In Illusion of Wisdom, Hedges discusses the tight grip corporate culture has over higher education in the United States – a trend that is followed worldwide as worthy of emulation. An unsettling example of this corporate-academia relationship is a deal between University of California-Berkeley and British Petroleum for $500 million. BP gets access to the university’s researchers and technological capacity, “built by decades of public investment,” to investigate biofuels at a new Energy Biosciences Institute.
Hedges talks to Henry Giroux, professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. Giroux, a “vocal critic(s) of the corporate state and the systematic destruction of American education...was driven...to the margins of academia in the United States.” He came to Canada in 2004.
Giroux prognostications are grim. He says, “The emergence of what Eisenhower had called the military-industrial-academic complex had secured a grip on higher education that may have exceeded even what he had anticipated and most feared. Universities, in general, especially following the events of 9/11, were under assault by Christan nationalists, reactionary neoconservatives, and market fundamentalists for allegedly representing the weak link in the war on terrorism.” An offshoot of this process – students willingly debate Darfur, but not Iraq, Afghanistan or US militarization.
Hedges also analyses the regimentation of the working class by multinationals such as Toyota. These corporations introduce compulsory experiments in positive psychology to ‘alleviate’ the soul-crushing life the working class population endures as a direct outcome of having to work in an environment that seeks complete subjugation and conformity.
Hedges says, “The primary teaching of this (positive psychology) movement , which reflects in the ideology of the corporate state, is that fulfillment is to be found in complete and total social conformity, a conformity that all totalitarian and authoritarian structures seek to impose on those they dominate. Its false promise of harmony and happiness only increases internal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.”
The final chapter in the book Illusion of America is written with passion and conviction that stems from anger and helplessness. Hedges arguments inexorably lead to a damning conclusion – the American society (and perhaps by extension Western civilisation) is about to disintegrate. “Cultures that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality die. The dying gasps of all empires...have been characterized by a disconnect between the elites and reality. The elites were blinded by absurd fantasies of omnipotence and power that doomed their civilisations. We have been steadily impoverished by our own power elites – legally, economically, and politically.”
His conclusion: “America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the foundation of our society.”
While I was reading this book, two important events occurred in China and India.In China, a literary critic, Liu Xiaobo, who asked for increased freedoms in China and end of Communist party dominance, was jailed for 11 years.
In India, ND Tiwari, an 86-year-old politican, who had “served” the country in important positions for almost 50 years, was caught on camera attempting to have sex with multiple women, some of whom could be younger than his grand daughters.
These two economies (civilisations, even) are touted as torchbearers of a paradigm change that will take our world to a different kind of progress. They supposedly represent different, 'humane' values than the materialistic West.
I wondered whether the malaise that Hedges so eloquently and forcefully describes in his masterly work is restricted only to America or the West.