Chris Hedges is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who spent fifteen years as a New York Times foreign correspondent and bureau chief. He has authored numerous books including War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002) and Death of the Liberal Class (2010). In a recent conversation, The Dartmouth Radical’s Eli Lichtenstein talks to Hedges about electoral politics, corporatized universities, and prospects for radical change. Excerpts of the interview are found below.
RADICAL: I wanted to start by asking if you’re following the presidential race.
RADICAL: So what are your thoughts on the two candidates and particularly the differences—or lack there of—between the two candidates?
HEDGES: I don’t follow it and I don’t invest any intellectual or emotional time in political theater, at all. For commentary on the candidates you should talk to someone else. I don’t care.
RADICAL: Why do you not care? Why do you not invest?
HEDGES: Because they don’t have power. Personal narratives of the candidates are not relevant. Power rests with Wall Street, and you can see that in that there’s a complete continuum on all of the major policy issues from Bush to Obama. And there will be if Romney is elected.
RADICAL: What role do universities play within this system today?
HEDGES: Well you’re at Dartmouth. Dartmouth is a corporation. They’re completely corporatized. Those institutions exist to feed the plutocracy, which is why they were founded and what they do. And you had forty-nine percent of the Harvard graduating class going to work on Wall Street and that doesn’t count all the people who go to law school to become corporate lawyers. Universities have become vocational in that sense, whether it’s Dartmouth or anywhere else. They don’t teach people how to think; they teach people what to think. That’s the problem: you graduate classes of systems managers. I mean Paulson… all these people came out of Dartmouth. I think Geithner did, too. They know how to serve a system. They don’t know how to critique it, they don’t… you know, they have a very narrow analytical kind of intelligence and the emotional maturity of twelve-year-olds. I mean, they’re all reading Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman.
RADICAL: Returning to questions of politics, a lot of people justify voting for the Democratic Party with the “lesser of two evils” argument.
HEDGES: It just doesn’t fair out in terms of… the assault on civil liberties is worse under Obama, the expansion of imperial wars, the failure to rein in Wall Street, the utter political paralysis, in terms of the inability to deal with chronic under- and unemployment. It’s the lesser of two evils for what?
RADICAL: In the face of this paralysis, what options are left to us?
HEDGES: Civil disobedience, which is, in a few minutes, exactly I’m about to do [while we spoke, Hedges was preparing to join an anti-war protest in New York City].
RADICAL: Could you briefly describe the theory of civil disobedience?
HEDGES: Well, that you rebuild movements that begin to put pressure on a power structure that is unable to respond rationally to implement incremental or piecemeal reform. I’m not saying it’s going to work, but it’s all we have left. There is no way in the American political system to vote against the interest of Goldman Sachs. It’s impossible. Or Exxon Mobil.
RADICAL: Now getting to the last questions, what is your personal evidence for this diagnosis of the corporate state that we live in?
HEDGES: […] The evidence is that the political system does not respond to the most basic needs of the citizenry. And the evidence is there, whether on foreclosures and bank repossessions, whether it’s on jobs, whether it’s on the breaking of unions, or the reconfiguration of the state and the global economy into a form of neofeudalism, it’s all there.
RADICAL: What are the everyday manifestations of this state of neofeudalism?
HEDGES: Well if you’re in the working class, you cannot have a job where you have sustainable income, for you or your family. Crumbling infrastructure, the fact that municipalities, states and cities, can’t meet their obligations in terms of pensions or anything else. There are all sorts of signs all around us: schools closed, firehouses closed, libraries closed. And that’s what happens when imperial societies die: they hollow the country out from the inside.
RADICAL: In your recent book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt [2012, co-authored with Joe Sacco], you chronicle your tour through some of the “sacrifice zones” of the United States. Would you briefly describe what you saw therein?
HEDGES: Well it’s what happens when you force communities, individuals, and societies to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace. Where everything is sacrificed for market demands. And it in essence commodifies everything that you then exploit until exhaustion or collapse. And what happened in these sacrifice zones is now happening in the wider society since there are no impediments left on corporate capitalism.
RADICAL: Going back to your emphasis on civil disobedience, I’d like you to talk briefly about the role you see Occupy playing.
HEDGES: Well Occupy set the template because it was outside the two political systems, it defied traditional structures including labor, it was a mainstream movement in that it articulated the concerns of the mainstream that were not being articulated in an essentially corporate-dominated system of information. […] What comes next, I don’t know. It’s always the ruling class that determines the configurations of revolt. But that something’s coming, I have no doubt. Because they’ve not addressed one of the issues that drove people into those encampments. But something’s coming. It may not be called Occupy, it may not look like Occupy, but I’ve covered movements all over the world, and something’s coming.
~ by Eli Lichenstein