Thursday, July 30, 2009

Empire of DisIllusion?

Chris Hedges' latest book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, is being discussed all over the literary universe right now and it's beautifully written and full of wonder. I recommend that you pick up a copy and read it. Be public spirited and request your local library to buy a few too. The following paragraphs spoke to me so loudly that I thought I'd share them with you. When I used to teach Business Administration management courses, I would point out the similarity of the traits of successful business people to those of raging psycho/sociopaths. My students would laugh out loud at the idea. In 2005, courtesy of a friend's largesse, I saw an enormously entertaining movie, Thank You For Smoking, which had been made from the book by Chris Buckley, directed by Jason Reitman and starring the winning Aaron Eckhart, whose M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad made the point about who salespeople really were so well that I pledged to include it in my course the next time I got a teaching gig. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Celebrity culture plunges us into this moral void. No one has any worth beyond his or her appearance, usefulness, or ability to “succeed.” The highest achievements in a celebrity culture are wealth, sexual conquest, and fame. It does not matter how these are obtained. These values, as Sigmund Freud understood, are illusory. They are hollow. They leave us chasing vapors. They urge us toward a life of narcissistic self-absorption. They tell us that existence is to be centered on the practices and desires of the self rather than the common good. The ability to lie and manipulate others, the very ethic of capitalism, is held up as the highest good.

The cult of self dominates our cultural landscape. This cult shares within it the classic traits of psychopaths; superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception, and manipulation and the inability to feel remorse or guilt. This is, of course, the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. In fact, personal style, defined by the commodities we buy or consume, has become a compensation for our loss of democratic equality. We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy, and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. Once you get there, those questions are no longer asked. It is this perverted ethic that gave us Wall Street bankers and investment houses that willfully trashed the nation’s economy, stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. In his masterful essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin wrote: “The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the ‘spell of the personality,’ the phony spell of a commodity.”

Click here to read an excerpt from Empire of Illusion. Those psychopathic traits speak so clearly to me about the world we inhabit today, delineating the news about Goldman Sachs', et al., scandalous financial chicanery bringing on our latest economic devastation, their right to bonuses for a job well done and their grateful acceptance of these hard-earned rewards without blushing in the slightest.

Stomach turning.

There is lots more to admire and reflect on in this tome. His views on wrestling give us a lot to, well, wrestle with. Suzan __________________


Dave Dubya said...

Good psychology lesson. Just as the Shrub is the perfect poster boy for the Narcissistic personality, his partner in crime, Dick the sociopath is the poster boy for anti-social personality disorder. That seems to the closest DSM description of evil.

What we need is a diagnosis for the kool-ade drinkers; definitley schizo-delusional types.

Beach Bum said...

Heard about this book on NPR while driving home and about went off the road listening to the author explain his book.

Maybe the old adage is true that the gods first drive mad those they wish to destroy.

As for my comment earlier about heading to New Zealand or Australia and getting away from America's apparent suicidal tendencies, heck yeah lets go.

Suzan said...

I am soooooooooooo ready to vamoose!



Suzan said...

Thanks for the analysis, Dave.

A whole countryful.


schizo-delusional types

Vigilante said...

Thanks for the link on the book, Suzan. Ordering now!

Suzan said...

You are very welcome, V.

Everyone should!