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Hope in a Time of Permanent War

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Posted on Sep 6, 2013
bitzcelt (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Henry A Giroux, Truthout

(Page 2)

The American public yawns as they are inundated with statistics that should shock, and they are complacent in the face of information that should make them ashamed. For example, in the richest country in the world, the “U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 for child poverty,” “over 350,000 Americans with advanced degrees applied for food stamps in 2010,“millions of young people are crushed under the burden of student loans, increasing numbers of youth are homeless, living on the streets, and more than 50 million Americans are uninsured. Inequality in wealth, power and income has created a country filled with gated communities on the one hand and zones of abandonment and massive poverty and human suffering on the other. The middle class pays higher taxes than many corporations, while the super-rich get even richer. For instance, “each of the Koch brothers saw his investments grow by $6 billion in one year, which is three million dollars per hour based on a 40-hour ‘work’ week.” Equally obscene and symptomatic is the example of Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who made $21 million last year and received a bonus of $5 million in January 2013. At the same time, the poorest 47 percent have no wealth, 146 million Americans, or one in two, are low-income or poor, and a “third of families with young children are now in poverty.”

Unlike some theorists who suggest that politics as a site of contestation, critical exchange and engagement has either come to an end or is in a state of terminal arrest, especially in light of the withering of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, I believe that the current depressing state of politics points to the urgent challenge of reformulating the crisis of democracy and the radical imagination as part of the fundamental crisis of vision, meaning, education and political agency. Politics devoid of vision degenerates into cynicism or appropriates a view of power equated with domination. Lost from such accounts is the recognition that democracy has to be struggled over - even in the face of a most appalling crisis of educational opportunity and political agency.

There is also too little attention paid to the fact that the struggle over politics and democracy is strongly connected to creating and sustaining public spheres where individuals can be engaged as political agents equipped with the skills, capacities and knowledge they need not only to actually perform as autonomous political agents but also to believe that such struggles are worth taking up. The formative cultures, institutions and modes of critical agency necessary for a vibrant democracy do not exist in a culture in which knowledge is fragmented, power concentrated in few hands and time is reduced to a deprivation for large segments of the public - one consequence of which is the endless struggle by many Americans simply to try to survive at the level of everyday life. The colonizing of time, space and power suggests taking back people’s time in an era when the majority must work more than ever to make ends meet. There is no democracy in a country in which for most people time is a deprivation rather than a luxury. Time is crippled when it is trapped within an endless need to fight to merely survive in order to have enough to eat, have access to decent health care, day care and a social wage. The struggle over time is inextricably linked to a struggle over space, institutions, public spheres, the public good, power, the future and the nature of politics itself.

In a country in which the social contract is dissolving, the social wage is on life support and social protections are viewed as a pathology, democracy becomes a shadow of itself and choice becomes impotent and an empty slogan because of the constraints imposed on the 99 percent by vast inequalities in wealth, income, power and opportunity. The growth of cynicism in American society may say less about the reputed apathy of the populace than it might about the bankruptcy of the old political languages and the need for a new language and vision for clarifying intellectual, ethical and political projects, especially as they work to reframe questions of agency, ethics and meaning for a substantive democracy. As Bauman has argued, “hope nowadays feels frail, vulnerable, and fissiparous precisely because we can’t locate a viable and sufficiently potent agency that can be relied on to make the words flesh.” If democratic agents are in short supply, so is the formative culture that is necessary to create them - revealing a cultural apparatus that is more than an economic entity or industry. It is also a public pedagogy machine - an all-embracing totality of educational sites that produces particular narratives about the world, what it means to be a citizen and what role education will play in a powerful and unchecked military-industrial-security-surveillance state. Stanley Aronowitz is right in arguing that:

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[The] social character has become entwined with communications technology. … This intricate interlock between cultural institutions, political power and everyday life constitutes a new moment of history. It has become the primary machinery of domination. And a central aspect of domination is the abrogation of concept that we can know the totality, but are condemned to understand the division of the world as a series of specializations. Thus, the well-known fragmentation of social life is both a result of the re-arrangement of social space and the modes by which knowledge is produced, disseminated and ingested. The cultural apparatus is largely responsible for the intellectual darkness that has enveloped us.*

We live in a world in which any viable notion of hope has to recognize that the social media, or the cultural apparatus as C.W. Mills once acknowledged, has “formed a new mass sensibility, a new condition for the widespread acceptance of the capitalist system” and that our social character has become inextricably merged and shaped by the new social media.” Most importantly, the existing cultural apparatuses in all of their diversity are the most powerful educational tools of the 21st century shaping not only individual desires, dreams, needs and fears but the nature of our understanding of politics and social life in general. Yet, such cultural apparatuses that range from magazines, film, newspapers, television and various instruments of the social media and platforms made available through the Internet constitute one of the few spheres left in which hope can be nourished through the production and circulation of alternative knowledge, ideas, values, dreams desires and modes of subjectivity. The fight over the cultural apparatus may be the most significant struggle that can be waged in the name of hope for a better and more just future.


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