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Herbert and Hedges and how they are wrong.

March 28, 2011

In his final column for the New York Times, “Losing Our Way” Bob Herbert seemed rather spiritually depressed.

“The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.” … “There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles.”

Can’t say as I blame him, or don’t understand his sadness. And yet his disappointment is centered on unrealistic expectations of economic equality as if economic equality, a chimera, was the key to both happiness and virtue. Of course money has very little to do with either except perhaps in inverse proportion. This is not to make light or be dismissive of poverty. The right and entitlement of all creatures to sustenance, housing and in the case of humans, education and health care should be seen as natural rights, the gifts of god, if you will. (Luke 9:58 paraphrase “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the sons and daughters of mankind have nowhere to lay their heads.”)

Yet it is not the rich only who behave like greedy children. The rich are wealthy precisely because they have been able to ‘seize virtually all the marbles’. It’s the seizing that makes them rich. It is the seemingly genetic tendency to accumulate as much as possible for oneself. It is something that virtually everyone does to the best of their ability, and no one wants their government or their religion saying they can’t.

But this is not about a defense of the rich or an excuse for greed. If one is going to lament that America has lost its way, one should ask what the American Way is. Historically, the American Way is the well-traveled road of expropriation, resource exploitation, slavery, genocide and more recently, a cultural and military imperialism that denies its fundamentally violent character while extolling and employing devastating violence. There have been many notable voices opposed to this American Way, Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau to name just two, but these are always individuals, exiled in the artistic gulag. I suppose we could mention the Amish and the Shakers, but those are isolated religious sects. No, if we are going to avoid the depression of false and unrealistic expectations, then we must accept that the American Way to the American Dream is thoroughly avaricious and rapacious.

I have some sympathy for Mr. Herbert. It’s hard to leave what you’ve done for a long time, hard to leave a position that by its very nature defines what you believe and to some extent, who you are.

I have no such sympathy for Christopher Hedges, who in his most recent and most ridiculous commentary for Truthdig “The Collapse of Globalization” makes the silly assertion that unrest in the Middle East, Brittan, Greece, Ireland and Wisconsin presages the collapse of globalization.

He then continues:

“We must embrace, and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem—especially the climate—or we will all be holding on to life by our fingertips. 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.” C. Hedges

Well of course we must embrace a radical new [sic] ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem. But does anyone in their right mind believe that radical socialist movements employing the heavy hand of the state will either protect our environment or prohibit plunder by elites? Socialism is about carrying on the same kind of industrialism and economic expansionism that capitalism requires while simply slicing off enough of the economic growth to provide better social services to its working-class. Not that I object to that, I’m all in favor of proper social services, of course. But socialism does not have the answer to the fundamental problems of industrial production and technological advancement. Socialism does not put an end to economic disparity, it just mitigates it. More importantly, Socialism has no answer to industrialism or to technology. It is industrial production that is killing the planet and it is technology that relentlessly decreases the value of labor. Socialism is a better (much better) political system than unregulated capitalism, but it can’t solve the critical problems of the 21st century.

No, rather than signaling the end of globalism, what we’re seeing in the current unrest is the positive effects of globalism. Not the falsely labeled and limited globalism of ‘free-trade’ economists that Hedges cites, but the unintended consequences of globalism. The communication technology (developed by the U.S. military and deployed worldwide by corporations) is being used to globalize popular information, and that information is being used to collapse false nation-states. The despotic and artificial ones are collapsing first, naturally. But even the well-established order of nations in Europe and the U.S. is being undermined by the same information technology. It is a process that the composer John Cage mirthfully described as “governments being embarrassed out of existence.” The nation-state is becoming increasingly inefficient and detrimental to both the global economy and to local survival. Its previous role in forging a common identity is being supplanted by cultural identities not bound by national borders (positive), or in a throwback to the so-called ‘middle ages’ fundamentalist religious identities (negative). Unable to regulate forces more powerful than themselves, the nation-states only remaining function, that of the police state, is rapidly decreasing in value to global economic entities, as it is impossible to maintain a positive public image while massacring local populations as the rest of the world is watching.

We are witnessing what happens when people have the ability to actually think globally and act locally. The problem for Hedges is that he’s a writer, a professional writer, and writers must write about what they know or they don’t make a living. The words and political ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries will not apply to the 21st. There is no word for what comes next, and pretending to know what it is is just that, pretense.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 8:13 pm

    No, rather than signaling the end of globalism, what we’re seeing in the current unrest is the positive effects of globalism. Not the falsely labeled and limited globalism of ‘free-trade’ economists that Hedges cites, but the unintended consequences of globalism. The communication technology (developed by the U.S. military and deployed worldwide by corporations) is being used to globalize popular information, and that information is being used to collapse false nation-states.

    I love this! I actually think this collapse was the intended consequence of globalization…what left-ish proponents of the idea (like Al Gore with the Interwebz) were really after.

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