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Arts and Culture

Challenging Casino Capitalism and Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Disposability

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Posted on Jun 27, 2013
Monthly Review Press

By Henry A. Giroux, Monthly Review Press

(Page 4)

At a time when critical thought has been flattened, it becomes imperative to develop a discourse of critique and possibility—one that recognizes that without an informed citizenry, collective struggle, and dynamic social movements, hope for a viable democratic future will slip out of our reach. Threatening the future of not only youth, but any group marginalized by virtue of age, gender, race or class, is a growing democratic deficit among developed countries as the gap widens between the people and institutions elected to govern and the citizenry they represent. Chapter 1 of this book provides the contexts for understanding how democratic decline in America now works in tandem with a national education deficit, whereby the critical and civic literacies needed for people to engage as active citizens are undermined by both educational policies and practices in schools and the weakening of the public-political culture in broader society. If left unchecked, then tomorrow’s concern will be less a persistent democratic deficit than the rise of a new authoritarianism. Chapter 2 reviews how the forces of authoritarianism have evolved from neoliberal-infused political culture, which is driven to restructure society to empower the wealthy and erode the state’s ability to act as a defense on behalf of citizens. This is especially dire for society’s most vulnerable, who suffer disproportionately from the set of orthodoxies characterizing the dominant pedagogy of late twentieth-century neoliberal capitalism with respect to market deregulation, extreme patriotic and religious fervor, the instrumentalization of education, and the militarization of the entire society. These four fundamentalisms marshal a set of pernicious forces that fuel inequality, unemployment, cultures of cruelty and violence, a harsh penal system, the suppression of dissent, and a lack of access to education, among other ruinous social and economic conditions.

The permanent state of warfare abroad and at home has resulted in cultures of violence across several public spheres beyond the military. Chapter 3 focuses in more detail on U.S. popular culture and a growing celebration of military-like values, which has led not only to an infusion of militaristic technologies and ways of thinking across society, but also to the militarization of public spaces, such as schools. The normalization of violence is accomplished through the reproduction of violent pedagogies in contexts that lack (and sometimes actively destroy) the critical apparatuses by which the public becomes sensitized and thus resists the dehumanization, suffering, and social costs entailed by acts of violence. A mass culture of violence leads to the gradual acceptance of violence in everyday life—seen in, for example, grotesque spectacles such as The Hunger Games and the television series The Following. Chapter 4 turns to the tragic death of the African American youth Trayvon Martin, and the way media coverage fixated on the “hoodie” and its alleged symbolic power to trigger life-threatening fear and brutal violence supposedly apart from persistent forms of racism. Analysis of the “color-blind” media suggests that mass spectacles along with fantasies of post-racialism have diverted public attention away from the hidden modes through which neoliberal racism and social inequality continue to operate in American society, particularly through the criminalization of poor minority youth.

Through the alienation and isolation of increasing numbers of young people, the United States is moving ever closer to self-annihilation. Chapter 5 expands further on the war on youth through connecting it to Paul Virilio’s notion of a “suicidal state”—defined as a state that “works to destroy its own defenses against anti-democratic forces.” Capitulating to authoritarian tendencies, the government works systematically to disenfranchise its own youth, thus attacking the very elements of a society that allow it to reproduce itself. In the United States, but increasingly everywhere, youth are subject to social conditions that are based on mistrust and fear; they are isolated by society and considered expendable or redundant. Chapter 5 also explores how the demonization of young people in the broader culture and neoliberal values rooted in a virulent social Darwinism have now joined forces with increasingly pervasive forms of state-sanctioned cruelty—all of which escalate the violence used against young people and threatens to culminate in an unprecedented and disastrous global war on youth.

Pointing to the challenges inherent in opposing the warfare state and its culture of cruelty is important, but mere vilification of these ideologies is not enough. Political and pedagogical interventions that enter the conversation in ways that offer both critique and hope should be central in the struggle to create the conditions for a more critical and engaged citizenry. In chapter 6, educators committed to cultivating students as thoughtful citizens are called upon to engage with broader public discourse over the vital importance of public education, as well as the ongoing challenges besetting it, among which are a host of frightening projects rooted in totalitarian logic. There is an urgent necessity in such dark times for intellectuals and various cultural workers to bring the fruits of their scholarship to bear on the crucial issues of the day. In part, this suggests a pressing need for progressives to oppose the right-wing agenda to privatize (and thus demolish) one of the few remaining spaces where critical thinking can be fostered among all young people regardless of privilege and wealth: the public school system and the system of higher education. Religious fundamentalists, in particular, are attempting to steamroll democracy by limiting people’s access to critical education—democracy’s strongest pillar. Through appeals to moral superiority and self-interest, proponents of privatization like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich work to disarm the citizenry and prevent people from seeing the most pernicious impacts triggered by privatization on educational policy and practices, most notably the expansion of charter schools, the narrowing of the teaching curriculum, the dismantling of financial and other supports for students, and the skyrocketing costs of higher education, much of which the Obama administration opposes. Most alarming is how the far-right arm of the Republican Party is using private religious schools to destroy the democratic edifice built on the separation of church and state, and ultimately to marshal support for a theocracy in the United States.

Since the emergence of the Occupy movement in 2011, the potential for collective resistance has grown exponentially. Chapter 7 encourages critical educators to join with Occupiers and other youth in supporting a collective cultural campaign that links the defense of accessible public and higher education to progressive social movements and independent media sources. What must be resisted are the “disappearing acts” of corporate-funded, anti-public intellectuals who erect walls around knowledge, while simultaneously rendering invisible those disadvantaged populations who are deserving of compassion and social protections. These gated intellectuals, often abetted by the dominant media, use privilege and ideological narrowness to divorce themselves from understanding the systemic elements that contribute to social and economic injustice. Their views reduce citizenship to consumption, support corporate greed and private interests, and fuel hyper-individualized notions of equality and freedom. In contrast, engaged public intellectuals might adopt a “borderless pedagogy” that crosses zones of knowledge control and policing and aims to democratize power and knowledge. These new modes of resistance are necessary because a sustainable democratic future will require more than electoral democracy or democracy in name only. It will require a multitude of public and free access forums along with the broad mobilization of traditional and new educational sites in which public intellectuals can do the work of resistance, engagement, and policymaking to support a democratic politics.

Chronicling how the Occupy Wall Street movement has broadly impacted political discourse, chapter 8 explains in detail why a movement that foregrounds the importance of critical education is especially necessary in the current historical moment. The Occupy movement initiated such a task by challenging the fatalism inherent in the capitalist system and developing a new vision of politics. Through the practical translation of theoretical discourses into action for social change, the hope produced by the Occupy movement extends its life to new movements and causes. In the face of police brutality leveled against peaceful protesters with impunity, generations both young and old have a duty to reverse the pressures of the punishing state and develop social movements that not only restore the principles and practices of democracy but build and sustain institutions and formative cultures that can provide a safe, dignified future to young people everywhere. As neoliberal educational policies organize schools today in alignment with punitive and market cultures, the abilities of educators to carry out pedagogies that will ignite students’ social responsibility and political consciousness are being stifled. In this new, corporatized climate, teachers are consigned to the role of technicians and are allowed to do little more than robotically carry out assigned curriculum, teaching-to-the-test mandates, or uphold harsh disciplinary policies. In response to this crisis of pedagogical agency among educators, chapter 9 unravels the current neoliberal attacks being waged on teachers in today’s culture of consumerism and violence. Taking up the media’s momentary celebration of teachers as protectors of youth after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in the fall of 2012, this chapter addresses the heightened difficulty teachers face in safeguarding the futures of young people. At this specific historical conjuncture teachers are subject to an onslaught of attacks against their role as public servants and critical intellectuals. In addition, the very concept of educator should be continually conceptualized as a defender of youth, rather than being celebrated as such only after this kind of tragedy—a short-lived praise quickly lost in the sea of assaults teachers remain subjected to at the hands of advocates for school privatization and market-based education. Importantly, this chapter calls for educators to fight against this anti-democratic configuration of education by reconceptualizing themselves as engaged citizens and public intellectuals committed to making the pedagogical more political and the political more pedagogical, nurturing the critical and civic capacities of the next generation that will challenge the emergent authoritarianism.


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