Review: Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt

Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt
Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt by Chris Hedges

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #42 for 2016
Read Harder Challenge Task: Read a book about politics, in your country or another
OFB Summer Bingo Square: A book you heard about on the radio

I had been planning to review this after the election, but the more I think about it, the more important I feel it is to state my opinions before it’s too late. Not that anybody really cares about my opinions on economics and politics, but still, there are big changes on the horizon, and I don’t want to be one of those who stand silently by while the world goes completely to shit.

Because that’s what is happening, I’m pretty sure of it. Hedges gets called “alarmist” and “hyperbolic” a lot, and I have tried to read this book through that lens, but I have to say that I think he is spot-on in his assessments as well as his clear disappointment in this nation’s populace, with its ability to distract itself so easily from issues that really matter in a very real sense. He is absolutely right that revolution is not part of our intellectual history. It’s something I have been struggling with in my research of the 18th and 19th centuries, so I was glad for him to articulate that so clearly for me, that we went straight from a monarchy to an oligarchy and have been kidding ourselves ever since.

This book deals with the wage-slavery we are seeing as a result of the current corporatocracy, but it goes so much broader and deeper than that. We have now reached the point of no return on so many levels, and at the risk of sounding like an anarchist (which I am SO not), I contend that the United States of America is an idea that had its chance. It had its day in the sun, and now it is going to fall — very noisily, very messily, and very painfully. And not just for us. We’re taking a lot of innocent bystanders with us. Hedges wrote this before Trump’s POTUS candidacy, but he predicted the demagogue’s ascendancy perfectly. He anticipated the racial and environmental battles with eerie prescience. And he pointed out (not by name, of course) that it would take a Bernie Sanders to inspire us to revolution.

And then, everything started going to shit. We had our Bernie Sanders. And then, suddenly, we didn’t. I try to convince myself that Bernie’s popularity and his willingness to bring socialism to the table, that he’s taking the fight back to Congress, that this all means that we aren’t doomed as a nation. But I just don’t know.

This book forced me to ask myself how much of a rebel I am. And I’m sad to report that the answer is “not very.” Part of me would like to see this country dismantled so we can start from scratch. It’s this mode of thinking, in fact, that got me Fs in Administrative Law in grad school two semesters in a row. But part of me is too complacent, too firmly ensconced in my white-privileged, middle-class existence to take those risks. That I worry about what would happen to the disenfranchised if we were to have a full-on revolution — does that make me a thoughtful ally? Or does it make me a privileged asshole who’s really good at justifying my cowardice?

I need to remind myself that Thomas Paine is evidently my historical soulmate. And I need to study him and his world. I need to dig deeper than the PC soundbites we got in school. I think that’s one thing that this book got me good and pissed-off about: public school propaganda. (And any private school I could have attended would have been so much worse!) So much of the history recounted in this book was never even mentioned, and what was mentioned was presented as a) anomalous, and b) ancient history. There was no sense that we were still on the continuum that has stolen so much from so many.

But what can I do? I am not Thomas Paine. I am not running for political office (and wouldn’t stand a chance of winning if I were). I don’t even have money to put towards causes. But I am a writer. Genre stuff, to be sure, but who says it cannot be of literary and social merit? So I am signing on as one of the dreaded Social Justice Warriors.

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Divvying Up

So, I have this idea. It’s probably a bad one. And it’s entirely possible that its outcome would be one I find undesirable in the extreme. But I keep going back to it and wondering what if….

What if the Republicans nominate Cruz, and Trump sulks off in a huff to run as an independent candidate? And then, what if the Democrats nominate Clinton, and Sanders also does a flounce? It seems to me that this could very well deal the death blow to the two-party system that has had a stranglehold on our elections for…I don’t know…ever? But then I start to wonder if that would actually signal the imminent death of the United States of America.

I should point out here that this is not intended as a political post. I am not a political expert, and while I am not afraid to tell you that I identify as a Berniecrat (and am pretty much done with the DNC), I have no interest in discussing politics per se, not even my own, not even with people who agree with me. So any comments to that effect will be summarily deleted.

No, this topic interests me as a writer (and reader) of alternate history. I’m constantly mucking about with the 19th century, trying to figure out things like what 1858 would be like if I were to go back and tromp on the butterfly that is the Missouri Compromise. So now I’m playing future historian, and I’ve decided that the USA might be more interesting as a squashed bug circa 2016. “Interesting” in the Chinese-curse sense of the word. I sure as hell don’t want to live in this reality I’m summoning.

But no, really, what would we get in November if we had four candidates of similar robustness on the ballot? With only three such candidates, the side with the split voting base would lose by a landslide to the party that remained unified. (That’s why I think the DNC is not properly appreciative of Bernie’s decision to run as a Dem.) But with two strong candidates on each side, I think the American voters might finally run the risk of voting their hearts. Sure, their party might be split as a result, but so’s the other one. And those who don’t like any of the Big Four will be less apprehensive about voting for their long-shot candidates. I’ve often voted against a candidate instead of for one, but when you’re trying to vote against two or more candidates by choosing the least evil of four, it seems far more like throwing away a vote than just voting for the candidate you really want.

So now the question is what happens when Americans vote honestly? The Republicans and Democrats will both lose more supporters than usual to those long-shot and fringe candidates, whose respective parties may then actually find themselves being taken seriously on a decent scale. And those of us who feel strongly about Trump or Sanders will be delighted that our independent votes could make a real difference for the first time in pretty much ever. ::pausing briefly to consider and dismiss Ross Perot:: This election cycle has also shown that pollsters are essentially clueless, so what we would have in November is one hell of a crap-shoot.

Clinton would probably be our nation’s most stable option. Though that really isn’t saying much. She’d be all about maintaining the status quo, but say it with me, kids, “The status is not quo!” She might slow our descent into the freakshow of history, but not by a whole lot. I (obviously) like Sanders, but I’m not sure how much actual success I would expect him to have, at least in the crucial first stages. I mean, he already has both parties cock-blocking him.

Trump bothers me — don’t get me wrong, he bothers me a lot — but he strikes me as being far too lazy to actually do any of the stupid bullshit he shouts about. (Speaking of which, does any of these candidates have an inside voice??) I think Trump would spend a few weeks being all smug that he won, then he’d figure some way to wriggle out of the whole deal. So now I have to figure out who his running mate is if I want to predict the future. Damn, ain’t nobody got time for that. And Cruz? Well, if you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, you have a pretty good idea what he’s shooting for.

So my point, ultimately, is this: What if Lincoln was wrong? As a nation, we’ve been teetering on this divisive edge for well over a century, much like a couple who stay in a shitty marriage “for the kids’ sake.” Well, our spoiled brats (the DNC and the GOP) are now snotty teenagers with their very own hellspawn, so maybe the Union has outlived its dubious usefulness and it’s time to call it quits. But yeah, this is going to be one insanely messy divorce.

Fortunately, dismantling and reassembling history is my idea of fun. I’ve never tried it with future history, but this could be entertaining. Want to comment? Tell me how you think the Americans of this particular 2017 will carve up the nation, its assets, and its liabilities.