Chris Hedges' newest book may be a screed, but it's an uncomfortably accurate one, delving into the addictive, corrupting hold of comforting & distracting illusion over too many Americans. From the even vaster wasteland of TV, brought to us by endless channels, to the drug of sensation at its lowest common denominator from the porn industry, to the "think happy thoughts" snake oil of both New Age & fundamentalist belief systems --
But you have to stop & catch your breath, or else be swept away by the torrent of mediocrity & cheerfully willful ignorance that passes for contemporary culture & thought. Once you're aware of how thoroughly blanderized & infantilized our culture has become, it's all too easy to succumb to despair or cynicism. And with good cause!
Hedges wisely selects just a few specific examples as indicators of something far more pervasive & widespread. Particularly disturbing is the chapter on the so-called "adult" entertainment industry, which is anything but adult. The graphic description of the ways in which women are used & discarded as commodities is sickening, yet we're clearly just getting the tip of a very slimy iceberg.
And Hedges connects this aspect of dehumanization to the horrors of Abu Ghraib, showing how sexuality & torture intertwine. Most disturbing of all is how accepted & mainstream this sort of "entertainment" has become -- we're not talking about erotica or old-fashioned porn, which at least portrayed sex as mutually enjoyable for men & women; what we see now is humiliation, suffering, pain, almost all of it inflicted on women for the pleasure of emotionally stunted men.
More than that, though, Hedges explores the ways in which reason & literacy -- the humanities -- are shunted to the margins in favor of a utilitarian mindset, one that boils down to, "What's in it for me, right now, and how can I get the most of it as quickly as possible?" And that "most" is wealth, status, power, and the illusion of importance -- a humanity measured in things, rather than in being.
From that point, we're shown how these personal illusions contribute to & help sustain a national, even global, illusion of power, self-righteousness, corruption & control. It's bread & circuses for the masses, with digital soma mainlined at every waking moment. Meanwhile, the real elites, the corporate masters of our world, do whatever their insatiable appetites demand. This invariably requires bloodshed & suffering inflicted upon those least able to resist it. .
Is Hedges overwrought? Is he exaggerating the crisis at hand? If so, it's not by very much. As a war correspondent of some 20 years, he's seen the brutal results of illusionary thinking first-hand. This book is born of bitter experience, as Hedges bears witness to the ongoing destruction of the human soul, which is lost in a world of glittering superficiality which can't conceal its innate cruelty, ugliness & emptiness.
Not a reassuring book by any means, but certainly an eye-opening one -- most highly recommended!