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Youth in Revolt: The Plague of State-Sponsored Violence

Posted on Mar 14, 2012
Jessierocks (CC-BY)

Young people attend an Occupy demonstration in early October 2011.

By Henry Giroux, Truthout

(Page 4)

Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground. In this instance, unfamiliar violence such as extreme images of torture and death become banally familiar, while familiar violence that occurs daily is barely recognized relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. How else to explain the public indifference to the violence waged by the state against nonviolent youthful protesters, who are rebelling against a society in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, prosperity and democracy. As an increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. As the need for more intense images of violence accumulates, the moral indifference and desensitization to violence grows while matters of cruelty and suffering are offered up as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other outlets for seeking pleasure.

Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of violence has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place, and set the stage for the emergence of unchecked torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultra-rich and major corporations and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery and eliminating all viable public spheres - whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation, or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good. State violence, particularly the use of torture, abductions and targeted assassinations, are now justified as part of a state of exception that has become normalized. A “political culture of hyper punitiveness”(24) has become normalized and accelerates throughout the social order like a highly charged electric current. Democracy no longer leaves open the importance of an experience of the common good. As a mode of “failed sociality,” the current version of market fundamentalism has turned the principles of democracy against itself, deforming both the language of freedom and justice that made equality a viable idea and political goal. State violence operating under the guise of personal safety and security, while parading species of democracy, cancels out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”(25) Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.

Meanwhile, exaggerated violence is accelerated in the larger society and now rules screen culture. The public pedagogy of entertainment includes extreme images of violence, human suffering and torture splashed across giant movie screens, some in 3D, offering viewers every imaginable portrayal of violent acts, each more shocking and brutal than the last. The growing taste for violence can be seen in the increasing modeling of public schools after prisons, the criminalization of behaviors such as homelessness that once were the object of social protections. A symptomatic example of the way in which violence has saturated everyday life can be seen in the growing acceptance of criminalizing the behavior of young people in public schools. Behaviors that were normally handled by teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people. Not only do schools resemble the culture of prisons, but young children are being arrested and subjected to court appearances for behaviors that can only be termed as trivial. How else to explain the case of the five-year-old girl in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum; or the case of Alexa Gonzales in New York who was arrested for doodling on her desk. Even worse, a 13-year-old boy in a Maryland school was arrested for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. There is more at work than stupidity and a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents and politicians who maintain these laws; there is also the growing sentiment that young people constitute a threat to adults and that the only way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized and arrested through a form of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provide a grim reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely immune in the past from this type of state violence. The governing through crime ethic also reminds us that we live in an era that breaks young people, corrupts the notion of justice and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the threat, if not reality, of violence. This mediaeval type of punishment inflicts pain on the psyche and the body of young people as part of a public spectacle. Even more disturbing is how the legacy of slavery informs this practice given that “Arrests and police interactions ... disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations,”(26) paving the way for them to move almost effortlessly through the school-to-prison pipeline. Surely, the next step will be a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts and sent to juvenile detention centers. This is not merely barbarism parading as reform - it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.


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By gerard, March 16, 2012 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

balkas: My point was that people who write headlines need to say what the author means, and not just throw some words approximately in the direction of the author’s theme in order to catch people’s   attention.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 8:06 am Link to this comment

perhaps HG meant to say: “youth in revolt agaisnt state-sponsored
this can be illated from what he says in his piece. in any case-and in
spite of putting it wrongly- i understood it as i said above.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 7:59 am Link to this comment

kiddie school=doggie school of obedience=KZ lager. this was noticed by
some at least a century ago.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

HG: “as war becomes a mode of sovereignty, it erodes the distinction
between war and peace”.
this statement appears to some degree inaccurate/inadequate. for one
factor, it doesn’t include a vital fact: that said distinction does not exist
in US because US had not ever been at an usual war, in which an army
engages another army of equal or thereabouts strength on own and/or
theirs or own soil. 
so, enduring such US wars or rather raids, incursions, variety acts of
war, blockades, invasions in order to stop spread of socialism-
communism; protect people, spread democracy, can be endured
effortlessly/helplessly and often thoughtlessly/uncaringly by vast % of
americans; usually called silent majority .

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

natch, an army, spy agencies, and police [private included] will be used
by the 1% against home pop and not just ‘alien’ and disobedient world
if ‘lesser-valued’ people and peoples remain obedient and show piety to
personal and national supremacism [such as for the ashkenazic or
anglosaxon-ashkenazic voelker (folks), there will be peace on earth and
not before. also spricht bozhidarevski, thanks

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 6:47 am Link to this comment

yes, i’ve been fervently hoping that world youths would one day notice
that 99.99% of them would continue to be left out, used as meat for wars
or as oppressors of own people here in US and in much of the world; and
also remain dependents on unseen/secluded/protected by police people
without any degree of humanity in them.
however, in some parts of europe there appears little awakening now by
but we can expect it! thanks

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By CassandraSpeaks, March 15, 2012 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

This is an excellent article, and I appreciate Gerald’s comment as well. I don’t think we’ve reached the tipping point yet, but we should start thinking about what to do in November.

Obama and Romney are both warmongering, 1%-loving, corporatist, neoliberal neofascists. Their different rhetoric at this point reflects the difference in their parties’ bases, not actual differences in philosophy, ethics or styles of governance.

When Bush was president, most Democrats did speak out against the wars, rights violations and abuses of power, but their vocal cords were paralyzed on March 20, 2009. This proves, of course, that they are just unprincipled, partisan hypocrites, but at least their opposition could help curb the abuses.

As crazy as it may sound, that is why I, a lifelong liberal Democrat, will vote for Romney over Obama, unless there is a viable third-party candidate such as Kucinich or Gary Johnson.

We can ill afford another 4 years of Obama.

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By do over, March 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

Corruption saturates society, top to bottom, therefore, change will not result from well researched articles, debates, etc.  Those methods have failed.

Change will take place differently.  ______________________________
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Richard Buckminster Fuller

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By gerard, March 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment

A poor headline,  again:  “Youth in Revolt: The Plague of State-Sponsored Violence”  What?  Really?
the youth in revolt are a plague—of State-sponsored Violence?  Excuse me, but that gives a completely false impression of the content of the article. I read this in Truthout yesterday and was bowled over by the stupidity of the caption.  Who writes these things?

Now—here’s for starters, the most important idea in the piece which has to be put across to the 99% a.s.a.p. “This movement is NOT simply about reclaiming space, but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation and introducing a new political language. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for an end to the corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture, poverty, the suppression of dissent and the permanent war state.  This movement is not simply about reclaiming space, but also about PRODUCING NEW IDEAS, GENERATING A NEW CONVERSATION AND INTRODUCING A NEW POLITICAL LANGUAGE, CALLING FOR AN END TO THE CORPORATE CONTROL OF THE COMMANDING INSTITUTIONS OF POLITICS AND CULTURE, POVERTY, THE SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT AND THE PERMANENT WAR STATE.” 
  If we permit this beginning movement to be suppressed, we will lose everything we ever thought we had, including our own humanity. Nothing is half as important.
  This movement is in no way a “plague” of “state-sponsored violence”—it is a gift we scarcely deserve!
  (Again, of course I know Giroux didn’t MEAN that; but THAT’S WHAT THE HEADLINE SAYS!)

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