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The America files



Americans are more compliant and complicit than they used to be.


I left the States for a few weeks in the year 2000 and returned 11 years later.

I think that Americans are more compliant than when I left the States — more complicit, and more comfortable with authority.

I couldn't get a bed in a downtown Portland, Oregon hostel because I didn't have a credit card.

I argued the point with the employee there, not because I hoped that I'd change his mind but because I needed to express my opinion — that I think it's an unreasonable requirement. He disagreed. "Cost-benefit; over the years we've blah blah blah." But the cost-benefit was exactly what I was challenging. I didn't understand how it's worthwhile to deny some people a room just to keep everybody from ever doing any kind of harm.

We haven't found our policy to be a problem, he said. Well, it's a big problem for me right now. He didn't care. That's policy.

That evening, after booking at the Joyce Hotel, an establishment that some would call a seedy dive, I was at a bar and sitting aside a woman who was tatooed from neck to tip, and, you know, I tried to make a bit of conversation. Her opinion about the fact that I could not get into the *international* hostel without having a credit card was "well, that's just the way it is."

I was surprised that she accepted the practice as readily as she did. I expressed that surprise. She left soon.

In Olympia Washington I was with a friend having a few beers in a bar that seems to consider itself quite hip. It was early in the evening, the first place where we had had any alcoholic drinks.

After a couple of hours there, and a few beers, I went to the bar and requested a couple of drinks. The young lady who was tending the bar told me "you're slurring your words a bit, and I can't serve you." I couldn't believe it. I just said "fuck you" — not aggressively, but more like "you're fucking with me, right?" At the same time, I knew at that moment that I wasn't going to talk her into serving me — so fuck her indeed.

Her response was clearly a well-practiced excercize. She raised her arm, called out two male names, and shouted "get this man out of here."

Two men came, one much larger than me, another about my size. The poor bastards couldn't do anything more than the skinny little girl could, though, so they just did the next logical fascist thing — they threatened to call the police.

They rejected my accusation that they were acting in a fascistic way, and I don't blame them. I was not drunk, but I was not entirely capable of articulate disputaton either — and, as "Godwin's Law" suggests, comparison of peoples' ideas or behavior with authoritarian political regimes is unlikely to be a cogent argument.

But it was remarkable how quickly came the resort to authority, the threat of heavy consequences. It was as if the first consideration was "how quickly can we escalate an extreme response."

Even the tatooed hipsters are authoritarian in America now.


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