"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Consumerism’

Feeding The “Disimagination Machine” & The Violence Of Organized Forgetting

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Violence of Organized ForgettingOIdspeak: “As a mode of public pedagogy, a state of permanent war needs willing subjects to abide by its values, ideology, and narratives of fear and violence.  Such legitimation is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to the production of consumerism, militarism and organized violence, largely circulated through various registers of popular culture that extend from high fashion and Hollywood movies to the creation of violent video games and music concerts sponsored by the Pentagon. The market-driven spectacle of war demands a culture of conformity, quiet intellectuals and a largely passive republic of consumers.  There is also a need for subjects who find intense pleasure in commodification of violence and a culture of cruelty. Under neoliberalism, culture appears to have largely abandoned its role as a site of critique.  Very little appears to escape the infantilizing and moral vacuity of the market. For instance, the architecture of war and violence is now matched by a barrage of goods parading as fashion. For instance, in light of the recent NSA and PRISM spying revelations in the United States, The New York Times ran a story on a new line of fashion with the byline: “Stealth Wear Aims to Make a Tech Statement.”….As the pleasure principle is unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for others, it is increasingly shaped by the need for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations. Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of violence has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings, and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness, and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place and set the stage for the emergence of unchecked torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultrarich and major corporations, and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery, and eliminating all viable public spheres – whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good.” – Henry A. Giroux

“The Common Good has no market value. In a culture where all is valued via it’s usefulness on the market, The natural commons, public institutions and all things not private must be owned and commodified to benefit The Market. Market-Driven values, like greed, more, growth, expansion, profit, competition, GDP, liberalization, centralization, cost externalization, supercede all other values. Be wary when your leaders speak in “Market-Based” terms. Human and environmental well-being are always secondary to the whims of The Market. ” -OSJ

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence.” – James Baldwin

Learning to Forget

America has become amnesiac – a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.  Politicians such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich along with talking heads such as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Anne Coulter are not the problem, they are symptomatic of a much more disturbing assault on critical thought, if not rational thinking itself.  Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.

Also See: Henry A. Giroux | Hoodie Politics: Trayvon Martin and Racist Violence in Post-Racial America

These anti-public intellectuals are part of a disimagination machine that solidifies the power of the rich and the structures of the military-industrial-surveillance-academic complex by presenting the ideologies, institutions and relations of the powerful as commonsense.[1] For instance, the historical legacies of resistance to racism, militarism, privatization and panoptical surveillance have long been forgotten and made invisible in the current assumption that Americans now live in a democratic, post-racial society. The cheerleaders for neoliberalism work hard to  normalize dominant institutions and relations of power through a vocabulary and public pedagogy that create market-driven subjects, modes of consciousness, and ways of understanding the world that promote accommodation, quietism and passivity.  Social solidarities are torn apart, furthering the retreat into orbits of the private that undermine those spaces that nurture non-commodified knowledge, values, critical exchange and civic literacy. The pedagogy of authoritarianism is alive and well in the United States, and its repression of public memory takes place not only through the screen culture and institutional apparatuses of conformity, but is also reproduced through a culture of fear and a carceral state that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.[2] What many commentators have missed in the ongoing attack on Edward Snowden is not that he uncovered information that made clear how corrupt and intrusive the American government has become – how willing it is to engage in vast crimes against the American public. His real “crime” is that he demonstrated how knowledge can be used to empower people, to get them to think as critically engaged citizens rather than assume that knowledge and education are merely about the learning of skills – a reductive concept that substitutes training for education and reinforces the flight from reason and the goose-stepping reflexes of an authoritarian mindset.[3]

Since the late1970s, there has been an intensification in the United States, Canada and Europe of neoliberal modes of governance, ideology and policies – a historical period in which the foundations for democratic public spheres have been dismantled. Schools, public radio, the media and other critical cultural apparatuses have been under siege, viewed as dangerous to a market-driven society that considers critical thought, dialogue, and civic engagement a threat to its basic values, ideologies, and structures of power. This was the beginning of an historical era in which the discourse of democracy, public values, and the common good came crashing to the ground. Margaret Thatcher in Britain and soon after Ronald Reagan in the United States – both hard-line advocates of market fundamentalism – announced that there was no such thing as society and that government was the problem not the solution. Democracy and the political process were all but sacrificed to the power of corporations and the emerging financial service industries, just as hope was appropriated as an advertisement for a whitewashed world in which the capacity of culture to critique oppressive social practices was greatly diminished. Large social movements fragmented into isolated pockets of resistance mostly organized around a form of identity politics that largely ignored a much-needed conversation about the attack on the social and the broader issues affecting society such as the growing inequality in wealth, power and income.

What is particularly new is the way in which young people have been increasingly denied a significant place in an already weakened social contract and the degree to which they are absent from how many countries now define the future. Youth are no longer the place where society reveals its dreams. Instead, youth are becoming the site of society’s nightmares. Within neoliberal narratives, youth are mostly defined as a consumer market, a drain on the economy, or stand for trouble.[4] Young people increasingly have become subject to an oppressive disciplinary machine that teaches them to define citizenship through the exchange practices of the market and to follow orders and toe the line in the face of oppressive forms of authority. They are caught in a society in which almost every aspect of their lives is shaped by the dual forces of the market and a growing police state. The message is clear: Buy/ sell/ or be punished. Mostly out of step, young people, especially poor minorities and low-income whites, are increasingly inscribed within a machinery of dead knowledge, social relations and values in which there is an attempt to render them voiceless and invisible.

How young people are represented betrays a great deal about what is increasingly new about the economic, social, cultural and political constitution of American society and its growing disinvestment in young people, the social state and democracy itself.[5]  The structures of neoliberal violence have put the vocabulary of democracy on life support, and one consequence is that subjectivity and education are no longer the lifelines of critical forms of individual and social agency.  The promises of modernity regarding progress, freedom and hope have not been eliminated; they have been reconfigured, stripped of their emancipatory potential and relegated to the logic of a savage market instrumentality. Modernity has reneged on its promise to young people to provide social mobility, stability and collective security. Long-term planning and the institutional structures that support them are now relegated to the imperatives of privatization, deregulation, flexibility and short-term profits. Social bonds have given way under the collapse of social protections and the attack on the welfare state. Moreover, all solutions to socially produced problems are now relegated to the mantra of individual solutions.[6]

Public problems collapse into the limited and depoliticized register of private issues. Individual interests now trump any consideration of the good of society just as all problems are ultimately laid at the door of the solitary individual, whose fate is shaped by forces far beyond his or her capacity for personal responsibility. Under neoliberalism everyone has to negotiate their fate alone, bearing full responsibility for problems that are often not of their own doing. The implications politically, economically and socially for young people are disastrous and are contributing to the emergence of a generation of young people who will occupy a space of social abandonment and terminal exclusion. Job insecurity, debt servitude, poverty, incarceration and a growing network of real and symbolic violence have entrapped too many young people in a future that portends zero opportunities and zero hopes. This is a generation that has become the new register for disposability, redundancy, and new levels of surveillance and control.

The severity and consequences of this shift in modernity under neoliberalism among youth is evident in the fact that this is the first generation in which the “plight of the outcast may stretch to embrace a whole generation.”[7] Zygmunt Bauman argues that today’s youth have been “cast in a condition of liminal drift, with no way of knowing whether it is transitory or permanent.”[8] That is, the generation of youth in the early 21st century has no way of grasping if they will ever “be free from the gnawing sense of the transience, indefiniteness, and provisional nature of any settlement.”[9]   Neoliberal violence produced in part through a massive shift in wealth to the upper 1%, growing inequality, the reign of the financial service industries, the closing down of educational opportunities, and the stripping of social protections from those marginalized by race and class has produced a generation without jobs, an independent life and even the most minimal social benefits.

Youth no longer inhabit the privileged space, however compromised, that was offered to previous generations.  They now occupy a neoliberal notion of temporality of dead time, zones of abandonment and terminal exclusion marked by a loss of faith in progress and a belief in those apocalyptic narratives in which the future appears indeterminate, bleak and insecure. Progressive visions pale and are smashed next to the normalization of market-driven government policies that wipe out pensions, eliminate quality health care, punish unions, demonize public servants, raise college tuition, and produce a harsh world of joblessness – all the while giving billions and “huge bonuses, instead of prison sentences . . . to those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans.”[10] Students, in particular, now find themselves in a world in which heightened expectations have been replaced by dashed hopes. The promises  of higher education and previously enviable credentials have turned into the swindle of fulfillment as, “For the first time in living memory, the whole class of graduates faces a future of crushing debt, and a high probability, almost the certainty, of ad hoc, temporary, insecure and part-time work and unpaid ‘trainee’ pseudo-jobs deceitfully rebranded as ‘practices’ – all considerably below the skills they have acquired and eons below the level of their expectations.” [11]

What has changed about an entire generation of young people includes not only neoliberal society’s disinvestment in youth and the lasting fate of downward mobility, but also the fact that youth live in a commercially carpet-bombed and commodified environment that is unlike anything experienced by those of previous generations.  Nothing has prepared this generation for the inhospitable and savage new world of commodification, privatization, joblessness, frustrated hopes and stillborn projects. [12] Commercials provide the primary content for their dreams, relations to others, identities and sense of agency. There appears to be no space outside the panoptican of commercial barbarism and casino capitalism.  The present generation has been born into a throwaway society of consumers in which both goods and young people are increasingly objectified and disposable.  Young people now reside in a world in which there are few public spheres or social spaces autonomous from the reach of the market, warfare state, debtfare, and sprawling tentacles of what is ominously called the Department of Homeland Security.

The structures of neoliberal modernity do more than disinvest in young people and commodify them, they also transform the protected space of childhood into a zone of disciplinary exclusion and cruelty, especially for those young people further marginalized by race and class who now inhabit a social landscape in which they are increasingly disparaged as flawed consumers or pathologized others. With no adequate role to play as consumers, many youth are now considered disposable, forced to inhabit “zones of social abandonment” extending from homeless shelters and bad schools to bulging detention centers and prisons.[13]  In the midst of the rise of the punishing state, the circuits of state repression, surveillance, and disposability increasingly “link the fate of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, poor whites, and Asian Americans” who are now caught in a governing-through-crime-youth complex, which increasingly serves as a default solution to major social problems.[14] As Michael Hart and Antonio Negri point out, young people live in a society in which every institution becomes an “inspection regime” –  recording, watching, gathering information and storing data.[15] Complementing these regimes is the shadow of the prison, which is no longer separated from society as an institution of total surveillance. Instead, “total surveillance is increasingly the general condition of society as a whole. ‘The prison,’ ” Michel Foucault notes, “begins well before its doors. It begins as soon as you leave your house – and even before.”[16]

Everyone is Now a Potential Terrorist

At the start of the second decade of the 21st century, young people all over the world are demonstrating against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services. These demonstrations have and currently are being met with state-sanctioned violence and an almost pathological refusal to hear their demands.  More specifically, in the United States the state monopoly on the use of violence has intensified since the 1980s, and in the process, has been increasingly directed against young people, low-income whites, poor minorities, immigrants, and women. As the welfare state is hollowed out, a culture of compassion is replaced by a culture of violence, cruelty and disposability. Collective insurance policies and social protections have given way to the forces of economic deregulation, the transformation of the welfare state into punitive workfare programs, the privatization of public goods and an appeal to individual accountability as a substitute for social responsibility.

Under the notion that unregulated market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, the business model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of social responsibility while furthering the criminalization of social problems and cutbacks in basic social services, especially for the poor, young people and the elderly.[17] Within the existing neoliberal historical conjuncture, there is a merging of violence and governance and the systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres that have provided the minimal conditions for democracy. This becomes obvious in the emergence of a surveillance state in which the social media not only become new platforms for the invasion of privacy, but further legitimate a culture in which monitoring functions are viewed as benign while the state-sponsored society of hyper-fear increasingly defines everyone as either a snitch or a terrorist. Everyone, especially minorities of race and ethnicity, now live under a surveillance panoptican in which “living under constant surveillance means living as criminals.”[18]

As young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy, articulating what a fair and just world might be, they are increasingly met with forms of physical, ideological and structural violence.  Abandoned by the existing political system, young people in Oakland, California, New York City, Quebec and numerous other cities throughout the globe have placed their bodies on the line, protesting peacefully while trying to produce a new language, politics, imagine long-term institutions, and support notions of “community that manifest the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”[19] In Quebec, in spite of police violence and threats, thousands of students demonstrated for months against a former right-wing government that wanted to raise tuition and cut social protections. These demonstrations are continuing in a variety of countries throughout the globe and embrace an investment in a new understanding of the commons as a shared space of knowledge, debate, exchange and participation.

Such movements, however diverse, are not simply about addressing current injustices and reclaiming space but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation and introducing a new political language. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for an end to the poverty, grotesque levels of economic inequality, the suppression of dissent and the permanent war state.  They refuse to be defined exclusively as consumers rather than as workers, and they reject the notion that the only interests that matter are monetary. They also oppose those market-driven values and practices aimed at both creating radically individualized subjects and undermining those public spheres that create bonds of solidarity that reinforce a commitment to the common good. And these movements all refuse the notion that financialization defines the only acceptable definition of exchange, one that is based exclusively on the reductionist notion of buying and selling.

Resistance and the Politics of the Historical Conjuncture

Marginalized youth, workers, artists and others are raising serious questions about the violence of inequality and the social order that legitimates it. They are calling for a redistribution of wealth and power – not within the old system, but in a new one in which democracy becomes more than a slogan or a legitimation for authoritarianism and state violence.  As Stanley Aronowitz and Angela Davis, among others, have argued, the fight for education and justice is inseparable from the struggle for economic equality, human dignity and security, and the challenge of developing American institutions along genuinely democratic lines.[20]  Today, there is a new focus on public values, the need for broad-based movements for solidarity, and alternative conceptions of politics, democracy and justice.

All of these issues are important, but what must be addressed in the most immediate sense is the threat that the emerging police state in the United States poses not to just the young protesters occupying a number of American cities, but also the threat it poses to democracy itself. This threat is being exacerbated as a result of the merging of a war-like mentality and neoliberal mode of discipline and education in which it becomes difficult to reclaim the language of obligation, social responsibility and civic engagement.[21] Everywhere we look we see the encroaching shadow of the police state.  The government now requisitions the publics’ telephone records and sifts through its emails. It labels whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden as traitors, even though they have exposed the corruption, lawlessness and host of antidemocratic practices engaged in by established governments.  Police can take DNA samples of all people arrested of a crime, whether they are proven guilty or not.  The United States is incarcerating people in record numbers, imprisoning over 2.3 million inmates while “6 million people at any one time [are] under carceral supervision – more than were in Stalin’s Gulag.”[22]

While there has been considerable coverage in the progressive media given to the violence that was waged against the Occupy movement and other protesters, I want to build on these analyses by arguing that it is important to situate such violence within a broader set of categories that enables a critical understanding of not only the underlying social, economic and political forces at work in such assaults, but also allows us to reflect critically on the distinctiveness of the current historical period in which they are taking place. For example, it is difficult to address such state-sponsored violence against young people without analyzing the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare and punishing state.

Stuart Hall’s reworking of Gramsci’s notion of conjuncture is important here because it provides both an opening into the forces shaping a particular historical moment while allowing for a merging of theory and strategy.[23]  Conjuncture in this case refers to a period in which different elements of society come together to produce a unique fusion of the economic, social, political, ideological and cultural in a relative settlement that becomes hegemonic in defining reality. That ruptural unity is today marked by a neoliberal conjuncture.  In this particular historical moment, the notion of conjuncture helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to a historically specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student-loan-debt bomb, eliminates much-needed social programs, eviscerates the social wage, and privileges profits and commodities over people.

Within the United States especially, the often violent response to nonviolent forms of youth protests must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to war and the militarization of the entire society.[24] The merging of the military-industrial complex, surveillance state and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare and surveillance state and the neoliberal project and how different interests, modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such a conjuncture is invaluable politically in that it provides a theoretical opening for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, focus and a cutting edge.”[25] It also points to the conceptual power of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.[26] It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible and politics refuses any guarantees and remains open.

I want to argue that the current historical moment or what Stuart Hall calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,”[27] has to be understood in terms of the growing forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such antidemocratic pressures and their relationship to the rising protests of young people in the United States and abroad are evident in the crisis that has emerged through the merging of governance and violence, the growth of the punishing state, and the persistent development of what has been described by Alex Honneth as “a failed sociality.”[28]

The United States has become addicted to violence, and this dependency is fueled increasingly by its willingness to wage war at home and abroad.  War in this instance is not merely the outgrowth of polices designed to protect the security and well-being of the United States. It is also, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, part of a “military metaphysics” – a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities.[29] War provides jobs, profits, political payoffs, research funds, and forms of political and economic power that reach into every aspect of society. War is also one of the nation’s most honored virtues, and its militaristic values now bear down on almost every aspect of American life.[30]  As modern society is formed against the backdrop of a permanent war zone, a carceral state and hyper-militarism, the social stature of the military and soldiers has risen. As Michael Hardt and Tony Negri have pointed out, “In the United States, rising esteem for the military in uniform corresponds to the growing militarization of the society as a whole. All of this despite repeated revelations of the illegality and immorality of the military’s own incarceration systems, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, whose systematic practices border on if not actually constitute torture.”[31] The state of exception in the United States, in particular, has become permanent and promises no end. War has become a mode of sovereignty and rule, eroding the distinction between war and peace. Increasingly fed by a moral and political hysteria, warlike values produce and endorse shared fears as the primary register of social relations.

The war on terror, rebranded under Obama as the “Overseas Contingency Operation,” has morphed into war on democracy. Everyone is now considered a potential terrorist, providing a rational for both the government and private corporations to spy on anybody, regardless of whether they have committed a crime.  Surveillance is supplemented by a growing domestic army of baton-wielding police forces who are now being supplied with the latest military equipment. Military technologies such as Drones, SWAT vehicles and machine-gun-equipped armored trucks once used exclusively in high-intensity war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan are now being supplied to police departments across the nation and not surprisingly “the increase in such weapons is matched by training local police in war zone tactics and strategies.”[32]  The domestic war against “terrorists”

provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations who “are becoming more a part of our domestic lives.”[33]  As Glenn Greenwald points out, “Arming domestic police forces with paramilitary weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a terrorist attack on US soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.”[34] Of course, the new domestic paramilitary forces will also undermine free speech and dissent with the threat of force while simultaneously threatening core civil liberties, rights and civic responsibilities.  Given that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime,” it becomes clear that in the new militarized state young people, especially poor minorities, are viewed as predators, a threat to corporate governance, and are treated as disposable populations.[35]  This siege mentality will be reinforced by the merging of private and corporate intelligence and surveillance agencies, and the violence it produces will increase as will the growth of a punishment state that acts with impunity. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the 1950s and 1960s.[36]

Yet, there is more at work here than the prevalence of armed knowledge and a militarized discourse, there is also the emergence of a militarized society that now organizes itself “for the production of violence.”[37]  A society in which “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks.”[38] But the prevailing move in American society to a permanent war status does more than promote a set of unifying symbols that embrace a survival of the fittest ethic, promoting conformity over dissent, the strong over the weak, and fear over responsibility, it also gives rise to what David Graeber has called a “language of command” in which violence becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships.[39]

Permanent War and the Public Pedagogy of Hyper-Violence

As a mode of public pedagogy, a state of permanent war needs willing subjects to abide by its values, ideology, and narratives of fear and violence.  Such legitimation is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to the production of consumerism, militarism and organized violence, largely circulated through various registers of popular culture that extend from high fashion and Hollywood movies to the creation of violent video games and music concerts sponsored by the Pentagon. The market-driven spectacle of war demands a culture of conformity, quiet intellectuals and a largely passive republic of consumers.  There is also a need for subjects who find intense pleasure in commodification of violence and a culture of cruelty. Under neoliberalism, culture appears to have largely abandoned its role as a site of critique.  Very little appears to escape the infantilizing and moral vacuity of the market. For instance, the architecture of war and violence is now matched by a barrage of goods parading as fashion. For instance, in light of the recent NSA and PRISM spying revelations in the United States, The New York Times ran a story on a new line of fashion with the byline: “Stealth Wear Aims to Make a Tech Statement.”[40]

As the pleasure principle is unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for others, it is increasingly shaped by the need for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations. Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of violence has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings, and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness, and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place and set the stage for the emergence of unchecked torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultrarich and major corporations, and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery, and eliminating all viable public spheres – whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good.

State violence, particularly the use of torture, abductions, and targeted assassinations are now justified as part of a state of exception in which a “political culture of hyper-punitiveness”[41] has become normalized. Revealing itself in a blatant display of unbridled arrogance and power, it is unchecked by any sense of either conscience or morality. How else to explain the right-wing billionaire, Charles Koch, insisting that the best way to help the poor is to get rid of the minimum wage. In response, journalist Rod Bastanmehr points out that “Koch didn’t acknowledge the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, but he did make sure to show off his fun new roll of $100-bill toilet paper, which was a real treat for folks everywhere.”[42] It gets worse. Ray Canterbury, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates insisted that “students could be forced into labor in exchange for food.”[43] In other words, students could clean toilets, do janitorial work or other menial chores in order to pay for their free school breakfast and lunch programs.  In Maine, Rep. Bruce Bickford (R) has argued that the state should do away with child labor laws. His rationale speaks for itself. He writes: “”Kids have parents. Let the parents be responsible for the kids. It’s not up to the government to regulate everybody’s life and lifestyle. Take the government away. Let the parents take care of their kids.”[44] This is a version of social Darwinism on steroids, a tribute to Ayn Rand that would make even her blush.

Public values are not only under attack in the United States and elsewhere but appear to have become irrelevant just as those spaces that enable an experience of the common good are now the object of disdain by right-wing and liberal politicians, anti-public intellectuals and an army of media pundits. State violence operating under the guise of personal safety and security, while parading as a bulwark of democracy, actually does the opposite and cancels out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”[45]  Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.

One recent example can be found in the farm bill passed by Republicans, which provides $195 billion in subsidies for agribusiness, while slashing roughly $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP provides food stamps for the poor.  Not only are millions of food stamp beneficiaries at risk, but it is estimated that benefits would be eliminated for nearly two millions Americans, many of them children. Katrina vanden Huevel writes in the Washington Post that it is hard to believe that any party would want to publicize such cruel practices. She writes:

“In this time of mass unemployment, 47 million Americans rely on food stamps. Nearly one-half are children under 18; nearly 10 percent are impoverished seniors. The recipients are largely white, female and young. The Republican caucus has decided to drop them from the bill as “extraneous,” without having separate legislation to sustain them. Who would want to advertise these cruel values?

Neoliberal policies have produced proliferating zones of precarity and exclusion embracing more and more individuals and groups who lack jobs, need social assistance, lack health care or are homeless.  According to the apostles of casino capitalism, providing “nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants and children . . . feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care” is a bad expenditure because it creates “a culture of dependency – and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.” [46]

But there is more to the culture of cruelty than simply ethically challenged policies that benefit the rich and punish the poor, particularly children, there is also the emergence of a punishing state, a governing through crime youth complex, and the emergence of the school-to-prison pipeline as the new face of  Jim Crow.[47]

A symptomatic example of the way in which violence has saturated everyday life can be seen in the increased acceptance of criminalizing the behavior of young people in public schools. Behaviors that were normally handled by teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for many young people. Increasingly, poor minority and white youth are being “funneled directly from schools into prison. Instead of schools being a pipeline to opportunity, schools are feeding our prisons.  Justified by the war on drugs, the United States is in the midst of a prison binge made obvious by the fact that “Since 1970, the number of people behind bars . . . has increased 600 percent.”[48] Moreover, it is estimated that in some cities such as Washington, DC, that 75 percent of young black men can expect to serve time in prison. Michelle Alexander has pointed out that “One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole – yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).”[49]

Young black men in American have an identity ascribed to them that is a direct legacy of slavery. They are considered dangerous, expendable, threatening and part of a culture of criminality. They are guilty of criminal behavior not because of the alleged crimes they might commit but because they are the product of a collective imagination paralyzed by the racism of a white supremacist culture they can only view them as a dangerous nightmare,  But the real nightmare resides in a society that hides behind the mutually informing and poisonous notions of colorblindness and a post-racial society, a convenient rhetorical obfuscation that allows white Americans to ignore the institutional and individual racist ideologies, practices and policies that cripple any viable notion of justice and democracy. As the Trayvon Martin case and verdict made clear, young black men are not only being arrested and channeled into the criminal justice system in record numbers, they are also being targeted by the police, harassed by security forces, and in some instances killed because they are black and assumed to be dangerous.[50]

Under such circumstances, not only do schools resemble the culture of prisons, but young children are being arrested and subjected to court appearances for behaviors that can only be termed as trivial. How else to explain the case of a diabetic student who, because she fell asleep in study hall, was arrested and beaten by the police or the arrest of a 7-year-old boy, who because of a fight he got into with another boy in the schoolyard, was put in handcuffs and held in custody for 10 hours in a Bronx police station.  In Texas, students who miss school are not sent to the principal’s office or assigned to detention. Instead, they are fined, and in too many cases, actually jailed.  It is hard to imagine, but in a Maryland school, a 13- year old girl was arrested for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. There is more at work than stupidity and a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents and politicians who maintain these laws, there is also the growing sentiment that young people constitute a threat to adults and that the only way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment.

This medieval type of punishment inflicts pain on the psyche and the body of young people as part of a public spectacle. Even more disturbing is how the legacy of slavery informs this practice given that “Arrests and police interactions . . .  disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations”[41] Poor minorities live in a new age of Jim Crow, one in which the ravages of segregation, racism, poverty and dashed hopes are amplified by the forces of “privatization, financialization, militarization and criminalization,” fashioning a new architecture of punishment, massive human suffering and authoritarianism.[42] Students being miseducated, criminalized and arrested through a form of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provide a grim reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely immune in the past from this type of state violence. This is not merely barbarism parading as reform – it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.

Widespread violence now functions as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that creates the foundation for sapping democracy of any political substance and moral vitality. The predominance of the disimagination machine in American society, along with its machinery of social death and historical amnesia, seeps into in all aspects of life, suggesting that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned. But historical and public memory is not merely on the side of domination.

As the anthropologist, David Price, points out, historical memory is a potent weapon in fighting against the “desert of organized forgetting” and implies a rethinking of the role that artists, intellectuals, educators, youth and other concerned citizens can play in fostering a “reawakening of America’s battered public memories.”[53]  Against the tyranny of forgetting, educators, young people, social activists, public intellectuals, workers and others can work to make visible and oppose the long legacy and current reality of state violence and the rise of the punishing state. Such a struggle suggests not only reclaiming, for instance, education as a public good but also reforming the criminal justice system and removing the police from schools. In addition, there is a need to employ public memory, critical theory, and other intellectual archives and resources to expose the crimes of those market-driven criminogenc regimes of power that now run the commanding institutions of society, with particular emphasis on how they have transformed the welfare state into a warfare state.

The rise of casino capitalism and the punishing state with their vast apparatuses of real and symbolic violence must be also addressed as part of a broader historical and political attack on public values, civic literacy and economic justice. Crucial here is the need to engage how such an attack is aided and abetted by the emergence of a poisonous neoliberal public pedagogy that depoliticizes as much as it entertains and corrupts.  State violence cannot be defined simply as a political issue but also as a pedagogical issue that wages violence against the minds, desires, bodies and identities of young people as part of the reconfiguration of the social state into the punishing state. At the heart of this transformation is the emergence of a new form of corporate sovereignty, a more intense form of state violence, a ruthless survival-of-the-fittest ethic used to legitimate the concentrated power of the rich, and a concerted effort to punish young people who are out of step with neoliberal ideology, values and modes of governance.

The value of making young people stupid, subject to an educational deficit has enormous currency in a society in which existing relations of power are normalized. Under such conditions, those who hold power accountable are reviewed as treasonous while critically engaged young people are denounced as un-American.[54]  In any totalitarian society, dissent is viewed as a threat, civic literacy is denounced, and those public spheres that produce engage citizens are dismantled or impoverished through the substitution of training for education.  It is important to note that Edward Snowden was labeled as a spy not a whistle-blower – even though he exposed the reach of the spy services into the lives of most Americans. More importantly, he was denounced as being part of a generation that unfortunately combined being educated with a distrust of authority.

Of course, these antidemocratic tendencies represent more than a threat to young people, they also put in peril all of those individuals, groups, public spheres and institutions now considered disposable because that are at odds with a world run by bankers, the financial elite and the rich.  Only a well-organized movement of young people, educators, workers, parents, religious groups and other concerned citizens will be capable of changing the power relations and vast economic inequalities that have generated what has become a country in which it is almost impossible to recognize the ideals of a real democracy.

Conclusion:

The rise of the punishing state and the governing-through-crime youth complex throughout American society suggests the need for a politics that not only negates the established order but imagines a new one, one informed by a radical vision in which the future does not imitate the present.[55] In this discourse, critique merges with a sense of realistic hope or what I call educated hope, and individual struggles merge into larger social movements.  The challenges that young people are mobilizing against oppressive societies all over the globe are being met with a state-sponsored violence that is about more than police brutality.  This is especially clear in the United States, given its transformation from a social state to a warfare state, from a state that once embraced a semblance of the social contract to one that no longer has a language for justice, community and solidarity – a state in which the bonds of fear and commodification have replaced the bonds of civic responsibility and democratic vision. Until educators, individuals, artists, intellectuals and various social movements address how the metaphysics of casino capitalism, war and violence have taken hold on American society (and in other parts of the world) along with the savage social costs they have enacted, the forms of social, political, and economic violence that young people are protesting against, as well as the violence waged in response to their protests, will become impossible to recognize and act on.

If the ongoing struggles waged by young people are to matter, demonstrations and protests must give way to more sustainable organizations that develop alternative communities, autonomous forms of worker control, collective forms of health care, models of direct democracy and emancipatory modes of education.  Education must become central to any viable notion of politics willing to imagine a life and future outside of casino capitalism.  There is a need for educators, young people, artists and other cultural workers to develop an educative politics in which people can address the historical, structural and ideological conditions at the core of the violence being waged by the corporate and repressive state and to make clear that government under the dictatorship of market sovereignty and power is no longer responsive to the most basic needs of young people – or most people for that matter.

The issue of who gets to define the future, own the nation’s wealth, shape the parameters of the social state, control the globe’s resources, and create a formative culture for producing engaged and socially responsible citizens is no longer a rhetorical issue, but offers up new categories for defining how matters of representations, education, economic justice, and politics are to be defined and fought over.  At stake here is the need for both a language of critique and possibility. A discourse for broad-based political change is crucial for developing a politics that speaks to a future that can provide sustainable jobs, decent health care, quality education and communities of solidarity and support for young people. Such a vision is crucial and relies on ongoing educational and political struggles to awaken the inhabitants of neoliberal societies to their current reality and what it means to be educated not only to think outside of neoliberal commonsense but also to struggle for those values, hopes, modes of solidarity, power relations and institutions that infuse democracy with a spirit of egalitarianism and economic and social justice and make the promise of democracy a goal worth fighting for. For this reason, any collective struggle that matters has to embrace education as the center of politics and the source of an embryonic vision of the good life outside of the imperatives of predatory capitalism. Too many progressives and people on the left are stuck in the discourse of foreclosure and cynicism and need to develop what Stuart Hall calls a “sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things.”[56] This is a difficult task, but what we are seeing in cities such as Chicago, Athens and other dead zones of capitalism throughout the world is the beginning of a long struggle for the institutions, values and infrastructures that make critical education and community the center of a robust, radical democracy. This is a challenge for young people and all those invested in the promise of a democracy that extends not only the meaning of politics, but also a commitment to economic justice and democratic social change.


[1]

I take up this issue in Henry A. Giroux, Universities in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

[2]

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010).

[3]

This issue is taken up brilliantly in Kenneth J. Saltman, The Failure of Corporate School Reform (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013).

[4]

These themes are taken up in Lawrence Grossberg, Caught In the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America’s Future,  (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society (New York: Routledge, 2009).

[5]

See, for example, Jean and John Comaroff, “Reflections of Youth, from the Past to the Postcolony,” Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on The New Economy, ed. Melissa S. Fisher and Greg Downey, (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 2006) pp. 267-281.

[6]

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), p. 14.

[7]

Zygmunt Bauman, “Downward mobility is now a reality,” The Guardian (May 31, 2012). Bauman develops this theme in detail in both Zygmunt Bauman, On Education, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012) and Zygmunt Bauman, This Is Not A Diary, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012).

[8]

Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives (London: Polity, 2004), p. 76.

[9]

Ibid., p. 76.

[10]

Rabbi Michael Lerner, “Trayvon Martin: A Jewish Response,” Tikkun (July 14, 2013).

[11]

Zygmunt Bauman, On Education (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p. 47.

[12]

Ibid., Bauman, On Education,  p. 47.

[13]

I have borrowed the term “zones of social abandonment” from Joäo Biehl, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); see also Henry A. Giroux, Disposable Youth (New York: Routledge, 2012) and Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: The Free Press, 2012).

[14]

Angela Y. Davis, “State of Emergency,” in Manning Marable, Keesha Middlemass, and Ian Steinberg, Eds.  Racializing Justice, Disenfranchising Lives (New York: Palgrave, 2007), p. 324.

[15]

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Declaration (Argo Navis Author Services, 2012), p. 20.

[16]

Ibid., Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Declaration, p. 20.

[17]

See Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham,NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

[18]

John Steppling, “Control & Punish,” JohnSteppling.com, (June 22, 2013).

[19]

Kyle Bella, “Bodies in Alliance: Gender Theorist Judith Butler on the Occupy and SlutWalk Movements,” TruthOut (December 15, 2011).

[20]

Stanley Aronowitz, “The Winter of Our Discontent,” Situations IV, no.2 (Spring 2012), pp. 37-76.

[21]

I take this up in Henry A. Giroux, Education and the Crisis of Public Values (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).

[22]

Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America,” The New Yorker, (January 30, 2012).

[23]

Stuart Hall interviewed by James Hay, “Interview with Stuart Hall,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 10:1 (2013): 10-33.

[24]

There are many sources that address this issue, see, in particular, Melvin A. Goodman, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (San Francisco: City Lights, 2013).

[25]

Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011),  p. 706.

[26]

Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (New York: Free Press, 1966) and the more recent Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 2006) .

[27]

Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011)

[28]

Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

[29]

C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 222.

[30]

See Gore Vidal, Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (New York: Nation Books, 2004); Gore Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (New York: Nation Books, 2002); Chris Hedges, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (New York: Anchor Books, 2003); Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War, (New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2010); Nick Turse, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

[31]

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Declaration (Argo Navis Author Services, 2012), p. 22

[32]

Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “Cops Ready for War,” RSN, (December 21, 2011).

[33]

Ibid., Becker and Schulz, “Cops Ready for War.”

[34]

Glenn Greenwald, “The Roots of The UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying,” Salon (Nov. 20, 2011).

 [35]

Erica Goode, “Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” The New York Times, (December 19, 2011) p. A15.

[36]

Phil Rockstroh, “The Police State Makes Its Move: Retaining One’s Humanity in the Face of Tyranny,” CommonDreams, (November 15, 2011).

[37]

Michael Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914–1945,” in The Militarization of the Western World, ed. John R. Gillis (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1989), p. 79.

[38]

Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:2 (July 14, 2005), p.17.

[39]

David Graeber, “Dead Zones of the Imagination,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (2012), p. 115.

[40]

Jenna Wortham, “Stealth Wear Aims to Make a  Tech Statement,”  The New York Times (June 29, 2013).  

[41]

Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown, “Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City,” Antipode (2006), p. 757.

[42]

Rod Bastanmehr, “Absurd: Billionaire Koch Brother Claims Eliminating Minimum Wage Would help the Poor,” AlterNet (July 11, 2013).  

[43]

Hannah Groch-Begley, “Fox Asks if Children Should Work for School Meals,” Media Matters (April 25, 2013. Online:  

[44]

Amanda Terkel, “Maine GOP Legislators Looking To Loosen Child Labor Laws,” Huffington Post, (March 30, 2011).

[45]

Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “Translators Note,” in Jean-Luc Nancy, The Truth of Democracy,  (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2010), pp. ix.

[46]

Paul Krugman,  “From the Mouths of Babes,” The New York Times (May 30, 2013), Online:  

[47]

Ibid., Michelle Alexander.

[48]

Jody Sokolower, “Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander,” Truthout, (June 4, 2013).

[49]

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010), p. 9.

[50]

For a particularly egregious and offensive defense of this racist stereotype, see Richard Cohen, “Racism versus Reality,” Washington Post (July 16, 2013). Online:

 [51] 

Smartypants, “A Failure of Imagination,” Smartypants Blog Spot (March 3, 2010). Online:  

[52]

Don Hazen, “The 4 Plagues: Getting a Handle on the Coming Apocalypse,” Alternet, (June 4, 2013).

[53]

David Price, “Memory’s Half-life: A Social History of Wiretaps,” Counterpunch 20:6 (June 2013), p. 14.

[54]

I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).

[55]

John Van Houdt, “The Crisis of Negation: An Interview with Alain Badiou,” Continent, 1.4 (2011): 234-238.  

[56]

Zoe Williams, “The Saturday Interview: Stuart Hall,” The Guardian (February 11, 2012).

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books include:  On Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011), Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm 2012), Disposable Youth: Racialized Memories and the Culture of Cruelty (Routledge 2012), Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm 2013), and The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), America’s Disimagination Machine (City Lights) and Higher Education After Neoliberalism (Haymarket) will be published in 2014). Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.

America’s Descent Into Corptalitarianism: The New Extremism & Politics Of Distraction In The Age Of Austerity

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm

http://alexanderltremayne.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/corporate_mafia2.pngOldspeak:What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it. The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes:

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the czars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform,” and of course “anti-national” – negativists of the worst sort. To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

This undoing of democracy to which Roy refers, and the dystopian society that is being created in its place, can be grasped in the current subordination of public values to commercial values and the collapse of democracy into the logic and values of what might called a predatory casino capitalism where life is cheap and everything is for sale. More specifically, from the ailing rib of democracy there is emerging not simply just an aggressive political assault on democratic modes of governance, but a form of linguistic and cultural authoritarianism that no longer needs to legitimate itself in an idea because it secures its foundational beliefs in a claim to normalcy;7 that is, Americans are now inundated with a pedagogy of cultural authoritarianism whose ideology, values, social practices and social formations cannot be questioned because they represent and legitimate the new neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory casino capitalism that presents itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form that inhabits a circle of ideological and political certainty and cultural practice that equates being a citizen with being a consumer – in other words, predatory capitalism is transforming into a universal ethic that has exhausted all political differences, economic alternatives and counter readings of the world in the service of benefitting a financial and corporate elite and a savage form of economic Darwinism.” -Henry A. Giroux

In a corptalitarian, crypto-faccist state, dissent is criminalized and ridiculed. The rule of law becomes arbitrary, fluid. The range of acceptable opinion is seductively narrowed. Extremism, manufactured fear and consent increase significantly. The status quo systems and structures around which the society is organized are rarely questioned, if so only superficially and transiently. Language is militarized, tightly controlled, and comes to mean something other than it was originally intended as lies become truth. Ignorance is viewed as strength, desirable, adorable, comical, normal. Perpetual war is used to bring peace, surgically, cooly, remotely, covertly, via killer robots “special forces” and “signature strikes”. Freedom becomes slavery as the wonders of wireless technology heralded as the tools to enable free and ubiquitous communications and interactions are now used to surveil, track, record, restrict, atomize, disconnect, control, monetize and manipulate communications, interactions and behavior. Mindless and ever-increasing consumption becomes more important than critical thinking. Inequality increases, with the bottom 50% controlling 1% of wealth, while the to 10% control 75% of wealth. Whistleblowers, pot smokers, lawful protestors, journalists, academics, go to jail, while polluters, torturers, white collars thieves, economy collapsers, and war criminals walk free. It doesn’t have to be this way.

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

The debate in both Washington and the mainstream media over austerity measures, the alleged fiscal cliff and the looming debt crisis not only function to render anti-democratic pressures invisible, but also produce what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills once called “a politics of organized irresponsibility.”1 For Mills, authoritarian politics developed, in part, by making the operations of power invisible while weaving a network of lies and deceptions through what might be called a politics of disconnect. That is, a politics that focuses on isolated issues that serve to erase the broader relations and historical contexts that give them meaning. These isolated issues become flashpoints in a cultural and political discourse that hide not merely the operations of power, but also the resurgence of authoritarian ideologies, modes of governance, policies and social formations that put any viable notion of democracy at risk.2 Decontextualized ideas and issues, coupled with the overflow of information produced by the new electronic media, make it more difficult to create narratives that offer historical understanding, relational connections and developmental sequences. The fragmentation of ideas and the cascade of information reinforce new modes of depoliticization and authoritarianism. 3

At the same time, more important issues are buried in the fog of what might be called isolated and manufactured crises, that when given legitimacy, actually benefit the wealthy and hurt working- and middle-class individuals and families. Gerald Epstein rightly argues that the debate about the fiscal cliff is

a debacle on the part of the Obama administration and for progressives and for workers and for families. It’s a real disaster…. We shouldn’t be having to sit here talking about this; we should be talking about what are going to do about the employment cliff or the climate change cliff. But instead we’re talking about this fiscal cliff, which is a manufactured crisis.4

The fiscal cliff argument is manufactured both in that it is not a real crisis (except for its impact on poor and middle-class families), and it serves as a diversion from pressing issues ranging from mass unemployment and widespread poverty, to the housing crisis and the student debt bomb. Moreover, it undermines understanding how these various problems are interrelated ideologically and structurally as part of an assault by religious and market fundamentalists on all aspects of public life that address the common good.

The expanded reach of politics in this discourse of distraction shrinks, and in doing so separates private troubles from public considerations, while undermining any broader understanding of the confluence of socio-economic-cultural interests and interrelated issues and problems that characterize a particular age. For instance, the debate on gun control says little about the deep-rooted culture of symbolic and structural violence that nourishes America’s infatuation with guns and its attraction to the spectacle of violence. Similarly, the mainstream debate over taxing the rich refuses to address this issue through a broader analysis of a society that is structurally wedded to producing massive inequities in income and wealth along with the considerable suffering and hardships produced by such social disparities.

In this denuded notion of politics, the connection between facts and wider theoretical frameworks and the connection between politics and power disappear just as the relationship between private troubles and larger social realities are covered over. Under such circumstances, politics is cleansed of its extremist elements and informed modes of dissent are not only marginalized but also actively suppressed, as was obvious in the FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street protesters and the police’s ruthless suppression of student dissenters on campuses across the country.

Blind Publics in an Authoritarian Age

What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it.5 The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes:

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the czars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform,” and of course “anti-national” – negativists of the worst sort. To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing. 6

This undoing of democracy to which Roy refers, and the dystopian society that is being created in its place, can be grasped in the current subordination of public values to commercial values and the collapse of democracy into the logic and values of what might called a predatory casino capitalism where life is cheap and everything is for sale. More specifically, from the ailing rib of democracy there is emerging not simply just an aggressive political assault on democratic modes of governance, but a form of linguistic and cultural authoritarianism that no longer needs to legitimate itself in an idea because it secures its foundational beliefs in a claim to normalcy;7 that is, Americans are now inundated with a pedagogy of cultural authoritarianism whose ideology, values, social practices and social formations cannot be questioned because they represent and legitimate the new neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory casino capitalism that presents itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form that inhabits a circle of ideological and political certainty and cultural practice that equates being a citizen with being a consumer – in other words, predatory capitalism is transforming into a universal ethic that has exhausted all political differences, economic alternatives and counter readings of the world in the service of benefitting a financial and corporate elite and a savage form of economic Darwinism.

We get hints of the current mechanisms of diversion and its hidden order of politics in Robert Reich’s claim that the debate over the fiscal cliff should not only be about the broader issue of inequality but also must ask and address crucial political questions regarding the increasing concentration of power and “entrenched wealth at the top, and less for the middle-class and the poor.8 We also see it in Frank Rich’s insistence that the endless debate conducted largely in the mainstream media about Washington being dysfunctional misses the point. Rich argues that beyond media’s silly argument that both parties are to blame for the current deadlock, lies a Republican Party strategy to make the Federal government look as dysfunctional as possible so as to convince the wider American public that the government should be dismantled and its services turned over to for-profit private interests. In fact, a number of recent critics now believe that the extremist nature of the current Republican Party represents one of the most difficult obstacles to any viable form of governance. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two prominent conservative commentators, recently have argued that moderates not only have been pushed out of the Republican Party but they are for all intents and purposes “virtually extinct.” They go even further in stating that:

In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. 9

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has gone further and has characterized the Republican Party and its “corporate-centric super-PACs as treasonous.” He states that Americans “are now in a free fall toward old-fashioned oligarchy; noxious, thieving and tyrannical” and that given the role of the most corporate-friendly Supreme Court since the Gilded Age with its passage of the Citizens United decision, “those who have the money now have the loudest voices in our democracy while poor Americans are mute.”10

More radical critics like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin, Stanley Aronowitz, Judith Butler, Robert Scheer, Jeffrey St. Clair, Matt Taibbi, Angela Davis and David Theo Goldberg, among others, have long recognized the transformation of the United States from a weak democracy to a spirited authoritarian state. All of these theorists have challenged the permanent war economy, the erosion of civil liberties, the power of the corporate state, the moral bankruptcy of the liberal intelligentsia, the corporate control of the media, the criminal wars of repression abroad, the rise of the torture state and the increasing militarization of everyday life.

However extremist the Republican Party has become with its ongoing war on women, immigrants, young people, the welfare state, voting rights and all manner of civil rights, this should not suggest that the Democratic Party occupies a valued liberal position. On the contrary, policy in the United States is now being shaped by a Democratic Party that has become increasingly more conservative in the last 30 years along with a Republican Party that now represents one of the most extremist political parties to ever seize power in Washington. And while the Republican Party has fallen into the hands of radical extremists, both parties “support shifting the costs of the crisis and the government bailouts of banks, large corporations and the stock market, onto the mass of the citizens.”11 Both parties support bailing out the rich and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. Moreover, both parties reject the idea of democracy as a collectively inhabited public space and ethos that unconditionally stands for individual, political and economic rights. President Obama and his Wall Street advisors may hold onto some weak notion of the social contract, but they are far from liberal when it comes to embracing the military physics of the corporate warfare state.

As Chris Hedges, Paul Street, Noam Chomsky and Salvatore Babones have repeatedly pointed out, calling the Republican Party extremists should not cloud the increasingly authoritarian positions now embraced by the Obama administration. For instance, President Obama has deported more immigrants than his predecessor George W. Bush; he has advocated for the privatization of public schools, pursued neoliberal modes of educational governance and slashed funds from a number of vital social service programs. He has put into place a health care program that eliminated the public option and joined forces with insurance companies and Big Pharma.

As is well known, the Obama administration also kept Guantanamo open, justified warrantless wiretapping, accelerated drone attacks that killed many innocent civilians, supports indefinite detention and sanctions a form of “extraordinary rendition,” in which potential terrorists are abducted and shipped off to foreign countries to be tortured.12 In fact, the realm of politics has moved so far to the right in the United States that modes of extremism that were once thought unthinkable have now become commonplace. As Glenn Greenwald has argued, the Patriot Act, state-sponsored torture, assassinations, kill lists and surveillance programs, once “widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties” have “become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.”13 While both parties have given up the mantel of democratic politics, the Republican Party is more extreme in its range of targets and its savage attempts to destroy those modes of governance and public spheres that provide the conditions for robust and critical forms of civic life, education, agency and democracy.

Republican Party Extremisms and the Destruction of Democracy

The extremism of the current Republican Party has many political, ideological, economic and cultural registers, but one of its most dangerous and punitive is its attacks on the social state, the public good and the very notion of responsible government. If the Democratic Party has undermined vital civil liberties while promoting a warfare state, the Republican Party has created a new understanding of politics as the space in which corporations and finance capital provide the template for all aspects of governance and policy. Governance in this mode of politics is a mixture of corporate power and financial warfare, accompanied by rule through the apparatuses of punishment, including the courts, military and police. If the slavish obedience to the corporate and finance state is visible in the Republican Party’s call for deregulation, privatization, free trade and a no-tax policy for the wealthy and corporations, the rule of the punishing state becomes clear in the call for the criminalization of a range of social behaviors ranging from abortion and homelessness, to debt payments and student protests.

While the use of military force against workers and civil rights has a long history in the US, the rule of finance capital is both new and takes on a new urgency, given the threat it poses to a substantive democracy. Robert McChesney argues that the rule of capital has transformed the United States from a weak democracy to “Dollarocracy – the rule of money rather than the rule of people – a specifically US form of plutocracy [that] is now so dominant, so pervasive, that it is accepted as simply the landscape people inhabit.”14 Michael Hudson goes further in his analysis and characterizes one element of the new extremism as a form of financial warfare waged against not merely the social state but all those groups that historically have fought for expanding political, economic and personal rights. He writes:

Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, US student loan-debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012). The weapon in this financial warfare … is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enable[s] creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers…. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency. 15

The second feature of the new extremism is the ongoing commercialization and destruction of democratic public spaces. The latter refers to the ongoing privatization, commercialization and attack on those democratic public spheres that provide the space for critical thinking, informed dialogue, thoughtfulness, the affirmation of non-commodified norms and the unconditional protection of social rights. Institutions of democratic culture such as schools, the art world, unions, the media, and other public spheres where public values and important social issues are both engaged and offer the conditions for producing informed citizens are now viewed with disdain because they embrace modes of critical reasoning and a collective ethos at odds with anti-democratic and market-driven values.

The Republican Party is not simply wedded to a vicious anti-intellectualism; it scorns the very notion of reason and embraces ignorance as the basis for community. This is evident not only in the rejection of science, evidence and reason as the foundation of an informed community, but also in the embrace of fundamentalist positions that pander to ignorance as a basis for shutting down dissent, mobilizing supporters and retooling American education as a business, a training site to initiate the young into a world where the corporate, financial and military elite decide their needs, desires and future.

The third feature of the new extremism focuses on the attack on the social contract and welfare state and the ideas and institutions that make them possible. The new extremists recognize that the space of citizenship is as important as the idea of citizenship and they want to make sure that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the American public to find and inhabit those public spaces where the discourse of the common good, public life and social justice can be taught and learned – spaces where a language for defending vital public spheres can be developed. The Republican Party discourse on deficits and austerity is in reality an attempt to dismantle the welfare state and the social supports it provides. For Republican Party extremists, budget deficits become the key weapon in forcing the government to reduce its spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social provisions at odds with market-driven values, deregulation and the logic of privatization.

One consequence of this attack on the welfare state and the social contract has been the emergence of a market fundamentalism that trivializes democratic values and public concerns. At the same time, this market fundamentalism enshrines a rabid individualism, legitimates an all-embracing quest for profits, and promotes a Social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness and the Hobbesian rule of a “war of all against all” replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. If the conservative revolution launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had as its goal the rolling back of social democratic rights, the counter-revolutionaries that now control the Republican Party go much further. That is, they are not interested in rolling back the benefits of the social state, they want to eliminate government-sponsored social provisions, trade union rights, and other social and economic rights. The enemy in this discourse is equality and substantive social rights.

In this form of free-market fundamentalism, the new authoritarianism posits the unregulated and unfettered market as an idol and fetish and promotes the rule of finance capital as part of a larger project leading to the rule of a callous corporate-dominated political economy. It also promotes an anti-public morality in which the only responsibility one has is to oneself, “with no responsibility for the interests or well-being of others.”16 How else to explain the refusal of both political parties to address myriad crises faced by young people as revealed in the following poverty-related statistics: Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are the new face of a national homeless population; more than a million public school students are homeless in the US; 57 percent of all children are in homes considered to be either low-income or impoverished, and that half of all American children will be on food stamps at least once before they turn 18 years old.17

At stake here is what John Clarke calls the subordination of the social and public values through a variety of policies that include: 18 “erasing the social” by withdrawing social protections for labor; “privatizing the social” by turning over publicly owned resources to profit-making interests; “subjugating the social” by subordinating social needs and policies to the imperatives of economic competitiveness and capital accumulation; domesticating the social by placing the burden for collective provision, security and care to the narrow realm of the family; narrowing the social by downsizing it into “meaner, degraded or recitalist forms.”19 Under this new market fundamentalism and political extremism, there is little interest in preventing inequality from running out of control – a savage ideology that feeds nicely into the notion that the social protections of the state have nothing to do with the common good or communal survival, but are largely a matter of charity.20 Central to the subordination of the social is the need to create new modes of agency and subjectivity in which “individuals think of themselves in economic terms – as entrepreneurial, calculating selves whose world is structured through contractual or quasi-contractual relationships.”21 This leads to the next element of the new extremism.

The fourth feature of the new extremism is its use of the media and other cultural apparatuses to promote a neoliberal form of public pedagogy and anti-politics engaged in the production of identities, desires and values that disparage any mode of sociality that embraces the common good, public values and shared responsibilities. The new extremism embraces a radical individualism that celebrates a consumer-oriented citizen “whose actions reflect mostly their material self-interests.”22 This is a form of anti-politics, an “authoritarian Utopia that is nothing less than ‘a program of methodical destruction of collectives,’ from trade unions and mill towns to families and small nations.”23 Under attack in this new form of authoritarianism are the social bonds and modes of communal cohesion that enable individuals, families and social movements to resist the ongoing transformation of citizens into customers, the criminalization of economic life, the corruption of politics and the massive increase in poverty, inequality, a culture of cruelty and the emergence of the punishing state.

The new extremism unleashes all the forces of brutal self-absorption that deepen and expand both the structure of cruelty and its ongoing privatization. Material self-interests have weakened any sense of collective purpose, just as America’s obsession with radical individualism and wealth and the growing existence of gross inequality have become symptomatic of our ethical and collective impoverishment.24 As Bauman points out, “the consuming life is [now] lived as a supreme expression of autonomy,” leaving no room for deploying activity in the service of “commitment, devotion, [and] responsibility.”25 Social life in this discourse has little to do with democracy and the formative culture needed to nourish it. As public values are disdained and the very notion of the public good and civic imagination disappear, people do more than surrender their citizenship, they also are rendered excess, disposable – waste products in a society wedded to throwing away not just consumer products, but increasingly human beings as well. What is new about the extremism that now rules American society is not simply the decline of public values but how they have become irrelevant to the existing contemporary neoliberal order, which weakens the foundation of social solidarity and creates identities, values and desires that turn the principles of democracy against themselves while undermining the very possibility of politics as a democratic project.

The Suffocation of Imagination, Agency and Hope

The war on the social contract, the welfare state, democratic politics, equality and the very idea of justice is an attack not simply on everything from Medicare to Social Security to the Equal Pay Act, it is an assault on “the basic architecture of our collective responsibility to ensure that Americans share in a decent life.”26 It is also an aggressive strike against the formative cultures and modes of individual and collective agency that legitimate a connection between the democratic polis and the possibility of economic, social and political freedom. The new extremism and its authoritarian politics draw attention away from serious social problems and the actual structural and ideological conditions that reproduce them. Underlying the shadow of authoritarianism is a corrosive attempt to “create a loss of conviction, a loss of faith in the culture of open democracy, a sense of skepticism and withdrawal.”27 To the degree that the private sphere becomes the only space in which to imagine any sense of hope, pleasure or possibility, citizenship becomes distorted, removed from issues of equity, social justice and civic responsibility. Tony Judt is right in arguing that we have entered a historical conjuncture in which politics is losing its shape, its power of attraction and its ability to confront the anti-democratic pressures at work in American society today.28

Opposing this contemporary, cruel form of authoritarianism demands a new language for embracing the social, for defining civic engagement, for rethinking the meaning of agency and politics and for talking about social responsibility. Rethinking the social means, in part, embracing the role of the state in providing regulations that limit the power of corporations and the financial service industries. It means reconfiguring the very nature of power in order to subordinate capitalism’s major structuring institutions to the rule of law, democratic values and the precepts of justice and equality. The state is not merely an instrument of governance, it is also a site where organized irresponsibility has to give way to organized responsibility, where ethics cannot be privatized and separated from economic considerations, where the rule of law cannot be used to produce legal illegalities and where politics becomes inseparable from the claims of justice, equality and freedom. This suggests the need for social movements to organize and fight for modes of sovereignty at all levels of government in which people, rather than money and corporations, shape the nature of politics, policies and cultural apparatuses that provide the public values that nourish critical modes of citizenship and democracy itself.

The Roles of Critical Education and Collective Struggle in Taking Back Democracy

At stake here is not merely a call for reform but a revolutionary ideal that enables people to hold power, participate in the process of governing and create genuine publics capable of translating private troubles and issues into public problems. This is a revolution that not only calls for structural change but for a transformation in the ways in which subjectivities are created, desires are produced and agency itself becomes crucial to any viable notion of freedom. There is a pedagogical element to a rethinking of the political that has often been ignored by progressives of various political persuasions and that is the necessity to make pedagogy itself central to the very meaning of politics. In this case, it is not enough to demand that people be provided with the right to participate in the experience of governing, but also educated in every aspect of what it means to live in a democracy. At the very least, this suggests an education that enables a working knowledge of citizen-based skills and the development of those capacities that encourage individuals to be self-reflective, develop a passion for public values and be willing to develop and defend those public spaces that lift ideas into the worldly space of the public realm.29

The philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis surely is right in insisting that we must take seriously the political task of creating those diverse public spheres which are capable of rendering all individuals fit to participate in the governing of society, willing to promote the common good and engage the social within a broader political and theoretical landscape, one not tied to the priority of economic interests and an endlessly commodifying market-driven social order. 30Politics demands an informed citizenry, which can only be produced collectively through the existence of public spheres that give meaning to their struggles and fight for justice, economic rights and human dignity. In that sense, any viable struggle against the new authoritarianism in the United States might start with Castoriadis’ insistence that any viable form of politics begins with creating formative cultures and public spheres in which critical education in the broadest sense becomes essential to the very meaning of justice, social responsibility, and democracy.

For Castoriadis, at the heart of such formative cultures are operative forms of public pedagogy that create citizens “who are critical thinkers capable of putting existing institutions into question so that democracy” can be nourished and sustained.31 As a moral and political practice, pedagogy becomes productive of what knowledge, values, and identities are produced in a particular society. Similarly, it becomes a determining factor in creating a society willing to both question itself and struggle for those ideals that give meaning and substance to the promise of a substantive democracy.

Against the dystopian visions that drive the new extremism, there is a need for teachers, workers, artists, students, young people, academics and others to produce a language of critique, provocation and possibility. This is a discourse of civic engagement that embraces politics, in part, as a pedagogical practice organized around what I have in the past labeled as educated hope. Educated hope sharpens the “ethopolitical” instrument and “operates at the root of where the ethical imagination and the political mingle.”32 Educated hope signals the merging of civic education and democratic action as part of a broader attempt to enable young people and others to critically analyze and transform those values, ideologies and market-driven politics that produce a growing machinery and register of widespread inequality and social death. It suggests creating a new language and order of symbolic relations so as to understand the past as well as the dynamics of the present and the future.

Educators, progressives, and civic-minded citizens need a language that puts justice back into the regressive culture of cost-benefit analyses and rejects the civic vacuum created by the extremist apostles of casino capitalism. We also need a language that is vigilant about where democratic identities are not only produced but also where forms of social agency are denied. Those concerned about the fate of justice and democracy also need to reconfigure the political order in order to create relations of power that are capable of controlling the increasing separation of politics, which are nation-based and local, from the exercise of power, which is now global and unrestrained by the politics of the nation-state. Power is now global while politics is local. What this means is that globalization has cut economic and military power free from its traditional political shackles exercised by the nation state and allows it to roam unhindered throughout the globe. The traditional merging of power and politics has been broken and as Bauman points out, “We may say that power has ‘flown’ from the historically developed institutions that used to exercise democratic control over uses and abuses of power in the modern nation-states. Globalization in its current form means a progressive disempowerment of nation-states and (so far) the absence of any effective substitute.”33

Consequently, resistance to the new extremism in the United States must be addressed as part of a broader global struggle, built on strong political and civic commitments and forms of solidarity that are local and internationalist in nature. Beyond critique, any viable challenge must rethink what Jacques Derrida has called the concepts of “the possible and impossible.”34 Thinking beyond the given involves constructing new narratives regarding the stories we tell about ourselves, about the future and the promise of a democracy to come.

A language of critique and educated hope suggests a new and spirited struggle against a culture of civic illiteracy, one in which the commanding institutions of society are divorced from matters of ethics, social responsibility and social cost. The new extremism in American society, which attempts to make critical thinking irrelevant and render hope a paralyzing cynicism, must be challenged by a politics and pedagogy that have the capacity not only to “influence those in power” but also mobilize those who don’t have power.”35 This is a pedagogy that should “not only shift the way people think about the moment, but potentially energizes them to do something different.”36 A politics that merges critique and hope recognizes that while the idea of the good society may be weakened, it is far from an idea that can be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Yet, while the grip of an authoritarian political culture and the politics of distraction are getting stronger in American society, the current attack on democracy should be taken as a new historical opportunity to generate new collective struggles in the hopes of creating a future that refuses to be defined by the dystopian forces now shaping American society. In the aftermath of the massive suffering of produced by World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, Theodor W. Adorno in the shadow of an older form of authoritarianism refused to give up on hope as an essential condition of agency, politics and justice. He insists that: “Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation…. Open thinking points beyond itself.”37 His words are both profound and instructive for the time in which we live because they point to the need to think beyond the given, to think beyond the distorted and market-based inverted hope now on offer from the advocates of casino capitalism.

Thinking beyond itself reinforces the notion that the job and political task of civic education is as the poet Robert Hass has written “to refresh the idea of justice which is going dead in us all the time.”38 Richard Swift builds on this notion adding that as long as there is suffering in the world, individuals and social movements need “to take responsibility for the direction of society.”39

The current talk about deficits, the debt ceiling and the cutting back of social provisions is not without value, but only if it is connected to broader anti-democratic practices and understood as posing a serious threat to a society dominated by religious and economic fundamentalists. The task now facing the American public in this moment of government deceit and civic abandonment is to think beyond the given, to recognize that we cannot act otherwise unless we can think otherwise. At stake here is the need to reconfigure the relationship between hope, community and democracy. If we are to overcome the debilitating pessimism of the current era, it is crucial to combine a reason and a sense of gritty realism with a notion of hope that taps into our deepest experiences, allowing us to take risks and think beyond the parameters of the given. Or as Alain Badiou states: “It is a matter of showing how the space of the possible is larger than the one assigned – that something else is possible, but not that everything is possible.”40 Imagining the unimaginable necessitates asking crucial questions regarding what types of knowledge, agents and moral order are necessary for a democracy to work. What will it take to connect the dots and broaden our horizon of understanding and politics in order to expand the ongoing and always unfinished business of justice, democratization, and freedom?

NOTES:

[1]
C. Wright Mills, “The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society” in C. Wright Mills, The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, (NY: New York, Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 18.

[2]
Ibid. C. Wright Mills, “The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society.” p. 18. For some insightful analyses of the new authoritarianism, see Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (Princeton University Press, 2008); Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2008)Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).

[3]
See Zygmunt Bauman, On Education (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 35.

[4]
Gerald Epstein, “Rich Should be Happy with Cliff Deal,” The Real News (January 3, 2013).

[5]
C. Wright Mills, “Culture and Politics: The Fourth Epoch”, The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, (Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 201.

[6]
Arundhati Roy, “What Have We Done to Democracy?,” Huffington Post, (September 27, 2009).

[7]
I have appropriated this idea from Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Imunity, Biopolitics (Fordham: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 100-110.

[8]
Robert Reich, “Inequality is Undermining Our Democracy,” Reader Supported News, (December 11, 2012).

[9]
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” The Washington Post, (April 27, 2012).

[10]
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., “A Hostile Takeover of Our Country,” Reader Supported News, (October 29, 2012).

[11]
Richard D. Wolff, “Fiscal Cliff Follies: Political Theater Distracts From Key Problems With the Fix,” Truthout, (January 3, 2013).

[12]
For the most extensive and exhaustive history on the technology of torture, see Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). Some of the more instructive books on torture under the George W. Bush administration include: Mark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (New York: New York Review of Books, 2004); Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (New York: Doubleday, 2008); and Phillipe Sands, Torture Team (London: Penguin, 2009). On the torture of children, see Michael Haas, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009). See, for instance, Alex Kane, “5 Ways President Obama Has Doubled Down on Bush’s Most Tragic Mistakes,” AlterNet (January 8, 2103). Salvatore Babones, “There Is No American Left,” Truthout, (December 27, 2012). Online:

Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (Princeton University Press, 2008); Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).

[13]
Glenn Greenwald, “Extremism Normalized: How Americans Now Acquiesce to Once Unthinkable Ideas,” Salon (July 31, 2012).

[14]
Robert W. McChesney, “This Isn’t What Democracy Looks like,” Monthly Review 64:6 (2012), p. 2.

[15]
Michael Hudson, “The Financial Elite’s war Against the US Economy,” CommonDreams.Org (December 31, 2012).

[16]
George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” Reader Supported News, (August 22, 2012).

[17]
Editor, “75 Economic Numbers From 2012 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe,” The Economic Collapse Blog (December 20, 2012).

[18]
All of these quotes come from John Clarke, “Subordinating the Social?:Neoliberalism and the remaking of welfare capitalism ,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, No. 6, (November 2007), pp. 974-987

[19]
John Clarke, “Governing the social?,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, No. 6,( November 2007), p. 996.

[20]
Zygmunt Bauman, This is Not a Diary (Cambridge: UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 86-87.

[21]
Ibid, Clarke, “Subordinating the Social?: Neoliberalism and the remaking of welfare capitalism,” p. 977.

[22]
Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp.2-3.

[23] Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, “Introduction”, in Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, eds. Evil Paradises (NY: The New Press, 2007), p.x.

[24]
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, (New York, N.Y.: The Penguin Press, 2010).

[25]
Zygmunt Bauman, On Education, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p.129.

[26]
Robert O. Self, “The Antisocial Contract,” New York Times (August 25, 2012).

[27]
Tony Judt, “I am not pessimistic in the very long run,” The Independent, (March 24, 2010)

[28] Ibid.

[29]
Edward Said is particularly helpful on this issue. See, for instance, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996) and Humanism and Democratic Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

[30]
Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Problem of Democracy Today,” Democracy and Nature Vol. 8 (April 1996), pp. 18-35.

[31]
Cornelius Castoriadis, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” Constellations 4:1 (1997), p. 10.

[32]
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Changing Reflexes: Interview with Gayatri Chaakravorty Spivak,” Works and Days 55/56: Vol. 28 (2010), p. 2.

[33]
Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), p. 73.

[34
Jacques Derrida, "The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University," in Laurence Simmons and Heather Worth, eds. Derrida Downunder (Auckland, New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 2001), p. 7.

[35]
A Conversation between Lani Guinier and Anna Deavere Smith, ” Rethinking Power, Rethinking Theater,” Theater 31:3 (Winter 2002),P. 3.

[36]
Ibid.

[37]
Theodor W. Adorno, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 291-292

[38]
Robert Hass cited in Sarah Pollock, ‘Robert Hass,” Mother Jones (March/April, 1992), p. 22

[39]
Richard Swift, The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002), p. 138.

[40]
Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London: Verso, 1998), p. 116

 

Human Civilisation Will Collapse Unless Culture Of Greed & Excessive Consumerism Is Stopped, Report Warns

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Oldspeak:“Infinite ‘Growth’ and unfettered consumption is unsustainable on a finite planet. Despite this obvious and basic fact, many civilizations before ours have tried and failed with this toxic economic model as will ours if we don’t make fundamental changes to our cultures now. The stakes are incalculably higher now as our seemingly incurable strain of virulent capitalism has spread across the globe to most all dominant cultures, even those that have thrived for thousands of years like China & India have adopted a view of greed as success. We are exhausting our planet’s resources much faster than it can replenish them, and its finite resources disappearing ever faster.  This can only go on for so long before supplies are unable to support our careless and voracious demands. We must free ourselves from the crushing yoke of our transnational corporate overseers, driving us relentlessly via their ubiquitous and insidious consumption propaganda networks to work ever harder and longer for ever more fiat currency to consume ever more things we don’t need, creating ever more waste and pollution we’re running out of places to dump. We need Barefoot Economics. Now.

Related Video:

Chilean Economist Manfred Max-Neef on Barefoot Economics, Poverty and Why The U.S. is Becoming an “Underdeveloping Nation”

By Andrew Hough @ The U.K. Guardian:

The world’s population is burning through the planet’s resources at such a reckless rate – about 28 per cent more last year – it will eventually cause environmental havoc, said the Worldwatch Institute, a US think-tank.

In its annual State of the World 2010 report, it warned any gains from government action on climate change could be wiped out by the cult of consumption and greed unless changes in our lifestyle were made.

Consumerism had become a “powerful driver” for increasing demand for resources and consequent production of waste, with governments, including the British, too readily wanting to promoted it as necessary for job creation and economic well-being.

More than £2.8 trillion of stimulus packages had been poured into economies to pull the world out of the global recession, it found, with only a small amount into green measures.

But the think tank warned that without a “wholesale transformation” of cultural patterns the world would not be able to “prevent the collapse of human civilisation”.

The think tank found that over the past decade consumption of goods and services had risen by 28 per cent to $30.5 trillion (£19bn) – with the world digging up the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings of material every day.

The average American consumes more than his or her weight in products each day, many US two year-olds can recognise the McDonald’s “Golden Archers” sign, although they cannot read the letter, and an average western family spends more on their pet than by someone trying to live in Bangladesh.

A cultural shift from consumption to valuing sustainable living was needed because government targets and new technology were not enough to rescue humanity from ecological and social threats.

Without action, humans faced problems including changing climates, obesity epidemics, declines in wildlife, loss of agricultural land and more production of hazardous waste.

Consumerism it said had “taken root in culture upon culture over the past half-century … (and) become a powerful driver of the inexorable increase in demand for resources and production of waste that marks our age”.

Erik Assadourian, the institute’s project director, said it was “no longer enough to change our light bulbs, we must change our very cultures”.

At current consumption rates, 200 square metres of solar panels a second and 24 wind turbines every hour were needed to be built to satisfy energy levels.

The think tank said it was not just the United States that was guilty of a culture of excess with other developing countries such as Brazil, India and China adopting greed as a success symbol.

China, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emissions producers, recently overtook the US as the world’s top car market.

“More than 6.8 billion human beings are now demanding ever greater quantities of material resources, decimating the world’s richest ecosystems, and dumping billions of tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere each year,” the report said.

This number will only increase as people in the developing world aspire towards a Western-styled consumer lifestyle.

Mr Assadourian added: “Until we recognise that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten to wash over civilisation.

“We’ve seen some encouraging efforts to combat the world’s climate crisis in the past few years.

“But making policy and technology changes while keeping cultures centered on consumerism and growth can only go so far.”

He said such measures such as banning incandescent light bulbs and steering children away from consumerism through toy libraries would help.

Why The American Empire Was Destined To Collapse

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Oldspeak:“We are at our core a nation of hustlers; not recently, not sometimes, but always. Conventional wisdom has it that America was predicated on the republican desire to break free from monarchical tyranny, and that was certainly a factor in the War of Independence; but in practical terms, it came down to a drive for “more” — for individual accumulation of wealth. The dominant thinking on the left, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.” -Morris Berman. In a totalitarian, consumption-fueled state, “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks”-Tony Judt. This shrinkage inevitably hastens the empire’s collapse. There is no discussion of of fairly viable and sustainable alternative systems (resource based, localization,) to the obviously failing monetary, infinite growth based and globalization-driven systems in corporate approved intellectual discourse. No threats to profit generation can be tolerated. Never mind the surely fatal and entirely avoidable consequences for our planet, our people, and all the living things that share our planet with us. We’ll poison the air, we’ll destroy the soil, contaminate the water, the three essential elements to our survival; in the perpetual quest for “more”.  These are the thought processes of our most dominant and influential ‘citizens’ -transnational corporations. And we flesh and blood people have internalized their self-exterminating values. How long will it be before they drive our ‘civilization’ into the ground? Our Id fueled economic model is unsustainable. We won’t be able to ignore our demise much longer.  “Profit Is Paramount”

Related Stories:

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire: Four Scenarios for the End of the American Century by 2025

The U.S. & The Five Stages Of Collapse

By Nomi Prins @ Alter Net:

Several years after the Wall Street-ignited crisis began, the nation’s top bank CEOs (who far out-accumulated their European and other international counterparts) continue to hobnob with the president at campaign dinners where each plate costs more than one out of four US households make in a year. Financial bigwigs lead their affluent lives, unaffected, unremorseful, and unindicted for wreaking havoc on the nation. Why? Because they won. They hustled better. They are living the American Dream.

This is not the American Dream that says if you work hard you can be more comfortable than your parents; but rather, if you connive well, game the rules, and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm, human empathy, caring, compassion, and connection have been devalued from the get-go. This is the flaw in the entire premise of the American Dream: if we can have it all, it must by definition be at someone else’s expense.

In Why America Failed, noted historian and cultural critic Morris Berman’s brilliant, raw and unflinchingly accurate postmortem of America, he concludes that this hustling model, literally woven into the American DNA, doomed the country from the start, and led us inevitably to this dysfunctional point. It is not just the American Dream that has failed, but America itself, because the dream was a mistake in the first place. We are at our core a nation of hustlers; not recently, not sometimes, but always. Conventional wisdom has it that America was predicated on the republican desire to break free from monarchical tyranny, and that was certainly a factor in the War of Independence; but in practical terms, it came down to a drive for “more” — for individual accumulation of wealth.

So where does that leave us as a country? I caught up with Berman to find out.

Nomi Prins: Why America Failed is the third book in a trilogy you wrote on the decline of the American Empire. How did this trilogy evolve?

Morris Berman: The first book in the series, The Twilight of American Culture (2000), is a structural analysis, or internal comparison, of the contemporary US and the late Roman Empire. In it, I identified factors that were central to the fall of Rome and showed that they were present in the US today. I said that if we didn’t address these, we were doomed. I didn’t believe for a moment we would, of course, and now the results are obvious.

After 9/11, I realized that my comparison with Rome lacked one crucial component: like Rome, we were attacked from the outside. Dark Ages America (2006), the sequel to Twilight, is an analysis of US foreign policy and its relationship to domestic policy, once again arguing that there had to be a serious reevaluation of both if we were to arrest the disintegration of the nation. Of course, no such reevaluation took place, and we are now in huge economic trouble with no hope of recovery, and stuck in two wars in the Middle East that we cannot seem to win.

By the time I sat down to write the third volume, Why America Failed, I was past the point of issuing warnings. The book is basically a postmortem for a dying nation. The argument is that we failed for reasons that go back more than 400 years. As a result, the historical momentum to not undertake a reassessment, and just continue on with business as usual, is very powerful. At this point we can no more reverse our downward trajectory than we can turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub.

NP: So you’ve been analyzing America’s decline for over a decade. Was there a particular, specific inspiration for Why America Failed?

MB: I was originally inspired by the historian Walter McDougall (Freedom Just Around the Corner) and his argument about America being a nation of hustlers. The original working title was Capitalism and Its Discontents, the point being that those who dissented from the dominant ideology never had a chance. The crux of the problem remains the American Dream: even “progressives” see it as the solution — including, I have the impression, the Wall Street protesters — when it’s actually the problem.

In my essay collection, A Question of Values, I talk about how we are driven by a number of unconscious assumptions, including the notions of our being the “chosen people” and the availability of an endless frontier (once geographical, now economic and technological). For a while I had The Roots of American Failure as the title, but more to the point would be The Failure of American Roots — for even our success was a failure, because it was purely material. This is really what the American Dream is about, in its essence, as Douglas Dowd argued years ago in The Twisted Dream.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a Native American scouting expedition that came across the starving members of the Donner Party in 1847, who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. The expedition, which had never seen white people before, observed the Donner Party from a distance, then returned to base camp to report what they had seen. The report consisted of four words: “They eat each other.” Frankly, if I could summarize the argument of Why America Failed in a single phrase, this would be it. Unless Occupy Wall Street (or some other sociopolitical movement) manages to turn things around in a fundamental way, “They ate each other” will be our epitaph.

I should add that Why America Failed is actually part of a lineage, following the path initially staked out by Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward and Louis Hartz. Between 1948 and 1955 they all argued something similar; I just updated the argument.

NP: What do you say to people who don’t believe America has failed; who may just see the country as going through a bad patch, so to speak? What evidence have you compiled for the argument that the United States has failed?

MB: The major evidence is, of course, economic, and there is by now a slew of books showing that this time around recovery is not really possible and that we are going to be eclipsed by China or even Europe. These are books by very respected economists, I might add; and even a US Intelligence report of two yrs ago, “Global Trends 2025,” says pretty much the same thing, although it adds cultural and political decline into the mix. The statistics here are massive, but just consider a single one: in terms of collective wealth, the top 1 percent of the nation owns more than the bottom 90 percent. If we have a future, it’s that of a banana republic. And there will be no New Deal this time around to save us; just the opposite, in fact, as we are busy shredding any social safety net we once had.

NP: How does this relate to the rise of the Tea Party, or the Occupy Wall Street movement?

MB: Americans may be very vocal in claiming we’ll eventually recover, or that the US is still number-one, but I believe that on some level they know that this is whistling in the dark. They suspect their lives will get worse as time goes on, and that the lives of their children will be even worse than that. They feel the American Dream betrayed them, and this has left them bitter and resentful. The Wall Street protests are, as during the Depression, a demand for restoring the American Dream; for letting more people into it. The Tea Party seeks a solution in returning to original American principles of hustling, i.e. of a laissez-faire economy and society, in which the government plays an extremely small role. Thus they see Obama as a socialist, which is absurd; even FDR doesn’t fit that description. There are great differences between the two movements, of course, but both are grounded in a deep malaise, a fear that someone or something has absconded with America.

NP: Most political analysts place the blame for our current situation on major institutions, whether it is Wall Street, Congress, the Bush or Obama administrations, and so on. You agree with them to a great extent, but you also seem to place a lot of emphasis on the American people themselves—on individual values and behavior. Why is that? How do you see that as a factor?

MB: The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.

In addition, all of the data over the last 20 years show that Americans are not very bright, and not even the bright ones are very bright—it’s not merely a question of IQ. A Marist poll released on July 4, 2011 showed that 42 percent of American adults are unaware that the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, and this figure increases to 69 percent for the under-30 age group. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t know from which country the United States seceded. A poll taken in the Oklahoma public school system turned up the fact that 77 percent of the students didn’t know who George Washington was, and the Texas Board of Education recently voted to include a unit on Estee Lauder in the history curriculum, when they don’t have one on the first president. Nearly 30 percent of the American population thinks the sun revolves around the earth or is unsure of which revolves around which. Etc. etc. How can such a population grasp a structural analysis of American history or politics? They simply aren’t capable of it.

NP: So, basically it’s only a matter of time before students are taking courses in the historical significance of Kim Kardashian? What are the deeper, structural obstacles, in your opinion, to the American public accepting your general argument?

MB: It seems to me that it would involve a complete reversal of consciousness. I remember after the publication of the German edition of Dark Ages America, a major Berlin newspaper, the TAZ, or Tageszeitung, ran a review of the book called “Hopes of a Patriot.” One of the things the reviewer said was that America might be able to save itself if it decided to pay attention to its more serious critics. What would it take for most Americans to regard someone like myself as a patriot, and someone like Dick Cheney as a traitor? Or Ronald Reagan as a simpleton who did the country enormous damage, and Jimmy Carter as a visionary who was trying to rescue it? As I said, this is not a matter of intelligence as IQ, because in America even the bright are brainwashed—just check out the New York Times. It’s more of an “ontological” problem, if you will.

Let me give you a concrete example. A friend of mine who is a dean at one of the nation’s major medical schools was very taken by my discussion of Joyce Appleby’s work, in my book Dark Ages America. He went out and bought her essay, “Capitalism and a New Social Order,” in which she describes how the definition of “virtue” underwent a complete reversal in the 1790s—from putting your private interests aside for the sake of the greater good, to achieving individual material success in an opportunistic environment.

As a dean, my friend interacts with faculty a lot, at department meetings, cocktail parties, or whatever. He took these opportunities to raise the topic of the rapid redefinition of virtue in colonial America, only to discover that within 30 seconds, the eyes of whomever he was talking to glazed over and they would change the subject. Tocqueville said it in 1831, and it is even more true today: Americans simply cannot tolerate, cannot even hear, fundamental critiques of America. IQ has very little to do with it. In an ontological sense, they simply cannot bear it. And if this is true for the “best and the brightest,” then what does this say for the rest of us?

NP: What do you think can be done to reverse the situation? Is there any hope for the American Dream?

MB: At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values, then change would require a different people, a different country. In dialectical fashion, it is precisely those factors that made this nation materially great that are now working against us, and that thus need to be jettisoned. What we need now is a large-scale rejection of the American Dream, and an embracing of the alternative tradition I talk about in Why American Failed. These are the “hopes of a patriot,” and they are simply not going to be realized.

NP: Can you mention briefly what some of those alternative traditions are ? You have a chapter that’s attracted some controversy regarding the Civil War – how does that relate?

MB: As I mentioned earlier, the working title of the book was Capitalism and Its Discontents. The reason I liked it (for various reasons, my publisher didn’t) is that it does reflect the thesis of the book: that although there was always an alternative tradition to hustling, with one exception America never took it, and instead it marginalized those alternative voices. The exception was the antebellum South, which raises real questions as to the origins of the Civil War, which were not about slavery as a moral issue, no matter how much we like to believe that. As Robin Blackburn writes in his recent book, The American Crucible, antislavery ideas were far more about notions of progress than about ones of racial equality. That’s a whole other discussion, however, and I have it out in the book for an entire chapter.

But the main narrative here is that from Captain John Smith and the Puritan divines through Thoreau and Emerson to Lewis Mumford and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith to Jimmy Carter, this tradition of capitalism’s discontents never really stood a chance. It never amounted to anything more than spiritual exhortation. Reaganomics, also known as “greedism,” was not born in 1981; more like 1584. The result is that for more than four centuries now, America has had one value system, and it is finally showing itself to be extremely lopsided and self-destructive. Our political and cultural system never let fresh air in; it squelched the alternatives as quaint or feeble-minded. Appearances to the contrary, this is what “democracy” always meant in America—the freedom to become rich. The alternative tradition, in the work of the figures mentioned above, sought to question the definition of “wealth.” If the dominant culture was following the template of “they eat each other,” the alternative tradition can be encapsulated in that famous line from John Ruskin: “There is no wealth but life.”

NP: Speaking of wars, having just undergone Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration, and actually the Republican candidates as well, have begun to vilify China, and have amped up the volume regarding Iran. You talk about our need as a country to have an external enemy. In what way do you believe that need will manifest itself in any coming military actions?

MB: I deal with this issue in A Question of Values. America was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something—the British and the Native Americans, to begin with—and it never abandoned that framework. It doesn’t really have a clear idea of what it is in a positive sense, and that has generated a kind of national neurosis. I mean, we were in real trouble when the Soviet Union collapsed; in terms of identity, we were completely adrift until the attacks of 9/11 (just think of how frivolous and meaningless the Clinton years were, in retrospect). War is our drug of choice, and without an enemy we enter a kind of nervous breakdown mode.

Hence the saber rattling against Iran now, or the foolish decision to set up an army base in Australia to “watch” China. What bothers me is that we are doing all of this unconsciously, and we always have. Mr. Obama, like most of his predecessors, is little more than a marionette on strings (Mr. Carter being the only postwar exception to this pattern, in a number of significant ways). Once again, true intelligence is ontological, and as a nation, we are sorely lacking in that department.

NP: But haven’t we heard all this before? After all, there is a long history of the so-called “declinist” argument, that the country is in permanent decline and has no future. Such books come and go; meanwhile, the country goes on. What makes your book, or books, different from previous assertions that “it’s all over”?

MB: Decline takes time; an empire doesn’t come to an end on August 4, A.D. 476, at two in the afternoon. Similarly, declinist analysis also takes time: the books you are referring to form a continuous argument, from Andrew Hacker’s The End of the American Era in 1970 to George Modelski’s Long Cycles in World Politics in 1987 to Why America Failed in 2011. And there have been a good number of declinist works in between. These books are not wrong; rather, they are part of an ongoing recognition that the American experiment is finished. Even then, we can go back to before Professor Hacker to Richard Hofstadter (1948), who called the US a “democracy of cupidity”; or to C. Vann Woodward (1953), who wrote that we were probably doomed because we had put all of our eggs in one ideological basket, namely laissez-faire economics. During these years the country hasn’t just “gone on”; what it has done is progressively fallen apart, and these writers have made it their business to document the process.

NP: Finally, you moved to Mexico a number of years ago. Is all this why? Do you ever see yourself coming back to America?

MB: There are a lot of answers to that question, and yes, some of the reasons can be found in the above dialogue. You know, the air is really “thin” in the United States, because the value-system is one-dimensional. It’s basically about economic and technological expansion, not much else; the “else” exists at the margins, if it exists at all. I first discovered this when I traveled around Europe in my mid-20s. I saw that the citizens of those countries talked about lots of things, not just about material success. Money is of course important to the citizens of other countries, Mexico included, but it’s not necessarily the center of their lives.

Here’s what the US lacks, which I believe Mexico has: community, friendship, appreciation of beauty, craftsmanship as opposed to obsessive technology, and—despite what you read in the American newspapers—huge graciousness; a large, beating heart. I never found very much of those things in the US; certainly, I never found much heart. American cities and suburbs have to be the most soulless places in the world. In a word, America has its priorities upside down, and after decades of living there, I was simply tired of being a stranger in a strange land. In A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues conclude that happiness is achieved only by those who manage to escape the American value-system. Well, the easiest way to escape from that value-system, is to escape from America.

Nomi Prins is a journalist and senior fellow at Demos. She is the author of Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America and Jacked: How “Conservatives” are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted For Them or Not).

Dangerous Pedagogy In The Age Of Casino Capitalism & Religious Fundamentalism

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Oldspeak:The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures… it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education.” -Henry A. Giroux   When education is utterly commodified and privatized, democracy dies; corporatocracy rules. “Ignorance Is Strength.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”Profit Is Paramount.”

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

All over the world, the forces of neoliberalism are on the march, dismantling the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making and market freedoms as the essence of democracy while diminishing civil liberties as part of the alleged “war” against terrorism. Secure in its dystopian vision that there are no alternatives to a market society, free-market fundamentalism eliminates issues of contingency, struggle and social agency by celebrating the inevitability of economic laws in which the ethical ideal of intervening in the world gives way to the idea that we “have no choice but to adapt both our hopes and our abilities to the new global market.”[1] Coupled with an ever-expanding culture of fear, market freedoms seem securely grounded in a defense of national security and the institutions of finance capital. Under such circumstances, a neoliberal model now bears down on American society, threatening to turn it into an authoritarian state. The script is now familiar: there is no such thing as the common good; market values become the template for shaping all aspects of society; the free, possessive individual has no obligations to anything other than his or her self-interest; profit-making is the essence of democracy; the government, and particularly the welfare state, is the arch-enemy of freedom; private interests trump public values; consumerism is the essence of citizenship; privatization is the essence of freedom; law and order is the new language for mobilizing shared fears rather than shared responsibilities;  war is the new organizing principle for organizing society and the economy; theocracy now becomes the legitimating code for punishing women, young people, the elderly, and those groups marginalized by class, race and ethnicity when religious moralism is needed to shore up the war against all social order.[2]

Given this current crisis, educators need a new political and pedagogical language for addressing the changing contexts and issues facing a world in which capital draws upon an unprecedented convergence of resources – financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological – to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control. If educators and others are to counter global capitalism’s increased ability to separate the traditional nation-state-based space of politics from the transnational reach of power, it is crucial to develop educational approaches that reject a collapse of the distinction between market liberties and civil liberties, a market economy and a market society. This suggests developing forms of critical pedagogy capable of challenging neoliberalism and other anti-democratic traditions, such as the emerging religious fundamentalism in the United States, while resurrecting a radical democratic project that provides the basis for imagining a life beyond the “dream world” of capitalism.  Under such circumstances, education becomes more than testing, an obsession with accountability schemes, zero-tolerance policies and a site for simply training students for the workforce. At stake here is recognizing the power of education in creating the formative culture necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the very idea of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres and formative cultures that offer alternative modes of identity, social relations and politics.

The search for a new politics and a new critical language that crosses a range of theoretical divides must reinvigorate the relationship between democracy, ethics, and political agency by expanding the meaning of the pedagogical as a political practice while at the same time making the political more pedagogical. In the first instance, it is crucial to recognize that pedagogy has less to do with the language of technique and methodology than it does with issues of politics and power. Pedagogy is a moral and political practice that is always implicated in power relations and must be understood as a cultural politics that offers both a particular version and vision of civic life, the future, and how we might construct representations of ourselves, others, and our physical and social environment. As Roger Simon observes:

As an introduction to, preparation for, and legitimation of particular forms of social life, education always presupposes a vision of the future. In this respect a curriculum and its supporting pedagogy are a version of our own dreams for ourselves, our children, and our communities. But such dreams are never neutral; they are always someone’s dreams and to the degree that they are implicated in organizing the future for others they always have a moral and political dimension. It is in this respect that any discussion of pedagogy must begin with a discussion of educational practice as a form of cultural politics, as a particular way in which a sense of identity, place, worth, and above all value is – informed by practices which organize knowledge and meaning.[3]

An oppositional cultural politics can take many forms, but given the current assault by neoliberalism on all aspects of democratic public life, it seems imperative that educators revitalize the struggles to create conditions in which learning would be linked to social change in a wide variety of social sites, and pedagogy would take on the task of regenerating both a renewed sense of social and political agency and a critical subversion of dominant power itself. Making the political more pedagogical rests on the assumption that education takes place a variety of sites outside of the school. Under such circumstances, agency becomes the site through which power is not transcended but reworked, replayed and restaged in productive ways. Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not only about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis points out, “has to do with political judgements and value choices,”[4] indicating that questions of civic education and critical pedagogy (learning how to become a skilled citizen) are central to the struggle over political agency and democracy. In this instance, critical pedagogy emphasizes critical reflexivity, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and knowledge, and extending democratic rights and identities by using the resources of history. However, among many educators and social theorists, there is a widespread refusal to recognize that this form of education is not only the foundation for expanding and enabling political agency, but also that it takes place across a wide variety of public spheres mediated through the very force of culture itself.

One of the central tasks of any viable critical pedagogy would be to make visible alternative models of radical democratic relations in a wide variety of sites. These spaces can make the pedagogical more political by raising fundamental questions such as: what is the relationship between social justice and the distribution of public resources and goods? What are the conditions, knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for civic literacy, political agency and social change? What kinds of identities, desires and social relations are being produced and legitimated in diverse sites of teaching and learning? How might the latter prepare or undermine the ability of students to be self-reflective, exercise judgment, engage in critical dialogues, and assume some responsibility for addressing the challenges to democracy at a national and global level? At the very least, such a project involves understanding and critically engaging dominant public transcripts and values within a broader set of historical and institutional contexts. Making the political more pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices in a variety of sites that not only affirm oppositional thinking, dissent and cultural work, but also offer opportunities to mobilize instances of collective outrage and collective action. Such mobilization opposes glaring material inequities and the growing cynical belief that today’s culture of investment and finance makes it impossible to address many of the major social problems facing both the United States and the larger world. Most importantly, such work points to the link between civic education, critical pedagogy and modes of oppositional political agency that are pivotal to creating a politics that promotes democratic values, relations,  autonomy and social change. Hints of such a politics is already evident in the various approaches the Occupy movement has taken in reclaiming the discourse of democracy and in collectively challenging the values and practices of finance capital. Borrowing a line from Rachel Donadio, the Occupy movement protesters are raising questions about “what happens to democracy when banks become more powerful than political institutions?”[5] What kind of education does it take, both in and out of schools, to recognize the dissolution of democracy and the emergence of an authoritarian state?

In taking up these questions and the challenges they pose, critical pedagogy proposes that education is a form of political intervention in the world and is capable of creating the possibilities for social transformation. Rather than viewing teaching as technical practice, pedagogy, in the broadest critical sense, is premised on the assumption that learning is not about processing received knowledge, but actually transforming knowledge as part of a more expansive struggle for individual rights and social justice. This implies that any viable notion of pedagogy and resistance should illustrate how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in relations of power, and how such an understanding can be used pedagogically and politically by students to further expand and deepen the imperatives of economic and political democracy. The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of neoliberalism, militarism and religious fundamentalism is to provide the conditions for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this means providing students with the skills, knowledge and authority they need to inquire and act upon what it means to live in a substantive democracy, to recognize anti-democratic forms of power, and to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

The Responsibility of Teachers as Public Intellectuals

In the age of irresponsible privatization, it is difficult to recognize that educators and other cultural workers bear an enormous responsibility in opposing the current threat to the planet and everyday life by bringing democratic political culture back to life. While liberal democracy offers an important discourse around issues of “rights, freedoms, participation, self-rule, and citizenship,” it has been mediated historically through the “damaged and burdened tradition” of racial and gender exclusions, economic injustice and a formalistic, ritualized democracy, which substituted the swindle for the promise of democratic participation.[6] At the same time, liberal and republican traditions of Western democratic thought have given rise to forms of social and political criticism that at least contained a “referent” for addressing the deep gap between the promise of a radical democracy and the existing reality. With the rise of neoliberalism, referents for imagining even a weak democracy, or, for that matter, for understanding the tensions between capitalism and democracy, which animated political discourse for the first half of the 20th century, appear to be overwhelmed by market discourses, identities and practices, on the one hand, or a corrosive cynicism on the other. And, of course, at the present moment a kind of political lunacy that testifies to the rise of extremism in America. Democracy has now been reduced to a metaphor for the alleged “free” market and, in some cases, to the image of a theocratic state. It is not that a genuine democratic public space once existed in some ideal form and has now been corrupted by the values of the market, but that these democratic public spheres, even in limited forms, seem to no longer be animating concepts for making visible the contradiction and tension between the reality of existing democracy and the promise of a more fully realized, substantive democracy. Part of the challenge of linking critical pedagogy with the process of democratization suggests constructing new locations of struggle, vocabularies and subject positions that allow people in a wide variety of public spheres to become more than they are now, to question what it is they have become within existing institutional and social formations, and to give some thought to what it might mean to transform existing relations of subordination and oppression.

Critical Pedagogy as a Project of Intervention

If educators are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world, they will have to consider grounding such a pedagogy in a defense of what I have called in the past, “educated hope.”[7] Such hope is built upon recognizing pedagogy as part of a broader attempt to revitalize the conditions for individual and social agency while simultaneously addressing critical pedagogy as a project informed by a democratic political vision while conscious of the diverse ways such a vision gets mediated in different contexts. Such a project also suggests recasting the relationship between the pedagogical and political as a project that is indeterminate, open to constant revision and constantly in dialogue with its own assumptions. The concept of the project in this sense speaks to the directive nature of pedagogy, the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and upholds selective modes of social relations. At the same time, the normative nature of such a pedagogy does not offer guarantees as much as it recognizes that its own position is grounded in modes of authority, values and ethical considerations that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities. Central to both keeping any notion of critical pedagogy alive is the recognition that it must address real social needs, be imbued with a passion for democracy and provide the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.

Critical Pedagogy as a Matter of Context, Ethics and Politics

In opposition to the increasingly dominant views of education and cultural politics, I want to argue for a transformative pedagogy rooted in the project of resurgent democracy, one that relentlessly questions the kinds of labor, practices and forms of production that are enacted in public and higher education. Such an analysis should be relational and contextual, as well as self-reflective and theoretically rigorous. By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life. As Jeffrey Williams has recently pointed out, “the current restructuring of higher education is only one facet of the restructuring of civic life in the US whereby previously assured public entitlements such as healthcare, welfare, and social security have evaporated or been ‘privatized,’ so no solution can be separated from a larger vision of what it means to enfranchise citizens or our republic.”[8] But as important as such articulations are in understanding the challenges that public and higher education face in the current historical conjuncture, they do not go far enough. Any critical comprehension of those wider forces that shape public and higher education must also be supplemented by an attentiveness to the conditional nature of pedagogy itself. This suggests that pedagogy can never be treated as a fixed set of principles and practices that can be applied indiscriminately across a variety of pedagogical sites. Pedagogy is not some recipe that can be imposed on all classrooms. On the contrary, it must always be contextually defined, allowing it to respond specifically to the conditions, formations and problems that arise in various sites in which education takes place. Schools differ in their financing, quality of teachers, resources, histories and cultural capital. Recognizing this, educators can both address the meaning and purpose that schools might play in their relationship to the demands of the broader society while simultaneously being sensitive to the distinctive nature of the issues educators address within the shifting contexts in which they interact with a diverse body of students, texts and institutional formations.

Ethically, critical pedagogy requires an ongoing indictment “of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be eternally and placelessly valid.” [9] Simply put, educators need to cast a critical eye on those forms of knowledge and social relations that define themselves through a conceptual purity and political innocence that not only clouds how they come into being, but also ignores that the alleged neutrality on which they stand is already grounded in ethico-political choices. Neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. It does not exist outside of relations of power, values and politics. Thomas Keenan rightly argues that ethics on the pedagogical front demands an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a “politics of possibility” through a continual critical engagement with texts, images events, and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into public pedagogies.[10] One consequence of linking pedagogy to the specificity of place is that it foregrounds the need for educators to rethink the cultural and political baggage they bring to each educational encounter; it also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Pedagogy is never innocent, and if it is to be understood and problematized as a form of academic labor, educators must not only critically question and register their own subjective involvement in how and what they teach, they must also resist all calls to depoliticize pedagogy through appeals to either scientific objectivity or ideological dogmatism. Far from being disinterested or ideologically frozen, critical pedagogy is concerned about the articulation of knowledge to social effects and succeeds to the degree in which educators encourage critical reflection and moral and civic agency, rather than simply mold it. Crucial to the latter position is the necessity for critical educators to be attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice.

Critical Pedagogy and the Promise of Democratization

But as an act of intervention, critical pedagogy needs to be grounded in a project that not only problematizes its own location, mechanisms of transmission and effects, but also functions as part of a larger project to contest various forms of domination and to help students think more critically about how existing social, political and economic arrangements might be better suited to address the promise of a radical democracy as an anticipatory rather than messianic goal. The late Jacques Derrida suggested that the social function of intellectuals, as well as any viable notion of education, should be grounded in a vibrant politics which makes the promise of democracy a matter of concrete urgency. For Derrida, making visible a “democracy” which is to come, as opposed to that which presents itself in its name, provides a referent for both criticizing everywhere what parades as democracy – “the current state of all so-called democracy” – and for critically assessing the conditions and possibilities for democratic transformation.[11] Derrida sees the promise of democracy as the proper articulation of a political ethics and by implication suggests that when higher education is engaged and articulated through the project of democratic social transformation, it can function as a vital public sphere for critical learning, ethical deliberation and civic engagement. Moreover, the utopian dimension of pedagogy articulated through the project of radical democracy offers the possibility of resistance to the increasing depoliticization of the citizenry, provides a language to challenge the politics of accommodation that connects education to the logic of privatization, commodification, religious dogma, and instrumental knowledge. Such a pedagogy refuses to define the citizen as simply a consuming subject and actively opposes the view of teaching as market-driven practice and learning as a form of training. Utopianism in this sense is not an antidote to politics, a nostalgic yearning for a better time, or for some “inconceivably alternative future.” But, by contrast, it is an “attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it.”[12]

In opposition to dominant forms of education and pedagogy that simply reinvent the future in the interest of a present in which ethical principles are scorned and the essence of democracy is reduced to the imperatives of the bottom line, critical pedagogy must address the challenge of providing students with the competencies they need to cultivate the capacity for critical judgment, thoughtfully connect politics to social responsibility, and expand their own sense of agency in order to curb the excesses of dominant power, revitalize a sense of public commitment, and expand democratic relations. Animated by a sense of critique and possibility, critical pedagogy at its best attempts to provoke students to deliberate, resist and cultivate a range of capacities that enable them to move beyond the world they already know without insisting on a fixed set of meanings.

Against the current onslaught to privatize public schools and corporatize higher education, educators need to defend public and higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of the nation. Central to such a task is the challenge of academics, young people, the Occupy movement and labor unions to find ways to join together in broad-based social movements and oppose the transformation of the public schools and higher education into commercial spheres, to resist what Bill Readings has called a consumer-oriented corporation more concerned about accounting than accountability.[13] The crisis of public schooling and higher education – while having  different registers – needs to be analyzed in terms of wider configurations of economic, political and social forces that exacerbate tensions between those who value such institutions as public goods and those advocates of neoliberalism who see market culture as a master design for all human affairs. The threat corporate power poses can be seen in the ongoing attempts by neoliberals and other hypercapitalists to subject all forms of public life, including public and higher education, to the dictates of the market while simultaneously working to empty democracy itself of any vestige of ethical, political and social considerations. What educators must challenge is the attempt on the part of neoliberals to either define democracy exclusively as a liability, or to enervate its substantive ideals by reducing it to the imperatives and freedoms of the marketplace. This requires that educators consider the political and pedagogical importance of struggling over the meaning and definition of democracy and situate such a debate within an expansive notion of human rights, social provisions, civil liberties, equity and economic justice. What must be challenged at all costs is the increasingly dominant view, propagated by neoliberal gurus such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, that selfishness is the supreme value in shaping human agency, profit-making is the most important practice in a democracy and accumulating material goods the essence of the good life.

Defending public and higher education as vital democratic spheres is necessary to develop and nourish the proper balance between public values and commercial power, between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive, self-interested individualism that celebrate selfishness, profit-making and greed. Educators also must reconsider the critical roles they might take up within public and higher education so as to enable them to oppose those approaches to schooling that corporatize, privatize and bureaucratize the teaching process. A critical pedagogy should, in part, be premised on the assumption that educators vigorously resist any attempt on the part of liberals and conservatives to reduce their role in schools to either that of technicians or corporate pawns. Instead, educators might redefine their roles as engaged public intellectuals capable of teaching students the language of critique and possibility as a precondition for social agency. Such a redefinition of purpose, meaning and politics suggests that educators critically interrogate the fundamental link between knowledge and power, pedagogical practices and social consequences, and authority and civic responsibility. It also means eliminating those modes of corporate governance in the public schools and higher education that reduce teachers to the status of clerks, technicians, and, with respect to higher education, to a subaltern class of part-time workers, with little power, few benefits and excessive teaching loads.

By redefining the purpose and meaning of schooling as part of a broader attempt to struggle for a radical democratic social order, educators can begin to vigorously challenge a number of dominant assumptions and policies currently structuring public and higher education, including but not limited to: ongoing attempts by corporate culture to define educators as multinational operatives; escalating efforts by colleges and universities to deny students the loans, resources and public support they need to have access to a quality education; the mounting influence of corporate interests in pressuring universities to reward forms of scholarship that generate corporate profits; increasing attempts to deny women and students of color access to higher education through the reversal of affirmative action policies, the raising of tuition costs, and a growing emphasis on classroom pedagogies designed to create marketable products and active consumers. Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students  and low-skill industrial training for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class and race. Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Santorum has recently argued that public education is a form of government intrusion and that higher education is simply irrelevant because it is doing the work of Satan by allowing leftist educators to indoctrinate students.[14] That such ideological and political idiocy passes as a legitimate discourse in a presidential race tells us something about the devalued state of public and higher education, not to mention how vulnerable it is to the most extreme authoritarian pressures and policies.

What has become clear in this current climate of religious fundamentalism and casino capitalism is that the corporatization of education functions so as to cancel out the democratic values,  impulses and practices of a civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market. Educators need a critical language to address these challenges to public and higher education. But they also need to join with other groups outside of the spheres of public and higher education in order to create a national movement that links the defense of noncommodified education with a broader struggle to deepen the imperatives of democratic public life. The quality of educational reform can, in part, be gauged by the caliber of public discourse concerning the role that education plays in furthering not the market-driven agenda of corporate interests, but the imperatives of critical agency, social justice and an operational democracy. In this capacity, educators need to develop a language of possibility for raising critical questions about the aim of schooling and about the purpose and meaning of what and how educators teach. In doing so, pedagogy draws attention to engaging classroom practice as a moral and political consideration animated by a fierce sense of commitment to expanding the range of individual capacities that enable students to become critical agents capable of linking knowledge, responsibility and democratic social transformation.

Approaching pedagogy as a critical and political practice suggests that educators refuse all attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method. In opposition to such approaches, educators can highlight the performative character of education as an act of intervention in the world – focusing on the work that pedagogy does as a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge and experiences are produced within particular sets of classroom relations. Within this perspective, critical pedagogy foregrounds the diverse conditions under which authority, knowledge, values and subject positions are produced and interact within unequal relations of power; it also problematizes the ideologically laden and often contradictory roles and social functions that educators assume within the classroom. Pedagogy in this view can also be reclaimed as a form of academic labor that bridges the gap between individual considerations and public concerns, affirms bonds of sociality and reciprocity, and interrogates the relationship between individual freedom and privatized notions of the good life and the social obligations and collective structures necessary to support a vibrant democracy.

Classroom Authority and Pedagogy as the Outcome of Struggles

The question of what educators teach is inseparable from what it means to locate oneself in public discourses and invest in public commitments. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that the responsibility of critical educators cannot be separated from the consequences of the subject positions they have been assigned, the knowledge they produce, the social relations they legitimate and the ideologies they disseminate to students. Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and actually live out in their lives and everyday existence. Teaching in this sense becomes performative and contextual, and it highlights considerations of power, politics and ethics fundamental to any form of teacher-student-text interaction.

It is crucial to reiterate that any pedagogy that is alive to its own democratic implications is always cautious of its need to resist totalizing certainties and answers. Refusing the pull of dogmatism, ideological purity and imperious authority, educators must at the same time grasp the complexity and contradictions that inform the conditions under which they produce and disseminate knowledge. Recognizing that pedagogy is the outgrowth of struggles that are historically specific, as are the problems that govern the questions and issues that guide what and how we teach, should not suggest that educators renounce their authority. On the contrary, it is precisely by recognizing that teaching is always an act of intervention inextricably mediated through particular forms of authority that teachers can offer students a variety of analytic tools, diverse historical traditions, and a wide-ranging knowledge of dominant and subaltern cultures and how they influence each other – for whatever use students wish to make of these tools and knowledge.  This is a far cry from suggesting that critical pedagogy define itself either within the grip of a self-righteous mode of authority or completely remove itself from any sense of commitment whatsoever. On the contrary, at stake here is the need to insist on modes of authority that are directive but not imperious, linking knowledge to power in the service of self-production, and encouraging students to go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities.

Academics must deliberate, make decisions, and take positions, and, in doing so, recognize that authority “is the very condition for intellectual work” and pedagogical interventions.[15] Authority in this perspective in not simply on the side of oppression, but is used to intervene and shape the space of teaching and learning to provide students with a range of possibilities for challenging a society’s commonsense assumptions, and for analyzing the interface between its members’ own everyday lives and those broader social formations that bear down on them. Authority, at best, becomes both a referent for legitimating a commitment to a particular vision of pedagogy and a critical referent for a kind of auto-critique. It demands consideration of how authority functions within specific relations of power regarding its own promise to provide students with a public space where they can learn, debate and engage critical traditions in order to imagine otherwise and develop discourses that are crucial  for defending vital social institutions as a public good.

While pedagogy can be understood performatively as an event where many things can happen in the service of learning, it is crucial to stress the importance of democratic classroom relations that encourage dialogue, deliberation and the power of students to raise questions. Moreover, such relations don’t signal a retreat from teacher authority as much as they suggest using authority reflexively to provide the conditions for students to exercise intellectual rigor, theoretical competence and informed judgments. Thus, students can think critically about the knowledge they gain and what it means to act on such knowledge in order to expand their sense of agency as part of a broader project of increasing both “the scope of their freedoms” and “the operations of democracy.”[16] What students learn and how they learn should amplify what it means to experience democracy from a position of possibility, affirmation and critical engagement. In part, this suggests that educators develop pedagogical practices that open up the terrain of the political while simultaneously encouraging students to “think better about how arrangements might be otherwise.”[17]

At its best, critical pedagogy must be interdisciplinary,  contextual, engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship. Education is not simply about the transmission of knowledge; it is about the producing of subjects, identities and desires – no small matter when recognizing what such a struggle suggests about preparing students for the future. Once again, critical pedagogy must be self-reflexive about its aims and practices, conscious of its ongoing project of democratic transformation, but openly committed to a politics that does not offer any guarantees. But refusing dogmatism does not suggest that educators descend into a laissez-faire pluralism or an appeal to methodologies designed to “teach the conflicts.” On the contrary, it suggests that, in order to make the pedagogical more political, educators afford students with diverse opportunities to understand and experience how politics, power, commitment and responsibility work on and through them both within and outside of schools. This, in turn, enables students to locate themselves, within an interrelated confluence of ideological and material forces, as critical agents who can both influence such forces and simultaneously be held responsible for their own views and actions. Within this perspective, relations between institutional forms and pedagogical practices are acknowledged as complex, open and contradictory – though always situated within unequal relations of power.[18]

To read more article by Henry A. Giroux and other writers in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Making the Pedagogical More Meaningful

Any analysis of critical pedagogy must stress the importance of addressing the role that affect and emotion play in the formation of individual identity and social agency. Any viable approach to critical pedagogy suggests taking seriously those maps of meaning, affective investments and sedimented desires that enable students to connect their own lives and everyday experiences to what they learn. Pedagogy in this sense becomes more than a mere transfer of received knowledge, an inscription of a unified and static identity, or a rigid methodology; it presupposes that students are moved by their passions and motivated, in part, by the affective investments they bring to the learning process. This suggests, as Paulo Freire points out, the need for a theory of pedagogy willing to develop a “critical comprehension of the value of sentiments, emotions, and desire as part of the learning process.”[19] Not only do students need to understand the ideological, economic and political interests that shape the nature of their educational experiences, they must also address the strong emotional investments they may bring to such beliefs. For Emory University professor Shoshana Felman, this suggests that educators take seriously the role of desire in both ignorance and learning. “Teaching,” she explains, “has to deal not so much with lack of knowledge as with resistances to knowledge. Ignorance, suggests Jacques Lacan, is a ‘passion.’ Inasmuch as traditional pedagogy postulated a desire for knowledge, an analytically informed pedagogy has to reckon with the passion for ignorance.”[20] Felman elaborates further on the productive nature of ignorance, arguing. “Ignorance is nothing other than a desire to ignore: its nature is less cognitive than performative … it is not a simple lack of information but the incapacity – or the refusal – to acknowledge one’s own implication in the information.”[21] If students are to move beyond the issue of understanding to an engagement with the deeper affective investments that make them complicitous with oppressive ideologies, they must be positioned to address and formulate strategies of transformation through which their individualized beliefs and affective investments can be articulated with broader public discourses that extend the imperatives of democratic public life. An unsettling pedagogy in this instance would engage student identities and resistances from unexpected vantage points and articulate how they connect to existing material relations of power. At stake here is not only a pedagogical practice that recalls how knowledge, identifications, and subject positions are produced, unfolded and remembered, but also how they become part of an ongoing process, more strategic, so to speak, of mediating and challenging existing relations of power.

Conclusion

In the current historical conjuncture, the concept of the social and the common good is being refigured and displaced as a constitutive category for making democracy operational and political agency the condition for social transformation. The notions of the social and the public are not being erased as much as they are being reconstructed under circumstances in which public forums for serious debate, including public education, are being eroded. Within the ongoing logic of neoliberalism, teaching and learning are removed from the discourse of democracy and civic culture – defined as a purely private affair. How else to explain Rick Santorum’s rants against higher education, the elites, and that old phantom, the liberal media.   Divorced from the imperatives of a democratic society, pedagogy is reduced to a matter of taste, individual choice, home schooling and job training. Pedagogy as a mode of witnessing, a public engagement in which students learn to be attentive and responsible to the memories and narratives of others, disappears within a corporate-driven notion of learning in which the logic of market devalues the opportunity for students to make connections with others through social relations which foster a mix of compassion, ethics and hope. The crisis of the social is further amplified by the withdrawal of the state as a guardian of the public trust and its growing lack of investment in those sectors of social life that promote the public good. With the Supreme Court ruling that now makes vouchers constitutional, a deeply conservative government once again will be given full reign to renege on the responsibility of government to provide every child with an education that affirms public life, embraces the need for critical citizens and supports the truism that political agency is central to the possibility of democratic life.

The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education. Within this context, the project(s) of critical pedagogy need to be taken up both within and outside of public and higher education. Pedagogy is not a practice that only takes place in schools; it is also a public mode of teaching, that is, a public pedagogical practice largely defined within a range of cultural apparatuses extending from television networks to print media to the Internet. As a central element of a broad-based cultural politics, critical pedagogy, in its various forms, when linked to the ongoing project of democratization, can provide opportunities for educators and other cultural workers to redefine and transform the connections among language, desire, meaning, everyday life, and material relations of power as part of a broader social movement to reclaim the promise and possibilities of a democratic public life. Pedagogy is dangerous not only because it provides the intellectual capacities and ethical norms for students to fight against poverty, ecological destruction and the dismantling of the social state, but also because it holds the potential for instilling in students a profound desire for a “real democracy based on relationships of equality and freedom.”[22] Given the current economic crisis, the growing authoritarian populism, the rise of religious dogmatism, the emergence of a failed state, and a politics largely controlled by the bankers and corporations, critical pedagogy becomes symptomatic of not only something precious that has been lost under a regime of casino capitalism, but also of a project and practice that needs to be reclaimed, reconfigured and made foundational to any viable notion of politics.

 

Endnotes
1. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), p. 7
2.   For an excellent analysis of contemporary forms of neoliberalism, see Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011, pp. 705-728; see also David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
3. Roger Simon, “Empowerment as a Pedagogy of Possibility,” Language Arts 64:4 (April 1987), p. 372.
4. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Institutions and Autonomy.” In Peter Osborne(Ed). “A Critical Sense” (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.
5.  Rachel Donadio, “The Failing State of Greece,” New York Times (February 26, 2012), p. 8.
6.  John Brenkman, “Extreme Criticism,” in Judith Butler, John Guillary, and Kendal Thomas, eds. “What’s Left of Theory” (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 123.
7. Henry A. Giroux, “Public Spaces, Private Lives: Democracy Beyond 9/11″ (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).
8. Jeffrey Williams, “Brave New University,” College English 61:6 (1999), p. 749.
9. Paul Gilroy, “Against Race” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 69.
10. For a brilliant discussion of the ethics and politics of deconstruction, see Thomas Keenan, “Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 2.
11. Jacques Derrida, “Intellectual Courage: An Interview,” Trans. Peter Krapp, “Culture Machine” Vol. 2 (2000), p. 9.
12. Terry Eagleton, “The Idea of Culture” (Malden, MA: Basil Blackwell, 2000), p.22.
13. Bill Readings, “The University in Ruins” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,     pp, 11, 18.
14.  Scott Jaschik, “Santorum’s Attack on Higher Education,” Inside Higher Education (February 27, 2012).
15. This expression comes from John Michael, “Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2.
16.  Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” in Russell Fergusen, Martha Geever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, eds. “Out There” (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 35.
17. Jodi Dean, “The interface of Political Theory and Cultural Studies,” in Jodi Dean, ed. “Cultural Studies and Political Theory” (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 3.
18. Alan O’Shea, “A Special Relationship? Cultural Studies, Academia and Pedagogy,” Cultural Studies 12(4) 1998, pp. 513-527.
19. Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), p. 48.
20. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79. For an extensive analysis of the relationship between schooling, literacy, and desire, see Ursula A. Kelly, “Schooling Desire: Literacy, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy” (New York: Routledge, 1997); Sharon Todd, “Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid,” (New York: Routledge, 1997).
21. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79.
22. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire,” (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004),  p. 67

Christmas Co-Opted: Today Show And Wal-Mart Cloak Poverty, Homelessness, Unemployment In Meaningless Commercial Consumerism

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Oldspeak: ” ‘Offering hope to a family in crisis‘ Yes because what a broke, homeless, unemployed  and health care-less family needs most are laptops, a kindle and big screen TV at Wal-Mart and to meet Matt Lauer and Ann Curry on a segment of “The Today Show” sponsored by Wal-Mart, in what amounted to commercial for Wal-Mart.  Not food, or shelter or heath care or anything like that…  O_o This is how corporations show they care! By graciously giving desperately poor, homeless and unemployed people opportunities to consume shit they don’t need, and meet people who don’t really care about them or helping to alleviate their conditions. The poor, homeless and unemployed are reduced to consumable content, to be presented in a ‘positive’ light, to fleetingly acknowledge the devastating national epidemics of poverty, homelessness, inequality, and lack of access to heath insurance. ‘America’s problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that “I’m-not-one-of-those-losers” frisson.’ -Greg Palast “Ignorance is Strength”

By Greg Palast @ Dissident Voice:

I don’t usually watch Today or any American TV because my reports appear on the British Broadcasting Corporation, a network run by highly-educated America-haters.

But there I was, last Friday, in this hotel room in Atlanta, a city pretending there’s no Depression, chewing my complimentary morning donut, and Today is telling us about the “new face of American poverty.”

“More than 49 million Americans now live below the poverty line and a number of them like the family you’re about to meet propelled into bankruptcy by a one-two punch of job loss and a catastrophic health crisis.”

Wow! US television finally grabs the Big Issue.

This white suburban family called the Kleins have lost their home to eviction. They’re completely broke, because one of their kids got a tumor in her face. They have no insurance so the $100,000-plus medical bills wiped them out.

They live with neighbors and they hoped to at least get their kids a couple pair of underwear as a Christmas gift.

But if you think America doesn’t give a crap about the cancerous growth of poverty, just keep watching: The Today reporter takes the white family to WalMart where the bubbly journalist gushes, “The wonderful people of WalMart opened up their stores and their aisles and their hearts. The store is your oyster, Michelle!”

Then some WalMartian PR person tells the bankrupt mom to address the issue of long-term unemployment, “Let’s go shopping!”

And you thought America was cold-hearted, just because the Republicans tried to block unemployment insurance this Christmas for three million families.

On their free shopping spree, the Kleins got laptops and a Kindle, and a big-ass TV and all the good things that WalMart can provide.

And if you think WalMart has shown how selfless and caring Americans are, just wait until you find out what the Today show is giving America’s desperate poor: Simply the best-est gift ever …

“We saved the best for last!” The reporter tells the Kleins that NBC is flying them to New York, “to be on the Today show, to be on our set with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry!”

Matt and Ann! Both of them! Well, I bet they wouldn’t do that in North Korea or Sweden! Only in America!

Mr. Klein is so happy he’s meeting Ann that he doesn’t seem care anymore that he lost his job at Ford Motor. He just has his family. In some other family’s house, of course. But that’s a detail.

And if you thought this was just some cheap publicity stunt by WalMart, dig this, Mr. Cynical: WalMart is going to pay for all the Klein’s medical bills for a full year! And to pay for it, WalMart’s 1.4 million employees will not have all their medical bills covered for the year. Now, that’s generosity!

(This heartwarming segment of the Today show about the Klein kids, by the way, is sponsored by — no points for guessing: WalMart.)

But then I thought: wait a minute. What about ObamaCare? Once the plan is in place, no American can be denied insurance, even someone with a tumor in their face.

Americans love to hate ObamaCare. But isn’t that more valuable to the Kleins than a TV screen with no house to put it in?

Now, many of my friends will be surprised to hear me say this, as I’ve been quite skeptical about the accomplishments of the Pope of Hope. But let’s admit that Barack Obama tried to save the Kleins from medical-bill devastation, that he is trying to get them some unemployment insurance, trying (if on sketchy terms) to save the auto industry, all in the face of resistance of America’s hatred of Socialist Government.

Maybe we don’t need Santa Claus. Maybe we need Anti-Claus: A skinny ‘Muslim’ from Kenya squirming down your chimney!

America’s problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that “I’m-not-one-of-those-losers” frisson.

Listen to Rick and Newt and Mitt and Michele and Ron and what you get is the Great American F***’em! They lost their jobs? F***’em! Their kid has a tumor and they don’t have health insurance? F***’em!

Unless, of course, it’s Christmas and you have to look at the tumor on TV. Then, it’s like, Someone buy them a big-screen television so we don’t feel bad.

Santa’s erstaz elf, Bill O’Reilly, keeps talking about the “War on Christmas.” Because one day a year he has to dress up in Good Will to All Men drag. He can deck his halls with bags of bullshit make-believe kindness.

The rest of the year, he’s jerking off while talking dirty to his horrified female producers and raking in millions from the yahoos who haven’t lost their jobs yet.

So that’s it: for me, no more chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My chestnuts have gone down with my Lehman bonds, anyway. I’m declaring war on Christmas.

Don’t like that, O’Reilly? Then eat my shorts — with cranberry sauce.

Surgery for kids with cancer, a house to live in that’s not a relatives’ basement, and a job making something other than “financial products”… These are rights, not gifts. They don’t come down the chimney, they come from a community that can set aside its bred-in-the-bone meanness for more than one day a year.

 

***** 

And to all a good night.

Merry, um, Festivus, from the Palast Investigative Team.

Greg Palast studied healthcare economics at the Center for Hospital Administration Studies at the University of Chicago. His investigative reports can be seen on BBC Television’s NewsnightRead other articles by Greg, or visit Greg’s website.

Class Dismissed: How Television Frames The Working Class

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Oldspeak:Class Dismissed explores the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect with class, offering a more complex reading of television’s often one-dimensional representations. The video also links television portrayals to negative cultural attitudes and public policies that directly affect the lives of working class people. It examines the patterns inherent in TV’s disturbing depictions of working class people as either clowns or social deviants — stereotypical portrayals that reinforce the myth of meritocracy.’ A brilliant deconstruction of TVs transformation in its beginnings with accurate depictions of working class life, to its infiltration by powerful commercial interests who demanded sanitized, product placement filled depictions of middle class life. Where the working class are constantly aspiring to consume more and more. How It propagates deeply ingrained stereotypes & the subtle propaganda-filled myths of a ‘classless society’ where everyone has access to “The American Dream”. Class judgement abounds. Racism, sexism, bigotry, and societally generated downward pressures on people do not. Conformity and consumption in the prescribed ways are glamorized any deviation from prescribed ‘norms’ are demonized or worse ignored/not depicted.  Must see TV!

 

Mass Marketing Goes Platinum: Marketers Embrace Growing Gulf Between Rich & Poor

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Oldspeak:Advertising Age, the marketing industry’s top publication, has curtly declared that “mass affluence is over.” Nearly half of consumer spending today is done by the richest 10 percent of households, and the richest of these richies are deemed to be the most desirable of consumers. Simply put, a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsized purchasing influence. Thus it is that advertising authorities have deemed the middle class itself (roughly 60 percent of us, depending on where you draw the income line) to be unworthy consumers. We’re too poor to matter, they say.” -Jim Hightower.  In this age of  the “Shock Doctrine”, the true face of the corporatocracy is revealed. Despite the fact that “Mass Affluence” would benefit us all, and expand their bottom line; “Mass Affluence” is not an objective. Not atal interested in The People, but primarily people with the most money to buy the most shit they don’t need, thus providing it with its lifesblood; PROFIT.  Look past all the benevolent commercials and sponsorships and understand that everything a multinational corporation does is for one purpose. Generating maximal profit. Usually at the expense of quality, safety, worker protection & environmental protection. This is a stark illustration of a fundamental fact about the monetary system: Scarcity and inequality are the key. If everyone had everything they needed, the monetary system would fail. Selling things, wage slavery, straight up slavery would be pointless. Poor disenfranchised and exploited people are an essential part of this system. Goods, services and behaviors are assigned values as a function of their benefit to perpetuating the monetary system, irrespective of their benefits or detriments to the only system that ultimately matters: the eco-system. Our civilization is essentially built on a system that values greed, excess, hedonism, materialism,  hyper-consumption, stratification, exploitation and wanton disregard for our fellow-man and our environment that provided the resources to create our self-annihilating way of life. It can’t last forever. At some point we’ll have to seriously consider a fundamental change to a more sustainable way of life, before it’s too late. Moral of the story; poor, disenfranchised and exploited people are an essential part of this system and they simultaneously don’t matter, socially, politically and financially.

By Jim Hightower @ Other Words:

In today’s fast-moving world of consumer styles, when you’re out, you’re out. Not just out-of-style, but so far out that you no longer interest the big marketers.

Thus it is that advertising authorities have deemed the middle class itself (roughly 60 percent of us, depending on where you draw the income line) to be unworthy consumers. We’re too poor to matter, they say.

Catering to the RichIndeed, even though America’s workaday majority has produced a phenomenal rise in wealth during the past decade, that majority’s income has shrunk — and there’s no improvement in sight. Where did the gains go? Practically all of the new wealth flowed straight up to the richest 10 percent of America’s people, who own more than 80 percent of all stocks and bonds.

Instead of deploring this widening disparity, major hawkers of consumer products are choosing to embrace it. Advertising Age, the marketing industry’s top publication, has curtly declared that “mass affluence is over.” Nearly half of consumer spending today is done by the richest 10 percent of households, and the richest of these richies are deemed to be the most desirable of consumers.

“Simply put,” says Ad Age, “a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsized purchasing influence.”

The magazine goes on to inform us that households with less than $200,000 in annual income are henceforth on the outs, holding little interest for advertisers. Sure enough, corporate executives in such diverse businesses as airlines, movie theaters, banks, and health care are focusing more and more on platinum-level customers.

Gosh, does this mean they’ll stop inundating me with ads and a flood of other come-ons? I could live with that.

Why The Wealthiest Americans Are the Real ‘Job-Killers’

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars

OLDSPEAK: ‘”It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.’ -Syme (1984). Doublethink par excellence. ‘That the wealthy are “job creators,” and therefore have interests that must be defended by the public at large, is a talking-point that, however facile, is so popular it slips effortlessly from the lips of conservatives every day…It’s also complete nonsense; the opposite of the truth. Sure, the wealthy create a few jobs – people who offer exclusive services or sell them high-end goods. But the overwhelming majority of jobs in this country are “created” by ordinary Americans when they spend their paychecks.” -Joshua Holand. What a sad society it is where truth has so little sway in the course of its affairs. In this backward economic system, less consumption is seen as undesirable , even if it’s been established that perpetual ‘growth’ and ever-increasing consumption is unsustainable and life threatening our planet and everything on it. In this reality controlled society America’s bought and paid for ‘public servants’ are allowed to so brazenly propagate their overseer’s baseless propaganda and pass laws that benefit the few, with no challenge from its corporate consolidated and controlled journalists and news outlets. “Freedom is Slavery”

By Joshua Holand @ AlterNet:

That the wealthy are “job creators,” and therefore have interests that must be defended by the public at large, is a talking-point that, however facile, is so popular it slips effortlessly from the lips of conservatives every day.

It can be deployed for any purpose – not only in calling for more tax breaks for the rich, but also when opposing public interest regulation, consumer litigation and worker protections. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, even used it to deflect attention from the “gay rehabilitation” services her clinic allegedly offers. When asked about it by ABC News, Bachmann merely acknowledged, “we do have a business that deals with job creation.” When pressed, she stuck with it: “As I said, again, we’re very proud of our business and we’re proud of all job creators in the United States.”

It’s also complete nonsense; the opposite of the truth. Sure, the wealthy create a few jobs – people who offer exclusive services or sell them high-end goods. But the overwhelming majority of jobs in this country are “created” by ordinary Americans when they spend their paychecks.

Consumer demand accounts for around 70 percent of our economic output. And with so much wealth having been redistributed upward through a 40-year class-war from above, American consumers are too tapped out to spend as they once did. This remains the core issue in this sluggish, largely jobless recovery. The wealthy, in their voracious appetite for a bigger piece of the national pie, are the real job-killers in this economic climate.

Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that “the main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies, according to a majority of economists” the paper surveyed. That jibes with what business owners themselves are saying. Last week, the National Federation of Independent Businesses released a survey of small businessmen and women that found widespread “pessimism about future business conditions and expected real sales gains.”

New York Times reporter David Leonhardt wrote this week that “We are living through a tremendous bust. It isn’t simply a housing bust. It’s a fizzling of the great consumer bubble that was decades in the making.”

The auto industry is on pace to sell 28 percent fewer new vehicles this year than it did 10 years ago — and 10 years ago was 2001, when the country was in recession. Sales of ovens and stoves are on pace to be at their lowest level since 1992. Home sales over the past year have fallen back to their lowest point since the crisis began. And big-ticket items are hardly the only problem.

Leonhardt cites worse-than-expected retail sales and a study conducted by the New York Federal Reserve Bank that found “discretionary service spending” – which excludes housing, food and health care – to have dropped 7 percent, more than twice the decline we saw during previous recessions.

“If you’re looking for one overarching explanation for the still-terrible job market,” Leonhardt concludes, “it is this great consumer bust. Business executives are only rational to hold back on hiring if they do not know when their customers will fully return. Consumers, for their part, are coping with a sharp loss of wealth and an uncertain future (and many have discovered that they don’t need to buy a new car or stove every few years).”

Average American households’ economic malaise started long before the current downturn, as those at the top started grabbing an ever-increasing share of the pie in the 1970s. These graphs, courtesy of Mother Jones, tell the tale:

(click for larger version)Discounting those in the top 20 percent of the pile – according to economists Emanuel Saez and Thomas Picketty it’s actually the top 10 percent – Americans haven’t seen their real incomes rise in the past 30 years.

Paul Buchheit, a professor with City Colleges of Chicago, crunched some numbers using IRS data and found that “if middle- and upper-middle-class families had maintained the same share of American productivity that they held in 1980, they would be making an average of $12,500 more per year.” In other words, because the share of income going to the top has increased so dramatically, ordinary people have $12,500 less in their wallets today. Studies have shown that when wealthy people grab more post-tax income they’re more likely to bank it than to spend it, so much of that $12,500 also represents lost demand, and hence less jobs. Wealthy Americans’ avarice is a job-killer.

American households compensated for their flat incomes first by sending millions of women into the workforce – the single-earner household is largely a relic of the past – and then by running up lots of debt. In the 1970s, Americans socked away between 8-12 percent in case hard times hit, but the national savings rate declined precipitously as the top earners started grabbing an outsized share of the nation’s income.

As a result, we were among the least prepared citizens in the developed world to handle the crash – we didn’t have a rainy-day fund put away.

 

 

(click for larger version)

Then came the Great Recession. The federal Reserve did a study in 2009 in which it went back and surveyed the same households that had been examined in a 2007 snapshot of consumer finances to see how they were faring during the recession. The study found that between 2007 and 2009, median family net worth fell 23 percent, from $125,400 to only $96,000.

Like income, that continued a longer trend that began as those at the top of the pile began grabbing an ever-greater share of the nation’s wealth. As Edward Wolff, an economist at NYU, noted, between 1983 and 2007, only those in the top 5 percent of the income distribution added to their households’ net worth (PDF). The rest of us tread water. Economists talk about a “wealth effect,” which simply means that when you have more wealth you tend to spend more freely. So, this concentration of wealth has also impacted demand.

None of this is particularly complex. In 1978, the top 1 percent of the ladder took in just under 9 percent of the nation’s income, leaving a bit more than 91 percent for the rest of us. In 2007, the year before the crash, they took in 23.5 percent, leaving just 76.5 percent for the rest of the population to split up.

They banked most of that income, whereas we would have spent it. The fact that we’re broke means that businesses are facing less demand for their goods and services than they otherwise would, and have less need to hire a bunch of employees. And that dynamic explains why it’s the wealthiest Americans who are the real “job killers.”


What Would It Look Like?

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Oldspeak:”We have systems and structures that condone agression and violence, as long as it’s santioned by the state and government. We have systems and structures that create and engender furthur and deeper separation and give it some kind of platform for being resonable rather than engendering and supporting deeper mutuality and oneness. So until those systems and strutures are also undermined and pulled apart then we will only see change, but not transformation. Until the systems and structures are no longer able to support those social sensibilites that are damaging to humanity, we will not be transformed as a society. Those systems and structures were created and maintained by individuals. So it’s a cycle, a cirle that loops itself back on itself” -Angel Kyodo Williams

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