Thursday, December 05, 2013

Henry A. Giroux: Hope in the Age of Looming Authoritarianism

December 2, 2013.
Americans are increasingly inspired to think uncritically, disregard critical historical narratives, and surrender to pedagogies of repression. Under the Bush-Obama administrations, American education has been cleansed of any effort to produce students who have the power to think critically and imaginatively and is now preoccupied with producing young people unaware and unwilling to fight for the right to decent employment, access to a good life, decent health care, social justice and a future that does not mimic a corrosive and morally bankrupt present. The organized culture of forgetting, with its immense disimagination machines, has ushered in a permanent revolution marked by a massive project of distributing wealth upward, the militarization of the entire social order and an ongoing depoliticization of agency and politics itself. We no longer live in a democracy, which, as Bill Moyers points out provides the formative culture and economic conditions that enable people "to fully claim their moral and political agency."  This disembodied form of politics is not merely about the erasure of the language of public interests, informed argument, critical thinking and the collapse of public values, but a full-fledged attack on the institutions of civic society, the social contract and democracy itself. Under such circumstances, the United States has succumbed to forms of symbolic and institutional violence that point to a deep-seated hatred of democracy.

Under such circumstances, common sense displaces critical thinking, individual and social agency are emptied of political substance, and a collectively engaged democratic politics appears irrelevant in the face of an unquestioned "moral" authority that parades as destiny. The language of stupidity replaces reason as scientific evidence is disparaged or suppressed, thoughtful exchange gives way to emotional tirades, violence becomes the primary means for solving problems, and anger is substituted for informed arguments. Unsurprisingly, any viable sense of social responsibility disappears beyond the fortressed enclaves of ever-more-sequestered lives while various ideological fundamentalists assert their judgments of the world with a certainty that brands dissent, moral inquiry and critical questioning as excessive and threatening. Instead of affirming the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Audre Lord and other public intellectuals, Americans are inundated with the likes of Bill Gates, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and other anti-public commentators and pundits. Intellectuals who have sacrificed their jobs, bodies and lives in order to alleviate the suffering of others have been replaced by the new "celebrity heroes" drawn from a corrupt corporate and political culture that lives off the suffering of others.

In the place of politically vibrant and intellectually energized public spheres, Americans suffer under the self-serving interests and demands, if not downright colonization, of immensely powerful corporations and the entertainment industry, which offer up the confessional spectacles of Dr. Phil, the televised shame culture of a host of TV programs, the increasing violence entrenched in celluloid Hollywood spectacles and the corporate values embedded in survival-of-the-fittest "reality" television shows. As society is increasingly organized around shared fears, escalating insecurities, manufactured uncertainties and an intensified post-9/11 politics of terror, the institutions of government appear to be immune to any checks on their power to render democratic politics both bankrupt and inoperable.
Read the rest here.
Comment: I have no problems with the overall drift of the argument above but I wanted to raise some related thoughts that occurred to me.

Professor Giroux is undoubtedly a critical thinker but like so many brilliant academics he is really motioning from inside the beast and for this reason his protest is inevitably unconvincing because it is fundamentally detached.

There is also a kind of Abrahamic religiosity of doom inherent in the lament about another time when democracy was revered and respected.  When was that time exactly I wonder?  Would a better democratic time have been during the Civil Rights Movement when white capital conceded rights to blacks and browns in the US but massacred innocents in Vietnam and Cambodia?

How trustworthy then is such an analysis?  An analysis that strikes the balance between hope and despair by calculating the influence of elites and their capitalized productions on the sanity of the already insane?

And what should we take from this long-winded lament?  Is there a revolution being plotted inside the halls of academia?  Is Giroux a revolutionary willing to set his footnotes aside and take up arms alongside the marginal masses laboring under Bill Gates and Dr Phil?  Or is he more comfortable among the books and eager students who are amassing huge debts so they too can stand a chance at entering and surviving the very system that makes him relevant?

I am not saying that his argument lacks goodwill or that he is being disingenuous.  What I am saying is that this article lacks depth because it is mostly an anesthetized posturing.

A deeper analysis would point caustic fingers at capitalism.  Instead, Giroux dances around the problem fingering the market and its fundamentalism but stopping short of calling out the system.  It is a curious blind spot or rather analytical flaw that tells us more about the liberal sensitivity to blame capitalism.  Perhaps the worry is that such an analysis would sound too Marxist or at the very least lefty-socialist.

Confining the analysis to the US is perhaps the biggest problem I have with this article.  Giroux seems to accept the functional orthodoxy that nation-states are real containers.  In other words he does not go far enough to critique the global system of capitalism that operates (too often through force) the flow of advantages and disadvantages that keeps elites in power.


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