Hedges traces the political, economic, cultural, military, and environmental factors contributing to the US demise.
No 2406 Posted by fw, December 26, 2018
“The American Empire is coming to an end. The US economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion across the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation, and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the US Treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. … America’s high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War Two. … But none of this works anymore. … The hundreds of thousands of dead, and millions of refuges fleeing our debacles in the Middle East, along with the near constant threat from militarized aerial drones, exposed us as state terrorists. … It is to acknowledge the world as we know it will become harsher and more difficult, that human suffering will expand, but, that we can, if we fight back, perhaps reconfigure our lives and our society to mitigate the worse savagery, dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, and save ourselves from complete annihilation.” —Chris Hedges, The Sanctuary for Independent Media
The above passage captures the essence of a talk by journalist, author, and former war correspondent, Chris Hedges, delivered at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy NY on November 10, 2017.
The talk has three broad themes: 1) The coming end of the American Empire; 2) The high cost of Empire maintenance; and 3) The need to accept the reality and find the courage to resist.
Below is an embedded video of Hedges’ 52-minute talk, including my transcript of the address, excluding the short Q&A session at the end. The transcript features a chronologically-timed index to enable viewers to quickly and easily link the video to the transcript. As well, the transcript includes inline hyperlinked references to less familiar names and topics. And copious added subheadings will facilitate skimming selectively for information.
The video of Hedges’ November 10, 2017 talk to The Sanctuary, first appeared on its You Tube site on December 1, 2017 under the title: Chris Hedges: Fascism in the Age of Trump. On December 2, 2018, truthdig republished the video under the title: Chris Hedges on the American Empire’s Descent Into Dystopia (Video). Neither of these published versions includes a complete transcript.
Also of interest, on November 6, 2017, Common Dreams published an article by Hedges titled The Cost of Resistance, which is very similar to the latter part of his speech to The Sanctuary.
A personal critical comment on the latter part of Hedges’ talk — in the section about resistance, Chris gets a bit too “preachy” for my taste. I am inclined to agree with a piece by Martin LeFevre who writes:
“The idea that ‘Resistance is the pinnacle of human existence,’ as Chris Hedges exclaims in his recent essay, ‘The Cost of Resistance,’ is equally absurd. Though Hedges has many insights at the political level into the present situation in America and the West, he goes off the rails when he starts talking about the soul and quoting Kierkegaard. ‘We achieve salvation when we accept the impediments of the body and the soul, the limitations of being human, yet despite these limitations seek to do good. This burning honesty, which means we always exist on the cusp of despair, leaves us, in Kierkegaard’s words, in ‘fear and trembling,’ Hedges intones.” [To read LeFevre’s full piece, go to Resistance Can Be Worse Than Futile posted on November 7, 2017.]
To watch the video of Hedges’ talk on You Tube — without my transcript — click on the following linked title. Alternatiely, just scroll down to watch the embedded video and to read my full transcript.
Chris Hedges: Fascism in the age of Trump posted to You Tube by The Sanctuary for Independent Media, Dec 1, 2017
[THE COMING END OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE]
There really are communities like this, especially given the times we’re about to face, that are going to sustain us. Because when things get bad, the elites will retreat into their gated compounds with amenities and services and security that’s denied to the rest of us, and they’ll leave us on our own. And we are, you know, as Martin Buber understood, it is for those of us who endure, it is going to be a complete inversion of the values of the consumer culture, which I’m going to speak about. And it really is going to be … we are going to be, our … not only our integrity, but our ability to endure will be measured by our capacity to sustain our neighbor. And that’s really what sanctuary is about, which is why I’m thrilled to be here and why I admire the work you do so much.
“The American Empire is coming to an end”
01:17 — The American Empire is coming to an end. The US economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion across the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation, and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the US Treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia.
“The United States as we know it will no longer exist in a decade, or, at most, two”
Overseeing this descent, at the highest levels of the federal and state governments, is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and war-mongering generals – and yes, I am also speaking about the Democratic Party. The Empire will limp along steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the Unites States into a crippling depression, and instantly forcing a massive contraction of our military machine. Short of a sudden and widespread popular revolt, which does not seem likely, the death spiral appears unstoppable – meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist in a decade, or, at most, two.
Will China fill the vacuum left behind by the US? Or will transnational corporations and their allies prevail?
03:34 – The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut. Or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred McCoy* writes, by a collection of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international, financial leadership, self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg that will forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or Empire. [*See related article by McCoy titled: How America Will Collapse By 2025, posted by carolynbaker.net, April 17, 2013].
By any measure, China is rapidly overtaking the US
Under every measure, from financial growth and infrastructure investment to advanced technology, including supercomputers, space weaponry, and cyber warfare, we are being rapidly overtaken by the Chinese. In April 2015, the US Department of Agriculture predicted that the American economy would grow by nearly 50% over the next 15 years, while China’s economy is predicted to triple and come close to surpassing America’s by 2030. China became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, the same year it became the world’s leading manufacturing nation pushing aside a United States that had dominated the world’s manufacturing for a century.
Historian Alfred McCoy predicts the collapse of the US will come by 2030
05:19 — The Department of Defense issued a sobering report, At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World. It found that the US military, and I quote: “no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors, and it can no longer automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.”
McCoy predicts the collapse will come by 2030.
“Empires in decay embrace an almost wilful suicide”
05:55 — Empires in decay embrace an almost wilful suicide. Blinded by their hubris, and unable to face the reality of their diminishing power, they retreat into a fantasy world where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral bombastic threats and the blunt instrument of war.
The US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was a strategic blunder, sounding the death knell of the Empire
06:27 — This collective self-delusion saw the United States make the greatest strategic blunder in its history, one that sounded the death knell of the Empire – the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The architects of the war in the George W. Bush White House, and the array of useful idiots in the press and academia, who were cheerleaders for it, knew very little about the countries being invaded, were stunningly naïve about the effects of industrial warfare, and were blindsided by the ferocious blowback.
Consider the scope of Washington’s folly in Iraq
07:09 — They stated, and probably believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – although there was no valid evidence to support this claim. They insisted that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and spread across the Middle East. They assured the public that US troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis and Afghans as liberators. They promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. They insisted that bold and quick military strikes – shock and awe – would restore American hegemony in the region and dominance in the world.
The war against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of US foreign policy
But it did the opposite. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, “This unilateral war of choice against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of US foreign policy.”
Fading Empires, like the US, “are inclined to ill-considered displays of power”
08:10 — Historians of Empire called these military fiascos a feature of all late Empires, micro-militarism. The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism when, during the Peloponnesian War, they invaded Sicily suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers, and triggering revolts throughout the Empire. Britain did this in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal, and then quickly had to withdraw in humiliation, empowering a string of Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt’s Gama Abdel Nasser, and dooming British rule over the nation’s few remaining colonies. Neither of these Empires recovered.
“While rising Empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading Empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold, military master strokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” McCoy writes.
Empires need a mystique, a mask for imperial plunder to justify to its homeland the costs to maintain Empire
09:30 — Often irrational, even from an imperial point of view, these micro-military operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already underway. But Empires need more than force to dominate other nations. They need a mystique. This mystique, always a mask for imperial plunder, repression and exploitation, seduces some native elites who become willing to do the bidding of the imperial power or at least remain passive. And it provides a patina of civility, even nobility, to justify to those at home the costs in blood and money needed to maintain Empire.
10:20 – The parliamentary system of government that Britain replicated in appearance in its colonies, and the introduction of British sports, such as polo, cricket, and horse racing, along with the elaborately uniformed Viceroys and the pageantry of royalty, were buttressed by what the colonials said was the invincibility of their navy and their army. And England was able to hold this Empire together from 1815 to 1914 before being forced into a steady retreat.
Post-World War 2, America’s emerging Empire entranced and cowed much of the globe
10:55 — America’s high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War Two. Behind the scenes, of course, the CIA used its bag of dirty tricks to orchestrate coups, fix elections, and carry out assassinations, black propaganda campaigns, bribery, blackmail, intimidation, and, of course, torture.
[THE HIGH COST OF EMPIRE MAINTENANCE]
None of this works anymore because the military’s penchant for atrocities exposed the US as terrorists
11:32 – But none of this works anymore. The photographs of physical abuse, and sexual humiliation imposed on Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib inflamed the Muslim world. It fed al Qaeda, and later Isis, with recruits. The assassination of Osama bin Laden – he was unarmed, it’s called assassination – and a host of other Jihadist leaders, including the US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, openly mocked the concept of the rule of law. The hundreds of thousands of dead, and millions of refuges fleeing our debacles in the Middle East, along with the near constant threat from militarized aerial drones, exposed us as state terrorists. We have replicated in the Middle East the US military’s penchant for widespread atrocities, indiscriminate violence, lies and fatal miscalculations that led to our defeat in Vietnam.
“The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home”
12:36 — The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home. Militarized police gunned down mostly unarmed poor people of color and fill a system of penitentiaries and jails that hold a staggering 25% of the world’s prisoners, although Americans represent only 5% of the global population.
America’s social breakdown plagues a population in despair
13:00 — Many of our cities are in ruins. Our public transportation is in shambles. Our educational system is in steep decline and being privatized. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair.
The myth of a functioning democracy in America has been destroyed
13:23 — The deep disillusionment and anger that led to Donald Trump’s election, a reaction to the corporate coup d’état, and the poverty afflicting at least half the country, have destroyed the myth of a functioning democracy. Presidential tweets and rhetoric celebrate hate, racism, and bigotry and taunt the weak and the vulnerable. The president, in an address to the United Nations, threatened to obliterate North Korea in an act of genocide.
Loss of a mystique makes it hard for the US to find pliant surrogates to do its bidding
13:56 — We are worldwide objects of ridicule and hatred. The foreboding for the future is expressed in the rash of dystopian films, motion pictures that no longer perpetuate American virtue and exceptionalism or the myth of human progress. The loss of this mystique is crippling. It makes it hard to find pliant surrogates to administer the Empire as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
14:31 — The omnipotent Empire’s project mask the fragility of decayed structures. The expansion of Empire beyond the capacity of the homeland to sustain the maintenance and costs of Empire makes the system vulnerable, especially during a financial crisis. States that do not administer Empires are able to devote more of their resources to domestic prosperity and basic security. But Empires have no such option. And when revenues shrink, Empires fracture and disintegrate. Without the financing that arises almost organically inside a sovereign nation, Empires are famously predatory in their relentless hunt for plunder or profit — witness the Atlantic slave trade, Belgium’s rubber lust in the Congo, British India’s opium commerce, the Third Reich’s rape of Europe, or the Soviet’s exploitation of Eastern Europe – McCoy writes:
“So delicate is their ecology of power that when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed. Just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, eleven years for the Ottomans, seventeen for Great Britain and, in all likelihood, just twenty-seven years for the United States counting from the crucial year 2003.” [Source: The Decline and Fall of the American Empire: Four Scenarios for the End of the American Century by 2025, Dec. 6, 2017].
Loss of dollar as world’s reserve currency could trigger decline into American fascism
16:05 – The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will instantly make it impossible for the United States to pay for its huge deficits by selling depressed Treasury bonds. There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports, unemployment will explode, domestic clashes over what McCoy calls “insubstantial issues” will fuel a dangerous hyper-nationalism that could morph into an American fascism.
The rage sweeping the globe reflect elites’ failed global, social engineering project of modernization
16:37 — The nihilism and rage sweeping across the globe are not generated by warped ideologies or medieval religious beliefs. These destructive forces have their roots in the obliterating of social, cultural and religious traditions by modernization and the consumer society. The disastrous attempts by the United States to carry out regime change, often through coups and wars, and the utopian, neoliberal ideology that has concentrated wealth in the hands of a tiny cabal of corrupt global oligarchs. The rage is directed at discredited elites. This vast global project of social engineering during the last century persuaded hundreds of millions of people, as Pankaj Mishra writes in the Age of Anger, to renounce and often scorn a world of the past, that had endured for thousands of years, and to undertake a gamble of creating modern citizens who would be secular, enlightened, cultured, and heroic. The project has been for all but a handful of global elites a spectacular failure.
The Wretched of the Earth are rising up against the forces of modernization
17:59 – The Wretched of the Earth, as Frantz Fanon called them, have been shorn of any ideological or cultural cohesion. They are cut off from their past. They live in crushing poverty, numbing alienation, hopelessness, and often terror. Mass culture feeds them the tawdry, the violent, the salacious, and the ridiculous. And they are rising up against the forces of modernization, driven by an atavistic fury to destroy the technocratic world that condemns them.
This anarchic rage and resentment is now fueling an assault on basic civic liberties
18:35 — This rage is expressed in many forms: Hindu nationalism; proto-fascism; Jihadism; the Christian Right; anarchic violence and other beliefs. But the various forms of resistance spring from the same deep wells of global despair. And this resentments is fueling a virulent nationalism, xenophobia, chauvinism and violence poisoning the civil discourse and fueling an assault on basic civic liberties.
Western elites blindly respond with force, failing to see they hate us for our duplicity, violence, and hypocrisy
19:14 — Yet Western elites, rather than accept their responsibility for the global anarchy, self-servingly define the clash as one between the values of the enlightened West and medieval barbarians. They see in the extreme nationalist religious fundamentalists and jihadists an inchoate and inexplicable irrationality that can only be quelled with force. They have yet to grasp that the disenfranchised do not hate us for our values, they hate us because of our duplicity, use of indiscriminate industrial violence on their nations and communities and our hypocrisy.
The root cause of discontent among the dispossessed is profound social inequality
20:02 — The dispossessed grasp the true message of the West to the rest of the planet – We have everything, and if you try to take it away from us we will kill you. The more the Western elites are attacked, the more they, too, retreat into a mythological past, self-glorification, and wilful ignorance. The rise of hyper-nationalism expressed in the absurd slogan, “Make America Great Again”, the demonization of Muslims, undocumented workers, the growing bellicosity of the state, and the attempt to blame foreign interference is used as a mask to cover the root cause of discontent, which is profound social inequality, which, in the united States, is the worst in the industrialized world.
Lies of Western elites have spawned violence by homegrown terrorists
21:03 – Huge segments of the world have been cast aside by globalization, treated, in an age of corporate capitalism, as human refuse. And their rage is expressed in the kind of anarchic and nihilistic violence that characterized another era of vast inequality – the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Our rash of mass shootings at schools, churches, concerts, malls and cinemas are a reaction to the lies fed to workers across by the architects and ideologues of corporate capitalism. These lies, fueled by an arms industry that has saturated the country and the planet with weapons, have spawned homegrown terrorists that have carried out indiscriminate killings at the Boston Marathon, a South Carolina church, Tennessee military facilities, and a Texas army base.
22:08 — The proponents of globalization promised to lift workers across the planet into the middle class, and instill democratic values and scientific rationalism. Religious and ethnic tensions would be alleviated or eradicated. The global marketplace would create a peaceful prosperous community of nations. All we had to do was get government out of the way, and kneel before market demands held up as the ultimate form of progress and rationality.
Neoliberal propaganda indoctrinated citizens to take part in the global reality show of capitalism
22:43 – Neoliberalism, in the name of this absurd utopia, stripped away government regulations and laws that once protected the citizen from the worst excesses of predatory capitalism. It created trade agreements that allowed trillions of corporate dollars to be transferred into offshore accounts to avoid taxation, jobs to flee to sweatshops in China and the global south, where workers live in conditions that replicate slavery. Social service programs, and public services were slashed or privatized, mass culture, including schools and the press, indoctrinated an increasingly desperate population to take part in the global reality show of capitalism.
“What we were never told was that the game was fixed. We were always condemned to lose.”
23:33 – What we were never told was that the game was fixed. We were always condemned to lose. Our manufacturing migrated abroad. General Motors, for example, pays Mexican workers in Monterrey $3 an hour, without benefits, to make cars and trucks. American workers with unionized wages, that came with benefits, were cast aside. Wages have declined, our working class is impoverished, endless war is a lucrative business, and the world’s wealth has been seized by global oligarchs.
Democratic idealism has become a joke, replaced by a “negative solidarity” of commerce and technology
24:19 — Kleptocracy, such as the one now installed in Washington, brazenly loot the nation’s wealth. Democratic idealism is a joke, and we are knit together only by commerce and technology, forces that Hannah Arendt called “negative solidarity”.
Absent democratic idealism, self-styled Islamic radicals call for a jihad of anarchic violence
24:41 — Nowhere is this more true than with the modern calls for jihad by self-styled Islamic radicals, most of whom have no religious training, and who often come out of the secularized criminal underworld. The jihadist leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, nicknamed the “Sheikh of Slaughters” in Iraq, was, before he became a radical jihadist, a pimp, a drug dealer, and a heavy drinker. The Afghan-American, Omar Mateen, reportedly, was a frequenter of the nightclub in Florida where he massacred 49 people and had been seen there drunk. Anwar al-Awlaki, who preached jihad, and was eventually assassinated by the United States, had a penchant for prostitutes. Abu Mohammed al Adani, a senior leader of the Islamic state when he was killed, called on Muslims in the West, to kill any non-Muslim they encountered – these are his words – “Smash his head with a rock or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
“These jihadists represent the death of traditional Islam rather than its resurrection”
25:50 – These crude – and I would mention, deeply anti-Islamic sentiments – have far more in common with [Mikhail] Bakunin’s “propaganda by deed” that characterized the nihilism of the late 19th century. It is updated and amplified in videos and livestream feeds and social media. This anarchic violence fills the void left by the destruction of indigenous beliefs, traditions and rituals. And as Mishra notes, these jihadists represent the death of traditional Islam rather than its resurrection.
26:32 – It is this rage, this resentment at being left behind, that drives terrorist attacks in Paris, London, and now, New York. It is what led Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children and injuring 684. And when McVeigh was imprisoned in Florence, Colorado, the prisoner in the adjacent cell was Ramzi Ahmed Yousef the mastermind of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. After McVeigh was executed, Yousef commented: “I have never known any in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his.”
An angry and underclass of Americans take a perverse delight in demagogues such as Trump
27:31 – It is becoming harder and harder to distinguish us from our enemies. Trump, given the political, economic and cultural destruction carried out by neoliberalism, is not an aberration. He is the result of a market society and capitalist democracy that has ceased to function. An angry and alienated underclass is entranced by electronic hallucinations that take the place of literacy. These Americans take a perverse and almost diabolical delight in demagogues such as Trump, that expressed contempt for, and openly flout the traditional rules and rituals of a power structure that preys upon them.
The rise of demagogues like Trump is typical of the final stage of empires that have fallen throughout history
28:22 – Similar demagogues like Modi have risen up in India, the Philippines, Poland, Hungary and other states. And this is almost always a characteristic of the final stage of the some 69 Empires that have risen and fallen throughout human history. These demagogues and mythologizers — we see them on Fox News and other rightwing outlets – askew truth for historical and cultural myth. Reinhold Niebuhr called them “the bland fanatics of Western civilization, who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence.” The unacknowledged reality is that the process of modernization and colonialization has been accompanied by carnage and bedlam. “The rapacious appetite of capitalists and imperialists”, as Mishra notes, “never considered such constraining factors as finite geographical space, degradable natural resources and fragile ecosystems.” And in carrying out this project of global expansion and modernization, no form of coercion or violence was off-limits.
Terrorists have learned from America, the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence against innocents
29:53 – Terrorist attacks, such as the flying of the hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, illustrate that those who oppose us are products of our moral universe. They have been schooled well in the art of modern warfare. The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims jumping to their deaths, the collapse of the two huge towers in Manhattan were straight out of Hollywood. Where else but from the industrialized world did the suicide hijackers learn that huge explosions and death above a city skyline are a peculiar and effective form of communication. They have mastered the language we taught them. They learned that the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence against innocence is a way to make a statement. And we delivered the same incendiary messages in Vietnam.
The worst jihadist atrocities have their origins in US campaigns to colonize, subdue the world
31:04 – Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense in 1965, defined the saturation bombing of the North [Vietnam], which left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead, as a means of communication to the communist regime in Hanoi. And we speak this language in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, and through our Saudi proxies in Yemen. The roots of even the worst atrocities carried out by jihadists have their origins in our campaigns to colonize and subdue the rest of the world.
31:45 — It was the French colonists who used waterboarding, a technique inherited from the Nazis, on Algerians. We, like the Soviets, turned psychological torture into a science, one we employ in black sites around the world and in our prison system. ISIS, copying the masters of these dark arts, dressed their Western hostages in Guantanamo’s orange suits and turn on smartphone cameras before beheading their victims, the favored form of execution of Muslims by the Crusaders.
Washington’s destruction of government authority in the Middle East left a vacuum for jihadists to fill
32:28 – If we had not destroyed government authority in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, leaving vast swathes of territory to criminal gangs, warlords and ad-hoc militias, there would have been no vacuum for these radical jihadists to fill.
America’s inability to be self-aware, self-critical led it to become a monster, devouring others and its own
32:49 — George Santayana foresaw that America’s obsessive, individualistic culture of competition and mimicry would eventually “incite a lava wave of primitive blindness and violence.” The inability to be self-critical and self-aware, coupled with a cult of the self, would lead to collective suicide. Carl Schorske, in [his book] Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture wrote that Europe’s descent into fascism was inevitable once it cut the “cord of consciousness.” Once we no longer acknowledge or understand our capacity for evil, once we no longer know ourselves, we become monsters who devour others, and finally devour our own.
“Unable to understand and cope with reality, we wage endless wars in the name of democracy…”
33:57 – We are paying the price for discarding hundreds of millions of people onto the dung heap of history. Unable to understand and cope with reality, we wage endless wars in the name of democracy and Western civilization, which engender more martyrs to fuel the violence we seek to crush. We are afflicted by what Albert Camus called “autointoxication, the malignant secretion of one’s preconceived impotence inside the enclosure of the self.” And until this “autointoxication” is addressed, the rage and violence, at home and abroad, will expand as we stumble toward a global apocalypse.
The climate crisis, a slow-motion march towards apocalypse, fuels mass migration of the displaced and refugees
34:49 — This slow-motion march towards apocalypse is assured, if we refuse to confront the ecocide we are carrying out on the planetary systems that sustain human life. Seas and rivers are being poisoned and emptied of their stocks of fish. Wild fires, droughts, flooding, monster hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis, along with soaring temperatures and the evaporation of the polar ice sheets along with glaciers, ravage the planet. This ecocide exacerbates the breakdown of social structures, fuels the mass migration of the displaced and refugees, which in turn creates more political instability.
We must accept the tragic reality before us and find the courage to resist
35:39 – Unchecked, these forces will lead in many parts of the globe to complete systems breakdown. The greatest existential crisis of our time, is to at once accept the tragic reality before us and find the courage to resist. It is to acknowledge the world as we know it will become harsher and more difficult, that human suffering will expand, but, that we can, if we fight back, perhaps reconfigure our lives and our society to mitigate the worse savagery, dramatically reduce our carbon footprint, and save ourselves from complete annihilation.
The power elites will do nothing to save us.
[THE NEED TO ACCEPT THE REALITY AND FIND THE COURAGE TO RESIST]
To live in defiance of all that is bad around us is a marvellous victory
36:40 – “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic,” Howard Zinn wrote, “it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness.” What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – when people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now, as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.
What resistance is / is not
37:59 – This makes resistance a moral and an existential imperative. Resistance entails suffering. It requires self-sacrifice. It accepts that we may be destroyed. It is not rational. It is not about the pursuit of happiness. It is about the pursuit of freedom. Resistance accepts that even if we fail, there is an inner freedom that comes with defiance. And perhaps this in the only freedom and true happiness we will ever know. To resist evil is the highest achievement of human life. It is the supreme act of love. It is to carry the cross, as the theologian James Cone reminds us, and to be acutely aware that what we are carrying is what we will die upon. Most of those who resist – Sitting Bull, Emma Goldman, Malcom X, Martin Luther King – are defeated at least in the cold calculation of the powerful. And the final, and perhaps the most important quality of resistance, as Cone writes, is that it inverts the world’s value system – hope rises up out of defeat.
The noble qualities of those who resist
39:34 — Those who resist stand, regardless of the cost, with the crucified. This is their magnificence, and it is their power. The seductive inducements to conformity – money, fame, prizes, generous grants, huge book contracts, hefty lecture fees, important academic and political positions and a public platform – are scorned by those who resist. The rebel does not define success the way the elites define success. Those who resist refuse to kneel before the idols of mass culture and the power elites. They are not trying to get rich. They do not want to be part of the inner circle of the powerful. They accept that when you stand with the oppressed you get treated like the oppressed.
40:33 – The inversion of the world’s value system makes freedom possible. Those who resist are free not because they have attained many things or high positions, but because they have so few needs. They sever the shackles used to keep most people in bondage, and this is why the elites fear them. The elites can crush them physically but they cannot buy them off. The power elites attempt to discredit those resist: they force them to struggle to make an income; they push them to the margins of society; they write them out of the official narrative. They deny them the symbols of status; they use the compliant liberal class to paint them as unreasonable and utopian.
“Resistance is not fundamentally political; it is cultural”
41:30 – But resistance is not fundamentally political; it is cultural. It is about finding meaning and expression in the transcendent, in the incongruities of life – music, poetry, theatre, and art sustain resistance by giving expression to the nobility of rebellion against overwhelming force. What the ancient Greeks called ‘Fortuna’, which can never ultimately be overcome. Art celebrates the freedom and dignity of those who defy malignant evil. Victory is not inevitable, or at least not victory as defined by the powerful. Yet, in every act of rebellion, we are free.
“The rebel stands with the powerless and there will always be powerless people”
42:20 – It was the raw honesty of The Blues, spirituals, work chants, that made it possible for African-Americans to endure. Power is a poison. It does not matter who wields it. The rebel, for this reason, is an eternal heretic. He or she will never fit into any system. The rebel stands with the powerless and there will always be powerless people. There will always be injustice. And the rebel will always be an outsider.
The New Deal gains made by resistors were purged, demonized, and killed by capitalist forces
42:59 – And resistance requires eternal vigilance. The moment the powerful are no longer frightened, the moment the glare of the people is diverted, and movements let down their guard, the moment the ruling elites are able to use propaganda and censorship to hide their aims, the gains made by resistors roll backward. We have steadily been stripped of everything that organized men and women, who rose up in defiance and were purged, demonized and killed by the capitalist elites achieved with the New Deal.
The victories of African-Americans have also been reversed, and will have to be rebuilt
43:36 — The victories of African-Americans, who paid with their bodies and blood in making possible the Great Society, and ending legal segregation, also have been reversed. The corporate state makes no pretence of addressing social inequality or white supremacy. It practices only the politics of vengeance. It uses coercion, fear, violence, police terror and mass incarceration as its primary form social control. Our cells of resistance will have to be rebuilt from scratch.
However, with their promises exposed as lies, the corporate state has lost all credibility
44:19 — The corporate state, however, is in trouble. It has no credibility. All the promises of the free market, globalization, trickle-down economics have been exposed as a lie; an empty ideology used to satiate greed. And the elites have no counter-argument to their anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist critics. The attempt to blame the electoral insurgencies in the United States on Russian interference, rather than [on] massive social inequality is a desperate ploy.
Presiding over Washington’s chaotic and dysfunctional government is a political PT Barnum president
44:59 — The courtiers and the corporate press are working feverishly day and night to distract us from reality. The moment the elites are forced to acknowledge social inequality is the root of our discontent, is the moment they are forced to acknowledge their role in orchestrating this inequality. The US government, subservient to corporate power, has become a burlesque. The last vestiges of the rule of law are evaporating. The kleptocrats are pillaging and looting like barbarian hordes. Programs instituted to protect the common good – public education, welfare and environmental regulations – are being dismantled. The bloated military, sucking the marrow out of the nation is unassailable. Poverty is a nightmare for half the people. Poor people of color are gunned down with impunity in the streets. Our prison system is filled with the destitute. And presiding over the chaos and dysfunction is a political P.T. Barnum, a president who, while we are being fleeced, offers up one bizarre distraction after another like Barnum’s Fiji mermaid.
With the obliteration of the common good, a dystopian era casts a pall of collective despair
46:15 – There are no shortage of artists, intellectuals, and writers, from Martin Buber and George Orwell to James Baldwin who warned us that this dystopian era was fast approaching. But in our Disneyfied world of intoxicating and endless images, cult of the self and willful illiteracy, we did not listen. Soren Kierkegaard argued that it was the separation of intellect from emotion, from empathy, that doomed Western Civilization, for the soul has no role in a technocratic society. The communal has been shattered, the concept of the common good obliterated. Greed is celebrated, the individual is a god, the celluloid image is reality, the artistic and intellectual forces that make transcendence and the communal possible are belittled or ignored. The basest lusts are celebrated as forms of identity and self-expression. Progress is defined exclusively by technological and material advancement. And this creates a collective despair and anxiety that feeds, and is fed by, glitter, noise and the false promises of consumer culture idols. The desperate or the despair grows ever worse but we never acknowledge our existential dread. As Kierkegaard understood, the specific character of despair is precisely this — it is unaware of being despair.
Those who resist ask the hard questions of themselves, including – How do we defy radical evil?
48:13 – Those who resist are relentlessly self-critical. They ask the hard questions that mass culture, which promises an unachievable eternal youth, fame and financial success deflects us from asking: What does it mean to be born? What does it mean to live? What does it mean to die? How do we live a life of meaning? What is justice? What is truth? What is beauty? What does our past say about our presence? How do we defy radical evil?
49:08 – We are in the grip of what Kierkegaard called “Sickness unto death” – the numbing of the soul by despair that leads to moral and physical debasement. “Those who are ruled by rational abstractions and aloof intellectualism,” Kierkegaard argued, “are as depraved as those who succumb to hedonism, cravings for power, violence and predatory sexuality.”
Resistance to radical evil is, above all, about overcoming estrangement from ourselves and others
49:35 — We achieve salvation when we accept the impediments of the body and the soul, the limitations of being human. Yet, despite these limitations, seek to do good. This burning honesty, which means we always exist on the cusp of despair, leaves us in Kierkegaard’s words “in fear and trembling.” We struggle not to be brutes while acknowledging we can never be angels. We must act and then ask for forgiveness. We must be able to see our face in the face of the oppressor. Paul Tillich did not use the word ‘sin’ to mean an act of immorality. He, like Kierkegaard, defines sin as estrangement. For Tillich, it was our deepest existential dilemma. Sin was our separation from the forces that give us ultimate meaning and purpose in life. This separation fosters alienation, anxiety, meaninglessness and despair that are preyed upon by mass culture. As long as we fold ourselves inward, embrace a perverted hyper-individualism, that is defined by selfishness and narcissism, we will never overcome this estrangement. We will be separated from ourselves, from others and from the sacred.
51:14 — Resistance is not only about the battling of the forces of darkness. It is about becoming a whole and complete human being. It is about overcoming estrangement. It is about the capacity to love. It is about honoring the sacred. It is about dignity. It is about sacrifice. It is about courage and it is about being free. Resistance to radical evil is the pinnacle of human existence.
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