“Empire of Illusion – The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” by Chris Hedges

Nation Books, $24.95, 232 pp.

Review by Rick Edwards

Self-deception and spectacle have been with civilizations since Adam and Eve, Babel, the pyramids, coliseums, messiahs, W.C. Fields, guns and butter, O.J. Simpson and football stadiums. They span the empires of Egypt, Persia, Mayan, Byzantium, Ottoman and the democracy turned into empire – the United States of America.

All have died, except ours, and all the dead ones “at a certain point were taken over by a bankrupt and corporate elite ….squandering resources and pillaging the state.” So writes Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges in his book “Empire of Illusion.”

Cultures,” Hedges further writes, “that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality die. Our culture of illusion is, at its core a culture of death.”

Hedges makes it clear that we in the U.S. are increasingly clinging to our fanciful illusions. As a result, we fail to confront the stark reality of the imminent economic, political and moral collapse about to engulf us.

The fundamental cause of this approaching collage is an “inverted totalitarianism,” he writes, which does not revolve around the typical sole, individual dictator but rather the dominating, ubiquitous corporation – the “corporate state.” Consequently, we, the consumer, have allowed ourselves to be happily seduced and have caved in to the reality of this ruthless onslaught. Hedges states that “the worse the reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it.”

The corporate state offers distractions galore. The hyper-consuming citizenry is inundated with spectacle: NFL (“Football is family”), shopping malls (“shop till you drop”), sex (erectile dysfunction), food (The TV show “The Biggest Loser”), celebrity worship (Justin Bieber, Oprah, et al), drugs (the Mexican cartels), guns (mass shootings).

We buy into these distractions hook, line and singer, thanks to the corporate state and our casino – predatory capitalism – run amuck. Entertainment has even replaced its most rival for human emotion – religion – as the opiate of the masses.

Hedges writes that these powerful corporations, in collusion with our governmental bodies, flood our decaying culture to keep us happy, fat, and dumbed down so that we will ignore the grim reality that threatens and is real.

The book is a well-documented analysis and scathing criticism of our culture that includes the now functional illiteracy epidemic in our educational system – bottom to top (“Universities shower honorary degrees and trusteeships on hedge-fund managers and Wall Street titans”), and sexual obsessions (Through its distributors, Hedges writes, “GM and AT&T rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers … more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and Earth Link combined.”)

And the spin of transformational psychology does not escape Hedges’ criticism; namely the Toyota corporate model used in American corporations to keep workers upbeat, positive, cohesive that gives maximum efficiency to the work process. However, it ignores the uglier facts about labor relations and reminds one of the illusions in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

Hedges’ criticism of the corporate state also includes the Internet, where making a virtual world of oneself is akin to the problem of projecting ourselves onto a cyberworld where there’s no limit to virtual spaces to find stimulation.

Hedges denounces military growth and spending: “We maintain 761 military bases around the globe and the U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on earth combined.”

Media hype, government and corporate misinformation, interlocking corporate entities, religious demagogues and political and corporate charlatans come in for criticism.

Finally, the dressing down of the economic and money system – globalization, the free market con game, the cannibalistic financial system, now a debt-ridden credit generator so that the consumer can assume even more debt. And the incestuous relationship of the corporate state and government.

The author concludes that we are a “Peter Pan culture. … We will be dragged back to realism ….the world that awaits us will be painful and difficult.”

Rick Edwards in a longtime Albuquerque resident and a voracious reader.

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