Quotes in English

21. janv., 2021

"Every society, every ethnic or religious group maintains certain myths, often centered on the very birth of the nation or movement in question. These myths lie unseen beneath the surface, waiting for the moment to arise in a crisis to define and magnify their members or followers. In times of peace, national myths are essentially benign. They are fed by the entertainment industry, by school lessons, by pseudo-historical stories and ballads, by preaching in mosques, or by those absurd historical dramas that always gain popularity in times of war. In normal times, they do not really stand in the way of serious historical studies, or even of a certain tolerance towards others. But as soon as a war breaks out, national myths cause collective amnesia. They give past generations a grandeur and nobility that they never possessed. Almost all groups, let alone nations, have this kind of myth. It is the kind of wood that nationalists use to light the fire of a conflict. (…)

Archaeology, folklore, the search for what is defined as authentic, are the tools that nationalists use to attack others and promote themselves. They may dress these things up as history, but in truth they are myths. Meanwhile, genuine historical investigations, when not destroyed, are corrupted and attacked. Facts become as interchangeable as opinions. Inconvenient facts are rejected or denied. Intoxicated by the newfound national pride and the thrilling prospect of war, blatant inconsistencies are glossed over. (…)

Intellectuals and other critics of society are as vulnerable as the masses to the scourge of nationalism. They often find in it a remedy for their feelings of ostracism. Through the nationalist cause, they may find themselves exalted by a nation that had previously ignored them. They, too, like to be intoxicated. In times of national crisis, there will always be intellectuals ready to line up behind the leaders they once claimed to despise, belying the moral postures adopted in the confines of lecture halls in times of peace. These enthusiastic intellectuals can become dangerous in peacetime. Many of them harbor messianic and absolutist certainties that they have never had to put into practice. All nationalist movements have this kind of pernicious mentor, ready to justify the use of force in the service of a utopian and unrealistic dream. (…)

Those who fully embrace the nationalist myth have their lives transformed. Collective self-celebration allows people to abandon their usual obsession with the trivial concerns of everyday life. The desire to see themselves as actors in a grand historical drama can make them abandon even the concern for their own lives. One accepts this vision even when it means destroying oneself. In wartime, life becomes a theater. Everyone becomes an actor. The leaders stand out against a beautiful military backdrop, in noble and heroic poses.

Translated from French : La guerre est une froce qui nous octroie du sens, p. 71. Chris Hedges, 2002
28. sept., 2020

"Findings in the Skripal case

During the broadcast of "C dans l'aire" on France 5 on 16 March 2018, the "experts" have no doubt that Vladimir Putin is directly involved. However, the British accusation is only circumstantial. It is not based on facts, but on potentialities and hypotheses, as Theresa May herself explained on 14 March 2018: "On the basis of [her] ability, combined with her past record of state-sponsored assassinations - including against former intelligence officers whom they consider legitimate targets - the British government has concluded that it is very likely that Russia is responsible for this irresponsible and despicable act".

This is a pattern that follows exactly the same pattern as conspiracy theories: you put things together on the basis of prejudice, not facts. By combining the same elements in a different way, Britain could just as easily be accused of the same crime. What some have done...

Theresa May immediately dramatised the incident and invoked NATO solidarity, even though all the details were not yet known. By treating it as a "chemical attack" on Britain, and not just as poisoning, it was deliberately placed in the upper register of an international conflict.

But here too, Westerners are not consistent. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is invoked, but its procedures for resolving disputes are not applied: in the event of a "situation that is deemed to be ambiguous or gives rise to a concern about possible non-compliance", the state that is asked for clarification has ten days to respond. Here, however, Britain has given Russia only 24 hours. It also refused to provide details of the incident, as well as poison and blood samples requested by Russia in order to take a position. A bit like fearing a different truth.

Britain thus applied a strategy of tension, which could suggest a "Wag the Dog" syndrome, aimed at creating national unity and international solidarity around an "external attack". This does not necessarily mean that the British government poisoned the Skripal, but that it would have opportunistically exploited the incident for political purposes (...).

Thus, contrary to what the British claim, there are plausible alternatives to their accusations. The problem is that 'reasonable doubt' is systematically avoided. The field of doubt is so vast that only bad faith gives certainty. As in the case of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, our so-called "rule of law" states make do with vague presumptions in order to engage in conflicts whose outcome they do not know. They are supported by traditional and state media (such as France 24, France 5, BFM TV, etc.) which are totally aligned with the official versions, without any critical spirit with regard to very incomplete information.

In 2016, the geostrategic context is tense: the Ukrainian crisis drags on, the West is losing ground in the Middle East, the British government is overtaken by Brexit, social movements begin to shake the Macron presidency, NATO doubts transatlantic relations and the European spirit is cracking under the pressure of immigration. It was difficult not to see the haste of the Western response - when we did not even know the exact nature of the poison - as an attempt to distract public opinion from their national problems.

Gouverner par les Fake News, p. 284, Jacques Baud, 2020
22. sept., 2020

"Recently, I saw a former classmate of mine from Harvard Divinity School (the Harvard School of Theology); she is now a professor of theology. When I asked her what she teaches, she flooded me with a torrent of abstruse terms from the jargon of the specialty. Despite three years in the seminary, I understood absolutely nothing of what she told me. This confinement in impenetrable lexical enclaves is the work of all the faculties and academic disciplines in the country. The more universities produce graduates with atrophied minds, the more society is invaded by these strange specialists who speak a mysterious coded language so that they do not have to communicate truly. Blindly, the experts maintain the capitalist hierarchy that they have never been taught to question, and look with barely veiled contempt at those of their fellow citizens who grasp nothing of their speeches and writings.

By all Western standards," observes John Ralston Saul, "these experts are uncultured. They are incapable of grasping the essential relationship between power and morality. They have forgotten, if they ever did, that moral traditions are the product of civilization. Moreover, they know very little about their own civilization, so they do not know how to ensure its sustainability. One of the most glaring symptoms of a declining civilization," writes Saul, "is precisely that its language is fragmented into a multitude of dialects that act as barriers to communication, while a healthy, thriving civilization uses language on a daily basis to keep the social machine moving. The cultivated, responsible elites have a mission to encourage the flow of information".

The confidential dialects spoken by contemporary elites are an obstacle to communication and common sense. The financial crooks and economists who have tinkered with our financial system persist in speaking to us in the esoteric language of Wall Street specialists and business schools. By using terms such as "securitization", "deleveraging", "debt pool" or "default cover", they exclude their fellow citizens from the debate. This withdrawal into specialized ghettos is a phenomenon that extends to all academic disciplines. Many professors of literature analyze novels by detaching them completely from their social context and use the abstruse vocabulary of deconstructionists to deprive the works they study of their strength. (…)

In the hands of academics, who rarely understand the reality of the world or at least care little about it, literary works are eviscerated, deconstructed, reduced to their darkest details, to their most futile aspects. In all disciplines there are growing gulfs such as the one that separates literary studies and philosophy from reality on the one hand. Economists develop theoretical models of great complexity, but hardly know John Law, have never studied the tulip crisis in depth, and know nothing about the bursting of the railway bubble or the deregulation that led to the Great Depression.

(Free translation from the French Edition)

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, p. 128, Chris Hedges 2010
22. sept., 2020

"In spite of these disasters on our doorstep, and in spite of the growing impotence of the states, politicians continue to act as if everything depends on them; they persist in campaigning on programs and promises; committing themselves, if elected or if they take power, to improve the environment, reduce inequalities, create jobs, restore growth, distribute allowances, posts, subsidies, tax deductions.

Refusing to see the end of a world coming, most citizens - not only in Western countries - continue to pretend to believe them, expecting everything from them, demanding priorities, exemptions and benefits. When they are disappointed by one party, they run to another before that party, and then another, increasingly extreme party, disappoints them in turn.

In fact, since the dawn of time, every society (religious or secular), every power (that of the fathers, priests, generals, lords, masters, elected officials, the State), has done everything possible to ensure that every person under their authority has a bad image of himself; so that everyone feels dependent, from the cradle to the cemetery; so that everyone is put in a situation where they do not have the desire or the audacity to fend for themselves; so that everyone is at once resigned to their destiny and demands a better one. (…)

In democracies, citizens watch stock market prices and economic indicators determine growth and employment; they accept themselves as powerless, out-of-date; they know they are incapable of taking their condition in hand, of changing it in any way, of choosing their life. They demand security from the State (i.e., defense, police, health, jobs that require training), demanding the best services for the lowest price; the most public spending with the least taxes; they are selfish consumers of public services that they themselves no longer think of giving to others. (…)

I call these people - the vast majority, and not only in democracies - the "resigned-claimants". Resigned to not choosing their lives; demanding some compensation for their servitude.

Strange world: in seemingly more and more individualistic societies, fewer and fewer people realize their dreams, more and more accept to do nothing but claim the crumbs of an abundance. And when they think they are escaping from it, it is by the ersatz of distraction, of collecting, of DIY.

This is particularly the condition of citizens in so-called advanced democracies. This is, for many, the main criterion of their electoral choices. This is the explanation for the cowardice of politicians who no longer dare to undertake unpopular reforms and only add new promises to those they have been unable to keep. This is also the explanation of the ideological evolution of the world towards an ever more secure populism, more and more barricaded, where everyone prefers to fall back on illusory certainties: paternalistic and xenophobic totalitarianism corresponds to the future expectations of the "resigned-claimants".

But since, with the globalization of the market, states, even the most dirigiste and closed states, will be less and less capable of providing these protections, these security, nationalist and xenophobic populisms will also fail. The market will then take over even more to provide these insatiable consumers of security with more surveillance tools, more means of alienation, more instruments of resignation.

(Free translation from French language)

Devenir soi, p.31, Jaques Attali, 2014
22. sept., 2020

"Since pornography first entered middle-class homes, first through the VCR in the 1980s and then via the Internet a little later, it has degenerated into an explicit amalgam of sex and physical brutality against women: extreme violence and acts that are as degrading as they are appalling set the tone for increasingly twisted eroticism. Pornography has always been based on the eroticization of unlimited male power, but nowadays it also expresses it through violence and even torture. It reflects the endemic cruelty of a society that remains indifferent to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States and its allies, that throws mentally ill people out onto the streets, that has more than two million prisoners, that refuses to provide health care to tens of millions of poor people, that values gun ownership by condemning gun control, and that trumpets a vile ultra-nationalism by singing the praises of unbridled capitalism. The violence, cruelty and depravity staged by this pornography is an expression of a society that has lost all sense of empathy.

The photos from Abu Ghraid prison that have been published, along with the hundreds of others that remain classified, could just as well have been taken on the set of a porn movie. One shows a man kneeling in front of another as if he were giving him fellatio; another shows a prisoner being held on a leash by an American soldier. There are also shots of naked men in chains, or of a group of naked captives stacked on top of each other on the ground, in a scene reminiscent of a prison gang bang (...). All these photographs testify to the existence of a powerful current of sexual and perverse brutality in contemporary culture. It uses the same language as pornography, professional wrestling, reality TV, music videos and corporate culture: that of absolute control, total domination, racial hatred, the fetishism of slavery, submission and humiliation. In short, the language of a ruthless world.

(Free translation from the French Edition)

Original American version : Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, p. 98, Chris Hedges 2010