May 18, 2013
The Occupy Movement and the Politics of Educated Hope
Posted on May 22, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
At issue here is that the protesters seek to rescue the political possibilities of ambivalence from the powerful, break open the sordid appeal to common sense, unmask casino capitalism’s most pernicious myths (especially the alleged belief that capitalism and democracy are the same), struggle to restage power in productive ways, enact social agency from those places where it has been denied and work to provide an accurate historical accounting of the racial state and racial power. What has emerged in the Occupy movement is the refusal on the part of protesters to accept the dominant scripts of official authority and the limitations they impose upon individual and social agency, thus using spaces of critique, dissent, dialogue and collective resistance as starting points from which to build unfamiliar, potential worlds. In the process of thinking seriously about structures of power, state formation, militarism, capitalist formations, class and pedagogy, the protesters have refused to substitute moral indignation for the hard work of contributing to critical education and enabling people to expand the horizons of their own sense of agency in order to collectively challenge established structures of financial and cultural power.
This rethinking of politics bristles with a deeply rooted refusal to serve up well-worn and obvious truths, reinforce existing relations of power, or bid retreat to an official rendering of common sense that promotes “a corrosive and demoralizing silence.”(12) What emerges in these distinct but politically allied voices is a pedagogy of disruption, critique, recovery and possibility, one that recognizes that there is no viable politics without will and awareness and that critical education motivates and provides a crucial foundation for understanding and intervening in the world. As Stanley Aronowitz argues, “The system survives on the eclipse of the radical imagination, the absence of a viable political opposition with roots in the general population and the conformity of its intellectuals.”(13) While a pedagogy of disruption and possibility offer no guarantees, it does create the formative culture necessary to create the conditions to enable the hard work necessary to make the “long march” “through the institutions, the workplaces and the streets of the capitalist metropoles.”(14)
Collectively, the Occupy movement also explores, in different ways, how politics demands a new language and a broader view of pedagogy that is both critical and visionary. This commitment translates into a pedagogy capable of illuminating the anti-democratic forces and sites that threaten human lives, the environment and democracy itself; at the same time, its visionary nature cracks open the present to reveal new horizons, different futures and the promise of a global democracy. And yet, under the reign of neoliberal ideology, racist xenophobic nationalisms, the rise of the punishing state, and a range of other anti-democratic forces, citizenship is increasingly privatized, commodified, or subject to various religious and ideological fundamentalisms that feed a sense of powerlessness and disengagement from democratic struggles, if not politics itself. Neoliberalism presents misfortune as a weakness and the logic of the market instructs individuals to rely on their own wits if they fall on hard times, especially since the state has washed its hands of any responsibility for the fate of its citizens. And it is precisely this marriage between fate and the dictates of capitalism that the Occupy movement is challenging.
If the act of critical translation is crucial to a democratic politics, it faces a crisis of untold proportions in the United States, as the deadening reduction of the citizen to a consumer of services and goods empties politics of substance by stripping citizens of their political skills, offering up only individual solutions to social problems, and dissolving all obligations and sense of responsibility for the other in an ethos of hyper-individualism and a narrowly privatized linguistic universe. The logic of the commodity penetrates all aspects of life, and the most important questions driving society no longer seem concerned about matters of equity, social justice and the fate of the common good. The most important choice now facing most people is no longer about living a life with dignity and freedom, but facing the grim choice between survival and dying. As the government deregulates, privatizes and outsources key aspects of governance, turning over the provisions of collective insurance, security and care to private institutions and market-based forces, it undermines the social contract, while “the present retreat of the state from the endorsement of social rights signals the falling apart of a community in its modern, ‘imagined’ yet institutionally safeguarded incarnation.”(15)
As the machineries of social death expand, politics seems to take place elsewhere—in globalized regimes of power that are indifferent to traditional forms of power and hostile to any notion of collective responsibility to address human suffering and social problems. Chris Hedges captures the spirit and politics of this mode of corporate colonialism and it is worth repeating. He writes:
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