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Review: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

May 7, 2012

Empire of Illusion coverTitle: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
Author: Hedges, Chris
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Sociology
Publisher / Year: Nation Books / 2009
Source: Kindle and Bookmooch (mooched it off my wishlist forgetting I’d purchased it for Kindle… oops).
Rating: 4/5
Why I Read It: It sounded really interesting.
Date Read: 25/03/12

In sections titled Literacy, Love, Wisdom, Happiness, and America Hedges discusses how all of these things have become simply illusions of what they are or should be in our current culture. On page 45 he says:

Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expressions of individuality. And in this precipitous decline of values and literacy, among those who cannot read and those who have given up reading, fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is being seeded.

And that is the key behind many of the issues we face now. Instead of literacy, we have propaganda. Instead of love, we have this bombardment of sexy images and of hardcore pornography. Instead of wisdom we have managerial power and corporate rule of universities. Instead of happiness we have positive thinking and the ideas that we should be tricked into wanting what our employers want from us. Instead of an American formed on democratic and inclusive principles there is instead a country run by corporate interests and hidden backdoor deals and lobbies. In regards to the last point especially, he says on page 185:

Democracy is not an outgrowth of free markets. Democracy and capitalism are antagonistic entities. Democracy, like individualism, is based not on personal gain but on self-sacrifice. A functioning democracy must often defy economic interests of elites on behalf of citizens

This is a book that made me think, and challenged many of my opinions in views. On the whole I agreed with much of what was discussed, and wasn’t too surprised with much of the big ideas he shared. I do have to mention briefly from the section on love though that while yes, the pornography industry and the growing popularity of BDSM can be a bad thing, that doesn’t mean that all women are taken advantage of who chose to participate in either.

Definitely an interesting book that should be read more widely. Makes one scared for the future, but the more we know the more we can fight for real literacy, wisdom, and for our interests to have more of a say. Corruption is everywhere, but there is much that we can do about it, thankfully.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 12:30 pm

    Excellent. I agree Hedges is very good at putting his finger on our basic problems. Glad you liked his analysis. He might call what he does more political–in the broadest sense– than sociological; he is an extremely well read journalist, not someone caught in any specific academic discipline.

    • May 17, 2012 7:31 am

      Yes, definitely political and so interesting. I look forward to reading more by him mdbrady.

  2. May 7, 2012 9:27 pm

    Thanks for this review, Amy. Hedges is one of my favorites, ever since I read War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. I have this new one in a pile of political TBR books and hope to get to it soon.

    • May 17, 2012 7:32 am

      I’m definitely going to have to look for that one too then, thanks for the recommendation Gavin.

  3. May 12, 2012 6:20 pm

    This is an interesting topic. It can be difficult to talk about this topic without telling people their likes and dislikes are disingenuous, but it’s important to be aware of what marketing and propaganda can do to us subconsciously. I know that sometimes I fall prey to it, but if you’re aware of it, you can better fight against it.

    • May 17, 2012 7:32 am

      Yes, it is really interesting Lu and I think he does a good job of pointing out where we are just kept in the dark, and what that means. Always better to be aware, I agree!

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