American Autumn

Panache!

Why we must fight.
Chris Hedges: Why we must fight!

AP Photo/The Times-Picayune, Matthew Hinton

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

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My three-year-old son’s favorite book is Out of the Blue. It has large color photographs of sea animals, from plankton to clownfish to orcas. I often find my son, dressed in his pajamas, on the floor of his bedroom in the morning carefully turning the pages of the book. And every time I hear him naming out the magnificent creatures before him, my heart breaks. Within my son’s lifetime, if there is not a radical reversal in human behavior, the oceans of the world, and the life systems they support, will die.

I fight for my children. It is not about me. It is about them. The deep despair I feel over our collective inability to acknowledge, much less confront, the catastrophic dislocations ahead of us is offset by a fierce desire as a father to make sure I have summoned all my energy and resilience to defy the corporate systems of death that are exploiting human beings and the natural world until their exhaustion or collapse. At least, I hope, my children will look back and see that their father did not remain passive as the ecosystem was destroyed in the name of profit, and the world was reconfigured by corporations into a terrifying neofeudalism, a kind of totalitarian capitalism. At least they will see, I hope, pictures of their father being hauled off to jail in defiance. I resist not out of hate but out of love, a love for all the things the deformed culture of corporate profit finds meaningless and sentimental – children, lakes, mountains, trees and the song of a wood thrush deep in the forest.

The consequences of severe climate change are unavoidable. The freak weather patterns, the wild fires and tornadoes sweeping across Midwestern states, along with the droughts and severe flooding in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia, along with the soaring temperatures across the Earth, are upon us. And this is only the start. But what is most frightening is that the rapid and terrifying acceleration of global warming, which is disfiguring the ecosystem at a swifter pace than even the gloomiest scientific studies predicted a few years ago, have been met with collective denial and self-delusion. Global temperatures have already gone up one degree and begun the rapid melting of the Arctic. Every rise of one degree Celsius means a ten percent reduction in grain yields. If we stopped all carbon emissions today temperatures would continue to rise by at least a degree, perhaps more. A sudden epiphany would not save us from drastic climate change, large scale human migrations, rising sea levels, famine and endemic food shortages. Welcome to our brave new world.

The only viable option to save the human species from self-immolation – ending our dependence on fossil fuels – is ignored by the industrialized world’s power brokers, who have shredded the tepid climate agreement made at Kyoto. The last thin hope for reform and reversal will come through sustained acts of civil disobedience and open defiance of the formal systems of power. It means getting arrested. This is the conclusion drawn by many of our most prescient and important voices, including Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben.

Working within the system to reform it has failed. Working outside the system to defy it may also fail. Let’s be honest about this. The corporate structures of power are indifferent to the needs, rights or desires of the ordinary citizen – not to mention the planet – and have hijacked all systems of power from mass communications to electoral politics to the courts.

It is understandable that a realist would despair. And if I was to retreat into self-absorption I would find a small plot of land where I would never have to hear another leaf blower, and find what comfort I could in my family, my books and the whispers and beauty of the natural world. But to give up is not morally permissible. It is to condemn, as Sitting Bull reminded us, the born and the unborn, as well as the flora and fauna, which Sitting Bull also considered sacred, to misery and death. We have no right to do that. We must stand and fight for life.

We must fight for those who come after us, for those who at this moment are too small, too weak and too disempowered to fight, for the born and the unborn, for those who, like my son, have not yet lost the capacity for wonder and awe before the natural world. We owe our children that. The hardest moral stance and the greatest act of courage will be to see clearly, like Sitting Bull, the darkness and the power of the forces of death arrayed against us and yet find the fortitude to resist. Sitting Bull’s greatest fear at the end of his life was that he had not fought hard enough for his people and that they might revile him.

Resistance preserves our personal dignity as autonomous human beings. It means we have not allowed ourselves to be classified as objects. It is a way to defy our obscurity. Life is short. We all die. Nearly all battles for justice will long outlive us. I find my solace in faith. It is not the faith of any orthodox creed or religion but the faith that we are called to do the good, or at least the good in so far as we can best determine it, and then to let it go. We do not know where this good goes or if it goes anywhere. The Buddhists call this good karma. But faith means that acts of resistance – for true spirituality is always about resistance – are never meaningless, although all tangible signs may point toward failure and defeat. This faith gives me great comfort.

It is the faith that Cyrano de Bergerac expressed as he lashed out in his final battle, a battle he knew he could not win. Mortally wounded and facing Death, he suddenly rises. “Not here! Not lying down!”

His friends spring forward to help him. “Let no one help me,” he tells them as he props himself against a tree. “Only the tree … Let the old fellow come now! He shall find me on my feet, sword in hand … ”

“What’s that you say?” Cyrano calls out to the darkness. “Hopeless? Why, very well! But a man does not fight merely to win! No! No, better to know one fights in vain! … You there, who are you? A hundred against one. I know them now, my ancient enemies: Falsehood! There! There! Prejudice, Compromise, Cowardice!”

He swings with his sword. “What’s that? No! Surrender? No! Never, never! Ah, you too, Vanity! I knew you would overthrow me in the end. No! I fight on! I fight on! I fight on!”

He stops, breathless and dying. “Yes, all my laurels you have riven away And all my roses; yet in spite of you, There is one crown I bear away with me, And tonight, when I enter before God, My salute shall sweep all the stars away From the blue threshold! One thing without stain, unspotted from the world, in spite of doom. Mine own!”

He springs forward, his sword aloft.

“And that is … ”

The sword falls from his hands. He totters and falls into the arms of Roxane and his friends.

“That is … my panache.”

Chris Hedges is married to Canadian actress Eunice Wong They live with their children in Princeton, New Jersey. Hedges’ latest book is a collection of his essays called The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.

278 comments on the article “Panache!”

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Anonymous

It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only those individuals know.
Friedrich August von Hayek

Anonymous

It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only those individuals know.
Friedrich August von Hayek

Anonymous

"It has occurred to me that 'live and let live' is a piece of patronage which can only be afforded by the consciously secure." -The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham, 1957

Anonymous

"It has occurred to me that 'live and let live' is a piece of patronage which can only be afforded by the consciously secure." -The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham, 1957

Anonymous in TX

Mr. Hedges you are so funny. You and all your silly friends lament the end of the world as we know it. That is rich. None of us know how long this earth has been here. There are some who say it's on a few thousand years old and some who say it's billions of year old. I don't know how old it is, do you? You talk about all the animals disappearing from the oceans. You don't really believe that do you? Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. What would happen if all nations stopped fishing the oceans and piloting ships around the globe. If the oceans became overpopulated, then the laws of mother nature would take over and the species would take it upon themselves to reach a balance. Go look at NatGeo magazine. They have pictures of what happens in the wild.

You and all your little buddies are all about the evil corporate empires out there who rule the world. Well then, don't just talk your talk. Walk your walk. Give up that evil corporate built computer. Turn off that corporate built tv and telphone. Get rid of them. They are evil. Get rid of that corporate built home or apartment you live in. Go buy your little acre of heaven and live off the land. Grow your own food. You can get heirloom seeds that will propogate year after year. Oh yeah, you will need to grow and pick your own cotton to spin into a pair of jeans too, Not sure how you're gonna make a pair of shoes though.

The young'uns up there in zuchinni park are all atwitter about all the free food and condoms flowing in. That too is rather ironic. Someone, somewhere had to buy that food and those skins. Again, probably from some corporation. The hypocrisy of you and your litlle friends drips like the sap of a Vermont maple tree in January.

Besides that, you are being overtaken by the mobsters in the unions who work for all those evil corporations. You need to clean up your nest. hehe!

Anonymous in TX

Mr. Hedges you are so funny. You and all your silly friends lament the end of the world as we know it. That is rich. None of us know how long this earth has been here. There are some who say it's on a few thousand years old and some who say it's billions of year old. I don't know how old it is, do you? You talk about all the animals disappearing from the oceans. You don't really believe that do you? Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. What would happen if all nations stopped fishing the oceans and piloting ships around the globe. If the oceans became overpopulated, then the laws of mother nature would take over and the species would take it upon themselves to reach a balance. Go look at NatGeo magazine. They have pictures of what happens in the wild.

You and all your little buddies are all about the evil corporate empires out there who rule the world. Well then, don't just talk your talk. Walk your walk. Give up that evil corporate built computer. Turn off that corporate built tv and telphone. Get rid of them. They are evil. Get rid of that corporate built home or apartment you live in. Go buy your little acre of heaven and live off the land. Grow your own food. You can get heirloom seeds that will propogate year after year. Oh yeah, you will need to grow and pick your own cotton to spin into a pair of jeans too, Not sure how you're gonna make a pair of shoes though.

The young'uns up there in zuchinni park are all atwitter about all the free food and condoms flowing in. That too is rather ironic. Someone, somewhere had to buy that food and those skins. Again, probably from some corporation. The hypocrisy of you and your litlle friends drips like the sap of a Vermont maple tree in January.

Besides that, you are being overtaken by the mobsters in the unions who work for all those evil corporations. You need to clean up your nest. hehe!

Anonymous

Greed?! Why is government greed never figured into these peoples' equations? Obummer just waged a 'bet' (his word) on the Solyndra solar panel company as part of his green revolution that flushed over half a billion dollars down the toilet because the company went under.

Do we get so much as an explanation from our man-child president? Not at all. In fact, he actually doubles down on this horribly irresponsible choice. Apparently he thought that investment so wise that he is now giving another solar panel company with questionable financials another $1.2 billion.

I see this kind of blind stupidity in this author's words. Stupidity that, if magnified through further expanded governmental power, would absolutely destroy this country.

Anonymous

Greed?! Why is government greed never figured into these peoples' equations? Obummer just waged a 'bet' (his word) on the Solyndra solar panel company as part of his green revolution that flushed over half a billion dollars down the toilet because the company went under.

Do we get so much as an explanation from our man-child president? Not at all. In fact, he actually doubles down on this horribly irresponsible choice. Apparently he thought that investment so wise that he is now giving another solar panel company with questionable financials another $1.2 billion.

I see this kind of blind stupidity in this author's words. Stupidity that, if magnified through further expanded governmental power, would absolutely destroy this country.

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