Good for Chris Hedges. But can we do better?

I applaud Chris Hedges.  After years of writing apocolyptic, often hauntingly accurate and incisive columns for TruthDig, there’s finally a sign that he is going to take tangible action and, as they say, put his money where his mouth is.

On Dec. 16 I will join Daniel Ellsberg, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern and several military veteran activists outside the White House to protest the futile and endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of us will, after our rally in Lafayette Park, attempt to chain ourselves to the fence outside the White House. It is a pretty good bet we will all spend a night in jail.

Hedges presents the argument that futile resistance is to be celebrated, it is the source of hope, and that it is what must be done.

Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. Hope does not come with the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is an action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and the more potent hope becomes. Hope never makes sense. Hope is weak, unorganized and absurd. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope does not believe in force. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on us all. Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope’s power and it is why it can never finally be defeated.

Yet, and perhaps I am just unwilling to entirely embrace Hedge’s bleak and desperate worldview, it seems that something is lost in Hedges’ vision of hope.  Why would we desire to be unorganized?  Why would we chain ourselves to a fence, an act of symbolism, rather than sit in the middle of a road and stop traffic, which forces others to take notice?  Hedges’ argument is based on the idea that we are, as a society, beyond the point of no return in terms of corporate dominance, ecological destruction, the dominance of the war machine, the corruption of our politics, and similar themese.  But even if that is 100 percent true, doesn’t it make more sense to resist in ways, which can be equally nourishing of the soul, that have more of an impact than symbolism alone?


  1. One form of resistance: pull money from the consumer/financial system. Opt-out of consumption (simple living, less crap), buy used instead of new when you can, go local for foodstuffs and services, remove money from banks and into credit unions or other locally owned and run institutions, avoid credit cards, and so on. Not easy, but it doesn’t need to be done all at once.

  2. Follow-up for the Christmas season: announce to all family and friends that you want no gifts, that you don’t need any ‘thing’ whatsoever. If they insist on getting you something, suggest a donation in your name to a local soup kitchen or women’s shelter. See if you can get them to agree that (at least for the adults) to end the annual consumer orgy and just get together for a nice meal or something.

    • I agree with you that these are good ways to change the system, but it’s also worth considering another perspective on this. Derrick Jensen, from Democracy Now!:

      AMY GOODMAN: One of our listeners wrote in, “Derrick Jensen says that personal actions, such as living simply, composting, biking and not consuming, are ineffective and possibly detrimental to environmental solutions. In his article ‘Forget Shorter Showers,’ he says, ‘The endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide.’ Won’t this argument marginalize, disempower and divide those concerned about the environment while excusing personal bad habits?” That’s what the person wrote in.

      DERRICK JENSEN: Well, we need to look at the numbers, that about 90 percent of water is used by agriculture and industry. And the same amount of water is used by municipal human beings as is used by municipal golf courses. So it’s a very, very short lever to take a shorter shower. I mean, I live pretty simply myself, but that’s basically because I’m a cheapskate. You know, it’s not a political act.

      AMY GOODMAN: But once you make it your way of life, you start demanding that of others.

      DERRICK JENSEN: But that’s still really trivial compared to the larger—OK, a great example is that, let’s say I reduce my waste to zero. You know, I repair my old toaster, and I wear the tennis shoes until they fall off my feet. My waste is zero. OK? The average person in the United States puts out about 2,600 pounds of trash a year, I think. I could be off by a little, but it’s close enough. Well, I got bad news, which is, actually, the average person in the United States puts out about twenty-six tons of garbage, but 97 percent of that is by industry. And so, once again, we’re looking at the wrong targets, and that’s one of the things that has been, I think, horribly detrimental to the environmental movement, has been to move toward personal purity as opposed to actually organize political resistance.

      AMY GOODMAN: And that political resistance, the form it would take?

      DERRICK JENSEN: I think it takes whatever forms are appropriate. And we look at Ken Saro-Wiwa with MODOP [sic]—MOSOP, sorry. And they attempted to act nonviolently. And out of his murder, the movement turned into MEND, which does use violence. And I’m not suggesting that as the only model, I want to be really clear, that MEND is one model. They’ve reduced oil output in Nigeria by up to 20 to 30 percent at times, and they’ve done that through sabotage, through kidnappings. That’s one model. We have, you know, the bus boycotts. That’s a different model. But what they have in common is organized political resistance. You don’t have Rosa Parks just sitting down on a bus all by herself. That doesn’t do any good at all.

      I love a story about how—

      AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll end with this.

      DERRICK JENSEN:—how the Black Panthers were looking for a place to have a congress, and they were under assault, you know, by the feds. And the Quakers offered a meeting house and did so—they didn’t agree with the tactics, but they did so because they saw it was important, and surrounded the house with their bodies, because they knew that the cops wouldn’t shoot them. And, you know, Harriet Tubman carried a gun, but she couldn’t have done the Underground Railroad, her part of the Underground Railroad, without pacifists, you know? That’s why I feel so strongly we need everything.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.