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Welcome to the Asylum

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Posted on Apr 30, 2012
AP/Mahesh Kumar A.

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

By Chris Hedges

When civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged. We live in an age when news consists of Snooki’s pregnancy, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Kim Kardashian’s denial that she is the naked woman cooking eggs in a photo circulating on the Internet. Politicians, including presidents, appear on late night comedy shows to do gags and they campaign on issues such as creating a moon colony. “At times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Celine wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”

The quest by a bankrupt elite in the final days of empire to accumulate greater and greater wealth, as Karl Marx observed, is modern society’s version of primitive fetishism. This quest, as there is less and less to exploit, leads to mounting repression, increased human suffering, a collapse of infrastructure and, finally, collective death. It is the self-deluded, those on Wall Street or among the political elite, those who entertain and inform us, those who lack the capacity to question the lusts that will ensure our self-annihilation, who are held up as exemplars of intelligence, success and progress. The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression—which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide. Welcome to the asylum.

When the most basic elements that sustain life are reduced to a cash product, life has no intrinsic value. The extinguishing of “primitive” societies, those that were defined by animism and mysticism, those that celebrated ambiguity and mystery, those that respected the centrality of the human imagination, removed the only ideological counterweight to a self-devouring capitalist ideology. Those who held on to pre-modern beliefs, such as Native Americans, who structured themselves around a communal life and self-sacrifice rather than hoarding and wage exploitation, could not be accommodated within the ethic of capitalist exploitation, the cult of the self and the lust for imperial expansion. The prosaic was pitted against the allegorical. And as we race toward the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem we must restore this older vision of life if we are to survive.

The war on the Native Americans, like the wars waged by colonialists around the globe, was waged to eradicate not only a people but a competing ethic. The older form of human community was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the primacy of the technological state and the demands of empire. This struggle between belief systems was not lost on Marx. “The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx” is a series of observations derived from Marx’s reading of works by historians and anthropologists. He took notes about the traditions, practices, social structure, economic systems and beliefs of numerous indigenous cultures targeted for destruction. Marx noted arcane details about the formation of Native American society, but also that “lands [were] owned by the tribes in common, while tenement-houses [were] owned jointly by their occupants.” He wrote of the Aztecs, “Commune tenure of lands; Life in large households composed of a number of related families.” He went on, “… reasons for believing they practiced communism in living in the household.” Native Americans, especially the Iroquois, provided the governing model for the union of the American colonies, and also proved vital to Marx and Engel’s vision of communism.

Marx, though he placed a naive faith in the power of the state to create his workers’ utopia and discounted important social and cultural forces outside of economics, was acutely aware that something essential to human dignity and independence had been lost with the destruction of pre-modern societies. The Iroquois Council of the Gens, where Indians came together to be heard as ancient Athenians did, was, Marx noted, a “democratic assembly where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it.” Marx lauded the active participation of women in tribal affairs, writing, “The women [were] allowed to express their wishes and opinions through an orator of their own election. Decision given by the Council. Unanimity was a fundamental law of its action among the Iroquois.” European women on the Continent and in the colonies had no equivalent power.

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Rebuilding this older vision of community, one based on cooperation rather than exploitation, will be as important to our survival as changing our patterns of consumption, growing food locally and ending our dependence on fossil fuels. The pre-modern societies of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse—although they were not always idyllic and performed acts of cruelty including the mutilation, torture and execution of captives—did not subordinate the sacred to the technical. The deities they worshipped were not outside of or separate from nature.


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By Tom Patteson, April 30, 2012 at 5:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Would have liked to see a link to the World Health Organization statistical source.

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By Arctic Melt, April 30, 2012 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

We have got to cut fossil fuel use.Methane gone wild in the Arctic is our most pressing danger..Arctic News: Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arct
arctic-news.blogspot.com

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By Grant Ledger, April 30, 2012 at 4:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We’ve seen this story before. Easter Island.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, April 30, 2012 at 4:45 am Link to this comment

YES!!!

(I like this one very much)

At the end of the piece Hedges writes: “We profited as a nation from this demented vision, we remained passive and silent when we should have denounced the crimes committed in our name…”

At the begining he provides an example of how we have profited…

“The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression—which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide. Welcome to the asylum.”

It is a damn shame that “now that the game is up we all go down together.”

OK, I know, pointless comment.

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By Old Man Turtle, April 30, 2012 at 4:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Civilization” is a disease. Among the effects of its process here, on infected Humans, are the degeneracies described here by Chris Hedges. 

The “lost” language he writes of is that of Organic Functional Integrity.  It is an entirely descriptive language, unburdened by all the “value-added” conceits that have so completely corrupted the intercourse of the “modern” domesticated Peoples. 

Exercises in the Old Original Language, as best as it is translatable into “modern English,” can be found in the offerings in comment threads on this site from this Indian’s nephew, who posted as “TAO Walker.”  These are supposedly still available in the “archives” here. 

Chris Hedges is correct when he says the only chance our tame Sisters and Brothers have for surviving this terminal stage of the “civilization” disease is to recover the integrity of their organic function within the Living Arrangement of Our Mother Earth. 

The first ‘step’ toward that is to get-over their sickening “self.”  It is The Tiyoshpaye Way.

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