via greekcabanaboy on youtube.
Filmed on Sunday, September 25, at the
Amazing interview with author Chris Hedges discussing global, historical, political, economic, and moral aspects of the reasons for the protest and the larger movements to which it is related.
Read a full transcript of the interview below.
Interviewers: OK World! This is an extreme pleasure.
Chris Hedges: Do you want to ask me questions or do you want me to just say something?
I: Introduce yourself, and tell people who you are.
Chris Hedges: I’m Chris Hedges, and I’m a writer. I just got back from Immokalee Florida where the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is about to begin a huge campaign against supermarkets like Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop, Giant. Which is extremely important. Because if it succeeds, it will probably double the wages, which run between about $8,000 & $10,000 for agricultural workers in the tomato fields, who live in horrific conditions at best. And at worst, conditions that resemble slavery. But I’ve been following what’s been happening here (Wall Street Occupation) and this is really where the hope of America lies.
All of the efforts of intimidation that we’ve seen by the police in New York, the disproportionate amount of force, and the disporportionate numbers that have been deployed to contain the protests here, for me, illustrate that the real people who are scared are the power elite. Of course they’re trying to make you scared and us scared. But I can tell you, having been a reporter for the New York Times, on the inside, they’re very very frightened. They do not want movements like this to grow. And they understand on some level, whether it’s subconcious or in other cases even overt, that the criminal class in this country has seized power.
Those people in this plaza, those people carrying out these protests, in the true sort of definition of the political spectrum, are conservatives in this sense: they call for the rule of law. They call for the restoration of the rule of law. And what’s happened is that the real radicals have seized power. And they are decimating all legal impediments to the creation of a neo-feudalistic corporate state. One in which there is a rapacious oligarchic class, a thin managerial elite and two-thirds of this country live in conditions that increasingly push families to subsistence level.
And one of the reasons that I went to Immokalee and the reasons Immokalee is important is because in this race to the bottom, Immokalee is the bottom. It’s where they want the working, and even the middle-class, to end up. And that is a place where they have no rights, where, because of massive unemployment and work that is part-time poorly-paid work, they can reduce the working class to a status equivalent to serfdom. Where there are no pensions, no health benefits.
Collective bargaining in Florida is illegal, a legacy of Jim Crow. And Immokalee isn’t just a horrific pocket of essentially third-world abuse. But is a vision of what the corporate state wants to impose upon the rest of us. And what they want is for us to remain passive and to remain frightened. And as long as we remain passive and frightened, entranced with their electronic hallucinations, we are not a threat. The moment people come out and do this, the corporate state is terrified. And if you doubt me, look around you at the huge numbers of cops. And not only that, but the kind of brutality that the cops have visited on peaceful protesters.
I: Does anybody have any questions? They all say thank you! Hugs! Tell it how it is! They all support you and they agree with you and they thank you for coming down.
Chris Hedges: Well, I’m sitting in a park with the only free people in New York City. This is it.
Fear is a potent force. The security state and corporate state has worked overtime to make us afraid. Because when you’re afraid you think with a different part of the brain. You become politically, emotionally, intellectually, and even physically disempowered. And we have to stop being afraid. And if we stop being afraid then these nefarious forces that are destroying our ecosystem and destroying our country, their fragility will be exposed.
So get out here, come with us, in Washington, October 6th, when we’re gonna again occupy a plaza. Because the only mechanism we have left for reform is civil disobedience.
Any belief that the formal structures of power, including the Democratic Party, are going to ameliorate the injustices being visted upon us, is self-delusion.
I: What can we do to raise awareness?
Chris Hedges: You’re doing it right now. This is it. It’s really about physically throwing your body in front of the machine. I’m not a big fan… Social networking is useful in terms of forms of communication but I dont believe that it’s useful in terms of forms of activism. Activism requires us to do what all of the great movements throughout history have done. And that is physically get out and obstruct the forces of control. And that’s it. This is really the only option we have left.
And it’s extremely important because the system doesn’t work anymore. Because there is no way for incremental or piecemeal reform to be carried out within the system. In essence, we’ve undergone a kind of corporate coup d’état in slow motion. It’s imperative that those of who care about democracy and civil society engage in these acts of civil disobedience. Which I have. And to be honest, going to jail is more time than I care to donate to the US government.
On the other hand, I have children. And I look at my children and I wonder what kind of a world we’re going to leave them. My youngest son is three years old. And his favorite book is “Out of the Blue”, which are these huge pictures of narwhals and dolphins. He will sit on the floor of his room and flip through these pages, and I look at him. When I see him do that it breaks my heart. Because I know that if there is not a radical change in human behavior, all of those great sea creatures will be dead within his lifetime.
Corporate systems are, in theological terms, and I’m a seminary graduate and can’t escape it, are systems of death. They turn everything into a commodity. Human beings become commodities, the natural world becomes a commodity, that they exploit. Until exhaustion or collapse. In that sense, Karl Marx was right. It is a revolutionary force. The revolution has happened. They’ve won.
To appeal to the systems of power, or the illusory systems of power that they place before us, is to essentially become complicitous in the radical reconfiguration that the corporate state intends. They know no limits. The only word corporations understand is MORE. They will push and push and push until human capital is destroyed, until the ecosystem itself is destroyed.
If we don’t carry out acts of civil disobedience, then the rage that is being expressed by the working class, and it’s a legitimate rage, will be channeled by proto-fascist movements like the Tea Party Militia and other groups. And these are groups that celebrate violence. They celebrate the gun culture, they are racist towards muslims, undocumented workers, homosexuals, intellectuals.
And that’s really the choice before us: either those of us who care about an egalitarian, open society get out into the streets or we cede power to movements that will seek to snuff out what is left of our anemic democracy. Yeats got it: we live in a moment where the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.
The reason that what’s happening today is so vital and so important and even monumental is that, to my mind, everyone in this park are the best.
I: How do you suggest we go from a debt monetary system to a wealth monetary system, if you can answer that?
Chris Hedges: Well, I think more importantly, we’ve got to break the back of the consumer society. Neither we as a society, nor the planet, can continue to afford the profligate forms of consumption and waste that characterize American society. We have to learn to live with a new simplicity, as well as a new humility, which of course means dismantling empire, if we have any hope of survival as a species. And that entails not only a restructuring of the way we live, but an embrace of radically different values. Values that fly in the face of the message of the consumer or commodity culture.
You know, we are a culture utterly awash with lies that are pumped forth by public relations firms over the airwaves. Childish messages that reality is never an impediment to what we desire. Which is delivered to us through Oprah, or the Christian right, or self-help gurus like Tony Robbins, or Hollywood. But lie, of course, at the core of corporatism. So it’s not just a matter of define, physically define, these entities. But rejecting the distorted and perverted value system that defines the commodity culture itself.
I: Thank you. In your opinion, is this protest going to get real results?
Chris Hedges: We have to stop thinking… don’t let them define results. I mean, that is the biggest trap that you’ll fall into. They’re going to make sure that the power elite, which controls the media, is going to define whatever you do as a failure. You didn’t get enough people, you didn’t last long enough.
I think we have to think in…. You know, I go back, and I know many people here are not religious, I think we do have to go back to the wisdom of the religious left. And I come out of the Christian Anarchist movement: Dorothy Day, the Berrigans (brothers Daniel and Phillip), even King, that we have a moral imperative to fight for life. And if we physically get out and fight for life, we win. And if we don’t rebel, and Camus writes about this, if we don’t rebel, if we’re not physically in an active rebellion, then it’s spiritual death.
As a kind of Christian Anarchist, I believe that we’re called to do the good. Or at least, the good insofar as we can determine what the good is. And then we have to let it go. The Buddhists call it Karma. Faith is the belief that it goes somewhere. And you don’t know. No matter how intimately you’ve been involved in this protest, you don’t know how fundamentally you have touched or changed a human life here. Or maybe a few lives. Awoken a kind of consciousness.
I look at this as a very long struggle. And I look at it as a struggle that maybe, if one sort of had to measure objective reality, we may not win. These are powerful forces we’re up against. But not to resist is to succumb to despair. And we can’t succumb to despair. Because that’s what they want us to do. And so, don’t let them define whether this is a success or a failure. The fact that you got here, the fact that you sleep here at night, the fact that 80 people were hauled off to jail last night. The fact that NYC has gone absolutely insane over your presence, in terms of security measures, creating a kind of Green Zone around Wall Street, for me, it means you won.
I: My father still does not belive this is a big thing because it is not being covered on local TV stations, or in small amounts. How do you explain to someone that is 60 that there is a news blackout?
Chris Hedges: Because most Americans are passive consumers of information, and very few are proactive, and the internet’s only useful if you’re proactive, I would say that we are the most illusioned society on the planet. That the vast majority of Americans live in fantasy: about themselves, about who they are, about where we’re going. I mean, the cold reality is that we run offshore penal colonies where we openly torture other human beings. Even Barack Obama hasn’t seen fit to restore habeas corpus. The FISA reform act, and I’m one of the plaintiffs suing the government, is an act which has retroactively made legal what under our constitution is illegal: warrantless wiretapping, eavesdropping, and monitoring of tens of millions of Americans. The fact that the executive authority in this country can order an American citizen, and I’m speaking of the Yemeni cleric, to be assassinated, the fact that we prosecute pre-emptive wars which under post-Nuremberg laws are defined as criminal wars of aggression, we have no right as a nation to debate the terms of the occupation.
And yet, we believe, courtesy of a vast system of propaganda, that we embody and promote virtues that the rest of the world should emulate, is an example of how divorced most Americans are from the reality of who we have become and the perception of who we have become. It’s a non-reality-based belief system. It’s one that, at its core, isn’t really about fact or truth. It’s about self-exaltation. Which makes you feel good, but it’s a lie. And it’s very, very hard to have rational discussions with people who drink deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism.
I wrote a book on the Christian Right. You can’t really have a rational discussion with someone who believes the world was created 6,000 years ago and dinosaurs had saddles in the Garden of Eden. I think the only thing you can do is reintegrate these people back into the economy. Because you have to give them hope. The reason that they have retreated into these non-reality-based belief systems is because they’ve lost hope. They’ve fallen into despair. They need miracles. They need fantasy in order to cope with the reality around them.
And I think the solution is finally economic. Either we re-enfranchise the working class in this country, and there’s been a Weimarization of the American working class, back into the economy, or we’re finished. So, economic equality, rather than long debates with people who have embraced fantasy, is what we should be working for and spending our time doing.
I: What is you opinion on how to take away the fear from those who fear joining the occupation?
Chris Hedges: Well, I was a war correspondent for twenty years and fear is something I know intimately. It’s really about a kind of…. I think there’s two ways. One is self-discipline. You’ve got to learn to live with fear. Covering conflicts, your perimeter of fear narrows. When it’s crossed, when you think you’re going to get killed, or you’re in the middle of a firefight and the guy next to you, which has happened to me, gets shot, then you react in ways that frankly, when I look back, are embarassing. I mean, even to the point of praying, you know, “God if You get me out of here I won’t do this again” kind of stuff. You know, I speak as someone who had to read Systematic Theology at Harvard. But that’s what you’re reduced to. Fear is a potent force. Culturally, the systems of power have worked overtime since 9/11 to make us afraid. Both through the media, through orange alerts, and homeland security.
I think a way to overcome fear is to break the kind of atomization, or isolation, that is inherent within American society. That when you’re, for instance, sitting in a park like this, with a group, or when I go down to Washington with Veterans for Peace, there is a kind of communal, or even religious, quality to those kinds of protests that are deeply empowering. It’s that ability to endure situations that are frightening and know that there’s somebody standing next to you. And that’s why, again, acts of civil disobedience are so important. Because it is the solidarity of the group, and the empathy towards you, as a dissident within the group, that gives you power. Even if you don’t get arrested, I find that these kinds of protests are deeply empowering. Because they make us recognize that we’re not alone. And that they allow us to glimpse the kind of power that I think, if we build a sustained movement, we can have a power that clearly, clearly threatens the corrupt elite.
I: If the revolution does achieve considerable success, what’s next in your opinion?
Chris Hedges: I don’t like the term revolution. I like the term rebellion. I come out of the sort-of Julien Benda vision of the world, with his book “Treason of Intellectuals”. Where people have to make a choice to their fealty or loyalty to two sets of principles: either privilege and power, or jusice and truth. And the more you make compromises to those whose loyalty is to privilege and power, the more you diminish the capacity to fight for justice and truth.
All of the true correctives in human history have come through movements that have never achieved formal political power. And that’s been true in American history, whether it’s the anti-slavery movement, the suffragists, labor movement, civil rights movement. I think it’s not our job to take power. It’s our job to remain fast around these moral principles. Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato
writes that the question is not how do we get good people to rule. That’s the wrong question. That most people attracted to power are, at best mediocre, which is Obama, or venal, which is Bush.
The question is: how do we make the powerful afraid of us? And the decimation of radical movements in this country, and populists movements, one thinks back to the old CIO, the Wobblies, Big Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, has disempowered the poor and the working class. And it is only rebuilding movements that have a kind of constant antagonism to power that we have any hope of reform.
So, I don’t ever want to get close to power. It’s one of the reasons why, as a reporter, I never even wanted to have physical or personal relationships with people in power. I think we have to look at ourselves as a force that has the capacity to carry out change and to make a difference. But we have to look at ourselves, if that is ever going to happen, that will never achieve formal power. None of us is ever going to be in the Senate. Nor should we be. Because politicians, the art of politics, is about compromise. It is about manipulation, it is inevitably about deception, even the good politicians. And I think that the only hope for American health and survival is if we have militant movements that hold fast around the principles and pressure our elite to respond.
I: What do you say in response to the BBC who tell the UK that we are unorganized here?
CH: I would just turn off the BBC. I mean, you know, don’t listen to this crap. All of these messages are meant to demoralize the movement. Remember that, BBC is actually one of the better media outlets, but all of these media, especially these electronic outlets, are commercially owned. I mean who owns them? Viacom, General Electric, Disney, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. These are not your friends. And I don’t own a TV and if you’ve got one in your house, take it out and leave it for the trash collection.
You’re much better off listening to the authentic voices around you and reading books. One of the dangers is that we’ve severed ourselves from a print-based culture and we have been manipulated by images. We’ve been made to confuse, or we confuse how we’ve been made to feel, with knowledge. And I really try and shut the cant of the electronic media out and remain rooted in print so that I can think. Because, of course, the object, which is why all these handheld devices and Facebook, the object is to stop you from thinking. One needs solitude and quiet to think. And the cacophony of modern culture is designed to make it impossible for you to think.
I: How can occupiers speak in ways that make sense to ordinary Americans?
CH: Non-violence and issues, not of ideology, but economic justice. Even if you’re a member of the Tea Party at Wal-Mart, anybody coming in and talking about health insurance, and a living wage, and good public education for your children, is going to be heard. And those voices have been effectively shut out within American society.
The Democractic Party will use the rhetoric but then, of course, serves the interests of the corporate state. I think the anger towards the liberal class in this country is not misplaced. The liberal class, and Clinton did it through NAFTA, betrayed the working class in this country. They thrust a knife into the back of the American working class. And so you have, within the right wing, and we’re now watching the rise of a lunatic fringe of the right wing enter the mainstream, figures like Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann. They not only have a legitimate anger towards the liberal class, which speaks in this “feel your pain” language, while serving corporate interests. But because they recognize that hypocrisy, they disdain traditional liberal values. And they want to destroy them.
So I think that the longer we place our faith in Obama or the Democratic Party, the more we actually empower the very forces that are arrayed against us. It’s extremely important, as people are here today, to begin to speak in a language of justice and truth. Which I think cuts across ideological lines. It’s not accidental that Ron Paul, in this ridiculous straw poll in Iowa, came second. Now, the major media ignored him because it doesn’t fit their narrative. But I think even within the right wing, and certainly among the libertarian spectrum of politics, there is an anger at corporatism that you find among anarchists. And of course, it should. Because it is a system built on deep inequity, deep injustice, theft, greed, corruption, and fraud, which affects 99% of the American population. So, I think if we stick to those issues, and we understand that acts of violence is exactly how the state wants us to react. They know what to do with that. They don’t really know what to do with this.
I: What would you suggest as the top 10 things that need to be dismantled to ensure sure that change can happen? For example, caps on political donations, that sort of thing. Also the so-called Tea Party.
CH: The Tea Party isn’t the problem. The Tea Party is a tool of the Koch brothers and others, who have, like all sort-of proto-fascist movements, effectively channeled or deflected this rage against the vulnerable, the weak. That’s what fascist movements do.
The problem are corporations and unregulated capitalism. Unregulated capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, is a revolutionary force. Because it commodifies everything. If we don’t destroy the corporate structure, then we’re finished. That’s where all of our energy should be placed.
Corporate capitalism is supra-national, in a sense that it has no loyalty to any nation-state. It seeks to inflict a kind of worldwide serfdom. So that you tell American workers that they should be competitive. Well, competitive with whom? With sweatshop labor in Vietnam? Prison labor in China? That’s the real message. That’s what they’re doing. All energy has to be focused against corporations, which have seized control of our economic and political systems and our educational systems. I mean, that’s what charter schools and the destruction of teacher unions are about. It’s about imposing rote learning where people are taught what to think, not how to think. And the tentacles of corporatism have now reached so far and so deep into our society, that the only hope is to have them rooted out.
I: What do you think about big companies sending American jobs overseas?
Chris Hedges: Well, what they want to do is break the back of the working class so that it’s reduced to a level where they will accept the conditions of sort-of slave labor overseas. I mean, NAFTA saw, literally, some plants in Ohio were dismantled and shipped over the border and reassembled in Mexico. Well, now they’re being packed up and sent to China. For China’s totalitarian capitalism, especially in the south, where sometimes workers are not even paid wages. So, you have the destruction of an American working force. When workers in Mexico get 90 cents an hour, they pack up and leave and go to China where they get 40 or 30 cents an hour. This race to the bottom is global and we have to begin to make war against the corporate forces who are making war against us. Because that’s their goal. As a matter of fact, they’ve gone a long way to achieving that goal.
I: What do you think about the use of the general assemblies for organizing this movement?
Chris Hedges: What you don’t want is to replicate a structure where everything depends on any particular leader. The Wobblies had it right. There’s a great story of a strike in San Francisco. The Wobblies sent a bunch of supporters on by ship, to the docks. And when they got off the ship, the SF Police were there to beat the crap out of them. And they kept whacking everybody with a club, saying “Where’s you leader? Where’s your leader?” And the Wobblies said “We’re all leaders”.
It’s a frustrating process. But I think that if you’re trying to build a movement, it’s pretty essential. It makes it much harder to decapitate it. Inevitably, you’re going to have figures, like the Wobblies did: Joe Hill, Big Bill Haywood, Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement. People who become sort of the public face of the movement. But you want to be very, very careful that you don’t replicate the hierarchical structure of the forces that oppose you. Because it makes your movement weak. So, however frustrating and even anarchic and chaotic such assemblies can be, I think, in fact, over the long term, they give the movement a kind of health and longevity which is important.
I: How do we move away from capitalism?
Chris Hedges: Well, globalization is imploding. It’s destroying itself. What we’re watching in the Middle East, and countries like Ivory Coast, and others, is the breakdown of globalization. It’s a dead system. It’s dying and the systems managers of globalization and corporate capitalism know only how to serve that system.
I mean, Lawrence Summers is a perfect example of a figure. As Treasury Secretary for Clinton, he deregulates the banking system. Which leads to the banking collapse. And then, he’s brought back into the White House with Geithner. I mean, all these sort-of tools for Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, uh, they’re brought back in to ostensibly fix the mess they solved. They don’t know how to do anything else. They know only how to serve a dead system. So that when Wall St implodes, and 40 trillion dollars in worldwide wealth evaporates, what do they do? They loot the US Treasury to bail Wall Street out. And now, a few blocks from where I’m sitting, Wall St is engaged in precisely the same games that it played in 2008, which will lead to precisely the same mess. Will they be able to suck us dry again? Given the coterie of advisors around Obama, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
So, they’re not trained to challenge or question structures and assumptions. They’re only trained to serve that system and keep it alive. But it’s very clear that the system is dying. Because it’s unsustainable. And we have to begin to prepare. That’s why access to local food is becoming extremely important. We already have food deserts in urban areas. And even where I’ve been working, in southern West Virginia, people have to drive over an hour to a supermarket. Because poor people can’t afford tomatoes trucked in from California or from Florida. So, we have to begin, as much as we can, to build alternative systems that allow for self-sufficiency. Because as things deteriorate, the corporate state isn’t going to take care of us. The only thing they’re going to do is try and control us.
I: Do you suggest any books?
Chris Hedges: Yah, um, Democracy Incorporated by Sheldon Wolin. He’s probably our greatest living political philosopher. Its a book about the system we live under. Which he describes as inverted totalitarianism. By that, he means it’s not classical totalitarianism. It doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue, or charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state. That in classical totalitarian regimes, you have a reactionary or a revolutionary force that seizes power and changes the iconography and language and structure of the state. In corporate totalitarianism, or inverted totalitarianism, they pay fealty to the constitutional electoral politics and patriotism. And yet, have so corrupted the levers of power, as to render the citezenry impotent. And I think he’s right. I mean, I talked to Wolin recently, not too long ago, and he said that the primary mechanisms of political control are credit, access to credit, and cheap manufactured goods. And, um, the credit’s dried up and the goods aren’t so cheap anymore. So, I asked Wolin, if those two mechanisms of control are removed, people can’t get credit and suddenly life becomes prohibitively expensive, and for the 47 million Americans who live in poverty who are now spending about 35% of their income on food, could it flip into a more, uh, something that resembled classical totalitarianism? And he said, yeah. He thought that was a real possibility. So, that book is important to me.
Another book, written in 1944 by Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation, which is a study of unfettered capitalism. What happens when you have unregulated capitalism? Which Polyani argues, correctly, has ultimately a self-destructive force, a self-devouring force. That’s a very smart book.
Chomsky, anything Chomsky writes. I like Noam a lot.
I mean, on the Middle East Ilan Pappé, Norman Finklestein.
I read a lot of the books from the 50’s, uh, C. Wright Mills, Riesman The Lonely Crowd. It’s interesting. These 50’s intellectuals, first of all, they write to be read. Unlike most academics, who are impenetrable. But secondly, most of them were older when they wrote. So, I think they, sort of, remember what had been destroyed. What we’ve lost.
We talk about American culture. It’s not American culture. It’s corporate culture. These values of hedonism, and the cult of the self, and consumption. These were not always part of American values. Certainly, there was a segment of the society that embraced thrift, and self-effacement, and self-sacrifice. And corporate culture, especially after World War I, worked very hard to destory that quite effectively.
So, there’s a lot of good… I like Wendell Berry’s stuff. Bill McKibben’s great. A great friend of mine. Ralph Nader, who I worked for in 2008. I wrote a lot of his policy speeches, and he’s a great friend.
They’re out there. The books are out there. And I try and address a lot of these issues. Certainly what happened to the left, the last book I wrote, Death of the Liberal Class was and Empire of Illusion, touches on all the illusions. They’re out there. But, we’re very marginal. I mean, I can get on the New York Times best-seller list by selling 45,000 copies of a book. But, what percentage of the American public is that? You know, I was an English major, but it’s less than 1 percentage of 1 percent. So, the fact is that those people have a kind of consciousness, are certainly on the margins.
But that’s alright. I think all great movements in history never began by appealing to the masses, necessarily, but by protecting sophisticated and thoughtful analysis and real ideas. And the power of those ideas crept outward. And I think the history of ideas supports that. So, I don’t think we should dumb ourselves down. I think that’s a mistake. We should not be afraid to be thoughtful. And if that alienates people, I think, as the physical and economic situation deterioates, at least for some people, who are not seduced into these very frightening right-wing movements, it will prod them to begin to ask the kinds of questions that maybe they’re not asking now.
I: Do you believe that the divisions we now face are going to stall our ability to overcome the corporate culture?
Chris Hedges: That the divisions we face? I think there can be a kind of unifying around the destructiveness of corporate culture while embracing those divisions. I think that the divisions are going to be inevitable.
I would say for me, the one line that I wouldn’t cross, is violence. And I’m about to go out in November, end of October, to debate my friend Derrick Jensen on this issue in San Francisco. Not only from a moral point of view, because I know what violence does to people, but also just because from a tactical point of view, it isn’t going to work.
And there will be a great deal of frustration. Because if movements like this grow, and let’s pray and hope that they do, then the state is going to respond with further and further, or heavier and heavier, forms of control. I mean, anyone who’s been to the G20, I didn’t get to Toronto but I was in Pittsburgh, saw it. They militarized the center of Pittsburgh. They turned it into the Green Zone. They brought back combat battalions from Iraq. I mean, literally, they had checkpoints. We’ve militarized our police forces, these SWAT teams. So that there’s no difference between a raid conducted in the middle of the night in Oakland and one conducted in Fallujah.
That’s what happens. The disease of empire, throughout the history of empires, is always brought back to the homeland. Thucydides wrote about it in Athens. Athens’ expanding empire, Thucydides wrote, led it to become a tyrant abroad; and then a tyrant at home. So that the tyranny that Athens imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. And that’s what we’ve done.
All of these mercenary forces, Blackwater, now renamed Ze, all of the measures of control that we use in the outer reaches of empire are now being migrated back, internally. And they’re brutal and horrible measures. They’re deeply frustrating. And they will prod people, even well-meaning people, towards violence. As somebody who’s had an intimate connection with violence for two decades, I just cannot say enough: don’t go there. And it really is what they want. It’s what they want. Because they know…that’s the language they speak. That’s a language they understand. This is a language that is completely alien and foreign to them. And it drives them batshit. Which is where we want ‘em.
I: Interesting question: TSA naked body scanners. Does the government have the right to see our sons and daughters naked because they purchased their ticket from a corporation?
CH: No. Again it’s…I look at what happens in airports as a kind of conditioning, you know? They herd us through like sheep, humiliate us. It’s a way of conditioning us to accept humiliation, control, intrusive control. And unfortunately, we put up with it. It is a way of forming a population to deal with a totalitarian structure.
I mean, look, the rise of most totalitarian movements is a gradual process. They slowly chip away at your civil liberties, almost imperceptibly. And this was true in Nazi Germany. And I’m not saying we’re Nazi Germany, but Hitler only mentioned the Jews three times between 1933 and 1938. It was all about moral renewal and new glory. Meanwhile, within the law courts, the Nazi party was rewriting the legal system to essentially make legal what under any functioning judicial system is illegal. Which is, of course, mass murder. And I think that the corporate forces have corrupted our legal process. I mean, the Supreme Court is now in the hands of the corporate state. That’s what Citizens United was about.
I: Two more questions. Are you for equal pay for equal sacrifice made to working? If not, why not?
Chris Hedges: Equal pay?
I’m not sure I get the question. I think all of the American workforce should be unionized. It’s unions that created the American middle class. And without unions, essentially, workers, as we have seen, are utterly bereft of any kind of protection. And it’s just a kind of gradual chipping away, and greater and greater forms of abuse.
I: Do you believe in all this talk about the government will use martial law against us when they are threatened?
Chris Hedges: Yah. They may not call it martial law. But, I mean, look at the G20, go back to the G20. What was it? That was martial law. It was. You militarize the center of a major American city, infiltrated all of the groups. Most of the people protesting in Pittsburgh were retired Quakers with sandals. The amount of force leveled against the G20 protests, were again, as is true here, utterly disproportionate to what was going on. It was meant to send a message. Which is: Don’t try this. That’s why they work so hard to break Bradley Manning. Who is a dissident. Who is a hero, frankly. So it’s not just about the act itself that they’re seeking to curtail. It is about sending a message to anybody who might contemplate doing the same thing.
I: In light of a biased media, any tips for getting the real stories and messages out there to the majority of the public in hopes of raising awareness and support?
Chris Hedges: Well, because we’re locked out of the corporate media, we have to play around the edges. And it’s a lot more time-consuming because we can’t reach the numbers. But that’s true for all revolutionary movements. They were always locked out of mainstream systems of communication. So, it’s why I’ll talk to any community radio station.
I think that it’ll take more time. but I think there are systems of communication. And in this sense, the web is useful. Whereby, if we keep at it, if we keep slogging forward, we’ll be able to get messages out that the corporate mainstream seeks to silence.
One of the most amazing things for me during the election was watching what they did to Dennis Kucinich. You had the debate in Iowa, I’m just giving an example of control. So the debate in Iowa, all these debates are sponsored by corporations. You had the pharmaceutical and insurance industry sponsoring the debate in Iowa. And the last person they wanted up on that platform was Dennis Kucinich. Who supports single-payer not-for-profit healthcare for all Americans, which is a much more efficient system. Not to mention fair. And they shut him out. And they shut Nader out. And they shut Physicians for a National Health Plan out. Because their response is a rational response. One that would save money and would save lives. 45,000 Americans died last year because they couldn’t afford medical care. 1 million people went into personal bankruptcy last year because they couldn’t pay their medical bills. And we live in this sick environment where it is legally permissible for a corporation to hold a sick child hostage, while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters.
And we watch so-called Obamacare. 2,000 pages written by corporate lobbyists. The equivalent of a bank bailout to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. $400 billion in subsidies. We watch them grant exemptions to these for-profit entities because they didn’t want to insure chronically-ill children. For me that’s a window into the moral depravity of the corporate state. And one of many examples of moral depravity. And why it’s incumbent upon us to fight back. I don’t want to overdramatize this. But again, you know, because I come out of a theological background, not only are these systems of death. But resistance movements like this become movements that are fighting, and not in a figurative way but in a literal way, fighting for life. Fighting on behalf of life.
I: One more, okay? If we must live more simply and humbly, how do you envision the new America, for the 99%?
Chris Hedges: Well, 70% of the US economy is driven by consumption. So, we actually have a fair bit of power. If we can break that cycle of consumption, we can begin to hurt these corporate entities.
The fossil fuel industry…I mean, half of all electricity in this country is caused by coal. And I’ve been working in southern West Virginia, which is being turned by these large coal companies, into wastelands. The water polluted, the air polluted. I was in villages in West Virginia where everybody in the village, including the children, have had their gall bladders removed.
And, you know, it’s something that I’ve not done, in a way that I feel I should. I mean, I have a car. I heat my home. And I think that the more we can sever ourselves from the drugs that are, that maintain the consumer lifestyle, including fossil fuels, not only morally do we have a capacity to justify the way we’re living but we can begin, even in a physical way, to hurt the entities that are trying to kill us. Because that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to kill us.
Sitting around pretending climate change doesn’t exist, that’s the one alternative of the lunatic fringe of the Republican party. But the other alternative is just self-deluded. The idea that somehow we can adjust to climate change. And poor Bill McKibben is out there slogging this issue day in and day out. And he has become as much of a media and political pariah as Ralph Nader. Because this is the truth that the powers that hold us in their grip do not want explicated.
So, I think we do have to begin to reconfigure our own lives in ways that defy the definition of a good life that is handed to us by a consumer society.
I: Thank you very much for your time. Everybody says thank you, they love you they support you.
Chris Hedges: Not at all. I’m really happy to be here.