This is one of the clearest and best focused discussions I have seen on the problems of modern society that are leading us to self-destruction. Chris Hedges is an American journalist, author, and war correspondent. In 2002, Chris Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times who were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the paper's coverage of global terrorism.
Anyone who has wondered why the world is in the mess it is in today will come away vastly enriched by this book. Hedges has a brilliant clarity of understanding of complex issues and a clear, succinct way of explaining them. There is no doubt that this experience was helpful to him in appreciating the chief perpetrators of terrorism in the world today. Can you guess who these are?
Hedges builds on the images of the spectator lives that most people in the modern Western world live - fed by the media, which have come to define for us what is real and what is desirable in our lives. The average person spends over four hours daily watching TV - which means that many people spend far more than that time in rapt absorption of whatever is placed before them.
The media have systematically studied how to influence viewers to buy into their presentations - conceptually, emotionally and with their media-molded purchases. More insidiously, those who control the media have systematically manipulated our social structures so that the manipulators actually control our perceptions of reality and can thereby manipulate our behaviors for their benefit and profit - not just in the marketplaces, but in the social and political arenas of our lives as well.
Those who manipulate the shadows that dominate our lives are the agents, publicists, marketing departments, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers, and television news personalities who create the vast stage for illusion. They are the puppet masters. No one achieves celebrity status, no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality, without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries. The sole object is to hold attention and satisfy an audience. These techniques of theater, as Boorstin notes have leeched into politics, religion, education, literature, news, commerce, warfare, and crime. The squalid dramas played out for fans in the wrestling ring mesh with the ongoing dramas on television, in movies, and in the news, where "real-life" stories, especially those involving celebrities, allow news reports to become mini-dramas complete with a star, a villain, a supporting cast, a good-looking host, and a neat, if often unexpected, conclusion. p. 15-16
Those who are in control are the ones who have the money to buy media time, to purchase and thereby control media outlets, to pay for lobbyists to influence politicians, to bribe politicians, and thereby create a global consumer society that is primarily focused on accumulating ever more material objects. And our focus on objects is dehumanizing, because within this system people have become objects for manipulation for ever greater profits rather than living beings.
The veterans [of WW II] saw their wartime experience transformed into an illusion. It became part of the mythic narrative of heroism and patriotic glory sold to the public by the Pentagon's public relations machine and Hollywood. The reality of war could not compete against the power of the illusion. The truth did not feed the fantasy of war as a ticket to glory, honor, and manhood. The truth did not promote collective self-exaltation. The illusion of war peddled in the Sands of Iwo Jima, like hundreds of other Hollywood war films, worked because it was what the public wanted to believe about themselves. It was what the government and the military wanted to promote. It worked because it had the power to simulate experience for most viewers who were never at Iwo Jima or in a war. But as Hayes and the others knew, this illusion was a lie. p. 21-22.
We consume countless lies daily, false promises that if we spend more money, if we buy this brand or that product, if we vote for this candidate, we will be respected, envied, powerful, loved, and protected. The flamboyant lives of celebrities and the outrageous characters on television, movies, professional wrestling, and sensational talk shows are peddled to us, promising to fill up the emptiness in our own lives. Celebrity culture encourages everyone to think of themselves as potential celebrities, as possession unique if unacknowledged gifts. p. 26-7.
Celebrity is the vehicle used by a corporate society to sell us these branded commodities, most of which we do not need. Celebrities humanize commercial commodities. They present the familiar and comforting face of the corporate state. p. 37.
Hedges clearly explains the processes whereby our social structures have shifted from serving the people to serving corporate interests. Our schools increasingly prepare people to be uncritical, unthinking consumers. Our politicians, responding to corporate inducements, favor short-term interests, motivated by goals of immediate corporate profits. The interests of individuals, and long-term collective interests are ignored - including the health and welfare of humans and other living beings, environmental concerns, and fiscal responsibility.
Reporters, especially those on television, no longer ask whether the message is true but rather whether the pseudo-event worked or did not work as political theater. Pseudo-events are judged on how effectively we have been manipulated by illusion. Those events that appear real are relished and lauded. Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the most convincing fantasies.
This is the real danger of pseudo-events and why pseudo-events are far more pernicious than stereotypes. They do not explain reality, as stereotypes attempt to, but replace reality. Pseudo-events redefines reality by the parameters set by their creators. These creators, who make massive profits selling illusions, have a vested interest in maintaining the power structures they control. p. 50-1.
The flight into illusion sweeps away the core values of the open society. It corrodes the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense tell you something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to grasp historical facts, to advocate for change, and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways, and structures of being that are morally and socially acceptable. A populace deprived of the ability to separate lies from truth, that has become hostage to the fictional semblance of reality put forth by pseudo-events, is no longer capable of sustaining a free society.
Those who slip into this illusion ignore the signs of impending disaster. The physical degradation of the planet, the cruelty of global capitalism, the looming oil crisis, the collapse of financial markets, and the danger of overpopulation rarely impinge to prick the illusions that warp our consciousness. The words, images, stories, and phrases used to describe the world in pseudo-events have no relation to what is happening around us. The advances of technology and science, rather than obliterating the world of myth, have enhanced its power to deceive. We live in imaginary, virtual worlds created by corporations that profit from our deception. Products and experiences - indeed, experience as a product - offered up for sale, sanctified by celebrities, are mirages. They promise us a new personality. They promise us success and fame. They promise to mend our brokenness. p. 52-3.
We have all seen the growth of a culture of lies and deception in politics, banking, commerce and education. Hodges points out how this has been facilitated by our abandoning the teaching of values and analysis in our schools.
The flight from the humanities has become a flight from conscience. It has created an elite class of experts who seldom look beyond their tasks and disciplines to put what they do in a wider, social context. And by absenting themselves from the moral and social questions raised by the humanities, they have opted to serve a corporate structure that has destroyed the culture around them.
Our elites - the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street, and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools - do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of how to replace a failed system with a new one. They are petty, timid, and uncreative bureaucrats superbly trained to carry our systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions that will satisfy the corporate structure. Their entire focus is numbers, profits, and personal advancement. They lack a moral and intellectual core. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they believe, is a secondary product of the free market - which they slavishly serve. p. 111.
I quote Hodges at some length because of his cogent, clear summaries of the problems leading us to self-destruction and to ways we might someday restructure society to be supportive and healing to the individual - rather than exploiting people and viewing them only as valuable as they can be manipulated into being gullible consumers.
This is one of the clearest and best focused discussions I have seen on the problems of modern society that are leading us to societal suicide