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

Posts Tagged ‘Social Atomization’

Why Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Oldspeak: “Can you imagine the uproar, the national panic if 1 in every 78 Americans had cancer? Or was a victim of gun violence? Or if 1 in 78 Americans had AIDS? Why then is it acceptable that 1 in 78 Americans is suffering from severe and disabling mental illness? Why is it acceptable that there has been a 35 FOLD INCREASE in mental illness among children!?!!  Pathology has been normalized. Sociopathy is a key trait in the dominant institutions of our civilization (corporations) and by extension the people who work within them. 70% of Americans hate their jobs.  Lack of empathy and compassion is seen as normal.  You see it every day walking down the street; people looking upon with disdain or just plain actively ignoring the steadily growing number of homeless and mentally ill who populate our streets.  Elder abuse is institutionalized in this time where there our population is the greyest it’s ever been. Youth are increasingly disposable, with children serving as fodder for the burgeoning prison-industrial complex; pumped full of powerful toxic, illness inducing pills that no one has any idea what the long-term health effect will be. While pharmaceutical drug dealers’ profit margins explode.  Whole cities are failing while the banks & other corporations that greatly contributed to their failure are given unlimited resources. Something is terribly terribly wrong. Our society is making us crazy. Destroying our planet. How much longer well we go on without having serious discussion about restructuring our civilization in a way that healthy, beneficial and sustainable for all? ” -OSJ

By Bruce E. Levine @ AlterNet:

In “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why [3]?” (New York Review of Books, 2011), Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, discusses over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, pathologizing of normal behaviors, Big Pharma corruption of psychiatry, and the adverse effects of psychiatric medications. While diagnostic expansionism and Big Pharma certainly deserve a large share of the blame for this epidemic, there is another reason.

A June 2013 Gallup poll [4] revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have “checked out” of them. Life may or may not suck any more than it did a generation ago, but our belief in “progress” has increased expectations that life should be more satisfying, resulting in mass disappointment. For many of us, society has become increasingly alienating, isolating and insane, and earning a buck means more degrees, compliance, ass-kissing, shit-eating, and inauthenticity. So, we want to rebel. However, many of us feel hopeless about the possibility of either our own escape from societal oppression or that political activism can create societal change. So, many of us, especially young Americans, rebel by what is commonly called mental illness.

While historically some Americans have consciously faked mental illness to rebel from oppressive societal demands (e.g., a young Malcolm X acted crazy to successfully avoid military service), today, the vast majority of Americans who are diagnosed and treated for mental illness are in no way proud malingerers in the fashion of Malcolm X. Many of us, sadly, are ashamed of our inefficiency and nonproductivity and desperately try to fit in. However, try as we might to pay attention, adapt, adjust, and comply with our alienating jobs, boring schools, and sterile society, our humanity gets in the way, and we become anxious, depressed and dysfunctional.

The Mental Illness Epidemic

Severe, disabling mental illness has dramatically increased in the Untied States. Marcia Angell, in her 2011 New York Review of Bookspiece, summarizes [3]: “The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”

Angell also reports that a large survey of adults conducted between 2001 and 2003 sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that at some point in their lives, 46% of Americans met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one mental illness.

In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke [5] to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago. . . the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5. . . .Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [6] (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400% in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. By 2008, 23% of women ages 40–59 years were taking antidepressants.

The CDC, on May 3, 2013, reported [7] that the suicide rate among Americans ages 35–64 years increased 28.4% between 1999 and 2010 (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010).

The New York Times [8]reported in 2007 that the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder had increased 40-fold between 1994 and 2003. In May 2013, CDC reported in “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005–2011 [9],” the following: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”

Over-Diagnosis, Pathologizing the Normal and Psychiatric Drug Adverse Effects

Even within mainstream psychiatry, few continue to argue that the increase in mental illness is due to previous under-diagnosis of mental disorders. The most common explanations for the mental illness epidemic include recent over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, diagnoses expansionism, and psychiatry’s pathologizing normal behavior.

The first DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952 and listed 106 disorders (initially called “reactions”). DSM-2 was published in 1968, and the number of disorders increased to 182. DSM-3 was published in 1980, and though homosexuality was dropped from it, diagnoses were expanded to 265, with several child disorders added that would soon become popular, including oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). DSM-4, published in 1994, contained 365 diagnoses.

DSM-5 was published in May, 2013. The journal PLOS Medicinereported [10] in 2012, “69% of the DSM-5 task force members report having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” DSM-5 did not add as many new diagnoses [11] as had previous revisions. However, DSM-5 has been criticized even by some mainstream psychiatrists such as Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, for creating more mental patients by making it easier to qualify for a mental illness, especially for depression. (See Frances’ “Last Plea To DSM-5: Save Grief From the Drug Companies [12].”)

In the last two decades, there have been a slew of books written by journalists and mental health professionals about the lack of science behind the DSM, the over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, and the pathologizing of normal behaviors. A sample of these books includes: Paula Caplan’s They Say You’re Crazy (1995), Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk’s Making Us Crazy (1997), Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder (2007), Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (2008), Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen’s Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (2013), Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (2013), and Allen Frances’ Saving Normal (2013).

Even more remarkable than former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, Allen Frances, jumping on the DSM-trashing bandwagon has been the harsh critique [13] of DSM-5 by Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Insel recently announced that the DSM’s diagnostic categories lack validity, and that “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” And psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, former chair of the DSM-3 task force, wrote the foreword to Horwitz and Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness and is now critical [14] of DSM’s inattention to context in which the symptoms occur which, he points out, can medicalize normal experiences.

So, in just two decades, pointing out the pseudoscience of the DSM has gone from being an “extremist slur of radical anti-psychiatrists” to a mainstream proposition from the former chairs of both the DSM-3 and DSM-4 taskforces and the director of NIMH.

Yet another explanation for the epidemic may also be evolving from radical to mainstream, thanks primarily to the efforts of investigative journalist Robert Whitaker and his book Anatomy of An Epidemic [15] (2010). Whitaker argues that the adverse effects of psychiatric medications are the primary cause of the epidemic. He reports that these drugs, for many patients, cause episodic and moderate emotional and behavioral problems to become severe, chronic and disabling ones.

Examining the scientific literature that now extends over 50 years, Whitaker discovered that while some psychiatric medications for some people may be effective over the short term, these drugs increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill over the long term. Whitaker reports, “The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug—say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant—and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.”

With respect to the dramatic increase of pediatric bipolar disorder, Whitaker points out that, “Once psychiatrists started putting ‘hyperactive’ children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.” And then these children and teenagers are put on heavier duty drugs, including drug cocktails, often do not respond favorably to treatment and deteriorate. And that, for Whitaker, is a major reason for the 35-fold increase between 1987 and 2007 of children classified as being disabled by mental disorders. (See my 2010 interview with him, “Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America [16]?”)

Whitaker’s explanation for the epidemic has now, even within mainstream psychiatric institutions, entered into the debate; for example, Whitaker was invited by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to speak at their 2013 annual convention [17] that took place last June While Whitaker concludes that psychiatry’s drug-based paradigm of care is the primary cause of the epidemic, he does not rule out the possibility that various cultural factors may also be contributing to the increase in the number of mentally ill.

Mental Illness as Rebellion Against Society

“The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, is not humanly interesting. . . . In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree. . . . Ultimately such a society produces only two groups of men: the conditioners and the conditioned, the active and passive barbarians.” —Lewis Mumford, 1951

Once it was routine for many respected social critics such as Lewis Mumford and Erich Fromm to express concern about the impact of modern civilization on our mental health. But today the idea that the mental illness epidemic is also being caused by a peculiar rebellion against a dehumanizing society has been, for the most part, removed from the mainstream map. When a societal problem grows to become all encompassing, we often no longer even notice it.

We are today disengaged from our jobs and our schooling. Young people are pressured to accrue increasingly large student-loan debt so as to acquire the credentials to get a job, often one which they will have little enthusiasm about. And increasing numbers of us are completely socially isolated, having nobody who cares about us.

Returning to that June 2013 Gallup survey, “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement [18],” only 30% of workers “were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.” In contrast to this “actively engaged group,” 50% were “not engaged,” simply going through the motions to get a paycheck, while 20% were classified as “actively disengaged,” hating going to work and putting energy into undermining their workplace. Those with higher education levels reported more discontent with their workplace.

How engaged are we with our schooling? Another Gallup poll “The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each School Year [19]” (released in January 2013), reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become. The poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in 37 states in 2012, and found nearly 80% of elementary students reported being engaged with school, but by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. As the pollsters point out, “If we were doing right by our students and our future, these numbers would be the absolute opposite. For each year a student progresses in school, they should be more engaged, not less.”

Life clearly sucks more than it did a generation ago when it comes to student loan debt. According to American Student Assistance’s “Student Debt Loan Statistics [20],” approximately 37 million Americans have student loan debt. The majority of borrowers still paying back their loans are in their 30s or older. Approximately two-thirds of students graduate college with some education debt. Nearly 30% of college students who take out loans drop out of school, and students who drop out of college before earning a degree struggle most with student loans. As of October 2012, the average amount of student loan debt for the Class of 2011 was $26,600, a 5% increase from 2010. Only about 37% of federal student-loan borrowers between 2004 and 2009 managed to make timely payments without postponing payments or becoming delinquent.

In addition to the pain of jobs, school, and debt, there is increasingly more pain of social isolation. A major study reported in the American Sociological Review in 2006, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades [21],” examined Americans’ core network of confidants (those people in our lives we consider close enough to trust with personal information and whom we rely on as a sounding board). Authors reported that in 1985, 10% of Americans said that they had no confidants in their lives; but by 2004, 25% of Americans stated they had no confidants in their lives. This study confirmed the continuation of trends that came to public attention in sociologist Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone.

Underlying many of psychiatry’s nearly 400 diagnoses is the experience of helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization—culminating in a loss of autonomy and community-connectedness. Do our societal institutions promote:

  • Enthusiasm—or passivity?
  • Respectful personal relationships—or manipulative impersonal ones?
  • Community, trust, and confidence—or isolation, fear and paranoia?
  • Empowerment—or helplessness?
  • Autonomy (self-direction)—or heteronomy (institutional-direction)?
  • Participatory democracy—or authoritarian hierarchies?
  • Diversity and stimulation—or homogeneity and boredom?

Research (that I documented in Commonsense Rebellion [22]) shows that those labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do worst in environments that are boring, repetitive, and externally controlled; and that ADHD-labeled children are indistinguishable from “normals” when they have chosen their learning activities and are interested in them. Thus, the standard classroom could not be more imperfectly designed to meet the learning needs of young people who are labeled with ADHD.

As I discussed last year in AlterNet in “Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem [23],” there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities. Thus for many M.D.s and Ph.D.s, people who rebel against this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.

The reality is that with enough helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization, we rebel and refuse to comply. Some of us rebel by becoming inattentive. Others become aggressive. In large numbers we eat, drink and gamble too much. Still others become addicted to drugs, illicit and prescription. Millions work slavishly at dissatisfying jobs, become depressed and passive aggressive, while no small number of us can’t cut it and become homeless and appear crazy. Feeling misunderstood and uncared about, millions of us ultimately rebel against societal demands, however, given our wherewithal, our rebellions are often passive and disorganized, and routinely futile and self-destructive.

When we have hope, energy and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

For some Americans, no doubt, the conscious goal is to get classified as mentally disabled so as to receive disability payments (averaging $700 to 1,400 per month [24]). But isn’t that too a withdrawal of cooperation with society and a rebellion of sorts, based on the judgment that this is the best paying and least miserable financial option?

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bruce-e-levine
[3] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/?page=1
[4] http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-employee-engagement-gallup-poll-20130617,0,5878658.story
[5] http://www.nonopp.com/ar/Psicologia/00/epidemic_depersion.htm
[6] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm
[7] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a1.htm?s_cid=mm6217a1_w
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/health/04psych.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6202a1.htm?s_cid=su6202a1_w
[10] http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001190
[11] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/15-new-mental-illnesses-in-the-dsm-5-2013-05-22
[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-frances/saving-grief-from-dsm-5-a_b_2325108.html
[13] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml
[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spitzer_%28psychiatrist%29
[15] http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Epidemic-Bullets-Psychiatric-Astonishing/dp/0307452425/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354546881&sr=1-1&keywords=Anatomy+of+an+Epidemic%3A+Magic+Bullets%2C+Psychiatric+Drugs%2C+and+the+Astonishing+Rise+of+Mental+Illness+in+Ame
[16] http://www.alternet.org/story/146659/are_prozac_and_other_psychiatric_drugs_causing_the_astonishing_rise_of_mental_illness_in_america?paging=off
[17] http://www.peteearley.com/2013/07/01/nami-convention-coverage-robert-whitakers-case-against-anti-psychotics/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+peteearley+%28The+Official+Blog+of+Author+Pete+Earley%29
[18] http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/162953/tackle-employees-stagnating-engagement.aspx
[19] http://thegallupblog.gallup.com/2013/01/the-school-cliff-student-engagement.html
[20] http://www.asa.org/policy/resources/stats/
[21] http://sites.duke.edu/theatrst130s02s2011mg3/files/2011/05/McPherson-et-al-Soc-Isolation-2006.pdf
[22] http://www.amazon.com/Commonsense-Rebellion-Taking-Shrinks-Corporations/dp/0826414508/ref=pd_sim_b_2
[23] http://www.alternet.org/story/154225/would_we_have_drugged_up_einstein_how_anti-authoritarianism_is_deemed_a_mental_health_problem?paging=off
[24] http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/social-security-disability-benefits-29686.html
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mental-illness
[26] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

Oldspeak: Ginsberg would be proud. :-) This brilliant riff mirrors sooo many of my thoughts. Enjoy. Hope it speaks to you as deeply as it did to me. :-)” -OSJ

Related Content:

By David DeGraw @ Daviddegraw.org:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by debt
Struggling to get by, dying to make ends meet
Shopping for an angry fix
Wage slaves burnin’ for the illusion,
a fleeting connection to the celebrity driven machinery of slow death
Assembly line souls who had no choice but to sacrifice themselves
to the false idols
of almighty mass consumerism as their only religion
Illuminated through the church of television
& every medium of ill communication
Force-fed into their head… mind raped, since birth
Overwhelmed, sound bite attention span
Over-prescribed, bi-polar ADD youth
Bred to be numb, a dumbed down mindless consumer drone
No depth of thought, untaught
As they slept walked through universities
Not realizing the cost of it will enslave them
in a never-ending vicious cycle of debt
Naive youth first time away from home, on their own
Targeted by credit cards & loans
& taxes… to pay for endless war… against themselves
Death by a thousand cuts
Nickel & dimed, every second of… all the time
A generation chained to a game not of their making
Rat racing, inner-self repressed, freedom denied
Thinking thoughts of suicide inside sanitized walls
Surrounded by electronic plasma radiating terror, cellular cancer
Diseased souls smoking & drinking & drowning in flashing light
Trying to escape their repetitive life
by popping ecstasy & snorting coke in a paradise of bass beats in the night
Filled with… emptiness
Having random meaningless sex, hoping not to get STDs
Searching… for any hint of love & life
as they go through the motions
Day after day more of the same meaningless game
Monotonous & mundane
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Routine, repetition
Less than human
Nothing left to believe in…
Praying…
Yearning… for a last minute escape, that never comes, from this madness
Flipping… through channels & tabloids
Vicariously living through the stars
Daydream delusions of fame
While eating… genetically modified, supersized fast food & drinking diet coke
Running on a treadmill in a plastic paradise of silicone & botox
Energy bars & supplements
Downloading / streaming porn & sterile music
Hoping to meet someone, anyone, online
Instant messages from distant “friends”
Like, LOL, OMG
Fractured family, holiday acquaintances, obligations
Travel expenses, gifts, time you don’t have to give
Got to keep hustlin’
Bills to pay, bills to pay, bills to pay
Pills to sleep, pills to take away the pain, pills to lose… weight, wait
Wrapped in a womb of insecurity
Giving off the illusion of prosperity
Fancy car lease, overpriced homes they cannot afford
Overpriced doctor bills, overpriced education, overpriced… everything
Runnin’ w/ the Joneses
White picket fences… & mouths to feed
The fake grass is always greener
There is no other side
Shopping malls & destruction
Chemical pesticide, pissing in the water supply
Gas pump pumping toxins into the sky
Ultra Violet rays shinning through ozone curtains
The shade recedes, the tides rise
Tanning under toxic skies
Human waste penetrates skin
Go take a swim in an ocean of pollution
Bathing in… raw sewage
Change in… the weather
A species with a disease
The pathology of greed
Race to the bottom
lowest common
denominator
Dominated…
Chewed up & spit out
Downsized & outsourced
Head hunting for temp work
Without benefits, no vacation, sickness unpaid, no health care
Home searching, showerless in underwear
Hiding behind a computer screen
Staring blankly, clicking madly
Burning bloodshot aging eyes…
Pounding veins & frying caffeinated brains
Who have ceased asking the big questions
Scampering for small lives
Bread crumbs from the table, circuses of distraction
A generation expelled from freedom, unknowingly
for being passive soldiers in the falling empire
Who know their vote doesn’t count
Disillusioned & marginalized, a systematic farce
Blanketed by lies & a four year dog & pony ritual
Watching plastic puppet politicians spew scripted words from tongues on a teleprompter leash
Watching shocking scandal after scandal
Watching unprecedented crimes go unpunished
Watching our future be sold & auctioned off to the highest bidder
A cancerously corrupted civilization
An entire generation born to conform & be blind to wider reality
& anything not repetitively projected on the TV
Who sit thoughtlessly & apathetically while surroundings burn
The silent & passive desperation of a defeated generation
The beaten masses & mass disaster
Denial & death
with little time left…

HOWL NOW

The New Propaganda Is Liberal; The New Slavery Is Digital

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Oldspeak:Today, we prefer to believe…..”Choice” is ubiquitous. Phones are “platforms” that launch every half-thought. There is Google from outer space if you need it. Caressed like rosary beads, the precious devices are borne heads-down, relentlessly monitored and prioritized. Their dominant theme is the self. Me. My needs….today’s digital slavery. Edward Said described this wired state in his book Culture and Imperialism as taking imperialism where navies could never reach. It is the ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom.”  -John Pilger 
“In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” -Dr. Gary Allen Scott
Ever notice how all transactions, commerce, social interaction, work, play, research, learning, entertainment are being driven to digital networks and devices? Constantly encouraged to “Like us on Facebook” or “Tell us what you think on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter”Soliciting opinion via text message or internet . To share everything, all the time is seen as perfect, unlimited. Digitally reporting every piece of information about yourself is seen as cool. Face to face contact is devalued and constantly interrupted by beloved devices. Social atomization is self-directed and digital. Convenience, customization, personalization are all attributes we’re told will improve our lives increasing our personal freedom. These seductive appeals to our narcissism are  all part of “ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom“.  All activity can and is effortlessly monitored in secret.  We are gleeful and willing slaves to beloved devices that watch and listen to us. The range of acceptable opinion is further shaped & narrowed in a subtle but insidious way. Concision.  Concision of thought via instagram/facebook & twitter. Concision does not lend itself to critical thought or analysis.  And it is a highly desirable trait in a thought controlled society. “Propaganda always wins if you allow it” -Leni Riefenstahl Don’t let it win. Take steps to liberate yourselves from the propaganda.  Take an intellectual self-defense course.

By John Pilger @ Truthout:

What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her epic films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerized Germans; her Triumph of the Will cast Hitler’s spell.

She told me that the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on the “submissive void” of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? “Everyone,” she said.

Today, we prefer to believe that there is no submissive void. “Choice” is ubiquitous. Phones are “platforms” that launch every half-thought. There is Google from outer space if you need it. Caressed like rosary beads, the precious devices are borne heads-down, relentlessly monitored and prioritized. Their dominant theme is the self. Me. My needs. Riefenstahl’s submissive void is today’s digital slavery.

Edward Said described this wired state in his book Culture and Imperialism as taking imperialism where navies could never reach. It is the ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom.

Today’s “message” of grotesque inequality, social injustice and war is the propaganda of liberal democracies. By any measure of human behavior, this is extremism. When Hugo Chavez challenged it, he was abused in bad faith; and his successor will be subverted by the same zealots of the American Enterprise Institute, Harvard’s Kennedy School and the “human rights” organizations that have appropriated American liberalism and underpin its propaganda. Historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism.” He wrote, “All is normality on display. For [Nazi] goose-steppers, substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarization of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manque, blithely at work [in the White House], planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.”

Whereas a generation ago, dissent and biting satire were allowed in the “mainstream,” today their counterfeits are acceptable and a fake moral zeitgeist rules. “Identity” is all, mutating feminism and declaring class obsolete. Just as collateral damage covers for mass murder, “austerity” has become an acceptable lie. Beneath the veneer of consumerism, a quarter of Greater Manchester is reported to be living in “extreme poverty.”

The militarist violence perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of nameless men, women and children by “our” governments is never a crime against humanity. Interviewing Tony Blair ten years on from his criminal invasion of Iraq, the BBC’s Kirsty Wark gifted him a moment he could only dream of. She allowed Blair to agonize over his “difficult” decision rather than call him to account for the monumental lies and bloodbath he launched. One is reminded of Albert Speer.

Hollywood has returned to its Cold War role, led by liberals. Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo is the first feature film so integrated into the propaganda system that its subliminal warning of Iran’s “threat” is offered as Obama is preparing, yet again, to attack Iran. That Affleck’s “true story” of good-guys-vs-bad-Muslims is as much a fabrication as Obama’s justification for his war plans is lost in PR-managed plaudits. As the independent critic Andrew O’Hehir points out, Argo is “a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.” That is, it debases the art of film-making to reflect an image of the power it serves.

The true story is that, for 34 years, the US foreign policy elite have seethed with revenge for the loss of the Shah of Iran, their beloved tyrant, and his CIA-designed state of torture. When Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, they found a trove of incriminating documents, which revealed that an Israeli spy network was operating inside the US, stealing top scientific and military secrets. Today, the duplicitous Zionist ally – not Iran – is the one and only nuclear threat in the Middle East.

In 1977, Carl Bernstein, famed for his Watergate reporting, disclosed that more than 400 journalists and executives of mostly liberal US media organizations had worked for the CIA in the past 25 years. They included journalists from The New York Times, Time, and the big TV broadcasters. These days, such a formal nefarious workforce is quite unnecessary. In 2010, The New York Times made no secret of its collusion with the White House in censoring the WikiLeaks war logs. The CIA has an “entertainment industry liaison office” that helps producers and directors remake its image from that of a lawless gang that assassinates, overthrows governments and runs drugs. As Obama’s CIA commits multiple murders by drone, Affleck lauds the “clandestine service … that is making sacrifices on behalf of Americans every day … I want to thank them very much.” The 2010 Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a torture-apology, was all but licensed by the Pentagon.

The US market share of cinema box-office takings in Britain often reaches 80 percent, and the small UK share is mainly for US co-productions. Films from Europe and the rest of the world account for a tiny fraction of those we are allowed to see. In my own film-making career, I have never known a time when dissenting voices in the visual arts are so few and so silent.

For all the hand-wringing induced by the Leveson inquiry, the “Murdoch mold” remains intact. Phone-hacking was always a distraction, a misdemeanor compared to the media-wide drumbeat for criminal wars. According to Gallup, 99 percent of Americans believe Iran is a threat to them, just as the majority believed Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. “Propaganda always wins,” said Leni Riefenstahl, “if you allow it.”

John Pilger

John Pilger, Australian-born, London-based journalist, film-maker and author. For his foreign and war reporting, ranging from Vietnam and Cambodia to the Middle East, he has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism. For his documentary films, he won a British Academy Award and an American Emmy. In 2009, he was awarded Australia’s human rights prize, the Sydney Peace Prize. His latest film is “The War on Democracy.”

Corporations And The Richest Americans Viscerally Oppose Common Good

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

http://www.thedawgpound.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/the_rich_vs_the_poor.jpg

Oldspeak: “The  New Spirit of the Age: Gain Wealth, Forgetting All But Self.” No efforts have  been spared… to drive this spirit into people’s heads. People must come  to believe that suffering and deprivation result from the failure of individuals, not  the reigning socioeconomic system. There are huge industries devoted to this  task. About one-sixth of the entire US economy is devoted to what’s called “marketing,”  which is mostly propaganda. Advertising is described by analysts and the business  literature as a process of fabricating wants – a campaign to drive people to the  superficial things in life, like fashionable consumption, so that they will remain  passive and obedient.

The schools are also a target. As I mentioned, public mass education was a major  achievement, in which the US was a pioneer. But it had complex characteristics,  rooted in the sharp class conflicts of the day. One goal was to induce farmers  to give up their independence and submit themselves to industrial discipline and  accept what they regarded as wage slavery. That did not pass without notice.  Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders of his day were calling for  popular education. He concluded that their motivation was fear. The country was  filling up with millions of voters and the Masters realized that one had to therefore  “educate them, to keep them from (our) throats.”
 
In other words: educate them  the “right way” — to be obediently passive and accept their fate as right and just,  conforming to the New Spirit of the Age. Keep their perspectives narrow, their  understanding limited, discourage free and independent thought, instill docility and  obedience to keep them from the Masters’ throats.
 
This common theme from 150 years ago is inhuman and savage. It also meets  with resistance. And there have been victories. There were many in the struggles  of the 1930s, carried further in the 1960s. But systems of power never walk  away politely. They prepare a new assault. This has in fact been happening since  the early 1970s, based on major changes in the design of the economic system. – Noam Chomsky. Wage Stagnation, wealth concentration, union busting, “trade liberalization”, globalization, financialization, deindustrialization, deregulation, denial & criminalization of civil liberties,  villianization of communism and other non-capitalist/free-market economic ideologies, these are all part of the power structures’ assault on representative democracy. The key to the success of the assault is education. Dr. Chomsky elucidates a little know history of public education systems, when understood, make very clear that today’s school privatizers and monetizers are yesterdays architects of the current incarnation of  the public education system. Everything is a version of something else. The goal again is to acclimate people to common good free, free market driven, individual responsibility dominated, “keep their perspectives narrow, their  understanding limited, discourage free and independent thought, instill docility and  obedience to keep them from the Masters’ throats.”  The difference now is the one education is not necessarily compulsory for poor, working and middle class citizens. Parents are provided with a range of private choices in education for their child. Public Education will be market education. People will be forced to compete for quality well-rounded education. Austerity and conformity is being dressed up as ‘free choice’.  Check out the brilliant video below:

Related Video:
Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Education Paridigms
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

By Noam Chomsky @Alter Net:

The following is Part I of the transcript of a recent speech delivered by Noam Chomsky in February. AlterNet will publish Part II on Sunday, March 10.

Whether public education contributes to the Common Good depends, of course, on what kind of education it is, to whom it is available, and what we take to be the Common Good. There’s no need to tarry on the fact that these are highly contested  matters, have been throughout history, and continue to be so today.

One of the great achievements of American democracy has been the introduction of mass public education, from children to advanced research universities. And  in some respects that leadership position has been maintained. Unfortunately, not all. Public education is under serious attack, one component of the attack on any  rational and humane concept of the Common Good, sometimes in ways that are  not only shocking, but also spell disaster for the species.
All of this falls within the  general assault on the population in the past generation, the so-called “neoliberal era.” I’ll return to these matters, of great significance and import.
Sometimes the attacks on education and on the Common Good are very closely  linked. One current illustration is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” that is being proposed to legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative  Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the  needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth. This act mandates “balanced”  teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms.”
“Balanced teaching” is a code  phrase that refers to teaching climate change denial, to “balance” authentic climate  science – what you read in science journals. It is analogous to the “balanced  teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in  public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in  several states.
The ALEC legislation is based on a project of the Heartland Institute, a corporate-funded Institute dedicated to rejection of the scientific consensus on the  climate. The Institute project calls for a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12  Classrooms,” which aims to teach that there is “a major controversy over whether  or not humans are changing the weather.” Of course, all of this is dressed up in  rhetoric about teaching critical thinking, and so on. It is much like the current  assault on teaching children about evolution and science quite generally.
There is indeed a controversy: on one side, the overwhelming majority of  scientists, all of the world’s major National Academies of Science, the professional  science journals, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) : all agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human  component, and that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon,  maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process  will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with very severe effects on the   possibility of decent human survival.
It is rare to find such consensus on complex  scientific issues.
True, it is not unanimous. Media reports commonly present a controversy between  the overwhelming scientific consensus on one side, and skeptics on the other, including some quite respected scientists who caution that much is unknown –  which means that things might not be as bad as thought or they might be worse:  only the first alternative is brought up. Omitted from the contrived debate is a  much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who regard the  regular reports of the IPCC as much too conservative: the Climate Change group  at my own university, MIT, for example. And they have repeatedly been proven  correct, unfortunately. But they are scarcely part of the public debate, though very  prominent in the scientific literature.
The Heartland Institute and ALEC are part of a huge campaign by corporate  lobbies to try to sow doubt about the near-unanimous consensus of scientists that  human activities are having a major impact on global warming with truly ominous  implications. The campaign was openly announced, including the lobbying  organizations of the fossil fuel industry, the American Chamber of Commerce (the  main business lobby) and others. It has had an effect on public opinion, though  careful studies show that public opinion remains much closer to the scientific  consensus than policy is. That is undoubtedly why major sectors of the corporate  world are launching their attack on the educational system, to try to counter the  dangerous tendency of the public to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific  research.
You probably heard that at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting recently , Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party…We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.” ALEC  and its corporate backers, in contrast, want the country to be “the stupid nation” –  which may encourage them to join the stupid party that Jindal warned about.
The major science journals give a sense of how surreal all of this is. Take Science, the major US scientific weekly. A few weeks ago it had three news items side by side. One reported that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US, continuing  a long trend. The second reported a new study by the US Global Climate Change  Research Program providing additional evidence for rapid climate change as the  result of human activities, and discussing likely severe impacts. The third reported  the new appointments to chair the committees on science policy chosen by the  House of Representatives, where a minority of voters elected a large majority of  Republicans thanks to the shredding of the political system.
In Pennsylvania, for  example, a considerably majority voted for Democrats but they won just over one-third of House seats. All three of the new chairs deny that humans contribute to climate  change, two deny that it is even taken place, one is a longtime advocate for the  fossil fuel industry. The same issue of the journal has a technical article with new  evidence that the irreversible tipping point may be ominously close.
For those whom Adam Smith called the “Masters of Mankind,” it is important  that we must become the stupid nation in the interests of their short-term gain,  damn the consequences. These are essential properties of contemporary market  fundamentalist doctrines. ALEC and its corporate sponsors understand the  importance of ensuring that public education train children to belong to the stupid  nation, and not be misled by science and rationality.
This is far from the only case of sharp divergence between public opinion and  public policy. That tells us a lot about the current state of American democracy,  and what that means for us and the world. The corporate assault on education and  independent thought, of which this is only one striking illustration, tells us a good deal more.
In climate policy, the US lags behind other countries. Quotes a current scientific  review: “109 countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable  power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast,  the United States has no adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the  national level to foster the use of renewable energy” or adopted other means  that are being pursued by countries that do have national policies. Some things are being done in the US, but sporadically, and with no organized national  commitment. That’s no slight problem for us, and for the world, in the light of  the great predominance of American power – declining to be sure as power is  diversified internationally, but still unchallenged.
There are other respects in which the concept of Common Good that has come  to dominate policy – but not opinion — in the US is diverging from the affluent  developed societies of the OECD, and many others. A recent OECD study  shows that the US ranks 27th  out of 31 countries in measures of social justice,  barely above Mexico. It ranks 21st in inequality, poverty, life expectancy, infant  mortality, maternity leave, environmental performance, 18th  in mental health and  19th in welfare of children. Also ranks toward the bottom in high-school dropout  rates and poor student performance in math.
Figures like these are signs of  very severe systemic disorders; particularly striking because the US is the richest country in the world, with incomparable advantages.
Another crucial case is healthcare. US costs are about twice the per capita  costs of comparable countries, and outcomes are relatively poor. Studied by  economist Dean Baker reveal that the deficit that obsesses the financial sector and  Washington, but not the more realistic public, would be eliminated if we had health care systems similar to other developed societies, hardly a utopian idea. The US  healthcare system deviates from others in that it is largely privatized and lightly  regulated, and – not surprisingly – is highly inefficient and costly. There is an  exception in the US healthcare system: the Veterans Administration, a government  system, much less costly.
Another partial exception is Medicare, a government-run system, hence with far lower administrative costs and other waste, but still  more costly than it should be because it has to work through the privatized system  and is trapped by the extraordinary political power of the pharmaceutical industry,  which prevents the government from negotiating drug prices so that they are far  higher than in other countries.
Current policy ideas include proposals to increase age eligibility to cut costs:  actually it increases costs (along with penalizing mostly working people) by  shifting from a relatively efficient system to a highly inefficient privatized one. But  the costs are transferred to individuals and away from collective action through  taxes. And the concept of the Common Good that is being relentlessly driven into  our heads demands that we focus on our own private gain, and suppress normal  human emotions of solidarity, mutual support and concern for others. That I think  is also an important part of what lies behind the assault on public education and  on Social Security that has been waged by sectors of corporate wealth for years,  on pretexts of cost that cannot be sustained, and against strong public opposition.
What lies behind these campaigns, I suspect, is that public education and Social S ecurity, like national healthcare, are based on the conception that we care for other people: we care that the disabled widow across town has food to eat, or  that the kids down the street have schooling (“why should I pay taxes for schools? I don’t have kids there”). And beyond that, that we care about the tens of millions are  dying every year because they cannot obtain medical care, or about dying infants,  and others who are vulnerable.
These conflicts go far back in American history. It’s particularly useful to look  back to the origins of the industrial revolution, in the mid-19th century, when the  country was undergoing enormous social changes as the population was being  driven into the industrial system, which working people bitterly condemned,  because it deprived them of their basic rights as free men and women – not the least  women, the so-called factory girls, who were leaving the farms to the mills.
It is worth reading the contributions in the press of the time by factory  girls, artisans from Boston, and others. It’s also important to note that working- class culture of the time was alive and flourishing. There’s a great book about  the topic by Jonathan Rose, called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. It’s a monumental study of the reading habits of the working class of the  day. He contrasts “the passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts”  with the “pervasive philistinism of the British aristocracy.”
Pretty much the same  was true in the new working-class towns here, like eastern Massachusetts, where  an Irish blacksmith might hire a young boy to read the classics to him while he  was working. On the farms, the factory girls were reading the best contemporary  literature of the day, what we study as classics. They condemned the industrial  system for depriving them of their freedom and culture.
This went on for a long  time. I am old enough to remember the atmosphere of the 1930s. A large part of  my family came from the unemployed working-class. Many had barely gone to  school. But they participated in the high culture of the day. They would discuss  the latest Shakespeare plays, concerts of the Budapest String Quartet, different  varieties of psychoanalysis and every conceivable political movement. There was also a very lively workers’ education system with which leading scientists  and mathematicians were directly involved. A lot of this has been lost under the relentless assault of the Masters, but it can be recovered and it is not lost forever.
The labor press of the early industrial revolution took strong positions on many  issues that should have a resonance today. They took for granted that, as they  put it, those who work in the mills should own them. They condemned wage  labor, which to them was akin to slavery, the only difference being that it was  supposedly temporary.
This was such a popular view that it was even part of the  program of the Republican Party. It was also a main theme of the huge organized  labor movement that was taking shape, the Knights of Labor, which began to  establish links with the most important popular democratic party in the country’s  history, the Farmers Alliance, later called the Populist movement, which originated  with radical farmers in Texas and then spread through much of the country,  forming collective enterprises, banks and marketing cooperatives and much more,  movements that could have driven the country toward more authentic democracy  if they had not been destroyed, largely by violence – though, interestingly,  similar developments are underway today in the old Rust Belt and elsewhere, very  important for the future, I think.
The prime target of condemnation in the labor press was what they called “The  New Spirit of the Age: Gain Wealth, Forgetting All But Self.” No efforts have  been spared since then to drive this spirit into people’s heads. People must come  to believe that suffering and deprivation result from the failure of individuals, not  the reigning socioeconomic system. There are huge industries devoted to this  task. About one-sixth of the entire US economy is devoted to what’s called “marketing,”  which is mostly propaganda. Advertising is described by analysts and the business  literature as a process of fabricating wants – a campaign to drive people to the  superficial things in life, like fashionable consumption, so that they will remain  passive and obedient.
The schools are also a target. As I mentioned, public mass education was a major  achievement, in which the US was a pioneer. But it had complex characteristics,  rooted in the sharp class conflicts of the day. One goal was to induce farmers  to give up their independence and submit themselves to industrial discipline and  accept what they regarded as wage slavery. That did not pass without notice.  Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders of his day were calling for  popular education. He concluded that their motivation was fear. The country was  filling up with millions of voters and the Masters realized that one had to therefore  “educate them, to keep them from (our) throats.”
In other words: educate them  the “right way” — to be obediently passive and accept their fate as right and just,  conforming to the New Spirit of the Age. Keep their perspectives narrow, their  understanding limited, discourage free and independent thought, instill docility and  obedience to keep them from the Masters’ throats.
This common theme from 150 years ago is inhuman and savage. It also meets  with resistance. And there have been victories. There were many in the struggles  of the 1930s, carried further in the 1960s. But systems of power never walk  away politely. They prepare a new assault. This has in fact been happening since  the early 1970s, based on major changes in the design of the economic system.
Two crucial changes were financialization, with a huge explosion of speculative  financial flows, and deindustrialization. Production didn’t cease. It just began to  be offshored anywhere where you could get terrible working conditions and no  environmental constraints, with huge profits for the Masters. Within the US, that  set off a vicious cycle, leading to sharp concentration of wealth, which translates at  once to concentration of political power, increasingly in the financial sector. That  in turn leads to legislation that carries the vicious cycle forward, including sharp  tax reduction for the rich and deregulation, with repeated financial crises from  the ‘80s, each worse than the last. The current one is so far the worst of all. And  others are likely in what a director of the Bank of England calls a “doom loop.”
There are solutions, but they do not fit the needs of the Masters, for whom the  crises are no problem. They are bailed out by the Nanny State. Today corporate  profits are breaking new records and the financial managers who created the  current crisis are enjoying huge bonuses.  Meanwhile, for the large majority, wages and income have practically stagnated in  the last 30-odd years. By today, it has reached the point that 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans.
In parallel, the cost of elections has skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper  into the pockets of those with the money, corporations and the super-rich. Political representatives become even more beholden to those who paid for their victories.  One consequence is that by now, the poorest 70% have literally no influence over  policy. As you move up the income/wealth ladder influence increases, and at the  very top, a tiny percent, the Masters get what they want.

Copyright Noam Chomsky, 2013

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Eye reflecitng TVOldspeak: ” A popular governemt without popular information of the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” – James Madison (1798)The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself. -Henry A. Giroux (2013)The founding fathers knew all too well the indispensable importance of an informed citizenry to a vibrant democracy. My how things have changed in the ensuing 215 years. Learned ignorance is ubiquitous. As more and more actions of government, business &  industry are executed in secret (no pun intended), the further democracy recedes from view. The press which had the task of providing a check for the people against government and oligarchical overreach has been co-opted by the omnipresent corptalitarian state, becoming its formidable and highly effective propaganda arm. More information about the workings of government and business is conducted behind closed doors than ever before. Industry friendly lobbyists write entirely too much of the legislation our so-called elected officials pass in to law, that the people who know nothing about said laws must live under. Elected officials don’t have time to educate themselves sufficiently about the laws they pass because they spend most of their time collecting money from corprocrats who direct them what laws to pass and what laws to do away with. At some point the status quo will become untenable to the people. It’s probably why voting rights are being done away with. It’s probably why rights to free speech, free assembly and petitioning the government for grievances are being restricted. It’s probably why freedom from warrantless surveillance, search and seizure has been removed. It’s probably why protest has been designated as “low-level terrorism” and it’s frightfully easy to be labeled a “terrorist”. It’s probably why the Obama Administration refuses to definitively state that it’s claimed the right to assassinate Americans on American soil, that it has conveniently designated as a “battlefield“. The pieces have been put in to lock down this “turnkey totalitarian state“. As conditions deteriorate, it will begin to take a more tangible shape.” “Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

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

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

Endnotes

1.
David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

2.
See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals

3.
See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti War.com (February 26, 2013). On line: http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2013/02/25/boots-on-campus/ and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,” New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/sports/ncaafootball/a-company-that-runs-prisons-will-have-its-name-on-a-stadium.html?_r=0

4.
Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

5.
Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online: http://www.thenation.com/article/163690/cruel-america

6.
Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/18/cops-nab-five-year-old-wearing-wrong-color-shoes-school

7.
Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/since-recession-more-young-americans-are-homeless.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

8.
Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/24/guns-children_n_2359661.html

9.
John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0115-01.htm

10.
Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

11.
See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

12.
Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).

13.
Ibid.

14.
Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

15.
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

16.
This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

17.
I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

18.
Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

19.
Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-f-35-a-weapon-that-costs-more-than-australia/72454/

20.
John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

21.
Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

22.
Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online: http://www.alternet.org/story/155515/is_texas_waging_war_on_history

23.
Ibid.

24.
See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

25.
Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,”Desmogblog.com (January 31, 2013). Online: www.desmogblog.com/2013/01/31/three-states-pushing-alec-bill-climate-change-denial-schools

26.
Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

27.
John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online: https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/18-2

28.
Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

29.
Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

30.
James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/jan/07/an-open-letter-to-my-sister-miss-angela-davis/?pagination=false

31.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

32.
Ibid, 296.

33.
James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Henry A Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books:   Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is http://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.

Dangerous Pedagogy In The Age Of Casino Capitalism & Religious Fundamentalism

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

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

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Responsibility of Teachers as Public Intellectuals

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

Critical Pedagogy as a Project of Intervention

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

Critical Pedagogy as a Matter of Context, Ethics and Politics

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

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

Critical Pedagogy and the Promise of Democratization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom Authority and Pedagogy as the Outcome of Struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Pedagogical More Meaningful

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

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

How Private For-Profit Online Learning Corporations, Wall Street & “Education Philanthropists” Bought America’s Pubic Schools

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Oldspeak:” The hostile take over of Public Education is full swing. Your kids education is the next “bubble”. Children’s education is being viewed as a cash cow to be milked dry by wall street investment bankers and computer magnates via their “Educational Philanthropies”.  America’s Public School system is being outsourced to private profit-driven “education” corporations, with the financial backing of wall street titans like Goldman Sachs & Merrill Lynch, and computer titans Microsoft & Dell. In a trend that is great for business and terrible for children, teachers are being replaced with computers.  And in this age of austerity, with dwindling educations budgets,  less money to pay high-quality and well-trained flesh and blood teachers, teacher  are being fired and ‘e-learning’ is being held up as a viable option for the existential task of  effectively educating our children. Nevermind the fact that the “education” provided by cyberschool companies is nowhere near as effective as that provided in traditional schools with people. And much like what was done during the sub-prime morgage lending bubble, poor people and communities are being exploited. Subsidies slated for free public education are being diverted to private, for-profit “education”. High-powered lobbyists are being employed to push “education reform” legislation that is in benfits everyone but children. Left unasked are other important questions – Where will children learn their social skills? Their respect for elders and authority figures? How to work and play well with others?  Social Atomization is being institutionalized. Divide and conquer has gone digital.. “Profit Is Paramount” “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

Why Is Public Education Being Outsourced to Online Charter Schools?

By Lee Fang @ The Nation:

If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

But as recently as last year, the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight. SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee. Charlie Crist, then the Republican governor, vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure. The move, seen as a political offering to the teachers unions, disheartened privatization reform advocates. At one point, the GOP’s budget proposal even suggested a cut for state aid going to virtual school programs.

Lamenting this series of defeats, Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

If Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.

But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”

Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation. Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.

In Florida, only fourteen months after Crist handed a major victory to teachers unions, a new governor, Rick Scott, signed a radical bill that could have the effect of replacing hundreds of teachers with computer avatars. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, appointed Levesque as one of his education advisers. His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation.

“I’ve never seen it like this in ten years,” remarked Ron Packard, CEO of virtual education powerhouse K12 Inc., on a conference call in February. “It’s almost like someone flipped a switch overnight and so many states now are considering either allowing us to open private virtual schools” or lifting the cap on the number of students who can use vouchers to attend K12 Inc.’s schools. Listening to a K12 Inc. investor call, one could mistake it for a presidential campaign strategy session, as excited analysts read down a list of states and predict future victories.

Good for Business; Kids Not So Much

While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.

Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”

Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.

Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.

As Moe ticked through the various reasons education is the next big “undercapitalized” sector of the economy, like healthcare in the 1990s, he also read through a list of notable venture investment firms that recently completed deals relating to the education-technology sector, including Sequoia and Benchmark Capital. Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm and one of the first to back Amazon.com and Google, is now investing in education technology, Moe noted.

The press release for Moe’s education summit promised attendees a chance to meet a set of experts who have “cracked the code” in overcoming “systemic resistance to change.” Fenty, still recovering from his loss in the DC Democratic primary, urged attendees to stand up to the teachers union “bully.” Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, likened the conflict to war, according to a summary posted on the conference website. “There’s an air game,” said Hage, “but there’s also a ground game going on.” “Investors are going to have to support” candidates and “push back against the pushback.” Carlos Watson, a former cable news host now working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs specializing in for-profit education, guided a conversation dedicated simply to the politics of reform.

Sponsors of the event ranged from various education reform groups funded by hedge-fund managers, like the nonprofit Education Reform Now, to ABS Capital, a private equity firm with a stake in education-technology companies like Teachscape. At smaller breakout sessions, education enterprises made their pitches to potential investors.

Another sponsor, a group called School Choice Week, was launched last year as a public relations gimmick to take advantage of the opportunity for rapid education reforms. Although it is billed as a network of students and parents, School Choice Week is one of the many corporate-funded tactics to press virtual school reforms. The first School Choice Week campaign push earlier this year featured highly produced press packets, sample letters to the editor, a sign in Times Square and rallies for virtual and charter schools organized with help from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The blitz got positive press coverage, providing “grassroots” cover for newly elected politicians who made school privatization their first priority.

A combination of factors has made this year what Moe calls an “inflection point” in the march toward public school privatization. For one thing, recession-induced fiscal crises and austerity have pressured states to cut spending. In some cases, as in Florida, where educating students at the Florida Virtual School costs nearly $2,500 less than at traditional schools, such reform has been sold as a budget fix. At the same time, the privatization push has gone hand in hand with the ratcheting up of attacks on teachers unions by partisan groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity, seeking to weaken the union-backed Democrats in the 2012 election. All of this has set the stage for education industry lobbyists to achieve an unprecedented expansion in for-profit elementary through high school education.

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning—a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers.

* * *

Like many “education entrepreneurs,” Moe remains a player in the education reform movement, pushing policies that have the potential to benefit his clients. In addition to advising prominent politicians like Senator John McCain, Moe is a board member of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-privatization think tank that issues policy papers and ads to influence the debate. Earlier this year, the group dropped $70,000 on an ad campaign in Pennsylvania comparing those who oppose a new measure to expand vouchers to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, who blocked African-American children from entering white schools.

Moe isn’t the only member of the Center for Education Reform with a profound conflict of interest. CER president Jeanne Allen doubles as the head of TAC Public Affairs, a government relations firm that has represented several top education for-profits. Allen, whose clients have included Kaplan Education and Charter Schools USA, served as transition adviser to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on education reform.

Corbett, a Republican who rode the Tea Party election wave in 2010, supports a major voucher expansion that is working its way through the state legislature. The expansion would be a windfall for companies like K12 Inc., which currently operates one Pennsylvania school under the limited charter law on the books. According to disclosures reported in Business Week, Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School—K12 Inc.’s online school, which allows students to take all their courses at home using a computer—generated $31.6 million for K12 Inc. in the past academic year.

Thirteen other states have enacted laws to expand or initiate so-called school choice programs this year. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has pushed the hardest, enacting a law that removes the cap on the number of charter schools in his state, authorizes all universities to register charters and expands an existing voucher program in the state for students to attend private and charter schools (in some cases managed by for-profit companies). Critics note that Daniels’s law allows public money to flow to religious institutions as well. Twenty-seven other states, in addition to Pennsylvania, have voucher expansion laws pending. And states like Florida are embracing tech-friendly education reform to require that students take online courses to graduate. In Idaho this November, the state board of education approved a controversial plan to require at least two online courses for graduation.

“We think that’s so important because every student, regardless of what they do after high school, they’ll be learning online,” said Tom Vander Ark, a prominent online education advocate, on a recently distributed video urging the adoption of online course requirements. Vander Ark, a former executive director of education at the influential Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for the online course requirement. Like Moe, he keeps one foot in the philanthropic world and another in business. He sits on the board of advisors of Democrats for Education Reform and is partner to an education-tech venture capital company, Learn Capital. Learn Capital counts AdvancePath Academics, which offers online coursework for students at risk of dropping out, as part of its investment portfolio. When Vander Ark touts online course requirements, it is difficult to discern whether he is selling a product that could benefit his investments or genuinely believes in the virtue of the idea.

To be sure, some online programs have potential and are necessary in areas where traditional resources aren’t available. For instance, online AP classes serve rural communities without access to qualified teachers, and there are promising efforts to create programs that adapt to the needs of students with special learning requirements. But by and large, there is no evidence that these technological innovations merit the public resources flowing their way. Indeed, many such programs appear to be failing the students they serve.

A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.

“Why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?” asked Ed Fuller, an education researcher at Pennsylvania State University, on his blog.

The frenzy to privatize America’s K-12 education system, under the banner of high-tech progress and cost-saving efficiency, speaks to the stunning success of a public relations and lobbying campaign by industry, particularly tech companies. Because of their campaign spending, education-tech interests are major players in elections. In 2010, K12 Inc. spent lavishly in key races across the country, including a last-minute donation of $25,000 to Idahoans for Choice in Education, a political action committee supporting Tom Luna, a self-styled Tea Party school superintendent running for re-election. Since 2004, K12 Inc. alone has spent nearly $500,000 in state-level direct campaign contributions, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. David Brennan, Chairman of White Hat Management, became the second-biggest Ohio GOP donor, with more than $4.2 million in contributions in the past decade.

The Alliance for School Choice, a national education reform group, set up PACs in several states to elect state lawmakers. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, American Federation for Children spent $500,000 in media in the lead-up to Wisconsin’s recall elections. AFC shares leaders, donors, and a street address with ASC. Bill Oberndorf, one of the main donors to the group, had been associated with Voyager Learning, an online education company, for years. A few months ago, Cambium Learning, the parent company of Voyager, paid Oberndorf’s investment firm $4.9 million to buy back Oberndorf’s stock. Cambium currently offers a fleet of supplemental education tools for school districts. With the recent acquisition of Class.com, a smaller online learning business, the company announced its entry into the virtual charter school and online course market.

Allies of the Right

Lobbyists for virtual school companies have also embedded themselves in the conservative infrastructure. The International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL), the trade association for EdisonLearning, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., American Virtual Academy, Apex Learning and other leading virtual education companies, is a case in point. A former Bush appointee at the Education Department, iNACOL president Susan Patrick traverses right-leaning think tanks spreading the gospel of virtual schools. In the past year, she has addressed the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group dedicated to setting up laissez-faire nonprofits all over the world, as well as the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Two pivotal conservative organizations have helped Patrick in her campaigns for virtual schools: the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network. SPN nurtures and establishes state-based policy and communication nonprofits with a right-wing bent. ALEC, the thirty-eight-year-old conservative nonprofit, similarly coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. Special task forces composed of corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers write “template” legislation [see John Nichols, “ALEC Exposed,” August 1/8]. Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. Mickey Revenaugh, an executive at virtual-school powerhouse Connections Learning, co-chairs the education policy–writing department of ALEC.

At SPN’s annual conference in Cleveland last year, held two months before the midterm elections, the think tank network adopted a new push for education reform, specifically embracing online technology and expanding vouchers. Patrick opened the event and led a session about virtual schools with Anthony Kim, president of the virtual-school business Education Elements.

SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories. But SPN’s conference had less to do with policy than with tactics. Kyle Olson, a Republican operative infamous in Michigan and other states for his confrontational attacks on unionized teachers, gave a presentation on labor reform in K-12 education. Stanford Swim, heir to a Utah-based investment fortune and head of a traditional-values foundation, ran a workshop at the conference on creating viral videos to advance the cause. He said policy papers wouldn’t work. Tell your scholars, “Sorry, this isn’t a white paper,” Swim advised. “You gotta go there,” he continued, “and it’s because that’s where the audience is.” “If it’s vulgar, so what?” he added.

Since the conference, SPN’s state affiliates have taken a lead role in pushing virtual schools. Several of its state-based affiliates, like the Buckeye Institute in Ohio, set up websites claiming that unions—the only real opposition to ending collective bargaining and the expansion of charter school reforms—led to overpaid teachers and budget deficits. In Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute’s “news crew” laid the groundwork for Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining by creating news reports denouncing protesters and promoting the governor. In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.

State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish. As the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based liberal watchdog, notes, the bill closely resembles legislative templates put forward by ALEC.

Although SPN’s unique contribution to the debate has been clever web videos and online smear sites, the group’s affiliates have also continued the traditional approach of policy papers. In Washington State, the Freedom Foundation published “Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Public Education in Washington”; Nebraska’s Platte Institute released “The Vital Need for Virtual Schools in Nebraska”; and the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based SPN affiliate, equipped lawmakers with a guide called “Thinking Outside the Building: Online Education.” SPN think tanks in Maine, Maryland and other states have pressed virtual school reforms. Patrick visited SPN state groups and gave pep talks about how to sell the issue to lawmakers.

Meanwhile, ALEC has continued to slip laws written by education-tech lobbyists onto the books. In Tennessee, Republican State Representative Harry Brooks didn’t even bother changing the name of ALEC’s Virtual Public Schools Act before introducing it as his own legislation. Asked by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey where he got the idea for the bill, Brooks readily admitted that a K12 Inc. lobbyist helped him draft it. Governor Bill Haslam signed Brooks’s bill into law in May. The statute allows parents to apply nearly every dollar the state typically spends per pupil, almost $6,000 in most areas, to virtual charter schools, as long as they are authorized by the state.

SPN’s fall 2010 conference featured the man perhaps happiest with the explosion in virtual education: Jeb Bush. “I have a confession to make,” he said with grin. “I am a real policy geek, and this is like the epicenter of geekdom.” Bush shared his experiences initiating some of the nation’s first for-profit and virtual charter school reforms as the governor of Florida, acknowledging his policy ideas came from some in the room. (The local SPN affiliate in Tallahassee is the James Madison Institute.)

Bush: Man Behind the Virtual Curtain

Jeb Bush campaigned vigorously in 2010 to expand such reforms, with tremendous success. About a month after the election, he unveiled his road map for implementing a far-reaching ten-point agenda for virtual schools and online coursework. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, a Democrat, has barnstormed the country to encourage lawmakers to adopt Bush’s plan, which calls for the permanent financing of education-technology reforms, among other changes. In one promotional video, Wise says it is “not only about the content” of the online courses but the “process” of students becoming acquainted with learning on the Internet.

The key pillar of Bush’s plan is to make sure virtual education isn’t just a new option for taxpayer money but a requirement. And several states, like Florida, have already adopted online course requirements. As Idaho Republicans faced a public referendum on their online course requirement rule last summer, Bush arrived in the state to show his support. “Implemented right, you’re going to see rising student achievement,” said Bush, praising Idaho Governor Butch Otter and school superintendent Tom Luna, who was elected with campaign donations from the online-education industry. Bush also claimed that making high school students take online classes would “put Idaho on the map” as a “digital revolution takes hold.” Bush was in Michigan in June to testify for Governor Rick Snyder’s suite of education reform ideas, which include uncapped expansion of virtual schools, and he was back in the state in July to continue to press for reforms.

In August, at ALEC’s annual conference in New Orleans, the education task force officially adopted Bush’s ten elements agenda. Mickey Revenaugh, the virtual school executive overseeing the committee, presided over the vote endorsing the measure. But when does Bush’s advocacy, typically reported in the press as the work of a former governor with education experience advising the new crop of Republicans, cross the threshold into corporate lobbying?

The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of “facilitating growth” of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.

Like other digital reform advocates, the Bush nonprofit is also supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s foundation. The fact that a nonprofit that receives funding from both the Gates Foundation and Microsoft pressures states to adopt for-profit education reforms may raise red flags with some in the philanthropy community, as Microsoft, too, has moved into the education field. The company has tapped into the K-12 privatization expansion by supplying a range of products, from traditional Windows programs to servers and online coursework platforms. It also contracts with Florida Virtual School to provide cloud computer solutions. Similarly, Dell is seeking new opportunities in the K-12 market for its range of desktop products, while the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the charitable nonprofit founded by Dell’s CEO, promotes neoliberal education reforms.

Through Bush, education-technology companies have found a shortcut to encourage states to adopt e-learning reforms. Take his yearly National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At the most recent summit, held in San Francisco in mid-October, a group of more than 200 state legislators and state education department officials huddled in a ballroom over education-technology strategy. Rich Crandall, a state senator from Arizona, said to hearty applause that he had developed a local think tank to support the virtual school reforms he helped usher into law. Toward the end of the discussion, Vander Ark, acting as an emcee, walked around the room acknowledging lawmakers who had recently passed pro–education tech laws this year. He handed the microphone to Kelli Stargel, a state representative from Florida, who stood up and boasted of creating “virtual charter schools, so we can have innovation in our state.”

Throughout the day, lawmakers mingled with education-technology lobbyists from leading firms, like Apex Learning and K12 Inc. Some of the distance learning reforms were taught in breakout sessions, like one called “Don’t Let a Financial Crisis Go to Waste,” an hourlong event that encouraged lawmakers to use virtual schools as a budget-cutting measure. Mandy Clark, a staffer with Bush’s foundation, walked around handing out business cards, offering to e-mail sample legislation to legislators.

The lobbying was evident to anyone there. But for some of those present, Bush didn’t go far enough. David Byer, a senior manager with Apple in charge of developing education business for the company, groaned and leaned over to another attendee sitting at the edge of the room after a lunch session. “You have this many people together, why can’t you say, ‘Here are the ten elements, here are some sample bills’?” said Byer to David Stevenson, who nodded in agreement. Stevenson is a vice president of News Corporation’s education subsidiary, Wireless Generation, an education-technology firm that specializes in assessment tools. It was just a year ago that News Corp. announced its intention to enter the for-profit K-12 education industry, which Rupert Murdoch called “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

As attendees stood up to leave the hall, the phalanx of lobbyists surrounding the room converged, buttonholing legislators and school officials. On a floor above the main hall, an expo center had been set up, with companies like McGraw-Hill, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., proud sponsors of the event, providing information on how to work with politicians to make education technology a reality.

Patricia Levesque, a Bush staffer speaking at the summit and the former governor’s right hand when it comes to education reform, does not draw a direct salary from Bush’s nonprofit despite the fact that she is listed as its executive director, and tax disclosures show that she spends about fifty hours a week at the organization. Instead, her lobbying firm, Meridian Strategies, supplies her income. The Foundation for Florida’s Future, another Bush nonprofit, contracts with Meridian, as do online technology companies like IQ-ity Innovation, which paid her up to $20,000 for lobbying services at the beginning of this year. The unorthodox arrangement allows donors to Bush’s group to avoid registering actual lobbyists while using operatives like Levesque to influence legislators and governors on education technology.

Levesque’s contract with IQ-ity raises questions about Bush’s foundation work. As Mother Jones recently reported, the founder of IQ-ity, William Lager, also founded an education company with a poor track record. Lager’s other education firm, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is the largest provider of virtual schools in Ohio. ECOT schools have consistently underperformed; though the company serves more than 10,000 children, its graduation rate has never broken 40 percent. The company was fined for billing the state to serve more than 2,000 students in one month, when only seven children logged on during the same time period. Nevertheless, after Levesque spent at least two years as a registered lobbyist for Lager’s firm, Bush traveled to Ohio to give the commencement speech for ECOT. “ECOT proves a glimpse into what’s possible,” Bush said with pride, “by harnessing the power of technology.”

* * *

Levesque is no ordinary lobbyist. She is credited with encouraging the type of bare-knuckle politics now common in the wider education-reform movement. In an audio file obtained by The Nation, she and infamous anti-union consultant Richard Berman outlined a strategy in October 2010 for sweeping the nation with education reforms. The two spoke at the Philanthropy Roundtable, a get-together of major right-wing foundations. Lori Fey, a representative of the Michael Dell Foundation, moderated the panel discussion.

Rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level?” Berman asked. “Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts.” He then answered his own question: “We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.” Berman’s glossy ads, which have run in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, portray teachers unions as schoolyard bullies. One spot even seems to compare teachers to child abusers. Although Berman does not reveal his donors, he made clear in his talk that the foundations in the room were supporting his campaign.

Levesque ended the strategy discussion with a larger strategic question. She pointed to the example of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donating $100 million to Newark schools. She then asked the crowd to imagine instead raising $100 million for political races where we “could sway a couple of seats to have more education reform.” “Just shifting a little bit of your focus,” she added, noting that new politicians could have a greater impact.

Levesque’s ask has become reality. According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.

A day before he opened his education reform conference to the media recently, Bush hosted another education meeting. This event, a private affair in the Palace Hotel, was a reconvening of investors and strategists to plan the next leg of the privatization campaign. Michael Moe, Susan Patrick, Tom Vander Ark and other major players were invited. I waited outside the event, trying to get what information I could. I asked Mayor Fenty how I could get in. “Just crash in, come on in,” he laughed, adding, “so what company are you with?” When he learned that I was a reporter, he shook his head. “Oh, nah, you’re not welcome, then.”

An invitation had billed the exclusive gathering as a chance for “philanthropists and venture capitalists” to figure out how to “leverage each other’s strengths”—a concise way to describe how for-profit virtual school companies are using philanthropy as a Trojan horse.

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

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

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

By Greg Palast @ Dissident Voice:

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

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

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

Wow! US television finally grabs the Big Issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***** 

And to all a good night.

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

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

The Police State Makes Its Move: Retaining One’s Humanity In The Face of Tyranny

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Oldspeak:”The 1% and their paid operatives–local city officials–are striving to protect an unjust, inherently dishonest status quo. Lacking a moral mandate, they are prone to the use of police state forms of repression. The corporate/national security state, by its very nature is anti-liberty and anti-freedom. Of course, its defenders give lip service to the concept of freedom. If justice is to prevail, it seems, the air of U.S. cities will hold the acrid sting of tear gas, the jails will again be filled, the brave will endure brutality–yet the corrupt system will crumble. Because the system’s protectors themselves will bring it down by revealing its empty nature, and the corrupt structure will collapse from within“-Phil Rockstroh

 

By Phil Rockstroh @ Common Dreams

For days now, we have endured demonstrably false propaganda that the fallen soldiers of U.S. wars sacrificed their lives for “our freedoms.” Yet, as that noxious nonsense still lingers in the air, militarized police have invaded OWS sites in numerous cities, including Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, and, in the boilerplate description of the witless courtesans of the corporate media, with the mission to “evict the occupiers”.

Hundreds of NYC riot police forcibly evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park early on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.U.S soldiers died protecting what and who again? These actions should make this much clear: The U.S. military and the police exist to protect the 1%. At this point, the ideal of freedom will be carried by those willing to resist cops and soldiers. There have been many who have struggled and often died for freedom–but scant few were clad in uniforms issued by governments.

Freedom rises despite cops and soldiers not because of them. And that is exactly why those who despise freedom propagate military hagiography and fetishize those wearing uniforms–so they can give the idea of liberty lip service as all the while they order it crushed.

When anyone tells you that dead soldiers and veterans died for your freedom, it is your duty to occupy reality and inform them of just how mistaken they are. And if you truly cherish the concepts of freedom and liberty, you just might be called on to face mindless arrays of fascist cops and lose your freedom, for a time, going to jail, so others might, at some point, gain their freedom.

I was born in Birmingham Alabama, at slightly past the mid-point of the decade of the 1950s. Many of my earliest memories involve the struggle for civil rights that was transpiring on the streets of my hometown.

My father was employed at a scrap metal yard but also worked as a freelance photojournalist who hawked his work to media photo syndicates such as Black Star who then sold his wares to the major newsmagazines of the day. A number of the iconic photographs of the era were captured by his Nikon camera e.g., of vicious police dogs unleashed on peaceful demonstrators; of demonstrators cartwheeled down city streets by the force of fire hoses; of Dr. King and other civil rights marchers kneeled in prayer before arrays of Police Chief Bull Connor’s thuggish ranks of racist cops.

In Birmingham, racist laws and racial and economic inequality were the progenitors of acts of official viciousness. The social structure in place was indefensible. Reason and common decency held no dominion in the justifications for the established order that was posited by the system’s apologists and enforcers; therefore, brutality filled the void created by the absence of their humanity.

And the same situation is extant in the growing suppression of the OWS movement in various cities, nationwide, including Liberty Park in Lower Manhattan. The 1% and their paid operatives–local city officials–are striving to protect an unjust, inherently dishonest status quo. Lacking a moral mandate, they are prone to the use of police state forms of repression.

Dr. King et al faced their oppressors on the streets of my hometown. Civil Rights activists knew that they had to hold their ground to retain their dignity…that it was imperative to sit down in those Jim Crow-tyrannized streets when necessary in order to stand up against the forces of oppression.

At present, we have arrived at a similar moment. If justice is to prevail, it seems, the air of U.S. cities will hold the acrid sting of tear gas, the jails will again be filled, the brave will endure brutality–yet the corrupt system will crumble. Because the system’s protectors themselves will bring it down by revealing its empty nature, and the corrupt structure will collapse from within.

Yet, when riot police attack unarmed, peacefully resisting protesters, the mainstream media often describes the events with standard boilerplate such as “police clash with demonstrators.”

This is inaccurate (at best) reportage. It suggest that both parties are equal aggressors in the situation, and the motive of the police is to restore order and maintain the peace, as opposed to, inflicting pain and creating an aura of intimidation.

This is analogous to describing a mugging as simply: two parties engaging in a financial transaction.

Although mainstream media demurred from limning the upwelling of mob violence at Penn. State as involving any criteria deeper than the mindless rage of a few football-besotted students unloosed by the dismissal of beloved sport figure.

Yet there exists an element that the Penn. State belligerents and OWS activists have in common: a sense of alienation.

Penn. State students rioted because life in the corporate state is so devoid of meaning…that identification with a sports team gives an empty existence said meaning…These are young people, coming of age in a time of debt-slavery and diminished job prospects, who were born and raised in, and know of no existence other than, life as lived in U.S. nothingvilles i.e., a public realm devoid of just that–a public realm–an atomizing center-bereft culture of strip malls, office parks, fast food eateries and the electronic ghosts wafting the air of social media.

Contrived sport spectacles provisionally give an empty life meaning…Take that away, and a mindless rampage might ensue…Anything but face the emptiness and acknowledge one’s complicity therein, and then direct one’s fury at the creators of the stultified conditions of this culture.

It is a given, the cameras of corporate media swivel towards reckless actions not mindful commitment…are attuned to verbal contretemps not thoughtful conviction–and then move on. And we will click our TV remotes and scan the Internet…restless, hollowed out…eating empty memes…skimming the surface of the electronic sheen…

These are the areas we are induced to direct our attention–as the oceans of the earth are dying…these massive life-sustaining bodies of water have less then 50 years before they will be dead. This fact alone should knock us to our knees in lamentation…should sent us reeling into the streets in displays of public grief…

Accordingly, we should not only occupy–but inhabit our rage. No more tittering at celebrity/political class contretemps–it is time for focused fury. The machinery of the corporate/police state must be dismantled.

If the corporate boardrooms have to be emptied–for the oceans to be replenished with abundant life–then so be it. If one must go to jail for committing acts of civil disobedience to free one’s heart–then it must be done.

Yet why does the act of challenging the degraded status quo provoke such a high decree of misapprehension, anxiety, and outright hostility from many, both in positions of authority and among so many of the exploited and dispossessed of the corporate/consumer state.

For example, why did the fatal shooting incident in Oakland, California, Nov. 1, that occurred near the Occupy Oakland Encampment–but, apparently, was wholly unrelated to OWS activity cause a firestorm of reckless speculation and false associations.

Because any exercise in freedom makes people in our habitually authoritarian nation damn uneasy…a sense of uncertainty brings on dread–the feeling that something terrible is to come from challenging a prevailing order, even as degraded as it is.

Tyrants always promise safety; their apologist warn of chaos if and when the soul-numbing order is challenged.

Granted, it is a given that there exists a sense of certainty in a prison routine: high walls and guards and gun mounts ensure continuity; an uncertainty-banishing schedule is enforced. Moreover, solitary confinement offers an even more orderly situation…uncertainty is circumscribed as freedom is banished.

The corporate/national security state, by its very nature is anti-liberty and anti-freedom. Of course, its defenders give lip service to the concept of freedom…much in the manner a pick-pocket working a subway train is very much in favor of the virtues of public transportation.

A heavy police presence has ringed Zuccotti Park from the get-go, and whose ranks have now staged a military style raid upon it, a defacto search and destroy mission–because the ruling elite want to suppress the very impulse of freedom. These authoritarian bullies don’t want the concept to escape the collective prison of the mind erected and maintained by the corrupt jailers comprising the 1% who claim they offer us protection as, all the while, they hold our chains…all for our own good, they insist…for our safety and the safety of others.

Although, from studying on these prison walls, the thought occurs to me…that what we might need is protection from all this safety.

 

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