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31+ Works 6,564 Members 157 Reviews 23 Favorited

About the Author

Chris Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times. He is the author of eleven books, including the New York Times bestsellers War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, American Fascists, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, show more which he coauthored with Joe Sacco. show less

Works by Chris Hedges

Death of the Liberal Class (2010) 548 copies
I Don't Believe in Atheists (2008) 359 copies
America: The Farewell Tour (2018) 237 copies
Wages of Rebellion (2015) 210 copies
Unspeakable (2016) 65 copies
The Greatest Evil is War (2022) 14 copies

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Reviews

Definitely not what I was expecting. I was expecting something where it's more about the social and cultural things that are taboo in america, but this was more about political things.
 
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Moshepit20 | 3 other reviews | Oct 31, 2023 |
 
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SrMaryLea | 32 other reviews | Aug 22, 2023 |
I will start by saying that I am sympathetic to the overall idea behind this book: a strict, "militant" atheism has the potential to -and in some people probably already has- become a fundamentalism. Fundamentalism, in any shape or form, is a "Bad Thing" that must be guarded against. I also am already a subscriber to the idea that humans are not morally perfectible, that this is usually a big component, implicit or explicit, of said fundamentalism. I think it evident, as well, that human society as a whole, if such a thing exists, is probably not steadily improving in some absolute moral sense; minimally, that any such gains can be lost in the blink of an eye.

So far, so good. Now, lets walk through how Hedges goes wrong.

Chapter One, a couple of Major Issues:

On page 20 Hedges quotes nearly a paragraph from Sam Harris. He cuts the quote to being with what reads like Harris proposing that "we" be prepared to kill other people if "we" deems their beliefs to be too dangerous.

But this not at all what the section in Harris is actually saying; if you go back to the source and read it, the paragraph (and preceding paragraphs) are talking about how beliefs shape our actions. Harris then he goes on to say, as quoted by Hedges, that, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them." But this is in a section discussion beliefs, systems of beliefs, and so forth! Including how much belief can motivate us, up to and including killing people!

Strike two. Page 36. Quotes Harris as, again, proposing that we nuke an Islamic regime that acquires long range nuclear weapons. Which is not at all what Harris is saying! He *clearly* states that this would be ridiculous outcome, and moreover a crime against humanity, but that some future US government might feel they have no alternative. He then goes on to say how this could result in a counter strike against the US, and this would lead to -obviously- more mass death, and all because of irrationality.

But Hedges doesn't present *any* of that. He again cuts the quote to make it sound like Harris is actively proposing we go out and nuke e.g. Iran as soon as we think they have a long range nuclear capability. In fact, the scenario describe is morally complicated; there is no "good solution." Again, all of which Hedges either missed completely or disingenuously ignored to better make his point.

Note: In the passage in The End of Faith Harris places blame squarely at the feet of "religion" for what would be a US first strike against a fundamentalist state. Which seems, well, not at all fair. It is *this* reasoning that Hedges seems to really, really get angry over. And I would say understandably so. This is also couched in page after page of Harris "demonstrating" how Islam is a religion of violence. Which strikes many as more than a bit bigoted. Here of there Harris walks this back a bit, saying that, more or less, e.g. Christianity was a religion of violence at one point. But that gets lost in his repetition of, "Islam, Islam, Islam" everywhere else.


In chapter two, Hedges discusses science and religion and how he sees scientists and atheists misusing "science" (e.g. turning it into what Hedges calls the "cult of science.") I, again, am sympathetic to some overarching ideas here: e.g. it seems ridiculous to me that there are some fairly smart people talking about "the singularity" in 10 to 50 years. This is fantasy dressed up as religion dressed up as science.

Hedges then goes on to commit a whole series of mistakes that reveal how little he understands both what he is criticizing directly, as well as the underlying science. He waves his arms at "Darwinism" being applied outside biology, and says this is a mistake; he seams to mean that theories that are part of modern, neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory are applied outside biology, and this is (universally?) bad. And then he talks about Nazis.

He waves his arms at Quantum Mechanics, talking about how processes at the particle level are irreducibly random, leaps from there to the fact that the world is unpredictable, and says viola. Of course, the two have nothing to do with each other. Quantum processes are inherently random, and at the sub-microscopic scale this randomness becomes evident in certain situations; "life" is random because we don't have enough information. Theoretically, at least, you could drive cars around from now until the heat death of the universe and not have an accident, given sufficient information; car accidents are not inherently random. International politics, driving cars, religious debates, and day to day life are not quantum processes, not inherently random either; just really, really complicated/information laden. Two different kinds of randomness, and never the twain shall meet.

I could go on in this vein, but will stop. I really have a pet peeve with people dragging out QM to explain stuff, as they nearly, nearly, nearly never have the foggiest idea of what they are talking about.

I'll just do one more chapter. In chapter three, I see much that I agree with. Yes, there is a brittleness to the "New Atheist" program, though I think Hedges overplays this somewhat. I began a couple of years ago to become dissatisfied with what I was hearing from e.g. "The Four Horsemen" because it was invariably to simplistic, or just illogical. To claim that "religion" is responsible for all wrongs committed in the name of one or another particular religion, while "atheism" is not responsible for anything is a severe double standard. To say the least. To dismiss, essentially, all other causes for discord, war, murder, etc. other than religion is, well, stupid.

However, Hedges overplays this a bit when he, in turn, simplifies and flattens the feelings of "new atheists." He sees them merely as yet another group of fundamentalists; he doesn't seem to even consider that they are reacting to the increasingly politicized fundamentalist religious movements in the US, or the hubris and privilege that "the religious" often express when confronted with the fact that some people are in fact not religious. He seems to lean toward blaming atheists for the misunderstanding and stress that the existence of two distinct, probably incommensurable, world views causes. E.g. that for a person who does not believe in a "higher power", anthropomorphic or not, it is actually often fairly *disturbing* to deal with full-grown adults *who have an invisible friend.* Add to this that said invisible-friend-having people also run, essentially, the whole world... it is difficult to simply accept that as an alternative world view. And I imagine it must be very disturbing for those who do believe in a God/god/gods/power to have people around who hold the very concept -not just your particular belief, but the concept itself- as invalid.


And that none of that has got anything to do with Empire or Globalization of the vapidity of middle class life. Which clearly are Hedges true concerns (and, to an extent, again, I have to agree with his views.)


Anyway, since this review is quickly becoming as long as the book, I will stop. I will say that I've rarely read something that I found myself so much in agreement with while simultaneously so strongly in disagreement with. Part of it is that Hedges is somewhat sloppy in his reasoning, part of it is that I just don't agree with him everywhere, part of it is that I think he is a bit hypocritical. But he does well point out the overreach of the "New Atheists." He is not as successful at explaining the idea behind the lack of absolute progress (I'd say go read John N. Gray if you are interested in this.) And I think he fails to address that his entire book is a call to a higher morality, a call for moral progress in effect, or that he is choosing to define religion and cherry-pick authors and beliefs (in Hedges case, in to case a good light) in just the same way that he accuses Hitchens and Harris of doing (in their cases, to cast in a very nearly uniformly bad light.)
… (more)
 
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dcunning11235 | 10 other reviews | Aug 12, 2023 |
I realize after reading this why my opinion of Chris Hedges falls each time I read a book by him. In part, it is because his analysis of each issue tends to be tendentious and simpleminded; in part, it is because he, the pot calling the kettle black, sees those that disagree with him as somewhere between moral monsters and merely amorally corrupt. And in part, it is because, as I was reminded by reading my own rel="nofollow" target="_top">review of [b:I Don't Believe in Atheists|1888742|I Don't Believe in Atheists|Chris Hedges|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1348768580l/1888742._SX50_.jpg|1890025], his tendentiousness sometimes crosses over into what can only truthfully be called lying.

All those things are on display here. Corporations are the root of evil. Repeat ad nauseam, and you have the first 150 pages for this book. From environmental degradation to the news people watch to... well, everything, corporations are responsible for it. E.g. people don't use plastic bags because they are a cheap convenience and people fundamentally lack grand-scale foresight, but because corporations have foisted this on us, forced it on us, tricked us, created false consciousness.

Actually, repeat *that* for the first 150 pages, and you've re-written a good chunk of this book. People don't do "bad" things because those things are "easy" or "taste good" or "lazy" or "cheap" or whatever, they do them because they've been tricked into believing those things are easy, tasty, lazy, cheap, etc. and if they could just break free then and fight the evil overlords, all would be well.

I disagree. Like the Communism that Hedges periodically castigates, the charges (plural) of false-consciousness are such an easy way of relieving yourself of any heavy lifting. Do people disagree with you? Corporate stooges. Is the "common man" not coming around? He's been blinded, robbed of his sense. I *know* that I should never use another plastic bag and yet I shamefully often do. I *know* that should pay more attention to where my clothes are made and what materials they are made from, but I have a thousand "more important" things to do. I realize that there is some real debate about whether organic and local foods are more environmentally friendly, but I could err on the side of caution and at least provisionally switch to only (or even just mostly) eating local, organic produce and dairy.

And so forth. Why don't I make those better choices? I suppose you can make sense of Hedges POV by bumping the responsibility up the chain and claiming that I don't do those things because the cheap, harmful alternatives are badly subsidized, costs are externalized, etc. and so that responsibility really does lie with "The Corporations," and I really am making the logical, best choice given the options, costs, ease of access, etc. But it is unclear to me why I get a (kind of, anyway, maybe) pass, but some other people (because that's what corporations are) making cars or Cheetos or rayon or whatever do not.

It's oddly disconnected from his POV on the wars in Iraq, Afganistan, and of war in general, and his take on American involvement in support of Israel. On that (those) subjects Hedges is morally outraged at the government, yes, the major political parties, yes, but also in some real way of the common voter. There it is our lack of caring, our turning a blind eye, our preference for sports and the Kardashians and sex pseudo-scandals and the lastest Hollywood explosion-fest that is responsible for the suffering and death that continue unabated. Sure, there is a nod to the corporate media burying the truth, but even Hedges can't really pin it on that; he ultimately more-or-less blames all of us.

For me, these are blazingly contradictory positions. What amazes me is that Hedges, who is religiously trained and clearly a believer in some major shape or fashion, who repeatedly points to the "corrupted" or imperfect (and unperfectible) nature of man, doesn't see suffering and war and class structure and racism and environmental degradation as the products of imperfect (to say the least) human systems made up of imperfect humans. He sees them as moral failings. Okay, so that is not surprising in light of his religious leanings. It seems surprising *to me*, as a nonreligious person, who takes from religion and some philosophy the "crooked timber" lesson/idea about humanity.

Hedges deeply wants humanity to be perfectible but understands that it is not, and in fact understands how deep the hell-hole is if you fall for the myth that humanity is perfectible. As a compassionate person who has seen some real shit in person, I think his desire for this is deeper than someone like me can really understand. But there's that gulf, you can't get there from here. I suspect that is a real problem for him, personally, and that the gaps and contradictions in these articles and essays are part of that gulf. I suspect that is why he so easily and frequently casts others as craven sell-outs and moral monsters (and, at least in previous books, as mentioned up top, even resorts to outright lying.)

A more interesting book, a more searching book, a better book, would be a collection of essays of him exploring that gulf. What would happen if we as a society, a nation, an economy, a people, a culture, as individuals, took that gulf seriously and paid more heed to our position on one side of it?… (more)
 
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dcunning11235 | 1 other review | Aug 12, 2023 |

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