An interview with Chris Hedges
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister Chris Hedges spoke at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre on March 26.
As the 2019 Augustana Distinguished Lecturer for the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, Hedges addressed the importance of religion in today’s world and discussed his experiences from his many years as a foreign correspondent and author.
Hedges has authored 11 books on morality, atheism, war, power, theology and religion, among other topics, and currently serves as a visiting lecturer at Princeton University. His Princeton course is held at a state prison in New Jersey and brings together inmates and Princeton students.
The Medium sat down with Chris Hedges to discuss the age of corruption, mass disobedience, the role of the media, and the importance of activism.
What advice do you have for millennials in this age of corruption?
If the ruling global elites are not overthrown, then we face mass death. It’s really that stark. Especially at your age. Climate disruption is not decades away. The ruling elites have all sorts of mechanisms to keep you passive – including legalizing pot – and making sure you’re entranced with electronic hallucinations and peddle this very pernicious ideology of the cult of the self and consumerism. It’s really really dangerous now. I have kids. We have to carry out acts of sustained civil mass disobedience on a big scale. I’m not saying it’s going to work. But it’s the only hope left. If I was your age, I would be terrified at the refusal on the part of the ruining elites to deal seriously with the climate.
What suggestions do you have for carrying out these acts of mass disobedience?
As they did at Standing Rock where I was, you have to carry out sustained civil disobedience that begins to cripple the system. I’m staying a couple of days more here because I’m driving up to the tar sands. It’s one of the most catastrophic assaults on the environment in the world. First Nations communities are struggling to stop that pipeline, that’s really important. So, non-violence is important. It’s not going to work with violence because they can play that game far better than we can. Extinction Rebellion, this British group, has called for the occupation of capital cities on April 15 – anything like that. I just came from Paris, and a week ago Sunday I was in the big climate march there. We have to be willing to go to jail.
That would be my overriding for anyone in your generation. I may be gone by the time it’s catastrophic, but I may not be. Some people are talking about how we have 10 years. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change in our weather – huge temperature rises and droughts in Australia – half of California is burning down and British Colombia. The polar ice caps are melting at four times the rate that climate scientists thought they would. It’s really bad. And, what are we doing? Trump is rolling backwards. Trudeau just used taxpayer money to buy the pipeline. It’s all short term profit for companies that have no sense of the common good and are willing to sacrifice the human species for their own personal enrichment. And, all the science is there. These people are really criminal.
In the age of Trump and with the rise of “fake news”, what can the media do and how do you see the role of journalists?
I think the role of journalism when it’s healthy is to lift up the voices and transmit the experiences of those who would not be heard without journalists. That’s really why I became a journalist. It’s not to sit around and talk about Stormy Daniels or I don’t know what you do in Canada, but I’m sure there’s an equivalent. This is just gossip, it’s not news. It really requires you to do the hard work of going out, spending time interviewing and transmitting. When I go to the tar sands, I’m going to a First Nations community, that’s where I am going. One ridden with suicides. And I’m going to sit there with a tape recorder all day. That’s what journalism is. Journalism is always antagonistic to power in a healthy democracy with a healthy press. There is very little actual journalism being done anymore, especially with electronic media. We have about six corporations that control 90 per cent of what Americans listen to or watch. These people have a vested interest in perpetuating their own power and their own wealth. There’s a kind of censorship. If you watch CNN, they hardly ever say the words “climate change”.
What gives you hope to carry on your activism?
I don’t use the word “hope”. I was a war correspondent, I was in Bosnia in Sarajevo. A huge number of the people I worked with are dead. I challenge people but in that sense, I asked Daniel Berrigan once – a great radical priest – how he defined faith and he said ‘faith is the belief that the good draws to the good, even if empirically all the evidence around you says otherwise’. I think that’s right. I think that in that sense coming out of a religious tradition has been immensely helpful because it’s not what we do with life, it’s what we do with what life gives us. It’s the quality of our resistance which determines our character and our moral worth. One has to recognize their own insignificance in the face of the universe which the embrace of the cult of the self peddled by consumer culture seeks to deny. There is a kind of euphoria. I covered really horrible stuff. Serbs going in and massacring everyone and cutting off the roads. I’d have to walk into that and snipers would fire at us and we’d document it. We were under no illusion that maybe there wouldn’t be a tomorrow – but we didn’t allow them to commit those crimes anonymously. That was enough of a victory to keep going. I’m not sure that was the word “hope” because we have a cultural mania for “hope” that’s really about embracing illusion and happy thoughts. The opposite of hope is not cynicism or despair, it’s grief. I think that in many ways the world we live in is about grappling with that very real grief and then resisting in any way. The only way to overcome that despair is to resist.