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Beyond Savage Politics and Dystopian Nightmares

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Posted on Sep 26, 2013
Eduard V. Kurganov (CC BY 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

This piece first appeared at Truthout.

We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy.
—Chris Hedges

What kind of society emerges when it is governed by the market-driven assumption that the only value that matters is exchange value, when the common good is denigrated to the status of a mall, and the social order is composed only of individuals free to pursue their own interests? What happens to democracy when a government inflicts on the American public narrow market-driven values, corporate relations of power and policies that impose gross inequities on society, and condemns young people to a life of precarity in which the future begins to resemble a remake of dystopian films such as Mad Max (1979), Brazil (1985), RoboCop (1987), Minority Report (2002), District Nine (2009), Comopolis (2012) and The Purge (2013). What makes American society distinct in the present historical moment is a culture and social order that has not only lost its moral bearings but produces a level of symbolic and real violence whose visibility and existence set a new standard for cruelty, humiliation and the mechanizations of a mad war machine, all of which serve the interests of the political and corporate walking dead - the new avatars of death and cruelty - that plunder the social order.

Unfortunately, the dark and dire images of America’s disimagination machine made visible endlessly in all the mainstream cultural apparatuses have been exceeded by a society rooted in a savage politics in which extreme forms of violence have become both spectacle and modus operandi of how American society governs and entertains itself. Evidence of the decay of American democracy is not only found in the fact that the government is now controlled by a handful of powerful right-wing and corporate interests, it is also increasingly made manifest in the daily acts of cruelty and violence that shroud that American landscape like a vast and fast-moving dust storm. Unspeakable violence, extending from the murder of young people and children at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary School, to name a few, to the recent mass shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, and the Washington Navy Yard give credence to the notion that violence now becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships. Mass violence has become so routine that it no longer evokes visceral responses from the public. For instance, when such violence engulfs major cities such as Chicago, the public barely blinks. And as the mass shootings increase, they will barely be covered by mainstream media, who have no critical language by which to engage such events except as aberrations with no systemic causes.

The line between the spectacle of violence and the reality of everyday violence has become blurred, making it difficult to respond to and understand the origins of symbolic and institutional violence in the economic, political and social formations that now rule American society. Violence has become so normalized that it no longer has a history. That is, its political and economic structures have become invisible, and the painful memories it evokes disappear quickly among the barrage of spectacles of violence and advertisements addressing us not as moral beings but as customers seeking new commodities, instant pleasure and ever-shocking thrills. At the same time, violence in America is fed by a culture of fear - shaped, in part, by a preoccupation with surveillance, incarceration and the personal security industry. And, as a result, American society has made “a sinister turn towards intense social control,”and a “political culture of hyper punitiveness.”


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The tentacles of this high-intensity violence, now normalized, reach into every aspect of society - a spectacle that does not unsettle but thrives on more shocks, more bloodshed and more suffering. The political, corporate and intellectual zombies that rule America love death-dealing institutions, which accounts for why they rarely criticize the bloated military budget and the rise of the incarceration and punishing state. They embrace the demands of an empire that kills innocent people with automated drones and sanctions torture and are all too willing to raise their voices to fever pitch to promote war as the only viable tool of diplomacy. Witness the almost-hysterical displays of public anger by Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham over President Barack Obama’s decision to avert bombing Syria in favor of a diplomatic solution. State violence is now the sanctioned norm of rule in a society in which political fanatics, such as Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio define policy according to a friend/enemy distinction and in doing so transform politics into an extension of war. Unrelenting in their role as archetypes of the hyper-dead, the Tea Party fanatics and their gutless allies spectacularize hatred and trade in fear, lies and misinformation while trying to hold the American public and the government hostage to their fanatical market-driven principles. We are witnessing the militarization of all aspects of American politics and life, and one consequence is a growing authoritarianism in which democracy becomes its ultimate victim.

No sphere is immune from this madness. For instance, Ohio State University, as a result of a gift from military surplus, has added an armored military vehicle to its campus security forces - all the better to inculcate not only the values of militarization in young students but also a culture of fear, violence, thoughtlessness and insecurity. Local police forces now resemble SWAT teams and make clear that force is the most important way to address not just criminal behavior but also social problems. Images of the police do not simply saturate television dramas, they have become the most visible humans occupying public schools.

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