“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, January 11, 2016

"The decades-long assault on the arts, the humanities, journalism and civic literacy is largely complete.”

“The marriage of ignorance and force always
generates unfathomable evil, an evil that is unseen 
by perpetrators who mistake their own stupidity and blindness for innocence."

The Great Forgetting 

Posted on Jan 10, 2016
By Chris Hedges

America’s refusal to fund and sustain its intellectual and cultural heritage means it has lost touch with its past, obliterated its understanding of the present, crushed its capacity to transform itself through self-reflection and self-criticism, and descended into a deadening provincialism. Ignorance and illiteracy come with a cost. The obsequious worship of technology, hedonism and power comes with a cost. The primacy of emotion and spectacle over wisdom and rational thought comes with a cost. And we are paying the bill.

The decades-long assault on the arts, the humanities, journalism and civic literacy is largely complete. All the disciplines that once helped us interpret who we were as a people and our place in the world—history, theater, the study of foreign languages, music, journalism, philosophy, literature, religion and the arts—have been corrupted or relegated to the margins. We have surrendered judgment for prejudice. We have created a binary universe of good and evil. And our colossal capacity for violence is unleashed around the globe, as well as on city streets in poor communities, with no more discernment than that of the blinded giant Polyphemus. The marriage of ignorance and force always generates unfathomable evil, an evil that is unseen by perpetrators who mistake their own stupidity and blindness for innocence.

“We are in danger of forgetting, and such an oblivion—quite apart from the contents themselves that could be lost—would mean that, humanly speaking, we would deprive ourselves of one dimension, the dimension of depth in human existence,” Hannah Arendt wrote. “For memory and depth are the same, or rather, depth cannot be reached by man except through remembrance.”
Those few who acknowledge the death of our democracy, the needless suffering inflicted on the poor and the working class in the name of austerity, and the crimes of empire—in short those who name our present and past reality—are whitewashed out of the public sphere. If you pay homage to the fiction of the democratic state and the supposed “virtues” of the nation, including its right to wage endless imperial war, you get huge fees, tenure, a television perch, book, film or recording contracts, grants and prizes, investors for your theater project or praise as an pundit, artist or public intellectual. The pseudo-politicians, pseudo-intellectuals and pseudo-artists know what to say and what not to say. They offer the veneer of criticism—comedians such as Stephen Colbert do this—without naming the cause of our malaise. And they are used by the elites as attack dogs to discredit and destroy genuine dissent. This is not, as James Madison warned, the prologue to a farce or a tragedy; we are living both farce and tragedy.

“The withdrawal of intellectuals from political concerns is itself a political act,” sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote. “Which is to say that it is at best a pseudo-withdrawal. To withdraw from politics today can only mean ‘in intent’; it cannot mean ‘in effect.’ For its effect is to serve whatever powers prevail, even if only by distracting public attention from them. Such attempts may be the result of fear or fashion; or of sincere conviction—induced by success. Regardless of the motive, the attempted withdrawal means to become subservient to prevailing authorities and to allow the meaning of one’s own work to be determined, in effect, by other men.”  

Amid the swelling disparity between reality and reality as the corporate state seeks to have it portrayed, the idiocy and mendacity of the elites and their courtiers grow more ludicrous. The institutions that educated the public and fostered the common good are even more fiercely attacked, defunded and rendered anemic. The dumbing down of the country—fed by the crippling of the safe spaces where ideas, dissent and creativity could be expressed, where structures and assumptions could be questioned—accelerates. 

Presidential candidate Donald Trump may be boorish, narcissistic, stupid, racist and elitist, but he does not have Hillary Clinton’s carefully honed and chilling amoral artifice. It was she, and an ethically bankrupt liberal establishment, that created the fertile ground for Trump by fleecing the citizens on behalf of corporations and imposing the neoliberal project. If she is elected, Trump may disappear, but another Trump-like figure, probably even more frightening, will be vomited up from our cultural and political sewer.  

Trump and Clinton, along with fellow candidate Bernie Sanders, refuse to admit what they know: Our most basic civil and political rights have been taken from us, the corporate oligarchy will remain entrenched in power no matter who wins the presidency, and elections are a carnival act. The downward spiral of lost jobs and declining incomes, of shredded civil liberties, of endless war, is unstoppable as long as we use the traditional mechanisms of reform, including elections, to try to cope with the existential threat we face. A vote for Clinton, in essence, is a vote for Trump or someone as bad as Trump. Right-wing populism, here and in Europe, is not the product of an individual but the disenfranchisement, rage and despair stemming from the damage caused by globalization. And until we wrest back control of our destiny by breaking corporate power, demagogues like Trump, and his repugnant doppelgangers in Europe, will proliferate.

The institutions that make possible wisdom, knowledge, self-criticism and transcendence are in ruins. Public radio and public television, created to give a voice to those not beholden to the elites, are now echo chambers for the privileged and the powerful. The arts, like public broadcasting a victim of massive cuts by government, have descended to the lowest common denominator. Symphony orchestras are closing along with libraries. Music and art have been removed from school curriculums. Theater, along with the film industry, has been taken over by corporations such as Disney. Audiences on Broadway and in movie houses participate in exorbitantly priced forms of escapism that, at their core, celebrate American power and narcissism. 

There was a time, a few decades ago, when the work and thought of intellectuals and artists mattered. Writers and social critics such as Mills, Dwight Macdonald, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Mary McCarthy, Ralph Nader, Howard Zinn and Jane Jacobs wrote for and spoke to a broad audience. Authors William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Gore Vidal, Toni Morrison, Ken Kesey, Russell Banks and Norman Mailer, along with playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, David Mamet, Ntozake Shange, Sam Shepard, Marsha Norman, Edward Albee and Tony Kushner, held up a mirror to the nation. And it was not a reflection many people wanted to see. Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick in film, Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka in poetry, Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith in music shook the social, cultural and political landscape. 

These artists and intellectuals, who did not cater to the herd, were nationally known figures. They altered our perceptions. They were taken seriously. They sparked contentious debate, and the elites attempted, sometimes successfully, to censor their work. It is not that new independent, brilliant and creative minds are not out there; it is that nearly all of them—Tupac Shakur and Lupe Fiasco having been two exceptions—are locked out. And this has turned our artistic, cultural and intellectual terrain into a commercialized wasteland. I doubt that a young Bruce Springsteen or a young Patti Smith, or even a young Chomsky, all of whom exhibit the rare quality of never having sold out the marginalized, the working class and the poor, and who are not afraid of speaking truths about our nation that others will not utter, could today break into the corporatized music industry or the corporatized university. Sales, branding and marketing, even in academia, overpower content. 

T.S. Eliot, seven decades ago, warned of a condition that now enmeshes us. In his “What Is a Classic?” address to the Virgil Society in 1944 he argued that a civilization that did not engage with its greatest artists and intellectual traditions, that did not protect and nurture its artistic and intellectual patrimony, committed suicide.

“In our age,” Eliot said, “when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life, in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is, that we can all, all the peoples on the globe, be provincials together: and those who are not content to be provincials, can only become hermits.”


  1. That Chris Hedges, he sure writes a lot of words, don't he?

  2. He is brilliant. Although it is unlikely he could survive a peer review from Idaho.

    1. He needs an editor. :)

      Admittedly, I might just be having a bad day, but after awhile my mind started to wander, and . . . . ..

  3. 40 elements including prominent leaders killed in aerial bombardment north of Ramadi

    ( Anbar – On Monday, a source in Anbar Operations Command announced, that 40 ISIS member including prominent leaders in aerial bombardment were killed while trying to escape to the north of the city of Ramadi.

    The source said in a statement followed by, “The Iraqi Army Aviation shelled a convoy of 20 vehicles and equipped with machine guns for ISIS when they tried to escape from al-Sofiya area to the Albu Obaid area north of Ramadi, killing over 40 elements of the organization including prominent leaders.”

    The source added, “The operation was carried out based on accurate intelligence information that indicated to the presence of large numbers of ISIS elements including prominent leaders who are planning to escape to the north of Ramadi.”

  4. What Republicans really voted to repeal last week: At least 87,000 saved lives, and counting

    ob creation isn't the only accomplishment of President Obama's that Republicans are refusing to acknowledge. That's particularly true when it comes to Obamacare—to hear them on the issue, you'd think it's impoverishing and killing everyone who comes near it. That's because, when they're busy repealing it, they are also voting to repeal some amazing thing. Like 87,000 saved lives, just in hospital care alone.

    1. Some of the see-what-sticks cost experiments also seem to be improving care. One recent report found that infections and other "hospital-acquired conditions" have declined 17 percent since 2010, when Obamacare created financial incentives for hospitals to avoid them. That reduction saved an estimated 87,000 lives and $20 billion. A similar effort to incentivize better management of discharged patients has coincided with a decline in hospital readmission rates that's keeping 150,000 more Medicare patients at home every day, according to Meena Seshamani, director of the administration's Office of Health Reform.

      Under Obamacare, about one-fifth of Medicare patients have already shifted into alternatives to fee-for-service, and the goal is to get half the system paying for value rather than volume by 2018. Maryland’s hospitals are now paid through "global budgets" that include outpatient care, so they no longer have incentives to admit patients just to keep their beds full. A recent New England Journal of Medicine article found the state's hospital costs increased at less than half the expected rate in the program’s first year, saving Medicare $116 million. There are signs that Obama's convoluted jumble of changes may be starting to rationalize an irrational system. Patrick Conway, the director of the new innovation center, told me about a new Independence at Home experiment that coordinates nurse and doctor visits for frail and disabled patients—and saved Medicare $3,000 per beneficiary in its first year. One elderly diabetic who had 19 hospitalizations the previous year had only one after enrolling in the program.

    2. This is what Republicans intend to repeal. The whole point of the vote they had last week, doomed as it was to presidential veto, was to set the stage for a Republican president who would sign their repeal. That repeal would sentence who knows how many people to premature deaths and back to the uncertainty that Republicans have forced on all the people living in the Medicaid gap now. Just to be clear, that's what they are planning on.

      What they're not planning, five years into this, is replacing it.

      Daily Kos

  5. Iraqi army forces kill 70 ISIS elements, liberate al-Sha’i area north of Haditha District

    ( al-Anbar – The commander of the army’s 7th brigade, Maj. Gen. Nouman al-Zubai, announced on Monday liberating the area of al-Sha’i north of Haditha District.

    Zubai said in a brief statement received by, “A force from the army’s 7th brigade, backed by tribal fighters, had managed to liberate the area of al-Sha’i northwest of Bruwana north of Haditha District from the ISIS control,” pointing out that, “The forces managed to killed around 70 elements of the organization, in addition to destroying 7 vehicles for them during the liberation operation.”


  6. Gunmen detonated suicide vests inside a shopping complex in Baghdad on Monday and a car bomb exploded nearby in an attack claimed by Islamic State that killed at least 18 people and wounded 40 others.


    As well as the violence meted out by Islamic State, Iraq is also gripped by a sectarian conflict mostly between Shi'ites and Sunnis that has been exacerbated by the rise of the militant group.


    Parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri, who is from Muqdadiya, said he was in contact with security and political leaders there and warned violence there aimed to "undermine efforts for civil peace", state TV said in a news flash.

  7. With just 21 days until the presidential primaries officially begin in Iowa, Hillary Clinton's support among Democrats nationally has taken a serious tumble, falling eight points to 43%, according to the latest IBD/TIPP Poll. Support for her chief rival, Bernie Sanders, rose six points to 39%.

    As a result, Clinton’s lead over Sanders, which had been 18 points, is now just four points.

    Other polls have shown the race tightening in Iowa, which holds its caucuses on Feb. 1, and New Hampshire, which has its primary eight days later. Two recent New Hampshire surveys have Sanders in the lead, and the latest NBC poll in Iowa has Sanders just three points behind Clinton.

    But the IBD/TIPP Poll is the first to show the race significantly tightening nationwide.

  8. RCP Republican Presidential Nomination - Trump +14

    Democratic - Clinton +12.8

    Iowa Republican - Cruz +0.5

    Iowa Democratic - Clinton +5.8

    New Hampshire Republican - Trump +17

    New Hampshire Democratic - Sanders +4.3

  9. Christian forces express readiness to participate in liberating Nineveh plain

    ( Nineveh – On Monday, Nineveh Plain forces expressed their readiness to participate in the liberation operations of Nineveh plain from the grip of ISIS, while pointed out that their main task is to protect the Christian areas.

    Safa Elias, an official in Nineveh Plain forces, said in a statement received by, “Nineveh Plain forces are ready to participate in the liberation operation of Nineveh plain, noting that, “The forces are quipped and trained to start the battle to liberate the area of Nineveh plain from the grip of ISIS.”

    Elias added, “Our forces are based in a number of Christian areas in Nineveh plain.”

    Say What? :)

  10. Hillary's toast, no place to go but down.