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This Time We’re Taking the Whole Planet With Us

Posted on Mar 7, 2011
AP / Mahesh Kumar A.

People collect scraps from a garbage dump in Hyderabad, India.

By Chris Hedges

I have walked through the barren remains of Babylon in Iraq and the ancient Roman city of Antioch, the capital of Roman Syria, which now lies buried in silt deposits. I have visited the marble ruins of Leptis Magna, once one of the most important agricultural centers in the Roman Empire, now isolated in the desolate drifts of sand southeast of Tripoli. I have climbed at dawn up the ancient temples in Tikal, while flocks of brightly colored toucans leapt through the jungle foliage below. I have stood amid the remains of the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor along the Nile, looking at the statue of the great Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II lying broken on the ground, with Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” running through my head:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Civilizations rise, decay and die. Time, as the ancient Greeks argued, for individuals and for states is cyclical. As societies become more complex they become inevitably more precarious. They become increasingly vulnerable. And as they begin to break down there is a strange retreat by a terrified and confused population from reality, an inability to acknowledge the self-evident fragility and impending collapse. The elites at the end speak in phrases and jargon that do not correlate to reality. They retreat into isolated compounds, whether at the court at Versailles, the Forbidden City or modern palatial estates. The elites indulge in unchecked hedonism, the accumulation of vaster wealth and extravagant consumption. They are deaf to the suffering of the masses who are repressed with greater and greater ferocity. Resources are more ruthlessly depleted until they are exhausted. And then the hollowed-out edifice collapses. The Roman and Sumerian empires fell this way. The Mayan elites, after clearing their forests and polluting their streams with silt and acids, retreated backward into primitivism.

As food and water shortages expand across the globe, as mounting poverty and misery trigger street protests in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the elites do what all elites do. They launch more wars, build grander monuments to themselves, plunge their nations deeper into debt, and as it all unravels they take it out on the backs of workers and the poor. The collapse of the global economy, which wiped out a staggering $40 trillion in wealth, was caused when our elites, after destroying our manufacturing base, sold massive quantities of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities to pension funds, small investors, banks, universities, state and foreign governments and shareholders. The elites, to cover the losses, then looted the public treasury to begin the speculation over again. They also, in the name of austerity, began dismantling basic social services, set out to break the last vestiges of unions, slashed jobs, froze wages, threw millions of people out of their homes, and stood by idly as we created a permanent underclass of unemployed and underemployed.

The Mayan elite became, at the end, as the anthropologist Ronald Wright notes in “A Short History of Progress,” “… extremists, or ultra-conservatives, squeezing the last drops of profit from nature and humanity.” This is how all civilizations, including our own, ossify and die. The signs of imminent death may be undeniable. Common sense may cry out for a radical new response. But the race toward self-immolation only accelerates because of intellectual and moral paralysis. As Sigmund Freud grasped in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” and “Civilization and Its Discontents,” human societies are as intoxicated and blinded by their own headlong rush toward death and destruction as they are by the search for erotic fulfillment.


Square, Site wide

The unrest in the Middle East, the implosion of national economies such as those of Ireland and Greece, the increasing anger of a beleaguered working class at home and abroad, the growing desperate human migrations and the refusal to halt our relentless destruction of the ecosystem on which life depends are the harbingers of our own collapse and the consequences of the idiocy of our elite and the folly of globalization. Protests that are not built around a complete reconfiguration of American society, including a rapid dismantling of empire and the corporate state, can only forestall the inevitable. We will be saved only with the birth of a new and militant radicalism which seeks to dethrone our corrupt elite from power, not negotiate for better terms.

The global economy is built on the erroneous belief that the marketplace—read human greed—should dictate human behavior and that economies can expand eternally. Globalism works under the assumption that the ecosystem can continue to be battered by massive carbon emissions without major consequences. And the engine of global economic expansion is based on the assurance that there will always be plentiful and cheap oil. The inability to confront simple truths about human nature and the natural world leaves the elites unable to articulate new social, economic and political paradigms. They look only for ways to perpetuate a dying system. Thomas Friedman and the array of other propagandists for globalization make as much sense as Charlie Sheen.

Click here to check out Chris Hedges’ new book,
“The World As It Is, Dispatches On the Myth of Human Progress.”

Keep up with Chris Hedges’ latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at


New and Improved Comments

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By Anton, March 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

CO2 levels are well above 350 ppm.

391.19 ppm (Sources:,

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By Greetings, March 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It appears now that the solution of how to live on this earth, which is,  harmony, compassion and love or a sense of oneness may only be known and lived after the pending ecological fallout.  But, maybe all the fallout messages will quickly bring about some positive change.  Thanks Chris.

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By TDoff, March 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment

Chris, when you right, you right. We’ll know Earth’s demise is imminent when the GOPers pass the bill authorizing the erection of stone statues of Sarah, Haley, the Huckster, and the Boner in the Capitol rotunda.

Which should be about next Tuesday.

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By Donna Muller, March 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve heard you on “Radio Times,” “Citizen Radio,” and several other podcasts
recently and admire your writing. I have the same thoughts as I travel the world
and stand on the layers of other civilizations. Tragic and excellent essay.

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By SarcastiCanuck, March 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As always Chris,brilliantly articulated.No matter how hard you try though,I don’t think that you can overcome one of the most powerful forces in human nature.That is the force of human denial.As I have come to learn in my 53 years on earth,Mankinds ability to deny anything he doesn’t want his/her mind to deal with is monumental.We usually don’t have to look beyond our ownselves to prove this as true.Keep up the battle my friend because not everyone out there has marginalized you.I for one see you as one of societies consciences…

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By frank1569, March 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Although totally agnostic, I’ve done a fair share of
religious readings - and one in particular is as
prophetic as it is ignored.

After the Christian God flooded Earth, he told Noah
it was the last time He was wiping out sinful humans
and giving them another chance to get it right.

Next time, he warned, humans will wipe-out humans
themselves, and there would be no more chances given
after that.

So let it be written, so let it be done…

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By A. Benway, March 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good ol’ Chris! Chaos makes detailed prediction impossible, and small unpredictable events can create large outcomes - also unpredictable. Chris is spot on, and we all, critters and plants - self-aware life - may soon be gone, but history also illustrates the “bolt from the blue” that changes everything.

Lets us assume, for example, that a plague dispatches 90 % of the human population in six months, starting now… Consider the new post hoc reality…

There do not seem to be any outcomes that are nice. None at all. But some outcomes are better than others. And in the last ice-age humanity was reduced to about 1,000 persons…

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By balkas, March 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment

it is, to me, more important to consider which of the two structures of society
[we only have two available] wld in the end prevail: an ideally personally
supremacistic or inegalitarian as exemplified by the one in u.s., or an ideally
idyllic one which we do not have yet, but cld develop in decades, centuries, or
once we develop or begin to develop an egalitarian society [not in utopian sense],
a pantisocratic and timocratic system of rule follows natch from it. tnks for ur L,
R, and deaf Ear

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By gustro, March 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Noticed an error; on page 2, Chris means to say carbon is at 429 ppm, not 329.

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By RobertH, March 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As always, Hedges’s analysis is disturbing and ominous. However, he states greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are at 329 parts per million; they haven’t been that low since October of 1976. Currently (January of 2011) we’re at 391 ppm for CO2 alone without considering the impact of human-generated methane and ozone, which also contribute greatly to climate forcing.

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By pyrrhon, March 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment

We humans survived as a species because of our strong social bonds and yet this very source of our survival is now despised in America.  We cannot survive as a country without this social bond and it is now very apparent that because we are being taught to hate social ideals, we are falling into cultural decay.  Instead of working together to resolve the many issues that face us, we are sadly divided and blindly and greedily ignoring them, which defines what we are—stupid.

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By Druthers, March 7, 2011 at 11:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How true!
There is also the fact that as restraints on power are lifted all rationalisations are accepted for behavior that is purely self oriented.
Those who know no limits on their comfort and ability to self indulge come to believe they are exceptions, not part of the rest of humanity.  It is almost as though they imagine that the laws of nature to not apply to them since they are of a “different” nature and entitled to priviledged lives for themselves and their offsprings.
And unlimited power leads to unlimited vice.

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By weylguy, March 7, 2011 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

Two things I want to relate about human foibles:

First, it’s been a while since I read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, but I believe in the Easter Island chapter Diamond muses about what was going through the islander’s mind as he was cutting down the very last tree. It must have been one of two things: either the gods demanded total commitment before they would save the islanders, or all was lost anyway and the last tree was no going to help the situation. Either way, human stupidity was the cause of the collapse.

Second, physics professor emeritus Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado at Boulder once stated that the greatest blunder of Homo sapiens is our inability or unwillingness to understand the exponential function of mathematics. This function describes growth, and in a finite world unlimited growth is impossible. It has been our misfortune to exploit resources until they’re gone, either out of pure greed or in the illogical belief that some supernatural entity will save us at the last minute.

I’ve read about half a dozen of Chris Hedges’ books, and I know he speaks as both a Christian seminary-trained humanitarian and sobered war correspondent. While he has often sounded pessimistic, I believe now he’s just being realistic: it’s over.

What to watch out for: when you see the elite start caching freeze-dried food, water, penicillin, guns and ammunition into their gated homes and onto their yachts, you’ll know collapse is imminent.

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By Big B, March 7, 2011 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

For anyone out there who was thinking of reading fat freddies comment, save yourself some time and just go to the Lyndon Larouche website to listen to how any power centralized by democratic vote is bad, and of course any regulation of “free markets” is absolutely evil! For in a totally free society we would all stand, hand in hand, corporations and private citizens, and sing kum-by-ya. Nobody would be poor, or sick. anyone who needs help would either depend on their family alone, or some magnanamous charity to come to the rescue.

“Wake up, Honey! It’s time to go to work!”

Sorry, I must have hit the snooze again. Wow, I woke up to a finance system that is already under-regulated and see that they still managed to game the system and all of us to the tune of trillions of dollars. I see big businesses using a relativly lightly regulated marked to game the system for the benefit of the very few, and the detriment of most. Inagine what these “robber barons” would be able to accomplice in a completely de-regulated enviornment. But we already know what that world would look like. It involved rich people in castles, surrounded by motes, and a countryside of downtrodden wretched people, living like animals. You know, the good ol days.

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By Fat Freddy, March 7, 2011 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

We need someone  to come around and save our asses.

Kidding aside. What do most of the historical examples provided by Mr Hedges have in common?

A strong central government, and religion. But, but, but, without a strong central government, we would be just like Somalia! According to this paper, Somolia is actually doing better than when they had a government, and just as well as neighboring countries. Imagine that! While I wouldn’t recommend living in Somalia (there are no roads wink), it should, at least, dispel some of the myths surrounding civilized anarchy, or Agorism. Perhaps, Konkin was right. An underground economy facilitates the collapse of the government, and becomes the foundation of a free economy.

The US has a long history of one banking crisis after another. It is the direct result of government interference. Banks are protected entities. Money, not oil, is how we feed our decadence and greed. That’s right. I said our decadence and greed. That means you! And the banks provide the money we need. Right! So, what is the alternative? More regulation? We have 200 years (since, at least the Panic of 1819) of government protecting banks. How can you possibly expect the government to “protect” us from the banks, when the vast amount of evidence shows that the government is only interested in protecting the banks?

Word of the day: Cognitive dissonance.

OK. That’s two words. So, sue me.

So, what is the solution? Perhaps, someone with an “open” mind could start here. Remember, criticisms are easy, solutions are difficult. Perhaps, we could just create another pandemic, like that of 1918, and wipe out about half of the World’s population. That’ll work, for sure. Let’s get Monsanto on it.

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By Frederick Glaysher, March 7, 2011 at 9:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve just read Death of the Liberal Class and a few
other books by Chris Hedges, as well as looked into
most of his other books. I respect him, his intellect
and arguments, and the story of his life journey.
This article articulates many of his themes, yet
curiously neglects some of them.

“We will be saved only with the birth of a new and
militant radicalism which seeks to dethrone our
corrupt elite from power, not negotiate for better

In my view, that’s as quixotic and ladened with
fantasy as the rapture… and would only pour
gasoline on the fire. Let’s say, what if a “new and
militant radicalism” were successful? With what
vision would it replace the corporate state? If we’re
to learn from history, we shouldn’t forget the lesson
of the Jacobins; new Jacobins never make any
difference, but lead to greater loss of life.

The deeper, non-violent traditions touched on in some
of the books by Chris Hedges are represented by
Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and the universal
values of the Ten Commandments. Unlike Freud, they
represent the *humane* and spiritual values that
create unity, compassion, and love among people, and
hence a willingness to care about and sacrifice for
the common good.

A “new radicalism” and militancy are modeled on the
same reprehensible tactics of the materialistic,
corporate and political elites and will lead only to
violence. Some may say with Lenin that one must crack
a few eggs, but Gandhi didn’t, Martin Luther King
didn’t, and Chris Hedges is making a serious mistake
to turn from the profundity of the religious
tradition, presumably out of desperation, if that’s
what he’s doing.

Along with Gandhi and King, a better, more realistic,
down to earth model would be to recall the rise of a
new vision of life out of the ruins of the Roman
Empire and how that was accomplished, global now.

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By still trying, March 7, 2011 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

Sad words Chris, but true. We are reaping the whirlwind. Solutions are still unclear. We can only keep trying. Thanks for your efforts.

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By Jim, March 7, 2011 at 8:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Please consider reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame for an eloquent condemnation of civilization.

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By timmy, March 7, 2011 at 8:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Brilliant. Nearly every word of it. The only problem I have is the conflation of humanity with civilization. Thousands of indigenous cultures had(until they were wiped out by the civilized) and have (the scarce few that remain) learned perfectly well how to live sustainably on their land. For anyone who really liked this piece I would recommend the writings of Derrick Jensen, and the film END:CIV at

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By thebeerdoctor, March 7, 2011 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

1 year, 9 months, 14 days… so says the end of the ‘long count’ Mayan calendar. What is even more reprehensible than the sociopathic ways of the ownership class, are the syncophant actions of their enablers, such as the newly elected Governor of Ohio, who received over a half mil large for acting as a shill for Lehmann Brothers bank, convincing his Ohio bretheren to transfer $480 million of the state retirement pension into their hands, which they then invested wisely by losing every single penny. And now this corporate shill and political hack is the chief executive officer of this blessed state. Well, as the old saying goes: the clock is ticking…

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By superman, March 7, 2011 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hello again,

I guess my biggest question is..If collapse is imminent shouldnt we be talking
about what survivors should do when confronted with there own greed and how
can we learn from this past miss management? What should the new world look
like? Lets turn this grim reality in to a positive!

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By Ira Weisberg, March 7, 2011 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a shame… that Chris Hedges is rapidly becoming the Glenn Beck of the left. His rejection of Marxism and his writing off of the American working class as a force of change, has turned him into a demoralized fatalist. Oh well, another talented left-leaning journalist bites the dust.

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By Superhuman, March 7, 2011 at 8:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am fully aware that even as compassionate as i am I to can be greedy. I have
now more completely realized the idea that complete world reset is possible if
not indefinite. I fully believe I may have to rely on greed to live and provide for
my family when hell breaks lose. Am I destined to become a powerful force
scared to share resources and knowledge? Just like the humans that have
brought us to this boiling point. I am really starting to think that this cycle is
doomed to repeat over and over until the world is uninhabitable or gone.

Example: If you had to fight with another man for food so your family can
survive would you? most i think would say yes? Now providing i have won and there are others that want to fight me for my food with no dialogue whatsoever,
wouldnt it seem like the best idea would be to ensure you dont have to fight
again or atleast with less risk by taking any means necessary? lying, cheating, murdering etc.

Couldnt that be the ruling elites predicament as-well? Is it possible we all have
the potential to be just as greedy as them if we were the winners?

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By flickervertigo, March 7, 2011 at 7:21 am Link to this comment

“The inability to confront simple truths about human nature and the natural world leaves the elites unable to articulate new social, economic and political paradigms. They look only for ways to perpetuate a dying system.”

...more likely, isnt it, that this “global war on terror” is evidence that the elites are fully aware of the “simple truths of human nature and the natural world”...

the sociopathic elites are a self-fullfilling prophecy of themselves… and if the elites cant find actual sociopaths to commit crimes that justify the elites’ atrocities, then they will manufacture their own atrocities, and blame them on oily patsies.

the “war on terror” is the elites’ response to their “truth” about human nature, and acknowlegement that the natural world no longer can provide enough cheap oil.

so, fully aware of the impending difficulties, the elites embark on the grandest looting project ever.

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