The Danger of Illusion

Tuesday, Dec 22, 2009

I think we are the most deeply illusioned society on the planet. One strives towards dreams. One lives within illusions. You can see it in innumerable examples. Let's just take the last presidential election. Here we were a country that not only under international law were waging a doctrine of preemptive war, which under post-Nuremberg laws are defined as illegal wars of aggression. We were running off-shore penal colonies where we openly tortured people detained without any rights. We had had a banana republic seizure of the electoral process in 2000. And yet we talked about our virtues and the greatest country on Earth; the greatest democracy on Earth. The disparity between what we were doing and the perception of who we are-- This is just writ large throughout the culture, and it plays to a very pernicious fantasy, which is that we as Americans can have everything we want. If we just dig deep enough within ourselves. If we tap our hidden potential. If we grasp that we are truly exceptional, reality will never be an impediment to what we desire. And this message, which is magical thinking, is passed off to us across the ideological spectrum. It's Oprah Winfrey. It's the Christian Right. It's Corporatism. It's the entertainment industry... All of those institutional forces that keep the poor, poor.

When we tell blue collar workers that they are somehow responsible for the fact that they can't find employment or meaningful employment. That they can't get adequate health care. That they live without dignity or hope. That that is again a disconnect between the reality around us. We have literally, in many manufacturing centers in this country, packed up industries and crated them off to Mexico, or the Philippines, or China. They don't exist anymore. And what does exist are often rusted out hulks. This is not the fault of workers. And I think that disparity between the illusion of who we are and what we can become, and the reality that is now opening up, with heightened foreclosures, massive unemployment-- we're shedding jobs at a faster rate than after the 1929 crash-- Is creating a frightening chasm. Because what illusion does is it allows you, in essence, to remain in a state of infantilism; of childishness. Without facing responsibly, I think, the stark new limitations. And maybe perhaps even new humility which is needed for us to cope with what's coming. So that as that divide widens between who we think we are and what we think we are and what we actually are, eventually it snaps; it breaks. And if you're not prepared, you react as children react, which is out of rage-- and I think we're already seeing these kind of proto-fascist movements leaping up on the fringes of American society. A call for revenge. A following of demagogues who promise moral renewal.

And that's the danger of illusion. And I think across the country, we still have not yet grasped, either in terms of our imperial expansion -- The fact that we're borrowing at this point to maintain a lifestyle and an empire that we can no longer afford. And either we being to face these responsibilities or we will be confronted with collapse, which we are not intellectually, emotionally, or psychologically prepared to handle.

After Words: Chris Hedges, Empire of Illussion, Interviewed by Ron Suskind, C-SPAN BookTV, October 3, 2009, 9:28,