"Our culture's secular version of being born again."

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book I’m reading right now, Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (amazon | indigo | kobo). I’m about 60 pages in and I’m wavering between “He’s overreacting, it’s not that bad.” and “He’s right, we’re fucked.”

Those captivated by the cult of celebrity do not examine voting records or compare verbal claims with written and published facts and reports. The reality of their world is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says is reality. The illiterate, the semiliterate, and those who live as though they are illiterate are effectively cut off from the past. They live in an eternal present. They do not understand the predatory loan deals that drive them into foreclosure and bankruptcy. They cannot decipher the fine print on the credit card agreements that plunge them into unmanageable debt. They repeat thought-terminating clichés and slogans. They are hostage to the constant jingle and manipulation of a consumer culture. They seek refuge in familiar brands and labels. They eat at fast-food restaurants not only because it is cheap, but also because they can order from pictures rather than from a menu.

This struck me as itself ignoring history, as surely the population has grown, by and large, more literate over the past few centuries. However, Hedges also makes the point that the medium has changed from the days when education and debate was written, and therefore targeted at the literate. Now, with television being the primary news delivery/debate medium, the content is being targeted at the illiterate:

In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. We asked to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes, and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious and prosperous, either because of our own attributes or our national character or because we are blessed by God. In this world, all that matters is the consistency of our belief systems. The ability to amplify lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives lies and mythical narratives the aura of uncontested truth. We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition. We are fed words and phrases like war on terror or pro-life or change, and within these narrow parameters, all complex thought, ambiguity, and self-criticism vanish.

Anyway, like I said I’m still on the fence about whether this book is full of histrionics or insight. I’ll let you know when I get to the end. Or you can just wait for the movie to come out.

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