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

Everyone is contributing to the quickly increasing destruction of the ocean. Yes China is contributing to that, as are many other nations and multinational corporations around the globe. I don't blame the United States for the problem I blame the United States for not helping to solve it by placing itself as an example for the world to follow. We should be doing more to protect the ocean by placing regualtions on offshore drilling, fishing, and dumping of waste. Why is it wrong in your eyes to recieve an education? I pay those taxes as well while working my way through school. Shouldn't my taxes be used to better the lives of myself and my fellow Americans? Maybe your just more interested in spending tax money on having the 18 year old kids down the road die in a desert in Iraq so your SUV costs less to fill at the pump.

Anonymous

Everyone is contributing to the quickly increasing destruction of the ocean. Yes China is contributing to that, as are many other nations and multinational corporations around the globe. I don't blame the United States for the problem I blame the United States for not helping to solve it by placing itself as an example for the world to follow. We should be doing more to protect the ocean by placing regualtions on offshore drilling, fishing, and dumping of waste. Why is it wrong in your eyes to recieve an education? I pay those taxes as well while working my way through school. Shouldn't my taxes be used to better the lives of myself and my fellow Americans? Maybe your just more interested in spending tax money on having the 18 year old kids down the road die in a desert in Iraq so your SUV costs less to fill at the pump.

Anonymous

So if we disagree with you we must be war mongers and want to destroy the enviroment ... you should go get a job in the oil patch and see for yourself what actions are taken to protect the enviroment ... If you think we are in Iraq for cheap oil then your an idiot ... Thousands of people had to die around the world before we went to Iraq to stop terrorism and it might not be perferct but terrorism has stopped ... and oil is higher then ever because third world countries are using more then they ever have ...

Anonymous

So if we disagree with you we must be war mongers and want to destroy the enviroment ... you should go get a job in the oil patch and see for yourself what actions are taken to protect the enviroment ... If you think we are in Iraq for cheap oil then your an idiot ... Thousands of people had to die around the world before we went to Iraq to stop terrorism and it might not be perferct but terrorism has stopped ... and oil is higher then ever because third world countries are using more then they ever have ...

Anonymous

Taxes should not be used as a vehicle for social change. Taxes should be used for what they were originally intended for, to fund vital services. As far as getting an education, no ones discouraging you from doing that, just pay for it. Unfortunately, many of your comrades are reluctant to pay back their student loans, feeling somehow that they are entitled to a paid for by taxpayer education. Perhaps you and your Marxist pals in the movement should have studied economics a little more intently instead of your liberal talking points about the war in Iraq, which I dont even want to get into. If you want to go out and save the world, then do it, no one is stopping you, but at the end of the day, what you childish, ignorant protestors dont understand is that people who pay are tired of those who dont, telling them how their tax dollars should be spent. If money is the answer for solving the worlds problems then have all your anti capitalist pals chip in and start a fund. In the meantime dont tell people who work and produce and try to raise their families that you want more of their money so you can feel better about yourselves.

Anonymous

Taxes should not be used as a vehicle for social change. Taxes should be used for what they were originally intended for, to fund vital services. As far as getting an education, no ones discouraging you from doing that, just pay for it. Unfortunately, many of your comrades are reluctant to pay back their student loans, feeling somehow that they are entitled to a paid for by taxpayer education. Perhaps you and your Marxist pals in the movement should have studied economics a little more intently instead of your liberal talking points about the war in Iraq, which I dont even want to get into. If you want to go out and save the world, then do it, no one is stopping you, but at the end of the day, what you childish, ignorant protestors dont understand is that people who pay are tired of those who dont, telling them how their tax dollars should be spent. If money is the answer for solving the worlds problems then have all your anti capitalist pals chip in and start a fund. In the meantime dont tell people who work and produce and try to raise their families that you want more of their money so you can feel better about yourselves.

Anonymous

"You egomaniacal idiot,' Malcolm said, in fury. 'Do you have any idea what you are talking about? You think you can destroy the planet? My, what intoxicating power you must have.' Malcolm sank back on the bed. 'You can't destroy this planet. You can't even come close.' 'Most people believe,' Hammond said stiffly, 'that the planet is in jeopardy.' 'Well, it's not,' Malcolm said. 'All the experts agree that our planet is in trouble.' Malcom sighed. 'Let me tell you about our planet,' he said. 'Our planet is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on this planet for nearly that long. Three point eight billion years. The first bacteria. And, later, the first multicellular animals, then the first complex creatures, in the sea, on the land. Then the great sweeping ages of animals - the amphibians, the dinosaurs, the mammals, each lasting millions upon millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures arising, flourishing, dying away. All this happening against a backdrop of continuous and violent upheaval, mountain ranges thrust up and eroded away, cometary impacts, volcanic eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving... Endless constant and violent change... Even today, the greatest geographical feature on the planet comes from two great continents colliding, buckling to make they Himalayan mountain range over millions of years. The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.' Hammond frowned. 'Just because something has lasted a long time,' he said, 'doesn't mean it is permanent. If there was a radiation accident...' 'Suppose there was,' Malcolm said. 'Let's say we had a bad one, and all the plants and animals died, and the earth was clicking hot for a hundred thousand years. Life would survive somewhere - under the soil, or perhaps frozen in Arctic ice. And after all those years, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would again spread over the planet. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. And of course it would be very different from what it is now. But the earth would survive our folly. Life would survive our folly. Only we,' Malcolm said, 'think it wouldn't.' Hammond said, 'Well, it the ozone layer gets any thinner -' 'There will be more ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. So what?' 'Well. It'll cause skin cancer.' Malcolm shook his head. 'Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation.' 'And many others will die out,' Hammond said. Malcolm sighed. 'You think this is the first time such a thing has happened? Don't you know about oxygen?' 'I know it's necessary for life.' 'It is now,' Malcolm said. 'But oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It's a corrosive gas, like fluorine, which is used to etch glass. And when oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells - say, around three billion years ago - it created a crisis for all other life on our planet. Those plant cells were polluting the environment with a deadly poison. They were exhaling a lethal gas, and building up its concentration. A planet like Venus has less than one percent oxygen. On earth, the concentration of oxygen was going up rapidly - five, ten, eventually twenty-one percent! Earth had an atmosphere of pure poison! Incompatible with life!' Hammond looked irritated. 'So what is your point? That modern pollutants will be incorporated, too?' 'No,' Malcolm said. 'My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn't have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines... It was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.' 'And we very well might be gone,' Hammond said, huffing. 'Yes,' Malcolm said. 'We might.' 'So what are you saying? We shouldn't care about the environment?' 'No, of course not.' 'Then what?' Malcolm coughed, and stared into the distance. 'Let's be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven't go the power to destroy the planet - or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.'" -Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, 1990

Anonymous

"You egomaniacal idiot,' Malcolm said, in fury. 'Do you have any idea what you are talking about? You think you can destroy the planet? My, what intoxicating power you must have.' Malcolm sank back on the bed. 'You can't destroy this planet. You can't even come close.' 'Most people believe,' Hammond said stiffly, 'that the planet is in jeopardy.' 'Well, it's not,' Malcolm said. 'All the experts agree that our planet is in trouble.' Malcom sighed. 'Let me tell you about our planet,' he said. 'Our planet is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on this planet for nearly that long. Three point eight billion years. The first bacteria. And, later, the first multicellular animals, then the first complex creatures, in the sea, on the land. Then the great sweeping ages of animals - the amphibians, the dinosaurs, the mammals, each lasting millions upon millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures arising, flourishing, dying away. All this happening against a backdrop of continuous and violent upheaval, mountain ranges thrust up and eroded away, cometary impacts, volcanic eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving... Endless constant and violent change... Even today, the greatest geographical feature on the planet comes from two great continents colliding, buckling to make they Himalayan mountain range over millions of years. The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.' Hammond frowned. 'Just because something has lasted a long time,' he said, 'doesn't mean it is permanent. If there was a radiation accident...' 'Suppose there was,' Malcolm said. 'Let's say we had a bad one, and all the plants and animals died, and the earth was clicking hot for a hundred thousand years. Life would survive somewhere - under the soil, or perhaps frozen in Arctic ice. And after all those years, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would again spread over the planet. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. And of course it would be very different from what it is now. But the earth would survive our folly. Life would survive our folly. Only we,' Malcolm said, 'think it wouldn't.' Hammond said, 'Well, it the ozone layer gets any thinner -' 'There will be more ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. So what?' 'Well. It'll cause skin cancer.' Malcolm shook his head. 'Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation.' 'And many others will die out,' Hammond said. Malcolm sighed. 'You think this is the first time such a thing has happened? Don't you know about oxygen?' 'I know it's necessary for life.' 'It is now,' Malcolm said. 'But oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It's a corrosive gas, like fluorine, which is used to etch glass. And when oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells - say, around three billion years ago - it created a crisis for all other life on our planet. Those plant cells were polluting the environment with a deadly poison. They were exhaling a lethal gas, and building up its concentration. A planet like Venus has less than one percent oxygen. On earth, the concentration of oxygen was going up rapidly - five, ten, eventually twenty-one percent! Earth had an atmosphere of pure poison! Incompatible with life!' Hammond looked irritated. 'So what is your point? That modern pollutants will be incorporated, too?' 'No,' Malcolm said. 'My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn't have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines... It was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.' 'And we very well might be gone,' Hammond said, huffing. 'Yes,' Malcolm said. 'We might.' 'So what are you saying? We shouldn't care about the environment?' 'No, of course not.' 'Then what?' Malcolm coughed, and stared into the distance. 'Let's be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven't go the power to destroy the planet - or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.'" -Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, 1990

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