Dec 13, 2013
Challenging Casino Capitalism and Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Disposability
Posted on Jun 27, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Monthly Review Press
Under such circumstances, progressives should focus their energies on working with the Occupy movement and other social movements to develop a new language of radical reform and to create new public spheres that will make possible the modes of critical thought and engaged agency that are the very foundations of a truly participatory and radical democracy. Such a project must work to develop vigorous educational programs, modes of public communication, and communities that promote a culture of deliberation, public debate, and critical exchange across a wide variety of cultural and institutional sites. Ultimately, it must focus on the end goal of generating those forma- tive cultures and public spheres that are the preconditions for political engagement and vital for energizing democratic movements for social change—movements willing to think beyond the limits of a savage global capitalism. Pedagogy in this sense becomes central to any substantive notion of politics and must be viewed as a crucial element of organized resistance and collective struggles.
The deep regressive elements of neoliberalism constitute both a pedagogical practice and a legitimating function for a severely oppressive social order. Pedagogical relations that make the power relations of casino capitalism disappear must be uncovered and challenged. Under such circumstances, politics becomes transformative rather than accommodating and aims at abolishing a capitalist system marked by massive economic, social, and cultural inequalities. A politics that uncovers the harsh realities imposed by casino capitalism should also work toward establishing a society in which matters of justice and freedom are understood as the crucial foundation of a substantive democracy. This book draws hope from youth movements doing this very thing, despite the intensification of emerging social and political forces that are relentlessly damaging young people and any prospects they might have for the future.
Rather than invest in electoral politics, it would be more worthwhile for progressives to develop formative conditions that make a real democracy possible. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination that operates in the service of a broad-based social movement that can move beyond the legacy of a fractured left/ progressive culture and politics in order to address the totality of society’s problems. As Angela Davis has suggested, this means engaging “in difficult coalition-building processes, negotiating the recognition for which communities and issues inevitably strive [and coming] together in a unity that is not simplistic and oppressive, but complex and emancipatory, recognizing, in June Jordan’s words, that ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for.’” Developing a broad-based social movement means finding a common ground upon which challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation, and exclusion can become part of a wider effort to create a radical democracy. Language is crucial here, particularly language that addresses what it means to sustain a broad range of commitments to others and build more inclusive notions of community. Appeals to social and economic injustice are important, but do not go far enough. There is a need to invent modes of communication that connect learning to social change and foster modes of critical agency through which people assume responsibility for each other. This is not merely about skill sharing or democratizing education and politics; it is about generating a new vision of democracy and a radical project in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the American public’s desires, dreams, and hopes.
Reclaiming a Discourse of Ethics and Social Responsibility
Questions of what it means to be a critical and engaged member of society (and how these are linked to the ways people understand themselves, their relations to others, and their relation to the world) are at the heart of a politics wedded to the primacy of the radical imagination. In part, this necessitates, as media scholar Nick Couldry has argued, reclaiming a discourse of ethics and morality, elaborating a new model of democratic politics, and developing fresh analytical concepts for understanding and engaging the concept of the social. The social has to be reconfigured so as to expose and eliminate a market-driven project—or what I refer to as the Big Lie—that individualizes responsibility while also silencing claims made in the name of democracy. Reclaiming a democratic notion of the citizen-subject goes hand-in-hand with inventing a new understanding of social conditions, civic responsibility, and critical citizenship.
Matters of education and how the public is educated (what I call public pedagogy) are central to a new understanding of politics. Issues of identity, desire, and agency must be considered as part of an energized struggle to reclaim the promise of a substantive global democracy. This entails teaching people to feel a responsibility toward others and the planet, to think in a critical fashion, and to act in ways that support the public good. In this instance, progressives need to create public spheres of engagement using new technologies and other tools that open up new modes of communication and social relations. These efforts should be situated in a larger project rooted in an understanding that critical education and democracy are the primary and mutually constituting elements of any society that can make a claim to promoting the health, justice, and equality of its citizenry. The radical imagination rejects the notion that a corporate-dominated market society represents the essence of democracy. In doing so, it connects economics to social costs and measures the political and spiritual life of a nation by the degree to which it offers collective security, justice, equality, and hope to existing and future generations. At the same time, it refuses the seductions of the prevailing economic and political system, whether in the form of an appeal to the virtues of the electoral system or the call for acting within the existing framework of reform. Young people have “experienced a lifetime of betrayal” and what they need is more “than protection from uncontrolled market forces.” Instead of reformist blabber, what is needed are critical viewpoints, modes of governance, and policymaking that address matters of democracy, public life, equality, and the redistribution of wealth and power. Crucial here is the development of new critical vocabularies, modes of knowledge, theoretical resources, and a far-reaching and visionary political project capable of informing and empowering those who have been reduced to the margins of society, barely surviving, while the upper 1 percent accrues highly disproportionate amounts of wealth, income, and power.
This means that progressives must take a cue from youth protesters the world over and develop new ways to challenge the corporate values that shape American and, increasingly, global politics. It is especially crucial to provide alternative values that challenge market-driven ideologies that equate freedom with radical individualism, privatization, and deregulation, while undermining democratic social bonds, the public good, and the welfare state. Such actions can be further addressed by recruiting young people, teachers, labor activists, religious leaders, and other engaged citizens to become public intellectuals who are willing to use their skills and knowledge to make visible how power works and to address important social and political issues. Of course, the American public needs to do more than talk. It also needs to bring together educators, students, workers, and anyone else interested in real democracy in order to create a social movement—a well-organized movement capable of changing the power relations and vast economic inequalities that have created the conditions for symbolic and systemic violence in American society.
Building New Educational Spaces
Regarding policy interventions, progressives can explore a variety of options to build coalitions with labor unions, environmental organizations, and public servants in order to develop a broad-based alternative party to push for much-needed reforms, including paid family and medical leave, a new equal rights amendment for women, literacy and civic engagement programs, a guaranteed minimum income, ecological reform, free child care, new finance laws for funding public education, the cancellation of higher education debt obligations for middle- and working-class students, health care programs, and a massive jobs program in conjunction with a Marshall Plan–like program to end poverty and inequality in the United States. But, to achieve these goals, progressives will invariably need to take on the role of educational activists. One option would be to create microspheres of public education that further modes of critical learning and civic agency, and thus enable young people and others to learn how to govern rather than be governed. This could be accomplished through a network of free educational spaces developed among diverse faith communities and public schools, as well as in secular and religious organizations affiliated with higher educational institutions. These new educational spaces, focused on cultivating both dialogue and action in the public interest, can look to past models in those institutions developed by socialists, labor unions, and civil rights activists in the early twentieth century and later in the 1950s and 60s. Such schools represented oppositional public spheres and functioned as democratic public spheres in the best educational sense and ranged from the early networks of radical Sunday Schools to the later Brookwood Labor College and Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Stanley Aronowitz rightly insists that the current system “survives on the eclipse of the radical imagination, the absence of a viable political opposition with roots in the general population, and the conformity of its intellectuals who, to a large extent, are subjugated by their secure berths in the academy, less secure private sector corporate jobs, and centrist and center-left media institutions.”
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