By: Tim Shirley
I read an interesting story once by a Latin American author (I wish I could recall the author’s name). The story revolved around a priest who suffered from extreme inner conflict. His conflict was caused by the fact that he did not, or no longer, believed in God. Yet, he continued his work in earnest. He chose to continue his work, and propagate what he now considered lies, because he felt that the “good” his lies caused outweighed the “bad” of the truth. The comfort that he imparted brought a sense of peace and hope to others lives and, although he knew this was an artificial and fabricated peace, he saw value in what he did. To his parishioners, that hope was real, even though he knew that he, and, by extension, they, were living a lie. What good would the truth do them anyway, he wondered? At best, you could say that their minds would at least be free and they could live a conscious and informed life. Of course, this truth would also rob them of their fictitious hope and open their eyes to the sad existential dilemma that we all (may) face.
On the one hand, I have no respect for that. The priest would have been the kind of man that Thoreau, in real life, claimed to have despised. In his “Civil Disobedience” essay, Thoreau has some interesting, and damning, things to say about soldiers (and, more broadly, individualism). He has no respect for a soldier that signs up for the job simply for a paycheck and to have a trade, even though his better conscious might disagree with his governments actions. he says the same about Egyptians building stupid Pyramids because that is what they are supposed to do. My better conscience tells me that living (or enabling) a lie is a life not worth living (though perhaps we all do this, in different ways and to different extents).
I agree with Hedges. I share the above examples as a way to try to articulate, to get to the essence of, the root cause of the “hope” that is commodified in our daily lives. It is manic. It is manic because we are presented with false narratives — some “good” (democratic propaganda and MSNBC rhetoric) and some “evil” (republican propaganda and Fox news rhetoric), depending upon what story you buy into — and asked to make a “choice.” The Either/Or logical fallacy compels us to pick a side and we believe the illusion that there is a difference in the outcome. Either you are with the terrorists, or you are with us. Our way is the way to salvation. Classic “othering” postcolonial mentality. But, both sides buy into “hope” and believe that, if they can get their guy/gal into office, they will enact policies that will make their life better.
It’s impossible to completely disconnect yourself from culture. It is ambient, ubiquitous, and you are part of it. You can try to get away from it and have an unobstructed point of view, but you trip through its wires and become ensnared. You can’t escape from the eye of the hurricane. I, too, at times struggle with the effects of cultural discourse upon me. At times, I feel the tinge of “hope” that democratic propaganda pushes. I want to believe that real change is possible. I like Bruce Springsteen. Put him on a stage supporting something — himself then becoming a commodity with warm and gooey transitive properties — and the inclination is to buy into that. I don’t necessarily care for Meryl Streep one way or the other, but I assume the process is the same with her for admirers.
Obama is a real snake charmer. I otherwise like his tone. I would like to have a beer with him. He seems really cool. By all outward appearances, he seems to be a solid family man and presents himself as a man of values and ethics. He always says the right thing. He is wicked smot. He likes Chipotle and Guinness. I wish I could ignore the drone killings. I wish I could ignore the fact that he talks about wealth inequality, but does nothing about it. I wish I could ignore his apparent comfortability with the corporate dominance that he is apart of. I wish I could ignore a lot of things. He ostensibly offers, and commodifies, “hope.”
But, the “hope” that is being sold comes at a price. The price is your complicity in the machine, the Matrix. You consciously, and unconsciously, give your consent to the realities of the subjugation imposed by the corporate hegemony. As the priest knows, believing in this manufactured “hope” feels better than the alternative. For myself, I side with Hedges and prefer in all instances to be awake and aware of reality, and I appreciate perspectives that awaken me to instances where I cannot see beyond the tall tress of my own complicity.