Empire of Illusion: The end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle (2009)
The book chapters are divided into 5 sections of type of illusions:
- The Illusion of Literacy
- The Illusion of Love
- The Illusion of Wisdom
- The Illusion of happiness
- The Illusion of America
- xplus notes, bibliography, and index
There are so many thoughtful and well written passages I have opted to mostly quote.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books, ” Neil postman wrote: “what Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one. ” p 39
“Totalitarian systems begin as propagandistic movements that ostensibly teach people to “believe what they want” but that is a ruse. The Christian Right, for example, argues that it wants intelligent design, or creationism, to be offered as an alternative to evolution in public school biology classes. But once you allow creationism, which no reputable biologist or paleontologist accepts as legitimate science, to be considered as an alternative to real science, you begin the deadly assault against dispassionate, honest, intellectual inquiry. Step into the hermetic world of many Christian schools or colleges and there are no alternatives to creationism offered to students. Once the systems have control, the Christian advocates’ purported love of alternative viewpoints and debate is replaced by an iron and irrational conformity to illusion.” P. 52
(From the chapter on the illusion of literacy)
People continue to want to ban books today and others declare they only need one book (invariably the Bible, which they likely have not actually read). This is a frightening perspective on how easily totalitarianism can creep into peaceful life.
Chapter 3 The Illusion of Wisdom begins with a quote by Sinclair Lewis (a must read author for all Americans): “Men die but the plutocracy is immortal; and it is necessary that fresh generations should be trained to it service.”
This chapter discusses the impact of the elite educational institutions and how they are not teaching students to “question and think” but focus on testing and “blind deference to authority, on creating hordes of competent system managers.”
“The elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent, and often subversive.”
A book cited on page 91 is “The university in chains: confronting the military-industrial academic complex.” By Henry Giroux:
“The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he anticipated and most feared,” Giroux tells [Hedges]. “Universities, in general especially following the events of 9/11 were under attack by Christian nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives, and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism. Right-wing students were encouraged to spy on the classes of progressive professors, the corporate grip on the university was tightening, as was made clear not only in the emergence of business models of governance but also in the money being pumped into research and programs that blatantly favored corporate interests.”
“[Adorno] knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed, and confused population, a system of propaganda and mass media that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment, and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hypermasculinity.”
p 98 speaking about the elite universities Hedges continues with
These institutions feed students, no matter how mediocre, the comforting reassurance that they are there because they are not only the best but they are entitled to the best. You saw this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here was a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. Bush, along with Scooter Libby, who attended my pre-prep school, exemplifies the legions of self-centered, spoiled, intellectually limited and wealthy elite is churned out by places like Andover, Yale, and Harvard. Bush was, like the rest of his caste, propelled forward by his money and his connections. The real purpose of these richly endowed school system perpetuate their own. They do this even as they pretend to embrace the idea ideology of the common man, trumpet diversity on campus, and pose as a meritocracy.”
p 138 the illusion of happiness chapter (4)
“There is a dark, insidious quality to the ideology promoted by the positive psychologists. They condemn all social critics and iconoclasts, the dissidents and the individualists, for failing to surrender and seek fulfillment in the collective lowing of the corporate herd. They strangle creativity and moral autonomy. They seek to mold and shape individual human beings into a compliant collective. The primary teaching of this movement, which reflects the ideology of the corporate state, is that fulfillment is to be found in complete and total social conformity, a conformity that all totalitarian and authoritarian structures seek to impose on those they dominate. It’s false promise of harmony and happiness only increases internal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. The nagging undercurrents of alienation and the constant pressure to exhibit of false enthusiasm and buoyancy destroy real relationships. The loneliness of a work life where self-preservation is valued over authenticity and one must always be upbeat and positive, no matter what ones actual mood or situation, is disorienting and stressful. The awful feeling that being positive may not, in fact work if one is laid off or becomes sick must be buried and suppressed. Here, in the land of happy thoughts, there are no gross injustices, no abuses of authority, no economic and political systems to challenge, and no reason to complain. Here, we are all happy.”
You sure don’t find writing like this everyday.
. . . . . . .
Could not just stop without some more quotes from the final chapter: The Illusion of America.
The corporate power that holds the government hostage has appropriated for itself the potent symbols, language, and patriotic traditions of the state. It purports to defend freedom, which it defines as the free market, and liberty, which it defines is the liberty to exploit. It sold us on the illusion that the free market was the natural outgrowth of democracy and a force of nature, at least until the house of cards collapsed and the corporations needed to fleece the taxpayers to survive. Making that process even more insidious, the real sources of power remain hidden. Those who run our largest corporations are largely anonymous to the mass of the citizens. The anonymity of corporate forces–an earthly Deus absconditus– makes them unaccountable. They have the means to hide and divert us from examining the decaying structures they have created.”
P 144 “We have been steadily impoverished by our own power elite – legally, economically, spiritually, and politically. And unless we radically reverse this tide, unless we wrest the state away from corporate hands, we will be dragged down by the dark and turbulent undertow of globalization. In this world there are only masters and servants.”
The country’s moral decay is manifested in its physical decay. It is no coincidence that our infrastructure – roads, bridges, sewers, airports, trains, mass transit – is overburdened, outdated, and in in dismal repair. . .The environmental protection agency estimates that collapsing and overwhelmed sewage systems release more than 40,000 discharges of raw sewage into our drinking water, streams, and homes each year. . . War and rampant militarism – we now have 761 military bases we maintain around the globe – drains the life blood out of the body politic. The US military spends more than all other militaries on earth combined. The official US defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, and by the 2010 the Pentagon is slated to receive more than $700 billion, once funding for items such as nuclear weapons is included in the budget. . . We embrace the dangerous delusion that we are on a providential mission to save the rest of the world from itself, to impose our virtues – which we see as superior to all other virtues – on others, and that we have a right to do this by force. . . The wars of occupation in Iraq and if Afganistan are doomed to futility. We cannot afford them.”
In his book Democracy Incorporated, Wolin, who taught political philosophy at Berkeley and at Princeton, uses the phrase inverted totalitarianism to describe our system of power. Inverted totalitarianism unlike classical totalitarianism does not revolve around a demagogue or charisma leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while maintaining internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions.”
Imperialism and democracy are incompatible. The mass of resources and allocation devoted to imperialism mean that democracy inevitably withers and dies. Democratic states and republics, including ancient Athens and Rome, that refused to curb imperial expansion eviscerate their political systems.”
P 144 At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or the possibility of totalitarianism as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. . . . Will we radically transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state, or will we employ the brutality and technology of our internal security and surveillance apparatus to crush all dissent?”
Our political and economic decline took place because of a corporate drive for massive deregulation, the repeal of antitrust laws, and the country’s radical transformation from a manufacturing economy to an economy of consumption. Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized the danger. He sent a message to Congress on April 29,1938, titled “Recommendations to Congress to Curb Monopolies and the Concentration of Economic Power.” In it he wrote:
“the first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the GROWTH OF POWER to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way to sustain AN ACCEPTABLE STANDARD OF LIVING.”
As the pressure mounts, as this despair and impoverishment reach into larger and larger segments of the populace, the mechanisms of corporate and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and instability. The emergence of the corporate state always means the emergence of the security state. This is why the Bush White House pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas corpus, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” the practice of warrantless wiretapping on American citizens, and the refusal to ENSURE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS with VERIFIABLE ballot-counting. It is all part of a package. It comes together. The motive behind these measures is not to fight terrorism or to bolster national security. It is to seize and maintain INTERNAL CONTROL.
Yep, Hedges nailed it. And FDR of course. Not that we learned apparently, or at least enough or by the people in control, to do something like at least make verifiable ballot-counting. The hanging chad thing was not that funny back in the day, and less so today to see similar issues. Like the place that actually left Bernie Sanders name off the ballot. Whoops!