May 21, 2013
Gated Intellectuals, Fortress America, and the Politics of Occupy
Posted on Mar 21, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Instead of the gated intellectual, there is a dire need for public intellectuals in the academy, art world, business sphere, media, and other cultural apparatuses to move from negation to hope. That is, there is a need to develop what I call a project of democratization and borderless pedagogy that moves across different sites—from schools to the alternative media—as part of a broader attempt to construct a critical formative culture in the United States that enables Americans to reclaim their voices, speak out, exhibit moral outrage and create the social movements, tactics and public spheres that will reverse the growing tide of authoritarianism in the United States. Such intellectuals are essential to democracy, even as social well-being depends on a continuous effort to raise disquieting questions and challenges, use knowledge and analytical skills to address important social problems, alleviate human suffering where possible and redirect resources back to individuals and communities who cannot survive and flourish without them. Engaged public intellectuals are especially needed at a time when it is necessary to resist the hollowing out of social state, the rise of a governing-through-crime complex and the growing gap between the rich and poor that is pushing the United States back into the moral and political abyss of the Gilded Age, characterized by what David Harvey calls the “accumulation of capital through dispossession,” which he claims “is about plundering, robbing other people of their rights” through the dizzying dream worlds of consumption, power, greed, deregulation and unfettered privatization that are central to a neoliberal project.(7)
One particular challenge now facing the Occupy movement and the growing public intellectuals that reject the zombie politics of casino capitalism is to provide a multitude of public and free access forums—such as Truthout, Truthdig, AlterNet, Counterpunch, Salon, and other alternative media spaces as well as free learning centers where knowledge is produced—in which critically engaged intellectuals are able not only to do the work of connecting knowledge, skills and techniques to broader public considerations and social problems, but also to make clear that education takes place in a variety of spheres that should be open to everyone. It is precisely through the broad mobilization of traditional and new educational sites that public intellectuals can do the work of resistance, engagement, policymaking and supporting a democratic politics. Such spheres should also enable young people to learn not just how to read the world critically, but to be able to produce cultural and social forms that enable shared practices and ideas rooted in a commitment to the common good. Such spheres provide a sense of solidarity, encourage intellectuals to take risks and model what it means to engage a larger public through work that provides both a language of critique and a discourse of educated hope, engagement and social transformation, while shaping ongoing public conversations about significant cultural and political concerns. To echo the great sociologist C. Wright Mills, there is a need for public intellectuals who refuse the role of “sociological bookkeeper,” preferring instead to be “mutinous and utopian” rather than “go the way of the literary faddist and the technician of cultural chic.” We can catch a glimpse of what such intellectuals do and why they matter in the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Edward Said, Jacques Derrida, Noam Chomsky and, more recently, in a younger generation of intellectuals such as Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, David Theo Goldberg and Susan Searls Giroux—all of whom have been crucial in helping a generation of young people find their way to a more humane future, one that demands a new politics, a new set of values and renewed sense of the fragile nature of democracy. In part, this means educating a new generation of intellectuals, who are willing to combine moral outrage with analytic skills and informed knowledge in order to hold power accountable and expand those public spheres where ideas, debate, critique and hope continue to matter.
Under the present circumstances, it is time to remind ourselves—in spite of idiotic anti-intellectual statements from Rick Santorum condemning higher education and critical thought itself—that critical ideas matter. Those public spheres in which critical thought is nurtured provide the minimal conditions for people to become worldly, take hold of important social issues and alleviate human suffering as the means of making the United States a more equitable and just society. Ideas are not empty gestures and they do more than express a free-floating idealism. Ideas provide a crucial foundation for assessing the limits and strengths of our sense of individual and collective agency and what it might mean to exercise civic courage in order not merely to live in the world, but to shape it in light of democratic ideals that would make it a better place for everyone. Critical ideas and the technologies, institutions and public spheres that enable them matter because they offer us the opportunity to think and act otherwise, challenge common sense, cross over into new lines of inquiry and take positions without standing still—in short, to become border crossers who refuse the silos that isolate the privileged within an edifice of protections built on greed, inequitable amounts of income and wealth and the one-sided power of the corporate state.
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