Thu Jan 31, 2013, 12:11 PM
Fire Walk With Me (38,893 posts)
Criminalizing Dissent and Punishing Occupy Protesters: Intro to Henry Giroux’s "Youth in Revolt"
via Occupy News Service on FB
Young people are demonstrating all over the world against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services.1 In the fall of 2011, on the tenth anniversary of September 11, as the United States revisited the tragic loss and celebrated the courage displayed on that torturous day, another kind of commemoration took place. The Occupy movement shone out like flame in the darkness—a beacon of the irrepressible spirit of democracy and a humane desire for justice. Unfortunately, the peacefully organized protests across America have often been met with derogatory commentaries in the mainstream media and, increasingly, state-sanctioned violence. The war against society has become a war against youthful protesters and increasingly bears a striking resemblance to the violence waged against Occupy movement protesters and the violence associated with the contemporary war zone.2 Missing from both the dominant media and state and national politics is an attempt to critically engage the issues the protesters are raising, not to mention any attempt to dialogue with them over their strategies, tactics, and political concerns. That many young people have become "a new class of stateless individuals ... cast into a threatening and faceless mass whose identities collapse into the language of debt, survival, and disposability" appears to have escaped the attention of the mainstream media.3 Matters of justice, human dignity, and social responsibility have given way to a double gesture that seeks to undercut democratic public spheres through the criminalization of dissent while also resorting to crude and violent forms of punishment as the only mediating tools to use with young people who are attempting to open a new conversation about politics, inequality, and social justice.
In the United States, the state monopoly on the use of violence has intensified since the 1980s and in the process has been directed disproportionately against young people, poor minorities, immigrants, women, and the elderly. Guided by the notion that unregulated, market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, a business model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of social responsibility and conscience, thereby furthering the dismissal of social problems and expanding cutbacks in basic social services.4 The examples are endless, but one in particular stands out. In March 2012, Texas governor Rick Perry7 joined eight other states in passing legislation to ban funding for clinics, including Planned Parenthood facilities, affiliated with abortion services for women.5 As a result, the federal government has stopped funding the Texas Women's Health Program. Unfortunately, this attempt by Perry to punish all women because of his antiabortion stance means that more than 130,000 women in Texas will not have access to vital services ranging from mammograms to health care for their children. There is more at work here than a resurgent war on women and their children or "an insane bout of mass misogyny."8 There is also a deep-seated religious and political authoritarianism that has become one of the fundamental pillars of what I call a neoliberal culture of cruelty. As the welfare state is hollowed out. a culture of compassion is replaced by a culture of violence, cruelty, waste, and disposability.7 Banks, hedge funds, and finance capital as the contemporary registers of class power have a new visibility, and their spokespersons are unabashedly blunt in supporting a corporate culture in which "ruthlessness is prized and money is the ultimate measure."8 Collective insurance policies and social protections have given way to the forces of economic deregulation, the transformation of the welfare state into punitive workfare programs, the privatization of public goods, and an appeal to individual culpability as a substitute for civic responsibility. At the same time, violence—or what Anne-Marie Cusac calls "American punishment"—travels from our prisons and schools to various aspects of our daily lives, "becoming omnipresent ... the shows we watch on television, the way many of us treat children some influential religious practices."9
David Harvey has argued that neoliberalism is "a political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites" through the implementation of "an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade."10 Neoliberalism is also a pedagogical project designed to create particular subjects, desires, and values defined largely by market considerations. National destiny becomes linked to a market-driven logic in which freedom is stripped down to freedom from government regulation, freedom to consume, and freedom to say anything one wants, regardless of how racist or toxic the consequences might be. This neoliberal notion of freedom is abstracted from any sense of civic responsibility or social cost. In fact, "neoliberalism is grounded in the idea of the 'free, possessive individual,'" with the state cast "as tyrannical and oppressive."11 The welfare state, in particular, becomes the archenemy of freedom. As Stuart Hall points out, according to apostles of free-market fundamentalism, 'The state must never govern society, dictate to free individuals how to dispose of their private property, regulate a free-market economy or interfere with the God-given right to make profits and amass personal wealth."12
Paradoxically, neoliberalism severely proscribes any vestige of social and civic agency through the figure of the isolated automaton for whom choice is reduced to the practice of endless shopping, fleeing from any sense of civic obligation, and safeguarding a radically individualized existence. Neoliberal governance translates into a state that attempts to substitute individual security for social welfare but in doing so offers only the protection of gated communities for the privileged and incarceration tor those considered flawed consumers or threats to the mythic ideal of a white Christian nation. Neoliberalism refuses to recognize how private troubles are connected to broader systemic issues, legitimating instead an ode to self-reliance in which the experience of personal misfortune becomes merely the just desserts delivered by the righteous hand of the free market—not a pernicious outcome of the social order being hijacked by an antisocial ruling elite and forced to serve a narrow set of interests. Critical thought and human agency are rendered impotent as neoliberal rationality "substitutes emotional and personal vocabularies for political ones in formulating solutions to political problems."13 Within such a depoliticized discourse, youths are told that there is no dream of the collective, no viable social bonds, only the actions of autonomous individuals who must rely on their own resources and who bear sole responsibility for the effects of larger systemic political and economic problems.
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