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Pulitzer Prize winning journalist to speak in Ottawa

By Alejandro Bustos on May 12, 2015


Chris Hedges is not a subtle man.  In his latest book Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, the former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent offers a blistering attack on corporate power and political institutions.

Local residents can hear him first-hand on Wednesday evening, when he is scheduled to speak at Centretown United Church (507 Bank Street) at 7 pm.

So what can we expect from a talk by this internationally renowned Pulitzer Prize winning journalist?  Well, from my perspective — and this is only my view — I had mixed feelings after reading Wages of Rebellion.  On the one hand, I agreed with much of the book, e.g. climate change is a serious problem and growing global inequality is obscene.  On the other hand, I was turned off on numerous occasions by his hyperbolic writing and, at times, one-dimensional views.

Hedges will likely be horrified by this comparison, but his book often reminded me of Conservative gadfly Ezra Levant.  In other words, like Levant, Hedge’s tends to presents his opinions in black and white terms, while paying at most lip service to opposing views.

As a case in point, he praises the Occupy Movement while offering almost no critical analysis of its impact on political discourse.  Whatever you may think of Occupy, the fact remains that many people, including some progressives, see serious problems with this movement.  In particular, many fear that the legacy of Occupy will not be to create a better society, but rather to lead large groups of young people to drop out of the political process, and as a consequence hand Conservative parties electoral victories and power by default.  You may agree or disagree with this analysis, but at least one should recognise the debate.

Now, am I being a bit unfair in my critique of Hedges?  Probably a little.  But I am only trying to mimic what I felt while reading large parts of the book.

That being said, Hedges does offer a lot of interesting analysis.  To give the Coles Notes summary, Wages of Rebellion has two main main parts.  First, Hedges argues that we are living in a turbulent historical moment.  With growing inequality, massive assault on civil liberties, widespread environmental destruction and unchecked corporate power the stage is being set for revolution. How and when revolt comes is difficult to say, but the seeds of a future uprising are being planted today.

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges

Second, Hedges then offers numerous case studies of the price that modern day “activists” such as Mumia Abu-JamalWiebo Ludwig and Lynne Stewart have paid.  Why do I put “activists” in quotation marks?  Well, because there is no consensus on how to define this group of people.

If you agree with Hedges’ worldview, then you will likely agree with his description of this group as modern-day revolutionaries.  Given the serious problems with the trial of Abu-Jamal, you will also likely nod your head at the book’s description of  him as the “America’s best-known political prisoner.” You may also understand the logic behind the violent actions that Ludwig took against oil companies, and be horrified at the treatment suffered by Stewart.  (The section of Stewart really freaked me out).

If you disagree with Hedges, however, you may use words like “cop killer” for Abu-Jamal, “eco-terrorist” for Ludwig, and “terrorist abettor” to label Stewart.  Even if you are open to many of Hedges views, you many not be convinced by his broader arguments.  For like Levant, this book many only end up preaching to the fully converted.

Which is a shame, given that Hedges is no fool.  He has had long and distinguished career as a journalist, which includes 15 years as a foreign correspondent at The New York Times.  He has covered wars, rebellions and other pivotal events in Central America, Africa, the Balkans and Middle East, written numerous bestselling books, and won the 2002 Pulitzer as part of a team at the New York Times that covered global terrorism.  This stellar resume, however, did not remove the fact that I found this book to be very uneven.

Chris Hedges will speak at 7 pm Wednesday at Centretown United Church (507 Bank Street). Tickets at $10 general admission or $5 for students and low-income, and can be purchased online, at Octopus Books (116 Third Ave. or 251 Bank St., 2nd Floor) or at the door.