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

Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Abnormal is The New Normal: Connecting The Dots On Climate Change

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 3:34 am

ENSO temp influence

Oldspeak: “Even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out thattoday we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.” -Guy McPhereson

“Was watching environmental activist Bill McKibben on Bill Moyers the other day. He was peddling this “there’s a global movement to solve the climate crisis” bullshit. i don’t know why a man who founded 350.org to draw attention to the fact that we needed to keep atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 350 parts per million to have a chance at a livable planet when CO2 concentrations are currently at 400 parts per million and rising, would continue to spew this nonsense. Focusing so much energy and time on things that don’t matter, like protesting, marching,  getting arrested and appealing to leaders bought and paid for by fossil energy producers. He like many others have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change. The basic fact of the matter is whatever actions needed to be taken to avert extinction of most life on earth needed to be taken 40 years ago.  We are just beginning to see the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change as conditions continue to worsen. it’s a safe bet that in the next 29 years humans will emit many more extinction inducing emissions than it has in the last 436 years as developing nations burn more fossil energy and dirtier fossil energy is extracted; that is of course if we last 29 years.” -OSJ

Guy McPhereson @ Nature Bats Last:

I’m routinely accused of cherry picking information about climate change. I plead guilty, with the following 1,000-word disclaimer.

I’ll start with a line from recently deceased professor emeritus and long-time teacher Albert Bartlett: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” When I speak and write about climate change, most members of the audience are stuck in fifth grade, unaware that nature often exhibits non-linearity.

I pick cherries because I see nobody else connecting the dots on climate change. I see nobody else making an honest effort to describe our predicament. So, by default, I’m The Connector. I collate, summarize, and synthesize information about climate change. And in the process of serving as host for the finest reality show on the Internet, I connect people, too.

In return, I’m the dark-horse candidate for Golden Horseshoe liar of the year award. No, really: You can read all about it. This planet has become so Orwellian that those who collate the facts and pass them along are hated as liars.

I see plenty of support for denying the obvious. According to a December 2013 paper in Climatic Change, the climate change counter-movement is funded to the tune of nearly a billion dollars each year. That’s just in the United States, where we continue to brag about our prowess in destroying the living planet long after a few of us recognized the irony in the following advertisement from Life magazine in 1962. The story is similar in other countries.

humbleoilad

How obvious is ongoing climate change induced by anthropogenic global warming? If you’re unwilling to look outside, consider the following graph from Climate Central.

10 warmest years on record

And even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out that “today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.

I’ve given up on civilized humans making any effort to take relevant action. Never mind our stunning myopia: The money to be made is clearly more important than the extinctions we cause, including our own.

As pointed out in March 2012 in Nature Climate Change, several psychological reasons explain why people have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change (David Roberts comments at length in his article at Grist:

1. To the extent that climate change is an abstract concept, it is non intuitive and cognitively difficult to grasp.

2. Our moral judgement system is finely tuned to react to intentional transgressions — not unintentional ones.

3. Things that make us feel guilty provoke self-defensive mechanisms.

4. Uncertainty breeds wishful thinking, so the lack of definitive prognoses results in unreasonable optimism.

5. Our division into moral and political tribes generates ideological polarization; climate change becomes politicized.

6. Events do not seem urgent when they seem to be far away in time and space; out-group victims fall by the wayside.

At considerable risk of pummeling the dead equine, I’ll reiterate a couple paragraphs I pointed out before:

Leading mainstream outlets routinely lie to the public. According to a report published 11 January 2014, “the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds over six years trying to keep secret an extraordinary ‘eco’ conference which has shaped its coverage of global warming.” At the 2006 event, green activists and scientists — one of whom believes climate change is a bigger danger than global nuclear war — lectured 28 of the BBC’s most senior executives.

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.”

In other words, science selects for conservatism (aka picking cherries long after they are ripe). Science, after all, is merely the process of elucidating the obvious. Climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama” (aka looking for the cherries long after they’ve fallen off the tree, onto the ground, and been consumed by rodents).

The feedbacks are too numerous, the inertia too strong. We fired the clathrate gun by 2007 or earlier, coincident with crossing the point of no return for climate change. The corporate media and corporate governments of the world keep lying, and too few hold them accountable.

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This essay is permalinked at Seemorerocks, Speaking Truth to Power and Before It’s News.

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With an eye to improving my “bedside manner” when I deliver presentations, I’ve recently become a certified grief-recovery counselor. A brief summary of the program, which I learned about from a contact on Facebook, is here.

I was extremely impressed by the workshop. In fact, I told the facilitator it was about a thousand times better than I expected halfway through the first of four emotionally wrenching days. The facilitator was among the best teachers I’ve ever seen.

I learned about my own grief, and how to deal with it. I learned dealing with grief is a process that requires practice. I learned that some losses associated with individuals represent opportunities to move on from the relationship.

I have suffered many of the usual and customary losses typically associated with grief, along with a few others. Who knew there are more than 40 kinds of losses? These include moving, losing a job, divorce, death of a loved one, and many others. I suffered considerable grief when I left the university: the loss of ego, friends, and colleagues was enormous, as was the sudden inability to teach.

I also learned a little bit about helping others deal with their own grief. That in itself is a big deal for a left-brained, science geek. I recommend this workshop to almost anybody who is willing to put themselves into the position of eager, heart-wide-open student.

I’m still working through the tools I picked up at the workshop. I suspect the process will continue for a long time. Like, as long as I have.

______________________

Please join me in supporting our friend OzMan as he literally walks away. Click here for more information.

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Thursday, 6 February 2013, 7:00 p.m., West End Cultural Centre, 586 Illice Avenue at Sherbrook, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, “Straight Talk About Climate Change”

Thursday, 20 February 2014, 5:15 p.m., Singer room, Eugene Public Library, 100 West 10th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Friday, 21 February 2104, 7:00 p.m., Vancouver Public Library, 901 C Street Vancouver, Washington, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Saturday, 22 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Avenue Bellingham, Washington, “Climate Chaos”

Monday, 24 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Odd Fellows Hall, 112 Haven Road, Eastsound, Washington (on Orcas Island), “Climate Chaos”

Wednesday, 26 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., San Juan Island Library, 1010 Guard Street, Friday Harbor, Washington

Thursday, 27 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., location to be determined, Tacoma, Washington

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 7-day seminar, 24-31 May 2014, Moho Creek, Belize, Central America.

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 June 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.

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Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by more than 15 readers at Amazon.

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.

Turning A Blind Eye To Catastrophic Truths In The Age Of Unreality

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Oldspeak:Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities. George Gerbner  Fear. It is a powerful motivator. It is a powerful captor.  It drives us to greatness & calamity.  It captivates us with ubiquitous illusions of safety, stability & sanity. It plays an essential and ironically unseen part in our refusal to see truths like those imparted by Osho – ‎”Do not search. That which is, is. Stop and see.” We’ve been socially engineered to not see that which is. To not think, just react. To avoid all that is real. This engineering has one fatal flaw. It has not taken into account the unavoidability of reality and the natural world we are a part of.  It it only a matter of time before we are no longer able to turn blind eyes to catastrophic truths.” “”Ignorance Is Strength”

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. Members of this intellectual and artistic class, who are usually not welcome in the stultifying halls of academia where mediocrity is triumphant, serve as prophets. They are dismissed, or labeled by the power elites as subversive, because they do not embrace collective self-worship. They force us to confront unexamined assumptions, ones that, if not challenged, lead to destruction. They expose the ruling elites as hollow and corrupt. They articulate the senselessness of a system built on the ideology of endless growth, ceaseless exploitation and constant expansion. They warn us about the poison of careerism and the futility of the search for happiness in the accumulation of wealth. They make us face ourselves, from the bitter reality of slavery and Jim Crow to the genocidal slaughter of Native Americans to the repression of working-class movements to the atrocities carried out in imperial wars to the assault on the ecosystem. They make us unsure of our virtue. They challenge the easy clichés we use to describe the nation—the land of the free, the greatest country on earth, the beacon of liberty—to expose our darkness, crimes and ignorance. They offer the possibility of a life of meaning and the capacity for transformation.

Human societies see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy. They ignore unpleasant facts that intrude on self-glorification. They trust naively in the notion of linear progress and in assured national dominance. This is what nationalism is about—lies. And if a culture loses its ability for thought and expression, if it effectively silences dissident voices, if it retreats into what Sigmund Freud called “screen memories,” those reassuring mixtures of fact and fiction, it dies. It surrenders its internal mechanism for puncturing self-delusion. It makes war on beauty and truth. It abolishes the sacred. It turns education into vocational training. It leaves us blind. And this is what has occurred. We are lost at sea in a great tempest. We do not know where we are. We do not know where we are going. And we do not know what is about to happen to us.

The psychoanalyst John Steiner calls this phenomenon “turning a blind eye.” He notes that often we have access to adequate knowledge but because it is unpleasant and disconcerting we choose unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, to ignore it. He uses the Oedipus story to make his point. He argued that Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon and the “blind” Tiresias grasped the truth, that Oedipus had killed his father and married his mother as prophesized, but they colluded to ignore it. We too, Steiner wrote, turn a blind eye to the dangers that confront us, despite the plethora of evidence that if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships to each other and the natural world, catastrophe is assured. Steiner describes a psychological truth that is deeply frightening.

I saw this collective capacity for self-delusion among the urban elites in Sarajevo and later Pristina during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. These educated elites steadfastly refused to believe that war was possible although acts of violence by competing armed bands had already begun to tear at the social fabric. At night you could hear gunfire. But they were the last to “know.” And we are equally self-deluded. The physical evidence of national decay—the crumbling infrastructures, the abandoned factories and other workplaces, the rows of gutted warehouses, the closure of libraries, schools, fire stations and post offices—that we physically see, is, in fact, unseen. The rapid and terrifying deterioration of the ecosystem, evidenced in soaring temperatures, droughts, floods, crop destruction, freak storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels, are met blankly with Steiner’s “blind eye.”

Oedipus, at the end of Sophocles’ play, cuts out his eyes and with his daughter Antigone as a guide wanders the countryside. Once king, he becomes a stranger in a strange country. He dies, in Antigone’s words, “in a foreign land, but one he yearned for.”

William Shakespeare in “King Lear” plays on the same theme of sight and sightlessness. Those with eyes in “King Lear” are unable to see. Gloucester, whose eyes are gouged out, finds in his blindness a revealed truth. “I have no way, and therefore want no eyes,” Gloucester says after he is blinded. “I stumbled when I saw.” When Lear banishes his only loyal daughter, Cordelia, whom he accuses of not loving him enough, he shouts: “Out of my sight!” To which Kent replies:

See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.

The story of Lear, like the story of Oedipus, is about the attainment of this inner vision. It is about morality and intellect that are blinded by empiricism and sight. It is about understanding that the human imagination is, as William Blake saw, our manifestation of Eternity. “Love without imagination is eternal death.”

The Shakespearean scholar Harold Goddard wrote: “The imagination is not a faculty for the creation of illusion; it is the faculty by which alone man apprehends reality. The ‘illusion’ turns out to be truth.” “Let faith oust fact,” Starbuck says in “Moby-Dick.”

“It is only our absurd ‘scientific’ prejudice that reality must be physical and rational that blinds us to the truth,” Goddard warned. There are, as Shakespeare wrote, “things invisible to mortal sight.” But these things are not vocational or factual or empirical. They are not found in national myths of glory and power. They are not attained by force. They do not come through cognition or logical reasoning. They are intangible. They are the realities of beauty, grief, love, the search for meaning, the struggle to face our own mortality and the ability to face truth. And cultures that disregard these forces of imagination commit suicide. They cannot see.

“How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,” Shakespeare wrote, “Whose action is no stronger than a flower?” Human imagination, the capacity to have vision, to build a life of meaning rather than utilitarianism, is as delicate as a flower. And if it is crushed, if a Shakespeare or a Sophocles is no longer deemed useful in the empirical world of business, careerism and corporate power, if universities think a Milton Friedman or a Friedrich Hayek is more important to its students than a Virginia Woolf or an Anton Chekhov, then we become barbarians. We assure our own extinction. Students who are denied the wisdom of the great oracles of human civilization—visionaries who urge us not to worship ourselves, not to kneel before the base human emotion of greed—cannot be educated. They cannot think.

To think, we must, as Epicurus understood, “live in hiding.” We must build walls to keep out the cant and noise of the crowd. We must retreat into a print-based culture where ideas are not deformed into sound bites and thought-terminating clichés. Thinking is, as Hannah Arendt wrote, “a soundless dialogue between me and myself.” But thinking, she wrote, always presupposes the human condition of plurality. It has no utilitarian function. It is not an end or an aim outside of itself. It is different from logical reasoning, which is focused on a finite and identifiable goal. Logical reason, acts of cognition, serve the efficiency of a system, including corporate power, which is usually morally neutral at best, and often evil. The inability to think, Arendt wrote, “is not a failing of the many who lack brain power but an ever-present possibility for everybody—scientists, scholars, and other specialists in mental enterprises not excluded.”

Our corporate culture has effectively severed us from human imagination. Our electronic devices intrude deeper and deeper into spaces that were once reserved for solitude, reflection and privacy. Our airwaves are filled with the tawdry and the absurd. Our systems of education and communication scorn the disciplines that allow us to see. We celebrate prosaic vocational skills and the ridiculous requirements of standardized tests. We have tossed those who think, including many teachers of the humanities, into a wilderness where they cannot find employment, remuneration or a voice. We follow the blind over the cliff. We make war on ourselves.

The vital importance of thought, Arendt wrote, is apparent only “in times of transition when men no longer rely on the stability of the world and their role in it, and when the question concerning the general conditions of human life, which as such are properly coeval with the appearance of man on earth, gain an uncommon poignancy.” We never need our thinkers and artists more than in times of crisis, as Arendt reminds us, for they provide the subversive narratives that allow us to chart a new course, one that can assure our survival.

“What must I do to win salvation?” Dimitri asks Starov in “The Brothers Karamazov,” to which Starov answers: “Above all else, never lie to yourself.”

And here is the dilemma we face as a civilization. We march collectively toward self-annihilation. Corporate capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill us. Yet we refuse, because we cannot think and no longer listen to those who do think, to see what is about to happen to us. We have created entertaining mechanisms to obscure and silence the harsh truths, from climate change to the collapse of globalization to our enslavement to corporate power, that will mean our self-destruction. If we can do nothing else we must, even as individuals, nurture the private dialogue and the solitude that make thought possible. It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Youth In Revolt: The Plague Of State-Sponsored Violence

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Oldspeak:The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism.” In a state where children are disposable, subjected to violence and threats of violence in most every aspect of their lives, programmed from birth to be nothing more than finely tuned profit generating”happiness machines”. Where 1o children a day are killed by guns (more than police killed in the line of duty) can we really be surprised by the senseless violence perpetrated on children like Trayvon Martin?

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Young people are demonstrating all over the world against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services. At the moment, these demonstrations are being met with state-sanctioned violence and insults in the mainstream media rather than with informed dialogue, critical engagement and reformed policies. 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, poor minorities, immigrants and increasingly 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 responsibility as a substitute for civic 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 cut backs in basic social services, especially for the poor, young people and the elderly.(1) 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, which have provided the minimal conditions for democracy.

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. According to OccupyArrests.com, “There have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”(2) Abandoned by the existing political system, young people in Oakland, California; New York City; and numerous other cities are placing their bodies on the line, protesting peacefully while trying to produce a new language, politics, long-term institutions and “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”(3) This movement is not simply about 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 corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture, poverty, the suppression of dissent and the permanent war state. Richard Lichtman is right in insisting that this movement should be praised for its embrace of communal democracy as well as an emerging set of shared concerns, principles and values articulated “by a demand for equality, or, at the very least, for a significant lessening of the horrid extent of inequality; for a working democracy; for the elimination of the moneyed foundation of politics; for the abolition of political domination by a dehumanized plutocracy; for the replacement of ubiquitous commodification by the reciprocal recognition of humanity in the actions of its agents.”(4) As Arundhati Roy points out, what connects the protests in the United States to resistance movements all over the globe is that young people are realizing that “they know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of US corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa and the Middle East.”(5) Of course, Lichtman, Roy, and others believe that this is just the beginning of a movement and that much needs to be done, as Staughton Lynd argues, to build new strategies, a vast network of new institutions and public spheres, a community of trust and political organization that invites poor people into its ranks.(6)

All of these issues are important, but what must be addressed in the most immediate sense is the threat 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 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. Unless the actions of young protesters, however diverse they may be, is understood within the language of a robust notion of the social, civic courage and the imperatives of a vital democracy, it will be difficult for the American public to resist state violence and the framing of protests, dissent and civic responsibility as un-American or, at worst, a species of criminal behavior.

While there is considerable coverage in the progressive media given to the violence being waged against the Occupy movement 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. The notion of historical conjuncture is important here because it provides both an opening into the forces shaping a particular historical moment and it allows for a merging of theory and strategy. That is, it 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, 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. As Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness and war, or planning is the exemplary (and only) common project.”(7) The merging of the military-industrial complex and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare 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.”(8) 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.(9) It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible and politics refuses any guarantees and remains open. Following Stuart Hall, I want to argue that the current historical moment or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,”(10) has to be understood in terms of the growing forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such anti-democratic 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.”(11)

The United States has become addicted to violence and this dependency is fuelled 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”(12) – a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities. 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.(13) As war becomes a mode of sovereignty and rule, it erodes 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.

Shared fears and the media hysteria that feed them produce more than a culture of fear. Such hysteria also feeds the growing militarization of the police, who increasingly use their high-tech scanners, surveillance cameras and toxic chemicals on anyone who engages in peaceful protests against the warfare and corporate state. Images abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an 84-year-old woman looking straight into a camera, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police after attending a protest rally. There is the image of a woman, who is two months pregnant, being carried to safety after being pepper sprayed by the police. There are the all-too-familiar images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van.(14) In some cases, protesters have been seriously hurt as in the case of Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran, who was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.(15)

The war on terror has become a war on democracy as baton-wielding cops are now being supplied with the latest military equipment imported straight from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Military technologies once used exclusively on the battlefield are now being supplied to police departments across the nation. Drones; machine-gun-equipped armored trucks; SWAT vehicles; “digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers used in foreign wars.”(16) The domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters) provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations who “are becoming more a part of our domestic lives.”(17) As Glenn Greenwald points out, the United States since 9/11 “has aggressively para-militarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.”(18) Of course, the new domestic para-military 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 the view of young people as predators, a threat to corporate governance and disposable will increase as will the growth of a punishment state that acts with impunity.(19)

No longer restricted to a particular military ideology, the celebration of war-like values has become normalized through the militarization of the entire society. As Michael Geyer points out, militarization in this sense is defined as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.”(20) The conceptual merging of war and violence is evident in the way in which the language of war saturates the ways in which policy makers talk about waging war on drugs, poverty and the underclass. 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 in which “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks.”(21) 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 a “failed sociality” in which violence becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships.

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 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. But it also needs subjects who find intense pleasure in the spectacle of violence.

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. What has led to this immunity and insensitivity to cruelty and prurient images of violence? Part of this process is due to the fact that the American public is bombarded by an unprecedented “huge volume of exposure to … images of human suffering.”(22) As Zygmunt Bauman argues, there are social costs that come with this immersion of a culture of staged violence. One consequence is that “the sheer numbers and monotony of images may have a ‘wearing off’ impact [and] to stave off the ‘viewing fatigue,’ they must be increasingly gory, shocking and otherwise ‘inventive’ to arouse any sentiments at all or indeed draw attention. The level of ‘familiar’ violence, below which the cruelty of cruel acts escapes attention, is constantly rising.”(23)

Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground. In this instance, unfamiliar violence such as extreme images of torture and death become banally familiar, while familiar violence that occurs daily is barely recognized relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. How else to explain the public indifference to the violence waged by the state against nonviolent youthful protesters, who are rebelling against a society in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, prosperity and democracy. As an increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. As the need for more intense images of violence accumulates, the moral indifference and desensitization to violence grows while matters of cruelty and suffering are offered up as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other outlets for seeking pleasure.

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 ultra-rich 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 that has become normalized. A “political culture of hyper punitiveness”(24) has become normalized and accelerates throughout the social order like a highly charged electric current. Democracy no longer leaves open the importance of an experience of the common good. As a mode of “failed sociality,” the current version of market fundamentalism has turned the principles of democracy against itself, deforming both the language of freedom and justice that made equality a viable idea and political goal. State violence operating under the guise of personal safety and security, while parading species of democracy, cancels out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”(25) Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.

Meanwhile, exaggerated violence is accelerated in the larger society and now rules screen culture. The public pedagogy of entertainment includes extreme images of violence, human suffering and torture splashed across giant movie screens, some in 3D, offering viewers every imaginable portrayal of violent acts, each more shocking and brutal than the last. The growing taste for violence can be seen in the increasing modeling of public schools after prisons, the criminalization of behaviors such as homelessness that once were the object of social protections. A symptomatic example of the way in which violence has saturated everyday life can be seen in the growing 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 young people. 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 the five-year-old girl in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum; or the case of Alexa Gonzales in New York who was arrested for doodling on her desk. Even worse, a 13-year-old boy in a Maryland school 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. 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. The governing through crime ethic also reminds us that we live in an era that breaks young people, corrupts the notion of justice and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the threat, if not reality, of violence. This mediaeval 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,”(26) paving the way for them to move almost effortlessly through the school-to-prison pipeline. Surely, the next step will be a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts and sent to juvenile detention centers. 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.

As the social is devalued along with rationality, ethics and any vestige of democracy, spectacles of war, violence and brutality now merge into forms of collective pleasure that constitute an important and new symbiosis among visual pleasure, violence and suffering. The control society is now the ultimate form of entertainment as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, has become the subject not of compassion, but of ridicule and amusement in America. High-octane violence and human suffering are now considered another form of entertainment designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient. Reveling in the suffering of others should no longer be reduced to a matter of individual pathology, but now registers a larger economy of pleasure across the broader culture and social landscape. My emphasis here is on the sadistic impulse and how it merges spectacles of violence and brutality with forms of collective pleasure. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared fears rather than shared responsibilities. 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 prevalence of institutionalized violence in American society and other parts of the world suggests the need for a new conversation and politics that addresses what a just and fair world looks like. The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism. The prevalence of violence 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.(27) In this discourse, critique merges with a sense of realistic hope and individual struggles merge into larger social movements. The challenge that young people are posing to American society is being met with a state-sponsored violence that is about more than police brutality; it is more importantly about the transformation of the United States from a social state to a warfare state, from a state that embraced the social contract to one that no longer has a language for community – a state in which the bonds of fear and commodification have replaced the bonds of civic responsibility and democratic vision. Until we address how the metaphysics of war and violence have taken hold on American society (and in other parts of the world) and the savage social costs it has 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.

To read other articles by Henry A. Giroux or other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Footnotes:

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

2. See here.

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

4. Richard Lichtman, “Not a Revolution?,” Truthout, (December 14, 2011).

5. Arun Gupta, Arundhati Roy: “The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come Up With a Solution,” The Guardian UK, (12/01/2011). Online here.

6. Staughton Lynd, “What is to be Done Next?,” CounterPunch, (February 29, 2012).

7. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:12 (July 14, 2005), pp. 14-18.

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

9. 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) .

10. Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian UK, (September 12, 2011), online here.

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

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

13.13. 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).

14. Philip Govrevitch, “Whose Police?” The New Yorker, (11/17/11).

15. Phil Rockstroh, “The Police State Makes Its Move: Retaining One’s Humanity in the Face of Tyranny,” CommonDreams, (11/15/11). Online here.

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

17. Ibid.

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

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

20. 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.

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

22. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), p. 149.

23. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 149-150.

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

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

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

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

Zombie Politics, Democracy, And The Threat of Authoritarianism

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

Oldspeak:”In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence. That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order. As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance “dissolve politics into pathology.”[10] It is generally believed that in a constitutional democracy, power is in the hands of the people, and that the long legacy of democratic ideals in America, however imperfect, is enough to prevent democracy from being subverted or lost. And yet the lessons of history provide clear examples of how the emergence of reactionary politics, the increasing power of the military, and the power of big business subverted democracy in Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Italy. In spite of these histories, there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable—that such an order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent—what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character.” – Henry A. Giroux

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Introduction (Part I)

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world. -Hannah Arendt [1]

The Rise of Zombie Politics

In the world of popular culture, zombies seem to be everywhere, as evidenced by the relentless slew of books, movies, video games, and comics. From the haunting Night of the Living Dead to the comic movie Zombieland, the figure of the zombie has captured and touched something unique in the contemporary imagination. But the dark and terrifying image of the zombie with missing body parts, oozing body fluids, and an appetite for fresh, living, human brains does more than feed the mass-marketing machines that prey on the spectacle of the violent, grotesque, and ethically comatose. There is more at work in this wave of fascination with the grotesquely walking hyper-dead than a Hollywood appropriation of the dark recesses and unrestrained urges of the human mind. The zombie phenomenon is now on display nightly on television alongside endless examples of destruction unfolding in real-time. Such a cultural fascination with proliferating images of the living hyper-dead and unrelenting human catastrophes that extend from a global economic meltdown to the earthquake in Haiti to the ecological disaster caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico signals a shift away from the hope that accompanies the living to a politics of cynicism and despair. The macabre double movement between “the dead that walk”[2] and those who are alive but are dying and suffering cannot be understood outside of the casino capitalism that now shapes every aspect of society in its own image. A casino capitalist zombie politics views competition as a form of social combat, celebrates war as an extension of politics, and legitimates a ruthless Social Darwinism in which particular individuals and groups are considered simply redundant, disposable—nothing more than human waste left to stew in their own misfortune—easy prey for the zombies who have a ravenous appetite for chaos and revel in apocalyptic visions filled with destruction, decay, abandoned houses, burned-out cars, gutted landscapes, and trashed gas stations.

The twenty-first-century zombies no longer emerge from the grave; they now inhabit the rich environs of Wall Street and roam the halls of the gilded monuments of greed such as Goldman Sachs. As an editorial in The New York Times points out, the new zombies of free-market fundamentalism turned “the financial system into a casino. Like gambling, the transactions mostly just shifted paper money around the globe. Unlike gambling, they packed an enormous capacity for collective and economic destruction—hobbling banks that made bad bets, freezing credit and economic activity. Society—not the bankers—bore the cost.”[3] In this way, the zombie— the immoral, sub-Nietzschean, id-driven “other” who is “hyper-dead” but still alive as an avatar of death and cruelty—provides an apt metaphor for a new kind of authoritarianism that has a grip on contemporary politics in the United States.[4] This is an authoritarianism in which mindless self-gratification becomes the sanctioned norm and public issues collapse into the realm of privatized anger and rage. The rule of the market offers the hyper-dead an opportunity to exercise unprecedented power in American society, reconstructing civic and political culture almost entirely in the service of a politics that fuels the friend/enemy divide, even as democracy becomes the scandal of casino capitalism—its ultimate humiliation.

Click below to listen to The Critical Lede’s audio interview with Dr. Henry Giroux.

Press play to listen to the interview:

But the new zombies are not only wandering around in the banks, investment houses, and death chambers of high finance, they have an ever-increasing presence in the highest reaches of government and in the forefront of mainstream media. The growing numbers of zombies in the mainstream media have huge financial backing from the corporate elite and represent the new face of the culture of cruelty and hatred in the second Gilded Age. Any mention of the social state, putting limits on casino capitalism, and regulating corporate zombies puts Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck,
Rush Limbaugh, and other talking heads into a state of high rage. They disparage any discourse that embraces social justice, social responsibility, and human rights. Appealing to “real” American values such as family, God, and Guns, they are in the forefront of a zombie politics that opposes any legislation or policy designed to lessen human suffering and promote economic and social progress. As Arun Gupta points out, they are insistent in their opposition to “civil rights, school desegregation, women’s rights, labor organizing, the minimum wage, Social Security, LGBT rights, welfare, immigrant rights, public education, reproductive rights, Medicare, [and] Medicaid.”[5] The walking hyper-dead even oppose providing the extension of unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who are out of work, food, and hope. They spectacularize hatred and trade in lies and misinformation. They make populist appeals to the people while legitimating the power of the rich. They appeal to common sense as a way of devaluing a culture of questioning and critical exchange. Unrelenting in their role as archetypes of the hyper-dead, they are misanthropes trading in fear, hatred, and hyper-nationalism.

The human suffering produced by the walking hyper-dead can also be seen in the nativist apoplexy resulting in the racist anti-immigration laws passed in Arizona, the attempts to ban ethnic studies in public schools, the rise of the punishing state, the social dumping of millions of people of color into prisons, and the attempts of Tea Party fanatics and politicians who want to “take back America” from President Barack Obama—described in the new lexicon of right-wing political illiteracy as both an alleged socialist and the new Hitler. Newt Gingrich joins Glenn Beck and other members of the elite squad of the hyper-dead in arguing that Obama is just another version of Joseph Stalin. For Gingrich and the rest of the zombie ideologues, any discourse that advocates for social protections, easing human suffering, or imagining a better future is dismissed by being compared to the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. Dystopian discourse and End Times morbidity rule the collective consciousness of this group.

The “death panels” envisaged by Sarah Palin are not going to emerge from Obama’s health care reform plan but from the toolkits the zombie politicians and talking heads open up every time they are given the opportunity to speak. The death threats, vandalism, and crowds shouting homophobic slurs at openly gay U.S. House Representative Barney Frank already speak to a fixation with images of death, violence, and war that now grips the country. Sarah Palin’s infamous call to a gathering of her followers to “reload” in opposition to President Obama’s policies—soon followed in a nationally televised press conference with a request for the American people to embrace Arizona’s new xenophobic laws—makes her one of the most prominent of the political zombies. Not only has she made less-than-vague endorsements of violence in many of her public speeches, she has cheerfully embraced the new face of white supremacy in her recent unapologetic endorsement of racial profiling, stating in a widely reported speech that “It’s time for Americans across this great country to stand up and say, ‘We’re all Arizonians now.’”[6] The current descent into racism, ignorance, corruption, and mob idiocy makes clear the degree to which politics has become a sport for zombies rather than engaged and thoughtful citizens.[7]

The hyper-dead celebrate talk radio haters such as Rush Limbaugh, whose fanaticism appears to pass without criticism in the mainstream media. Limbaugh echoes the fanatics who whipped up racial hatred in Weimar Germany, the ideological zombies who dissolved the line between reason and distortion-laden propaganda. How else to explain his claim “that environmentalist terrorists might have caused the ecological disaster in the gulf”?[8] The ethically frozen zombies that dominate screen culture believe that only an appeal to self-interest motivates people—a convenient counterpart to a culture of cruelty that rebukes, if not disdains, any appeal to the virtues of a moral and just society. They smile at their audiences while collapsing the distinction between opinions and reasoned arguments. They report on Tea Party rallies while feeding the misplaced ideological frenzy that motivates such gatherings but then refuse to comment on rallies all over the country that do not trade in violence or spectacle. They report uncritically on Islam bashers, such as the radical right-wing radio host Michael Savage, as if his ultra-extremist racist views are a legitimate part of the American mainstream. In the age of zombie politics, there is too little public outrage or informed public anger over the pushing of millions of people out of their homes and jobs, the defunding of schools, and the rising tide of homeless families and destitute communities. Instead of organized, massive protests against casino capitalism, the American public is treated to an endless and arrogant display of wealth, greed, and power. Armies of zombies tune in to gossip-laden entertainment, game, and reality TV shows, transfixed by the empty lure of celebrity culture.

The roaming hordes of celebrity zombie intellectuals work hard to fuel a sense of misguided fear and indignation toward democratic politics, the social state, and immigrants—all of which is spewed out in bitter words and comes terribly close to inciting violence. Zombies love death-dealing institutions, which accounts for why they rarely criticize the bloated military budget and the rise of the punishing state and its expanding prison system. They smile with patriotic glee, anxious to further the demands of empire as automated drones kill innocent civilians—conveniently dismissed as collateral damage—and the torture state rolls inexorably along in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other hidden and unknown sites. The slaughter that inevitably follows catastrophe is not new, but the current politics of death has reached new heights and threatens to transform a weak democracy into a full-fledged authoritarian state.

A Turn to the Dark Side of Politics

The American media, large segments of the public, and many educators widely believe that authoritarianism is alien to the political landscape of American society. Authoritarianism is generally associated with tyranny and governments that exercise power in violation of the rule of law. A commonly held perception of the American public is that authoritarianism is always elsewhere. It can be found in other allegedly “less developed/civilized countries,” such as contemporary China or Iran, or it belongs to a fixed moment in modern history, often associated with the rise of twentieth-century totalitarianism in its different forms in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Even as the United States became more disposed to modes of tyrannical power under the second Bush administration—demonstrated, for example, by the existence of secret CIA prisons, warrantless spying on Americans, and state-sanctioned kidnaping—mainstream liberals, intellectuals, journalists, and media pundits argued that any suggestion that the United States was becoming an authoritarian society was simply preposterous. For instance, the journalist James Traub repeated the dominant view that whatever problems the United States faced under the Bush administration had nothing to do with a growing authoritarianism or its more extreme form, totalitarianism.[9] On the contrary, according to this position, America was simply beholden to a temporary seizure of power by some extremists, who represented a form of political exceptionalism and an annoying growth on the body politic. In other words, as repugnant as many of Bush’s domestic and foreign policies might have been, they neither threatened nor compromised in any substantial way America’s claim to being a democratic society.

Against the notion that the Bush administration had pushed the United States close to the brink of authoritarianism, some pundits have argued that this dark moment in America’s history, while uncharacteristic of a substantive democracy, had to be understood as temporary perversion of American law and democratic ideals that would end when George W. Bush concluded his second term in the White House. In this view, the regime of George W. Bush and its demonstrated contempt for democracy was explained away as the outgrowth of a random act of politics— a corrupt election and the bad-faith act of a conservative court in 2000 or a poorly run election campaign in 2004 by an uncinematic and boring Democratic candidate. According to this narrative, the Bush-Cheney regime exhibited such extreme modes of governance in its embrace of an imperial presidency, its violation of domestic and international laws, and its disdain for human rights and democratic values that it was hard to view such antidemocratic policies as part of a pervasive shift toward a hidden order of authoritarian politics, which historically has existed at the margins of American society. It would be difficult to label such a government other than as shockingly and uniquely extremist, given a political legacy that included the rise of the security and torture state; the creation of legal illegalities in which civil liberties were trampled; the launching of an unjust war in Iraq legitimated through official lies; the passing of legislative policies that drained the federal surplus by giving away more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the rich; the enactment of a shameful policy of preemptive war; the endorsement of an inflated military budget at the expense of much-needed social programs; the selling off of as many government functions as possible to corporate interests; the resurrection of an imperial presidency; an incessant attack against unions; support for a muzzled and increasingly corporate-controlled media; the government production of fake news reports to gain consent for regressive policies; the use of an Orwellian vocabulary for disguising monstrous acts such as torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”); the furtherance of a racist campaign of legal harassment and incarceration of Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants; the advancement of a prison binge through a repressive policy of criminalization; the establishment of an unregulated and ultimately devastating form of casino capitalism; the arrogant celebration and support for the interests and values of big business at the expense of citizens and the common good; and the dismantling of social services and social safety nets as part of a larger campaign of ushering in the corporate state and the reign of finance capital?

Authoritarianism With a Friendly Face

In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence. That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order. As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance “dissolve politics into pathology.”[10] It is generally believed that in a constitutional democracy, power is in the hands of the people, and that the long legacy of democratic ideals in America, however imperfect, is enough to prevent democracy from being subverted or lost. And yet the lessons of history provide clear examples of how the emergence of reactionary politics, the increasing power of the military, and the power of big business subverted democracy in Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Italy. In
spite of these histories, there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable—that such an order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent—what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character. [11]

Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share a hatred for democracy, dissent, and civil liberties. It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic, which leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a mixture of both systems. American politics today suggests a more updated if not a different form of authoritarianism. In this context, it is worth remembering what Huey Long said in response to the question of whether America could ever become fascist: “Yes, but we will call it anti-fascist.”[12] Long’s reply suggests that fascism is not an ideological apparatus frozen in a particular historical period but a complex and often shifting theoretical and political register for understanding how democracy can be subverted, if not destroyed, from within. This notion of soft or friendly fascism was articulated in 1985 in Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism, in which he argued that if fascism came to the United States it would not embody the same characteristics associated with fascist forms in the historical past. There would be no Nuremberg rallies, doctrines of racial superiority, government-sanctioned book burnings, death camps, genocidal purges, or the abrogation of the U.S. Constitution. In short, fascism would not take the form of an ideological grid from the past simply downloaded onto another country under different historical conditions. Gross believed that fascism was an ongoing danger and had the ability to become relevant under new conditions, taking on familiar forms of thought that resonate with nativist traditions, experiences, and political relations.[13] Similarly, in his Anatomy of Fascism, Robert O. Paxton argued that the texture of American fascism would not mimic traditional European forms but would be rooted in the language, symbols, and culture of everyday life. He writes: “No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.”[14] It is worth noting that Umberto Eco, in his discussion of “eternal fascism,” also argued that any updated version of fascism would not openly assume the mantle of historical fascism; rather, new forms of authoritarianism would appropriate some of its elements, making it virtually unrecognizable from its traditional forms. Like Gross and Paxton, Eco contended that fascism, if it comes to America, will have a different guise, although it will be no less destructive of democracy. He wrote:

Ur-Fascism [Eternal Fascism] is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.[15]

The renowned political theorist Sheldon Wolin, in Democracy Incorporated, updates these views and argues persuasively that the United States has produced its own unique form of authoritarianism, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”[16] Wolin claims that under traditional forms of totalitarianism, there are usually founding texts such as Mein Kampf, rule by a personal demagogue such as Adolf Hitler, political change enacted by a revolutionary movement such as the Bolsheviks, the constitution rewritten or discarded, the political state’s firm control over corporate interests, and an idealized and all-encompassing ideology used to create a unified and totalizing understanding of society. At the same time, the government uses all the power of its cultural and repressive state apparatuses to fashion followers in its own ideological image and collective identity.

In the United States, Wolin argues that an emerging authoritarianism appears to take on a very different form.[17] Instead of a charismatic leader, the government is now governed through the anonymous and largely remote hand of corporate power and finance capital. Political sovereignty is largely replaced by economic sovereignty as corporate power takes over the reins of governance. The dire consequence, as David Harvey points out, is that “raw money power wielded by the few undermines all semblances of democratic governance. The pharmaceutical companies, health insurance and hospital lobbies, for example, spent more than $133 million in the first three months of 2009 to make sure they got their way on health care reform in the United States.”[18] The more money influences politics the more corrupt the political culture becomes. Under such circumstances, holding office is largely dependent on having huge amounts of capital at one’s disposal, while laws and policies at all levels of government are mostly fashioned by lobbyists representing big business corporations and commanding financial institutions. Moreover, as the politics of health care reform indicate, such lobbying, as corrupt and unethical as it may be, is not carried out in the open and displayed by insurance and drug companies as a badge of honor—a kind of open testimonial to the disrespect for democratic governance and a celebration of their power. The subversion of democratic governance in the United States by corporate interests is captured succinctly by Chris Hedges in his observation that

Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals that dole out corporate money to shape and write legislation. They use their political action committees to solicit employees and shareholders for donations to fund pliable candidates. The financial sector, for example, spent more than $5 billion on political campaigns, influenc[e] peddling and lobbying during the past decade, which resulted in sweeping deregulation, the gouging of consumers, our global financial meltdown and the subsequent looting of the U.S. Treasury. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $26 million last year and drug companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly kicked in tens of millions more to buy off the two parties. These corporations have made sure our so-called health reform bill will force us to buy their predatory and defective products. The oil and gas industry, the coal industry, defense contractors and telecommunications companies have thwarted the drive for sustainable energy and orchestrated the steady erosion of civil liberties. Politicians do corporate bidding and stage hollow acts of political theater to keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.[19]

Rather than being forced to adhere to a particular state ideology, the general public in the United States is largely depoliticized through the influence of corporations over schools, higher education, and other cultural apparatuses. The deadening of public values, civic consciousness, and critical citizenship is also the result of the work of anti-public intellectuals representing right-wing ideological and financial interests,[20] dominant media that are largely center-right, and a market-driven public pedagogy that reduces the obligations of citizenship to the endless consumption and discarding of commodities. In addition, a pedagogy of social and political amnesia works through celebrity culture and its counterpart in corporate-driven news, television, radio, and entertainment to produce a culture of stupidity, censorship, and diversionary spectacles.

Depoliticizing Freedom and Agency

Agency is now defined by a neoliberal concept of freedom, a notion that is largely organized according to the narrow notions of individual self-interest and limited to the freedom from constraints. Central to this concept is the freedom to pursue one’s self-interests independently of larger social concerns. For individuals in a consumer society, this often means the freedom to shop, own guns, and define rights without regard to the consequences for others or the larger social order. When applied to economic institutions, this notion of freedom often translates into a call for removing government regulation over the market and economic institutions. This notion of a deregulated and privatized freedom is decoupled from the common good and any understanding of individual and social responsibility. It is an unlimited notion of freedom that both refuses to recognize the importance of social costs and social consequences and has no language for an ethic that calls us beyond ourselves, that engages our responsibility to others. Within this discourse of hyper-individualized freedom, individuals are not only “liberated from the constraints imposed by the dense network of social bonds,” but are also “stripped of the protection which had been matter-of-factly offered in the past by that dense network of social bonds.” [21]

Freedom exclusively tied to personal and political rights without also enabling access to economic resources becomes morally empty and politically dysfunctional. The much-heralded notion of choice associated with personal and political freedom is hardly assured when individuals lack the economic resources, knowledge, and social supports to make such choices and freedoms operative and meaningful. As Zygmunt Bauman points out, “The right to vote (and so, obliquely and at least in theory, the right to influence the composition of the ruler and the shape of the rules that bind the ruled) could be meaningfully exercised only by those ‘who possess sufficient economic and cultural resources’ to be ‘safe from the voluntary or involuntary servitude that cuts off any possible autonomy of choice (and/or its delegation) at the root….[Choice] stripped of economic resources and political power hardly assure[s] personal freedoms to the dispossessed, who have no claim on the resources without which personal freedom can neither be won nor in practice enjoyed.”[22] Paul Bigioni has argued that this flawed notion of freedom played a central role in the emerging fascist dictatorships of the early twentieth century. He writes:

It was the liberals of that era who clamored for unfettered personal and economic freedom, no matter what the cost to society. Such untrammeled freedom is not suitable to civilized humans. It is the freedom of the jungle. In other words, the strong have more of it than the weak. It is a notion of freedom that is inherently violent, because it is enjoyed at the expense of others. Such a notion of freedom legitimizes each and every increase in the wealth and power of those who are already powerful, regardless of the misery that will be suffered by others as a result. The use of the state to limit such “freedom” was denounced by the laissez-faire liberals of the early 20th century. The use of the state to protect such “freedom” was fascism. Just as monopoly is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of liberal capitalism.[23]

This stripped-down notion of market-based freedom that now dominates American society cancels out any viable notion of individual and social agency. This market-driven notion of freedom emphasizes choice as an economic function defined largely as the right to buy things while at the same time cancelling out any active understanding of freedom and choice as the right to make rational choices concerning the very structure of power and governance in a society. In embracing a passive attitude toward freedom in which power is viewed as a necessary evil, a conservative notion of freedom reduces politics to the empty ritual of voting and is incapable of understanding freedom as a form of collective, productive power that enables “a notion of political agency and freedom that affirms the equal opportunity of all to exercise political power in order to participate in shaping the most important decisions affecting their lives.”[24] This merging of the market-based understanding of freedom as the freedom to consume and the conservative-based view of freedom as a restriction from all constraints refuses to recognize that the conditions for substantive freedom do not lie in personal and political rights alone; on the contrary, real choices and freedom include the individual and collective ability to actively intervene in and shape both the nature of politics and the myriad forces bearing down on everyday life—a notion of freedom that can only be viable when social rights and economic resources are available to individuals. Of course, this notion of freedom and choice is often dismissed either as a vestige of socialism or simply drowned out in a culture that collapses all social considerations and notions of solidarity into the often cruel and swindle-based discourse of instant gratification and individual gain. Under such conditions, democracy is managed through the empty ritual of elections; citizens are largely rendered passive observers as a result of giving undue influence to corporate power in shaping all of the essential elements of political governance and decision making; and manufactured appeals to fear and personal safety legitimate both the suspension of civil liberties and the expanding powers of an imperial presidency and the policing functions of a militaristic state.

Busy schedule? Click here to keep up with Truthout with free email updates. [5]

I believe that the formative culture necessary to create modes of education, thought, dialogue, critique, and critical agency—the necessary conditions of any aspiring democracy—is largely destroyed through the pacification of intellectuals and the elimination of public spheres capable of creating such a culture. Elements of a depoliticizing and commodifying culture become clear in the shameless propaganda produced by the so-called “embedded” journalists, while a corporate-dominated popular culture largely operates through multiple technologies, screen cultures, and video games that trade endlessly in images of violence, spectacles of consumption, and stultifying modes of (il)literacy. Funded by right-wing ideological, corporate, and militaristic interests, an army of anti-public intellectuals groomed in right-wing think tanks and foundations, such as the American Enterprise Institute and Manhattan Institute, dominate the traditional media, police the universities for any vestige of critical thought and dissent, and endlessly spread their message of privatization, deregulation, and commercialization, exercising a powerful influence in the dismantling of all public spheres not dominated by private and commodifying interests. These “experts in legitimation,” to use Antonio Gramsci’s prescient phrase, peddle civic ignorance just as they renounce any vestige of public accountability for big business, giant media conglomerates, and financial mega corporations. How else to explain that nearly twenty percent of the American people believe incorrectly that Obama is a Muslim!

Under the new authoritarianism, the corporate state and the punishing state merge as economics drives politics, and repression is increasingly used to contain all those individuals and groups caught in an expanding web of destabilizing inequality and powerlessness that touches everything from the need for basic health care, food, and shelter to the promise of a decent education. As the social state is hollowed out under pressure from free-market advocates, right-wing politicians, and conservative ideologues, the United States has increasingly turned its back on any semblance of social justice, civic responsibility, and democracy itself. This might explain the influential journalist Thomas Friedman’s shameless endorsement of military adventurism in the New York Times article in which he argues that “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”[25] Freedom in this discourse is inextricably wedded to state and military violence and is a far cry from any semblance of a claim to democracy.

Zombie Politicas and the Culture of Cruelty

Another characteristic of an emerging authoritarianism in the United States is the correlation between the growing atomization of the individual and the rise of a culture of cruelty, a type of zombie politics in which the living dead engage in forms of rapacious behavior that destroy almost every facet of a substantive democratic polity. There is a mode of terror rooted in a neoliberal market-driven society that numbs many people just as it wipes out the creative faculties of imagination, memory, and critical thought. Under a regime of privatized utopias, hyper-individualism, and ego-centered values, human beings slip into a kind of ethical somnolence, indifferent to the plight and suffering of others. Though writing in a different context, the late Frankfurt School theorist Leo Lowenthal captured this mode of terror in his comments on the deeply sedimented elements of authoritarianism rooted in modern civilization. He wrote:

In a system that reduces life to a chain of disconnected reactions to shock, personal communication tends to lose all meaning….The individual under terrorist conditions is never alone and always alone. He becomes numb and rigid not only in relation to his neighbor but also in relation to himself; fear robs him of the power of spontaneous emotional or mental reaction. Thinking becomes a stupid crime; it endangers his life. The inevitable consequence is that stupidity spreads as a contagious disease among the terrorized population. Human beings live in a state of stupor, in a moral coma.[26]

Implicit in Lowenthal’s commentary is the assumption that as democracy becomes a fiction, the moral mechanisms of language, meaning, and ethics collapse, and a cruel indifference takes over diverse modes of communication and exchange, often as a register of the current paucity of democratic values, identities, and social relations. Surely, this is obvious today as all vestiges of the social compact, social responsibility, and modes of solidarity give way to a form of Social Darwinism with its emphasis on ruthlessness, cruelty, war, violence, hyper modes of masculinity, and a disdain for those considered weak, dependent, alien, or economically unproductive. A poverty of civic ideals is matched not only by a poverty of critical agency but also by the disappearance among the public of the importance of moral and social responsibilities. As public life is commercialized and commodified, the pathology of individual entitlement and narcissism erodes those public spaces in which the conditions for conscience, decency, self-respect, and dignity take root. The delusion of endless growth coupled with an “obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization [and] uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, and disdain for the public sector” has produced a culture that seems “consumed by locusts” in “an age of pygmies.”[27]

This culture of cruelty is especially evident in the hardships and deprivations now visited upon many young people in the United States. We have 13.3 million homeless children; one child in five lives in poverty; too many are now under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and many more young adults are unemployed and lack any hope for the future.[28] Moreover, we are subjecting more and more children to psychiatric drugs as a way of controlling their alleged unruly behavior while providing huge profits for drug companies. As Evelyn Pringle points out, “in 2006 more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0 to 17 than for any other medical condition, with a total of $8.9 billion.”[29] Needless to say, the drugging of American children is less about treating genuine mental disorders than it is about punishing so-called unruly children, largely children of the poor, while creating “lifelong patients and repeat customers for Pharma!”[30] Stories abound about poor young people being raped, beaten, and dying in juvenile detention centers, needlessly trafficked into the criminal justice system as part of a profit-making scheme cooked up by corrupt judges and private correction facilities administrators, and being given powerful antipsychotic medicines in schools and other state facilities.[31] Unfortunately, this regression to sheer Economic Darwinism is not only evident in increasing violence against young people, cutthroat reality TV shows, hate radio, and the Internet, it is also on full display in the discourse of government officials and politicians and serves as a register of the prominence of both a kind of political infantilism and a culture of cruelty. For instance, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently stated in an interview in February 2010 that “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”[32] Duncan’s point, beyond the incredible inhumanity reflected in such a comment, was that it took a disaster that uprooted thousands of individuals and families and caused enormous amounts of suffering to enable the Obama administration to implement a massive educational system pushing charter schools based on market-driven principles that disdain public values, if not public schooling itself. This is the language of cruelty and zombie politicians, a language indifferent to the ways in which people who suffer great tragedies are expelled from their histories, narratives, and right to be human. Horrible tragedies caused in part by government indifference are now covered up in the discourse and ideals inspired by the logic of the market. This mean and merciless streak was also on display recently when Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor in South Carolina, stated that giving people government assistance was comparable to “feeding stray animals.” The utterly derogatory and implicitly racist nature of his remark became obvious in the statement that followed: “You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”[33]

Lowenthal’s argument that in an authoritarian society “stupidity spreads as a contagious disease” is evident in a statement made by Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman, who recently argued that “Americans should purchase [health] insurance with their own tax-free money.”[34] That 43 million Americans are without health insurance because they cannot afford it seems lost on Bachmann, whose comments suggest that these uninsured individuals, families, unemployed workers, and children are not simply a disposable surplus but actually invisible and therefore unworthy of any acknowledgment.

The regressive politics and moral stupidity are also evident in the emergence of right-wing extremists now taking over the Republican Party. This new and aggressive political formation calls for decoupling market-driven financial institutions from any vestige of political and governmental constraint, celebrates emotion over reason, treats critical intelligence as a toxin possessed largely by elites, wraps its sophomoric misrepresentations in an air of beyond-interrogation “we’re just folks” insularity, and calls for the restoration of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America.[35] Such calls embody elements of a racial panic that are evident in all authoritarian movements and have increasingly become a defining feature of a Republican Party that has sided with far-right-wing thugs and goon squads intent on disrupting any vestige of the democratic process. This emerging authoritarian element in American political culture is embodied in the wildly popular media presence of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck—right-wing extremists who share a contempt for reason and believe in organizing politics on the model of war, unconditional surrender, personal insults, hyper-masculine spectacles, and the complete destruction of one’s opponent.

The culture of cruelty, violence, and slander was on full display as the Obama administration successfully passed a weak version of health care reform in 2010. Stoked by a Republican Party that has either looked away or in some cases supported the coded language of racism and violence, it was no surprise that there was barely a peep out of Republican Party leaders when racial and homophobic slurs were hurled by Tea Party demonstrators at civil rights legend Jon Lewis and openly gay Barney Frank, both firm supporters of the Obama health policies. Even worse is the nod to trigger-happy right-wing advocates of violence that conservatives such as Sarah Palin have suggested in their response to the passage of the health care bill. For instance, Frank Rich argues that

this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti- abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.[36]

There is more at work here than the usual right-wing promotion of bigotry and ignorance; there is the use of violent rhetoric and imagery that mimics the discourse of terrorism reminiscent of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, dangerous right-wing militia groups, and other American-style fascists. As Chris Hedges insists, “The language of violence always presages violence”[37] and fuels an authoritarianism that feeds on such excesses and the moral coma that accompanies the inability of a society to both question itself and imagine an alternative democratic order. How else can one read the “homicidal rhetoric” that is growing in America as anything other than an obituary for dialogue, democratic values, and civic courage? What does it mean for a democracy when the general public either supports or is silent in the face of widely publicized events such as black and gay members of Congress being subjected to racist and homophobic taunts, a black congressman being spit on, and the throwing of bricks through the office windows of some legislators who supported the health care bill? What does it mean for a democracy when there is little collective outrage when Sarah Palin, a leading voice in the Republican Party, mimics the tactics of vigilantes by posting a map with crosshairs on the districts of Democrats and urges her supporters on with the shameful slogan “Don’t Retreat. Instead—RELOAD!” Under such circumstances, the brandishing of assault weapons at right-wing political rallies, the posters and signs comparing Obama to Hitler, and the ever-increasing chants to “Take Our Country Back” echoes what Frank Rich calls a “small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht.”[38] Violence and aggression are now openly tolerated and in some cases promoted. The chants, insults, violence, and mob hysteria all portend a dark period in American history—an historical conjuncture in the death knell for democracy is being written as the media turn such events into spectacles rather than treat them as morally and politically repugnant acts more akin to the legacy of fascism than the ideals of an aspiring democracy. All the while the public yawns or, more troubling, engages fantasies of reloading.

Unfortunately, the problems now facing the United States are legion and further the erosion of a civic and democratic culture. Some of the most glaring issues are massive unemployment; a rotting infrastructure; the erosion of vital public services; the dismantling of the social safety net; expanding levels of poverty, especially for children; and an imprisonment binge largely affecting poor minorities of color. But such a list barely scratches the surface. In addition, we have witnessed in the last thirty years the restructuring of public education as either a source of profit for corporations or an updated version of control modeled after prison culture coupled with an increasing culture of lying, cruelty, and corruption, all of which belie a democratic vision of America that now seems imaginable only as a nostalgic rendering of the founding ideals of democracy.

NOTES

1. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (1968; New York: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 196.

2. I have taken this term from Stephen Jones,ed.,The Dead That Walk (Berkeley,CA: Ulysses Press, 2010).

3. Editorial, “Wall Street Casino [6],” The New York Times (April 28, 2010), p. A24.

4. Some of the ideas come from Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, eds., Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy: New Life for the Undead (Chicago: Open Court, 2010).

5. Arun Gupta, “Party of No: How Republicans and the Right Have Tried to Thwart All Social Progress [7],” Truthout.org (May 21, 2010).

6. Jonathan J. Cooper, “We’re All Arizonians Now [8],” Huffington Post (May 15, 2010).

7. See the excellent commentary on this issue by Frank Rich, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” The New York Times (March 28, 2010), p. WK10. See also Justine Sharrock, “The Oath Keepers: The Militant and Armed Side of the Tea Party Movement [9],” AlterNet (March 6, 2010); and Mark Potok, “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism [10],” Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report 137 (Spring 2010).

8. Paul Krugman, “Going to Extreme,” The New York Times (May 16, 2010), p. A23.

9. James Traub, “The Way We Live Now: Weimar Whiners [11],” The New York Times Magazine ( June 1, 2003). For a commentary on such intellectuals, see Tony Judt, “Bush’s Useful Idiots [12],” The London Review of Books 28:18 (September 21, 2006).

10. Cited in Carol Becker, “The Art of Testimony,” Sculpture (March 1997), p. 28.

11. This case for an American version of authoritarianism was updated and made more visible in a number of interesting books and articles. See, for instance, Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008); and Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

12. Cited in Paul Bigioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now [13],” Toronto Star (November 27, 2005).

13. See Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1985).

14. Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 202.

15. Umberto Eco, “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt,” New York Review of Books (November–December 1995), p. 15.

16. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated.

17. Along similar theoretical lines, see Stephen Lendman, “A Look Back and Ahead: Police State in America [14],” CounterPunch (December 17, 2007). For an excellent analysis that points to the creeping power of the nation- al security state on American universities, see David Price, “Silent Coup: How the CIA Is Welcoming Itself Back onto American University Campuses,” CounterPunch 17:3 (January 13–31, 2010), pp. 1–5.

18. David Harvey,“Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition [15],” Monthly Review (December15, 2009).

19. Chris Hedges, “Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction [16],” TruthDig (January 24, 2010).

20. See Janine R. Wedel, Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

21. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (London: Polity Press, 2007), pp. 57–58.

22. Ibid., p. 64.

23. Bigioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now.”

24. Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Nature and Value of Equity,” Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 124–142.

25. ThomasL.Friedman,“A Manifesto for the Fast World [17],”The New York Times Magazine (March 28, 1999).

26. Leo Lowenthal, “Atomization of Man,” False Prophets: Studies in Authoritarianism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1987), pp. 182–183.

27. Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), pp. 2–3.

28. I have taken up this issue in my Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? (New York: Palgrave, 2009). For a series of brilliant commentaries on youth in America, see the work of Tolu Olorunda in The Black Commentator, Truthout, and other online journals.

29. Evelyn Pringle, “Why Are We Drugging Our Kids?,” Truthout (December 14, 2009), http://www.alternet.org/story/144538 [18].

30. Ibid.

31. See Nicholas Confessore, “New York Finds Extreme Crisis in Youth Prisons,” The New York Times (December 14, 2009), p. A1; Duff Wilson, “Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics,” The New York Times (December 12, 2009), p. A1; and Amy Goodman, “Jailing Kids for Cash [19],” Truthout (February 17, 2009).

32. Jake Tapper, “Political Punch: Power, Pop, and Probings from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent—Duncan: Katrina Was the ‘Best Thing’ for New Orleans School System [20],” ABC News.com ( January 29, 2010).

33. Nathaniel Cary, “GOP Hopeful: People on Public Assistance ‘Like Stray Animals [21],’” Truthout ( January 23, 2010).

34.Cited in Frank Rich, “The State of Union Is Comatose, ”The New York Times (January 31 ,2010).

35. See, for example, Patrick J. Buchanan, “Traditional Americans Are Losing Their Nation [22],” WorldNetDaily (January 24, 2010).

36. Frank Rich, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” The New York Times (March 28, 2010), p. WK10.

37. Chris Hedges, “Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’? [23],” TruthDig (March 29, 2010).

38. Rich, “The State of the Union Is Comatose,” p. WK10.

How Can The US Solve Its Problems When The Corporate Media Has Turned Into The National Enquirer?

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Oldspeak:”I call it “The Real World Effect”. Since the advent of the ‘reality’ show it seems that slowly people have become more concerned about scripted reality than actual reality. Obsession with celebrities’ and politicians’ sexual proclivities and “fabulous lives”. Poor and obese peoples path to redemption through hard work and beneficent rich persons. Anonymous persons rising to fame and fortune via televised dance and singing popularity contests. TV ready marriage minded singles finding “love” via an outlandish and demeaning relationship vetting process when the contestants ply their sexual and whatever other wares to vie for the attention of the desired man/woman.  Meanwhile, in actual reality civil liberties are eroded. Worldwide war is authorized. Access to information is censored and you’re surveiled. Your environment is being destroyed. Your children and food are being contaminated with toxins and poisons. And corporate media has very little if anything to say about these life altering realities. We can expect to continue to witness the downward spiral of the U.S. economically, morally, and socially until reality is focused on and dealt with in a meaningful & substantive way.

By Mark Karlin @ Truthout:

There is no escaping the salacious Anthony Weiner Internet scandal. Since the mainstream corporate media – for the most part – merged politics, news, entertainment, celebrity personalities and sensationalism, it’s been almost impossible to have an informed national discussion on public policy.

One Weiner “confessional” news conference is worth more in advertising revenue than a year of covering our wars that have spanned a decade.

A sizeable percentage of Americans are out of work and without a safety net, Medicare and Social Security are under siege, wars are being fought that receive only sporadic coverage and the disparity in income in America is at its widest point in memory. Yet, these and other pressing issues play a distant second fiddle to a Congressman engaged in sexual titillation over the web and on the phone – however creepy and inappropriate that may be.

The Weiner affair is just the latest example of what Chris Hedges calls “spectacle” coverage superseding the dissemination of news that informs and enlightens.

Weiner – as he noted in his news conference on June 6 – will have to answer to his wife, his constituents and Congress.

The news media that is increasingly evolving into a combination of the National Enquirer, People magazine and “American Idol” has to answer to history, as America descends into a tabloid future in which only the very rich will control the mass media “news” prism.

Solving Cinco de Mayo: Setting The Record Straight On The Origin Of A Mexican Holiday

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Oldspeak: “A day originally meant to be a somber, liquor-free day of reflection commemorating of The Battle of Puebla where an outnumbered Mexican army and militia defeated a vastly superior invading French army in Puebla, Mexico, has been twisted and contorted repackaged as the drunken hedonistic consumption-fueled spectacle we see today. Only in America…. SO ‘as you raise your glass in a toast this May 5, don’t forget that the celebration has origins that extend far beyond mariachi music and margaritas’– Allison Ford

By Sue Vorenberg @ The Columbian:

Rumors abound in Vancouver and across the United States regarding the mysterious origins of the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

Ask a bunch of random strangers about it, and you’ll probably get an equally random number of theories about what’s being celebrated — even at an educational institution like Clark College, where The Columbian went on the hunt for the real story.

Asked what he knew about it, Jonathan Weiker, a GED student at the college, said his former father-in-law had the inside scoop.

“He used to celebrate it, and he called it Mexican New Year,” Weiker said.

Nearby, another young man who didn’t want to give his name was quick to correct Weiker.

“It’s their Day of the Dead,” he said.

John Yoder, walking down one of the college hallways with his friend Samantha Neal, smiled slightly when asked what he knew about the holiday.

“I’ve heard everybody say it’s Mexican independence day, but I know it’s not,” Yoder said, adding that he wasn’t sure what the real story was.

Neal smirked back at him.

“I know it’s the day the Mexican army beat the French,” she said. “I don’t know why they celebrate it. I mean, hey, who didn’t beat the French?”

Of the four, Neal is the clear winner — perhaps because her 90-year-old great-grandmother comes from Puebla, the state in southern Mexico where the event actually happened.

“I can’t believe I’m the only one that knew that,” Neal said. “I’m going to start bragging now.”

At that, Neal got a high-five from her friend Yoder.

Erika Nava, a Spanish professor at Clark College, filled in the rest of the historical details.

The event on which Cinco de Mayo is based is called La Batalla de Puebla. It was a U.S. Civil War-era battle in 1862 in which the French army, led by Napoleon III, invaded Puebla and was subsequently turned back by a much smaller force made up of the Mexican army and local militia.

But while Mexico won the battle, it ultimately lost the war. The French invaded again in 1863 and installed a dictator who ruled the country for a handful of years before he was eventually overthrown, Nava said.

“It’s similar to Gettysburg, that’s what it means to people in Puebla,” Nava said. “It’s also a somber, no-liquor-sold holiday where they reenact the battle.”

Unfortunately, it’s by no means rare for people in the United States to have been told the wrong story about the holiday, she added.

Nava said she’s even seen other Spanish teachers spread misinformation about it.

“I look on the Web and see teachers saying it’s Mexican independence day,” Nava said. “It’s sort of sad.”

People from southern Mexico often cringe when they see how the holiday is celebrated in the United States — often at bars with alcohol and loud banter.

Nava’s husband, Hugo Nava, who’s a schoolteacher in Portland, grew up in Puebla and said he was somewhat mystified as to why people in the United States celebrate the holiday at all.

“The way I see people from the U.S. celebrate it, it’s just an excuse to go drink, like St. Patrick’s Day,” Hugo Nava said. “For us it’s a patriotic day. It’s important because it’s part of the history of Mexico. We have a parade. It’s a dry day. Nobody drinks.”

The U.S. celebration of the day probably came about because people in the Southwestern United States, which was part of Mexico until 1848, held onto the holiday as part of their kinship with their former country. It eventually turned into a celebration of Hispanic heritage in that region, Erika Nava said.

“It’s been sort of adopted as a Latino holiday, and I don’t think it’s bad to have a holiday that celebrates Latino pride, but I think it’s bad when that holiday is based on misinformation,” Nava added.

From the Southwest, the holiday apparently spread across the United States, more as an excuse to party than as anything associated with the actual Mexican historical event, she said.

“I guess most people also don’t know where St. Patrick’s Day came from,” Erika Nava said.

There’s also probably no way to change the way the holiday is celebrated in the United States, she said.

Erika Nava said she thinks that’s OK, but that people should acknowledge it as a separate thing from the Mexican historical event.

“Let’s just call it a holiday that has nothing to do with the holiday in Mexico, it just falls on the same day,” she said.

Hugo Nava said he can accept that, although he still thinks people should understand a bit about Cinco de Mayo’s origins before they go out and party.

“It’s OK if you know the history behind it,” he said. “To me, if you just go, get crazy and party — it doesn’t make sense. You can do that any day of the year. Knowing about it, there’s just a little bit of respect of history.”

After learning about the real origins of the event, the Clark College crowd said they were eager to spread the word to their friends ahead of the May 5 holiday.

“I never knew the history,” said Moses Stickney, a Washington State University Vancouver student who previously attended Clark College. “Now that I know, sure, I’ll tell my friends.”

Weiker said he was glad to learn the truth as well.

“Everybody has their great wars,” Weiker said. “They deserve to celebrate it in their own way.”

Neal said she planned to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year the way she usually does — at her great-grandmother’s Vancouver home, spending time with family, eating Mexican dishes and not drinking.

“Now that I know people don’t know the history, I’m going to start telling them about it,” Neal said.

Beyond Cerveza: The Real History of Cinco de Mayo

By Allison Ford @ Divine Caroline:

As Americans, we celebrate plenty of holidays that we don’t fully understand or appreciate. Here’s a pop quiz: What does St. Patrick’s Day actually commemorate? What is the real significance of Mardi Gras? Both festivals have legitimate origins, but nowadays they seem to be just two more excuses to dress up in funny hats and drink copious amounts of alcohol. Many people also love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but how many of us know what the holiday really stands for?

Most Americans assume that Cinco de Mayo honors the day of Mexican independence, but that’s not correct. Far from being the Mexican version of our Fourth of July, it’s actually more like the Mexican version of Columbus Day, a holiday acknowledged by a few people but completely ignored by the majority. It commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862, when Mexican forces, despite being badly outnumbered, defeated the invading French army. The battle would not even be considered historically significant except for the fact that the Mexicans’ underdog win became a great source of national pride, and because it marks the last time any foreign army invaded North American soil.

In Mexico, it’s considered a regional celebration, observed in the state of Puebla but not many other places. It’s not even an official federal holiday. But Americans have embraced Cinco de Mayo and everything that accompanies it—mostly the music, the food, and, of course, the cerveza.

Drink-o de Mayo
The holiday started to gain steam in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s. As an increasing number of Hispanic immigrants found their culture underrepresented in schools and in public life, people looked for ways to acknowledge and celebrate Hispanic heritage, and companies looked for ways to increase sales and promote their products. What started out as smallish gatherings in cities with large Hispanic populations turned into a new national holiday, celebrated with far more vigor in the United States than anywhere in Mexico. Some have suggested that Cinco de Mayo, rather than the real Mexican Independence Day (September 16), was presented as the more palatable of the two holidays to white Americans because it didn’t have the anti-imperialist sentiment that many Independence Day celebrations did.

Just as “everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day,” beer companies encourage everyone to embrace Mexican heritage on this day, which results in consumers of all races and nationalities buying Mexican beer, liquor, and food. As the Hispanic population continues to grow, and more and more people develop a taste for Mexican food and beverages, the holiday becomes more mainstream. Corona Extra is now the number-one imported beer in the United States, and May 5 has become a recognized party holiday, just like St. Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras, often with a buildup of a month or longer. Other companies have gotten in on the Cinco action, too, including Frito-Lay companies, with their salsa and guacamole products, and even American brewers looking to steal some of the market away from Corona, Tecate, and Dos Equis.


Growing Population, Growing Dilemma
People of Hispanic descent don’t always appreciate the blatant co-opting of their culture for the sake of partying and profits. Just as many Americans are offended by the commercialization of Christmas, some Mexicans feel that it’s disrespectful to use their nation’s history as a cheap excuse to hit up happy hour. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a growing number want to take back the holiday, returning it to a celebration that focuses on family and culture, instead of on tequila and taquitos. As the holiday’s profile broadens, communities are becoming just as likely to see family-friendly festivals that include traditional music, food, storytelling, and dancing as they are to see out-of-control bar crowds.

Another growing concern is how the holiday’s marketers disproportionally target young Hispanics. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth found that young Latinos and Latinas are exposed to more alcohol advertising than their adult counterparts. Major brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Coors even have entire divisions specializing in marketing to Hispanics. The result is that Hispanic adolescents are more likely to drink and get drunk than their peers of other racial groups, and they’re more likely to start drinking at an early age. The companies encourage young Hispanics to see the celebration of Cinco de Mayo (and its many inebriated revelers) as a matter of ethnic pride, and because Hispanics are the fastest-growing group of immigrants, it’s easy to imagine that this targeted marketing is a strategy to develop customers for life.

St. Patrick’s Day is the feast day for the patron saint of Ireland. Mardi Gras is a celebration that leads up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty days of Lent. Cinco de Mayo may not be the holiday people thought it was, but it still honors an event of which Mexicans are rightly proud. Every holiday can be turned into an excuse to overindulge, but as you raise your glass in a toast this May 5, don’t forget that the celebration has origins that extend far beyond mariachi music and margaritas.

Via http://www.divinecaroline.com/22360/97907-cerveza-real-history-cinco-de#ixzz1LVSGeVMK


The Crucifixion Of Jesus: Killing A Radical

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Oldspeak: ‘It is unfortunate that the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics….Unlike the modern church that drowns in materialism and supports the military empire, Jesus advocated love, peace and harmony. As it did in his day, this message undermines the ruling establishment. Unfortunately, it is rare for the church today to challenge the status quo, a failing that Martin Luther King Jr. recognized in his famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” when he castigated the modern-day church for being “so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are’ –John W. Whitehead


By John W. Whitehead @ The Huffington Post:

“[Jesus] was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years. It was not for nothing that I wrote an article called ‘Atheists for Jesus’ (and was delighted to be presented with a T-shirt bearing the legend).” –Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

For those who profess to be Christians, the week leading up to Easter is the most sacred time of the year, commemorating as it does the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet while Jesus is a revered religious figure, he was also, as atheist Richard Dawkins recognizes, a radical in his own right whose life and teachings changed the course of history.

Too often today radicalism is equated with terrorism, extremism and other violent acts of resistance. Yet true radicalism, the kind embodied by such revolutionary figures as Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, actually involves speaking truth to power through peaceful, nonviolent means. Separated by time and distance, Christ, King and Gandhi were viewed as dangerous by their respective governments because they challenged the oppressive status quo of their day.

Jesus, in particular, undermined the political and religious establishment of his day through his teachings. For example, when Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” exhorting his followers to turn the other cheek and give freely, he was telling us that active peacemaking is the way to end war. Indeed, if everything Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount is true — a message that King, to his peril, adopted in protest of the Vietnam War — there’d be no need for wars, war budgets or military industrial complexes. Imagine that.

Unfortunately, as the gruesome torture and crucifixion of Jesus make clear, there is always a price to pay for standing up to one’s oppressors. While the New Testament Gospels are the primary source for accounts of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death, his ordeal at the hands of Roman soldiers has been the topic of scholarly research for years. Indeed, as Time magazine reports, the latest topic of academic scrutiny involves claims by an Israeli television journalist that he may have uncovered the crucifixion nails used on Jesus — “smallish iron spikes with the tips hammered to one side.”

Certainly, the torture Jesus endured was agonizing. Yet, what was it about him that caused the Romans to view him as enough of a threat to make an example of him and have him crucified?

In the time of Jesus, religious preachers and self-proclaimed prophets were not summarily arrested and executed. Nor were nonviolent protesters. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors in Jerusalem would normally allow a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that even appeared to threaten the Roman Empire.

The charges leveled against Jesus — that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King as Messiah of Israel (the gravest charge, for which Jesus was ultimately crucified, as inscribed on the cross: “The King of the Jews”) — were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion. Crucifixion itself, usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals, was not only a common method for execution by Romans but was also the most feared.

The Gospels recount how, after Jesus’ arrest, temple guards brought him to the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, who declared him guilty of blasphemy. He was then ushered before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish council, which sought permission from the Romans to execute him. Whether an actual “trial” took place before Jesus was handed over to the Romans is uncertain. But more than likely, as he was moved from place to place, he was spat upon and beaten.

It is telling that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who alone had the authority to execute Jesus, focused on his political identity:“Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11). This seems to be primarily what mattered to Pilate, whose job it was to uphold the religious, as well as the temporal, power of the deified Caesars.

Jesus does not deny the allegation which, if true, will lead to his death. He answers: “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).

In other words, Jesus told Pilate — the one person who held Jesus’ life in his hands — to stick it. The cruel torture and killing of Jesus were certain to follow after that. The fact that Jesus was killed for claiming to be king of the Jews was not an afterthought pinned on the cross above his head. The Roman soldiers commissioned to prepare him for execution knew this was the issue. That is why they gave him the burlesque of coronation, clothing him in royal purple with a mock crown and scepter. Then they abased themselves and called out, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (John 19:3). Afterward, they beat Jesus.

The mob must have played a key role in Jesus’ condemnation, although there is little extensive historical evidence to support the scene played out in films and movies in which Pontius Pilate asks the crowd to choose between Barabbas the robber and Jesus. Most likely, the pressure to appease the masses would have forced the Romans to act. As author A.N. Wilson writes, “If the crowds could be pacified by the release of Barabbas, they could perhaps be cowed into submission by a cruel public display of what happens to Jews who use words like ‘kingdom’ … to the Roman governor.” Surrendering to the people’s will, Pilate granted an execution by crucifixion.

Matthew 27:26 indicates that Jesus was severely whipped in accordance with a Roman requirement that there be a scourging before each execution (except for those involving women, Roman senators or soldiers). A Roman flagrum, a leather whip consisting of three thongs, each ending with two lead balls designed to tear flesh, was the weapon of choice for inflicting scourgings. The Romans may have even used a similar instrument, a flagellum, in which small rocks or bone fragments were also attached on the end of the thongs. This instrument was typically used to tenderize a piece of meat.

Mayo Clinic scholars note that repeated floggings to the upper and lower back with iron balls that cut deeply into his flesh would have caused Jesus to nearly go into shock from blood loss:

“As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.”

In addition to the scourging, Jesus was also crowned with thorns. Scholars have observed that the thorns digging into his scalp probably severely irritated major nerves in his head, causing increasing and excruciating pain for hours.

Medical experts speculate that the iron spikes used to nail Jesus to the cross measured from 5 to 7 inches long (the size of railroad spikes). The spikes were driven through his wrists (between the radius and the ulna and the carpals in his forearms), not his palms, and between the second and third metatarsal bones of his feet in order to support his body weight. Though the spikes were not nailed through major blood vessels, they were designed to sever major nerves, rupturing other veins and creating great pain. Added to this, hanging on the cross would have made it agonizingly difficult to breathe.

Doctors generally conclude that a combination of factors contributed to Jesus’ death on the cross: He had already lost an incredible amount of blood. He was exhausted from the beatings and from carrying his cross. Because he could only attempt to breathe by pushing his body upward with his knees and legs (often, Roman soldiers would break their victims’ legs with clubs), death by asphyxiation was inevitable. However, their most critical observation is that Jesus was already dead when Roman soldiers thrust the spear into his side.

Within a religious context, Jesus’ death was a sacrificial act of atonement for the sins of the world. In a historical context, his crucifixion sent a chilling warning to all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. As Mark Lewis Taylor, the Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, observed in an interview with OldSpeak,

“The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, ‘Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.'”

Unlike the modern church that drowns in materialism and supports the military empire, Jesus advocated love, peace and harmony. As it did in his day, this message undermines the ruling establishment. Unfortunately, it is rare for the church today to challenge the status quo, a failing that Martin Luther King Jr. recognized in his famous “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” when he castigated the modern-day church for being “so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

Written on April 16, 1963, while King was serving a jail sentence for participating in civil rights demonstrations, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was a response to eight prominent white Alabama clergymen who had called on African-Americans to cease their civil disobedience and let the courts handle the problem of desegregation. King’s words reminded Americans that the early church — the church established by Jesus’ followers — would never have been content to remain silent while injustice and persecution ruled the land:

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators” … They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

It is unfortunate that the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics.

“Christianity today often resembles an egg into which someone has poked a hole and sucked out all its contents,” writes Richard Smoley in Forbidden Faith (2006), “and then taken the shell, encrusted it with gold and jewels, and set it up as an object of veneration. In many ways, it remains a beautiful shell, but more and more people are finding that it no longer offers any nourishment. If they complain, they’re usually told that they just need to have more faith — which is of course no answer at all.”

Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire. As Mark Lewis Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus — the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be — is to be remembered.

Follow John W. Whitehead on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rutherford_inst

Why The United States Is Destroying Its Education System

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Oldspeak: ” Imagine, going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job…The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.” –Unnamed New York City School Teacher

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers–those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential–and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts–those who march to the beat of their own drum–are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work–and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system–whose primary concern is certainly not with education–are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain–not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing–but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class–an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors–poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition–are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals–themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love–love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you–but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside–including religious laws–are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur–the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

© 2011 Truthdig All rights reserved.

How Our Culture Makes Girls Think They Have To Be “Gorgeous” To Be Loved

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

Oldspeak:”The insidious messages are sent via the multi-billion dollar, fashion, cosmetics, entertainment and media industries. Don’t worry about being intelligent or concerning yourself with the problems of world around you. You “must have” the “right’ bag, the “right” dress, the “right” shoes, the “right” hair, the “right” make up, the “perfect” weight, to be considered normal and acceptable in this hyper-competitive, obsessively superficial and pathologically narcissitic culture. Countless studies and polls highlighting the social, psychological and economic advantages afforded ‘beautiful people’ in life. “Smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect.”-Hugh Schwyzer

Related Story: Nothing Tastes As Good As Skinny Feels’ Now Available On A Onesie

By Hugh Schwyzer @ Alter Net:

It’s not news that girls are feeling more pressure than ever to be perfect. As I’ve written before in my posts on the Martha Complex, this generation of teen girls is more stressed about, well, everything, than any generation of women before them.* The pressure to do well in school, the pressure to please parents and peers, and the pressure to live up to an impossible ideal of physical perfection is crushing.

Tweens and teens grow up comparing themselves to models and tv stars. Few girls feel as pretty, as sexy, as skinny as the women they see in the media. As a result, many young women conclude that happiness is something that you only get when you get to your goal weight. And even more troublingly, when it comes to relationships, lots of straight girls think that if their own bodies aren’t perfect, they have no right to expect too much from guys.

Working with high school and college-aged young women, I’ve heard the same thing more and more often in recent years. These smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect. One student said to me last year, “If I were fifteen pounds thinner, I think my boyfriend would stop looking at other girls.” She didn’t feel like she had the right to ask her guy to stop checking out other women in public. “You have to be gorgeous for a man to want to be with you and only you. I’m not, so I can’t expect that.”

A mentee of mine has a boyfriend who uses porn regularly and plays video games for hours. “Sometimes he’ll just forget to call or text because he’s gaming”, she says. “I’m lucky to get a few minutes alone with him a week when we’re not doing something sexual. But this is the way boys are – unless you’re like freakin’ Megan Fox, you can’t expect a guy’s complete attention.”

Another girl told me that she doesn’t feel like she can have a boyfriend – because she’s not pretty enough. She has a lot of hook-ups instead. “I’m the girl you get with for a blowjob”, she said; “I’m not the hot girl you hold hands with in public.” (For more on the connection between perfectionism and promiscuity, see Kerry Cohen’s forthcoming Dirty Little Secrets, to be published later this year.)

Words like these break my heart, because these bright and beautiful girls are blinded to their own worth. They don’t see that they have the right to demand respect; that they have the right to set good boundaries; that they have the right to pursue a real relationship (if they want one). Believing that only women who meet an unattainable standard of perfection “deserve” to be happy sets girls up to settle for second-best in one area where they should never compromise.

This perfectionism dovetails dangerously with another theme in young women’s lives: the “good guys are hard to find” narrative. This belief that reliable and loving young men are rare reinforces the pursuit of skinny, sexy, beauty: the fewer decent lads out there, the more “choice” those guys have. And even the decent ones, so the culture tells us, will make relationship decisions based on women’s appearance. For some, that means all the more reason to compete – and for others, all the more reason to opt out and “settle” for what they’ve been told is the best they can reasonably hope for.

We need to see how the pressure to be perfect – a pressure that is nearly omnipresent in young women’s lives, even the lives of those who don’t seem to be pursuing an ideal – is rooted in a false scarcity model. There won’t be enough for you, the culture says, unless you try harder. And if in your own eyes, you’re well short of that ideal, then you need to be realistic and settle gratefully for the crumbs.

Young women often tell stories about their girlfriends, whom they often describe as amazing and wonderful. “It’s so sad”, Jessica will say, “Amy doesn’t see what we all see. She’s so pretty and smart, but she keeps dating these losers. She doesn’t know her value.” Of course, half the time, Amy is saying the same thing about Jessica. Teen girls are almost invariably fonts of great wisdom for their peers – but lousy at taking their own advice to heart. The truth is, of course, even the young women who most closely match the rigid beauty standards are bitterly aware of how they “fall short of the mark”, at least in their own minds.

It’s not a stretch to point out that the “scarcity model” combines with perfectionism to let men off the hook time and again. The less girls believe they deserve, the less they’ll ask for – and the less young men need to provide. Until we ask who benefits from this cruel system, we’re not getting close to solving the problem.