Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We're doomed. Now what?

Talking with Chris Hedges can be at once inspiring and very, very depressing.  In his latest book, and one he has coming out later this year, he’s analyzed the underlying problems with contemporary American culture and identified the manifestations of those problems in everyday life and, even more important, in public life.  In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, he explains how corporate interests contribute to the decline in our ability and willingness to think critically about our society and our selves.  Television and the internet have taught us to be more interested in shallow, immediate thrills than in thoughtful analysis or complex narratives.  Our educational institutions, which we expect to train citizens to solve problems and make intelligent decisions about voting, policies, and everyday choices, focus more on preparing students for the workplace and handing out credentials than on real learning.  And the equal opportunity, social equality, and democracy that we believe are the foundations of American society are myths with little basis in reality. 

We shouldn’t expect much help in responding to these problems from our political process.  In his forthcoming book, The Death of the Liberal Class, Hedges explains that liberal leaders have essentially been bought off by corporations.  You can get a good taste of that argument in our conversation. 

So you can see why all of this is depressing.  Where’s the inspiration?  That lies in hearing someone intelligently connect much of what we see on the surface, so to speak – bad reality TV and what seems to be a persistently, even insistently inept Democractic party – with structural forces and putting all of that into a historical context.  At its best, journalism can be an accessible form of scholarship, often focused on the present moment – something we academics sometimes have difficulty doing well.  Hedges models that kind of journalism, and while I’ve been having nightmares ever since his visit, I nonetheless appreciate both the quality of his work and the uncomfortable insights he wants us all to recognize.

That said, I wish I felt more inspiration toward a course of action.  Having the veil removed, so to speak, is just a first step.  I hope that in future projects, Hedges might look at examples of effective activism and offer some more practical inspiration.

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