Neoliberalism is not merely an economic system, but also a cultural apparatus and pedagogy that are instrumental in forming a new mass sensibility, a new condition for the widespread acceptance of the capitalist system, even the general belief in its eternity. Seeking to hide its ideological and constructed nature, neoliberal ideology attempts through its massive cultural apparatuses to produce an unquestioned common sense that hides its basic assumptions so as to prevent them from being questioned.
In the audio interview shared above, Forthright Radio host Joy LaClaire and I discuss neoliberalism as both an economic structure designed to consolidate the power of the financial elite and also as a form of public pedagogy and desiring machine.
Media, the schools, and other educational aspects of our culture attempt to develop individual and collective identities that mimic the logic of the market. Meanwhile, neoliberal public pedagogy buys into support for possessive individualism at the expense of modes of solidarity and shared responsibilities. Almost everything has been privatized so as to erase any vestige of the common good. We have developed a collective disdain for any sense of social responsibility while embracing the notion that freedom is tantamount to engaging in the pursuit of self-interest. Our relationships with others have become part of a survival of the fittest ethos that is celebrated daily on Reality TV.
In the interview below, drawing on the arguments that Brad Evans and I made together in our new book, Disposable Futures: the Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle, I argue that we live in an age fed by a low-level war against critical thinking and civic literacy. The existing political culture is one that views thinking as dangerous and not only works to stifle those sites where critical thinking can be nurtured but also celebrate those sites where stupidity is valorized such as in celebrity culture with its rampant idiocy and utter disdain for anything that resembles a complicated thought. The alternative media may be one of the few spaces left where critical ideas can be aired and where a new formative political culture can be developed, in opposition to the culture of illiteracy.
Another important part of our discussion touches on the global reach of capital and its attempt to impose poisonous austerity measures on countries such as Greece in order to not only provide capital for the financial elite but also to use such punishing techniques as part of a culture of fear to prevent other countries from challenging neoliberal capital and imagining another world.
If we expand our view of neoliberalism as a form of authoritarianism that mimics a form of state terrorism associated with dictatorships in the past, we gain new insights into the rise of the punishing state, the modeling of schools after prisons, the rise of the mass incarceration state, the rise of vigilante groups in the United States such as the Oath Keepers, and the militarizing of the police. We also gain new context for understanding the war on youth, including what I call the soft war, the hard war, and the war against privacy.
Youth today are growing up within a formative culture in which violence is viewed both as a form of entertainment and as a legitimate force for solving many social problems. Violence has become a spectacle that mirrors the increasing collapse of the United States into an authoritarian society. Violence has become a spectacle that combines ideology, pleasure and desire as part of poisonous public pedagogy whose goal is to wage war on democracy, particularly on the democratic public spheres such as public schools, the welfare state, unions as well as those who serve the public good such as public school teachers, health-care workers, and all those whose labor is designed to serve the public good rather than the wealth, power and agendas of the financial elite.
In this context, neoliberalism can be understood as a form of state terrorism deeply implicated in destroying the autonomy of the labor process while at the same time engaging in forms of state terrorism marked increasingly by the exercise of racist violence.
That is why the movement for Black lives is so important. This movement is distinctly different from more recent protest movements in that it is talking less about reform and single issues such as police violence and inequality than about real structural change. The movement for Black lives makes racist violence its signature argument and thereby situates problems such as police violence in the context of related issues ranging from deep seated inequality and poverty to the rise of the mass incarceration state.
Most impressively, the movement for Black lives takes education seriously as a central element of its politics and talks insightfully about the need to educate, inform and mobilize people who are the victims of racist violence to get involved politically as part of a broad-based social movement. The ability of this movement to make connections historically and relationally offers a new paradigm for change and does so in a way that not only exposes the limitations of established political leaders in both major parties, but speaks loudly and brilliantly to what it means and how necessary it is to create a new understanding of politics and with it new social formations.
For more on these topics and more, you can listen to the interview on Forthright Radio.
To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.