly like the slave era in America, and the reasons for so few uprisings are the same;
2) this is all Reagan's fault, and the only thing that trickled down when he took office was misery that leads to workplace violence; and
3) it's impossible to profile anyone as a potential work or school shooter, and we need to instead profile the toxic environment that's creating these fatal incidents.
I had some pretty serious issues with Ames - whose credentials I've not been able to find anywhere online [ETA in 2017: heaven knows what search terms I was using, but Ames is a pretty well-established figure in the writing world, as it turns out. H/t to helpful commenters!] - saying that middle-class white men with jobs nowadays have it just as bad as the slaves that were owned, tortured, raped and lynched back in the day. Ames spends multiple chapters outlining and defending this thesis, and he comes back to it regularly as he moves forward, but it never sat right with me at all. Quoting things like FIGHT CLUB and HEATHERS to illustrate how we're all just modern slaves of a different kind wasn't an argument that was going to win me over.
There's also a lot of victim blaming, conversely, so it's like this book is at war with itself in places. Take Columbine, for example, a subject about which Ames seems almost obsessed. He rips Dave Cullen's excellent book COLUMBINE to shreds, and then basically comes right out and says that, because the school favoured its jocks and that the faculty encouraged the bullying behaviour, most of the people who died had it coming. I... Yeah, no. Ditto with quite a few of the workplace shootings he outlines. He almost seems regretful or resentful when he relays a story about a guy who "goes postal" while the Supreme Target - always his smug supervisor - was out for lunch or managed to hide in the basement. It sometimes feels like Ames is rooting for these mass shooters. Kind of disturbing.
Ames also never offers any kind of solution or theories about how one would profile a place instead of a person in order to prevent these killings. While it's not his job to solve humanity's troubles, obviously, I expected - after so much research and so many opinions - that he'd at least have some idea of where to start. If he does, we never get to read it.
Technically speaking, it's a terribly edited book - a lot of weird formatting, typos, absolutely no footnotes - and it wavers between being a serious journalistic account of these tragedies and suddenly lapsing into informal and unprofessional language, like writing, "Welp, that didn't work." Seriously, he used the word "welp." More than once.
Overall I can't say it wasn't interesting. Particularly as a counterpoint to COLUMBINE (which still rings truer and feels more thorough than this book did, although it did benefit from only having to focus on one case rather than literally dozens of different shootings, so perhaps that's an unfair criticism). I'd recommend it to people who have an academic interest in such sociological things, as I do, but I'd have to warn them ahead of time about all of my problems with it. It's overlong, bloated, messy, and often feels like an axe-grinding session. But it's also startling to read about just how many of these mass murders have happened, and why it seemed to be rooted in the USPS (thus the term "going postal").
If you can wade through the muck, there's interesting stuff to be found. I just wish an editor had saved me some of the trouble and helped me get to the pearls without having to first slog through six months' worth of oysters.
The author has two explanations for workplace shootings. The first is that since Ronald Reagan took office, corporations have broken their mutually beneficial compact with workers. In their rapaciousness, they have over-worked, downsized, and driven modern workers half-crazy—all with government help in the form of deregulation, neoliberal economic policy, and anti-union measures. Ames straight out blames Reagan for the rise of workplace shootings. People with no options and no hope lash out…which leads us to the second explanation. Like slave rebellions, modern workplace shootings are revolts against ill-treatment. Ames argues that slave revolts were viewed as irrational, savage, and unwarranted by the white power structure back when they were occurring. Likewise, today, are workplace killings viewed. The book recounts the people and factors around several incidents in addition to historical information on slave rebellions and the damage done during the Reagan presidency. Provocative, yes, and I’m not sure I agree. I know that blaming Reagan is a little silly as the system as a whole doesn’t need a president to run. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the owning class has exploited, abused, killed, and beaten down their workers. It was only through organizing and action that U.S. workers gained the rights and better treatment Ames seems to consider the norm prior to Reagan. Also, modern wage and salary jobs may be hard, unfulfilling, crazy-making, and losing the job worse, but it isn’t really comparable to slavery. I think Ames reaches too far with this comparison, but the book is very interesting to read.
This is a pretty awful book all around. The writing is unbelievably lousy, and it's so illogical it's almost self-parodying: the thesis is basically that workplace shootings are caused by Ronald Reagan, and the last chapter opens with this jaw-dropping sentence: “Rage as we know it today did not exist when Ronald Reagan took power in 1981.” (I'm selling my stocks of the Iliad as we speak!)
However, there is a glorious kernel of truth hidden like a diamond in this enormous haystack of ravings. It's the same truth that makes me listen to Ames' podcast, and it's the reason why I am marking this book in my Goodreads account rather than Dave Cullen's Columbine, even though Cullen's book is compellingly written and I devoured every word, while I really just skipped around in this one and only read interesting looking bits.
Cullen's thesis is the classic work of someone who listens to scientific experts. He tells us that Eric Harris was a born psychopath and was always a danger to himself and others, while Dylan Klebold was a suicidal depressive, coaxed into becoming a killer by a maniac. It is heavily implied in Cullen's book that both boys (although Klebold in particular) were victims of their own psychology and needed an Officer Krupke style intervention.
Ames' view is much simpler: at a systemic level far beyond the petty grievances that any schoolboy can accumulate, life itself is so unjust that it's actually impressive that we are able to suppress our violent rage against the world. So, for Ames, spree shooters are quite visibly failures, but they're also understandable failures. Cullen is on a recognizably Puritan quest to restore hope to the American system through miraculous application of empathy and humanity, and somehow, he manages to obtain that kind of narrative for himself. But I believe that the view Ames has discovered, although remarkably unempathetic and inhumane, has an Occam's Razor kind of simplicity to it, and provides insight you can't get elsewhere.
I definitely went through some form of anagnoresis when I read this book. The author makes a few very solid points near the beginning of the book, which have definitely changed the way I see the world today. Slavery did not end due to moral outrage, but because it wasn't economically viable anymore; assembly line work is much more productive. interesting, ok, although they obviously service completely different markets. Sure, workplace and school rampages are almost always committed by crazy people, but their situation, and that of their peers, is almost always unacceptably dire as well; their actions send a societal message. Fascinating. Truly. But this - and I'm not exaggerating - is the most poorly written book I have ever read. It's god-awful. Chock-full with pitiful attempts at comedy, neverending, mind-numbing lists of murder sprees, which in no way aid his point - any reader with a modicum of self-respect will skip over them - and covered in typos; all of which lead me to assume Soft Skull must be one of those pay-to-publish editors. I forced myself through the entire book, and I can safely say it was not worth it. I got something out of the first 50 pages; the rest was painfully glib junk.
Mass shootings have been in the news a lot lately, but they are certainly not new. Neither are the debates about what instigates them. In 2005, Mark Ames, an ex-pat and founder of the Moscow-based irreverent rag the Exile, published his controversial explanation in Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.
In Going Postal, Ames effectively compares modern day office shootings to the slave rebellions of yesteryear, and skewers the culture of greed and cruelty that he believes breeds massacres like Columbine. Ames divides his 280-page book into six parts, each dissecting an aspect of the American culture of office and school violence.
The layout takes the reader on an eye-opening ride through the experience of an office massacre, back to the days of slavery, the history of office shootings and their ties with Reagan era economic reforms, the corporate culture that breeds such violent reactions, and finally, how that culture has infected our schools and children.
It is important to examine mass shootings in historical context because they seem so much a part of modern life people forget mass shootings were extremely rare prior to the 1990s. They started in the ’80s, and didn’t become a national phenomenon until the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Guns have always been a part of life in America. What changed in American culture to bring about such dramatic expressions of violence?
Ames argues it is not mental illness (per se) or availability of firearms, but the workplaces and schools themselves that are to blame. “Everyone today agrees that slavery caused slave violence, and that inner-city poverty and pressures breed violent crime. Why is it so awful to suggest that offices, such as they are today, breed office massacres?” he asks.
His premise that most human beings docilely accept even the worst conditions, rationalizing them as “just the way things are,” is disheartening but an observable reality. In our country, he argues, only the “insane” lash out against the status quo. The “rational” grudgingly accept their lot in life, or like the character of Stephen in Django Unchained, cooperate in order to have a little more.
However, the guilty verdict Ames hangs around former president Ronald Reagan’s neck is unconvincing. American culture may have changed in the 1980s, but does a presidential administration really drive cultural change any more than religious institutions, the media, and the entertainment industry? Reagan seems like a convenient (and politically motivated) scapegoat.
Going Postal goes beyond the usual debate over gun control to propose that maybe something is wrong with our society. For those frustrated with the predictable reactions from media talking heads and politicians in the wake of every mass shooting, Mark Ames has written a book that, while certainly controversial in its conclusions, is at least looking at the issue from a radically different perspective.
Someone did a disservice to this book, giving it a title and cover art that suggest something sensationalistic, if not totally exploitative of its subject matter. It will put some people off, and that's unfortunate, because it's not the case. Author Mark Ames approaches the subject intent on affirming his thesis, but his sympathy, and affinity, for working class America is obvious.
Reagan, Ames says, is responsible for a breathtaking transfer of wealth into the pockets of the few at the grave expense of the many. Policies which have become the norm have the poor being left to die off, and the middle classes in a terminal decline. Benefits are gone, healthcare is gone, pensions are gone; and the average American's sense of contentment and security is contrasted by that of an African American slave, with surprisingly depressing results. We fair even worse when compared to other first world countries that actually make some motion toward caring about the continued survival of its citizens.
Ames's pen trembles with exasperation at the fate Americans have not only resignedly come to accept, but have consistently, frothingly grown to embrace. It seems any American, no matter the position or background, can imagine themselves in a position of immense individual power. By appealing to this conceit, corporations have convinced many in the working class to rush to their master's defense when it comes to policies that are either questionable, or brazenly harmful to the same employees--or at least their equivalents in similarly frail positions.
No one escapes the misery and brutality of a system that rewards the few winners hundreds of times over, and forces the losers to fight each other for an inch of bare life raft. The horrors seep through the partitioned workplaces, into the high schools, then middle schools, and finally the surprisingly fierce competition by parents to secure their childrens' futures as, at least, more highly paid wage slaves.
This is Reagan's America, spent cradle to grave in the shadow of the axe.
The raving approval of winners and hatred of losers, combined with the constant, unyielding stress and competition, allows the festering of miserable, abusive workplaces and schools where no sense of justice or mercy can be found through legitimate means. Ames argues that a sense of outrage is not only natural, but that school and workplace violence are a primordial articulation of a sense of indignation that hasn't yet been given a voice in mainstream America. That, like the early slave rebellions which were viewed in the mainstream at the time as inexplicable ingratitude on the slaves' part, we will eventually recognize the inhumanity of the conditions we're accustomed to, and resolve to do something about it.
Ames's book is less a thesis than a screed: Modern capitalism is so mean and dehumanizing that it causes the people it crushes to lash out, whether at the work place or, societally, the school which is a microcosm of the empty capitalist world.
It's not convincing. Ames draws a parallel between modern scattered workplace and school violence and the similar violence during slavery. He maintains that in their times, both are frustrated wails against a paradigm so encompassing that true revolution is unthinkable.
Ames is almost manic in his struggle to force violent outbursts into the mold of true political revolution. These lonely, troubled men are lashing out against the system that has oppressed them, in a sense justifying their violence as an understandable, if reprehensible, response to the hollow and cruel world that they perceive (sometimes rightly) has discarded them.
Ames's analysis has a kernel of truth, but American workplace and school shootings have many other causes: the lessening of the hegemony of straight white men, gun culture, and the fetishization of violence, among many others.
The modern world does cause anxiety and it is mean and inhuman, but these gunmen are not secret revolutionaries. They are trouble people who are taking a culturally specific response to a world that has hollowed them out. Ames wants them to fit his neat narrative of Reagan's America creating unenlightened Marxists, and it is very evident that they do not, especially when he examines school shootings.
The world is a less secure place because of capitalism. But it is also less of a secure place because of the postmodern deconstruction of established hegemonies, because of the rise of competing narratives of oppression and power.
Ames's larger point is that the world is fucked up and these people's response is understandable: true. But this is larger than a mere class war, and Ames misses the bigger picture.
Hadn't realized office work was this unpleasant(ly organized), or that it has been this bad for this long already. Pretty amazing, disconcerting and depressing to see how much systemic abuse you can get away with building into a system before people will snap. (Making it all that much more important to not to take people seriously when they claim some change or other to be sustainable, given how easily abuse can be hidden and kept out of public discourse. Which brings up the question of how to prevent them from doing so..)
By an unfortunate coincidence, I ordered this book right before the 11/5 Fort Hood shooting tragedy, and after finishing it I was angry at how steadfastly unwilling the media (and much of society) are to ask the tough questions about why school and workplace shootings, which were almost completely unknown before the 1980s, have become such a grim and seemingly inevitable part of modern society. Mark Ames places the blame squarely on the new corporate culture of the Reagan years, where employees became expendable assets to be used up and thrown away. He chronicles in vivid detail the lives of these average people who "just snapped", and shows, using a lengthy and fascinating parallel to antebellum slave revolts, how time and time again these shootings were anything but random, how workers deliberately targeted their abusive and tyrannical supervisors while sparing coworkers they liked and yet their actions were always dismissed after the fact as "just random craziness" by a media systematically incapable of recognizing the recurring pattern. The same is true of school shootings like Columbine, where bullied and harassed students, routinely ignored by their school officials, felt that the only way they could bring their lives back under control was to go postal. It's hard to read this book and then read news stories about the Fort Hood tragedy, which is just the latest manifestation of the new ugliness in our society that Reagan symbolized and embodied. A good but extremely frustrating book.
On page 29 Mark Ames writes the following-> " Domestic uprisings in this country are extremely rare. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in slave uprisings. The number of documented slave rebellions in the United States, from the mid-1500s up through the end of the Civil War,number under a dozen."
This is questionable. According to Wikipedia(I know, wikipedia) there were about 250 slave uprisings in the United states. Herbert Aptheker, a historian credited as being the first to seriously study African-American slave revolts concludes that over 200-not 12 or so as Ames claims-took place. Some revolts were well-organized too. The 1811 German coast uprising involved over 400 slaves burning down plantations during their two-day, twenty-mile march, and killed 2 white men. For this transgression, 95 African-Americans were executed, with some having their severed heads on display to chasten the slave community. The Encyclopedia Britannica section on Black history also has down 250 revolts involving 10 or more slaves. Winthrop Jordan is the scholar Ames cites on slave rebellions. Both Aptheker and Jordan give wildly different numbers-and strangely there doesn't seem to be a consensus...
Overall, this is a fairly offensive book and paints a very unflattering portrait of America. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
I picked this up because of the way it was cited in The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. If you are only going to read one of these two books, I'd tell you to read Utopia of Rules because I think it's a better book with a more complex argument. But this is also great linking the rhetoric, cultural milieu and style of slave rebellions, office shootings, and school shootings, basically arguing throughout that we tend to see these rebellions against an oppressive culture (because we prefer to see these institutions as benevolent) and instead as freak, evil, responses motivated by rage. I'm not articulating that clearly, but it's a compelling argument.
this book was very disturbing and very good. it is also very cynical and depressing and while i wanted to find fault with many of the conclusions i just couldn't do it. it all makes sense. there are a couple of things i would refine so to speak. mainly, he lays the entire blame for the radical restructuring of our society after the late 70's and early 80's directly at reagan's feet. while there is certainly truth to this, the rise of neoliberalism (and concomitant transfer of wealth upward, slash in working class living standards, deindustrialization, the inhumane squeezing of workers who were not immediately downsized, etc etc etc) were more a result of the falling rate of profit coming out of the long post ww2 boom. also there is a sense of pop psychology in terms of the slave mindset he sort of lays out. the kernel of truth in there that he gets right though is that 'normal' is an elastic concept and that humans can get adapt to various (horrible) situations. i say these are a refinements rather than corrections because they take nothing away from his identification of the real effects that these factors had that then gave rise to these rage crimes. ames makes very clear in this book that something is seriously wrong in this country. we all know the stats - no healthcare, massive and rising numbers of people incarcerated, total wage stagnation, high systemic (and seemingly perpetual) unemployment, economic insecurity etc. these coupled with the tremendous pressures to stay afloat in a rigged game, the shredding of what little social safety net we once had and the corrosive role that hyper competition via capitalism has on community, support and interpersonal connections has lead us to a society where some are squeezed so hard and bullied so mercilessly and with no outlet or support they go to work or school and they shoot up the place. and what is a further indictment of this fucked up system is how many of the victims in these shootings sympathize with the shooter! like i said at the beginning this is hard to accept but i could find no easy refutation. it is terrifying but i think ames is correct on a lot of what he illustrates as the problem - this fucked up system we live in/under - and a deadly, disturbing symptom of that problem - rage killings. he wonders if one day rage killers will be seen as rebelling against inhumane conditions and our society will be viewed by future generations as unbearably barbaric. i can't help but hope that is the case.
In Going Postal, Mark Ames presents a thesis so grim, so unacceptable in polite conversation that it's hard to even talk about without endless backpedaling and qualifications: that stress, the decline of the middle class, the decay of the American Dream -- essentially the entire character of our post-Reagan culture -- is directly responsible for rage killings and spree shootings in the workplace and school, phenomena that were almost totally unknown decades ago.
It sounds crass and hyperbolic, but Ames documents everything from the particulars of a great many spree shootings (whose details belie the old canards of crazy loners shooting indiscriminately) to the history of slave rebellions which, though subject to their own social context, were just as baffling to early Americans to whom slavery was normative as office shootings are to us today.
What Going Postal amounts to, then, is an attack on liberal capitalism itself, and its race to the bottom in which each worker does more work for less pay with less dignity and security. The conclusion is that post-Reagan America is a toxic place to live and work, it's quite literally making us crazy, and the shootings are a more common and more predictable response than we think.
Ames stumbles slightly in his deconstruction of school shootings, never fully pulling together the reality of bullying, the dangerous pressure to overachieve, and the crushing banality of suburban existence into a meaningful whole. One gets the sense that he's on to something, but it's never sold as convincingly as his deconstruction of workplace shootings.
In his work for the Exiled, Mark Ames can be vulgar, childish, and hyperbolic. It's fortunate that he's largely able to dial that back for Going Postal, which is usually treated with the seriousness such a provocative book demands.
Definitely made me think more than I thought it would. Kind of obvious that certain things have declined since the late 1940s--1950s, which the author frequently cites as the halycon days for American workers.
And yeah we get the short end of the stick--least benefits, least vacation days, most dispensable in the first world--and I recognized a lot of the negative things that I see on daily basis in this book. The warning signs of whether a rage based murder could happen list in this book, my work had every one. The scary thing that the author points out, is almost EVERY corporate company now does. That this phenomenon began in the late 1980s was also pretty interesting and how companies and media reacted to it--how people are now "let go", security guards, badges, many now standard workplace policies etc., are all a direct result of these murders.
Sometimes he makes big stretches. I can see some correlation to the murders listed in the book and to high school shootings, but because it's people who think they have no power, making very big mistakes. So yeah, while related, I thought it a mistake that so much of the book keeps going back to bullied high school students. Also, a few of the work place cases listed where obviously crazy men stalking female coworkers--the last one that the book covered in great detail should not have been included. The manager, the coworkers, the female employee, etc. all reacted with bravery and I think it definitely sullied his thesis and the book as a whole to include it.
Also the writer's rants about Reagan were a little tasteless. Didn't help his point with such vitriol. Appreciated I guess the extreme tone and there's no doubt where the author stands on many subjects, but it at times definitely detracted from the point.
Going Postal is an interesting read to begin with and then turns to waffle as the author states his facts, states them again, restates them and then if you haven't quite got it, states them all over again. After page 250 of this densely written book, you eyes start to glaze over and you find yourself skimming through the facts and figures and looking for the actual true crime sections which are where this book excels at.
Mark Ames, to his credit, has produced some alternative reasons for the workplace/school rampage killings which is very informative and interesting. When he sheds a light on this reasoning, it is fresh and does give more validity then broken home, manic depressive, etc that the media seems to catchphrase at any given time.
The segment about slavery in the states is very overlong and over written and with his hammering home the message, I felt that I was beat by a jack hammer because of the constant repetition.
This book has the ability to be an extreme winner with some extreme editing; a little bit more care in layout and a good spell checker would raise this to a five star rating. Overall, interesting facts but too muddled in the middle to matter in the end.
I was half expecting Going Postal to be a sensationalist history of the most violent of shootings in recent American history. Instead the book is a frank and curious investigation of the psychology behind these acts of violence.
What Mark Ames finds is that most people don't snap no matter how bad the situation is. An otherwise mentally stable human being won't rebel against a bad situation even if an act of rebellion would result in a better situation for himself and others. A mentally ill person though is far more likely to snap and he documents his observation with a number of historical profiles from history. (See Part II: The Banality of Slavery)
If you are interested in what makes people tick and what makes some people snap, Going Postal is worth a read. It's just shy of 300 pages with a lengthy set of end notes. While violent acts are described the are not sensationalized.
Kind of confused about how this differs with Dave Cullen's Columbine. Both paint very different pictures of the boys. I want to believe Cullen's version more just because he focused soley on Columbine, but then if Ames was completely wrong about it, what does that mean for the rest of his book? But aside from that, this was a very interesting and well written book. There were a few segments that went off in tangents that seemed to have little to do with anything, and clearly Ames really hates Reagan, but I suppose that's understandable.
A really engaging argument with troubling implications. Ames' radical misanthropy applied to sociological research is simultaneously entertaining, mind-opening, and reason for despair. Will permanently change your response to the glib pieties that are publicly repeated after every rampage murder.
Compelling, full of scabrous rage, but at the moment I just don't have it in me to get through something this dark and polemical. Ames is not one to mince words & although some might question his specific thesis about the origins of workplace violence & modern day shootups at the office, I feel that he hits the nail on the head w/ his larger theme of America's tragic decline in the Reagan era. I can't stand this modern day revisionism that makes Reagan out to be some kind of nobel figurehead or inspirational leader. He was a pox on this country and he laid ruin to a variety of institutions, civil, social, economic and otherwise, that cannot be easily brought back. Clear channel, media monopoly, draconian drug laws, fucked up juntas in south america, larceny and craven greed on a massive scale, lying as default govt policy, UGH that fucker was demented by the end and yet had his finger on the button. Criminal, criminal, criminal. Like I said I can't read this now. Yet I give it 4 stars cos Ames can write, and the left could use some more pissants with backbone. (check out exiledonline.com for ames style journalism)
As for the countless massacres detailed herein... you know them if you're American. Part of our demented culture. Virginia Tech is the most recent that springs to mind. (I do think Ames is fitting everything into his framework even when it doesn't make sense; Virginia Tech guy was not really responding to bullying or marginalization at school; he was just fucking crazy.)
I quote the book's final chapter cos it sums up where the author is coming from. Hear hear.
POSTSCRIPT (pg. 241-242)
"Ronald Reagan died just as I was completing this book. After all of the gruesome murders I studied, and all of the infuriating cultural-economic changes I researched and tracked, I started to assume, as one does when far too deep in his work, that everyone finally understood what a vicious old cannibal Reagan was.
Rage as we know it today did not exist when Ronald Reagan took power in 1981. Americans lived completely different lives then. The word stress had a far less lethal meaning then. The vise hadn’t yet been applied so intensely and so broadly, from the middle-class employee’s eighty-hour workweek down to the three-year-old’s preschool exam prep course. Instead, malaise was the cultural toxin. Executives and shareholders earned a far smaller portion of the wealth and the middle class had a much larger chunk, not just of the economic pie, but of other scarce resources such as leisure and pleasure and cultural dignity and the sense of entitlement. That is gone now. No one wants to remember this part of the pre-Reagan past—because it’s too depressing and speaks too obviously to the real decline in America. We went from the seventies malaise, which is just a euphemism for not feeling squeezed hard enough, to today’s post-industrial slavery, where we have accepted, with a cheerful attitude, the notion that our master’s interests—the constant transfer of wealth upward into the plutocratic class’s pockets—are identical with our own interests. And we serve out their interests on our own initiative, rejecting any politics or ideology which might threaten our masters’ pursuit of ever-increasing wealth and pleasure.
Before Reagan, there was no such thing as “going postal” or schoolyard rampage murders. It all started with his reign and his revolution—specifically, with his reckless mass-firing of the striking air traffic controllers in 1981. In a sign of the sucker-collaboration which was soon to become the norm, PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union, was one of the very few unions to support Reagan’s run for president in 1980. In 2004, after Reagan’s death, newspapers reported on members of that destroyed union who are today still unemployed and impoverished, including one former Vietnam War veteran who lamented that he had been “shafted twice” by his country and another former controller who had been made homeless.
When Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, he told America he was literally willing to kill us all if we didn’t give in to his wealth-transfer plan. It was so shocking that it worked. The air controller’s union broke—and so did a whole way of life. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, we are all miserable wage slaves, or schoolyard wretches being pressed and prepared for life in the office world. There is no other choice but that, or death.
The way this country supplicated before Reagan’s corpse, elevating him to a kind of Khomeini status with the seven-day funeral and the endless orations about his humanity, intelligence, and how wonderfully simple life was under his reign, only reinforced the most disturbing conclusions that I was reaching as I wrote this book: that Americans have become perfect slaves, fools and suckers, while a small elite is cackling all the way to the offshore bank.
Take this example from National Review editor Stanley Kurtz, posted just after Reagan’s death:
“[T]he president bit the bullet and fired the striking controllers. That set the tone for labor negotiations with national, and even municipal, governments for years to come. More important, the whole world was watching Regan's conduct during the strike. This was obviously a man who would hang tough under pressure, and risk serious costs to back up a decision he believed to be necessary and right. The Soviet's took note.” Firing the controllers wasn’t about smashing a union and destroying workers’ lives; it was a test of the master’s character, or a collective tribal battle against the Soviet Union and “big government.”
You expect to get this kind of toe-sucking propaganda from high-paid right-wing mandarins like the National Review or Fred Barnes or William Kristol—it’s the countless nobodies who prostrated themselves before Reagan’s corpse that is most galling. Take this posting on a blog, www.gutrumbles.com, posted by JMFlynny at June 5, 2004 09:43 PM:
I was at the Reagan Library yesterday. What a coincidence, my daughter's class was there competing in a “We the People” constitutional debate. I walked by a display commemerating his stand against the air traffic controllers union during their strike early in his first Presidency. His exact words, upon firing all striking controllers for breaking the law: “now people know what to expect from me; I say what I mean, and I mean what I say.” I believe the world came to know the truth of those words, and was better for it.
At least JMFlynny was right about one thing: we learned that Reagan and the plutocrats meant business. Why do we need to love our own wretchedness? What stake did JMFlynny have in kissing Reagan’s dead feet? Why do we need to celebrate, with a kind of malicious pride, our worsening condition? What the hell is wrong with us? Have we lost all of our dignity? Why is it that in those rare, exceptional cases when Americans take up arms against the malice that Ronald Reagan bequeathed to us we only turn on each other, in our workplaces, our post offices, and schools, rather than turning on the real villains in this tale? Why did we let Ronald Reagan die calmly in his sleep, at age ninety-three, almost a quarter century after he destroyed everything decent in America? This book is an attempt to dig up Reagan’s remains, hang them upside down from the nearest palm tree, and subject him, at last, to a proper trial."
The author attempts to make a correlation between enslaved populations and modern day blue collar workers who suffer abusive work environments. The comparison constantly floats to the line of being offensive rather than insightful.
I gave up at the 25% mark when the author had abandoned their thesis of modern wage slavery and was ranting for chapter after chapter about the evils of Reaganomics.
I get it, “wage slave” is a term but the author misses the subtleties of their own argument? Why do employees go postal? Because their supervisors were under pressure to increase output in a deregulated market. Why are they under pressure? Because of the 80’s obsession with free market economics. Cool, but dig deeper, what at the market forces driving free market changes? Globalisation, perhaps? Why was the postal department deregulated and left to become a profit seeking venture with a history of loosing money for the majority of its tenure? Who thought that was a good idea? Why are so many of the incidences of postal workers committing murder/suicide correlated with access to semi automatic weapons? Is the pattern of killing spree’s in the workplace repeated outside the United States? Lastly, why did supervisors in the postal service adopt such overbearing micro management practices? Was this 80’s bravado? Was it poor oversight? What was the reaction of the postal service to the pattern playing out in their branch offices?
3.5 Stars, I found it provocative, and a different take from Dave Cullen's Columbine. Cullen says that Eric was a killer who would have gone on to do worse things if he had lived long enough (Dylan was suicidal, but may have lived and wouldn't have killed if he hadn't been friends with Eric). Mark Ames' book emphasized not the individual, but the environment was the cause of the shooting. He likened the school shootings to slave rebellions and going postal, where the environment the uprisers were retaliating against was the cause, and the killers were victims of it and themselves. The book is pretty political, he blames Reagan and the loss of union protections for pressures that today's workers feel and the pressure has trickled down to kids manifesting in stress, bullying and school shootings.
I don't agree with everything Ames says, but appreciated reading it. I found a lot of the back stories interesting and this plus Brooks Brown's book moderates my take on Cullen's book, which seemed very well researched yet downplayed the bullying the two experienced. In Eric's case, I think it was partly Eric plus partly his Columbine experience that contributed. That's where I am today - up next, I'm reading Dylan's mom's book.
I found parts of this book to be very interesting, and it is certainly well-researched. I must confess, however, that I am getting tired of non-fiction books whose topic attracts me but that proceeds to wander around neighboring subjects because — well — I guess because the author found it interesting and since they had done the research…
I realize the “and Beyond” in the subtitle means he can present any material at all, but I found the stories of slavery revolts and the background of school funding and school this or that to be distracting. I think there might be an interesting separate book about the slavery revolts.
The author also shares his opinion of the causes of workplace and school shooting being the employment and work cultures. I think this makes sense and I agree with most of it, but I felt he overreached a few times with his deductions.
Not a bad book on the subject, but it just could have been more focused.
The economic and cultural shifts brought about by the Reagan regime (not in the least the union-busting tactics that castrated the labor movements and outsourcing to line the pockets of the hyper rich) and the office rage murders that ensued as well as the connection of the high school world to the corporate and school shootings contextualized as consequences of a cutthroat academic environment/a culture of normalized abuse culture of bullying and abuse. At times the book seems to be apologistic (specifically in the case of Joe Wesberger) but ultimately provides an accurate and important study on an all to familiar phenomena
very provocative thesis, but i think Ames is expressing an angst that a lot of americans (justly) feel. powerful stuff, especially the first 3/4 or so... needed a tie-in at the end to the workplace shootings and a more comprehensive conclusion that clarified what he was trying to say. but fuck, just great, great read
A bit more scattershot than I would've hoped for. While the critique of post-Reagan corporate austerity is incisive, Ames' analysis of school shootings strikes me as a bit too simplistic. I'm not sure he's able to really present a unified theory of rage killings, at least not to the extent that he intends to. Also a bit repetitive.