Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 29 Share on Twitter 2 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/4/20

America: Land of Make-Believe

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   1 comment
Become a Premium Member Would you like to know how many people have read this article? Or how reputable the author is? Simply sign up for a Advocate premium membership and you'll automatically see this data on every article. Plus a lot more, too.
Author 28678
Follow Me on Twitter     Message Chris Hedges
Become a Fan
  (453 fans)

From Truthdig

(Image by Mr. Fish/Truthdig)   Details   DMCA

If what happens in courtrooms across the country to poor people of color is justice, what is happening in the Senate is a trial. If the blood-drenched debacles and endless quagmires in the Middle East are victories in the war on terror, our military is the greatest on earth. If the wholesale government surveillance of the public, the revoking of due process and having the world's largest prison population are liberty, we are the land of the free. If the president, an inept, vulgar and corrupt con artist, is the leader of the free world, we are a beacon for democracy and our enemies hate us for our values. If Jesus came to make us rich, bless the annihilation of Muslims by our war machine and condemn homosexuality and abortion, we are a Christian nation. If formalizing an apartheid state in Israel is a peace plan, we are an honest international mediator. If a meritocracy means that three American men have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the U.S. population, we are the land of opportunity. If the torture of kidnapped victims in black sites and the ripping of children from their parents' arms and their detention in fetid, overcrowded warehouses, along with the gunning down of unarmed citizens by militarized police in the streets of our urban communities, are the rule of law, we are an exemplar of human rights.

The rhetoric we use to describe ourselves is so disconnected from reality that it has induced collective schizophrenia. America, as it is discussed in public forums by politicians, academics and the media, is a fantasy, a Disneyfied world of make-believe. The worse it gets, the more we retreat into illusions. The longer we fail to name and confront our physical and moral decay, the more demagogues who peddle illusions and fantasies become empowered. Those who acknowledge the truth -- beginning with the stark fact that we are no longer a democracy -- wander like ghosts around the edges of society, reviled as enemies of hope.

The mania for hope works as an anesthetic. The hope that Donald Trump would moderate his extremism once he was in office, the hope that the "adults in the room" would manage the White House, the hope that the Mueller report would see Trump disgraced, impeached and removed from office, the hope that Trump's December 2019 impeachment would lead to his Senate conviction and ouster, the hope that he will be defeated at the polls in November are psychological exits from the crisis -- the collapse of democratic institutions, including the press, and the corporate corruption of laws, electoral politics and norms that once made our imperfect democracy possible.

The embrace of collective self-delusion marks the death spasms of all civilizations. We are in the terminal stage. We no longer know who we are, what we have become or how those on the outside see us. It is easier, in the short term, to retreat inward, to celebrate nonexistent virtues and strengths and wallow in sentimentality and a false optimism. But in the end, this retreat, peddled by the hope industry, guarantees not only despotism but, given the climate emergency, extinction.

"The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world -- and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end -- is being destroyed," Hannah Arendt wrote of totalitarianism.

This destruction, which cuts across the political divide, leads us to place our faith in systems, including the electoral process, that are burlesque. It diverts our energy toward useless debates and sterile political activity. It calls on us to place our faith for the survival of the human species in ruling elites who will do nothing to halt the ecocide. It sees us accept facile explanations for our predicament, whether they involve blaming the Russians for the election of Trump or blaming undocumented workers for our economic decline. We live in a culture awash in lies, the most dangerous being those we tell ourselves.

Lies are emotionally comforting in times of distress, even when we know they are lies. The worse things get, the more we long to hear the lies. But cultures that can no longer face reality, that cannot distinguish between falsehood and truth, retreat into what Sigmund Freud called "screen memories," the merger of fact and fiction. This merger destroys the mechanisms for puncturing self-delusion. Intellectuals, artists and dissidents who attempt to address reality and warn about the self-delusion are ridiculed, silenced and demonized. There are, as Freud noted in "Civilizations and Its Discontents," distressed societies whose difficulties "will not yield at any attempt at reform." But this is too harsh a truth for most people, especially Americans, to accept.

America, founded on the evils of slavery, genocide and the violent exploitation of the working class, is a country defined by historical amnesia. The popular historical narrative is a celebration of the fictional virtues of white supremacy. The relentless optimism and reveling in supposed national virtues obscure truth. Nuance, complexity and moral ambiguity, along with accepting responsibility for the holocausts and genocides carried out by slaveholders, white settlers and capitalists, have never fit with America's triumphalism. "The illusions of eternal strength and health, and of the essential goodness of people -- they were the illusions of a nation, the lies of generations of frontier mothers," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote.

In decay, however, these illusions are fatal. Powerful nations have the luxury of imbibing myth, even if decisions and policies based on the myth inflict damage and widespread suffering. But nations whose foundations are rotting have little latitude. The miscalculations they make, based on fantasy, accelerate their mortality.

Joseph Roth was one of the few writers in the 1930s in Germany who understood the consequences of the rise of fascism. In his essay "The Auto-da-Fe' of the Mind," which addressed the first mass burning of books by the Nazis, he counseled his fellow Jewish writers to accept that they had been vanquished: "Let us, who were fighting on the front line, under the banner of the European mind, let us fulfill the noblest duty of the defeated warrior: Let us concede our defeat."

Roth knew that the peddling of false hopes in a time of radical evil was immoral. He had no illusions about his own growing irrelevance. He was blacklisted in the German press, unable to publish his books in Germany and his native Austria and thrust into dire poverty and often despair. He was acutely aware of how most people, even his fellow Jews, found it easier to blind themselves to radical evil, if only to survive, rather than name and defy malignant authority and risk annihilation.

"What use are my words," Roth asked, "against the guns, the loudspeakers, the murderers, the deranged ministers, the stupid interviewers and journalists who interpret the voice of this world of Babel, muddied anyhow, via the drums of Nuremberg?"

"It will become clear to you now that we are heading for a great catastrophe," Roth, after going into self-exile in France in 1933, wrote to the author Stefan Zweig about the ascendancy of the Nazis. "The barbarians have taken over. Do not deceive yourself. Hell reigns."

But Roth also knew that resistance was a moral if not a practical obligation in times of radical evil. Defeat might be certain, but dignity and a determination to live in truth demanded a response. We are required to bear witness, even if a self-deluded population does not want to hear, even if that truth makes certain our own marginalization and perhaps obliteration.

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).


Must Read 1   Well Said 1   Valuable 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

Chris Hedges Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines
Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEdNews Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

The Coming Collapse

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

Rise Up or Die

This Is What Resistance Looks Like

The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

To View Comments or Join the Conversation: