“My Dinner with André” (film)

This is a film I watched a few years back and still like to re-view from time to time, this week it having come back across my radar once again.

Very interesting and thought-provoking conversation they had there. Provides a lot for one to ponder on.

There once was a Devil…

There once was a devil…

For this thought exercise please set aside religious or anti-religious convictions long enough to explore the metaphorical value in greater depth. One can reject a religion and still find use and relevance in at least some of the metaphors offered therein.

Starting with the background information from biblical texts since that lays the foundation, the Garden of Eden represents Nature as the primary domain from which sprang the animal and flora kingdoms. Humans evolved up through this as well, as we know, and this story is intended to point to the historical transition of our species stepping over a threshold and effectively barring itself from ever returning to that natural state of ignorance and governance by instincts. When the story speaks of people eating from The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, this symbolizes an awakening of new senses where our predecessors became self-aware and increasingly conscious on a whole new level. Animals may naturally be curious, but our predecessors came to recognize causality (or at least perceived of it, wrong or right) and then took the next leap into developing the art of rationalization.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolizes an opening availed to us to explore in greater depth our very existence. It symbolizes the choices we can make and the consequences that may follow, regardless of whether we can clearly foresee them. And the most interesting aspect of tumbling down that rabbit-hole and actively making choices along the way is that each choice opens up different doors that then lead to other choices and other possible doors. But with each choice we take, we set off further down a particular path to where the doors we might’ve accessed had we chosen differently several steps back may no longer appear available. And on and on through time this process has continued.

The Devil symbolized the impetus for the initial plunge out animality and into a distinctly new type of creature. And The Devil serves as catalyst each step along the way ever since. What is The Devil? Not some anthropomorphized being existing external to all of us — no. Nor is that which we call God fairly represented in that way either, though people habitually mistake these metaphors as being literal truths. Rather, The Devil represents a new form of knowledge unique to humanity. It represents a new understanding of reality through developing more and more complex reasoning, while at the same time it shows us as beings torn between our animal natures and our higher human potential. Through this, The Devil winds up associated with all great evils as well as sophisticated advancements.

One could say that God represents all possibilities. This is why people commonly envision a source of light, because from this all life and all potentials spring. It is the springboard from with all came into existence, past, present, and future. All possibilities are bound up within it, though this is not to say all possibilities are created equal or are naturally good and life-affirming. In this way, God is morally neutral, or perhaps more accurately, God contains the possibilities of the entire spectrum of morality, from moral to immoral to amoral. God, or Life, provides this to us as highly-developed sentient beings and leaves us to find our way accordingly. The moral judgments associated with religion are social constructs intended to point people in directions thought to be best during those times or by those particularly groups, and this understanding has evolved alongside our rising awareness as well. In short, morality is not a fixed objective truth but rather a reflection of what’s reasoned as life-affirming or proper for people at any given point in history. Morality is determined relative to in-group vs. out-group concerns, as well as among persons therein depending on status and social customs unique to a given populace.

So, the concept of morality is fluid, flexible, and demonstrably ever-changing as humans continue on their quest for greater knowledge of themselves, their surroundings, and of how Reality functions as a whole.

In there is where many interpretations are formulated, which, in turn, involve much rationalization, and these wind up determining which choices are encouraged as beneficial for aiding the group and which are not. The social mores brought about through this process have not remained static and continue to shift even on up to this very moment in time. But the shifting in itself can be a very painful process for individuals and groups alike, particularly when one uncovers what appears to be a new Truth that others aren’t ready to accept. Also, plenty of these social and moral transitions have been brought about through peoples being conquered by other peoples with radically different conceptions of Life based on their own historical journeys and the rationalizations they’ve utilized to explain reality based on what choices they’ve made and what doors that opened and closed for them.

When people say The Devil is in the details, they are more right than even they probably realize. Because that is precisely what is being implied by such stories when all taken together and examined as illustrative of the progression of human comprehension and “advancement.”

What is “advancement” really? What is “progress”? These are words used to describe humanity’s exodus from the animal kingdom and the formation of our own human kingdoms. They are indeed advanced in terms of technological sophistication and in-depth scientific understandings, as well as in construction of evermore complex civilizations. But with each step, each choice, comes new consequences, regardless of whether they can be foreseen. Interestingly enough, many were in fact foreseen and warnings were issued, such as those outlined in the New Testament book of Revelations. But those metaphors seemed to have confused people more than explained why we’d eventually usher in our downfall, and they have commonly been dismissed by anti-religionists and religionists alike. Why?

Because when we stare into the abyss, it stares back into us. We are changed by the choices made and the civilizations brought into being and the expectations so many of us are socialized to accept and embrace. Furthermore, humans have a tendency to get extremely excited with our capabilities and to go so far as to worship what Knowledge we’ve managed to uncover at any given period in time. That is to say that we’re a proud species, an egotistical species, and we are prone to be blinded by what we perceive as our success.

And here we stand today, globally networked, economically dominated, politically ruled, and perhaps aggregately experiencing a greater sense of individual powerlessness than ever before in history. Because people now are rendered dependent for their needs to be met not directly through their own efforts and interactions with Nature, but rather through playing the game prescribed to us in order to survive and/or flourish in the Human Kingdom. And it is a maze of complexities involving countless laws and restrictions and taxes and formalized routes to employment. When we are hungry, it feeds us. When we are in danger, we appeal to it for protection. When we seek knowledge, it educates us. Right or wrong, accurately or deceptively depending on what’s determined most beneficial to maintaining the System itself.

We’ve become drunk on its spoils and lazy due to the conveniences it’s provided. Innovation is a double-edged sword in this regard, as is so much in life. And when injustices occur and people raise their voices in dissent, it is the System that must be negotiated with from within.

What is the System? It is POWER CONCENTRATED, facilitated and enforced by sophisticated technologies and complex legal codes. It has become by this point what some refer to as The Beast, as was outlined in biblical warnings long ago. Even thousands of years ago some people were able to perceive how power operates and how when given the opportunity to do so, it will snowball toward ever-greater acquisitions of power.

What is Power? It is something intrinsic to all of us and all of Nature, yet it can be harnessed and used in a wide variety of ways. Each individual possesses a certain amount of power, yet people have been trained to turn over that power and/or to use it in the service of the System. This is not new, but as human populations have exploded in numbers due to technological feats that allow for many more to survive than would otherwise naturally be accommodated, power has become more centralized in the hands of fewer people and the institutions they reside within, under the protection of the System (also referred to as the State when referencing nation-states, but we’ve since entered a global system of interconnectedness based on economic imperatives). It is this situation in its totality that has led nearly all people alive today to depend heavily on the System for our survival, and this represents a new form of slavery on a scale never before seen.

How do people escape from it? Is that even possible when all lands have been carved up and claimed by one entity or another? And if we flee from that which we depend on for our sustenance, surely many of us will starve. With each choice opted for and each door opened, other doors were closed to us and consequences loomed on the horizon. This is where we stand today.

The Devil, as represented by human ingenuity as well as human complacency, acknowledges the trap. Each of us possesses devilish potential within us, whether intended as moral, immoral or amoral. There is truth in the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But we more readily associate The Devil with immorality and mindless destruction, wickedness, cruelty, vice and temptations that lead to our demise. But what about amorality? That so often seems left out of these considerations.

Our technologies are amoral, even as their use leads to consequences deemed by many to be immoral. Self-serving ambitions can be claimed to be moral, immoral, or amoral, depending on one’s vantage point. The formation of complex civilizations was arguably an amoral venture, though many presumed it to be moral and “progressive” due to the advantages it wrought. That demonstrates a bias on the part of humans to want to see the good and ignore or downplay the potential bad, especially when the consequences are farther off on the horizon and won’t likely be experienced in-full for generations to come. People’s wishful, hopeful thinking leads them to be prone toward believing they can negotiate with the “lesser evil” today and somehow gain the upper-hand and change course for the better by tomorrow, but when has this occurred?

To negotiate with The Devil is to be irreversibly impacted by it to where we too change accordingly. This probably goes a long way in explaining political corruption and why even decent people who join those ranks don’t seem to remain decent for long.

Commonly we associate The Devil with that which mocks us for our collective stupidity for falling into traps we’re unable to escape. This is demonstrated by our fellow people who laugh and cajole and delight in the misery and confusion displayed by others, they themselves proving so corrupted that they relish signs of downfall. These individuals very often speak in riddles and play games, because they derive satisfaction from believing themselves above and more enlightened than the rest. This is how nihilism shows itself — through persons who’ve come to believe in nothing and no one aside from themselves and perhaps that which makes their existence comfortable.

As was depicted in George Orwell’s book Nineteen-Eighty-Four, many people will turn over their time, energy, and devotion to maintaining the System and will strike out against those who attempt to undermine it in any small way, even if only to dream for a saner way of life. So it is not only those employed directly by the System who seek to control and exploit people — nay, it’s also all of those who wish to feed it by any means possible because they are convicted and blind to any other possibilities. They defend these civilizations, even in their current state of wholesale corruption, as “great” and the best humankind could ever aspire toward. To even speak of wanting out so as to live in another way that’s outside of their laws and regulations is not allowed. Yet attempts to bring about fundamental change of the System itself through the legal channels afforded to the citizenry has been rendered ineffective, as is required for it to remain in existence and dominant.

The hecklers and hyenas may provoke those who wish to resist to go ahead and do so, but they know that to be a trap as well. Any arms taken up by this point against the System (in the form of the State) will be quashed in short order since the System and its employees maintain ready access to weaponry capable of far graver destruction than that possessed by common people. This is known. And to resist the System peacefully through street protests and/or through staking claim in a particular locale and announcing sovereignty will only result in resisters being mowed down (figuratively or literally) and/or imprisoned that much more easily.  This is the problem with allowing such a Beast to come into existence in the first place, though it surely did not become this powerful overnight and many apparently, in their naivety, did not see this coming.

So how does one either slay or escape from a Beast of this magnitude? That’s the question. Even if people peaceably faction off (as would make sense), they will be forcibly be returned to the fold, either through economic extortion or accusations of criminal wrongdoing. And The Beast has at its disposal major televised networks that spread messages to bolster its claim to power while actively deprecating the rights of those who resist it. Lies and distortions of truth are intended to confuse the rest of the public to where they feel no need to offer up a defense on behalf of those being persecuted. Not that many would offer much defense either way, seeing as how they too recognize their interests are intimately tied to the System and do not wish to wind up targeted by it as well. Because it not only has the power to kill people and claim the perfect right to do so, but it’s well-known for incarcerating people — placing people in custody where they have even less power to resist and are forced to accept dehumanizing conditions. A major concern here isn’t so much death but suffering, especially if it’s likely to be in vain.

This is where we stand today. What possibilities exist beyond this? That’s a question for all of us to ask ourselves and one another. Waiting for the day of collapse under its own weight doesn’t sound too promising considering how tenacious nations have proven to be in this day and age despite failed economies and rampant political turmoil. So what now? Are we bound to roll over and accept this reality as it runs its course?

Hurts me soul too

That was “Hurt Me Soul” by Lupe Fiasco, this being a song I stumbled across a little over a year back on Pandora Radio. Tonight it was chosen specifically due to its title.

Hurts me soul.

I hurt a bit lately. Changes. A couple current family-related concerns drudge up old memories and the blues. Drudges up some anger too. But whatcha gonna do? Can’t change the past. Just trying to keep managing the present as I go. Like my guy reminded me tonight, I do have most of what I ever wanted now, today. That being the love and company of my partner and support of close friends and Grandma, a non-corporate means of earning a living, keeping a roof over my head and food (and beer) in my belly, all the books I’ll ever have time to read, a reasonably well-behaved feline, a decent car, entertainment, freedom from participating in past lifestyle choices, etc. So why let the past poison the present? Well, that’s the tricky thing about our pasts…

It lives on in our minds, replaying bits and pieces triggered by whatever’s going on throughout each day. Smells, sights, similar circumstances, etc. The past doesn’t just fade away because we may will it to do so. And it never stops being a part of us. It’s what shaped and molded us, for better or worse — everything that occurred in the past and all the people we came into contact with interacted with the cores of our being and together helped chisel the art that is oneself.

Free will enters in to whatever extent, but is it not also influenced by the expectations of others? We certainly weren’t free to choose our families or the people we were tossed in with by them in our early years. And if you come up with any discipline you know you certainly weren’t free to interact in that environment and with those people as a free, autonomous agent. Resentments form and can simmer for years.

And then we hit adulthood and people expect you to flip a switch and turn off concern for all of that. Mine it for its good points and let the rest go. Spent much of my 20s trying to do just that. It was a worthwhile endeavor that taught me a lot about myself and others. Broadened my empathy for people I’d previously over-simplistically caricatured.

But I continue to struggle with the notion of forgiveness. It’s an Oprah-ballyhooed trendy idea. Forgive whoever who has wronged you so that you can feel better within yourself. You can release the anger and resentment and pain all on your own with no effort or apologies needed from the other parties. You can choose to not be controlled by your pain. You are responsible for your own feelings — no one else can make you feel anything. Those are the claims. Yeah, well, in case it needs to be said: it’s nearly all bullshit. It’s a guilt-inducing lie that tells the individual that they and their emotions can and do exist in a vacuum where they hold the reins and wield all of the power, independent of what others may do to us.

And it’s shit like that that makes me skeptical of the extremes people are willing to go to, in this case in the name of individualism. The notion of individualism taken so far as to expect us to behave as if completely atomized and capable of behaving with robot-like control over our minds and bodies is the talk of psychopaths, not ordinary people. Such cultural expectations would prove unsustainable due to the widespread psychological harm it would do. This damage arguably is going on already.

What a terrific performance by the Avett Brothers.

The tragedy of all that stated above is that more and more seem to be accepting Oprah and Co.’s logic, ignoring the reality that there remains a tension between each individual and all others they interact with, extending out to wider society and then to all of humanity. It’s a web, and it also stretches back in each one of our pasts to all interactions with others and our environments experienced before. Sounds abstract, but we intuitively understand this or at least behave as if we do.

People may want to argue that bringing in our connections with others is some sort of scapegoat in our attempt to deflect personal responsibility outside of ourselves, holding to the belief that we each possess ultimate power over our emotions and our lives and that those who can’t toe the line are just lazy and lacking in will power and therefore deserve to be miserable. But who do you figure they’re referring to in that last bit? Why, most of us, that’s who. Nearly anybody possessing a conscience and sentimentalities of the heart.

Some people want to talk nowadays as if everything ought to boil down to “logic” and “reason” and “rationality” and “proof” and “empirical evidence” and mathematics, but that’s only one half of life. If that’s the yin, where’s the yang? It’s in our heart-felt emotional lives, our connections with others, our families and clans of belonging, our impulses and creativity — so much of what makes life feel worth living. We are social beings first and foremost, which is to say that if logic gets in the way of that, we tend to stray from being too logical (always while convincing ourselves that we’re indeed very logical — when don’t we?).

I’d argue sticking with the “yin” described above and neglecting the “yang”-side of life will prove a serious detriment to humankind eventually, making it illogical in the end. It’s pandering to a life out of balance, and when scales are tipped too far one way they tend to ‘knee-jerk’ back in the opposite direction before settling out. It’s anyone’s guess how long it could take, this being a process that plays out on and on and on.

Individualism vs. collectivism is the great social paradox. It’s a tension that cannot be naturally resolved. Not that I see it as a problem necessarily needing some sort of permanent resolution. It’s just the way life is, and we experience it on many levels, from the political sphere on down to our interpersonal dynamics and the memories that spin off from that and follow us throughout our lives. We like to think we individually are so mighty as to not need help from others, but it is an illusion disproven from the moment of conception. No human is capable of being an island, not fully and completely. Adults who attempt it frequently wind up going mad with depression. We are social beings, first and foremost.

Our lives are woven in the fabric of this tension. We are products of paradoxes that we have little choice but to learn to live with. Because they belong to the designs of the natural world, the framework we are bound to exist within.

Brings to mind another funny paradox about living as slaves. Humans have enslaved one another for at least as far back as civilizations have existed and perhaps even before then. Slavery is probably what allowed civilizations to come into existence in the first place. Cheap expendable labor, freeing non-slaves up to tend to other matters, like sitting around theorizing. Slavery allowed the West to rapidly ascend, and it arguably formed the foundation for capitalism (though we don’t call it slavery anymore, preferring economic jargon that sounds more sophisticated and somehow less barbaric). Capitalism was special, though, in that it freed masters from responsibility for their slaves. No more needing to house or feed them, while still not being required to pay employees a living wage. It’s clearly evident this, at bottom, is a cost-cutting scheme dreamed up by masters-of-old.

But anyway, what’s funny is that slavery is what we humans are fighting to try to stay out of with one another, now taking the battle to the political arena, and yet without slavery ever having existed the world would look very different today. Most people would likely still be either farmers or hunters out of necessity, because people would have to pull their own weight as best as able. This means big, centralized civilizations would serve no function, and therefore wouldn’t have come into being. Rather than be slaves to other groups of people, all humans are left to contend with their dependence on nature, the ultimate slave master. People wishing to escape that reality wound up in no better position unless they belonged to the master class(es), oftentimes determined by technological advantage achieved off the backs of those previously conquered. And which is worse? In the end will we not wind up being forced to contend with nature as ultimate master anyhow?

Ah well. Strayed far off the original topic of guilt, resentment, family, and individual power to forgive and move on. How much power does one individual possess, and does that amount of power fluctuate throughout our adulthood? Can we always help weak or tormenting spells, and should we always try to stomp them out? Do they not potentially provide value as well in allowing us time to think and ponder and rehash and soul-search?

Which brings me to the thought that initially inspired me to blog this evening: I am a soul; I have a body. This came to me after reading the titles of a couple of videos by atheists disputing the idea of people possessing souls. They say there is no evidence that souls exist, and I can’t help but chuckle. None of us really understand what a soul is, and how can we? It’s understood intuitively as representing our essence, of which our body is the vehicle. How might someone convince a skeptic of this truth? Probably can’t, because it’s not of the realm of science, at least not at this juncture. I suppose it doesn’t matter much what others happen to think on this topic — at least not to me. It’s not even a subject we can wrap our feeble languages around, let alone hope to prove or disprove.

So I continue on in speaking and thinking as I do on that. And today I am aware of suffering within my spirit. It began with a memory popping in mind first thing this morning, and more reflections followed as the day wore on. It happens. Even if I could fully forgive everything, I can’t forget. Beyond that, I’m not convinced everyone deserves forgiveness, particularly those who never ask for it. Maybe on some level it becomes the right thing to do, just to release the situation and let it rest as what has already come before. But a desire to stay the hell away from certain people seems unavoidable as well as healthy in plenty of cases. And then there’s grief over what’s been lost or broken, that being a tough pill to swallow and simply accept. To say that we can and should simply exercise our power to repress and move on strikes me as shallow and non-introspective, and in people who aim to do this I’ve witnessed the pain popping up later in life and dismantling their present. So it seems to me something we can’t simply walk away from and ignore but rather must go through and out the other side of, however long that may take.

But what does one do if stuck? I guess that’s where will power must come into play. If I will not direct myself, others may try to use me to serve their own ends, or I may be abandoned by those who lose faith in the health of our connection, and I wind up a slave to circumstances then.

Harshly put, Firefall. Noted.

… All is easier said than done.

… Is it really coming down to picking our preferred form of slavery?

Just thinking out loud again.

Dinner and a lecture on Marcuse

Another thought-provoking lecture (circa 1993) from Duke Professor Rick Roderick on the writings (“One-Dimensional Man”; 1964) and attitudes expressed by German philosopher Herbert Marcuse:

Didn’t know a thing about Marcuse before today, so far as I can recollect.

Alienation. Rationalization. Banalization. I’d say those three pretty much hit on the head what we’ve been confronting so long as I’ve been alive.

On the menu this evening were sauteed beer brats, steamed green beans, and microwaved easy mac. And now I’m off to work once again for about an hour.

Ethics After Certainty

I have just finished rereading the paper titled “Alone Again: Ethics After Certainty” written by philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.

Very, very good piece. On pages 40-41, he goes into the option to either engage or disengage, and while I understand the point he was making, I will argue that disengagement on a higher level can become the best option once voicing critical concerns and exhausting legal channels have proven insufficient for rectifying our problems. And this form of disengagement I’m referring to is for communities, provinces, willfully-determined groups of citizens, clans and tribes that choose to no longer partake in being subjected to the corruption of this government, thereby making the determination to go sovereign. It is a right citizens do possess, and most certainly not a trivial one at that. I won’t pretend to know how communities might secede in this fashion, though I would suspect having several do so simultaneously will prove too difficult for the government to effectively thwart.

That is indeed an extreme measure. I’d personally rather we thoroughly seek redress through our political channels, demanding that our representatives cater to the people over their major financial contributors, backed by our willingness to impeach and replace them if they refuse to comply. But who do we replace with? It is my opinion that average people would do a better job than these so-called “Washington insiders” and “professionals,” but then that all depends on the integrity we expect and the values we choose to embrace and uphold.

In a society with a toxic culture, we’ve all been fed lies and fantasies, dangerous ones at that. How does one come to see and think outside of the common indoctrinated lens? It’s a struggle and it requires time alone, away from television, with quality books full of ideas, remaining open yet critical, allowing deep introspection while examining the world outside of our own selves.

Thoughts will be expanded on as time rolls on. Time to finish dinner. Partner is sick with a cold, so I whipped up spaghetti bake with sides of whole green beans and Texas toast.  Happy

Chris Hedges’ book “Empire of Illusions: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”

Having read a number of Chris Hedges’ books, including American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Losing Moses on the Freeway, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, his 2010 book titled Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle is another I’d like to offer up to others, though I wouldn’t recommend beginning with reading this one, this book being more of a summary and broad treatment of a collection of problems facing society. Hedges hits several major points, from our tantalization with Jerry Springer-esque forms of entertainment to the personal and societal destructiveness of hardcore pornography; from the dangers of corporatism and the realities and consequences we face today, as a nation and a people, politically, socially, and economically, to the power of love. This man does a great job of telling it like it is!

I’ll include some excerpts below, beginning on pages 14-15:

In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world above are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he will suffer great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.

Plato feared the power of entertainment, the power of the sense to overthrow the mind, the power of emotion to obliterate reason. No admirer of popular democracy, Plato said that the enlightened or elite had a duty to educate those bewitched by the shadows on the cave wall, a position that led Socrates to quip: “As for the man who tried to free them and lead them upward, if they could somehow lay their hands on him and kill him, they would do so.”

We are chained to the flickering shadows of celebrity culture, the spectacle of the arena and the airwaves, the lies of advertising, the endless personal dramas, many of them completely fictional, that have become the staples of news, celebrity gossip, New Age mysticism, and pop psychology.

On porn and profits, page 58:

There are some 13,000 porn films made every year in the United States, most in the San Fernando Valley in California. According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the ever-expanding e-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That is more than the revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and Earthlink combined. Annual sales in the United States are estimated at $10 billion or higher. There is no precise monitoring of the porn industry. And porn is very lucrative to some of the nation’s largest corporations. General Motors owns DIRECTV, which distributes more than 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T Broadband and Comcast Cable are currently the biggest American companies accommodating porn users with the Hot Network, Adult Pay Per View, and similarly themed services. AT&T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Broaching the topic of the fall of the United States of America on page 142:

The country I live in today uses the same civic, patriotic, and historical language to describe itself, the same symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains. The America we celebrate is an illusion. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father, and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be unrecognizable. I do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive for its return.

The words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science and economics are obsolete. Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations, and a narrow, selfish, political, and economic elite, a small privileged group that governs, and often steals, on behalf of moneyed interests. This elite, in the name of patriotism and democracy, in the name of all the values that were once part of the American system and defined the Protestant work ethic, has systematically destroyed our manufacturing sector, looted the treasury, corrupted our democracy, and trashed the financial system. During this plundering we remained passive, mesmerized by the enticing shadows on the wall, assured our tickets to success, prosperity, and happiness were waiting around the corner.

Chris Hedges includes substantiating literature on the topics discussed, listed in the bibliography, with a few titles and authors specifically mentioned on page 146:

There were some who saw it coming. The political philosophers Sheldon S. Wolin, John Ralston Saul, and Andrew Bacevich, writers such as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, David Korten, and Naomi Klein, and activists such as Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and Ralph Nader warned us about our march of folly. In the immediate years after the Second World War, a previous generation of social critics recognized the destructive potential of the rising corporate state. Books such as David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite, William H. White’s The Organization Man, Seymour Mellman’s The Permanent War Economy: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History have proved to be prophetic. This generation of writers remembered what had been lost. They saw the intrinsic values that were being dismantled. The culture they sought to protect has largely been obliterated. During the descent, our media and universities, extensions of corporate and mass culture, proved intellectually and morally useless. They did not thwart the decay. We failed to heed the wisdom of these critics, embracing instead the idea that all change was a form of progress.

In his book Democracy Incorporated, Wolin, who taught political philosophy at Berkeley and at Princeton, uses the phrase inverted totalitarianism to describe our system of power. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but candidates must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. Corporate media control nearly everything we read, watch, or hear. It imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. It diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarianism regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”

[Italicized emphasis his. Bold emphasis mine.]

Excerpts don’t do this book justice. I agree so much with this author. The man makes a great deal of sense, especially when I read this book in conjunction with other books like Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Chris Hedges’ American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Richard L. Rubenstein’s The Cunning of History: Mass Death and the American Future, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, as well as Ron Paul’s End the Fed (not that I personally share Ron Paul’s exuberance for returning to a gold standard).

Here is a review of Empire of Illusion in The Cleveland Leader. I don’t share the reviewer’s disappointment with the ending, lamenting that “Hedges didn’t conclude his work with some small glimmers of hope.” Au contraire. Mr. Hedges ended on the most hopeful message one can offer: that we learn to love one another and make the necessary sacrifices to pull through. Love is no small matter. It may be all we really have…all that will ever set things right.

Below is an interview of Chris Hedges on GRITtv (July 2009):