“The indifference to the plight of others and the supreme elevation of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. It uses fear, as well as hedonism, to thwart human compassion,” writes Chris Hedges in his feature article published in the latest issue of Adbusters magazine. He writes about his perception of the U.S. as a corporately-controlled state, a world power in which we and our politics are slaves to corporate interest. Quoting philosopher Sheldon Wolin: “The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.” A sorry showcase, indeed. Hedges laments our situation as one in which we have little to no power, where the status quo is already set and maintained by those with money. We can only stand by and watch as they fail, flailing to grasp onto the shards of their former glory. We could fight, but what’s the use when they control the banks, the media, the very government itself? It is a complete failure of our political and economic systems, brought about by mismanagement and power lust.
We are a generation with no direction. Raised by TV, educated with corporate money, placed as a cog in an economic drivetrain, and spoon-fed the ideals of middle-class consumerism, we are the children of “truth through advertising.” Our national leader is a political brand. Our ethics are wrapped up in how we consume. We are sheep circling a drain.
Solutions are few and far between. Though he denies any fraternity with those purporting violent, anarchic insurrection and chaos, Hedges also refutes the idea that pacifism can overcome such odds. In a long and self-contradictory paragraph he asserts that, “When you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you. Violence is a drug, indeed it is the most potent narcotic known to humankind. Those most addicted to violence are those who have access to weapons and a penchant for force...[violence] must be avoided, although not at the expense of our own survival.” A corrupt, deformed, and perverted survival, but a survival nonetheless.
What else is at stake but our survival? Our supremely great American politics? Our grand economic machine that churns ever forward? These are but dust and will pass, just like every system before us; those of Alexander, Julius Caesar, Stalin, Hirohito, and the Native American. If our survival is not at stake, then there is no point in the article, yet Hedges asserts that violence in only necessary in this facet of our current situation. The danger we face is not the collapse and rebirth of our system, but the violence enacted upon us by those who wish to maintain status. Hedges, however, wishes to save us from the system without resorting to violence.
His “solutions” are the standard liberal fare; sustainable living, forging local networks, global compassion, environmental preservation, conservation of resources. In a country that’s too big to fail, the answers he sets forth are ones that withhold the fuel for big government and fragment the monopolies of the elite. He spells it out for us:
“Hope endures in these often imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what the psychopathic forces in control of our power systems seek to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces we remain alive. And for now this is the only victory possible.”
Not only is his solution meaningless (we remain alive through imperceptible acts of defiance?) but it is equally hopeless. This is the only victory possible. This is his view of the future. We meaninglessly defy, just to make ourselves feel better, until the whole system collapses, possibly resulting in violent anarchy. And after all of this, we “should seek to keep alive the intellectual and artistic traditions that make a civil society, humanism and the common good possible.” That makes for great rhetoric, but fails to see the decrepitude of the human condition.
Lest I sound even more hopeless than Hedges, allow me to offer an alternative to his solutions. I have no faith in politics to save this nation. I have no faith in economics to save this nation. I don’t believe that being more environmentally conscious will solve anything. And I don’t have any faith in violence. My faith is in the words of Jesus Christ.
Pacifism, one should note, does NOT mean passivity towards an aggressor. Pacifism in the face of violence is an act of defiance; an act of courage when confronted with anger and hate. Pacifism, to me, means having faith, having hope, that through your pacifism your enemy will turn into a friend. Sometimes this will involve pain or even death. But this is what the Jesus of the Bible commands of us. “Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) This is a statement intended to be woven into your soul. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Mt. 5:9)
Reading the words of Jesus and applying them is important, lest we simply hide behind the banner of “Christianity” - an all-too easy grievance to commit in Christian America. Hedges rightly condemns it as much:
“The corporate forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the rage at the ruling elites and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to ruthlessly extinguish opposition movements. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross.”
These people will see Christianity as useful; useful in furthering their own purposes. This misuse of Christianity is a sorry state of affairs and makes my heart frown, because Jesus did not call us to earthly power. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5) The illicit union between power-hungry Christians and politics is staggeringly unfortunate. Christ wasn’t political, so why should we be? We should be loving peacemakers.
What, then, could my - could our - response be? Again, Jesus again lays it our for us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-38) Our attempts to create a perfect system in which no party is marginalized or oppressed, in which everybody has enough, and in which our highest ideals our realized is unattainable. Should we resist consumerism and care for the environment? Sure. But not through grand schemes and political plots. It should be through perceptible acts of love, through perceptible nonviolent resistance, and through other beneficent actions firmly grounded in the hope that Christ gives us: that if we love Him, serve Him, and love others, we will become sons of God.