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The ‘Suicidal State’ and the War on Youth

Posted on Apr 11, 2012
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A young protester sits in Zuccotti Park in the early days of Occupy Wall Street.

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 4)

As is evident in the recent killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, poor minority youth are not just excluded from “the American dream,” but have become utterly redundant and disposable, waste products of a society that no longer considers them of any value. Such youth, already facing forms of racial and class-based exclusion, now experience a kind of social death as they are pushed out of schools, denied job-training opportunities, subjected to rigorous modes of surveillance and criminal sanctions and viewed less as chronically disadvantaged than as flawed consumers and civic felons. Some such as Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd experience something more ominous - death by homicide.

No longer tracked into either high- or low-achievement classes, many of these youth are now pushed right out of school into the juvenile criminal justice system.(18) Under such circumstances, matters of survival and disposability become central to how we think about and imagine not just politics, but the everyday existence of poor white, immigrant and minority youth. Too many young people are not completing high school, but are, instead, bearing the brunt of a system that leaves them uneducated and jobless and, ultimately, offers them one of the few options available for people who no longer have available roles to play as producers or consumers - either poverty or prison. When the material foundations of agency and security disappear, hope becomes hopeless and young people are reduced to the status of waste products to be tossed out or hidden away in the global human waste industry.

Not only have social safety nets and protections unraveled in the last thirty years, but the suffering and hardships many children face have been greatly amplified by both the economic crisis and the austerity policies that are being currently implemented, with little justification in the current historical moment. Young people now find themselves in a world in which sociality has been reduced to an economic battle ground over materialistic needs waged by an army of nomadic, fiercely competitive individuals, just as more and more people find their behavior pathologized, criminalized and subject to state violence.(19) Youth now inhabit a social order in which bonds of trust have been replaced by bonds of fear. As Zygmunt Bauman puts it, “Trust is replaced by universal suspicion. All bonds are assumed to be untrustworthy, unreliable, trap-and-ambush-like - until proven otherwise.”(20)

All forms of social solidarity are now abandoned to a free-market fundamentalism logic that has individualized responsibility and reduced civic values to the obligations of consumer-driven self-interest advanced against all other larger social considerations and social costs. How else to explain the fate of generations of young people, especially poor white, brown and black youth, who find themselves in a country which is the world’s leader in incarceration, one in which such youth are considered the nexus of crime.


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The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts children in supermax prisons, tries them as adults, incarcerates them for exceptionally long periods of time, defines them as super predators, pepper sprays them for engaging in peaceful protests and in an echo of the discourse of the war on terror describes them as “teenage time bombs.”(21) Young people have become the enemy of choice, elevated to the status as an all-pervasive threat to dominant authority. Instead of nurturing such children, we now taser them, sequester them to dangerous prisons and demonize them in order to divert our attention from real social problems, while at the same time engaging a public purification through the ritual of imposing harsh disciplinary practices on them.

Current statistics paint a bleak picture for young people in the United States: 1.5 million are unemployed, which marks a 17-year high; 12.5 million are without food; and in what amounts to a national disgrace, one out of every five American children lives in poverty. Nearly half of all US children and 90 percent of black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.(22) Increasingly, kids are forced to inhabit a rough world where childhood is nonexistent, crushed under the heavy material and existential burdens they are forced to bear.

The deteriorating state of youth may be the most serious challenge facing educators, social workers, youth workers, and others in the 21st century. It is a struggle that demands a new understanding of politics, one that demands that we think beyond the given, imagine the unimaginable and combine the lofty ideals of democracy with a willingness to fight for its realization. But this is not a fight that can be won through individual struggles or fragmented political movements. It demands new modes of solidarity, new political organizations and a powerful social movement capable of uniting diverse political interests and groups. It is a struggle that is as educational as it is political. It is also a struggle that is as necessary as it is urgent. It is also a struggle that cannot be ignored.

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By stand to reason, April 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@By gerard, April 13 at 12:07 pm

Sure seems with the number of ‘humans striving to exist’(
human footprints) are now, because of such and incredible
number of humans, are humans collectively turning on
themselves, by design. The sitting around ‘going down with
the ship is a good analogy but bad as in thinking nothing can
be done when there is. It isn’t pleasant but it needs
consideration, and it pertains to the ‘golden rule’ only instead
of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ now
becomes ‘do unto other as they have DONE unto you’. Yes I am
talking about we have to become them and do as they do to
overcome them in the long run, possibly.

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By gerard, April 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment

Let’s think for a moment:  What does this “suicidal nation” “war on youth” behavior signify? And what “frame of mind” might be driving it?
  1. Nostalgia for the past rather than interest in the future?“good old days”  “my country back” etc.
  2. Fear of the future? “Global warming is a hoax” 
  3. Anti-intellectualism?  “Evolution is false. “Global warming is a hoax” etc.
  4. Frustration, and contagion of sense of helplessness? “I’m not gonna take it any more!”,
“move to Australia or Canada”,“there’s nothing I can do etc”
  5.Over-dosed on violence? “Kill them all!God will sort them out.” “Atomic weapons are okay sometimes.” “People are no good.” “We need more
drones.”“North Korea should not be allowed to ...“etc.
  6. Hysteria?“The world will end on such-and-such a date.”  “Terrorists are everywhere.” Irrationally extensive and expensive armaments and surveillance are necessary, etc.”
  7. Persistent lack of helpful public action to solve problems and build a liveable, humane future for everybody regardless of color, faith or nationality
  8. Government and business lack of ability to self-correct and manage for the common good.
  We all know these things, but to the extent that each one of us is silent and lax, we indicate symptoms, even though minor, of a willingness to “go down with the ship” because we lack both hope and confidence.
  Solution:  Support young Occupiers and other persistent efforts to LIVE.  It’s easier than killing ourselves morally, spiritually and physically, bit by bit.
  The big bosses in the 1% love us being helpless. It cuts down on their need to be responsible.(“Look at those stupid Muppets! They can’t even govern themselves. It’s okay to steal
from fools.” etc.)
  We are all interdependent, whether we like it or not. What we do—don’t do—influences them, and vice versa. To be alive is to be both responsive and responsible.  Ultimately there’s no escape from the need to prevent evil and abuse.
That proverbial “street” has no “other side” to “pass by” on!
  (If everybody knows these things, why yammer about them again here? You tell me.  Call it a “counter-suicide compulsion.”

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By vector56, April 12, 2012 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment

“vector56 Perhaps if you’d actually taken a look at the FAQ page, you might have had a different understanding, but if you can’t be bothered then it doesn’t really matter who offers what solutions for you, unless they hold your hand. “

rbe4free, condescending bull shit aside, you remind me of a few “born again Christians” I have run into now and then. They are sure if only I would look at things from their point of “utopian” point of view that we would all be in agreement and the “sun would shine on all of God’s children”!

I went to your page; I watched your recruitment video and Like the Septic, Atheist that I am, I don’t buy it!

What the hell do you thing the Global Corporate Thugs are going to do in the mean time???

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By gerard, April 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm Link to this comment

Don’t give up o Occupy and the many movements that are trying to relate to it, are seeing themselves as cooperating with it by adding their own previoius experiences.  One thing is for sure:  Millions of people are thinking about, experimenting with, advocating something new called “nonviolence” which just three or four years ago they never heard of.
What’s not to like about that?  Main thing is to keep the “baby” from being drowned in its bathtub by governments and popular ignorance, neither of which have the faintest—except that it might be some kind of threat or something. ...

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By berniem, April 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment

Simply put, this nation is rapidly becoming an authoritarian and militaristic fascist state. Marx was correct in his appraisal of the eventual demise of capitalism and what we are now witnessing is the exponential speeding up of this economic system’s headlong dive into chaos. Our one party duopoly is a sham as are elections and the media’s incessant reporting of supposedly dramatic events in this political theatre of the absurd. What must occur is an unvarnished and unco-opted movement to democratic socialism and the complete (creative?) destruction of the corporate/military/elitist structure based solely on illusory financial chicanery at the expense of production and development based on the model of a sustainable common good that values reason, education, and human rights rather than extraction, exploitation, and ever increasing levels of mindless consumerism. We must also shed our dependence on superstition and dogma in the decision making process lest we continue with the untenable and never ending process of wanton competition based on prejudice and supernatural entitlement. Perhaps in addition to an enhanced Occupy Movement, come Nov. a total boycott of the polls followed by a general strike and freeze on comsumption and payment of all non-essential debt may help get the message across! FREE BRADLEY MANNING & TIM DeCHRISTOPHER

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By Kanomi Blake, April 12, 2012 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

What an incisive, clear-eyed essay. A bittersweet accompaniment to this piece could be this photo series on Wired, called “Uncompromising Photos Expose Juvenile Detention System in America”:

Look at that and consider the ongoing privatization of the entire criminal justice system, including the juvenile jails, which is basically imprisoning children for profit; look at that and tell me that this partisan political charade is anything other than a mask for abject, criminal tyranny.

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By samosamo, April 12, 2012 at 10:08 am Link to this comment

With the ‘immunization of accountability’ one would think the
scotus would have a say, but when considered, they have the
backing of ‘citizens united’ payola to not to have to deal with
this idea of the corporate world being responsible to
communities and people, you know, more than less a fealty
that obliges them to participate in society instead of the grand
larceny the do. Also has the added advantage of having the
whole of the justice in their back pocket. Yes sir, citizens
united sure has increased the revenues of those sociopaths
quite handsomely. Note also how slow overturning that piece
of fecal matter is coming along.

Take note also of this leading to the ‘inheritance’ of seats in congress, seats on the supreme court, the presidency by crime families where really any vestige of democracy is turned to a mockery of nothing.

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By rbe4free, April 12, 2012 at 9:48 am Link to this comment

vector56 Perhaps if you’d actually taken a look at the FAQ page, you might have had a different understanding, but if you can’t be bothered then it doesn’t really matter who offers what solutions for you, unless they hold your hand.

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By vector56, April 12, 2012 at 6:13 am Link to this comment


OK, I took a look at this “futuristic” Jetson like Dream world you are pimping; didn’t see many Brown or Black people?

Like most here I long for a better and more “sane” tomorrow, but we live in a cut-throat world surrounded held hostage by a heartless game (Capitalism) that won’t just give up their profit making machines (us) and walk away.

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By rbe4free, April 12, 2012 at 3:22 am Link to this comment

Why is it, no matter which news site I go to, all the peoples comments are the same?  Everybody whines about the situation, but nobody offers any alternative solutions.  Here’s one if you’re serious about a solution, check out The Venus Project.  If you have questions about it check out the FAQ page. =)

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By CanDoJack, April 12, 2012 at 3:00 am Link to this comment

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, there it is—the harbinger.

Marking the beginning of the suicide flow.

I like the idea of using the national suicide
template and metaphor as a pace car for the race. Are
we up to speed, fellow lemmings?

Although, it was marvelously tedious, tedium being
indicative of a poorly filled plot, the movie,
MELANCHOLIA, captured some characteristics of the
individually suicidal near future.

The primary characteristic was the idea of setting it
all on a super rich MANly man’s estate who is
constantly carping about what the party cost and how
it had better generate the expected profit.

Manly Man (who else but Kiefer Sutherland, Yogurt’s
brother) dodges the bomb and opts for bullet and
checks out early using the tack room for an impromptu

And so goes the myth and mirth and manor of the
wealthy supposition that money provides suitable
biospheres, taxis to other planets, or other China
Wall prevention from incorporation in the disaster.

But, stop for a moment. We can see how the whole
thing goes. We super rich thought it was just a
matter of dodging a swarm of tornadoes. Or momentary
planetary darkness from a mega meta dust bowl while
we send one of the ILLEGAL alien botlies to flip the
lights back on.

But, nooooooooo, massa! It is a whole SNAFUlous

So, ante up! Who has the sang froid to sit there
calmly sipping absinthe watching that globe grow
bigger and bigger and bigger right up to the moment
of the big rushhhhhhhhhhh!?!?

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By Billy Bob, April 11, 2012 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a divisive article, nothing more. Lots of
labeling, accusations, etc. It’s really a load of BS
to say our society today is the most lawless,
unfortunate, blah blah…I can’t remember all of the
wording. But go back a couple of hundred years, or a
couple thousand, review the state of society both
here and in Europe, make a comparison with today,
then try and justify that position. An angry article
by someone trying to sell himself as an articulate
journalist. Hardly a journalist. News flash…we put
the 1% where they are because we support them. Want
to put a stop to it? Stop spending $50k every 3 years
on a new car, quit spending $5 a day at McDonalds,
eating out 5 nights a week, shopping all weekend at
Walmart and home depot, quit watching television.. I
could go on and on but maybe you all get the
message…but probably not. Quit the pity party and
take some responsibility! It’s still our country. Own

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By vector56, April 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

Here’s an idea; lets blame the perpetual victims!

We the “citizen” are at the core of how and why a small group of sociopaths are able to control 300 million people so easily.

Ben Franklin once told a woman who asked, “do we have a Democracy Sir?” “No, you have a Republic, if you can keep it?”  Obviously, we can’t.

The only the many can be ruled by the few is that the they (the many) are defective citizens.

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By kerryrose, April 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

And for middle class youth- the bludgeoning of their souls by crushing debt.  Most middle class youth cannot attend college without sustaining $23,000 of debt and upward.

A country that devalues its youth to the point that they are viewed as profit machines- starting with medication as children to debilitating debt as young men and women- will not thrive because it is already dead in heart and soul.

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By gerard, April 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment

Probably ss inclusive and clear an examination of our national crisis as can be found anywhere.  I welcome it particularly for its support of the need for new, creative efforts toward profound change and a restructuring of our deliberately fragmented democratic values.

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John Best asks,

By John Best asks, "What IS Progress"?, April 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

Thank you Henry Giroux for finally saying, “This is a conversation infused by the need for a new political language that needs to be formulated with great care and self-reflection….....”

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