maevemacaraab (maevemacaraab) wrote in bookish,
maevemacaraab
maevemacaraab
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EMPIRE OF ILLUSION - BY CHRIS HEDGES



“The words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase”

 

I realized today that I have to return this gem of a book to the library, so I figured I should write about it before it slips my mind. It took a little bit for me to warm up to Hedges’ arguments. The author is incredibly opinionated about things such as porn, positive psychology, and the entertainment industry, but if you stick with it, the message makes huge sense in the end.

Basically, Hedges highlights some of the big sweeping movements in our society and points out that, throughout history, decaying civilizations have pretty much done the same thing: where ruling elite distracts the masses by the siren call of the spectacle.

What does this mean? Well, I urge those of you who think you are edgy, educated, who label yourself feminist, anarchist, liberal, sexually free, financially successful, ect. to read this book and really look at your actions and your motivations. You might find that you are not as un-homogenized as you think. Hedges brings to light that our petty squabbles over who can say the right things, who is financially successful, or who is more spectacular has taken our society away from the foundations that keep a civilization whole and healthy. He argues that it is moral decency, human compassion, a love for your community, and (god forbid) getting involved in local politics and legislation that create a cohesive and healthy society. No one gets a free pass in this book, especially our corporate system and the media:

Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice and diminishing the individual to force him or her into an ostensibly harmonious collective…We accept the system handed to us and seek to find a comfortable place within it. We retreat to the narrow confined ghettos created for us and shut out eyes to the deadly superstructure of the corporate elite

In the book he mentioned that mental homogeny and industrial thinking have even crept into our most elite universities:

The elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent, and often subversive

With regards to academia and their rigid conservative structure, he argues that although your standard academic can sound voluminous to the point that they are unintelligible, they are in fact semi-illiterate. “They cannot recognize the vital relationship between power and morality. They have forgotten, or never knew, that moral traditions are the product of civilizations. They have little or no knowledge of their own civilization and do not know, therefore, how to maintain it…One of the signs of a dying civilization is that its language breaks down into exclusive dialects which prevent communication. A growing healthy civilization uses language as a daily tool to keep the machinery of society moving. The role of responsible, literate elites is to aid and abet that communication

I laughed at this, remembering my academic years and how I would question my professors about the real-life application of these ideals of which I got no concrete answers. Could it be that our universities are no longer structured to spend their time tackling our societal problems? Well, certainly they are not producing students with a great desire for self-reflection or critical thinking. I agree strongly with Hedges in this. From what I’ve learned since returning from France 15 years ago, is that the United States is full of people who work hard, who mean well, but don’t really ask themselves the tough questions.  I sometimes wonder what our society would be like if people spent the same amount of money and energy in local politics or studying philosophy than they do with working on their appearance. I wonder what would happen if we stop obsessing about what others are saying, what aesthetics they like, and ask ourselves if we are morally sound.  I wonder what our world would be like if people judged their company not by the fact that someone thought, talked, or had sex like them, but by their moral structure and level of human compassion.

Regardless, I fully agree with Hedges conclusion, that to find these answers, we should not look to the fruits of our industrial society, nor our industrialized education system. We should look to ourselves:

Hope exists. It always exists. It will not come through structures or institutions, nor will it come through nation-states, but it will prevail, even if we as distinct individuals and civilizations vanish. The power of love is greater than the power of death. It cannot be controlled. It is about sacrifice for the other – rather than exploitation. It is about honoring the sacred. And power elites have for millennia tried and failed to crush the force of love. Blind and dumb, indifferent to the siren calls of celebrity, unable to bow before illusions, defying the lust for power, love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion. Love will endure, even if it appears darkness has swallowed us all, to triumph over the wreckage that remains.”

 


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