Monday, 22 December 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Henry A. Giroux on "The Violence of Organized Forgetting"

Tuesday, 19 August 2014 00:00 By Victoria Harper, Truthout | Interview

2014 819 gir st(Photo: Susan Searls Giroux)Discussing his new book, Henry A. Giroux argues that what unites racist killings, loss of privacy, the surveillance state's rise, the increasing corporatization of US institutions and growing poverty and inequality "is a growing threat of authoritarianism - or what might be otherwise called totalitarianism with elections."

You can obtain Henry A. Giroux's latest book, "The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine", with a contribution to Truthout. Click here now.

Victoria Harper: Your new book has a very provocative and suggestive title: The Violence of Organized Forgetting. How does the title work as an organizing idea for the book?

Henry A. Giroux: We live in a historical moment when memory, if not critical thought itself, is either under attack or is being devalued and undermined by a number of forces in American society. Historical memory has become dangerous today because it offers the promise of lost legacies of resistance, moments in history when the social contract was taken seriously (however impaired), and when a variety of social movements emerged that called for a rethinking of what democracy meant and how it might be defined in the interest of economic and social justice.

Fear, privatization and depoliticization are the organizing principles of American society at the current moment.

Including violence and organized forgetting in the title was meant to signal how mainstream politics devalues reason, dissent and critique, and the formative culture and institutions that support these crucial moments of thinking, agency and collective struggle necessary for a democracy. It also registers how dominant regimes of power have resorted to a culture of fear, state repression and the militarization of large parts of the society in order to enforce a state of terror, conformity and privatization. Violence signals the state's complicity in creating a culture that is utterly commodified and privatized, one in which the obligations of citizenship are reduced to pursuing narrow individual interests and the demands of consumerism. How we define ourselves as Americans has a deeply historical character and to the degree that this history is impoverished, any viable notion of agency, justice, education and democracy is devalued.

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

Fear, privatization and depoliticization are the organizing principles of American society at the current moment and as such the defunding of critical public spheres such as schools is matched by forms of state repression that link education to purely instrumental interests, at least for most young people. The social and political cleansing of history, memory and thought itself is in essence a part of a larger attack on dissent, critical thinking, engaged agency and collective struggles. Purging dissent and public memory not only promotes among young people a retreat from the public realm, it also empties out politics. As the public collapses into the private, injustices are viewed as a nuisance that interfere with private interests. Believing in a cause gives way to the quest to get ahead, while matters of social and civic responsibility disappear in a self-absorbed culture of narcissism, narrow individualism and privatization.

What we are discovering and what the book attempts to map out in a number of chapters is how the attack on history, witnessing and critique breeds anti-democratic horrors including what my colleague, David L. Clark, terms "the wars against thought, and the flirtations with irrationality that lie at the heart of the triumph of every-day aggression, the withering of political life, and the withdrawal into private obsessions." This may be one reason why we are seeing such an upsurge of violence against black youth, college protesters, and those who have been part of the now quiet Occupy movement. Young people have become the chief object of oppression and punitive social policies because they represent the most promising group for reclaiming memory as a central political issue and using elements of the past to rethink a future very different from the one we now occupy. This may be one reason the state is attempting to depoliticize young people through the onslaught of a consumer culture, the burden of extreme debt, and other social policies and survivalist pedagogies that lower their expectations while keeping them too busy to be able to address the political and social issues that underlie what it means to be young in a suspect society.

What do you mean by "Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine," the subtitle of your book?

Borrowing from and modifying Georges Didi-Huberman's use of the term, "disimagination machine," I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, institutions, discourses and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance. The "disimagination machine" is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to weaken the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue. Put simply, for them to become critically informed citizens of the world.

At the same time, the cultural apparatuses of the mainstream media disavow critical issues by producing news and modes of popular culture that constitute an echo chamber for dominant class and financial interests along with the production of a celebrity culture and spectacles of violence that trivialize everything they touch.

The concept of the disimagination machine signals a new and powerful moment in how authority depoliticizes, privatizes and infantilizes Americans. It narrows the expanding circle of moral conscience, undercuts the radical imagination and imposes on society the regressive morality of neoliberalism. The machinery of disimagination does not constitute a new form of social control that relies on colonizing subjectivity through the use of education in various sites to shape the identities, desires, values, modes of identification and subjectivities of Americans in the interest of social control as much as it suggests more intensive and reconfigured attempts, aided by the new digital technologies, to generate a culture of mass forgetfulness, obedience and conformity.

As all aspects of American life are transformed into a war zone, the state employs the mechanics and practices of a disimagination machine coupled with state terrorism. For instance, public schools are being privatized and militarized while higher education is being turned into a training ground for all but the elite in order to service corporate interests and power.

At the same time, the cultural apparatuses of the mainstream media disavow critical issues by producing news and modes of popular culture that constitute an echo chamber for dominant class and financial interests along with the production of a celebrity culture and spectacles of violence that trivialize everything they touch.

Moreover, these structural and symbolic mechanisms function increasingly in a digital world in which communication exhibits little respect for contemplation, critical dialogue or informed judgment. Speed and an overabundance of information replace the time to think, just as being alone in privatized orbits of digitized technospheres constitutes a derailed notion of community.

The collective sense of ethical imagination and social responsibility towards those who are vulnerable or in need of care has been increasingly viewed as a scourge or pathology.

In the broader society, entertainment is the new mode of education with its delivery of instant stimulation, excitement, gratification, and escape from the world of social and political responsibility while broader notions of education harness peoples' subjectivities to the narrow values of a market-driven society. In school, pedagogies of repression wage war on the critical and imaginative capacities of students. Under such circumstances, the disimagination machine represents a constellation of symbolic and institutional forces that attempts to shut down the possibility of critical thought and social agency.

The disimagination machine combines Orwell's notion of state terror through a culture of fear, violence and surveillance with, as Bill Moyers put it, Huxley's notion of"people genetically designed to be regimented into total social conformity and subservient to the group think of the one percent [who] could easily have walked right out of Huxley and straight into Roger Ailes' Fox News playbook or Rush Limbaugh's studio." There is more at stake here than limited political horizons, as David Graeber has suggested. What is also put up for grabs is the notion of subjectivity in a neoliberal age along with its deracinated view of agency and struggle.

The concept of disposability plays a central role in your book. Can you explain what it means, why it is new, and how it tends to manifest itself?

Since the late 1970s, American society has been transformed in ways that point to the abandonment of liberal democracy and the welfare state while social policies have been promulgated that egregiously serve the interest of global markets. Within this period during which the liberal market gave way to a punitive form of casino capitalism or, as some call it, neoliberalism, the collective sense of ethical imagination and social responsibility towards those who are vulnerable or in need of care has been increasingly viewed as a scourge or pathology. One consequence is that within this new historical conjuncture, the practice of disposability expands to include more and more individuals and groups who have been considered redundant, consigned to zones of abandonment, surveillance and mass incarceration.

The discourse of disposability points to and makes visible expanding zones of exclusion and invisibility incorporating more and more individuals and groups that were once seen as crucial to sustaining public life.

Disposability is no longer the exception but the norm. As the reach of disposability has broadened to include a range of groups extending from college youth and poor minorities to the unemployed and members of the middle class who have lost their homes in the financial crisis of 2007, a shift in the radicalness and reach of the machinery of disposability constitutes, as I argue in the book, not only a new mode of authoritarian politics, but also demands a new political vocabulary for understanding how the social contract has virtually disappeared while the mechanisms of expulsion, disposability and state violence have become more integrated and menacing.  

We live in a new era of neoliberal savagery. Life has become cheap, emptied of its integrity and worth and reduced to the metrics of profit and a ruthless form of market fundamentalism. America occupies a historical moment characterized by market genocide - a time in which entire populations are considered disposable, left on their own to barely survive or die. Refusing Medicaid expansion by right-wing politicians such as Rick Perry is only one example of the death march at the heart of the politics of disposability and the culture of cruelty.

Citizens are now reduced to data, potential terrorists, consumers and commodities and as such inhabit identities in which they become increasingly, as I say in the book, drawing on João Biehl words, "unknowables, with no human rights and with no one accountable for their condition." Within this machinery of social death, not only does moral blindness prevail on the part of the financial elite, but the inner worlds of the oppressed are constantly being remade under the force of economic pressures and a culture of fear, while their lives resemble the walking dead - discarded individuals who remain invisible and unaccounted for in the dominant discourse of politics, rights and civic morality. The discourse of disposability points to and makes visible expanding zones of exclusion and invisibility incorporating more and more individuals and groups that were once seen as crucial to sustaining public life.

What we are witnessing in the United States is the legacy of slavery and the criminalization of people of color reasserting itself in a society in which justice has been willingly and aggressively replaced by racial injustice.

As we have seen with the brutalizing racist killing of black youth, including the most recent death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, disposability targets specific individuals and social spaces as sites of danger, violence, humiliation and terror. This is most evident in the rise of a brutal punishing-incarceration state that imposes its racial and class-based power on the dispossessed, the emergence of a surveillance state that spies on and suppresses dissenters, the emergence of vast cultural apparatuses that colonize subjectivity in the interests of the market, and a political class that is uninterested in political concessions and appears immune from control by nation-states.

The politics of disposability is central to my book because it makes clear the mechanisms of a more brutal form of authoritarianism driven by what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton rightly calls a "death-saturated age" in which matters of violence, survival and trauma infuse everyday life. Discarded by the corporate state, dispossessed of social provisions, and deprived of the economic, political and social conditions that enable viable and critical modes of agency, expanding populations of Americans now find themselves inhabiting zones of abandonment. These zones of hardship and terminal exclusion constitute a hallmark signature and intensification of a neoliberal politics of disposability that is relentless in the material and symbolic violence it wages against the 99 percent for the benefit of the new financial elite. What has become clear is that capitalist expropriation, dispossession and disinvestment have reached a point where life has become completely unbearable for over half of the American public living in or near poverty. As I have said on the pages of Truthout, evidence of such zones can be seen in the war against immigrants, poor minorities, the homeless, young people living in debt, the long term unemployed, workers, the declining middle class, all of whom have been pushed into invisible communities of control, harassment, security, and the governing through punishment complex.

The drift toward authoritarianism is a central theme in your book. How would you describe the authoritarianism?

In my book, I focus on the ways in which the commanding institutions in the United States have been taken over by powerful corporate interests, the financial elite, and right-wing extremists whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional - producing what might be called a neoliberal spectacle of misery and a culture of cruelty. Social Darwinism is the value system that drives casino capitalism in the United States. It is an ethic dominated by a war against all ethos which celebrates a radical individualism, extreme forms of competitiveness, engages in a culture of cruelty, and separates actions from moral considerations. It is a poisonous system of power, control and fear that views politics as an extension of war. In essence America has devolved into a society that not only violates civil liberties, wages a war against unions, school teachers, women, youth and social activists, but has inhabited a sphere of militarism that increasingly resembles a form of domestic terrorism. Again, this is amplified in the presence of a giant and wasteful war machine and in the ongoing militarization of local police forces who now assume the mantle of robo-SWAT teams, more willing to reduce policing to forms of high-powered assaults rather than dialogue, negotiation and thoughtful investigations. Not only has society become more militarized, but everyone is now treated as a criminal or potential terrorist. As I point out throughout the book, the contours of the authoritarian state become highly visible in the way in which, as Chase Madar observes, a wide range of behaviors are now criminalized and the way in which "police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter."

The United States has dethroned any viable notion of politics committed to the promise of a sustainable democracy. We have given up on the notion of the common good, social justice and equality that has been replaced by the crude discourses of commerce and militarization.

The militarization of local police forces combined with the larger intensified barbaric expressions of racism, especially the rise of the mass incarceration state and the racist comments so freely uttered by right-wing politicians and right-wing media, fuel a deadly mix for black youth that normalizes the wanton killing of African-Americans and reinforces the impunity with which it is done. Nurtured by what Karen Garcia calls a "lifetime of consumption of violence-as-entertainment," images of expanding war zones come to life vividly in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri where surplus military weaponry is now used by the police against African-American youth and others marginalized by race and class in ways that make visible how the wars abroad have come home and how weapons of war when combined with a hyper-masculinity of brooding, resentful and confused white men leads to violence in the streets. It is hard to disagree with a growing consensus that what we are witnessing in the United States is the legacy of slavery and the criminalization of people of color reasserting itself in a society in which justice has been willingly and aggressively replaced by racial injustice. And it is precisely this militarization that informs my book about the growing dangers of authoritarianism in America. Racist killings, the loss of privacy, the rise of the surveillance state, the growing poverty and inequality, and the increasing corporatization of the commanding institutions of the United States point to something more than civil unrest, spying, racism and other specific anti-democratic issues. What is truly at work here and unites all of these disparate issues is a growing threat of authoritarianism - or what might be otherwise called totalitarianism with elections.

This new mode of authoritarianism mimics a form of terrorism because it abstracts economics from ethics and social costs, makes a mockery of democracy, works to dismantle the welfare state, thrives on violence, undermines any public sphere not governed by market values and transforms people into commodities. American society's rigid emphasis on unfettered individualism, competitiveness and flexibility displaces compassion, sharing and a concern for the welfare of others. In doing so, it dissolves crucial social bonds, weakens public trust and undermines the profound nature of social responsibility and its ensuing concern for others. In removing individuals from broader social obligations, it not only tears up social solidarities, it also promotes a kind of individual and collective psychosis that is pathological in its disdain for public goods, community, social provisions and public values. As Hannah Arendt argued, we live in a time of absolute meaninglessness, which is the foundation of absolute evil, all of which produces a monstrous form of politics. Of course, this monstrous politics is revealed not only in savage social policies and attacks on the poor, public servants, women and young people, but also in the inability of American society to react to the suffering of others. Put differently, the United States has dethroned any viable notion of politics committed to the promise of a sustainable democracy. We have given up on the notion of the common good, social justice and equality that has been replaced by the crude discourses of commerce and militarization.

The new authoritarianism represents a mix of a widespread culture of fear, privatization and consumer fantasies, along with a systemic effort to dismantle the welfare state and increase the power of the corporate and financial elite. Ideologically, the new authoritarianism works hard to instrumentalize knowledge, disparage reason, thoughtfulness, complexity and critical dialogue - and in doing so, contributes to a culture of stupidity and cruelty in which the dominant ethic is organized around the discourse of war and a survival of the fittest mentality. Market sovereignty has replaced political sovereignty as the state is almost entirely corporatized - representing the antithesis of democracy. The consequences of anti-democratic tendencies are everywhere in American society. Deregulation, privatization, atomization and commodification now rule American institutions turning over the commanding heights of power to mega corporations, the defense industry and ideological fundamentalists. America is a hugely rich country marked by massive poverty, inequality in wealth and income, and a political system controlled by big money. Its cultural apparatuses are controlled by mega corporations and its political system is now largely controlled by the apostles of finance and militarism. One consequence is the coupling of a market-induced form of depoliticization with a deep-rooted cynicism. In this instance, the seeds of authoritarianism can be found in the disappearance of politics, that is, in the elimination of the conditions that create civic agents who are thoughtful, critical, ethically responsible and imbued with a spirit of civic courage. The latter are not conditions that are valued in a society in which a war is waged on women's reproductive rights, civil liberties, immigrants, voting rights and health care, along with the gleeful promotion of widening inequalities in wealth and income. As Slavoj Zizek points out, the link between capitalism and democracy is broken and in its place is the emergence of an America that is on the brink of a very dark historical period in which the winds of authoritarianism are poised to destroy all remnants of a claim to equality, justice and democracy.

The last chapter of your book deals with hope. Why is hope so central to your writings and the book itself?

Hope gets a bad rap across diverse ideological lines. This is especially true in an age of crippling cynicism, precarity, uncertainty and mass-produced fear. Yet, educated hope matters because it points to the possibility of rethinking not only politics, but matters of agency, struggle and the future itself. Hope is a crucial element for energizing the radical imagination, one that allows people to repudiate and see through the manufactured cynicism that so well serves the new authoritarianism with its myriad of political, religious and cultural fundamentalisms. Yet, hope must be tempered by the complex reality of the times and viewed as a project and condition for providing a sense of collective agency, opposition, political imagination and engaged participation. It must be rooted in acknowledging the reality and the power of the ideological and structural forces that provide the foundation for authoritarian regimes. Hope, in this instance, breaks through the normalization of common sense as well as those educative dimensions of dominant culture that are used to legitimate an oppressive society and the oppressive forces that shape everyday life.

Power is never completely on the side of domination and resistance is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Without hope, even in the most dire of times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent and struggle. Furthermore, agency is the condition of struggle, and hope is the prerequisite of all modes of critically engaged agency. Hope expands the space of the possible, and becomes a way of recognizing and naming the incomplete nature of the present while providing the foundation for informed action. Throughout The Violence of Organized Forgetting, I connect the issue of educated hope to the need to imagine the public as a site of possibility, one that harbors a trace of what it means to both defend those public spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful, and opposition can be developed against the view that critical thought is an act of stupidity or irrelevant.As I have argued in my book and in Truthout, one cannot be on the side of democratic ideas, causes and movements and at the same time surrender to the normalization of a dystopian vision. Authoritarianism does not just breed conformity and cynicism; it relies on the death of hope to reproduce its dominant ideologies and practices while depoliticizing young people and others who should care about the fate of democracy. There is no room for romanticizing hope in Disney-like fashion. One has to demand the impossible in order to recognize the limits of what we are told is only possible. Hope as a form of anti-hope is connected not simply to inventing the future as a repeat of the present, but also normalizing the machineries of violence and oppression. This means that there is no room for a kind of romanticized utopianism. Instead, one has to be motivated by a faith in the willingness of young people principally and others to fight for a future in which dignity, equality and justice matter and at the same time recognize the forces that are preventing such a struggle from taking place. More specifically, hope has to be fed by the need for education and collective action.

As I have argued in the book, power is never completely on the side of domination and resistance is not a luxury, but a necessity. In the present historical moment, hope needs to be tied to a politics that takes education seriously - that is, a politics for which matters of consciousness and agency mutually inform each other as part of a broader struggle for justice, freedom and equality. This means that hope moves from an abstraction to creating the foundation for moving people to address the issue of economic inequality, the racist system and mass incarceration state, the sordid gap in equality of wealth and income and the politics of disposability - while building social movements that address the totality of power and oppression. This means taking seriously what it means to change the way people think while developing a comprehensive notion of politics, vision and struggle to match.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Victoria Harper

Victoria Harper is Truthout's Managing Editor.


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Henry A. Giroux on "The Violence of Organized Forgetting"

Tuesday, 19 August 2014 00:00 By Victoria Harper, Truthout | Interview

2014 819 gir st(Photo: Susan Searls Giroux)Discussing his new book, Henry A. Giroux argues that what unites racist killings, loss of privacy, the surveillance state's rise, the increasing corporatization of US institutions and growing poverty and inequality "is a growing threat of authoritarianism - or what might be otherwise called totalitarianism with elections."

You can obtain Henry A. Giroux's latest book, "The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine", with a contribution to Truthout. Click here now.

Victoria Harper: Your new book has a very provocative and suggestive title: The Violence of Organized Forgetting. How does the title work as an organizing idea for the book?

Henry A. Giroux: We live in a historical moment when memory, if not critical thought itself, is either under attack or is being devalued and undermined by a number of forces in American society. Historical memory has become dangerous today because it offers the promise of lost legacies of resistance, moments in history when the social contract was taken seriously (however impaired), and when a variety of social movements emerged that called for a rethinking of what democracy meant and how it might be defined in the interest of economic and social justice.

Fear, privatization and depoliticization are the organizing principles of American society at the current moment.

Including violence and organized forgetting in the title was meant to signal how mainstream politics devalues reason, dissent and critique, and the formative culture and institutions that support these crucial moments of thinking, agency and collective struggle necessary for a democracy. It also registers how dominant regimes of power have resorted to a culture of fear, state repression and the militarization of large parts of the society in order to enforce a state of terror, conformity and privatization. Violence signals the state's complicity in creating a culture that is utterly commodified and privatized, one in which the obligations of citizenship are reduced to pursuing narrow individual interests and the demands of consumerism. How we define ourselves as Americans has a deeply historical character and to the degree that this history is impoverished, any viable notion of agency, justice, education and democracy is devalued.

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

Fear, privatization and depoliticization are the organizing principles of American society at the current moment and as such the defunding of critical public spheres such as schools is matched by forms of state repression that link education to purely instrumental interests, at least for most young people. The social and political cleansing of history, memory and thought itself is in essence a part of a larger attack on dissent, critical thinking, engaged agency and collective struggles. Purging dissent and public memory not only promotes among young people a retreat from the public realm, it also empties out politics. As the public collapses into the private, injustices are viewed as a nuisance that interfere with private interests. Believing in a cause gives way to the quest to get ahead, while matters of social and civic responsibility disappear in a self-absorbed culture of narcissism, narrow individualism and privatization.

What we are discovering and what the book attempts to map out in a number of chapters is how the attack on history, witnessing and critique breeds anti-democratic horrors including what my colleague, David L. Clark, terms "the wars against thought, and the flirtations with irrationality that lie at the heart of the triumph of every-day aggression, the withering of political life, and the withdrawal into private obsessions." This may be one reason why we are seeing such an upsurge of violence against black youth, college protesters, and those who have been part of the now quiet Occupy movement. Young people have become the chief object of oppression and punitive social policies because they represent the most promising group for reclaiming memory as a central political issue and using elements of the past to rethink a future very different from the one we now occupy. This may be one reason the state is attempting to depoliticize young people through the onslaught of a consumer culture, the burden of extreme debt, and other social policies and survivalist pedagogies that lower their expectations while keeping them too busy to be able to address the political and social issues that underlie what it means to be young in a suspect society.

What do you mean by "Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine," the subtitle of your book?

Borrowing from and modifying Georges Didi-Huberman's use of the term, "disimagination machine," I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, institutions, discourses and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance. The "disimagination machine" is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to weaken the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue. Put simply, for them to become critically informed citizens of the world.

At the same time, the cultural apparatuses of the mainstream media disavow critical issues by producing news and modes of popular culture that constitute an echo chamber for dominant class and financial interests along with the production of a celebrity culture and spectacles of violence that trivialize everything they touch.

The concept of the disimagination machine signals a new and powerful moment in how authority depoliticizes, privatizes and infantilizes Americans. It narrows the expanding circle of moral conscience, undercuts the radical imagination and imposes on society the regressive morality of neoliberalism. The machinery of disimagination does not constitute a new form of social control that relies on colonizing subjectivity through the use of education in various sites to shape the identities, desires, values, modes of identification and subjectivities of Americans in the interest of social control as much as it suggests more intensive and reconfigured attempts, aided by the new digital technologies, to generate a culture of mass forgetfulness, obedience and conformity.

As all aspects of American life are transformed into a war zone, the state employs the mechanics and practices of a disimagination machine coupled with state terrorism. For instance, public schools are being privatized and militarized while higher education is being turned into a training ground for all but the elite in order to service corporate interests and power.

At the same time, the cultural apparatuses of the mainstream media disavow critical issues by producing news and modes of popular culture that constitute an echo chamber for dominant class and financial interests along with the production of a celebrity culture and spectacles of violence that trivialize everything they touch.

Moreover, these structural and symbolic mechanisms function increasingly in a digital world in which communication exhibits little respect for contemplation, critical dialogue or informed judgment. Speed and an overabundance of information replace the time to think, just as being alone in privatized orbits of digitized technospheres constitutes a derailed notion of community.

The collective sense of ethical imagination and social responsibility towards those who are vulnerable or in need of care has been increasingly viewed as a scourge or pathology.

In the broader society, entertainment is the new mode of education with its delivery of instant stimulation, excitement, gratification, and escape from the world of social and political responsibility while broader notions of education harness peoples' subjectivities to the narrow values of a market-driven society. In school, pedagogies of repression wage war on the critical and imaginative capacities of students. Under such circumstances, the disimagination machine represents a constellation of symbolic and institutional forces that attempts to shut down the possibility of critical thought and social agency.

The disimagination machine combines Orwell's notion of state terror through a culture of fear, violence and surveillance with, as Bill Moyers put it, Huxley's notion of"people genetically designed to be regimented into total social conformity and subservient to the group think of the one percent [who] could easily have walked right out of Huxley and straight into Roger Ailes' Fox News playbook or Rush Limbaugh's studio." There is more at stake here than limited political horizons, as David Graeber has suggested. What is also put up for grabs is the notion of subjectivity in a neoliberal age along with its deracinated view of agency and struggle.

The concept of disposability plays a central role in your book. Can you explain what it means, why it is new, and how it tends to manifest itself?

Since the late 1970s, American society has been transformed in ways that point to the abandonment of liberal democracy and the welfare state while social policies have been promulgated that egregiously serve the interest of global markets. Within this period during which the liberal market gave way to a punitive form of casino capitalism or, as some call it, neoliberalism, the collective sense of ethical imagination and social responsibility towards those who are vulnerable or in need of care has been increasingly viewed as a scourge or pathology. One consequence is that within this new historical conjuncture, the practice of disposability expands to include more and more individuals and groups who have been considered redundant, consigned to zones of abandonment, surveillance and mass incarceration.

The discourse of disposability points to and makes visible expanding zones of exclusion and invisibility incorporating more and more individuals and groups that were once seen as crucial to sustaining public life.

Disposability is no longer the exception but the norm. As the reach of disposability has broadened to include a range of groups extending from college youth and poor minorities to the unemployed and members of the middle class who have lost their homes in the financial crisis of 2007, a shift in the radicalness and reach of the machinery of disposability constitutes, as I argue in the book, not only a new mode of authoritarian politics, but also demands a new political vocabulary for understanding how the social contract has virtually disappeared while the mechanisms of expulsion, disposability and state violence have become more integrated and menacing.  

We live in a new era of neoliberal savagery. Life has become cheap, emptied of its integrity and worth and reduced to the metrics of profit and a ruthless form of market fundamentalism. America occupies a historical moment characterized by market genocide - a time in which entire populations are considered disposable, left on their own to barely survive or die. Refusing Medicaid expansion by right-wing politicians such as Rick Perry is only one example of the death march at the heart of the politics of disposability and the culture of cruelty.

Citizens are now reduced to data, potential terrorists, consumers and commodities and as such inhabit identities in which they become increasingly, as I say in the book, drawing on João Biehl words, "unknowables, with no human rights and with no one accountable for their condition." Within this machinery of social death, not only does moral blindness prevail on the part of the financial elite, but the inner worlds of the oppressed are constantly being remade under the force of economic pressures and a culture of fear, while their lives resemble the walking dead - discarded individuals who remain invisible and unaccounted for in the dominant discourse of politics, rights and civic morality. The discourse of disposability points to and makes visible expanding zones of exclusion and invisibility incorporating more and more individuals and groups that were once seen as crucial to sustaining public life.

What we are witnessing in the United States is the legacy of slavery and the criminalization of people of color reasserting itself in a society in which justice has been willingly and aggressively replaced by racial injustice.

As we have seen with the brutalizing racist killing of black youth, including the most recent death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, disposability targets specific individuals and social spaces as sites of danger, violence, humiliation and terror. This is most evident in the rise of a brutal punishing-incarceration state that imposes its racial and class-based power on the dispossessed, the emergence of a surveillance state that spies on and suppresses dissenters, the emergence of vast cultural apparatuses that colonize subjectivity in the interests of the market, and a political class that is uninterested in political concessions and appears immune from control by nation-states.

The politics of disposability is central to my book because it makes clear the mechanisms of a more brutal form of authoritarianism driven by what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton rightly calls a "death-saturated age" in which matters of violence, survival and trauma infuse everyday life. Discarded by the corporate state, dispossessed of social provisions, and deprived of the economic, political and social conditions that enable viable and critical modes of agency, expanding populations of Americans now find themselves inhabiting zones of abandonment. These zones of hardship and terminal exclusion constitute a hallmark signature and intensification of a neoliberal politics of disposability that is relentless in the material and symbolic violence it wages against the 99 percent for the benefit of the new financial elite. What has become clear is that capitalist expropriation, dispossession and disinvestment have reached a point where life has become completely unbearable for over half of the American public living in or near poverty. As I have said on the pages of Truthout, evidence of such zones can be seen in the war against immigrants, poor minorities, the homeless, young people living in debt, the long term unemployed, workers, the declining middle class, all of whom have been pushed into invisible communities of control, harassment, security, and the governing through punishment complex.

The drift toward authoritarianism is a central theme in your book. How would you describe the authoritarianism?

In my book, I focus on the ways in which the commanding institutions in the United States have been taken over by powerful corporate interests, the financial elite, and right-wing extremists whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional - producing what might be called a neoliberal spectacle of misery and a culture of cruelty. Social Darwinism is the value system that drives casino capitalism in the United States. It is an ethic dominated by a war against all ethos which celebrates a radical individualism, extreme forms of competitiveness, engages in a culture of cruelty, and separates actions from moral considerations. It is a poisonous system of power, control and fear that views politics as an extension of war. In essence America has devolved into a society that not only violates civil liberties, wages a war against unions, school teachers, women, youth and social activists, but has inhabited a sphere of militarism that increasingly resembles a form of domestic terrorism. Again, this is amplified in the presence of a giant and wasteful war machine and in the ongoing militarization of local police forces who now assume the mantle of robo-SWAT teams, more willing to reduce policing to forms of high-powered assaults rather than dialogue, negotiation and thoughtful investigations. Not only has society become more militarized, but everyone is now treated as a criminal or potential terrorist. As I point out throughout the book, the contours of the authoritarian state become highly visible in the way in which, as Chase Madar observes, a wide range of behaviors are now criminalized and the way in which "police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter."

The United States has dethroned any viable notion of politics committed to the promise of a sustainable democracy. We have given up on the notion of the common good, social justice and equality that has been replaced by the crude discourses of commerce and militarization.

The militarization of local police forces combined with the larger intensified barbaric expressions of racism, especially the rise of the mass incarceration state and the racist comments so freely uttered by right-wing politicians and right-wing media, fuel a deadly mix for black youth that normalizes the wanton killing of African-Americans and reinforces the impunity with which it is done. Nurtured by what Karen Garcia calls a "lifetime of consumption of violence-as-entertainment," images of expanding war zones come to life vividly in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri where surplus military weaponry is now used by the police against African-American youth and others marginalized by race and class in ways that make visible how the wars abroad have come home and how weapons of war when combined with a hyper-masculinity of brooding, resentful and confused white men leads to violence in the streets. It is hard to disagree with a growing consensus that what we are witnessing in the United States is the legacy of slavery and the criminalization of people of color reasserting itself in a society in which justice has been willingly and aggressively replaced by racial injustice. And it is precisely this militarization that informs my book about the growing dangers of authoritarianism in America. Racist killings, the loss of privacy, the rise of the surveillance state, the growing poverty and inequality, and the increasing corporatization of the commanding institutions of the United States point to something more than civil unrest, spying, racism and other specific anti-democratic issues. What is truly at work here and unites all of these disparate issues is a growing threat of authoritarianism - or what might be otherwise called totalitarianism with elections.

This new mode of authoritarianism mimics a form of terrorism because it abstracts economics from ethics and social costs, makes a mockery of democracy, works to dismantle the welfare state, thrives on violence, undermines any public sphere not governed by market values and transforms people into commodities. American society's rigid emphasis on unfettered individualism, competitiveness and flexibility displaces compassion, sharing and a concern for the welfare of others. In doing so, it dissolves crucial social bonds, weakens public trust and undermines the profound nature of social responsibility and its ensuing concern for others. In removing individuals from broader social obligations, it not only tears up social solidarities, it also promotes a kind of individual and collective psychosis that is pathological in its disdain for public goods, community, social provisions and public values. As Hannah Arendt argued, we live in a time of absolute meaninglessness, which is the foundation of absolute evil, all of which produces a monstrous form of politics. Of course, this monstrous politics is revealed not only in savage social policies and attacks on the poor, public servants, women and young people, but also in the inability of American society to react to the suffering of others. Put differently, the United States has dethroned any viable notion of politics committed to the promise of a sustainable democracy. We have given up on the notion of the common good, social justice and equality that has been replaced by the crude discourses of commerce and militarization.

The new authoritarianism represents a mix of a widespread culture of fear, privatization and consumer fantasies, along with a systemic effort to dismantle the welfare state and increase the power of the corporate and financial elite. Ideologically, the new authoritarianism works hard to instrumentalize knowledge, disparage reason, thoughtfulness, complexity and critical dialogue - and in doing so, contributes to a culture of stupidity and cruelty in which the dominant ethic is organized around the discourse of war and a survival of the fittest mentality. Market sovereignty has replaced political sovereignty as the state is almost entirely corporatized - representing the antithesis of democracy. The consequences of anti-democratic tendencies are everywhere in American society. Deregulation, privatization, atomization and commodification now rule American institutions turning over the commanding heights of power to mega corporations, the defense industry and ideological fundamentalists. America is a hugely rich country marked by massive poverty, inequality in wealth and income, and a political system controlled by big money. Its cultural apparatuses are controlled by mega corporations and its political system is now largely controlled by the apostles of finance and militarism. One consequence is the coupling of a market-induced form of depoliticization with a deep-rooted cynicism. In this instance, the seeds of authoritarianism can be found in the disappearance of politics, that is, in the elimination of the conditions that create civic agents who are thoughtful, critical, ethically responsible and imbued with a spirit of civic courage. The latter are not conditions that are valued in a society in which a war is waged on women's reproductive rights, civil liberties, immigrants, voting rights and health care, along with the gleeful promotion of widening inequalities in wealth and income. As Slavoj Zizek points out, the link between capitalism and democracy is broken and in its place is the emergence of an America that is on the brink of a very dark historical period in which the winds of authoritarianism are poised to destroy all remnants of a claim to equality, justice and democracy.

The last chapter of your book deals with hope. Why is hope so central to your writings and the book itself?

Hope gets a bad rap across diverse ideological lines. This is especially true in an age of crippling cynicism, precarity, uncertainty and mass-produced fear. Yet, educated hope matters because it points to the possibility of rethinking not only politics, but matters of agency, struggle and the future itself. Hope is a crucial element for energizing the radical imagination, one that allows people to repudiate and see through the manufactured cynicism that so well serves the new authoritarianism with its myriad of political, religious and cultural fundamentalisms. Yet, hope must be tempered by the complex reality of the times and viewed as a project and condition for providing a sense of collective agency, opposition, political imagination and engaged participation. It must be rooted in acknowledging the reality and the power of the ideological and structural forces that provide the foundation for authoritarian regimes. Hope, in this instance, breaks through the normalization of common sense as well as those educative dimensions of dominant culture that are used to legitimate an oppressive society and the oppressive forces that shape everyday life.

Power is never completely on the side of domination and resistance is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Without hope, even in the most dire of times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent and struggle. Furthermore, agency is the condition of struggle, and hope is the prerequisite of all modes of critically engaged agency. Hope expands the space of the possible, and becomes a way of recognizing and naming the incomplete nature of the present while providing the foundation for informed action. Throughout The Violence of Organized Forgetting, I connect the issue of educated hope to the need to imagine the public as a site of possibility, one that harbors a trace of what it means to both defend those public spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful, and opposition can be developed against the view that critical thought is an act of stupidity or irrelevant.As I have argued in my book and in Truthout, one cannot be on the side of democratic ideas, causes and movements and at the same time surrender to the normalization of a dystopian vision. Authoritarianism does not just breed conformity and cynicism; it relies on the death of hope to reproduce its dominant ideologies and practices while depoliticizing young people and others who should care about the fate of democracy. There is no room for romanticizing hope in Disney-like fashion. One has to demand the impossible in order to recognize the limits of what we are told is only possible. Hope as a form of anti-hope is connected not simply to inventing the future as a repeat of the present, but also normalizing the machineries of violence and oppression. This means that there is no room for a kind of romanticized utopianism. Instead, one has to be motivated by a faith in the willingness of young people principally and others to fight for a future in which dignity, equality and justice matter and at the same time recognize the forces that are preventing such a struggle from taking place. More specifically, hope has to be fed by the need for education and collective action.

As I have argued in the book, power is never completely on the side of domination and resistance is not a luxury, but a necessity. In the present historical moment, hope needs to be tied to a politics that takes education seriously - that is, a politics for which matters of consciousness and agency mutually inform each other as part of a broader struggle for justice, freedom and equality. This means that hope moves from an abstraction to creating the foundation for moving people to address the issue of economic inequality, the racist system and mass incarceration state, the sordid gap in equality of wealth and income and the politics of disposability - while building social movements that address the totality of power and oppression. This means taking seriously what it means to change the way people think while developing a comprehensive notion of politics, vision and struggle to match.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Victoria Harper

Victoria Harper is Truthout's Managing Editor.


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