Point Loma Writers: A Conversation with Christopher Hedges

Point Loma Writers: A Conversation with Christopher Hedges



this ucsd-tv program is a presentation of university of california television for educational and non-commercial use only check out the new youtube original channel you see TV prime at youtube.com slash you see TV prime subscribe today to get new programs every week welcome to our 17th annual writers symposium by the sea at Point Loma Nazarene University I'm Dean Nelson on the journalism faculty at the University and tonight we have the great privilege of having Chris Hedges with us Chris a war correspondent for 20 years he's written 11 books won a Pulitzer Prize when the amnesty international award for humanitarian journalism awards from the LA Press Club named you online journalist of the year named one of your columns the best column of the year Chris welcome to our writers impose thank you all right you know I've read your stuff for years and yet I just found out that there was a book of yours that I have not read and I I just found out about it over the weekend a book you wrote about the life of a penny well that wasn't published Oh Oh which is a good thing really really why why not was it I was seven and that was my first foray into literature and I started I probably should have dated the penny a little earlier because I think after about 30 pages I just sort of ran out of ideas you wrote 30 pages about a penny yeah I mean you know was transferred from somebody's pocket to somebody else's pocket riveting just absolutely riveting you'll you'll post this on your blog I I hope soon now that we've rican dove given it new life yeah I'd have to finish it first yeah yeah all right well I'm really intrigued by your background you went to Harvard Divinity School you were raised in a home where your father was a Presbyterian minister you worked as an urban pastor in the Boston area and then you became a war correspondent out of that now you have this great statement in in your book the world as it is ministers and journalists tell the truth at the risk of their careers what does that mean I think great preachers like great reporters care primarily about truth and truth is often very different from news one can have a story that is factually correct that fits that sort of classic definition of objectivity and yet it's not true and you've lost me how can how can that be well first of all as reporters I mean we manipulate and select facts you know if you don't make them up no you don't make them up but it's how you can use the same facts to create a very different impression in of the same event in the New York Times and the New York Post there are ways of using facts to convey ideas images stereotypes and so this idea that you know there is a kind of clinical neutrality to journalism you know I speak as somebody who did it for many years it's just incorrect but I think the really great reporters want to convey to their readers or to their viewers or listeners what is true and that often gets them in trouble with management and the higher you go within these organizations the more the loyalty is not to truth or even news but to a career and and it's why I think great reporters are always kind of management problems within these institutions so is this why you were a management problem to the New York Times I was they reprimanded you yes I was a management problem but what all great reporters are and and I think that that that you know institutions need those kinds of reporters they're never going to advance within the institution but they're just dogged I mean I use the example of Sydney schanberg who had won a Pulitzer for the New York Times covering the fall of Pol Pot and the rise of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia goes back to New York works for the Metro desk and sees wealthy developers essentially pushing the working in the middle class out of New York destroying rent subsidized apartments and he takes them on well these developers are all having lunch of course with the publisher or dinner and and he's a bulldog he has that we won't let go until he's pushed out of the institution there's a classic example of a great reporter whose loyalty was to the reader and whose loyalty was to the truth and it was willing to pay a price for it with his job right huh and your father did a similar thing as a minister my father was a Presbyterian minister we lived in a small farm town upstate New York and he was very outspoken in terms of the in terms of supporting the civil rights movement there were no people of color in my town this was in the early 1960s when Martin Luther King was one of the most hated men in America certainly within rural white enclaves he was very outspoken in the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War and finally very outspoken for gay rights he my uncle his youngest brother was gay and my father had a particular sensitivity of the pain of being a gay man in America in the 1950s in the 1960s and he used his position as a pastor to call for gender equality rights and marriage and ordination of gays which got him into deep trouble with the institutional church he had a church at the time in the city of Syracuse and I was attending as an undergraduate Colgate and when my dad found that there was no gay and lesbian organization of Colgate he brought gay speakers to my campus and this led after a while to gays and lesbians telling him that they were too uncomfortable for me an organization which he suggested they do and that was a problem he solved by driving down one day and taking me to lunch and telling me that I had to found it he put you in charge of the the gay it was certainly one of the most committed heterosexuals at Colgate University but I I did found the gay and lesbian alliance and it met every Tuesday with my name and I would go into the dining hall for breakfast lunch or dinner and the checker would check off the appropriate box and hand it back and go hmm so I made it my undergraduate mission to seduce his girlfriend I'm wondering if growing up in that kind of an atmosphere is in part what gave you this desire to tell the stories of people who if you didn't tell him might not be told yeah I mean I think there was a confluence of events certainly my father was a great example of what it meant to be a great preacher and and the cost of that I mean it was a kind of reminder that you're not rewarded for virtue I think the other thing was that I won a scholarship to a pre prep school when I was 10 was that like a preschool no it's like it's like a finishing school for the super-wealthy and I was one of sixteen kids on scholarship and it was a real window into elitism the you know much of my family was working-class came from Maine struggled and it was a kind of lesson that if you're rich if you're poor in this country you don't get a second chance but if you're rich you get chance after chance after chance after chance and I you know the because I came out of the working class I think it kept me grounded I always remembered who I was and where I came from and I had this kind of bizarre window into how systems of privilege work to perpetuate themselves and I think that walking away from that experience coupled with the example of my father made me committed because I had a kind of privilege that so many of my relatives didn't have certainly just as smart as I was but nobody ever gave them that opportunity and I I felt that you know that that's where I stood those are the people who you know I would I should speak for because the systems of power had so often denied them the capacity to have a voice in in covering Wars you you have said that war is an addiction and that it's a powerful narcotic but but you also say that covering wars is an addiction and and like a narcotic how how is it like a narcotic well soldiers and Marines call it a combat hi and it's real you know first of all combat itself is a kind of zen-like experience I mean even colors are brighter you're aware or present in ways that you never were before a battlefield can replicate a variety of synthetic drug trips hallucinogenic landscapes after heavy shelling you never sleep you know that kind of zombie hashish like state and it is a world that perverts and deforms and destroys you and if you spend long enough in its grip it's very hard to fit in anywhere else so you know war correspondents are a small fraternity and tend to leap from conflict to conflict to conflict so why when I was covering the war on Kosovo there were two reporters there who I had covered the war with you know Salvador 20 years before yeah but when I read Hemingway he made it sound pretty cool and I read your stuff and you say it messed you up well I mean that's why Fitzgerald was a better writer than Hemingway Hemmingway he made it cool yeah it was romance but I mean it was that mythic version of war which isn't real and I don't know that in his first book that I think there was more sort of honesty by the time he got to his you know For Whom the Bell Tolls and the nickadams stories yeah I think that's right he but how many way was a like Hunter Thompson and other writers a perfect example in some ways of what you don't want to become I think mailer we were talking about earlier became like this you know you we become a caricature of who you are and I think that the more sort of notoriety or celebrity you gain the more you have to build walls to keep the outside world out because people you can dine out on that caricature but it'll kill your art some of Hemingway's very early stories clean well-lighted place you know Hills like white elephants are very a cat in the rain very touching very sensitive very moving and you look at the end of his career with the Nick Adam stories they're awful and I think the same was true with Hunter Thompson immensely gifted both as a journalist and a writer his first book on the Hells Angels is brilliant was a great book brilliant piece of journalism of course fear and loathing and the campaign trail in Las Vegas and then you know look what the flock that he turned out in the end so I and I think Hemingway was was sort of an example of that yeah and yet you've even said that you'd rather die covering war than go back to the routine of life well I I don't not now but I mean I certainly during the war in El Salvador I think you know when I was I was there for five years and 22 reporters were killed a lot of people I combat and I think there comes a certain point where you you just realize that that's your knock I didn't think I would leave alive and and you become so consumed I think this often happens in the first war you cover you so become so consumed by it that you're just willing to sort of fatally accept that I mean and I watch reporters leave and a photographer a Newsweek photographer went to Miami and he just couldn't cope he you know he couldn't and he came back and the moment he stepped off the plane we knew he'd come back to die and he was shot through the back and killed in a firefight and less than about thirty seconds so I I think that it's very hard to escape from the culture of war when you descend the level that we descended to and that's why so many I mean I knew marine Colvin he recently died in Cyril in Syria and you you keep going back it's like you know that dance with death that moth towards the flame you go back for one more hit and then you don't come back and I write about my friend Kurt York who I covered the war in Iraq with and and in Bosnia and sorry AVO and later in Kosovo and he goes off to Sierra Leone and he's killed with another friend of mine in ambush Miguel Moreno they just couldn't break free from that dance with death so three journalists have died recently in Syria at some point when you would read these accounts or would you think that could have been me of course because in the case of Colvin and the French photographer the they were in a building that was hit by rockets they started running down the stairwell they were 10 feet from the door the other rocket came in and kill I mean I've been and examine it I I wasn't friends with Marie I knew her and I worked around her I mean she was a colleague but I was a little even I was a little surprised at how deeply her death affected me and I think because it triggered precisely it just you know I you know I've been there yeah was was the moment you knew you had to get out of that kind of addiction was when you beat up the airline clerk no no really that wasn't that wasn't a signal no I mean that was I mean I should probably tell the story because I've wanted to do that several times and and and yet it didn't make me want to quit being a professor I had been five years in Salvador I was a mess I had a have a nervous twitch in my face like this you know I'd covered the war too long and I was on my way to study Arabic and then go to the Middle East and I had a dog and I was in Costa Rica and I'd sedated the dog and they told me that was a pressurized cabin wasn't operable and the dog would have to like stay in a crate for a week until the next flight and I'm not gonna leave my dog in a crate and there were words exchanged and then I jumped over the counter he stabbed me with a pen like this and that was the last thing he was able to do and well it it's worth it's worth telling the audience that you trained as a boxer yeah I was spent two-and-a-half years as a boxer so there's no fair fight so yeah it wasn't a fair fight exam so what happened to the dog well I don't care about there I jumped on he got what he deserved I jumped on top of him and the oak whole KLM staff went and hid in the office on the watch and there was any barrier flight and so suddenly the manager comes right now because no we'll put you on the barrier flight to Madrid and I said okay and they put the dog on the barrier flight but I wouldn't wash the blood off my face for some reason I don't know and I just and so when I got on the and of course all the Iberia passengers had watched it if this was New York I'd be in jail but luckily it was Central America and so I get on the a barrier flight with dried blood I won't wash it off all the way to Madrid and every time I would get up to go to the bathroom and walk down the aisle every passenger with that's why that's what war does do and yet you say that war feels like love at its inception yeah I don't get it well because it it you it has the power of exhilaration it has the adrenaline rushes it has the sense of comradeship which is different from friendship it you're wedded to a cause I mean there's a very very dark side to what we do and all the sort of descriptions or accolades that were presented to Colvin disturbed me because I certainly think it's important what we do but but that element that that self-destructive element is also there and you know war is intoxicating at it at its beginning both for the general population for those who go to fight it for those who cover it but of course it it over time consumes you I mean it's a Wars at its essence is about death and I mean you know the death when you first see it as deeply seductive yeah in even though all of your books seem so angry your books really come across as angry I'm guessing I'm not the first one who's told you that you're angry at hapless politicians gutless news media gullible populations shameless corporations and you really do seem angry at everything and yet you always follow up that anger with the discussion about love how do you get to love after you've seen what you've seen and come to the conclusions that you've come to about all these different groups that you think are morons well I mean that isn't that what Isaiah and Elijah I mean isn't that what all the prophets did you know they were angry Augustine said that Hope has two beautiful daughters anger and courage anger at the way things are and Ridge to see that they don't remain the way they are and I think a deep anger at injustice and human cruelty is ultimately an expression of empathy and love and to be in a privileged position to come out of having spent months in Gaza and to understand how the Palestinians suffer and to feel it and to have it hurt and and to see the indifference and callousness of the outside world is to make you angry but it is an anger that I think is bred out of a kind of compassion and and a kind of identification with human suffering I mean that's always the problem with coming back from the outer reaches of empire I remember having a long discussion at the inception of the Afghan war with other professors at Princeton who talked about how we were going to liberate the women of Afghanistan and as if once you start using explosive devices like Hellfire missiles you can even talk about human rights and I was the only one at the table that actually been in a war zone and yet I had to sort of speak in that rational cold academic language while I would this mounting frustration almost hysteria because all sorts of images visual images were bubbling to the surface which were probably inappropriate to share and I think that is very true for those of us who come out of this experience and have seen the callousness of what we do and the cruelty of what we do and and coping with even even well-meaning naivete people who mean well but finally don't understand and don't want to look Conrad got this in heart of darkness I mean finally when he confronts Kerchak Kurtz's fiance he can't tell her Kurtz's dying words which are the horror of the horror and he says he died speaking of you which was a lie and and I think that that is you know the great fable of Empire and the inability of those who live within the heart of empire to see what is done in their name who they are but how do you how do you get to love from that I mean you were imprisoned by the Iraqi Republican Guard you've had guns held at your head for hours at a time you had a price on your life how do you get to love from there when I graduated from college and I went to live in that housing project for two and a half years in Boston in Roxbury and ran a church there I was not prepared to see the kind of human suffering that is visited upon our urban poor and it was not a kind of suffering that I had even imagined remember going back to my grade mentor at Colgate the chaplain Coleman Brown and just sitting down in his office and saying are we created to suffer and he said is there any love that isn't I think that when you love deeply you suffer deeply when you care about Palestinians or Iraqis or Salvadorans who are enduring tremendous cruelty then you are vehement by which you express their suffering is interpreted as being angry when in fact it's it's born out of I think deep affection I was really intrigued by a statement you made toward the end of war as a force that gives us meaning about how you couldn't sleep when you were covering Wars but if you were in a home where the people loved each other you slept great yeah because I think the people who were most attracted to war are those who were most incapable of love that war and violence becomes a kind of substitute for the inability to love and especially in the Balkans where you had relationships that crossed ethnic lines they couldn't demonize the other they found you know within others the Worth and you that they found within their own relationship and they were free in a war when it begins its I mean Kafka's right it's a kind of collective insanity nationalism is a disease nationalism is about at its core self exaltation and of course the flipside of nationalism is always racism of the other and these people were somehow immune to that and you could feel that you could feel it yeah you could feel that there was love in a home I could feel that they had complete lives and they didn't have to seek meaning or identity or fulfillment outside of their relationship that that relationship which had a sacred quality to it made them fully human and and and having lived in a world gone mad to walk into the presence of that relationship was deeply comforting in your in your book American fascists you say that fundamentalism banishes love how can that be because it's about Authority fundamentalism is about Authority yeah it's not it's about you know there's a reason that fundamentalist keep talking about the 10 commandments which of course Jesus didn't write it's Jesus this Jesus that but when it comes to nailing something up in a courtroom it's Moses look if they want to nail the Beatitudes up in a courtroom I'm all behind them which is the core that is the core the Christian message and coming out of the church my frustration with a liberal Church is that they have to not not denounced these people for who they are which is heretics they fundamentalists or heretics those who embrace the gospel of prosperity and have fused the iconography and language of Christianity with the iconography and language of the state are heretics that was that is just an utter perversion of the core message of the Christian gospel and I don't really understand why you spend three years in Divinity School as I did and get out in the wider world and don't understand that this radical message is something that has to be fought for huh no interestingly you talk about fundamentalism on the side of the atheists as well and I watched some of your debates with Christopher the late Christopher Hitchens and and all I could say at the end of those was likes those it was it actually sounded a lot like if you were debating a fundamentalist Christian it's the same I mean fundamentalism it doesn't have to come in in religious form it can come in many forms and it can come in secular form these people use the language of scientific rationalism to exalt themselves the problem with you know the Paquita and I think we shouldn't maybe even use the word fundamentalist because the kind of religion that has been popularized by the Christian Right is not strictly fundamentalist and it's not evangelical because fundamentalist traditionally called on believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society to shun politics we're not seeing that now yeah this is very different so if you look at you know fundamentalists in the 1920s they were not trying to create the quote/unquote Christian state I think they use the term evangelical they use the term fundamentalist but what they're calling for is something that traditional fundamentalist and traditional evangelicals never called for and yeah for the the my frustration with the New Atheists is that you know instead of condemning Muslims as Satan worshipers they condemn them as barbarians but the result is the same and I think that that that the core of it is really about self worship about elevating ourselves and our own narrow privileges and worldview giving it a kind of moral superiority the Christian Right does that but Hitchens Harris Dawkins they all do that too and and that's why their their politics is is virtually identical it's virtually the same and it was like debating I mean I've debated the Christian writer and it is it's exactly like debating the Christian right because the Christian Right can only debate their caricature of you you're a godless secular humanist you know and they can't they can't debate outside of that cartoon well the Christian Right is the new atheists are the same so that when they debate you you know you know I don't believe in angels I don't believe in magic you know I understand there are many contradictions as well they can only debate that caricature they can't and and so it's like two trains passing the night there's never a conversation so the end of the debate at UCLA with Sam Harris his summation is I feel like it's the 15th century we're talking about witches well I don't believe in witches I mean but they they're not there they're theologically illiterate and they can't you know they don't they can't have a discussion around a Tillich or a neighbor or a Bart because they've never read it and it's really a celibate nor do they believe they should and it's really in the end a kind of celebration of their own ignorance speaking of ignorance let's talk about power for a minute mm-hmm you say in your in your book the Empire of illusion that those in power should fear and dislike journalists why is that well it's the Julian benda vision of the world as both treason of the intellectuals where he writes that we have a choice between serving either privilege and power or justice and truth and and he's attacking the Academy but he said those the more you make concessions to those who serve privilege and power the more you diminish the capacity for justice and truth and I think that's right I think that for those who care about justice there is a constant alienation from power and even antagonism towards power in whatever form it takes you know all of the true correctives to American democracy never achieve formal political power the the Liberty party that fought slavery the suffragists the the labor movement the civil rights movement and yet you could say that at least until he was killed in April 1968 Martin Luther King was probably the most powerful political figure in America because when he went to Memphis 50,000 people went with it and I think for those of us who care about justice we have to accept that it's not our job to take power it's our job to be perpetually in opposition to power you know the the liberal class is traditionally that kind of safety valve the liberal class used to be it was never designed to be the political left you had radical movements the Wobblies the old CIO even the Communist Party that was meant to pressure a responsive liberal class that's how the New Deal got passed and and you know one of the obsessions of Dostoyevsky is the breakdown of liberalism that's what demons is about that's what notes from underground is about it is when liberalism doesn't work it's that defeated dreamer Mouse man and notes from underground the person who went to all the Obama rallies and chanted yes we can and now is cynical and in despair and the important point that Dostoevsky makes is that you know when that liberal center doesn't work when the the power power is unresponsive to the suffering of the masses of people then in Dostoyevsky's words you enter an age of moral kneel and I think that the destruction of our radical movements which is disempowered the working-class and the disenfranchised coupled with the kind of hollowing out of liberal institutions in the name of anti-communism really lifted all of the constraints and impediments to unfettered capitalism which is Karl Marx understood as a revolutionary force which turns everything into a commodity human beings become commodities the natural world becomes a commodity that you exploit until exhaustion or collapse and that's why the environmental crisis is intimately twinned with the creation of a kind of global neo feudalism where workers in America are told that they have to be competitive in a global marketplace which really means they have to be competitive with sweatshop workers in Bangladesh who make 22 cents an hour or prison labor in China part of the the kind of the destruction of all of this in your view is is is evidenced by or maybe even caused by the loss of the importance of print media you write extensively about what in this kind of work we're more of an illiterate society becoming an illiterate society based on pictures instead of words and the print news media the the kind of decline of print news media are part of this well here's here's my question print news media as you have said and and I think I believe two are capable of providing nuance and complexity and verification and all of that and as that diminishes we get less complexity and nuance but wouldn't you agree we don't want complexity in nuance you know the Kardashians are in there interesting well it's you know when Cicero was writing about the arena wait a second I'm talking about the Kardashians you can't bring up Cicero in that well he's Asian the arena was you know gave them the Kardashians of their day all right what's up that you know he writes about what happens at the end the twilight of an empire when you invest your emotional and intellectual life in spectacle and that's just what we've done you read Joseph Roth on the end of the austro-hungarian Empire it's very similar as things get worse and worse there is a kind of willful checking out all totalitarian societies are image-based societies the vast majority of images that saturate us are controlled by corporations and public relations firms the airwaves are awash in lies we confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge the destruction of print is the destruction of a world and a public discourse based on verifiable fact the rise of emotional media entities like Fox News is really about teaching people to believe whatever they want to believe that lies can be true and and that once public discourse is no longer rooted and verifiable fact as Hannah Erin pointed out then totalitarianism becomes almost inevitable and so the it's worse than the destruction of print it's the changing of an entire discourse essentially wrenching it away from reason towards emotion and in totalitarian societies do spectacle very very well you're not a big fan either of academic institutions and in fact you've you've said that they don't train people to think and and you're especially harsh literature departments which I took as a personal attack books for your salvation you say but students are having the life sucked out of books at universities there you go there's there's a fox news watcher right there so so what what is that what does that even mean well you know if you look at how literature is taught it's any great artist and including a great writer of course finally writes because they they want to transform the reader and the sort of obsession with literary criticism or folio criticism it desiccates i think what these writers sought to convey you know Conrad wrote heart of darkness so that we would understand it wrack but try getting into that discussion in a classroom and having taught at some of the elite universities in this country Princeton and Columbia what des stresses me is how we're just creating a class of systems managers I mean forty-nine percent of the graduating class from Harvard a couple years ago all went into financial certain the financial services industry which is an utterly parasitic criminal enterprise the in this in the 17th century speculators were home and now they run our economy and our government and I mean I you know I know what come what what gambling on commodity prices goldman sachs is one of the biggest does I've been in the Sudan when nobody can afford wheat because it's risen by a hundred percent children die children starve so Lord Blanc you know Lloyd Blankfein can make another hundred million dollar bonus I mean this is just absolutely repugnant there's a word for it it's called murder and and yet our most elite institutions I mean I have to sort of I listen to Obama's State of the Union he talks about how he's going to improve American schools and so we can be competitive in the global marketplace I mean look the the best educated in this country the ones who led us right into this mess they all graduated from Harvard and Princeton and Yale Larry Summers and Robert Rubin and the rest of them the problem that the problem is greed unchecked greed by a privileged elite and and institutions like Harvard bow before the silly I mean the only if there's any sort of you know underside to or you know sort of bright moment in Larry Summers trashing of the American economy we can take consolation in the fact that he pissed away one-third of the Harvard endowment by buying derivatives he did and and and so I find that you know students at these institutions they're conditioned to be so deferential to Authority they have to do everything right in order to have to take all the right AP classes and get perfect grade point averages and perfect SAT so by the time they get in there they're certainly capable and intelligent in that kind of narrow analytical way that standardized testing rewards and yet they're completely supine before systems of authority and they are funneled straight into trading floors where they move people's money around electronically for 14 hours a day and I think that education or in you know academic institutions sort of crave and desire for money I mean look the half of most trustee boards that these universities should be in jail the the hiring of presidents of colleges for a million dollars a year is over-glorified fundraisers they have nothing to do with education it's really corrupted and and and now you have in in universities where they have to raise all their own funds including their own salaries including their own research money and you watch humanities departments wither away and die because no corporations gonna back the classics department and the humanities because you know a the humanities education is meant to be subversive it's meant it goes back to Socrates it's meant to teach you to question assumptions and structures and it's meant finally to teach you how to think and that's very different from teaching you what to think and and I worry that you know we produce an education system that is purely vocational and we don't teach people how to think we and so that when there's a financial meltdown in 2008 the only thing figures like summers and others do is know how to serve a dead system which is to reinflates pack you'll ative economy by looting the US treasury in the largest transference of wealth upwards in American history and there's a kind of idiocy to that and it's perpetuated not because you know America has low test scores and science its perpetuated by an elite which has no check on on their own self enrichment I heard a monk at a conference one time say that war is always a tragedy for Humanity would you agree with that yes and would you say that the wars that the United States has been involved in in recent years has wounded the soul of America oh yeah I mean you know Iraq was really a disastrous decision of course we're losing the war in Afghanistan pretty badly we've replicated the occupation of the Red Army where we control the urban centers sort of about only 20% of Afghans live and the rest of the country is either in dispute or in the hands of the Taliban I mean the great tragedy of our foray into the Middle East is that none of it had to be done for trillion dollars of wasted money hundreds of thousands of innocents dead for nothing that's the you know the I covered al Qaeda right after 9/11 I was in the Middle East and the only way to defeat terrorism is to isolate terrorist groups within their own society and we had garnered the empathy not only of the world but the Muslim world Muslims were appalled and what had been carried out this crime against humanity that had been committed in the name of their religion at 9/11 yeah yeah and if we had been the had the courage to be vulnerable we would be far safer and more secure today than we are instead we played right into their hands and we re credencial eyes this terrorist group by killing on a massive scale and occupying Muslim land and inflamed the region I mean we now have proxy wars spreading into Pakistan Yemen Somalia all the rumblings about Iran yeah that's the real the real tragedy of 9/11 is that we had a moment and we we messed it up the the the tragedy of war and yet we keep doing it I mean from the beginning of civilization from when Cain killed Abel we right we're doing this every generation seems to have to learn it for itself and it's very hard to fight the myth because the myth is seductive when we watch retired generals of Colonel's talk about weapons systems and the power of weapons systems the coded message is not just the power of those systems but an extension of our own personal power you know war can overcome feelings of alienation and loneliness and create a kind of false sense of equality or egalitarianism it's very seductive especially when it begins before the body bags start coming home and that's just been true throughout human society human history I mean there have been very precious few years in 4,000 years of recorded history where there haven't been more somewhere but war in its essence is is about death it's about it's it's not fun Clausewitz is wrong it's not politics by another means it's about the destruction of all living systems familial environmental social political economic it really is you know to use for infinite dose it is it is the death instinct and and on that giddy ride people can not only embrace anihilation but finally self annihilation that was certainly true in Serbia I mean there became a point in which the war to anybody who stopped and thought about you know meant self-destruction and yet they couldn't let go of it I mean after 1943 that was true in Nazi Germany as well the movie downfall sort of captured that pretty well given all of the years that you have spent covering war and covering human tragedy as well as your involvement with the Occupy movement and all these other things that you've been involved in what do you understand now about human nature well I mean I've certainly seen the dark side of human nature I've seen that human beings like to destroy not only things but other human beings I know how intoxicating that is I know how through fear whole populations can be rendered compliant in acts of evil I have watched really courageous figures Oscar Romero and others stand up lonely figures to speak truth at the cost of their own lives I've so I've certainly understood what it means you know to bear witness and yet you know as vasily grossman writes in his beautiful book life and fate you know it's not a matter of systems of good and evil it's a matter of you know a great evil trying to crush these sort of kernels of human kindness and yet the more senseless and vast and incomprehensible this kindness is the more powerful it is and and I think that that you know and Viktor Frankl writes this I mean I think that is our humankind's meaning and you know I I guess one comes out of the cauldrons of death with a certain understanding of deaths destructive power but also the power of love and it's you know when the shells would come into Sarajevo these huge 155 howitzers 90 millimeter tank rounds leaving dismembered bodies everywhere you would see people you know in the midst of just horrible carnage you would see people push through the crowds looking for loved ones and you could actually feel they were palpable raiding outwards these kind of concentric circles of death love death and love death and love and and so that when you are at that level of despair and destruction everything all the facades are torn down and and while death is powerful you understand that love is powerful – I mean I was in vanilla square for The Velvet Revolution every night with Vaslav Havel and the Magic Lantern and I saw the power of lonely acts of resistance where one of the great folk singers Marta kuba Shia probably butchering her last name who had sung that anthem of defiance when the Soviets came in in 68 and then after the Soviets regain control and overthrow Dubcek she became a non-person they were destroying her recording stock you never heard her on the airwaves she was reduced to working at an assembly line at a toy factory and and so there it is you know 21 years later and she walks out on that balcony 500,000 people in the square and she begins singing that song and everyone around me knew every word I mean and everyone most of people around me hadn't been born in 68 and the tears were sort of running down their cheeks that that you know keeping that flame alive I mean Auden Road eroded in 1st of September 1939 defenseless under the night our world and stupor lies yet dotted everywhere ironic points of light flash out wherever the just exchanged their messages may I composed like them of arrow son of dust beleaguered by the same negation and despair showing affirming flame there's a reason dictatorships seek to crush that flame because it's far more powerful than we know give it give some of the would-be writers in our audience some advice well uh how was that first I'll steal a line from Dorothy Parker by elements of style and then a pen download it download it and then a pistol to shoot yourself well writing is I mean for me it's a compulsion and you know I don't it's like breathing I don't like going more than a few days without writing you're never happy with your work you write until you can't look at it anymore but the idea that you know you've produced something that's worthy there's yeah it's it's a kind of constant frustration and obsession you know I wake up in the middle of the night and think you know I have something I should change and then I'm too lazy to write it down so I can't go back to sleep because I'm worried I'm gonna forget it that's what writing is right asking for advice I stopped depressing them I mean tell it tell it give them give them some tools here memorize memorize all great writers memorize a lot and I I was I did a lot of theater so I memorized a lot of Shakespeare in college read I mean you know you read great writers Proust is an absolutely amazing writer I mean I would say have only Shakespeare is greater but that requires solitude you can't read Proust if you have things sticking in your ears it requires time it you know I there's a reason I don't have a TV I try and read two to three hours a night at least partly because I don't want the cacophony of the popular culture to give me the language by which I speak even if it's a contrary language and you know all good writing is rewriting I don't like blogs I I think you know especially if you're a good writer don't write a blog I just saw Matt wait-wait a second you said don't write a blog yeah because you know I read a column but I spend three or four days on it before it comes out on Mondays a TruthDig and this I saw that Taibbi as I haven't I he's an incredibly gifted journalist and writer but he shouldn't be writing a blog he's better off writing you know one piece a week because if he if it's crafted and he has the capacity to craft it'll have far more power than just sort of banging something out when you get out of the shower and you know it's also sort of insulting I mean you have to think you know you you it requires you to reflect and I mean I think good writing takes time and and it and that time has to be spent where you've really built walls up around all the distractions that really that seek to destroy the capacity for concentration all right now I want to close this way what you would come back from war coverage and you would go hike up in the mountains no cell phone no internet and you wrote this paragraph would you read it for us as we conclude year after year I returned to these forbidding Peaks from conflicts in Central America the Middle East Africa and the Balkans I had a house in Maine on an 800 foot hill with no telephone no Stella vision cell phone or internet service the phone number was unlisted it rarely rang I refused to give the number to my employer the New York Times I brought with me the stench of death the cries of the wounded the bloated bodies on the side of the road the fear the paranoia the alienation the insomnia the anger and the despair and through it at these mountains I strapped my pack on in the pounding rain at trailheads and drove myself and later my son up the mountains I rarely stopped once in a bitter rain I crested the peak of Mount Madison in August and was immediately thrown backward by howling winds whipping across the ridge and pelting hailstones it was impossible to reach the summit on a hike and the remote pemuda wasit wilderness I made a wrong turn in fearing hypothermic walked all night by the time the Sun rose my blisters had turned open sores I run the blood out of my socks I go to the mountains to at once spend this fury and seek renewal to be reminded of my tiny insignificant place in the universe and to confront mystery Wendell Berry writes in the piece of wild things when despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the leaf sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be I go and lie down with the wood Drake rests in his Beauty on the water and the great Heron feeds I come into the Peace of wild things they do not tax their lives with forethought of grief I come into the presence of Stillwater and I feel above me the day blind stars waiting with their light for a time I rest in the grace of the world and him free Chris Hedges thank you so much for being with us you

20 Comments

  • No Labels says:

    Humans cannot have great good without great evil. Who would Jesus be without that hatful crowd demanding his crucifixion? Who would MLK be without that awful oppression?

  • Stephen Hyatt says:

    chris hedges, rocks.

  • Terry Schmida says:

    What a glib prick the interviewer is! If he finds the Kardashians more interesting than our political future he ought to consider another line of work.

  • CycoMatto says:

    Hedges is great but the reviewer is obnoxious.

  • conantdog says:

    My favorite pugilist journalist.

  • disarmyouwith a says:

    An hour of some guy asking Chris hedges questions hoping for a specific answer and getting another. xD

  • Ron Walker says:

    STUIPD MEN LOVE WAR, SEX, AND MONEY.  NONE OF WHICH RENDER ANY LASTING PLEASURE.  COMES WITH EACH ELEMENT IS THE EGO WHICH REQUIRES MORE FEEDING, UNTIL THE ADDICTION IS BROKEN.OR RELEASED
    YES, WAR IS AN ADDICTION.. SATANICALLY, POLITICIANS USE ARMY MEN AS THE TOOLS FOR THEIR ADDICTION, AND THAT IS WHY KILLING MILLIONS IS NO PROBLEM FOR THEM.  ADDICTIONS NEVER SEEM FULFILLED.

  • criztu says:

    Chris Hedges doesn't understand the Petrodollar. He'd lose all his wealth, if America would lose its Petrodollar Monopoly. If America would've allowed Saddam to keep selling oil in euros, or Gaddafi to start selling oil in gold, America's economy would collapsed. It's already receding, as Russia, China and Iran are wrestling away control of international oil from America. 
     You want to see how a great empire looks after collapse? Look at Italy, Spain and Portugal. They were the richest states a few hundred years ago, before Britain, France and Netherlands wrestled monopoly of the seas away from them.That's how America would look like if she loses the Petrodollar Monopoly.

  • Lance Ehlers says:

    I agree with the other commenters here: the interviewer is a boob.

  • Coltyn Seifert says:

    Wonder how Mr. Hedges feels about ayahuasca and Shamanism? Seems like something along the lines of soul cleansing and perspective aligning that is psychedelics would be an interesting topic for him to discuss. 

  • Coltyn Seifert says:

    What a brilliant mind. 

  • Jeffrey C. McAndrew says:

    Simply awesome.

  • AI fan says:

    love the music. Anyone know what the peice is?

  • Ken Able says:

    This "interviewer" is absolutely terrible.

  • Ashley K says:

    Thank you for the rational and honest discussion. Always love listening to Hedges. 

  • jerry henrie says:

    Chris writes for the New York Times, the most liberal paper in the world. New York is nothing but rich liberals and the poor. There is more wealth in NYC than in anywhere else in the world. Most of the liberals and the rich Gop. belong to secret societies, that control billions in tax exempt foundations that 'support people like Chris, to bring in a one world government of socialism, then communism. This group of international bankers that he shills for start the wars. How strange is that? Is he to stupid to not see the truth? Or is he a freemason or just a commy?

  • bleucheese14 says:

    The Prof comes across as a little dweeb.

  • jeffreydebra1 says:

    Love Chris Hedges!

  • Ser Torrhen Clegane says:

    Though I must ask about this question: Why is prosperity bad in his point of view? If I may cite the Old Testament: David, Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph…All were figures who prospered. Even Jesus, who was not wealthy, was still held in high regard by even those who mocked him…They wouldn't have called him Rabbi without some level of respect. So, why is it a bad thing? Mr. Hedges has a Pulitzer, one of the top honors of journalism.

  • Ser Torrhen Clegane says:

    What he was saying about facts and the truth goes to Man of La Mancha, "Facts are the enemy of truth."

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