Dec 10, 2013
Intellectuals as Subjects and Objects of Violence
Posted on Sep 13, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Though it is a matter of public record that the US government has killed children through drone strikes in Afghanistan, lied about the reasons that led to the Iraqi war (reproducing a similar refrain for threatening to bomb Syria), refused to prosecute government officials and CIA operatives who openly admitted they either supported or committed torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public barely flinches when brave whistle-blowers are imprisoned, subjected to solitary confinement and labeled as traitors for exposing the crimes of their government. After 30 years of a market-driven immorality, political corruption and a culture of cruelty and irresponsibility, the American public appears lifeless as it moves through a fog of civic illiteracy and unchecked greed and power. All the while, too many Americans appear to be on life support, drowning in a tidal wave of a celebrity-driven commodified culture that makes stupidity a virtue, rewards armies of quasi-intellectuals who parade through the major news channels and talk shows while unabashedly renouncing all connections to civic courage and truth telling, and refuses to make the titans of finance and government accountable for their crimes. As state and corporate terrorism proliferate, the quasi-intellectuals raise their voices and deliver their scripted slogans only to condemn those brave enough to expose the abuses of a government and corporate elites that undermine all vestiges of a democracy.
We have too many anti-public intellectuals or quasi-intellectuals who no longer believe in the intellectual vocation, truth telling, or the practice of freedom. What is new is not the repression of dissent by the government, but the scope and extent to which various types of intellectuals have been seduced by academia, corporations, the military-industrial-surveillance complex and the mass-culture industries. They have been absorbed into what C. Wright Mills called the power elite, and rather than criticize governmental and corporate propaganda, they produce and normalize it. All one has to do is follow the career of academics such as David Steiner, Nathan Glazer, John Campbell, Glenn Hubbard or Martin Feldstein. Or for that matter the number of college presidents such as Ruth Simmons, one-time President of Brown University, and Debora Spar, president of Bernard College, both of whom sat on the board of directors of Goldman Sachs. There are also the examples of Susan Hockfoeld, the president of MIT who sat on the board of General Electric, and Carol Christ, the president of Smith College, who graced the board of Merrill Lynch with her presence. As Charles Ferguson points out in Predator Nation, this reads like a board of academic shame. One has to wonder how such powerful academics shaped or stifled the culture of questioning and dissent on their own campuses, especially when it might have been aimed at the types of institutions from which they derived their salaries and helped to legitimate as corporate models of leadership. Walt Disney, the ultimate self-promoter and cheerleader for the free market would be turning over in his grave with envy in the face of this type of hubris.
At the same time, those few critical and public intellectuals who voice their concerns almost never appear in the dominant media or are held up as heroic intellectuals. For example, Noam Chomsky, Stanley Aronowitz, Angela Davis and many other public intellectuals well-known in the alternative media are completely absent from the dominant cultural apparatuses. And while many notable public intellectuals are simply erased from the mainstream media, there are others who are removed from textbooks, deleted from the intellectual archive of the country or renounced simply as traitors. A perfect example of this type of censorship and anti-intellectualism was on full display recently when it was revealed by the Associated Press that former Indiana Governor and George W. Bush adviser Mitch Daniels tried to remove a work of Howard Zinn (which has sold over a million copies) from the state’s schools in 2010 claiming that The People’s History of the United States is a “truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.” There is more than ignorance at work here. There is a willful refusal to know - a type of ideological fundamentalism that thrives on certainty and finds its final resting place in “laboratories of totalitarian regimes.” This atrocious act of censorship and ideological rigidity did nothing to slow down Daniels’ career as he was recently appointed to be the president of Purdue University, the second largest university in Indiana. With the likes of neoliberal CEOs and conservative warriors such as Daniels heading major universities, it is understandable to find that public intellectuals are in short supply in academia - with many faculty now retreating into impenetrable vocabularies, irrelevant specializations, or crossing over and becoming complicit in serving the interest of the military-industrial-academic complex.
At a time when American society is immersed in the psychosis of war and capital accumulation regardless of the social costs, intellectuals, artists, media pundits, academics, journalists, and other cultural workers should be engaged in a critical dialogue with the American public, and if they are not, I think it is fair to say that they are not public intellectuals and function more like bureaucrats, specialists, and technicians, or even worse, become complicit with the warfare-surveillance state. Those who work in the realm of ideas and willingly retreat from the notion of intellectual work as a vocation in the pursuit of truth telling and the practice of freedom have been reduced to a subaltern class of legitimation technicians who expand the culture of conformity and the machineries of war, violence and death, even when they are not aware of what the consequences of their withdrawal from society implies. On the other hand, public intellectuals who do engage society critically to expose the mad violence of war, mass surveillance and hyper-nationalism are on the wane, and rather than command attention and respect are relegated to the status of being unprofessional, un-American, or even worse, traitors. A shameful example of this type of hyper-patriotic baiting was on full display when David Gregory, the host of “Meet the Press Sunday,” asked Glenn Greenwald why he should not be charged with a crime given his dealings with Edward Snowden. Not only was Gregory impugning the critical work that journalists should do as part of the fifth estate, but actually suggesting that journalists who help expose government corruption and illegality should be subject to criminal punishment. Welcome to 1984.
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