The Occupy Movement and the Politics of Educated Hope

Friday, 18 May 2012 14:46 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed

Occupy Wall Street Protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011.

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair inevitable.” -Raymond Williams

American society has lost its claim on democracy. One indication of such a loss is that the crises produced on a daily basis by crony capitalism operate within a discourse of denial. Rather than address the ever proliferating crises produced by market fundamentalism as an opportunity to understand how the United States has arrived at such a point in order to change direction, the dominating classes now use such crises as an excuse for normalizing a growing punishing and warfare state, while consolidating the power of finance capital and the mega-rich. Uncritically situated in an appeal to common sense, the merging of corporate and political power is now constructed on a discourse of refusal – a denial of historical conditions, existing inequalities and massive human suffering – used to bury alive the conditions of its own making. The notion that neoliberal capitalism has less interest in free markets than an enormous stake in the dominance of public life by corporations no longer warrants recognition and debate in mainstream apparatuses of power. Hence, the issue of what happens to democracy and politics when corporations dominate almost all aspects of American society is no longer viewed as a central question to be addressed in public life.(1)

As society is increasingly organized around shared fears, escalating insecurities and a post 9/11 politics of terror; the mutually reinforcing dynamics of a market-based fundamentalism and a government that appears immune to any checks on its power render democratic politics both bankrupt and inoperable. The hatred of government on the part of Republican extremists has resulted not only in attacks on public services, the cutting of worker benefits, the outsourcing of government services, a hyper-nationalism and the evisceration of public goods such as schools and health care, but also in an abdication of the responsibility to govern. The language of the market with its incessant appeal to self-regulation and the virtues of a radical individualization of responsibility now offer the primary dysfunctional and poisonous index of what possibilities the future may hold, while jingoistic nationalism and racism hail its apocalyptic underbelly.

The notion that democracy requires modes of economic and social equality as the basis for supportive social bonds, democratic communities and compassionate communal relations disappears along with the claims traditionally made in the name of the social justice, human rights and democratic values. Entrepreneurial values such as competitiveness, self-interest, deregulation, privatization and decentralization now produce self-interested actors who have no interest in promoting the public good or governing in the public interest.(2) Under these circumstances, the 1 percent and the financial, cultural and educational institutions they control declare war on government, immigrants, poor youth, women, and other institutions and groups considered disposable. Crony capitalism produces great wealth for the few and massive human suffering for the many around the globe. At the same time, it produces what João Biehl calls “zones of social abandonment,” which “accelerate the death of the unwanted” through a form of economic Darwinism “that authorizes the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.”(3)

As market relations become synonymous with a market society, democracy becomes both the repressed scandal of neoliberalism and its ultimate fear.(4) In such a society, cynicism becomes the ideology of choice as public life collapses into the ever-encroaching domain of the private, and social ills and human suffering become more difficult to identify, understand and engage with critically. The result, as Jean Comaroff points out, is, “In our contemporary world, post 9/11, crisis and exception has become routine and war, deprivation and death intensify despite ever denser networks of humanitarian aid and ever more rights legislation.”(5) In addition, as corporate power and finance capital gain ascendancy over society, the depoliticization of politics and the increasing transformation of the social state into the punishing state has resulted in the emergence of a new form of authoritarianism in which the fusion of corporate power and state violence increasingly permeates all aspects of everyday life.(6) Such violence with its every expanding machinery of death and surveillance creates an ever-intensifying cycle, rendering citizens’ political activism dangerous and even criminal as is obvious in the current assaults being waged by the government against youthful protesters on college campuses, in the streets, and in other spaces now colonized by capital and its machinery of enforcement.(7)

In opposition to the attacks on critical thought, dissent, the discourse of hope and what Jacques Ranciere calls the erosion of “the public character of spaces, relations and institutions,”(8) the Occupy movement has provided both a call to and demonstrated a common investment in what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s call the need “to hang on to intellectual and real freedom” and to insure that thinking does not become “immune to the suggestion of the status quo,”(9) thus losing its “secure hold on possibility.”(10) This is evident in the willingness of the protesters’ “challenge to capitalism front and center among its concerns and passions [and] to make economic injustice for the 99 percent and the ruling economic system central, defining issues.”(11) Worth noting is that the Occupy protesters believe that intellectuals (those willing to exercise critical thought) come from a broad range of jobs, fields and institutions and should inhabit the realm of politics, be willing to cross intellectual and physical boundaries, connect questions of understanding and power and unite passion, commitment and conscience in new ways in order to reflect on and engage with the larger society. This intervention is both intellectual and political and it suggests contesting neoliberal capitalism on several registers.

Read the full article at Truthout: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/9237-the-occupy-movement-and-the-politics-of-educated-hope

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