. . .All who speak in a moral voice, one tied to facts rather than illusions, will become freaks. It will be difficult to live with conscience in an age of nihilism. [. . .] A culture, once it no longer values truth and beauty, condemns its most creative and moral people to poverty and obscurity. And this is our destiny.
The French existentialist Albert Camus argued that our lives our meaningless. We cannot influence fate. We will all die, and our individual beings will be obliterated. But we have a choice in how we live.
‘A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,’ Camus wrote. ‘But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.’
The rebel, for Camus, stands with the oppressed — the unemployed workers thrust into impoverishment and misery by the corporate state, the Palestinians in Gaza, the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disappeared who are held in our global black sites, the poor in our inner cities and depressed rural communities, immigrants, and those locked away in our prison systems.
The elites and their courtiers in the liberal class always condemn the rebel as impractical. They dismiss the stance of the rebel as counterproductive. They chastise the rebel for being angry. The elites and their apologists call for calm, reason and patience. They use the hypocritical language of compromise, generosity, and understanding to argue that we must accept and work with the systems of power. The rebel, however, is beholden to a moral commitment that makes it impossible to compromise. The rebel refuses to be bought off with foundation grants, invitations to the White House, television appearances, book contracts, academic appointments, or empty rhetoric. The rebel is not concerned with self-promotion or public opinion. The rebel knows that, as Augustine wrote, hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage — anger at the way things are and the courage to change them. The rebel knows that virtue is not rewarded. The act of rebellion justifies itself.
[. . .] Acts of rebellion permit us to be free and independent human beings. Rebellion chips away, however imperceptibly, at the edifice of the oppressor. Rebellion sustains the capacity for human solidarity. Rebellion, in moments of profound human despair and misery, keeps alive the capacity to be human. Rebellion is not the same as revolution. Revolution works towards the establishment of a new power structure. Rebellion is about perpetual revolt and permanent alienation from power. And it is only in a state of rebellion that we can hold fast to moral imperatives that prevent a descent into tyranny. Empathy must be our primary attribute. Those who retreat into cynicism and despair, like Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, die spiritually and morally. If we are to be extinguished, let it be on our own terms.
The dispassionate, objective creed of the liberal class, which made them mere photographers of human reality, is useless to the rebel. It is an ideology that serves those we must defy. The cri de coeur for reason, logic, and truth, for a fact-based society, for political and social structures designed to protect the common good, will be the flag carried by forlorn and militant remnants of our dying civilization. Cicero did this in ancient Rome. But he was despised by the crowd as he was by the power elite. When his severed head and hands were mounted on the podium in the Colosseum, and his executioner Marc Antony announced that Cicero would speak and write no more, the tens of thousands of spectators roared their approval. Tyranny in an age of chaos is often greeted with palpable relief. There often is no public outcry. The rebel must, for this reason, also expect to become the enemy, even of those he or she is attempting to protect.
The indifference to the plight of others and the cult of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. That state appeals to pleasure, as well as fear, to crush compassion. We will have to continue to fight the mechanisms of that dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve, through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We will have to resist the temptation to fold in on our ourselves and to ignore the injustice visited on others, especially those we do not know. As distinct and moral beings, we will endure only through these small, sometimes imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what mass culture and mass propaganda seeks to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces, we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces, we remain alive. And, for now, this is the only victory possible.
–Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class pp 214-217