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Gated Intellectuals, Fortress America, and the Politics of Occupy

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Posted on Mar 21, 2012
DonkeyHotey (CC-BY)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

This piece originally appeared at Truthout.

A group of right-wing extremists in the United States would have the American public believe it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of a market society. Comprising this group are the Republican Party extremists, religious fundamentalists such as Rick Santorum and a host of conservative anti-public foundations funded by billionaires such as the Koch brothers(1), whose pernicious influence fosters the political and cultural conditions for creating vast inequalities and massive human hardships throughout the globe. Their various messages converge in support of neoliberal capitalism and fortress mentality that increasingly drive the meaning of citizenship and social life. One consequence is that the principles of self-preservation and self-interest undermine, if not completely sabotage, political agency and democratic public life.

Neoliberalism or market fundamentalism as it is called in some quarters and its army of supporters cloak their interests in an appeal to “common sense,” while doing everything possible to deny climate change, massive inequalities, a political system hijacked by big money and corporations, the militarization of everyday life and the corruption of civic culture by a consumerist and celebrity-driven advertising machine. The financial elite, the 1 percent and the hedge fund sharks have become the highest-paid social magicians in America. They perform social magic by making the structures and power relations of racism, inequality, homelessness, poverty and environmental degradation disappear. And in doing so, they employ deception by seizing upon a stripped-down language of choice, freedom, enterprise and self-reliance - all of which works to personalize responsibility, collapse social problems into private troubles and reconfigure the claims for social and economic justice on the part of workers, poor minorities of color, women and young people as a species of individual complaint. But this deceptive strategy does more. It also substitutes shared responsibilities for a culture of diminishment, punishment and cruelty. The social is now a site of combat, infused with a live-for-oneself mentality and a space where a responsibility toward others is now gleefully replaced by an ardent, narrow and inflexible responsibility only for oneself.

When the effects of structural injustice become obscured by a discourse of individual failure, human misery and misfortune, they are no longer the objects of compassion, but of scorn and derision. In recent weeks, we have witnessed Rush Limbaugh call Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute”; US Marines captured on video urinating on the dead bodies of Afghanistan soldiers; and the public revelation by Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs trader, that the company was so obsessed with making money that it cheated and verbally insulted its own clients, often referring to them as “muppets.”(2) There is also the mass misogyny of right-wing extremists directed against women’s reproductive rights, which Maureen Dowd rightly calls an attempt by “Republican men to wrestle American women back into chastity belts.”(3) These are not unconnected blemishes on the body of neoliberal capitalism. They are symptomatic of an infected political and economic system that has lost touch with any vestige of decency, justice and ethics.


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By MondoBizarro, March 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The real state of the union address.

So pleased that more are beginning to understand that the root of the problem is

For more on the subject, look for the recent Nova episode called Mind Over
Money. It explodes the idea of radical self interest which lies at the (black) heart of
neoliberal economics.

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By Laurence Tribe, March 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

gerard: You missed important elements of our nation’s problem: 1)we are no longer a constitutional republic, our government does pretty much what it wants, when it wants, supported by a lawmaking Supreme Court 2)our economy, therefore our every day lives, is governed by the Fed’s uncontrolled power to inflate or deflate the value of the world’s reserve currency, the dollar;the nation is $15.1 trillion dollars in debt mostly to the Fed with China next; in 2000 the dollar was worth 1/265th of an ounce of gold and roughly at 1/1,300 of an ounce today;corporations are being taxed out of the U.S. along with middleclass jobs; and the world is at war with Christianity. I believe the megabankers will create a new reserve currency,perhaps called the “bancor”, as the socialist John Maynard Keynes once suggested. Socialism historically creates haves and have nots with the ruling class uber alles.

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By gerard, March 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment

Lawrence Tribe:  There have been times here when a less punishing, more “egalitarian” form of governance worked to the advantage of many more people than our government does now. That is because it was more “loaded” in favor of laws that limited rampant exploitation of labor and money.  Recently controls have been released in favor of exploitation of the vast majority of the population to the point where they are increasingly jobless, moneyless, discouraged and in poor health.
  This former, better government was ruled by Constitutionally guaranteed citizen rights, plus reasonable legal controls on exploitation (which have been rescinded bit by bit in recent decades).
The government was called “democracy” or “a democratic republic”—not “socialist” which is a word that has intentionally been falsely propagandized as “evil” and “impossible.” 
  Fact is, we don’t need to change the name of anything; we just need to reinstate our Constitution,
stop promoting wars, and begin to work together for the common good.  It’s not impossible. In fact, it could even happen—provided we decide we want it enough.

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By Laurence Tribe, March 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unfortunately, this site is frequented for the most part by socialist dreamers who like children want fairness and equality (not bad ideals),  but forget-ting children can be hypercritical and physically destructive of those seen to be noticeably “different”, or nonconforming. So it seems to me that egalitarian-ism, equal rights and equal opportunities, the initial promise of most socialist governments, can only be approximated and have failed at a cost of millions of lives. Some people don’t respond well to ruler’s inter-vention to govern everything. Our “freedom” has dimini-shed as power and authority has moved to Washington; coupled with the P&A of the private corporation that controls the value of “their” money and our economy. We’re getting close to over control, over-governance, over reliance on police to control a “licence"to behave unconscionably, to replace attempts to govern oneself by attempting to live by standards from a higher power.

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By balkas, March 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment

i understand what HG meant by the terms “gated” [communities] and “fortress”.
however, i decided to limn separateness, seclusion from; and disdain, uncaring for, say, 80% of americans by gated communities as
too deep a divide.
alas, sorry to conclude, the divide cannot be rendered less deep to any useful degree by any other means but by political work.

there is nothing the ‘elite’ does not know; thus, there is no use whatever addressing it, pleading with it, debating with, or protesting
their uncaring for, anger against the 80% of the americans.

according to ALL US Laws, what is yours is yours and no one has the right to it—provided, of course, one made hisher money or
acquired wealth legally. in US, that law is sacred. you cannot go against it!
listen to what ron paul says about this matter. he goes as far to say that you do not have a right to healthcare. according to him, you
gotta pay for it; you can’t demand or expect anyone to pay for your healthcare, house, etc.

you can change the laws of the country. it depends on the 80 or 90%. it does matter if one is protesting or spending much more
time on educating people.
perhaps, one can do both. and one needs very little money to teach the 80% that they can enact laws that would not allow one
person to become 10, 100, thousand times richer than another person.

regarding the financial meltdown and bailouts, all that was legal; all 3 branches of the govt affirmed that that was legal, morally
correct, and necessary thing to do.
and i expect [hope i am wrong] protest will not prevent wars, other melt downs or prevent govts to give your money to banksters.
and i am very doubtful that protesters will be able to persuade 51% of congress to not once again steal from you and give your
money to s’mone else.

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By gerard, March 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

balkas: The way I understand Giroux and his use of the memtaphors “gated” and “fortress” means the isolation, atomization, confinement, loneliness, alienation, and the resulting lack of ability to act as a nation in the nation’s benefit.
  This metaphor is fairly obvious to many millions of Americans in one way or another, and they are also beginning to see how the mechanisms of “surveillance” play into that isolation and dis-empowerment.
  The Occupy movement is the first large outcry forming to address this widespread alienation and trying to correct some of the interlocking problems that have caused it.  I plead for all of us who write here to consider in what way we can help to heal this alienation, by coming to realize that in a thousand different ways we ourselves are apt to “gate” our own selves behind walls of self-defense
and counter-aggression instead of addressing the
problems that are limiting and directing our own lives.

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By balkas, March 22, 2012 at 11:53 am Link to this comment

it seems to me that the occupy wall street and americans are as much occupied by
foreign troops as is palestina, afgh’n, iraq. there are army bases in US. they are
controlled 1%
to my knowledge, no one to date has noted this fact. if, on the other hand, US
army would occupy and threaten the ONE PERCENT, we would see some changes
for better.
so, is all this protesting in vain while america is occupied? probably!

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By berneredfeather, March 22, 2012 at 10:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This article echos the sentiments published in a book titled ‘Our Own Master Race’
(Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945) by Angus McLaren. Page 18,  “The Malthusians
had attributed the poverty of the poor to their lack of foresight and had addressed
moral appeals to them, but the eugenicists attributed their plight to environmental
and hereditary factors that could not be attenuated by individual prudence. The
poor were not demoralized; they were degenerate.” This attitude reflects the
fallacy that society is not responsible for the ills of the impoverished and has not
changed in the current affairs of N. America. Is eugenics still alive and well in N.

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By gerard, March 22, 2012 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

We here at Truthdig should be brought to a serious consideration of what we are doing.  Giroux points out specifically: 
  “One particular challenge now facing the Occupy movement and the growing public intellectuals that reject the zombie politics of casino capitalism is to provide a multitude of public and free access forums—such as Truthout, Truthdig, AlterNet, Counterpunch, Salon, and other alternative media spaces as well as free learning centers where knowledge is produced—in which critically engaged intellectuals are able not only to do the work of connecting knowledge, skills and techniques to broader public considerations and social problems, but also to make clear that education takes place in a variety of spheres that should be open to everyone.”
  We probably owe more to this site than we usually give it in the way of respect and thoughtful exchange of serious opinion. I know I myself regret every time I get involved in personal exchanges that are off-point and destructive.

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By Sarah, March 22, 2012 at 9:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a terrible piece. I get less left wing every day that I read this garbage. Since QUAKER Charles Murray complains that rich people are increasinly “bubbled” away from the poor and insists they ought to come out of their enclaves and gated communities and live in mixed neighbourhoods, how on earth did he make it to your list of “gated intellectuals?” Probably in the usual way, because once he was placed on the left-wing blacklist nobody bothered to actually READ what he was saying, they just complained about it on autopilot.
I will never be right or left wing because extremists can never think for themselves or tolerate contradiction. Life is so much easier in black and white. Over the years of watching left-wing friends become radicals, and start spouting about “no more slow change” and overthrowing the government, their increasing bitterness, hatred and cruelty, and their increased willingness to stifle dissent and deligitimize science that questions their worldview, I am now more afraid of Socialists coming to power than I am of the mess we already have.

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By Dadster, March 22, 2012 at 7:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An excellent article , a timely warning !

This is a possible scenario that naturally would predictably happen as a matter of
course( with a 95% probability with a 99% confidence level ) .  After this stage of
decimating and virtually annihilating the poor , the richer would start to eat up the less
rich , and so on it goes , till, instead of one nation , one single group of greedy
individuals will rule the earth, unless ...........
....unless , before the annihilation of the poorer , greedy bio- intelligence gets
dominated by programmed-to-be-not-greedy ,  robots ( non- bio- intelligence a’la ’ Ray
kurzweil), set healthy and balanced limits to growth eschewing skewed growth curves .

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By balkas, March 22, 2012 at 6:32 am Link to this comment

yes, there are deep divides in US. perhaps by far more than in any other land.
divides, deep or too deep, exist on personal, ethnic, cultic, educational, racial, and cultural levels.
these are foundations of a state we call USA, but in fact is just a region ruled with iron fist by richer families.
how to diminish such differences? let’s keep in mind that such differences are sacrosanct to the 1 percent.
it owns the army, police, cia, fbi, sales/production/money, and most police. in short, have all the powers
needed not only to maintain the divide, but also to deepen them.
altho americans are divided, most of them, say, 90%, are deeply united in one area and that is constitution/and
supremacist ideology.
and in spite of the fact that nobody knows what constitution says or means! and i also expect that the holy of
holies, the constitution, will continue to thwart progress, justice, peace, equality, etc.

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By DonSchneider, March 22, 2012 at 6:27 am Link to this comment

Thank you for a fine article Mr. Giroux ! I wish more people would have the
opportunity to read it.  I also wish those who will read it will be able to
understand it.. By the looks of some of the comments, that is sadly not the case.  I
have emailed it to friends and hope they pass it on as well.  Thank you again !
Don Schneider , Havana Florida

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By balkas, March 22, 2012 at 5:01 am Link to this comment

US system of rule [and not only US, of course] had been founded on the
ancient notion of irresponsibility of one person for another.
the question arises, did the fathers [what happened to mothers? not
good enough, huh?] of the confederation know that? and the hell it
would create for so many americans and especially for ‘aliens’?
and i suggest that billionaires and multimillionaires know that and know
it is a constitutional/legal/moral demand one not give a rat’s ass for
another person or even a mass of people. thanks, bozhidar b.

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By OzarkMichael, March 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm Link to this comment

In part, this means educating a new generation of intellectuals,

In total it means brainwashing people and then calling them intellectuals simply for being mind-numbed Leftists.

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By prisnersdilema, March 21, 2012 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

So many words, all standing for anger…Does the right wing care about your words?

No because they have the government and the police by the balls.

The left is like a child shouting unfair, when they find out life is unfair. In a child mind
proof of unfairness should be enough to bring about some sort of change.

But here we are, living among mountains of unfairness, mountains higher than the

Words, and more words, wiill not change this. Confucius said something like a superior
man acts first, then speaks according to their actions.

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By Dave H, March 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment

A bit a broad brush here; I fail to see how Thomas Friedman fits into the category of gated intellectuals, since he espouses education, critical thinking, social responsibility, and democratic values.  Otherwise, an excellent article.

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By Big B, March 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment


I hate to break the news to you, but the work of fiction (the bible) that you quote a fictional charactor (Jesus) from, also calls for women to be treated as property, thinks slavery is OK, and tells everyone to OBEY their kings and leaders without question. Religious fundamentalism has played a pivitol roll in the continued enslavement of the majority by a very small, very wealthy, and very ruthless ruling class.

It goes back in our history to the faulty belief in american exceptionalism. There are an awful lot of americans that still believe that old “land of opportunity” and “all I have to do is work hard and I can’t help but succeed” bullshit. By any measure, america is now a facist state. And with the current system in place, our oligarchs have nothing to fear.

We are living in a new era of robber barons, and there is not a Teddy Roosevelt in site.

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By litlpeep, March 21, 2012 at 11:58 am Link to this comment

There is also, the fanatics of denial notwithstanding, the possibility of some enterprising young christian woman or man discovering the teaching from Jesus, in Luke 17:21, “behold, the kingdom of god is within you.”  When this discovery is made, two things are likely: the rabid god talkers will prove themselves to be little more than rabid; it is also likely some others will recall, or encounter, the eastern traditions, from which today’s human potential explorers have discovered that every one of us is our own authority.

In the christian tradition, this authority emerges from the voice of god within us, from his kingdom within us - all we need do is remain in quiet prayerfulness awaiting god’s will to indicate our direction; from the eastern traditions, the voice of the universe speaks through every one of our bodies, if only we sit quietly and still in meditation and await that voice or presence to indicate our next step.

As Blake mentioned two centuries ago: all religions are one.  Until we appreciate this oneness, there will continue to be silly little boys strutting over the global stage pretending to be men with their war cries, every such war cry reducible to something like ‘my god is better than your god.’

Be well.  Be at peace with our god.

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By litlpeep, March 21, 2012 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

It is ancient knowledge that at some point in human activities, “the principles of self-preservation and self-interest undermine, if not completely sabotage, political agency and democratic public life.”  It is also ancient truth that the opposite is true: at some point collective activities completely sabotage individuality.  Finding the healthy balance between the two has been a political ideal for thousands of years.  However, we have drifted into an era where the political right has become so convinced of its collective convictions it not only stifles the whole collective political deliberative process; it has destroyed the mental capacities of its own members.

Since the Civil War the right wing of US Politics, sometimes dominated by one of the two hack parties, sometimes by the other, has pursued increasingly reactionary governmental policies to the point of now dramatically reducing the nation to a stark choice: nazi/fascist ungoverned capitalist government or starvation.

Why so many followers of those two obnoxious parties, the democrats and the republicans, cannot see this is a serious mystery that cannot be exhaustively explored too quickly.

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