The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Welcome to the Tipping Point! The End Times. The Bizarro Hall of Mirrors. The Funny Farm. The Monkey House.

empireofillusionEmpire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
By Chris Hedges
Hardcover: 232 pages
Publisher: Nation Books (2009)
ISBN: 9781568584379

If you’re looking for one of those treacly Oprah books—The Secret, and its variants—avoid this one. Those books nourish like potato chips and leave most people more confused, more desperate, more thirsty for fantasies than before. No amount of wishing, earnest yearning, visualizing and New Age mysticism is going to get us out of the morass we’re in. In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges takes a sober look down our hall of distorting mirrors. The son of a minister, with a degree in theology from Harvard, a columnist for, Hedges has worked as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. His books include War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists. He was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. Here are some of the pertinent facts he contemplates:

  • The top 1% of Americans now control more wealth than the bottom 90% combined.
  • World-wide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the Internet, topped $97 billion in 2006—more than that of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflixs, and EarthLink combined.
  • The football coach is the University of California-Berkeley’s highest paid “employee”; he makes about $3 million a year. Nationwide, full-time faculty positions have been disappearing, replaced by adjunct positions, with itinerant instructors barely making living wages.
  • Collapsing and overwhelmed sewage systems release more than 40,000 discharges of raw sewage into our drinking water, streams and homes each year.
  • One-third of our schools are in such a severe state of disrepair that it interferes with the delivery of instruction.
  • We spend $8.9 billion on ICBM missile defense systems that would be useless in stopping a shipping container concealing a dirty bomb.
  • A family of 4 now pays about $12,000 a year in premiums for healthcare—up about 90 percent from 2000 to 2006. About 50 million Americans are uninsured; another 25 million are “under-insured.”
  • We have 2.3 million of our citizens behind bars. With less than 5% of the world’s popultion, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners (1/2 for non-violent drug crimes).

Any wonder there’s been a flight to fantasy? But, more profoundly, what’s the connection between fantasy and our decaying culture? How did we get here? Digging beneath the statistics, we find an increasing number of warm-blooded humans suffering like they never have before: lost in a world of promises broken; the American Dream of endless consumption and fulfillment–nightmarishly evinced.

“A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies,” Hedges writes. “And we are dying now. … Those who cling to fantasy in times of despair and turmoil inevitably turn to demagogues and charlatans to entertain and reassure them. …” As bad as things are now—the disconnectedness, fragmentation, loneliness, im– and a-morality–we can extrapolate, interpret the trend lines, read history, and find worse to come. Hedges dissects “our cultural embrace of illusion and the celebrity culture that has risen up around it” in five comprehensive chapters:

   The Illusion of Literacy
   The Illusion of Love
   The Illusion of Wisdom
   The Illusion of Happiness
   The Illusion of America

At his best, Hedges has a “true” journalist’s (i.e., the careful observer’s, the truth-digger’s) eye for detail, and a novelist’s ear and sense of flow. His book is a compilation of some of the best thinking on corporate power, the Corporate State, the decline of the American empire—deftly knitted together with wit and a lively writing style. (His chapter on the “Illusion of Love,” focusing on pornography, is both funny and poignantly sad.)

Empire begins with spectacle. We’re in a wrestling ring with jeering fans chanting at the villainous “tycoon” actor-wrestler, John Bradshaw Layfield: “You suck! You suck! You suck!” Layfield is pitted against the “Heartbreak Kid,” the crowd favorite, a working-class hero. “You lost your 401(k). You lost your retirement. … You lost your children’s education fund,” Layfield taunts the Kid and the audience. Then, he offers the Kid a job—working for him! All the Kid has to do is leave the ring. Humiliated, that’s just what the Kid does. And in their identification with their fallen hero, in their vicarious humiliation, the anger and resentment of the audience is stoked against the tycoon. They hunger for vengeance.

“The bouts are stylized rituals,” Hedges writes, “public expressions of pain and a fervent longing for revenge. The lurid and detailed sagas behind each bout, rather than the wrestling matches themselves, are what drive crowds to a frenzy. … And the most potent story tonight, the most potent story across North America, is one of financial ruin … and enslavement of a frightened and abused working class.” This mirroring of the “ emotional wreckage of the fans” is the “appeal of much of popular culture, from Jerry Springer to ‘reality television’ to Oprah Winfrey.” It succeeds “because we ask to be fooled.”

Celebrities become our “vicarious selves” who provide us with release from anonymity and drudgery—“ultimate fulfillment before death.”

Given his background, its no small wonder that Hedges would spend much of his book wrestling with the angel. “Morality is the product of a civilization,” he writes; but, in “a society that has less and less national cohesion, a society that has broken down into warlike and antagonistic tribes where ‘winning is all that matters,’ morality is seen as ‘irrelevant.’”

Ours is a culture of manipulation, one of “inverted totalitaianism.” Hedges borrows the phrase from Sheldon S. Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated. “Inverted totalitarianism,” Hedges writes, “unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the Corporate State. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while manipulating internal levers. … Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but candidates must raise staggering funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists … who author the legislation. … Corporate media control nearly everything we read, or hear. It imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. It diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. …In classical totalitarian regimes … economics was subordinate to politics.” In America, economics is dominant.

“The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to keep us from fighting back.” We need not stretch ourselves, I imagine. The hero of The Matrix will stretch for us. So will Plastic Man or Batman or Superman. In our culture of distractions and manipulations, Aldous Huxley “feared that what we love will ruin us.” Citing Neil Postman, he reproduces a dialectic between the authors of 1984 and Brave New World:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

I put it this way: We need not worry that Big Brother is watching us; we need worry about our dual fascinations with watching Big Brother—and with being watched! In fact, we’ve become a nation of double voyeurs: we watch people on “reality shows” who are being watched and monitored by the unblinking camera recording their humdrum lives.

We are what we eat and we’ve been eating a lot of baloney. It comes to us in various forms including the petrochemical-sprayed food we eat, the Big Pharma pills we take to keep us drugged, numb and complaisant. We watch our celebs gulping it and pitching it back at us. Our politicians sprinkle it with mustard and daub it with relish.

Conditioning. … Both those geniuses—George and Aldous–were trying to deal with it: the whole spectrum of the Propaganda State grown up around the theories of Edward Bernays—Freud’s nephew. They both understood the necessary concomitants of fear, repetition, tribal identity and group conformity. They gave it different expressions, but they grounded it in the imperative of psychological re-structuring and transformation. Orwell with the gut-wrenching fear of our worst chimeras; Huxley with mind-numbing lullabies to babies, easy, commitment-free sex from puberty onward, and lots of soma.

Hedges’ chapter on the “Illusion of Happiness” addresses the issue of psychological conditioning. It would be amusing if it weren’t so tragic. It has the same tenor of pathos as his chapter on sex, in which one enthusiast waxes eloquent about his $7500 anatomically correct silicone dolls. (He has eight, with removeable heads, and he exults over the simulated veins in the feet and the dorsal venous arch—“really, really cool.”)

The silicone pitch in academia is “positive psychology,” or what Professor Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University calls, “Transformational Positivity.” According to the professor, “Institutions can be a vehicle for bringing more courage into the world, for amplifying love in the world … temperance and justice, and so on.”

And so on it goes. Just think positive. (Remember that Indian guru who beguiled the Beetles? “Just be happy!” ) All we need is “appreciative inquiry” in order to “transform organizations into ‘Positive Institutions’.”

Cooperrider is hardly alone. There are more than a hundred courses on positive psychology on college campuses. The University of Pennsylvania offers a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology, and Claremont Graduate University offers Ph.D. and M.A. concentrations in “The Science of Positive Psychology.” Such degree programs are also available in England, Italy and Mexico. They focus on “cultivating strengths, optimism, gratitude, and a positive perspective.” Think positively and positive things will happen. Sound familiar? Perhaps we should call such programs, “Becoming Oprah.”

Hedges lifts his lens high enough to kindle fire here: “The purpose and goals of the corporation are never questioned. To question them, to engage in criticism of the goals of the collective, is to be obstructive and negative. … If we are not happy, there is something wrong with us. Debate and criticism, especially about the goals and structure of the corporation, are condemned as negative and ‘counterproductive.’” And he’s a good pitbull here:

“Positive psychology is to the corporate state what eugenics was to the Nazis.” It’s a “quack science” that “throws a smokescreen over corporate domination, abuse, and greed.”

So, if you’re looking for treacle, look elsewhere.

My one cavil is with the ending of the book, the last part of the last chapter. Hedges can be polemical and he does repeat himself. The last chapter needs less polemicism and summary arguments. And I can’t help but wonder: What is the other side? Is there any way to avoid catastrophe? Perhaps an interview with one of those heroes whose names pepper this important book would have sharpened the quill: people like Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Father Roy Bourgeois, Kathy Kelly, Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, Jim Hensen—what sustains them, keeps them going?

Also missing in action is Marshall McLuhan, whose Understanding Media of some forty years ago established the scientific foundation of critiquing the media—the mesmeric effect of mentally connecting pixiles; the alpha waves generated in a half-waking, half-sleeping state.

Morris Berman and Derrick Jensen have argued that we’re already past the “tipping point.” NASA scientist Jim Hensen says we should have started yesterday to bring down C02 levels or face global cataclysm.
In the last couple of pages, Hedges seems to pull his punches for a gentle caress: “No tyranny in history has crushed the human capacity for love,” he writes. “The mediocrities who mask their feelings of worthlessness and emptiness behind the façade of power and illusion, who seek to make us serve their perverse ideologies, fear most the power of love. … Love will endure, even if it appears darkness has swallowed us all, to triumph over the wreckage that remains.”

I don’t know. I’m not sure. The power of love is cold comfort to the corpses and the wasted lives. Love without wisdom, like freedom without wisdom, has caused as much mischief and grief as the genuinely malignant spirits and ideologies among us. Perhaps the overriding question now is how best to organize collective action against the tyranny of corporatism, the relentless pulsations of conformity. How do we return to a “literate, print-based world, a world of complexity and nuance, a world of ideas”?

One book cannot do it all, of course. Hedges has trained a brilliant light on our confused and murky, rather bizarre culture. In the last couple of pages he leaves us with another powerful idea, probably as good as love. He alludes to Rostand’s Cyrano: “The ability to stand as ‘an ironic point of light,’ that ‘flashes out wherever the just exchange their messages,’ is the ability to sustain a life of meaning.”

Poet-playwright-journalist-fictionist-editor-professor, Dr. Gary Corseri has published work in Dissident Voice, The New York Times, Village Voice, CommonDreams and hundreds of other publications and websites worldwide. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library. Gary can be reached at Read other articles by Gary.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on August 26th, 2009 at 11:49am #

    On the subject of brilliance, this is such a brilliant review that I feel I must rush out to buy the book which seems to confirm my perceptions of the current condition of the US from across the pond. Things are very similar here of course.

    Reference the mention of Big Brother (not the literary one) Channel 4 announced today that they will not continue with this dross after the planned series ends next year. I actually wrote to Ch4 last year asking them to bin it. There have been some execrable and unwatchable celebrity versions. The channel’s remit is to be a public service broadcaster funded by advertising yet they have served this up for the last eleven years with decreasing audiences and now have a hole in their schedule of 200 hours of broadcasting time to fill. I don’t think the decline in the programme’s populatity has anything to do with a increase in audience’s discrimination. They are probably just bored with it and will turn to X Factor or the like.

    Shine on Gary and Chris Hedges and thanks.

  2. Don Hawkins said on August 26th, 2009 at 11:59am #

    Gary I just read your words and Justin O’Connell’s words and I just took a nap I get up early and now I have to change and think. I will get some coffee now and do just that. Man oh man.

  3. Richard C. Cook said on August 26th, 2009 at 12:49pm #

    Great work by Gary Corseri. Someday people will look back at how this most fraudulent of cultures rotted from within and shake their heads with puzzlement. They had so much. They threw so much away.

  4. Savannah said on August 26th, 2009 at 1:57pm #

    The details that your article elevated genuinely hit home with me. I am one of those adjuncts who barely makes a living wage, and I am also a great Huxley and Orwell enthusiast (the number of my students who have never even heard of Brave New World or 1984 is a pretty stunning figure: almost 99%). I’ve also begun to notice that, when students reach the college level, many of them can neither write nor identify a complete sentence. They write in text-speak. They plagiarize without qualm. Moreover, many don’t appear to _want_ to learn. Their desire to achieve anything seems to slip away as soon as deadlines arrive and any pressure is applied.

    I attribute this, at least in part, to the prevailing culture. Because it makes for good ratings and positive commercial returns, popular culture outlets–consumed in large doses by the nation’s students and sold to them as reality–only lionizes and seemingly rewards the slacker, the easily enraged, the generally dishonorable, the cause-less rebel. I would even go so far as to say that, through ceaseless background stories, the media offers too much publicity for those driven by wrath and those resorting to murder. And that leaves us with values and virtues often forgotten in all the flashy display, consumerism, and “spectacle” . So what about knowledge, integrity, hard work, critical thinking, self sufficiency, and careful consideration? Is the inertia too great to move towards these again? I often wonder.

    Now that we’re aware of these mechanisms, how can we steer a course that returns to a basic work ethic, a sense of pride in accomplishments, and those traditional virtues I mentioned–that is, without taking away liberties (since I can see this is a slippery slope, this steering back to productive core values…we’ve been there before, since ‘Desire Culture’ was hotly discussed in 1920s Weimar, and look what happened there! Genuine horror.) So, what needs to occur to get us back to a more productive point? Hedges is right, our country is dying…and genuine positive change takes a long time, if it happens organically. Where does America go from here?

  5. Don Hawkins said on August 26th, 2009 at 7:43pm #

    Morpheus: The pill you took is part of a trace program. It’s designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signal so we can pinpoint your location.
    Neo: What does that mean?
    Cypher: It means fasten your seat belt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.

    Neo: I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

    I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. Just words from a movie well yes and what the hell do you think some of the best minds now and in the past have been trying to tell us.

    The top 1% of Americans now control more wealth than the bottom 90% combined.
    World-wide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the Internet, topped $97 billion in 2006—more than that of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflixs, and EarthLink combined.
    The football coach is the University of California-Berkeley’s highest paid “employee”; he makes about $3 million a year. Nationwide, full-time faculty positions have been disappearing, replaced by adjunct positions, with itinerant instructors barely making living wages.

    We have 2.3 million of our citizens behind bars. With less than 5% of the world’s popultion, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners (1/2 for non-violent drug crimes).

    This mirroring of the “ emotional wreckage of the fans” is the “appeal of much of popular culture, from Jerry Springer to ‘reality television’ to Oprah Winfrey.” It succeeds “because we ask to be fooled.”

    “The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to keep us from fighting back.”

    I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see and what might that be? That we have already destroyed a good part of the home planet/Earth and are now going about finishing off the job. “And you all just won a new car”, and remember super size those fries take your antidepressants call call now listen to your so called leaders and watch your parking meters we don’t need to change everything is just fine climate change is a hoax the ice caps melting is normal and those droughts put them out of your mind go shopping.

    Morpheus: I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
    Neo: You could say that.
    Morpheus: I see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, that’s not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
    Neo: No.
    Morpheus: Why not?
    Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
    Morpheus: I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
    Neo: The Matrix.
    Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
    Neo: Yes.
    Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
    Neo: What truth?
    Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

    A slave, a prison for your mind and the matrix the system for the last 10k years is doing this? Yep! And the system makes you feel like your having fun doing it. What about the 1% that control the system sort of are we there slaves? Yes kind of as the 1% are also slaves to the system the biggest slaves of all because without it the wall’s come tumbling down. Anyway we are all now in an out of control system very easy to see and also easy to see that for some reason we are trying our best to hold on to the system that will reduce the human race to just regular old survival strange isn’t it. It’s not true oh yes it is. Way to many people very smart people all saying the same thing. I still think as simple as possible but not simpler for say 100 years reason, knowledge, working together, imagination and kindness I know a tuff one. Remember only for knowledge and defense calm at peace.

    Perhaps an interview with one of those heroes whose names pepper this important book would have sharpened the quill: people like Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Father Roy Bourgeois, Kathy Kelly, Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, Jim Hensen—what sustains them, keeps them going?

    Maybe the truth on a few levels and they took a sober look down our hall of distorting mirrors and the voice said I don’t think so. “And you picked curtain number three”. “A new Car”.

    Think positively and positive things will happen stay diversified and I have one word no not plastics, oil. Sound familiar? Perhaps we should call such programs, “Becoming Oprah.” Now your in trouble Gary well come to think of it we are all in deep do do.

    The Greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. –Stephen Hawking

  6. Max Shields said on August 26th, 2009 at 8:21pm #

    I sometimes begin a Gary essay a bit cynical, but as usual I feel the by the time I finish, pang of an exquisite sensibility.

  7. Annie Ladysmith said on August 26th, 2009 at 8:29pm #

    Trully, what is it that any of you expect? If you cherish the idea that you have evolved, over the coarse of a zillion years, from a streak of slime to the multicellular animal you are now, and you hold dearly the notion that your relatives were great apes not so very long ago, what are you looking for? There is nowhere to go from there except back to the slime, and all becomes meaningless, because slime you are and slime you will return to. How do you dare, believeing all this, to entertain a notion such as hope? Do you not see that amorality is the outcome no matter how you turn the cube? Do you not see the innate meaninglessness of the bed you have so carefully made and the one most of you will die in? Do you not WONDER as you look at the stars and sense the immense emptiness within??
    I guess NOT!

  8. William Calhoun said on August 26th, 2009 at 8:52pm #

    This book is going to the top of my reading list.

    But what he describes isn’t new, it’s the culmination of hundreds of years of anti-development. Read Mark Perry’s “On Awakening & Remembering: To Know is To Be “. Read Huston Smith, read Seyyed Hossein Nasr, read thousands of years of traditional spiritual wisdom, the heart of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Plato, Socrates, the mystics, all of them. They’ve been warning us for so long and we haven’t just ignored the warnings, we’ve embraced the sickness.

  9. mjosef said on August 27th, 2009 at 4:20am #

    Chris Hedges is now our demi-scourge, the King of the New Ascetics. If you want that “spiritual mysticism,” fine, you go off and read and chant and renunciate and bemoan. You have the right to turn off the power to our popular culture, and commune with what remains of nature and entertain shamanic visions – knock yourselves out.
    So we are on earth for this short time to feel bad about ourselves, to fall further and further into imagined suffering, self-loathing, to chase some Harvardian guru’s prescription for Coca-Cola “love”?
    Our supersystem is the product of millennia of human traditions and institutions, controlled by nearly unmovable elites, capable of untold destruction and damage. Yet the supersystem is what we face every day when we get up, and you have the right to find some individual pleasures within it, like sex, pornography, fraudulent professional sports, corporate schlock rock, the Internets. What is the alternative- the craven autistic world of hermetic monasticism the monotheist Hedges champions, where we all sit around at the feet of self-styled ascetics like Nader and Kucinich and Jensen?
    For a professional God-believer like Hedges to list the major “Illusions” of our times takes the cake. How about the “thousands of years of traditional spiritual wisdom” being Illusion Number 1?
    Corseri admits to some misgivings about the puerile sentiments Hedges advances at the end – you should run for the hills and gather the children any time that hoary conceit of the universal balm of “love” is trotted out – but there’s that whiff of superior piety…

  10. Don Hawkins said on August 27th, 2009 at 5:32am #

    mjosef you could alway’s go fishing. The crossroads it’s a tuff one. Here it comes from all sides now. Who is right and who is wrong? All those wall’s dust to dust and with a little luck a new beginning.

  11. Gracchus Babeuf said on August 27th, 2009 at 10:32am #

    I believe there is a problem with this essay. I really believe the lack of ideology is the very problem its self! It seems the writer from the review despises ideology. One must be an ideologue! Ideology enables people to filter the world in a critical manner example: If I am a Marxian Socialist, I will identify the problems of the modern world as a by-product of capitalism. This viewpoint I would share with fellow compatriots, thus a sense of community is created. With my fictitious socialist community, they may act together to fix society such as form a political party. I also believe modern society tries to destroy ideology with a vulgar mass-consumer culture, basically what the book says, but to defeat the Corporate “Whore of Babylon” We need a sustanable ideology to follow and one that is critical of the system and willing to profer a viable alternative to the current.

  12. william czander said on August 27th, 2009 at 1:45pm #

    The greed we see in America’s corporations may be a function of the cultural phenomena of “positive thinking” and she suggests this way of thinking is firmly embedded in American culture. Beginning in the 1990’s, organization development consultants began preaching a model of consultant based on positive thinking, they called it “appreciative inquiry” or “AI”. This approach focuses on what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn’t work. It is the opposite of problem solving or critical thinking and rejects diagnosis. Narcissists love this, AI never considers inadequacies, blame, or remediate skills or practices. Instead it builds on successes, strengths, and focuses on how to create more exceptional performance.
    These “AI” consultants and “positive thinking” gurus entered the financial corporations in the early 1990’s and told managers and executives to be positive, dismiss trouble and critical analysis. They were selling blind optimism and bankers were buying. These consultants, gurus, and motivational speakers were invited into banks, and financial institutions to tell executives how to be successful, “go for it”, “you deserve success”, “negativity is for losers” or have a “yes attitude”. This type of thinking feeds into the development and maintenance of narcissistic cultures. Ehrenreich maintains that financial executives influenced by these gurus took extraordinary risks. They avoided caution, and engaged in behaviors that went beyond the boundaries of good business practice. These “success gurus” sold a delusion that success comes when one wills it. The “go for it” mentality is the equivalent of saying its OK to be greedy, you deserve it. This narcissistic culture that evolved brought in these gurus, consultants, and motivational speakers to justify their behavior of greed. Just as the compensation consultants obtained fat fees for suggesting outrageous compensation for CEO’s, these consultants told executives

  13. liz burbank said on August 27th, 2009 at 7:39pm #

    hey gary ,

    amerikan capitalism began and spread its genocidal global empire by genocide & slavery, terror and war, not ‘spectacle’, though the spectacle of its white supremacist horror has helped rightfully make it world enemy #1….

    starker by the day is the reality that we — and most of the world — are ruled, not by ‘corporatism’, but by a bipartisan dictatorship of finance capital with its ‘hard’ and ‘soft power’: military aggression and propaganda ‘news’ and entertainment’ ….

    enslaved by material and psychological class-race privilege, driven by the ideological engines of white supremacist racism and ‘consumerism’…and BTW, hitler admiringly got eugenics from the usa — along with much under the table capitalist support because the u.s. intended WW2 as part of its ‘final solution’ to defeat soviet socialism and its spread.

    trained to be unable think critically, to fear and despise those who dare think for themselves and rebel… ‘positive psych’ is just one little piece of the total indoctrination system
    [see, ‘weaponizing psychology’ —- much more related material at

    we’d better be damn aware of ‘big bro’ and get active because amerika’s ‘charismatic leader’, a ‘friendly face of fascism’ is here, the ‘homeland’ militarized, tightening domestic as well as global police state screws — a form of not-introverted ‘totalitarianism’…

    the ‘imperative of psychological re-structuring and transformation’ in every sphere is all ultimately political.from cradle to church, school, ‘nuclesr’ family to electoral BS politics, it’s systemically designed by academia, think-tanks, NGOs, foundations and apologist ‘experts’ to keep us ignorant, twitteres, narcissistic enthralled, engaged, entertained, ever deeper in the state’s matrix …and loyally supporting our enemy, not resisting capitalism as it wrecks everything it touches for power & profit. we’ve been warned: “if you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists”, and we’re reminded daily what amerika does to those who dare resist its domination.


  14. Gary Corseri said on August 27th, 2009 at 9:55pm #

    Thanks for your comments, all.

    Liz, I agree with you about the beginnings of “amerikan capitalism” in genocide, slavery, terror and war. I think “spectacle” has always played a part in it, too. The Revolution was a spectacle of tarring and feathering Torries, country-boy sharp-shooters vs Redcoats, and George Washington striding into the Continental Congress wearing his military uniform. We are spectacle-loving creatures, often spectators of our own lives. Aristotle wrote of it in “On Tragedy.” The extent to which we are controlled and conditioned by spectacle now is the new element. Consider, if you will, how many times we watched the collapsing towers on 9/11 and the days after–hundreds? It was hypnotic–and it was mind-rape. That was spectacle in place of analysis, in place of words, in place of the “literate” culture.

    I don’t think it matters a whit whether we call the tyranny that circumscribes life on this planet by the name of “corporatism,” a “bipartisan dictatorship of finance capital,” or, for that matter, “Communism,” “Fascism,” “Totalitarianism,” or “Authoritarianism” (remember fatuous, pompous Jeanne Kirkpatrick making her half-assed distinction between the latter two?). That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and tyranny, by any name, is rotten and smells rotten.

    Your phrase here gives me pause: “enslaved by material and psychological class-race privilege, driven by the ideological engines of white supremacist racism and ‘consumerism.'” How would “white supremacist racism” account for India’s untouchables, the Hutu genocide against Tutsis in 1994, Aztecs cutting living hearts out of captive neighboring tribes, or China’s 400-year long period of the Warring States? We need dig deeper into human psychology–as deep as Jung, perhaps–to see what archetypes of fear and blood-lust and sheer stupidity propel us.

    I agree that we’d better examine this “total indoctrination system.” Can we start educating our children, even before kindergarten, how to resist the tumult of indoctrination that comes with peer pressure and the desire to please adults?

    I agree that we’d better be “damn aware of ‘big bro'” and that Obama is that “charismatic leader” who beguiles and charms and back-steps even better than Ginger Rogers did it in heels. You’re taking up Orwell’s cudgel again, and seem to be biased for George over Aldous. I argue that both those writers had it right. Tyranny will use whatever guise it must, depending on the situation and the conditioning and pre-conditioning. “Situation ethics” rules and “situation ethics” has as much to do with ethics as amorality has to do with morality.

    You’re right: we’ve been “warned” and the circle is closing. We’ve come to accept “tasering” as s.o.p. for police. We take “Homeland Security” and the “Patriot Act” for granted–part of the background musak of the times, white noise. It’s a coarse and absurd popular culture for a coarse and absurd empire in–we like to think–its dying days. Hedges is poking around in the shit and detritus of “civilization” to see how we have come to this passage, if there is a pearl of wisdom to be salvaged. There’s much to think about in his book, in our lives, and much more to do pronto.

  15. liz burbank said on August 28th, 2009 at 11:14am #

    hello gary,
    re: two of your points: it matters that we ‘call it’ what it actually is in order to be able understand what the nature and necessity of capitalist imperialism and organize to not only remove the offender but forge a new political-economic system based on the class needs and interests of the vast majority rather than
    a miniscule class of world-destroyers.

    “enslaved by material and psychological class-race privilege, driven by the ideological engines of white supremacist racism and ‘consumerism’” refers to modern globalized capitalism, e.g. imperialism currently under u.s. domination. this doesn’t exclude or absolve the crimes of other imperialist
    rulers and their classist and racist ideological drivers. nor the horrors of pre-capitalist systems.

    my argument is that we must understand and deal with the material systemic basis underlying and serving our main common enemy: the ideological, psychological and emotional degeneration and oppression which is externalized and internalized by nations as well as individuals enslaving us in this monstrous system today.

  16. JD said on August 31st, 2009 at 2:48am #

    There’s an interview with the author on Media Matters. Haven’t listened to it yet, but for those who enjoyed the above article, it may be of interest.
    Link to ~30MB MP3 file follows…