Dec 11, 2013
Lockdown, USA: Lessons From the Boston Marathon Manhunt
Posted on May 9, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Pervasive secrecy in the age of the lockdown suggests that the United States has more in common with authoritarian regimes than with flourishing democracies. Yet the American people still believe they live in what is touted in the mainstream media and right-wing cultural apparatuses as a country that represents the apogee of freedom and democracy. As Brian Terrell argues, “prisons and the military, America’s dominant institutions, exist not to bring healing to domestic ills or relief from foreign threats but to exacerbate and manipulate them for the profit of the wealthiest few, at great cost and peril for the rest of us”? Why aren’t people pouring into the streets of American cities protesting the rise of the prison and military as America’s dominant institutions?
What will it take for the American public to connect the increasing militarization of everyday life to the ways in which the prison-industrial complex destroys lives and for-profit corporations have the power to put poor people in jails for being in debt. Or for that matter when school authorities punish young children by putting them in seclusion rooms while on a larger scale the U.S. government increasingly relies on solitary confinement in detaining immigrants. When will the American people link images of the “shattered bodies, dismembered limbs, severed arteries …and terrified survivors” to the reports of over 200 young children killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia as a result of drone attacks launched by faux video gamers sitting in dark rooms in cities thousands of miles away from their targets? In the face of the Boston marathon bombings, the question that haunts the American public is not about our capacity for compassion and solidarity for the victims of this tragedy but how indifferent we are to the conditions that too readily have turned this terrible tragedy into just another exemplary register of the war on terror and a further legitimation for the military-industrial-national security state.
Violence and its handmaidens, militarism and military culture, have become essential threads in the fabric of American life. We live in a culture in which a lack of imagination is matched by diminishing intellectual visions and a collective refusal to challenge injustices, however blatant and corrosive they may be. For instance, a political system completely corrupted by big money is barely the subject of sustained analysis and public outrage. The mortgaging of the future of many young people to the incessant greed of casino capitalism and the growing disparities in income and wealth does little to diminish the public’s faith in the fraud of the free market. The embarrassing judgments of a judicial system that punishes the poor and allows the rich to go free in the face of unimaginable financial crimes boggles the mind. The challenge facing Americans is not the illusory dream of winning the war on terror but those undemocratic economic, political, and cultural forces that hold sway over American life, intent on destroying civic society and any vestige of agency willing to challenge them.
Young people, especially those in the Occupy movement, the Quebec protesters, and the student resisters in France, Chile, and Greece seem currently to represent the only hope we have left in the United States and abroad for a display of political and moral courage in which they are willing individually and collectively to oppose the authority of the market and an expanding state of lockdown while still raising fundamental questions about the project of democracy and why they have been left out of it. Salman Rushdie has argued that political courage has become ambiguous and that the American public, among others, has “become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma” or even worse, are blamed increasingly for upsetting people given their willingness to stand against and challenge orthodoxy or bigotry. Gone, he argues, are the writers and intellectuals who opposed Stalinism, capitalist tyranny, and the various religious and ideological orthodoxies that transform thinking and critically engaged critics into anti-intellectual fundamentalists and political cowards. In short, willing accomplices of the abused of power.
American culture powers a massive disimagination machine in which historical memory is hijacked as struggles by the oppressed disappear, the “state as the guardian of the public interest is erased,” and the memory of institutions serving the public good evaporates. At the same time reinscriptions of violence define notions of a dangerous and hardened notion masculinity in which men (and increasingly women) have to learn to be tough, deny vulnerability, learn to punish and kill and experience it as pleasure, endure humiliation in the face of military authority, and be willing to sacrifice limbs, mental stability, body parts, and life itself. In opposition to this culture and machinery of death, there is a need to reclaim the memories of diverse democratic movements in order to reimagine a politics capable of resurrecting democratic institutions of governance, culture, and education; moreover, the educative nature of politics has to be addressed in order to develop both new forms of individual and collective agency and vast social networks that can challenge the global concentration of economic and political power held by a dangerous class of financial and wealthy elites.
Gayatri Spivak has argued that “without a strong imagination, there can be no democratic judgment, which can imagine something other than one’s own well-being.” The current historical conjuncture dominated by the discourse and institutions of neoliberalism and militarization present a threat not just to the economy but to the very possibility of imagining an alternative to a machinery of punishment, isolation, and death that now reaches into every aspect of daily life. A generalized fear now shapes American society, one that thrives on insecurity, precarity, dread of punishment, and a concern with external threats. Any struggle that matters will have to imagine and fight for a society in which it becomes possible once again to dream the project of a substantive democracy. This means, as Ulrich Beck has pointed out, looking for politics in new spaces and arenas outside of traditional elections, political parties, and “duly authorized agents.” It suggests developing public spaces outside of the regime of casino capitalism and developing a type of counter politics, one engaged in the shaping of society from the bottom up. Central to such a challenge is the educational task of inquiring not only how democracy has been lost under the current regime of neoliberal capitalism with its gangster rulers and utter disregard for its production of organized irresponsibility and injustice but also how the project of democracy can be retrieved through the joint power and efforts of workers, young people, educators, minorities, immigrants, and others. At the present historical moment, lockdown culture is being disrupted in many societies. A fight for democracy is emerging across the globe led by young people, workers, and others unwilling to live in societies in which lockdown becomes an organizing tool for social control and repression. The future of democracy rests precisely with such groups both in the United States and abroad who are willing to create new social movements built on a powerful vision of the promise of democracy and the durable organizations that make it possible.
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