Kusaimamekirai's Reviews > America: The Farewell Tour

America by Chris Hedges
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it was amazing

I was first introduced to Chris Hedges work through his sobering “War is a Force That Gives us Meaning”, released not long after the 2nd gulf war. Having spent significant time in the Balkans and other war zones, he began to recognize how hopelessness and fear can easily be manipulated by governments to create cults of personality and fragmented communities filled with distrust of each other. From there, it’s a small step toward violence and even genocide.
Hedges is not saying that the America of 2018 is on the verge of ethnic cleansing but it is undoubtedly a staggeringly fragmented society in which dissent against your idealogical “team” is not tolerated and “truth”, as Rudolph Giuliani recently said, is not “truth” if it doesn’t subscribe to your world view. Contrary to popular thought, this is not something created by Donald Trump. While he may be the public face at the moment of the mendacity, cruelness, and insecurity that seems so omnipresent at this moment in history, Hedges argues that it has been a slow decline over the last 40 years which are now bearing fruit in our discourse and our culture.
One needs only to look at the chapter headings to see where Hedges believes this decline is manifesting itself.
“Decay”, “Heroin”, “Work”, “Sadism”, “Hate”, “Gambling”, and “Freedom” all look at individual areas of American society where despair and economic inequality have created bleak landscapes that leave people feeling without agency in their lives. This breeds a kind of nihilism where when people feel their lives cease to matter, becoming unmoored from the sense of community that holds societies together. It’s a nihilism based primarily in a lack of being invested in a community and in the need to feel something, anything, regardless of whether it is based in fact or will negatively impact those around us. Be it through drugs, gambling, kinship with nationalist or racial groups hate groups, or sadomasochism, in a world that feels empty, these things make us “feel”, even as we know it will result in our destruction.
Hedges believes that we do this to ourselves primarily because of economic exploitation. Struggling to feed your family or living in poverty is not as some would have us believe, the result of moral weakness and laziness. Rather, economic inequality is ensconced in America’s very system of government which depends on those with power, maintaining it any cost through the exploitation of the poor. America’s history is littered of examples of the disenfranchised (Suffragists, Black Americans, Native Americans, workers, to name but a few) taken to a breaking point at which they refuse to accept their fate and rise up. Often after bloody struggle, cosmetic changes are conceded by the wealthy who are afraid of losing it all (Hedges relates a story of FDR assembling a recalcitrant group of corporate leaders and telling them that if they don’t agree to to give something back to workers in a New Deal, the workers are going to upend Capitalism itself and take it all), and an America that seemed to be on the brink of collapse comes back from the brink until the powerful attempt to scale back their concessions as much as possible later. Such has been the back and forth in America that has kept it relatively stable even as more people slip into crushing poverty.
That is, Hedges writes, until the present day. What America sees now in the person of Donald Trump and the monied interests and ideologues behind him, are men (and they are primarily men) who have given up the pretense of even giving scraps back to the exploited in society. What was once a fear of unrest among the poor is now open rapaciousness and contempt. Hedges argues that this represents for most societies its last days. It is Nero playing his fiddle. It is Russia invading Afghanistan. It is the French in Vietnam and Algeria.
It is difficult to imagine America walking itself back from its ultimate fate even in a society that wasn’t living in a fantasy of narcissistic distraction and celebrity where life begins and ends on a screen. Will America collapse into anarchy? That seems exceedingly unlikely. Will it see wages and lives become even more depressed as the wealthy attempt to squeeze even more from workers? Increasing violence in its streets as frustration boils over? An overburdened social safety net unable to contain the exploding health crisis as more people medicate themselves numb? A collapse of democracy itself into a kind of Chinese style authoritarian/capitalist hybrid?
These options seem frightening but can we say they seem impossible? After touring the American prison system, talking to its prostitutes, sharing stories with its opioid addicts, it’s gamblers and conspiracy theorists, Hedges believes that rather than impossible, it is the most likely ending to America’s story. We can only hope he is wrong.
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Reading Progress

April 21, 2018 – Shelved
April 21, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
August 23, 2018 – Started Reading
August 23, 2018 –
page 20
5.0% ""The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of “fake news.”..The iron refusal by those who engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis.""
August 23, 2018 –
page 39
9.75% "“We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.”-Daniel Boorstin"
August 24, 2018 –
page 89
22.25% "The chapter on opioids was incredibly insightful but about as bleak as any chapter you'll ever read. Hedges is taking me down some very dark alleys."
August 24, 2018 –
page 113
28.25% ""The valiant struggle by radical socialists and workers has been consciously erased from history and replaced with the vacuity of celebrity culture and the cult of self"
So true. When I was in primary school, I heard nothing about labor unions and their being violently suppressed in America in the 20th century. I imagine it's the same today."
August 24, 2018 –
page 150
37.5% "That chapter about pornography, sexual trafficking, and sadism was extremely difficult to read. Hedges isn't shying away from anything in this book."
August 25, 2018 –
page 196
49.0% "Hedges with a compelling argument that the nihilistic violence of the Alt right and Antifa both come from the same place of feeling powerless and disenfranchised. They are only separated by, as Freud said: "the narcissism of minor differences""
August 25, 2018 –
page 200
50.0% "Amazing chapter on "hate". He makes an interesting argument that violent protests on the left and right seem infatuated with their own sense of power and moral superiority rather than any structural plan to organize and change the system. At times nothing more than narcissism and political theater"
August 25, 2018 –
page 229
57.25% ""We do not become autonomous and free human beings by building pathetic, tiny monuments to ourselves. It is through self sacrifice and humility that we affirm the sanctity of others and the sanctity of ourselves"
August 25, 2018 –
page 243
60.75% ""All of the movements that opened up the democratic space in America, the abolitionists, the labor movement... developed a critical mass and militancy that forced centres of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality, and democracy are just that. Only when ruling elites become worried about survival do they react. Appealing to the better nature of the powerful is useless. They don't have one""
August 25, 2018 –
page 266
66.5% "Denying Pell Grants to people convicted of minor drug offences, or allowing employers to discriminate based on it, has always seemed to me to be one of the most despicable and thoroughly Un-American things possible. It puts a lie to any talk of prison being about rehabilitation when someone is essentially banned from economically re-entering society."
August 25, 2018 –
page 272
68.0% ""Private prison companies often sign state contracts that guarantee prison occupancy rates of 90%. If states fail to meet the quota they have to pay the corporations for the empty beds""
August 27, 2018 – Finished Reading

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