June 20, 2013
Gated Intellectuals, Fortress America, and the Politics of Occupy
Posted on Mar 21, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Gated intellectuals do not work with ideas, but sound bites. They don’t engage in debates; they simply spew off positions in which unsubstantiated opinion and sustained argument collapse into each other. Yet, instead of simply responding to the armies of gated intellectuals and the corporate money that funds them, it is time for the Occupy movement and other critically thinking individuals to join with the independent media and make pedagogy central to any viable notion of politics. It is time to initiate a cultural campaign in which reason can be reclaimed, truth defended and learning connected to social change. The current attack on public and higher education by the armies of gated intellectuals is symptomatic of the fear that right-wing reactionaries have of critical thought, quality education and the possibility of a generation emerging that can both think critically and act with political and ethical conviction. Let’s hope that as time unfolds and new spaces emerge, the Occupy movement and others engage in a form of borderless pedagogy in which they willingly and assertively join in the battle over ideas, reclaim the importance of critique, develop a discourse of hope and occupy many quarters and sites so as to drown out the corporate funded ignorance and political ideologies that strip history of its meaning, undermine intellectual engagement and engage in a never-ending pedagogy of deflection and disappearance. There has never been a more important time in American history to proclaim the importance of communal responsibility and civic agency and to shift from a democracy of consumers to a democracy of informed citizens. As Federico Mayor, the former director general of UNESCO rightly insisted, “You cannot expect anything from uneducated citizens except unstable democracy.”(8)
The United States has become Fortress America, and its gated banks, communities, hedge funds and financial institutions have become oppressive silos of the rich and privileged designed to keep out disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. At the same time, millions of gated communities have been created against the will of their inhabitants who have no passports to travel and are locked into abandoned neighborhoods, prisons, and other sites equivalent to human waste dumps. The walls of privilege need to be destroyed and the fortresses of containment eliminated, but this will not be done without the emergence of a new political discourse; a borderless pedagogy; and a host of public spheres and institutions that provide the formative culture, skills and capacities that enable young and old alike to counter the ignorance discharged like a poison from the mouths of those corporate interests and anti-public intellectuals who prop up the authority of Fortress America and hyper-capitalism. It is time for the Occupy movement to embrace their pedagogical role as a force for critical reason, social responsibility and civic education. This is not a call to deny politics as we know it, but to expand its reach. The Occupy movement protesters need to become border crossers, willing to embrace a language of critique and possibility that makes visible the urgency of talking about politics and agency not in the idiom set by gated communities and anti-public intellectuals, but through the discourse of civic courage and social responsibility. We need a new generation of border crossers and a new form of border crossing pedagogy to play a central role in keeping critical thought alive while challenging the further unraveling of human possibilities. Such a notion of democratic public life is engaged in both questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished. It provides the formative culture that enables young people to break the continuity of common sense; come to terms with their own power as critical agents; be critical of the authority that speaks to them; translate private considerations into public issues; and assume the responsibility of what it means not only to be governed, but learning how to govern.
If gated intellectuals defend the privileged, isolated, removed and individualized interests of those who decry the social and view communal responsibility as a pathology, then public intellectuals must ensure their work and actions embody a democratic ideal through reclaiming all those sites of possibility in which dialogue is guaranteed, power is democratized and public values trump sordid private interests. Democracy must be embraced not merely as a mode of governance, but more importantly, as Bill Moyers points out, as a means of dignifying people so they can become fully free to claim their moral and political agency.
2. Greg Smith, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” New York Times (March 14, 2012), p. A25.
3. Maureen Dowd, “Don’t Tread on Us,” New York Times (March 14, 2012), p. A25.
4. David Theo Goldberg, “The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism,” (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 338-339.
5. Zygmunt Bauman, “Has the Future a Left?” The Review of Education/Pedagogy/Cultural Studies (2007), p. 2.
6. I take this up in detail in Henry A. Giroux, “Education and the Crisis of Public Values: Challenging the Assault on Teachers, Students and Public Education” (New York: Peter Lang, 2012).
7. Editors, “A Conversation with David Harvey,” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture 5:1 (2006). Online here.
8. Quoted in Burton Bollag, “UNESCO Has Lofty Aims for Higher Education Conference, but Critics Doubt Its Value,” Chronicle of Higher Education (September 4, 1998), p. A76.
This article is a Truthout original.
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