Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Carefully Engineered Ascendancy of Public Stupidity

Maybe people who had survived the Great Depression and World War II were a little more wary, spent a little more time looking over their shoulders.   The postwar years gave rise to a period of insight and enlightenment that was abruptly arrested in the late 70's, early 80's with the arrival on the world scene of leaders like Reagan and Thatcher.   According to professor and renowned culture critic, Henry Giroux, they and their minions ushered in what has become the era of public stupidity.

Here are a few excerpts from Giroux's timely warning.  I hope they will pique your interest enough that you follow the link above and read the piece in its entirety.

"America has become amnesiac - a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.

...Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.

These anti-public intellectuals [Bachmann, Santorum, O'Reilly, Beck, Coulter] are part of a disimagination machine that solidifies the power of the rich and the structures of the military-industrial-surveillance-academic complex by presenting the ideologies, institutions and relations of the powerful as commonsense.

...The pedagogy of authoritarianism is alive and well in the United States, and its repression of public memory takes place not only through the screen culture and institutional apparatuses of conformity, but is also reproduced through a culture of fear and a carceral state that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

...Since the late 1970s, there has been an intensification in the United States, Canada and Europe of neoliberal modes of governance, ideology and policies - a historical period in which the foundations for democratic public spheres have been dismantled. Schools, public radio, the media and other critical cultural apparatuses have been under siege, viewed as dangerous to a market-driven society that considers critical thought, dialogue, and civic engagement a threat to its basic values, ideologies, and structures of power. This was the beginning of an historical era in which the discourse of democracy, public values, and the common good came crashing to the ground.   ...Democracy and the political process were all but sacrificed to the power of corporations and the emerging financial service industries, just as hope was appropriated as an advertisement for the whitewashed world, a culture whose capacity to critique oppressive social practices was greatly diminished. Large social movements fragmented into isolated pockets of resistance mostly organized around a form of identity politics that largely ignored a much-needed conversation about the attack on the social and the broader issues affecting society such as the growing inequality in wealth, power and income.

...What has changed about an entire generation of young people includes not only neoliberal society's disinvestment in youth and the lasting fate of downward mobility, but also the fact that youth live in a commercially carpet-bombed and commodified environment that is unlike anything experienced by those of previous generations.  Nothing has prepared this generation for the inhospitable and savage new world of commodification, privatization, joblessness, frustrated hopes and stillborn projects.

...At the start of the second decade of the 21st century, young people all over the world are demonstrating against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services. These demonstrations have and currently are being met with state-sanctioned violence and an almost pathological refusal to hear their demands.

...Within the existing neoliberal historical conjuncture, there is a merging of violence and governance and the systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres that have provided the minimal conditions for democracy. This becomes obvious in the emergence of a surveillance state in which the social media not only become new platforms for the invasion of privacy, but further legitimate a culture in which monitoring functions are viewed as benign while the state-sponsored society of hyper-fear increasingly defines everyone as either a snitch or a terrorist. Everyone, especially minorities of race and ethnicity, now live under a surveillance panoptican in which "living under constant surveillance means living as criminals."

These excerpts offer just a glimpse into the wonderful and important message Giroux conveys and I urge you to read it in its entirety. 

The point is clear, democracy is not safe - not in the United States nor is it safe in Canada.  In fact, democracy is being suppressed, incrementally but relentlessly, by the authoritarian Right aided by centrist political parties that seem unwilling to stand up to them, to fight back.   We're losing this war and we don't have a lot of time left to turn that around. 


Anonymous said...

After reading the article, I am convinced that someone like J. Trudeau could very well be the answer, and it's no wonder the HarperCONS are afraid--very afraid of that.

The Mound of Sound said...

I so wish I could share your enthusiasm, Linda, but I can't. I was a young reporter in Ottawa in his father's era and I watched him closely. The son doesn't have the intellect or the philosophy of the father. Trudeau campaigned for social justice and brought a vision of a new Canada.

I haven't seen JT address our growing democratic deficit or the rise of Canadian corporatism, anything but. I haven't heard him defend labour and collective bargaining. I have yet to hear him say anything meaningful about inequality and the restoration of equality of wealth, income and, most important of all, equality of opportunity. I have yet to hear him present any notion of what to do about the environmental calamity about to befall us.

If he defeats Harper it will be because he's not Harper. That's really no answer to what ails our country, our people.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your memories and insight, Mound, but I am hearing JT differently than you, I suppose. Can you or someone else, tell me why he should show all of his cards before they're called? For the CONS to twist and pervert them, like they always do? I don't think so, but I'm hearing, outright and 'between the lines' his message of listening to us, and treating us as reasonably intelligent adults--completely the opposite of Boss Harper. That, in itself is refreshing. And, no, he's not his father--none of us are our fathers. Maybe he has more warmth, empathy, I'm not sure but could the differences be an advantage? Thank you for listening...

The Mound of Sound said...

Linda I genuinely hope everything you've said is true and everything I've said proves untrue. It's curious that this business of showing one's cards has taken hold so fiercely since the Dion fiasco.

Ignatieff used it and wound up flopping on the dock as badly as Dion. What did Iggie campaign on last time? If I recall it was funding for daycare, more funding for the arts and something about an extra bowl of rice for each family.

Look at Harper. In trouncing Dion and Ignatieff, Harper didn't even campaign on a platform. He turned each election into a referendum on the Liberal leader and used that to divert attention from all his own scandals and failures. Don't forget, this government has operated under scandal almost since the outset - certainly before Cadman.

It's a formula that confounds weak leaders who cannot connect with the electorate. It's precisely that formula that Christie Clark employed in British Columbia to boot Adrian Dix into the gutter.

2015 will see the Tories and the NDP ganging up on the LPC as usual. JT has to do what Iggy and Dion failed to do - he has to connect with the electorate well prior to the writ dropping. It's bloody hard to do that in the midst of an election campaign when you're being relentlessly attacked from the Left and Right.

As for Dion, the guy who left Liberals quaking in their boots, he was a complete fuck-up. There I said it. Dion's 'Green Shift' policy made perfect sense but it needed the resources that only governments have to introduce it to the public, explain it properly, and build consensus in support. Dion went ahead with none of those prerequisites in place, none.

Worse still, Dion lost control of the Green Shift. Harper and Layton got to it first, revealed it long before Dion was prepared to unveil it, and used that advantage to shape the "tax grab, job destroying" narrative.

So Dion became code for "don't say anything before an election because big, bad Harper will crucify you for it." I'm convinced that Harper has succeeded so well, for so long not on his own merits but with the gift of a divided and hapless opposition. Layton was his handmaiden in trashing Martin, Dion and Iggy for the sake of a shot at NDP government. Mulcair will probably carry on the tradition in 2015.

I will tell you this, Linda. The LPC remains firmly mired in the Conservative-Lite mode where Ignatieff set it. It's in a place where centrist parties go to die.

The Libs, bereft of any meaningful policy that distinguished them from the NDP and the Tories have lost their ability to command the centre and push the NDP out to the left and the Tories out to the right. It is the collapse of the Liberal leadership post-Martin that has facilitated this compression of Canada's political spectrum. That has left the Liberals weak, ineffectual and unable to resist being squeezed into irrelevance from the left and the right.

If JT can't fight back on policies that he's willing to champion and defend, well in advance of an election, then he's left hoping he can defeat Harper because he's not Harper.

I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. I don't see where I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

I can see that you are right, in the points you make, Mound. JT connects well with people, so what is left is to do what you have proposed, and champion and defend the policies we, the majority would stand and vote for. I hope he's getting good advice and more importantly believes in those values we hold dear. Here's to hoping...

Purple library guy said...

Trudeau is a personable man and his coded utterances are supposed to sound like that to you. They have roughly the same actual content as Barack Obama's, with his "Yes we can" and "Audacity of hope". Turned out no we couldn't and hope was not merely audacious, but foolhardy--certainly unrealized.
Justin Trudeau stands for nothing, or rather for whatever the corporate handlers turn out to want him to do. Even that is doubtless an improvement on Stephen Harper, who seems to actively want to destroy the country, to seek out corporate enemies to shoot before the corporations even designate them, to shred the fabric of democracy even before the corporations find it inconvenient.

Tom Mulcair stands for whatever minimal amount of good the NDP insiders think they can get away with without the media calling them socialists. This is very little, but it remains incrementally better than zero or a negative value. There was a time I could say more for the NDP than that, and I dare hope someday that will be true again.