Monday, 26 September 2016 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Henry A. Giroux | Domestic Terrorism, Youth and the Politics of Disposability

Tuesday, 21 April 2015 00:00 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysis
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Domestic Terrorism, Youth and the Politics of Disposability (Image: Youth silhouette, blurred crowd via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

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"The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages."

- Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Following Hannah Arendt, a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended on the United States. (1) Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children and children are taught to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures designed to cripple their ability to be imaginative. (2)

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a kind of anti-intellectual cretinism evident in the babble of banality produced by Fox News, celebrity culture, schools modeled after prisons and politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and denounce almost any form of reason. The citizen now becomes a consumer; the politician, a slave to corporate money and power; and the burgeoning army of anti-public intellectuals in the mainstream media present themselves as unapologetic enemies of anything that suggests compassion, a respect for the commons and democracy itself.

Education is no longer a public good but a private right, just as critical thinking is no longer a fundamental necessity for creating an engaged and socially responsible citizenship. Neoliberalism's disdain for the social is no longer a quote made famous by Margaret Thatcher. The public sphere is now replaced by private interests, and unbridled individualism rails against any viable notion of solidarity that might inform the vibrancy of struggle, change, and an expansion of an enlightened and democratic body politic.

Listen to an interview with Henry A. Giroux on "Disposable Youth" at CBC Radio.

One outcome is that we live at a time in which institutions that were designed to limit human suffering and indignity and protect the public from the boom and bust cycles of capitalist markets have been either weakened or abolished. (3) Free market policies, values and practices, with their now unrestrained emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the denigration of social protections and the deregulation of economic activity, influence practically every commanding political and economic institution in North America. Finance capitalism now drives politics, governance and policy in unprecedented ways and is more than willing to sacrifice the future of young people for short-term political and economic gains, regardless of the talk about the need to not burden future generations "with hopelessly heavy tuition debt." (4) It gets worse.

Nation-states organized by neoliberal priorities have implicitly declared war on their children.

Under market fundamentalism, there is a separation of market values, behavior and practices from ethical considerations and social costs giving rise to a growing theater of cruelty and abuse throughout North America. Public spheres that once encouraged progressive ideas, enlightened social policies, democratic values, critical dialogue and exchange have been increasingly commercialized. Or, they have been replaced by corporate settings whose ultimate fidelity is to increasing profit margins and producing a vast commercial and celebrity culture "that tends to function so as to erase everything that matters." (5) Since the 1980s, the scale of human suffering, immiseration and hardship has intensified, accompanied by a theater of cruelty in which violence, especially the daily spectacle of Black men being brutalized or killed by the police, feeds the 24-hour news cycle. The tentacles of barbarism appear to be reaching into every aspect of daily life. Domestic terrorism has come home and it increasingly targets the young.

Given these conditions, an overwhelming catalogue of evidence has come into view that indicates that nation-states organized by neoliberal priorities have implicitly declared war on their children, offering a disturbing index of societies in the midst of a deep moral and political catastrophe. (6) Too many young people today live in an era of foreclosed hope, an era in which it is difficult either to imagine a life beyond the dictates of a market-driven society or to transcend the fear that any attempt to do so can only result in a more dreadful nightmare.

As Jennifer Silva has pointed out, this generation of especially "young working-class men and women ... are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks.... They live at home longer, spend more years in college, change jobs more frequently and start families later." (7)

Youth today are not only plagued by the fragility and uncertainty of the present; they are "the first post war generation facing the prospect of downward mobility [in which the] plight of the outcast stretches to embrace a generation as a whole." (8) It is little wonder that "these youngsters are called Generation Zero: A generation with Zero opportunities, Zero future" and Zero expectations. (9) Or to use Guy Standing's term, "the precariat," (10) which he defines as "a growing proportion of our total society" forced to "accept a life of unstable labour and unstable living." (11)

If youth were once the repository of society's dreams, that is no longer true.

Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a society that fails to provide for its youth, the symbolic and real violence waged against many young people suggests nothing less than a perverse collective death wish - especially visible when youth protest their conditions. As Alain Badiou argues, we live in an era in which there is near zero tolerance for democratic protest and "infinite tolerance for the crimes of bankers and government embezzlers which affect the lives of millions." (12) This is certainly true of the United States. How else to explain the FBI's willingness to label as a "terrorist threat" youthful activists speaking against corporate and government misdeeds, while at the same time the Bureau refuses to press criminal charges against the banking giant HSBC for laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda? (13)

If youth were once the repository of society's dreams, that is no longer true. Increasingly, young people are viewed as a public disorder, a dream now turned into a nightmare. Many youth live in a post-9/11 social order that positions them as a prime target of its governing through crime complex. This is made obvious by the many "get tough" policies that now render young people as criminals, while depriving them of basic health care, education and social services. Punishment and fear have replaced compassion and social responsibility as the most important modalities for mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order, all too evident by the upsurge of zero-tolerance laws, along with the expanding reach of the punishing state in both the United States and Canada. (14) When the criminalization of social problems becomes a mode of governance and war its default strategy, youth are reduced to soldiers or targets - not social investments. As anthropologist Alain Bertho points out, "Youth is no longer considered the world's future, but as a threat to its present." (15)

Increasingly, the only political discourses available for many young people are either a disciplinary one or one of "emotional self-management." (16) Youth are now removed from any talk about democracy. Their absence is symptomatic of a society that has turned against itself, punishes its children and does so at the risk of crippling the entire body politic. Too many youth now represent the absent present in any discourse about the contemporary moment, the future and democracy itself, and increasingly fall prey to what I call the war on youth, a war that can be traced back to the 1970s. (17)

The war on youth emerged when the social contract, however compromised and feeble, came crashing to the ground around the time Margaret Thatcher "married" Ronald Reagan. Both were hard-line advocates of a market fundamentalism, and announced respectively that there was no such thing as society and that government was the problem, not the solution to citizens' woes. Within a short time, democracy and the political process were hijacked by corporations and the call for austerity policies became cheap copy for weakening the welfare state, public values and public goods. The results of this emerging neoliberal regime included a widening gap between the rich and the poor, a growing culture of cruelty and the dismantling of social provisions. One result has been that the promise of youth has given way to an age of market-induced angst, and a view of many young people as a threat to short-term investments, privatization, untrammeled self-interest and quick profits.

Young people today are expected to inhabit a set of relations in which the only obligation is to live for oneself.

Under such circumstances, all bets are off regarding the future of democracy. Besides a growing inability to translate private troubles into social issues, what is also being lost in the current historical conjuncture is the very idea of the public good, the notion of connecting learning to social change and developing modes of civic courage infused by the principles of social justice. Under the regime of a ruthless economic Darwinism, we are witnessing the crumbling of social bonds and the triumph of individual desires over social rights, nowhere more exemplified than in the gated communities, gated intellectuals and gated values that have become symptomatic of a society that has lost all claims to democracy or for that matter any modestly progressive vision for the future.

As one eminent sociologist points out, "Visions have nowadays fallen into disrepute and we tend to be proud of what we should be ashamed of." (18) For instance, politicians such as former Vice President Dick Cheney not only refuse to apologize for the immense suffering and displacement they have imposed on the Iraqi people, but they seem to gloat in defending such policies. Doublespeak takes on a new register as President Obama employs the discourse of national security to sanction a surveillance state, a kill list and the ongoing killing of young children by drones. This expanding landscape of lies has not only produced an illegal war and justified state torture; it also provided a justification for the United States' slide into barbarism after the tragic events of 9/11. Yet, such acts of state violence appear to be of little concern to the shameless apostles of permanent war.

Politics has become an extension of war, just as "systemic economic insecurity and anxiety" and state-sponsored violence increasingly find legitimation in the discourses of privatization and demonization, which promote anxiety, moral panics and fear, and undermine any sense of communal responsibility for the well-being of others. Too many young people today learn quickly that their fate is solely a matter of individual responsibility, irrespective of wider structural forces. This is a much promoted hyper-competitive ideology, which includes a message that surviving in a society demands reducing social relations to forms of social combat. Young people today are expected to inhabit a set of relations in which the only obligation is to live for oneself and to reduce the responsibilities of citizenship to the demands of a consumer culture. Yet, there is more at work here than a flight from social responsibility, if not politics itself. Also lost is the importance of those social bonds, modes of collective reasoning, public spheres and cultural apparatuses crucial to the formation of a sustainable democratic society.

The War Against Youth

In what follows, I want to address the intensifying assault on young people through the related concepts of "soft war" and "hard war." (19) The idea of the soft war considers the changing conditions of youth within the relentless expansion of a global market society. Partnered with a massive advertising machinery, the soft war targets all children and youth, devaluing them by treating them as yet another "market" to be commodified and exploited, and conscripting them into the system through relentless attempts to create a new generation of hyper-consumers.

This low-intensity war is waged by a variety of corporate institutions through the educational force of a culture that commercializes every aspect of kids' lives, and now uses the internet and various social networks, along with new media technologies such as smart phones, to immerse young people in the world of mass consumption in ways that are more direct and expansive than anything we have seen in the past. Commercially carpet-bombed by an advertising industry that in the United States spent $170 billion in 2012, the typical child is exposed to about 40,000 ads a year and by the time they reach the fourth grade have memorized 300 to 400 brands.

An entire generation is being drawn into a world of consumerism in which commodities and brand loyalty become both the most important markers of identity and the primary frameworks for mediating one's relationship to the world. Increasingly, many young people, recast as commodities, can only recognize themselves in terms preferred by the market. As Zygmunt Bauman points out, youth are simultaneously "promoters of commodities and the commodities they promote" - defined as both brands and merchandise, on the one hand, and marketing agents on the other. (20)

The data-mining marketers make young people think they count when in fact "all they want to do is count them."

Corporations have hit gold with the new media and can inundate young people directly with their market-driven values, desires and identities, all of which fly under the radar, escaping the watchful eyes and interventions of concerned parents and other adults. The data-mining marketers make young people think they count when in fact "all they want to do is count them." (21) The dominant culture's overbearing ecology of consumption now works to selectively eliminate and reorder the possible modes of political, social and ethical vocabularies made available to youth. Young people's most private experiences are now colonized by a consumerist ethic that deforms their sense of agency, desires, values and hopes. Trapped within a spectacle of marketing, their capacity to be critically engaged and socially responsible citizens is greatly diminished.

At the same time, the influence of the new screen and electronic culture on young peoples' habits is disturbing. For instance, a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people ages 8 to 18 now spend more than seven and a half hours a day with smart phones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices. (22) When you add the additional time youth spend texting, talking on their cellphones and doing multiple tasks at once, such as "watching TV while updating Facebook - the number rises to 11 hours of total media content each day." (23) There is a greater risk here to youth than what seems to be emerging as a new form of depoliticization and thoughtlessness conveniently labeled as attention deficit disorder. The risk is that young people's lives will eventually be filled entirely by these distractions, and they will be denied the time necessary for thoughtful analysis and the pedagogical conditions necessary for them to read critically both the word and the world.

What are the consequences of the soft war? Public spaces have been transformed into neoliberal disimagination zones, which makes it more difficult for young people to find public spheres where they can locate themselves and translate metaphors of hope into meaningful action. The dreamscapes that make up a society built on the promises of mass consumption translate deftly into ad copy, insistently promoting and normalizing a neoliberal order in which economic relations now provide the master script for how young people define themselves, their relations with others and the larger world.

Of course, some youth are doing their best to resist the commercial onslaught and to stay ahead of the commodification and privatization of new media technologies. These youth are using social and digital media as creative tools to assert a range of oppositional practices and forms of protest that constitute a new realm of political activity, one that will increase in the future, and an important source of struggle and resistance.

The Hard War

Turning now to the hard war, this is a more serious and dangerous development for young people, especially those who are marginalized by virtue of their ethnicity, race or class. The hard war refers to the harshest elements of a growing youth crime-control complex that operates through a logic of punishment, surveillance and control. The young people targeted by its punitive measures are often poor youth of color who are considered failed consumers and who can only afford to live on the margins of a commercial culture that excludes anybody without money, resources and leisure time to spare. Or they are youth considered uneducable and unemployable, and therefore troublesome.

The imprint of the youth crime-control complex can be traced in the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that subject students to constant surveillance through high-tech security devices while imposing on them harsh and often thoughtless zero-tolerance policies that closely resemble measures used currently by the criminal justice system. In this instance, poor youth and youth of color become objects of a new mode of governance based on the crudest forms of disciplinary control. Punished if they don't show up at school and punished even if they do attend school, many of these students are funneled into what has been ominously called the "school-to-prison pipeline." If middle- and upper-class kids are subject to the seductions of market-driven public relations, working-class youth are caught in the crosshairs between the arousal of commercial desire and the harsh impositions of securitization, surveillance and policing.

In the US today 500,000 young people are incarcerated and 2.5 million are arrested annually.

How else do we explain the fact that in the United States today 500,000 young people are incarcerated and 2.5 million are arrested annually, and that by the age of 23, "almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime"? (24) What kind of society allows 1.6 million children to be homeless at any given time in a year? Or allows massive inequalities in wealth and income to produce a politically and morally dysfunctional society in which "45 percent of US residents live in households that struggle to make ends meet"? (25)

Current statistics paint a bleak picture for young people in the United States: 1.5 million are unemployed, which marks a 17-year high; 12.5 million are without food; and in what amounts to a national disgrace, one out of every five US children lives in poverty. Nearly half of all US children and 90 percent of Black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. (26) What are we to make of a society in which there were more young people killed on the streets of Chicago since 2001 then were US soldiers killed in Afghanistan? To be more exact, 5,000 people were killed by gunfire in Chicago, many of them children, while 2,000 troops were killed between 2001 and 2012. (27)

A type of mad violence appears to be at the heart of political and everyday life in the United States. The National Rifle Association and its political lackeys support a gun culture that calls for arming students in schools. Since the passage in 1990 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed the US Department of Defense to transfer surplus military equipment to local police forces, the police now have access to armored troop carriers, night vision rifles, Humvees, M16 automatic rifles, grenade launchers and other weapons designed for military tactics. (28)

As the war on terror comes home, public spaces have been transformed into war zones, and the militarized police forces have taken on the role of an occupying army, especially in poor neighborhoods of color. Acting as a paramilitary force, the police have become a new symbol of domestic terrorism, shaking down youth of color by criminalizing a multitude of behaviors. This was especially true in the stop-and-frisk policies so widespread under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. In Ferguson, Missouri, the entire population was criminalized in what can only be described as a racist shakedown. As David Graeber puts it,

The Department of Justice's investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department's institutional racism, while shocking, isn't the report's most striking revelation. More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city's population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson's citizens had outstanding warrants. (29)

The rise of the punishing state and the war on terror has emboldened police forces across the United States, and in doing so feeds their use of racist violence against young people resulting in what has been called an "epidemic of police brutality." Sadly, even young children of color are not immune from such violence, as the killing of Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014, by a White policeman has made clear. Even more tragic is the fact that the City of Cleveland tried to blame the 12-year-old boy for his own death. (30) Rice was holding a BB gun when he was shot to death by a police officer judged unfit for duty in 2012. The killing of Black men has taken on the image of a cruel sport promoted by police forces that now hype the lawlessness and extreme violence that has replaced any viable notion of democratic idealism. Between January 2012 and December 2014, 38 unarmed Black men have been killed by the police. (31)

Many people in the United States now live in a culture that is not only being increasingly militarized, but also supports a growing indifference to such cruelty, reinforced by a notion of exaggerated self-reliance, rugged individualism and privatization, all of which renders group solidarities repugnant and reinforces the idea that care for the other is both a pathology and a liability. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the United States currently has more police, prisons, spies, weapons and soldiers than at any other time in its history - this coupled with a growing "army" of the unemployed and incarcerated.

In addition, the military-industrial complex now joins hands with the entertainment industry in producing everything from children's toys to video games that both construct a militarized form of masculinity and serve as an enticement for recruitment. In fact, more than 10 million people have downloaded "America's Army" and its various updates, including the more recent, "America's Army: Proving Grounds," a first-person shooter computer game the US Army uses as a recruitment tool. (32) Such representations of masculinity and aggression mimic fascism's militarization of the public sphere, through which violence becomes the ultimate language, referent and currency. This machinery of normalization makes it more difficult to understand how war becomes a source of pride rather than alarm, just as violence becomes mythologized and the war on terror is transformed into a war on society itself and the political order. But this culture of militarized hardness is not confined to the United States.

Young people inhabit a new and more unsettling scene of suffering, a dead zone of the imagination.

In Canada, one child in six lives in poverty, but for Aboriginal and immigrant children that figure rises to 25 percent or more, respectively. By all accounts, the rate of incarceration for Aboriginal youth - already eight times higher than for non-Aboriginal youth - will continue to skyrocket as a result of the Harper government's so-called Safe Streets and Community Act, which emulates the failed policies of the US system by, among other things, strengthening requirements to detain and sentence more youth to custody in juvenile detention centers. (33) Surely one conclusion that can be drawn from the inquest into the tragic suicide of 19-year-old Ashley Smith, who spent five years of her life in and out of detention facilities, is that incarceration for young people can be equivalent to a death sentence. (34)

Against the idealistic rhetoric of governments that claim to venerate young people lies the reality of societies that increasingly view youth through the optic of law and order, societies that appear all too willing to treat youth as criminals and when necessary make them "disappear" into the farthest reaches of the carceral state. Under such circumstances, the administration of schools and social services has given way to modes of confinement that retain the purpose of ensuring "custody and control." (35) As I have already suggested, many schools in the United States are modeled after prisons with their high-tech surveillance cameras, the presence of police and security guards and punitive zero-tolerance policies. How else to explain children as young as 12 being subjected to stun guns, handcuffed and removed from class for doodling on a desk, or suspended from school for bringing in a toy GI gun. It gets worse. John Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute, has documented young girls being suspended or expelled from school for having Midol or Alka-Seltzer in their purse, and children being suspended for playing cops and robbers. Instead of being sent to the principal's office for even a minor infraction such as violating dress codes, many children are handcuffed, taken from the classroom, put in a patrol car and driven to a police station. And that is only the beginning of the nightmare for these kids and their families.

The plight of poor youth of color today also extends beyond the severity of material deprivations and violence they experience daily. Many young people have been forced to view the world and redefine the nature of their own youth within the borders of hopelessness, insecurity and despair. There is little basis on which to imagine a better future lying just beyond the highly restrictive spaces of commodification and containment. Neoliberal austerity in social spending means an entire generation of youth will not have access to decent jobs, the material comforts, educational opportunities or the security available to previous generations.

In Canada, there is a new generation of youth who have to think, act and talk like adults, and worry about their families, which may be headed by a single parent or two out of work and searching for a job. In the United States, young people are further burdened by registers of extreme poverty that pose the dire challenge of getting enough money to buy food and facing the arduous task of determining how long it will take to see a doctor in case of illness. These young people inhabit a new and more unsettling scene of suffering, a dead zone of the imagination, which constitutes a site of terminal exclusion - one that reveals not only the vast and destabilizing inequalities in neoliberal economic landscapes, but also portends a future that has no purchase on the hope that characterizes a vibrant democracy.

Politics and power are now on the side of lawlessness as is obvious in the state's endless violations of civil liberties, freedom of speech and most constitutional rights, mostly done in the name of national security. Lawlessness now wraps itself in government dictates. In Canada, it is evident in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's support for Bill C-51, an anti-terrorist bill that further limits civil rights through a pedagogy of fear and racist demonization. It is also apparent in the United Sates in such policies as the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Military Commissions Act and a host of other legal illegalities. These would include the right of the president "to order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists," (36) to use secret evidence to detain individuals indefinitely, to develop a massive surveillance apparatus to monitor every audio and electronic communication used by citizens who have not committed a crime, to employ state torture against those considered enemy combatants and to block the courts from prosecuting those officials who commit such heinous crimes. (37) The ruling corporate elites have made terror rational and fear the modus operandi of politics. Neoliberal capital is based on a Hobbesian mantra of a war against all and a survival of the fittest ethic, and one consequence is an aggressive politics of disposability and disappearance.

Young people aligning with others can be a vibrant source of creativity, possibility and political struggle.

Educators, individuals, artists, intellectuals and various social movements need to make visible both the workings of market fundamentalism "in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic," and they "need to reconstruct a platform" and set of strategies to oppose it. Clearly, any political formation that matters must challenge the savage social costs casino capitalism has enacted and work to undo the forms of social, political and economic violence that young people are experiencing on a daily level. This will demand more than one-day demonstrations. What is needed is a resurgence of public memory, civic literacy and civic courage - that is, a willingness to both "effectively analyze the structures and mechanisms of capitalist power [in order] to formulate a sophisticated political response" and the willingness to build longstanding oppositional movements. (38) Traces of such movements are beginning to emerge all over the globe, especially in countries such as Spain and Greece.

In North America, we have seen important, though inconclusive, attempts on the part of young people to break the hold of power. This was evident in the Occupy movement, the Quebec student movement, the Idle No More opposition and the recent "Black Lives Matter" protests. What all of these movements have made clear is that young people aligning with others can be a vibrant source of creativity, possibility and political struggle. Moreover, these movements in their various contemporary manifestations point to a crucial political project in which young people have raised new questions about anti-democratic forces in the United States and Canada that are threatening the collective survival of vast numbers of people.

Evident in the legacy of these political movements, however slow their progression or setbacks, is a cry of collective indignation over economic and social injustices that pose a threat to humankind. They also make clear how young people and others can use new technologies, develop democratic social formations, and enact forms of critical pedagogy and civil disobedience necessary for addressing the anti-democratic forces that have been corrupting North American political culture since the 1970s. Young people have shown that austerity policies can be defeated; state violence can be held accountable; collective struggles are worthwhile; and specific and isolated protests can be transformed into broad social movements that pose a fundamental challenge to neoliberal ideologies and modes of governance. (39)

Current protests among young people in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in the world make clear that demonstrations are not - indeed, cannot be - only a short-term project for reform. Young people need to enlist all generations to develop a truly global political movement that is accompanied by the reclaiming of public spaces, the progressive use of digital technologies, the development of new public spheres, the production of new modes of education and the safeguarding of places where democratic expression, new civic values, democratic public spheres, new modes of identification and collective hope can be nurtured and developed. A formative culture must be put in place pedagogically and institutionally in a variety of spheres extending from churches and public and higher education to all those cultural apparatuses engaged in the production of collective knowledge, desire, identities and democratic values.

The struggles here are myriad and urgent and point to the call for a living wage, food security, accessible education, jobs programs (especially for the young), the democratization of power, economic equality and a massive shift in funds away from the machinery of war and big banks. Any collective struggle that matters has to embrace education as the center of politics and the source of an embryonic vision of the good life outside of the imperatives of unfettered "free-market" capitalism. In addition, too many progressives and people on the left are stuck in the discourse of foreclosure and cynicism and need to develop what Stuart Hall calls a "sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things." (40)

There is a need for educators, young people, artists and other cultural workers to develop languages of both critique and hope along with an educative politics in which people can address the historical, structural and ideological conditions at the core of the violence being waged by the corporate and repressive state, and to make clear that government increasingly subsumed by global market sovereignty is no longer responsive to the most basic needs of young people. All the issues that matter in a substantive democratic society are under siege by the forces of neoliberalism and any viable challenge requires movement building that is a long-term project. Young people need more than demonstrations and demolition squads; they need to take on the future by merging the power of the imagination and a politics of educated hope with long-term strategies, durable organizations and new political formations.

The issue of who gets to define the future, share in the nation's wealth, shape the parameters of the social state, steward and protect the globe's resources and create a formative culture for producing engaged and socially responsible citizens is no longer a rhetorical issue. This challenge offers up new categories for defining how matters of representation, education, economic justice and politics are to be defined and fought over. This is a difficult task, but what we are seeing in cities such as Chicago, Athens, Quebec, Paris, Madrid and other sites of massive inequality throughout the world is the beginning of a long struggle for the institutions, values and infrastructures that make communities the center of a robust, radical democracy. I realize this sounds a bit utopian, but we have few choices if we are going to struggle for a future that does a great deal more than endlessly repeat the present. We may live in dark times, but as Slavoj Žižek rightly insists, "The only realist option is to do what appears impossible within this system. This is how the impossible becomes possible." (41)


Footnotes:

1. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York: 2001).

2. See, for instance, Andre Spicer, "Adults with colouring books, kids with CVs - it's a world turned upside down," The Guardian (April 8, 2015). Online: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/08/adults-colouring-books-kids-cvs-lego-children

3. This theme is taken up powerfully by a number of theorists. See C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (New York: Norton, 1974); Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Henry A. Giroux, Public Spaces, Private Lives (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).

4. Noam Chomsky, "The Death of American Universities," Jacobin (March 3, 2015). Online: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/03/the-death-of-american-universities/

5. Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), p. 91.

6. J.F. Conway, "Quebec: Making War on Our Children," Socialist Project, E-Bulletin No. 651, (June 10, 2012). Online: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/651.php

7. Jennifer M. Silva, "Young and Isolated," International New York Times (June 22, 2013). Online: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/young-and-isolated/?_r=0

8. Zygmunt Bauman, On Education, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 46.

9. Zygmunt Bauman, This Is Not A Diary, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 64

10. Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).

11. Sara Mojtehedzadeh, "Q&A with precarious work expert Guy Standing," The Toronto Star, (April 09, 2015). Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/04/09/qa-with-precarious-work-expert-guy-standing.html

12. Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2012), pp. 18-19

13. Matt Taibbi, "After Laundering $800 Million in Drug Money, How Did HSBC Executives Avoid Jail?" Democracy Now! (December 13, 2012). Online: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/13/matt_taibbi_after_laundering_800_million

14. See, for example, David Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Henry A. Giroux, The Violence of Organized Forgetting (San Francisco: City Lights, 2014); Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle (San Francisco: City Lights, 2015).

15. Quoted in Jean-Marie Durand, "For Youth: A Disciplinary Discourse Only," Truthout (November 15, 2009), trans. Leslie Thatcher. Online: http://www.truthout.org/11190911

16. Jennifer M. Silva, Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, (Oxford Press, New York, NY, 2013). 10

17. Jean and John Comaroff, "Reflections of Youth, from the Past to the Postcolony," Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on The New Economy, ed. Melissa S. Fisher and Greg Downey, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006) p. 267.

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

19. Quoted in Jean-Marie Durand, "For Youth: A Disciplinary Discourse Only," Truthout (November 15, 2009), trans. Leslie Thatcher. Online: http://www.truthout.org/11190911

20. Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life (London: (London: Polity, 2007), p. 6.

21. Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyons, Liquid Surveillance, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013), pp. 54.

22. Tamar Lewin, "If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online," The New York Times (January 20, 2010), p. A1.

23. C. Christine, "Kaiser Study: Kids 8 to 18 Spend More Than Seven Hours a Day with Media," Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning: MacArthur Foundation (January 21, 2010).

24. Erica Goode, "Many in US Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds," The New York Times (December 19, 2011). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/us/nearly-a-third-of-americans-are-arrested-by-23-study-says.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

25. Reuters, "45% Struggle in US to Make Ends Meet," MSNBC: Business Stocks and Economy (November 22, 2011). Online: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45407937/ns/business-stocks_and_economy/#.T3SxhDEgd8E

26. Lindsey Tanner, "Food Stamps Will Feed Half of US Kids, Study Says," The Huffington Post (November 2, 2009). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/02/food-stamps-will-feed-hal_n_342834.html

27. Daily Mail Reporter, "These kids don't expect to lead a full life': Fears for Chicago teens as fatal shootings in city outnumber US troops killed in Afghanistan," Mail Online, UK (June 19, 2012). Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2161690/Chicago-crime-More-people-shot-dead-Chicago-killed-duty-Afghanistan.html

28. Taylor Wofford, "How America's Police Became an Army: The 1033 Program," Newsweek (August 13, 2014). Online: http://www.newsweek.com/how-americas-police-became-army-1033-program-264537

29. David Graeber, "Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life," Gawker (March 19, 2015). Online: http://gawker.com/ferguson-and-the-criminalization-of-american-life-1692392051

30. Oliver Laughland, "Tamir Rice 'directly and proximately' responsible for own police shooting death, says city," The Guardian (March 1, 2015). Online: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/01/tamir-rice-directly-proximately-responsible-police-shooting-death-city

31. Rich Juzwiak and Aleksander Chan, "Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014," Gawker (December 8, 2014). Online: http://gawker.com/unarmed-people-of-color-killed-by-police-1999-2014-1666672349

32. Corey Mead, War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict (New York; Houghton Mifflin, 20013). Also see, Clive Thompson, "The Making of an X Box Warrior," New York Times Magazine, August 22, 2004, 34-37; Jeremy Hsu, "For the US Military, Video Games Get Serious," LiveScience (August 19, 2010). Online: http://www.livescience.com/10022-military-video-games.html

33. Department of Justice Canada, A One-Day Snapshot of Aboriginal Youth in Custody Across Canada: Phase II. Online: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2004/yj2-jj2/p3.html

34. Colin Perket, "Ashley Smith Inquest Slated to Finally Start in Early 2013," CTV News (December 27, 2012). Online: http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/local-news/ashley-smith-inquest-slated-to-finally-start-in-early-2013-1.1092580

35. Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives, (London: Polity Press, 2004), p.82.

36. Jonathan Turley, "10 reasons the US is no longer the land of the free," The Washington Post, (January 13, 2012). Online: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-01-13/opinions/35440628_1_individual-rights-indefinite-detention-citizens

37. For a clear expose of the emerging surveillance state, see Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide (New York: Signal, 2014); Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (New York: Times Books, 2014); Heidi Boghosian, Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance (City Lights Books, 2013).

38. Chris Hedges, "Tariq Ali: The Time Is Right for a Palace Revolution," Truthdig (March 1, 2015). Online: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/tariq_ali_the_time_is_right_for_a_palace_revolution_20150301

39. Ingar Solty, "Canada's 'Maple Spring': From the Quebec Student Strike to the Movement Against Neoliberalism," Socialist Project (December 31, 2012). Online: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/752.php

40. Zoe Williams, "The Saturday Interview: Stuart Hall," The Guardian (February 11, 2012)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2012/feb/11/saturday-interview-stuart-hall

41. Slavoj Žižek, Demanding the Impossible, ed. Yong-June Park. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013), p. 144.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2015) and  coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.


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Henry A. Giroux | Domestic Terrorism, Youth and the Politics of Disposability

Tuesday, 21 April 2015 00:00 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysis
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Domestic Terrorism, Youth and the Politics of Disposability (Image: Youth silhouette, blurred crowd via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

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"The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages."

- Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Following Hannah Arendt, a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended on the United States. (1) Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children and children are taught to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures designed to cripple their ability to be imaginative. (2)

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a kind of anti-intellectual cretinism evident in the babble of banality produced by Fox News, celebrity culture, schools modeled after prisons and politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and denounce almost any form of reason. The citizen now becomes a consumer; the politician, a slave to corporate money and power; and the burgeoning army of anti-public intellectuals in the mainstream media present themselves as unapologetic enemies of anything that suggests compassion, a respect for the commons and democracy itself.

Education is no longer a public good but a private right, just as critical thinking is no longer a fundamental necessity for creating an engaged and socially responsible citizenship. Neoliberalism's disdain for the social is no longer a quote made famous by Margaret Thatcher. The public sphere is now replaced by private interests, and unbridled individualism rails against any viable notion of solidarity that might inform the vibrancy of struggle, change, and an expansion of an enlightened and democratic body politic.

Listen to an interview with Henry A. Giroux on "Disposable Youth" at CBC Radio.

One outcome is that we live at a time in which institutions that were designed to limit human suffering and indignity and protect the public from the boom and bust cycles of capitalist markets have been either weakened or abolished. (3) Free market policies, values and practices, with their now unrestrained emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the denigration of social protections and the deregulation of economic activity, influence practically every commanding political and economic institution in North America. Finance capitalism now drives politics, governance and policy in unprecedented ways and is more than willing to sacrifice the future of young people for short-term political and economic gains, regardless of the talk about the need to not burden future generations "with hopelessly heavy tuition debt." (4) It gets worse.

Nation-states organized by neoliberal priorities have implicitly declared war on their children.

Under market fundamentalism, there is a separation of market values, behavior and practices from ethical considerations and social costs giving rise to a growing theater of cruelty and abuse throughout North America. Public spheres that once encouraged progressive ideas, enlightened social policies, democratic values, critical dialogue and exchange have been increasingly commercialized. Or, they have been replaced by corporate settings whose ultimate fidelity is to increasing profit margins and producing a vast commercial and celebrity culture "that tends to function so as to erase everything that matters." (5) Since the 1980s, the scale of human suffering, immiseration and hardship has intensified, accompanied by a theater of cruelty in which violence, especially the daily spectacle of Black men being brutalized or killed by the police, feeds the 24-hour news cycle. The tentacles of barbarism appear to be reaching into every aspect of daily life. Domestic terrorism has come home and it increasingly targets the young.

Given these conditions, an overwhelming catalogue of evidence has come into view that indicates that nation-states organized by neoliberal priorities have implicitly declared war on their children, offering a disturbing index of societies in the midst of a deep moral and political catastrophe. (6) Too many young people today live in an era of foreclosed hope, an era in which it is difficult either to imagine a life beyond the dictates of a market-driven society or to transcend the fear that any attempt to do so can only result in a more dreadful nightmare.

As Jennifer Silva has pointed out, this generation of especially "young working-class men and women ... are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks.... They live at home longer, spend more years in college, change jobs more frequently and start families later." (7)

Youth today are not only plagued by the fragility and uncertainty of the present; they are "the first post war generation facing the prospect of downward mobility [in which the] plight of the outcast stretches to embrace a generation as a whole." (8) It is little wonder that "these youngsters are called Generation Zero: A generation with Zero opportunities, Zero future" and Zero expectations. (9) Or to use Guy Standing's term, "the precariat," (10) which he defines as "a growing proportion of our total society" forced to "accept a life of unstable labour and unstable living." (11)

If youth were once the repository of society's dreams, that is no longer true.

Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a society that fails to provide for its youth, the symbolic and real violence waged against many young people suggests nothing less than a perverse collective death wish - especially visible when youth protest their conditions. As Alain Badiou argues, we live in an era in which there is near zero tolerance for democratic protest and "infinite tolerance for the crimes of bankers and government embezzlers which affect the lives of millions." (12) This is certainly true of the United States. How else to explain the FBI's willingness to label as a "terrorist threat" youthful activists speaking against corporate and government misdeeds, while at the same time the Bureau refuses to press criminal charges against the banking giant HSBC for laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda? (13)

If youth were once the repository of society's dreams, that is no longer true. Increasingly, young people are viewed as a public disorder, a dream now turned into a nightmare. Many youth live in a post-9/11 social order that positions them as a prime target of its governing through crime complex. This is made obvious by the many "get tough" policies that now render young people as criminals, while depriving them of basic health care, education and social services. Punishment and fear have replaced compassion and social responsibility as the most important modalities for mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order, all too evident by the upsurge of zero-tolerance laws, along with the expanding reach of the punishing state in both the United States and Canada. (14) When the criminalization of social problems becomes a mode of governance and war its default strategy, youth are reduced to soldiers or targets - not social investments. As anthropologist Alain Bertho points out, "Youth is no longer considered the world's future, but as a threat to its present." (15)

Increasingly, the only political discourses available for many young people are either a disciplinary one or one of "emotional self-management." (16) Youth are now removed from any talk about democracy. Their absence is symptomatic of a society that has turned against itself, punishes its children and does so at the risk of crippling the entire body politic. Too many youth now represent the absent present in any discourse about the contemporary moment, the future and democracy itself, and increasingly fall prey to what I call the war on youth, a war that can be traced back to the 1970s. (17)

The war on youth emerged when the social contract, however compromised and feeble, came crashing to the ground around the time Margaret Thatcher "married" Ronald Reagan. Both were hard-line advocates of a market fundamentalism, and announced respectively that there was no such thing as society and that government was the problem, not the solution to citizens' woes. Within a short time, democracy and the political process were hijacked by corporations and the call for austerity policies became cheap copy for weakening the welfare state, public values and public goods. The results of this emerging neoliberal regime included a widening gap between the rich and the poor, a growing culture of cruelty and the dismantling of social provisions. One result has been that the promise of youth has given way to an age of market-induced angst, and a view of many young people as a threat to short-term investments, privatization, untrammeled self-interest and quick profits.

Young people today are expected to inhabit a set of relations in which the only obligation is to live for oneself.

Under such circumstances, all bets are off regarding the future of democracy. Besides a growing inability to translate private troubles into social issues, what is also being lost in the current historical conjuncture is the very idea of the public good, the notion of connecting learning to social change and developing modes of civic courage infused by the principles of social justice. Under the regime of a ruthless economic Darwinism, we are witnessing the crumbling of social bonds and the triumph of individual desires over social rights, nowhere more exemplified than in the gated communities, gated intellectuals and gated values that have become symptomatic of a society that has lost all claims to democracy or for that matter any modestly progressive vision for the future.

As one eminent sociologist points out, "Visions have nowadays fallen into disrepute and we tend to be proud of what we should be ashamed of." (18) For instance, politicians such as former Vice President Dick Cheney not only refuse to apologize for the immense suffering and displacement they have imposed on the Iraqi people, but they seem to gloat in defending such policies. Doublespeak takes on a new register as President Obama employs the discourse of national security to sanction a surveillance state, a kill list and the ongoing killing of young children by drones. This expanding landscape of lies has not only produced an illegal war and justified state torture; it also provided a justification for the United States' slide into barbarism after the tragic events of 9/11. Yet, such acts of state violence appear to be of little concern to the shameless apostles of permanent war.

Politics has become an extension of war, just as "systemic economic insecurity and anxiety" and state-sponsored violence increasingly find legitimation in the discourses of privatization and demonization, which promote anxiety, moral panics and fear, and undermine any sense of communal responsibility for the well-being of others. Too many young people today learn quickly that their fate is solely a matter of individual responsibility, irrespective of wider structural forces. This is a much promoted hyper-competitive ideology, which includes a message that surviving in a society demands reducing social relations to forms of social combat. Young people today are expected to inhabit a set of relations in which the only obligation is to live for oneself and to reduce the responsibilities of citizenship to the demands of a consumer culture. Yet, there is more at work here than a flight from social responsibility, if not politics itself. Also lost is the importance of those social bonds, modes of collective reasoning, public spheres and cultural apparatuses crucial to the formation of a sustainable democratic society.

The War Against Youth

In what follows, I want to address the intensifying assault on young people through the related concepts of "soft war" and "hard war." (19) The idea of the soft war considers the changing conditions of youth within the relentless expansion of a global market society. Partnered with a massive advertising machinery, the soft war targets all children and youth, devaluing them by treating them as yet another "market" to be commodified and exploited, and conscripting them into the system through relentless attempts to create a new generation of hyper-consumers.

This low-intensity war is waged by a variety of corporate institutions through the educational force of a culture that commercializes every aspect of kids' lives, and now uses the internet and various social networks, along with new media technologies such as smart phones, to immerse young people in the world of mass consumption in ways that are more direct and expansive than anything we have seen in the past. Commercially carpet-bombed by an advertising industry that in the United States spent $170 billion in 2012, the typical child is exposed to about 40,000 ads a year and by the time they reach the fourth grade have memorized 300 to 400 brands.

An entire generation is being drawn into a world of consumerism in which commodities and brand loyalty become both the most important markers of identity and the primary frameworks for mediating one's relationship to the world. Increasingly, many young people, recast as commodities, can only recognize themselves in terms preferred by the market. As Zygmunt Bauman points out, youth are simultaneously "promoters of commodities and the commodities they promote" - defined as both brands and merchandise, on the one hand, and marketing agents on the other. (20)

The data-mining marketers make young people think they count when in fact "all they want to do is count them."

Corporations have hit gold with the new media and can inundate young people directly with their market-driven values, desires and identities, all of which fly under the radar, escaping the watchful eyes and interventions of concerned parents and other adults. The data-mining marketers make young people think they count when in fact "all they want to do is count them." (21) The dominant culture's overbearing ecology of consumption now works to selectively eliminate and reorder the possible modes of political, social and ethical vocabularies made available to youth. Young people's most private experiences are now colonized by a consumerist ethic that deforms their sense of agency, desires, values and hopes. Trapped within a spectacle of marketing, their capacity to be critically engaged and socially responsible citizens is greatly diminished.

At the same time, the influence of the new screen and electronic culture on young peoples' habits is disturbing. For instance, a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people ages 8 to 18 now spend more than seven and a half hours a day with smart phones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices. (22) When you add the additional time youth spend texting, talking on their cellphones and doing multiple tasks at once, such as "watching TV while updating Facebook - the number rises to 11 hours of total media content each day." (23) There is a greater risk here to youth than what seems to be emerging as a new form of depoliticization and thoughtlessness conveniently labeled as attention deficit disorder. The risk is that young people's lives will eventually be filled entirely by these distractions, and they will be denied the time necessary for thoughtful analysis and the pedagogical conditions necessary for them to read critically both the word and the world.

What are the consequences of the soft war? Public spaces have been transformed into neoliberal disimagination zones, which makes it more difficult for young people to find public spheres where they can locate themselves and translate metaphors of hope into meaningful action. The dreamscapes that make up a society built on the promises of mass consumption translate deftly into ad copy, insistently promoting and normalizing a neoliberal order in which economic relations now provide the master script for how young people define themselves, their relations with others and the larger world.

Of course, some youth are doing their best to resist the commercial onslaught and to stay ahead of the commodification and privatization of new media technologies. These youth are using social and digital media as creative tools to assert a range of oppositional practices and forms of protest that constitute a new realm of political activity, one that will increase in the future, and an important source of struggle and resistance.

The Hard War

Turning now to the hard war, this is a more serious and dangerous development for young people, especially those who are marginalized by virtue of their ethnicity, race or class. The hard war refers to the harshest elements of a growing youth crime-control complex that operates through a logic of punishment, surveillance and control. The young people targeted by its punitive measures are often poor youth of color who are considered failed consumers and who can only afford to live on the margins of a commercial culture that excludes anybody without money, resources and leisure time to spare. Or they are youth considered uneducable and unemployable, and therefore troublesome.

The imprint of the youth crime-control complex can be traced in the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that subject students to constant surveillance through high-tech security devices while imposing on them harsh and often thoughtless zero-tolerance policies that closely resemble measures used currently by the criminal justice system. In this instance, poor youth and youth of color become objects of a new mode of governance based on the crudest forms of disciplinary control. Punished if they don't show up at school and punished even if they do attend school, many of these students are funneled into what has been ominously called the "school-to-prison pipeline." If middle- and upper-class kids are subject to the seductions of market-driven public relations, working-class youth are caught in the crosshairs between the arousal of commercial desire and the harsh impositions of securitization, surveillance and policing.

In the US today 500,000 young people are incarcerated and 2.5 million are arrested annually.

How else do we explain the fact that in the United States today 500,000 young people are incarcerated and 2.5 million are arrested annually, and that by the age of 23, "almost a third of Americans have been arrested for a crime"? (24) What kind of society allows 1.6 million children to be homeless at any given time in a year? Or allows massive inequalities in wealth and income to produce a politically and morally dysfunctional society in which "45 percent of US residents live in households that struggle to make ends meet"? (25)

Current statistics paint a bleak picture for young people in the United States: 1.5 million are unemployed, which marks a 17-year high; 12.5 million are without food; and in what amounts to a national disgrace, one out of every five US children lives in poverty. Nearly half of all US children and 90 percent of Black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. (26) What are we to make of a society in which there were more young people killed on the streets of Chicago since 2001 then were US soldiers killed in Afghanistan? To be more exact, 5,000 people were killed by gunfire in Chicago, many of them children, while 2,000 troops were killed between 2001 and 2012. (27)

A type of mad violence appears to be at the heart of political and everyday life in the United States. The National Rifle Association and its political lackeys support a gun culture that calls for arming students in schools. Since the passage in 1990 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed the US Department of Defense to transfer surplus military equipment to local police forces, the police now have access to armored troop carriers, night vision rifles, Humvees, M16 automatic rifles, grenade launchers and other weapons designed for military tactics. (28)

As the war on terror comes home, public spaces have been transformed into war zones, and the militarized police forces have taken on the role of an occupying army, especially in poor neighborhoods of color. Acting as a paramilitary force, the police have become a new symbol of domestic terrorism, shaking down youth of color by criminalizing a multitude of behaviors. This was especially true in the stop-and-frisk policies so widespread under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City. In Ferguson, Missouri, the entire population was criminalized in what can only be described as a racist shakedown. As David Graeber puts it,

The Department of Justice's investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department's institutional racism, while shocking, isn't the report's most striking revelation. More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city's population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson's citizens had outstanding warrants. (29)

The rise of the punishing state and the war on terror has emboldened police forces across the United States, and in doing so feeds their use of racist violence against young people resulting in what has been called an "epidemic of police brutality." Sadly, even young children of color are not immune from such violence, as the killing of Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014, by a White policeman has made clear. Even more tragic is the fact that the City of Cleveland tried to blame the 12-year-old boy for his own death. (30) Rice was holding a BB gun when he was shot to death by a police officer judged unfit for duty in 2012. The killing of Black men has taken on the image of a cruel sport promoted by police forces that now hype the lawlessness and extreme violence that has replaced any viable notion of democratic idealism. Between January 2012 and December 2014, 38 unarmed Black men have been killed by the police. (31)

Many people in the United States now live in a culture that is not only being increasingly militarized, but also supports a growing indifference to such cruelty, reinforced by a notion of exaggerated self-reliance, rugged individualism and privatization, all of which renders group solidarities repugnant and reinforces the idea that care for the other is both a pathology and a liability. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the United States currently has more police, prisons, spies, weapons and soldiers than at any other time in its history - this coupled with a growing "army" of the unemployed and incarcerated.

In addition, the military-industrial complex now joins hands with the entertainment industry in producing everything from children's toys to video games that both construct a militarized form of masculinity and serve as an enticement for recruitment. In fact, more than 10 million people have downloaded "America's Army" and its various updates, including the more recent, "America's Army: Proving Grounds," a first-person shooter computer game the US Army uses as a recruitment tool. (32) Such representations of masculinity and aggression mimic fascism's militarization of the public sphere, through which violence becomes the ultimate language, referent and currency. This machinery of normalization makes it more difficult to understand how war becomes a source of pride rather than alarm, just as violence becomes mythologized and the war on terror is transformed into a war on society itself and the political order. But this culture of militarized hardness is not confined to the United States.

Young people inhabit a new and more unsettling scene of suffering, a dead zone of the imagination.

In Canada, one child in six lives in poverty, but for Aboriginal and immigrant children that figure rises to 25 percent or more, respectively. By all accounts, the rate of incarceration for Aboriginal youth - already eight times higher than for non-Aboriginal youth - will continue to skyrocket as a result of the Harper government's so-called Safe Streets and Community Act, which emulates the failed policies of the US system by, among other things, strengthening requirements to detain and sentence more youth to custody in juvenile detention centers. (33) Surely one conclusion that can be drawn from the inquest into the tragic suicide of 19-year-old Ashley Smith, who spent five years of her life in and out of detention facilities, is that incarceration for young people can be equivalent to a death sentence. (34)

Against the idealistic rhetoric of governments that claim to venerate young people lies the reality of societies that increasingly view youth through the optic of law and order, societies that appear all too willing to treat youth as criminals and when necessary make them "disappear" into the farthest reaches of the carceral state. Under such circumstances, the administration of schools and social services has given way to modes of confinement that retain the purpose of ensuring "custody and control." (35) As I have already suggested, many schools in the United States are modeled after prisons with their high-tech surveillance cameras, the presence of police and security guards and punitive zero-tolerance policies. How else to explain children as young as 12 being subjected to stun guns, handcuffed and removed from class for doodling on a desk, or suspended from school for bringing in a toy GI gun. It gets worse. John Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute, has documented young girls being suspended or expelled from school for having Midol or Alka-Seltzer in their purse, and children being suspended for playing cops and robbers. Instead of being sent to the principal's office for even a minor infraction such as violating dress codes, many children are handcuffed, taken from the classroom, put in a patrol car and driven to a police station. And that is only the beginning of the nightmare for these kids and their families.

The plight of poor youth of color today also extends beyond the severity of material deprivations and violence they experience daily. Many young people have been forced to view the world and redefine the nature of their own youth within the borders of hopelessness, insecurity and despair. There is little basis on which to imagine a better future lying just beyond the highly restrictive spaces of commodification and containment. Neoliberal austerity in social spending means an entire generation of youth will not have access to decent jobs, the material comforts, educational opportunities or the security available to previous generations.

In Canada, there is a new generation of youth who have to think, act and talk like adults, and worry about their families, which may be headed by a single parent or two out of work and searching for a job. In the United States, young people are further burdened by registers of extreme poverty that pose the dire challenge of getting enough money to buy food and facing the arduous task of determining how long it will take to see a doctor in case of illness. These young people inhabit a new and more unsettling scene of suffering, a dead zone of the imagination, which constitutes a site of terminal exclusion - one that reveals not only the vast and destabilizing inequalities in neoliberal economic landscapes, but also portends a future that has no purchase on the hope that characterizes a vibrant democracy.

Politics and power are now on the side of lawlessness as is obvious in the state's endless violations of civil liberties, freedom of speech and most constitutional rights, mostly done in the name of national security. Lawlessness now wraps itself in government dictates. In Canada, it is evident in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's support for Bill C-51, an anti-terrorist bill that further limits civil rights through a pedagogy of fear and racist demonization. It is also apparent in the United Sates in such policies as the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Military Commissions Act and a host of other legal illegalities. These would include the right of the president "to order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists," (36) to use secret evidence to detain individuals indefinitely, to develop a massive surveillance apparatus to monitor every audio and electronic communication used by citizens who have not committed a crime, to employ state torture against those considered enemy combatants and to block the courts from prosecuting those officials who commit such heinous crimes. (37) The ruling corporate elites have made terror rational and fear the modus operandi of politics. Neoliberal capital is based on a Hobbesian mantra of a war against all and a survival of the fittest ethic, and one consequence is an aggressive politics of disposability and disappearance.

Young people aligning with others can be a vibrant source of creativity, possibility and political struggle.

Educators, individuals, artists, intellectuals and various social movements need to make visible both the workings of market fundamentalism "in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic," and they "need to reconstruct a platform" and set of strategies to oppose it. Clearly, any political formation that matters must challenge the savage social costs casino capitalism has enacted and work to undo the forms of social, political and economic violence that young people are experiencing on a daily level. This will demand more than one-day demonstrations. What is needed is a resurgence of public memory, civic literacy and civic courage - that is, a willingness to both "effectively analyze the structures and mechanisms of capitalist power [in order] to formulate a sophisticated political response" and the willingness to build longstanding oppositional movements. (38) Traces of such movements are beginning to emerge all over the globe, especially in countries such as Spain and Greece.

In North America, we have seen important, though inconclusive, attempts on the part of young people to break the hold of power. This was evident in the Occupy movement, the Quebec student movement, the Idle No More opposition and the recent "Black Lives Matter" protests. What all of these movements have made clear is that young people aligning with others can be a vibrant source of creativity, possibility and political struggle. Moreover, these movements in their various contemporary manifestations point to a crucial political project in which young people have raised new questions about anti-democratic forces in the United States and Canada that are threatening the collective survival of vast numbers of people.

Evident in the legacy of these political movements, however slow their progression or setbacks, is a cry of collective indignation over economic and social injustices that pose a threat to humankind. They also make clear how young people and others can use new technologies, develop democratic social formations, and enact forms of critical pedagogy and civil disobedience necessary for addressing the anti-democratic forces that have been corrupting North American political culture since the 1970s. Young people have shown that austerity policies can be defeated; state violence can be held accountable; collective struggles are worthwhile; and specific and isolated protests can be transformed into broad social movements that pose a fundamental challenge to neoliberal ideologies and modes of governance. (39)

Current protests among young people in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in the world make clear that demonstrations are not - indeed, cannot be - only a short-term project for reform. Young people need to enlist all generations to develop a truly global political movement that is accompanied by the reclaiming of public spaces, the progressive use of digital technologies, the development of new public spheres, the production of new modes of education and the safeguarding of places where democratic expression, new civic values, democratic public spheres, new modes of identification and collective hope can be nurtured and developed. A formative culture must be put in place pedagogically and institutionally in a variety of spheres extending from churches and public and higher education to all those cultural apparatuses engaged in the production of collective knowledge, desire, identities and democratic values.

The struggles here are myriad and urgent and point to the call for a living wage, food security, accessible education, jobs programs (especially for the young), the democratization of power, economic equality and a massive shift in funds away from the machinery of war and big banks. Any collective struggle that matters has to embrace education as the center of politics and the source of an embryonic vision of the good life outside of the imperatives of unfettered "free-market" capitalism. In addition, too many progressives and people on the left are stuck in the discourse of foreclosure and cynicism and need to develop what Stuart Hall calls a "sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things." (40)

There is a need for educators, young people, artists and other cultural workers to develop languages of both critique and hope along with an educative politics in which people can address the historical, structural and ideological conditions at the core of the violence being waged by the corporate and repressive state, and to make clear that government increasingly subsumed by global market sovereignty is no longer responsive to the most basic needs of young people. All the issues that matter in a substantive democratic society are under siege by the forces of neoliberalism and any viable challenge requires movement building that is a long-term project. Young people need more than demonstrations and demolition squads; they need to take on the future by merging the power of the imagination and a politics of educated hope with long-term strategies, durable organizations and new political formations.

The issue of who gets to define the future, share in the nation's wealth, shape the parameters of the social state, steward and protect the globe's resources and create a formative culture for producing engaged and socially responsible citizens is no longer a rhetorical issue. This challenge offers up new categories for defining how matters of representation, education, economic justice and politics are to be defined and fought over. This is a difficult task, but what we are seeing in cities such as Chicago, Athens, Quebec, Paris, Madrid and other sites of massive inequality throughout the world is the beginning of a long struggle for the institutions, values and infrastructures that make communities the center of a robust, radical democracy. I realize this sounds a bit utopian, but we have few choices if we are going to struggle for a future that does a great deal more than endlessly repeat the present. We may live in dark times, but as Slavoj Žižek rightly insists, "The only realist option is to do what appears impossible within this system. This is how the impossible becomes possible." (41)


Footnotes:

1. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York: 2001).

2. See, for instance, Andre Spicer, "Adults with colouring books, kids with CVs - it's a world turned upside down," The Guardian (April 8, 2015). Online: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/08/adults-colouring-books-kids-cvs-lego-children

3. This theme is taken up powerfully by a number of theorists. See C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (New York: Norton, 1974); Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); and Henry A. Giroux, Public Spaces, Private Lives (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).

4. Noam Chomsky, "The Death of American Universities," Jacobin (March 3, 2015). Online: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/03/the-death-of-american-universities/

5. Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), p. 91.

6. J.F. Conway, "Quebec: Making War on Our Children," Socialist Project, E-Bulletin No. 651, (June 10, 2012). Online: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/651.php

7. Jennifer M. Silva, "Young and Isolated," International New York Times (June 22, 2013). Online: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/young-and-isolated/?_r=0

8. Zygmunt Bauman, On Education, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 46.

9. Zygmunt Bauman, This Is Not A Diary, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 64

10. Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).

11. Sara Mojtehedzadeh, "Q&A with precarious work expert Guy Standing," The Toronto Star, (April 09, 2015). Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/04/09/qa-with-precarious-work-expert-guy-standing.html

12. Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2012), pp. 18-19

13. Matt Taibbi, "After Laundering $800 Million in Drug Money, How Did HSBC Executives Avoid Jail?" Democracy Now! (December 13, 2012). Online: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/13/matt_taibbi_after_laundering_800_million

14. See, for example, David Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Henry A. Giroux, The Violence of Organized Forgetting (San Francisco: City Lights, 2014); Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle (San Francisco: City Lights, 2015).

15. Quoted in Jean-Marie Durand, "For Youth: A Disciplinary Discourse Only," Truthout (November 15, 2009), trans. Leslie Thatcher. Online: http://www.truthout.org/11190911

16. Jennifer M. Silva, Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, (Oxford Press, New York, NY, 2013). 10

17. Jean and John Comaroff, "Reflections of Youth, from the Past to the Postcolony," Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on The New Economy, ed. Melissa S. Fisher and Greg Downey, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006) p. 267.

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

19. Quoted in Jean-Marie Durand, "For Youth: A Disciplinary Discourse Only," Truthout (November 15, 2009), trans. Leslie Thatcher. Online: http://www.truthout.org/11190911

20. Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life (London: (London: Polity, 2007), p. 6.

21. Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyons, Liquid Surveillance, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013), pp. 54.

22. Tamar Lewin, "If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online," The New York Times (January 20, 2010), p. A1.

23. C. Christine, "Kaiser Study: Kids 8 to 18 Spend More Than Seven Hours a Day with Media," Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning: MacArthur Foundation (January 21, 2010).

24. Erica Goode, "Many in US Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds," The New York Times (December 19, 2011). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/us/nearly-a-third-of-americans-are-arrested-by-23-study-says.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

25. Reuters, "45% Struggle in US to Make Ends Meet," MSNBC: Business Stocks and Economy (November 22, 2011). Online: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45407937/ns/business-stocks_and_economy/#.T3SxhDEgd8E

26. Lindsey Tanner, "Food Stamps Will Feed Half of US Kids, Study Says," The Huffington Post (November 2, 2009). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/02/food-stamps-will-feed-hal_n_342834.html

27. Daily Mail Reporter, "These kids don't expect to lead a full life': Fears for Chicago teens as fatal shootings in city outnumber US troops killed in Afghanistan," Mail Online, UK (June 19, 2012). Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2161690/Chicago-crime-More-people-shot-dead-Chicago-killed-duty-Afghanistan.html

28. Taylor Wofford, "How America's Police Became an Army: The 1033 Program," Newsweek (August 13, 2014). Online: http://www.newsweek.com/how-americas-police-became-army-1033-program-264537

29. David Graeber, "Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life," Gawker (March 19, 2015). Online: http://gawker.com/ferguson-and-the-criminalization-of-american-life-1692392051

30. Oliver Laughland, "Tamir Rice 'directly and proximately' responsible for own police shooting death, says city," The Guardian (March 1, 2015). Online: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/01/tamir-rice-directly-proximately-responsible-police-shooting-death-city

31. Rich Juzwiak and Aleksander Chan, "Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014," Gawker (December 8, 2014). Online: http://gawker.com/unarmed-people-of-color-killed-by-police-1999-2014-1666672349

32. Corey Mead, War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict (New York; Houghton Mifflin, 20013). Also see, Clive Thompson, "The Making of an X Box Warrior," New York Times Magazine, August 22, 2004, 34-37; Jeremy Hsu, "For the US Military, Video Games Get Serious," LiveScience (August 19, 2010). Online: http://www.livescience.com/10022-military-video-games.html

33. Department of Justice Canada, A One-Day Snapshot of Aboriginal Youth in Custody Across Canada: Phase II. Online: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2004/yj2-jj2/p3.html

34. Colin Perket, "Ashley Smith Inquest Slated to Finally Start in Early 2013," CTV News (December 27, 2012). Online: http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/local-news/ashley-smith-inquest-slated-to-finally-start-in-early-2013-1.1092580

35. Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives, (London: Polity Press, 2004), p.82.

36. Jonathan Turley, "10 reasons the US is no longer the land of the free," The Washington Post, (January 13, 2012). Online: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-01-13/opinions/35440628_1_individual-rights-indefinite-detention-citizens

37. For a clear expose of the emerging surveillance state, see Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide (New York: Signal, 2014); Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (New York: Times Books, 2014); Heidi Boghosian, Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance (City Lights Books, 2013).

38. Chris Hedges, "Tariq Ali: The Time Is Right for a Palace Revolution," Truthdig (March 1, 2015). Online: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/tariq_ali_the_time_is_right_for_a_palace_revolution_20150301

39. Ingar Solty, "Canada's 'Maple Spring': From the Quebec Student Strike to the Movement Against Neoliberalism," Socialist Project (December 31, 2012). Online: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/752.php

40. Zoe Williams, "The Saturday Interview: Stuart Hall," The Guardian (February 11, 2012)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2012/feb/11/saturday-interview-stuart-hall

41. Slavoj Žižek, Demanding the Impossible, ed. Yong-June Park. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2013), p. 144.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2015) and  coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.


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