The fail­ing state Henry A. Giroux lec­tures on rad­i­cal democ­racy; a Lan­nan Foun­da­tion event

Henry A. Giroux and rad­i­cal democ­racy

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Casey Sanchez Henry A. Giroux with Maya Schen­war, pre­sented by the Lan­nan Foun­da­tion 7 p.m. Wed­nes­day, Oct. 14 Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, 211 W. San Fran­cisco St. $6, $3 stu­dents and se­niors; 505-988-1234, www.tick­

For decades now, cul­tural critic Henry A. Giroux has been sound­ing the alarm that the U.S. is on a quick de­cline, its in­sti­tu­tions and its lead­ers in the grip of what he calls a “new au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.” Widely pub­lished in both aca­demic cir­cles and the pop­u­lar press, Giroux is a staunch ad­vo­cate of rad­i­cal democ­racy and writes in an en­gag­ing if con­tro­ver­sial man­ner about youth, public ed­u­ca­tion, po­lice bru­tal­ity, and Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Typ­i­cal of his sweep­ing pro­nounce­ments are this one from his 2013 book Amer­ica’s Ed­u­ca­tion Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Re­view Press), in which he de­clares, “Gov­er­nance is now in the hands of cor­po­rate power and the United States in­creas­ingly ex­hibits all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a failed state.”

It’s a rad­i­cal, scur­rilous claim about which Giroux is dead se­ri­ous. To his many doubters, he would ask them to con­sider what the U.S. looks like from the view­point of a typ­i­cal eigh­teen-year-old citizen. In the case of this hy­po­thet­i­cal young man, for nearly all his life, the coun­try has been bogged down in for­eign wars and trapped in a re­ces­sion that has not ended for those with­out col­lege de­grees. His public school ed­u­ca­tion has been con­sumed by stan­dard­ized tests and a zero tol­er­ance pol­icy that has amped up ex­pul­sions and nor­mal­ized law en­force­ment ar­rests of stu­dents on cam­pus as a form of rou­tine dis­ci­pline. The re­sult, he writes, is that “schools in­creas­ingly take on an un­canny re­sem­blance to over­sized po­lice precincts.”

On the dig­i­tal screens where youths dwell and (Giroux would ar­gue) also where they are largely ed­u­cated nowa­days, videos of do­mes­tic po­lice in mil­i­ta­rized riot gear fir­ing tear gas at young protesters have be­come rou­tine. In pol­i­tics, what was once a fringe view of the rad­i­cal right — forcibly de­port­ing mil­lions of unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants — has now en­tered the main­stream of Repub­li­can pol­icy talk­ing points. Put to­gether, Giroux ar­gues, these trou­bling move­ments tes­tify to Amer­ica’s quickly erod­ing demo­cratic tra­di­tions.

“I think the coun­try is in such a bad state that the tip­ping point has ar­rived,” Giroux told Pasatiempo. “We can’t have democ­racy in a coun­try this un­equal. The younger gen­er­a­tion can’t rent any­thing any­more. They are go­ing to be the gen­er­a­tion that was un­able to move out of the house.”

Giroux will speak on Wed­nes­day, Oct. 14, at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter as part of the In Pur­suit of Cul­tural Free­dom se­ries spon­sored by the Lan­nan Foun­da­tion. A pro­lific au­thor of more than 50 books and over 300 aca­demic ar­ti­cles, Giroux lives in Canada, where he serves as the Global TV Net­work Chair in English and Cul­tural Stud­ies at McMaster Univer­sity in Hamil­ton, On­tario. He ap­pears with Maya Schen­war, au­thor and editor-in-chief of Truthout, a pro­gres­sive online news or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The scholar said his Lan­nan talk will fo­cus on on­go­ing at­tacks to Amer­i­can tra­di­tions of jus­tice and equal­ity. In par­tic­u­lar, he will ad­dress the “seem­ingly un­ten­able no­tion” that U.S. has be­come a breed­ing ground for au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. As he out­lined in a re­cent ar­ti­cle for Truthout, Giroux be­lieves “four fun­da­men­talisms” have crept into Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural life — mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ism, re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism, ed­u­ca­tional fun­da­men­tal­ism, and mil­i­tary fun­da­men­tal­ism — all which threaten to evis­cer­ate Amer­ica’s sta­tus as a free na­tion.

These fun­da­men­talisms, Giroux ar­gues, dis­miss crit­i­cal thought, jus­tify large-scale vi­o­lence, and en­cour­age cit­i­zens to look away from their public re­spon­si­bil­ity and in­stead fo­cus on their own self­in­ter­ests. Through the lens of these ide­olo­gies, sev­eral of Giroux’s re­cent ar­ti­cles have looked at the emer­gence of Don­ald Trump as a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. “Trump is not some penul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of this grow­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. Trump is rather con­sis­tent with what’s go­ing on in the Repub­li­can party. The only thing new is that Trump ad­mits it,” Giroux said.

De­spite his polemic fo­cus on the more sor­did spa­ces in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, Giroux is not with­out hope for the fu­ture. The suc­cess of the same-sex mar­riage move­ment in the United States has im­pressed him. So too has the con­scious­ness-rais­ing of Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivists. “They are look­ing at po­lice bru­tal­ity not as iso­lated events but draw­ing con­nec­tions be­tween pol­icy and pol­i­tics,” Giroux said. “They are ask­ing the state why it thinks it doesn’t have to deal with the so­cial costs of its ac­tions.”

But what trou­bles him about these var­i­ous move­ments of the left — en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, prison re­form­ers, and cor­po­rate watch­dogs, among oth­ers — is their fail­ure to find a uni­fy­ing clar­ion call to their var­i­ous is­sues. That’s some­thing, he ad­mits, that the right has been able to achieve through or­ga­niz­ing a frac­tious coali­tion of lib­er­tar­i­ans, evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, and tra­di­tional old-line con­ser­va­tives un­der a ban­ner of free mar­kets and strong na­tional de­fense.

Giroux be­lieves that in ed­u­ca­tion, the left has a uni­fy­ing plank that it has failed to uti­lize. By ed­u­ca­tion, Giroux has some­thing in mind far more sweep­ing than grade schools and col­leges. “One of the great fail­ures of the left is not un­der­stand­ing how ed­u­ca­tion is one of the most pow­er­ful forms of con­scious­ness­rais­ing.” Out­side of his po­lit­i­cal writ­ing, Giroux is well-known in aca­demic and ed­u­ca­tion cir­cles for his work on public ped­a­gogy, a term that refers to the way in which young peo­ple are in­creas­ingly re­ceiv­ing their most af­fect­ing civic ed­u­ca­tion and their norms of moral­ity from a ubiq­ui­tous media stream that in­cludes ev­ery­thing from advertising to sports, re­al­ity TV to Tum­blr, churches to smart­phones. In other words, ed­u­ca­tion is a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­field and one that the left is los­ing. Giroux be­lieves that chil­dren grow up mired in an en­ter­tain­ment media that pro­motes bound­less self-in­ter­est and con­sumerism. Wrapped in the glam­our of celebrity, these soft-media mes­sages echo the ex­plicit po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy of con­ser­va­tive and ne­olib­eral move­ments that seek to pri­va­tize public goods such as wa­ter, ed­u­ca­tion, and health care.

Through a new type of ed­u­ca­tion that en­gages youth through their im­mer­sion in a global in­ter­net cul­ture, Giroux feels that pro­gres­sive ac­tivists may find a fu­ture for their type of pol­i­tics. As he sum­ma­rized his hope in last year’s book, The Vi­o­lence of Or­ga­nized For­get­ting: Think­ing Be­yond Amer­ica’s Disimag­i­na­tion Ma­chine (City Lights), it is, “A pol­i­tics that merges cri­tique and hope and rec­og­nizes that while the idea of the good so­ci­ety may be un­der at­tack, it is far from be­ing rel­e­gated to the dust­bin of history.”

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