Dec 12, 2013
The Violence of Organized Forgetting
Posted on Jul 22, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Within the United States especially, the often violent response to nonviolent forms of youth protests must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to war and the militarization of the entire society. The merging of the military-industrial complex, surveillance state and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare and surveillance state and the neoliberal project and how different interests, modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such a conjuncture is invaluable politically in that it provides a theoretical opening for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, focus and a cutting edge.” It also points to the conceptual power of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology. It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible and politics refuses any guarantees and remains open.
I want to argue that the current historical moment or what Stuart Hall calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,” has to be understood in terms of the growing forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such antidemocratic pressures and their relationship to the rising protests of young people in the United States and abroad are evident in the crisis that has emerged through the merging of governance and violence, the growth of the punishing state, and the persistent development of what has been described by Alex Honneth as “a failed sociality.”
The United States has become addicted to violence, and this dependency is fueled increasingly by its willingness to wage war at home and abroad. War in this instance is not merely the outgrowth of polices designed to protect the security and well-being of the United States. It is also, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, part of a “military metaphysics” - a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities. War provides jobs, profits, political payoffs, research funds, and forms of political and economic power that reach into every aspect of society. War is also one of the nation’s most honored virtues, and its militaristic values now bear down on almost every aspect of American life. As modern society is formed against the backdrop of a permanent war zone, a carceral state and hyper-militarism, the social stature of the military and soldiers has risen. As Michael Hardt and Tony Negri have pointed out, “In the United States, rising esteem for the military in uniform corresponds to the growing militarization of the society as a whole. All of this despite repeated revelations of the illegality and immorality of the military’s own incarceration systems, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, whose systematic practices border on if not actually constitute torture.” The state of exception in the United States, in particular, has become permanent and promises no end. War has become a mode of sovereignty and rule, eroding the distinction between war and peace. Increasingly fed by a moral and political hysteria, warlike values produce and endorse shared fears as the primary register of social relations.
The war on terror, rebranded under Obama as the “Overseas Contingency Operation,” has morphed into war on democracy. Everyone is now considered a potential terrorist, providing a rational for both the government and private corporations to spy on anybody, regardless of whether they have committed a crime. Surveillance is supplemented by a growing domestic army of baton-wielding police forces who are now being supplied with the latest military equipment. Military technologies such as Drones, SWAT vehicles and machine-gun-equipped armored trucks once used exclusively in high-intensity war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan are now being supplied to police departments across the nation and not surprisingly “the increase in such weapons is matched by training local police in war zone tactics and strategies.” The domestic war against “terrorists” [code for young protesters] provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations who “are becoming more a part of our domestic lives.” As Glenn Greenwald points out, “Arming domestic police forces with paramilitary weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a terrorist attack on US soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.” Of course, the new domestic paramilitary forces will also undermine free speech and dissent with the threat of force while simultaneously threatening core civil liberties, rights and civic responsibilities. Given that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime,” it becomes clear that in the new militarized state young people, especially poor minorities, are viewed as predators, a threat to corporate governance, and are treated as disposable populations. This siege mentality will be reinforced by the merging of private and corporate intelligence and surveillance agencies, and the violence it produces will increase as will the growth of a punishment state that acts with impunity. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the 1950s and 1960s.
Permanent War and the Public Pedagogy of Hyper-Violence
As a mode of public pedagogy, a state of permanent war needs willing subjects to abide by its values, ideology, and narratives of fear and violence. Such legitimation is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to the production of consumerism, militarism and organized violence, largely circulated through various registers of popular culture that extend from high fashion and Hollywood movies to the creation of violent video games and music concerts sponsored by the Pentagon. The market-driven spectacle of war demands a culture of conformity, quiet intellectuals and a largely passive republic of consumers. There is also a need for subjects who find intense pleasure in commodification of violence and a culture of cruelty. Under neoliberalism, culture appears to have largely abandoned its role as a site of critique. Very little appears to escape the infantilizing and moral vacuity of the market. For instance, the architecture of war and violence is now matched by a barrage of goods parading as fashion. For instance, in light of the recent NSA and PRISM spying revelations in the United States, The New York Times ran a story on a new line of fashion with the byline: “Stealth Wear Aims to Make a Tech Statement.”
As the pleasure principle is unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for others, it is increasingly shaped by the need for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations. Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of violence has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings, and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness, and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place and set the stage for the emergence of unchecked torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultrarich and major corporations, and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery, and eliminating all viable public spheres - whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good.
State violence, particularly the use of torture, abductions, and targeted assassinations are now justified as part of a state of exception in which a “political culture of hyper-punitiveness” has become normalized. Revealing itself in a blatant display of unbridled arrogance and power, it is unchecked by any sense of either conscience or morality. How else to explain the right-wing billionaire, Charles Koch, insisting that the best way to help the poor is to get rid of the minimum wage. In response, journalist Rod Bastanmehr points out that “Koch didn’t acknowledge the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, but he did make sure to show off his fun new roll of $100-bill toilet paper, which was a real treat for folks everywhere.” It gets worse. Ray Canterbury, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates insisted that “students could be forced into labor in exchange for food.” In other words, students could clean toilets, do janitorial work or other menial chores in order to pay for their free school breakfast and lunch programs. In Maine, Rep. Bruce Bickford (R) has argued that the state should do away with child labor laws. His rationale speaks for itself. He writes: ““Kids have parents. Let the parents be responsible for the kids. It’s not up to the government to regulate everybody’s life and lifestyle. Take the government away. Let the parents take care of their kids.” This is a version of social Darwinism on steroids, a tribute to Ayn Rand that would make even her blush.
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