December 28, 2009
Did America slip into a semiliterate, polarized, pre-fascist state over the past decade or so, allowing greedy oligarchs and corporate elites to run the government? Two books I recently read offer reasonably persuasive evidence and arguments that the country did, and a third suggests that dictatorial mindsets could besiege Americans, with an assist from the Internet, if they don’t come to their more deliberative senses. Each of the books offers an informed diagnosis of the dangers that widespread ignorance and ideological polarization pose for American democracy, though none offers a comprehensive treatment for the malaise.
I read the three books in less than two weeks; friends ask how that was possible. The trick is to avoid not only Facebook and Twitter but also: celebrity news, cable news, Oprah, Jerry Springer, American Idol, The Swan, other reality-TV shows, professional wrestling, violent pornography, positive psychology and right-wing Christian fundamentalism.
The latter list includes some of the spectacularly mind-numbing American pursuits that Chris Hedges examines in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Hedges submits that while they mesmerized large portions of the American citizenry, CEOs being paid millions of dollars a year to run companies that feed on taxpayer money usurped our government — with the help of elected officials bought by campaign contributions and tens of thousands of corporate lobbyists who now write many of the nation’s laws.