Chris Hedges on our cursed mania for hope - and why he's wrong.

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ikosmos ikosmos's picture
Chris Hedges on our cursed mania for hope - and why he's wrong.

Chris Hedges has an interesting piece about

Our Mania for Hope Is a Curse

Comments to follow. Feel free to rebut my rebuttal.

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

Chris Hedges: Our Mania for Hope Is a Curse

Chris Hedges wrote:
The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human
progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and
surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.

Hedges: "The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right."

Hedges (also) takes aim at the Marxist tradition and claims that the Marxist view shares this naive belief noted above.

Chris Hedges wrote:
The 19th century theorist Louis-Auguste Blanqui, unlike nearly all of his contemporaries, dismissed the belief, central to Karl Marx, that human history is a linear progression toward equality and greater morality

The claim here is simply false. However, others might argue that without some kind of belief in (the possibility of) a better future, despair is the more likely outcome. Despair of a future with no hope. Despair of so many problems that seem impossible to disentangle. The despair of poverty that is never ending, that takes all of one's energy just to live another day. The
despair of a powerful ignorance that can only lash out, hurting those nearest to it, stupidly, clumsily, brainlessly. The despair of living in fear. And despair goes along with activity that is knowingly futile ... or no activity at all. Hedges may have his philosophy clear, but his
psychology and social theory is all wrong.  

Social life, say Marxists, develops and changes as a result of changes in the dynamic of the Productive Forces/ Relations of Production inter-relationship. Morality, ethics, wisdom, all the rest of the derived ideological phenomena, FOLLOW changes in the socio-economic foundation. There's no inherent claim about moral "progress" in Marxism, contrary to these claims of Chris Hedges. In our modern world with the sometimes results of perverted science, we seem to excel especially at killing more of each other than ever before. To me this points to the urgent necessity to solve our many global problems before time runs out.  

Chris Hedges wrote:
Wisdom is not knowledge. Knowledge deals with the particular and the actual. Knowledge is the domain of science and technology. Wisdom is about transcendence. Wisdom allows us to see and accept reality, no matter how bleak that reality may be. It is only through wisdom that we are able to cope with the messiness and absurdity of life. Wisdom is about detachment. Once wisdom is achieved, the idea of moral progress is obliterated. Wisdom throughout the ages is a constant.... Systems of power fear and seek to silence those who achieve wisdom, which is what the war by corporate forces against the humanities and art is about. Wisdom, because it
sees through the facade, is a threat to power.
It exposes the lies and ideologies that power uses to maintain its privilege and its warped ideology of progress.

Karl Marx's famous predecessor, Ludwig Feuerbach, was perhaps the first modern to elaborate something akin to the popular 1960's conception of the Beatles, i.e., "All you need is love". But this is BS. Better to say, "All you need is struggle", and especially class struggle at that. While it's undoubtedly true that spiritual conceptions, broadly speaking, are essential for any progressive movement (indeed for any developed person), the spiritual conceptions that are important are the ones that inspire people to action. People in motion get things done. Chris Hedges seems to be putting forward the very admirable, but backwards, views of Feuerbach.

That's contemplative materialism, as the Marxists would call it.

Hedges says that myths associated with knowledge keep people passive. Wisdom, he says, is the remedy. But "wisdom" is no antidote to passivity.

What is the source of this wisdom, in any case? And, even more importantly, how can a social theorist take the view that an unchanging core - human nature, human wisdom that defies the ages as Hedges and others outline - be responsible for social CHANGE. How can an unchanging variable be responsible for others that DO change? And didn't Marx, and others (e.g., Plekhanov in his many excellent works on historical materialism) point this out, even in the time of Louis Blanqui? Socio-philosphical views that premise social change on an unchanging human nature and human wisdom is just bad social theory. It's lousy science.

This is why Marx developed his theory which we now call historical materialism. It was to solve the riddle of social views, like those defended by Chris Hedges here, that use unchanging factors to explain things that do change. Human nature, or wisdom, can no more explain social change than I can lift myself up by my own boots ... while wearing them. 

Hedges: "Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt."

Only those who are in motion and active against social injustice are likely to develop a clear, big picture of things. Revolutionaries are not born, they're made ... in the course of struggle. I just think this idea that people need to have, already, the characteristics necessary, like wisdom, loosely defined, and other moral qualities is a wrong-headed way to express things. It doesn't take into account how we change based on our actions, our struggles, our reflection on those struggles, etc., it just gets "change" wrong. It's undialectical, in a word. If Hedges wants to get Marx right, he need to read his Hegel. 

There's another angle here. What does it mean to talk of "moral progress" anyway? How would you evaluate it or measure it? If it's not a completely empty concept, how would you compare the moral "development" in one era to that of another? What does it actually mean? And then you see that the whole way the problem is posed is all wrong. Moral relations are inter-personal relations. Ethics. For all we know, the inter-personal relations among the Ancient (slave owning) Greeks may have been "more developed" along the lines outlines by Chris Hedges (beauty, truth, grief, our own mortality, etc.) than ours today. Does it really make sense to compare to a society we can, in any case, never return to? 

But his arguments are interesting. Why they're wrong, in my view, is instructive.

iyraste1313

Thanks for this thread... wish I had time to explore it in full, but just on the last point, which I think most important....

the idea of revolt as an individual phenomenon is wrong...we have to begin looking at organizational process, the rise and fall of institutions to understand the nature of revolt...which is inevitable!

It is only when the institutions that manage people´s lives begin to fail, do leaders rise to the surface, with the support of the people who have lost faith in their authorities to launch revolt....a successful human centred not to mentioned planet centred revolt will occur depending on the values, energies empathies and self sacrifice of such leaders, and the forms of organization they wish to establish...

This is why I have optimism...our institutions, economic, political, technologic are failing...

but successful revolt requires social infrastructure based on new values, economic prnciples and technologies, something which is just budding out in our Society...

There must be a fundamental revulsion of our present forms and the fraudulent alternatives, first, before such social infrastructure will develop......

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

There's plenty to think about from Latin America, and our very own M. Lebowitz is worth looking at with "The Socialist Alternative" for example (and other books).

NDPP

Chris Hedges: What It Means To Be A Socialist

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/what_it_means_to_be_a_socialist_2015...

"We live in a revolutionary movement. The disastrous economic and political experiment that attempts to organize human behavior around the dictates of the global market place has failed.

The citizen has become irrelevant. He or she can participate in heavily choreographed elections but the demands of corporations or banks are paramount.

A bankrupt liberal class, holds up values it does nothing to defend, discredits itself as well as the purported liberal values of a civil democracy as it is swept aside, along with those values."

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Agree with Hedges. Thanks for the article link, NDPP.

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

RT America just hired Chris Hedges. His show starts June 11.

 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges joins RT America

6079_Smith_W

Very interesting. That is quite the coup.

I'm sure there won't be an immediate conflict because he's likely to focus on western problems, but I expect he's going to take some heat for getting on board.

I wonder too if some are going to do an about face on their opinion of him based on this.

 

NDPP

Oh please, and Larry King too...?

6079_Smith_W

Or maybe not. I guess he must have really hit a nerve with that Black Bloc thing.

So on the flip side, does this make RT just another brainwashing tool of the oppressors, so we can't believe anything they say? Or are we just going to turn a blind eye to that?

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Only an idiot would believe everything that a news agency claims or absolutely nothing for that matter. I doubt if there are such idiots on babble.

 

6079_Smith_W

I have read that claim plenty of times here kropotkin - instead of considering a news article for its content, simply saying it is western MSM lies, as if that is all the consideration necessary. Hedges' show hasn't even hit the airwaves and some have their opinions already.

I wouldn't call them idiots exactly. Idiot implies there's no willful choice involved.

I think this association is interesting to say the least. I am curious to see how both parties will do their respective dances around this one.

 

 

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

RT has already laid out their approach. Question more. It is a focus on western MSM that has been, frankly, sadly lacking. The Western lickspittle MSM is re-gurgitated, in toto, by far too many who claim to be on "the left" . Fucking liars. Choke on it, mo fos.

And I love it. Expose the BS. But RT is by no means on the left. They are simply copying the Western approach used on the Soviets: give a soapbox to the critics. Give them a voice.Left. Right. they dont' give a shit.

Hedges worked for TeleSur for some time. Of course, the "left" (ie, the fake left) ignored him. So they will ignore him some more.

Good on Chris Hedges. I don't actually share his Christian Evangelicism, but whatever. He speaks truth to power and that's good enough.

 

The good guys are winning the battle of ideas.  And the enemy doesn't even know it.

 

I love it. When RT gets together the best minds of America are hires them all, because they're blacklisted, what then?

The Empire is collapsing. Pick your fucking side already.

6079_Smith_W

ikosmos wrote:

Good on Chris Hedges. I don't actually share his Christian Evangelicism.

???

How familiar are you with Hedges?

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

6079_Smith_W wrote:
How familiar are you with Hedges?

Hedges is a Presbyterian Minister. I'm not.

He's actually been travelling the land, like a modern-day John the Baptist, preaching the gospel (and selling books) of the necessity of revolution in the US. I can't find any fault with that. Can you?

6079_Smith_W

That might make him a Revolutionary Evangelical. Though the roots of Presbyterianism notwithstanding, I am not sure he's consider himself an evangelical of any sort, let alone a Christian one. Strikes me as a bit too much driven by free thought and personal responsibility to believe in being saved by the grace of anything, or holding to doctrine, whether it be Jesus, Marx or Adam Smith.

Or Sam Harris. His critique of where some anti-religionists go with "free thought" zealotry (his book I Don't Believe in Atheists) is also worth a read.

I do know he takes a pretty dim view of the American Evangelical movement (his book American Fascists). And in this interview he draws a distinction between the old evangelical movement a la Billy Graham (which he said he learned to live with, though he never embraced it) and the modern right-wing political evangelical movement.

http://www.ucobserver.org/interviews/2013/01/interview_chris_hedges/

http://www.democracynow.org/2005/5/5/the_christian_right_and_the_rising

But on his new job, I will be curious to see how he deals with running into doctrine when and if it happens.I know he didn't take it from western media, and he delayed his ordaination for years until 2014 in part because the church did not consider  his going to El Salvador as a correspondent to be ministry (see top article above).

Maybe as a big fish he will get a free line so long as he keeps his focus in the right direction.