Thursday, June 24, 2010

Empire of Illusion

Recent books depict the malaise affecting America life today. Books like Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges and Reset by Kurt Anderson. Both are good books that offer very insightful and often painful observations of American life. Basically the plot is the same. The country has been overspending and living an excessive lifestyle, deluded by an illusion of achieving the so-called American dream. This trend is reinforced by pseudo-event or illusions that further destroy future progress. It is the striving for more. According to Anderson, the solution is to ‘reset’ American society by going back to its values. The book actually ends in an optimistic note. Anderson offers solutions like increasing immigration and fostering more innovation. The book is an interesting essay that gives a good picture of what went wrong.

Empire of Illusion is a darker work and more detailed. The book jacket indicates that the book or the author won the Pulitzer Prize. The ideas are following the critical view point of people like Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader and Naomi Klein. It’s a painful work with graphic details on pornography, professional wrestling and the focus of education on fostering illusion. Some sections are very pessimistic and seem to forecast a future of tyranny and totalitarianism to keep the people in chains and in their illusions. The title of the book speaks for itself. The American empire is living and driven by an illusion that will collapse soon. It is seen everywhere particularly in it’s infrastructure: crumbling brides, subways, roads, schools and so on. Countries like China is more progressive where they build new subways every year or Europe where one could travel from France to England in the euro tunnel.

Education system perpetuates this condition where people prefer to go to jobs in finance with huge salaries, motivated by greed. The military-industrial complex is forcing the country into stupid and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; maintaining about 736 military bases world wide and further pushing the country to deficits. I haven’t fished the book yet so I don’t know if it ends with some solutions. But it seems to follow the theses of Paul Kennedy who created the concept of imperial overreach. For example, the military budget is in the $ 700 billion range and bigger than all other countries combined. The closest competitor is possibly China at about $ 70 billion. This situation coupled with a ruthless capitalistic system seems to portray similar condition which resulted in the decline of the Roman Empire. Perhaps like Rome, the American century will end with ruthless emperors heading the country.

The solution seems to lie in changing ones consciousness. Eckhart Tolle provides the best solution to remove this mental illness of striving for more; to satisfy the conceptual self (of the individual and perhaps the nation). As he quotes Albert Einstein, one cannot solve the current problem with the same consciousness that caused the problem in the first place. The answer is the standard Buddhist philosophy (although he preaches about all religions) – to quite or still the mind or to live in the now and destroy the conceptual self. One would do well to follow his advice living in a country that fosters consumerism and endless consumption.

Does living in this type of society corrupt its new inhabitants such as recent immigrants? Yes I think so. One is immediately swept up in the desire to buy new and large homes, to buy cars such as SUV, or boats and go on expensive vacations. There is so much being offered in the market place, now even in the Internet or in television shopping; technology making it easier to spend and buy things. One is enveloped in the American dream or is it the American illusion? Soon one becomes hopelessly in debt but still consumed with a desire to consume more. Desire is driven by one’s conceptual self and the cause of suffering. Eckhart Tolle’s spiritual lessons are a timely antidote to today’s ills. Unfortunately no one seems to be listening. His solutions go to the core of one’s spirit and maybe the way to ‘reset’ ones life.

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