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For Chris Hedges on the Fourth of July

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I came across an article by well respected, supposedly left-leaning journalist, Mr. Chris Hedges, on common dreams.org, a "progressive" news site which I sometimes visit though I hate that label, and I felt compelled to respond to his hysterical screed, so that maybe those of us who call ourselves "liberals" can learn to avoid hysterical, childish outbursts which alienate, and instead develop a firm, realistic morality in the face of our GOP opponents, who claim to have their feet on the ground. For far too long have the GOP claimed this moral high ground, and the fault is in liberalism and the Democratic party, since liberals too often leave issues about morality, and justice up in the air. The article is entitled "Surviving the Fourth of July," and Mr. Hedges begins by saying:
I survive the degradation that has become America - a land that exalts itself as a bastion of freedom and liberty while it tortures human beings, stripped of their rights, in offshore penal colonies, a land that wages wars defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, a land that turns its back on its poor, its weak, its mentally ill, in a relentless drive to embrace totalitarian capitalism - because I read books. I have 5,000 of them.
I have to say that this opening paragraph immediately struck me as being quite ridiculous. Surely Mr. Hedges, a man who has visited many of the world's most politically unstable areas, (i.e. Kosovo, Central America, and Iraq) and reported on these lethal conflicts from the front, is exaggerating. Survive? Not only are you well fed, safe from religiously motivated bombings, poverty, and violent mob rule in the streets, but you are writing from a comfortable home, no doubt, surrounded by 5,000 luxuries, and free to publish how this makes you feel, personally. In a nutshell, the entire article is about what Mr. Hedges "feels." And if "liberal" journalism has been reduced to entering a confessional or a psychiatrist's office, that has serious implications for all of us. I think it's even safe to say that he's being more than just a little hysterical. The Democrats, and those among us who are considered "liberal," need to pick up on something which the GOP currently has a monopoly on, and which Mr. Hedges obviously yearns for. Sacrifice, Responsibility, and Duties. Because alone with his feelings, believing vaguely in some kind of international species solidarity, Mr. Hedges perceives that any harm done to another human being, no matter if they hold a gun to someone's head and attempt to pull the trigger, is an injustice to all. This is a simplistic and entirely irresponsible view of politics and actual human relationships, which ignores the real responsibilities and decisions that politically empowered people must sometimes face. In Mr. Hedges moral universe, people have the same morals, there is such a thing as "humanity," which alone must be defended, and the only cause that should bring liberals out of their homes and ready to fight, would be an alien invasion, a threat to all nations and the entire species, all of whom are equally virtuous in his eyes. He continues by quoting Kurt Vonnegut, a man who despised conflict and war and dreamed of a more peaceful, just, respectful, and humane world:
"The practice of art isn't to make a living," Kurt Vonnegut said. "It's to make your soul grow."
And here we have it. Mr. Hedges' outrage is clearly the outrage of a disappointed artist. An "artist" who owns 5,000 books which alone bring him comfort and make him feel safe, secure, morally centered, and insulated from the actual world outside, full of it's moral ambiguities and nuances. He then goes on to tell us that he "feels" alienated from "academics, sheltered in their gardens of privilege," who dissect his sacred texts and "fear the awful revelations in front of them, truths that, deeply understood, would demand they fight back." And here he contradicts himself, because if each individual human being's morality system is irreproachable, and unites them with all other human beings, then who's to say that the truth or pleasure that a professor derives from his treatment of the text is any less worthy than the "truth," i.e. the esoteric moral theme, that strengthens Hedges' convictions, and therefore must be the sole purpose of the work? Do you see what this means? Mr. Hedges liberalism, far from being tolerant of different ideas, interpretations, or approaches, when applied to something he personally values, becomes rather illiberal, wouldn't you say? Hedges says that it, "is easier to eviscerate the form, the style and the structure with textual analysis and ignore the passionate call for our common humanity." So here we have it, these professors must be less than Mr. Hedges, who enjoys books much more than they do, and in fact, these professors must be less than fully developed human beings, and Hedges says as much when he states that they frequently have "hyper-developed intellects and the emotional maturity of 12-year-olds." Yet his amoral, self-contradictory, hypocrisy has still not fully revealed itself. When discussing human weakness and frailty, the very thing he himself has ridiculed and reproached just a few lines above, he states that:
Although Shakespeare's Jack Falstaff is a coward, a liar and a cheat, although he embodies all the scourges of human frailty Henry V rejects, I delight more in Falstaff's address to himself in the Boar's Head Tavern, where he at least admits to serving to his own hedonism, than I do in Henry's heroic call to arms before Agincourt.
Here is yet another moral conundrum from Mr. Hedges. While he bemoans Henry's call at Agincourt, and minimizes any such call, he himself has just called on professors to stop being cowards above, and answer his "passionate" call. His equivalent of Agincourt. So is he an admirer of cowards, in solidarity with them, or is he calling on them to be brave, to see the truth that he has seen, and follow his lead? He then goes on to tell us:
Patriotic duty and the disease of nationalism lure us to deny our common humanity. Yet to pursue, in the broadest sense, what is human, what is moral, in the midst of conflict or under the heel of the totalitarian state is often a form of self-destruction.
So where does Mr. Hedges stand exactly, in regards to the existence of American civilization and society? He first observes that America is "degradation," which implies that it was once something better than it has become, or rather decayed into, yet he then states that "nationalism" is a disease which afflicts "humanity." I raise these points only because Mr. Hedges moral universe, which is in fact a void, and knows no kind of order, is precisely the one that liberal Democrats must avoid. Where we must disagree, and take issue, is when Mr. Hedges equates the word "human" with the word "moral," which are two entirely different things. While no civilized human being, that is, while no human being who appreciates the ability of man to live together peacefully, civilly, and under mutual agreement under government, should take pleasure in the death of another human being, it is nonetheless a matter of morality, and if we are to have morals, and values, then they must be upheld and believed, even to the death, even if we have to kill. Mr. Hedges' liberal philosophy admits no enemies into it's universe, which as I stated before is no universe, as the universe is a somewhat orderly entity which we can observe, measure and understand. Mr. Hedges' liberal philosophy refuses to make any distinctions between moral values, or evaluate moral beliefs and values, which is why it is totalitarian. By leveling all distinction, it has no room for any opposition, for any alternate truth or belief. It calls itself tolerant in a kind of condescending way, because he believes his philosophy to be above tolerance and co-existence. I'll close with Mr. Hedges citation of Thucydides, and the lessons from history which we can take from history, if we choose to avoid the fate of Athens. Apparently, this was lost on Mr. Hedges, and no doubt he would compare me to those weak, cowardly professors, whom he loves, or hates, depending on the moment:
Thucydides, knowing that Athens was doomed in the war with Sparta, consoled himself with the belief that his city's artistic and intellectual achievements would in the coming centuries overshadow raw Spartan militarism. Beauty and knowledge could, ultimately, triumph over power. But we may not live to see such a triumph. And on this weekend of collective exaltation I did not attend fireworks or hang a flag outside my house.
And this, Mr. Hedges, is your right. The decline of Athens began once she believed that she must become like her enemy in order to defeat her enemy. A lesson that any liberal, free-thinking society dedicated to individual rights and justice, should take to heart when facing an opponent that seeks to eliminate all distinction between individuals, and all individual rights. Undoubtedly America stands on the threshold of a new historical era, where she can unmake herself or neglect to confront external threats. And while it is important that we uphold our values, traditions, civil liberties, and forms of government, it is equally important that we not minimize the threats posed to us by "enemies." And it is essential that we not believe, like Mr. Hedges, that Athenian victory could have been guaranteed had she simply applied "beauty" and "truth" to her enemies. As if "humanity" shares one definition of "beauty" and "truth." If Athens had refused to admit that Sparta was her ideological enemy, and simply thrown open her gates to the Spartan Army, what kind of individual rights, arts, and culture, would we enjoy today? Perhaps, none. If the poets and artists and playwrights of Athens had not also been soldiers, statesmen, and generals, and had believed that their poems, sculptures, and plays would save them from death, then nothing would have been transmitted through the centuries. And Mr. Hedges has missed a crucial point: That the human condition is not merely a life spent questing for or admiring beauty and truth, but also spent defending oneself against ignorance, and often fighting those who deny that beauty and truth exist. Similarly, if Athenian citizens had been more vigilant in regards to their liberties, and to the necessity of working together with her true ideological and political allies, instead of refusing to accept any distinctions or nuances among their relationships with them and among the world, exactly like the Spartans, how much better, more civil, and cultivated, might the world be today? Friends, Liberals, Countrymen, we do face a dangerous tendency among ourselves, because we are a free society, to become more like our enemies, to absorb their ways of thinking, which have no room for plurality, for many different kinds of beauty, for many different perceptions of the truth, but in our quest for consensus, which is wise and fair, we cannot fall into the false belief that all human beings would choose to be a part of our cause, or share our values, if only we would throw open our arms to all humanity. And we cannot refuse to act on anything less than total consensus, because total consensus is impossible. We tread on dangerous ground, but laying down means certain death just as a bullet to head means death, as well. Hedges clearly wants the romantic, avant-garde, artistic exeunt, the bullet to the head. Naturally, all liberals have a tendency towards compassion, culture, and art, being more accepting of a broad, beautiful, universe of human achievement, and aware of the benefits of co-existence with similar peoples and communities. But let us not devolve into moral chaos. My point is, America has enemies. There are some ideologies and governments that are incompatible with our own, who would destroy us if they had the technology, willpower, or opportunity, and some seek to do this very thing at the moment. No amount of missionary trips abroad is going to rectify the situation, no amount of art, movies, or expressions of sympathy sent into dictatorships and theocracies. Think of the majority we would have at home, think of the domestic benefits we could provide for people, if many so-called "liberals" weren't globe-trotting the world, trying to be secular saints in poverty-ridden, developing nations, devoted to some vague "humanity," instead of assuming political responsibility at home. Think of what we could do if we would face up to the world as it is, and deny that false god that calls itself "humanity." Something we cannot save, until we first better ourselves and our immediate neighbors. But, I suppose it is their right to do as they please.
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