am 13. Dezember 2009
It seems as if Old Testament Prophets synergistically coalesced into Hedges book with plenty of ethical and philosophical justification. Here we have a long overdue, relentless, realistic and uninhibited exposure and description of what ails America. It is sprinkled with plenty of justified moralizing.
When interpreting, Hedges writes in highly condensed sentences that are so overloaded with wisdom wrought through historical synthesis that many deserve a pause for intellectual digestion, reflections, and verification. He shows that he has digested for a long time what he produces. Almost always, the perceptive reader will quietly and, at times, tragic-comically, say true, true, true. He draws from plenty of famous writer of a similar genre ranging from Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, C. Wright Mills, Christopher Lasch, Neil Postman, John Ralston Saul, to Laura Nader, Daniel Boorstin, Andrew Bacevich, Chalmers Johnson, David Cay Johnston. et al..
The book starts with a long, poignant, if not mood-setting, description of a typical faked, surreal and stage-managed World Wrestling match. Relating it to Plato's allegory of the cave, Hedges then expands the analysis to current socio-economic conditions, the Empire of Illusion, where fantasy is more real than reality. This state is forged by celebrity gossip, advertisement lies, pop psychology, New Age mysticism and marketing and sales techniques. He says celebrity culture banishes reality and morality and creates the illusion of aspiration.
Drawing from popular and infantile TV programs, Hedges zeroes in on capitalism and its ability to lie and manipulate. Unrestrained, without remorse, unfettered capitalism gave us Wall Street bankers and investment houses "that willfully trashed the nation's economy, stole money from tens of millions of small stockholders....The heads of these corporations, like the winners of a reality television (show)...walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation."
Spectacle triumphed and indeed replaced literacy.
The second chapter of five, entitled "The Illusion of Love" offers an unrelentingly raw and graphic description of the pornography industry. 13,000 porn films are produced per year in the U.S. with AT&T and GM collecting about 80 percent of its revenues! Sensitive readers should be forewarned by Hedges' uninhibited expose of the brutal, criminal and inhumane sado-masochistic psychopathology that is so extensively tolerated and rewarded under the guise of constitutional liberties.
Using a porn film convention, venued appropriately in Las Vegas (which in itself is part of our illusory empire based upon image, corruption and criminality), Hedges zeroes in on the degradation of the female and relates it quite poignantly to torture of Abu Ghraib.
Higher education is dissected, analyzed and exposed in chapter three. Focusing on the U of Cal. at Berkeley, we are given the typical corruption, mismanagement and wrong-headed policies that have been practiced and have ruined the system for a long time: obscenely overpaid coaches, top-heavy administrations which violate the law or its intent and are pre-occupied with fund raising, military contracts and influence and professors whose words, language and research are unconnected to morality and civilization.
The products of the educational system are subverted into the corporate structure so that universities have essentially transmogrified into trade schools imparting skills required by CEOs. The Humanities have been assaulted while the top universities crank out people like George W. Bush, "a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core."
The elites head for Wall Street without knowing that morality is the product of civilization. The flight from the humanities, pushed also by Andrew Carnegie, has become a flight from conscience.
Summers, Paulson, Rubin, Bernanke, Geithner, Blankfein, et al. and the ruling class determined educational content, controlled the airwaves and the hall of Congress "while looting the country" and most are incapable of acknowledging their responsibility for "our decline."
While all of this transpired, the masses had to be happy, and that is the substance of chapter four. Positive psychology, preached at major universities and inflicted in the most infantile and embarrassing pep rally patterns by corporations upon their employees, generates the illusion of enthusiasm. It permeates governmental agencies and corporations as well as the how-to-find-happiness industry. Real relationships, so Hedges believes, are destroyed by the constant pressure to exhibit false enthusiasm and buoyancy.
The last chapter, the "Illusion of America," summarizes the rusty and dilapidated infrastructure of the U.S., its technologically backward transportation system, collapsing sewage systems, blood-draining military spending, mortal indebtedness and fiscal hopelessness. Corporate campaign spending prevents democracy, which Hedges views as incompatible with America's imperialism.
While lamenting the pathetic state of America, Hedges waxes romantically and longs for the golden age of the past. He believes, ironically as many conservatives do, too, that the solution resides in the restoration of the olden ways. Well, there is only a small qualified case for this unless he wants to restore slavery, engage in ethnic cleansing of Native Americans and adulate the policies of the Robber Barons. A close reading of major speeches by members of Congress throughout the 19th and 20th cent. would shock Hedges with their extreme similarities to the inflammatory rhetoric of fascist strongmen. It is ethics, more than restoration, which will solve the issues. Here Hedges, ironically, shows a mild symptom of being entrapped by the very element he criticizes so successfully, namely--for lack of a better phrase--the political pep rally mentality. In the final analysis, in the absence of ethics, overwhelming events will force corrective measures, unfortunately, so history shows.
Aside from this shortcoming, Hedges, all in all, produced an important and exceptional book based on self-sustaining and most admirable ethics.