Chris Hedges is not particularly well regarded among most atheists, and with good reason. His anti atheist bigotry and scapegoating have become legendary. I could discuss his fanatical bigotry at length, but there are other elements of his attitudes and ideology that deserve critique.
One of the things that I find so disturbing about Hedges is the ahistorical nature of his analysis. Let's look at his commentary on British Petroleum and the people that enable it. The opening sentence may be more literate than the rantings of Sarah Palin, but it is equally ill informed as the rankest Palin nonsense. (TruthDig 5/17/10)
Cultures that do not recognize that human life and the natural world have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, cannibalize themselves until they die.
This is even more amazing given the fact that Hedges' worked as a reporter in the former Yugoslavia. (The fact that he worked for a vapid, rightist publication like the New York Times does make it a bit less surprising, though.) In another commentary, he engages in a particularly ludicrous example of economic reductionism, claiming that the Balkan War was caused entirely by economic collapse, rather than ethnic hatreds. Hedges' conveniently neglects the fact that the most influential cause of the carnage in what once was Yugoslavia was religion. The brutal totalitarian regime under Tito was able to keep the lid on those religious hatreds, but they exploded when the Soviet Union fell and when the charismatic strongman was no longer there.
Hedges has written passionately about the death and suffering there, but he has neglected to even notice that the people inflicting the suffering did so out of their belief "that human life and the natural world have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value." Their notion of the sacred was as intense and meaningful to them as Hedges' view of the sacred is to him.
One could provide plenty of other examples of the brutal and murderous nature of belief in the sacred. Many histories of slavery in the US have conveniently failed to mention the sacred component of supporting slavery in a society that believed in a Christian Bible the endorses the monstrous practice. In every place where slavery was abolished, the vast majority of the clergy opposed abolition, and quoted the Bible to support their notion of the sacred. This was just as true during the campaigns for abolition in Northern states as it was during the treasonous Confederacy. The genocide of the vast majority of the indigenous people of this country was as sacred to the most of the killers as anything Hedges' holds sacred.
Ultimately, the word "sacred" has no basis in fact, reason, or observation. It can mean anything to anyone, and once asserted, justifies an absolutist pursuit in whatever direction it is assigned. That is incredibly dangerous.
However, Hedges' assertion of the sacred, also has another counterproductive element to it. It allows him to project a sense of superiority over the people who don't have his particular sense of the sacred. This is by no means Hedges' only effort to establish how much better he is than everyone else.
Aside from atheists, Hedges seems to assert the greatest sense of superiority over liberals, of all people. In his sermon Liberals Are useless, Hedges has this to say about liberals.
Liberals are a useless lot. They talk about peace and do nothing to challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class, and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them. The only talent they seem to possess is the ability to write abject, cloying letters to Barack Obama—as if he reads them—asking the president to come back to his “true” self. This sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America’s liberal class an object of public derision.
Anyone who doesn't see the irony in the last sentence hasn't read much of Hedges' work. Anyone who has actually worked with liberals who are challenging the permanent war economy can easily grasp how ludicrous this caricature is.
Even when liberals do make the mistakes Hedges criticizes us for, they do so in a system that Hedges is very much a part of. Most liberals are dissatisfied with the Democrats, but the Republicans always manage to be a little worse in their deeds and truly terrifying in their words. The corporate media that Hedges used to be very much a part of, try to narrow the possible choices down to such a narrow range that the conservative Democrats who deserve Hedges' wrath often seem to be the only reasonable alternative.
One of the most useful tools of frightening liberals into staying in line has been the largely Astroturf teabagger "movement." The National Equality March, which was hastily organized and which had a very low budget and little if any corporate support, turned out 200,000 people in DC, ten to one hundred times the turnout for the teabagger rallies in our nation's capital. Those teabagger rallies were much better funded, and an army of rightist media elites promoted the shit out of them. Yet, the corporate media has wildly exaggerated the strength of the teabagger scam, focusing on the most scary sounding fringe elements to try to make liberals witless with fear.
It certainly scared Hedges senseless. In his commentary, "Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’?," Hedges engages in sensationalistic fear mongering that puts his former corporate media colleagues to shame. If you took what he wrote seriously, you would think that brownshirts were coming for us all within the next few months.
Hedges is quite correct that there is a lot of perfectly legitimate anger in this country, and he also is correct in noting that liberals have been too frightened to effectively speak to that anger. But, he fails to see that the Palin's and Beck's of this country have been wildly ineffective at getting their followers to do more than watch their shows and buy their products. The teabaggers are a paper tiger, one with a paper trail to corporate lobbyists and PR people. Yet, Hedges would have us believe that they are an enormous army poised to take over the country.
Hedges perpetuates so much disinformation that permeates the corporate media. Then, he sets himself up as morally superior to liberals and others who base their decisions on that very same bogus information. Hedges is worse than useless. He is a major part of the problem. Chris Hedges has unwittingly played a function surprisingly similar to that of Judith Miller, though his intent is different. Hedges functions as a cog in the same machine that keeps many liberals doing exactly what Hedges condemns them for. Sigh.
Hedges' rhetoric about liberals not being willing to step "out of the mainstream" is bizarre and counterproductive as well. On the vast majority of issues, liberal views are the mainstream. Most people are against the Iraq War, and the healthcare plan that consistently polled the highest was Medicare for All. On queer issues, which the readers of this blog are usually the most familiar, the only issue where the nation is deeply divided is same sex marriage recognition. On the rest of queer civil rights disputes, the overwhelming majority of Americans are on the liberal side of the issue.
Tricking liberals into thinking that we are isolated and marginal is one of things that corporate media do best. Yet, Hedges seems incapable of stepping out of the mindset promoted by his former employers to see this.
The aspect of Hedges' discourse that pisses me off the most is its passivity, resulting from its sterile, faux moral superiority. Instead of working to point out the actual facts and proposing useful actions that people can take, Hedges isolates himself in his little bubble and pontificates downward at the rest of us. Telling people they are useless doesn't motivate them to take action or even look for alternative points of view. Hedges really, really needs to read some Howard Zinn.
"TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Sometimes I wonder if liberals should all bow in the direction of Hedges just once, say "we are in awe of your superiority," and feed his ego in the hopes that he would try to write or do something productive for a change.