I went to the lecture by Chris Hedges tonight and was very moved by it, despite the fact that I had not previous heard of Hedges or his book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Hedges argues that the liberal class is necessary to capitalist society because it serves as a safety net and a gateway for reform to permeate through society once it has been deemed necessary by the periphery. He cites FDR as an example of someone who saved capitalism by implementing social change with the New Deal. He explains that today, corporations are destroying the liberal class wrongly and foolishly which is leading to the breakdown of capitalism and the emergence of what he calls “inverted totalitarianism”. Inverted totalitarianism is when corporate forces, instead of an individual or political leader, seize power and render the citizen powerless. He says that corporations aim to break anything that has the power to transform. He cites radical movements as the mechanism for change throughout American history, like the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, although they never received formal positions of power. It was through pressuring the liberal class to make changes that these radical movements were able to accomplish their goals. He says the loss of the liberal class along with the loss of intellectuals that question the status quo prevent us from defending ourselves against corporations. Hedges cited Marx saying that the system knows no limits, which will eventually lead to self-annihilation. These corporate forces will commodify everything until the system collapses, as we are seeing with the ongoing economic and environmental crises.
I thought there was so much truth to his argument and it seemed to explain perfectly the changes that have been taking place in society that don’t go unnoticed, but often appear inexplicable or too complex to find the source of. It reminded me of our class discussions about the role of the core and the periphery. Hedges discussed how periphery movements like Occupy Wall Street are miscategorized by the core and wrongly connected to terrorist groups in order to shut them down. He also discussed places like Camden, New Jersey, the poorest city in America per capita, which is ignored and forgotten, as well as the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where the average life expectancy is 48 years old, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti, and people go without electricity, sewage, or running water. His point is that these sacrifice zones are the first to go and then eventually the problems they face will become evident in the core. He explains that the elite are rewarded so that they do not question the direction in which society is headed. Corporate culture naturally resolves all of culpability with its faceless nature. He ended by saying that the greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember or give thought to the matter.
His lecture really made me think about the responsibility that members of the core have and the concept of culpable ignorance. It also reminded me of Said and how he says that novels are conservative and reinforce the current social order or power. It seems that Hedges thinks that education today is doing precisely the same thing. It is eliminating any radical views which also enables corporations to reinforce behavior in the very people who should be campaigning for change: those in a position of power. This reminded me of the way Prince Albert wanted to document the “progress” of England and present the country in a certain light to his people. This is exactly how Hedges says the media today and the government monopolize control of reporting on its own behavior through the use of the espionage act. Hedges wishes to draw attention to those who are ignored and forgotten: like the foreign workers on Florida farms who are practically slaves without the rights that U.S. citizens legally hold. He believes that the center or core is shaped by the margins, which in a certain way act as its conscience, and that this is why it is so important that we save the periphery. This stuck me as true in Middlemarch, where periphery characters that are not from the town, like Raffles are able to cause powerful, seemingly immovable characters like Bulstrode to act a certain way. Although Raffles does not blackmail Bulstrode out of any good intentions, he gets Bulstrode to admit to Ladislaw that he has wronged him, changing the dynamics of their relationship and forcing Bulstrode to be honest.