Donald Trump, like much of the American public, is entranced by electronic images. He interprets reality through the distortions of digital media. His decisions, opinions, political positions, prejudices and sense of self are reflected back to him on screens. He views himself and the world around him as a vast television show with himself as the star. His primary concerns as president are his ratings, his popularity and his image.
Whether one reads Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Gore’s The Assault on Reason, Hedge’s Empire of Illusion, Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in America, Hoffer’s The True Believer, etc., or several of them, one comes away with a disparaging respect for the power of the lowest common denominator (LCD). It is this LCD that is key to Trumpism. Reach down into the morass that is American “culture” and you will find an assemblage of “thoughts” perfectly attuned to bumper-sticker solutions. The cynical right in this country has so eviscerated the art of informed discourse that we don’t even revolt at being “schooled” by our “president” via Twitter. By a “president” who doesn’t even have the self discipline to proof read his micro-missives. “Covfefe” anyone? I’ve become so disenfranchised that I’ll just sit back with the likes of Voltaire, Twain, and Carlin, to name a few, and observe the Circus Americana to which I was given a front row seat (thanks George).
Formerly, knowledge and culture retreated into the monasteries during times of social collapse.
This time, it will have to be in underground bunkers. If we’re lucky.
While I agree that the electronic image/age has played a role in dumbing down the electorate, it is important to remember that politics in this country (and others) has always been a lowest common denominator thinking pursuit. While there are exceptions, it’s why political solutions to complex problems and, especially, problems that have reached an emergency status and that require our best thinking, are typically woefully inadequate.
The climate crisis is a good example. You can’t reach across the table and hold hands with climate deniers, reach under the table and take money from the fossil fuel lobby and at the same time continue to dress up climate talks and voluntary agreements as an actual solution. Even if Trump is dumped in 2020 and replaced with a Democrat, a return to Obama’s neoliberal all of the above energy policy and incremental change thinking, puts us right back to throwing a glass of water on a wildfire as it’s about to burn us all to ashes.
“It is a mistake to see what is happening as cultural regression. It is worse than that. Oral cultures prized memorization and cultivated the high art of rhetoric. Leaders, playwrights and poets in oral cultures did not speak to their publics in Trump’s crude vernacular.”
Thank you for this recognition. I offer as example the Guarani language. Jesuit Antonio Ruiz de Montoya wrote the Treasure of the Guarani Language in 1632. The oral biological taxonomy proved to be stunningly complex.
Good for you Tom. Do what you can to keep literacy alive for the dark age we are living in now.
I hope, but doubt, Merkans’ will learn their lesson. Never vote for an ex grade B movie actor or a washed up reality show actor.
Good essay, Chris! But it’s too long for me to pay attention all the way to the end. Could you parse it down to a tweet, please?
In the book “An Intimate History of Killing” the author details how veterans would describe their experience of committing mass slaughter . They would describe how when killing the enemy with a machine gun as example, they would feel themself detach from their body and look down on the slaughter as if they were watching a movie on the big screen and how at the time they felt they were heroes . They described it as a high.
If you watch some of those Gun rights advocates today , they play act dressing up in Camo gear and trying to look like those “Heroes” they watched on the television when they were children. Camo gear? A big knife strapped on their hip just in case? Do they really think that the camo gear and that knife strapped to the hip is something that will come into play in a gun fight? Hey Arnie used that knife in “The Predator” so it a “just in case”.
Monkey see, monkey do.
As usual Mr. Hedges writes perspicacious articles, but to me, he is mostly preaching to the progressive choir. Chris is very intelligent, but I would like to see him use his mental acumen to tell us solutions instead of the problems that most of us already know.
It’s hard to believe, but I have been to countries where every citizen in the country is illiterate from the President to the professors and yet the country continues to exist. I am worried that the U.S. may emulate one of these countries in the very near future.
In the illiterate countries I have described above, voters choose a leader based on the ‘brand’ like “He was a good boxer” or “a handsome basketball player”. Schools are chosen based entirely on the ‘promise of a job’ upon completion. Books are almost non-existent. Philosophy, ideology and even literacy are a ‘funny words’ and ‘shopping’ is the ultimate pleasure in life. Is the U.S. really that far behind?
I would like more solutions as well, but I still think Hedges has to continue plugging the ‘same ole message’. The first step in solving any problem after all, is being aware that a problem exists.
Also I feel that Hedges (like us?) is struggling to find solutions against such an entrenched and evil system. At least he has a strong following and if it grows enough, more people may turn to him to seek his opinion on all matters political… sort of like a quasi-spiritual leader.
Can it be far behind itself ? The description sher sownded like where one a my siblings lives in this here EWWWKnighted Stats
What happened on the books, Tom?
I just re-read The Borothers Karamazov and it mattered to my outlook just as much as it did 40 years back.
I love all art forms, but prize literature over all others. I hope you rejoin us bookworms, Man.
As usual, Mr. Hedges offers us pessimism and powerlessness, masquerading as progressivism. No, Chris, the average person is not the digital-dependent idiot you seem to think he/she is. Take a look at a real working class radical, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Last year she was working as a bartender and looking at her phone on the subway home. You dont see her dissolving in pessimism, do you? And she is just one of millions…
An excellent article, and somehow I am reminded of Simon & Garfunckle’s line “and the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they had made.”
I wrote a novel ten years back. I’m actually proud of it, though it could use a little polish if/when I get time. And Orwell would possibly be amused (or more likely, appalled) by my career writing advertising content. An absolutely sad and shameful way to earn my daily bread…but the hourly rate is hard to abandon.
As for video, yeah, this is undoubtedly a golden age. I watch a few really good shows, but by the standards for average hours spent viewing cited in this article, I’m way off the pace.
LeCarre’s Smiley novels are nothing short of high art.
In sympathy, my wife had a full-time stint teaching biology at a high falutin’ private university down south on a 3-year contract. When it was time to re-up, she bailed. Low pay, high stress all to hand-hold rich kids trying to get into med school. She’s back in microbio research at U of M, a little happier (barely).
Did you read Lincoln in the Bardo? Give it a shot if you haven’t.__
Good points. America needs an American Gandhi and Chris, in my view, has the spiritual potential to become one.
“Trump is able to communicate with tens of millions of Americans, also raised in front of screens, because they too have been linguistically and intellectually mutated by digital images. They lack the ability to detect lies or think rationally. They are part of our post-truth culture….
They have been infantilized. Television, including the news, reduces all reality to a childish, cartoonish simplicity….The frenetic pace of TV news means that except when delivering statistics, the programs can trade only in established stereotypes. TV news is, in essence, divorced from the real, mindlessly grounded in the ruling elites’ reigning ideology of neoliberalism, militarism and white supremacy….
Television, computers and smartphones have addicted a generation and conditioned it to talk and think in the irrational, incoherent baby talk it is fed day after day. This cultural, historical, economic and social illiteracy delights the ruling elites who design, manage and profit from these sophisticated systems of social control. Armed with our personal data and with knowledge of our proclivities, habits and desires, they adeptly manipulate us as consumers and citizens to accelerate their amassing of wealth and consolidation of power….
Reality has become stagecraft…. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience….
the largest major at universities such as Princeton and Harvard—while diminishing the disciplines that deal with art, philosophy, ethics, history and politics. These disciplines, rooted in print, are the only antidotes to cultural death.”
And with the cultural death is ecocide, permanent war and the rising threat of a nuclear World War III. The human race can choose between a slow painful extinction or a quick fiery death. The only thing that can save the human race is a worldwide socialist revolution.
Or dead humans walking for not even another century?
HI phillphoko: I was a very lucky child. My father did not let a TV into the house—but books were everywhere. He had also taped old radio shows for us, and to hear things like," A Christmas Carole," in the dark with all the lights off, was to see in your mind the characters, and how they were voiced---- that was wonderful. I was lucky with a dad like that, and I still read and read and read today. : ) And no, I don’t have a TV, because who need one? .: )