I survive the gradual, and I now fear inevitable, disintegration of our democracy because great literature and poetry, great philosophy and theology, the great works of history, remind me that there were other ages of collapse and despotism. They remind me that through it all men and women of conscience endured and communicated, at least with each other, and that it is possible to refuse to participate in the process of self-annihilation, even if this means we are pushed to the margins of society.
He expands on the idea of meaning through art--specifically literature--that he raised in I Don't Believe in Atheists (which I reviewed here) and demonstrates why he's one of my favorite writers and why I gave that book as much time as I did. He strikes a tone in this essay that's very similar to Arthur Silber's writings (another writer who's shaped a lot of my thinking lately, especially his pieces on Iran). They share a seemingly contradictory revelry in despair. I don't say that to imply that there is any sense of revelry in their writings. The despair is palpable and born of a clear-eyed, uncompromising view of reality. To put it another way, "I have found the cure for hope and it is awareness."
But why do I saw "revelry?" Because there is hope at the heart of both writers' oeuvres and both find release through art. The despair lies in what we are, the hope in what we may be. Despite the ever-repeating histories of depravity, destruction and dehumanization, the pinnacles of beauty humanity achieves endure despite the misery. That's cold comfort, certainly as even Hedges notes:
Thucydides, knowing that Athens was doomed in the war with Sparta, consoled himself with the belief that his city’s artistic and intellectual achievements would in the coming centuries overshadow raw Spartan militarism. Beauty and knowledge could, ultimately, triumph over power. But we may not live to see such a triumph.
Who can say? Maybe we will. Maybe we can only hope to see the minor triumphs in the lives of those around us. And though Arthur thinks it's too late, we are not at war with Iran yet and as long as that is the case we can fight against it. I know this is a penny-ante blog about goofy movies you can download for free, but this post is here because you do what you can. So read through these links and then talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your pastor and congregation (if you have one), talk to whoever you know about the moves against Iran (here's Seymour Hersh's latest on the actions against Iran and why they're a catastrophically bad idea). When you see an article in the paper demanding military action against Iran, write to the editor. Tell your representatives that there's been enough death. Do what you can when you can. To paraphrase Richard Nelson Bolles, life is a choice between doing good and doing nothing, so do what good you can.
And to bring it back around to Hedges' finding solace in literature, here are three books. They aren't directly connected to this post, but they are good and that might make the daily vicissitudes of life a little easier to endure, and maybe that's the point after all.
- Spaceman Blues: A Love Song by Brian Francis Slattery
- Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis by Ali Smith
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The songs my music player pulled up while I was reading the Hedges piece: "No Mercy for Swine" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies and "Nearer Blessed Lord" by Nina Simone.
While writing this post: "Hateful" by the Clash and "Misery and Famine" by Bad Religion.
While revising: "We Are Alive" by Paul van Dyk.