are you back in Santa Fe?
JFW: This town has problems that are as deep and heavy as Newark, L.A., New York City, the Bronx. And so why be away fighting when I could be at home fighting? This town needs agitation. It’s settled in to a well-adjustedness—I’m trying to find the right word so I don’t overstate it—to a well-adjusted injustice.
What’s the biggest problem in Santa Fe?
Socioeconomic racism. We’re kind of in an apartheid situation: We have upper-class whites living up toward Canyon Road, at the top of the hill, and we have lower-class Latinos living where they’ve always lived, and there doesn’t seem to be—fat-cat whites and fat-cat Latinos seem to be content with the situation. They don’t seem to want to build a community; they seem to want to make their money, become as comfortable as possible, and leave the poor to their own devices, which is screwed. And that’s just the same as everywhere else in America, so this way Santa Fe really is—Santa Fe calls itself the city different, but it’s really an extremely American city.
you fix something like that?
I think you agitate. You bring it to attention. You definitely engage; you don’t remain apathetic. One person can only do so much, but what that person does, counts. And Santa Fe can’t be treated like some crappy little Prozac vacation spot; people actually have to engage the community and worry about other people.
the tourists? Or just us?
I believe that wherever people go, people have to engage and have some degree of concern for where they are, but especially if you live here. And I think the tourists actually could dress better. If you’re going to come to a place that has its own culture, and you’re coming to a place for a degree of sophistication and art, and to see something different, at least make some kind of effort to participate in it, and don’t walk around in a North Carolina State sweatshirt, because it takes away from the place.
you have classes for people as soon as they arrive?
Internment camps, actually.
think equality exists anywhere in the world?
It exists in some places more than others, and some places are working harder for it than other places, but you know. The human condition’s the human condition. You fight for equality—it certainly won’t exist if you don’t. What do they say—bad things happen when good people do nothing? I can guarantee that if you don’t fight for equality, bad things will happen.
Where is there equality?
Historically, I could say moments during the Spanish civil war. The Paris commune, there was a degree of equality; at least they were trying for something there. Santa Fe calls itself an art town or identifies as that; why can’t it strive for that kind of equality? It’s just—there’s this disconnect here where there’s certain people, rich people, have all this sort of equality and bohemian dreams. But those dreams don’t leave the walls of the art gallery or the dinner party. They don’t extend, actually, into town, and this town needs a lot more engagement from those people.
Rich people are a frequent target of yours. Why? And how rich are you?
I’m poor. I’m broke, basically, to be honest with you. I’m week to week, at best. But you make a choice to be rich in this world. And if you make a choice to be rich—I think it’s a zero-sum game, the capitalist system that exists now, so if you’re making a choice to be rich, that means usually you’re ignoring the needs of other people and just looking after the needs of yourself.
So if I win the lottery, should I give it all away?
Give it to me! (laughs) No, I think that in the extreme instance of somebody winning the lottery, I think actually they’ve found that people are happier when they distribute the money. Instead of keeping it all for themselves—they usually end up, like, as crack addicts—miserable.
also talk and write a lot about America. What’s the worst thing about America?
The American dream is an illusion, and the country’s dying.
of that dream?
No. The American dream—you asked me, what’s the problem with America? The hypocrisy, the selfishness. It’s a greedy country, and it’s a country of apathetic people who don’t realize that democracy is a verb, that you’ve got to engage for this country to work. I think if Thomas Jefferson were alive today, they would string him up for being a godless radical. These people who call themselves patriots make me sick. Patriotism isn’t something that you call yourself; patriotism is something that you let other people call you when you go out and fight for a better society.
So how did we get that way if we had godless radicals as founders how did we get here?
OK. I truly believe that mass media and corporatism, as of late, have really been the coup de grace. We’ve entered a time of corporate oligarchy, of pure distraction, so the people in this country don’t even know what their own interests are anymore. And as far as the other stuff, pretty much from the time we started out, we still had slavery and things like that. But really the coup de grace has been corporate oligarchy and the mass media-industrial complex, and those two things really go together. As does war and all that other stuff.
You’ve participated in the mass media; is that a conflict of interest at all?
(sigh) Yeah, there’s probably a degree of conflict of interest. I can’t—at the same time, you can either use—it’s a tool. And you can use a tool for an array of purposes. And when I have been able to participate in the mass media, I uniformly have criticized mass media and tried to use it to get people to engage more and question authority.
you make sure you’re not corrupted by the system?
We’re all corrupted by the system. We’re all complicit in society. All you can do is lower the volume from 11 to nine. “It goes up to 11”—you know, Spinal Tap? (laughs) That’s it. I have no illusions about that. I don’t walk around thinking I’m a great guy.
I’m not asking that. I’m just saying that, if you work for the media—for example, I’m in the media because I don’t trust the media. How am I ever going to avoid becoming the thing I don’t trust?
OK, well, if Fox News called you up today and says, ‘I have a job for $150,000 a year as a talking head on Good Morning Fox News,’ would you take it?
For a week.
I wouldn’t. I mean, there are choices. People do make choices. They make the choice to be rich, they make the choice to be dumb, they make the choice to work for Fox News when they know they’re just selling out. There is such a thing as selling out, and people do that.
Do poor people not have choice?
They have a hell of a lot less choices than rich people! That’s the whole point. That’s why there’s a difference when you’re a lawyer between representing a Wall Street investment banker who had every option on the planet, who still decided to screw over people, and a poor guy who had to steal some bread. There is a difference there, morally and ethically.
So are you choosing clients based on that difference?
Yeah. And hopefully they can pay me along the way. That’s why I’m so broke.
Do you have clients yet?
Who are they?
I can’t say that! (laughs)
You’ve been following the City Council, I presume.
To a degree.
You were talking about hypocrisy, selfishness, apathy. Are those the human condition, or are they specific to America?
Oh my god, they’re part of the human condition. They’re absolutely part of the human condition, and to mitigate those requires vigilance.
Are we just being too indulgent, then?
I don’t know if indulgent is the right word, but I’ll tell you: the thing I really dislike most about America and American people is that we walk around just thinking we’re good people without having to do anything to be good people. Here we are, walking around, “I’m a good guy.” What have I done to be a good guy? Being a good guy actually takes getting your ass off the couch and doing something. Existence isn’t simply a virtue. You have to step away from it. Americans look in the mirror and say, ‘We’re good,’ when in actuality they’re participating in a society that consumes way more energy than it should and participating in a country that’s doing the most damage to the planet right now.
So we’re more self-righteous than anyone else?
Oh, we’re extremely self-righteous. Look at the way we walk around when we go traveling to other places. We invade and occupy other countries. We have self-righteousness on a collective scale. We think we’re good. That’s the definition of self-righteousness.
Yeah, I guess. We’re also just ignorant. When I see people traveling [inconsiderately], it’s not necessarily because they think they’re right. It’s just not knowing how other people live.
That’s a good point.
Can you blame them for that?
People who are ignorant. Maybe it’s our job to educate ourselves, but how can you educate yourself when you don’t know what you’re missing?
Oh, I don’t know. I give people a lot of credit. I think there’s a choice underlying all these things. I know in all my life there’s always been a choice, and I didn’t exactly grow up rich or anything like that. There’s a choice to watch Fox News. There’s a choice to make hateful commentary. All that stuff is a choice that underlies everything.
You do still live in America. What do you like the most about it?
I like football.
Yeah. I grew up watching football.
You played football for St Mike’s
St Mike’s, yeah. I like our unpretentiousness.
You just told me we’re the most self-righteous people—
There’s a difference between self-righteousness and pretentiousness. Self-righteousness, you think you’re a good person. Pretentiousness is walking around in, profound, I don’t know, French-like judgment of others…
Did you say French-like?
If you go to Paris, you understand what pretentiousness is. You can have fun in America—big cities and other places—in ways you can’t in Stockholm, for example.
What do you do for fun in Santa Fe?
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that, first off, it’s a town that’s pretty much 9 to 8. You have good dinners; that’s what you do. But I have gone out and had a lot of wine—that’s fun.
What’s your football team?
They’re the team I saw growing up. I liked rooting for them when I was in the second grade.
What part of Santa Fe do you live in?
What do you call, like, South Capitol? Here’s the capitol, Galisteo down. Like Salvador Perez—the baseball fields. …No, I live in Hyde Park, actually. I have a $3 million place up there. (laughs)
You once said you flew to El Salvador because it was dangerous and you heard you might get killed. When did you go? 2008?
Did you find it dangerous?
It was a great party. It was so dangerous that standing in front of little ice cream stands were guys with guns, AK-47s.
What about here?
Santa Fe’s fairly insulated. If I was a poor Latino on the outskirts of Santa Fe, I’m sure it’d be a different story, but I’m not that. I know it can be dangerous for some people. I don’t find it dangerous at all.
I mean, is that going to be a problem for you?
There’s—puncture the insulation, right? Anytime you puncture the insulation or scratch the surface anywhere in American society, these really rough and nasty things exist right under the surface, so it can get edgy and interesting and dangerous really quickly.
How would you do that in Santa Fe?
An interesting mix of agitation, creative resistance, and making people feel uncomfortable who have gotten used to feeling comfortable. Disturbing the comfortable, comforting the disturbed.
That’s what we pretend to do as reporters, right? Annoy the people with power? But they’re completely unruffled. It doesn’t matter.
It’s like, what do people still talk about all the time around here? Reies Lopez Tijerina. He stormed the courthouse in the ‘60s, right? I think that kind of agitation has its place. If nothing is happening, and you’re putting all the information out there and there’s still corruption and people are still being exploited, and we’re being ignored, that’s the time when democracy has got to get extremely active in the face of power.
But you’d have to have a critical mass.
Not that much of a critical mass. You get the right people, the right 10 to 15 people whose hearts and minds are in the right place and are thinking rationally and they’re trying to accomplish something that’s real—they can do a lot.
Who’s qualified to do that? I know it can be anyone, but I’m saying people with more to lose—can they do that stuff?
So you’re saying some people are less empowered and able to defend themselves? That’s my job, to defend them. That’s why I went to law school. Otherwise it’s not worth anything being a lawyer.
You once said the average American is a selfish prick on a cell phone—still true?
Haha! Yeah, totally. Totally.