Chris Hedges on the significance of #OccupyWallStreet: tinkering with the corporate state is no longer sufficient

What took place early Friday morning in Zuccotti Park was the first salvo in a long struggle for justice. It signaled a step backward by the corporate state in the face of popular pressure. And it was carried out by ordinary men and women who sleep at night on concrete, get soaked in rainstorms, eat donated food and have nothing as weapons but their dignity, resilience and courage. It is they, and they alone, who hold out the possibility of salvation. And if we join them we might have a chance.

Excerpted from Chris Hedges:

“Tinkering with the corporate state will not work. We will either be plunged into neo-feudalism and environmental catastrophe or we will wrest power from corporate hands. This radical message, one that demands a reversal of the corporate coup, is one the power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart. But the liberal class has no credibility left. It collaborated with corporate lobbyists to neglect the rights of tens of millions of Americans, as well as the innocents in our imperial wars. The best that liberals can do is sheepishly pretend this is what they wanted all along. Groups such as MoveOn and organized labor will find themselves without a constituency unless they at least pay lip service to the protests. The Teamsters’ arrival Friday morning to help defend the park signaled an infusion of this new radicalism into moribund unions rather than a co-opting of the protest movement by the traditional liberal establishment. The union bosses, in short, had no choice.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, like all radical movements, has obliterated the narrow political parameters. It proposes something new. It will not make concessions with corrupt systems of corporate power. It holds fast to moral imperatives regardless of the cost. It confronts authority out of a sense of responsibility. It is not interested in formal positions of power. It is not seeking office. It is not trying to get people to vote. It has no resources. It can’t carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars of advertisements. All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back. It has no other way of defying the corporate state. This rebellion creates a real community instead of a managed or virtual one. It affirms our dignity. It permits us to become free and independent human beings.

An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope of a correction or a reversal through the formal mechanisms of power. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression now in these protests that lie outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. By emasculating the liberal class, which once ensured that restive citizens could institute moderate reforms, the corporate state has created a closed system defined by polarization, gridlock and political charades. It has removed the veneer of virtue and goodness that the liberal class offered to the power elite.

Liberal institutions, including the church, the press, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts and labor unions, set the parameters for limited self-criticism in a functioning democracy as well as small, incremental reforms. The liberal class is permitted to decry the worst excesses of power and champion basic human rights while at the same time endowing systems of power with a morality and virtue it does not possess. Liberals posit themselves as the conscience of the nation. They permit us, through their appeal to public virtues and the public good, to see ourselves and our state as fundamentally good.

But the liberal class, by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did, severed itself from the roots of creative and bold thought, the only forces that could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite. The liberal class, which at once was betrayed and betrayed itself, has no role left to play in the battle between us and corporate dominance. All hope lies now with those in the street. “

In another article, Hedges adds, ominously:

“All resistance must recognize that the body politic and global capitalism are dead. We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort.

These communities, if they retreat into a pure survivalist mode without linking themselves to the concentric circles of the wider community, the state and the planet, will become as morally and spiritually bankrupt as the corporate forces arrayed against us. All infrastructures we build, like the monasteries in the Middle Ages, should seek to keep alive the intellectual and artistic traditions that make a civil society, humanism and the common good possible. Access to parcels of agricultural land will be paramount. We will have to grasp, as the medieval monks did, that we cannot alter the larger culture around us, at least in the short term, but we may be able to retain the moral codes and culture for generations beyond ours. Resistance will be reduced to small, often imperceptible acts of defiance, as those who retained their integrity discovered in the long night of 20th-century fascism and communism.

We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe. As long as the mass of bewildered and frightened people, fed images that permit them to perpetually hallucinate, exist in this state of barbarism, they may periodically strike out with a blind fury against increased state repression, widespread poverty and food shortages. But they will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control. The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that – a fantasy.

Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.”

5 Comments Chris Hedges on the significance of #OccupyWallStreet: tinkering with the corporate state is no longer sufficient

  1. AvatarPG

    Usual (and lethal) confusion: that modern political systems were democratic. Nope. They were and are representative systems.

    It may be the case that democratic systems are representative. For massive systems that appears necessary.

    But that does not entail that representative systems are democratic.

  2. AvatarPaul

    I apologize for being blunt – but Chris Hedges needs to see a psychologist and get on some serious anti-depressants. I’ve never seen such a depressing display of pessimism in my entire life. No, seriously. He needs to get out more. He makes Dmitri Orlov look like Pollyanna. He gets it so right, only to come to all the wrong conclusions. His assumptions are so grandiose (and wrong), that I find it nigh futile to counter them. He writes this as if it were already set in stone. He ignores the larger historical forces taking place here – namely that we are transitioning from an artificial scarcity economy based on the industrial era to one that is light-speed, rapidly adaptable, decentralized and open-sourced. He conveniently leaves how there could be such a vast global systemic collapse of the entire political-economic system, yet the very rulers depending on that system would somehow magically remain in power? By what means? The vast militarization of capitalism is insanely expensive and unsustainable. He then wrongly assumes that people will descend into barbarism; that people are incapable of waking up. Yet this is precisely what people are doing all over the world, right now. Every where there is catastrophe, whether it be economic or natural, people put aside their differences and come together to help one another. This has been true throughout history and it especially true now. Some recent examples – Katrina, Haiti, Japan, and Joplin, Missouri.

    Michel – any reason for posting this guys crapola?

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Well Paul, obviously we disagree … I think Hedges has it right .. tinkering with the existing system won’t work, and only a deep phase transition can solve the very deep challenges our planet is facing. In fact, I’m not sure if you read him right, as what he is saying is not so different from what you are saying. He supports the movement, and believes it is the only way forward. But even if we succeed, we will face very serious challenges. I don’t think his scenario of descent is inevitable, I believe that we can create something better and thrivable, but, it is not inconceivable.

  4. AvatarPaul

    As I pointed out (although not specifically) he gets it right – specifically when he says the current system cannot be fixed. His recommendation of forming sustainable communities is also something I wholeheartedly agree with. After that, he decends (quickly) into the darkest and most dystopian future I’ve ever read – worse than any cyberpunk novel, and worse than Mad Max. At least with Mad Max you could carve out your freedom against more or less equally lethal foes. What he is saying is smack full of contradiction – a total collapse of civilization, of economics, of the environment, of civil society, while the elite still maintain control. Given the total system collapse he describes, control of what exactly? And how? What he describes is basically post-Roman Empire Dark Ages stuff. With a few citadels holding onto the knowledge (as monks did during the Dark Ages) until civilization rises from the ashes some centuries later. And he says with a deterministic certainty that puts his entire argument into question. Is it possible that some kind of new dark age could come? Yes. But there are so many other countervailing trends that are coming into play. What I have discovered is that we have been so programmed to be afraid of ANY alternative to the current system, that it’s end automatically entails the doom and gloom he talks about. We’ve seen it in numerous and more recent examples in our media culture – dystopian movies, dystopian scifi (seen any positive scifi lately, how about in the last 20 years?). I have discovered and realized far too many positive pathways out of our current dilemma. I can’t be alone. We need more positive can-do people. “Calling all 21st century Bucky Fullers – your world needs you – now!” In the bigger scheme of things, people like Hedges and Orlov are doing everyone a great disservice.

    I just read Hedges bio on Wikipedia. It explains everything. The guy is a WAR correspondent, and has been for the last 20 years, spending most of that time in awful war torn places around the world. No wonder he has no optimism – he has placed himself DELIBERATELY, at any given time, in the worst possible places on Earth. Like I said, “he needs to get out more.” There is a whole world out there of can-do practical people who desperately want to live in a world of peace and prosperity. When hard times hit, they take care of each other. They do not turn on each other.

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