Chris Hedges: Death of the liberal class

Chris Hedges: Death of the liberal class

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welcome to congress 212 i'm mike carroll dean of the faculty of arts here at wilford laurier university i want to welcome congress delegates as well as members of the local community uh to the latest in our series of big thinking lectures laurier is proud to co-sponsor these lectures um along with the university of waterloo and others uh as a way of bringing important public intellectuals to this campus and community to speak on some of the more pressing social issues of our time i i have to tell you that i i did ask one of the conference organizers
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why in the world this lecture was sponsored at 7 45 in the morning and the answer i got was that if we schedule chris hedges at a more convenient time we wouldn't have a venue to hold people so judging judging from the people who have turned out at this unseemly hour i i don't doubt that so i want to thank again the canadian federation for the amenities and social sciences for selecting the university of waterloo and laurier to co-host this and with that i'd like to introduce
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graeme carr to introduce our speaker thank you uh let me just start by thanking uh not only mike and all of his colleagues at wilford laurier university but all of the team from the university of waterloo as well who have really worked to make this uh congress 2012 a tremendous success it's not over yet we still have uh have all of today and all of tomorrow to go but we're really grateful for the
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incredible hospitality that they have that they have shown i'd also like to thank our partners the association of universities and colleges of canada for making community participation possible at this year's big thinking series and also the canada foundation for innovation for their uh generous support in sponsor sponsoring uh the big thinking series um the big thinking series gives all delegates a chance to
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engage in some of the most pressing conversations that affect issues of the concern issues of our time and today obviously is no exception we are thrilled to welcome chris hedges who uh i am sure is going to challenge us and challenge those of us in the humanities and social sciences today to think about the death of the liberal class for nearly two decades chris hedges was a foreign correspondent
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for some of the united states leading news services including the new york times and national public radio the author of several provocative and thoughtful books he is currently a senior fellow at the nation institute has taught at columbia university new york and princeton universities i could go on but rather than dealing with the biography let's just listen to chris hedges and give him as much time as possible thank you very much i have
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very strong canadian ties my wife is from scarborough and my daughter who just graduated from high school is going to ubc so which is great we're all happy um i was telling everyone i had dinner with last night you don't usually think of canadians as being chauvinists until they cross the border into the united states and every july first she puts up i don't even know where she found it a large canadian flag in front of our house
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that she leaves up through july 4th so there's no confusion in the neighborhood i was also telling that this is a woman she went to juilliard and she's an actor and has never come back since but when they had this a woman who could not tell the difference between a hockey puck and a hockey stick and we don't own a tv so when they had the olympic game when the playoff you know between american she had the radio on just to make sure the canadians won so
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i saw out there on the table that they had days of destruction days of revolt that's the book just literally came out i'd even know that bookstores could get it that's the book i spent the last two years working on with the graphic illustrator joe sacco uh who i had first met in bosnia when he was working i was the balkan bureau chief for the new york times during the war in bosnia and kosovo he was working on his book garage de some of you especially if you know the middle east will know footnotes in gaza which is just a masterpiece six years
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one of the finest reporters i've ever met and it's drawn out 50 pages of illustrations and it's a look at the sacrifice zones um the poorest pockets of the united states and now in an age of unfettered unregulated capitalism these sacrifice zones are just spreading outwards there is no impediment anymore to unfettered capitalism it is as karl marx understood a revolutionary force uh and as carl pogani pointed out in the
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great transformation his amazing text on what unregulated unfettered capitalism looks like it turns everything into a commodity human beings become commodities the natural world becomes a commodity that it exploits until exhaustion or collapse in essence it cannibalizes itself and this is the process that we are undergoing um the question i had was how did we get here um and that's really the subject of death of the liberal class
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empire of illusion is also out there empire of illusion is sort of a look at all of the ways we have been unplugged and invested our hopes uh ideas and dreams into a non-reality based world the largest chapter in the book is on pornography which is not accidental or the most fortified culture in history because of its easy accessibility and it was interesting i was a work correspondent for 20 years
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and in every conflict i was in there was a correlating rise with porn the porn industry because it does the same thing it is about turning human beings into objects that you exploit uh uh and and use uh and it's no accident and you know i won't spend too long on the thesis of that book but the it's no accident the still photographs from abu ghraib could be still photographs from a porn shoot it's precisely the same
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thing at work within the society the loss of empathy i spent a lot of time on reality tv you know i had been asked by a publisher kanav and his good lesson if i'm sure there are many writers in the room never do someone else's idea to write a book on the press of which i of course had been a part of for many years in the united states and and its demise and when i turned the manuscript into canaaf the editor uh read it and hated it
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and uh kanav volunteered that they would publish it after they assigned someone to excise what they turned all the negativity in the book you can imagine how that went down and so i raced off donation books you get half of your advance up front and uh and so i just got them to write a check and i told him you can have the whole book uh to write a check for what canaaf had paid me so they couldn't destroy my book i certainly understand the inner workings of the press far better than editors at canav
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what they wanted was that mythical version of the democratic press without fear and favor watergate pentagon papers all this kind of stuff without understanding the huge drawbacks of the commercial press i do agree that the demise especially of newsprint is something that is deeply harmful perhaps even catastrophic to our democracy and yet at the same time i understand the deep deficiencies
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of the press as sydney schanburg says it's not so much that the press makes things better but it stops things from getting worse and as these newspapers die we are watching courts police city halls all of it doesn't get covered not to mention of course what's happened to the art form of investigative journalism which is and certainly in the united states has been all but decimated for many reasons
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not only because of budget cuts but because the security and surveillance state has made it almost impossible now to get information of barack obama has used the espionage act six times since he took office to go after leakers and whistleblowers uh some of whom including sterling the ci agent who allegedly leaked to the new york times including information about war crimes the espionage act was never meant to be a weapon against um the the
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practice of of of of journalism uh it was passed by woodrow wilson 1917 was only used three times against leakers once again first time against daniel ellsberg for the pentagon papers so when i began the process of transferring this book to um to nation books i thought that it wasn't just the pillars or just the the press itself that had collapsed but all of the
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pillars of the the liberal establishment labor culture which had become commercialized completely certainly in the united states i know it's better in canada a little better and religious institutions public education and of course the democratic party and it's interesting that one of the figures that i go after in the book is someone i've known many many years and that's
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michael ignatieff michael and i on at the inception of the iraq war came down on very different sides and the day the invasion started we were both on a program called fresh air on national public radio and michael spent 15 minutes explaining why we had to go into the war and i spent 15 minutes and i should add i am an arabic speaker who spent seven years in the middle east i was the middle east bureau chief
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for the new york times months of my life in iraq unlike michael actually intimately understand the instrument of war as to why we shouldn't go in and michael for me was sort of a kind of poster child of what happened it happened in many ways to the liberal establishment that conversion into kind of neo-liberalism and i actually went back and found the transcripts of that radio interview and included them in the book because he's you know without question a brilliant scholar and
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and you know we've had a close relationship um you know over many many years i've not seen him since he came to canada and became a politician is now at massey college um and and so i i backed off and i and i and i and i and i wanted to ask that fundamental question what happened how did we get here how did the leviathan of unfettered unregulated capitalism become omnipotent so omnipotent that it couldn't be challenged
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by any of the forces within society those forces uh which i think in in sort of traditional political the terms are defined as liberal uh in the way karl popper uses the term uh those forces that make incremental or piecemeal reform possible i know when conrad black wrote his biography of roosevelt he said that roosevelt i think correctly that roosevelt's greatest achievement was that roosevelt saved capitalism what went wrong how did we end up and
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and uh certainly within the united states it it all goes back to world war one where on the eve of world war one you had uh powerful progressive movements over 70 socialist mayors in the united states some of the largest publications in the country appeal to reason which had the fourth highest circulation in the united states was a socialist publication of course the masses you had anarcho-syndicalist unions like the wobblies
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a very progressive cio i mean one of the reasons that canadians have as i understand it a health care system that covers everyone is because the unions fought for it they had a broad social vision and the business or the robber baron class was of course deeply hostile to all of these movements and and the war was to quote a writer i admire very much dwight mcdon dwight mcdonald was the rock on which all of these movements were broken
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the war had no popular support in the united states it indeed wilson had run for re-election on the slogan he kept us out of the war but uh with the collapse of uh the eastern front and the possibility that the germans could move upwards of 100 divisions over to the western front uh it became possible that the british and the french would be defeated and this deeply alarmed wall street which had lent tremendous sums of money to the british and the french government
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this coupled with the kaiser's decision to attempt to impose a naval blockade on britain and the sinking of two or three american merchant ships uh plunged us into the war and it's a fascinating period of intellectual history um and it really at this moment revolves around a figure named walter lipman who writes public opinion which is a is is the blueprint for control it's where the term manufacturing consent comes from chomsky and hermann years
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later when their critique of the press pulled that from lipman's book public opinion and lipman argues to wilson that the population can be moved uh to support the war not through the harsher forces of coercion embodied in the sedition act or the espionage act but through mass propaganda and that gives rise to the committee for public information or the creel commission because it was headed by a former muckraking journalist named george creel who ends his career
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working for mccarthy and nixon in the house on american affairs activity hearings where they employ the understanding of crowd psychology pioneered by label trotter and of course sigmund freud out of the creel commission comes edward bernay is the father of modern public relations and his book propaganda becomes one of the seminal texts that goebbels uses when he creates the nazi propaganda machine and it was that understanding that
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people are moved by emotion not by fact and they create all sorts of mechanisms powerful mechanisms within that propaganda machine to do precisely that so they have their own film division where they're making movies like the kaiser or the butcher of berlin they have their own news division every single paper must have a pro-war stance or it cannot publish that's what sees the masses which refuses to accept it shut down appeal to reason uh continues to publish its editorials of pro-war
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it has speakers bureaus going around the country graphic uh and it's when you look at the the those intellectuals who resisted uh particularly randolph-born and jane adams uh one of the undercurrents of everything they write about is the despair uh about the intellectual class itself because it is so easily seduced by this force of propaganda that's a constant refrain in both born and atoms and of course this mechanism
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is used not only to promote the war but to break the back of these radical and progressive movements and it does so quite effectively those who hold out like eugene v debs the socialist candidate who in 1912 polled six percent of the vote 900 000 votes ends up in prison and and what happens is that once that war is over the dreaded hun instantly becomes the dreaded red and mcdonald when he writes about
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this period also notes that none of the political theorists of the 19th century had anticipated the psychosis of permanent war when marx writes about war it's about the the prussian war and he certainly hopes that the uh the germans will win because it will bring us closer to the workers state and in essence that psychosis of permanent war in mcdonald's words
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creates an environment by which people clamor for their own enslavement and i think that that's deeply true and that is perhaps a distinction between canadian and american society but at that point we became a nation of permanent war an attempt to ferret out internal enemies and and fight external enemies and of course the iconography and language of that was replaced at the end of the cold war with with terrorism but it serves precisely
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uh the same purpose uh and that's leads to randolph-born's famous dictum wars the health of the state so after the war you have that final assault against very weakened popular movements both appeal to reason and the masses are shut down that's when you have the mass deportations of emma goldman and alexander berkman the destruction of the wobblies joe hill on what they would take the leaders of the wobblies uh
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uh pin uh trumped up murder charges bogus merger charges on them hill is executed in utah uh big bill haywood has to flee the country and spends the last 10 years of his life in moscow uh and accompanying this is that all of those propagandists uh once the war is over go straight to madison avenue and they start working for wall street and uh and corporations and what they seek to do is upend traditional values of thrift
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self-effacement and replace it with a cult of the self with hedonism with consumption as an inner compulsion and uh laura nader who teaches at berkeley um and his ralph nader's sister um i think correctly points out that uh that what happens is that when you know that that that that these values are uh were replaced by corporate values that when we talk about american culture well at that's this
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point we're really talking about is an imposed corporate culture and when malcolm cowley writes his really brilliant intellectual memoir of the 20s and 30s in exile's return he's very critical of the bohemians and later the beats for imbibing or essentially internalizing these cultural values that center that self that destruction of community
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and at this point we begin that long slow descent by which the mechanisms which make democratic reform possible are essentially being destroyed because while the radical forces or the populist forces are dismantled you have in the name of anti-communism a disemboweling of traditional liberal institutions that's what these witch hunts are about and uh the
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the function of liberal institutions of these pillars of the liberal establishment is uh precisely to to to work as a kind of safety valve whereby when you have uh pronounced grievances and injustices within the wider society it is a mechanism within the formal structures of power to alleviate those injustices through incremental or piecemeal reform but all of the true advances within democracy are pushed forward not by these liberal
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institutions which survive within the parameters of a capitalist democracy but by those popular radical movements that create pressure which the liberal establishment then responds to i mean within the united states if you go back and and this is you know what zinn does so well in the people's history of the united states you see that uh the the structure of american government was uh put in place by people who deeply feared popular democracy not only were most americans
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disenfranchised at the constitutional conventions women people without property native americans african-americans and denture servants but you had put in place both the electoral college and the senate senators used to be appointed and by the states and the senate had most of the political power in terms of uh the legislative branch to prevent popular democracy um so it was a constant battle from the uh formation of the country uh a battle
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that that many many people paid for with their lives uh whether that was uh through uh the anti-slavery movement uh the liberty party uh the labor movement uh the um suffragists who fought for women's rights uh all of these created openings within the society and yet none of them ever achieved formal positions of political power and i hear uh you know come down with uh uh chomsky on this in that in that
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uh for or benda i mean in his great book uh treason of the intellectuals uh that that they're for those of us who care about uh creating a system of justice and a system where you know broad participation of the population is open to everyone you have a choice between which two sets of principles you serve justice and truth or privilege and power and bender makes the argument that he's talking about the intellectual and
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the academic class but the more i mean having gone to graduate school at harvard and seen the kennedy school there's a perfect poster child for this the more that you make concessions to those whose who are who's fealty is to uh privilege and power the more you diminish the capacity for justice and truth and i think that that we forgot this dictum we forgot this fundamental truth we saw of course in the 30s the collapse
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of capitalism and uh then we saw the liberal funk the liberal class function as it was designed to function which was to create the new deal to create mechanisms uh by which uh the injustices that had been visited on wide swaths of the american pop population could be alleviated this was essentially crushed after world war ii uh with uh that last and final assault uh in the red scare we lost in the united states thousands of
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high school teachers social workers it used to be that social workers the social work union would lobby on behalf of their clients university professors artists directors journalists like iaf stone are probably our greatest investigative journalist who becomes a complete pariah he can't even get a job at the nation magazine and he starts if stone weekly in the basement of his house and at that point all of the impediments
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uh to unregulated unfettered capitalism were off uh it was just a matter of dismantling what had been put in place by the new deal so that by the 1970s uh in the words of the harvard historian charles mayer america had shifted from what he called an empire of production to an empire of consumption i.e we began to borrow to maintain both an empire and a level of consumption that we could no longer afford there's a
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book by sheldon wolin sheldon wolin is our greatest living political philosopher his great 1960 work politics and vision is certainly one of the classics of 20th century political philosophy in the united states he wrote a book a few years ago called democracy incorporated and in it he argues that we no longer live in a democracy he lives in a system that he terms inverted totalitarianism
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and by that he means it's not classical totalitarianism it doesn't find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader but through the anonymity of the corporate state that in classical totalitarian regimes you have a demagogue or charismatic leader who with a reactionary or revolutionary party overthrows a decaying structure and replaces it in inverted totalitarianism you have corporate forces that purport to be loyal to the constitution electoral politics
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the iconography and language of american patriotism and yet internally have subverted all the levers of power to render the citizen impotent john ralston saul gets a lot of this and got it really early he calls it a coup d'etat in slow motion and that's correct that's precisely what's happened so we end up with this kind of ridiculous species which we're now enduring in the united states obama's trying to raise a billion dollars for this campaign of political theater what to benjamin
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namat called junk politics where the personal narrative of the candidate becomes paramount in terms of your electoral church but in fact there's utter continuity and when you look at all of the uh programs in the obama administration it is a seamless continuity with the bush administration in fact the tragedy of the obama administration is that they've codified the destruction of domestic and international law
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put in place by the bush administration and uh i don't know how closely you follow what's been happening in the united states obama has not only not restored habeas corpus it's always interesting to see the echoes in canada and they you do we do everything wrong and then you copy us it's really quite remarkable um well you take law what's it lost 78 and yeah there you go um i mean this is what rahm emanuel just
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did in chicago you have the fires amendment act uh which i'm one of the eight i'm one of the plaintiffs we we just got to the supreme court to challenge it uh the fisa amendment act uh which obama voted for uh is a really pernicious piece of legislation it retroactively makes legal or made legal but under our constitution was traditionally illegal the warrantless wiretapping monitoring and eavesdropping of hundreds of millions of american citizens
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and now they're building a gigantic supercomputer in utah to store all this information forever and the reason the defies amendment act was passed is because bush had begun this warrantless wiretapping he'd been challenged in court it was clearly unconstitutional the telecommunications companies verizon att which had turned this information over the government did not want to have to pay off these lawsuits and so they came in with their sort of buckets of money
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in our system of legalized bribery and uh lo and behold they were retroactively immune and it was allowed to go forward obama as i mentioned has used the espionage act six times since he was president investigative journalism and i have many friends in the business has virtually died in the united states because of this it is just terrifying uh and uh obama in uh in on december 31st passed or signed the national defense authorization act
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section 1021 of that act permits the u.s government well permitted the u.s government to use the military to detain american citizens uh in very vague language who uh covered persons were people who substantially supported al qaeda the taliban or what they called associated forces uh hold them in military facilities including our offshore penal colonies indefinitely until in the language of the bill the end of hostilities it is truly a terrifying assault i sued
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the president and lee and panetta in court and and we won uh it was a remark we just remarkably found a judge catherine forrest in federal court who stood up and issued a temporary injunction now um what the government will do we don't know they have 60 days to file an appeal in which case it would go to an appellate court be reviewed and then if that decision was upheld it would go to the supreme court and frankly given the composition of the supreme court
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um you know it may it may be a pyrrhic victory but it's one that that has to be fought on every single level so with that system of inverted totalitarianism uh which roland writes about we have descended into a political process where it has become utterly impossible to defy the centers of power uh which are you know as occupy wall street understood are based not in washington
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but based on wall street uh and it's you know the the tragedy of the united states uh and i think uh you know something again that's been echoed in canada is that you know we didn't understand that that that manufacturing uh is is part of uh vital national security we no longer protected it we turned over the economy and finally the political process to a class of speculators speculators in the 17th century were
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hung speculation was a crime capital crime and today they have created a system whereby they control both our political and economic life um you know polyani's book and i'm sure many of you know it uh is a really brilliant book his uh he was of course hungarian uh his wife uh it was during the red scare he taught columbia and uh the the americans would not allow his wife into the country um
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uh and so they actually lived in toronto and and pogani would fly down for classes monday through friday and fly back to toronto to see his wife on the weekends um but polyani actually uses the word sacred he said that when a society loses the capacity for the sacred when nothing has an intrinsic value beyond a monetary value then it in essence commits collective suicide and that's why the environmental crisis is intimately twinned with the economic crisis they're the the commodification of
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nature like the commodification of human beings uh and and and there is no way within the political system to stop it uh certainly within the united states i'm not going to try and give you an analysis of the canadian political system despite my deep distaste for your prime minister but there's certainly no way to stop it in the united states barack obama isn't going to stop it the democratic party isn't going to stop it and that's why i invested so much time and energy into occupy
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the occupy movement and i think that what's happening in quebec is what i would like to see happen in the united states i covered all of the revolutions most of the revolutions in eastern europe east germany czechoslovakia romania i was in leipzig for all of those demonstrations and and i think vaslav havel's right in his great essay the power of the powerless
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when you face a system that decay there is a tremendous power which comes with living in truth uh and exposing the truth and i think that's precisely what occupy did it named the problem and it and it you know the whole debate up until the arrival of occupy in the united states was over uh deficits deficits you know we have to impose austerity for our deficit something that's being rammed down the throats of the europeans of course it wasn't a problem
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of deficits it was a problem of revenue it was a problem of economic income disparity and the uh i think the state was terrified uh you went into zuccotti park on a weekend and you had mothers and fathers from new jersey pushing strollers up and down the park this was a mainstream movement and if you look at all of the polling that backs that up whether it's on the wars in iraq afghanistan whether it's on the bailouts in wall street whether it's on the
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failure to address the massive foreclosure and bank repossession crisis which has driven uh six million americans from their homes a number expected to climb to 10 this year i forget the figures i just read it but it's it's it's like 50 or 60 percent of americans are underwater meaning that they owe more than their homes are worth a million personal bankruptcies a year because people can't pay their medical bills and 80 percent of those people had medical insurance but of course they
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just jacked the premiums up uh if you're incapacitated and you can't pay and you're out um student debt this was a huge factor in zuccotti uh trillion dollars largest personal debt uh there is uh the congress uh of course at the urging of these corporations passed a bill whereby uh there is no way to escape for student debt even if you declare bankruptcy in the united states it just accrues interest the only way to escape your debt is when you die
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literally it's it's quite staggering and i think that you know one of the sort of perfect examples of how the differences between the democratic and the republican party are marginal at best because of course in in the end corporate lobbyists write all of the legislation is the so-called obamacare bill uh that healthcare program was designed by the heritage foundation of a right-wing corporate funded think tank and it was put in place by romney
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when he was governor in 2006 in massachusetts and then it was adopted by obama after the corporate lobbyists wrote in 447 billion dollars worth of subsidies uh the equivalent of the bank bailout bill for the pharmaceutical and insurance industry and the first thing the obama administration did once the bill was passed and as you know it's being challenged in the supreme court is to grant exemptions because these corporations don't want to ensure chronically ill children
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which in moral terms as a former seminarian means that i live in a country where it is legally permissible for corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters that's the world that we've created we have very little time left we are watching europe implode both of course in greece and spain and i just was on a program democracy
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now uh a week or two ago with paul krugman it was me and then paul we weren't on together i don't uh but afterwards i was talking to krugman about and he said you know what it all doesn't matter anyway given climate change and he's right none of these corporate forces and i know this is battle you're fighting in canada with the tar sands and of course canadian canada's just absolutely disastrous decision to withdraw from kyoto
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or you know any uh refuse to abide by the kyoto accords um that uh that none of the formal mechanisms of power are going to impede this destruction of the ecosystem on which human life depends uh it's only going to come through acts of civil disobedience and certainly the most important moral voices in the united states that i respect wendell berry cornell west bill mckibben they have all come to the same
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conclusion and all of us have therefore been arrested wendell 77 he and other activists occupied the governor's office in kentucky and when he went in he said well you know going to jail is more more time than i care to donate to the u.s government but i'm afraid that's what we have to do uh uh as i don't know how closely you follow uh my own sort of battles in the states but i've been very critical of the black bloc
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anarchist movement um and um they have they now follow me around they're fortunate out here today but uh they they follow me around from from speech to speech uh uh because i think that that this movement has to remain non-violent in order to succeed and now just to close we'll go back to my own experience in eastern europe now i covered the fall of east germany this was the at least until the rise of the security and surveillance state in the united
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states uh the most intrusive regime probably on the planet uh the stasi i think one in every for every 63 east germans there was an informant and that regime was brought to its knees and it was brought to its knees by primarily lutheran clerics in leipzig uh and and it had this and hovel had this intuitive understanding that it's not that you assault the structures of power it's that you draw them towards you
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that you create uh through acts of non-violence paralysis within those structures of power so that when the leipzig demonstrators start pulling in september of 1989 70 000 people into the street eric honaker who had been in power for 18 years sends an elite paratroop division to fire on the crowd and when they get there the officers go into the barracks and uh the the paratroopers many of them are weeping
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because they have uh brothers sisters fathers friends walking in those streets and they can't bring themselves the local communist party officials in leipzig block the order and hanukkah lasts another week in office in czechoslovakia in prague in that winter and this is really the power of resistance that as daniel berrigan says that capacity or that belief that the good draws the
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good there were pictures of a former charles university student jan ponach all over the streets of prague ponitch in 1968 after the soviet invasion had lit himself on fire in venezuela square and died four days later of his burns when they carried his body to the cemetery thousands of students from charles university the communist regime broke it up when they buried him and his grave became a shrine they dug his remains up cremated his remains gave them to his mother
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and told his mother that she wasn't allowed to rebury them and yet his picture was everywhere two weeks after the communist regime fell uh there were ten thousand people crowded into red army square and hovel renamed red army square in the center of prague jan ponage square i was in venezuela square half a million people when marta kubashiva who was the great most popular singer in yugoslavia saying the anthem of defiance that was broadcast over the airwaves
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when the soviet tanks rolled into prague uh walked out on that balcony now after that after the duke check was overthrown and the stalinist or the moscow-approved regime was put back in place you saw kubashiva uh become a non-person all of her recording stock was destroyed she no longer her voice was no longer here on the airwaves and when she walked out this was 1968 to 1989 no check had heard her sing
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and she walked out on that balcony and began to sing that anthem of defiance and every check around me knew everywhere that is the power of defiance the power of another narrative what hovel calls living in truth and um i don't know where occupy is going to go no one knows movements have as lennon and harrison and others pointed out a kind of mysterious life force of their own
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even those who purportedly lead these movements don't know where they're going i saw that in the street demonstrations that brought down milosevic i saw it in the two palestinian uprisings that i covered the first and the second intifada i remember sitting with the leaders in leipzig on november 9 1989 in which they said perhaps within a year there will be free passage back and forth across the berlin wall within a few hours the berlin wall
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at least as an impediment to human traffic did not exist and i think as saul admire immensely has pointed out we are in one of those periods in history where the the language and vocabulary we use to describe the reality around us no longer matches that reality itself and we are in a process of inventing or creating a new language a new way to explain and cope
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with reality and uh and i encourage all of you to do what i'll be doing in a few days in new york and that's get out on the street thank you well thank you chris for a terrific talk to steal one of your lines there isn't much time left but we have about 20 minutes four
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questions uh just so people are clear uh we're gonna finish at 8 55 after which there will be a book signing in the back you'll have an opportunity to talk to chris one-on-one and i know we'll have far more questions than time please identify yourself try to keep your questions short and maybe i'll just kick off uh things i want to go back to the reference to um to walter lippmann manufacturing consent and and the role of of of propaganda
47:23
the rise of a of a corporate culture of hedonism etc and the decline of investigative journalism and and the crowding out of other narrative opportunities to to challenge consensus uh in the current context i think there are probably some um uh media proponents who would argue that the antidote to that is uh is the rise of social media and i wondered if you could just comment on the role and of social media in the current
47:54
manifestations that we that we are seeing around the world well there's very little reporting done on the internet almost none there's some very fine commentary i think social media uh has become a very effective tool in terms of logistics uh you know you have to be here at this time you have to but i don't think it's a very effective tool in terms of actually creating opposition
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when you're sitting in your room in front of a computer you know furiously typing something out on facebook you're still alone which is just where the corporate state wants you there there is no substitute for um for what's happening in quebec and for what i hope will happen in the united states and that is pulling large numbers of people into the streets to discredit those in power the other problem i have with with the internet is that it inverts the whole process of
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reporting as a reporter you go out you get your story you cross check it with other sources it's edited it's fact checked and that doesn't mean that we don't make mistakes and then it's printed in the internet you just throw anything out there and uh and it's emotionally driven people tend to gravitate to their intellectual ghettos and i think i'm as guilty of this as everyone else i i don't go to the nra website you know or i don't go to bill
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o'reilly's website or does kevin o'leary have a website and there's something kind of you know there's a democratic quality to a new to news print in a sense that you don't select what you get uh and what really scares me and i think this is something hannah aaron writes about in origins of totalitarianism is that it furthers this process of severing yourself from a reality-based culture it it accelerates a world where lies become true
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where facts and opinions are interchangeable uh where you believe what you want to believe uh and that of course is what fox and is it son is your fox equivalent that's what they're about uh it it's not about it's not about fact and once you cut yourself you know the power of traditional journalism or the importance of traditional journalism and i could spend a whole another morning talking about its shortcomings but the the importance of it is that it
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roots your national discourse and verifiable fact i did a book on the christian right uh called american fascists the christian right and the war on america i was trying to reach out to them and i was in a uh a creationist seminar where they were teaching in missouri and they were teaching christian teachers how to teach the book of genesis well there are a couple problems as a former seminarian with genesis as factual history perhaps the first one
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being that the writers of genesis thought the earth was flat the second one being that god created a light on the first day and the sun on the fourth day and this was a problem that the teachers were being told to overcome by telling the these boys and girls that god created a temporary light now there's nothing in genesis to suggest that god created temporary light but it's in the details that you see the disconnect from from the reel and in the midst of this talk uh this teacher goes off on a
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tirade against the new york times and i'm sure i was the only new york times reader in the room um but it was a it was a window for me into you know as a liberal paper it's not about liberalism the new york times is not a liberal newspaper it's about that issue of of retaining a discourse and verifiable fact which they must destroy and that as erin points out really is the bedrock for totalitarian systems once you sever discourse from verifiable facts
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thank you okay starting with the lineup on the right here thank you for a truly inspiring uh kick to my my day probably my life um can you please speak to what's been going on in iceland uh oh oh just to prime the pump a bit i'm to understand that um the people in iceland actually did what you're encouraging us to do um sorry i didn't mean to i don't know the situation in iceland
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very well um uh i mean other than that and other than the fact that they have managed to re-kick start their economy because of it um but i i can't i don't have any particular real insight into iceland okay thank you okay the you're lonely at that microphone so here you go i'll still keep it short though um my question um is largely focusing on an issue i'm constantly struggling with concerning scale when you're talking
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about organizing this defiance and seeing how it needs to express itself as people but but i feel we always sort of frame it in this context of nationalism and we just sort of default to that and and some people want to stretch beyond and talk in this global but often people in the street that's such a local that's such a place based sort of phenomenon so can you speak with this defiance how do we make it as effective efficient and connected as possible do we default to national bigger smaller
53:54
well you know at the in the first week in zuccotti it was interesting the composition including people who on their own had come over from spain uh and other places to to uh essentially give the organizers of hukadi their own experience and and spell out their own uh failings and what had gone wrong um and i and and i know that there's a lot of communication between the occupy movement and other movements
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globally so i think that that this movement is in many ways a global movement uh it you know you know nationalism i know as a work correspondent is a disease and um you know i watched it after 9 11. i mean the for me the greatest tragedy of 9 11 is that you know we had garnered the empathy of the world including the muslim world where i was covering al qaeda at the time
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uh and and the you know you don't fight terrorism and terrorists have been with us since solas wrote about it in the jakartan wars i mean you bought through conventional military force you fight terrorist groups or radical groups by isolating them within their own society and we had we had essentially achieved that and yet we drank deep from that very dark elixir of nationalism and nationalism is not only always about self-exaltation
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but it is a racism it's about the denigration of the other so you know if we had had the courage to be vulnerable we would be far more secure and safer today than we are and and so nationalism is i think as you correctly point out is a deeply pernicious and dangerous ideology or force because it essentially renders you deaf dumb and blind and destroys the capacity for empathy
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so the more nationalism creeps into these movements the more distorted and finely deformed they'll become thank you over here yeah from my perspective this is the microphone on the left but we won't argue about that i just want to say mr hedges as far as i'm concerned i want to thank you i think you are the prophet amos of our 21st century thank you very much okay well how about how about a question from this side hello first of all a great talk i really
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enjoyed it my a concern that often come up comes up for me is like you quickly mentioned at the issues of the climate crisis in terms of this but i still feel like often in the discourse we always kind of like mention it and then kind of veer back into our own like human dramas um and then it's also tied to um i have a question about so you said you criticized the black bloc because of not like it should be non-violent which i agree with definitely in terms of human life and like i'm not so prone
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myself to throw a brick into a window kind of thing but that's different but more i think is my question is in terms of the environmental crisis so there's people out there that are arguing like yeah it would be better if we could do everything in terms of like dealing with ourselves but it's so unstoppable like all the dams and nuclear power like i'm wondering what you think of violence towards property in terms of stopping environmental crisis well this i've had a few debates with derek jensen about
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precisely this issue i mean my only fear is that once you start using plastic explosives people get hurt i would say that the issue of the of climate change is is is separate from the issue of the black block because for me the black bloc is the mechanism by which the security and surveillance state will seek to sever these movements from the mainstream by frightening them away and and uh and that is the goal because these are
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mainstream movements uh the issue of um i mean i think that that a realistic understanding of power would have to say that there is no way to stop the fossil fuel industry from killing us given the current political configurations which is why i've invested so much time in the occupy movement in an attempt to build mass movements that seek to thwart their power
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but i don't i don't i mean with the you know with the pipeline obama is now you know drilling in ways even sarah palin didn't imagine um it's really truly terrifying and and utterly suicidal uh and i just having spent so much of my life around violence i i understand the poison that it is that even when you employ violence in what is purportedly a just cause it
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contaminates you and that was true in the war in el salvador it was true in sarajevo it's true everywhere i've been um so for me violence is always tragic and yet i'm not a pacifist i was in sarajevo when it was being hit with 2000 shells a day uh constant sniper fire four to five dead a day two dozen wounded a day when i got there in 95 45 foreign reporters had been killed um and we all knew that if you if you know
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the serbs broke through that trench system that had been built around the city a third of the city would be slaughtered and the rest would be driven into displacement in refugee camps and that wasn't hypothetical because that's what had happened in vuca farm you know the drina valley and other places that the serbs have taken over and yet that didn't free the defenders of sarajevo from the contamination of violence uh so that the first defenders of the city all were all gangsters cello and they all came out of the criminal class so um i've seen how and you know when i
01:00:16
went to el salvador in the early 80s the death squads were killing between 700 and a thousand people a month so one understands with that level of violence why people would react violently and i don't it's not certainly beyond the realm of imagination that as things deteriorate the security and surveillance state would react on that level but i'm desperately hoping that we can do everything in the interim to prevent that and can do it non-violently thank you
01:00:48
okay i look i don't know if it's left or right maybe it's west and east but uh you're next all right good morning first of all i like to say i deeply admire what uh yourself and people like professor chomsky are doing going around giving public talks um which segues into my question i think are we getting off the hook a little bit in this room i think that we do we is there a responsibility as chomsky wrote in the late 60s there of the intellectual to engage with the public yes and i and i think that um you know
01:01:22
and i i i i don't i'm not going to go after canadian intellectuals because there's more of them in this room than uh but let me talk about american intellectuals they don't engage and that cowardice i when we did the uh i love cornell and and we we did the people's hearing of goldman sachs uh we cornell and i went in the night before uh and uh you know we did all the organizing with the occupy
01:01:54
committee and then cornell and i went out to dinner and cornell leaned across the table and he goes where are all these so-called intellectuals and that's a good question where are they and cornell goes you know they're all too busy and uh it's american universities and i've taught it some of them have become completely corporatized people retreat into their very arcane disciplines you know i have a kind of deep dislike of marxian
01:02:30
literary theory which is unreadable and meant to be unreadable um i and i think it's it's just you know there are all sorts of mechanisms by which people can make them feel themselves feel morally and intellectually superior without actually having any effect at all on the wider society and and and that has certainly become a safe way to retain your position at a university i mean we use the system of tenure but what we forget is that
01:03:01
people are completely conditioned by the time they get tenure and i went to graduate school and saw the process and so it is sort of deeply disturbing how complicit the academy is in uh in the solidification of of the corporate state um and you know it's it's careerism there's a really great memoir of the holocaust called prisoner of fear published in 1948 by an austrian doctor
01:03:33
who had smuggled jews out of austria and then been caught and sent to auschwitz and she becomes a doctor in the women's section of the camp and she writes profiles of mengele and all the nazi leadership and she said most of them didn't believe any of it it was all careerism i mean careerism becomes really you know a disempowering disease and um eichmann as well i guess yeah yeah and and so um yeah i've been deeply deeply disappointed with
01:04:04
with the academy and you have a few figures like chomsky or cornell but boy you can pretty much run them up on one hand yeah thank you over to this side um as a jewish academic i'd like to first of all mention um my palestinian colleague dr yusuf abdulhaqq who's currently under administrative detention since december and which was prolonged twice now already my question is would you care to elaborate on the theory of direct democracy as an alternative to a
01:04:36
liberal representative democracy um yeah um you know i i watched the whole evolution in zuccotti and um i really came away with a great admiration for krupakan um because krupatkin and he had started out of course as an animal behaviorist he krupatkin made two i think really important observations his first contribution being that it's not survival of the fittest uh it is survival of those who cooperate and he talks about herds you know when you get a wounded animal in the herd
01:05:07
protects it but then he also talks about tribal society and he said consensus never seems to work once you get above a group of 150. uh and in order for consensus to continue those groups that swell above 153 foreign tend to break off and form smaller groups that still can continue to operate in a consensus fashion and that's precisely what happened at zuccotti consensus worked when the numbers were low by the time you were pulling four or
01:05:38
five thousand people into a general assembly consensus was paralysis and and i think that krupatkin's right that consensus doesn't work with numbers that large uh especially when as and i'm sure you're familiar with the system of governance that went on in zukata you give any group or any uh individual within uh that assembly the possibility of a block um and and they lost control of the park
01:06:08
at the end because of that um so i'm all for direct democracy but it at least from what i saw in new york it it doesn't work on a really large scale but uh what about the federal principle of prodoms the federation of federations as an extension extrapolation of that uh i i i you know more about it than i do i don't i'm not sure i can answer that question i'll go back and read product okay we have time unfortunately for just
01:06:40
one more question in the room as i mentioned uh chris will be signing books outside so those of you who are waiting at the microphones perhaps can take it up one to one with him afterwards so please hello uh my question also deals with the role of intellectuals and sort of dealing with uh global issues and activism and more specifically the social sciences do you have any advice for particularly those who are in charge of the social science system senior
01:07:10
administrators and senior faculty for how they can nurture the kind of intellectual activity that might help uh contribute to the overall discussion yeah the you can't teach people to be moral um you have to be moral uh my great mentor that harvard was
01:07:43
a man named james luther adams who in 1935 in 1936 went to germany to study the nazis of course were in power he dropped out of the university of heidelberg and worked with neymar and bonhoeffer and albert schweitzer and carl bart in the underground confessing church until he was picked up by the gestapo and interrogated and deported and um i remember adams telling me you know if the nazis took over america
01:08:14
tomorrow uh 60 of the harvard faculty would happily begin their lectures with a nazi salute and i and i think you know going back to uh that memoir prisoner of fear that i mentioned which unfortunately had one printing in 1948 you'll have to get it out of the rare book room um it is careerism it is that you know you know what uh melro calls that process of building a monument to yourself uh and i i we just you know
01:08:47
to pick a small example uh you know i've been i speak at union theological seminary and there's been some problems with the president of union and the students have been great and have organized and held meetings and and the faculty is out the door now here's an institution that purports to teach ethics and morality and yet even within the institution they won't stand up for an issue of justice uh and i think that that in in disempowers and discredits
01:09:20
you know i think that um uh you know i i the the the figures who actually hold fast i had another great professor christopher stendle uh who uh was the dean of the divinity school and who had called for the ordination of women in the lutheran church before women were ordained and he was one of the finalists to be the bishop of stockholm and when he got to the airport for his interview the swedish press ambushed him and said well
01:09:52
bishop stendall how do you feel about a church that doesn't ordain women how do you feel about any sort of church that doesn't ordain women doesn't deserve to call itself christian well he was out the door he ended up becoming years later the bishop of stockholm but i think for those of us who was his students that was probably more important in many ways than augustine or anything else that he taught us and um careerism like nationalism is a disease uh i think that
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that living the moral life means that inevitably you will clash with whatever institution you work for and as paul tillich correctly pointed out all institutions including the church are inherently demonic and that means that we have to be willing to number one never allow any institution to define us and number two deep six our own career um and you know and the academy
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is not any better or worse but but that that kind of subservience to career uh you know makes possible what kant calls radical evil i'm really glad you asked this question because uh here we are in the middle of a congress of the humanities and social sciences and part of our challenge is to demonstrate what the worth to society is of the work that uh that we do the research and teaching that we do if you look at the screen you'll see
01:11:27
that there are three themes that we have traditionally associated with the voigtron lecture series transform inspired challenge starting really with the governor general's talk big thinking talk on on saturday and continuing through margaret atwood's talk and today chris's talk i think we also have to add the word engage and engage scholarship is is also crucial but for now please join me in thanking
01:11:56
chris hedges for us

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