Monday, April 30, 2012


I'm reading Chris Hedges' book Death of the Liberal Class - note there's no "The", as there might be if the death occurred once and was not ongoing.  There's a lot to think about, and Hedges is sloppy and spitting mad which makes for good polemic but ensures he'll be ignored by the Very Serious People, who wouldn't read anything so gauche anyway.  He also takes a very European approach, which is to discuss individuals like Ralph Nader and Daniel Berrigan and Noam Chomsky and how they get or got locked out of the discourse; that works in a culture where there's a sense of history and, well, culture, but in the North America that exists and that he describes good luck getting anyone to care that Ralph Nader got ditched during the Reagan administration by a documented collusion between regulators and the regulated.  (Reagan?  He was in Star Wars, right?  He played Obi-Wan Kenobi before he became President.)  Now I know who Ralph Nader is, but that's partly because of frequent references to him in Mad magazine and partly because my dad had the book that made him famous, a book that's still a classic in modern muckraking.  But if anyone even remembers the role he played in the 2000 election, where Al Gore pretty much threw it and then everyone blamed Nader for not making it easy for Gore, then they almost certainly have no idea he got the seatbelt into the automobile, and thereby allowed a million people to complain on Facebook that they grew up in a time when they weren't all coddled and drank water out of the hose and didn't have seatbelts and blah blah blah.  As opposed to being thrown onto the freeway through the windshield after being rear-ended by a texting half-drunk teenager in a gigantic SUV.  Thanks Ralph! 

But Hedges is dead-on about the basic lack of street smarts for your modern middle-of-the-road small-l liberal.  He's particularly harsh on Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian who was part of the Harvard liberal braintrust that thought unleashing a quarter-million angry American kids from the South (and the metaphorical south, like Chico and Billings) on an an unstable ethnic dictatorship in the heart of the Muslim middle east would lead to lasting peace and happiness and flowers and candy and democracy whisky sexy, with rounds of kumbaya spontaneously breaking out while the crackers and ragheads and rednecks and hajis shared their sweet iced tea.  Needless to say, anyone who'd ever taught any of the aforementioned twenty-somethings could've told you they were unlikely bearers of good tidings, especially to brown people in the f'ing desert, of all places.  But then "teaching" is not something guys like Ignatieff do at places like Harvard, so instead he counted angels on the heads of pins and did his level best to turn anyone to his left into a demonic traitor who hated America and the West.  Having failed utterly at the one thing a foreign policy intellectual is supposed to be good at, which is make History, he decided to move to Canada, take over the Liberal party, and then lose the election badly to a Straussian realist from Ontario who'd cut his teeth in the best bless her heart conservative jurisdiction this side of Texas, and who now identifies fully with a redneck culture of grievance with a century-old grudge against eastern liberals.  Ignatieff is supposed to be a thoughtful, astute guy, but he's just weak.  He accused me and people like me of being for a brutal dictator because we didn't think invading Iraq was a good idea, which just makes him dumb.

In any event, two big things about Hedges book, right off the bat:

1.  One of the reviews on Amazon says Hedges doesn't do a critique of liberalism; its just more complaining by the left wing about how the liberals have failed them, but there's nothing substantive.  Well.  Hmm.  That's quite the point.  I wonder what a critique might look like: perhaps a long list of events showing how the liberals failed to side with the left wing and then got their asses handed to them by conservatives and big business, leading to the modern situation, where the Overton Window has moved so far to the right a guy like Tip O'Neill would be considered a member of the lunatic left and Ronald Reagan wouldn't make it into the GOP primaries never mind the presidency.  Strangely enough, that's the gist of Hedges' book.  You could of course offer a careful, logical argument as to why liberalism has failed, or you could just demonstrate that its failed, and that in doing so sold out its left wing because it wanted to hang with the cool kids around the Koch swimming pool.  Now, unsurprisingly, the cool kids have turned the liberals into servants and towel boys; better that, we're told, than being on the outside looking in.  Well, I suppose if that's what you want - kissing the ass of the rich and famous and being treated like the toady you are - then you're welcome to it.  But if you need a careful and logical argument to explain that powerlessness, ineptitude and disrespect are actually powerlessness, ineptitude and disrespect, then maybe you're right where you want to be.

2.  Hedges brings up the commercialization of everything, a topic many people have touched on, but which gives me hope, nonetheless.  Because its absolutely true that, for people of my generation, the world is covered with advertising and commercial cues, to the point where the only serious escape is going deep into the woods, and even then your clothing and backpack are likely plastered with logos and brand names.  But my kids don't notice it, and I suppose I didn't notice it myself, when I was young and my parents were first getting used to seeing advertisements everywhere, competing for their attention.  While the ads crowd out more mellifluous surroundings, the 147 companies that control everything are still having a hard time getting our attention; they've always had a hard time, maybe because they don't have anything interesting to say and the species knows what's good for it.

That we're still ignoring ads, and at an ever increasing rate, gives me hope for the future.

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