Dec 5, 2013
America’s Descent Into Madness
Posted on Aug 19, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, CounterPunch
At the heart of neoliberal narratives are ideologies, modes of governance, and policies that embrace a pathological individualism, a distorted notion of freedom, and a willingness both to employ state violence to suppress dissent and abandon those suffering from a collection of social problems ranging from dire poverty and joblessness to homelessness. In the end, these are stories about disposability in which growing numbers of groups are considered dispensable and a drain on the body politic, the economy, and the sensibilities of the rich and powerful. Rather than work for a more dignified life, most Americans now work simply to survive in a survival-of-the-fittest society in which getting ahead and accumulating capital, especially for the ruling elite, is the only game in town. In the past, public values have been challenged and certain groups have been targeted as superfluous or redundant. But what is new about the politics of disposability that has become a central feature of contemporary American politics is the way in which such anti-democratic practices have become normalized in the existing 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 not only are separated from public considerations such narratives, but narratives of poverty and exclusion have become objects of scorn. Similarly, all noncommercial public spheres where such stories might get heard are viewed with contempt, a perfect supplement to the chilling indifference to the plight of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.
Any viable struggle against the authoritarian forces that dominate the United States must make visible the indignity and injustice of these narratives and the historical, political, economic, and cultural conditions that produce them. This suggests a critical analysis of how various educational forces in American society are distracting and miseducating the public. Dominant political and cultural responses to current events—such as the ongoing economic crisis, income inequality, health care reform, Hurricane Sandy, the war on terror, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the crisis of public schools in Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities—represent flashpoints that reveal a growing disregard for people’s democratic rights, public accountability, and civic values. As politics is disconnected from its ethical and material moorings, it becomes easier to punish and imprison young people than to educate them. From the inflated rhetoric of the political right to market-driven media peddling spectacles of violence, the influence of these criminogenc and death-saturated forces in everyday life is undermining our collective security by justifying cutbacks to social supports and restricting opportunities for democratic resistance. Saturating mainstream discourses with anti-public narratives, the neoliberal machinery of social death effectively weakens public supports and prevents the emergence of much-needed new ways of thinking and speaking about politics in the twenty-first century. But even more than neutralizing collective opposition to the growing control and wealth of predatory financial elites—which now wield power across all spheres of U.S. society—responses to social issues are increasingly dominated by a malignant characterization of marginalized groups as disposable populations. All the while zones of abandonment accelerate the technologies and mechanisms of disposability. One consequence is the spread of a culture of cruelty in which human suffering is not only tolerated, but viewed as part of the natural order of things.
Before this dangerously authoritarian mindset has a chance to take hold of our collective imagination and animate our social institutions, it is crucial that all Americans think critically and ethically about the coercive forces shaping U.S. culture—and focus our energy on what can be done to change them. It will not be enough only to expose the falseness of the stories we are told. We also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be for our children and ourselves. 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 central elements of what it means to be critical and engaged citizens.
There is also a need for social movements that invoke stories as a form of public memory, stories that have the potential to move people to invest in their own sense of individual and collective agency, stories that make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative. If democracy is to once again inspire a populist politics, it is crucial to develop a number of social movements in which the stories told are never completed, but are always open to self- and social reflection, capable of pushing ever further the boundaries of our collective imagination and struggles against injustice wherever they might be. Only then will the stories that now cripple our imaginations, politics, and democracy be challenged and hopefully overcome.
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