Thoughts on Reading Chris Hedges, With Poll

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About America of the past:

It could be cruel and unjust if you were poor, gay, a woman, or an immigrant, but there was hope it could be better. It was a country I loved and honored. It paid its workers wages envied around the world. It made sure these workers, thanks to labor unions and champions of the working class in the Democratic Party and the press, had health benefits and pensions….It honored basic democratic values and held in regard the rule of law, including international law, and respect for human rights.

—Chris Hedges

And today?

The country I live in today uses the same civic, patriotic, and historical language to describe itself, the same symbols and iconography, the same  national myths, but only the shell remains. The America we celebrate is an illusion. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father, and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be unrecognizable.

—Chris Hedges

I use this poignant observation because it has a deep emotional resonance. Unlike me, Hedges has deep roots in this country. His life is far more deeply shaped by America than mine could ever be. I can tell when I see him on videos and hear him interviewed how much he is in pain. His last book is angry and bitter as he looks around him without flinching. When you’ve seen a lot of death–you don’t flinch so much. Once you decide to see things squarely, you can’t stop just because the thought of seeing your country being flushed down the toilet by fucking criminals haunts you. Worse, for Hedges (and me) is to see people who call themselves Americans degrade into a cowardly group of junkies living in fantasies.  

For me, our current political situation is most appalling because the values currently embraced by the vast majority of the American people run directly counter to the struggle of Western Civilization to query the world through science and try to find a way to make real the humanistic and religious values that lay at the heart of our civilization. There is a strong current of love and good in our background that resisted evil, that struggled and who brought us tangible benefits to make life more than slavery and serfdom-that elevated all human beings as worthy and valuable entities not just resources to be exploited. The fact of the matter is that we still watch A Christmas Carol, we still watch It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas that express so well the best values of our culture. Those values live somewhere in people’s hearts-yet, most Americans reject the values in those works of art. Oh, they say they  don’t-but they do and that’s the problem and one we should dedicate ourselves to remedy. Americans seem uniquely talented in saying one thing and doing the opposite. We live in a society run by Mr. Potter and administered by Scrooge and we call it the “free-enterprise system.” Of course it is neither free since it is dominated by monopoly capitalists that do everything they can to make us serfs, nor is it enterprise because the system punishes people for true innovation because it upsets the balance of power. If it is a system, it is a system that is unsustainable not only in fact but intention and is focused on the temporary looting of our society and the inherited cultural and technological riches our ancestors worked hard to develop.

Hedges also mentioned that things weren’t so good for other racial groups in America. Still, if you look at the condition of blacks in America you have to struck on how we’ve done away with some of the more obvious racist institutions and habits. But the condition of black people in this country may well be worse than it was a half century ago. We are a society that uses prisons to be the new plantations. The whole fear of crime that sort of climaxed with the Willie Horton ads in the ’88 election was largely unfounded. What it really was about was the fear of black men. So we’ve incarcerated a substantial number of black men.

The incarceration rate in state or federal prison or jail for men was 1,384 per 100,000 residents, for women 134 per 100,000 residents. The rate for white men was 736 per 100,000, for black men 4,789 per 100,000, for Hispanic men 1,862 per 100,000. The rate for white women was 94 per 100,000, for black women 358 per 100,000, and for Hispanic women 152 per 100,000.

Frankly, for all the prejudice and narrow mindedness in this country when I was young–it was a more humane place–I think people were not so nice but they seemed more aware more attentive-people today look kind of blank to me, like they’re too lazy to pay attention to what is going on. It’s really creepy sometimes.

I quote Hedges because he and I share the same perceptions. He starts his last book (Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle) with a look at professional wrestling and then the pornography industry. I believe these two areas of life tell us great truths about our culture. We are into some sick shit. It’s all about dominance and submission, isn’t it? We’ve changed. We used to be egalitarian in theory–now everybody (well not really everybody) worships the rich and famous, the aristocrats. Don’t worry, they are quite ready to make serfs out of all of us. They won’t even have to enslave us–we’ll run into the arms of Paris Hilton so we can have the privilege of carrying her bags or her coke.

I think we’re all kind of tired. The oil disaster was a shock to many of us–at least it was to me. I mentioned in my diary that a close friend said it was the end of the world. That the reaction and attitudes of the media, the populace, the authorities, all had an air of finality. It’s the end. She says there’s no fucking hope. Me, I don’t know, I really don’t. I see little hope but I see some bright lights in the arts and I guess I see hope, just because. Maybe because I have something I don’t understand very well called Faith which enlivens me as it does Hedges, a faith in the power of love that to me is (capital F) Faith.

In his book Hedges focuses on the negative because he sees these things as dominating the current cultural scene-and he’s right and will ge no argument here. We may have some great cultural trends-the growth of the internet has helped us gather information and put new life into music by bringing once obscure forms of music to us and we are witnessing a wonderful blend of musics where traditional musics from all over the world are shared and then blended and played off and lost and experimented with and wonderful strange brews are always emerging. The internet has brought a resurgence in real scholarship that had been moribund with the decline of the American universities which have become, increasingly, trade schools populated by a wandering band of temporary workers afraid to step out of line, even at top universities. This place we inhabit, virtually, is a foohold. But as someone commented recently it is only a foothold.

To make this place on the internet productive we need to create something more than what we have now. Not that this is bad or wrong. It is merely not adequate. We have vented and studied and worked to deconstruct the lies that are thrown at us. We have ventured into the maelstrom of GOS to bring a progressive voices to place that is still tottering on the edges of being either a site for social democrats or a site for corporate conservatives. The clash there is enormous and pretty even. Still that’s not enough.

We need to have a portfolio of information we can throw out into the marketplace of ideas. We can’t all individually bring the collective wisdom of this site to the world. We need that collective wisdom, in my view, available in a database of basic facts rather than entire diaries. In other words, re-usable information we can always refer to in our writing. Since I’m planning a book at the moment, and I’m a db programmer I’ve thought of various ways to organize information and plan my own system. If anyone is interested I will diary about what could make up that system.

In addition to having solid information, we need to study how to create parallel structures to the current system we live in. By that I mean alternate economic institutions, i.e., sustainable businesses that free people who want to escape from the insanity of this culture to use their talents positively rather than work to relieve the stress that often is caused by work.

We must build something, not just write our opinions. I want some real suggestions here-I’m only exploring and it may be easy for me because I’ve just gone through some major life changes that have me essentially up in the air and I have to land soon.

I leave you with some quotes from another Chris–this is Chris Floyd today:

But we live today in networks given over to death and domination — rapacious, aggressive, degraded and degrading. Networks which actively, at times gleefully destroy the moments of connection and awareness, and instead seek to impose ever-more reductive and false definitions of reality, which then must be defended with manic ferocity against the mysterious flows and eruptions of being. We are now hurtling a thousand miles an hour in the wrong direction, deeper into death and degradation, which are no longer resisted, or lamented, or regretted, or even debated, but embraced and celebrated, in a sickening inversion of the “civilized values” that our degraded, militarist-corporatist system purports to defend.

We need to take these words to heart. It is not only our economic and political systems that are being destroyed but our own sense of being and identity.

What we need, desperately, is more and more of the power of No — and the determination in live in — and live for — those moments of connection and awareness that the free flow of being can provide.

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21 comments

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    • banger on June 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm
      Author

    … our contemporary “problem”, in my view, is that our lives tend to lack meaning or as I like to say a mythological framework.

  1. I am not willing to give up my life but I have so much respect for those that are willing to give it all.

    Have you ever noticed how those that do give all are so quickly forgotten while people work so hard to name things after Ronald Reagan in this nation?

    That is so not my reason that I don’t want to give all. I just want to live but I think there should be plenty of Mother Jones Boulevards in this nation.

    Your mention of Paris Hilton I think is just an extension of respecting the wrong people.  

  2. That little quote above about the “America of the Past” never really existed either. At best it occurred when Ike was Prez, and mostly worked if you were white and didn’t live in what was once the confederacy. We have yet to come close to forming a more perfect union, and current events demonstrates the spiritual bankruptcy at the heart of the American fallacy.

    How to fight the oligarchy? Elect Sarah Palin and help push it more quickly over the cliff towards which it is racing.

  3. You capture many of my own sentiments, as do Floyd and Hedges.  The idea of participating in this society of “dead letters,” leaves me entirely without appetite, which is difficult to explain to others who manage to plug along out of sheer delusion and mindless habit.  It’s hard to say whether divining empathic insight into the formerly inscrutable Bartelby the Scrivener is a good or bad thing.

  4. You had mentioned you were going to do a diary along these lines, but I somehow missed it until now.  

    Some comments:

    . . . .We are a society that uses prisons to be the new plantations.

    Well put and true!  And think of it, most of these incarcerated people haven’t the money for bond or legal counsel, so they’re stuck, while private prisons make so much per head, who are assuredly apt to make it difficult in every way for such person(s) to become free!  Wicked like everything else.

    There’s hardly an arena in this society that is not tainted by the greedy.

    Don’t worry, they are quite ready to make serfs out of all of us. They won’t even have to enslave us–we’ll run into the arms of Paris Hilton so we can have the privilege of carrying her bags or her coke.

    Yes, I do think that’s the goal of the wealthy, and it’s going in that direction without question, as citizens become poorer and poorer.  Lose a job and take two at minimum wages and still not make it.  I’ve often wondered why all of a sudden it seemed we needed to rid our country of immigrants — was it simply so that average Americans could take over their jobs, washing dishes, picking the vegetables, doing the landscaping, etc., since there are no jobs (and few being created).

    Yes, I like the idea of a “marketplace of ideas” — a place to posit ideas, constructive points, etc.

    Thank you, banger!

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