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The ‘Suicidal State’ and the War on Youth

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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

This piece originally appeared at Truthout.

In spite of being discredited by the economic recession of 2008, market fundamentalism has once again assumed primacy as a dominant force for producing unprecedented inequalities in wealth and income, runaway environmental devastation, egregious amounts of human suffering and what Alex Honneth has called an “abyss of failed sociality.”(1) The Gilded Age is back with big profits for the ultra-rich and large financial institutions and increasing impoverishment and misery for the middle and working class. Political illiteracy and religious fundamentalism have cornered the market on populist rage providing support for a country in which, as Robert Reich points out, “the very richest people get all the economic gains [and] routinely bribe politicians” to cut their taxes and establish policies that eliminate public goods such as schools, social protections, health care and important infrastructures.(2)

It gets worse. Everywhere we look, the power of the rich and powerful operates to create a “suicidal state”(3) in which regulations meant to restrict their corrupting power are shredded; shamelessly and without apology, they use their unchecked power to lay off millions of workers while simultaneously cutting the benefits and rights of those on the job in order to dramatically increase corporate profits. As social protections are dismantled, public servants denigrated and public goods such as schools, bridges, health care services and public transportation deteriorate, the current neoliberal social order embraces the ruthless and punishing values of economic Darwinism and a survival-of-the-fittest ethic. In doing so, the major political parties now reward as its chief beneficiaries the mega banks, ultralarge financial industries, the defense establishment and big business.

Reinvigorated by the passing of tax cuts for the superrich, the right-wing dominated House of Representatives along with a number of right-wing state governorships have launched an ongoing war on women’s rights, the welfare state, workers, students, and anyone who has the temerity to speak out against such attacks. The corporate-controlled media, especially Fox News and Clear Channel Communications, emulate the former Soviet Union’s version of Pravda, its once laughable propaganda rag. At the same time, the liberal media is as spineless as it is complicit with existing relations of power - more willing to compromise with right-wing ideology than exercising civic courage in searching for the truth and exposing the lies of normalizing power.

Hiding behind the mantle of balance and objectivism, the liberal media is incapable of a discriminating judgment and moral position and, increasingly, resembles a game show nervously repeating bad jokes, promoting sensationalist stories, emulating celebrity culture and garnering elevated ratings in order to lure in big money from advertisers.


Square, Site wide
Neoliberalism is once again imposing its values, social relations and forms of social death upon all aspects of civic life.(4) One consequence is that the United States has come to resemble a “suicidal state,” where governments work to destroy their own defenses against anti-democratic forces;(5) or as Jacques Derrida has put it, such states offer no immunity against authoritarianism and in fact emulate “that strange behavior where a living being, in quasi-suicidal fashion ‘itself’ works to destroy its own protection, to immunize itself against its ‘own’ immunity ... What is put at risk by this terrifying autoimmunity logic,” he grimly stated, “is nothing less than the existence of the world….”(6) Susan Searls Giroux follows up this logic with a series of important questions. She writes:

Since then, I’ve wondered about the troubling figure of societal suicide. How is it possible that a free and democratic society, precisely in the act of securing itself, or claiming to secure itself, could quicken its own demise? Where does the suicidal urge come from - is it a function of a deep, abiding illness in the collective psyche or a fleeting impulse linked to traumatic loss, or some imagined heroism? Is this really the future we face and, if so, how do we determine our degree of risk? Do we invoke the same assessment scale used for individual suicides? Gender, for example, is a factor; males are at greater risk, but how does one determine the gender of a society - by its masculinist inclination? Evidence of depression is another sign. Does one look to dips in the stock market or consumer confidence indices? Sales of anti-depressant medications? How about recent suicide attempts? Derrida describes the Cold War as a “first moment,” a “first autoimmunity.” Recent significant trauma or loss? Without question. Capacity for rational thinking lost? So it would seem. Little or no social support? Would loss of global support work here? Going down such a list, the signs don’t look promising.[7]

For over thirty years, the North American public has been reared on a neoliberal dystopian vision that legitimates itself through the largely unchallenged claim that there are no alternatives to a market-driven society, that economic growth should not be constrained by considerations of social costs or moral responsibility, that war is a permanent condition of society and that democracy and capitalism are virtually synonymous.

At the heart of this market-driven regime is materialist and instrumental rationality that sells off public goods and services to the highest bidders in the private sector, while simultaneously dismantling those public spheres, social protections and institutions serving the larger society. As economic power succeeds in detaching itself from government regulations, social costs and ethical considerations, a new global financial class reasserts the prerogatives of capital and systemically destroys those public spheres - including public and higher education - that traditionally advocated for social equality and an educated citizenry as the fundamental conditions for a viable democracy.

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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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vector56's avatar

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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Kanomi Blake's avatar

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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rbe4free's avatar

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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vector56's avatar

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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rbe4free's avatar

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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vector56's avatar

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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