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Man Is a Cruel Animal

Posted on Dec 22, 2008
AP photo / Khalil Hamra

By Chris Hedges

It was Joseph Conrad I thought of when I read an article in The Nation magazine this month about white vigilante groups that rose up out of the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to terrorize and murder blacks. It was Conrad I thought of when I saw the ominous statements by authorities, such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warning of potential civil unrest in the United States as we funnel staggering sums of public funds upward to our bankrupt elites and leave our poor and working class destitute, hungry, without health care and locked out of their foreclosed homes. We fool ourselves into believing we are immune to the savagery and chaos of failed states. Take away the rigid social structure, let society continue to break down, and we become, like anyone else, brutes.

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Conrad saw enough of the world as a sea captain to know the irredeemable corruption of humanity. The noble virtues that drove characters like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness” into the jungle veiled abject self-interest, unchecked greed and murder. Conrad was in the Congo in the late 19th century when the Belgian monarch King Leopold, in the name of Western civilization and anti-slavery, was plundering the country. The Belgian occupation resulted in the death by disease, starvation and murder of some 10 million Congolese. Conrad understood what we did to others in the name of civilization and progress. And it is Conrad, as our society unravels internally and plows ahead in the costly, morally repugnant and self-defeating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whom we do well to heed.

This theme of our corruptibility is central to Conrad. In his short story “An Outpost of Progress” he writes of two white traders, Carlier and Kayerts, who are sent to a remote trading station in the Congo. The mission is endowed with a great moral purpose—to export European “civilization” to Africa. But the boredom and lack of constraints swiftly turn the two men, like our mercenaries and soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, into savages. They trade slaves for ivory. They get into a feud over dwindling food supplies and Kayerts shoots and kills his unarmed companion Carlier.

“They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals,” Conrad wrote of Kayerts and Carlier, “whose existence is only rendered possible through high organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd; to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. But the contact with pure unmitigated savagery, with primitive nature and primitive man, brings sudden and profound trouble into the heart. To the sentiment of being alone of one’s kind, to the clear perception of the loneliness of one’s thoughts, of one’s sensations—to the negation of the habitual, which is safe, there is added the affirmation of the unusual, which is dangerous; a suggestion of things vague, uncontrollable, and repulsive, whose discomposing intrusion excites the imagination and tries the civilized nerves of the foolish and the wise alike.”

The Managing Director of the Great Civilizing Company—for as Conrad notes “civilization” follows trade—arrives by steamer at the end of the story. He is not met at the dock by his two agents. He climbs the steep bank to the trading station with the captain and engine driver behind him. The director finds Kayerts, who, after the murder, committed suicide by hanging himself by a leather strap from a cross that marked the grave of the previous station chief. Kayerts’ toes are a couple of inches above the ground. His arms hang stiffly down “… and, irreverently, he was putting out a swollen tongue at his Managing Director.”


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    Conrad saw cruelty as an integral part of human nature. This cruelty arrives, however, in different forms. Stable, industrialized societies, awash in wealth and privilege, can construct internal systems that mask this cruelty, although it is nakedly displayed in their imperial outposts. We are lulled into the illusion in these zones of safety that human beings can be rational. The “war on terror,” the virtuous rhetoric about saving the women in Afghanistan from the Taliban or the Iraqis from tyranny, is another in a series of long and sordid human campaigns of violence carried out in the name of a moral good.

    Those who attempt to mend the flaws in the human species through force embrace a perverted idealism. Those who believe that history is a progressive march toward human perfectibility, and that they have the moral right to force this progress on others, no longer know what it is to be human. In the name of the noblest virtues they sink to the depths of criminality and moral depravity. This self-delusion comes to us in many forms. It can be wrapped in the language of Western civilization, democracy, religion, the master race, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, the worker’s paradise, the idyllic agrarian society, the new man or scientific rationalism. The jargon is varied. The dark sentiment is the same.

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By geeks, October 13, 2009 at 4:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


man is definatley cruel, we cant get on with each other and anything else…

Keep up the good work

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By Sarah Jones, July 15, 2009 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

I think it’s more about the fact that civilization by itself separates man from his natural world and body. He lives in a world of society and ideas rather than being sensitive to the basics of emotions.

Someone else mentioned Becker who my friend recently made a site dedicated to, might be of interest:

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By Durwood Kirby, December 27, 2008 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

From WRH quote of the day:
“Ten military advisers are attached to the Sonsonate armed forces… The episode contains all the unchanging elements of the Salvadoran tragedy- uncontrolled military violence against civilians, the apparent ability of the wealthy to procure official violence…and the presence of United States military advisers, working with the Salvadoran military responsible for these monstrous practices… after 30,000 unpunished murders by security and military forces and over 10,000 “disappearances” of civilians in custody, the root causes of the killings remain in place, and the killing goes on.”—Two Americans who visited El Salvador in 1983 for the New York City Bar Association described for the New York Times a massacre of eighteen peasants by local troops in Sonsonate province.”

Maybe it’s the abuse of power or a mistaken belief in what power confers.

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By bearsf, December 27, 2008 at 2:49 am Link to this comment

“The tradition of oligarchism has always been the forceful suppression of the creative powers of discovery of higher principles, discovery which is expressed typically in such forms as fundamental scientific progress. This suppression of the creative powers of the members of society, is usually expressed in the mode of the popularized cultural backwardness of what might be misnamed “human nature,” against the contrary, allegedly “aggressive” impulses of human scientific or Classical artistic creativity. The foe which Satan fears the most, is the Promethean soul which sets the human individual apart from, and above that bestiality which fools call “human nature.” ...The distinction of mankind from beast lies, essentially, in those creative powers of the human mind which are not manifest in any form of animal life,” ...

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By Anarcissie, December 26, 2008 at 6:37 pm Link to this comment

‘As the number of comments to Hedges’ column expands, one gets the the feeling that he’s now playing to the crowd. Certainly he has mastered all the rhetorical toe-tappers his audience has come to expect. ...’

If so I think they have misinterpreted him.  In my experience lefties usually try to maintain a vaguely optimistic sense of human nature; it’s the system that’s bad, and when it’s fixed, all will be well.  Hedges’s dire view seems more suited to a classical conservative, especially one of the more extreme sort.  But I understand from some of the material posted here that it’s mitigated by some sort of religion.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, December 26, 2008 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

As the number of comments to Hedges’ column expands, one gets the the feeling that he’s now playing to the crowd. Certainly he has mastered all the rhetorical toe-tappers his audience has come to expect.

Now Conrad has been resurrected from the dead to testify in Hedges’ revival tent. Conrad, whose imagination was even blacker than his heart, found in the romantic idea of civilization, a perfect literary vehicle for his seemingly boundless misanthropy.  He even went so far as suggesting that cruelty is exclusive to civilized man. But any cursory understanding of Darwin belies this notion. All around us, nature is seething with murder, pain, and brutality. Every moment of respite from this collective carnage comes at the cost of suffering and death elsewhere. What we call “civilization” is merely the psychological curtain that has been drawn between the parlors of polite company and the abattoir that encircles them.

The transcendentalist notion of a mystical and harmonious nature versus a disjointed and sinister society is an outdated dichotomy born of the horrors of the industrial revolution more than 150 years ago. One cannot simply transplant the idea wholesale into an entirely different social, historical, and literary context.

The case can be made that it is neither civilization nor nature that turns Kurtz into a monster, it is the parting of the curtain. Confronted with the endless and naked grapple for life that is nature, and with the certain knowledge of civilization’s impotence in the face of these forces, Kurtz’s inner life collapses on itself. He is no longer whole, but chimera, exhibiting the worst of nature and society in a single brutish beast. It is specious to judge either nature or civilization by their worst tendencies. Perhaps Hedges’ own heart is darker than he thinks.

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By Anarcissie, December 26, 2008 at 10:42 am Link to this comment

‘But, Anarcissie, biology isn’t destiny, as you acknowledge….  If we change the environment, who knows what Might happen?’

“We”, however, can’t change the environment.  Or rather, we—the actual we—can change only a very small part of it at a time, and in only rather simple and primitive ways.  Tomorrow I’ll briefly enjoy the paradise of communism by handing out, or rather sharing, food and other stuff in a park.  Then it’s back to the normal everyday war.  Does it do any good?  Little is visible, but so far “it’s the only game in town” as the old joke goes.

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By vigdor, December 25, 2008 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment

Already, Vigdor’s message has been transflormed as Folktruth adds to the group wisdom emerging with this insight: “biology isn’t destiny, as you acknowledge… it [is] a combination of biological-enviromental inheritance that is the historical problem.  If we change the enviorment, who knows what Might happen?”

Falling into the deadly trap that power imposes citizens of democracy search for the higher unvanquishable powers that group dialogue alone can provide, but here we find one or more additional barriers.  The human species is limited.  We need diversity to see the whole, indeed, we also need outside computer support to integrate the many variables of the whole.  Give me the technology of democracy and the environment for democratic Union, the first principle of the US Constitution Preamble, massively expands the social capital of citizens, into omnicapital.

Then “what Might happen?”

Browse the “Technology of Democracy”

Browse “Omnicapital”

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By Folktruther, December 25, 2008 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

But, Anarcissie, biology isn’t destiny, as you acknowledge.  Baby chicks and ducks are imprinted to a large. moving object they first see at birth, which is usually their mama.  But if an experimenter interposes himself, he will have baby ducks following him around.  so it a combination of biological-enviromental inheritance that is the historical problem.  If we change the enviorment, who knows what Might happen?

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By Anarcissie, December 25, 2008 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment

vigdor: ’... These problems are not the inevitable result of the biological heritage of human being, as Chris Hedges insists in his essay, they are the outcome of horrible value choices. ...’

But the question arises, why we make the horrible value choices.  After all, no one says “Now I want to make a horrible value choice, and I’m going to do it, too.”  Nor do the HVC’s seem to occur at random, because there is a distinct pattern to them: excess aggression, anger, self-absorption and lack of reason and foresight, for example.  When we observe the HVCs just about universally distributed among mankind and even other primates, it is reasonable to conclude that the HVCs are the product of biology rather than culture or individual will.

That doesn’t mean HVC’s are our inexorable fate.  We can try to override our genetic heritage.  To some extent humans have already stepped out of the uncalculating mentality of pre-human nature.

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By WorkingMan, December 25, 2008 at 4:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a strange coincidence. As a fast-approaching-middle-age former English Major, I nonetheless just read “Heart of Darkness” for the first time a few weeks ago.
That’s all.

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By vigdor, December 24, 2008 at 11:13 pm Link to this comment

FENWICK asks “What transformation do you and Einstein have in mind?”

I have no contact with Professor Einstein these days.  I can recommend better understanding of the existing values-gap by a dialogue with group focus on the LoD Values Transformation Matrix.

Our “Mind Map” linked just above the Matrix shows the way to manage that group dialogue.

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By COGITO, December 24, 2008 at 10:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am touched by our precarious circumstances, but more so by our helplessness.

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By Clash, December 24, 2008 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment

Freedom can not be held if only by its definition, let go and it will be there. TAO walker seems to understand this better than most, possessions bring enslavement. This enslavement is detrimental to the possessor. Those that are deluded into believing that they possess earth, sky and water bring only ruin to the humans that must abide within the system of ownership.

Your feelings are justified, and like the rest of us with children you are getting a little fogyish.

Tim DeChristopher needs help please do what you can.

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By vigdor, December 24, 2008 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment

FENWICK says “I think if we just get back to upholding the Constitution, enforcing existing laws, and restoring the ones that tilted the table towards the banking and financial interests, and end these wars and imperialistic pursuits, no transformation will be needed. In my experience, forcing anything always ended badly. “

Ho ho ho.  All the changes that FENWICK says he embraces require values transflormation.  Law enforcement collapsed with deregulation.  Reregulation will do nothing the original regulation absolutely failed to secure.  These remedies are not possible when the values-in-use prohibit contrary outcomes. 

Values Transformation is the capaicity for voluntary change and human betterment through genuine dialogue.  Forcing change has nothing to do with transformation.  The pretense that all we need is a little more of the same failed policies assures the same failed outcomes. We cannot expect a different outcome by repeating the same failed scheme.  This is our collective delusion.

What kind of civilization could possibly offer such confounding contradictions and horrible, mindless tragedies? Albert Einstein (1879-1955) gave this definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a new result.”

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By yellowbird2525, December 24, 2008 at 11:49 am Link to this comment

laws have always been ignored by the USA; the total freedom of prosecution of Corps, people & shareholders set up by the USA; long term goals & plans laid out for this time just as it was in Rhwanda; We write to inform you that tomorrow they are coming to kill us & our children is the name of a book you might take heed to read; back in the 70’s apparently in the 348 pages to buy a home an insert was put: if you prepay your home off early, you must still pay the interest. This was against the laws of the USA so they are trying to say the usury laws disappeared in the 70’s; it is all lies. Same with credit card interest & criminal addl fees which are fraud: all criminal & fraud & done with the full knowledge & consent of the USA Gov; Concentration camps are set up; fed id #s are set up; the whole world knows of the plan & was saying so: talking of Hitler & USA how it was done then & is being done here today; talking of genocide & the fact that by the time the citizens woke up to the truth it would be to late. So much American Gov for “changing your image” when in reality it was other countries who alerted US. And of course “all for the greater good” Mz Palin who is an evangelical Christian;

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By yellowbird2525, December 24, 2008 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

Our nation was originally set up as all men were created equal; the same plantation owners bribed our “political” leaders to tax the people & ran the USA as stated “as a large plantation”; abusive & oppressive; Sec of St reported the Fri prior to Pearl Harbor was to the Pres saying “hope we won’t be hit to hard”; the “picture” of the Pres veheminately stating I HATE WAR is the product of a speech writer & was practiced; everything is done “theatrically” for “public perception”; they knew of the atomic bomb then; they brought top Nazi’s over to learn everything they had done & set them up handsomely instead of torturing them which is this nation’s shameful history they would rather you not learn of. Everything the Nazi’s did they are actively & agressively doing today. Afghanistan: created in SAME IMAGE: corrupt & abusive to citizens; Iraq: corruption & graft abound, worse than under Saddam Hussain, abusive; children 9 years of age & older cramped into “detainee” centers; THIS is the TRUE PICTURE of the USA.

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By Virginia777, December 24, 2008 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

I have found far too much cruelty happening in our local blogsphere that would not have been tolerated 10 years ago.

Now, it is not only tolerated, a person is villified who criticizes it!

Something has happened to the moral core of our country that needs to be addresses AS MUCH as the Economy needs addressing.

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By vigdor, December 24, 2008 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

Leisure Suit Larry, comments on my quote “survival of the fittest” stating “The quote belongs to Darwin Not Hitler.”

Natural selection and the “survival of the fittest” are, indeed, the ideas that Charles Darwin developed.  However, A.Hitler and the Capitalist Elite have adopted those ideas.

According to Adolph Hitler (1889-1945), “democracy undermined the natural selection of ruling elites and was ‘nothing other than the systematic cultivation of human failure.”  Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), who was Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda for the German Third Reich under Adolph Hitler, “maintained that the people never rule themselves and claimed that every history-making epoch had been created by aristocrats.” 

The transformation of Germany into a totalitarin nation ruled by an elite was supported by the propaganda system managed by Joseph Goebbels. Noam Chomsky has explained how the Nazi propaganda system worked and how the US advertising model was used for that purpose. 

These problems are not the inevitable result of the biological heritage of human being, as Chris Hedges insists in his essay, they are the outcome of horrible value choices.  Instead of adopting the totalitarian mentality of Hitler and the Capitalist Elite, we can choose “democratic sustainability” as our value choice, rejecting decadent capitalism.  The LoD Values Transformation Matrix explores this desireable alternative, online at URL:

We have that choice but we seem to be paralyzed by the capitalist model of continuing failure.  Growing up is not easy but whining about this need is not a viable response.


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By Folktruther, December 24, 2008 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

High school proms, which are hugely expensive, now tend to feature dancing which is similated sex, a girl pushing her body against a boy’s groin.  to a certain extend ALL dancing is similated sex, but usually more sublimated.  My daughter is going to a prom but isn’t going to dance.  (It’s her decision.)

The young will be the young, but the money and more explicit sex tends to form a certain kind of person spiritually thatconflicts sharply with a free and communal dancing prom.  I don’t know to what extent I am being an old fogy and to what extent my feelings are justified.

Sex is certainly more common in high school.  In a typical high school if all the students were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

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By Eso, December 24, 2008 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

@ Troublesum
Re: As Samuel Johnson said, “A human being becomes a beast in order to spare himself the pain of being a man.” The violence and brutality in the world is a testament to the fact that the inner jihad has been forgotten.
Exactly what I think. The pain of becoming a man takes self-sacrifice. Thanks.

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By Expat, December 24, 2008 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

@ TAO Walker, December 23 at 12:17 pm;

You’re such an enduring optimist; it makes my day. Thanks.
Salutations on the just past Winter Solstice. I no longer worry because I know everything will be as life intends. May the new year bring you and everybody a measure of joy, and lacking that; peace within.

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By troublesum, December 24, 2008 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

For quite a few years now the Islamic saint Jalaludin Rumi has been amoung the best selling poets in America.  One of the major themes of his work is what he called “the inner Jihad.”  He said that man is half devil, half angel and that the inner Jihad is the fight to overcome the brute in ourselves.  He felt that every true Moslem should be concerned with this inner Jihad, not the outer Jihad and that there can be no true peace in the world until people take up and win the inner jihad.  When we don’t engage in the inner jihad, the brute, or what he called “the animal soul” always wins because it is easier to be a brute than a man.  As Samuel Johnson said, “A human being becomes a beast in order to spare himself the pain of being a man.”  The violence and brutality in the world is a testament to the fact that the inner jihad has been forgotten.
Rumis’s teaching was gnostic in outlook.  The “devil” in ourselves is related to the false god who created this world in the same way that our “angel” is related to our true origin.

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By Anarcissie, December 24, 2008 at 8:01 am Link to this comment

Folktruther—there is dancing in the streets in New York City in some of the more ethnic residential areas where street or block parties are held, if the music (provided by local bands and DJs) is any good.  It’s a grand old tradition:

East Side, West Side, all around the town
The kids sang “ring around the rosie”, “London Bridge is falling down”
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York

    —lyrics and music by James W. Blake and Charles E. Lawlor (1890)

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By Leisure Suit Larry, December 24, 2008 at 7:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“survival of the fittest”

The quote belongs to Darwin Not Hitler.

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By vigdor, December 24, 2008 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

There are the brutes.  There are the hoplessly stupid.  However, human life is not confined to serendipity, nor is natural selection (the “survival of the fittest”) our God, as A.Hitler and his cabal, together with the contemporary capitalist elite, imply.

There remains the striving spirit of humankind. Human beings can assert their will to design their own future and that of their children with indiviidual courage and community wisdom.

Stop whining and choose your transformative values effectively.

(1st on the Google list of 2.7 million pages devoted to that topic)

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By MzScarlett, December 24, 2008 at 1:46 am Link to this comment

inhumane exploitation of others: THIS we are told is “how democracy works”; it is the works of dictatorships & criminals; Sarah Chayes, Bill Moyers Journal: “very perplexing to Afghans that we are providing $1b a year to the Pakistani army to create the Taliban”; so many dead already this year & sending over many more who have been trained by US military (contrators) on all our strategies: oh, and of course: tribes are wondering why they had to give such large tracts of lands to our “cronies”; Corps; and Happy Holidays to the men from USA still in Laos where they were told to put them so they (Gov officials) could tell the USA citizens: there are no more Americans in Nam; refused to ransom them like the French did; & got their men back again; but our Gov prefers to spend it’s money on their own pleasures; 31 years; John McCain on committee; sealed it permanently; unable to do anymore; probably got him the bid for Presidency; we did all we could but I weep still; inhumane exploitation thy name is democracy.

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By Eso, December 23, 2008 at 11:14 pm Link to this comment

The communal spirit does not come out of blue air. It comes out of common sacrifice.

You can sacrifice others as in sending them off to war, you can sacrifice animals in a make-believe sacrifice to god or gods (which ends up in millions of animals being slaughtered every day to put meat on our table), or you can self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice has its own theology (which need not interpret God as a supernatural being and write the name with a capital G or small g).

What I call neo-Christians, originating with relatives of secular princes, sacrificed arch-Christians in so-called Crusades by killing or terrorizing them. So now we have “suicide”, no self-sacrifice, and no dancing in the streets.

Incidentally, urban society is a novice at dancing. Originally the dancing happened in the forests and later after the forests were cut on farms. Early rural migrants brought dancing to the city, where the spirit of dancing died due to the slums that cities became (and still are) for most people.

Happy dancing the Sun-dance this winter solstice holiday.

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By Spinoza750, December 23, 2008 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment

I am 66 years old and I still believe savage man will be replaced by noble man. Socialism will replace capitalism, peace will replace war. What century I don’t know but it will happen.

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By Paracelsus, December 23, 2008 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment

Patton Assassinated

Apparently Patton’s complaints against the Soviets was too much for the global elites.

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By Folktruther, December 23, 2008 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment

Thanks for the story Jackpine; my daughter is interested in myths, I’ll show it to her.

Anarcissie, spirtual ideologies can’t keep their hands off your children if they are to be effective.  that’s what I say about you, no tolarnece for spirituality.  Or morality, for that matter.

People have to have a sense of right and wrong.  traditional morality supports morality, some of which is perverted, applied to individuals. 
what is needed is right and wrong applied to groupings of people.

Do you know Barbara Eirenreich’s last book DANCING IN THE STREET. Apparently this communal activity was common until the last centuries.  I can’t remember to what extent it was associated with traditonal religion.  It generated a communal consciousness lacking in Western individualism. What is so difficult about developing a communal spirituality.
It is true that everyone goes to heaven or acheives nirvana as indidivuals, not as families or groupings of any kind.  But creativity in spirital ideology should not be beyond the ken of earthpeople.

Your rationality seems to border on dispair.  I will pray for you.

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By Anarcissie, December 23, 2008 at 7:40 pm Link to this comment

So if Chris Hedges would only adopt Gnosticism, he could stop judging mankind and figure the lot of them were just fellow victims, however repugnant.  It is the Big Cheese who is at fault, as usual.

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By diamond, December 23, 2008 at 7:39 pm Link to this comment

Rgyle, what someone like deChristopher proves is what I’ve always believed. The American people are basically good and decent people with one of the most appalling political cultures in the world and some of the most appalling politicians to go with it. This has grown out of the political disillusionment and alienation of the voters but maybe now they’ll stop being so cynical and participate in the system if they get genuine leadership from Obama and his government.

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By Baltimore, December 23, 2008 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

re: diamond comment

The breakdown of “civilized society” in America cannot be counted from the last few years. 300 years of slavery, 100 years of jim crow “laws” were so far from “civilized” that the truth is more that America has almost always been a bastion of cruelty, covered-up by Press, Pulpit and White elitism.

I would argue it is in not dealing (enough) with this history (of slavery and racism) that has left our country so vulnerable to corruption. America has allowed itself the illusion of being a “free” country, when in reality, great repression of people of color was happening throughout our history.

I recently re-read Heart of Darkness and was appalled at the racism in the book. Conrad makes references to the ugliness of the African people and never even makes an attempt to humanize one African character. (at least in this story)

While he is making social commentary, as Hedges notes, Conrad makes references to the sinister feelings the main character gets from the Africans, who form a sort of incomprehensible backdrop to the story.

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By jackpine savage, December 23, 2008 at 4:51 pm Link to this comment

Gnosticism is probably not alive and well, though there are few groups that purport to be Gnostic.  Gnosis is alive and well; furthermore, it does not necessarily have to be handed from a master to a student.  Actual scientists (especially in fields like quantum mechanics) could easily be described as experiencing gnosis.

The story of an evil creator in Gnostic texts is not so clear cut…one must take into account a full mythology that few people have ever heard about.  The creator of the creators created a handful of aeons (sort of spiritual super beings).  One of them was named Sophia.  Her aeon consort was Christ.  Sophia’s (her name means wisdom) thirst for knowledge of her creator confused her; she mistook a reflection from below for It’s light.  She fell and was trapped all alone.  In her sorrow, she created a good many beings.  The most important of them was named Yaldabaoth, but all of them were flawed because they had been created in sorrow.

Yaldabaoth thought himself the creator, and he did create the world that we inhabit…but it was flawed because its creator was flawed.  It was Yaldabaoth who proclaimed himself a jealous God and that there was no other god but him.  He fashioned man from clay but could not animate his creation.  It was the breath of Sophia that did that.

Sophia also created Jesus, who managed to escape our lower world.  In the upper world he merged with Christ and returned to this world to save Sophia from her imprisonment.  His ability to save Sophia also enables men to be saved.

It’s important to see Sophia as a person and a concept.  The spark of Sophia, which we all carry, is what can save us (or enlighten us if you’d prefer).  That spark is Wisdom.  So, yes, it is wholly possible to experience Gnosis or even be a Gnostic.  But not so much in the way of an organized religion.  The most recent group (aside from the Mandaens…whose reverence for John the Baptist suggests Gnosticism) to really resemble the Gnostics were the Cathars…but they were wiped out by the Catholic Albigensian Crusade.

Gnosticism is remarkably similar, philosophically, to Buddhism.  And the stories are way, way better.  Read the book generally called “The Dancing Christ” for a whole different picture of the last supper.  The creation story is often called “Sophia and the Tyrant Angels,” if you’re interested in reading the whole thing.

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By Anarcissie, December 23, 2008 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment

Folktruther: ’... I think I’m more tolerant of spiritual ideologies than you are, despite all the power delusions that have been incororated in them.  People like to commemmorate the significant dates in their lives: birth, sexual maturity, death.

And people may need spiritual ideologies to instill and support the mmoral values necessary to live together. ...’

That typo is suggestive—maybe people need immoral values to live together.  They certainly haven’t done too well with the moral ones.

I’m actually pretty tolerant of spiritual ideologies as long as their adherents keep their hands off my body and stay away from my children.  I do think organized religion exists mainly to separate people from the world of the spirit, from God, if you will, as I said before around here somewhere.  I see more spirituality at rock concerts.  (Of course, some religions are rock concerts.)  But that is the business of the religious—if they want the spirit only when imprisoned in books and rituals, so be it.  In any case, when we observe humans deprived of religion, they don’t really act any better, they simply select some other sort of ideology to justify whatever they want to do—murder, rape, slavery, torture, terror, idealization of dead people and nonexistent beings, dreary architecture, lugubrious music, and so forth.  You’ll notice that when they want to do something good, like sing and dance, they don’t need any religion.  All they need is a beat.

I keep coming back to Reason.  I guess that is my foolish, repressive religion.  As Art Spiegelman asked through one of his characters, “Can’t we hate each other in peace?”  It would be so easy.  I practice every day.

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By TAO Walker, December 23, 2008 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment

Human “numbers” these days may be a consequence of our organic function within the Living Arrangement of our Mother Earth.  As constituents of Her immune system we’ve “increased” significantly in response to the presence here of some “alien” form that has severely disturbed the natural balance of her “bio-chemistry.”  White blood cells also respond to infections that way, for example. 

To superimpose on that all the clap-trap of “good” and “evil” is maybe inevitable given the nature of what afflicts Her….and us. It could be worthwhile asking, though, whether the dead-end arguments those notions generate (as exemplified here and all over “the civilized world”) are better just dispensed with, at least until we’ve gotten past, one way or another, this immediate (and quite possibly terminal) “crisis.”  Who knows?  By then we may have much better things to do together anyhow….as we have already, but so many of us are (not so blissfully) ignorant-of.

Paracelsus is absolutely free to accept or refuse anything this old Indian “serves-up” here, on its own merits and by his/her own best lights.  Horses are among the finest friends we’ve ever had, but the problem with guns is how easy it is to shoot our way into big trouble we can never shoot our way out-of, but always only deeper-into….cases-in-point too numerous to need mentioning.

Reservation “border-towns” represent the “shock-point” where Native and invading societies meet.  They inevitably exhibit the kind of “war-zone” characteristics common to such places.  The BIA “tribal government” system is yet another such interface, a sort of pacified “rear area” where some uneasy accommodation exists between two basically incompatible world-views.  One wonders if Eso would admit of any altogether natural organic Human social configuration, or would (contrary to common sense and all the biological evidence) insist that “individuals” are the organic FORM of Humanity here.

Chris Hedges’ consistently apocalyptic view of our situation does probably arise in-part at least from his religious indoctrination….and maybe even his “personal” inclinations.  It does appear that more of our tame Sisters and Brothers are these days seeing beyond such make-believe, and challenging the cock-eyed assumptions about our essential Human Nature that DIS-inform these constructs.  Certainly their inherent “negatives” are revealing themselves rather starkly as the entirely artificial societal systems elaborated around them disintegrate disastrously.

It’s not unusual for people to “identify” with some disease afflicting them.  So domesticated people doing that is hardly a “moral” issue.  Surviving free wild natural Peoples carefully refrain from falling-into habits and attitudes tending to make people complicit in their own degradation.  We do this together in the Tiyoshpaye Way, which is to say in our NATURAL social arrangement….the wellspring of our organic functional integrity.

If some sufferers of “civilization” are made uncomfortable by the thought that not all Humans are similarly trapped, maybe that’s not such a “bad thing.”  Swimmers caught in riptides would be foolish to waste time and vitality resenting the knowledge and abilities of life guards.


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By Folktruther, December 23, 2008 at 12:06 pm Link to this comment

Gosh, Anarcissie, I didn’t know that at least some of the Gnostics conceived the Creator evil or mistaken.  Certainly a more reasonable view than the traditional one but doubtless one that contributed to their repression.

The Zorastorians argue that there are two great gods, one Good, one Evil, who struggle with each other.  This view has been incorporated into popular theology, along with the usual perverted values, by C. E Lewis.  Unfortunately Zorasterism appears to be dying out, just a few thousand left in India.  Reason hasn’t fared very well historically in traditional religion.

Nevertheless modern religions are rising that dispense with personal gods and whose rituals emphasize that earthpeople aren’t inherently defective.  And new values too.  Pagans, for example, have priests who are Registered, or whatever the legal term is, and can marry people. 

They sometimes marry more than two people.  Instead of couples, they marry triples, quadruples,etc.  I’ve always wondered how that worked out.  Could those marriages be saved? 

I think I’m more tolerant of spiritual ideologies than you are, despite all the power delusions that have been incororated in them.  People like to commemmorate the significant dates in their lives: birth, sexual maturity, death. 

And people may need spiritual ideologies to instill and support the mmoral values necessary to live together.  I don’t see why these spiritual ideologies can’t be denuded of the absurdities and implausabilities that have festered in them historically.  but to believe that this can be done requires Faith.

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By Anarcissie, December 23, 2008 at 11:54 am Link to this comment

actually, gnosticism is alive and well, anywhere the belief in special knowledge available only to a privileged few is thriving.’

So Quantum Mechanics is Gnosticism?  I’ll have to give that some thought.  I suppose one could adapt the many-worlds interpretation to it.  I am afraid, however, that Gnosticism is still going to be a philosophical speculation, rather than living, ardent belief in a spook or collection of spooks that people are afraid of and will kill and die for.

Supposedly the Mandaeans ( are spiritual descendants of the ancient Gnostics.  They used to live near the mouths of the Euphrates in Iraq and have now been scattered to the winds by Saddam Hussein, the war with Saddam Hussein, and the various attempts of Islamic fanatics to convert, kill or expel all infidels from wherever they happen to be.

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By denis, December 23, 2008 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
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actually, gnosticism is alive and well, anywhere the belief in special knowledge available only to a privileged few is thriving.

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By Anarcissie, December 23, 2008 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

‘Hedges exhibits here the moral sickness of Western, and especially Amerian, progressivism.  With Pfaff, he is one of the two most effective resisters of American tyranny.  But he identifies with traditional religion, and religious ideology, like political and scientific ideology, generatees anti-people worldviews that legiitmate the power systems that rule us, and the power structures that control them. ...’

Actually the notion that man is evil does not by itself legitimate the power structures, because the notion would also logically imply that the authorities would be at least as evil as those they rule.  One needs an additional provision, that God blesses the great leaders and makes them better than other people.  This requires a great deal of faith, since all the evidence is in the other direction.  In the U.S. there is an abundance of faith, however; we deify our more prominent great leaders, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, although presumably they put on their pants one leg at a time, etc.

Since Mr. Hedges has led us out over the abyss of religious speculation, though, and we look down into a sea of stars and mists and devils and who knows what else, I’d like to suggest Gnosticism as a proper worldview.  Man is evil because the Creator is evil—if not absolutely evil at least a screwup.  Man only imitates him, and among men, the Great Leaders are the most faithful mimes.  We who decline to go along with this malign circus revolt not only against the political arrangements of the day but God and Nature as well.  They need chastisement and improvement!

Gnosticism was wiped out by the Christians and the Muslims long ago, so besides comporting with evidence of daily life, it has the additional virtue of being incapable of joining the other Great Religions in the gigantic evils which they have inspired, advocated, committed and continue to commit.

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By Eso, December 23, 2008 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

I do not understand what Hedges is trying to say. Is he saying what the Christians are saying—that God forgives all human beings their wrongdoings as a gift of “salvation”? Is he saying that humankind is hopeless? Is he saying we are without intelligence? Are we incapable of learning? Do we end with an irredeemable catastrophy?

All human societies are artificial, those in Indian Country including. Artificial societies may be created by means of violence as ours is, but some seem to have known that it takes self-sacrifice to create societies that will not commit suicide through violence.

The word “suicide” replaced and eliminated the concept of self-sacrifice in the 17th century, which is why Indian Country went on a drinking binge and we are on a like drug binge. Maybe we should put politics back in “suicide”, because it will then become self-sacrifice again. I mean, why should anyone kill (waste) themselves without attributing to their death a cause other than themselves? Is that not moreoften the case?

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By Leisure Suit Larry, December 23, 2008 at 7:57 am Link to this comment
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By Jim Yell, December 22 at 8:55 am #

“I thought the articles after the jealous chimps tore into the couple who brought presents for their once companion chimp rather over the top. As their behavior should have been obvious in their parellel to human response to frusteration and envy. Not a bit of difference to the “wilding of young people in central park”.

The “wilding of young people in central park”. was confessed by an adult male, and the youths accused were released from jail. their suit is proceeding through the New York judicial system.

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By samosamo, December 23, 2008 at 7:42 am Link to this comment

Still yet another symptom of too many people on the planet and inadequate political, economic, social, religious and environmental systems to provide for all. No 2 ways about it, man is an animal with emotions most likely far more enhanced by over crowding producing cruel behavior towards not just other humans but the whole planet, how else could the insignificance of endangered species be so ho,hum and not a care that the diverse species have to make way for humans. That will be the last laugh because even before the last species is eradicated for the benefit of humans, the damage will have been done and we will be gone, only cockroaches, ants and bateria and viruses left.
I would like to think humans to be intelligent but this is the one area where we are disastrously uncaring by not figuring out what size of the human population that the planet can support in comfort and how to maintain that size.
Other wise all the bantering and nattering about the europeans being probably and for the largest part the most cruel by their repression and decimate of huge parts of people on other continents for their selfish wants and needs is correct. I would have to say that the last of the hunter gatherer groups was about the time when the size of the human population was at its best.
Now, it is amazing how easily it is for people to become police, soldiers or security personel and without question and gladly in more cases than one would think, shoot, beat, harm or kill those that would only be trying to live. Clear cut case of people not liking people and that can be stated now as the ‘elite don’t want a bunch of people preventing them from enjoying life on this planet’.

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By reason, December 23, 2008 at 4:42 am Link to this comment

We can chose to learn the lessons of life and be attuned to the universal law that governs our existence or we can break those laws by choosing to ignore the inevitable consequence of pain and suffering. Hopefully as children, we learn through our own mistakes and the maturity of those who have gone before us. We can choose to learn from our mistakes and walk or we chose to ignore the lessons and crawl. It is up to us how we live our lives and how we use the knowledge we gain. As human beings we can choose to use our collective knowledge to nurture life or destroy it. Whatever we chose, we will get in return. Most of us have heard the Golden Rule (“do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”) but it seems many of us have yet to learn it.

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By prole, December 23, 2008 at 2:52 am Link to this comment

A cheery Christmas Greeting in this season of Hope and Joy from the apostle of doom. “We fool ourselves”... IF we believe “we are immune to the savagery and chaos of failed states.” It’s not at all clear that everyone does believe that. Like Conrad himself, this apocalyptic warning can be variously interpreted. The ambiguity of the “we” arises again. As does the conception of a ‘failed state’. If savagery is one of the two main criteria of a ‘failed state’ then the U.S. is probably half way there already. And many in the ruling class are no doubt nervously aware that chaos may not be far behind. The massive bailout, however misguided, is at least in part to try and avert such a survivalist scenario.“Take away the rigid social structure, let society continue to break down, and we become, like anyone else, brutes.” Taking away particular social structures might not be such a bad idea as they often tend to be rather brutish in their own right, and letting society as we know it continue to break down may prove emancipatory if it abolishes rigid class structures.   
“Conrad saw enough of the world as a sea captain to know the irredeemable corruption of humanity.” Conrad was mainly an itinerant seaman during his impetuous youth and only briefly a captain of a rickety steamer on the Congo, so if he was able to see that much it was a crash course. One which would of course negate the message of Christmas altogether. It may well be that Conrad was possessed of oracular omniscience that could provide him with such a categorical understanding of humanity as to perhaps makes it unencessary to consider any other point of view. Or perhaps it had something more to do with his unhappy childhood and early experiences. Conrad however, was not the only European observer to be appalled by what he saw in equatorial Africa during the early imperial era. Another European man of letters spent quite a bit more time there and came away with quite a different philosophy. Albert Schweitzer first went to the region only a few years after Conrad and spent much of the rest of his life there at the clinic he establisher in Lambarene. Schweitzer too couldn’t help but see the corruption of humanity but rather than lead to a pessimistic fatalism, out of his experience evolved a philosophy of “revernce for life” and his belief in a personal interconnectedness and responsibility toward all living things. Schweitzer too, like Conrad “understood what we did to others in the name of civilization and progress.”  But perhaps it is Schweitzer as much as Conrad, “as our society unravels internally and plows ahead in the costly, morally repugnant and self-defeating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whom we do well to heed.” “Conrad saw cruelty as an integral part of human nature.” And so it may be - but Schweitzer sought a cure for it, however naive. Schweitzer too “understood how Western civilization and technology lend themselves to inhuman exploitation. He had seen in the Congo the barbarity and disdain for human life that resulted from a belief in moral advancement. He knew humankind’s violent, primeval lusts. He knew how easily we can all slip into states of extreme depravity” - but he didn’t give in to it. Perhaps Conrad wouldn’t be able to find in any of Schweitzers books or talk “anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.”  But even so, it might be worth a try. Merry Christmas.

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By Clash, December 23, 2008 at 1:46 am Link to this comment

Quote from a so called new age prophet.

“One-fourth of humanity must be eliminated from the social body. We are in charge of God’s selection process for planet earth. He selects, we destroy. We are the riders of the pale horse, Death.”
- Psychologist Barbara Marx Hubbard - member of Task Force Delta; a United States Army think tank

Just another case of illuminated entitlement. What peace?

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By G.Anderson, December 22, 2008 at 11:23 pm Link to this comment

Yes I would agree, man can be cruel.

But I would argue that only those in America’s ruling classes feel immune to the social violence, that they create through America’s form of capitalism.

“I saw the ominous statements by authorities, such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warning of potential civil unrest in the United States as we funnel staggering sums of public funds upward to our bankrupt elites and leave our poor and working class destitute, hungry, without health care and locked out of their foreclosed homes.”

Many of us, have been experiencing this violence throughout Los Angeles, and other large cities in the weekly body counts of the gangs, and gang related collateral damage. In many communities in this country cruelty is already a way of life.

The desperate roots of violence are never addressed for a reason, a reason well understood by those in charge. But for those abandoned by the rest of America the reason is crystal clear.  We can spend billions around the world, in Iraq and Iran. I wonder what a few billion dollars could do here, in South Central Los Angeles?

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By Paracelsus, December 22, 2008 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

@ TAO Walker

Are you really the person you put forth? How do I know if you sneak down to the Safeway, and then pass off some a beef steak as venison to a naive white guy wanting to finish his vision quest? Having lived in New Mexico, I was acquainted with many Indians, who talked like wise Old Savage, but were more fake than the tobacco store Indian.

As to the rifle being more efficient than running a herd off the cliff, do you really really want to go back to a time without horses or firearms? Do you really do that walk? Are you for real?

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By TAO Walker, December 22, 2008 at 9:07 pm Link to this comment

Paracelsus’ argument for horses and guns seems to be “efficiency.”  There is no evidence that other means of accepting Buffalo’s gifts was in any way wasteful….of “time” (whatever the hell that is) or those gifts as such.  Of course this old Indian has no time-and-motion studies to offer in proof.  Maybe the fact there were Buffalo by the tens of millions when allamerican killers began slaughtering them for money suggests that Native methods were nowhere near as inefficient as implied.

Two of the youngsters mentioned by Paracelsus are known personally to this old man.  A third is related by blood.  Some might have noticed over the last couple years that the term “nativeamerican” doesn’t appear in any other comments offered here.  While there certainly are those of our Cousins who think of theirselfs that way, to us surviving Savages it is mostly an indication of their own domesticated condition.

Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Turtle Island Natives have been “civilized,” of course….with consequences not essentially different than the ones the “modern” peoples are even now experiencing.  It is common to find people who are more or less “civilized.”  There are no comparative degrees of being free and wild.  So that is the distinction this old Wolf draws here, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with “race” or “culture” or “geography” or “history” or “identity.”  All the really serious diseases are notoriously neutral where those incidental and often artificial divisions are concerned.  Civilization is sure-as-shootin’ no respecter of Persons either.

Anyhow, Turtle Island is no more out for “revenge” than would be say….oh, Paracelsus in addressing any specific life-threatening condition that might afflict loved ones….or Paracelsus’ own immune system is when responding to some organism incompatible with his/her body’s biology.  That such self-centered misconceptions are symptomatic of what afflicts the domesticated peoples is something about theirselfs they’d be benefited by coming to recognize.

If this old Savage’s way of putting things seems less-than-PC to Paracelsus, perhaps s/he might strive to infer a lot less of the “personal” than perhaps he/she has here.  On the other hand, “if the shoe fits….”


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By KDelphi, December 22, 2008 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment

criscross—many “liberals” are miserable , because of the holy hell that Dubya has gotten us into, and, now , it seems, the (un)likelihood that out next president is going to be able to get us out of much of it.

If Hedges “bums you out”, then it is,quite possibly, because the whole world is on a downward spiral, sparked by US laissez-faire capitalism. It doesnt work, and, now, since we allowed it to be “exported” by force to so many other countries, they are going down with us=—only more slowly.

The difference, as I see it,has to do with what the leadership of most other countries will be “allowed” to do to try to stop the free fall. In the US, so many have been brainwashed to the idea that “capitalism” = freedom, that people are simply terrified of any restraints on the markets. Rich people love this. They know that they can scare the masses away from ever doing anything to make the markets more fair, as they can just bark about the “loss of freedom”, and most USAns will buy it.

The elites are also fond of “moderation” and “pragmatism”. Too bad these “theories” are amoral, in that they indicate nothing about values, actions, nor, an idology of how life should be—even if that ideal is impossible.

In pragmatism, what you think is right, and wish to happen, is alwasy a stark distance form what is “achievable” and “mainstream”. It is a way to do nothing, and, to make it sound logical.

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By Fadel Abdallah, December 22, 2008 at 8:33 pm Link to this comment

This is another article that though I agree with its essence, I find its title inappropriate.

Though animals are driven by instincts for survival, they are not by their very nature cruel. Most of the animals that are deemed dangerous, like snakes, scorpions, lions, etc. will not hurt you unless you encroach on their space, or you happened to be in the neighborhood when they are hungry. No animal, for example, will kill another for the sake of sports, greed, glory, or national security, but man kills animals for sports and man kills man for greed, glory or some misconceived notion of national security, which, in fact, should be called insecurity.

Moreover, animals act individually by instinct, but they never work to brainwash other animals to constitute armies, built weapons of mass destruction and collectively attack a real or perceived enemy. In other words, animals don’t even have the capacity to think evil or act evil neither individually or collectively. But man does!

At the level of sexuality, I believe animals are more civilized and restrained than humans. They have one mating season. But man, in general, is a miserable sexual animal, with little power to control or curtail his / her sexual impulses. And we all know how much and how often man has fallen as a result of his / her sexuality.

So in a sense, my comment is intended to be in defense of animals as against humans, and my conclusion is that when humans loose their moral compass, which they often do, they are far worse than the most harmful and dangerous animals!

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By Ron Ranft, December 22, 2008 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment
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I went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still the other night. Having been raised on Science Fiction my brother and I have been discussing the movie’s theme for years. Ironically another of Keanu Reeves movies also made a salient point, that humans are like virus’ and will eventually wipe themselves out. My brother contends that humans are a dead end species, one that has the ability to wipe out all life along with itself.

I can only rely on my experiences in life. I have known at 8 people who were faced with situations in which they could have died. The swore that if their circumstances changed and they were saved they would not repeat the same behavior that had brought them to the threshold of Death. They all survived and not a single one of them altered their behavior. While we may learn and adapt some behavior it would seem that ultimately humans cannot change those behaviors that are either the most self destructive or destructive to the world as a whole. I know that there are small successes worldwide but the planet has this overwhelming number of either stupid, greedy people in charge or masses of people without the resources to affect any great change for the better. Between the two they drag humanity ever closer to the abyss of extinction. It isn’t that we don’t know what to do or how to do it, it is that we as a species do not have the will power to do what is needed.

All of the world’s major problems have one cause, overpopulation. Yet we refuse to follow China’s model and begin to squelch the notion that going forth and multiplying is a good thing. We allow feaqr based humans to drive the rest of us in the direction of destrying one another out of fear rather than pursuing what we experience of people, that of assisting one another and making a difference.

As I said, I don’t think humans can change even under the direst of situations, however, I do think that we can teach them to be different. And that is the biggest problem of all when so many small and narrow minded people restrict education and worse yet, want it to teach the absurd concept that is Creationism! What we need is a smarter more educated world and we allow the resources necessary to accomplish that to be used by people who think that the goal of life is to see who can own the largest yacht or the most expensive anything!

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By T. Patrick Donovan, December 22, 2008 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment
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Hedges is hardly cynical or nihilistic. Humans are neither inherently good nor inherently evil; we are, rather, inherently fearful and anxiety-ridden. This fear leads to all manner of compensations, denials, and projections in order to shed our anxiety over annihilation.

Seek out and read Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death,” and Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” for prescient clues to humankind’s dilemma: the only animal that we know that is cognizant of its own impending decay and demise.

Until humankind can face and accept death as death, as the final curtain call, we will forever be making the Other pay and pay and pay.

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By crisscross, December 22, 2008 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment
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why is everyone here so miserable?  liberals should pass the prosac or find a new more optimistic philoshophy

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By Clash, December 22, 2008 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

We are taking the next step at this very moment.Welcome to the new word order.

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By Big B, December 22, 2008 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

“What do you think of western civilization?”
“I think it would be a good idea!”

These are of course the words of Ghandi right around the time that the British empire gave up on India. Unfortunatly, the historic withdrawl of the British from India, forced primarily through the non-violent revolution of the indian people led by Ghandi, itself led to an incredibly violent war between the remaining factions in India. It seems that even when mankind can manage a non-violent revolution, it somehow still ends in tears and bloodshed.

One might argue that the true nature of man lies not in the nieve notion found in ancient persian and greek documents, and paraphrased in the magna carta and constitution, that we are inherently equal and meant to live free.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As anyone who has even a rudementary knowledge of human history can tell you, the true nature of man is to dominate and enslave other men. Oh we have done some surprisingly philanthropic things at times, built great cities, cured disease, gone to the moon. But shockingly enough, the labor to build histories great civilizations was often cruel slavery. The diseases we irradicated were manipulated and used as Biological and chemical weapons. The knowledge of rocketry brought to us by VonBraun, has been used for 60 years as a delivery system for our most despicable weapons.

Yup, it seems that even on the rare occasions that mankind has been magnanamous, we have turned on each other and committed unspeakable attrocities. Except that they have happened so often, it should be called human business as usual.

How many more Pol Pot’s and George Bush’s is it going to take before we take the next step in social evolution?

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By martin weiss, December 22, 2008 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

The people we call “Native Americans” lived here for more than thirty thousand years without:
insurance, firearms, taxes, steel, pensions, nuclear energy, antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides, industrial-scale war, child labor, fishing to extinction, banks, petroleum, motors, bumper-to-bumper traffic, making children sit in a chair for twelve years, etc.
They were what we call “hunter-gatherers”. Yet they worked only ten hours a week to support themselves and their extended families.
The formation of unions forced employers to accept forty-hour weeks and weekends and the end of child labor. Without unions, people would be working eighty and a hundred twenty hours a week and children would be mining coal and burning the rubber off copper wires.
This doesn’t imply that humans are irremediably corrupt. Only that our economic system is right out of the dark ages. Let the Federal Reserve be run by the US Treasury instead of the private banks that now run our money supply for their own profit. Under the current setup, the Fed manipulates the currency to produce inflation, deflation and endless debt. The result is the subjugation and enslavement of the people and their ultimate dispossession.
The “Class War” is not between the rich and the poor, it is between the poor and the poor. The rich, when they notice, are merely amused. The bankers laugh when the poor fight each other out of ignorance, racism, and “patriotism”.

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By marcus medler, December 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment
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I note in this discussion and in the essay that the “brute nature” emerges from civilized man. The idealist becomes the ideologue,the liberator the tyrant and the organization man the brute. I am naive enough to think that man in a natural state (what is this) is less brutish. Conrad’s characters are flawed beings unraveling like a wound watch when displaced from civilizing restrictions. He is making an observation of civilized man not man’s innate nature. I suggest a reading of Tobias Schneebaum’s books. He and other anthropologists are interested in the “savage” nature of savage man.

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By Rgyle, December 22, 2008 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment
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diamond: I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. We have for some time had the chance to lead for the greater good of everyone. There have been a few bright spots. But for the last 8 years it’s been a complete waste of leadership opportunity.

Allow me to put another arrow on your bow. Just heard the report from Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz (presented in their book The 10 Trillion Dollar Hangover) that our national debt after 8 years of Bush will have doubled and possibly tripled, an increase greater than that of the administrations of all 42 prior presidents COMBINED. That’s a treasonous breach of trust and dereliction of duty. We must indict, the sooner the better. We, as a nation and society, will continue our descent until we perform our moral, ethical and constitutional responsibility in this regard.

Here’s some encouraging news. Tim DeChristopher just stood up for what is right. He’s a hero for shrewdly and courageously outbidding (and upbidding) the oil giants for much of our treasured red rock lands in Utah. He’s a student and has no money to pay for the 22,000 acres he won at auction. But he successfully delayed another auction for a month, after Bush is gone, likely saving much of it from needless exploitation. Bravo!

Though my expectations for the Obama presidency have been lowered lately, I expect more opportunities for we the people to take heart, take action and lead Mr. Obama to good governance he promised, like Mr. Christopher just did.

It does truly come down to each one of us to find the truth, own it, and stand up for it. To keep the promises our elected mouthpieces make. And one truth is we have rampant misdemeanors and high crimes that have caused so much harm here and around the world, and will for years to come. The perpetrators must be held to account. The whole world is waiting. Do this, or watch our country further decline, eventually dying a tragic and painful death.

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By Shift, December 22, 2008 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment

The West is lost in a failed economic system, yet clings to it as if more of the same will fix things.  It will not.  Continued failures in understanding will cause further decline.  Alternative lifeways exist in America that are realistic and sustainable.  Native American lifeways are not understood by most Americans, yet if better understood would lead to a path of sustainable existence. While America continues it’s policies of quiet genocide against Indian Country, Native Peoples prepare for life altering events in our near futures.  America’s harmful actions have come full circle and are now visiting America.  I know the hardships to be suffered by Americans and that future is harsh.  I am saddened that non-Native Peoples are so blinded by their indoctrination and ego that the only path they walk is that of destruction.  It is very sad to watch this happen.

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By diamond, December 22, 2008 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment

I may be drawing a long bow but it seems to me that the outbreaks of chaos all over the world stem from one fact. The breakdown of civil society in America. What I think most Americans don’t understand is that the rest of the world knows 9/11 was carried out by the Bush administration, the CIA and the Pentagon. They also know that Bush and Cheney stole two elections. The effect of this has been catastrophic. That’s why there was almost a collective sigh of relief when Russia went into Georgia to stop the attack on South Ossetia. It felt as if the grown ups had come home and stopped a drunken party that had gotten completely out of control. Robert Mugabe can strut around like a gangster, having also stolen elections, mocking his own people as they die of starvation and cholera. He knows no one is coming to stop him. The party that won only a third of the seats in the parliament in Thailand in an election can stage a coup with the blessing of the King and overthrow the elected government because they didn’t like the fact that they were trying to help the rural poor. The media notes the fact but offers no analysis whatsoever of what has taken place. The Congo has become a place of total horror for anyone unfortunate enough to be vulnerable as young men with guns make the rule of law a thing of the past. Whenever I hear people complaining about government or politicians or the police I tell them to look at Zimbabwe and the Congo or Guantanamo Bay and consider the alternative. The way the world looks now is the result of how the neo cons have governed for the last eight years. Human beings are fundamentally good but men, in particular, need strong and just laws to govern them and a just sociey to grow up in. Under Bush and Cheney the rule book was thrown out the window and the excesses of American capitalism were allowed to run amok and exported to the entire world. The heart of darkness is in the White House and if Bush and Cheney aren’t charged and brought to trial there is no way to put the rule of law back in place. Nixon got away with his crimes and that created the pattern for theirs. They truly believe the law can’t touch them and the whole world has paid the price for their delusions.

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By bearsf, December 22, 2008 at 1:58 pm Link to this comment

Yes Watchdog2u the Milgram experiments and their follow-ups do suggest that, but remember not all participants in the experiments went along with the program. Some refused.

You do have a choice.

It will take courage…unless of course you are tortured. In which case everyone has their breaking point!

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By bearsf, December 22, 2008 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

Irrelevant? FYI

While discussion takes place here over man’s behavior and historical events, history is being constantly distorted in front of us. The advertisement for the new film “Valkyrie” keeps being displayed on these comment pages, so I feel compelled to comment.

Whose History Do You Believe? / Plan Valkyrie: The German Conspiracy against the Nazi Regime culminating in the Coup Attempt of 20 July 1944

Before (or after) you watch the new movie Valkyrie be sure to check the real history behind the true story.

Here is the trailer for the movie Valkyrie - Trailer 

Read about the Hitler Resistance inside Germany here 

Plan Valkyrie

The German Conspiracy against the Nazi Regime culminating in the Coup Attempt of 20 July 1944 

“My extensive research refuted the bizarre portrayal of Olbricht which seeped into the literature in the wake of a growing “Stauffenberg Cult” - of which Tom Cruise is one of the worst perpetrators. The effect of this cult of personality is to lionize Stauffenberg at the expense of virtually everyone else. Important German historians, e.g. Joachim Fest, noted that my explanation of events was much more credible - and I can document it. If you are interested in a detailed analysis of events and the evidence I uncovered, you need only wait until January, when Sutton Books in the UK will be releasing an English biography of Olbricht under the title “Codename Valkyrie.” I will be sure to put a link for purchasing the book on this site as soon as it is available… -Helena P. Schrader Historian and Novelist

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By Watchdog2u, December 22, 2008 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment

I beleive his article is more generic. You’ll never change the spots on the human leopard.

Man Is a Cruel Animal….your a fool to think otherwise.

This new study to be published in the January issue of American Psychologist confirmed it by validating an older study. “Charting the psychology of evil, decades after ‘shock’ experiment”

In the early 1960s, a young psychologist at Yale began what became one of the most widely recognized experiments in his field. In the first series, he found that about two-thirds of subjects were willing to inflict what they believed were increasingly painful shocks on an innocent person when the experimenter told them to do so, even when the victim screamed and pleaded.

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By bearsf, December 22, 2008 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

Conrad also had the Dark Ages of the 14th century to draw upon where the elites’ Lombard Banking System completely collapsed and ushered in the death of a quarter of a million people throughout Europe from famine, war , and pestilence. This did not go unnoticed either by the people.

Will the people rise up this time and assert the creative mind of man over the idea of man as an animal or will they be swept into the current Orwellian vortex?

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By felicity, December 22, 2008 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

Geeze, I started reading Hedges and about a quarter of the way through I assumed that he was actually writing about primarily the last eight years of American imperialism only using Conrad’s thoughts and writings as trope.

Given the comments posted so far, did I assume incorrectly? But isn’t he telling us that in practice our American do-goodism when inflicted on the rest of the world becomes, is bound to become savagery and it’s time that we see it for what it is?  Like in the name of freeing the Iraqi people, we killed, maimed, dislocated countless thousands of them?  That the footprint we have left in Iraq will be there for perhaps many generations to come?

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By Paracelsus, December 22, 2008 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment

Two-legged people with three minute attention spans and absolutely no Living Memory have no viable place in the Living Arrangement here.  The best way to shake them off is to let their own fatal flaws do them in.

I suppose such people include a good many near Farmington and Window Rock who empty the liquor stores near the first of the month. I have known some Indians(N.A.), and they are just as likely to suffer from the revenge of Turtle Island as anyone else. I am acquainted(never met them in person) with Russell Means, R.C. Goreman, Ward Churchill(Indian?), and Leonard Peltier. I had Indian friends and acquaintances when I lived in the Southwest. I agree with much of what you say Taowalker, but I sometimes find your attitude chauvinistic. I think the Plains Indians and mother nature did much better with the innovations of European horsemanship and the long rifle. It was much less wasteful of buffalo meat and time as well as human life. If you care to research the lives of the Indians I mentioned, you will find them a varied lot as with the rest of humanity. I do foresee a die-off, but that is the hazard of urban humanity. The more advanced the civilization the more ease there is to taking it down. I would venture to say with the history of Indians torturing their captured enemies that Indians are as prone to evil as the rest of humanity. I don’t mean to be unpleasant, but the foundation funded identity politics has left me badly impressed.

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By rich kurth, December 22, 2008 at 11:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

However beautifully put, reading Hedge’s columns can be a real downer, but only if you let it. I hear someone who has many times witnessed the brutality yet yearns for the good and innocent. What doesn’t kill you might help heal you.

Conrad’s marginal note reminds me of a bumper sticker that reads: Hate Hate! It’s the vicious circular mentality chasing it’s own tail. It is the ego in humans that so foolishly passes judgement on all the damn fools. Is there any relief? As soon as one sees the paradox, the hypocrisy, the very essence of the false, in oneself, there is a chance for correction. Only when we face the demon in us can it be vanquished.

If you’re interested, perhaps give these a read: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj. These are not page-turners nor intellectual entertainments. They point to the false, and more.

If my hand didn’t feel the pain of the flame’s heat, it would burn off before my very eyes. All we have is good luck. But don’t take my word for it!

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By TAO Walker, December 22, 2008 at 11:33 am Link to this comment

What if underneath all the abstract speculation about it, the plain fact of these events and circumstances that many find so worrisome, even terrifying, is this:  After suffering for half a millennium the rapacious and murderous assault of “civilization” upon Native Lifeforms here, along with the very air and water and land, Turtle Island herself is effectively kicking america’s ass these days.  One of the driving conceits of the domesticated people has been that our Mother Earth is nothing but a “dead” mass of inert matter existing solely for the exploitation of the human “master” race.  They are in serious trouble today because that simply is not true.

Two-legged people with three minute attention spans and absolutely no Living Memory have no viable place in the Living Arrangement here.  The best way to shake them off is to let their own fatal flaws do them in. 

So what if such self-absorbed “individuals” pridefully project upon us surviving Primitive Savages their own erroneous and screwed-up notions of Human Nature.  We are not subject to their willful ignorance or its consequences, and under no obligation to conform to their half-baked ideas about who and what WE are.

The all-out warfare the “civilized” peoples’ve waged against us here has reached the inevitable stage where Life Herownself moves to redress the ills that such a monumentally stupid siege has caused. It only makes sense that getting rid of its “agents” will be part of the cure.  For our tame Sisters and Brothers this means, in the vernacular, a choice between being part of the “problem” or part of its “solution.”

Our Mother Earth can certainly live with any number of her Human Children throwing-off the ragged cloak of “civilization” and getting back into their free wild natural condition.  Those who don’t will get “washed right out of Her hair.”  What’s more, they will do it to theirownselfs.

It’s the Tiyoshpaye Way or “the highway,” after- all, and the latter is definitely a DEAD END.


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By Paracelsus, December 22, 2008 at 11:25 am Link to this comment

He bluntly told the pacifist Bertrand Russell, who saw humankind’s future in the rise of international socialism, that it was “the sort of thing to which I cannot attach any definite meaning. I have never been able to find in any man’s book or any man’s talk anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.”

Fantastic! Hedges quoted someone who argued against BR’s international socialism, now reborn anew as global interdependence and the third way. Conrad was indeed prescient.

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By Folktruther, December 22, 2008 at 11:24 am Link to this comment

Hedges exhibits here the moral sickness of Western, and especially Amerian, progressivism.  With Pfaff, he is one of the two most effective resisters of American tyranny.  But he identifies with traditional religion, and religious ideology, like political and scientific ideology, generatees anti-people worldviews that legiitmate the power systems that rule us, and the power sstructures that control them.

We are all taught from childhood to respect authorized power.  When we are taught a respect for power, we simultaneously taught, largely without our conscious awareness, a disrespect for the people ruled by power. This contempt for people is incorporated into our communal worldviews to implant, as Hedges and Conrad argue, “the irredeemable couruption of humanity/”

This is most easily seen in religious ideology.  Religious truthers posit powerful gods, or Almighty God, that we must obey just as we must obey the earthly powerful. 

But we are Bad: sinful, willful, intellectually curious, and above all, DISOBEDIENT.  So we must be ruled with rods of iron, and punished, in the Next Life if not in this one.

the preconceptions and presuppositions of these religous, politial and scientific fables we drink in with our mother’s milk.  And infect the public intellectuals who impose these misconceptions on the people to legitmate the power of the Educated classes. 

In purveying them Hedges does as much harm to the American population as giving honors to Warren at the inauguration.

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By Kashilinus, December 22, 2008 at 11:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So bleak, this damning and discouraging view, which from many angles is quite justified. But the way is still open to redempton, and when you get right down to it, what else is there that is meaningful enough to do?  Not that we can get there, but my Christmas card poem this year reads;

In a dream world
poets tell it like it is.
Women preserve order
as they do in their own homes.
Men are stewards of the planet
and all its living things.
As evening approaches
Their thoughts turn to dancing
to rhythms
they didn’t know were there.
War is unthinkable.

Cheers,  Ed

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By Williamhope, December 22, 2008 at 10:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Conrad’s fatalism seems to have enraptured Mr. Hedges, a professed faithful religionist.  What an interesting paradox.  Hope which sustains us through the uncertainties of this life has successfully expanded technology, increased creature comforts and life expectancy for some, and expanded the human community in numbers and awareness of interdependency.  I trust this challenging experiment in humanness will continue to benefit humankind.

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By Jim Yell, December 22, 2008 at 9:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I can’t think of much to object to in Hedges article above. We are a rotten lot, but must still strive to control the raging inside—I believe. Must have some standards if for no reason except to have a measure of how we have failed to improve ourselves.

I thought the articles after the jealous chimps tore into the couple who brought presents for their once companion chimp rather over the top. As their behavior should have been obvious in their parellel to human response to frusteration and envy. Not a bit of difference to the “wilding of young people in central park”.

I do feel that most of us must be taught the rules and they are hard lessons, but I have known people that I have thought had a natural balance to their relationships, good people who would be good and do good even without codified do’s and don’ts.

Our current embarressment was brought on by ignoring the consequences of not following the rules, or getting rid of rules all together. Still there is a fine line between a healthy balance and absolute chaos. Perhaps we are all insane after all.

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By Joeseph Schmoltz, December 22, 2008 at 9:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ah yes the Wagner syndrome. “Can a monster create beautiful music?’’ 

For the answer listen to Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg.

We build monuments to God and build guns to defend our belief that he is on our side. We write beautiful poetry which almost no one reads.

many older people die only recently realizing that they were on the wrong side for the majority of their lives… George Wallace comes to mind.

People (because of the gift of a thumb) have taken themselves OUT of the food chain, and in doing so, rendered themselves worthless to all but themselves.

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By Eric L. Prentis, December 22, 2008 at 9:28 am Link to this comment

Man is just nine meals, three days, absent from civilization apostasy. Hungry good men then join violent crowds once their children begin to starve.

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By expat in germany, December 22, 2008 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have an old, deep love and respect for both literature and science, but I prefer to take my views of human nature from the latter, not the former. There is still much we don’t understand about human motivations, and about the intersection of nature and nurture, but the bleak outlook of Mr. Hedge’s article overlooks a lot of research identifying cooperative, and even altruistic, human behavior.

Whether you invoke the “tragedy of the commons” or the game of Prisoner’s Dilemma, one can argue both sides of our nature. Anyone with a child knows how self-serving we can be, just as anyone with a child knows how fair and generous we can be.

I think our global connections have created a transparency that holds some promise and reason for optimism. Perhaps it will come down to that old bromide “garbage in, garbage out.”

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By martin weiss, December 22, 2008 at 7:09 am Link to this comment

In Conrad and our current media,
our vision is directed at the antithesis of “humane”, but in doing so we miss the essence of humanity. It is not in the controlling of others we find success or survival, but in our better natures. People survive as a community or they fail because they forget their community. The weakest among us are the strongest—the mothers and children. They carry humanity forward. They exert inexorable pressure to refine our methods, to improve our awareness, to expand our horizons. They employ the inclusive and compassionate without need for the defining or controlling. They will never be insecure, never need fear. Yet, when threatened, their ferocity eclipses that of the trained soldier. Unless capital is prized more than people, the mothers and children will prosper.
The individual cannot thrive alone. Without community he is left to his own devices and hard put to prosper—much less to even endure. Conrad was the product of limited perspective. Wonderful writer, self-taught from newspapers and literature of his time, but of limited horizons. Most of his world was unknown, Africa was still “darkest Africa”, his history and experience lacked depth. It was natural for him to dramatize and generalize and overlook basic elements of human nature.
We are progressing. But the arc of history is greater than a lifetime or a kingdom, wider than his oceans. Our great strength is our understanding, not our weapons or subjugation of others.
When Mr. Hedges cites human depravity, he ignores its source, the blind faith and compassion that makes our mothers or our society feed us while we are helpless. It is because we are the sapient, thinking, animal, we will always improve in understanding, technology and the employment of compassion due to our increasing ability to control events. We prefer compassion to mass murder—our current economic structure, and Conrad’s, profits from our deaths. Murder can have a very limited future if we are going to have communities and babies to carry on after us. The utility of mass murder is even more limited, even though Bush and Cheney are getting rich from it.
Human history reaches beyond war, kings, weapons and slavery to centuries and millenia of existence without the artifacts of depravity.

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By hippy pam, December 22, 2008 at 7:07 am Link to this comment

We ARE animals…...just like cows-sheep-dogs-monkeys-elephants….ALL ARE ANIMALS…..The DIFFERENCE?????we THINK-CONNIVE-HATE!!!!!SO…....Power corrupts-absolute power corrupts absolutely….Doesn’t matter if it is a COP-PRESIDENT-PREACHER….whatever…..Most[not all] have the need/desire to have more and better than “the other guy”...And SOME will do ANYTHING to get it[hey-ole mr.bullshit”-I’m calling YOUR NAME]

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By Allan Gurfinkle, December 22, 2008 at 6:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

1.  We live on a planet of aggressive animals that must kill and eat other in order to survive.  This is probably the most diabolical (grotesque, horrific, ... ) universe imaginable. 

2.  That said, the accomplishments of civilization appear all the more incredible.  Art, music, science, industry, technology, all miracles.

3.  That said, we’re now on the brink.  Hedges analysis of savagery is hopelessly dated and picayune.  The danger we face is not from savages but from scientists and engineers who have designed and deployed a doomsday machine that can destroy us all in the next hour.  The evil has been done, and all that remains is an accident or bad decision to destroy EVERYTHING.  And, yet, it is never mentioned.  So, I though I would mention it.

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By Jaded Prole, December 22, 2008 at 6:38 am Link to this comment

Hedges is starting to sound like Ayn Rand here. True enough that savage barbarism lurks under the thin skin of this civilization but there are other powerful socializing forces in our nature or we would never have survived the Pleistocene much less built civilizations. The view Hedges is echoing is one of nihilism, cynicism and hopelessness. It leads nowhere. We do however have option and they can be found and applied through variations of socialism which too, is a reflection of our social nature.

Ours is an out of balance society dependent on technology and alienated from nature. A social collapse would result in barbarism before a new, more realistic equilibrium of a smaller population more grounded in reality is found. It would not be the first time in history that such things occured, though, not on as grand a scale. It is also not necessary and can be avoided but that requires our active participation in transforming our system from one of corruption in the interest of a powerful elite to one of social and environmental sanity and accountability.

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By Muckraker, December 22, 2008 at 6:16 am Link to this comment

Two of the greatest oxymorons are The Civilized World and A Christian Nation.  The US government has a dark history of the traeatment of our Native Americans and our intervention into Centeral America, The Caribbean and the Philppines.
Power always corrupts and absolute power turns good men into tyrants.  We all have a shadow self that we had best be aware of that is best contaiined by a solid faith in God.

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By davidperi, December 22, 2008 at 5:39 am Link to this comment

This isn´t new!  Look over the past 2,500 of history, especially the last century.  It has been the bloodiest.  The Western philosophical thought was that each generation should progress better in all areas of life. So is it?

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By TAO Walker, December 22, 2008 at 3:16 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges issues a damning indictment here of the very “civilization” he seems to think is forsaken instead of epitomized by the beliefs and behaviors he abhors.  He also makes the usual self-satisfying assertions about us “savages,” and the alleged reservoir of “brutality” we’re so regularly supposed to represent in the virtual world Hedges inhabits.

It is no doubt much less painful to project upon those of us who are NOT domesticated the fatal flaws embodied and propagated in the Living Arrangement of our Mother Earth exclusively by our tame two-legged Sisters and Brothers who ARE so afflicted.  They do the awful things they do not despite the “thin veneer of civilization” clothing them, but rather exactly because of it.

Here now in the “throes” of their make-believe world’s disintegration, does it really serve any beneficial purpose for domesticated people to keep-on using us real surviving Primitive Savages as scapegoats for the things in their own motives and methods which are being revealed even to theirownselfs finally for the self-righteous, and suicidal, idiocies they have always been.  It is the darkness at the “heart” of civilization
Hedges and others of its apologists will do well to examine. 

It is obviously damned foolish to go looking for that here in Indian Country, where our hearts are good.


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