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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 5)

As the social is devalued along with rationality, ethics and any vestige of democracy, spectacles of war, violence and brutality now merge into forms of collective pleasure that constitute an important and new symbiosis among visual pleasure, violence and suffering. The control society is now the ultimate form of entertainment as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, has become the subject not of compassion, but of ridicule and amusement in America. High-octane violence and human suffering are now considered another form of entertainment designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient. Reveling in the suffering of others should no longer be reduced to a matter of individual pathology, but now registers a larger economy of pleasure across the broader culture and social landscape. My emphasis here is on the sadistic impulse and how it merges spectacles of violence and brutality with forms of collective pleasure. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared fears rather than shared responsibilities. Widespread violence now functions 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 violence in American society and other parts of the world suggests the need for a new conversation and politics that addresses what a just and fair world looks like. The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism. The prevalence of violence throughout American society suggests the need for a politics that not only negates the established order, but imagines a new one, one informed by a radical vision in which the future does not imitate the present.(27) In this discourse, critique merges with a sense of realistic hope and individual struggles merge into larger social movements. The challenge that young people are posing to American society is being met with a state-sponsored violence that is about more than police brutality; it is more importantly about the transformation of the United States from a social state to a warfare state, from a state that embraced the social contract to one that no longer has a language for community - a state in which the bonds of fear and commodification have replaced the bonds of civic responsibility and democratic vision. Until we address how the metaphysics of war and violence have taken hold on American society (and in other parts of the world) and the savage social costs it has enacted, the forms of social, political and economic violence that young people are protesting against as well as the violence waged in response to their protests will become impossible to recognize and act on.


1. See Loic Wacquant, “Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal government of Social Insecurity” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

2. See here.


Square, Site wide

3. Kyle Bella, “Bodies in Alliance: Gender Theorist Judith Butler on the Occupy and SlutWalk Movements,” Truthout (December 15, 2011). Online here.

4. Richard Lichtman, “Not a Revolution?,” Truthout, (December 14, 2011).

5. Arun Gupta, Arundhati Roy: “The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come Up With a Solution,” The Guardian UK, (12/01/2011).

6. Staughton Lynd, “What is to be Done Next?,” CounterPunch, (February 29, 2012).

7. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:12 (July 14, 2005), pp. 14-18.

8. Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011), p. 706.

9. Daniel Bell, “The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties” (New York: Free Press, 1966) and the more recent Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History and the Last Man” (New York: Free Press, 2006).

10. Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian UK, (September 12, 2011), online here.

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

12. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 222.

13. See Gore Vidal, “Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia” (New York: Nation Books, 2004); Gore Vidal, “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” (New York: Nation Books, 2002); Chris Hedges, “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” (New York: Anchor Books, 2003); Chalmers Johnson, “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic” (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Andrew Bacevich, “The New American Militarism” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Chalmers Johnson, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the Republic” (New York: Metropolitan Books); Andrew J. Bacevich, “Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War,” (New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2010); Nick Turse, “The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives” (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

14. Philip Govrevitch, “Whose Police?” The New Yorker, (11/17/11).

15. Phil Rockstroh, “The Police State Makes Its Move: Retaining One’s Humanity in the Face of Tyranny,” CommonDreams, (11/15/11). Online here.

16. Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “Cops Ready for War,” RSN, (December 21, 2011). Online here.

17. Ibid.

18. Glenn Greenwald, “The Roots of The UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying,” Salon (Nov. 20, 2011). Online here.

19. Erica Goode, “Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” The New York Times, (December 19, 2011) p. A15.

20. Michael Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914 - 1945,” in The Militarization of the Western World, ed. John R. Gillis (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1989), p. 79.

21. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:2 (July 14, 2005), p.17.

22. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), p. 149.

23. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 149-150.

24. Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown, “Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City,” Antipode (2006), p. 757.

25. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “Translators Note,” in Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Truth of Democracy,” (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2010), p. ix.

26. Smartypants, “A Failure of Imagination,” Smartypants Blog Spot (March 3, 2010). Online here.

27. John Van Houdt, “The Crisis of Negation: An Interview with Alain Badiou,” Continent, 1.4 (2011): 234-238. Online here.

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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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