Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is steaming mad. He’s mad at declining standards of living, the corruption of the rule of the law, corporate power, degradation of the environment, growing inequality, and government by and for the rich. He’s so mad he wants a revolution, and he knows the time has come:

There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt or you stand on the wrong side of history. You either obstruct through civil disobedience, the only way left to us, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. You either taste, feel, and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt, or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. You are either a rebel or a slave.

In building his case for revolution, Hedges (along with graphic artist Joe Sacco) has traveled the U.S. in search of domestic “disaster tourism” (to borrow Michael Lewis’s line from Boomerang). In Days of Destruction we visit the “other” 1%: the very bottom economic percentile. Destinations include a native reservation in South Dakota (suicide and poverty), Camden, New Jersey (violence and poverty), the mining country of West Virginia (environmental desolation and poverty), and the labour camps of migrant workers in Florida (a system of outright slavery, made even more remarkable by the fact that every day people are risking their lives to join the ranks of the enslaved).

Not surprisingly, we see those sinking into the miasma of despair and apathy reaching for the usual coping mechanisms of nationalism and religion. Even more depressing, however, are cases of class-based Stockholm syndrome: people who have given up hope and (in the words of one West Virginian) “have become submissive jus’ like a woman who is abused and beaten. An’ they have a high degree of respect for the people who are doin’ it to ’em.”

Such defeatism doesn’t sit well with Hedges. For the down and out in twenty-first century America he urges revolt as the “only hope.” And so the book’s final section visits the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. This marks a real shift of gears, and given how the Occupy Movement has fizzled of late it’s hard to share Hedges’s optimism. Still, he makes the case for Occupy being yet another illustration of an America at war with itself, its elites still clinging to out-of-date ideologies while ramping up the pressure on everybody else.

Whether that pressure will be enough to bring things to the boiling point of revolution is still doubtful, but the mere fact that such talk has entered the mainstream is cause for concern. Not because a revolution would necessarily be a bad thing, but because once revolutions get started it’s very hard to predict what direction they will take. Change, even radical change, may be necessary, but we should also be careful what we wish for.

Review first published June 30, 2012.

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