By Mark Karlin,Truthout | Interview –
Mark Karlin: You begin “Days of Destruction Days of Revolt” with a visit to and reflection upon the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the poorest and perhaps most hopeless Native American settlement in the United States. Indian reservations were a tragically ironic result of the American revolt to throw off the shackles of being a colony, only to become a colonial power over the indigenous residents that lay in its way to achieving “Manifest Destiny.” Is this irony the reason why you begin your journey across the “sacrifice zones” of the United States at Pine Ridge?
Chris Hedges: This is where the dark ethic of endless expansion and limitless exploitation, of ruthless imperial conquest, subjugation and extermination of native communities, began in the name of profit. Commercial interests set out to obliterate native peoples who stood in the way of their acquisition of the buffalo herds, timber, coal, gold and later minerals such as uranium, commodities they saw as sources of power and enrichment. Land was sliced up into parcels – usually by the railroad companies – and sold. Sitting Bull acidly suggested they get out scales and sell dirt by the pound. The most basic elements that sustain life were reduced to a vulgar cash product. Nothing in the eyes of the white settlers had an intrinsic value. And this dichotomy of belief was so vast that those who held on to animism and mysticism, to ambiguity and mystery, to the centrality of the human imagination, to communal living and a concept of the sacred, had to be extinguished. The belief system encountered on the plains and in the earlier indigenous communities in New England obliterated by the Puritans was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the concept of technological progress, empire and the ethos of the industrial society.
The effect of this physical and moral cataclysm is being played out a century and a half later, however, as the whole demented project of endless capitalist expansion, profligate consumption and growth implodes. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African-American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We were next.
MK: You write in your introduction, “We [you and Joe Sacco] wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like when the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit.” This is pretty much a definition of neoliberal economics. Is the United States creating an internal economic system of colonies?
CH: The forces of colonization that were applied to the “sacrifice zones” Joe and I wrote about have been turned inwards on the rest of us to create a global form of neofeudalism, a world of corporate masters and serfs. The central point of the book is to show what happens when human beings, communities and the natural world are forced to prostrate themselves before the demands of the marketplace. It is incumbent on us to look closely at this system of neo-liberal economics because it is now cannibalizing what is left, including our eco-system. These forces know no limits. They will exterminate us all, as Joseph Conrad pointed out in “Heart of Darkness,” his masterpiece on the savagery of colonial exploitation. Kurtz in Conrad’s book is the self-deluded megalomaniac ivory trader who ends by planting the shriveled heads of murdered Congolese on pikes outside his remote trading station. But Kurtz is also highly educated and refined. Conrad describes him as an orator, writer, poet, musician and the respected chief agent of the ivory company’s Inner Station. He is “an emissary of pity, and science, and progress.” Kurtz was “a universal genius” and “a very remarkable person.” He is a prodigy, at once gifted and multi-talented. He went to Africa fired by noble ideals and virtues. He ended his life as a self-deluded tyrant who thought he was a god. That pretty much sums up what we have become as a nation. Read more…