Surviving the Fourth of July By Chris Hedges

Dandelion Salad

By Chris Hedges
07/07/08 “Truthdig

I survive the degradation that has become America—a land that exalts itself as a bastion of freedom and liberty while it tortures human beings, stripped of their rights, in offshore penal colonies, a land that wages wars defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, a land that turns its back on its poor, its weak, its mentally ill, in a relentless drive to embrace totalitarian capitalism—because I read books. I have 5,000 of them. They line every wall of my house. And I do not own a television.

I survive the gradual, and I now fear inevitable, disintegration of our democracy because great literature and poetry, great philosophy and theology, the great works of history, remind me that there were other ages of collapse and despotism. They remind me that through it all men and women of conscience endured and communicated, at least with each other, and that it is possible to refuse to participate in the process of self-annihilation, even if this means we are pushed to the margins of society. They remind me, as the poet W.H. Auden wrote, that “ironic points of light flash out wherever the Just exchange their messages.” And if you tire, as all who can think critically must, of the empty cant and hypocrisy of John McCain and Barack Obama, of the simplistic and intellectually deadening epistemology of television and the consumer age, you can retreat to your library. Books were my salvation during the wars and conflicts I covered for two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. They are my salvation now. The fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our existence are laid bare when we sink to the lowest depths. And it is those depths that Homer, Euripides, William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, Vasily Grossman, George Orwell, Albert Camus and Flannery O’Connor understood.

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via Truthdig

3 thoughts on “Surviving the Fourth of July By Chris Hedges

  1. These are very good and necessary thoughts expressed by someone who has seen firsthand the horrors he describes and who has spoken out for his view of things with true courage in his *War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning* and *What Every Person Should Know About War*.

    Four points:

    1. Will Durant estimated that 268 (not 29) years in world history were without war, which was mainly an admission that we do not have complete histories of world cultures.

    2. Thucydides did not take consolation in the fact that “his city’s [Athens’] artistic and intellectual achievements would in the coming centuries overshadow raw Spartan militarism.” In fact his lesson is that Athens’ high culture was based on relentlessly aggressive militarism and that the supposed high culture of Athens committed atrocities, intentionally and after democratic deliberation, that overshadowed anything that Sparta and the Peloponnesian League did. Thucydides does say that Athens put more of its power into material display and that that is what would be noticeable in the archaeological record and make it difficult to discern many centuries later that Athens and Sparta once were adversaries with equal power.

    But Athens was the high culture that is mainly responsible for shaping western intellectual culture through the renaissance. It was then and is still paradoxical that the very works of high culture to which Hedges retreats are products, as Thucydides would argue, of the resources and security that aggressive use of force brings.

    3. The reasons Hedges has a house and many collected published books to which to retreat with safety are: (1) that our American culture has monopolized such an excess of the world’s resources that he, or his family, can afford these luxuries denied to most of even our population; and (2) there is sufficient wealth in our society, derived from aggression and exploitation, to afford him his self-indulgent retreat and sufficient organized power to keep even elites like Hedges safe from have-nots.

    4. That said, I think Hedges is correct about academics–and I am one myself. The entire system of education now in this country, public and private, K-12 and post-secondary, is operated in the interests not of society, but of corporations. And professors are conditioned to avoid social engagement and reap rewards from hyper-intellectualizing these powerful works of literature of which Hedges gives a sample list here and which Hedges uses to communicate a powerful message, which makes us think, even if we do not agree with it in all ways..

  2. While I didn’t read Virgil over the holiday weekend — and kudos to Hedges for doing so — I certainly couldn’t take any pleasure in the annual orgy of self-congratulation. Kept thinking the 4th should’ve been a day of repentance, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.

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