& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Empire of Illusion

Empire of Illusion The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle written by Chris Hedges is an ominous and disturbing book.

Written and published in the wake of the global financial meltdown following the collapse of the housing market in the United States, the book portrays a grim picture of a country that has been – and remains – an epitome of many values that symbolise humankind’s progress towards a just and equitable society.

Values such as democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of choice, the spirit of free enterprise that enables progress of both the society and the individual.

Hedges, a senior fellow of The Nation Institute and a Pulitzer Prize winning author, analyses what he perceives to be an irreversible decay in the American society. He does this by examining four issues that are at the core of any civilisation – literacy, love, wisdom and happiness.

Hedges says that in today’s United States, these have turned into illusions. Instead of literacy, there’s illusion of literacy, love, etc. He weaves this sullen mosaic into the concluding chapter – the Illusion of America.

To say that Hedges is scathing would be an understatement. He is a relentless advocate of change. He seeks nothing short of a complete disbanding of the deep-rooted culture of corporatism. He marshals his arguments as any brave lawyer would, unflinchingly focusing on the ills of the American society. What makes the book such an interesting read is that he does this with a passion that only a journalist is capable of achieving.

In Illusion of Love, the graphic description of the physical and mental abuse woman actors in pornographic movies are subjected to is so nauseous it is difficult to read those passages in the book without taking a break, and taking a deep breath.

However, to invoke disgust is only a minor part of the author’s purpose. Hedges then connects the dots to devastating effect. He makes us realise that what may seem as individual or institutional aberrations are actually symptoms of a deep-rooted malaise that bests the American society.

He says, “The Abu Ghraib images that were released, and the hundreds more disturbing images that remain classified, could be stills from porn films. These images speak of porn, professional wrestling, realty television, music videos, and the corporate culture. It is the language of absolute control, total domination, racial hatred, fetishistic images of slavery, and humiliating submission. It is a world without pity. It is about reducing other human beings to commodities, to objects. It is a reflection of the sickness of gonzo porn.”

Hedges says that functional illiteracy is epidemic in North America. In itself, this may perhaps not be alarming; after all, there is rampant illiteracy in the developing world. But what worries Hedges is that, “...not since the Soviet and fascist dictatorships, and perhaps the brutal authoritarian control of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, has the content of information been as skillfully and ruthlessly controlled and manipulated. Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expression of individuality. And in this precipitous decline of values and literacy, among those who cannot read and those who have given up reading, fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is being seeded.”

Continued below in the next entry.

Image: www.booklounge.ca

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