No 924 Posted by fw, December 07, 2013
“I think they know it’s going to be toast. And I think they think that they’re going to retreat into their, you know, gated compounds and survive it. And they may survive it longer than the rest of us, but in the end, climate change alone is going to get us….they are creating systems in terms of exploitation not only of us but of the ecosystem that, if left unchecked, will ensure the extinction of the human species. It may already be too late, of course. But, you know, allowing the fossil fuel industry or these corporations to determine our relationship to the environment is a form of collective insanity at this point.” —Chris Hedges
This is the latest in a series of Hedges’ reality checks about what is going on out there in fantasy land. As usual, he pulls no punches. And again he warns us that we can’t change the evil system from within. We, the people, “have to step outside the system and create popular mechanisms, mass movements that will begin to put pressure in a cruder way on the centers of power. That is the only hope we have left.” The question is, what will it take to wake us from our stupor? Keep in mind that what happens in America has global repercussions. None of us is insulated from their insanity.
To watch a 23-minute interview of Hedges’ at his best, and access a full transcript of the event, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, watch the embedded video below followed by an abridged transcript featuring my added subheadings.
[Unless otherwise noted, all the following transcribed passages were spoken by Chris Hedges in response to questions and comments by Paul Jay. The subheadings in bold italics and the hyperlinks are mine].
In conversation with Paul Jay, Chris Hedges discusses the psychology of the super-rich, their sense of entitlement, the dehumanization of workers, and mistaken belief that their wealth will insulate them from the coming storms.
[Introduction by Paul Jay] — So last time we talked a lot about something you had said in 2008 and you’ve written more recently about: one of the greatest weaknesses of the left was not creating a viable vision of what an alternative politics and economy looks like, a viable vision of a socialism. But you’ve written more recently about some other weaknesses, you could say, of the people’s movement, and here’s one. And I’ll read it back. This is a piece you wrote called Let’s Get This Class War Started. The quote is: “The inability to grasp the pathology* of our oligarchic rulers is one of our gravest faults.” What are you talking about? [*pathology def: in this context, deviation from a healthy, normal, or efficient condition]
We don’t grasp how venal and morally bankrupt an oligarchic class is
Chris Hedges — Because we don’t understand the pathology of the rich. We’ve been saturated with cultural images and a kind of cultural deification of wealth and those who have wealth. We are being–you know, they present people of immense wealth as somehow leaders–oracles, even. And we don’t grasp internally what it is an oligarchic class is finally about or how venal and morally bankrupt they are.
“The issue is not education. The issue is greed”
We need to recover the language of class warfare and grasp what is happening to us, and we need to shatter this self-delusion that somehow if, as Obama says, we work hard enough and study hard enough, we can be one of them. The fact is, the people who created the economic mess that we’re in were the best-educated people in the country–Larry Summers, a former president of Harvard, and others. The issue is not education. The issue is greed.
“If you’re poor, you only get one chance. If you’re wealthy, you get chance after chance after chance after chance”
The fact is, if you’re poor, you only get one chance. If you’re wealthy like Bush, you get chance after chance after chance after chance. So you’re a C student at Andover, and you go to Yale, and you go to Harvard Business School, and you’re AWOL from your National Guard unit, and you’re a cokehead, and it doesn’t really matter. You don’t even really have a job till you’re 40 and you become president of the United States.
“Elite oligarchic circles perpetuated themselves and promoted mediocrity at the expense of the rest of us”
So that was what was particularly insidious, how those small, tight elite oligarchic circles perpetuated themselves and promoted mediocrity (because many of these people like Bush are very mediocre human beings) at the expense of the rest of us, and how with money they game the system. And, of course, now we live in an oligarchic state where we’ve been rendered utterly powerless, and the judiciary, the legislative, the executive branches all subservient to an oligarchic corporate elite. And the press is owned by an oligarchic corporate elite, which makes sure that any critique of them is never broadcast over the airwaves.
“When the rich take power, citizens become disposable”
The rich are different, because when you have that much money, then human beings become disposable. Even friends and family become disposable and are replaced. And when the rich take absolute power, then the citizens become disposable, which is in essence what’s happened. There is a very callous indifference.
Being utterly cut off from working class people, the ruling class becomes very dangerous politically
I mean, these people–and C. Wrights Mills wrote about this in The Power Elite–they’re utterly cut off. I mean, the only people they ever meet who are members of the working class are people who work for them–they’re gardeners or they’re chauffeurs. They live in self-encased bubbles. They have no real contact with reality. I mean, they don’t even fly on commercial airlines. And yet they have absolute power.
Now, that becomes very dangerous politically because they’re so out of touch and they are able to retreat into their enclaves in the same way that you saw in France under Louis XVI, people retreating to Versailles, or the end of the Chinese dynasty when everybody went to the Forbidden City.
…they have no self-imposed limits, without understanding the economic, political, and social consequences of what they’re doing.
The Occupy movement was a popular uprising against the evident insanity they witnessed around them
So we have a popular uprising through the Occupy movement where people pour into public spaces to express legitimate grievances–student debt, the next bubble to go down, $1 trillion in debt, which we now saw, courtesy of our Congress, debt rates, you know, interest rates will actually go up in a couple of years, I mean, more than if they’d just taken it from a bank. It’s insane. And meanwhile the Federal Reserve is buying $85 billion a month worth of junk bonds and giving money at virtually zero percent interest to Goldman Sachs. I mean, it’s insane. The failure to address the mortgage and foreclosure crisis, the failure to address the chronic unemployment, underemployment, which–I mean, half of the country now lives in poverty, including the working poor, or near poverty.
Out of sheer ignorance, an unplugged oligarchic elite is pushing us relentlessly towards the cliff
And what is the response? The response is to physically shut down the encampments, suspend unemployment benefits, cut food stamps, close things like Head Start. It’s crazy. And that’s what happens when you have an elite that is that unplugged, and which our elite is. So they will push and push and push myopically out of ignorance until something erupts. And that’s exactly where we’re headed.
They inhabit another world, and they have very sophisticated mechanisms of public relations and well-publicized acts of philanthropy to hide their private faces. But how they act when the doors close and how they act in public is very different.
The oligarchic elite’s brand of capitalism is “a very thin rationale for unmitigated greed”, which has been exposed
The whole notion of the free market–laissez-faire capitalism, globalization–is a very thin rationale for unmitigated greed by a tiny oligarchic elite. And they have made sure that that ideology is taught in universities across the country. And people, especially economists, who deviate from that ideology have been pushed aside, have become pariahs. And yet the driving ethos of that ideology is really to justify the hoarding of immense amounts of wealth by a very tiny percentage of, you know, the upper ruling class. That’s what it is. I mean, the whole lie of globalization, perpetuated by people who popularize it, like Tom Friedman, has already been exposed. I mean, the idea that it’s going to lift all of us up and create middle-class and, you know, well-compensated working-class families in the Third World, I mean, all of it’s been exposed.
Even the intellectual class, while not rich, ends up serving the system; it’s either that or be underemployed
The ideology serves the system, the intellectual class serves the system. Those economists whose voices are heard, who get tenure, serve the system; and those who don’t serve the system don’t have a job. And that’s what Marx was getting at. And I think that’s extremely true.
“Corporations have become predators on government and taxpayer money”
I mean, we don’t live in a free-market society. We live in a society where corporations at will loot the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve and are bailed out by the taxpayer. And yet that fact of kind of corporate socialism for corporations is ignored. And yet it is–and that’s dangerous, because there is an utter disconnect from the language that we use to describe our economic system and the reality of our economic system, which is essentially a system where corporations have become predators on government and taxpayer money.
“We’re all going to pay” for the excesses, the abuses in the financial markets, and it’s going to blow up in our face
And we’re all going to pay for it, because most of this stuff, these bonds that they’re buying up, is garbage. You know, it is things like foreclosed homes that on the books are worth $600,000 but in reality, because the electricity has been turned off, the basements flooded, you’d have to spend money to raise it to put up anything of any kind of value. And that is going to blow right up in our face.
The liberal class in America has been silenced
Well, I write death of the liberal class is really that story, how all of these people were silenced, pushed to the margins, stripped of employment, including, like, even high school teachers. I mean, Ellen Schrecker, the historian, has done a good job on this.
Paul Jay — Just quickly, for people who don’t know what we’re talking about, we’re talking about the House Un-American Activities, McCarthyism, and a real campaign to try to move anyone with a kind of progressive socialist idea out of anything.
Chris Hedges — Right. And they were effective, I mean, in a way, far more effective than in Europe. I mean, in Europe, you’ll still have a residue. We’ve been robbed of language by which we can express the reality of what we’re undergoing. And that’s because, you know, our radical populist dissident movements, those who offered a critique of the power elite, have been banished or silenced.
There’s a massive campaign not even to use the words “class warfare”. In fact, if you talk class, people accuse you of being essentially anti-American.
Capitalism is about exploitation of the working class, and we Americans are “the most illusioned society on the planet”
I don’t think you can understand the nature of capitalism if you don’t understand the nature of class warfare. You know, if I was running a Wall Street firm, I’d only hire Marxian economists, because they understand that capitalism is about exploitation. Marx got that right.
We are awash in lies. The ruling elites have masked what they are doing to us
And that gets back to the nature of the ruling elite. I mean, we are the most illusioned society on the planet. The airwaves are awash in lies. You know, they very skillfully know how to humanize figures, I mean, even idiots like Donald Trump, to mask what it is they’re actually doing to the rest of us. And I think we have to begin to puncture the very effective mirages that have been created–and corporations, of course, spend billions of dollars to create these mirages–to understand our reality. I mean, look at BP. You’d think BP was Greenpeace, given the amount of commercials that they’re running about how much they care about the Gulf, when in fact they turned the waters of the Gulf into a dead zone and poisoned the shrimp and all the other which they’re selling us to eat. And yet we don’t have mechanisms by which–or certainly within the mainstream. What major network is going to go do a serious documentary on BP? You’re not going to confront those interests, because at this point, these interests, you know, they own or control the systems of information, as well as the systems of education.
The only option left to us is massive civil resistance and revolt – “Incremental and piecemeal reform don’t work”
Well, because the mechanisms of incremental and piecemeal reform don’t work. The New Deal was the classic example of that kind of safety valve. And as Roosevelt said, I mean, his greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism.
When the corporate oligarchic elite destroyed the liberal class they destroyed the safety valve that might have ameliorated the suffering of the underclass
And in the stupidity of the corporate oligarchic elite, they destroyed the liberal class. I mean, we still have a self-identified liberal class, but they no longer do anything to defend the interests of those they claim to represent, whether that’s the working class, the middle class, labor, or anyone else. And by destroying that safety valve, by destroying that liberal class, those mechanisms that made piecemeal and incremental reform possible, you no longer can adjust the system. So you can’t ameliorate the suffering or the grievances of the underclass. And now we’re talking about half the country.
The only hope we have left is to step outside the corrupt system
Now, that means that if you want to resist, if you want to create change, you can’t do it through political parties, you can’t do it through the courts, you can’t do it through a corporatized media. You have to step outside the system and create popular mechanisms, mass movements that will begin to put pressure in a cruder way on the centers of power. That is the only hope we have left.
The Wall Street gangsters are stealing money as fast as they can, in the full knowledge that the system is going to collapse
The people who are running Wall Street don’t give a damn about–they know it’s going to collapse. And what they’re doing is stealing as fast, as much as they can on the way out the door. There’s a very deep cynicism.
The goal is so self-centered. You have–I think the head of United Healthcare made $1 billion–I mean, it’s insane—last year. I think I have that right. But certainly hundreds of millions of dollars. And it’s all about amassing little monuments to themselves, little empires to themselves. You know, I have relatives who work on Wall Street, and their critique is not any different from mine. The difference is they’re just grabbing is much as they can on the way out the door. And I think that is always symptomatic of a kind of dying civilization.
In the end, climate change alone is going to get us all
I think they know it’s going to be toast. And I think they think that they’re going to retreat into their, you know, gated compounds and survive it. And they may survive it longer than the rest of us, but in the end, climate change alone is going to get us.
They are creating systems in terms of exploitation not only of us but of the ecosystem that, if left unchecked, will ensure the extinction of the human species. It may already be too late, of course. But, you know, allowing the fossil fuel industry or these corporations to determine our relationship to the environment is a form of collective insanity at this point.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, is a journalist and Senior Fellow At The Nation Institute. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He has written nine books, including Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009) and the best-selling American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2008). His book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.