Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
July 26, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.
x

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.






The Unwomanly Face of War

Truthdig Bazaar more items

 
Report
Email this item Print this item

The Age of Anger

Posted on Jun 11, 2017

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

The roots of modernization and colonization are, as Mishra writes, ones of “carnage and bedlam.” The rapacious appetite of capitalists and imperialists never considered “such constraining factors as finite geographical space, degradable natural resources and fragile ecosystems.” In carrying out this project of global expansion, no form of coercion or violence was off-limits. Those who opposed us simply learned to speak our language.

“The intellectual pedigree of today’s nasty atrocities is not to be found in religious scriptures,” Mishra writes. “French colonialists in Algeria had used torture techniques originally deployed by the Nazis during the occupation of France (and also were some of the first hijackers of a civilian aeroplane). Americans in the global war on terror resorted to cruel interrogation methods that the Soviet Union had patented during the Cold War. In the latest stage of this gruesome reciprocity, the heirs of Zarqawi in ISIS dress their Western hostages in Guantanamo’s orange suits, and turn on their smartphone cameras, before beheading their victims.”

The West’s dangerous faith in the inevitability of human progress is chronicled by Mishra through the dueling French intellectuals Rousseau and Voltaire, as well as Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, Karl Marx, Fichte, Giuseppe Mazzini and Michel Foucault. This intellectually nuanced and philosophically rich book shows that ideas matter.

“The Hindu, Jewish, Chinese and Islamic modernists who helped establish major nation-building ideologies were in tune with the main trends of the European fin-de-siècle, which redefined freedom beyond bourgeois self-seeking to a will to forge dynamic new societies and reshape history,” Mishra writes. “It is impossible to understand them, and the eventual product of their efforts (Islamism, Hindu nationalism, Zionism, Chinese nationalism), without grasping their European intellectual background of cultural decay and pessimism: the anxiety in the unconscious that Freud was hardly alone in sensing, or the idea of a glorious rebirth after decline and decadence, borrowed from the Christian idea of resurrection, that Mazzini had done so much to introduce into the political sphere.”

Advertisement

Square, Site wide, Desktop

Advertisement

Square, Site wide, Mobile
Mishra goes on:

ISIS, born during the implosion of Iraq, owes its existence more to Operation Infinite Justice and Enduring Freedom than to any Islamic theology. It is the quintessential product of a radical process of globalization in which governments, unable to protect their citizens from foreign invaders, brutal police, or economic turbulence, lose their moral and ideological legitimacy, creating a space for such non-state actors as armed gangs, mafia, vigilante groups, warlords and private revenge-seekers.

ISIS aims to create a Caliphate, but, like American regime-changers, it cannot organize a political space, as distinct from privatizing violence. Motivated by a selfie individualism, the adepts of ISIS are better at destroying Valhalla than building it. Ultimately, a passion for grand politics, manifest in ISIS’s Wagnerian-style annihilation, is what drives the Caliphate, as much as it did [Gabriele] D’Annunzio’s utopia. The will to power and craving for violence as existential experience reconciles, as [philosopher and social theorist Georges] Sorel prophesized, the varying religious and ideological commitments of its adherents. The attempts to place them in a long Islamic tradition miss how much these militants, feverishly stylizing their murders and rapes on Instagram, reflect an ultimate stage in the radicalization of the modern principle of individual autonomy and equality: a form of strenuous self-assertion that acknowledges no limits, and requires descent into a moral abyss.

Philosopher George Santayana foresaw that America’s obsessive individualistic culture of competition and mimicry would eventually incite “a lava-wave of primitive blindness and violence.” The inability to be self-critical and self-aware, coupled with the cult of the self, would lead to a collective suicide. Cultural historian Carl Schorske in “Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture” wrote that Europe’s descent into fascism was inevitable once it cut the “cord of consciousness.” And, with the rise of Trump, it is clear the “cord of consciousness” has also been severed in the twilight days of the American empire. Once we no longer acknowledge or understand our own capacity for evil, once we no longer know ourselves, we become monsters who devour others and finally devour ourselves.

“Totalitarianism with its tens of millions of victims was identified as a malevolent reaction to the benevolent Enlightenment tradition of rationalism, humanism, universalism and liberal democracy—a tradition seen as an unproblematic norm,” Mishra writes. “It was clearly too disconcerting to acknowledge that totalitarian politics crystallized the ideological currents (scientific racism, jingoistic nationalism, imperialism, technicism, aestheticized politics, utopianism, social engineering and the violent struggle for existence) flowing through all of Europe in the late nineteenth century.”

Mishra knows what happens when people are discarded onto the dung heap of history. He knows what endless wars, waged in the name of democracy and Western civilization, engender among their victims. He knows what drives people, whether they are at a Trump rally or a radical mosque in Pakistan, to lust after violence. History informs the present. We are afflicted by what writer Albert Camus called “autointoxication, the malignant secretion of one’s preconceived impotence inside the enclosure of the self.” And until this “autointoxication” is addressed, the rage and violence, at home and abroad, will expand as we stumble toward a global apocalypse. The self-alienation of humankind, Walter Benjamin warned, “has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”

The conflicts in Egypt, Libya, Mali, Syria and many other places, Mishra notes, are fueled by “extreme weather events, the emptying of rivers and seas of their fish stocks, or the desertification of entire regions on the planet.” The refugees being driven by their homelands’ chaos into Europe are creating political instability there. And as we sleepwalk into the future, the steady deterioration of the ecosystem will ultimately lead to total systems collapse. Mishra warns that “the two ways in which humankind can self-destruct—civil war on a global scale, or destruction of the natural environment—are rapidly converging.” Our elites, oblivious to the dangers ahead, blinded by their own hubris and greed, are ferrying us, like Charon, to the land of the dead.

1   2   3
Banner, End of Story, Desktop
Banner, End of Story, Mobile
Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, By Chris Hedges, Truthdig Columnist and Winner of the Pulitzer Prize -- Get Your Autographed Copy Today Also Available! Truthdig Exclusive DVD of Chris Hedges' Wages of Rebellion Lecture The World As It Is: 
Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress: A collection of Truthdig Columns, by Chris Hedges -- Get Your Autographed Copy Today

Keep up with Chris Hedges’ latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges.



Watch a selection of Wibbitz videos based on Truthdig stories:


Get a book from one of our contributors in the Truthdig Bazaar.

Related Entries

Get truth delivered to
your inbox every day.



New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide