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Violence Is Deeply Rooted in American Culture

Posted on Jan 22, 2013
LINUZ90 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

(Page 2)

State violence is now amplified in the rise of the punishing state which works to support corporate interests and suppress all forms of dissent aimed at making corporate power accountable. Violence as a mode of discipline is now enacted in spheres that have traditionally been created to counter the symbolic and institutional violence perpetuated by forms of state and corporate sovereignty. Airports, schools, public services, and a host of other public spheres are now defined through a militarized language of discipline, regulation, control, and order. Human behavior is now reduced to the instrumental logic of cost-benefit analyses, market shares, and profit ratings. Human relations and behaviors are not simply militarized, viewed as targets, but also reified and dehumanized making it easier to legitimate a culture of cruelty and politics of disposability that are central organizing principles of casino capitalism.

C.J. Polychroniou: Where does all this come from?

Henry A. Giroux: Part of it comes from the fact that all of a sudden we live in a society marked by what some have called “a failed sociality.” We have no language for democracy. We have no language for compassion. Neoliberalism collapses public issues into private troubles and in doing so not only destroys democratic values and forms of solidarity, but also extends a continuity of cruelty, misery, and exploitation into every sphere of everyday life–from schools and the work place to the workings of a state that now thrives on punishing rather than nourishing the welfare state. We view any form of dependency, any form of regard for the other as humiliating and worthy of scorn.  We live in a neoliberal market-driven culture that basically celebrates an unchecked notion of self-interest and narcissism. This is a culture that has gone over the top in its worship of celebrity culture and violence. It views the news as a video game, a source of entertainment where a story gains prominence by virtue of the notion that if it bleeds it leads. So it’s really not surprising in the lack of any substantive existence of a formative culture that would value a sense of compassion and regard for the other that we end up in a moral vacuum in which violence finds suitable legitimation. And of course, formal education has been turned into a quest for private satisfactions and is no longer viewed as a public good, thus cutting itself off from teaching students about public values, the public good and engaged notions of critical citizenship.

What has emerged in the United States is a civil and political order structured around the criminalization of social problems and everyday life. This governing-through-crime model produces a highly authoritarian and mechanistic approach to addressing social problems that often focuses on the poor and minorities, promotes highly repressive policies, and places undue emphasis on personal security, rather than considering the larger complex of social and structural forces that fuels violence in the first place.


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C.J. Polychroniou: In your writings, you also talk of the “neoliberal terror” and the politics of disposability that has taken hold over American society, suggesting that there is a new form of class warfare directed against the poor and the working class. Would you elaborate a bit on this?

Henry A. Giroux: In the US there is an institutionalized regime of neoliberal violence directed against low income people, poor minorities, immigrants, the disabled, and others now considered disposable under a ruthless and savage fanatical capitalism that luxuriates in the poisonous dream worlds of commodification, deregulation, consumption, and privatization.  Within this regime of neoliberal violence, the politics of disposability is shored up by the assumption that some lives and social relationships are not worthy of a meaningful social existence, empathy and social protections. For instance, those considered “other” because of their lack of capital, consuming power, or alleged refusal to accept the unethical grammar of an Atlas Shrugged winner-take-all ethos are now relegated to zones of abandonment and terminal exclusion.  Lacking social protections, such populations increasingly are addressed within the growing reach of the punishing state, as a source of entertainment, or are relegated to what the French philosopher Etienne Balibar calls the “death zones of humanity.”[6]

In a culture defined by excessive inequality, suffering, and cruelty, the protective covering of the state, along with the public values and the formative culture necessary for a democracy is corrupted, increasingly dismantled, and held in contempt. And the disposable are not merely those populations caught in extreme poverty. Increasingly, they are individuals and groups now ravaged by bad mortgages, poor credit and huge debt. They are the growing army of the unemployed forced to abandon their houses, credit cards and ability to consume—a liability that pushes them to the margins of a market society. These are the groups whose homes will not be covered by insurance, who have no place to live, no resources to fall back on, no way to imagine that the problems they will be facing are not just personal, but deeply structural, built into a system that views the social contract and the welfare state as a lethal disease.

In this economic Darwinist measure of value, those marginalized by race and class, who might detract from, rather than enlarge another’s wealth are not only demonized, but are also viewed as problematic in that they become burdens to be disposed of, rather than a valuable and treasured human resource in which to invest. The discourse of disposability is not limited to right-wing politicians, but it is also built into the vocabulary of neoliberal governmental policy. Market societies are ruled by a predatory form of economic Darwinism in which greed and avarice are legitimated through a war-against-all, survival-of-the-fittest mentality that embraces a near sociopathic lack of interest in others and provides few social protections against individual and collective misfortune while at the same time dismissing the value of social provisions.  As the sociologist Elliott Currie has pointed out, neoliberal societies have become criminogenic in that they destroy peoples’ livelihoods, withdraw public supports, create massive extremes of economic inequality, erode social bonds while creating debilitating forms of atomization,  promote materialistic values that produce a culture of callousness, corrupt the political process, and market a form of normalized brutality evident in the massive rise of corporate crime and a culture of corruption.[7] 

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