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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 5)

One way of addressing our collapsing intellectual and moral visions regarding young people is to imagine those policies, values, opportunities and social relations that invoke adult responsibility and reinforce the ethical imperative to provide young people, especially those marginalized by race and class, with the economic, social and educational conditions that make life livable and the future sustainable. Clearly such a vision, one that moves beyond what Alain Badiou has called the “crisis of negation,”(23) which is a crisis of imagination, historical possibility and an aversion to new ideas, can be found in the global protests of the Occupy movement in North America and other youth resistance movements around the globe. What is evident in this worldwide movement of youth protests is a bold attempt to imagine the possibility of another world, a refusal of the current moment of historical one dimensionality, a refusal to settle for reforms that are purely incremental.

The “suicidal state” devalues any viable notion of rationality, ethics and democracy and has given rise to a suicidal society marked by a culture of cruelty in which the ultimate form of entertainment has become the pain and suffering of others, especially those considered throwaways, other, or without consumer privileges and rights. High-octane moral panics, a flight from civic responsibility, extreme callousness and the reproduction of human suffering have become the by-products of a market-driven society marked by an autoimmunity disease that destroys its own protections against a creeping authoritarianism.

My emphasis here is on how the “suicidal state” is organized around the primacy of sadistic impulses and how widespread violence and modes of hyper-punishment now function as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that creates the foundation for sapping democracy of any political substance and moral vitality. The prevalence of institutionalized injustice, illegal legalities and expanding violence in American society suggest the need for a new conversation and politics that address what a just and fair world looks like. We see the beginning of such a conversation among the protesters who inhabit the Occupy movement. This is a conversation infused by the need for a new political language that needs to be formulated with great care and self-reflection by intellectuals, artists, workers, unions, parents, educators, young people, and others whose individual protections and social rights are in grave danger from the threat of a creeping fundamentalism that spreads its poison everywhere in the body politic.

The rise of the “suicidal state” and its apparatuses of violence have crept into in all aspects of social life, making clear that too many young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned by American society’s claim to democracy, especially in light of the rising forces of militarism, neoliberalism, religious fundamentalism and state terrorism. America has become a “suicidal state,” prompting a new urgency for a collective politics and social movements capable of both negating the established order and imagining a new one. In this discourse, critique merges with a sense of realistic hope and individual struggles merge into larger social movements. Until we address what Stanley Aronowitz has brilliantly analyzed as our “Winter of Discontent,” the “suicidal state” will continue to engage in autoimmune practices that attack the very values, institutions, social relations and hopes that keep the ideal of democracy alive.(24)


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At the very least, the American public owes it to its children and future generations to begin to dismantle this machinery of death and reclaim the spirit of a future that works for life rather than the death worlds of the current authoritarianism, dressed up with a soft edge of the spectacle of consumerism and celebrity culture. It is time for the 99 percent to connect the dots, educate themselves and develop social movements that can not only rewrite the language of democracy, but put into place the institutions and formative cultures that make it possible. There is no room for failure here because failure would cast us back into the clutches of an authoritarianism - that while different from previous historical periods - shares nonetheless the imperative to proliferate violent social formations and a death-dealing blow to democracy.


1. Alex Honneth, “Pathologies of Reason” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

2. Robert Reich, “The Fable of the Century,” Robert Reich’s Blog (April 6, 2012). Online here.

3. Paul Virilio, “The Suicidal State,” in J. DerDerian, ed. “The Virilio Reader” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 29-45.

4. Some useful sources on neoliberalism include: Lisa Duggan, “The Twilight of Equality” (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003); David Harvey, “A Brief History of Neoliberalism” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Wendy Brown, Edgework: “Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, eds. “Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader” (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Neil Smith, “The Endgame of Globalization” (New York: Routledge, 2005); Aihwa Ong, “Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); Randy Martin, “An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007); Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” (New York: Knopf, 2007); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008); David Harvey, “The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) and Gerard Dumenil and Dominique Levy, “The Crisis of Neoliberalism” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).

5. Paul Virilio, “The Suicidal State,” in J. DerDerian, ed. The Virilio Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

6. Giovanna Borradori, ed, “Autoimmunity: real and symbolic suicides - a dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” “Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida” (Chicago: University of Chicago press, 2004), p. 94.

7. Searls Giroux, “Generation Kill: Nietzschean Meditations on the University, Youth, War and Guns,” in “Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era,” Eds. Edward J. Carvalho and David B. Downing. (NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), pp. 130-131.

8. Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, “The Best Congress The Banks’ Money Can Buy,” Comon Dreams (April 6, 2012). Online here.

9. Andrew J. Bacevich, “Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War,” (New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2010), p. 25.

10. For an insightful list of some of these anti-democratic forces, see Les Leopold, “Ten Ways Our Democracy is Crumbling Around Us,” AlterNet (April 5, 2012). Online here.

11. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 19.

12. Ibid., Paul Virilio, “The Suicidal State.”

13. Anne-Marie Cusac, “Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America,” (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

14. There are a number of important books that address this issue, see most recently Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” (New York: The New Press, 2010).

15. Matt Taibbi, “Bloomberg’s New York: Cops in Your Hallways,” Rolling Stone (April 5, 2012). Online here.

16. Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives (London: Polity Press, 2004), p. 76-77.

17. Zygmunt Bauman, “Introduction and in Search of Public Space,” In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 8.

18. See, for example, Annette Fuentes, “Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse” (New York: Verso, 2011). Also see, Henry A. Giroux, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?” (New York: Palgrave, 2010).

19. On the rise of the punishing state, see Loci Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).

20. Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives (New York: Polity Press, 2004), pp. 92-93.

21. Anne-Marie Cusac, Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 175.

22. Lindsey Tanner, “Half of US Kids Will Get Food Stamps, Study Says,” Chicago Tribune (November 2, 2009), Online here.

23. John Van Houdt, “The Crisis of Negation: An Interview with Alain Badiou,” Continent, 1.4 (2011). Online here.

24. Stanley Aronowitz, “The Winter of Our Discontent,” Situations, IV, no.2, (Spring 2012). Pp. 37-76.

This article may not be republished without permission from Truthout.

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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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