Friday, September 5, 2014

The Carnival of Cruelty

"The Violence of Organized Forgetting – Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine,” by Henry A Giroux, 2014

This swirling essay and polemic hammers at U.S. culture on issues of militarism, wealth, commercialism, mass culture and authoritarianism, coming up to the same points again and again in a style so repetitive it is either hallucinatory or irritating.  Giroux is a self-styled public intellectual, as opposed to the bought & paid intellectuals working for think-tanks and newspapers.  As such he reads a lot and writes well…to a point. There is nothing new here, it is just collected in one slight place.

Giroux represents an increasingly disturbed group of what I call ‘left-liberals’ – those to the left of traditional liberalism, yet somewhere short of socialism.  Is this group pissed! Across the whole panopticon of society, every single aspect now reeks of reaction and cruelty, reflecting the triumph of neoliberalism and its twin, neoconservatism.  Their faith in the ‘American Dream’ has taken a deep nose-dive to nothing.  The ‘Procrustean Bed” is being forced on the majority of world citizens and it hurts.  (See review of “The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism,” use search box on blog, upper left.)

Giroux’s book is a kind of left-liberal primer and quote-machine for this whole milieu – the same people’s books I’ve been reviewing here for awhile.  Well-known people like Naomi Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Stanley Aronowitz, Antonio Negri, Michelle Alexander, C. Wright Mills, David Graeber, Robert Reich, Arundati Roy, Chris Hedges, Matt Taibbi, Michael Yates, Lewis Lapham, Jacques Derrida, Theodore Adorno, Frances Fox Piven, Guy Debord, Michael Foucault, Tom Engelhardt, Eduardo Galeano, John Le Carre, Etienne Balibar and lesser known ones like Georges Didi-Huberman, Robin D.G. Kelley, Zygmunt Bauman, Kate Epstein, Stuart Hall, David Price, Gerald Epstein, Frank Rich, Robert McChesney, Michael Hudson, John Clarke, Tony Judt, Robert Scheer, Alain Badiou, Cornelius Castoriadis, James Conant and on and on, crowd the book with their quotes.

Some of these people are at the intellectual ‘doorstep’ of socialism, but have not made the next step, at least not openly.  Some have one foot in each camp. Which is perhaps why they are so mad.  A disappointed supporter of ‘capitalism with a human face’ who has seen the possibility slipping away, perhaps permanently, must react somehow. 

I am going to quote some of Giroux’s better lines, some borrowed by him, to give you a flavour of this polemical soup.  He’s a poetic lefty!

‘at the heart of the neoliberal narratives is a disimagination machine…’
the neoliberal and neoconservative walking dead’
‘ethically frozen politicians’
‘a culture of cruelty’
‘the swindle of fulfillment’
‘a new reality is emerging in the U.S.’
‘criminogenic and death-dealing forces’
‘stories as a form of public memory’
‘the amnesiac social order’
‘the information-illiteracy bubble’
‘the carceral state’
‘the fragmentation of radical politics, its metamorphoses into multiculturalism’
‘youth are in a condition of liminal drift’
‘punishing state’
‘inspection regime’
‘Terrorism is the new Communism’
‘The prison begins well before its doors.’ 
‘the social stature of the military and soldiers has risen’
‘military metaphysics’
‘desert of organized forgetting’
‘politics of organized irresponsibility’
‘decontextualized ideas’
‘manufactured crises’
‘politics of distraction’
‘language heist’
‘legal immunity to an untouchable elite’
‘ailing rib of democracy’
‘methodical destruction of collectives’
‘the consuming life is the supreme expression of autonomy’
‘power is global while politics remains local’
‘civic illiteracy’
‘thick fog of historical amnesia’
‘disposable populations’ ... ‘occupying an invisible space’
‘elitist spectacle of cruelty’
‘sacrifice zones’
‘overly washed elite of New York City’
‘punishment culture’
‘state-sanctioned carnival of cruelty’
‘anti-politics’
‘the line between fiction and material reality has been blurred’
‘The U.S. of Fear has now merged with the U.S. of Amnesia’
‘Lockdown serves as a metaphor’
‘The US has become, not a nation of laws, but of legal memos; not of legality, but of  legalisms’
‘the new visibility of extreme violence’

Giroux has a chapter on Hurricane Sandy, showing how the same class and ethnic issues around Hurricane Katrina revisited New York.  He another on the handling of the Boston Marathon bombing, especially related to the ‘locking down’ of a whole city by the police.  One of his last chapters covers the fight between NAFTA proponent / Obama’s former Chief of Staff / destroyer of public education Rahm Emanuel, and the Chicago teachers union, students and community.

Giroux is for an alternative to the two party system, which he sees as two sides of the same problem.  He seems to be somewhat anti-capitalist and calls for some kind of revolution.  He opposes single-issuism and instead calls for the formation of an actual organization to take up all these issues, unlike most left-liberal commentators who ‘comment’ but never get beyond themselves.  What that organization would be – a labor party, a left-populist party, some kind of general activist organization, a reformed mass socialist party – is left to the imagination. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 5, 2014

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