Dec 8, 2013
Mad Stories in Paul Ryan’s World
Posted on Mar 16, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
It gets worse: Ryan’s budget barely touches the military budget and reduces the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Pell grants would be cut while big oil would retain billions in tax breaks. The general response from progressives and liberals is that Ryan’s budget is not new, that it represents a cruel hoax, that it is out of touch with reality, and that it represents a foolhardy attempt to roll back the Obama agenda or an American version of the tactics employed by the Taliban - keeping people stupid, oppressing women, living in a circle of certainty, and turning all channels of education into a mass propaganda machine. All of these positions touch on an element of Ryan’s story that reveals its underlying premises and the horrible consequences it would have for most Americans. But such commentaries do not go far enough. Ryan’s chronicle is about more than bad policy, policies that favor the rich over the poor, or a burst of Tea Party idiocy. Ryan’s story is about the poison of neoliberalism and its ongoing attempt to abolish those very institutions meant to eradicate human suffering, protect the environment, provide social provisions, and protect the public good. This is a story that legitimates authoritarianism with a soft-edge, one that eliminates democracy through a thousand cuts, while creating a pathological disdain for community, public values, public life and democracy itself.
At the heart of this account is an ideology, a mode of governance, and a set of policies that embrace a pathological individualism, a distorted notion of freedom, and a willingness both to employ state violence to suppress dissent and to abandon those suffering from a collection of social problems ranging from dire poverty and joblessness to homelessness. In the end, this is a story about disposability and how it has become a central feature of American politics. Rather than work for a better life, most Americans now work to simply survive in a survival-of-the-fittest society in which a growing number of groups are considered disposable and a drain on the body politic, economy, and sensibilities of the rich and powerful. What is new about the politics of disposability is not that public values and certain groups are now rendered as excess or redundant, but the ways in which such anti-democratic practices have become normalized in the existing contemporary neoliberal order. A politics of inequality and ruthless power disparities is now matched by a culture of cruelty soaked in blood, humiliation and misery. Private injuries are not only separated from public considerations in Ryan’s story, they have become the object of scorn just as all noncommercial public spheres are viewed with contempt, a perfect supplement to a chilling indifference to the plight of those disadvantaged because of their class, health, race, age and disability. There is a particularly savage violence that fuels Ryan’s account and that violence has made America unrecognizable as a democracy.
Clearly, we need not only to be able to recognize the untruth of Ryan’s narrative and the historical, political, economic and cultural conditions that produce it, we also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be. This demands a break from established political parties, the creation of alternative public spheres in which to produce democratic narratives and visions, and a notion of politics that is educative, one that takes seriously how people interpret and mediate the world, how they see themselves in relation to others, and what it might mean to imagine otherwise in order to act otherwise. Why are millions not protesting in the streets over these barbaric policies that deprive them of life, liberty, justice, equality and dignity? What are the pedagogical technologies and practices at work that create the conditions for people to act against their own sense of dignity, agency and collective possibilities? Progressives and others need to make education central to any viable sense of politics so as to make matters of remembrance and consciousness a central element of what it means to be a critical and engaged citizen.
 The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program, “Conservatives: The New Taliban,” Truthout (March 13, 2013).
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