Why Chris Hedges Believes That Serious Revolt Is the Only Option People Have Left
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MK: Regarding your third chapter on Welch, West Virginia, and the devastation you portray created by the coal mining industry in that state, I wonder why the victims, primarily white, of a rapacious and pretty much unaccountable coal industry don't revolt. In fact, West Virginia has become a pretty reliable Republican state in presidential elections. Rephrasing your introductory quote to this chapter (from H.L. Mencken) have the destitute of West Virginia been driven from "despair" to "hopelessness" - and a psychological crutch of white identity politics, because they see no possibility of change in their condition?
CH: We are seeing the conscious and deliberate creation by the corporate state of a permanent, insecure and terrified underclass within the wider society. They have had a lot of practice in refining these techniques in the sacrifice zones, such as West Virginia, we wrote about. The corporate state sees this permanent and desperate underclass as the most effective weapon to thwart rebellion and resistance as our economy is reconfigured to wipe out the middleclass and leave most of us at subsistence level. Huge pools of unemployed and underemployed effectively blunt labor organizing, since any job, no matter how menial, is zealously coveted. The beating down of workers, exacerbated by the refusal to extend unemployment benefits for hundreds of millions of Americans and the breaking of public sector unions, the last redoubt of union power, has transformed those in the working class from full members of society, able to participate in its debates, the economy and governance, into terrified people in fragmented pools preoccupied with the struggle of private existence.
The determining factor in global corporate production is now poverty. The poorer the worker and the poorer the nation, the greater the competitive advantage. With access to vast pools of desperate, impoverished workers eager for scraps, unions and working conditions no longer impede the quest for larger and larger profits. And when the corporations do not need these workers they are cast aside. Those who are economically broken usually cease to be concerned with civic virtues. They will, history has demonstrated, serve any system, no matter how evil, and do anything for a pitiful salary, a chance for job security and the protection of their families. There will, as the situation worsens, also be those who attempt to rebel. I certainly intend to join them. But the state can rely on a huge number of people who, for work and meager benefits, will transform themselves into willing executioners.
MK: Of course, your chapter on the squalid, economically abandoned Camden, New Jersey, points to a particularly egregious example of an entire city that has been sucked of any hope. Financially, it has been written off by the "Masters of the Universe" economic agenda, its citizens parasites of the government, according to Paul Ryan. Even Barack Obama has been the first president in decades not to mention poverty in his State of the Union Addresses. But isn't Camden just representative of blighted urban areas, particularly minority neighborhoods, that have been left without jobs for decades? This goes back to before the urban riots of 1968 and the Kerner Report about what caused them. Isn't this structured poverty?
CH: The corporations and industries that packed up and left Camden and cities across the United States for the cheap labor overseas are never coming back. They have abandoned huge swathes of the United States, turned whole sections of American cities into industrial ghost towns. The unemployment and underemployment, the disenfranchisement of the working class, and the assault on the middle class, are never factored into the balance sheets of corporations. If prison or subsistence labor in China or India or Vietnam makes them more money, if it is possible to hire workers in sweatshops in Bangladesh for 22 cents an hour, corporations follow the awful logic to its conclusion. And as conditions worsen the corporate state, which controls the systems of information and entertainment, renders the poor and cities like Camden invisible. This is what Joe's illustrations are so crucial to the book. The goal of the book is to make these people visible.