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.