The Reification of American Society

“The only thing I was guilty of was running a cemetery without a license.”
(John Wayne Gacy, during his 1980 trial for the murders of 33 young men and boys).

I first met “Tony” in the Summer of 2000. He was being admitted to the Drug/Alcohol program where I worked, after police found marijuana in the stolen car he was driving. It was now our responsibility to “Rehabilitate” him in 60 days.

From the moment we met I knew I would like Tony. He was an affable character, to say the least, and from the get go it was obvious he knew how to play the “game”. “I’m no Rook” (rookie), he loved to say. And he was right.

When we sat down to complete his Admission Packet I noticed Tony had large scars on the left side of his neck and face. Before I could ask what happened, he told me when he was younger his little brother pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, and to save him Tony pushed him out of the way only to have the scalding water come down on his face, neck and shoulders. (I remember seeing his scars and the actions that led to those scars as a symbol of the world in which Tony lived).

In conversations with many of the gang members with whom I worked, I heard a common refrain; “I’m doing this so my little brother/sister doesn’t have to.” Or “I’m doing this so my family doesn’t go without something. If my little brother needs new shoes, I can buy them for him or if my mom needs help with rent I have money to give her.”

During these conversations, I often felt a great deal of respect for these young men. I knew what they were doing was wrong, as did they, but there was often a “Nobility” in their actions. Many of them were willing to sacrifice themselves to try and help their families, specifically their siblings, just as Tony risked his own life to protect his little brother.

But I also saw the insanity of it all. Yes, Tony saved his brother, but it was only for Now. The odds were against both of them in the long run, and eventually there would come a day when Tony would not be able to protect his little brother anymore.

Over the course of the next two months Tony and I became relatively “close,” and he often referred to me as one of his “Peeps.” When we played two on two basketball, he and I were always on a team and it was the same when we played Spades. We “smashed mugs” on more than a few occasions.

We also spoke on a regular basis. He’d sit at my desk at night and we’d talk, sometimes for hours, about life, girls whatever. I learned that Tony hadn’t seen his Father since he was 7 yrs. old because his Father was in prison. Occasionally they spoke on the phone but it was rare and always brief. He never told me why his Father was incarcerated nor did he say if or when he would be released. And I never asked. I assumed it was probably gang and/or drug related considering Tony, his older brother and several of their cousins and uncles were in the RSC (Rollin Sixty Crips).

Tony never spoke about the future. His life was all about “The Now,” and the future was some ethereal Never-Never Land. He explained if he got caught “slippin on tha bricks” somebody would “Murk’em.” The tattoo on his right forearm said it all, “Kill or be Killed.”

I asked him once if that’s how he viewed life and he simply said, “Mugs ain’t never right.” Which meant, “I don’t really like it, but some day I may have to kill somebody. That’s just how it is.”

It’s a very powerless feeling sitting across from a 15 year old child knowing that the odds are against them making it to their 20th birthday (The average lifespan for a gang member in St. Louis is 18 years), and that there’s not a Fucking thing you can do about it.

“You can kiss my ass.”
(John Wayne Gacy, May 10, 1994. His last words, spoken to a prison guard, minutes before being executed).

In a publication entitled “The Alienation of Labor”, Karl Marx wrote about the potential consequences for those living within a Capitalist society. The basic premise was that before Industrialization most people had a hand in everything they did. They built their own homes, raised their own food, educated their children, etc etc. In other words, existence and the meaning of existence, for the most part, was in the hands of Individuals and Families.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold, many of the “Old Ways” began falling by the wayside, and people grew more and more “Alienated” from the processes of Life. No longer was it necessary for people to grow their own food or to build their own homes, and although there’s no doubt this made life “Easier,” it also caused a great Psychological shift within Human Societies all over the Globe.

Despite the Propaganda, Marx was not “Anti-Capitalist,” at least not in the way it’s presented. Marx viewed Capitalism as useful and even as a “Natural” part of Human Progression.

However, Marx understood that if left unchecked Capitalism would eventually grow into a Monster consuming everything, and everyone in its Path.

In Marx’s view, a view with which I completely agree, people are most Human when they are Creating whether it be growing their own food or making a chair. Creating connects us to the World, and gives our Lives Meaning. But with the onset of Industrialization and Capitalism people were creating less and less and instead were slowly becoming Cogs in a Giant Machine.

People were no longer a part of the process from start to finish, and the process became meaningless. Where a man once made his own chairs, he’s now in a Factory working at the same spot 10-12 hours per day repeating the same procedure over and over again. He’s no longer connected to the finished product, and this is very important.

For most of human existence, the rewards of our labor was the finished product itself whether it be building our own shelter or growing and raising our own food. The day we harvested the corn and sat down to eat it was the reward or “Fruit of our labor.” We provided our own sustenance, and in a sense we were a part of everything around us. “I built that chair. We planted those potatoes, and beets. I made these bowls.”

But with Industrialization, the nature of life rapidly changed. A worker might look at a chair built in a factory knowing they were the one who put the left rear leg on, and that’s all. They also know that there are thousands and thousands of chairs exactly like it, and that it’s no longer a Unique creation built out of necessity or love, but a “Thing” that only exists to make a profit. The connection between human beings and the surrounding world is being broken. “Alienation.”

Capitalism, at its core, is a cold dead System built on Accumulation, Perpetual Consumption and Competition. People work making “Things” in order to earn Pieces of Paper so they can go out and purchase “Things/Commodities,” and the more “Commodities” a person has the more “Successful” they are. The world of Humans is turned into a world of “Objects.”

Eventually this loss of Humanity spills into daily life, and the “Alienation” spreads from person to person. (For example, if you’ve ever lived in a large city it is not uncommon to live in an apartment complex and not know a single person’s name). People are told they are “Individuals,” but what is really meant is, “You are alone.”

When you couple Alienated people with an economic system (Capitalism) based on perpetual consumption, strange things begin to happen. The most ominous is what is known as “Reification” or the Objectification of Reality.

If people feel disconnected, and in a sense only live to consume, it is inevitable that they will begin to view each other as “Commodities” or “Things” as well because “Others” are getting in the way of me and my potential to have more Stuff.

Human life takes on a Numerical Value and depending on who you are, your skin color, your Portfolio etc determines how much you are Worth.

“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” August 2002

After Tony was discharged, I did not hear from him or about him for over a year. Then one day, about 60 days before I left, I received word he was coming back to our program. He’d been arrested again for riding in a stolen vehicle. (This happens a lot with gang members who trade crack cocaine to what they call “Cluckers”-Crack Addicts. In exchange for the crack, they get the use of the Clucker’s car for a day or two. Of course, many times the Clucker ends up calling the Police to report their car stolen).

At this point, I was working in the Youth Psychiatric Department and no longer had anything to do with the Drug Program. So, I had my friend hold Tony back from class, after his admission, in order to say hello.

Tony was much different than he was when we first met. He’d added about 10-15 lbs. of muscle and his face looked hard. I quickly got the impression he only agreed to meet with me so he could skip class. Regardless, I was excited to know he was back not because he got arrested again, but because it meant he was still alive. His reaction however, was very flat. We had numerous questions and he only had one or two word answers. “Nope”, “Yep”, “Not really” etc.

Our conversation lasted only five or ten minutes and other than seeing him in the hallway, we didn’t speak again until the day he was released.


The day he was released I asked to drive him home because I wanted to speak with him. I knew this would probably be our last chance with him, and I guess I thought I could come up with some magical speech during our ride to his home, but it was fruitless. Tony just wasn’t the same person or maybe he was, and he’d simply conned us the first time around. He barely spoke, except to say how he couldn’t wait to get back “On the bricks”. In other words, he’d decided once for all his fate, and anything I said was meaningless.

I dropped him off in front of him mother’s house and we said our goodbyes. He promised to “Keep in Touch.”

I never saw or heard from him again.

So, what’s the point? I’ll let you decide. Maybe there isn’t one.

By the way, in case you were wondering, that last quote came from Anne Coulter. She was angry the New York Times printed an article detailing a program used to track terrorists. She later explained it away as a “joke”.

To put her “joke” into context; 168 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombings. It was the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history until 9/11. Her comments came 16 days before the One Year Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC, which, of course, were in Manhattan. The attacks on 9/11 killed almost 3,000 people.

The New York Times Building is located in Manhattan.

Maybe Marx was right after all…


~ by fairlane on August 19, 2007.

11 Responses to “The Reification of American Society”

  1. That’s a terrible story about Tony. Sometimes you get the feeling that the only way to break the downward spiral is to take someone to a different country or society (like what happened with transported convicts here).

    I never knew much about Anne Coulter until recently. So she jokes about blowing up people she disagrees with? That’s one seriously screwed-up lady. I think your previous post was right – serious attention-seeking behaviour going on there.

  2. P.S. Just noticed the Wal-Mart comment…

  3. Anne says a lot of outrageous things. Personally, I think she comes across as very sad and desperate. Whenever I see her on television she always looks worn out.

    The disturbing part of it is her popularity.

  4. Well, looks like I’m getting a baptism of fire in US shock jocks – just came across Rush Limbaugh’s latest comments on Barack Obama.

    What is wrong with these people?

    I once dated a guy who had a pathological need to shock people by making outrageous and offensive statements. He had a pretty sad upbringing (really uptight religious parents, not much attention, very badly teased at school). He fits the bill too. Funnily enough, when he wasn’t trying to get your attention or be offensive, he was actually a nice guy, but it just wasn’t worth putting up with it.

  5. i just left a message before, thank you, this is what i was looking for, i find all of this very interesting but also sad. I am a student doing a paper and I also have a “fixation” on ASPD.I just want to let you know that this article will really help. So thanks and keep up the great work.

  6. No problem Anon. Wikipedia also has a good article on Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Some of their stuff is questionable, but this article is very accurate, and it has links to other articles.

  7. i like the ‘blog in review’ concept… i’ve actually just made a similar post looking at previous work. anyways, that’s not the first time coulter said inflammatory isht. as for marx, i loved the thought how we’re most human when growing our own food, etc. and how he regarded capitalism as progress but flawed given our human nature. as for tony (?), the crack-kid, that’s too bad. that must be a tough field to deal with daily. i guess sometimes all we can do is pray that someday they’ll see the light.

  8. I don’t think Ann Coulter defines anyone or anything other than Ann Coulter. She’s just another water carrying shock jock, a la Don Imus. If everybody would just ignore her, like a bad fart, she’d go away.

    I’ve worked in several rehab clinics, and have seen far too many “Tony’s.” Society expects miracles of us. Reverse years of family heritage, traits, prejudices, and “heal” them in “x” days. When we don’t, our funding is cut, because “rehab doesn’t work.”

    Sigh…a long time soapbox of mine.:)

  9. Fairlane, you are slaying me in a big way with this brilliant post. Wow. Tony. I am dumbstruck.

    And you have an image of Guernica – which I think is the most powerful anti war statement and the topic of an early post of mine, should you be so inclined to look.

    And Ann… Ann is a metaphor for how fucked the whole thing is.

    Thank you Fairlane- the writing, the graphics, the point. I really adore it and subsequently you as well.

  10. thanks for posting that story………

  11. raffi- Marx got it right when it came to Capitalism. He saw very clearly what could happen, but in a way he was also naive. He had a romantic view of humanity, and assumed we would naturally progress toward Communism.

    If he saw how his words and philosophy were put into practice I imagine he’d die right there on the spot.

    I gave up that field after I left St. Louis and returned home. I haven’t worked as a Counselor in almost six years. I don’t imagine I will ever go back.

    Dan- Anne is a symbol. Millions of people buy and read her books. She’s on the tv. She channels the anger and outrage most people cannot put their finger on, and she exploits it.

    I remember when I first heard about “Alienation,” and I was like, “Damn, that’s what that’s called.” Before I could never think what to call it or how to describe it. Marx got it right. We, as a society, have lost our way.

    Fran- For some reason that Picasso called out to me. I know that probably sounds silly, but I was looking for something chaotic, and disjointed, and there it was.

    I appreciate the compliment, and I will most certainly check out your post.

    DCNY- Coulter is a very sick woman.

    She’s the only “Comedian” I can think of who’s jokes are funny in hindsight. Her supporters don’t even get her “jokes” until she explains them.

    But I don’t think she’s joking.

    Self-loathers are dangerous.

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