Death of the liberal class
by Chris Hedges
Sanctuary for Independent Media, Troy, NY 15 October 2010
from Alternative Radio (www.alternativeradio.org)
Chris Hedges is an award-winning journalist who has covered wars in the Balkans, the Middle East and Central America. He writes a weekly column for Truthdig.org and is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. He is the author of “American Fascists,” “Empire of Illusion,” and “Death of the Liberal Class.”
I’ll tell you a little bit about the genesis of the book, because it’s sort of indicative of where we are as a country. I had written a column about how the Internet was not going to save us, that the death of newsprint, like the decline in the publishing industry, indicated a shift from a print-based culture to an image-based culture, and that with that shift we weren’t just transferring systems of information into a new medium, we were recreating the way we communicate. That the dialogue within an image- based culture is radically different from the kind of dialogue or conversation we have within a print-based culture. I spent almost two decades as a newspaper reporter, 15 of them with The New York Times, and the process by which you report and present information in print requires one to go out, to investigate, to interview, to write, to organize information. That information is edited and fact-checked.
The lies that the commercial media tell you are primarily the lies of omission. That was not true, of course, in the lead-up to the Iraq war. It wasn’t true in terms of the financial meltdown, which none of the major papers managed to get a handle on beforehand because they were all running off and interviewing Robert Rubin at Citibank or officials at Goldman Sachs who they had gone to college with or this kind of stuff. But it is radically different from an image-based culture, which is primarily emotion-driven. Most of the images that are disseminated throughout our culture are skillfully put together and disseminated by for-profit corporations. So that we are made to or we confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, which is precisely how we ended up with Barack Obama.
Knopf, which, of course, like all of these large publishing houses, is owned by a transnational corporation, asked me to write a book on the press. I live off of my advances. The advance was pretty low. I said no. And then while giving a talk at the Ford Foundation, they said they would kick in money for me to do it. It was a bad idea; I learned it as a writer. Never write a book about somebody else’s idea. So I proceeded to produce this manuscript and turn it in on time on the press.
When Knopf got it, they were horrified. Because it exposed the rot within the commercial media, the complicity of the commercial media with the power elite, and all of the things they won’t write about, all of the things they won’t tell you. The editor called me up and said that they didn’t like it. But that was all right; they would help me take out all the negativity. All the negativity would be removed, and then Knopf would happily publish it. What they wanted was a mythic version of the press, without fear or favor. America’s great investigative and truth-telling enterprise of journalism is collapsing under the onslaught of declining circulation, declining ad revenues, and American democracy will be irreparably damaged.
I share with them the feeling that the loss of a print- based media will be deeply damaging. But I was not about to mythologize an institution that I know intimately and know far better than any editor at Knopf. So I frantically called Nation Books and asked them to buy out the advance, which they did, moved it, and then reconfigured the entire book. Because what I had done was write about one pillar of the liberal establishment, the press and its collapse; but what I realized in the process of writing that was that all of the pillars of the liberal establishment have collapsed. And the cultural and political consequences for us are catastrophic.
The liberal church. I grew up in Schoharie, New York, not far from here. My father had five churches. He used to consolidate two of the churches, but he would preach the same sermon three times every Sunday. I would go with him and in between services grill him about what he had said for 20 minutes. The liberal church, the universities, the press, labor, culture, which has, of course, been corporatized, and the Democratic Party have all failed us. They continue to espouse or speak in the rhetoric of liberal values, but what they do and the alliances that they have made have essentially removed them from traditional liberalism and turned them into collaborators with the corporate state and with the forces that have made war against liberal values. So I broadened the book to include all of the pillars of the liberal establishment—the name of the book is The Death of the Liberal Class—and speak about what has happened within our society.
I reach all the way back to World War I, when I think it began. I draw a lot on a great anarchist writer who, if you haven’t read, I highly recommend, Dwight MacDonald. Certainly the height of American movements of progressivism, of socialism within this country was right on the eve of World War I. Publications like Appeal to Reason, The Masses had a huge circulation. A millionpeople voted for the socialist candidate, Eugene Debs. Powerful labor unions, like the Wobblies, the CIO, Big Bill Haywood. Writers—Upton Sinclair—muckrakers like Ida Tarbell or Ida Wells. These were incredible figures, and they married a sense of justice and a sense of compassion for the weak within the society to powerful movements, including movements within the liberal church formed around the social gospel.
World War I essentially ended that. The war was not a popular war. Wilson had actually run for his second term saying that he had kept us out of the war. But, of course, the bankers, which had given tremendous loans to France and Britain, were terrified that, should the Germans win the war, these loans would never be repaid. So there was an impetus to push America into the conflict. Wilson complied.
And he created essentially the first system of modern mass propaganda under the Creel commission, the Committee for Public Information, led by a former muckraking journalist named George Creel, who would end his days, by the way, working for Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. Not surprising. What they did was saturate the country through radio, print, graphic art, film—they had a film division—The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin, there was a film named roughly something like that. And they turned the country. They built their propaganda off of the at that time new studies of Freud, Le Bon, Trotter, and others, who understood that people were not actually moved or compelled to act by reason but by the manipulation of emotion.
All of the people from the Creel commission, including Edward Bernays, moved immediately after World War I to Madison Avenue and began working not only for government but for corporations. That is when in American society we instilled consumption as a kind of inner compulsion and we created this concept of permanent war. We demonized the Hun, but the moment the war was over, we demonized the Red, the Communist. It’s interesting that the Sedition Act and the Espionage Act, which were passed during the war as essentially a way to protect America from internal enemies, were used immediately after the war to go after the remnants of progressive movements that had survived the war. And the repression was fierce during the war. That’s how you got Emma Goldman and everybody deported to Russia. That’s how you got Appeal to Reason being shut down. We embarked on a period that had not been foreseen or understood by social theorists, political theorists in the 19th century, including Karl Marx. This concept of permanent war, of permanent fear, of that need to constantly be vigilant within your own organizations, within your own society for forces that were going to disrupt or destroy American democracy.
What happened, of course—and it’s really the history of the 20th century—is that the liberal class proved to be most complicitous in turning on those within their own organizations. Many of them, of course, were not Communist. I. F. Stone would be a good example. Big Bill Haywood, the leader of the Wobblies, who had to spend the last 10 years of his life as a refugee in the Soviet Union. These figures who had moral autonomy and the courage to stand up for the working men and women. And, of course, the people who were most adept at using these witch hunts were the careerists, the people who had the least sort of moral focus, the most self-centered, the most craven. The liberal organizations in essence began to consume their own; they began to consume the best within themselves.
You had a breakdown of American capitalism in the 1930s. You had a brief resurgence of the progressive movement. Many people in the 1930s either were involved or at least flirted with communism because capitalism clearly had not worked. When the capitalist society began again, courtesy of the Second World War, to create a kind of stability, they immediately turned on the remnants of that progressive movement, which is how people like Henry Wallace, who had been Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president, ran as a populist—the last politician we really had who stood up—and he was not a Communist—who stood up against the war machine, who stood for the rights of workers, who denounced the excesses of capitalism. He was completely discredited by the propaganda machine and essentially exiled from the political establishment. Immediately after the war we had a series of draconian measures, including the Taft Hartley Act, 1947, 1948, which was the single most devastating piece of legislation to the American working class, and has never been repealed.
So the liberal class plays a curious function in a capitalist democracy, and it’s essentially this: They provide a kind of safety valve, a mechanism by which reform is possible. So that when you have a period of immense discontent—and one can look at the 1930s or one can look at the 1960s—there are channels within the established power structure by which this discontent can be expressed. Which is how we got the New Deal, it’s how we got civil rights legislation. The liberal class at the same time—and the reason that it is given the positions of relative privilege that it has within the society—serves to discredit radicals, serves to discredit people who question the virtues of the capitalist or the corporate state.
A good example would be, there was a retrospective 10 years after the Vietnam War where they had brought generals, former generals who said, “Well, if we had just fought the war harder, we could have won.” And then they brought James Chase and other members of the liberal establishment, who said, “Well, we meant to do well. We went in there to try and bring democracy to Vietnam, but it didn’t work, it wasn’t going to work.” What you get in both narratives, in essence—and this is, of course, why the liberal class is tolerated—is that no one questions the virtues of those who carry out the enterprise itself. You will see the same thing with retrospectives on the Iraq War, where people will say, “We weren’t prepared for the insurgency,” or “We didn’t have enough troops for the occupation.” But the liberal class is not allowed to attack the motivations of those who propel us into war. That’s just a window into the function of the liberal class.
In return, the liberal class, first of all, is given positions of relative economic privilege in terms of their positions within universities, as clergy, as members of labor unions who don’t speak of transforming American society but as working as junior partners with corporations, within the arts. The arts have been completed corporatized in the same way that higher education has been corporatized and the Democratic Party.
The problem is that with the march of the corporate state, the rise of the corporate state, which began with Reagan in earnest with the deregulation and the destruction of antitrust laws, and was accelerated by Bill Clinton, certainly the greatest traitor to the American working class ever produced by the Democratic Party. Clinton understood that if he did corporate bidding in terms of structuring the economy, he could get corporate money. He understood, or he thought, that workers and unions had nowhere else to go. They would have to vote Democratic anyway. So Clinton’s conscious goal was to attract corporate money and carry out, in return, the passage of draconian legislation, which has thrust a knife into the back of the American working class: NAFTA, 1994; the Welfare Reform Act, 1996; the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. Canada doesn’t have a banking crisis, because Canada didn’t remove the firewalls between commercial and investment banks. They didn’t allow local banks to become hedge funds. And in return, corporations began to give money to the Democratic Party. So that by the 1990s, the Democrats had fund-raising parity with the Republicans.
This essentially killed the liberal class, because traditional liberal values, both in terms of a defense of civil liberties, a defense of the working class, a belief that those who had fallen on hard times, whether unemployed or others, should be given resources to help them sustain themselves in times of difficulty, they continued to speak in this language but were carrying out ruthless policies, which was creating immense amounts of suffering in the very constituencies that they claimed to defend. I think that when you look at that shift among the working class, which really moved all mass away from the Democratic Party, one can see an immense erosion following NAFTA. So we end up with a Democratic Party that speaks in a voice of such flagrant hypocrisy that it has killed its own credibility.
Look at the elections of 2006, when the Democrats sought to retake control of the Congress, which they did. They campaigned primarily on an antiwar message against the war in Iraq. And what did they do when they took power? They not only continued to fund the war but increased troop levels in Iraq by 30,000. The reforms that have been instituted by the Democratic Party are so alien to the rhetoric that the mechanism, the safety valve, which can make a capitalist democracy function, has essentially been turned shut. So that now, with the creation of a kind of permanent underclass—and even Lawrence Summers acknowledges this when he talks about a jobless recovery—the inability on the part of working men and women to get access to credit, the—they keep prolonging unemployment benefits because, courtesy of Bill Clinton, once unemployment benefits run out, people are going to have to try and live on the $143 a month they receive from welfare.
So the anger that we are seeing expressed throughout the society—through the Tea Party, through militias, through the Christian right, which I’m going to speak about in a minute—comes with a two-pronged attack. One is against the power elite, which is for them defined as Washington. One of the most interesting aspects of the Tea Party movement is the way Dick Armey, with corporate money, went into the movement and made sure that the anger was deflected from Wall Street and directed towards government, with not very subtle undertones of overt racism. The other prong of the attack is against the liberal class: hatred for the liberal class. I would argue that this hatred is not misplaced; that the hatred for the liberal class is deserved. Because the liberal class, and especially the sort of progressive wing of the Democratic Party, did traditionally watch out for the interests of the working class. And for money, for corporate money, they sold workers out, and, of course, now the middle class.
So you can watch it with Obama. If you look at the Obama administration, there is on any substantial issue virtually no difference from an administration run by John McCain. The tragedy for me of the Obama administration is that the Democrats, once they took power, essentially codified the destruction of domestic and international law that had been carried out by the Bush administration. The Democrats couldn’t even find it within themselves to restore habeas corpus.
I was part of the ACLU lawsuit against the government for the FISA reform act. The FISA reform act was pushed through Congress to essentially make legal retroactively what was illegal—and that was the warrantless wiretapping and eavesdropping, as well as storage of e-mail phone messages of tens of millions of Americans. We had 30 cases working our way up through the lower courts against Verizon and AT&T for turning this information over to the government, in direction violation of our constitutional rights. Those cases would have won, and those telecommunication companies knew it. So what did they do? They went to Washington with millions of dollars, much of which they handed off to Democratic Congressmen, including at the time Senator Obama. And Obama, although during the campaign had promised this he would filibuster the FISA reform act, went and voted for it.
The continuation of our doomed imperial project in Iraq; the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which—you don’t hear this from The New York Times—we’re losing, and we’re losing the war badly; the looting of the U.S. Treasury on the behalf of Wall Street, all of this was begun by the Bush administration but continued and embraced by the Obama administration, by the Democratic Party. There’s probably no better example of how utterly bankrupt our liberal establishment has become than by looking at everything the Obama administration has carried out, including abandoning a commitment to protect a woman’s right to choose, including abandonment of a public option.
The so-called health care reform bill is essentially just the for-profit pharmaceutical and insurance industry equivalent of the bank bailout bill. $400 billion in subsidies. They can still raise co-payments and premiums. They’re getting all sorts of exemptions because companies like Aetna don’t want to be forced to provide medical coverage to sick children. It’s legally permitted now in this country for for-profit insurance companies to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to try and save their sons or daughters. Any honest discussion of health care would acknowledge the fact that our for-profit health care system is the problem and must be destroyed. But that will never happen. It won’t happen because the industry’s money and lobbyists drive the discussion both on the airwaves, with the courtiers who function as pundits and analysts, as well as within the political process itself. Which is why you had Dennis Kucinich, during the Democratic primary, standing literally in a snowbank in New Hampshire because he would not be invited into the room. The for- profit health care companies actually sponsored the debate in Iowa, so of course they were not going to give a figure like Kucinich, and much less Ralph Nader, a position. These kinds of critiques, and, frankly, this kind of truth, was something that corporations and the corporate media consciously locked out of the debate. And the liberal class was complicitous, completely complicitous.
The danger when a liberal class breaks down is that there becomes no mechanism anymore by which mounting rage and anger can be expressed within the system. It’s fascinating to go back and read Dostoevsky. At the end of the 19th century, Dostoevsky watched a similar breakdown in Russia’s liberal class. Notes from Underground is about the defeated dreamer, the cynical liberal, the person who voted for Obama and had so much hope. And the hope wasn’t delivered, and so they retreat into this narcissistic, self-centered, bitter room underground, mouse men. That’s what The Demons is about. Dostoevsky argues that when the liberal class collapses, when the pillars of the liberal establishment no longer function, you enter an age of moral nihilism. He presciently foresaw the inevitable result of a system that didn’t work. That’s where we are: our system doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work, ultimately, not because of Sarah Palin or the Christian right or Glenn Beck. It doesn’t work because the liberal class failed us. The liberal class failed to find the intellectual and moral fortitude to defend liberal values at a time when they were under egregious assault.
I come out of the church. I went to seminary, and I watched the liberal church. In the face of the rise of the Christian right, a movement essentially, by the definition of basic Christianity, a heretical movement. A movement that acculturated the worst aspects of American nationalism, chauvinism, imperialism, and capitalism into the Christian religion—as if Jesus came to make us wealthy, as if Jesus would bless the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs all over the Middle East, as if the miracles of the Gospel were ones that were going to turn us into millionaires—they said nothing, they did nothing. They didn’t respond. What’s the point of getting a seminary degree, what’s the point of studying the Gospels and the messages of Jesus Christ for three years if you’re not willing to go out within the culture and stand for those messages and defend them? It wasn’t just the church. It was all of the liberal institutions. But the church is a good example. The whole language of Christianity has been hijacked by a mass movement. I wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America—I was trying to reach out to them—because I look at them as a mass movement, not as a religious movement. The problem with the liberal church is that they couldn’t accept that heretics exist, and they did not have it within themselves to stand up and fight this heretical movement.
What’s happened as we are propelled down this road toward an oligarchic or a neofeudal society is that we are creating a permanent underclass, a permanently enraged underclass. Part of the mechanism that the wider corporate state uses to keep the lid on this is, of course, the prison system. Twenty-five percent of the industrialized world’s prisoners are in America. Most of them, of course, are people of color. That’s not accidental. The most politically astute class in terms of understanding the structures of power are African Americans, because, of course, they have borne the brunt of that abuse throughout their history. That’s why they’ve been so swiftly decapitated. My friend the poet Yusef Komunyakaa writes, “The cellblock has replaced the auction block.” I just spoke at Youngstown State, Youngstown, Ohio. All the steel mills are gone, leveled. And do you know what is built in the middle of Youngstown? A supermax prison. Actually, there’s more than one: there’s a private prison, there’s another prison, and there’s a supermax prison. It’s America’s growth industry. As you pound this dispossessed working class into the ground, as their communities physically disintegrate—and you just can walk out on the street to see it here, but this is just replicated in post-industrial pockets throughout the country—you bring with it all of the attendant problems: substance abuse, domestic abuse, depression. The real world, in essence, the reality-based world, increasingly becomes unbearable.
That is what draws so many of these people into the embrace of the Christian right, which is, in essence, a world view that is disconnected from reality. It’s a non- reality-based vision that finds its coherence in a belief in magic, in miracles, in a belief that God has a plan for us, that God will intervene on my behalf, that God has a destiny for me. I learned when I spent two years writing my book on the Christian right that you can’t push these people, because the rage or the anger that you engender is the anger of someone who is terrified of being pushed back into that reality-based world that almost killed them. That explains their love of apocalyptic violence. They relish the thought that all of those secular forces that almost destroyed them will one day be physically destroyed, as well as everybody who was a part of that culture.
And apocalyptic violence, a belief in magic, an embrace of historical and personal destiny, a culture that is communicated through image and spectacle is a totalitarian culture. We have created, in the words of the great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, a system of “inverted totalitarianism.” “Inverted totalitarianism is different,” he writes, “from classical totalitarianism. It doesn’t find its expression in a demagogue or a charismatic leader but in the anonymity of the corporate state.” In inverted totalitarianism you have corporate systems that purport to pay loyalty and fealty to the Constitution and electoral politics and the language and iconography of American patriotism and nationalism but have so corrupted the levers of power as to render the citizens impotent. What we have undergone is a coup d’etat in slow motion. We have lost and they have won.
In inverted totalitarianism, economics trumps politics, which is different from classical totalitarianism, where politics trumps economics. With that inversion comes a different form of ruthlessness. The commodification of American culture, the commodification of human beings, whose worth is determined by the market, as well as the commodification of the natural world, whose worth is determined by the market, means that each will be exploited by corporate power until exhaustion or collapse, which is why the environmental crisis is intimately linked to the economic crisis. Societies that cannot regulate capitalist forces, as Marx understood, cannibalize themselves until they die. That’s what we’re undergoing.
I want to end by speaking a little bit about resistance, what that means. I hope by now most of you have seen through the façade of Barack Obama, who functioned for the corporate state as a brand. He, I think, in many ways was similar to what we saw done by Benetton or Calvin Klein, where they used people of color and HIV-positive models as a way to associate their products with risqué style and progressive politics. But the result was the same: it was to confuse a passive consumer that a brand was an experience. Which is why, just before Obama assumed office, Advertising Age awarded Obama their top annual award—he beat Nike, Zappos, Apple—and that’s marketer of the year. We are not going to salvage either our environment or our country through electoral politics. I had lunch recently in New York with Father Daniel Berrigan and was asking him if he had followed the elections. He quoted his brother, Phil, and said, “If voting was that effective, it would be illegal.”
I think that from now on all resistance is local. Food will become very soon a major political weapon. We are already creating in these post-industrial pockets food deserts. I wrote a story for The Nation magazine, that they keep holding, on Camden, New Jersey, which per capita is the poorest city in the country as well as the most dangerous. There is no supermarket. The only outlets to eat are Church’s Fried Chicken and local doughnut shops. It’s essentially fat, grease. This is true of West Virginia in the places that have been coaled out. Banks have packed up and left. The communities themselves are falling into irreparable decay. And these post-industrial pockets are growing and expanding at a greater and greater rate.
The corporate state is not going to step in to do anything to ameliorate the suffering, the human misery that it causes. That’s going to be our job. We are going to have to begin to build locally. We are going to have to remember that the true correctives to American democracy have never come from the top down. That “the question,” as the great philosopher Karl Popper wrote, “is not how do we get good people to rule. Most people,” Popper writes, correctly, “who are attracted to power are at best mediocre,” which is Obama, “or venal,” which is Bush.
The question is, How do we make the powerful afraid of us? All of the social movements that were built, starting with the Liberty Party that fought slavery, the suffragists for women’s rights, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, made the powerful frightened of them. Which is why the last truly liberal president in the United States was Richard Nixon, because he was actually scared of movements and passed OSHA and the Clean Water Act and the Mine and Safety Act, all of which were written by Ralph Nader, whom I voted for in the last election. We have to recover that. We have to remember that it is not our job to take power. That’s not our job. Our job is to remain fast around moral imperatives that we do not compromise on. It is our job to defend a dispossessed working class. It is our job to defend sick children. It is our job to defend those who are being tortured, abused, and killed in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan because of our rapacious and out-of-control war economy. We have to be willing to get up and make personal sacrifices on behalf of these moral imperatives, even if at first we become pariahs. That is the only hope left.
Anybody who is foolish enough to think that going to a ballot box at this point and voting for a Democratic candidate is going to change anything I think is living in a universe that is as non-reality-based as the Christian right’s. If we can recover that ethic, if we can understand that rebellion or resistance is a way to safeguard our own integrity, our own individuality, if we can look down the long term and say, “Maybe not in our lifetime but we will carry this for the generations that come after,” then I think we can speak about hope. If we refuse to do this, if we remain passive and complacent, then I think both our nation, and finally the ecosystem that sustains human life, are doomed. Thank you.
I think you’re painting too dark a picture in the sense that. Don’ t give up on the American working class. It’s only beginning to rub its eyes now and come out of a sleep.
Let’s be clear. We don’t have an American working class. There has been a Weimarization of the American working class. What we call the working class now is a service class, where people have two and three jobs, where workers at Wal-Mart, who average 28 hours a week, are below the poverty line. The possibility of a working class where one figure in a household could hold a job with a salary that support a family, that could buy a small house, maybe even send their kids to college, with pensions and benefits, the corporate state has destroyed that. They have destroyed our working class.
The American working class and manufacturing still produces as much if not more than China does. We haven’t disappeared yet. I’m one of them. I happen to know. We have to look to see that there is possibly an alternative outlook aside from sort of retreating into the village and pulling our house over our heads.
These manufacturing jobs that have left, whether it’s in Youngstown, Ohio, or Camden, New Jersey, or Detroit, are not coming back. They’re not coming back. That’s what makes this “recession” different from every other recession within the roller-coaster ride of capitalism. We have allowed corporations to decimate our manufacturing base. We have shifted, in the words of the Harvard historian, Charles Mayer, from an empire of production to an empire of consumption. Real wages in this country have declined since the early 1970s. We borrowed, in essence, to maintain both an empire and a level of consumption that we can no longer afford. We’re selling $2 billion a day in debt to the Chinese. We have racked up $12.8 trillion in debt, which, when we have to start servicing this debt, means selling about $96 billion of debt a week. One day it has to stop. It’s not a sustainable system. You don’t need Economics 101 to figure it out. And what happens then, if people don’t want to buy our debt, is that the buyer of last resort becomes the Federal Reserve, which, in essence, means printing endless amounts of money. At that point our currency becomes junk. That’s where we’re headed.
We’d better start waking up, because if we don’t wake up, we’re going to get whacked. The tragedy of American culture is that across the political and cultural spectrum we are fed this mantra that if we dig deep enough within ourselves, if we focus on happiness, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we find our inner strength, we can have everything we want. Reality is not an impediment to what we desire. That’s magical thinking. And it is rammed down our throats. Oprah does it every day. Everybody does it.
That, in essence, has created a culture that is probably the most illusioned culture on the planet. An illusion is different from a dream. A dream is something you seek, you drive towards; an illusion is something that you live in. When you live in an illusion, you remain in a state of perpetual infantilism, childishness. You never grow up. Now that gap is opening between the illusion of who we think we are and where we’re going and the reality. And when finally our personal world collapses, when it’s our house that is repossessed or foreclosed, when we go bankrupt because we can’t pay medical bills, when we finally grasp that that job we had is never coming back, not only for us but for our children, then we react like a child. We scream for a demagogue, for a savior, for some buffoon like Glenn Beck, who promises moral renewal, revenge, and new glory. That story is as old as time. Aristophanes wrote about it in the collapse of ancient Greece. I watched it in the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. It happened in Weimar. It opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. That is where we are: that’s the precipice we’re standing upon.
I’m wondering whether the illusion to which you are referring is limited to the United States at this time, and perhaps not to Europe and Greece and Spain and what you’re seeing there. Are they models of rebellion, or are they equally illusional, just acting out differently?
I don’t think the rebellions in Greece and Spain and France are illusional. I think the reason we’re not rebelling is because we are illusioned. And we have to shatter this illusion of who we are. Everybody thinks the profligate consumption is coming back. Everybody thinks that we can continue indefinitely to speak to the rest of the world exclusively in the language of violence. That’s an illusion. The Greeks are not illusioned about who’s running them and who’s screwing them and why. I’m all with you that we have to get out. But we are just entranced by electronic hallucinations, which peddle fantasy, which most Americans believe. These systems of propaganda and brainwashing and miscommunication are very, very sophisticated. And if we sever ourselves from a print- based culture and we rely on these systems, which many people do already, for their understanding of reality, then we are, in essence, captive. That’s my fear.
We can’t talk about hope until we grasp the reality. If we don’t grasp the reality, then everything we do is futile, because it is essentially appealing to a system that can’t be appealed to. It is disheartening, but once we understand the paradigm of power, then we can begin to make decisions that can muck up that power system. But that, I’m afraid, requires a very dark understanding of where we are. And I think it’s very late in the game.
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