Dec 8, 2013
Beyond Savage Politics and Dystopian Nightmares
Posted on Sep 26, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Sorting out populations based on wealth, race, the ability to consume and immigration status is the new face of America. The pathologies of inequality have come home to roost in America. Moreover, as suffering increases among vast swaths of the population, the corporate elite and rich use the proliferating crises to extract more wealth, profits and resources. Crises become the new rationale for destroying the ideologies, values and institutions that give power to the social contract. The ethos of rabid individualism, hyper-masculinity and a survival-of-the-fittest ethic has created a society of throwaways of both goods and people. The savage ethic of economic Darwinism also drives the stories we now tell about ourselves.
The state of collective unconsciousness that haunts America has its deepest roots not only in the writings of Friedrich Hyek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and other neoliberal philosophers but also in the increasing merging power of private-sector corporations that, as John Ralston Saul has argued, has its roots in the “anti-democratic underpinnings of Fascist Italy in particular, but also of Nazi Germany.” Today this “corporatism [is] so strong it that it has taken the guts out of much of daily democratic life.” Combined with the power of the national surveillance state, it is fair to say, again quoting Saul, that “corporatism, with all of the problems attached to it, is digging itself ever deeper into our society, undermining our society.” Clearly, those words echoed a few years ago were not only prescient but vastly underestimated the growing authoritarianism in the United States, in particular. We now live in a society in which leadership has been usurped by models of corporate management, self-interest has triumphed over the ethical imagination, and a respect for others is discarded for the crude instrumental goal of accumulating capital, regardless of the social costs. Intellectuals in too many public spheres have become either dysfunctional or they have sold out. Higher education is no longer the city on the hill. Instead it has become a corporate boardroom/factory in which Bill Gates wannabes govern the university as if it were an outpost of Wall Street. Outside of the boardrooms, intellectual violence prevails aimed largely at faculty and students, who are reduced to either grant writers or consumers. To make matters worse academic knowledge is drowning in firewalls of obtuseness, creating a world of dysfunctional intellectuals, at least those who have tenure. Those who don’t have such security are tied to the harsh rhythm and rituals of contingent subaltern labor and barely make enough money to be able to pay their rent or mounting debts - never mind engage in teaching critically and creatively while writing as a sustained act of dissent. At the same time, the wider culture is sinking under a flood of consumer and celebrity idiocy.
There are some who suggest that such critiques of the growing authoritarianism and repression in American society are useless and in the long run do nothing more than reinforce a crippling dystopianism. I think this line of argument is not only wrong but complicitous with the very problems it refuses to acknowledge. From a left suffocating in cynicism, there is the argument that people are already aware of these problems, as if neoliberal hegemony does not exist and that its success in building a consensus around its ideology as a mode of common sense is passé. At the same time, liberals detest such criticism because it calls into question the totality of American politics rather than focus on one issue and gestures toward a radical restructuring of American society rather than piecemeal and useless reforms. The call for such a restructuring rather than piecemeal reforms sends liberals into fits of hysteria. Of course, the right in all of its varieties views criticism as a virus that destroys everything they admire about America - a society in which democracy has been eviscerated and largely benefits the top ten percent of the population.
Most importantly, the banality of evil lies less in the humdrum cruelty of everyday relations but in its normalization, the depolicitizaton of culture, and, at the present moment, in the reproduction of a neoliberal society that eradicates any vestige of public values, the ethical imagination, social responsibility, civic education and democratic social relations. The enemy is not a market economy but a market society and the breakdown of all forms of social solidarity that inform democratic politics and the cultural, political and economic institutions that make it possible. The authoritarianism that now shapes American society is not a matter of fate but one rooted in organized struggle and a vision built on the recognition that there are always alternatives to the existing order that speak to the promise of a democracy to come.
Class and racial warfare are alive and well in the United States. In fact, racism and the class warfare waged by right-wing politicians, bankers, hedge fund managers and the corporate rich are intensifying. Americans need to reject a politics in which public goods are demonized and eradicated, African-American youths become the fodder for wars abroad and the military-prison-industrial complex, the underclass disappears, public servants are disparaged, youths vanish into debt and despair, and the middle class passes into oblivion. While politics must be connected to its material moorings, it is not enough to imagine a different future than the one that now hangs over us like a suffocating sandstorm. Those intellectuals, workers, young people, artists and others committed to a radical democracy need to develop a new vocabulary about how to think about the meaning of politics, human agency and the building of a formative culture through which organized collective struggles can develop in the effort to imagine a new and more democratic future.
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