Fear and Loathing — Mostly Loathing — with Chris Hedges at the Harvard Club

By John Siman

I met Chris Hedges to discuss his new book America: The Farewell Tour (he treated me to an espresso at the Harvard Club) just a single day after I had read it, and I was almost startled by the difference between the rapid, urgent oratorical precision of his conversation and his contemplative, often digressive, often melancholic prose style. But fine: various methods for presenting a single message, and his message is that we the people must resist the rise of corporate oligarchy and the impoverishment of half the country. So near the beginning of our conversation I asked him to describe the current state of the Democratic Party, the putative party of the people:

JS: The Democrats are now the party of —

CLH: The less overtly racist billionaire class.

JS: But now we have RussiaRussiaRussia —

CLH: Well, the problem is that it fails to focus on social inequality — grotesque social inequality — and economic stagnation for the working class, which, I think, led two insurgencies within the major parties: with Bernie Sanders — and the Republican Party to Trump. I mean that is the root cause. Did Russia interfere in the elections? It wouldn’t surprise me. We interfere in elections all the time. I was a foreign correspondent; I saw it. But I think pushing the whole idea that Trump was elected because of Russia ignores the much more important issue, and that is the rise of corporate oligarchy and the impoverishment of now over half the country.

JS: And that’s not discussed by —

CLH: No, and that’s because the Democrats were, especially under Clinton, the architects of it. It was Clinton who pushed through NAFTA, it’s Clinton who destroyed the welfare system, it’s Clinton who passed the 1994 omnibus crime bill that saw the prison population explode from 700,000 to over two million. It’s Clinton who passed these draconian drug laws — three strikes you’re out — and increased the lengths of sentences, militarized the police, deregulated the FCC so a handful of corporations control what most Americans listen to and watch — this is all Clinton.

JS: And as we look back on Clinton, how do we want to judge him? Was he just purely —

CLH: Well, Clinton understood: if he did corporate bidding, he’d get corporate money — so that by the end of his presidency the Democratic Party had rough parity in terms of corporate money with the Republican Party…. That was all Clinton — including the rolling back of the opening up of the Democratic Party establishment that had been possible because of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition — dog-whistling, you know, super-predators — appealing to a racist white base — this was all Clinton. I think Clinton did tremendous amounts of damage because he continued to speak in the feel-your-pain language of liberalism and yet betrayed working men and women.

JS: Yes —

CLH: And so this is why when Hillary Clinton goes to places like Anderson, Indiana, where the old GM plants were — you know most of those people voted for Sanders, the old UAW workers. They weren’t going to vote for Clinton.

JS: No —

CLH: Because of Clinton those plants closed down in 2006, went to Monterrey, Mexico where they’re paying those workers three dollars an hour without benefits. And their wives, their families, their community, their city was devastated. And that’s the reality we have to grapple with. And it’s one that, because the Democratic Party is so complicit in creating this monstrous system of unfettered corporate capitalism, they don’t want to confront. I mean, for instance, if there were to be serious electoral reform — i.e. they wouldn’t take corporate money the way Sanders didn’t — then the major figures in the Democratic Party wouldn’t exist. Pelosi wouldn’t exist. Schumer wouldn’t exist. These are creatures of — and especially in the case of Pelosi and Schumer — they are the funnels for corporate money.

JS: Yes —

CLH: hey select the candidates. I think the ship of state may go down, but they have no intention of giving up their first-class cabins. And that’s why the Democratic Party is not reformable from the inside. It’s a creature of the corporate state. It doesn’t even function as a political party traditionally functions. The base is irrelevant. You have certain moments like the Democratic National Convention — delegates trotted out as props — but they don’t have any say in party control, and they don’t have any say in legislation. It’s all done by lobbyists….

JS: So do they have any reason to exist as a party anymore? Can they be salvaged?

CLH: No. I don’t think they can be salvaged.

JS: Is there going to be a third party?

CLH: Well, I worked for Nader. There are so many impediments to third parties. I mean, both parties work conspire to lock out third parties, after — especially after Ross Perot — so, I think he got 19% of the vote?

JS: He got a lot.

CLH: And so they’re not going to let third party candidates in on the debates — who would want to debate Ralph Nader? They create all sorts of obstacles in terms of getting on the ballot in states. It’s extremely difficult. I mean in Ralph’s case they would challenge his voting lists, not because there was anything wrong with the voter lists but because they just wanted to run up his legal fees…. And then the press kind of functions as a hand maiden of the two established parties by ridiculing….

JS: It’s hostile. It’s purely hostile. But what’s the next step forward? It just seems so incredibly bleak!

CLH: Well, I think the next step forward is to organize movements that aren’t built around particular election cycles — movements that begin to significantly challenge the corporate assault on the country. Standing Rock would be a good example of something like that. To begin to — especially on the local level — create organizations that help us sever ourselves from the tentacles of corporate power. You see that with the local farm movement, stuff like that. Local currencies. The more that we can build alternative structures that help us exist outside of the dominant corporate structure, the better we are. And I think that we have to become much more militant, especially in terms of the fossil fuel industry — I mean we’ve seen some actions blocking train tracks, with bitumen tar sands, you know, in the northwest — I think that’s the kind of stuff we need to do. I don’t think we’re going to elect anyone to save us.

* * *

This is all bad news — tragic news, really — but it is somehow invigorating to hear Hedges across the table articulating the prognosis so energetically, with such clarity and such forthrightness. The book provides a different sort of expository experience.

Read in one long cinematic sitting, America: The Farewell Tour, overflowing with Hedges’s indignation,unfolds and unwinds, from one concentric circle onto another, like a Sadean queering of Dante’s Hell: One is shown a series of grotesque portraits of underclass Americans who suffer absolute and unrelenting debasement, not because they are sinners in the hands of an angry God but because their remaining flesh and cash are, in a variety of end-game capitalist enterprises, marginally useful to the oligarchs whose ultimate job is “extracting money from the carcass of the state” (p. 9). So then, profiles in humiliation. This is a dark book.

In this Hell’s first circle, as it were, Hedges describes the nightmare that is post-industrial and therefore depopulated Scranton, Pennsylvania, once the ”Electric City,” once filled with middle-class because unionized coal miners. Today Scranton — and the many similarly desolate ex-cities of Flyover America — represent for Hedges the fulfillment of Marxist prophecy that the overclass — the kleptocrats, the ruling elites, the predatory Mugwumps, our corporate masters, the billionaires, the capitalists, the one percent — that the overclass finally — all profitable resources having been exhausted — cannibalizes the oppressed underclass. “This moment in history,” Hedges writes, “marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races. It is inevitable that for the final show we vomited up a figure like Trump. Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting, and polluting the earth in the name of human progress…. They do not understand that the dark ethic of ceaseless capitalist and imperialist expansion is dooming the exploiters as well as the exploited” (p. 43). And it gets bleaker.

In the second circle, he shows the descent of one Christine Pagano (an almost allegorical name!) into addiction and then into prostitution and then onto the brutal streets — from her first time snorting heroin as a teenager to her fighting off a rapist in a weed-choked vacant lot in Camden, New Jersey. Hedges then moves on to Edison, New Jersey and attends the funeral of Shannon Miller, dead of a heroin overdose at age twenty-three.

In the third, the ex-city is Rockford, Illinois, and the victim sixty-one-year-old Dale Gustafson, a self-employed house painter: Gustafson chose to shoot himself to escape the humiliations of divorce and debt. “A white male in Rockford,” Hedges writes, “committed suicide, on average, every ten days in 2016.”

In the fourth, Hedges interviews thirty-two-year-old Robin Rivera, who, beginning in 2007, performed in dozens of porn films produced by Kink.com in San Francisco. Rivera’s story of degradation, Hedges argues, shows how the consumption of pornography entails the commodification of pure sadism: “The violence and commodification of human beings for profit are the quintessential expressions of global capitalism. Our corporate masters are pimps. We are all being debased and degraded, rendered impoverished and powerless, to service the cruel and lascivious demands of the corporate elite” (p. 139).

Hedges thence proceeds to the circle of hate, in which, after describing various Christian fascists (the book Hedges published in 2007 was entitled American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America), he concludes with a charitably insightful analysis of those extreme Americans whom Hillary Clinton would include among her deplorables: “The white racists and neo-Nazis may be unsavory, but they too are victims. They too lost jobs and often live in poverty in deindustrialized wastelands…. They too often suffer from police abuse and mass incarceration” (p. 198).

It comes as something as a relief at this point for the empathic reader to discover that while Dante’s Hell had nine circles, Hedges’s mercifully has only seven, the final two being gambling addiction, exemplified by the long heartbreaking downward spiral of a Syrian immigrant called Ahmed, whose humiliation at the hands of capitalism occurs within the moldy gilded rat-infested labyrinth which was Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, — and the enslavement of convicts, which Hedges can describe firsthand, since he has, for the past several years, taught convicts in New Jersey state prisons and was, in 2014, ordained by the Presbyterian Church to serve as a Pastor of Social Witness and Prison Ministry.

CLH: The logic of it is to strip — I mean corporate power seeks to strip — the citizenry of all protection, and we see it within the prisons because it makes it possible to carry out unchecked, predatory behavior.

And so, O my God, is this ever a depressing book! But so would it also be depressing to be told by one’s doctor that one has cancer, that one’s whole family has cancer, that one’s whole nation has cancer. The question, if Hedges’s diagnoses are even vaguely accurate — and I think they are — is one of how to proceed.

Hedges calls for a transnational revolution out of the Marxist theories of Rosa Luxemburg: “The discontent in Ferguson, Athens, Cairo, Madrid, and Ayotzinapa,” Hedges writes, “is a single discontent. And the emerging revolt, although it will come in many colors, speak many languages, and have different beliefs and values, will be united around a common enemy. Bonds of solidarity and consciousness will unite the wretched of the earth against our global corporate masters. The leadership for this revolt,” Hedges continues, “will not come from institutions of privilege or elite universities, but from the squalid internal colonies that house the poor and usually people of color. The next great revolutionary in America won’t look like Thomas Jefferson. He or she will look like the rapper Lupe Fiasco” (pp. 264-5).

Could a Muslim rapper and community activist from Chicago lead the revolt of the masses of Rosa Luxemburg’s dreams? I think that it would be more useful to consult Toqueville on this point:[I]l n’y a au monde que le patriotisme, ou la religion, qui puisse faire marcher pendant longtemps vers un même but l’universalité des citoyens. “There is in the world only patriotism or religion to make the mass of citizens advance steadily towards a common goal”(De la Démocratie en Amérique1. 1. 5).

Hedges is more persuasive when he observes that “[f]ear is the only language the power elite understands” (p. 300). He reminds us that it was not Obama, not Clinton, not Jimmy Carter, but Richard Nixon who was our last “liberal” president. “Nixon was not a liberal personally,” Hedges writes. “He was devoid of empathy and lacked a conscience. But he was frightened of movements.”

And Hedges extends the point by arguing that Franklin Roosevelt was able to rescue capitalism — “It was this administration which saved the system of private profit and free enterprise after it had been dragged to the brink of ruin,” Roosevelt boasted in 1933 — only because socialism was at that point in American history sufficiently powerful as a movement to force concessions from the plutocracy. “In other words,” Hedges writes, “Roosevelt went to his fellow oligarchs and said, Hand over some of your money or you will lose all your money in a revolution. And they complied…. The capitalists did not do this because the suffering of the masses moved them to pity. They did it because they were scared” (p. 301).

 And a more universal loathing of today’s capitalists might very well make themscared as well: wholesome loathing could beget a wholesome fear. So here was my final question for Chris Hedges:

JS: [final question] Can you say one happy thing?

CLH: You know, I spent so long in the war, I don’t like — I don’t share American society’s mania for hope. I try — in a war zone you make a very cold calculation of a very dangerous environment and seek to navigate that environment the best you can.

JS: So we’re in a war zone?

CLH: Well, we’re in a very dangerous environment. And I think that part of the problem is that we haven’t faced how bleak and destructive this environment is. And I think that the first task — and perhaps the emotionally most difficult task — is to face what’s before us, and yet find the fortitude and the courage and strength to resist anyway. But I think that part of the problem is that because of this mania for hope, even among the well-meaning social activists on the Left, they have not yet grappled with the fact that our situation may be terminal…. We are flirting now with collective self-annihilation.

JS: Yes —

CLH: And I think there is an emotional tendency to want, every time that issue is confronted, to find hope. And I think often that hope is unrealistic — the idea that we can adapt — or that technology will save us — is as foolish as denying climate science itself.

JS: Yes —

CLH: Or to pretend that we live in a functioning democracy — there are no institutions left in America that are authentically democratic.

JS:That’s true. That’s really sad —

CLH: And I think that part of the problem is that even among those people whose hearts are in the right place, it’s just too psychologically debilitating to face it. But face it we must. And I think it’s only when we face it that we can begin to react in a rational and a positive way. But by pretending it’s not as bad as it is, or that there’s some way out, it only contributes to the passivity we have to break.

JS: That was very beautifully stated. Thank you.

* * *

DA: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.

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  1. lupemax

    thank you for this. It made my day. I also watch Hedges present his book at politics and prose – similar energy and insight. Inspiring.

  2. Gabriel

    Fascinating read, but unlikely to fall on establishment Dems’ deaf ears as they continue to push (losing) ID, PC politics, eschewing a vital new 21st century Liberalism…

      1. o4amuse

        Years ago I worked with an activist group called Ecology Action establishing the concept and practice of curbside recycling in the United States (Lotta good it did us, eh?). We used a quote from Camus in some of our publicity and exhibit materials. I still keep a small framed copy hanging inside my front door, to remind me as I go into the world. It seems germane here:

        “I know that the great tragedies of history often fascinate men with approaching horror. Paralyzed, they cannot make up their minds to do anything but wait. So they wait, and one day the Gorgon devours them, But I should like to convince you that the spell can be broken, that there is only an illusion of impotence, that strength of heart, intelligence and courage are enough to stop fate and sometimes reverse it.”

    1. Newton Finn

      You nailed it. I read everything Hedges writes and find his description of the neoliberal capitalist disease to be thorough, accurate, and passionate. But apart from calling for some sort of spontaneous and amorphous global uprising, he has absolutely no prescription for treating or curing the disease. His message boils down to the following: “We’re finished. It’s far worse than you think, and there’s no way out. So abandon hope and hit the streets.”

      But without some sort of hope, however faint or desperate, why, as you indicate, make the effort to hit the streets or do anything at all? Only to make a statement, perhaps, that you are not one of the monsters and despise them? That message won’t inspire much of a demonstration or uprising, certainly none that will last beyond the first few rounds of suppression. Just contrast the tone and content of Hedge’s message with MLK’s.

      Rev. Hedges preaches a powerful gospel of crucifixion, but without resurrection. That’s why his gospel lacks the world-changing power of the real animal, which is anti-capitalist at its core yet bursting with fervent hope–indeed, profound faith–that, beyond all appearances, goodness will ultimately prevail. It was this mountaintop vision that strengthened and sustained MLK and the tenacious Civil Rights Movement. Hedges has yet to grasp such a vision, or if he has, to share it.

      1. Summer

        But what really ultimately can happen with a movement filled with people who mostly prioritize an “afterlife” not of this world?

        1. Newton Finn

          A lot can happen, because Jesus taught that one’s position in the afterlife was solely dependent upon whether one lived a life of compassion and service to humanity in THIS world. Whenever that core teaching of Jesus is emphasized, Christianity becomes an immense force for good. Whenever it is ignored or distorted (into merely having to believe certain doctrines), then Christianity becomes an immense force for apathy or, even worse, itself becomes the flag under which oppressive empire expands.


          1. Anon

            Religion isn’t the opiate of the people, as Marx suggested. It is a device for believing that your “way” is the right way. So, do we believe in the Gospels or the Koran.

            True religion is one’s relationship to the unknown, not the lives of Jesus or the prophet muhammad.

            People use the Church (not religion) as a source of comfort, protection, motivation, and networking. (The mundane.)

          2. Summer

            You actually get to my point about what happens when the generic term “hope” is infused with specifics. “Hope” sounds grand and broad.
            Then it more often than not narrows to hope for “personal salvation” – in all the forms that may take.
            And the natives of this country got a good lesson in the core teachings of Jesus according to some.

          3. knowbuddhau

            As I said earlier this week, a lot hinges on whether Jesus is said to have said, “I am *a son of (a) god” vs. “I am *The Son of (The) God.” The former is akin to, “I’m a sunuvabitch.” To say that I’m The Son of The Bitch would be altogether different.

            The Gospel, the good news, is that we’re all equally divine. I’m a son of God, you’re a son, she’s a daughter, we’re all related, ain’t it great?

            The former is the view I favor. It puts it all on us. It means, we’re all It. (I don’t rightly know what It is, so I’m called agnostic. But being agnostic shouldn’t be confused with being stupid. Knowing what you don’t know is part of knowing, you know. We do know some things with tremendous clarity.)

            The latter is, of course, the orthodox interpretation. In that way, it’s all political. You’re access to the divine is all about how you stand in relation to the proper teaching of the proper dogma by the proper priesthood of the proper school of the proper church. Or you go to hell and suffer unspeakable torments for all time. No pressure.

            Your subjective experience of that impossible effort, is of no consequence. Just mouth the right words in the right way to the right ears, and you’re in. Once upon a time the Catholic church had the audacity to monetize salvation in the form of the sale of “dispensations.”

            You can see how such has produced its secular expression. It’s all like CalPERS. This is exactly the kind of thing, people living inauthentic lives, that was rife in pre-Reformation Europe. Ours is a very hyperpotentiated situation, to say the least.

            I should add, standing in the proper relationship to Israel is mandatory, in that view. Which, in my view, explains a whole lot more about its lobby’s influence than mere money ever will.

            The former view, of divinity immanent absolutely everywhere, is also consonant with my understanding of quantum physics.

            The thing about a functioning mythology, it’s got to speak in terms of the world in which we’re actually living. The problem with all the religions based on the bible is that it’s cosmos was out of date when it was cobbled together by committee. The 3-layered universe predates it, of course. And has been absolutely demolished by science. The story is dead, Jim. It doesn’t motivate like it used to.

            What we need are poets, seers, who will render to us an *accessible experience of the transcendent in terms of the world in which we’re living. (h/t Joseph Campbell, with one *word from yours truly.)

            So that’s what’s missing from Hedges, for those who find his discourse to be “crucifiction without resurrection.” He kills our present selves without offering a new one (ahem, see above).

            Besides, if you look about the whathavuverse, you’ll see that death & resurrection are all that’s going on, and it’s all one process. So don’t fear the Reaper. Death is not a final end.

            “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends….”
            – Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

            1. Amfortas the Hippie

              Hedges is attacking orthodoxy(right belief), without tackling orthopraxis(right action…”works” in Xtian terms).
              In my lifelong exploration of religion(ht Joseph Campbell, for me, too) this dichotomy comes up again and again…most familiarly to us perhaps in the Constantinian Shift, wherein the Church Fathers excised those Gospels that undermined their corporate rule, and put the emphasis on Doxy, rather than Praxis.
              Isn’t that the exact thing that’s happened to the Democratic Party under Clintonism?
              Mouth the right words, and ignore the suffering all around you?
              “My Belief is Pure…so I am saved, and needn’t worry about the egregious inequality and rapine”
              when I talk this way in democratic spaces, i’m usually excoriated as a christian(I am not) and therefore irrelevant….then chastised for using such religious language.
              anything to avoid the issue…a lack of what might be called Evangelism for American Liberalism…like the last time I was invited to a local demparty meeting: when the leader finally got around to reluctantly asking me what I thought…I pointed out the large picture window of the hilltop manse at the barrio down below,”I think we oughta get off this hill, go down there, cook cabrito and register folks to vote”…with extemporaneous exegesis regarding bringing the Good News of the demparty to the poor and huddled masses.(it was after this outburst that I lost faith entirely with the demparty(O’s second inauguration), realising their “spiritual poverty”, and lack of relevant “Good News”)
              The Left, such as it is, needs a St Francis.

      2. In the Land of Farmers

        True revolutions are totally spontaneous. Some people with insight can see them coming and prepare, or even take advantage of them, but no one can start one voluntarily.

        So yes, abandon all hope and instead, just act. Act out of your natural self. You might be wrong but so what? If something moves you to the street let it move you and stop thinking about it.Hope is not an action, it is a feeling. “I hope I get that new job!” What does that get you but a momentary high when you get it or crushing depression if you don’t. Hope is the desire for your circumstances to change. Hope is dangerous because it can be a holographic substitute for action. Hope is just desire wrapped up in a better sounding word.

        So what do you do without hope? Without hope, hopelessness cannot arise. So abandon hope are you are free, free to act and free of suffering.

        I see the threats, maybe before most other people, like a sentry on a tower, and there are countless like me. Seeing them compels me to act. For years people told me I worried too much, now I have much more company.

        1. Patricia

          Yes, one doesnt need hope. It gets in the way, after awhile, as Hedges said regarding USian optimism.

          One does need love, however. Love for bees, butterflies, and neighbor. Love for the moment, the hour—maybe as far as today and tomorrow. One acts out of that, in honor of the beauty.

          This is something also learned by people with complex PTSD, in order to get through, which Hedges has from years as war correspondent.

          1. james Miller

            Thank you, Patricia. After years of reading Chris Hedges’ passionate writings and emerging with more insight but more despair, you remind me of what’s at the heart of resistance, or should be.
            Yesterday, for the first time in a couple years, I saw a real honey bee land on my glass rim and I wept.

        2. Michael Fiorillo

          Revolutions also happen when the ruling class is divided, as is most certainly the case now; Trump’s election is certified proof of it, however vile he may personally be.

        3. JTMcPhee

          I guess the discontents and displacements and disaffections that that bring about “color revolutions” and stuff like the “removal” of people like Allende and Mossadegh and so many others are not really “revolutions,” then, in this definition. Not spontaneous, though somehow they managed to be “catalyzed” by people who specialize in that kind of catalysis.

          That being the case, who among the mopes is studying how those same categories of preparation, incitement and “support” could be turned to catalyze the kinds of change that Hedges seems to hope-against-hope might be getting baked into the political-econmic pie even as we blog?

          Seems to me that yes, the substrate and energy (so very negative, in many ways, but with some sunlight in the mix) that could lead to a Grand Defenestration of the Pigs on the Porch is a-building. and to emphasize that even Forbes Magazine and Bloomberg and other panderers to the looters have frequently reminded the Filthy Rich that they have a very reasonable fear of “social unrest.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/hey-superrich-of-america-what-does-it-take-to-disturb-you-about-income-disparity/2014/12/09/24e05442-7fef-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b8f3d45762ae And of course they know darn well what strategy they have been pursuing: “Of course there’s class warfare, and my class, the rich class, is waging it and we are winning.” Says Warren “almost the richest man in the world” Buffett.

          It seems likely that there will be one or more triggering events coming up, though it is a race to see whether the instruments and institutions of suppression and repression, fostered by the 9.9%ers, scavenging the carcasses rendered by the Filthy Rich, or the buildup of steam in the Mope Pressure Cooker with the safety valve screwed down, eventuates first.

          “I hear footsteps coming up behind me…”

      3. John Wright

        I don’t see any need for Hedges to provide “hope” or a vision.

        These can tasks for others.

        The requirement that an observer of a problem must also have a solution to that problem is a method to disparage thoughtful people who state problems in need of solutions.

        If Hedges throws out his observations and thousands of people read and respond to them THEY might be the eventual sources of hope.

        Elementary school may have conditioned us to believe every (school) problem assigned has a solution.

        Hedges may be simply saying that the problems he notes are problems without any apparent (to him) solution.

        Hope and solutions are for others to provide (if possible)

        1. Plenue

          That would be fine if saying things are terrible actually was all Hedges did. But he comes out and attempts to undermine anyone who actually does want to make things better, see especially Sanders.

      4. John Mohler

        But Hedges does not preach fatalism. He has seen revolutions firsthand and talks about how they can spring up so suddenly. One of the inspirational things he describes is how East Germany went from an ironclad Stasi state to one with thousands in the streets in a matter of weeks. Like the Arab Spring, these spontaneous movements are touched off unexpectedly – there’s no roadmap or timetable to them. The one thing he proscribes in the face of it all is inactivity.

        Hedges: “I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.”

      5. John Siman

        Crucifixion without resurrection — perfectly stated! While I was interviewing Hedges, I specifically brought up — and quoted from — MLK’s mountaintop speech: “I’ve been to the mountaintop…. I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.“ Hedges replied that MLK was too intectually sophisticated to believe any of that happy talk.

      6. knowbuddhau

        You may have overlooked this:

        CLH: Well, I think the next step forward is to organize movements that aren’t built around particular election cycles — movements that begin to significantly challenge the corporate assault on the country. Standing Rock would be a good example of something like that. To begin to — especially on the local level — create organizations that help us sever ourselves from the tentacles of corporate power. You see that with the local farm movement, stuff like that. Local currencies. The more that we can build alternative structures that help us exist outside of the dominant corporate structure, the better we are. And I think that we have to become much more militant, especially in terms of the fossil fuel industry — I mean we’ve seen some actions blocking train tracks, with bitumen tar sands, you know, in the northwest — I think that’s the kind of stuff we need to do. I don’t think we’re going to elect anyone to save us.

      7. Tomonthebeach

        His gospel lacks world-changing power. I concur. Hedges’ revision of FDR’s history as: “Hand over some of your money or you will lose all your money in a revolution.” Ignores the endless resistance of the wealthy political elites who fought (and too often won) against every New Deal program FDR proposed.

        The one thing in favor of such a Hedges revolution happening today is the proliferation of firearms among the lower classes. Should civil war erupt, will the un-armed ultra rich be able to count on their minimum-wage security forces to protect them?

        My hunch is that the “revolution” we boomers talked about in the 70’s then 80’s never occurred because our corporate-inspired governments occasionally see expediency in loosening the economic noose now and then. Thus, I doubt Hedges’ prediction with occur either. Nevertheless, it is hard to disagree with Hedges that we have not seen things this bad in our lifetime. It just mystifies me that so many fellow boomers became sociopathic kleptocrats while we were off advancing liberal causes like fighting in and protesting stupid wars, and clamoring for civil rights. We naively assumed that our generation shared a common world view.

    2. Summer

      Why do we assume there is no such thing as competing “hopes”?

      It means nothing unless you know what someone is specifically hopeful for.

    3. ChristopherJ

      Thank you, John. Here is the link to the filmed address at bookstore, where he discusses his book and more –


      well worth getting a coffee. He does not mince his words and calls it like he sees it. On a trajectory to kill us all, he says, unless enough of us resist and demand change… It’s on that point that he says, at the very least, he wants people to say he resisted, even if we ultimately fail.

    4. In the Land of Farmers

      Hope is a mental construct of a possible future. True action is a reaction to the present moment. If you were ever in a moment of extreme danger you would know what I mean. Hope is a luxury we afford ourselves in better times.

      1. Summer

        “Hope is a mental construct of a possible future.”

        Indeed. And some constructs of the future are more inclusive than others.

        1. In the Land of Farmers

          I do not have to hope for inclusivness, I only have to be inclusive. If I hope that you would be inclusive, that would be excluding who you currently are, and therefore not inclusive.

          The end result of hope is totalitarianism.

      2. jrs

        I think it might be a lot of people suffer from depression. Because of their personality and childhood, sometimes contributed to by their personal circumstances (including economic circumstances as a large factor), and added to by the state of the world and their society (which is actually objectively terrible at present). So the question is less how to act without hope, but how to act with crippling depression. Still the answer might be: just act.

        Now I’m not sure the getting into the streets is actually a better answer than trying to change things politically (running for office would be the best way but not for everyone so at least supporting better candidates when we get them, attending city government meetings and I’m open to suggestions – but I’m just not sure acting purely outside the political system is a better alternative).

    5. Andrew

      I’m reading De Profundis, Oscar Wilde’s long letter from Victorian era imprisonment at hard labour for being gay, a prison sentence most didn’t expect him to survive. His life and career in ruin, impoverished, Wilde also realized he would never see his beloved children again. There he writes of true hopelessness, an experience of deep sorrow. And then, somehow, from such sorrow, he eventually imagines, well, a new kind of life. Perhaps the paradox is there is hope in hopelessness? (There certainly wasn’t any real hope in “hope and change”, now was there?) From hopelessness, deeply felt, comes sorrow. And then, from the sloughs of despond, a possibility for a new world is created.

    6. Jeremy Grimm

      One Teaching Company lecturer argued the Greeks believed Hope was in Pandora’s Box [Jar] because Hope held too long was a special curse on humankind. Hope can move and motivate actions or stay actions with a Hope things will somehow correct themselves. An empty Hope held too long wastes actions or stays actions and can doom those who nurture it.

      I believe Hedges is arguing we should not place Hope in changing the Democratic Party, or in things swinging back as if driven by a mysterious pendulum or wheel of fate. I believe he is arguing we should place our Hopes in a revolution. As well as he describes the corruption of our society he is vague about this revolution he hopes for.

      I believe Hope should be placed in a selected course of action and that course of action should be dropped for another as soon as it becomes clear that course of action will fail to achieve the desired outcome. I do not believe Hedges notion of revolution is a wise course of action, and doing nothing is not an option. In these twilight times it may be best to retreat, regroup, and make plans for the aftermath of the impending collapse. To me the most important thing is that we must do all we can to preserve the great store of knowledge and technology we built in the fat times. It will be the most important legacy we can offer to the future. I Hope in the short time left that I might serve to preserve some portion of this legacy.

    7. False Solace

      > Why keep trying if there is no hope?

      – Because there’s still some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for. (Even if you’re a powerless hobbit facing the lords of Mordor.)

      – Because F them, that’s why! If there’s a choice between anger-with-concrete-actions or sullen passivity, I prefer the former. Conditions change. It’s not always possible to see a solution from where we are. What may appear useless now may prove in hindsight to have been a necessary precondition for change.

      “One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.” – William of Orange

    8. Old Jake

      Hedges says that the “hope” that is being requested is not one that is useful. It is for salvation without effort. The hope he offers is akin to Churchill’s blood and sweat and toil and tears, and as MLK said, one that we should not expect to achieve here and in our lifetimes. The “salvation” he expects will not be one we in this privileged place would recognize. As a previous responder said, abandon that hope and hit the streets.

  3. tokyodamage

    Chris Hedges is one of those people who is always in character. Like Jello Biafra or the Pope.

    NC readers: you’re the producer of a 90’s-style reality show starring Hedges. who would you pick to be Hedges’ room-mate(s) for 6 weeks?

    1. Jack Parsons

      Glenn Greenwald is the only establishment-loving figure who could work at this intellectual level.

  4. ambrit

    “I am Spasticus?”
    The show is called, naturally, “Big Sibling.” (PC Points)
    Warren Buffet
    Stormy Daniels
    A Dollar Store cashier.
    The CFO of ELF/Total.
    Chris Tucker
    Alex Jones
    The Shop Steward for a U.S.P.S. facility.

    1. polecat

      ambrit .. thought I’d a few to that list of potential room-mates in hell :

      Red Planet elon
      Peter thiel-the-eel
      Chuckles ‘six-ways-to-Sunday’ schumer
      Lindsey ‘the flimsy’ graham cracker
      Pepe the phrog god
      Lizzy ‘the vial’ holmes
      Lil’ Beni netanyahu & the destroyers

      1. ambrit

        Serious question here.
        Is there a set methodology for checking the ‘overflow box’ for ‘mistaken’ comment deletions? If so, I’ll just STFU. However, I can imagine the spam filter list as being huuuge!
        So, I’ll imagine this as being a species of ‘adverse selection’ programming. The more I, um, point out my comments’ untimely demises, even if couched in pseudo-humorous terms, am I training the admins to view me as a PITA? (I will admit that PITA can be the default position in my case.)
        Should STFU be my default position in general, concerning the fate of comments?
        I like this venue and do not want to wear out my welcome.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Please read our Policies. We discuss how moderation works there, in particularly, that we have committed to clear the mod queue ever 24 hours. You have demonstrated that you expect us to clear comments far more often than we can or will. Nagging us about it will only lead to you accumulating more troll points

          We get annoyed because we keep being asked to explain again and again what we wrote in our Policies. And it is particularly frustrating to have extra demands made of us re comments during a break we gave to you during our comments holiday.

          The more time we have to deal with re-explaing, the less time we have for moderating comments in the mod queue and for researching/writing new posts.

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Ambrit: are you anywhere near the Trace? Was thinking it might be good to hold a meetup near you (yes, I am volunteering you for an Arizona Slim role) and I always enjoy a ride down the Trace.

      1. ambrit

        Which Trace? Natchez Trace or the Longleaf Trace? The latter is a bicycle track built on an old disused railroad right of way. It goes through Hattiesburg. The Natchez Trace parallels the Mississippi River, a good fifty miles or more away from Hattiesburg.

  5. DonCoyote

    Anyone read both America: The Farewell Tour and Thomas Frank’s latest, Rendevous With Oblivion, and want to compare and contrast? They seem to have similar themes but different styles.

    I’m listening to the latter as an audiobook right now, and will hopefully get to the former at some point.

    1. John Siman

      I interviewed Thomas Frank last Thursday for Naked Capitalism and am writing it up right now — it should be out soon. — John Siman

      1. ambrit

        Looking forward to it! Something couched in terms less ‘general’ and more ‘specific?’ Thank you.

  6. Wukchumni

    What would HST make of all the fear & loathing foreshadowing a collapse?

    Everybody knows it’s coming, but we’re still rather consumed with consumption (an odd word, in that it implies we all seek tuberculous-not consumer goods) and the trappings we grow bored of not long after acquisition.

    You wonder what the end game will look like, perhaps it’ll be akin to 8 lanes of traffic on the 405 for once all going 70 mph, when all of the sudden the lane dividers go missing and cars start bumping into one another causing chain reactions no matter how good a driver one is, as their former point of reference is no longer there.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      HST is like an old testament prophet who lost all his hair.
      The scene in F&L Las Vegas in the bar with the reptiles is an allegory for something I’ve seen/felt numerous times since I read it…in country clubs(when I was an EZGO repairman), in higher end restaurants and catering gigs, when I’ve mistakenly wandered in to various and unmarked enclaves of the rich and comfortable…my Vibe Antennae tingle uncomfortably, and it’s like I’m wearing They Live sunglasses.
      That Ugliness has been there all along…but there’s been enough static in the vibe field(due to the Mindf&^k) for a great many of the lower orders to safely ignore it.
      The lower orders still want, fervently, to ignore it…but it’s become harder and harder to do.
      The Cynic in me expects an attempt at a unifying war in order to prolong the Party…I mean…that’s what Russiax3 is all about…but it hasn’t taken. Some other Enemy will have to be located and exploited and plastered all over the media.
      The Men in Caves version took for a while…which surprised me…
      But Russia is no longer Commieland…instead, the Machine turned it into the perfect expression of their version of Capitalism(Putin’s crime was domesticating the rapine).
      Luntz is somewhere in a bland motel6 conference room trying to get the Focus Group to Fear and Loathe Scandinavia…but the cat no longer fits into that bag.
      I wish HST had stuck around for the Trump Era.

      1. Wukchumni

        HST made light of the folly of gambling in 1971, and @ the time, opportunities to wager were very limited, and the stock market was staid and on the slow side (my father told me that in the Go-Go Years in the late 60’s, on account of every trade having to be backed up with a physical stock certificate, sometimes it’d take a few days to clear a trade) and not the gambling emporium it was to become, as Americans increasingly realized their only chance to get ahead was a game of risk, a roll of the dice, or more likely riding a used home built in 1964, as their vehicle to get there.

        For what it’s worth, gambling was quite rampant in the run-up to the French Revolution, as well.

  7. Louis Fyne

    —-Did Russia interfere in the elections? It wouldn’t surprise me. —-

    even with someone who’s trying to move away from RussiaRussiaRussia, doesn’t attack the party line.

    yes, $50,000 of Facebook ads did what Clinton’s $1 billion couldn’t.

    Putin should retire and become a political campaign manager.

    1. anonymous

      Toxic credulity conditions amongst the populace should be attacked at the root. By that, I mean go after a media industry that has been aiding and abetting the excesses described by Hedges. When there are six media companies that control so much of the dialog, that is a bad condition for consumers. Combine that oligolopistic big media position with the monopsonists (see other article) with which they interlink and support (not infrequently at the Harvard Club and similar walled gardens) and you have the makings for another circle of Hell.

      There are those of us who are bloody damn tired of being force-fed nonsense, and are grateful for the efforts of NC at helping keep hope alive. Therefore, I will have some contribution to the NC cause in the mail soon.

      1. polecat

        “that is a bad case for .. ‘Citizens’ …

        It may seem a quibble, but the distinction is large, in that the word ‘consumer’ is, or has been, co-opted by the political/financial elite, as neoliberal buzz-word, to help in the process of dumbing-down the plebes !

        Your statement otherwise stands correct.

        1. Carey

          Agreed, the word “consumers” is part of the problem, and maybe a big part.
          I remember first hearing it as a kid, and thinking even then that we were
          being manipulated. I use “citizens” and “citizenry”.

          1. anon

            Yep, the Free Markets™ have done away with the words: human; person; resident; citizen; even the word customer, which at least presumes that the seller needs to meet certain standards — leaving only the debasing, small cased word, consumer™ — which implies that the average person does nothing but blindly, greedily, and selfishly consume, while not offering anything to society; which descriptor then justifies the Free Markets™ in debasing the average human, while predatorily profiting off of them at the same time.

            1. Carey

              Yes, debasing is precisely what the renaming of citizens to “consumers” does. Thank you.

              afterthought: we may have a Rectification of Names coming up…

              1. anon

                You’re welcome.

                And, SIGH, it’s unshockingly infested Academia. From paragraph nine of today’s Witch Hunts … post:

                Our data reveal that the witch craze took off only after the Protestant Reformation in 1517, following the new faith’s rapid spread. The craze reached its zenith between c.1555 and c.1650, years coextensive with peak competition for Christian consumers, evidenced by the Catholic Counter-Reformation, during which Catholic officials aggressively pushed back against Protestant successes in converting Christians throughout much of Europe. Then, around 1650, the witch craze began its precipitous decline, prosecutions for witchcraft virtually vanishing by 1700.

                That seemed very glaring and out of place to me. The word used, should have been adherents, or something of that nature.

  8. Martin Finnucane

    At just what point does one come to the realization that one is living in a dystopian hellscape? When did post-Roman western European intellectuals decide that they were in a dark age? And when did the peasants?

    1. Wukchumni

      If you were an intellectual in post Roman Britain say around 400 AD, all of the sudden common everyday items would’ve gone missing, as the knowledge to make them rested elsewhere, and money stopped being produced as well, the populace resting on the laurels of previously issued coinage for some semblance of exchange, to be supplanted by barter once there wasn’t much old school lucre left.

      There is scant history of the next few hundred years in Britain, as backwardization & the collapse of what was for it’s time, a most advanced & complex society thanks to the Roman occupation, went away for good and left them in what must’ve been a struggle to merely survive.

      We have an eerily similar situation in that almost all consumer goods are now produced in China, and the know how to make them or repair them is well beyond most anybody’s ken.

      1. Martin Finnucane

        My question is what does “all of a sudden” feel like, particularly to those of us (99.9%) far from the counsels of the great. The British dark ages may be instructive – I’m right in thinking there was no Minoan-style calamity, correct? So did the nice stuff just run out all at once? I’m guessing not.

        Fast forward to us, and we see that the nice stuff is not running out all at once, and maybe not at all. But there is an awful lot of crapification. (Porn, for instance: erotic love, crapified.)

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          I thought a form of Roman society probably lasted a century or two after the fall of the Western Empire until the Vikings became a problem. I saw a description that Briton’s Dark Age was shorter but darker than Western Europe’s due to the Vikings, not the Saxons.

          Churchill’s first history and claims of relative calmness has been disproven by subsequent archaeology. Roman Briton was fairly violent and in a state of uprising. My guess is Briton wasn’t more than a temporary outpost for the non-locals with everything being locally produced to avoid trade disruptions. The enlisted legionaries who wanted to see the empire certainly brought stuff, but I don’t think it was too happening a place. The nicest stuff wasn’t heading to Briton, and the people who could make nice stuff skipped town.

          I imagine coastal Italian towns with better trade relations with the East were probably the ones to be really let down.

        2. Wukchumni

          No climate change caused disruption i’m aware of, and bubonic plague was an issue in 542 AD, so no problem there either.

          From what i’ve read, Britons became very reliant on OPT (other people’s technology) which much of was Roman.

          We’re not talking ‘nice’ stuff, but everyday stuff such as nails, shoes, oil lamps, etc.

          I’m sure it took awhile for the shortages to become an issue, but once it did, they were thrust back into the lives they had say a thousand years prior.

          I expect much the same to happen here for a multitude of reasons-none of them Roman related.

          Simplify your life as much as possible now, so as to be able to better adapt to the new normal.

          1. Phil in KC

            Rome didn’t collapse suddenly. The beginning of the end started with the defeat at Adrianople in 378 AD. Rome itself was sacked on three times, each sack of increasing destructiveness, with the sack of 546 at the hand of the Goths dealing an immediate blow to the city. The aqueducts which supplied the city with fresh, running water were destroyed. Springs and wells were now the only source of fresh clean water. And yet the outer forms of Roman society continued. The Roman Senate was still meeting as late as 609 AD, but evidence of decline was unmistakable in three ways: 1. Public infrastructure was allow to deteriorate (the aqueducts were not repaired, and public buildings were looted for building stones), 2. Seats of learning and culture moved to rural and fortified estates, and 3. The population of the city of Rome declined from a peak of perhaps 800,000 to maybe 50,000. Think of Detroit and her great public buildings crumbling and neglected. Finally, the greatest signal of decline was that no new cities were founded, and no new buildings were erected. The remnants of the Roman elites, hollowed out by war and looting, were well aware of Rome’s decline. But nostalgia and a desire to restore the Roman ideals of state and society persisted into the early medieval era.

            We will not have two century-long glide path glide path, I fear. Trump is not Charlemange.

        3. ambrit

          Well, the usurper Constantine III pulled most of the Roman Legionaries out of Britain in 409-410 AD. That effectively ended Roman control of Britain. The locals were left to their own devices. Things went south somewhat until the climate disruption of 535 AD really greased the skids.

          1. Phil in KC

            Which coincided with the Sack of Rome in 410. However, Romans had the comforts of the Christian religion, which promised a better world in the after life. They had St. Augustine. We have Pornhub.

            1. JBird

              Don’t forget the Prosperity Gospel! It seems to be getting more popular here in American although don’t recall seeing it the last time I read the New Testament.

      2. Lee

        I can’t recall where I read it but, as you indicate, outsourcing of production was claimed in the piece as a major factor contributing to the end of Roman hegemony in the west. And then there were all those migrating tribal hordes, of which I am a descendant of at least several that at one time or another in history were sworn enemies. Ever the optimist, me.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I believe many Roman citizens were aware that Rome was on the brink of collapse a half-century before the date assigned to the Fall of Rome. I suspect many Romans were aware long long before that. When there were barbarians at the gates I believe most Romans knew that this time the Fall was near. As for “in a dark age” — I suspect many Romans felt an awareness of that some decades before the end of the Roman Republic. But why ask about Rome? I seriously doubt the Collapse of our societies will mimic the Decline and Fall of Rome. We stand at heights of a scope and scale several orders of magnitude larger and higher. Our Collapse will be colossal dwarfing all past falls, and the promised speed of our Collapse will leave little time for last minute plans or actions.

      1. Wukchumni

        Some Roman genius figured out how to silver wash copper coins to give them the appearance of being silver, and so it went for about 150 years with utterly debauched money, and nobody really cared.

        We’ve had debauched money for 54 years now, and you don’t hear much about it, do you?

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Post-Roman western European intellectuals …


      They were nearly all white males.

      Today, they are to be overcome, according to those most forward, here and in Europe.

      The interesting thing is that on the other side of the Atlantic, they have also been busy restoring the dead guys’ paintings, sculptures, etc.

      “This is what the Sistine Chapel first looked like…”

  9. Roquentin

    I think what Hedges is getting at, whether he realizes it or not, is that the left has a mythological vision of what the US and its institutions are (especially the Democratic party) that is as out of touch with reality as any MAGA nonsense Trump is pushing. I don’t share his total hopelessness, but I do tend to think that the system is broke beyond repair, moribund, probably in some kind of terminal decline. That can go on for a very long time, stagnation and decline can take a couple decades to really come to fruition.

    The first thing I did after the election was read The Invisible Committee’s “To Our Friends.” I think more people should do the same. It’s the best political manifesto I’ve read in a very long time, probably comes closer to identifying the rot at the heart of our current political epoch than anything else.

    1. Isotope_C14

      I’m on the left and have no mythology about what the USA is, nor the sick religion of capitalism.

      “I don’t share his total hopelessness”

      You should, there is no way to stop the permafrost from dumping more CO2/CH4 than humans do this summer.

      We were the match to the fuse to the stick of dynamite.

      1. Roquentin

        I should have been more specific. Not everyone on the left, but a great many who somehow think that the US government can be reformed by way of the Democratic party. I’ll admit it at least seems within the realm of possibility that the US government could potentially be reformed somehow, but thinking the Democratic party would be the vehicle through which it is accomplished strains even the most charitable predictions for how the future will play out.

        I should have specified that. It’s also worth mentioning that this tends more to be liberals than the left, but I’m sure you get my point.

        1. Carey

          Seems obvious to me that the Democrat “leadership” sees that their Job #1 as preventing any reform that might benefit the many from taking place.

        2. Elizabeth Burton

          The Democrat Party as it now exists is a tool to be used, not the final construct. As has been noted, the two established parties collude to block any effort to create a viable third party, which is why I tell those who say they’ll never vote Democrat to get busy changing the voting laws in their states to change the situation. And to do that means one has to pick up the tool that’s most useful—the Democrat Party—and force more and more progressives suitable for later joining a third party into office.

          I’ve lost all patience with people who twiddle their thumbs and justify it with “all is lost so why bother”, whether they’re talking about politics, the environment, or whatever. If the head on your hammer is loose, get out some glue and fix it and get busy pounding nails till you’ve earned enough to buy a new hammer. If it breaks before then, pick up a good rock.

          Hedges is right that hope is useless when there’s work to be done. It’s one of those concepts the establishment has turned into just another tool to prevent people from challenging the status quo. Remember the little engine that could? It wasn’t “I hope I can,” because hope has a lack of confidence built into it. It implies “I’m maybe not good enough or smart enough or strong enough, but I’d really like X.” It’s actually a kind of spiritual/emotional lottery.

          So, never mind hope. Or hopelessness. There’s a job to be done, the world is full of smart, creative people who know what needs to be done, who can teach others what that is, and then we can all get busy doing it.

  10. Despair

    There isn’t going to be a revolt in the US, or if there is one it’s going to be fascist. The CIA and FBI have thoroughly destroyed every leftist movement to gain any traction in the country after the shocks of the sixties and seventies. Then climate change is going to sweep everything away. There’s no hope and no future.

      1. Despair

        No, Trump has some of the elements but ultimately what he’s been able to achhieve isn’t too different from the neoliberal agendas of his modern predecessors. I mean a situation where the ruling elite feels increasingly threatened by what it (accurately or not) perceives as left wing threats such as from the DSA. Like Italy or Germany they’ll invite or allow the actual fascists, of the Charleston variety and in the military industrial complex, to intervene and save their lifestyle.

      2. Edward E

        I suggest you read anything you can find from Brandon Smith.

        The dollar itself is nothing more than an imagined symbol; it is a tool for international bankers. And, like any tool, it can be replaced. The trade war provides the perfect historical narrative for the end of the dollar. The story told to future generations will be that the U.S., emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric and nationalism, fueled by the dangerous ideas of “conservative populists”, bumbled into self-destruction and harmed the rest of the world in the process. The IMF and other globalist institutions will step in, stating that no single country should ever be allowed to wield the power of the world’s reserve currency again. They will then offer their pre-planned solution to the very problem they originally created.

    1. blennylips

      > There’s no hope and no future.

      That’s one sure diagnosis at birth, looking ahead-wise…

      Despair not, for there is the now: you have about zero control anyway.

      Try a little Tolle:

      The Power of Now
      The book is intended to be a guide for day-to-day living and stresses the importance of living in the present moment and avoiding thoughts of the past or future.

      Things go down easier without the ego too.

      An article in Success magazine describes A New Earth as a “self-improvement book” that encourages its readers to live their lives in each present moment and to create happiness for themselves without emphasizing material possessions

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I share your skepticism about a revolt in the US. I believe Collapse is inescapable. Humankind finds hidden oceans containing a store of millions of years of energy captured from our star, and concentrated for easy use. This legacy of fossil fuels might have nurtured our civilizations for thousands even hundreds of thousands of years. But our wise species burns this legacy as quickly and wastefully as can be devised. The candle of our civilization burns brightly but briefly.

      Twofold consequences compete in fashioning the end of our present civilization. Our civilization is totally dependent on this store of fossil fuels. There are alternative sources of energy but they either depend on the highly unlikely — a wise use of what fossil fuels remain or they generate wastes deadly poisonous to our kind, and neither truly fills the gap that will remain when the supply of fossil fuels collapses as it quite suddenly will in the near future. The CO2 released into our atmosphere from our past burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and at increasing speed changing the climate of our world, Climate Disruption. This Climate Disruption drives a more rapid burning of fossil fuels to repair the damage and compensate for declines in our agriculture. These two root causes working in concert create “disruptions” to the workings of our civilization. Neoliberal Capitalism constructs greater Market “efficiencies” which also construct greater vulnerability to catastrophic failures of those mechanisms. The Neoliberal social order assures the presence of a desperate populace with growing inclinations toward anarchy and densely packs them into giant cites or sparsely scatters them around rural wastelands. In fullest madness, Neoliberal Capitalism ties operations at the heart of this dismal empire more and more closely to the successful operations of the empire’s furthest reaches where the levels of desperation coming to a breaking point. The chain of cascading failures marking our Collapse will not appear like any revolution.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        With or without revolt, a collapse of one extent or another seems an increasingly reasonable prediction. One possibility might be to live to die another day. We are likely to loose a good deal of global population in a major collapse of civilization, assuming we do nothing or next to nothing regarding climate change and that would probably go along with a substantial reduction in technology over several generations. Two things which we seem to have considerable difficulty managing sustainably.

        That may provide enough breathing room (for forests, oceans, eventually atmosphere and such) to heal somewhat and provide us with a brief reprieve before our greed and destructive natures produce much the same results again.

        To suggest we might, chastened from near extinction, become reasonable and guide things ourselves in a direction of, do unto others as we would have them do unto us (instead of a do unto others before they do it to you) seems unlikely given the consistency with which past empires have risen up and then quickly, much the same way it takes longer to cook a meal than to devour it, destroyed themselves.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          The happiest face I can paste over what is come is the idea that the loss of a good deal of global population will present a filter of sorts, a bottleneck, removing those among our populations who remain incapable of cooperation with others. There is madness in humankind — a true madness in some individuals and a broader madness in human mobs. Unless those who are capable of cooperation and sharing with others can gain control of society before this bottleneck, only a very few, very lucky, very humble will pass through and many who otherwise should pass through will not. I am not optimistic of a kindly bottleneck. The only happy outcome is — I believe — the phoenix of humankind will not be chastened from near extinction and become reasonable but will be cleansed of madness — though at great cost and loss — and emerge innately more reasonable. And if enough knowledge and wisdom can cross through the bottleneck and be preserved for the future these new humans might build new civilization and society but no empires. I feel that so many areas of Science were on the brink of great discoveries immediately before Science became the captive handmaiden of the Neoliberal Market. Perhaps this new civilization rising for our ashes can realize the discoveries lost to us in our fleeting instance of humankind.

          1. Jeremy Grimm

            It suddenly struck me how similar this notion of a genetic component to the madnesses of humankind echoes eugenic theories from the last century and both echo more ancient concepts of original sin and humankind’s inbuilt inclinations to sin as a supposed consequence of the original sin.

    3. Carey

      I agree with you, but… here we are. What shall we do with ourselves?
      Rolling over for the few just doesn’t cut it.

      “…I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity…”

      -Dylan, ‘Up to Me’

  11. Tom Stone

    These are dark times and Hedges pretty much nails it.
    One disagreement, our reptilian overlords have created such an effective surveillance state that organized resistance may not be possible.
    They seem confident that they can keep things under control…
    Which means we will get chaos instead, because there will be unorganized resistance and our society is very tightly coupled and complex, look at automobile supply chains for one example.
    It’s not WW2 style partisans or general strikes that pose a risk to TPTB, it’s a single pissed off person with a laptop and moderate skills who takes down the power grid for 6 weeks.

    1. polecat

      Just wait until energy constraints kick in, and may not be long in comming .. a few years out .. Then it will get Really hinky .. !!

    2. False Solace

      As Ian Welsh frequently points out, technology has made it stunningly simple for unhappy individuals to inflict chaos and violence at will. The elites bet on surveillance technology. They cram down on the population, believing that Google’s spymasters will allow them to maintain control. So far the results are mixed. The population is indeed supine, but surveillance tech is worthless for preventing massacres. The modern state no longer enjoys a monopoly on violence. All it will take to collapse is for another 25% or so of the people to opt out. (The elites have already written off 50%. They’re too dumb to realize the parasite isn’t supposed to actually kill the host.)

      The last chapter has already been written, the only question is how long until we hit the end.

    1. Lambert Strether

      I have revised the post so the questions are italic and the answers are roman. I also added section separators between the interview and the commentary, as well as a section separator between the last, italic, question, and the concluding, italic, quotation, from “DA” (Dante Alighieri). Later, I might put the questions in bold, probably wise given how overloaded italics are (emphasis, titles, quotations, etc.),

    2. False Solace

      The article’s style is a bit odd. Was it really necessary to include all those one word interjections? (“No–” “Yes–” pointlessly breaking the flow.) I don’t care about the interviewer’s verbal tics or if he couldn’t get a word in edgewise. We’re here for Hedges, just quote him.

      1. Mel

        I took it that this was an interview, and those were the “questions.”.
        You’re seeing the “rapid, urgent oratorical precision of [Hedges’] conversation.”

      2. HotFlash

        Nicely done interview with a tough subject (Hedges), IMO. I’ve written lots of interviews, it’s a tricky form, and wished I’d written that. Esp tickled by the DA final line.

  12. akaPaul LaFargue

    Doesn’t Sun Tzu in The Art of War stipulate that when confronting an enemy of overwhelming force a frontal attack spells defeat. A better strategy is to attack at a weak flank and retreat and attack again at another, wearing down thereby the greater force. This is simple the art of guerrilla warfare. Taking this advice to the level of intellectual critique of power means sidestepping the dominant narrative and jousting with the underbelly of power. Playing the Fool, not the Court Jester, of which we have loads on cable. The Fool, or if you prefer, Coyote, finds the weak spot and unrelentingly subverts power there. So what this means – I don’t wish to remain cryptic or elusive – while power pretends to control reality via its arrangement of the elements of official discourse – stock prices, debt, frugality, above all sacrifice, real or illusory, etc. – a subversive discourse must rely on those elements of reality that are absent (on purpose): amity, wit, enchantment, stewardship, wonder. All those qualities of life that go missing, or worse, must be purchased as ersatz elixirs of happiness. Forgive me my ideological foundations, or not, what the surrealists termed The Marvelous.

  13. orange cats

    Until someone or something convinces me that ‘hope’ is meaningfully different than ‘wish’ I’ll never understand the insistence on its value in these conversations. I’ll go further and suggest that its invocation blunts the critical message–things are falling apart, We all know it, and bromides don’t cut it. I don’t need a soothing message to sidestep despair, I feel patronized enough in this culture.

    Put children first always, drive a small car, stop buying so much crap, go vegan, read a book.

  14. flora

    When Millicent Fenwick retired from public life in 1987 she gave several interviews. One was to AP reporter Stephen R. Wilson who reported this story.
    “She took to heart the words of a rabbi who served with her on the New Jersey civil rights commission: ‘You will never arrive at the solution and never be absolved from trying.’
    ” ‘Isn’t that magnificent?’ Mrs. Fenwick said. ‘You don’t have to worry about success. You just have to make sure you’ve got something worthwhile to do and you’re doing your best to do it.’ ”

    Fenwick’s and the rabbi’s outlook is encouraging, to me, whereas Hedges is discouraging -courage and hope being 2 different things.

  15. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    . And that’s why the Democratic Party is not reformable from the inside.


    There are two camps, one for takeover (to reform from the inside), and the other for taking business somewhere else.

    1. JBird

      My, my, my. Just when I could use me some sunshine, I can always, always count on having Chris Hedges give me dark, dark rays of gloom and despair.

      There are two camps, one for takeover (to reform from the inside), and the other for taking business somewhere else.

      I think both parties are weaker than many realize as they both depend on using the Elites’ donations bribes and retainers to fund their operations especially for the elections’ campaigns rather than on the large manned political organizations functioned from door to block to county to state to the national levels. At best, the county level leadership somewhat exist for both parties, and from there the state and national leadership exist; it is like the old corrupt practice of having paper military units that receive funding, but since they (mostly) don’t exist, all the money can be pocketed. It works great until there is a war or an election.

      At least the last great American political party, the Whigs, actually had a functioning organization, but the infighting on the slavery destroyed it. No large enough faction was able to get the whole party to agree on what the stance was going to be on it. So the antislavery faction left and formed the Republican Party, and the remainder formed other parties or joined one of the two separate factions of the Democratic Party that existed from 1860-1866. Both major parties ceased to function well and one of them just vanished.

      Great, you’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with the current parties? It’s already getting harder to find any leftist, moderate, or conservative that wants to be a member of them. The large factions that both parties used to have that would represent most people do not exist. And the corruption of both, and the inability to govern, except to give money the already monied, puts most outside the top 10% off. So the various facades of functioning federal, state, and municipal governments run by two organized functional parties with functional business, science, religious, non-governmental (nonprofits), legislature, judiciary, military, and even police are just that. Facades. The two major parties, I think, are the most illusory, although with some exceptions, the rest are becoming just as illusory.

      So what happens if yet another major election is stolen like it was in 2000, but even more brazenly and obviously. Can we say riots, followed by overreacting crackdowns, with counter protests, folllowed by…; maybe we Californians finally get the Big One we’ve been planning for and joking on for years, or God help us, the Northwest gets the Other Big One, or a major volcanic eruption, or a lahar? Worse case, hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. Oregon and Washington state have not really prepared. Or another major drought kills the wheat and corn harvests for a few years?

      After Puerto Rico’s bungled relief for Hurricane Maria, I do not believe our current governments could handle a disaster like Hurricane Katrina again. At all. There is going to be another natural disaster, or protest, or even greater corruption than before, and when the local, state, and federal governments fail, and very likely they will, it will be interesting.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        when my Team Blue, LOTE Insisters admit that, yes…the demparty is corrupt, but….
        I ask:”how does one discipline a Party?”
        Is it by continuing to support it, vote for it, send $$ to it?
        Obviously not.
        Rather, since the giant tentacled organisation today relies on and is geared exclusively for The Donors… and the Donors only support and fund that Org. if it can bring out voters to get the Right People into office,,,then maybe that is it’s weakness.
        the Donors will never leave until the Party has lost a large number of voters…which is happening anyway. Helping that process along can only weaken the current party establishment.
        The question is, at what point is the party establishment weak enough to dislodge?
        I reckon that it won’t be until the Donors have withdrawn their money and support.
        The current puppet show of D/R can only go on so long before some unknown critical mass of voters find something better to do with their time….because it is increasingly obvious to more and more that the puppet show doesn’t do anything for Us’n’s, other than make life more difficult.
        I worry that there’s not enough time…either before a general collapse, or before the historically cynical Thinkers behind the American Right discover that there’s a path to permanent power through this populism thing….and that the People are so starved for FDR-ism that they can make a big show of co-opting some wicked but convincing enough version of it to entrench themselves even further.
        I mean…wasn’t there a gop candidate in the last month talking nice about Unions?
        and trump often burps up ideas that should rightly be the province of the Left…from anti-WTO-ism to the various Bannonisms shot through his campaign rhetoric.
        That’s my nightmare: a bizzarro fdr…a Buzz Windrip…that can let fall just enough crumbs to gain the loyalty of your average ugly american.
        Perverse, Ironic Tragedy.

  16. saylor

    While I can agree with a large part of Hedge’s response in this interview, I have to say that the downfall of Scranton and other failed cities are not (for the most part) the fault of the Clintons. I was waving goodbye to hi-tech industrial jobs in the 1980s as I liaison with off shore manufacturing plants like Seagate and later, others. And not all of that downfall was due to the machinations of corporate oligarchs. Just the nature of evolution, of the evolution of any technology that starts as art, then becomes a science and then becomes a technical and finally, automated. I do fully agree that the Clinton’s were the poster children for ‘corporate democrats’.
    I also have to agree with some of the other postings here, while our democracy has been seriously eroded, the effects of climate change will provide a ‘3rd party’ effect that will pale those institutions of puny men.

  17. RBHoughton

    “we the people must resist the rise of corporate oligarchy”. That’s exactly what we must do but how?

    You are right to indict Clinton for the collapse of integrity in the White House. He went to Washington DC intending to make changes but the power centers knew it and soon impeached him. He then submitted to be their instrument in all his subsequent acts (the ones you have listed – NAFTA, welfare, crime, drugs, militarized police). His woman saw what happened to a reformer on obtaining power and threw in her lot with the money.

    There should be a degree course in college describing the decline and fall process so everyone can see how the rogues work. Its been like that since JFK and the effects can be seen today in America’s fading influence globally – put a crook in charge and everyone’s a crook. Those are the enemies of the people that need to be indicted today. Off with a few heads and the faint-hearted money collectors will fall into line.

    The problem is to isolate the political representation from the commercial bribery that merchants indulge in daily. If our version of capitalist was competitive it might be different but we don’t do competition anymore, everyone loses money, we do market shares instead with every obedient Director instructed on the golf course how to act.

    I think Hedges is right about FDR’s motivations. He did save capitalism from its practitioners for a time and war not only rescued the country but bankrupted everyone else, after which the usual suspects moved back into authority and have now brought it all down again. Ten years after Lehmans and no change yet. We should not be so patient or is it national apathy – sink another tube, smoke a joint, who cares?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You have the timeline completely wrong. Clinton was impeached late in his second term in office, in December 1998. Clinton signed Nafta into law in 1993. The “end of welfare as we know it” (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) was passed in 1996 and “three strikes and you’re out” was implemented in 1994.

      Making stuff up is against our written site Policies and you’ve done it before, which is already too often. If you do it once more, you will be put in moderation.

  18. John k

    His book could have been written in the far darker days of early 1932.
    Fdr persuaded his class it would be safer to let up a little, and, he guesses out of fear, they did. Granted, the Midwest was near armed insurrection.
    Our owners are, as stated, divided. Deep is itself divided. It’s not just trump with no clothes, mueller and dem elites are similarly unadorned.
    Bernie might win in two years, and if this miracle comes to pass, he will be far more careful than trump in picking his team.

  19. Ignacio

    The most interesting question Hedges raises is whether there is any possibility to change course apart from a revolution. And his answer is not!. For me the litmus test for a healthy democracy in the US would be the RussiaRussiaRussia! theme. If this propaganda manages to stay unabated and, more over, if it causes the resignation/impeachment of Trump and the triumph of a clintonesque candidate it would mean that Hedges is almost certainly rigth. Hopefully, Chris Hedges is proven incorrect in this point.

    1. flora

      Mr. Hedges wrote a very interesting book in 2002 titled “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”. It was about his work as a war correspondent. It begins to look autobiographical. War is a force that apparently gives Hedges meaning.

      1. Ignacio

        And he is doing the “dirty” job of showing everyone the degradation occuring in a theoretically peaceful society. I can understand him. These days I am re-watching the series of documentaries Apocalypsis WW1, WW2 and Stalin you can see how hope become meaningless during war and revolution.

        The series about Stalin is a “beware the revolutionaries” advise.

  20. juliania

    I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Hedges, dedicated soul that he is, doesn’t tie in to the international situation. There I think is the reason for hope that didn’t exist in FDR’s time. For as our oligarchs are internationally operative, their weaknesses lie in that field. They have seen what happened during the great upheaval of their fortunes that occurred when the social programs of the New Deal came into effect, and they have indefatigably pursued power options since then that negate that ever happening again.

    But on the international stage where currently the financial dominance of the US (and that means our oligarchs) is progressively being stripped away (and I use that word ‘progressively’ adviseably), their power is weakening. There is real hope there. Mr. Hedges’ local movements, which indeed are positive suggestions for everyone to follow in the interim, will gain a foothold once that worldwide system increases the pressure on our wealthy, and it may happen sooner than we think. Yves and Lambert have shown us all the obstructions being put in this country to prevent the people’s sovereignty from gaining ground, and it may, indeed does, seem like a TINA situation from the inside. Not being an oligarch myself, I have marvelled at their tenacity, but it cannot last.

    And when it fails, we should be ready.

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