Devogenes's Reviews > America: The Farewell Tour

America by Chris Hedges
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Read 2 times. Last read March 8, 2019.

What did I think about this book...

I like Chris Hedges. He's a guy who has seen some shit, and this is his primary qualification. There isn't a lot of analysis in this book, and the analysis there is is generally not original. There is a lot of reporting on some pretty grim situations, primarily involving poverty and incarceration. There is a whole lot of doomsaying.

The problem is that I can't figure out how much you can trust him. I don't think he's dishonest —the things he reports on, for the most part, are certainly bleak. But it's the overwhelmingly bleak conclusions that he draws from these examples of bleakness that are... hard to swallow? And that isn't to say that he's wrong. Maybe he isn't. But... I mean...

For example. He hates liberalism. Civilization is collapsing and it's all the fault of liberals. Liberal democracy is strangling the working class and the planet and enriching the global corporate elite who are all irredeemable psychopaths. Maybe that's true. The problem is that there isn't really any argument made to prove that. There's lots of polemical accusations. There isn't a lot of explanation. And there isn't a lot of solutions aside from "we need a socialist revolution". There is a section at the end where he makes a list of several socialist policies that are needed, such as free university education, universal healthcare, full employment, and a liveable minimum wage. I think these are reasonable but you won't find any discussion in this book about how to implement them or any analysis of their feasibility.

The other issue is that when he talks about the civilizational collapse brought upon by the failure of liberal democracy, the only context he considers is the United States (and, briefly, Vancouver). But that's a big problem. If you take a global historical view, there's a pretty strong argument to be made that liberal democracy is a pretty desirable system of government, and there's a pretty strong argument to be made that the adoption of liberalism around the world, yes including capitalism, has done quite a bit to improve the lives of people around the world. This is not a topic broached in this book.

That said, Hedges is a powerful and important critical voice. While being overly rigid, he isn't an ideologue, and his perspective can sometimes be iconoclastic. He offers powerful criticisms of the contemporary left, from the fixation with identity politics to the postmodern aversion to hierarchical organization in favour of leaderless movements to the preference for the activism of ego-reinforcing posturing over strategic moves against real levers of power.

He also has important things to say about understanding and empathizing with the economic hardships experienced by poor whites, and how this deprivation fuels the alt-right. He is highly critical of Antifa tactics and accuses them of escalating polarization among the working classes and between left and right. He effectively demolishes the argument that violent confrontation is the proper strategy for dealing with insurgent fascism by providing the historical comparison with Germany in the 1930s, where regular violent street clashes between communist and fascist activists served to entrench and promote the Nazi party. Not a path we want to emulate.

What's nice about Hedges is also what's difficult, which is his relentless moralizing. On the one hand, it's refreshing to have some moralizing from a leftist perspective instead of the damp relativism that's so de-jour. On the other hand, there's a kind of self-righteousness that's just a little bit gross.

This comes across with unbearable awkardness in the chapter on pornography. Ho.ly.shit. I do not want or need a goddamn play-by-play described-video recitation of porn. I know what porn is. I can easily watch it myself. We fucking get it, Chris. "Uncomfortable" is the word. He goes on, and on, and on, and on. And on. And it's not just the weirdness of having this pretty stodgy dude trying desperately to shock you by describing porn IN DETAIL, but like... I dunno. He focuses entirely on BDSM porn, and describes the HORROR of whips and chains and whatever and HOW SHOCKING that capitalism treats WOMEN this way. But dude it's BDSM porn! It's a fantasy! People are into that stuff. You aren't. That's fine. But to assume that everyone (and he only talks about women, even though Kink, the site he is going on about, has plenty of content where the "victim" is male) who is into that scene is either being coerced or is so psychologically damaged that they don't realize the harm they are doing to themselves is... it's kinda gross?

That's not to say that there aren't valid criticism of pornography and sex work to be made. And I think Hedges makes plenty. There are good reasons to be opposed to the legalization of prostitution, and there are good reasons to be concerned with the social and personal effects of pornography. But there's something offputting about the way Hedge's talks about sex workers (including porn actors) as if they are all victims, when plenty of them obviously don't see themselves that way. And for me, the focus on the fetishy stuff really missed the mark. Like that stuff is SUPPOSED to be freaky and pushing boundaries and whatever. To point at it from the outside and go "LOOK HOW FREAKY THIS IS!" really came off weird, to me.

Hedges very much takes up the mantle of Dworkin, which is fine. The problem though is that he seems to feel that Dworkinism is the only "real" feminism, despite there being quite a lot of controversy about Dworkin's radical perspective on things like consent and porn. It seems to me that his assertion is that any women who are into the kinds of sex he dislikes have so deeply internalized misogyny that they don't know what they really want, but he, Chris Hedges, does, and that's gross.

Anyways I really can't believe his editor let him go on so fucking much just literally describing porn like in real-time. Uncomfortable.

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March 8, 2019 – Finished Reading
March 9, 2019 – Shelved

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