The Disparity Between our Perceptions and our Actions

By: Contributor · October 8, 2009 · Filed Under Environmental Law, International Law, Politics · Comments Off Hedges is the author of Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, released this summer.  He wrote the book before the economic meltdown, but foreshadowed some of the challenges Western society faces in its permanent economic decline and our attachment to materialism.

Hedges has a Masters of Divinity from Harvard, and currently contributes to  In a recent article there, Celebrating Slaughter: War and Collective Amnesia, he says,

A war memorial that attempted to depict the reality of war would be too subversive. It would condemn us and our capacity for evil. It would show that the line between the victim and the victimizer is razor-thin, that human beings, when the restraints are cut, are intoxicated by mass killing, and that war, rather than being noble, heroic and glorious, obliterates all that is tender, decent and kind. It would tell us that the celebration of national greatness is the celebration of our technological capacity to kill. It would warn us that war is always morally depraved, that even in “good” wars such as World War II all can become war criminals.  We dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis ran the death camps.

A prolific writer, he provides some interesting commentary on society and culture in an interview with C-Span, and how it affects our approach to international law:

We are the most deeply illusioned society on the planet…

Here we were, a country that not only under international law waging… a doctrine of pre-emptive war, which under post-Nuremberg laws are defined as illegal wars of aggression, we were running offshore penal colonies where we openly tortured people detained without any rights, we had a Banana Republic seizure of the electoral process in 2000, and yet we talked about our virtues. “The greatest country on earth,” “the greatest democracy on earth.”

The disparity between what we were doing, and the perception of who we are.

This is just written large throughout the culture, and it plays to a very pernicious fantasy: we as Americans can have everything we want, if we just dig deep enough within ourselves, if we tap our hidden potential, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional.

Reality will never be an impediment to what we desire.

…new humility is needed for what is coming.

He describes his vision for enlightened leadership,

Half of all discretionary spending since WWII has gone into defence, and much of our deficit, which are the largest recorded deficits in history, are caused because we are maintaining a defense establishment we can no longer afford.

Meanwhile, we are crumbling from the inside.  Read the reports about American infrastructure, whether it’s sewage disposal or anything else…

This is how empires usually implode.  They expand outwards to such an extent that the very heart of the empire collapses, internally.  And that’s the danger we face.

So if we can recognize that this period of our history is over, and I don’t think this is a negative – living with a new kind of simplicity, not producing 25% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, learning to speak to the rest of the world in a language other than the language of force – these actually many not improve our lives in terms of consumption or power, but they would certain improve the quality of life in terms of moral integrity and meaning.


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