Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: Chris Hedges, American Fascists

American Fascists, the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges, Free Press, NY, 2006

       In this brave - even noble text - Chris Hedges delivers a cautionary tale of a tragically, perhaps terminally, flawed society brought low by the very forces which gave it dominion over all other nations.

       The Ancient Greeks recognized in hubris (excess) and hybris  (arrogance) tragic vices which, like alcohol, could take possession of a person's or a nation's soul and draw them toward self-inflicted destruction. Such a collective dementia, Hedges suggests, has seized - or is seizing - the American national consciousness with unknowable - but surely ominous - consequences.

       American Fascists is the best book I've yet read on the Authoritarian Personality. It is not easy reading except, perhaps, for inveterate, knee-jerk America bashers. Most readers, though, will find a cautionary tale, a warning: there, but for the grace of God (or simply a relative delay in our cultural trajectory relative to the US.), go we.. In reality, the disease Hedges describes is endemic and the "American case" is merely more acute, more advanced, more overtly virulent (everything there is oversized!)

       As Le Monde columnist Hervé Kempf has already shown - How the Rich are Destroying the Earth, Chelsea Green Publishing - our society of "emulative" hyperconsumption is unsustainable and thus, in the long run, a failure: nature operates on the long run, what counts is what survives - Darwin.

http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/how_the_rich_are_destroying_the_earth:paperback/foreword

      We are taught, as children, that those who possess much are "winners" and to emulate them, we, too, must consume big (even if that means consuming beyond our means and working ourselves sick to earn the prestige of being a big spender). Such a patently sick, constricted, vision of human life over-stimulates the economic sector (which, of course, is the "goal"). In reality, our economic system - advanced or Late Capitalism - requires such over-stimulation: investors demand future returns on present investment (profits). No profit to be made - no investment! But future return on present investment implies, logically speaking, infinite growth which is impossible in a "closed" - finite - physical world. Consider physical constraints: depletion of finite resources, the negative impacts of pollution in closed cycle systems, the obvious limits of physical space - territory - for human population growth.. In short, the "System" is screwed: it is now collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions. The hypocrisy - if not cynicism - and self-deception of those who profit from the "System" is boundless; that's one thing at least that's infinite! I recall my prof of Economics 101 pointing out that the economic "axion" of "infinite intersubstitutibility" of resources was, in all likelihood, BS. Yet he continued to teach it year after year.. In this case, it seems the blind do not WANT to see.

      To his credit, Chris hedges stresses the psychological effects of such a perverse culture. U.S. blue collar - and many white collar - jobs were exported to the 3rd world during the "globalization" mania. Why? To maximize profits for international megacorporations, their high living CEOs and shareholders by exploiting cheaper overseas labor. U.S. workers got screwed of course which made them even more paranoid then they were after 45 years of Cold War. And 9-11 didn't help..

       Into this menacing climate of economic, ecological, geopolitical, existential and cultural insecurity stepped the "dominionists" and "apocalyptics" of the radical "christian" Right. Dominionists believe that America has a duty to God to impose a "christian" vision on the rest of the world and to turn the U.S. into an Iranian style "theocracy".

http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/151046/the_creepy_christian_dogma_pushed_by_religious_schools_that_are_supported_by_your_tax_dollars/?page=entire

       Dominionists also reject established science and support the absurd, suicidal agenda of the fossil fuel industry: God, they claim, gave man "dominion over" nature (Book of Genesis) and this goes as far as suspending the laws of physics, materializing resources out of thin air!

       "God is not capricious. He's given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything."

http://www.minnpost.com/donshelby/2011/02/15/25784/picking_science_that_fits_politics_rep_mike_beard_on_climate_change

       So you've god God's permission: consume! consume! consume!

       Alternatively, although potentially equally dangerous from a geopolitical perspective, are the apocalyptics who, at least, grasp that the world is, in fact, going to hell in a handbasket. They, however, in a massively intellectually and morally dishonest move, attempt to shift the responsibility for the state of the world onto God's broad shoulders. Ecological crises are "re-framed", re-contextualized and re-interpreted to support the fossil fuel industry agenda: they are not the results of human greed and stupidity but manifestations of "God's plan". Ecological crises are nothing less than "signs" of the "End Days", of the Second Coming of Christ, when the world we will be destoyed in a universal conflagration. Only a "remnant" of humanity will be deemed "worthy" to ascend into a paradise of eternal bliss. The rest of us will be condemned to eternal torture, even well-meaning people who have the misfortune of worshipping the wrong - or no - God! (This is a "God of love"??) In the apocalyptics' delusional system, greens "oppose God's will" by trying to save the world from human greed and stupidity. They are, in fact, knowingly or not, "Satan's agents" in their opposition to God's will for humanity. This is heady stuff! Think of the witch hunts of the early modern era which killed, probably, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women. Think also fo the rise of fascism in Europe in the first half of the 20th century..

       Hedges, chippily enough, concludes his book on a positive note (why I'm not sure!) He believes in the common sense and the basic decency of the American people. He also believes that by returning to traditional American values, "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity", America can regenerate itself, heal and progress. He understands, rightly, that this will require rebuilding a sense of community in grassrooots America, of rediscovering a common sense of purpose and shared values - not in unending passive consumption. Community can only be rediscovered / rebuilt by working together with neighbors on common projects. Remember! For hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years our neurological circuits, our genetics, were programmed / molded by a hunter-gatherer existence. We still ARE hunter gatherers! Our nature, despite neoconservative propaganda, is to live and cooperate together in communities on communal projects. This is how our species evolved, survived and prospered for millennia..

       We must relearn, somehow, to rediscover - or create - the sense of meaning of life in our social existences. The ancient Greeks, who already understood that hubris and hybris are tragic vices, also understood that wo/man is wo/man ONLY within a webwork of mutual / reciprocal familial / social / economic / cultural / spiritual relations. The economic is but one dimension of human life and, perhaps in a healthy socieity, one of the lesser ones.

       For some insight into the incursion of neocon style propaganda and tactics onto the field of Canadian federal politics:

http://transparencycanada.blogspot.com/2011/04/transparency-abortion-issue-tip-of-ice.html

       If you consider youself a green activist or a social activist and you only have time for one book on the authoritarian personality, its origins, its nature, its objectives and strategies, let this be the book!

       I can conclude no better than citing Chris Hedges himself, American Fascists, page 33:

"If this mass movement [ the "Christian" Right] succeeds, it will do so not simply because of its ruthlessness and mendacity, its callous manipulation of the people it lures into its arms, many of whom live on the margins of American society. It will succeed because of the moral failure of those, including Christians, who understand the intent of the radicals yet fail to confront them, those who treat this mass movement as if it were another legitimate player in an open society. The leading American institutions tasked with defending tolerance and liberty  - from the mainstream churches to the great research universities, to the Democratic Party and the media - have failed the country. This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible should no longer be tolerated. They must be held accountable by institutions that maintain the free exhange of ideas and liberty. The radical Christian Right must be forced to include other points of view to counter their hate talk in their own broadcasts, watched by tens of millions of Americans. The must be denied the right to demonize whole segments of American society, saying they are manipulated by Satan and worth only of conversion or eradication. They must be made to treat their opponents with respect and acknlowledge the right of a fair hearing even as they exercise their own freedom to disagree with their opponents. Passivity in the face of the rise of the Christian Right threatens the democratic state."

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