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Beyond Pessimism and Optimism

Chris Hedges - Wikimedia Commons
Chris Hedges is a brilliant journalist, activist citizen and father.  He took President Obama to court over "section 1021 of the National Defence Authorization Act, which permits the U.S. military overturning over 150 years of law to carry out domestic policing on American city streets, to seize American citizens who "substantially support" the Taliban, Al Qaeda or something called associated forces -- another kind of nebulous phrase -- strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities."

In this interview with H.G. Watson (uploaded to rabble.ca) Hedges warns Canadians about Bill C-51.  In fact he is concerned enough that he was making his way to Toronto to participate in the protest.

"We can't talk about free citizens in the state where everyone has all of their electronic forms of communication not only monitored, but stored in perpetuity in government computers. It doesn't matter if they're not using it. History has shown that if the government feels threatened or they seek greater control -- and I think that is the trajectory of the corporate state -- they will use it. The goal of wholesale surveillance, and something that Hannah Arendt wrote about in The Origins of Totalitarianism, is not to discover crimes but to give information to the government that it can use if it decides to arrest a certain category of the population. I think this is extremely grave."
There is a great deal of information on the many ways the Harper government is eroding civil society in what we believe is, or was, a democracy.  Hedges is concerned that most of us are not responding to these events or the total effect of them.  Why is that? Why do we not seem to be up in arms? Why are most of us not out on the streets protesting?
The core of the crisis appears to be that we are losing the freedoms and choices that have taken centuries to install so that we don't become victims of fascism.  We suspect the frog is being boiled and is not aware of it yet, and we are generally busy trying to keep our personal lives together - caring for family, for our jobs and our community.
The media will not let us have peace. But does it help to simply broadcast one crisis after another without the contextual information? They are not in business to educate the citizens just as the government is not there to look after the people of Canada. What is clear is that we have been abandoned by the institutions who our ancestors built through blood, sweat and tears. The message we are getting is that we are powerless.  That power is held in the hands of a few corporations because they have the wealth to purchase think-tanks and governments, and who view people as a resource or nuisance.
The message of Chris Hedges is not just to tell us how bad things are but to get us to think beyond that.  The question is - what is it that we must do?
The "must" is another imperative and when it is told from one person to another does not inspire us to be creative, to act.  But when we ask ourselves this, we can apply the skills we have to do what is best based on the knowledge we have.  
For change to take place we can't afford to be pessimistic or optimistic - that requires a huge perspective that is vulnerable to so many competing messages.  We can use our perspective based on experience of what has worked for us, using our accumulated wisdom.
But what if we are influenced by propaganda on things we cannot access or understand?  Most of us are not lawyers so we don't know how Bill C-51 really works. We don't know what Stephen Harper thinks about every minute of every day even though his actions and speech give us a broad sense of his intentions. Most of us are not scientists so we don't really understand how climate change works. But who does?  Who is absolutely sure they are right? And how much do the experts really know?
We need (I believe) to get together those who have great confidence in their own knowledge, those who second guess everything, those who have ideas that seem to come out of nowhere, those who have scientific minds and those who are philosophers, those who are artists, writers and musicians, those who are open and loving and those who are risk averse.
People such as Chris Hedges, George Orwell, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth May, Hannah Arendt, Edward Snowden, and all the other voices of conscience - have already paid so much in terms of risk and pain - we can at least help the future unfold with our serious and reflective engagement.

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