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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
 
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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle [Format Kindle]

Chris Hedges

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Extrait

I / The Illusion of Literacy

Now the death of God combined with the perfection of the image has brought us to a whole new state of expectation. We are the image. We are the viewer and the viewed. There is no other distracting presence. And that image has all the Godly powers. It kills at will. Kills effortlessly. Kills beautifully. It dispenses morality. Judges endlessly. The electronic image is man as God and the ritual involved leads us not to a mysterious Holy Trinity but back to ourselves. In the absence of a clear understanding that we are now the only source, these images cannot help but return to the expression of magic and fear proper to idolatrous societies. This in turn facilitates the use of the electronic image as propaganda by whoever can control some part of it.
–John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards


We had fed the heart on fantasy,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.
–William Butler Yeats,
The Stare’s Nest By My Window


John Bradshaw Layfield, tall, clean-cut, in a collared shirt and white Stetson hat, stands in the center of the ring holding a heavy black microphone. Layfield plays wrestling tycoon JBL on the World Wrestling Entertainment tour. The arena is filled with hooting and jeering fans, including families with children. The crowd yells and boos at JBL, who has had a long career as a professional wrestler. Many chant, “You suck! You suck! You suck!”

“Last week I made Shawn Michaels an offer, and I have yet to hear back from the Heartbreak Kid,” drawls Layfield. Michaels, another WWE wrestler, is a crowd favorite. He is a self-professed born-again Christian with a working-man persona. “So earlier today I made Shawn Michaels an offer that was a lot easier to understand,” Layfield continues. “I challenge Shawn Michaels to a street fight tonight! So Shawn, I know you’re back there. Now what’s your answer?”

“HBK, HBK, HBK!!!” the crowd intones. A pulsing rock beat suddenly shakes the arena as action shots of the Heartbreak Kid flash across the Titantron, the massive screen suspended over the ring. The crowd cheers, leaping up as Shawn Michaels, in jeans and an army-green shirt, whirls onstage, his long, blond hair flying. Pyrotechnics explode. The deafening sound system growls, “I know I’m sexy . . . I got the looks . . . that drive the girls wild. . . .”

Michaels bursts into the ring, fists pumping, stalking back and forth. The ref steps in to begin the match.

“HBK! HBK! HBK!” chants the crowd.

“Hold on, hold on, referee,” Layfield says, putting his hand on the referee’s shoulder. People in the crowd begin to heckle.

“Shawn,” he says, “you got a choice to make. You can either fight me right now in this street fight, or you can do the right thing for you, your family, and your extended family, and take care of them in a financial crisis you never dreamed would happen a year ago today.”

Michaels stands silently.

“You see, I know some things, Shawn,” continues Layfield. “Rich people always do. Before this stock market crashed, nobody saw it coming, except, of course, my wife, but that didn’t help you, did it? See, I was hoarding cash. I was putting money in gold. While most Americans followed the leader–blindly, stupidly followed the leader–I was making money. In fact, Shawn, I was prospering while you were following the herd, losing almost everything, right, Shawn?”

“Fight!! Fight!! Fight!! Fight!!” urges the crowd. Michaels looks hesitantly back and forth between the heaving crowd and Layfield.

“You lost your 401(k). You lost your retirement. You lost your nest egg. You lost your children’s education fund,” Layfield bellows into the mic, his face inches from Michaels’s. “You got to support your extended family, Shawn, and now you look around with all this responsibility, and you look at your beautiful wife, she’s a beautiful lady, you look at your two little wonderful kids, and you wonder: ‘How in the world . . . am I going to send them . . . to college?’ ”

Layfield pauses heavily. Michaels’ face is slack, pained. Small, individual voices shout out from the crowd.

“Well, I’ve got an answer,” Layfield goes on. “I’m offering you a job. I want you to come work–for me.”

“No! No! No!” yells the crowd. Michaels blinks slowly, dazed, and lowers his eyes to the mat.

“See, there’s always alternatives, Shawn. There’s alternatives to everything. You can always wrestle until you’re fifty. You might even wrestle till you’re sixty. In fact, you could be a lot like these has-beens who are disgracing themselves in high school gyms all over the country, bragging about their war stories of selling the place out while they’re hawking their eight-by-tens and selling Polaroids. Shawn, you could be that guy, or you could take my offer, because I promise you this: All the revenue that you’re goin’ to make off your DX T-shirts will not compare to the offer that I . . . made . . . to you.”

He tells the Heartbreak Kid to look in the mirror, adding, “The years haven’t been kind to you, have they, Shawn?” He reminds him that one more bad fall, one more injury, and “you’re done, you’re done.”

The crowd begins to rally their stunned hero, growing louder and louder. “HBK! HBK! HBK!”

“What else can you really do besides this?” Layfield asks. “You get a second chance in life.”

Layfield sweeps off his white Stetson. “Go ahead,” he screams into Michaels’s face. “Ever since you walked out here . . . people have been wantin’ you to kick me in the face. So why don’t you do it? I’m gonna give you a free shot, Shawn, right here.”

The crowd erupts, roaring for the Heartbreak Kid to strike.

“HBK!! DO IT!! DO IT!! HBK!! HBK!!!”

“Listen to ’em. Everybody wants it. Shawn, it’s what you want. You’re twitching. You’re begging to pull the trigger, so I’m telling you right now, take a shot! Take it!”

The Heartbreak Kid takes one step back, his stubbled face trembling, breathing rapidly like a rabbit. The crowd is leaping out of their seats, thrusting their arms in the air, holding up handmade banners.

“HBK!!! HBK!!! HBK!!!”

“Do it, Shawn,” Layfield hollers, “before it’s too late. This is your second chance, but understand this, understand this–”

“HBK!!! HBK!!! HBK!!!”

“–Listen to me and not them! If you take this shot . . . then this offer is off the table . . . forever.”

The crowd stops chanting. Different cries are heard: boos, shouts to attack, shouts to stop. There is no longer unity in the auditorium.

Layfield holds his head outstretched until the Heartbreak Kid slowly turns his back. Layfield leers. Shawn Michaels climbs through the ropes out of the ring and walks heavily back to the dressing room, his dull gaze on the ground.

“Lookin’ forward to doin’ business with ya, Shawn,” Layfield shouts after him.

The crowd screams.

Layfield, like most of the wrestlers, has a long, complicated fictional backstory that includes a host of highly publicized intrigues, fights, betrayals, infidelities, abuse, and outrageous behavior–including goose-stepping around the ring and giving the Nazi salute during a wrestling bout in Germany. But tonight he has come in his newest incarnation as the “self-made millionaire,” the capitalist, the CEO who walked away with a pot of gold while workers across the country lost their jobs, saw their savings and retirement funds evaporate, and fought off foreclosure.

As often happens in a celebrity culture, the line between public and fictional personas blurs. Layfield actually claims to have made a fortune as a stock market investor and says he is married to the “richest woman on Wall Street.” He is a regular panelist on Fox News Channel’s The Cost of Freedom and previously appeared on CNBC, not only as a celebrity wrestler but as a savvy investor whose conservative political views are worth airing. He also has written a best-selling book on financial planning called Have More Money Now. He hosts a weekend talk-radio program syndicated nationally by Talk Radio Network, in which he discusses politics.

The interaction between the crowd and Layfield is vintage professional wrestling. The twenty-minute bouts employ the same tired gimmicks, the same choreographed moves, the endless counts to two by the referee that never seem to get to three without the pinned wrestler leaping up from the mat to continue the fight. There is the desperate struggle of a prostrate wrestler trying to reach the hand of his or her partner to be relieved in the ring. This pantomime, with his opponent on his back and his arm outstretched, can go on for a couple of minutes. There are a lot of dirty shots when the referee is distracted–which is often.

The bouts are stylized rituals. They are public expressions of pain and a fervent longing for revenge. The lurid and detailed sagas behind each bout, rather than the wrestling matches themselves, are what drive crowds to a frenzy. These ritualized battles give those packed in the arenas a temporary, heady release from mundane lives. The burden of real problems is transformed into fodder for a high-energy pantomime. And the most potent story tonight, the most potent story across North America, is one of financial ruin, desperation, and enslavement of a frightened and abused working class to a heart...

Revue de presse

"Remarkable, bracing and highly moral, Empire of Illusion is Hedges' lament for his nation."
Maclean's

"Each chapter of Empire of Illusion makes a strong case for how different illusions — of literacy, love, wisdom, happiness — taken together are destroying the American mind, culture and the nation itself."
National Post

"Each chapter torches one of our cultural illusions."
The Globe and Mail

"Hedges is a fan of big ideas, and in Empire of Illusion, he draws upon the culture of professional wrestling and pornography, the elite university, positive psychology and the financial crisis to fashion a social theory of everything."
Winnipeg Free Press

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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  228 commentaires
683 internautes sur 702 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An anguished, angry cry of outraged reason 16 juillet 2009
Par William Timothy Lukeman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Chris Hedges' newest book may be a screed, but it's an uncomfortably accurate one, delving into the addictive, corrupting hold of comforting & distracting illusion over too many Americans. From the even vaster wasteland of TV, brought to us by endless channels, to the drug of sensation at its lowest common denominator from the porn industry, to the "think happy thoughts" snake oil of both New Age & fundamentalist belief systems --

But you have to stop & catch your breath, or else be swept away by the torrent of mediocrity & cheerfully willful ignorance that passes for contemporary culture & thought. Once you're aware of how thoroughly blanderized & infantilized our culture has become, it's all too easy to succumb to despair or cynicism. And with good cause!

Hedges wisely selects just a few specific examples as indicators of something far more pervasive & widespread. Particularly disturbing is the chapter on the so-called "adult" entertainment industry, which is anything but adult. The graphic description of the ways in which women are used & discarded as commodities is sickening, yet we're clearly just getting the tip of a very slimy iceberg.

And Hedges connects this aspect of dehumanization to the horrors of Abu Ghraib, showing how sexuality & torture intertwine. Most disturbing of all is how accepted & mainstream this sort of "entertainment" has become -- we're not talking about erotica or old-fashioned porn, which at least portrayed sex as mutually enjoyable for men & women; what we see now is humiliation, suffering, pain, almost all of it inflicted on women for the pleasure of emotionally stunted men.

More than that, though, Hedges explores the ways in which reason & literacy -- the humanities -- are shunted to the margins in favor of a utilitarian mindset, one that boils down to, "What's in it for me, right now, and how can I get the most of it as quickly as possible?" And that "most" is wealth, status, power, and the illusion of importance -- a humanity measured in things, rather than in being.

From that point, we're shown how these personal illusions contribute to & help sustain a national, even global, illusion of power, self-righteousness, corruption & control. It's bread & circuses for the masses, with digital soma mainlined at every waking moment. Meanwhile, the real elites, the corporate masters of our world, do whatever their insatiable appetites demand. This invariably requires bloodshed & suffering inflicted upon those least able to resist it. .

Is Hedges overwrought? Is he exaggerating the crisis at hand? If so, it's not by very much. As a war correspondent of some 20 years, he's seen the brutal results of illusionary thinking first-hand. This book is born of bitter experience, as Hedges bears witness to the ongoing destruction of the human soul, which is lost in a world of glittering superficiality which can't conceal its innate cruelty, ugliness & emptiness.

Not a reassuring book by any means, but certainly an eye-opening one -- most highly recommended!
307 internautes sur 318 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting if gloomy reflections by a former New York Times reporter 20 juillet 2009
Par Chris - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Hedges describes how corporate entertainment encourages people to desire to be rich and famous, devote themselves to material things, reckless self-gratification and reckless consumer spending. It encourages people to care much more about news relating to celebrities than genuinely important news. Hedges analyzes episodes of WWE wrestling, Survivor, The Swan and Jerry Springer to back up his arguments about pop culture.

Chapter 2 is about porn. Porn actresses are portrayed by porn mediums as nothing more than wild beasts whose only desire is to satisfy the sadistic fantasies of men. Most porn actresses are heavy drinkers and drug addicts as a result of the mental pain and serious physical damage to their private areas, front and back, caused by their line of work. Most of them appear to work in escort services on the side. Hedges give an account of one porn movie featuring an actress who engages in the very unhealthy activity of engaging in sex acts with 65 different men over the six hour shoot of the film. Porn is one of the biggest industries in this nation; a great many of our male citizens appear to take pleasure in the degrading and brutal version of sex found in modern porn.

The last chapter is a sort of general overview of the dismal state of this country. Hedges writes that our financial crisis is rooted in the destruction of American manufacturing since the 1970's. An example of the decline of American manufacturing ability, he observes, occurred when the city of New York in 2003 offered a several billion dollar contract for a company to build subway cars. No American company took the offer, which was eventually given to Canadian and Japanese companies. Since the 1970's our economy has rested on the accumulation of un-unsustainable amounts of corporate and house-hold debt, used to a large extent not for productive investment but for participation in speculative bubbles and consumption to support luxurious living. Our economy is kept afloat by the willingness of foreigners to buy up this debt. As government social services are continuously slashed, the bailouts of 2008/2009 have only strengthened the stranglehold of corporate America on our economy and government resources.

While the annual compensation packages of CEOs soar well into the tens of millions of dollars, the median American family income has declined in inflation adjusted terms since the early 70's. We call ourselves a free market economy but a leading pillar of our economy is the taxpayer funded military-industrial complex, powering companies like Lockheed Martin. Hedges notes the example of the US government's annual provision of 3 billion dollars of taxpayer funds to the dictatorship in Egypt, 1.3 billion dollars of which (taxpayer dollars) is required to be used for purchasing weapons from private American defense companies. The US uses half of its annual discretionary spending on the military and spends more on its military than all the other countries in the world combined.

While trillions of dollars are spent on weapons and foreign occupations, our health care costs spiral out of control. Hedges writes that our private health care system is nearly twice as expensive as the national health services "in countries like Switzerland."Hedges notes how the percentage of budget devoted to overhead and administrative costs in our for profit health system is so vastly greater than the same costs in traditional government run Medicare. According to the Institute of Medicine, 18,000 people die every year because they can't afford health care. 46 million Americans have no health insurance and 25 million more are under-insured. Half of all bankruptcies in the US are due to health care costs overwhelming family budgets. Americans pay 40 percent more than Canadians for prescription drugs. Our politicians, Obama included, do everything they can to accommodate the for profit health care companies. In his overview of health care problems, I wish Hedges would have included some comparisons of a few health indicators between the US and some of the countries that have the most efficient socialized medicine systems.

Meanwhile, our politicians have covered up our unraveling. According to Hedges, the Consumer Price Index is constructed to under-estimate the real rate of inflation. Ronald Reagan lowered his unemployment rate by including members of the military in the employment count. Bill Clinton lowered the official unemployment rate of his reign by excluding from the employment count people who had stopped looking for work and also by counting low wage under-employed workers as employed. American jobs have gone to the low wage third world. Hedges notes that, contrary to Clinton's prediction in 1993, NAFTA has thrown 2 million Mexican farmers off the land and many of them have ended up in the US. Even more illegal immigrants have come from Mexico as northern Mexican factories have closed down and relocated to the even lower wage and even lesser regulated paradise of China.

Hedges gives a great deal of space to quoting various scholars and philosophers in order to back up his sociological observations. Other topics he discusses include positive psychology, the destruction of higher education and the willingness of corporate media hacks to take at face value the words of the powerful.

Hedges suggests possible future scenarios where most Americans are virtual corporate slaves, controlled and monitored by the ever expanding power of law enforcement. He fears that the biggest contrast in this country will be between a marginalized literate minority on the one hand and on the other a barely functionally literate or functionally illiterate majority enchanted by corporate entertainment and the vacuous PR spectacles and slogans of politicians. He fears that as social conditions worsen, right wing demagogues will make great headway. He is very worried about future environmental catastrophes. However he ends his book with the hope that decent human values can be utilized to confront our growing corporate tyranny.
216 internautes sur 226 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Entertainment is a Force That Gives Us Meaning 4 juillet 2009
Par Anastasia Beaverhausen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" and "I Don't Believe in Atheists", is back with another diatribe about our morally-bankrupt society. Whether you agree with all of his assertions or not, "Empire of Illusion" is a necessary, thought-provoking work on the role of entertainment in American culture.

Particularly fascinating is Hedges's take on professional wrestling. Whenever an academic brings up wrestling, it is usually as an example of low-brow culture. Hedges doesn't snub his nose, however: He merely observes and reports.

His thesis that wrestling storylines have "evolved to fit the new era...by focusing on the family dysfunction that comes with social breakdown" is on the money: Gone are the simple bouts of good vs. evil. "Morality is irrelevant," he writes. "Wrestlers can be good one week and evil the next. All that matters is their own advancement." The "illusion" here isn't that wrestling is fake. The "illusion" is that the wrestlers are idealized versions of what we want to become. He asserts that this mirrors a fundamental change in society.

Hedges traces this change through other American institutions (reality television, celebrity culture, the adult industry, universities, psychologists), arguing that we are "unable to distinguish between illusion and reality". We forgo morals for an elusive and unattainable happiness. He states that we "will either wake from our state of induced childishness...or continue our headlong retreat into fantasy".

The subtitle--"The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle"--is somewhat of a misnomer. Even with the alarming illiteracy rate in this country, it's a stretch to say that literacy has literally come to an end. "The Triumph of Spectacle" is a more accurate description of the book's contents.

"Empire of Illusion" is a snapshot of America, circa 2009 AD. Some of the precepts that it touches on--such as universities churning out morally-dubious graduates--are already coming under populist fire due to the banking crisis. WWE, wrestling's most popular promotion, has toned down the sex and violence in recent years. The once-popular Jerry Springer Show limps along on basic cable, its cultural relevancy having long since expired.

Hedges believes that the financial crisis "will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change." In a recent Truthdig article, he wrote that "Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy." "Empire of Illusion" makes a strong case to be the much-needed cry for arms.
29 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Hedges writes everything that needs to be written! Fantastic book. 16 octobre 2009
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This book is superb, I really can't say enough good things about it. Take a couple quotes: "When a nation becomes unmoored from reality, it retreats into a world of magic. Facts are accepted or discarded according to the dictates of a preordained cosmology. The search for truth becomes irrelevant." (p. 50) "The specialized dialect and narrow education of doctors, academics, economists, social scientists, military officers, investment bankers, and government bureaucrats keeps each sector locked in its narrow role. The overarching structure of the corporate state and the idea of the common good are irrelevant to specialists. They exist to make the system work, not to examine it." (p. 98) I could go on and on citing terrific passages.

Though this book is a screed, it is a spot-on screed. Hedges hits, what I believe, are the major reasons why we Americans are essentially locked into a downward spiral as a culture and country. He starts with Pro-wresting as a prime example of how media panders to the me, me, me attitude infilitrating popular culture. Reality TV, celebrity narcissism and how Americans, in general, are becoming a functionally illiterate society. Hedges then moves into explaining how the Porn industry has lead to an entire sub-culture that promotes a 'women-as-objects' mentality, which destroys some men's ability to have meaningful relationships (Warning: this chapter, to me at least, was pretty raw). Next, Hedges points out how a cycle sustains itself between elite educational institutions (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.), the Government (think Congress in particular) and Corporations. Ivy league schools basically turn-out lackies that do whatever is necessary to maintain their elite, self-absorbed status. The last chapter is entitled, "The Illusion of America," and this is where Hedges does a fantastic job of pulling together all the elements of this disfunctional society we live in. You could probably read a dozen books about each of these elements and put them together yourself, or save yourself the trouble and read this one. It's short enough to give to a friend and not have them give you the "evil eye;" yet, it's long enough so that nothing is glossed over. I can't recommend this book enough.

Here's a list of some of the more popular books Hedges cites: Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and StickYou with the Bill), The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project), The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessDemocracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.
19 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 one of the clearest and best focused discussions I have seen 4 septembre 2010
Par D. Benor - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This is one of the clearest and best focused discussions I have seen on the problems of modern society that are leading us to self-destruction. Chris Hedges is an American journalist, author, and war correspondent. In 2002, Chris Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times who were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the paper's coverage of global terrorism.

Anyone who has wondered why the world is in the mess it is in today will come away vastly enriched by this book. Hedges has a brilliant clarity of understanding of complex issues and a clear, succinct way of explaining them. There is no doubt that this experience was helpful to him in appreciating the chief perpetrators of terrorism in the world today. Can you guess who these are?

Hedges builds on the images of the spectator lives that most people in the modern Western world live - fed by the media, which have come to define for us what is real and what is desirable in our lives. The average person spends over four hours daily watching TV - which means that many people spend far more than that time in rapt absorption of whatever is placed before them.

The media have systematically studied how to influence viewers to buy into their presentations - conceptually, emotionally and with their media-molded purchases. More insidiously, those who control the media have systematically manipulated our social structures so that the manipulators actually control our perceptions of reality and can thereby manipulate our behaviors for their benefit and profit - not just in the marketplaces, but in the social and political arenas of our lives as well.

Those who manipulate the shadows that dominate our lives are the agents, publicists, marketing departments, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers, and television news personalities who create the vast stage for illusion. They are the puppet masters. No one achieves celebrity status, no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality, without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries. The sole object is to hold attention and satisfy an audience. These techniques of theater, as Boorstin notes have leeched into politics, religion, education, literature, news, commerce, warfare, and crime. The squalid dramas played out for fans in the wrestling ring mesh with the ongoing dramas on television, in movies, and in the news, where "real-life" stories, especially those involving celebrities, allow news reports to become mini-dramas complete with a star, a villain, a supporting cast, a good-looking host, and a neat, if often unexpected, conclusion. p. 15-16

Those who are in control are the ones who have the money to buy media time, to purchase and thereby control media outlets, to pay for lobbyists to influence politicians, to bribe politicians, and thereby create a global consumer society that is primarily focused on accumulating ever more material objects. And our focus on objects is dehumanizing, because within this system people have become objects for manipulation for ever greater profits rather than living beings.

The veterans [of WW II] saw their wartime experience transformed into an illusion. It became part of the mythic narrative of heroism and patriotic glory sold to the public by the Pentagon's public relations machine and Hollywood. The reality of war could not compete against the power of the illusion. The truth did not feed the fantasy of war as a ticket to glory, honor, and manhood. The truth did not promote collective self-exaltation. The illusion of war peddled in the Sands of Iwo Jima, like hundreds of other Hollywood war films, worked because it was what the public wanted to believe about themselves. It was what the government and the military wanted to promote. It worked because it had the power to simulate experience for most viewers who were never at Iwo Jima or in a war. But as Hayes and the others knew, this illusion was a lie. p. 21-22.

We consume countless lies daily, false promises that if we spend more money, if we buy this brand or that product, if we vote for this candidate, we will be respected, envied, powerful, loved, and protected. The flamboyant lives of celebrities and the outrageous characters on television, movies, professional wrestling, and sensational talk shows are peddled to us, promising to fill up the emptiness in our own lives. Celebrity culture encourages everyone to think of themselves as potential celebrities, as possession unique if unacknowledged gifts. p. 26-7.

Celebrity is the vehicle used by a corporate society to sell us these branded commodities, most of which we do not need. Celebrities humanize commercial commodities. They present the familiar and comforting face of the corporate state. p. 37.

Hedges clearly explains the processes whereby our social structures have shifted from serving the people to serving corporate interests. Our schools increasingly prepare people to be uncritical, unthinking consumers. Our politicians, responding to corporate inducements, favor short-term interests, motivated by goals of immediate corporate profits. The interests of individuals, and long-term collective interests are ignored - including the health and welfare of humans and other living beings, environmental concerns, and fiscal responsibility.

Reporters, especially those on television, no longer ask whether the message is true but rather whether the pseudo-event worked or did not work as political theater. Pseudo-events are judged on how effectively we have been manipulated by illusion. Those events that appear real are relished and lauded. Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the most convincing fantasies.
This is the real danger of pseudo-events and why pseudo-events are far more pernicious than stereotypes. They do not explain reality, as stereotypes attempt to, but replace reality. Pseudo-events redefines reality by the parameters set by their creators. These creators, who make massive profits selling illusions, have a vested interest in maintaining the power structures they control. p. 50-1.

The flight into illusion sweeps away the core values of the open society. It corrodes the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense tell you something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to grasp historical facts, to advocate for change, and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways, and structures of being that are morally and socially acceptable. A populace deprived of the ability to separate lies from truth, that has become hostage to the fictional semblance of reality put forth by pseudo-events, is no longer capable of sustaining a free society.

Those who slip into this illusion ignore the signs of impending disaster. The physical degradation of the planet, the cruelty of global capitalism, the looming oil crisis, the collapse of financial markets, and the danger of overpopulation rarely impinge to prick the illusions that warp our consciousness. The words, images, stories, and phrases used to describe the world in pseudo-events have no relation to what is happening around us. The advances of technology and science, rather than obliterating the world of myth, have enhanced its power to deceive. We live in imaginary, virtual worlds created by corporations that profit from our deception. Products and experiences - indeed, experience as a product - offered up for sale, sanctified by celebrities, are mirages. They promise us a new personality. They promise us success and fame. They promise to mend our brokenness. p. 52-3.

We have all seen the growth of a culture of lies and deception in politics, banking, commerce and education. Hodges points out how this has been facilitated by our abandoning the teaching of values and analysis in our schools.

The flight from the humanities has become a flight from conscience. It has created an elite class of experts who seldom look beyond their tasks and disciplines to put what they do in a wider, social context. And by absenting themselves from the moral and social questions raised by the humanities, they have opted to serve a corporate structure that has destroyed the culture around them.

Our elites - the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street, and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools - do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of how to replace a failed system with a new one. They are petty, timid, and uncreative bureaucrats superbly trained to carry our systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions that will satisfy the corporate structure. Their entire focus is numbers, profits, and personal advancement. They lack a moral and intellectual core. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they believe, is a secondary product of the free market - which they slavishly serve. p. 111.

I quote Hodges at some length because of his cogent, clear summaries of the problems leading us to self-destruction and to ways we might someday restructure society to be supportive and healing to the individual - rather than exploiting people and viewing them only as valuable as they can be manipulated into being gullible consumers.

This is one of the clearest and best focused discussions I have seen on the problems of modern society that are leading us to societal suicide
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