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Chris Hedges on Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

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Posted on Sep 18, 2007

By Chris Hedges

In his book “Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia,” John Gray warns that as the era of liberal intervention in international affairs wanes, it is being replaced with “primitive versions of religion” that will be used to fuel apocalyptic violence.  His is a world where faith-based violence will become the norm, where societies will plunge headlong into self-immolation and where desperate groups of people will soon battle in a Hobbesian struggle for dwindling natural resources.

Gray pleads, like a modern day Cassandra, for us to heed the numerous warning signs, from the effects of climate change to the rapaciousness cruelty of global capitalism to the looming oil crisis to overpopulation.  He fears, however, that as things worsen, we will spurn pragmatic measures to blunt the excesses - he does not believe we can reverse them—for fantastic, violent visions spun out for us by mad utopians.  His book is a plea for sanity.  I hope it works.

Gray is one of the most interesting moral philosophers since the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.  Gray would, I expect, label Niebuhr as an idealist, given that Niebuhr, while conceding our animal natures and irrational delusions, did believe in the possibility of limited free will.  Gray is more skeptical; he sees us as all hostage to our animal instincts and argues that we can do little to blunt them.  This is Gray’s greatest failing, for he does not, like Niebuhr, make distinctions.  Yes, we are all flawed, but not equally flawed, and it is because of this that free will and moral choice remains possible. 

“Actually, humanity cannot advance or retreat,” Gray writes, “for humanity cannot act: there is no collective entity with intentions or purposes, only ephemeral struggling animals each with its own passions and illusions.”

But Gray is with Niebuhr on many other issues, including a dark view of human nature that does not ignore the capacity we all have for cruelty, depravity and self-delusion.  Gray seeks, like Niebuhr, to be a realist.  This makes his writing, unlike many modern philosophers and theologians, worth reading.  And unlike most of his colleagues, he does not take refuge behind the mind-numbing jargon and the dead language of academia that is, at its core, anti-thought.  He builds his ethics on the foundation of the stunted and limited capacity of human nature, rather than visions of human perfectibility and delusions about human progress.  He knows that we do not advance morally as a race, and that it is science and technology that have at once improved our world and made the vast killing projects and environmental devastation of the last century possible. 

“Human knowledge tends to increase,” he writes, “but humans do not become any more civilized as a result.  They remain prone to every kind of barbarism, and while the growth of knowledge allows them to improve their material conditions, it also increases the savagery of their conflicts.”

Gray also grasps that the religious impulse does not go away, even in ruthlessly secular regimes such as the old Soviet Union.  They simply mutate and transform.  He warns that these unexamined impulses are more dangerous than those overtly embraced by traditional religion.  He charts the decline of Christianity as coinciding with the rise of revolutionary utopianism.  These eschatological hopes never disappeared; rather, they muted into a form of secular fundamentalism, peddled by fascists, communists, liberal humanists and by the naïve crop of new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet.

“Those who demand that religion be exorcized from politics think this can be achieved by excluding traditional faith from public institutions; but secular creeds are formed from religious concepts, and suppressing religion does not mean it ceases to control thinking and behavior.  Like repressed sexual desire, faith returns, often in grotesque forms, to govern the lives of those who deny it.”

The culprit is the Enlightenment myth of human progress and its belief in human perfectibility.  It was this myth, embodied in the widespread embrace of pacifism in the aftermath of World War I, which also terrified Niebuhr.  The delusion that human beings could advance morally led directly to despotism.

“Whether they stress piecemeal change or revolutionary transformation,” he writes, “theories of progress are not scientific hypotheses.  They are myths, which answer the human need for meaning.”

Gray, in his effort to be a realist, can stretch himself too far.  He buys into a little too much of E.O. Wilson’s myth of biological determinism. 

Gray warns of the moral corruption of the Bush’ administration’s open embrace of torture a form of interrogation.

“The methods of torture employed in Iraq targeted the culture of their victims, who were assaulted not only as human beings but also as Arabs and Muslims,” he notes.  “In using these techniques the US imprinted an indelible image of American depravity on the population and ensured that no American-backed regime can have legitimacy in Iraq.”

The world that awaits us will be difficult.  It will require, as Gray understands, “stoical determination and intellectual detachment.”  It is not a world where we want “missionaries and crusaders” like George Bush and Tony Blair, who see every crisis “as a heaven-sent opportunity to save humanity.”  The coming world will require a return to realism, to the belief that we cannot mold and shape the world according to human desires but must carry only out piecemeal and very limited acts of social engineering to ward off the worst effects of the disasters that will befall us.  Politics, he knows, is not “a vehicle for universal projects but the art of responding to the flux of circumstances.” This means we must give up our grand visions for humanity to “cope with recurring evils.”

“Realists do not accept that international relations, any more than human life in general, consist of soluble problems,” Gray notes.  “There are situations in which whatever is done contains wrong - for example, the situation that has been created by American intervention in Iraq.  Certainly we can avoid multiplying these situations: we may have to deal out mass death to defeat Hitler but we need not wade in blood to democratize the world.  Realism is an Occam’s Razor that works to minimize radical choices among evils.  It cannot enable us to escape these choices, for they go with being human.”

Gray concedes that religion, when it is not hijacked by fundamentalists or starry-eyed idealists, keeps us grounded.  His work is a potent and powerful meditation on human nature and the concept of sin —the core of great theology.  He writes that religion is an attempt to deal with mystery “rather than hope that mystery will be unveiled.”  He calls this “a civilizing perception” and fears that it is being lost. 

What Gray fails to grasp is the transcendence and power that comes with achieving the moral life, a life a realist has to concede is absurd.  There is a meaning to existence.  It is found, as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad and Vasily Grossman knew in simple, blind acts of human kindness, especially towards the outcast and the stranger.  It is discovered when we confront and acknowledge the inevitable chains and limitations of human nature but do not completely succumb to them.  These small acts of compassion, never free from the taint of self-interest, do not make the world a quantifiably better place.  We will not be rewarded for them.  We will not save ourselves from evil, suffering and death.  But these acts mean that we have, if only for a moment, felt what it means to be fully human.  We have reacted not as animals in a herd, but as individuals who rose above our baser instincts and the clamor of the mob to defy hatred and bigotry and to cherish life.  These acts of compassion allow us to become conscious, if only for a moment, in an unconscious world.  And these acts define and sustain the religious life. 

Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School, was a foreign correspondent for two decades in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, most of that time with The New York Times.  He was part of the team of reporters at Times who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for their coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” and “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”  He has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University and is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. Hedges writes a bi-weekly column that appears Mondays on Truthdig.


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By cann4ing, October 8, 2007 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

John Hanks, your observation about corporations seeking to evade competition, tracks an observation Robert Scheer made about Republicans while he was still writing for the L.A. Times.

“Crony capitalism is the name of the Republican game.  Their slogan is ‘take care of your friends and leave the risk of the free market for the suckers.”

Throughout our history, while they expounded upon Social Darwinism and laissez faire free markets, an elite sector created its fortunes by controlling public institutions.  As Kevin Phillips astutely noted in “Wealth and Democracy,”  “The ‘fittest’ could not have survived without using government….Since America’s early decades the federal government has played a powerful role in encouraging industry and technology through ways other than debt, and credit, taxation and money supply management….Vital political and judicial help was also given to the evolution of corporations….[F]or three or four decades during the Gilded Age, corporations and railroads took their favors—enormous ones that helped produce the world’s biggest fortunes—by all but seizing key portions of federal and state governments.”

What we have seen since Reagan was elected in 1980 is a gradual return to the Gilded Age, that was tremendously accelerated under the Bush II regime.  What we are approaching is the same type of economic disaster that befell the nation in 1929.

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By cann4ing, October 8, 2007 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

CY, carnivores are not inconsistent with the harmony of nature but, rather, are essential to its balance.  But as Tao would no doubt observe, it is only the tame two-leggeds who came up with the idea of killing for sport.

The competing family values are not “my” idea.  They are the central thesis of George Lakoff’s effort to describe the fundamental divide between progressives and conservatives in his academic work, “Moral Politics” and in his polemic, “Don’t Think of an Elephant.”

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By John Hanks, October 8, 2007 at 6:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People are weak.  They are not naturally competitive.  Every corporation seeks the ultimate power to coerce and extort because they hate competition.  They want security just like everyone else.

The competitive stuff comes from the desperate seaking after approval and validation from authorities - sort of like the grading system in schools.

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By Douglas Chalmers, October 7, 2007 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment

“Human knowledge tends to increase,” he writes, “but humans do not become any more civilized as a result.  They remain prone to every kind of barbarism, and while the growth of knowledge allows them to improve their material conditions, it also increases the savagery of their conflicts….”

The R-Complex: Downshifting and human stupidity! http://www.buildfreedom.com/tl/tl12.shtml

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By Conservative Yankee, October 7, 2007 at 11:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

105346 by Ernest Canning on 10/07 at 9:19 am

While I agree (in general) on your child-rearing thesis, and would like the world you propose. I find it hard to accept that even you would fit in such a world.  (You know, given the way you respond to those with opposing views)

My children are taught in what I like to believe is a academic exchange (they question me, I respond to the best of my ability, and I question them, and hopefully they respond)They are loved, nurtured, and told the world outside is a “competitive place”. We never say “don’t talk to strangers, because to follow that advise would be to limit possibilities. I let children range, because there is no use in shielding them from the world in which they will have to survive.

So much for child care.

On the other side we have some deeper disagreements.  Nature (we are not talking about just humans here) is NOT harmonious. Lions eat other felines. Wolves eat other canines, and humans eat other primates. We’re meat eaters. We’re competitive (everything is a sports metaphor) our elections are not about compromise or good government, they are about winning and losing and the comment heard most when losing occurs is “there’s always next time” as in I’ll go home, lick my wounds, and be back with my like-thinking buddies in four years.

Face it, we’re predators. Those canine teeth tell our pedigree. It is for this reason that your examples of King and Ghandi (along with Jesus) were such abject failures in attaining what they sought, even among their followers. A message of “love” is ill received among people clawing for higher ground. Is that the way I would have it were I almighty?  NO, but only a deaf blind idiot could miss the reality

We’ve had this discussion before, but in my personal opinion you are whistling in the dark.  Humans care about peace and tranquility, BUT they care far more about winning. ... and my experience in the world I’ve lived in for the past 58 years tells me winning trumps everything.

Oh BTW if you have a suggestion as to how the people of a world ruled by corporations can get together weekends and sing Kumbyah I’d be glad to listen.

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By John Hanks, October 7, 2007 at 10:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I cannot disagree with Ernest Canning more.  Humans aren’t evil, so much as weak.  Every advertising man or politician like Gandhi or Martin Luther King knows that.  You must appeal to human weakness to get anywhere.  Gandhi and King knew how to make a downtrodden people feel special.  That was the source of their power.  The cult of personality and moral improvement that they permitted was a great weakness in their movement.

I believe that there are transcendent, and generous aspects to human experience, but I wouldn’t bank on the sour milk of human charity for anything.  Solidarity, life fame, is fleeting.

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By cann4ing, October 7, 2007 at 10:19 am Link to this comment

Writers like Gray focus only on the twisted abominations like war and torture and conclude, wrongly, that it is the product of human nature rather than the product of an ideology of greed embodied in capitalism, hegemomy (whether religious, capitalist or Communist) and corporate imperial conquest.  If one focuses only on those who seek to maximize power and control (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Dick Cheney), who utilize a pseudo-religous transfiguration as a means of accomplishing world domination, it is easy to see how a self-described “realist” would conclude that we humans are, by nature, depraved.

This perception not only fails to explain the advent of a Ghandi or a Martin Luther King, but makes the so-called “realism” a self-fulfilling prophesy.  If you approach life from the perspective that humanity is evil by nature, then you accept that it is natural to engage in conquest and torture—with the ultimate question simply being who gets to the top.  If you approach life, as Tao does, with all living beings (as Tao would put it, not just the two-legged types) are part of a greater living whole and that the natural drive is one which seeks to live in harmony with “Mother Earth,” you see that “realism” is not, as Gray asserts, “the Occam’s Razor that works to minimize radical choices among evils,” but a self-deluded and self-fulfilling prophesy that prevents us from realizing a sense of res publica or what Tao refers to as Tiyoshpaye. 

Gray’s “realism” is what George Lakoff describes in “Moral Politics” as the “Strict Father Model” and is authoritarian by nature.  It posits the father having primary responsibility for protecting the family and therefore the one who has the right to set strict rules that must be both respected and obeyed by children.  This model is extended to the relationship between citizens and their government, with government the parent and citizens fulfilling the role of children.  Children and citizens must practice self-discipline through competition which is seen as natural.  Reward and punishment are seen as the ultimate means of taming the beast from within. 

Lakoff posits a competing “Nurturant Parent Model” which stresses love, empathy and nurturance.  Children become responsible, self-disciplined and self reliant not by strict rules designed to hold off their otherwise evil desires but “by being cared for, respected and caring for others both in family and in the community….Obedience comes out of love and respect…not out of fear of punishment.”  Within this model, authority is legimimate only when it can be rationally justified.  “Questioning by children is seen as positive, since children need to learn why their parents do what they do….What children need to learn most is empathy for others.”  Extended to the relationship between citizen and government, this model is embodied in the 60s phrase, “Question authority.”

Gray’s self-described “realism” merely posits his own Strict Parent morality.

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By www.nazilieskill.us, October 6, 2007 at 7:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree totally Douglas.  I forgot about the endocrine system.  What a mess. 

Of course the real problem as always is how to tell the public about this in such a way that they might just give a damn.

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By Douglas Chalmers, October 6, 2007 at 5:40 am Link to this comment

#104922 by John Hanks on 10/05 at 8:44 am: “...I agree about the fear of course.  I think that evokes a short circuit in the brain that by-passes cerebral functions.  But, anger is just as important since it has the same by-pass effect and it check-mates the fear.  If you watch the evening news you see this fear-anger con at work….”

Excellent analysis of the process at work. You only missed one thing, though.

Emotions are based on the body’s endocrine system and endorphins and so forth in the brain. The net result of such prolonged churning of emotions is a kind of stress which, like all negative stress, produces exhaustion. The chronic corollary of that is depression. Interspersed with that are mood swings and that includes violence and irrational thought and behaviour .......uhh!

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By John Hanks, October 5, 2007 at 9:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree about the fear of course.  I think that evokes a short circuit in the brain that by-passes cerebral functions.  But, anger is just as important since it has the same by-pass effect and it check-mates the fear.  If you watch the evening news you see this fear-anger con at work.  There might be a fear story about some new allergic reaction, which is then followed by an anger story about OJ.  In fact the anger stories are usually more common than the fear stories.
With the media, you evoke these emotions, and then you ground them by changing the subject. This process leads to demoralization and passivity, which is what the media owners and controllers want.  As long as there is privately-owned media, it will be run by panderers and crooks.

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By Douglas Chalmers, October 5, 2007 at 7:55 am Link to this comment

#104809 by outrider on 10/04 at 8:30 pm: “...The slavery of fear .......when alternate explanations for a given problem are incompatible, the simplest solution tends to be the right one….. selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities…...”

This usually starts off by diminishing the number of alternatives to simply “either-or”. Living in a B+W world is easy for the color-blind - don’t know the difference - and don’t care!

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By outrider, October 4, 2007 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

PROGNOSIS OR DIAGNOSIS

The slavery of fear has made some persons afraid to think so they allow others to tell them what to believe and then they accept these assertions on faith.  If these assertions are unproven and subsequently shown to be improbable,  when this truth eventually appears as it always does, they enter into a state of denial.  Why?  This is a perplexing question,  particularly when the person involved has proven his rationality in other matters.  Is this a form of Dissociative Identity Disorder as defined by the America American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DID),  a mental condition whereby a single individual evidences two or more distinct identities or personalities, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment?

According to Occam’s razor when alternate explanations for a given problem are incompatible, the simplest solution tends to be the right one. The principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities.

If a person asserts as true something which he believes on the basis of faith in order to deny that which he knows to be true as a matter of fact, he either has the mental condition whereby a single individual evidences two or more distinct identities or personalities, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment or he is being deliberately manipulative.  In either case his assertions are suspect.

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By John Hanks, October 4, 2007 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In a society run by panderers, we are all reaching for cheap wine all the time.

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By Conservative Yankee, October 4, 2007 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The doors to the mission open at seven
And the soup will be ready about nine
Right now its six-thirty, they’re ragged and dirty
They standin’ and sittin’, and layin’ in line
First they’ll do a little singin’,
then hear a little preachin’
   
And get saved for the 3rd time this week
A bowl of soup later and a pat on the shoulder
And by     midnight, they’re back on the     street.
   
They walk to the corner of 4th street and Broadway
Then take the first alley on the right
One of them asks a stranger, how ‘bout a hand
And he gives ‘em one finger at a time

Then they spot an old buddy, with a bottle of heaven
Then pass around what means ev’ry-thing
One bottle for four, thank God, someone scored
And now the Midnight Choir starts to sing.

Will they have Mogen David in heaven
Dear Lord, we’d all like to know
Will they have Mogen David in heaven, Sweet Jesus
If they don’t, who the hell wants to go.

Thank You Gatlin Bros!

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By John Hanks, October 4, 2007 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Scare them, protect them, fleece them.  Give them and enemy so you can divide and conquer and fleece some more.  Add a pinch of false hope.  Give them something to fear and be angry about every day, so you can feed on their demoralization.  Always condemn habitual black hatred which is the only way out of the mess.

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By Borowski, October 4, 2007 at 10:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I firmly believe that if a God came down from the clouds and told the sheep to stop praying because the charlatans are deceiving you. Stop paying homage to the con artist because you are insulting your intelligence and dignity. Not only that, you are insulting my dignity as well.  The charlatans touch a woman’s forehead that is over three hundred pounds with a bad back to cure her. Do you think that the charlatan would touch the forehead of his sick children or send them to a doctor? After the visitation, what would the sheep do? They would continue to pray because that is the only life they know and that is the only life they want to know.

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By Douglas Chalmers, October 3, 2007 at 6:56 am Link to this comment

#104166 by Char on 10/02 at 4:27 pm: “...Mr. Hedges: What in God’s name did you learn at Divinity school???  Even worse, what did you teach?  He reveals himself to the humble, and hates pride, I guess that explains it…...”

Religion (any religion) is merely man’s idea of God (not even ‘womens’ idea, uhh!).

Then there is God’s idea of man (and of woman, ha ha!). That is TRUTH!!!

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By Char, October 2, 2007 at 5:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Hedges:

What in God’s name did you learn at Divinity school???  Even worse, what did you teach?  He reveals himself to the humble, and hates pride, I guess that explains it.

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By GW=MCHammered, September 30, 2007 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A beautifully written piece spotlighting humankind’s evolutionary struggle. The wrestle inside each skull between abrupt instinct, often indistinct emotion, and hi-fi cognition. However my cranium takes issue with the conclusion: “And these acts define and sustain the religious life.”

Perhaps Mister Hedges would have been more accurate saying, “And these acts define and sustain <u>the desire for a spiritual life</u>.” Because if we are known by our actions, then collectively, as history shows, the religious are neither defined by their acts of compassion or pursuit of consciousness.

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By Scott, September 29, 2007 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment

TAO wrote Earth has a serious case of I-IDS….Induced Immune-Deficiency-Syndrome.

Mother Earth has experienced a number of extinction level event’s and lived to tell about it. Our’s is only one of many.

We’re stardust. Journeying to oblivion and back has always been in our nature.

Choo.

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By TAO Walker, September 29, 2007 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

Lefty (#103109) may well “....pity” Chris Hedges for being another self-selected “victim” of global Stockholm Syndrome.  It’s a condition they BOTH share, though, as “civilized individuals” making up part of the great herd of subject/citizenry milling-around terrorized today in the worldwide feedlot they’re programmed to think of as “the only game in town.”

Sometimes this old Savage gets a little too “punny.”  Lefty, again, (#103110) helpfully points-out that “auto-immune” refers to a malfunction of the IMMUNE SYSTEM.  Putting “auto” in quotes (#101691) might’ve made it clearer that Humanity’s natural organic function here includes helping our Mother Earth live-through, if possible, this “alien attack” of pathological “self”-ishness that is epitomized in its material manifestation by the AUTOmobile “culture” that’s been a principal instrument in the wholesale dis-integration of the organic Human form….called Tiyoshpaye, in the language of our Lakota cousins.  Earth has a serious case of I-IDS….Induced Immune-Deficiency-Syndrome.

Six-plus billion tame two-leggeds constitute a dooms-day Weapon of Mass Destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear, and conventional in its composition) aimed at the natural Living Arrangement here….one designed to obliterate all traces of itself, as well, in its cataclysmic final “explosion.”  The obsession so many have with their “individual” or national or even “racial” survival is as futile and contradictory as would be some suicide’s dying wish to dodge the bullet from the 44 magnum pressed to the roof of their mouth….after they’ve already pulled the trigger.

If this seems to suggest “the situation” is hopeless, this old Indian can only say it all depends on your point-of-view.  The Living Spirit that is our Mother Earth, along with those of all her natural Children, including the Ickche Wichasha (free wild Human Beings) everywhere, might yet have to leave behind transient physical forms no longer habitable because of injury, dis-ease, or “old-age.”  After all, it happens all the time to all things great and small, and is nothing to be afraid of.

Those of our Sisters and Brothers trapped in the virtual world-o’-hurt they call “civilization,” however, are ruled by their fears….no less real for being based entirely in make-believe.  So trying desperately to prolong the institutionalized agony that is the only (half)“life” they know is not something they can be criticized or condemned for….exercise in F-U-tility though it is. 

For all that, their “salvation” remains where it’s always been….in maintaining the integrity of their natural organic form and function within Earth’s (still) Living Body.  Everything else is the fatally seductive mirage of “Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia.”

HokaHey!

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By Stephen Smoliar, September 28, 2007 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment

Richard (#103205), note that nothing in the Wikipedia entry is inconsistent with the claims that Larry (#102257) made.  Indeed, with his credentials in political philosophy, my first inclination was to peg Gray as one of those neoconservatives breast-fed with the milk of Leo Strauss.  However, we have to look further than Wikipedia to see that this is not the case:

http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/42755.html

Nevertheless, I believe that Larry’s claims can, indeed, be refuted;  and a good place to start is the following dossier on the John Gray who is connected to Khashoggi:

http://www.questionsquestions.net/docs04/johngraydossier.html

This John Gray was born in 1951 (at least according to the Library of Congress), meaning that he is not the political philosopher who was born in 1948.  Indeed, Larry’s John Gray is best known for MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, which is decidedly not political philosophy;  and, even better, there is some question as to the validity of the doctoral degree of the Mars-Venus John Gray!

None of this is meant to throw the author of BLACK MASS in a more favorable light, however, since the review of this book at the hnn.us site is not particularly polite to the man!

Once again, the moral of the story is:  Question all claims;  skepticism rules!

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By Nathan, September 28, 2007 at 9:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Christianity was invented in Rome during the 4th Century AD at the Council of Nicea as a political tool to create unity between the dozens of Roman pagan religious factions and the Jews.  This is why Christianity maintains the rich tapestry of Roman pagain tradition as well as Jewish Tradition.  Christianity was invented as a means to create religious and therefor political Concensus by Emporer Constantine at a time when religious and political unrest threatened the very foundation of Roman society.  Therefore Jesus is actually a combination of many pagain Messiahs as well as the Jewish Messiah (who they do not believe has yet been born.)

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By Richard, September 28, 2007 at 7:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

From Wiki to correct a previous comment:

John N. Gray (born April 17, 1948 in South Shields, County Durham, England) is a prominent British political philosopher and author, currently School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.

Gray studied at Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and completed his B.A., M.Phil., and D.Phil.

He formerly held posts as lecturer in political theory at the University of Essex, fellow and tutor in politics at Jesus College, Oxford, and lecturer and then professor of politics at the University of Oxford. He has served as a visiting professor at Harvard University (1985-86), Stranahan Fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, Bowling Green State University (1990-1994), and has also held visiting professorships at Tulane University’s Murphy Institute (1991), and Yale University (1994).”

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By Douglas Chalmers, September 28, 2007 at 4:08 am Link to this comment

#103112 by Lefty on 9/27 at 7:50 pm: “..were you gang raped by a pack of wild roving Jews in your youth?  Your obsessive hatred for Jews is realy boring!...”

No, but your style of comment is offensive as well as boring, Lefty.

I was criticizing the so-called Christian religion as it is expounded by the dogmatic churches instead actually. Jesus was a well-travelled and educated (in Asia) teacher who spoke against the state and the church (the Jewish religion) in his time. He was murdered by the church and the state for that.

Regardless, people who call themselves “Christian” have been led like blind sheep to accept a Judeo-Christian cobbled together pack of romantic fantasies and lies which continue to describe the Jews as some kind of “chosen poeple”. It is nonsense!

Yet, Christianity has been thus used by Western leaders to launch hundreds of years of violent opportunistic Crusades and other more recent forms of belligerence in support of some non-existent “holy land” in the (non-existent) usurped state of “Israel” (really Palestine) and the Middle East generally.

Today, Israel is only interested in expanding its own power base any way it can so it can control the water and oil pipelines passing through Turkey and Lebanon. AIPAC’s manipulation of US politics is well-known so you needn’t blame me for your own pathetic ignorance. Don’t forget about the Dimona nuclear power facility in Israel since the 1960’s and its own secret WMD’s, either, eh?

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By Douglas Chalmers, September 27, 2007 at 12:42 am Link to this comment

Actually, there is always an option for being and acting reasonably. The problem is that we are all faced with our own “primitive” psychologies and thought processes. As political and belief structures tumble under economic and climate-change pressures, all is being questioned.

The Middle East (West Asia, mainly) and elsewhere are modernizing as best they can. They have to contend with their own traditional imperfections and shortcomings whilst suffering the antagonizms and exploitations of Western powers. Its no use demonizing them for the sake of ignoring our own Western imperfections.

Ever since the so-called “Christian” crusades a thousand years ago, religions have been manipulated by politicians - or even used to control politicians (and kings). What we have today is no different. The problem for the West is to free itself from its own mental enslavement to the foreign idea that the Jews are somehow more entitled to live on Earth than their neighbours.

If ever there was an apocalypse in the making, it is now. The reasons are quite simple although appearing intentionally complex. Pandering to the ‘lowest common denominator’ amongst the narrow-minded, the fearful and the ignorant in order to manipulate them and thus control society is the real ememy of all. Freedom and then democracy is lost to all but the powerful who do not need democracy anyway and are only interested in their personal ‘free will’ to do what they will regardless of the cost.

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By protagonia, September 26, 2007 at 8:25 am Link to this comment

So, whether we strive to be kind to others or not, we are doomed to an animal ruthlessness. Hmmm.

Chris is one of the very, very clever ones. Almost bit on the line for a second, then HIS AGENDA snuck out.

Oops.

Hedging his bets?

He paints us all with one brush, the one from which he has crafted himself.

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By Hemi*, September 25, 2007 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment

To Larry…#102257:

I thank you also for the heads up Larry.

Gray is apparently a self-made carnival huckster. His credentials according to Wikipedia include liberal arts college (no degree but not a negative), Hindu monk, studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and brandishes a Ph.D from a now defunct “non-accredited distance education institution”. Now there’s a business card for ya!

It just so happens I’m currently attending a “non-accredited distance education institution”. This semester I’m focusing on improving my techniques for picking up non-accredited co-eds. Here are my three most successful pick-up lines: Did I mention I studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? Chris Hedges has just reviewed my latest book! And my favorite: I have a mail order Ph.D, would you care to play doctor?

What is Hedges thinking?

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By tomack, September 24, 2007 at 11:28 am Link to this comment

Once again I hear Hedges insinuate that doing good deeds, or blind acts of human kindnes, are somehow limited to those having a foundation in religous life, and that a Realist cannot think of a life lead like that without thinking it Absurd.

I find that arrogant and mostly inaccurate. I would say completly inaccurate, but I’m sure there are a few realists out there who think good deeds and blind acts of kindness are absurd. For that matter I’m sure there are a few religous people out there who think the same.

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By GrammaConcept, September 24, 2007 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

To Larry…#102257:

My sincere appreciation for your background check on Gray…..

Those who breed cynicism, irony and despair need to be clearly and carefully exposed…Knowing about these peddlers of doom helps us to more honestly assess our own thinking patterns…..

As we think, so we become…

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By Stephen Smoliar, September 24, 2007 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

Larry (#102257), this would certainly explain why Gray is so sloppy with his philosophical terminology (#101462) and confirm his pragmatism, since it is so explicit about the basis for his utility values!

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By Larry, September 23, 2007 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Gray is on the payroll and is a very junior business partner of the Saudi billionaire arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi, an amoral seller of hellish weapons to dictators and other assorted butchers.

Khashoggi subsidized Gray’s publishing, for one thing, and also funds Gray’s work in the batshit-crazy wing of the 911 conspiracy movement (not the actual rational truth-squad 911 researchers) and stands accused, along with Gray, of embezzling $100 million from a corporation (Genesis, something) they were both involved in.

Gray is basically a paid nihilist who rationalizes everything down to a philosophy of “why bother since we’re all going to destroy each other anyway”.  See how he debases The Enlightenment, the only thing humanity has had going for it since The Renaissance.

Gray is in essence an oversimplifying apologist for naked aggression as idealized and internalized by the likes of his arms-supplier benefactor Khashoggi, who is busily selling the weapons with which Gray is predicting we will all destroy each other.  It’s interesting how one dirty hand ‘washes’ the other in this case.  Turds of a feather.

Well, Gray and his war-crimes Saudi Sugar Daddy are monsters in human form, in my opinion, dressed in $5000 suits on one hand and cloaked in barely passable philosobabble on the other.  Even Gray’s Mars and Venus garbage, his most well-known schtick, is mired in a stifling approach to gender relation issues, overly stereotyping to the point of, again, “why bother to change since everything is completely predetermined”.  What a crock he perpetuates.  I can’t believe you take him seriously in the least, Chris, except for the vaunted place purchased for him in the national dialogue by the dirty blood money of his benefactor.

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By Rich, September 23, 2007 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nice article Chris.

I look forward to reading more.

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By Bobbie, September 23, 2007 at 2:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is indisputable that secularism has long had a moderating effect on the excesses of religious belief and practice.  But even within a secular worldview, history has shown that there is ample room for excesses that can be equally destructive.  Although Hedges may not like the concept of an innate human nature, it does explain the tendency that human beings have to embrace the sort of communal delusions that characterize many religious and secular mass movements.  A great many of us evidently need to believe that we are somehow part of a transcendant process, which makes us suggestible and vulnerable to those who offer to satisfy that need.

There have always been extremist strands that see the world in terms of power and the exclusion of others who do not fall within the fold of one’s own group or tribe.  However, it is not inevitable that these strands will come to dominate all others.  Post-enlightenment rationality was in ascendency for centuries before the most recent descent into totalitarianism and virulent religiousity.  What is unacceptable is to surrender to the notion that extremist belief system are pre-destined to triumph.  And what is even more unacceptable is to behave in a manor that validates and promotes the extremist view that human history is little more than a “clash of civilizations.”

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By Max, September 23, 2007 at 2:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I know a few ordinary people who have all but built doors on the second floor with no outside stairways to make the Rapture more convienent. The egocentrism encouraged by the self drugged ancient authors of Revelation is very real. These new Rapture ready people are pathetic and lost unhappy people who after accepting Jesus realize they are no happier and would nudge the President to initiate nuclear war so as to end their own failed lives. Of course they have not failed, society has failed them. The Rapture Bible Thumpers have paper thin credentials as the real losers are the people they pretend to love and that is the Jews who if they do not convert to Christainity will spend forever in the Burning Lake of Fire.  The joke is on them.

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By Outraged, September 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm Link to this comment

Now, I haven’t read the book but from Hedges quotes and descriptions I feel I can at least comment.

There are several things quotes which I find…well, ignorant. For instance, this:

““primitive versions of religion” that will be used to fuel apocalyptic violence.  His is a world where faith-based violence will become the norm,”......aah…sorry, but can you tell me a time in the history of the world when this type of thing was not happening somewhere on it.  This is like going to a fortune teller and having them tell you that eventually you’re going to grow old and die.

And also:
“Gray is more skeptical; he sees us as all hostage to our animal instincts and argues that we can do little to blunt them.”  Personally, I feel that if we were MORE like animals, we’d be a helluva’ lot more rational, not IRRATIONAL.  Besides, animals “ain’t got religion”, yet.

Moving on:
“He writes that religion is an attempt to deal with mystery “rather than hope that mystery will be unveiled.” He calls this “a civilizing perception” and fears that it is being lost.” .........OK…this is just pure mumbo jumbo.  Look at ALL those emotional words of “transcendence”..attempt.., mystery.., hope.., unveiled.., civilizing.., perception.., fear and of course, not to be forgotten, LOST.  Geez, I could just put those words in a list WITHOUT ANY OTHER “LINKING” WORDS and any “trained” religious person would be “moved”.  Hogwash, pure and utter hogwash.

Thanks for the “heads up” Chris, I don’t think I’ll be picking this one up at the grocery store.

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By Kevin Krapf, September 22, 2007 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I gives me hope to observe all these human beings actually making a conscious effort to both refine and express their beliefs through this list of comments. From the concrete realists determined to live factual lives, to the spiritual minded who encourage a focus on what is beyond our limited knowledge, I find beauty in this array of individuals. Each one is flowing in the process of the self-evolving art form designed for us, nearing the destiny of each one’s character.

I might humbly advise to take heed to moderation, though. Indeed I believe that a person should believe firmly in their convictions, but it is essential to stay open to the possibility that your opposing philosophy could actually strengthen your being and bring you closer to what you are striving for. If you are a die hard God-seeker, then try adding a little scientific reasoning into your spiritual diet. If you are a factual based accumulation of chemical reactions and materials, then take a quiet moment alone with Nature and reach back to the sincerity of your awe as a child, a powerful wisdom.(or just take a moment out of your circle of thinking to contemplate what made the circle in the first place.)

Do not be afraid of those other ideas…they won’t destroy you. Just recently I found my mother, a firmly Christian preacher’s daughter, researching techniques of meditation and eastern philosophy that she could apply to her life without destroy the basis of her beliefs. By the end of the day she had gained a powerful new vision for a dramatic representation of our relationship with God for her mother’s church. She had experimented in a very small way with meditation and it bestowed her with such a passion and will to create, progress, and love.

Overall, do not limit yourself. You are designed to be capable of so much.

-Stay beautiful

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By Billie, September 22, 2007 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hate to be a nudge, but. . .

This comment: “Together with conciousness and culture we have trancended the beast in us and become something ‘other’ and ‘more’. Sure we are still struggling with baser ‘instincts’ but that is surely part of the challange of being humnan isn’t it?”

Ok, I get it that you are reading us from our time as apes. But come on. Tell that little fairy tale of how we’ve transcended the beast in us to all the dead and maimed in war. To the dead wives of abusive husbands. To the horrifically slaughtered animals in factory farms. To the ghetto-ized minorities in myriad countries. Yes, go ahead and tell that little feel good story about what fabulous progress we are making against the coiled, reptilian part of our brains. Oh, and while you are getting all gooey and sentimental about our collective inroads into higher ethical mindedness, perhaps you could go help out a drowning polar bear or two.

I agree with Hedges. Some of what we can do is elevate ourselves through learning and experience and extend the everyday kindness. We can also be writers and artists and activists and good citizens. I was raised in a religious home. One that strived to be real. Not the fake, overly stern, for sale kind of late. My dad used to do BBQ chicken every sunday and sent a plate over to an elderly neighbor who had no family. Just little things like that. Little acts of thoughtfulness. Our religion was christian, but our every day religion basically came down to this: don’t be mean, greedy and insensitive to others. Respect nature. Discover the joy of art—it will always be your wise companion in life. And work hard for a good life. And also, P.S. Have fun.

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By Billie, September 22, 2007 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Writeronthestorm said: “The fact that we no longer consider the ownership of our fellow human beings acceptable is just one of countless examples of society evolving morally.”

Oh, really? I have to laugh at the naivité. And who is “We?” EVERYONE? I don’t think so.

Isn’t brainwashing a form of putting ownership on another human’s will? Isn’t how the Taliban enslaved women inside of burkas a form of ownership? What about areas in Africa that gather up young men and force them into military or gang-style servitude? What about the human (women and young boys) slave industry: kidnapping and forcing them to have sex and then keeping them hidden and transporting them to different “safe” places to outwit the authorities? What about the ownership of individuals in abusive, controlling relationships?
I could go on.

If we found controlling and manipulating and imprisoning another’s soul (as a global society) unacceptable, it would stop in its tracks. Some people find it unacceptable. Others, the perps and their enablers, obviously do not. So you cannot use society as a blanket term. I hate to wake you from your little dream, Writeronthestorm, but slavery is alive and unwell.

No, we as a human society do not evolve. Only individuals do. And some governments. . .for a time.

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By GrammaConcept, September 22, 2007 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

.........Religion is from the top down; Spirituality is from the inside out…....


If literally Every Thing and Any Thing we see was ‘made’ (read:Created) by someone (even a machine has a human button pusher somewhere), why then would not the very Earth upon which we live, and from which All Things come, also have been made (read: Created)?..........Therefore, there is a mathematically simple sequence on display here at all times…....Everything really is a metaphor for Reality…and Nature does, indeed, point the Way…......

Philosophy is a Gift from Spirit Beings to help keep us from going mad while we are learning to follow the signs….(The Golden Rule, a version of which is to be found in nearly all religions (try Googling it), also really helps, if we Will but sincerely follow it…(Sincerity gets lots of Extra Credit points…;-)

And, Thank You to all you very thoughtful commentors….fresh air!

We Strive On….

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By czechmate, September 22, 2007 at 7:58 am Link to this comment

Ocjim,
You have a good eye.
Beautiful summary.

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By ocjim, September 21, 2007 at 6:21 pm Link to this comment

The world Gray describes is a world created by American neoconservatives who ruthlessly seized power in the US by whatever means they could, including stealing elections. It is not a global philosophical movement as he suggest. The neo-conservatives counted on a obscenely-financed plutocratic elite, supported by think-tank constructed propaganda and media manipulation, a corporate media and an apathetic citizenry. They got all of them, aided by a terrorist attack they exploited. It is not a global movement. It is a product of one super power taken over by a unified force. The danger now is its entrenchment and the purchase of both parties by moneyed interests. There is a superficial intellectual base to the movement not something as pervasive as is suggested.

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By Stephen Smoliar, September 21, 2007 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment

Dave F (#101830), I think you are disregarding some of the more critical philosophical gingerbread in which this discussion is (of necessity) embedded.  If you take a pragmatic stance, which is what I (#101462) think Gray is doing, even if he is not explicit about it, then UTILITY counts for more than truth.  This is particularly important in light of Aquinas’ argument that moral claims cannot be reduced to truth values (which most of us would probably accept regardless of his particular argumentation techniques).  I am not sure whether or not comfort is a moral issue, but the anthropological evidence indicates that different cultures assign different utility values to it.  Thus, any claim that “comfort matters” is factious (if not facetious).  The problem with such “relativism of utility” is that you have to recognize that your own pragmatism is unlikely to be embraced by many of those other cultures!  It is at this point that I turn to CANDIDE for comfort and live with the fact that I really cannot do anything more than see to my own garden!

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By Dave F, September 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religion is manmade.  God is an idea created by man.  Is religion functional? Sure.  But function does not mean it’s true.  And truth is what matters, not facetious comfort.  Chemical reactions that occur in our evolved brains creates consciousness.  Therefore, consciousness is a byproduct of chemical reactions.  Romanticizing this into the word “soul” or to belittle Nature by claiming (with no evidence) that God exists is disgusting.  We are subjectively special, and objectively worthless.  I can deal with it, and live a fuller life because of it.  Can you?

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By Joe R., September 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religion is just denial.  People can’t handle the thought that the Universe can go on without them.  We can’t handle that we have to die, and there is nothing for us afterwards.  So, we invent an afterlife that isn’t there and then we believe in it.

We as a species probably won’t survive.  We are unable to control our numbers and too greedy to create an economic system that the planet can tolerate.  But one thing I do believe is that we don’t have a chance in hell of making it as long as we allow religious fanatics to run our societies.  Religious myth, and that is what religion is, divides humanity into warring factions that end up fighting.  Nuclear war is in our future because people will gladly kill each other over religious differences.

To survive we have to look at what is reality and what is feasable.  We have to replace make believe with action.

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By Scott, September 21, 2007 at 10:46 am Link to this comment

To control people with fear.

Works everytime. Just ask Goebbel’s and Rove.

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By S. Leonard Scheff, September 21, 2007 at 9:34 am Link to this comment

The Dalai Lama said: “Kindness is my religion.”  Hedges seems to come to the same conclusion.  Which leaves the question of why all of the mythology such as god and the devil, heaven and hell etc. attached to conventional religion is necessary?

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

Reply to Smoliar, the philosopher/musician…
It was the existentialists that did him in for a while.  My own feet were firmly above the dancefloor and my head dealt quite easily with no time…Cage!

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By Stephen Smoliar, September 21, 2007 at 8:09 am Link to this comment

riya’s “synopsis” (#101729) reminded me of one of my favorite passages from William Faulkner, in the “June 2, 1910” chapter of THE SOUND AND THE FURY, at the end of the scene where Quentin Compson goes to get his watch repaired.  On the way out of the shop, he looks back:  “There were about a dozen watches in the window, a dozen different hours and each with the same assertive and contradictory assurance that mine had, without any hands at all.”  Is that the sort of “experience of nothingness” you had in mind, riya?  (For what it is worth, I feel fortunate enough to say that one of the most important teachers in my life was John Cage!)

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

One more thing, before I crawl into that cozy bed full of cats and kids, thank you Tao Walker, for giving me a new phrase that I will issue with due respect:
  “...a poverty of the imagination.”

I Love that! 

I’m a volunteer at the elementary school up here in the mountains, I can use that little sting with a smart kid, it will surely fire ‘em up.

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By riya, September 21, 2007 at 4:04 am Link to this comment

Wow, living 12 years with a philosophy major made me
1)want to send him this post
2)shudder and freak out
3)start to relax as I read TaeWalker, because I do beliieve that the only thing we’ve got going is family, tribes, and our friends
4)Stephen Smolier reminded me of sitting on the corner of the dance building at U of U while my love went through an “experience of nothingness”
5)HK made me smile.  I am an animal and I kissed my dog friend tonight (my protector, a Great Pyrenees, my cat friends, and my little girls.  I will crawl into bed with all of them as soon as I finish this post, and the woodstove is going, and hey, what else can I say?

6)OK Let’s can Bush and Blackwater, and I will say three Hail Mary’s to seal the deal.  It always works, the Sister of my second grade learning said.  And you know what?  Sometimes it does.  The only time I’m lucky…is if I fervently say those Hail Mary’s.  Whatever works for ya, as long as you don’t hurt anybody.
I love my pagan roots.

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By racetoinfinity, September 20, 2007 at 9:59 pm Link to this comment

I couldn’t disagree more with this reductionism of human beings to animals that don’t have the capacity to evolve and grow.  Nonsense!  We are not only biological beings, but spiritual beings as well.

I don’t have the space to fully elucidate, but let me point anyone who disagrees to Ken Wilber’s work.

If you understand (and apprehend) the holarchy of being, you know we are all on a journey, and truth (justice), goodness (Love), and beauty are our starting and end points, and ever-present, if we will rise to the occasion within us.  It’s being “stuck” at the lower levels of humanity that is the illusion and the problem.

There is a spectrum from the most egocentric and atavistic to the sublime - living in the Lovelight, and if you don’t know about it, you’re still in the dark.

That means with love, clear headed insight, and work, we can help the planet progress.  I know it looks dire, but Gray’s is a surrender of ignorant despair, imo.

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By racetoinfinity, September 20, 2007 at 9:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I couldn’t disagree more with this reductionism of human beings to animals that don’t have the capacity to evolve and grow.  Nonsense!  We are not only biological beings but spiritual beings as well.

I don’t have the space to fully elucidate, but let me point anyone who disagrees to Ken Wilber’s work.

If you understand (and apprehend) the holarchy of being, you know we are all on a journey, and truth (justice), goodness (Love), and beauty are our starting and end points, and ever-present, if we will rise to the occasion within us.  It’s being “stuck” at the lower levels of humanity that is the illusion and the problem.

There is a spectrum from the most egocentric and atavistic to the sublime - living in the Lovelight, and if you don’t know about it, you’re still in the dark.

That means with love, clear headed insight, and work, we can help the planet progress.  I know it looks dire, but Gray’s is a surrender of ignorant despair, imo.

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By TAO Walker, September 20, 2007 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

Consider an alternative Way of looking at all this:  As Human Beings our “biology” IS our destiny, but with LifeHerownself fully half of everything there is (The NOTHIN’ “Handy Dandy” Reagan kept saying we ain’t seen yet is the rest.), what on Earth is wrong with that?  And where then are these “....inevitable chains and limitations….” of our organic Human Nature….except possibly in the induced insufficiency of one’s own personal attentiveness, an organically correctible (because it’s essentially only make-believe) dysfunction? 

Chris Hedges seems here to be grasping-at-straws….like so many others caught-short in this globe-girdling mega-typhoon of designer confusion and reigning terror.  He acknowledges the calamitous collapse of the West’s pet conceits, here in these latter days, condemns us all to a kind of perpetual “purgatory-on-earth,” and resigns himself to the essentially cardboard cut-out dimensions of the domesticated state which is all he can remember just now of what it means to be a Human Being.

Gray, Neibuhr, and their fella and gal moralists (both relativistic and absolute), at all times in all places, suffer from a poverty of imagination….along with every other ill that is consequential to being “civilized.”  The degraded (and deteriorating) condition their condition is in dominates their sense of things so completely they, like Chris Hedges here, believe they’ve no choice but to make-the-best of their dismally no-win “situation”....by somehow or another “transcending” it.  Theirs is a “Stockholm syndrome” of literally monstrous dimensions.

One of the difficulties the domesticated wrestle endlessly with is the supposed “problem” of our “animal nature.”  Us surviving free wild natural Human Beings know our “family-arity” with all our Relations here is the best thing we’ve got going for us.  Without it we, too, would’ve been long ago just shit-out-of-luck.  We do ceremonies to engage and bring into play the great range of “extra-human” qualities our Relatives offer us, freely and unconditionally….along with everything else we need to live.

Meantime, Humanity as such does have an organic function within the living body of our Mother Earth.  Our “act” is the fulfillment of that function.  We are components of Her auto-immune system.  The organic form consonant with that is certainly NOT the contrived (and intended-to-be immuno-suppressant) “individual”....which is nothing but a highly unstable “rogue” by-product of the equally artificial “nuclear family.” 

The Lakota word for our natural organic Human form is Tiyoshpaye.  If Chris Hedges and John Gray and anyone here struggling to make sense of the virtual world-o’-hurt they’re lost in would like to get back into The Great Hoop of Life, Tiyoshpaye IS The Way.  You have the solemn word of this old Heathen Savage on that.

HokaHey!

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By FFURKS, September 20, 2007 at 11:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“primitive versions of religion”

Like Catholicism!

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By Stephen Smoliar, September 19, 2007 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment

In spite of my initial enthusiasm, I have to confess that, the more I look into this review and the quoted passages, the more I see sloppy use of language, which is simply not acceptable practice for a moral philosopher (if Gray is, indeed, what Hedges claims him to be).  However, the best way to get this ball rolling is with my own blunder:  “My guess, however, is that Gray’s realism would see that concept of transcendence as socially constructed, just like an alternative culture that does not insist on that ‘meaning to existence.’”  If I had remembered my philosophy lessons (or consulted my OXFORD DICTIONARY OF PHILOSOPHY) I would have remembered that, in philosophy, the realist position is that “things” exist independent of us, rather than by virtue of our subjective (Berkeley) or social (Berger-Luckmann) construction.  I should have also remembered that the best example of a moral realist was Aquinas who (quoting the OXFORD DICTIONARY) “held that moral reality was not sufficiently structured to make true or false every moral claim.”  In the quote that Hedges gives, Gray is not so much talking about realists as he is about pragmatists, who would make moral decisions on the basis of their utility.  In that frame I could see Gray’s pragmatics embracing a socially-constructed concept of transcendence;  and, in the context of the Harris debate, I can certainly see Hedges rejecting such a concept.  (I would also guess that Hedges thinks no more of Shaw than he does of Harris!)

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By czechmate, September 19, 2007 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment

Hmmm,
How many rabid fundamentalists rocking back and forth on stone floors will it take to breed a realist to enlighten the developing world?
Admittedly the number of troops on the ground factors in at the same order of magnitude of probability in producing favourable results, but…

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By HK, September 19, 2007 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Go a little easy on the fatuous comparison with “animals” please.  Be they apes or whatever, their brutishness pales in comparison with man’s.  Outside of man, there is very little genuine barbarity in the world - and almost no gratuitous mayhem.  You have to wonder how a creature as heinous as man could possibly have evolved from the “lesser” creatures.  It kind of makes you think the meanness came from somewhere other than evolution - like maybe from the psychotic fixation with being the elect of a great otherworldly force that he alone can fathom.  No matter how often it’s said, this preposterous notion of transcendence rings just as hollow as it must have the first time some tribal shaman bellowed it from the midst of a drug induced trance.  The earth and its inhabitants don’t need something otherworldly to validate their existence any more than they need aliens from other planets to circumscribe their place in the universe. We don’t need a reason for being here to justify our existence; we just think we do because that’s what 99.9999999% of humanity was taught since day one.  It’s time to separate the chaff from the wheat.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, September 19, 2007 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment

Without having read Gray, I won’t criticize his work, but I will take issue with the ideas presented as Gray’s in this article. I strongly suspect that, at the heart of this review lurks an attack on Sam Harris, whom Mr Hedges debated recently. Hedges seems to be conscripting Gray’s “religious impulse” to flank his assault on the so-called “new atheists”. I have no idea what the religious impulse might be, but if indeed such a thing can be proven to exist, I would trust Mr Dawkins to discover it’s nature before Mr Gray.

One can look at atheism and make comparisons to abolitionism, which started with intellectuals and gradually worked it’s way into the mainstream. The fact that we no longer consider the ownership of our fellow human beings acceptable is just one of countless examples of society evolving morally.

This leads to another problem I have: the distinctly dystopian notion that we are headed into an era of violent religious fanaticism. When I look around today, I see a lot of political agendas masquerading as religious doctrine in order to justify some pretty abominable behavior. Muslim fundamentalist are more a product of generational oppressive foreign policy from the west, blowback from CIA intervention in the middle east, and the fact that Islam is one of the few things the disparate groups in the region can rally behind. Islam’s potency as a social catalyst against the guiding principals of western culture is obvious, that is why it is a one-size-fits-all call to arms for political opportunists of every stripe. In Israel, to take another example, Zionism might be a dangerous religious creed, but it is also their version of manifest destiny, embodying a political agenda. To extrapolate these into a worldwide cataclysmic dark age is alarmist, to say the least.

Where I could break bread with Gray is his notion of realism, if by realism, he means the lack of dogmatic thought. Any idea, be it religious, political, social, etc, that holds itself above scrutiny, or empirical testing, is anathema to me. I suppose that makes me one of the true new atheists.

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By nikto, September 19, 2007 at 11:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The darkest night is just before the dawn.”

Simply think of the 21st Century as the
“darkest night” part.

Let’s hope there will be a dawn after that.

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By Scott, September 19, 2007 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

Yabut, we’re still all gonne die…!

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By Stephen Smoliar, September 19, 2007 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

This is what a book review should be:  An opportunity to pursue the Hutchins-Adler vision of a “great conversation” with both an author and a reviewer!  It is only through such conversation that we can expand the scope of the initial thesis to a broader context that may help us better assess its value.

Consider one of Gray’s fundamental points:  “Actually, humanity cannot advance or retreat, for humanity cannot act: there is no collective entity with intentions or purposes, only ephemeral struggling animals each with its own passions and illusions.”  While this is certainly true in a literal sense, it rubs up against what sociologist James S. Coleman called the “micro-to-macro problem:”  the problem of how the actions of individuals both shape and are shaped by the culture in which those individuals are embedded.

http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/2007/07/of-crowds.html

When Coleman wrote about this some twenty years ago, he had no “solution” to this problem;  and, over those twenty years, social theory has done little more than provide us with better descriptive language.  Ironically, the extent to which religion “keeps us grounded” is probably one of the better-understood mechanisms behind the micro-macro relationship;  but our understanding is still pretty weak.

However, I suspect that Hedges would find such a take on religion too abstract, which is probably why he criticizes Gray’s realism for its lack of transcendence.  My guess, however, is that Gray’s realism would see that concept of transcendence as socially constructed, just like an alternative culture that does not insist on that “meaning to existence.”  The latter construct may be best represented by George Bernard Shaw, who is said to have written the following to Tolstoy:  “Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we were to learn that everything God created was nothing more than a joke;  would we not still feel obliged to make the joke a good one?”  For Meister Eckhart transcendence was captured by his prayer to God to be delivered from God.  For some of us, transcendence is coming to terms with the possibility that not everything has meaning!

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By GrammaConcept, September 19, 2007 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

To Writeon (#101252):....WOW!

To Chris Hedges:..WOW!

Warmly,
GrammaConcept

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By Tim, September 19, 2007 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“naïve crop of new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet”

I’d like to hear exactly how Hedges thinks Dawkins and Dennet are “naive.” Considering how poorly Hedges did in his recent Truthdig debate with Sam Harris, one wonders just who is “naive.”

I loved Hedges’ book “American Fascists,” but he is still clearly a victim of the God delusion.

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By writeon, September 19, 2007 at 1:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Gray’s ‘vision’ of the future and his version of ‘human nature’ is profoundly pessimistic almost to the point of being manic.

His criticism of the ‘enlightenment’ is to bleak and negative. Whilst, I too, am sceptical about the notion of ‘progress’ and ‘perfectability’, compared to what transpired before and what we may be sinking into - a new Dark Ages? - there were definite positive results connected with the enlightenment. This is, of course, a complicated subject, but on balance, the worst excesses of barbarism were pushed backwards and marginalized. Science and rationality attempted to describe the world as it was. ‘Myth’ was replaced by ‘rationality’ and there was ‘progress’ too.

I don’t buy this idea that we’re basically apes armed with Kalashnikovs. It would seem that whilst we’re capable of acts of collosal brutality and shocking violence and mind-numbing stupidity; we do also have the capcity to conciously reflect and examine our behaviour and mitigate and take remidial action. We can look at ourselves and we can change. Put simple we are not just slaves to hate. We also have the ability to show compasion and love. So I guess that makes me a utopian optimist. I think we should remember that we have also created culture, which no other species has. Together with conciousness and culture we have trancended the beast in us and become something ‘other’ and ‘more’. Sure we are still struggling with baser ‘instincts’ but that is surely part of the challange of being humnan isn’t it? I think I’d better stop now, as I feel myself becoming more optimistic and idealistic by the minute!

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By john, September 18, 2007 at 10:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cool article-actually gave me hope.
Thanx Chris.

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