Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion | The New School

Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion | The New School

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I'd like to thank the New School's creative writing Department Department of Media Studies and the virilis Center for art and politics for co-sponsoring this event I'd also like to thank Pam Tillis in the office of public programs for her support and finally I thank you to democracy now and the new school audiovisual Department for recording this lecture and of course thank you to Rachel and Nick for assisting in their setup of the facilities here the new school is honored to host writer and journalist Chris Hedges who comes to our
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school at an interesting time in which both this very academic institution in the liberal intelligentsia of which it presumably counts itself apart grapples with it's powerless identity that continues to accept and support our growing war economy each week my colleagues and I look forward to reading mr. hedges lecture excuse me column on TruthDig comm this week's column why liberals are useless hits right at the core of this identity crisis mr. hedges
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writes liberals are a useless lot they're defeated and self-absorbed their cynicism as a cloak for their cowardice and impotence they use inaction and empty moral posturing not to affect change but to engage in an orgy of self adulation and self-pity the gravest danger we face as a nation is not from the far right but from a bankrupt liberal class that has lost the will to fight and the moral courage to stand up for what are the spouses Hedges unapologetically asked at what point do
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we stop being dormant at what point do we fight back we may lose if we step outside of the mainstream but at least we salvage our self esteem and integrity mr. hedges words have been published in the nation mother jones harper's and the new york times where his correspondence from the middle east won him the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for explanatory journalism and an amnesty international global award for human rights journalism but mr. hedges his career the New York Times would be short-lived when in 2003
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hedges delivered a commencement address in Illinois where he criticized the US invasion of Iraq mr. hedges argued we are embarking on an occupied that if history is any guide we'll be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige power and security members of the audience booed and jeered him although some applauded hedges microphone was cut twice and two young men even rushed the stage to prevent him from speaking subsequently the New York Times criticizes statements and the
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editors demanded hedges see speaking about the Iraq war hedges refusing to accept such restrictions left the New York Times to become a senior fellow at the nation Institute where he now writes and teaches at Princeton hedges his books I don't believe in atheist American fascists the Christian Right in the war on America losing Moses on the freeway war is a force that gives us meaning and now Empire of illusion challenged and provoked in war is a force that gives us meaning hedges describes war as the most potent
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narcotic invented by humankind subsequently as war poverty and conflict escalate as we learn an empire of illusion and increasingly disjointed an intoxicated population will seek comfort in celebrity culture trivial gossip pseudo events and illusion thus it seems at both war and the illusions we exalt work in tandem to destroy what it means to be an engaged and informed citizenry now here to talk more on this the new school is very proud to welcome mr.
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Chris Hedges Thank You Nick and I want to first salute all those students at the new school who were not asleep in standing up to their president and I hope that campaign is not over secondly I want to remind anyone who hasn't heard or has heard about the event on December 12th 11 o'clock in the
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morning next Saturday Lafayette Park in front of the White House anti-war protest demonstration which I will be speaking at Senator Mike Gravel will be speaking at Dennis Kucinich will be speaking at Cynthia McKinney will be speaking at and as snick read and you can read that column on TruthDig today I think that line has been crossed by Barack Obama and it is
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time for all of us to step out of the mainstream to give up on the Democratic Party which has betrayed us and in particular betrayed the working class and fight for what is left of our anemic democracy in celebrity culture we destroy what we worship the commercial exploitation of Michael Jackson's death was orchestrated by the corporate forces
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that rendered Jackson insane Jackson robbed of his childhood and surrounded by vultures that preyed on his fears and weaknesses was so consumed by self-loathing he carved his african-american face into a Caucasian death mask he hid his apparent pedophilia behind a Peter Pan illusion of eternal childhood he could not disentangle his public and his private
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self he became a commodity a product one to be sold used and manipulated he was infected by the moral nihilism and personal disintegration that is at the core of our corporate culture and his fantasies of eternal youth delusions of majesty and desperate disfiguring quests for physical transformation or an expression of our own yearning he was a reflection
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of us in the extreme his memorial service a variety show with a coffin at an average of 31 point 1 million television viewers it was the final episode of the long-running michael jackson series the stories that enthrall us are real-life stories early Fame wild success and then a long bizarre and macabre emotional train wreck Oh Jay
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Simpson offered a tamer version of the same plot so does Britney Spears and Tiger Woods Jackson by the end was heavily in debt and had weathered a 22 million-dollar out-of-court settlement to Geordie Chandler as well as seven counts of child sexual abuse and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent in order to commit a felony Jackson reflected back to us our own
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physical and psychological disintegration especially with many Americans struggling with overwhelming debt loss of status and deep personal confusion the lurid drama of Jackson's personal life meshed with the ongoing dramas in television in movies in the news news reports on television our many dramas they provide a star a villain a
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supporting cast a good-looking host in a dramatic if often unexpected ending in Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury's novel about a future dystopia people spend most of the day watching giant television screens that show endless scenes of police chases and criminal apprehensions life Bradbury understood once it was packaged scripted given a narrative and filmed
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became the most compelling form of entertainment and Jackson was a great show he deserved a great finale those who created Jackson's public persona and turned him into a piece of property first as a child and finally as a corpse encased in a $15,000 golden casket are the agents publicist promoters
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script writers advertisers video technicians recording executives public announcers and television news personalities who orchestrate the vast stage of celebrity for profit they are the puppet masters no one achieves celebrity status no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries the producers at the
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Staples Center in Los Angeles made sure the 18,000 810 DS and television audience and even the BBC devoted three hours to the tribute watched a funeral that was turned into another maudlin form of uplifting popular entertainment the memorial service for Jackson was a celebration of celebrity there was the queasy site of groups of children including his own singing over the
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coffin Brooke Shields fighting back tears recalled how she and a 33 year old Jackson who always maintained that he was a straight male broke into Elizabeth Taylor's room the night before her wedding because Michael was too excited to wait until morning to see the wedding gown shields and Jackson at Taylor's wedding then quote pretended to be the mother and father of Elizabeth Taylor it sounds weird she'll said but we made it real there
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were photo montages in which a shot of Michael Jackson shaking hands with Nelson Mandela was immediately followed by one of him with Kermit the Frog celebrity culture reduces all of the famous to the same level fame is its own denominator and every anecdote told about Jackson seemed to confirm that when you spend your life as a celebrity
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you have no idea who you are and yet we measure our lives by these celebrities we seek to be like them we emulate their look and behavior we escape the messiness of real life through the fantasy of their stardom we too long to attract admiring audiences for our grand ongoing life movie we try to see ourselves moving through our life as a camera would see us mindful of how we
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hold ourselves how we dress what we say we invent movies that play inside our heads with us as stars we wonder how an audience would react celebrity culture has taught us almost unconsciously to generate interior personal screenplays we have learned ways of speaking and thinking that grossly disfigure the way we relate to the world and those around us kneel Gabler who has written wisely
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about this argues that celebrity culture is not a convergence of consumer culture and religion so much as a hostile takeover of religion by consumer culture Jackson desperately feared growing old he believed he could manipulate race and gender he transformed himself through surgery and perhaps female hormones from a brown-skinned african-american male to
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a choc faced and drogyn s figure with no clear sexual identity and while he pushed these boundaries to the extreme he only did what many Americans do there were 12 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed last year in the United States they were performed because in America most human beings rich and poor famous and obscure have been conditioned to view themselves as
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marketable commodities they are objects like consumer products they have no intrinsic value they must look fabulous and live on fabulous sets they must remain young they must achieve notoriety and money or the illusion of it to be a success and it does not matter how they get their celebrity culture licences a dark voyeurism into other people's
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humiliation pain weakness and betrayal education building community honesty transparency and sharing are qualities that will see you ridiculed and voted off any reality show fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting Fame elect to disappear the unwanted in the final credits of the reality show America's Next Top Model a picture of the woman expelled during the
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episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen those cast aside become at least to the television audience non persons celebrities that can no longer generate publicity good or bad vanish life these shows teach is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention and our self exaltation permit
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suss to humiliate those who oppose us those who win are the best those who lose deserve to be erased those who fail those who are deemed ugly weak or poor are belittled and mocked human beings are used betrayed and discarded in a commodity culture which is pretty much the story of Jackson's life the cult of
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the self with Jackson embodied dominates our culture this cult has within it the classic traits of Psychopaths superficial charm grandiosity and self-importance a need for constant stimulation a penchant for line deception and manipulation and the incapacity for remorse or guilt Jackson from his phony marriages to the
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portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys had all these qualities and this is also the ethic promoted by corporations it is the ethic of unfettered capitalism it is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement mistaken for individualism are the same as democratic
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equality it is the celebration of image over substance we have a right in the cult of the self to get whatever we desire we can do anything even belittle and destroy those around us including our friends to make money to be happy and to become famous once fame and wealth are achieved they become their own justification their own morality how one gets there is
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irrelevant it is this perverted ethic that gave us Wall Street bankers and investment houses that willfully trashed the global economy stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college the heads of these corporations like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed walked
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away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation the ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity but the tantalizing illusions offered by our consumer culture are vanishing as we head towards collapse the ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone the jobs we are
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shedding are not coming back as Lawrence Summers tacitly acknowledges when he talks of a jobless recovery the belief that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has been exposed as a fraud freedom can no longer be conflated with the free market and the travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle
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class especially as unemployment insurance runs out class warfare once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism is returning how will we cope with our decline will we cling to the absurd dreams of imperial power and the fantasies of a glorious tomorrow or will we responsibly
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face our stark new limitations will we heed those who are sober and rational those who speak of a new simplicity and whom in an age of imperial as well as material decline or will we follow the demagogues and charlatans who rise up in moments of crisis to offer fantastic visions of new glory will we radically transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and
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fosters the common good that defies the corporate state that dismantles Empire or will we employ the brutality and technology of our internal security and surveillance apparatus to crush dissent and drive us into a new Dark Age in his book democracy incorporated Sheldon Wolin who taught political philosophy at Berkeley and later at Princeton uses the phrase inverted totalitarianism to
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describe our political system inverted totalitarianism unlike classical totalitarianism does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader it finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state it purports to cherish democracy patriotism and the Constitution while manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic process political candidates are elected
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in popular votes by citizens but are beholding to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who authored the legislation and get the legislators to pass it a corporate media controls nearly everything we read watch or hear it imposes a bland uniformity of opinion it diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip in classical totalitarian regimes such as Nazi fascism or Soviet Communism
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economics was subordinate to politics under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true woolen rights economics dominates politics and with that domination comes different for forms of ruthlessness the Obama brand offers us an image that appears radically individualistic and new this image inoculates us from seeing that the
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old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country brand Obama is about being happy consumers we are entertained we feel hopeful we like our president we believe he is like us but like all branded products spun out from the manipulative world of corporate advertising we are being duped into doing and supporting a lot of things
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that are not in our interest what for all our faith and hope has the Obama brand given us his administration has spent lent or guaranteed twelve point eight trillion in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street and insolvent banks in a doomed effort to reinflates our bubble economy a tactic that at best for stoles catastrophe and will leave us broke in a time of profound crisis brand Obama has
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allocated nearly 1 trillion dollars in defense related spending and the continuation of our doomed imperial project in Iraq where military planners now estimate that some 70,000 troops will remain for the next 15 to 20 years brand Obama has expanded the war in Afghanistan including the use of drones set on cross-border bombing runs into Pakistan's that have left over 700
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civilians dead since Obama took office brand Obama has refused to ease restrictions so workers can organize and because of pressure from the for-profit health care industry will not consider single-payer not for-profit health care for all Americans and brand Obama will not process cute the Bush administration for war crimes including the use of torture and has refused to dismantle Bush's secrecy
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laws or restore habeas corpus corporations which control our politics no longer produce products that are different but brands that are different and brand Obama does not threaten the core of the corporate state any more than did brand george w bush the bush brand collapsed we became immune to its studied folks enos we saw through its artifice and this is a common deflation
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in the world of advertising so we have been given a new obama brand with a an exciting and faintly erotic appeal Benetton and Calvin Klein were the precursors to the Obama brand using ads to associate themselves with risque style and progressive politics it gave their products an edge but the goal as with all brands was to fool passive consumers that a brand is an experience
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the decline of American Empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq it began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan it began when we shifted in the words of the Harvard historian Charles Mayer from an empire of production to an empire of consumption by the end of the Vietnam War when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and
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domestic oil production began its steady inexorable decline we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed we started borrowing to maintain a lifestyle as well as an empire we could no longer afford we began to use force especially in the Middle East to feed our in satiable thirst for cheap oil and the
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bill is now due America's most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization they have dynamited the foundations of our society in the 17th century these speculators would have been hung today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies these corporate forces will never permit real
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reform it would mean their extinction the oil and gas industry will never allow us to achieve energy independence that would devastate their profits real reform would wipe out tens of billions of dollars in weapons contracts it would [ __ ] the financial health of a host of private contractors from Lockheed Martin to Boeing to Northrop Grumman Raytheon Halliburton Blackwater now renamed Z and it would render
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obsolete the existence of the US central command it was Bill Clinton who led the Democratic Party to the corporate watering trough Clinton argued that the party could ditch labor unions no longer a source of votes or power as a political ally workers he insisted would vote Democratic anyway they had no choice it was better he argued to take corporate money and do corporate bidding
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by the 1990s the Democratic Party under Clinton's leadership had virtual fundraising parity with the Republicans today the Democrats get more the legislation demanded by corporations including the North American Free Trade Agreement thrust a knife into the back of the American working class NAFTA was peddled by the Clinton White House as an opportunity to raise incomes and prosperity of the citizens of the United
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States Canada and Mexico NAFTA would also we were told staunch Mexican immigration into the United States but NAFTA which took effect in 1994 reversed every one of Clinton's rosy predictions once the Mexican government lifted price supports on corn and beans grown by Mexican farmers those farmers had to compete against the huge Agra businesses in the United States many Mexican farmers were swiftly
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bankrupt at least two million Mexican farmers have been driven off their land since 1994 and guess where many of them went this desperate flight of poor Mexicans into the United States is now being exacerbated by large-scale factory closures along the border as manufacturers pack up and leave Mexico for China but we were assured that goods would be cheaper workers would be wealthier everyone would be happier I'm
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not sure how these contradictory things were supposed to happen but on a sound by society reality no longer matters NAFTA was great if you were a corporation it was a disaster if you were a worker and we are now getting a taste of Clinton's draconian welfare reform bill signed in 1996 as tens of millions of people faced the prospect of losing their unemployment benefits and
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attempting to survive on a hundred and forty three dollars a month from welfare it was the Clinton administration led by Summers which signed into law the financial services Modernization Act of 1999 the Act ripped down the firewalls that that had been established by the 1933 glass-steagall Act designed to prevent the kind of meltdown we are now experiencing glass-steagall established the Federal Deposit Insurance
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Corporation it's set in place banking reforms to stop speculators from hijacking the financial system with glass-steagall demolished and the passage of NAFTA the Democrats led by Clinton tumbled gleefully into bed with corporations and Wall Street speculators and many of the architects of this deregulation economists such as summers have come back again to service these corporations in the Obama White House
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the cost of our Empire of illusion is not being paid for by corporate Titans it is being paid for on the streets of our inner cities in former manufacturing towns and in depressed rural enclaves human beings are not commodities they are not goods their misery is not the regrettable price of globalization and the free market they grieve and suffer
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and feel despair they raise children and struggle to maintain communities and the growing class divide is not grasped despite the glibness of many in the media by complicated sets of statistics lines on a graph the chart stocks or the absurd utopian faith and unregulated globalization and complicated trade deals it is understood in the eyes of a
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man or woman who is no longer making enough money to live with dignity and hope the growing desperation across the United States is unleashing not simply a recession we have been in a recession for some time now but a depression unlike anything we have seen since the 1930s it has provided a pool of broken people willing to work for low wages and to do without unions or benefits for the
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bottom 90% of Americans annual income has been on a slow steady decline for three decades there are 50 mill in Americans in real poverty and tens of millions of Americans in a category called near poverty and our elites meanwhile manipulate statistics and data to foster illusions of growth and prosperity to mask the damage they refuse to admit at least to us that they
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have lost control since to lose control is to concede failure they contribute instead to the collective denial of reality by insisting that another multi-billion dollar bailout her government loan will prop up the shattered edifice the well paid television pundits and news celebrities The Economist's and the banking and financial sector leaders see the world from inside the comfort of the corporate
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box and they are loyal to the corporate state the assault on the American working class an assault that has devastated members of my own family in the former mill towns in the state of Maine shows no sign of abatement in the past three years nearly one in five US workers was laid off among workers laid off from full-time work roughly one-fourth were earning less than $40,000 a year and there are whole
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sections of the United States that now resemble the developing world there's been a violation of the American working class and the assault on the middle class is underway anything that can be put on software from finance to architecture to engineering can and is being outsourced to workers in countries such as India or China who accept pay a fraction of that of their Western counterparts and work without benefits
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and both the Republican and Democratic parties behold in two corporations for money and power are responsible Washington has become our Versailles the media has evolved into a cloud of courtiers the Democrats like the Republicans are mostly courtiers are pundants academics economists and experts at least those with prominent
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public platforms are courtiers we are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theatre as we are ruthlessly stripped of power the role of courtiers is to parrot official propaganda courtiers do not defy the elite or question the structure of the corporate state the corporations in return employ them and promote them as celebrities or elected officials courtiers and face powder deceive us in the name of
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journalism courtiers and our political parties promise to look out for our interests and then pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse no class of courtiers from the eunuchs behind the Manchus in the 19th century to the Baghdad caliphs in the Abbasid Caliphate has ever transformed itself into a responsible and socially productive class being a courtier
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requires agility and eloquence and the most talented of them should be credited as persuasive actors they entertain us they make us feel good they persuade us they are our friends they are the smiley faces of a corporate state that has hijacked the government and when these corporations make their iron demands these courtiers drop to their knees they placate the telecommunications companies that want
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to be protected from lawsuits they permit oil and gas companies to rake and obscene profits and keep in place the vast subsidies of corporate welfare doled out by the state they allow our profit driven health care system to leave the uninsured and underinsured to suffer and die and over 20,000 Americans died last year they could not get proper medical care
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health care industry like the defense industry profits from death it is legally permitted to hold sick children hostage while their families frantically bankrupt themselves to save their son or daughter any discussion of health care should acknowledge the fact that our for-profit health care system is the problem and must be destroyed only then can we have an honest debate about what
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comes next but this will never happen it will never happen because the industry's money and lobbyists drive the discussion and the court hears in Washington and on the television screens dance to the tune they play America is devolving into a third world nation and if we do not immediately hope our elites rapacious looting of the public treasury and our bizarre state socialism for corporations
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we will be left with trillions in debts which can never be repaid and widespread human misery which we will be helpless to ameliorate our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state the elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security goods and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us and tens of millions of people
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brutally controlled will live in perpetual poverty a state of neo feudalism this is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism the stimulus and bailout plans are not about saving us they are about saving them as the economist Paul Krugman is noted anyone who has seen how economic statistics are constructed knows that
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they are a sub-genre of science fiction this science fiction has been steadily employed to camouflage our economic decline President Ronald Reagan included 1.5 million US Army Navy Air Force and Marine service personnel with the civilian workforce to magically reduce the nation's unemployment rate by two percent President Clinton decided that those who had given up looking for work or those who wanted full-time jobs but
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could only find part-time employment were no longer to be counted as unemployed his trick disappeared some five million unemployed from the official unemployment rolls if you work more than 21 hours a week and most low-wage workers at places like Walmart our average about 28 hours a week you're counted as employed although your real wages put you below the poverty line our
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actual unemployment rate as the Los Angeles Times has pointed out when you include those who have stopped looking for work and those who can only find poorly paid part-time jobs is not 10% but somewhere between 17 and 20 percent 1/6 of the country is now effectively unemployed and we are shedding jobs at a faster rate than in the months after the 1929 crash Franklin Delano Roosevelt
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recognized the danger of unregulated capitalism he sent a message to Congress on April 29 1938 titled recommendations to the Congress to curb monopolies and the concentration of economic power in it he wrote this the first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger
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than the Democratic state itself that in its essence is fascism ownership of government by an individual by a group or by any other can trolling private power the second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way to sustain an acceptable standard of living the rise of the corporate state has grave political consequences as we saw
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in Italy in Germany in the early part of the 20th century and he trusts laws not only regulate and control the marketplace they serve as bulwarks to protect democracy and now that they are gone now that we have a state run by and on behalf of corporations we must expect inevitable and I fear terrifying consequences as the pressure mounts as this despair and desperation reaches
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into larger and larger segments of the populace the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability the emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state and this is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act and its renewal the suspension of habeas corpus the practice of extraordinary rendition warrantless
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wiretapping of American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair elections with verifiable ballot counting the motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security it is to seize and maintain internal control and it is about control of US Senator Frank church as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence in 1975 investigated the government's massive and highly
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secretive National Security Agency he was alarmed at the ability of the state to intrude into private lives he wrote when he finished his investigation that capacity at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left such is the capacity to monitor everything telephone conversations telegrams it doesn't matter there would be no place to hide if this government
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ever became a tyranny if a dictator ever took charge in this country the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government no matter how privately it was done is within the reach of the government to know when senator church made this statement the
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NSA was not authorized to spy on American citizens today it is in his book the great transformation written in 1944 Karl Polanyi laid out the devastating consequences the depressions Wars and totalitarianism that grow out of a so-called self-regulated free market he grasped that fascism like socialism was rooted in a market society
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that refused to function he warned that a financial system always devolved without heavy government control into a mafia capitalism and a mafia political system all traditional standards and beliefs are shattered in a severe economic crisis the moral order is turned upside down the honest and industrious are wiped out while the gangsters profit ears and speculators
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walk away with millions a self-regulating market inevitably turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities a situation that ensures the destruction of both society in the natural world the free markets assumption that nature and human beings are objects whose worth is determined by the market allows each to be exploited for profit until exhaustion or collapse a society
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that no longer recognizes that nature and human life have a sacred dimension an intrinsic value beyond monetary value commits collective suicide such societies cannibalize themselves until they die we face an environmental meltdown that is linked to our economic meltdown polar ice caps are melting sea levels are rising the planet is warming
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at an alarming rate droughts are destroying croplands Russia's northern coastline has begun producing huge quantities of toxic methane gas scientists with the International Siberian shelf study described what they saw along the coastline recently as methane chimneys reaching from the sea floor to the ocean surface methane locked in the permafrost of the Arctic land masses is being released at an
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alarming rate as average arctic temperatures rise methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide the release of millions of tons of it will significantly accelerate the rate of global warming the continued release of large quantities of methane some scientists have warned could actually asphyxiate the human species but even in the face of this crisis the oil and gas
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industry along with the coal industry have blunted any serious environmental reform prophet comes before the urgent task to save the ecosystem on which human life depends our working class which is desperately borrowed money to stay afloat his real wages have dropped now face years maybe decades of stagnant or declining incomes without access to new credit the National Treasury is being drained
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on behalf of speculative commercial interests the government the only institution citizens have that is big enough and powerful enough to protect its rights is becoming weaker more anemic and increasingly unable to help the mass of Americans who are embarking on a period of profound deprivation we have been borrowing at the rate of more than two billion dollars a day over the last ten years and at some point it
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has to end the moment China the oil-rich states and other international festers investors stop buying Treasury bonds and walk away from the dollar which now appears to be under way we will have no choice but to allow the Federal Reserve to buy Treasury bonds in essence printing money and at that point our currency will become junk inflation will rock it upward and we will become vimar Germany a furious and sustained
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backlash by a betrayed and angry populace one unprepared emotionally intellectually and psychologically for collapse will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans it was the economic collapse in Yugoslavia that gaiba gave us slobodan milosevic it was the vie Mar Republic that vomited up Adolf Hitler and it was the breakdown in Czarist Russia that opened the door for Lenin and the Bolsheviks a Kabul of
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proto-fascist misfits from Christian demagogues to loudmouth talk-show hosts who we naively dismiss as buffoons will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal there are powerful corporate entities fearful of losing their influence and wealth arrayed against us these anti-democratic forces which will make an alliance with the radical Christian Right and other
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extremists will use fear chaos a hatred for the ruling elites the specter of left-wing descent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to extinguish our democracy and while they do it they will be waving the American flag chatting patriotic slogans promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross totalitarianism George Orwell pointed out is not so much an age of faith but an age of
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schizophrenia a society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial Orwell warned that is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud and force is soon all our elites will have left and yet mass culture assures us even in the
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midst of catastrophe that if we close our eyes if we visualize what we want if we have faith in ourselves if we tell God that we believe in miracles if we tap into our inner strength if we grasp that we are truly exceptional if we focus on happiness our lives will be harmonious and complete this cultural retreat into illusion whether peddled by
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positive psychologists Hollywood or Christian preachers is a form of magical thinking it turns worthless mortgages and debt into wealth it turns the destruction of our manufacturing base into an opportunity for growth it turns a Leah nation and anxiety into a cheerful conformity it turns a nation that wages illegal Wars and administers offshore penal colonies
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where it openly practices torture into the greatest democracy on earth it is time to fight back against corporate culture in small and large ways coalitions of environmental anti-nuclear anti-capitalist sustainable agriculture and anti-globalization forces have coalesced in Europe to form and support socialist parties this has yet to happen in the United States the left never
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rallied in significant numbers behind Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader and this was our mistake in picking the lesser of two evils he threw its lot in with a Democratic Party that again has proven that it backs our Imperial Wars empowers the national security state does the bidding of corporations and ignores the needs of citizens if Obama does not end the flagrant theft of taxpayer dollars by
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corporations and the disgraceful abandonment of our working class especially as foreclosures and unemployment mount many in the country will turn in desperation to the far right embodied by groups such as Christian radicals the failure by progressives to offer a democratic socialist alternative the only alternative remaining that can save our open society to openly make war on corporate power to continue to back the
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Democratic Party will mean there will be in the eyes of many embittered and struggling working and middle-class Americans no alternative but a perverted Christian fascism I spent two years traveling the country to write a book on the Christian Right called American fascists the Christian Right in the war on America I visited former manufacturing towns where from many the end of the world is no longer an abstraction they have lost hope fear and instability
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has plunged the working class into profound personal and economic despair and not surprisingly into the arms of demagogues in charlatans of the radical Christian Right who offer a belief in magic miracles and the fiction of a utopian Christian name and unless we rapidly Rhian franchise these dispossessed workers back into the economy unless we give them hope our
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democracy is doomed democracies as writers as ancient as Plutarch and Thucydides understood cannot be sustained in oligarchic states we forgot that social reform never comes from accommodating the power structure but from frightening it the Liberty Party which fought slavery the suffragists who battled for women's rights the labor movement and the civil rights movement
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knew that the question was not how do we get good people to rule most of those attracted to power are at best mediocrities and often venal but how do we limit the damage the powerful do to us these mass movements were the real engines for social reform the correctives to our democracy and the true protectors of the rights of citizens we must begin to opt out of the
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mainstream we must rebuild socialism as a viable political force we must no longer be content with the crumbs tossed to us in the vain hope that we can influence the power elite from the inside we must become as militant as those who are seeking our enslavement if we remain passive we will soon be engulfed by a ruthless totalitarian capitalism if we remain passive as we
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undergo the largest transference of wealth upwards in American history we will become serfs if we fight back we have a chance the saturation coverage of Jackson's death was one of many examples of our collective flight into illusion it deflected the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice growing inequalities failing imperial
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wars economic collapse and political corruption as we sink into an economic and political morass as we barrel towards a crisis that will create more misery than the Great Depression we remain controlled manipulated and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the wall of Plato's cave the fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply
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to entertain it is designed to drain us emotionally confuse us about our identity blame ourselves for our predicament conditioned us to chase illusions of impossible Fame and happiness and keep us from fighting back and in the end that is all the Jackson coverage was really about another tawdry and tasteless spectacle to divert a
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dying culture from the baying wolf at the gate thank seventy years ago at about the same time as that quotation you gave us from Roosevelt warning us about corporate culture and non regulation a Sinclair Lewis the novelist wrote a relatively unknown piece called it can't happen here yep I see you nodding already but he can my question actually based in part upon that work of fiction is this evening we are privileged to hear not
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only an indictment but a small message of hope to inform our seyh collective understanding but given the corporate culture and given particularly the pop media how does one get past that if at all that is to say the most popular television shows on cable this week at least on Mondays times were a world wrestling followed by Sponge Bob Squarepants and of course there's always sports what are the options within the
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media per se not all of us reat Ruth dig to get past that continuing illusion that all was right with the world and that it can't happen here well you know I opened the book with professional wrestling and found it a fascinating lens to describe the narratives that make sense within popular culture my grandfather used to watch wrestling
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religiously once a week when the narratives within professional wrestling were built around racism xenophobia they were always battling somebody named the Russian bear or the iron shake or you know the the the person you know who embodied American values always was sort of blond and blue-eyed and and that narratives gone now it's all about personal disintegration infidelities
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sibling rivalries physical abuse nobody there is no good or evil no delineation between good or evil everybody cheats soon as the referee turns their back and I attended of one of these professional wrestling bouts in Madison Square Garden is completely sold out mostly working-class mostly white and these got some of these guys are huge I mean upwards of 500 pounds they're just massive and they played out the
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fantasies of revenge that in real life these people don't have but the narratives were stunning stunningly reflective of what's happening in the country at large there was a whole narrative going that night around a wrestler his name is Shawn Michaels is his wrestling name is the Heartbreak Kid who had been wiped out lost his 401 K throne foreclosed from his house and was now within the grip of evil capitalists
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named JB are you wrestling fans oh and there was there's another long rivalry between a guy who supposedly was a prison guard in Georgia and a former prisoner who he abused physically with in prison who enters the ring in an orange jumpsuit and has post-traumatic stress disorder but suddenly you begin to see within these narratives that personal disintegration that is ripped apart whole communities you rip apart
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communities physically and if you been in Youngstown or you know innumerable I've just spent over a week in Camden New Jersey for Harper's Magazine because per capita is the poorest city in America and when you just destroy the physical possibility of community then you destroy the emotional possibility of community and family and it's not coming back how do we you have to build walls the
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popular culture is so intrusive that you have to physically try and wall it out I learned this in Yugoslavia where the first thing and you know the war on you slavi was not caused by ancient ethnic hatreds was caused by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia 25,000 percent inflation again you know money and paper bags and the first thing the nationalist parties did whether it was Franjo Tudjman us was take over the airwaves
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hey they bombarded you like fox news day in and day out so that you would even question yugoslavs who had great disquiet over what was happening within their own country and yet they spoke in the perverted cliches and jargon by which they were handed its even if you don't agree with the war on terror as soon as you use the phrase the war on terror you're limited in terms of your possibilities of self-expression of
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creating another narrative and I mean that's why I don't own a television and I work as hard as I can to distance myself from the can of popular culture so that I can speak in my own language not the one they give me and that requires reading I mean what is most frightening about American society is that we are shifting from a print-based culture to an image-based culture and we
01:04:26
are confusing how we are made to feel with knowledge confusing propaganda with ideology in totalitarian societies or image-based societies built around image and spectacle so I think consciously shutting out the poison is a is a really important first step this is not intended at all as a hostile question because I'm in great simple I've had many so that's ok no no it's really not I mean I know you're not afraid of it
01:04:57
but I just want to make that clear from my own point of view because I'm really in great sympathy with your argument not just this argument of argument you've made in your other books as well but my question is just what evidence or arguments can you give us to convince us that your prescription for some kind of escape from this horrible scenario for the future is less utopian than the right-wing scenarios which are based on emotion and hope and
01:05:28
fears I'm just you know well because utopianism is a non reality based belief system that's how we got into Iraq having spent seven years in the Middle East being an Arabic speaker many many months of my life in Iraq the idea that we would occupy Iraq and be greeted as liberators that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and emanate outwards across the Middle East that the oil revenues would pay for all the reconstruction was utopian I use the
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word utopian the way Thomas More coined it in 1516 which means no place it doesn't exist you've probably never thought of Dick Cheney as utopian but he is and the culture of illusion the Empire of illusion is failing to recognize the inevitable economic decline it's not just that we can't pay
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for the lifestyles that we are maintaining internally we can't pay for Empire I think by 2010 the federal government will have to pay 92 billion dollars a week to service the debt we're finished and if you look in the Twilight period of any Empire Roman read Cicero austro-hungarian read Joseph Roth Ottoman Empire people fall or even the
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Egyptian Empire for some reason people fall into this collective state of self delusion where they are utterly unable to see the walls literally collapsing around them and and believe in these fantasies of a glorious tomorrow I mean the pyramids were built to immortalize for eternity the Pharaohs at the very moment that the Egyptian Empire disintegrated I mean it's a kind of metaphor that's why the New York
01:07:31
Times goes out and buys a six hundred million dollar office building at the moment it dies there is a it's a kind of psychological I think things are so grim that there becomes a retreat into illusion and what use illusion it's really a state of eternal childishness it's it allow it's in kind of infantile izing of a society and but the danger is that as that the gap or the chasm opens
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up between the illusion and reality eventually it becomes impossible when you're being foreclosed from your home when your unemployment insurance runs out when you are bankrupt because of medical bills it becomes impossible to ignore the reality but if you're not prepared for it then you react as children which is to look for a savior a demagogue to save you from these in a split inexplicable forces that you're
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not prepared for intellectually emotionally or psychologically to confront and that's the danger hope you know I covered Wars for 20 years we didn't use the word pessimist or optimist we took very sober readings of which weapons systems were at the end of that road and what the capacity were of those weapon systems to do us harm and people and I knew them or correspondence that had you know fantasies about immortality usually didn't live very long I've literally had friend knew a
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guy in Sarajevo who painted on the spray painted on the side of his car he did not have an armored I had an armored Savior bullets I'm immortal and he used to make a mad dash across the tarmac separating the airport tarmac separating the besieged city from the next Croatian town to buy cigars I mean it was a foolish buy the cigars come back smoking the cigars and of course the Serb snipers would shoot at him he
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is now today a [ __ ] that that that a sober reading of reality is the best possibility for survival and hope and if we continue within a state of illusion then hope becomes impossible because every decision we make is not reality based and you can see it with the financial disfiguration of the country you know the theory behind pumping this kind of liquidity into the market is that the
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banks and and the and the corporations will then when the money runs out next year put the liquidity into the market well it's very clear that they're doing what all good capitalists would do with our money which is hanging on to it and we're screwed that's and that is an example of an illusion well there is no work there is no working class though I didn't I don't have a belief in a working class movement because we've destroyed our working class and and you know
01:10:48
traditionally social movements have been built around a working class but now we have a new paradigm where nobody has any jobs I mean the working class are people who are working twenty eight hours a week in Walmart and you know as soon as they raise the slightest issue of dissonance with their supervisor Walmart sends their SWAT teams in by jet to make sure they and all the people they've contaminated in the store don't have a job I don't know how we're going to
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build it because it is it's a paradigm that we've not seen before it is it is a paradigm that it's inevitable result is a form of neo feudalism and we're already very far down that road so we have time for a couple more questions and hi thanks a lot for your work I had some question I had a question mainly around what your vision of socialism is that you are say you know that's a good question how would
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suggest one gets there but I also wanted to mention that I see the connection between you know Wars of thing that gives us me and the sort of illusionary things that you're talking yeah now which builds on that that same need yeah anyway I think you're right well I gave a talk at the University of Winnipeg a few weeks ago and thought as usual that I was delivering incendiary and radical message and there was this grim-faced
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group of economics professors after I finished who were there yeah whole economics department was there one of them stood up and said we want to make it clear to everyone in this room that you are nothing but a radical Ken's Ian the economics department at the University of Winnipeg is uniformly Marxist that's Canada for you yeah when I talk about socialism I am a radical Kensi and I talk about Swedish socialism I've lived in France I've lived in
01:12:56
Europe I'm talking about universal health care I'm talking about full employment I'm not talking about I'm not a Marxist I come out of Hana arrant who was a socialist a democratic European socialist Karl Popper I mean these are the Reinhold Niebuhr these are the great foundational moral philosophers for me Upton Sinclair I mean someone mentioned he was a socialist I mean there was a powerful socialist movement in this country but Woodrow Wilson used the Sedition in the Espionage Act and to
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essentially destroy it to strenght to destroy the age of the muckrakers and then after the war with that very swift transition from the hated hunt to the to the Red Scare and it had the twin purpose of promoting war and destroying progressive social movements and I think we have to begin to reclaim those movements because socialism for me is about the common good it's about not throwing your mentally ill on heating grates in the street it's about not
01:14:01
allowing children in your country to go to bed hungry it's about making sure that every American no matter how poor has access to decent decent medical care a public education the chance to go to university I mean my sons at Colgate University cost fifty one thousand dollars a year can you imagine if they tried that in France the French University students would shut the country down we're just you know we're and these kids are
01:14:33
borrowing staggering sums of money and they're not going to get the jobs to repay it and they're probably some in this room and this one more question um last summer I read a book by Marion Wolfe titled a Proust in the squid where she describes what happens to a child that you can learn how to read you know with dyslexia and a whole host of learning disabilities and in that book there's a little passage where she talks about
01:15:05
Socrates and how Socrates you know came from this oral tradition and he was you know railing against you know books and you know talking about how books are gonna come to impoverish the the new culture you know because he he belonged to this oral tradition and he used to build you know think well you know you memorize things and and and your experience with human beings is richer whereas you know you read a book and there's no there's no feedback um now I
01:15:37
don't know anybody would argue that books have not been good for humanity for the past twenty five hundred years I don't not sure that Socrates could have envisioned you know the library at Alexandria and maybe the 42nd Street library here and and you know uh but my question is we're moving you know like you say from a print-based a literate society to an image-based society and I'm wondering you know whether you know we're moving from society that's that's
01:16:09
you know print-based to an electronic society and where is this electronic thing going you know I mean I look at the you know the north and and and in the Kindle and now you have the part you know the power to carry you know sixty books don't think you have time to read sixty books but you have the power to carry it and I'm just wondering if you can make a comment as to you know where where Socrates was criticizing books and where we are now criticizing this electronic image based
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society Socrates fear and Socrates understood in the same way that Jesus understood and st. Francis understood that when moral philosophy becomes written down when it is written down in the words of Steiner it freezes speech it becomes a form of Orthodoxy and that's what terrified
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Socrates that that dialogue that that struggle for the moral life was too ambiguous to ever be codified and of course Socrates greatest disciple Plato was a fascist so he was correctly talking about the danger of taking moral philosophy which is a form of
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questioning and and writing it down so that it became a kind of orthodoxy in terms of the Internet you don't read on the Internet anybody who's ever tried to read a five or ten thousand word piece on the internet if they can do it you print it out the internet is and and you know even if you look at the home page of the New York Times its movement movement
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strobe light flashing when I first came back from overseas to New York one of the hardest things to adjust to was how every all images around me moved and so two three times a week I retreated into the Metropolitan Museum of Art because I could stand and reflect on something that didn't move and you look at my son's generation who are
01:18:48
texting and twittering and listening to music and it it has the capacity to destroy thought thought is done in solitude and silence and we live in a culture where we fear any kind of solitude and we have created such powerful systems of technology and most of us are hallucinating we are completely disconnected from the real from what's real we've created a
01:19:20
virtual reality that we mistake for the real and as somebody who covered war one of the most frustrating things and this is true for veterans or anyone who's come back is that the graphic depictions of violence Saving Private Ryan are so powerful that people think they understand the reality of war so that those of us who have been to war we can't compete against those images we
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can't compete against the lie of those images because those images have made people feel as if they have had an experience but they have been manipulated very skillfully by image makers and turned in a particular direction most people who have been in combat one of the reasons they have such a difficult time speaking about it and the army did a study about combat
01:20:24
veterans army psychologists that said that for soldiers and Marines who had been in combat it was the emotional equivalent to being in a severe car wreck where your best friend is killed that's what wars like and and I don't even in probably live in Princeton I don't even go I don't have with like princeton professors because i can't debate afghanistan i know what 155 howitzer shells do to human bodies i know what iron fragmentation bombs from
01:20:54
f-16s do i know how when a small unit is pinned down a first lieutenant has the capacity to utterly obliterate an entire village within a matter of my know all those realities and i can't convey it under the absurd rubric that we're liberating the women of taliban as if once you use the instrument of industrial violence there is such a thing as human rights and when you talk about the intrusion or the power of
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pseudo events and images the internet and handheld devices have become tools which if misused make it impossible to think and cut us off from what's real and we have to be very very careful with these technologies it's one of the reasons why I have sent all my kids including my daughter who wasn't happy about it for seven weeks up on the
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allagash where there was no computer no cell phone seven weeks sleeping on the ground portaging canoes so at least she stopped because that's the real world that's the real world and that's the world that if we we don't stand up these corporations are literally going to kill thank you very much thank you

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