'The World As It Is' Creates Its Own Mythology

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize winning former journalist for the New York Times, abandons journalistic decorum to sell books.

The World as it Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

Publisher: Nation Books
Length: 350 pages
Price: $26.99
Formate: Hardcover
Author: Chris Hedges
Publication Date: 2011-05

Here is a statistic quoted from somebody Chris Hedges deems a reputable source: “Right now in Afghanistan there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors alongside 68,000 US troops. There is almost a 2-to-1 ratio of private-sector for-profit forces that are on the US government payroll versus the active-duty or actual forces in the country.” Put the pathos aside for a moment and look at those figures again: 68,000 troops for 104,000 contractors. As PopMatters readers know -- because PopMatters readers are educated and savvy -- to get a quick ratio all one need do is simplify the numbers and divide.

Hedges’s source rounded the US troops down to 50 and the contractors to 100, a 100 percent difference. Somebody else, however, might have rounded 68 to 70, and 104 to 100, concluding with a more accurate statement that in Afghanistan the US employs 30 percent more contractors than troops.

Now let’s look at the pathos. Hedges devotes one and three quarters pages of quotes to this source, so it’s presumed that Hedges values the source’s ethos. By juxtaposing “government payroll” employees to “actual forces” the source, and Hedges, make the argument that war time contractors are somehow second class to soldiers. Indeed, contractors and soldiers do different work, but no work is more important than any other. Hedges obscures this and implies that contractors are frauds.

Hedges obscures that truth on purpose. He never once mentions that it takes more ancillary staff than soldiers to run a war -- people to cook, clean, build, get supplies, do paperwork, cut paychecks, translate -- because he doesn’t want the reader to make that connection. Rather, Hedges wants the reader to come away with the impression that the defense contracting system is fraudulent by design and that being a war time contractor is equal to being a war profiteer (it’s not). That’s why Hedges’s source used questionable arithmetic, and it's why Hedges puts the quote in such a prominent way.

That’s just one example of bias out of many. Indeed, all of the book, except for perhaps two instances, have that mythic and unsubstantiated For the People skew popular with what Hedges calls “the liberal intellegentsia”. This book, unfortunately, won't appeal to readers searching for fair and rational understanding of current events -- it’s just as biased as anything Ann Coulter puts out. That’s Hedges’s intention, though. Despite the title of his book, he doesn’t want to show the world as it is, he wants to show a narrow and distorted view of it for a particular reason.

The World as It Is is a collection of Hedges’s columns written for the website The website, and Hedges, tailor writing to the Mother Jones or Nation magazine objectivity -- pointing out how the US government and US corporations do harm to what the writers consider to be average Americans, the symbol of which is right now sold as Main Street Joe. By design this is unfair and lacks real objectivity.

It's true that US government policy and US corporations can do harm, but it’s also true that policy and products and services do a lot of good, as well, including make up the framework for developed societies. That bank lending helps a person buy a home or go to university takes no part in Hedges’s rhetoric; rather, what’s argued is the reductive though sexy “The Crooks Get the Cash while the Poor Get Screwed”, a title of one of Hedges’s columns.

Hedges was a news corespondent with the New York Times for 15 years and won a Pulitzer prize for journalism, on top of publishing several books and two essays for Harper’s magazine. Some of his past writing has a similar skew to this collection of opinion columns. Indeed, in his introduction Hedges writes, “I have never sought to be objective. How can you be objective about death squads in El Salvador, massacres in Iraq....” Fair enough.

His ostensible point, then, is that world tragedy deserves only to be seen in a certain light: because human suffering is often profound, there must be a journalistic voice to argue that the events which led to the tragedy are unlawful or immoral. Hedges has obvious education and experience, and so it has to be assumed that he could, if he wanted, write something with academic fairness. But rather, popular newscasters such as Katie Couric, “lack a moral compass,” he writes, they “have become nothing more than courtiers to the elite, shameless hedonists of power, and absurd court propagandists.” It's true that many people dislike the evening news, but it’s also true that millions of people watch it.

The New York Times style of journalism -- giving a narrative structure and presenting issues in an easy to understand two sided form -- is popular, and it’s used in some form by almost every news station because it attracts audiences. The way the New York Times uses facts and truth, though, is contrary to how Hedges thinks journalism should be. He uses two quotes from George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm, to illustrate his point: “I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing,” and, “The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions -- racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war....” He claims to try to embody Orwell’s words, and that to do so, in Hedges’s opinion, necessarily means that reason has to be traded for slant.

Hedges’s rhetoric, though, differs from Couric’s in appearance only -- there’s no substantial difference: just as Couric tailors what she does for an audience and for a salary, Hedges does, too. His claim to embody Orwell is specious but hollow. Where Orwell uses craft and plot and simple, terse prose to illustrate how power corrupts, Hedges rants and misuses facts and quotes to strike a vapid and slightly propagandistic tone. Indeed, Hedges even misuses his Orwell quotes. The first one given is only one part of why Orwell writes, and with the second, Orwell meant to show that world leaders function by emotion, not that journalists should, and that intellectuals need to understand how pride and anger affect decisions by world leaders instead of assuming that politicians act with reason.

Hedges likely read Orwell’s works, though misread them in the same way Fox News opinionist Glenn Beck misread Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (Why Hedges channels Orwell is unclear other than because Orwell has become popular with For the People propagandists, and Animal Farm has been coöpted into anti-capitalist rhetoric, which it’s not: Animal Farm is Orwell’s argument against too powerful central governments), and such a misreading colors all of Hedges’s book. His argument that his dismissal of facts and truth is deliberate instead seems to be latter justification for bad writing, or an implicit admission that he needs to sell to an audience. Because of his credentials it’s the latter of the two I suspect is correct.

Hedges hits on the common selling points of what he calls the “liberal intellegentsia”, politics, Israel and Palestine, the Middle East, and “the decay of empire”. (The etymon of intellegentsia is Latin -- intellegentia -- which later became the Middle English intelligens, and later still evolved into intelligence. Intellegentsia was first used in the early 1800s as a colloquialism to describe a particular 1700s Russian nobility.) It’s important to note that Hedges chooses provocative titles for his columns, such as “This Isn’t Reform, It’s Robbery,” and uses the columns as platforms stoke fear and emotion.

Provocation will always be sexy. In his column “Nader Was Right: Liberals are Going Nowhere with Obama", Hedges writes, “Our task is to build movements that can act as counterweight to the corporate rape of America.” Hedges doesn’t qualify “corporate rape", nor does he connect his ostensible agapeistic social engineering to Ralph Nader, a former candidate for the US presidency, or current US president Barack Obama’s policies. Indeed, Hedges’s column goes from “The American empire has not altered under Barack Obama. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush,” to about a page and a half of quotes from Nader in a four page column, to “Massive borrowing acts as an anesthetic. It prevents us from facing the new limitations we must learn to cope with domestically and abroad.” Hedges is able to cover so much ground in four pages of rhetoric, with one and half of those as block quotes, because he doesn’t say any single, coherent argument. Rather: he strings together provocative and alluring siren calls of his particular political class.

Turn to any page at random and see that it’s always the same. It’d make a fun game. Page 120, “The human species during its brief time on Earth has exhibited a remarkable capacity to kill itself off.” Page 258, “The corporate forces that control the state will never permit real reform. This is the Faustian bargain made between these corporate forces and the Republican and Democratic parties.” Page 78, quoting former New York Times columnist Russell Baker, “a refugee from Nazi Germany who appears on television saying monstrous things are happening in his homeland must be followed by a Nazi spokesman saying Adolf Hitler is the greatest boon to humanity since pasteurized milk.”

Hedges doesn't provide contextualization for such quotes, nor does he make connections for the readers, and he often misuses references. In these cases, there obviously was no Faustian bargain, even the Catholic church no longer believes in the literal devil, though Hedges, a religious man by his own admission, likely does. His quote from Baker was given to show that modern journalism can never tell the truth because there are only two sides shown. What Hedges left out is that Baker was a satirist. (To be fair, Baker did have qualms with modern journalism, and he did think that it was often formulaic. His quote used, though, is hyperbole in Baker’s essay, "Getting to Be Mighty Eerie Out Here". It’s funny and worth reading.)

It is, in general, part of academic due diligence to get as many viewpoints as possible and collect as many facts as reasonable, and in that idealist way it’s worthwhile to read everything, including Hedges’s book. But in reality this book offers little for the time it takes to read: any worthwhile statistics or viewpoints can be found in more authoritative and professional sources.

If reading this book, though, it’s important to remember that Hedges’s type of writing sells. That Hedges writes with a marketable bias is important to note because reading 321 pages of ranting can be brainwashing: realizing that Hedges needs an audience helps maintain critical thinking, a skill paramount to savvy and sophisticated PopMatters readers, readers who know that 68 is nearer 70 than 50.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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