May 27, 2015
The ‘Suicidal State’ and the War on Youth
Posted on Apr 11, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
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.
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