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Reclaiming the Radical Imagination

Posted on Jan 13, 2014
sydney g (CC BY 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 2)

Chris Hedges is right when he argues that “any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through [the] control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian.” While Hedges is aware that this disciplinary culture of fear and repression is rooted in a political economy that treats people as objects and makes the accumulation of capital the subjects of history, he underestimates one important element of the new authoritarianism produced by casino capitalism. That is, what is novel about existing registers of discipline and control is that they operate in a new historical conjuncture in which the relationship among political power, cultural institutions and everyday life has become more powerful and intense in the ability to undermine the radical imagination and the power and capacities of individuals to resist repression and make the crucial decisions necessary to take control over the forces that shape their lives. The machineries of public pedagogy and consent have taken on an Orwellian presence in the age of digital technologies, and when challenges to authoritarian rule emerges, the state resorts to the overt and unapologetic repression of critical thought and dissent.

The anonymity of the corporate state becomes invisible as historical and public memory are erased and the American public is increasingly infantilized. Stupidity is normalized through a consumer/celebrity culture, and where that does not work, the machinery of state repression, with its endless culture of fear, punishes those willing to question authority. Authorities try to blind people to the courage exhibited by whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden, painting them instead as traitors. Courage is now under attack by the sterile and dangerous call for unchecked security. Fear becomes the only value left in the arsenal of the machinery of surveillance, control and social death. David Graeber is right in arguing that the call for public dialogue, dissent and critical exchange in order to hold power accountable no longer provokes informed judgement and outrage among the public or thoughtful responses from politicians and popular pundits. On the contrary, he writes:

Objections to such arrangements are to be met with truncheons, lasers, and police dogs. It’s no coincidence that marketization has been accompanied by a new ethos where challenge is met with an instant appeal to violence. In the end, despite endless protests to the contrary, our rulers understand that the market is not a natural social arrangement. It has always had to be imposed at the point of a gun . . . The question to ask now is not, how do we bring it back. That’s impossible and quite undesirable. The question is what new forms of genuinely democratic self-organization might rise from its ashes? To even begin to ask this question we must first of all get rid of the police.

American politics and culture have been handed over to the rich, lobbyists for the corporate elite, and now function largely to produce a state that offers the ultrawealthy and powerful all of the benefits they need to accumulate even more capital, regardless of the massive inequality in wealth, income and suffering such policies produce. In spite of being discredited by the economic recession of 2008, unfettered casino capitalism remains a dominant force and continues to produce runaway environmental devastation, egregious amounts of human suffering and the reinforcement of what Charles Ferguson has called “finance as a criminalized, rogue industry. And, yet, while resistance to such measures is growing, it is far too weak to offer a significant challenge to the new authoritarianism.


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All over the world, the forces of casino capitalism are invoking austerity measures that produce a kind of social and civil death as they dismantle the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making as the essence of democracy, expanding the role of corporate money in politics, waging an assault on unions, augmenting the military-security state, overseeing widening social inequality, promoting the erosion of civil liberties, and undercutting public faith in the defining institutions of democracy. The script is not new, but the intensity of the assault on democratic values, civic engagement and public service has taken a dangerous turn and provides the ideological, political and cultural foundation for a society that seems unaware it is in the midst of an authoritarian stranglehold on all of its most cherished institutions, ranging from schools and health care to the very foundation of democracy. Austerity has become the weapon of choice, an economic poison designed to punish the middle and working classes while making clear that casino capitalism will administer the most severe penalties to those who challenge its authority. The police have become the new private armies of the rich, designed to keep the public in check hoping to make them fearful of being exposed to police brutality, state violence or the expanding mechanisms of the multiple surveillance apparatuses that now collect every piece of information that circulates electronically. Conformity has become the order of the day and fear the new norm, reinforced by a disimagination machine and the punishing state now mutually informing each other.

Within the last 30 years, the United States has been transformed from a society that included a market economy subject to the rule of the state to a society and government that are now dominated almost exclusively by market values and corporate power. We now live in what Robert Jay Lifton once described as a “death-saturated age.” Political authority and power have been transformed into a sovereignty of corporate governance and rule. The United States has moved from a market economy to a market society in which all vestiges of the social contract are under attack, and politics is ruled by the irrational notion that casino capitalism should govern not simply the economy but the entirety of social life.  With the return of the new Gilded Age, not only are democratic values and social protections at risk, but the civic and formative cultures that make such values and protections central to democratic life are in danger of disappearing altogether.

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