…this post by Morris Berman might help explain why:
“Under the Republicans, man exploits man. With the Democrats, just the opposite is true.”
—American bumper sticker
…chronicling the collapse of the American mind has become something of a national pastime, way beyond the mild banter of Jay Leno’s street interviews. For example, Newsweek recently gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test (“How Dumb Are We?,” Newsweek, March 20), and it turned out that 29% couldn’t name the vice president; 73% couldn’t say why we fought the Cold War (official version, that is); 44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights; and 6% were not able to circle Independence Day on a calendar. Another study, conducted two years ago by the European Journal of Communication, turned up the fact that 42% of Americans were not able to identify the Taliban (by comparison, only 25% of the Brits couldn’t do it). Newsweek’s summary of all this is not exactly any great intellectual breakthrough, either: “The country’s future is imperiled by our ignorance.” No shit, Sherlock.
…severe income inequality and widespread stupidity were crucial factors in the decline of Rome, and the same applies to the decline of our own empire. And other factors, of course, can be added to this list. But the interesting thing about social analyses of this sort, i.e. diagnoses of our civilizational collapse—and this is something I have pointed out again and again, in articles and lectures and interviews—is the obsessive habit of American optimism that befuddles our ability to draw the obvious conclusion. One author after another will weigh in with massive data on our political, social, economic, and cultural disintegration, and then at the eleventh hour pull a rabbit out of a hat and assure us that with the application of enough effort and right attitudes, we can turn this situation around. Rutgers historian David Greenberg, in a recent essay in the New York Times Book Review (“No Exit,” March 20), says of the genre of American social criticism, “Practically every example of that genre, no matter how shrewd or rich its survey of the question at hand, finishes with an obligatory prescription that is utopian, banal, unhelpful or out of tune with the rest of the book.”
“We must embrace [writes Chris Hedges], and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem…. We must rebuild radical socialist movements that demand that the resources of the state and the nation provide for the welfare of all citizens and the heavy hand of state power be employed to prohibit the plunder by the corporate power elite. We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished.”
Uh…who, exactly, is “we”? The sixty million white underclass folks who regularly vote against their own interests? (On this see Joe Bageant’s brilliant memoir, Rainbow Pie.) The 44% of the American public who don’t know what the Bill of Rights is? The 77% of the Oklahoma public school students who can’t identify George Washington? The overwhelming majority of the population that is being economically squeezed half to death, and can only think in terms of how to individually get out from between a rock and a hard place? And in such a context, what does “must” mean, really? I mean, none of this is going to happen, as all of us know.
…For the truth is now manifest, and Chris simply cannot be unaware of it: we shall not embrace a radical new ethic of simplicity (which was something of a fad in the seventies); we shall not rebuild radical socialist movements (which historically were pretty feeble to begin with); and we shall certainly not vanquish corporate capitalism. What could be more obvious? Americans have neither the will nor the interest nor the intellectual/emotional resources to accomplish any of these things; and if anything radical does occur within the next decade or so, we can be sure that it will come from the political right. Indeed, as Chris himself has pointed out on a number of occasions, this latter trend is already underway. To live in truth at this point means to understand that all of the healthy options for the United States were foreclosed long ago. Utopian impulses are fine, but only when there is some possibility of their being realized.
And lest this extended riff of quotation seem like America-bashing, I assert that Canada is walking hand in hand with our neighbours to the south, singing the same idiotic songs…