What I’m Reading: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

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I wrote about how disturbed I was by the “tyranny of the majority”.  What I was really disturbed by was social media and how you really can’t choose to not be part of it anymore.  Social media/networking isn’t just a fun and useful tool but a necessary one and my mind and body rejects it.  It’s not even social media/social networking that bothers me.  It’s being told what is necessary.  It’s being dismissed if I disagree with the popular position which I do a lot.  What bothers me is criticism and critical thinking itself is frowned upon.  The smartest people alive whose job it is to think are marginalized and silenced.  This was the frame of mind I was in when I was perusing the shelves and found Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges.

The book is about how corporations and the corporate mentality is taking over our lives and for the worse.   The book is basically a 200 page rant against this state of affairs.  Hedges argues that people prefer lies to reality which has become too complicated and too difficult to understand and change so everyone becomes numb, distracted, disengaged while the corporations take over our political and educational system, the very systems that are supposed to support, enlighten, and encourage us to think critically. While reading the book, I was reminded of something I read by Earl Shorris:

The corporation or the bureaucracy becomes a place, the cultural authority, the moral home of a man.  The rules of the corporation become the rules of society, the future replaces history and the organization becomes the family… as the corporation separates men from each other, making a class of competing atoms, it gains control over them.

We all prefer to consume — celebrity culture and goods — than think and compete with each other in meaningless ways.   And all the while the corporations control, lie and steal from us while we’re busy with the next techno-gadget.

This bothers me.  I read some reviews of the book at Goodreads and instead of being inspired by Hedges’ call to action, many reviewers claimed that there wasn’t enough “research” to back up his claims.  Research?  Are you alive?  Do you feel fully free to be an individual?  The answer has got to be “No”.  Isn’t that enough evidence?

Part of the problem with our culture is that everyone thinks they’re completely in control of their lives.  There’s an illusion of personal freedom and autonomy because you have a computer and can type comments in comment sections.  That’s not freedom. That’s not power.  No one even knows what freedom is anymore.  We are not free.

Individualism is touted as the core value of American culture, and yet most of us meekly submit, as we are supposed to, to the tyranny of the corporate state.

We use our power, like those “reviewers” at Goodreads, to criticize people who point out this tyranny.

The worse reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it, and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip, and trivia.  There are the debauched revels of a dying civilization.  The most ominous cultural divide lies between those who chase after these manufactured illusions, and those who are able to puncture the illusion and confront reality.  More than the divides of race, class, or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, our culture has been carved up into radically distinct, unbridgeable, and antagonistic entities that no longer speak the same language and cannot communicate.  This is the divide between a literate, marginalized minority and those who have been consumed by an illiterate mass culture.

I prefer reality no matter how horrible it is.  I care about being a free human being and I want that for other people.  I care about having real power and exercising it.   Hedges does offer some hope for us who have little hope for our dying civilization:

Hope exists.  It will always exist.  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.

Books like this make me feel less alone.

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