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The False Idol of Unfettered Capitalism

Posted on Mar 16, 2009
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

The strange, disjointed fragments of our lives can be comprehended only when we acknowledge our insecurities and uncertainties, when we accept that we will never know what life is about or what it is supposed to mean. We must do the best we can, not for ourselves, the great moralists remind us, but for those around us. Trust is the compound that unites us. The only lasting happiness in life comes with giving life to others. The quality of our life, of all life, is determined by what we give and how much we sacrifice. We live not by exalting our own life but by being willing to lose it. 

The moral life, in the end, will not protect us from evil. The moral life protects us, however, from committing evil. It is designed to check our darker impulses, warning us that pandering to impulses can have terrible consequences. It seeks to hold community together. It is community that gives our lives, even in pain and grief, a healing solidarity. It is fealty to community that frees us from the dictates of our idols, idols that promise us fulfillment through self-gratification. These moral laws are about freedom. They call us to reject and defy powerful forces that rule our lives and to live instead for others, even if this costs us status and prestige and wealth.

Turn away from the moral life and you end in disaster. You sink into a morass of self-absorption and greed. You breed a society that celebrates fraud, theft and violence, you turn neighbor against neighbor, you confuse presentation and image with your soul. Moral rules are as imperative to sustaining a community as law. And all cultures have sought to remind us of these basic moral restraints, ones that invariably tell us that successful communities do permit its members to exploit each other but ensure that they sacrifice for the common good. The economic and social collapse we face was presaged by a moral collapse. And our response must include a renewed reverence for moral and social imperatives that acknowledge the sanctity of the common good.

The German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Tell me ‘how’ you seek and I will tell you ‘what’ you are seeking.” We all are seekers, even if we do not always know what we are looking to find. We are all seekers, even if we do not always know how to frame the questions. In those questions, even more than the answers, we find hope in the strange and contradictory fragments of our lives. And it is by recovering these moral questions, too often dismissed or ignored in universities and boardrooms across the country, laughed at on the stock exchange, ridiculed on reality television as an impediment to money and celebrity, that we will again find it possible to be whole. 


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By Clive, March 16, 2009 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
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I find it sadly unfortunate that the comments posted so far - which to date are three in total - have almost entirely missed the point.  While I might agree with N8’s rephrasing of the “Ten Commandments”, I think that if one goes into the deepest layers of the commandments we have, the one’s Chris Hedges refers to, the parallels are there…as they are in all proposed moral codes offered by all spiritual paths.  The point is that we have traded ANY moral code at all - any moral code addressing the imperative to commit to the Common Good - in exchange for worshipping the idols of Greed, Celebrity, Fame, Money, Instant Gratification, and all forms of solely personal gain.

One of the most tragic and dangerous outcomes of eight years of the Bush Administration, is that by their example, by their deeds, and by their deeds so far going unpunished, the United States set the example, and an unparalleled precedent, (for any part of the world watching…and that was a big part of the world) to activily ignore and court disdain for the Common Good.

I applaud Mr. Hedges for asking us to reach past our ignorance and stupor, past our self-satisfaction and comfort, and to start asking questions that might hopefully lead to a reformulation of the questions, Who am I? And Why am I here? What does this all mean?

If we don’t start asking the right questions, we will never reach the right answers….in time.

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By Jim Yell, March 16, 2009 at 7:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If this were only true. Yes any and every religion has some good in it, but the worst of it is that most of the injunctions to do good are focused only upon those people who hold to the dogma. Some are like Islam and fundmentalist Christianity in their hostility and dismissiveness of others rights.

It is a stretch to try and use a document that is self contradictory to be the repository of “all truth” and worse to believe it is all to be taken literally. Thou shalt not kill and then pages and pages describing god giving instructions for all sorts of murder and maham and then on to the loving god who is quoted giving instructions for murder, torture and enslavement.

Give it a rest.

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By Tom Patteson, March 16, 2009 at 6:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No. This is not a silly or ignorant article.
It’s a voice in the wilderness.

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By jhm, March 16, 2009 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
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You write: “He freed the commandments from the clutter of piety and narrow definitions imposed upon them by religious leaders and institutions.”  I agree, and wonder why you do not do the same.

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By Janice, March 16, 2009 at 6:29 am Link to this comment
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This is a beautifully written article but I have a few questions. Mr. Hedges indicates that the commandments sustain community which in turn sustains us. What does community mean in such a diverse, fragmented society as the U.S.?
And how do we as a society decide on our rules, our ethics, our “commandments” that will be taught in universities, honored in corporations and perhaps codified in regulations? Is a unified ethical theory possible in the face of religious diversity and secular skepticism?

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By Bubba, March 16, 2009 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

I’ve seen Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy, “White, Blue and Red.”  Brilliant.  I’d not heard of “The Dekalogue,” but will see it.

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By thebeerdoctor, March 16, 2009 at 5:57 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges reveals in this silly hodge podge article that he is way out of his league. Much more useful to me, is a recent comment by Gore Vidal who put forth the question whether monotheism was actually good for human civilization? The whole One God, One Boss, One Way, etc. has led to millions of gallons of blood to be shed unnecessarily. But there is some comfort in that fatalist Eastern mysticism that says: pray to whomever you like, but in the end, it will not make any difference.

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By N8, March 16, 2009 at 5:27 am Link to this comment

Wow!! I have to disagree with the idea that the 10 commandments “include the most severe violations and moral dilemmas in human life, although these violations often lie beyond the scope of the law. They were for the ancients, and are for us, the core rules that, when honored, hold us together, and when dishonored lead to alienation, discord and violence.” Apparently you’re missing some other more severe moral violations like slavery, rape, incest, child abuse, and spousal abuse that the author of the 10 commandments forgot to include or didn’t see as important.

The first 4 commandments are basically thought crimes that don’t even deal with moral dilemmas if you consider the fact that morality has only to do with human happiness and suffering. That’s why we don’t have moral attitudes toward rocks. The rest of them could be argued to be too vague or even wrong (e.g. what about people who covet their neighbor’s education, go back to school, and improve their lives!)

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had these as our commandments:
1) Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
2) In all things, strive to cause no harm.
3) Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
4) Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
5) Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
6) Always seek to be learning something new.
7) Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
8) Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
9) Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
10) Question everything.

For more information about these objectively better commandments check out the author’s site:

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By Jason!!, March 16, 2009 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

What an ignorant article.

deserves the bad religion analogy award

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