Dec 7, 2013
In the Dead Zone of Capitalism: Lessons From Chicago on the Violence of Inequality
Posted on Jun 6, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
This piece first appeared at Truthout.
“I consider the survival of [fascism] within democracy to be potentially more menacing that the survival of fascist tendencies against democracy.”
Americans are confronted daily with the violence of inequality. The rich have longer life spans, better health care, access to better educational opportunities and an abundance of food. Many live in palatial homes in gated communities and wield a disproportionate amount of control and power over the major social, cultural, and political apparatuses that shape everyday life. Unlike most Americans, the extravagantly rich are protected from the massive degree of violence produced by poverty, poor health, joblessness, inadequate social provisions, decrepit housing, unsafe neighborhoods, and even environmental disasters. While the superrich also live in an age of precarity due to the free-market economic models they support, they largely escape its consequences through the obscene amount of wealth at their disposal that enables them to buy private solutions to public problems. As Naomi Klein points out, such wealth offers more than economic advantages. It also creates a world in which the penthouse and mansion set
The corrupt bankers, hedge fund managers, and financial services elite who caused the housing crisis and the economic recession of 2008 have little fear of finding themselves homeless or in debt, a fate suffered by millions of Americans, especially young people. The hedge fund managers who pour millions into charter schools as a first step towards privatizing them don’t worry about draining valuable resources from public schools because their kids only attend the most elite and expensive private schools, and they also get a hefty return from such investments as a generous tax credit. Transferring wealth from the public to the private sector has become a sport rather than a liability - a despicable act of looting the public treasury that is viewed strictly as a financial transaction divorced from any sense of civic duty or ethical consideration. The ultra-rich do not have to worry about being unemployed, even though their search for profits produces austerity policies that put millions out of work. In this instance what emerges is a savage form of casino capitalism along with an army of walking dead zombies who celebrate a narcissistic hyper-individualism that radiates a near sociopathic lack of interest in other people and civic life. For the new financial elite of the second Gilded Age, the challenges of a global world are private, not collective, and can only be addressed by pursuing one’s own desires, financial interests, and security.
As public visions fall into disrepair, the concept of the public good is eradicated in favor of the narrow, private orbits of self-interest and individual happiness, characterized by an endless search for instant gratification, consumer goods and quick profits. The value of everything from education to health care is measured by how profitable it might be for those who treat such institutions less as a public good than as a source for private gain. There are no ethical dilemmas here, only opportunities for increasing the bottom line and making greed the highest of human values and desires. Such behavior is legitimated by appeals to a competitive philosophy in which everyone is either an enemy to be punished or a resource to be exploited, used, and eventually discarded in the quest for personal and financial success. Citizens have been replaced by consumers, and the search for profits regardless of the social costs has created a society in which the accumulation of capital trumps any concerns about fairness and justice. Snapshots of growing inequality are symptomatic of a society that has divorced itself from any sense of moral and social responsibility. Surely, the recent deaths of hundreds of workers in unsafe factories in Bangladesh speak to how disposable human beings have become under a market-driven system in which the desire for cheap labor by companies such as Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney, and others takes precedence over the health, dignity, and lives of poor workers.
The growing levels of injustice in every facet of life barely provoke outrage because they are wrapped in a disimagination machine that ascribes inequality to the natural order of things, an act of nature in which hard work and merit prevail in great riches and comforts for the few and impoverishment for the many. Yet, even this timeworn myth is rarely evoked anymore. The current crop of super-rich financiers is much too arrogant and comfortable to provide a rationale for their extreme wealth and power. All forms of violence are now factored, if not ignored, into the call for economic growth, abetted by the cowardice of the mainstream media that act as paid servants for the rich and the growing prominence of a political apparatus that enriches itself on the benefits provided by an army of corporate lobbyists.
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