Chris Hedges, please try again

Chris Hedges recently wrote a painfully ill-informed essay about black bloc tactics and violence in protest actions.  It’s a shame, because I think he does have some valuable wisdom to impart to activists who find themselves engaged in confrontations with law enforcement (regardless of how the violence starts).  Unfortunately I didn’t see any of that wisdom evident in his tirade.  Here’s what I wish Hedges had spent some time writing about.

Hedges wrote about the effects of war and violence on the human psyche in his book War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, and I wish he’d applied some of his insights from that book to his critique of black bloc tactics.  His book reflected on his years hopping from war zone to war zone as a journalist, and how those constant brushes with death turned him into a sort of adrenaline junkie, always needing a new fix of danger.  He convinced himself that it was necessary to continue to expose himself to dangerous situations, arguing that he was doing it for a noble, greater good and not out of a desire to experience an emotional rush that proved his life held greater meaning.  This constant exposure to violence and trauma took a toll on him, and caused him to rethink his work as a journalist.  I think his experiences have some some definite parallels for activists to examine.

These are not easy to questions to bring up, but I think activists need to candidly and honestly examine what kind of meaning we each attach to violence, whether done to us or for some, done by us.  For example, has it become the case that for some of us, violence can feel at once terrible and yet also exhilarating?  Have we begun to judge our actions not by how much social transformation happens, but by how hard the police clamp down on a protest?   Is there an unacknowledged desire to experience violence as a way to validate our cause, as proof that we are part of Something Important?

Again, these are questions that are difficult to raise, and they are even more difficult to talk about when folks are on the defensive because of condescending and inaccurate essays like the one Hedges wrote.  The left is in serious need of inter-generational dialogue and frank discussion about tactics and long term goals, but rants like the one Hedges wrote are not going to help.  We need to hear from veterans of protest movements and from those who have experienced trauma in their work to create a better world, we don’t need blame-tastic lectures on The Right Way to Protest.  Chris Hedges, please try again.  Folks pissed off at his rant, try to not dismiss him entirely.


Filed under Activism, current events

4 responses to “Chris Hedges, please try again

  1. The fact is, violence from the protesters will NEVER lead to social transformation, it will only turn people away from the movement. I’m not seeing any specific criticisms of what Chris Hedges actually wrote, just suggestions of what you would like to see him focus on. Do you seriously think that the black block is not a threat to Occupy?

  2. victoria

    orioncopernicus, i highly recommend David Graeber’s essay “Concerning the Violent Peace Police” as a response to the questions and accusations you raised in your comment:

  3. Karen

    Occupy is full of white middle class liberals who have never bothered to protest anything before in their lives, which is why they don’t understand what the police are and why someone would want to defend themselves against them. The black bloc is a defensive tactic (even symbolic attacks on banks is a form of defense! – unless someone believes the banks didn’t attack us first?) Self-defense is always legitimate, in fact fighting force with force is a duty. Everything else follows from that.

  4. TL

    Tahrir Square 2011, Stonewall, Cochabamba Water War, anti-apartheid defiance campaign, Black Power, the American Indian Movement, and the list goes on of what Hedges calls “cancers.”

    Now Bolivia, 2012.

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