“In decaying societies, politics become theater,” begins Chris Hedges’ lucid, scathing critique of American culture in the era of corporate bailouts. His Truthdig column, “America is in Need of a Moral Bailout,” argues that our society’s moral collapse is just as horrific as our economic one.
Hedges starts by decrying the hypocrisy of the ruling elite, who feed into the political theater while clinging to their power at all costs.
“The elite, who have hollowed out the democratic system to serve the corporate state, rule through image and presentation,” he writes. “They express indignation at AIG bonuses and empathy with a working class they have spent the last few decades disenfranchising, and make promises to desperate families that they know will never be fulfilled.”
Hedges then traces our “moral nihilism” to the decline of both education and mainstream media: “We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding...Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself.”
He goes on to quote from Theodor Adorno’s essay “Education After Auschwitz”, which states that in order to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust from happening, “education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms.” But this is not the case in our current system, which increasingly quashes critical discourse and steers students into business careers.
The result is a “timid, cowed and confused population”, which champions “a childish hyper-masculinity” over the complexities of moral choice, as evidenced in everything from the rise of reality television (think Survivor) to our indifference to torture and war.