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Violence, USA: The Warfare State and the Brutalizing of Everyday Life
Posted on May 2, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
What is needed are modes of analysis that do the hard work of uncovering the effects of the merging of institutions of capital, wealth and power and how this merger has extended the reach of a military-industrial-carceral and academic complex, especially since the 1980s. This complex of ideological and institutional elements designed for the production of violence must be addressed by making visible its vast national and global interests and militarized networks, as indicated by the fact that the United States has over a 1,000 military bases abroad. Equally important is the need to highlight how this military-industrial-carceral and academic complex uses punishment as a structuring force to shape national policy and everyday life.
Challenging the warfare state also has an important educational component. C. Wright Mills was right in arguing that it is impossible to separate the violence of an authoritarian social order from the cultural apparatuses that nourish it. As Mills put it, the major cultural apparatuses not only “guide experience, they also expropriate the very chance to have an experience rightly called ‘our own.’”(32) This narrowing of experience shorn of public values locks people into private interests and the hyper-individualized orbits in which they live. Experience itself is now privatized, instrumentalized, commodified and increasingly militarized. Social responsibility gives way to organized infantilization and a flight from responsibility.
Crucial here is the need to develop new cultural and political vocabularies that can foster an engaged mode of citizenship capable of naming the corporate and academic interests that support the warfare state and its apparatuses of violence, while simultaneously mobilizing social movements in order to challenge and dismantle its vast networks of power. One central pedagogical and political task in dismantling the warfare state is, therefore, the challenge of creating the cultural conditions and public spheres that would enable the American public to move from being spectators of war and everyday violence to being informed and engaged citizens.
Unfortunately, major cultural apparatuses such as public and higher education, which have been historically responsible for educating the public, are becoming little more than market-driven and militarized knowledge factories. In this particularly insidious role, educational institutions deprive students of the capacities that would enable them to not only assume public responsibilities, but also actively participate in the process of governing. Without the public spheres for creating a formative culture equipped to challenge the educational, military, market and religious fundamentalisms that dominate American society, it will be virtually impossible to resist the normalization of war as a matter of domestic and foreign policy.
Any viable notion of resistance to the current authoritarian order must also address the issue of what it means pedagogically to imagine a more democratic-oriented notion of knowledge, subjectivity and agency and what might it mean to bring such notions into the public sphere. This is more than what Bernard Harcourt calls “a new grammar of political disobedience.”(33) It is a reconfiguring of the nature and substance of the political so that matters of pedagogy become central to the very definition of what constitutes the political and the practices that make it meaningful. Critical understanding motivates transformative action and the affective investments it demands can only be brought about by breaking into the hard-wired forms of common sense that give war and state supported violence their legitimacy. War does not have to be a permanent social relation, nor the primary organizing principle of everyday life, society and foreign policy.
The war of all against all and the social Darwinian imperative to respond positively only to one’s own self-interests represent the death of politics, civic responsibility and ethics and the victory of a “failed sociality.” The existing neoliberal social order produces individuals who have no commitments, except to profit, disdain social responsibility and loosen all ties to any viable notion of the public good. This regime of punishment and privatization is organized around the structuring forces of violence and militarization, which produce a surplus of fear, insecurity and a weakened culture of civic engagement - one in which there is little room for reasoned debate, critical dialogue and informed intellectual exchange.
America understood as a warfare state prompts a new urgency for a collective politics and a social movement capable of negating the current regimes of political and economic power, while imagining a different and more democratic social order. Until the ideological and structural foundations of violence that are pushing American society over the abyss are addressed, the current warfare state will be transformed into a full-blown authoritarian state that will shut down any vestige of democratic values, social relations and public spheres. At the very least, the American public owes it to its children and future generations, if not the future of democracy itself, to make visible and dismantle this machinery of violence while also reclaiming the spirit of a future that works for life rather than the death worlds of the current authoritarianism, however dressed up they appear in the spectacles of consumerism and celebrity culture. It is time for educators, unions, young people, liberals, religious organizations, and other groups to connect the dots, educate themselves and develop powerful social movements that can restructure the fundamental values and social relations of democracy, while putting into place the institutions and formative cultures that make it possible. Stanley Aronowitz is right in arguing that:
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