Former New York Times war correspondent, Chris Hedges, has, over the past couple of years, taken on the mantle of a secular prophet—an emperor has no clothes truthteller—writing scathing (and I think powerful) books and essays documenting the messes that we find ourselves in and our ridiculous responses to them.
At TruthDig, for example, Chris Hedges compares contemporary American civilization to Easter Island’s (when its civilization went into permanent decline):
The desperate islanders developed a belief system that posited that the erected stone gods, the moai, would come to life and save them from disaster. This last retreat into magic characterizes all societies that fall into terminal decline. It is a frantic response to loss of control as well as despair and powerlessness. This desperate retreat into magic led to the Cherokee ghost dance, the doomed Taki Onqoy revolt against the Spanish invaders in Peru, and the Aztec prophecies of the 1530s. Civilizations in the last moments embrace a total severance from reality, a reality that becomes too bleak to be absorbed.
The modern belief by evangelical Christians in the rapture, which does not exist in biblical literature, is no less fantastic, one that at once allows for the denial of global warming and of evolution and the absurd idea that the righteous will all be saved—floating naked into heaven at the end of time.
Chris Hedges’ claim that populist fundamentalism is a sign of America’s accelerated decline is also Kevin Phillips’ thesis, and I buy it. But Hedges doesn’t let secularists like me off the hook either:
The faith that science and technology, which are morally neutral and serve human ambitions, will make the world whole again is no less delusional. We offer up our magical thinking in secular as well as religious form.
And he thinks it is the global plutocratic elite (including the 150,000 or so individuals in the United States who own most of the country’s assets and fund its politics), and not populist fundamentalists, who have ultimately betrayed Enlightenment humanism:
Nothing to these elites is sacred. Human beings and the natural world are exploited until exhaustion or collapse. The elites make no pretense of defending the common good. It is, in short, the defeat of rational thought and the death of humanism.
So Hedges believes neither religion nor science nor the plutocratic elite can save us. And he thinks that, before century’s end, global warming will bring on vast and apocalyptic forms of human suffering and ecological collapse:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the measurement [of CO2] could reach 541 to 970 ppm by 2100. At that point huge parts of the planet, beset with overpopulation, droughts, soil erosion, freak storms, massive crop failures and rising sea levels, will be unfit for human existence.
And Hedges also takes after America’s Herderian right:
We in the United States, only 5 percent of the world’s population, are outraged if anyone tries to tell us we don’t have a divine right to levels of consumption that squander 25 percent of the world’s energy. President Jimmy Carter, when he suggested that such consumption was probably not beneficial, became a figure of national ridicule. The worse it gets the more we demand illusionary Ronald Reagan happy talk. Those willing to cater to fantasy and self-delusion are, because they make us politically passive, lavishly funded and promoted by corporate and oligarchic forces. And by the very end we are joyfully led over the cliff by simpletons and lunatics, many of whom appear to be lining up for the Republican presidential nomination.
Bleak as he is, just about everything that Hedges says strikes me as true (though I don’t like to think about it much). We need to start listening to Chris Hedges more. If Matt Ridley has an eye on what’s right with the world, Hedges has an eye on what’s wrong with it. Here he is in prophet (not profit) mode: