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Rise Up or Die

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Posted on May 19, 2013
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

There is nothing in 5,000 years of economic history to justify the belief that human societies should structure their behavior around the demands of the marketplace. This is an absurd, utopian ideology. The airy promises of the market economy have, by now, all been exposed as lies. The ability of corporations to migrate overseas has decimated our manufacturing base. It has driven down wages, impoverishing our working class and ravaging our middle class. It has forced huge segments of the population—including those burdened by student loans—into decades of debt peonage. It has also opened the way to massive tax shelters that allow companies such as General Electric to pay no income tax. Corporations employ virtual slave labor in Bangladesh and China, making obscene profits. As corporations suck the last resources from communities and the natural world, they leave behind, as Joe Sacco and I saw in the sacrifice zones we wrote about, horrific human suffering and dead landscapes. The greater the destruction, the greater the apparatus crushes dissent.

More than 100 million Americans—one-third of the population—live in poverty or a category called “near poverty.” Yet the stories of the poor and the near poor, the hardships they endure, are rarely told by a media that is owned by a handful of corporations—Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Clear Channel and Disney. The suffering of the underclass, like the crimes of the power elite, has been rendered invisible.

In the Lakota Indian reservation at Pine Ridge, S.D., in the United States’ second poorest county, the average life expectancy for a male is 48. This is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. About 60 percent of the Pine Ridge dwellings, many of which are sod huts, lack electricity, running water, adequate insulation or sewage systems. In the old coal camps of southern West Virginia, amid poisoned air, soil and water, cancer is an epidemic. There are few jobs. And the Appalachian Mountains, which provide the headwaters for much of the Eastern Seaboard, are dotted with enormous impoundment ponds filled with heavy metals and toxic sludge. In order to breathe, children go to school in southern West Virginia clutching inhalers. Residents trapped in the internal colonies of our blighted cities endure levels of poverty and violence, as well as mass incarceration, that leave them psychologically and emotionally shattered. And the nation’s agricultural workers, denied legal protection, are often forced to labor in conditions of unpaid bondage. This is the terrible algebra of corporate domination. This is where we are all headed. And in this accelerated race to the bottom we will end up as serfs or slaves.

Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred. Rebellion means steadfast defiance. It means resisting just as have Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, just as has Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical journalist whom Cornel West, James Cone and I visited in prison last week in Frackville, Pa. It means refusing to succumb to fear. It means refusing to surrender, even if you find yourself, like Manning and Abu-Jamal, caged like an animal. It means saying no. To remain safe, to remain “innocent” in the eyes of the law in this moment in history is to be complicit in a monstrous evil. In his poem of resistance, “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay knew that the odds were stacked against African-Americans who resisted white supremacy. But he also knew that resistance to tyranny saves our souls. McKay wrote:

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If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


It is time to build radical mass movements that defy all formal centers of power and make concessions to none. It is time to employ the harsh language of open rebellion and class warfare. It is time to march to the beat of our own drum. The law historically has been a very imperfect tool for justice, as African-Americans know, but now it is exclusively the handmaiden of our corporate oppressors; now it is a mechanism of injustice. It was our corporate overlords who launched this war. Not us. Revolt will see us branded as criminals. Revolt will push us into the shadows. And yet, if we do not revolt we can no longer use the word “hope.” 

Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” grasps the dark soul of global capitalism. We are all aboard the doomed ship Pequod, a name connected to an Indian tribe eradicated by genocide, and Ahab is in charge. “All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.” We are sailing on a maniacal voyage of self-destruction, and no one in a position of authority, even if he or she sees what lies ahead, is willing or able to stop it. Those on the Pequod who had a conscience, including Starbuck, did not have the courage to defy Ahab. The ship and its crew were doomed by habit, cowardice and hubris. Melville’s warning must become ours. Rise up or die.

 


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