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Chris Hedges on Obama, Michael Jackson, ‘Empire of Illusion’

Posted on Jan 8, 2010
Chris Hedges

Never one to shrink away from a strong debate, “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” author and Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges comes out swinging in this lecture recorded last month, giving his audience at the New School in New York City more than a few big ideas to grapple with regarding our current president, the state of our democracy and the cancer of celebrity culture in contemporary American society.

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By diman, January 11, 2010 at 11:36 am Link to this comment

C Quil well said!

And could anybody please explain to me, how come the junk-food conglomerate McDonald’s is the official restaurant of the Winter Olympics? Am I missing something? Since when did McDonald’s become the symbol of the healthy nutrition? This year the games should be named The Corporate Winter Games and forget about these athletes who became irrelevant.

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By gerard, January 11, 2010 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

Dom:  It’s called “killing the messenger.”  People who bring messages people don’t want to hear are often punished, scorned, criticized, and in the old days murdered.  When people get tired of bad news they search not for ways to correct the badness but to avoid having to correct it themselves, by blaming it on somebody else. 
Just review some of the mountains of criticism of Obama since he was elected.  Not that he doesn’t deserve criticism. The point is that much of the criticism is precisely to avoid having to DO anything oneself.  If that were not true, everybody and his uncle would be in the streets in DC, or writing letters and talking to everybody about what we can do, what we should do, how we should do it etc.  As it is these days, it is hard to get thee people to agree for more than five minutes, and that separateness of course suits “the power elite” just fine because they don’t have to cope with “the public” but can proceed with their crimes in full daylight without fear of a game-change.
  Picture Vegas:  There’s the political table, rigged as always, and the Dealer and his friends who know it.  There are the stupid gamblers who put their money down time after time, believing—merely believing—that they will win eventually. Some of them suspect the game is rigged, but play along anyway for the heck of it.  Then there are the people in the slow lane, standing all around, watching, watching, watching.  What’s gonna happen?  When is it going to happen?  How will it happen?
The law of averages tells them that more people will lose a lot more than one or two winners win.  But so what?  If anybody should do something, it’s them.  No, is the House.  No, the Dealer.  No it’s you, you and you.  But not me.  Sayonara.

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By Dom, January 11, 2010 at 4:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re: John

I agree with most of what Hedges says but when he speaks about it as if it were all ‘truths’ then I get a bit agitated that’s all.

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By John, January 10, 2010 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re: Dom

Ummm… well, right and wrong. Right, these aren’t facts. Wrong, however, in holding Mr. Hedges in contempt for putting forward his thesis that we are now digesting.

I bet you, though, that you’ll have a difficult time telling me or anyone here exactly what a fact is. No, you can’t just go to a web dictionary and cut and paste the “definition” of the word and say that’s the end of the argument. Facts are taken in a lot of different ways, and entire schools of philosophy have been built around contesting definitions that wax and wane over time in as their value in explaining what knowledge is. Truths, facts, beliefs, justification, verifiability - all of these are in dispute.

When Einstein was forming his theory of Relativity, his hypothesis was untested (and many of his conjectures still are), no one would have called the collection of views “facts”, but over time his formulation of space-time and gravity helped to explain a great deal about the world as we had not known before. Actually, Special and General Relativity have predicted the existence of particular states of matter before they were ever encountered in existence. Though a thing may not have been “true” or a “fact” to begin with, that doesn’t preclude something from becoming “true”; from becoming a “fact”.

Mr. Hedges insights into the matter are important. They reach out to prior insights and connect up, leaving people like me astounded at the resulting “truths” which have seemingly been under my nose for so long. In fact, they are very motivating. They may just become truths for me. Maybe for others as well. Maybe, and just maybe, they will become recognized as truths for enough people that they will be part of that public storehouse of knowledge we call the Truth.

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By Robert1014, January 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm Link to this comment
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I know Mr. Hedges studied at Seminary, and as I watched this compelling speech, I was quite conscious of his cadences…cadences quite familiar to me from my youthful days in weekly attendance with my family at Episcopal church. Mr. Hedges’ speech is indeed a sermon on the damned and decadent world we inhabit. He does not promise deliverance to a better world after we die, but suggests some of the least we must do if we retain any hope of delivering ourselves to a better world where and when it counts, while we still live.

I’m afraid we have much worse to go through, with no guarantee that a better society awaits us after our travail.

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By miklos gratzer, January 10, 2010 at 7:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually all of this is good news, for at least since Plutarch we know that the gods
actively dislike empires and strike their masters and serfs with blindness. Nothing
now here ...

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By Peetawonkus, January 10, 2010 at 6:43 am Link to this comment

Of course we don’t live in a fascist state…yet.

We’re just slowly and inexorably taking one step after another in that direction.

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By Dom, January 10, 2010 at 2:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Please stop speaking as if everything you say if fact.
Nothing you said in the first 10 can be proved a fact. so, if I were you I would ask more questions instead of lecturing as if you have been given the gift of clairvoyance.

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By Dar, January 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

By SusanSunflower:
“Unfortunately, you and I - as far as I can tell - are vastly outnumbered and immoderately tolerant and compassionate in viewing Michael Jackson as a living, breathing and suffering human being.”

Not true, there are countless millions around the world who loved him and probably felt towards his life and problems as you did. I certainly did.

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By SusanSunflower, January 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment

Gerard—I don’t disagree as far as my own opinion. I have alway actually doubted Michael Jackson abuses any of the boys he befriended (along with their parents from whom they were not isolated). I have my own ‘theories’ of Michael Jackson’s retreat into a pseudo-fantesy Peter Pan life—and it’s not sordid, it’s sad; somewhat less manipulating, than manipulated. The self-loathing and loneliness were writ large. I suspect as long as his mother is alive his story (like his life) will be air-brushed to protect her.

Unfortunately, you and I - as far as I can tell - are vastly outnumbered and immoderately tolerant and compassionate in viewing Michael Jackson as a living, breathing and suffering human being. Very few are willing—even now—to acknowledge the facade of bizarro hype (some of which was, in fact, deliberately cultivated by Jackson himself.)


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By OzarkMichael, January 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment

cmarkuspar says this proves we are a fascist state:

In a claim disputed by Birkenfeld’s lawyers in a December 7 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Justice Department officials said the jail time was justified because he was not initially forthcoming about the tax fraud committed by his billionaire U.S. client Igor Olenicoff.

In other words, Birkinfeld had his hand in the cookie jar but wouldnt come clean until the police took him aside and showed him evidence that exposed his work on tax evasion for billionaires.

Faced with big jail time, he turned and provided the evidence on his buddies.

Now he wants to be completely off the hook and he is calling himself a “courageous hero”. He is “proud” of himself. But Eric Holder wont give him a free pass.

Thats is supposed to be evidence that we live in a fascist state?

Sorry cmarkuspar, no sale.

Read more:

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By cmarcusparr, January 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm Link to this comment

More evidence that you live in a fascist state. How can anyone justify this act by the U.S. government?

Former UBS AG private banker Bradley Birkenfeld, the key informant in the landmark U.S. case against the Swiss banking giant, reported to a federal prison in Pennsylvania Friday, while his lawyers stepped up their criticism of the U.S. Justice Department for prosecuting him.

Mr. Birkenfeld, speaking by phone while traveling to the Schuylkill County Federal Correctional Institution in Minersville, Pa., said prosecutors and the courts had treated him differently from the kinds of tax cheats he revealed to the government.

“Every single UBS client is pretty much walking away free, either house arrest or probation,” said Mr. Birkenfeld, who began serving a 40-month sentence for helping UBS clients evade U.S. taxes. He pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced last August.

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By gerard, January 9, 2010 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

n defense of Michael Jackson—Hedges is a bit too hard on this frail, tortured, extremely talented genius. It is good that Hedges also looks into the larger social environment that impinged upon his life.(I’m thinking particularly of prejudice here, but there are other factors at play also—exploitation etc.)
  Like many extremely talented geniuses, Jackson was unbalanced when judged by norms, yet it was probably this very imbalance that made him an iconic dancer and master of a significant sector of the performing arts.
  With such persons throughout history, ethical questions nearly always arise when they are judged by average standards, and the kindest thing to do under such circumstances is to empathize with the pressures under which they lived, and forgive them their trespasses in favor of their accomplishments.
  To tell you the truth, I rather resented Hedges focusing on Jackson personally instead of on the culture which helped not only to create but to misguide him and ultimately destroy him—as it misguides and destroys us all.

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By SusanSunflower, January 8, 2010 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

Excellent speech - saw it a few days ago from another link—I think the MJ reference help make it accessible to folks who otherwise would instantly be “bored.”

Considered joining SWP last fall ... but felt need to do “research”  as there seem (naturally) to be a handful of american Socialist parties ...

I do agree that—scary as it may be—it is time to “declare” ourselves—as whatever we believe in—and to find “others” —far too much hiding behind “Lesser of Two Evils” and indulgence in
“Having to Lie in the Bed You’ve Made” status-quo comfort maintaining cowardice.

I sure hope I’m not the only one!

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By bogglesthemind, January 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

It’s an imperfect wold.

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By OzarkMichael, January 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment

Chris Hedges asked: “will we follow the sober rational people, or will we follow the demagogues and charlatons?”

Hedges is apparently referring to Obama as a charlaton.

How come when i said it last year I was called a racist, but now Chris Hedges is a saint and a truth-teller for saying the exact same thing?

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By OzarkMichael, January 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment

useridml said: Chris Hedges is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer of our day.

What makes you say that? What images you conjure if you really mean it.

You imply that our goverment is fascist, and that Obama is our Hitler.

Do you mean it?

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By useridml, January 8, 2010 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment

Chris Hedges is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer of our day. How eloquently he bespeaks what many of us feel.  Thank you Mr. Hedges for your lucid and ongoing commentary on our culture and what the remains of our democracy. We must unite to undo what we have allowed to happen to our country.

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By felicity, January 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm Link to this comment

John Ellis rather makes the point - although I doubt that it was intentional.

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By Virginia777, January 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment

Beautiful comment, felicity

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By gerard, January 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

“I simply don’t know what to do” is the universal mantra, and it’s easy to undestand why.  But ... we have to pull up our socks! 
  Chris has hinted several times recently, indicating the necessity of organizing locally, of community action, as the beginnings of pulling a movement together.  It requires neighbors to talk to each other, local leadership to take responsibility for conducting meetings which guarantee democratic decision making and on-going open discussions on what can practically be accomplished, on how to unify people with likeminded goals, how to take courage from past achievements in democratic social actions, etc. etc. 
  It takes courage to believe that people can do better—at least that people need not simply be the passive victims of destruction and injustice. 
  And the first thing that comes to mind now is to ask myself “What’s your excuse?”  because I do almost nothing now except write stuff in which I have a very frail faith.  I’m approaching my 96th and my body is tired, so physical activity is out of the question within a half hour. I regret this, but can’t expect more, and so beg understanding for frailty ... and for trying to move words in a helpful direction. 
  Whatever action is done will be by others, and I feel sad to only be able to wave them on. Whatever I have learned (if I am ever right) I learned through political battles once seemingly “won,” but now reappearing in weird repetition. I guess the joy has to be in the battle more than in the “victory.”

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By TomSemioli, January 8, 2010 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

I did’t watch the MJ funeral, never bought his music, or cared about his career. And there are millions like me! Don’t blame the celebs or media, blame a society that worships these circus clowns!

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By bogglesthemind, January 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

The Money Tree
  Its leaves were 20 dollar bills? - Its fruit was diamonds? - Its flowers were
government bonds? - It attracted human beings who killed each? other around its roots which made? for very good fertilizer…....

So it goes….....


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By bogglesthemind, January 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment

The Money Tree
  Its leaves were 20 dollar bills? - Its fruit was diamonds? - Its flowers were
government bonds? - It attracted human beings who killed each? other
around its roots which made? for very good fertilizer…....

So it goes….....


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By jack, January 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

can’t recall how long I’ve been saying that this is the most philistine nation of all
time even though it always lands me in trouble with those who cling so
desperately to the pop-culture patron saints of their youth who spoke to them
when they needed the resonance of their own angst in their ear

somehow that desperation lives on even after middle age strikes and they turn again in the midst of their affluent mid-life crises to the same old voices for comfort and guidance without a clue as to how immature they are

endless adolescence, pop culture bliss on pennies a day - works for the oligarchs, keeps the children deluded and out of their hair

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By David Rule, January 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is why I joined the zeitgeist movement!

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By Hammond Eggs, January 8, 2010 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

I love Chris Hedges.  I just wish he didn’t look so much like Woodrow Wilson.

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By C Quil, January 8, 2010 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

Bravo, Mr. Hedges.

The corporate spectacle that is the Olympic Games here in Canada is bombarding us with images of people wearing Olympic gear with “Believe” emblazoned on it, and admonishing us with “Do YOU believe?”.

Believe what? Is this a religion?

The government, run by the neoCon Stephen Harper, has simply closed (or prorogued) parliament until after the Olympic hype. Who needs government? When they come back, they’ll tell US what to “believe”.

People are losing jobs or never finding them.

  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
  The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
  The best lack all conviction, while the worst
  Are full of passionate intensity.”

Yeats knew whereof he spoke.

I simply don’t know what to do.

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By felicity, January 8, 2010 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

Historically, prosperous nations seem to inevitably drift into materialism and anti-intellectualism with almost predictable disastrous results.  Apparently, America is yet another run-of-the-mill-has-been prosperous nation.  The as yet unsolved conundrum is why.

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