Chris Hedges, who came out of the Harvard Divinity School intending to be a minister and instead became a New York Times war correspondent, is deeply knowledgeable about the things that matter and thus deeply pessimistic about the future of our species. This passage from The Death of the Liberal Class sums up his dark vision:
“Collapse this time around will be global. We will disintegrate together. The ten-thousand year experiment of settled life is about to come to a crashing halt. And human kind, which thought it was given dominion of the Earth and all living things will be taught a painful lesson about balance, restraint, and humility.”
With so little time left, even the most thoughtful books seem beside the point. If finding a comfortable cave with a few like-minded people isn’t an option, what is? For Hedges, civil disobedience is the remaining option for living a moral life.
“We view ourselves as rational creatures,” he writes. “But is it rational to wait like sheep in a pen as oil and natural gas companies, coal companies, chemical industries, plastics manufacturers, the automotive industry, arms manufacturers, and the leaders of the industrial world, as they did in Copenhagen, steer us toward mass extinction? It is too late to prevent profound climate change. But why allow our ruling elite, driven by the lust for profits, to accelerate the death spiral? Why continue to obey the laws and dictates of our executioners?”
I agree with almost everything Hedges has to say, and when I don’t, it is with much diffidence that I question it; he’s that smart and knowledgeable, and most of all, that well-motivated. And, of course, rational people agree with his disdain for the trivialized, mind-fucking exercise that passes for electoral politics. Most of us understand too that the corporate lobbyists who deliver up the cash in whatever legal forms the “lawmakers” have devised to accept the bribes without going to jail are thoroughly corrupt as are the CEOs who supply it and the corporate media, often the same bribe-givers, who make a bundle off these elections.
But civil disobedience, which means jail and sometimes pepper spray and clubs, takes more courage than most of us have. That’s why the Occupy protesters were and still are so important. They are heroes. There aren’t enough of them. There never will be. No movies, books, plays, Facebook-driven campaigns, not even brilliant social critics who can still get their ideas and messages out (mostly to like-minded people), can accomplish what the Zucotti Park people were able to do: They forced the corporate media to cover them in ways that grabbed the attention of the dumbed down American public, framed the issue beautifully–the 1% against the 99% – and even dragged Obama, however reluctantly, to take the rhetorical risk of offending Wall Street.
In these times, if there are more important people on the planet than the Occupiers–put Julian Assange in there–I can’t think of any. They’re the leaders. When it comes right down to it, it was their courage that counted. Hedges and a handful of other well-known people have been willing to join them.
But there has to be enough political space, enough breathing room for the vast majority of people, the people who know they’ve been diddled and who know it wasn’t Barney Frank that brought the country down, to add their weight to the Occupy resistance-and still get up the next morning and go to work to pay their rent; the people who don’t want to be sheep in a pen, but who will never set up a tent in Zucotti Park.
And so while the plutocrats and their paid propagandists still seem to want a democratic fig leaf to cover their naked greed, politics in whatever form–even elections, still matter, even if only a little bit.