AZspot

blue bits. red rocks.

chris hedges

The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia. Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship’s 30-man crew—there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel—is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which, in a previous encounter, maimed the ship’s captain, Ahab, by biting off one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod’s destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed. Chris Hedges

For many of us, science has supplanted religion. We harbor a naive faith in the godlike power of science. Since scientific knowledge is cumulative, albeit morally neutral, it gives the illusion that human history and human progress also are cumulative. Science is for us what totems and spells were for our premodern ancestors. It is magical thinking. It feeds our hubris and sense of divine empowerment. And trusting in its fearsome power will mean our extinction. The 17th century Enlightenment myth of human advancement through science, reason and rationality should have been obliterated forever by the slaughter of World War I. Europeans watched the collective suicide of a generation. The darker visions of human nature embodied in the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad and Frederick Nietzsche before the war found modern expression in the work of Sigmund Freud, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann and Samuel Beckett, along with atonal and dissonant composers such as Igor Stravinsky and painters such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Human progress, these artists and writers understood, was a joke. But there were many more who enthusiastically embraced new utopian visions of progress and glory peddled by fascists and communists. These belief systems defied reality. They fetishized death. They sought unattainable utopias through violence. And empowered by science and technology, they killed millions. Chris Hedges

The root of the problem is the culture of big-time athletics and Greek life. And it will not be addressed through NCAA sanctions or the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State. It will end only when fraternities, sororities and football—along with other professional sports programs masquerading as college athletics—are banished from colleges and universities. These athletes, in the end, also are used. They are unpaid performers, brought to the campus solely for their athletic prowess, who make millions for their schools and their coaches. If you have a son or daughter—especially a daughter—who wants to get an education, look for a school that has banished these organizations. The corporate world sees football players, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters as prime recruits. They have been conditioned to join the team, to surrender moral autonomy, to accept and carry out acts of personal humiliation, to treat with contempt those who oppose them or who are different, to define their life by an infantile narcissism centered on greed and self-promotion and to remain silent about crimes they witness or take part in. It is the very ethic of corporations. Chris Hedges

Our corporate culture has effectively severed us from human imagination. Our electronic devices intrude deeper and deeper into spaces that were once reserved for solitude, reflection and privacy. Our airwaves are filled with the tawdry and the absurd. Our systems of education and communication scorn the disciplines that allow us to see. We celebrate prosaic vocational skills and the ridiculous requirements of standardized tests. We have tossed those who think, including many teachers of the humanities, into a wilderness where they cannot find employment, remuneration or a voice. We follow the blind over the cliff. We make war on ourselves. Chris Hedges

Our dying corporate class, corrupt, engorged on obscene profits and indifferent to human suffering, is the guarantee that the mass movement will expand and flourish. No one knows when. No one knows how. The future movement may not resemble Occupy. It may not even bear the name Occupy. But it will come. Chris Hedges

The culture of hate feeds off the frustrations and feelings of betrayal among the impoverished, the unemployed, the underemployed and the hopeless. And the longer the expanding underclass is ignored, the longer we refuse to define what is happening to us in our corporate state as a vicious class struggle, the more the culture of hate spreads. The dwindling culture of tolerance, confined now mostly to white, urban, college-educated members of the middle class, because that group refuses to engage in the struggle of class warfare, unwittingly abets the economic dislocation that is empowering the increasingly potent culture of hate. Chris Hedges

Totalitarian systems disempower an unsuspecting population by gradually making legal what was once illegal. They incrementally corrupt and distort law to exclusively serve the goals of the inner sanctums of power and strip protection from the citizen. Law soon becomes the primary tool to advance the crimes of the elite and punish those who tell the truth. The state saturates the airwaves with official propaganda to replace news. Fear, and finally terror, creates an intellectual and moral void. Chris Hedges

Pre-emptive war, under post-Nuremberg law, is defined as a criminal act of aggression. George W. Bush, whose disregard for the rule of law was legend, went to the U.N. for a resolution to attack Iraq, although his interpretation of the U.N. resolution as justifying the invasion of Iraq had dubious legal merit. But in this current debate over war with Iran, that pretense of legality is ignored. Where is Israel’s U.N. resolution authorizing it to strike Iran? Why isn’t anyone demanding that Israel seek one? Why does the only discussion in the media and among political elites center around the questions of “Will Israel attack Iran?” “Can it successfully carry out an attack?” “What will happen if there is an attack?” The essential question is left unasked. Does Israel have the right to attack Iran? And here the answer is very, very clear. It does not. Chris Hedges

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What is being done in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, is a pale reflection of what is slowly happening to the rest of us. It is a window into the rise of the global security state, our new governing system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” It is a reflection of a world where the powerful are not bound by law, either on Wall Street or in the shattered remains of the countries we invade and occupy, including Iraq with its hundreds of thousands of dead. And one of the greatest purveyors of this demented ideology of violence for the sake of violence, this flagrant disregard for the rule of domestic and international law, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. I spent seven years in the Middle East. I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I lived for two of those seven years in Jerusalem. AIPAC does not speak for Jews or for Israel. It is a mouthpiece for right-wing ideologues, some of whom hold power in Israel and some of whom hold power in Washington, who believe that because they have the capacity to war wage they have a right to wage war, whose loyalty, in the end, is not to the citizens of Israel or Palestine or the United States but the corporate elites, the defense contractors, those who make war a business, those who have turned ordinary Palestinians, Israelis and Americans, along with hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, into commodities to exploit, repress and control. Chris Hedges

The federal minimum wage of $7.25, adjusted for inflation, is $2.75 lower than it was in 1968 when worker productivity was about half of what it is today. There has been a steady decline in real wages for low-income workers. Meanwhile, corporations such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, whose workforce earns the minimum wage or slightly above it, have enjoyed massive profits. Executive salaries, along with prices, have soared even as worker salaries have stagnated or declined. But the call to raise the minimum wage is not only a matter of economic justice. The infusion of tens of billions of dollars into the hands of the working class would increase tax revenue, open up new jobs and lift consumer spending. Chris Hedges

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Some 70 percent of the public supports raising the minimum wage. This is an issue that resonates across political, ethnic, religious and cultural lines. It exposes the vast disparities in wealth and the gross inequalities imposed by our corporate oligarchy. The political elite during this election year, which needs to toss a few scraps to the voting public, might be pressured to respond. The two leading Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, say they support the minimum wage (although only Romney has called for indexing the minimum wage). Barack Obama promised during his 2008 election campaign to press to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, a promise that, like many others, he has ignored. But the ground is fertile. Chris Hedges

To love that which should unite us requires us to believe there is something that connects us all, to know that at some level all of us love and want to be loved, to base all our actions on the sacred covenant of love, to know that love is an act of will, to refuse to exclude others because of personal difference or race or language or ethnicity or religion. It is easier to be indifferent. It is tempting to hate. Hate propels us to the lust for power, for control, to the Hobbesian nightmare of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Hate is what people do when they are distressed, as many Americans are now, by uncertainty and fear. If you hate others they will soon hate or fear you. They will reject you. Your behavior assures it. And through hate you become sucked into the sham covenants of the nation, the tribe, and you begin to speak in the language of violence, the language of death. Love is not selflessness. It is the giving of one’s best self, giving one’s highest self unto the world. It is finding true selfhood. Selflessness is martyrdom, dying for a cause. Selfhood is living for a cause. It is choosing to create good in the world. To love another as one loves oneself is to love the universal self that unites us all. If our body dies, it is the love that we have lived that will remain—what the religious understand as the soul—as the irreducible essence of life. It is the small, inconspicuous things we do that reveal the pity and beauty and ultimate power and mystery of human existence. Chris Hedges

The security and surveillance state has a vast arsenal and array of tools at its disposal. It operates in secret. It dissembles and lies. It hides behind phony organizations and individuals who use false histories and false names. It has millions of dollars to spend, the capacity to deny not only its activities but also its existence. Its physical assets honeycomb the country. It can wiretap, eavesdrop and monitor every form of communication. It can hire informants, send in clandestine agents, recruit members within the movement by offering legal immunity, churn out a steady stream of divisive propaganda and amass huge databases and clandestine operations centers. And it is authorized to use deadly force. Chris Hedges

Iraq, despite the brutality of Saddam Hussein, was a prosperous country with a highly educated middle class before the war. Its infrastructure was modern and efficient. Iraqis enjoyed a high standard of living. The country did not lack modern conveniences. Things worked. And being in Iraq, as I often was when I covered the Middle East for The New York Times, while unnerving because of state repression, was never a hardship. Since our occupation the country has tumbled into dysfunction. Factories, hospitals, power plants, phone service, sewage systems and electrical grids do not work. Iraqis, if they are lucky, get three hours of electricity a day. Try this in 110-degree heat. Poverty is endemic. More than a million Iraqi civilians have been killed. Nearly 5 million have been displaced from their homes or are refugees. The Mercer Quality of Living survey last year ranked Baghdad last among cities-the least livable on the planet. Iraq, which once controlled its own oil, has been forced to turn its oil concessions over to foreign corporations. That is what we have bequeathed to Iraq-violence, misery and theft. Chris Hedges

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