This morning at Wilfrid Laurier University, Chris Hedges spoke to a rapt audience of students, staff, scholars and citizens from the local community of Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, as part of the annual Congress of the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS).
Taking the title of his talk from his recent book, The Death of the Liberal Class, Hedges gave a great talk about takeover of the democratic state by the corporations and the failure of the “liberal class” to do anything about it.
Hedges’s uses some choice phrases for the corporate takeover of democracy, such as “a coup d’etat in slow motion” (John Ralston Saul), though clearly the most apt one is Sheldon Wolin’s phrase “inverted totalitarianism” (from the book Democracy Incorporated). (Did I see Jim Balsillie of RIM shaking Chris Hedges’s hand at the end of his talk when everyone was leaving??)
Whereas totalitarianism requires a charismatic leader and top-down control, inverted totalitarianism is the effect of the anonymous corporation that has created the (apparently) “happy” and “distracted” individual consumer isolated and alone in his/her existence unconnected to the people around them. (He also says that social media is very good at “logistics” – ie where to meet up with others – but does not connect with people in the street, at rallies and demonstrations or engaged in community meetings, and so on.)
The global economic and ecological crisis, Hedges argues, can also be attributed to the loss of any notion of the “sacred” in our society (following Karl Polyani’s idea) (i.e. that everything can be bought or sold – th ecommodification of everything).
One of the reasons the “coup d’etat in slow motion” has been allowed to happen is because of the “careerism” of the liberal class (including university professors and intellectuals) has not done more to stop it. He cites a 1948 book on the Holocaust, written by an Austrian doctor, called “Prisoner of Fear”, in which leading Nazi death camp “doctors” (like Mengele) are portayed as motivated by careerism rather than ideology.
Last night at Kitchener City Hall, the local Kitchener-Waterloo “Casseroles Night in Canada” solidarity rally was attended by about 200 people. After clanging and banging our pots and pans in solidarity in front of City Hall, about half or so carried on to Kitchener Market a few blocks away. It was a lot of fun and several people, including many students and recent graduates spoke about debt, resistance and solidarity. It was inspiring. But, when the call out to how many professors are in the audience, there were barely seven (maybe eight?) hands in the air.
To this end, one can ask, “where are the intellectuals?” (If we equate academics with intellectuals….)