Mar 15, 2014
The ‘Suicidal State’ and the War on Youth
Posted on Apr 11, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Democracy is on life support and the list of casualties in the war to empty it of any substance is long. We are witnessing the ongoing privatization of public schools, health care, prisons, transportation, the military, public air waves, public lands, and other crucial elements of the commons along with the undermining of our most basic civil liberties. Privatization in this case not only turns public goods over to the savage interests of the corporate elite, but puts such goods in the hands of market-based fundamentalists who can exercise control over the production of identities, values, modes of agency and dissent.
Home schooling, vouchers, charter schools and the rhetoric of school choice all serve as code for privatizing public goods, spheres and non-commodified institutions. Similarly, the bridges between public and private life are being dismantled, while the market - with its disregard for the complex web of systemic forces that bear down on people’s lives, not to mention its disregard for human life itself - becomes the template for structuring all social relations.
Already disenfranchised by virtue of their age, young people are under assault today in ways that are entirely new because they now face a world that is far more dangerous than at any other time in recent history. Not only do they live in a space of social homelessness in which precarity and uncertainty lock them out of a secure future, they also find themselves living in a society that seeks to silence them as it makes them invisible. Victims of a war against economic justice, equality and democratic values, young people are now told not to expect too much, to accept the status of “stateless, faceless and functionless”(16) nomads, a plight for which they alone have to accept responsibility. At best, they are told to assume sole responsibility for their fate. At worse, they are viewed as unproductive, excess and utterly expendable. But the discourse of redundancy has a darker side, one that reveals not just a society that is no longer willing to invest in poor minority and white youth, but also a social order that views many young people as a prime target of its governing through youth crime complex.
Today’s young people inhabit an age of unprecedented symbolic, material and institutional violence - an age of grotesque irresponsibility, unrestrained greed and unchecked individualism. Youth now constitute a present absence in any talk about democracy. Their absence or disappearance is symptomatic of a society that has turned against itself, punishes its children and does so at the risk of killing the entire body politic. The “suicidal state” produces an autoimmune crisis in which a society attacks the very elements of a society that allow it to reproduce itself, while at the same time killing off of any sense of history, memory and ethical responsibility.
The threat to democracy is now overridden by the fear of youth as the other, viewed largely as a threat to authority. The eminent sociologist Zygmunt Bauman is right in claiming, “Visions have nowadays fallen into disrepute and we tend to be proud of what we should be ashamed of.”(17) Politics has become an extension of war, just as state sponsored violence increasingly finds legitimation in popular culture and a broader culture of cruelty that promotes an expanding landscape of fear and undermines any sense of shared responsibility toward others.
New and Improved Comments