Đầu năm mới, nối tiếp chuyện cũ, Nhân-Chủ cố gắng trình bày những vấn nạn quan trọng nền tảng của xã hội, những vấn nạn đang diễn tiến trong xã hội chúng ta một cách toàn cầu- đang được tranh luận để tìm ra giải pháp chung.
Cuộc trao đổi giữa Chris Hedges và chủ bút đài TRN (the Real News) là một bước nền tảng quan trọng trong tiến trình truy tìm giải pháp này. Nó chưa phải là giải pháp, như Tôi vừa trình bày trong bài khai bút đầu năm đối thoại nho nhỏ với ông Paul Craig Roberts.
Trọng tâm của cuộc đối thoại, và cũng là trọng tâm của tất cả những ai đang lưu tâm hướng giải pháp- là tình trạng BẾ TẮC VỀ MỘT MÔ THỨC THẾ CHẤP (alternative paradigm) khiến quần chúng hầu như tê liệt- dù trước mắt họ đầy những phơi bày về tội phạm và tội ác của giới tập đoàn đại bản cầm quyền chính xã hội, do Wikileaks, Edward Snowden phơi bày đầy đủ.
Câu hỏi nền tảng về sự bế tắc này, một nhà vận động Phi Quyền Chính (anarchist) Alexander Berkman – PBS (21-11- 1870 – 28-6- 1936), đã từng đặt ra cách đây gần 100 năm vào đầu thế kỷ 20:
“Quí vị đã có bao giờ tự hỏi chính mình là làm thế nào mà chính phủ và chủ nghĩa tư bản tiếp tục hiện hữu cho dù tất cả những ác độc và tai họa chúng đang gây ra cho thế giới? (Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?”)
Dĩ nhiên câu trả lời không đơn giản, nhưng một phần nền tảng của nó, như Tôi đã nhận định trong lời đầu năm “Trong hệ thống này, nền giáo dục và “văn hóa” thường trực huân tập con người một cách tế vi về một lối sống vi lợi, trọng thương, và thị quyền” . Cái tính thị quyền vi lợi trọng thương, khiến chúng ta chỉ có khả năng nhìn thấy những tội lỗi khiếm khuyết nho nhỏ (petty mistakes, petty crimes) nơi chung quanh gần cận hàng xóm, nhưng không thấy và/ hoặc, mặc nhiên tảng lờ những tội phạm lớn hơn, những tội phạm lớn thường nằm trong qui trình quyền lợi của chính chúng ta, nằm trong hành xử và ước mơ, trong nỗ lực bản thân chính chúng ta, gia đình chúng ta… đang nỗ lực muốn có- và mặc nhiên bảo vệ chúng một cách tiềm thức! Nó khiến chúng ta đánh mất lòng bao dung, tính thâm cảm nhân bản để lý giải sáng suốt.
Đây chính là lý do tại sao chúng ta, những kẻ trung lưu no đủ êm ấm thường lên án những NGƯỜI NGHÈO (the poor) làm điều sai này, việc xấu kia v.v những “sai, xấu” mà có thể chính mình đã từng vi phạm, trải qua trong thời gian khốn khó chưa “ngoi” lên được- nhưng không hề lên án CÁI NGHÈO (poverty), tình trạng nghèo khổ và truy nguyên nó.
Bởi chống kẻ NGHÈO (the poor), dễ dãi, thuận tiện hơn chống CÁI NGHÈO (poverty). Chống cái nghèo đòi hỏi nhận thức, sự hiểu biết-kiến thức, và lòng can đảm từ chính bản thân, chống cả hệ thống, định chế, và ngay chính thói quen huân tập của chính mình để dấn thân chuyển hóa cải sửa!
Chúng ta thường lến án KẺ PHẠM TỘI, nhưng không tìm hiểu nguyên nhân của TỘI PHẠM để có giải pháp rốt ráo! Trừ những trường hợp hiếm hoi như bản thân Chris Hedges từng sống trong đặc quyền và bước ra khỏi nó để nhận diện nguyên nhân.
Bởi chống “kẻ phạm tội” dễ dãi thuận tiện hơn với đám đông chính qui. Nhưng chống TỘI PHẠM cần nhận thức lòng can đảm chống cái hệ thống nguyên nhân tội phạm, định chế quyền lực chính trị kinh tế mà thường mỗi chúng ta gián tiếp là thành viên “canh giữ” cho nó trong thói quen tiềm thức và vô thức !!! Bởi đa số chính chúng ta, đang mơ ước mong mỏi đạt được cái “vị trí quyền thế” trong hệ thống tội phạm chính qui đó.
Và đây cũng chính là lý do người ta thường tấn công giết NGƯỜI BÁO TIN (the messenger) hơn là chú tâm vào KẺ TỘI PHẠM Ở MỨC ĐỘ QUỐC GIA bị công bố!
Chúng ta luôn miệng nói yêu Hòa Bình, nhưng chẳng bao giờ tham gia lên án chiến tranh, ngược lại còn thường “dị ứng” với phong trào và nhân sự PHẢN CHIẾN hơn là đối kháng bọn đầu nậu chiến tranh.
Như Bob Dylan bị mỉa mai là “ấu trí” khi chống chiến tranh. Chúng ta luôn ra vẻ ghê tởm tội ác, tội phạm sát nhân, nhưng chỉ đủ “khả năng” quan tâm lên án chì chiết những kẻ sát nhân một mạng người, vài ba nhân mạng, chục mạng nạn nhân v.v nhưng vô cảm, không thấy hoặc bất lực trước những tên sát nhân hàng loạt hàng trăm ngàn, hàng triệu nhân mạng, trẻ em phụ nữ- như bọn nhà nước, quân đội, tập đoàn vũ khí, tập đoàn hóa chất, tập đoàn lương thực như Lockheed, Monsanto v.v
Vì đại đa số chúng ta chỉ thấy những cao trào này, những hành động, những cuộc biểu tình đối kháng của họ, cho dù thật sự vì tất cả chúng ta, nhưng thường “gây trở ngại” cho những “thuận tiện” nho nhỏ trong sinh hoạt thường nhật… và “có thể” “đe đọa” lợi nhuận liên đới, liên quan việc làm của chúng ta hoặc thân nhân chúng ta đang có!
Nguồn gốc tội phạm nằm trong LÒNG THAM và MÊ QUYỀN LỰC sẵn có từ trong mỗi chúng ta. Nguồn gốc tội phạm này được cô đọng chặt chẽ trong ĐỊNH CHẾ NHÀ NƯỚC CHÍNH PHỦ với đặc tính giả định BẤT TỬ và TOÀN NĂNG VÔ HẠN mà mọi người huân tập mặc nhiên thừa nhận. Nhưng chẳng mấy ai lý giải qui kết, người ta chỉ tập trung vào qui trách từng nhóm người trong một chính phủ của từng thời kỳ, và mặc nhiên chấp nhận cái nguồn gốc NHÀ NƯỚC CHÍNH PHỦ phải được bảo vệ, sửa sai, và kiện toàn!!! Dù giờ đây, hầu như ai củng nhận biết rằng “Quyền Lực (bất cứ quyền lực loại nào) cũng băng hoại, và Quyền lực tuyệt đối băng hoại tận cùng” (Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely)…
Trong khi hàng tỉ con người trong chúng ta hôm nay, cũng đang sống chẳng khác tình trạng bán khai từ ngàn xưa, đó là vẫn như những con thú vật, chỉ biết chăm lo liếm bộ lông của mình mà thôi.
Riêng với nhóm người Á Châu, đặc biệt là Việt Nam tại các xã hội Âu Mỹ, căn bệnh này đã trở thành chủng tử. Họ từng là thuyền nhân, di dân, lôi thôi lếch thếch, đến định cư xứ người. Ngày nay, khi đã làm đủ cách, từ chính đáng cho đến “phi pháp” để ngoi lên được hàng công dân trung lưu. Thì chính họ, thay vì thâm cảm và bênh vực trợ giúp những di dân, tị nạn đang đến, mới đến- với vòng tay mở rộng như những công dân bản xứ đã từng đối xử tranh đấu cho họ vài chục năm trước đây, họ quay ra chống chính sách di dân tị nạn, chính sách mà chính bản thân họ là kẻ thụ nhận- tệ hại hơn, họ còn ra vẻ “văn minh” khinh bỉ, dè bĩu những thuyền nhân tị nạn, di dân mới đến- đang trong tình trạng túng thiếu chật vật- làm xấu thế này, sống tệ thế kia..v.v.
Tổng quan qui kết là như vậy. Quí độc giả có khả năng Anh ngữ, xin tham khảo theo dõi kỹ cuộc trao đổi quan trọng này, và giúp những độc giả chưa có khả năng Anh ngữ nắm bắt được những điểm then chốt.
Nhân Chủ sẽ có một bài chi tiết trình bày về vấn đề này ở một kích thước sâu rộng cần thiết như là một đóng góp trong tiến trình truy tìm giải pháp cho xã hội con người trong những ngày tháng đang đến.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
The Pathology of the Rich – Chris Hedges on Reality Asserts Itself
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig , 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), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) 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.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to Reality Asserts Itself.
A few weeks ago, we did a series of interviews with Chris Hedges, and one of the things we talked about was the weakness of the left, the weakness of the people’s movement, if you will. Well, we’re going to continue that discussion now. And Chris joins us again in the studio.
Chris, as everyone probably knows by now, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. Along with Joe Sacco he wrote the New York Times bestseller Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. And he writes a weekly column for Truthdig.
Thanks for joining us.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE NATION INSTITUTE: Thank you.
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”, which I guess is a play on Pink’s song, is it? “Let’s Get This Party 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?
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.
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.
And I, unfortunately, had the experience of being shipped off to a private boarding school at the age of ten as a scholarship student and live–I was one of 16 kids on scholarship, and I lived among the super-rich and I watched them. And I think much of my hatred of authority and my repugnance for the ruling elite comes from having been among them for so long.
JAY: Yeah. People don’t understand the elite schools, even at the high school level, that they get–the kids get excellent educations, but they learn the whole culture of hundreds or thousands of years of how to rule.
JAY: And a deep, rich understanding of it.
HEDGES: Not only that, but they–you know, and George Bush is a perfect example of that.
JAY: Well, not so much an example of deep, rich understanding, but–.
HEDGES: No, but of how–you know, affirmative action for the rich. And I came–certainly my mother’s side of the family–from, you know, lower working class. I mean, people–one of my uncles lived in a trailer in Maine, and certainly people with no means. And I would juxtapose the world I was in with that world. And it was very clear that it wasn’t about intelligence or aptitude.
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.
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.
JAY: And it’s not some, like, inherent evilness or something, but you are brought up as a super-rich or very rich in a culture, in a school, in a milieu where everyone’s there to serve you. It’s your right to be served.
HEDGES: Yeah. It’s very distasteful to see, because, you know, I would go to the homes of friends of mine and watch–and let’s remember they’re children, 11, 12 years old, ordering around adults–their servants, their nannies.
And I begin that piece by talking about Fitzgerald, who came from the Midwest to Princeton and went through much of the experience that I went through, and that apocryphal exchange–which didn’t take place, but it does represent the difference between Hemingway and Fitzgerald–where Fitzgerald at one point had written–the story is that he said the rich aren’t like you and I, and Hemingway is supposed to have quipped, yes, they have more money.
Well, Hemingway, like on many things, was wrong. 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.
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.
JAY: He said “Après moi, le déluge,” does he not?
HEDGES: Yeah. And that’s, I think, you know, so that they will extract more and more and more, because they have no self-imposed limits, without understanding the economic, political, and social consequences of what they’re doing.
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.
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.
JAY: It’s interesting. There are some children of the some of the super-rich–and I think Occupy had something to do with it–who kind of woken up a bit to the situation and don’t want to repeat the pattern of their parents, get some of the insanity of it.
HEDGES: I don’t know if they’re children of the super-rich. I think that Occupy had a lot of children of the middle class.
JAY: No, no, I don’t mean the majority of Occupy.
JAY: But they’reI actually know who some of these people are. And it’s interesting. They’re children of very, very wealthy people, and they have decided that, you know, there needs to be more to life than repeating this, living in this bubble.
HEDGES: Well, they may be out there, but I don’t think they’re a majority.
JAY: They’re a very tiny minority.
HEDGES: Most of them get sucked right into that cult of the self, which the super-rich managed to perpetuate at a rather nauseating level.
JAY: We were talking off-camera just before we started how we both knew Gore Vidal, and Vidal used to go on about the total amorality of the super-rich.
HEDGES: Oh, he would know.
JAY: Well, he would know for a lot of reasons, one in terms of his own life, but also in terms of he knew many of these people.
HEDGES: Well, so did I. I mean, and I think that’s what I’m getting at, exactly. I mean, you know, I wrote in that column about, you know, being at this boarding school and watching these fathers pull up in their limousines, fathers who had very little contact with their sons, with their personal photographers. And these were famous, wealthy men. And that picture of them playing with their son, which was total–you know, a fiction, would be disseminated through the press.
Yeah, amorality, hedonism, selfishness, callousness.
JAY: And part of it is the total willingness to accept, for example, that ordinary people’s families should send their kids off to war to defend the American way of life, which means essentially their way of life, can die for these things. It’s almost a kind of racism. I mean, when the British enslaved the Irish–you don’t have to be black and of color to be thought of as less than human. And that seems to be what the super-rich think about most other people.
HEDGES: Well, and not just the working class, I mean, the kind of disdain for the working class and also the middle class–I mean, in some way the way that they would speak about the middle class. And, you know, in essence, coming out of the middle class, this was something that struck home to me. Yeah, 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. And having, as Vidal was, as Fitzgerald was, having been behind those closed doors and seen the decadence of the ruling elite, it certainly marked me for the rest of my life and it defined for me at a very early age who my enemies were.
JAY: You quote in your article Karl Marx writing, “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships,” Marx wrote, “the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” Why did that hit you?
HEDGES: Well, because 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.
JAY: And I think part of it, his point, is that this isn’t just some innate ideas that everyone is essentially greedy, these people just happen to be rich, and you’re not as lucky you’re as smart as they are; it’s that it comes from what he calls the material conditions, about, like, how stuff is owned, who has power as a result of concentration of ownership, how things are distributed. It’s not that–you know, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a product of how the society is organized.
HEDGES: Right. And so in that sense 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.
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.
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 basement’s 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.
JAY: And this idea that you’re expressing, that the majority of professional paid intellectuals, professors and writers and pundits, the idea that the free market is the fundamental assumption and starting point, to suggest anything else might work is sacrilegious, and then some people say, well, that’s ’cause America’s always been like this. America’s this center-right country. But it’s not true. And, you know, pre-World War II in the 1930s and right after World War II there was a big public debate about what kind of economy, what kind of politics, and there was a real campaign waged to get rid of public intellectuals, get rid of union militants, get rid of actors and directors. Anyone that wanted to have this public discourse was hounded out of office.
HEDGES: 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.
JAY: Just quickly, for people who don’t know what we’re talking about, we’re talk 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.
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.
JAY: Now, you write something here which, you know, if you–you would not be allowed to say on mainstream news anywhere. You write:
“Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown.”
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.
HEDGES: 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.
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.
JAY: So your article ends with: “The only route left to us, as Aristotle knew, is revolt.”
HEDGES: Well, because the mechanisms of incremental and piecemeal reform don’t work. And you talked about the New Deal. 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. 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.
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.
JAY: You say you can’t do incremental reform. The elite can’t even pass regulations that would serve their own interests, in terms of controlling financial speculation, for example, a simple change in terms of position limits at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, that anyone that wants some kind of functioning capitalist system would want to have this so that you don’t have another financial collapse as 2008. They can’t even pass that.
HEDGES: But they don’t–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.
JAY: Well, they make money–they make money after the collapse as well, ’cause they know the state’s there to bail them out.
HEDGES: Right. But, you know, this time around it’s going to be a little harder to pilfer state funds. I mean, they’ll certainly attempt to do that.
But, you know, 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 [incompr.] 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.
JAY: Yeah. Marx was asked once to describe the psychology of a capitalist, and it was what we talked about a little earlier: après moi, le déluge, after me, come the floods. I’ll get what I can today, and if the society is toast later, too bad.
HEDGES: And 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.
JAY: So it’s up to us. Don’t expect anything from the oligarchs.
HEDGES: No. And not only that, 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.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
HEDGES: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
Don’t forget, we’re in our year-end fundraising campaign. For every dollar you donate, another dollar will be donated. That means up to $100,000, which means at the end of all this process, if we’re successful, we’ll raise $200,000. And have all kinds of things planned for 2014, which we’ll tell you about in other videos. If you want to see more interviews like this one with Chris Hedges, please click on the Donate button, pick up your phone. There’s all kinds of ways to donate. But now’s the time.
JAY: Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to Reality Asserts Itself, continuing our discussion with Chris Hedges about the people’s movement, the left, its weaknesses–and I guess at some point we’d better get around to its strengths, too.
Now joining us in the studio is Chris Hedges. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s the author with Joe Sacco of the New York Times bestseller Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He also writes a weekly column for Truthdig.
Thanks for joining us again.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE NATION INSTITUTE: Thank you.
JAY: So you wrote a column in Truthdig. The title of it is “Our Invisible Revolution”, and you quote, to start with, Alexander Berkman: “Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?”
And let me add to that. We’ve had these enormous revelations recently, WikiLeaks and Snowden, and Hammond’s leaks of the Stratfor files. And it should, one would think–and enough of this has gotten into the mainstream media, you know, enough of the revelations, that you would have had, you’d think, a fundamental shaking of masses of people’s belief in the American narrative. But not so much. Like, we’ve not really seen a change in the political landscape at the mass scale that one might have thought.
HEDGES: Well, this was what Berkman–this essay is called “The Idea Is the Thing”–is playing out, that as long as the ideas that sustain the power elite have currency or relevancy, the institutions that hold up that system of power are unassailable. Once those ideas are utterly discredited, those institutions collapse.
And Berkman draws the analogy of heating water on a kettle, that you can’t make a revolution, you can’t decide that next Monday is the revolution. Revolutions are organic. And they take place through this change within the culture whereby the ideas that sustain a particular ruling class are so thoroughly discredited that the ruling class is finally only able to sustain itself through the use of force and violence, that it’s kind of–it resorts to the most naked forms of repression to hold on to power, which, as you can see with the rise of the security and surveillance state, we are moving towards.
And so what you have in a pre-revolutionary society, which I think we’re in, is a kind of invisible revolution, whereby the state, the ideology of the state, in this case capitalism, the fiction of American democracy, larger and larger numbers of people–and I think we are also seeing this across the political spectrum–wake up and understand the hollowness of the language that’s used to describe their own economic, political, and social reality.
What’s important is that in this process you need to present an alternative vision, an alternative language, so that people can orient themselves toward something. Otherwise, any kind of eruption is nihilistic. Without that kind of vision, ultimately it doesn’t represent any kind of a threat to the ruling elite, because it doesn’t drive towards something. And I think that, you know, opinion polls point this out in terms of, like, the approval rating of Congress, which is below 10 percent, the utter disgust at the inability of the centers of power to respond to the most basic concerns and needs of the citizenry. All of that is there.
And I think that it’s incorrect to say that nothing’s happening, that there is no ferment. I think this is the ferment. And it’s extremely dangerous for the ruling elite, because their credibility–and Obama, the current disaster with Obamacare is just adding to that–is being shredded.
JAY: One of your main points in the article “Our Invisible Revolution” is this point you’re starting to get at. If there isn’t a vision to fight for, one, I don’t think you can really get people into motion, because unless things are in absolute desperation for more people than are–because many people are desperate, but it’s not the majority that a desperate. Even if unemployment, the real unemployment is 20, 25 percent, there’s still 75 percent of people who have jobs. But if there isn’t a vision to fight for, then what are you left with? But what’s happening now is there’s this sort of right-wing vision, that’s kind of carving off a part of this alienation, you know, this idea of the smaller government and that we can all be free and we’ll all be able to do what we want, you know, individualism, is–hearken back to these days of America that actually never existed.
HEDGES: Right. Well, that’s a danger. I mean, you know, in situations of collapse or turmoil, we could certainly swing to our version of a kind of Christian fascism, which I’ve spent a lot of time writing about in my book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
And these are classically fascist movements, in that they celebrate the language of violence, the gun culture. They fuse the iconography and language of American patriotism with the Christian religion. They demonize and direct a legitimate sense of rage and betrayal at the vulnerable Muslims, homosexuals, undocumented workers, liberals, intellectuals, feminists. And they are funded by the most retrograde elements of American capitalism–the Koch brothers and others.
And I think given the fact that progressive, populist, radical movements have been eviscerated throughout the 20th century and destroyed means that those of us who care about an open, egalitarian society are extremely weakened and disadvantaged. So it may very well be that our backlash is a very disturbing kind of quasi-fascist backlash. That indeed may happen. Certainly in breakdown or the breakdown of any society, you are going to see the rise of those kind of vigilante, racist, right-wing elements, and they will employee violence. History has shown that.
The question is whether we can build a response with an alternative vision fast enough to counter that kind of implosion. You know, I covered the breakdown of the former Yugoslavia, and I see many scenarios between here and the former Yugoslavia. There you had a self-identified liberal elite that was not able to deal with economic collapse. Hyperinflation took over the former Yugoslavia, and it vomited up these figures like Radovan Karadić and Slobodan Miloević and others in the same way that Weimar vomited up the Nazi Party.
And what happens in moments of breakdown is that people not only turn against an ineffectual liberal elite that is not able–that in essence–that has presided over political and economic paralysis, or certainly political paralysis, but they also jettison the values that elite purports to defend. And that’s what’s dangerous. And we’re certainly barreling towards that kind of a crisis. I worry that we are not only weakened but unprepared.
JAY: Well, one thing we’re going to do at The Real News is we’re going to spend a little less time with the critique. We’re not going to stop the critique, but we’re going to spend a little less emphasis on the critique and spent a lot more time in terms of investigative journalism and working with, you know, policy experts, front-line workers, the public. We’re going to have town halls. And it’s part of the reasons. And we’ll tell you more about our new building and what we’re doing here.
But this idea–and you raise it in this article and others–we have to create a viable vision of what the alternative is. But, like, what would you do if you ran a city like Baltimore, what would you do if you ran a state like Maryland, dealing with the real world, not some utopian vision? But what you do the next year? And what do you do for the next three, four years? ‘Cause I don’t think you can really get a big mass movement going in this country if they don’t think what they’re fighting for is at least going to be better than what exists.
HEDGES: Well, and history has shown that that is absolutely correct. And so I write in the article that I seek to articulate a viable kind of socialism, which is going to have to begin at the local level. And I know that, you know, you’re in accordance with this that we’re probably going to have to start by taking over city after city, town after town. That’s where it’s going to begin. We can’t compete on a national level anyway. We’re shut out. Ralph Nader has amply illustrated what happens when you try and compete in that arena. But on the local level, especially in depressed cities, we can.
Now, the problem with cities like Baltimore or other depressed cities is that you have such a large segment of the population incarcerated. And that’s done consciously. That bottom sort of 15 percent of people who are considered superfluous in terms of labor, whose bodies are worth nothing on the street, are put into cages where their bodies are worth $40,000 or $50,000 a year to prison contractors and food contractors and private security guard companies and people who build prisons and everyone else.
So that has been an effective mechanism by which we have broken our most astute sort of political class, which is the African-Americans, who not only traditionally understand the nature of white supremacy and power, but understand the nature of empire. Figures like Frederick Douglass, King, Malcolm, their critique of empire came from having suffered internally from the mechanisms of empire and having the first chapter–or it was the second chapter of my book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt takes place in Camden, which per capita is the poorest city in the United States and, not surprisingly, in terms of homicides per capita the most dangerous. And we’re talking two, three, four generations where people have been so traumatized by the violence that is taking place within these internal colonies and the violence of mass incarceration that I don’t know how effective those communities initially are going to be, given how broken they are.
I think that the recipe for revolt will come from a fusion between what Bakunin called the déclassé intellectuals, these kids who, burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of college debt, coming largely out of the middle class, thrown out into the workforce, where they can’t get jobs, they can’t pay their debts, coupled with service workers who are in essence the working poor.
JAY: And I think one of the misconceptions some people have about Baltimore–and it’s partly to do with the television–the percentage of African-Americans in Baltimore, if I understand it correctly, who live in these very dispossessed areas and with generation after generation of chronic, you know, addiction to drugs and crime is a real minority. The vast majority of African-Americans in Baltimore are part of a fairly stable working-class.
HEDGES: That’s not true in Camden. So that provides hope, then.
And, you know, we find–I don’t want this to be racial, because if you look at the meth labs that are popping up in all these old mill towns where my families are from in Maine, it’s the same. And, actually, we’re watching now the criminalization, through the war on drugs, of the white poor, the white underclass, who are now being railroaded into these prisons at increasing rates because they’ve also become superfluous in the neofeudalistic state that we’ve created.
But I think, yes, it’s going to come off the ground. It’s going to come by stepping out outside of the mainstream. It’s going to come by articulating a very different vision about how we relate to each other, how we relate to our economic system, and ultimately how we relate to the ecosystem if we’re going to make it. And none of those visions are coming out of traditional centers of academia, traditional political parties, traditional forms of the media. These things are all going to have to be created at the margins of society and then implemented at the margins of society. And then, hopefully, there’ll be a kind of contagion where they will spread outwards. And frankly, if they don’t–I mean, I just speak as somebody who reads climate change reports–we’re finished and we are completely finished.
JAY: Well, you kind of just talked about the agenda of The Real News.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Chris.
HEDGES: Thank You.
JAY: And thank you for joining us. We’re in our year-end fundraising campaign. And in 2014, this is essentially what we just discussed is what we’re planning to do. If you’d like to see that happen, we need your support. None of this happens without you. So you’ve got to click the Donate button, which is somewhere around here. If you’re watching this video not on the Real News website, down here below the player you’ll see a link that takes you back to our site, and you can click the Donate button. Or you can pick up the phone. There’s all kinds of ways.
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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.