2011, Books, Non-Fiction

Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

I agree with much of what Hedges has to say (excepting his chapter on Porn, see below) but I don’t agree with the way he says it or many of his claims about the “what” that he has identified as destroying the US.

Yes, the US is clearly headed for worse times, and this is definitely in part a result of celebrity culture, imperial pretensions, massive discrepancies in wealth and other things he points out. But between American Fascists and this Hedges has gone from reasonable to near-hysterical. (Here he is not quite the absolutely hysterical columnist of Truthdig just yet.) Passages of well-researched or well-backed, astute claims and observations are interwoven with “Oh my god the corporations!!!!” and other such nonsense befitting of far worse authors.

A selection of problems:

  • The chapter on porn completely ignores a huge section of the porn industry that is not about degrading women. Moreover, by focusing on the slim minority of people who actually attend porn conventions, Hedges is hardly looking at a typical cross section of the populace who watch porn regularly.
  • Systems are not people and do not require things or want things or what have you. Yes, that impression is often given but it is intellectually dishonest to claim that the economic system itself is attempting to do anything.
  • Hedges claims that there was a better time in America – alternatively indicated as pre-Vietnam and pre-Reagan – and yet one of his main bases for his claims of a corporate elite is C. Wright Mills’ work of the 1950s, when Hedges doesn’t seem to believe such elites really existed. So is Mills’ right or not? (Incidentally, Mills’ work is not widely accepted within the political science community because Mills’ work is, like Hedges, almost entirely polemical).
  • I could go on but that should suffice.

Much of what Hedges says is alarming and disturbing and Hedges passion is admirable but he is preaching to the converted. In order to affect change, surely Hedges needs to come off as more reasoned, so those who don’t already agree with him, or who are inclined to think of him as a “socialist, ” “communist” or other American dirty word, might actually consider what he is saying and attempt to act on it.


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