Sunday, April 7, 2013

Book Review: Empire of Illusion

Alhumduillah, this was one of the books from Shiekh Nuh's reading list. The upshot is that we should flee to Allah most high because this dunya and all it's comforts are fleeting. As well as the warning of Imam Al Haddad that love of this world is an evil trait in human nature though this may have been far from the author's intent. The author, Chris Hedges discusses, five illusions: literacy, love, wisdom, happiness, and America itself. Granted you'd probably have to already be leaning towards some of his ideas to be receptive to them he does make a good case for each.
First, very surprisingly, he takes us in to the world of WWE (wrestling). This illusion plays in to the idea of victimization in America. Long gone are the days of the evil Communist and the freedom loving American. Our villains and heroes are much more nuanced and everyone has a story. Partly the fault of psychology, Americans are well aware that every demon has a history. The rapist was raped and the murderer saw his father murdered, the adulterer never felt love from mom and the kidnapper had three miscarriages. Everyone has a story as to why their so bad, no one is truly responsible for their own actions.
The next chapter is, at times, unbearable. Chris Hedges takes us in to the dark world of pornography. Insanely this is a pastime for may American men and increasing women and youth. But pornography, as Chris Hedges makes clear, is not actually about sex as it is about power. Women are **** and men are all powerful. Pornography is essentially prostitution on film. Sadly, this is not just a non Muslim problem but many Muslim men also watch these films. What is the illusion here? Love. For many factors, including the abundance of pornography, the expectations men and women have of each other are increasingly unrealistic. The bizarre sexual images men fill their minds with can never be played out in real life, leaving them dissatisfied and increasingly addicted. Pornography, as popular as it is, is millions of Americans dark secret but if it were pulled in to light as Chris Hedges does in his book it would be clear that such an industry should seize to exist for its addictive qualities, it's part in ruining marriages and it's abuse of women.
Hedges takes us in to academia where he finds the illusion of wisdom. Funnily a week before I read this book I was talking to my sister and I mentioned to her that I felt I actually wasn't becoming more intelligent as I advanced in school. I was accumulating a slew of psychological terms but my general vocabulary hadn't improved much since high school, my spelling was terrible, and I don't know that I have gained a better grasp of the world in academia. Chris Hedges would seems to agree. Academia has become no better then it's for- profit counterparts. People go to college so they can get a good job not so that they can have a greater understanding of the world. Unfortunately I find it hard to agree that college should waste my time should teach about great thinkers of philosophy and poetry when it is so expensive! To pay 20, 000$ for a well- rounded education with no job prospects is admirable but far from appealing. Nevertheless I do think it is a sad state when government posters tell kids not to drop out of high school because graduates make more money. If the only reason we're in school is to make money it would be more profitable to go to a less expensive job institute then an expensive University. Hedges make the point that as we get more and more specialized in school and in our fields we can end up being a means to great evil then if we were actually taught to think. Think of a factory worker on a line who simply places a small part in to a machine day after day only to realize later on that the machines he helped to build were actually parts of an atomic bomb used to kill millions unjustly. Everyone will say "I was just doing my job", but if doing your job means maintaining and unjust system doesn't one have a responsibility to those who are hurt?
The illusion of happiness, this one I felt most uncertain about. Hedges makes the point that the influx of positive psychology in American corporations has caused us to embark on a Huxleyan- like society were "everyone's happy now". I noticed the strange titles like "team member" upon employees shirts in chain stores. Employers have found that they can actually manufacture happiness instead of actually doing anything to improve the job. Employees are taken to conferences were they are commanded encouraged to be happy. The are told to be team players, broken up in to smaller groups and encouraged to share intimate details of their lives. And alarming example of the effects of these groups on employees is when a team member gets hurt on the job, everyone in the group has to were a 'be safe' sticker on their uniform -embarrassing, no? Instead of having to improve working conditions employees are embarrassed in to silence. My issue with this chapter is the fact that I do believe happiness comes from the inside out and that no matter how horrible a circumstance is, positivity can help you cope, nevertheless that does not give those in authority permission to take advantage of us or fail to improve or circumstance, or worse tell us were being "negative" when we have honest concerns.
Lastly, the illusion of America. Being one who keeps my nose out of politics it was the more difficult chapter to get through and the most alarming. America as a freedom loving democracy is a joke. The right to pick an American idol is not democracy, nor is the right to chose a president from the candidates who raise the most corporate money. I'd like to think this changed a bit with Obama because he used the internet the get individual donors but their's no doubt he had corporate money behind him. Whats worse is that once he got in to office it's become apparent that things simply can't get done. Why are we still using oil? Why is Guantanamo bay still open? Why are we still at war? Simply because it is in the interest of the elites to keep it that way. It's become harder to buy food without chemical additives, find a job, or pay for school, find clothes made in America, or even have any idea of what's going on in the world. All these things have in common that they are controlled and manipulated by the corporate elite who have to answer to no one. Contrary to popular belief capitalism and democracy cannot go hand in hand. That too, is an illusion.
Excellent book, skip pass some of the passages on pornography there far to graphic. Also, thankfully, he does end the book on a good note, but I let you read for yourself.

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