Interview with Hugh Gusterson, co-editor of “The Insecure American”

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective. As I told ‘The Tennessean’ in 2008, “since moving to Nashville twenty-five years ago, I have met people whose lives do not remotely reflect the caricature of what many outside our city presume to be a Nashvillian” or the Nashville experience. “Underground Nashville” thus explores the soul of the city, not its surface—offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


As we head toward Christmas, please do not forget those less fortunate than you. To make sure homeless human beings receive the food, love, and friendship they need, please donate to the Nashville Rescue Mission by calling (615) 255-2475 or by visiting  Thank you.


Interview with Hugh Gusterson, co-editor of the new book The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What We Should Do About it

Part II

UNDERGROUND NASHVILLE: The contributors to The Insecure American offer insights as to how our “anxious country” might be brought onto a more positive long-term path. What are two or three of the over-arching ways we might achieve this?

HUGH GUSTERSON: 1) Shift the balance of power between large corporations and employees/consumers with omnibus legislation breaking up corporate oligopolies (including those banks “too big to fail”) in favor of real market competition; making it harder to evict people in foreclosure; restraining small print fees imposed arbitrarily by banks and credit card agencies; and making it easier to organize unions.

2) Undo the Clinton-era rule that has made the U.S. one of only two countries in the world that allows drug companies to market prescription drugs directly to consumers.  And ban advertising in schools.

3) The 1986 mandatory minimum sentencing laws for possession of small amounts of marijuana and crack cocaine have created a situation where the U.S. incarcerates a higher proportion of its population than any other country—more than 2.2 million people.  Most of those incarcerated are poor, and they are disproportionately black.  Undoing these draconian laws, and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, would go a long way toward alleviating insecurity in many poor communities, especially the black community.  It could also be a bipartisan act since many prominent conservatives have called for legalizing marijuana.

UN:  If you had the length of an elevator ride to tell someone why he or she will benefit from reading The Insecure American, what would you say?

HG: Insecurity is the condition of our times.  Insecure people lose their vision.  They become preoccupied with their own survival and turn on one another, losing sight of the bigger forces that make us insecure together. This book, by the leading anthropologists in the country, restores the big picture and suggests how we could take command as a people of our insecurities about joblessness, bankruptcy, immigration, crime, health, and keeping up with the Joneses.  We don’t have to be insecure Americans.

Hugh Gusterson is Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at George Mason University.  He is the author of ‘Nuclear Rites’ (1996) and ‘People of the Bomb’ (2004), co-editor (with Catherine Besteman) of ‘Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong,’ and is a monthly columnist for the ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.’

To order The Insecure American ($24.95, paperback; $65, hardcover, 392 pages) call (510) 642-4247 or visit


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