America: The Farewell Tour

 
Cheshire Cat
 
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Cheshire Cat
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22 November 2018 14:14
 

By Chris Hedges, published by Simon & Schuster.

This is both a depressing and brutally honest book. It posits that America is an empire in decline, and that a corporate coup d’état has already taken over our government. He states that both political parties are compromised beyond redeeming and that there is a huge segment of the American population who have been left behind economically and abandoned. These people suffer from a state called anomie: the “psychological imbalance that leads to prolonged despair, lethargy, and yearning for self-annihilation.” The rise of a demagogue like Trump is the logical extension of this state of dystopia.

The solution, according to Hedges, is for people to organize at the grassroots level from small, like-minded communities that are outside the formal political system; organizations that are not dependent upon political parties or wealthy donors. He thinks that nonviolent but disruptive behavior is the only way to get the attention of the power elites. His models are the Civil Rights Movement from the 60s and the Native American protesters at Standing Rock in 2016-2017. Only by instilling fear in the powerful will change happen. “The platitudes about justice, equality, and democracy are just that. Only when ruling elites become worried about survival do they react. Appealing to the better nature of the powerful is useless. They don’t have one.”

I’ve copied below four paragraphs from the chapter entitled, “Freedom.” I think they dissect the current state of America.

Our capitalist elites have used propaganda, money, and the marginalizing of their critics to erase the first three of philosopher John Locke’s elements of the perfect state: liberty, equality, and freedom. They exclusively empower the fourth, property. Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight. And the single most important characteristic of government is its willingness to use force, at home and abroad, to protect the interests of the property classes. This abject surrender of the state to the rich is illustrated in the 2017 tax code and the dismantling of environmental regulations. This degradation of basic democratic ideals — evidenced when the Supreme Court refused to curb wholesale government surveillance of the public or defines pouring unlimited dark money into political campaigns as a form of free speech and the right to petition the government — means the society defines itself by virtues that are dead. The longer this illusion is perpetuated, the more an enraged public turns to demagogues who promise a new utopia and then, once in power, accelerate the assault.

All of our institutions are corrupted. The press, universities, the arts, the courts, and religious institutions, including the Christian church, have ingested the toxic brew of American exceptionalism, the myth of American virtues, and the conflation of freedom with unfettered capitalism. The liberal church, like the bankrupt liberal class, holds up multiculturalism and identity politics as an ethical imperative and ignores the primacy of economic and social justice. It tolerates the intolerant, giving credibility to those who peddle the heretical creed of the “prosperity gospel,” a creed that says God showers divine favors in the form of wealth and power on the Christian elect. This idea makes Trump one of God’s favorites. It is also an idea that is a complete inversion of the core message of the Christian Gospels.

Today’s secularists have their own forms of hedonism, self-worship, and idolatry. Spirituality is framed by puerile questions: How is it with me? Am I in touch with myself? Have I achieved happiness and inner peace? Have I, along with my life coach, ensured that I have reached my full career potential? Am I still young-looking? What does my therapist say? It is a culture based on self-absorption, medical procedures to mask aging, and narcissism. Any form of suffering, which is always part of self-sacrifice, is to be avoided. The plight of our neighbor is irrelevant. Sexual degeneracy — narcissists are incapable of love — abounds in a society entranced by casual hook-ups and pornography.

The single-minded pursuit of happiness, with happiness equated with hedonism, wealth, and power, creates a population consumed by anxiety and self-loathing. Few achieve the imagined pinnacle of success, and those who do are often psychopaths. Building a society around these goals is masochistic. It shuts down any desire for self-knowledge because the truth of our lives is unpleasant. We fill the spiritual vacuum with endless activities, entertainment, and nonstop electronic hallucinations. We flee from silence and contemplation. We are determined to avoid facing what we have become.

Strong stuff.

Do you think Hedges is correct in his assessment of current America, or is he merely looking at the negative? Is change still possible? Can we still strive “in Order to Form a More Perfect Union,” or has America already become a corporate state?

[ Edited: 22 November 2018 14:19 by Cheshire Cat]
 
 
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23 November 2018 00:34
 

America has been down that road before, especially during the Gilded Age, but my question is, what is the goal of the alternative?  Or, how can the people diffuse or redistribute the money and power?

 
Jan_CAN
 
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23 November 2018 06:55
 
Skipshot - 23 November 2018 12:34 AM

America has been down that road before, especially during the Gilded Age, but my question is, what is the goal of the alternative?  Or, how can the people diffuse or redistribute the money and power?

A capitalist economy has its advantages in that it leads to growth, innovation, etc., and there doesn’t appear to be another system that works.  Unfortunately, human nature as it is, greed does act as an incentive.  However, as the old and proven adage says, ‘power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  The wealthy elite and powerful corporations will always exert influence, but this must be controlled and regulated, to prevent monopolies and control over the political system.  For example, there should be strict limitations in regards to political campaign contributions.  As stated in the OP quote:  “Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight.

Government policies should promote for a large and strong middle-class, and aid to help the lower classes join the middle-class, which serves to balance power.

The culture of hedonism that exists in capitalist societies may not be completely avoidable, but could be balanced with other philosophies and goals.  But how to achieve this seems to depend on each of us to decide what we choose to cherish and value most.

 

 
 
Cheshire Cat
 
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23 November 2018 11:24
 
Skipshot - 23 November 2018 12:34 AM

America has been down that road before, especially during the Gilded Age, but my question is, what is the goal of the alternative?  Or, how can the people diffuse or redistribute the money and power?

Yes, we have been down this road before. In reaction to the Gilded Age, people gathered together, formed unions, demanded and got rights that we take for granted today: a 40 hour work week; a ban on child labor; paid vacation and sick time; OSHA laws to protect the health of workers. The people who formed these unions often paid with their blood when paid corporate goons would physically attack them. The problem today is that most unions have disappeared and laws exist to weaken the ones that are still around.

But the most worrisome thing in my mind is that with globalization and the migrating of jobs to third world countries, combined with accelerating robotic automation, soon workers will have no leverage at all because the corporate elite simply won’t need them anymore.  This is a situation that didn’t exist at the turn of the last century; corporations and businesses needed workers then, now, more and more, they don’t. Of course, if most people cannot make a living wage, then fewer people will be able to afford to buy the products these corporations make.

 
 
nonverbal
 
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23 November 2018 11:37
 
Cheshire Cat - 23 November 2018 11:24 AM
Skipshot - 23 November 2018 12:34 AM

America has been down that road before, especially during the Gilded Age, but my question is, what is the goal of the alternative?  Or, how can the people diffuse or redistribute the money and power?

Yes, we have been down this road before. In reaction to the Gilded Age, people gathered together, formed unions, demanded and got rights that we take for granted today: a 40 hour work week; a ban on child labor; paid vacation and sick time; OSHA laws to protect the health of workers. The people who formed these unions often paid with their blood when paid corporate goons would physically attack them. The problem today is that most unions have disappeared and laws exist to weaken the ones that are still around.

But the most worrisome thing in my mind is that with globalization and the migrating of jobs to third world countries, combined with accelerating robotic automation, soon workers will have no leverage at all because the corporate elite simply won’t need them anymore.  This is a situation that didn’t exist at the turn of the last century; corporations and businesses needed workers then, now, more and more, they don’t. Of course, if most people cannot make a living wage, then fewer people will be able to afford to buy the products these corporations make.

Future gainful employment of seemingly antiquated human labor might someday more or less evaporate, but employment is so strong today that it’s all but impossible to find good help in exchange for a regular paycheck. I suspect people will always find some nonsense to do for a living.

 
 
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23 November 2018 12:18
 
nonverbal - 23 November 2018 11:37 AM

Future gainful employment of seemingly antiquated human labor might someday more or less evaporate, but employment is so strong today that it’s all but impossible to find good help in exchange for a regular paycheck. I suspect people will always find some nonsense to do for a living.

True, there are a lot of jobs around, unfortunately, most of them are low wage service jobs:

The country is projected to add almost 8 million jobs through 2022, representing 5 percent growth, according to a new study from CareerBuilder. Even though that represents a positive trend, the findings raise major red flags: Low-wage jobs are expected to grow the fastest, while middle-wage work will continue to decline.

https://tinyurl.com/yb4cv6sv

 

 
 
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23 November 2018 12:43
 
Cheshire Cat - 23 November 2018 12:18 PM
nonverbal - 23 November 2018 11:37 AM

Future gainful employment of seemingly antiquated human labor might someday more or less evaporate, but employment is so strong today that it’s all but impossible to find good help in exchange for a regular paycheck. I suspect people will always find some nonsense to do for a living.

True, there are a lot of jobs around, unfortunately, most of them are low wage service jobs:

The country is projected to add almost 8 million jobs through 2022, representing 5 percent growth, according to a new study from CareerBuilder. Even though that represents a positive trend, the findings raise major red flags: Low-wage jobs are expected to grow the fastest, while middle-wage work will continue to decline.

https://tinyurl.com/yb4cv6sv

 

That’s what I have, and I’m doing okay.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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23 November 2018 15:56
 

I think, per the OP, Hedges is mostly looking at the negative.  For example, when he states that the press (or news) is “corrupted,” I have to ask if it is any worse or better than the press of the past, with its jingoistic echoing of government propaganda, and its touting of every variation of snake oil.  I’m certainly no expert on the history of journalism, but it seems to always have been a money-making proposition.  There have been important instances of muck raking and exposes that impacted social policies and government leadership.  This seems to be continuing amid the torrent of modern info.

The US is definitely in a decline from its leader of nations status, but perhaps one super-power should not be expected to show the way.  Globalism is the future, and there are great ideas incubating all over the world.  The US gave the world the first constitutional democracy, and we are very big, with tons of resources, brain power, and hard-working folks.  But we don’t deserve to run the international show.  Too much power corrupts nations as well as individuals. 

Right now, the US population is enamored with consumption, just for the sake of newness and entertainment.  But my prediction is that ecological catastrophes will pull us back on course toward preserving what is left of our natural systems and appreciating our communities.  At least I hope so.