A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chris Hedges’ “The Man in the Mirror”

This is a brilliantly written piece drawing analogy and metaphor out of Michael Jackson’s life, death and international wake; analogy with our economy, our politics and the mealy tastelessness of our daily lives. I am left with a feeling that ‘now I understand,’ until I try to find the substance of that understanding, the elements that I can find and apply to some large perspective.

Ultimately, I find the Hedges’ model not believable. The corporate collective takes advantage of frightened and fleeing birds to cover their own noisy crashing through the undergrowth, but did not create them. Corporate CEOs are more like crocodiles – cruising under the scummy waters and bursting to the surface for a moment, returning well feed to the subsurface, the charmed and utterly inaccessible world in which they are comfortable. Flying in multimillion dollar private jets to a congressional hearing on waste, mismanagement and excess is exactly how a crocodile would arrive to explain its hunting style – it simply would not realize the incongruity.

Reading Hedges’ work I get the feeling that he thinks we are in pretty deep shit. But after describing – in enviable prose – the color and texture of our depravity I have no better sense of how to proceed than before; I just know that I am part of “another tawdry and tasteless spectacle,” that “The wild pursuit of status, wealth and fame has destroyed our souls.”

Jackson’s Memorial Service, TV spectacle, had 31.1 million viewers I am told. People from all over the world watched. Am I to conclude that 31 million out of 7 billion were sufficiently enchanted with or curious enough about Michael Jackson to watch about 3 hours of TV devoted to his life and passing? Whatever could those other 6,968.9 million people have been doing?

But to the main point of the essay: “The moral nihilism of our culture licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Education, building community, honesty, transparency and sharing are qualities that will see you, in a gross perversion of democracy and morality, ridiculed and voted off any reality show.” And I would suggest that, more than just being denied participation on a “reality (sic) show,” Hedges is suggesting that the list of ‘positive’ qualities also denies participation in the more socially valued movements and moments in American life.

I in no way disagree with detail of the analysis, but it only scratches the surface. We are royally fucked up, for sure, but do we wallow in our madness taking beautifully composed images of our accidental depravity? That is, do we only do Diane Arbus images of our world because the Ansel Adams pictures are so phony. Well, Arbus’ images are just as contrived. And I find Hedges just as contrived, in a similar way.

Less than ½ of one percent of the world’s people watched the Michael Jackson Memorial. I didn’t. I attended an accidental memorial for two dogs and a man that died 20 years ago. And meet the daughter of the man who died at about the same time as the dogs, a man who had been like a grandfather to me. She lived on the land where the dogs were buried, where someone unknown to me had put up stone and well made wooden markers for the dogs. My dogs, saved and raised by me, until I had to leave the land. The dogs and land belonged together: this was accepted by at least 3 different collections of people who took the dogs as part of place, who cared for them, loved them and buried them on the little hill where they could always lie in the winter sun, buried them with the names I had given them as puppies all those many years ago.

My moment was very different from Mr. Hedges’.


ron said...

It seems to me the problem boils down to: what does an individual do other than do what they are doing to the best of their ability and with a human existence recognition/nature responsibility mind-set?
Ie: go through life and leave a small footprint.

James Keye said...


Individual humans can only do what they know how to do. This often means that they cannot do what is required because the "reality" in which they are embedded is not the Reality of the actual world. Ultimately, the summed total of our individual actions needs to be more sustaining of the biophysical space than destructive of it. If we can do as you suggest, there would a fundamental shift is the right direction.