Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hedges: exposing American addiction to violence.

News reports, historically, distort the human story, by focusing on the obtuse, the "man bites dog" stories that make the listener/viewer/reader surprised, outraged, amused, or even dejected.
We learn of landslides, droughts, floods, hurricanes, fires, ships that capsize, planes that disappear, leaders who have affairs or 'do crack' or drive 'under the influence', people who fall from the tops of stadia while watching professional sports, and occasionally the more mundane ideological arguments that comprise the goings-on of city councils, provincial and national governments. We also learn of boundary incursions, budget shortfalls, tax hikes and terrorist bombings. Occasionally, in a more contemporary and less assaulting kind of story, we learn of 'real heroes' who have overcome some significant obstacle such as the loss of both legs in the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, and in 2014 attended on two prosthesetic legs to celebrate their daughter's completion of the race.
Rarely, if ever, is a news report, or even an opinion piece, dedicated to the theme of the American engagement in, even drowning in, violence, as a cultural norm.
There is a provocative thinker and writer, former New York Times correspondent who has covered the war in Bosnia, and some of the inhumanities of the African tragedies, who continues to plead his case for the turn-around, something he is increasingly calling 'the revolution' that does not depend, or even use violence, to replace the corporate, and government dependence on violence, embedded in the language of violence that he believes is choking the life of the American dream.
Chris Hedges is the name of the writer and his writings, in several books, more regularly appear in an on-line publication that has achieved acclaim, and is nominated again for another 'tebby' award.
Here is a quote from his latest piece, posted on April 20, 2014:
At least nine people were killed and at least 35 others were wounded in shootings across Chicago on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Thursday police announced that a man had been arrested on charges of firing on a number of motorists recently, wounding three of them, on Kansas City-area highways. On April 13 three people, including a child, were murdered at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Overland Park, Kan., leading to the arrest of a white supremacist. On April 12, armed militias in Nevada got the federal government to retreat, allowing rancher Cliven Bundy to continue to graze his cattle on public land. All this happened over a span of only nine days in the life of a country where more than 250 people are shot every day. In America, violence and the threat of lethal force are the ways we communicate. Violence—the preferred form of control by the state—is an expression of our hatred, self-loathing and lust for vengeance. And this bloodletting will increasingly mark a nation in terminal decline.
Violence, as H. Rap Brown said, is “as American as cherry pie.” It has a long and coveted place in U.S. history. Vigilante groups including slave patrols, gunslingers, Pinkerton and Baldwin-Felts detectives, gangs of strikebreakers, gun thugs, company militias, the White Citizens’ Council, the Knights of the White Camellia, and the Ku Klux Klan, which boasted more than 3 million members between 1915 and 1944 and took over the governance of some states, formed and shaped America. Heavily armed mercenary paramilitaries, armed militias such as the Oath Keepers and the anti-immigration extremist group Ranch Rescue, along with omnipotent and militarized police forces, are parts of a seamless continuation of America’s gun culture and tradition of vigilantism. And roaming the landscape along with these vigilante groups are lone gunmen who kill for money or power or at the command of their personal demons. (By Chris Hedges,The Rhetoric of Violence, truthdig.com April 20, 2014)
Many readers may consider this kind of observation extreme. Indeed, it is!
However, is it more extreme than the flooding river of history that is rolling through the American heartland?
There is a kind of unconscious, and even more frighteningly conscious, hubris that covers the American cultural reality, in a vain attempt to deny the underbelly of its Shadow. It permits and encourages violence in its own narrative, as if to deploy more peaceful means of pursuing the nation's goals would not be sufficiently "manly" or masculine or even, God forbid, could and would be considered effeminate. Even Hillary Clinton has taken more hawkish positions as she prepares, plans, contemplates another run for the White House in 2016, knowing full well that, in order to win the top prize, she will have to attract voters whose personal political persuasion includes the use of violence in the pursuit of American national interests. For weeks now, Obama has been fending off criticism that Putin has taken advantage of his "weakness" in Crimea, and now in Eastern Ukraine, and before that Obama was also "weak" in Syria, and Egypt...because he refused to engage in another military exercise, preferring to 'lead from behind' and provide support to others, as he pivoted American engagement from two wars to more creative and potentially more effective methods of engagement.
Hedges, while explicitly denouncing the use of violence, in both rhetoric and in the streets, in order to promote his envisioned "revolution" comes dangerously close to self-sabotage, in his prose.
Compiling and compounding the fractures of the American historical record on violence, for many, will serve merely as justification of its continued, and even expanded use. And, too many American lives have already been sacrificed to wanton and irresponsible violence, both in fact and in language, that the American economy is now too dependent on its propagation, both on battlefields, oceans and in the air, as well as in the virtual planet.
And linked to the violence, is, in some quarters, a religious fanaticism that sees the biblical history and writing as proof of God's already having sanctioned violence in the pursuit of His Kingdom...something so perverse as to make the contention itself, another form of the American psyche.
At base, also, is a American belief in and engagement in "competition" to the nth degree....where there can be only winners and losers....in a kind of self-imposed dichotomy that, itself, is a violent reduction into Manicheanism.
While we support Hedges' call for reform, revolution if he has to use that word, believing as he likely does, that "born in revolution...perhaps Americans can and will identify with his call to all other forms of political activism, we question his own rhetoric, but clearly not his facts nor his commitment and passion and compassion in the detailing of his arguments. Prophets, historically, have had a difficult time in their own land. Hedges, we suspect, will and already has, become an icon of that historic truth.

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