Dissent and Punishment in the Book of Life: Introduction to Henry Giroux’s “Youth in Revolt”


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 … [from] the shows we watch on television, [to] the way many of us treat children [to] some influential religious practices.”9

via Criminalizing Dissent and Punishing Occupy Protesters: Introduction to Henry Giroux’s “Youth in Revolt”.

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