Journalist Chris Hedges discusses his recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. In it, he charts the dramatic rise of a post-literate society that craves fantasy, ecstasy, and illusion.
Hedges argues we now live in two societies: one, the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world and can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth; the other, a growing majority, is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic where serious film and theater, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins.
Chris Hedges, author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He writes for many publications, including Foreign Affairs, Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, Granta, and Mother Jones. He is also a columnist for Truthdig.com.
Co-sponsored by the Writing Program, Department of Media Studies and Film, and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
Chris Hedges is a journalist and author, specializing in American and Middle Eastern politics and society. He has written for Foreign Affairs, Granta, Harpers, Mother Jones, National Geographic and The New York Review of Books.
He is the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning - a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. His other books are What Every Person Should Know About War and Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America.
"Corporations" are fictions. A corporation is just a group of people who pool their money to run a business and the people they hire to run the business to make it profitable so the owners earn a desireable return on their investment. If government stayed out of their businesses, businesses would have no reason to lobby" says Mark Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan, you should do some research on the history of corporations in the U.S., what enables them to be corporations, how they are afforded the rights and protections they have.
So should we be allowed to live in the United States and experience the benefits of a freedom provided by our military, public services, parks, roads, bridges,( insert any good that is partially the result of taxes), and not have to pay anything for it? I always thought if you received a good from a private corporation you had to pay for it. And if you didn't pay, the private corporation would force you to pay...why should it be different with a public institution?
Thanks to all, who have contributed to such a respectful, thoughtful and thought provoking discussion; it was a pleasure to read such insightful comments. Your intellect gives me hope that not all Americans are sheeple, and although some would prefer to go back to the "good ole days", many seem to be inviting change.
Between the leftist porn peddled by Hollywood and the savagery of the Tarnac 9, lies the socialist critique produced and distributed by American universities and media. Why is socialism touted by the disaffected among us as the answer to every social ill, when socialism itself is no guarantee that the best, most practical, most just solution will be employed? We can have social justice without socialism, just as there can exist a socialist country with extreme injustice and violence perpetuated against its citizens. Also, mankind has been moving irrevocably towards globalization since before TV and the internet existed, when you consider that sailing ships capable of navagating large oceans and thus bringing peoples closer together were considered a novelty at one time. At what frontier do we forbid globalization? Do we prohibit ourselves from contact with others across an ocean, across state, or even county lines? You anti-globalizationists ought to consider the true consequences of implementing your critique. Must we restrict the food that our children eat to what city folks can grow themselves from the one window box in their apartment? Must American doctors not be given the means to communicate with European scientists, and should corporations be prevented from developing medicines or useful inventions? Is this the utopian reality you leftists are proposing to spring upon us against our will? You say you fight for freedom, but all I hear from you is the desire to restrict our freedom, in case one of us should have an independent, and hence, fascist thought. Well, I do not agree with would-be American socialists, nor do I take kindly to being brainwashed by the slow trickle of leftist swill on the media, no more than you all say you like being a "pawn" of multinational corporations. Where I am from, we have families, not communes. Our children are homeschooled, so that they may maintain some semblance of free thought. We have chosen to live near forests and corn fields, not universities and subways, and still the Internet has not subverted us. Go practice what you preach.
I must admit I couldn't even finish watching that video. I felt physically sick by about 50 mins in, no discredit to Chris Hedges of course, he's clearly a very insightful guy but it made me realise that even I reach a point where I'd rather stick my head in the sand, and I've always been a big advocate of exactly the opposite. I've never heard the moribund future of the west painted with such a vivid pallet, in the end I'd rather just concentrate on the web and new technologies and cling desperately to the notion that the good in mankind will eventually stand up and say no, because I don't know if I could bare to live knowing the contrary.
If you are interested in hearing my regular musings on the future of the web, politics and the odd bit of home-grown music please head over to http://www.tulesblog.com and do leave a comment, you don't have to register to do so and I thrive on communication
Love to you all and hey let's make this work
@MarkSullivan: A strongly articulated Libertarian argument. I respect your position but disagree with your over all assessment of the presentation. That said, I offer counterpoints to several of the facts you supply to support your position.
First, unemployment: Europe vs. the US. You state that Europe's unemployment has been +10% during good times. I do not disagree with you that Europe's unemployment numbers are high; I'd like to suggest that the actual unemployment figure in the US has been the same if not slightly greater during those same periods. What is officially reported as unemployment in this country--currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' "U3" number--is significantly different than the metrics used by our European counterparts. Last I was able to check, our "U3" indicator counts only those Americans who are reported by their former employers as out of work and eligible for unemployment, and its denominator is boosted by counts for active-duty military personnel. My research indicates that Europe's unemployment figures traditionally have included those individuals plus those still-unemployed beyond the American unemployment eligibility period, injured workers, the underemployed (< 20 hours per week) and the incarcerated, and the employment base used as the figure's denominator excludes active duty military personnel (the latter may be misstated--I read that a while ago and have not been able to track down evidence to support that assertion from work). Comparing our official U3 unemployment figure to Europe's is apples and oranges and not a worthy support for any argument in favor of America's prosperity vs Europe's. Our Bureau of Labor Statistics also calculates a U6 figure which more closely resembles the European metric, although the BLS's U6 excludes the incarcerated from its numerator and continues to include active duty military personnel in its denominator.
A frustrating point: The calculations for U3 and U6 had been robustly detailed on the BLS's website prior to the 2008 crash, and U6 numbers were reported just as freely on that website as the U3. Prior to the crash, U6 was above 9%. Now, the BLS website has dumbed down descriptions for its calculations and has suppressed, as near as I can tell, current U6 reporting. The most recent U6 figure I was able to track down for the nation, which dates back to November of 09, is 17%.
Metric clarification aside, I do not doubt that Europe has its issues with immigrants' accessibility to societal resources such as jobs and quality of life, and I think it's fair for you to bring that up as a counterpoint to Hedges' argument. Given his lucidity and experience in reporting, not to mention his sympathy for understanding why nationalist extreme right wing groups have emerged in this country, my suspicion is that Hedges shares your observation and simply did not make that observation in his speech here because he was already covering so much ground.
Second, I concur that our corporate tax is among the world's highest, but common reportage indicates that this tax is no obstacle to multibillion multinationals whereas it is an obstacle to small businesses. PepsiCo, FoxNews, and more are able to offset their tax rates with charitable donations (which anyone who has worked in the non-profits which receive those donations can tell you are actually aggressively targeted promotional opportunities for those companies) and government subsidies. Similarly, the wealthiest among us also use charitable donations to offset their tax bases, with Rupert Murdoch admitting and Warren Buffet Lamenting that they pay less in annual income tax than their executive assistants do.
Third, I believe you’re correct to assess that Utopias are impossible for humans to establish, but why go on to trumpet the free market when no evidence exists to (a) suggest that such an entity exists in any nation/community and (b) suggest that such an entity has ever existed? I suppose an argument could be made that the early years of the American state were expressions of the free market ideal, but (a) I would disagree with those assessments and I think there’s historical evidence to support that and (b) evidence also supports Mr. Hedge’s argument that unfettered capitalism, before long, requires intervention, unfortunately in the form of government, to offset and corral the mafia-style cronyism that inevitably emerges. Unfettered markets are a beautiful and elegant ideal, but that is all they are: An ideal, and one that is by its nature Utopian. Again, I think free market capitalism and the libertarian argument for a lean and efficient government are an elegant ideals, but I think the assessment of human nature inherent to both—that, left to our own devices, we will behave as educated, self-determined, noble “agents,” and that cooperatively we will negotiate our failures and successes, always with future growth and social evolution as our informing goal—is beautiful but profoundly adolescent and persists contrary to all historical and contemporary evidence. Human nature, unfortunately, is not noble. As Mr. Hedges as articulated in other works, all evidence strongly supports that we are messy, impassioned, yet brilliant species, and evil is as endemic to our persons’ constitutions as good. These qualities inevitably interfere with our ability to cooperate successfully to generate societies that support equal access to liberties and, so one hopes, happiness—and that is exactly why government’s existence is required.
I do not intend the following as an insult: it is intellectually lazy to qualify such an assessment “nihilistic.” If the full implications of Hedge’s assessment (and mine) are considered, it is revealed to be the opposite of nihilism: it is wise and compassionate. It is compassionate to understand not only the talents and best intentions of a person as well as encouraging of his ideals for future success, but his weaknesses and shortcomings as well. Only by fully recognizing and accepting our shortcomings as realistically and evenly as we do our best attributes do we have the capacity to truly begin to move forward, grow, and evolve socially. It is wise for us to measure first the reality of our natures and then to chart our growth, second, against our nobler ideals and ambitions. To hold ourselves and our fellows to an ideal of nobility that has no evidence to support that such a condition has ever existed or endured is fundamentally uncompassionate and is an intellectual failure that has consistently led us to failure.
Fourth, by what metric do you qualify efficiency in manufacturing as a “good?” It seems to me that the only “good” served by an paradigm in which fewer and fewer men and women are required to produce ever-more goods—a paradigm in which, also, human population growth surges—is that of the manufacturer’s owners and shareholders. And even that good is temporary: A logically inevitable result of globalism during a paradigm of rapid technological advancement, in my opinion, is ever-increasing unemployment. With fewer people doing more of the work, and with more and more people entering a dwindling workforce, ever-higher unemployment is inevitable. What follows increasing unemployment, surely, is shrinking profit margins for the very companies who’ve made such highly celebrated advances in efficiency.
We as a collective must decide on what we believe is good for us. If manufacturing efficiency impoverishes us, can it really be said to be “good,” regardless of how low it reduces the cost of manufactured products and services? In establishing what we believe to be good for us, can we really agree that having the ability to buy more manufactured goods truly serves our happiness? our longevity and liberties? Recent research in psychology and sociology is consistently demonstrating that what makes people happy is not the ability to consume more but the ability for them as individuals to do meaningful work, and for them to use the experience of meaningful work as a basis for personal dignity and self-determination. Here I say: Efficiency is an admirable achievement, to be sure, but it is a metric of machine performance and not a metric of men’s happiness and liberty.
Fifth, the assertion that Hong Kong somehow is more “free market” than any other nation is absurd. There is ample evidence to support that Hong Kong’s legal economy is as plutocratic and totalitarian as mainland China, and that its illegal economy is as mafia-controlled as any other.
Finally, by hostilely suggesting that Hedges’ inclusion of a discussion of celebrity, beginning and ending with the tragic life of Michael Jackson, is a “bizarre screed” and was “deconstructivist nonsense” belies significant intellectual laziness and ideological bias on your part. Hedges presents a sophisticated argument that corporate controllers have not only corrupted our government and hijacked our economy but our very psyches. By using celebrity, 24 cable “news” media, and advertising to persuasively disinform us about our natures and about how we are to behave and arrive personal fulfillment, corporations have persuaded the American populace, by and large, into oblivious infantilism and unconscious subservience. Your screed, sir, apes exactly the ignorant dogmatic talking points he identifies as coming from the pundit-courtiers he identifies as serving the corrupt government and the Mafioso corporations it supports. What’s more, to assert that Hedges lives in a “mystical, magical world” is to demonstrate that you chose not to pay attention when he articulated how he arrived at his understanding of how nationalist movements evolve as responses to the disenfranchisement of the working class and that you lacked the intellectual courage and discipline to attempt to understand the point he offered about how media and celebrity impact the fabric of our personal and social psychology and permit totalitarian controls by the wealthy corporate elites. Hedge’s points, here, are amply supported by consistent evidence in the historical record from prior and contemporary totalitarian regimes, and he absolutely correct to point out that those very trends are happening now in our country. It is ignorant to assume that we are immune to the failures of our predecessor democracies; history plainly shows that all fascist states emerged from functioning democracies.
All of that said, I am as hesitant to embrace a socialist solution to our dilemma as I am a capitalist one, and here I ultimately share your fear of government. Ample evidence in the historical record exists to support this one truth about governments and economies: All that are not toppled by war or catastrophe are eventually toppled by corruption. It is, unfortunately, human nature.
I do not think of myself as a socialist but what I think he's really saying is not necessarily socialism but rather even-handed constitutionalism or "one way for all" which is not what we've become. Privilege is out of control and that is the IRS and the government and the scoundrel mentality of all those raiding the treasury. I am an electronics technician that happily (to some degree) works in food service. Jesus Christ came not to be served but to serve. My difficult slightly tragic personal economic experiences have left me humiliated but resolved-seeing the signs of these times to serve and trudge on and hope for the best of mercies for us all and my own reward-the way christians should be. Near the end of his lecture when Chris speaks of the money we'll spend in 2010 for debt control, what's really happening I believe is the deliberate social engineering and dissolution of our nation and its' borders and constitution into globalism. He says we're finished it's true. The powers that be will always throw the dwindling affluent a bone to chew on while they have their way with their various conquests. I believe his comments about the gated communities; etc., is an accurate depiction of the near future. Or as I put it, tiny white islands surrounded by seas of foreign and domestic lawlessness.
Fascinating that I can barely make it through a whole youtube music vid but stayed with this for in its' entirety. I am like a realist person who is addicted to sincerity in my conscience. I have a technical degree, am 42 and though apparently healthy, I am of low societal stature. Like "The Dude" above, the range of thought encompassed here was interesting-interesting also that I've been thinking these things as well. I believe things that need to be done in this country are things like non-profit reforms, including the churches, IRS reform as I believe this is the center of convolution by which we are being prodded to our eventual fate. Eternal life is its' own reward and not what it has become formalized as in our "christian nation". After all, it is clear to anyone with a learned christian soul that ultimately the proof lies in giving your life for your friends-and some notion approaching that ultimate act of proof. Too many people don't want to work and hence our corporate and academic absurdly sacred cows that are in some ways mirror images of each other.
Chris is more than likely 100% correct. He's a smart man and his evidence of the upcoming collapse of America is for many of us truly heartbreaking. However, I do have to reprimand Mr. Hedges because he failed to mention any detailed solutions to these massive issues America is just now beginning to come into grips with. Let's break this down into manageable problems we can tackle. Many generations have come face-to-face with complete catastrophe, they did not back down, neither will we.
ISM'S IN MY OPINION ARE NOT GOOD - FERRIS BUELLER
An "ism" is a form of control by one smaller group over another larger group, end of discussion. Socialism, communism, capitalism, feudalism, are all methods of control, some much better than others. In a connected world we need to up the ante a bit and introduce some new "isms" or better yet, a new "cracy."
Let's look into a hybrid version of socialism, capitalism, and democracy which revolves around community and throw in a dash of real world limitations with a hint of virtual sociology. Not sure what to call it yet, not even sure what it means… but regardless let's not limit ourselves to archaic tools to solve today's problems. You don't use a buggy whip to start your car do you? One thing is certain, with the rise of the internet we can expect many radical changes, which just might become a game changer. We can also expect a revolt of the digital world with a longing for community interaction and real world experiences. The rocky marriage of the digital world and the physical world will define the 21st Century.
In terms of how we can form this new way of thinking, it's already happening… in towns and communities with their backs against the wall due to the economic crisis. We just need to provide outlets for these new ideas to grow and prosper. Which leads us to…
YOU ARE WHAT YOU SEE - A PICTURE CAN BE WORTH A MILLION WORDS
Mr. Hedge is quick to accurately point out that we are increasingly becoming a "visual society" and that these societies tend to be rather horrible. Very true. However, unless a solar flare knocks out the internet for a few centuries, that's where the world is headed.
But let's not look at this as a problem, it's an opportunity. Imagine if America experienced a 21st Century type Renaissance in the art world and thus increased the level of visual communication to a point where it had the complexity of language. Language, as wonderful as it can be, is a verbal abstraction. The sound we make for "dog" is not in the physical world our beloved pet. Yet language is constantly mistaken for "real world" and thus we experience a major disconnect with our life experiences in trying to describe them.
A highly complex artistic sense would not only defeat the simple one-hit minimalistic branding practices of giant corporations, it can also up the ante of how we understand the world around us. Think of it as symbolism with a complexity of string theory. Now granted, some may see this at elitism, as certain individuals are going to be more prone to processing visual information, and have better opportunities to educate themselves. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't move forward. Farming and reading were good ideas, even though not everyone could learn these skills at the time.
Let's change the perception that arts are nonessential. They are in fact critical to modern living. Also, increase access to experimental and theoretical sciences in the classroom which can expand early minds into non-binary thinking, something that hinders progress. How do we do this?
SCHOOLS NEED TO BE SCHOOLED
We always rate education by test scores, but test scores only cater to two out of the seven ways in which an individual can learn. And as stated earlier, industrialized school system feeds into binary thinking. Coke or Pepsi? Democrat or Republican? If we can have thirty flavors of ice cream we can certainly have more than two political parities. Even though the new internet generation does seem less influenced by old-fashioned "one or the other" ways of thinking, we'll see how this translates into the working world when field testing begins sometime in the mid 2010s when they graduate from college. That's if they even go to college.
Because why should they? Schools teach a lot of things, most that are not going be used in the student's life-time. Since education reform is a discussion in and of itself, let's limit the solution to three bullet points.
1) Regionalism - Students should learn about the world directly around them, their environment, the culture, the history, and their place in it. This will help increase cultural individuality in an internet connected world, and make education more relevant to the student, especially when communities become more vital in terms of mutual survival. (Remember our new "ism" we discussed earlier?)
2) Choose Wisely - Start encouraging career choices in early education, and take those answers seriously. If a kid wants to be an astronaut, encourage it immediately. He or she may not make it into space, but we can gear them towards sciences and provide a better platform for a future career. If they change their mind, so what? Most students do anyway, mostly due to constant discouragement. We need to provide better careers paths in the first place. When a student locks into a specific interest, encourage them to focus.
3) University Replaces Traditional News - Universities can become centers where internet news can be verified by experts. News on the net excels in the fact that it hasn't been chewed up and skewed by network television. We just don't know if the reporter is fair and honest. A University can confirm sources and information with their staff of experts. This can also increase the value of college education by introducing information as it happens, as opposed to dusty old textbooks which are getting replaced by the iPad in three years anyway.
Encouraging signs are that many more kids are getting home schooled and the Universities are starting to reclaim their stature as information hubs. And there currently is a university news verification program in its infant stages. In the world of the internet where someone can learn from home, schools will have to adjust quickly. Whether or not this particular scenario occurs, we can being to mobilize and start a major push to…
TURN OFF THE IDIOT BOX BECAUSE OUR PROBLEMS WON'T BE SOLVED IN THIRTY MINUTES
Seems so simple doesn't it?
First of all, there's a lot of unemployed and disillusioned marketing experts and designers out there, with talent and a little bitterness towards the old way of doing things. We need to give them something new to do. And with traditional media revenues dropping rapidly, there's a real possibility for dramatic change. I think there needs to be clever advertising people that can use their talents to help equate traditional corporate news outlets with that of "Junk News." Imagine if we felt the same way about Fox, CNN, or MSNBC in the same way we look at smoking, or McDonald's. We know it's bad for you, but at least a Big Mac can taste good depending on your experience. A clever ad campaign funded by internet/college news outlets wanting to pull viewers away from the boob tube can sway public opinion dramatically. In short, let's hope the right people can lead the internet revolution into the upcoming critical 3.0 phase. Nicholas Negroponte indicates the right creative people are currently getting involved with the web. Let's hope he's right.
Also, let's look at the ruins of celebrity culture. Michael Jackson gets a lot of ink, but so did the Donner Family back in the day, and you probably don't even know what that mess is all about. Let's hope Mr. Jackson is a turning point in our weird obsession. The nice thing about celebrities, they do disappear. And I believe there is a general understanding that the life of the celebrity is not glamorous. People are attracted to the opportunity to do what they want, and the allure of a multi-million dollar lifestyle. As the funds dry up, we are going to have to adjust our perceptions quickly, and understand that infinite success is not just for the rich. By removing yourself from the expectations of corporate/celebrity culture, you can experience true freedom celebrities never see. Much of this has to do with our perceptions of duality, polarization, and our refusal to understand that the positive and negative elements of an observation are in fact the same observation. The most successful celebrities sway their image between the boundary pushing sinner and the redeemed saint. We just need to see through the manipulation. As of now I have no definite answer to embedding multi-dimensional thinking into society, but we'll work on it.
Part of which can be a start to cracking the celebrity infused infotainment world, we can mainstream a "long term" way of thinking. The Long Now Foundation, a Fora.Tv darling, is specifically geared towards progress for the next ten thousand years. If certain leaders and socially-conscious celebrities can have the foresight to see that we are directly connected to the events of even just the next few hundred years, people will follow suit and change their behavior. To understand our own happiness is scientifically-proved to be rooted in the seeds we plant for future generations, and not just our own lifespans. Corporations became so short-sided, focusing on quarterly returns, they forgot how to build lifelong customers. This mentality can be changed right now, especially while the public fumes over bankers collecting large bonuses and the anger is still fresh in our minds. Look at the fisherman of the Pacific Northwest that undergo heavy regulations, but understand that it is necessary if they want to keep their jobs for a lifetime, and not suffer the fate of their East Coast counterparts that ran out of fish to catch. If we want to fix the next few years, we need to consider the next few thousand along with it.
FINAL RANDOM OBSERVATIONS AND CORRECTIONS
1) Media tends to be liberal because government by nature tends to be conservative. We basically hire people to act like parents and tell us what to do, set rules, and spank us when we step out of line. News needs to be vicious, honest, and with teeth. Media IS the check and balance for the government, let's never forget that. After all, it is a major focal point in the founding of America.
2) Religion is important. I'm a Roman Catholic and although I have beliefs rooted in several religions I know that if God is infinite in His wisdom all of the Holy Books we have might only be the first nine chapters in a trillion page novel. My only complaint with Atheism is that it can alienate by suggesting we are all the result of, as Alan Watts describes, a "cosmic idiot." How do we know nature isn't intelligent? If string theory is correct and we live in a universe of eleven dimensions… there's a lot we don't know. Let's be humbled by this, and inspired to learn more.
3) Not all entertainment is bad. Just because I indulge in an episode of 30 Rock or Mad Men, it doesn't mean I am betraying my country. However, if we can integrate a more "survivalist" mentality to our intake of media, we can curb a few bad habits. With the influx of media we will be processing in the next few years, this may happen automatically. More and more of us are becoming "media snobs." Let's hope the trend continues. The fact that a weirdly-complex show like Lost (which requires its own wikipedia) survived six seasons is a sign of progress.
4) Do not count on our government to help. If they do great, but assume they'll just keep making everything worse. In this case, better to assume the worst, hope for the best. Smaller governments have more flexibility and concern to do the right thing, let's look for opportunities for state and city governments to gain some political ground from the gridlock in Washington D.C.
I do not know if this is a real solution, but I hope it's a start. In the Pacific Northwest, where I call home, there is a movement to do the things described above. In my hometown, I am frequently meeting with local business owners and have created with them a CBC (Creative Business Co-Op) which we truly hope can become a template for how our country can form collations and turn this tide of despair around. We have the ability to use the tools corporate culture has provided for us and use them to our advantage, not theirs. As we make progress, we will document our successes and our failures. One thing is for certain, we need to completely re-imagine business, community, and commerce. Expect terms like hyper-meaning to enter our vocabularies, new words to define our new world until our visual vocabularies begin to unfold. We can turn this around, if we want to. We need to move quickly, and we simply cannot fail. If my town is ready to take on the challenge, yours can be as well. Otherwise the soup line is right around the corner.
Originally Posted by Dforce
Chris hedges is right; The US is doomed ;Hurrah! The rest of the world(apart from Israel columbia and Georgia) will be celebrating in the streets when the bastard Empire Falls! Thre cheers for historical inevitability!
Then who will help out these totally deprived and self-impoverished Middle Eastern countries that cannot and will not support themselves, yet eternally complain that we do not kneel and adore to their demi-god of hate?