The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux

book jacket with blurry crowd of peopleThe Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine by Henry A. Giroux, (2014)

Wow! What a book! Gripped me immediately and I could not think of a single way to write clips and just annotate. I thought I was going to have to do a few jpgs to save massive typing. But some of the “blurbs” are included at the GoodReads site in a link in the title above. And I will simply quote a few passages.

Just the Introduction title is compelling: America’s Descent into Madness. Other chapter titles include: The New Authoritarianism, Hurricane Sandy and the Politics of Disposability, The Vanishincontemporary book jacket for 1984 featuring a blue iris and black pupilg point of U.S Democracy, and the concluding chapter gives a nod to George Orwell’s 1984 with the title of Hope in the Time of Permanent War.

Unfortunately, the last chapter begins with a litany of reasons to NOT be hopeful, so after all the dismal commentary of the book, I did not end up feeling particularly hopeful, despite his plea that we should not, must not, give up societal hope.

His words are like reading machine gun fire, each word a bullet to the heart.

Here is an excerpt from the “Hope” chapter (pp. 214-215) [emphasis mine]:

Americans are now gently coerced to live in an ad-infested bubble of intense privatization, commodification, and civic ILLITERACY. The public does not merely dissolve into the private, THE PRIVATE IS ALL THAT IS LEFT. Far from simply and economic system, neoliberalism provides a totalizing system of pay-as-you-go society in which MONEY IS SPEECH, POLITICS, and leadership. Those without money are VOICELESS, openly UNREPRESENTED in any political campaign [n.b. c 2014 pre-Bernie Sanders campaign], and forced to pay a terrible price in what Zygmunt Bauman calls the “hard currency of human suffering.”

The American public yawns as they are inundated with statistics that should shock [math illiteracy], and they are complacent in the face of information that should make them flush with indignation. Politicians accountable to only corporate interests plan for more HIGHLY PROFITABLE WARS, and academics retreat into a vocabulary of social and political irrelevance, while the social movements that attempt to connect these to other big picture issues are monitored, attacked, and fragmented by surveillance and the other AUTHORITARIAN DETERRENTS.

Statistics that should make us outraged reveal the widespread nature of our neighbor’s suffering and offer a glimpse of the despair that accompanies an authoritarian society. For example, in the richest country in the world, the “U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 for CHILD POVERTY,” “over 350,000 Americans WITH ADVANCED DEGREES applied for food stamps in 2010,” millions of young people are crushed under the burden of student loans, increasing numbers of youth are homeless, living on the streets, and over fifty MILLION Americans are uninsured.” [2012 footnote reference] Inequalities in income, education, nutrition, access to medical attention, and legal assistance have created a country filled with gated communities on the one-had and derelict zones of abandonment and voiceless suffering on the other. The middle class pays higher taxes than many corporations, while the super-rich get even richer. For instance, “each of the Koch brothers saw his investments GROW BY $6 BILLION in ONE YEAR, which is THREE MILLION DOLLARS PER HOUR [$3,000,000] on a 40-hour ‘work’ week.” Equally obscene and symptomatic is the example of Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who made $21 MILLION [$21,000,000] last year and received a bonus of $5 MILLION  in January 2013. At the same time, the least fortunate 47 percent have no wealth, 146 MILLION Americans or 1 in 2 are LOW INCOME or POOR, and a “third of families with young children are now in poverty.”

And the response I see most often in response to this type of suffering is: “Your mortgage is not my problem.” People in the Tea Party, for example, believe [not necessarily true] that they have so little, that any assistance to the “needy” (even if they themselves would receive improved situation) will cost them food money, i.e. basic subsistence already under threat. But they do not blame unregulated capitalism; they embrace it even more. Like an abused child that still loves the bad parent, they WANT TO BELIEVE the lies so much that no evidence to the contrary, beating the shit out of people even more is considered proof that “the system works” and will stop beating the children just as soon as the homos are not allowed to marry, that women no longer have contraception or access to legal safe abortion, or people start going to church every Sunday (as long as it is a denomination approved by the likes of the hucksters of evangelicals and you pay your tithe).  Yes every hurricane, tornado, and natural disaster is just god’s way of telling us we are bad children and better get into line or we will burn in hellfire because he loves us.

The surest path to damnation is feeding the poor, clothing the needy, and implementing single payer health care for all. Nope, God wants you to make lots of money and then do the bidding of those special (mostly men) who will take your money and the public money (through tax breaks) and “do good” with it. Just ask to audit the books of any given church at any time and what do you think you will see? I will guarantee you that they would not get better than an F by charitable organization ratings that require the 80% of income be spent on charitable works. No, what you will find is high pastor salaries, low paid support staff, and, especially in the “seed” churches, or “prosperity gospel” frauds, poor congregants that give more than they can afford and a lecture and offering plate passed after listening to a preacher condemning them for being sinners. Oh, and the $65,000,000 Lear Jet Jesus wants him to have to spread the Word.

A Tea Party woman was speaking on BookTV this morning and kept emphasizing what Tea Party women BELIEVED. She provided no facts that these beliefs were true or indeed had any basis in book jacket with a somewhat phallic or missle or bullet like lipstick in front of a vaguely desert landscapereality. Especially the opposite world kind. Like, TPW do not want to have government support to make sure their kids have enough to eat because that teaches them to be lazy and not-self-reliant. So she would rather have poor women teach their kids that suffering is good, inadequate nutrition will not cause brain or bone or development issues, and God forbid the government should spend tax dollars to make sure every school child has a hot lunch because that will surely reduce the children’s willingness to spend their “allowance” on a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread so they have the pride of having “earned” their own lunch.

She was so horribly blatantly white upper class (who else has time to write a book on how women should not want to be “given” assistance by government for fair pay, or other dangerously dependence causing handouts. Handouts are NOT empowering she said. Only doing things for yourself is. She has obviously (a) never lived the life of a poor woman who watched her children go to bed hungry at night because Mom got sick and lost 3 days wages as happens in MOST wage jobs. Only salaried workers get the privilege of “telecommuting” if they are sick, or often only full time workers get sick leave.

I am going to have to get the book from interlibrary loan because I absolutely do not want to contribute  a nickel to her assets by asking our library to even buy one. This type of drivel should only be cited to counter the flawed and hateful and hurtful philosophy of those high-mind low-volume (9% she said were Tea Part Women, 72% were democrats or independents, hmm if your life depending on picking which group was right, would you go with the 9% or the 72%?) .

Similarly, the forgotten history of the deaths of women forced to be criminals to obtain unsafe abortions by crooks and unqualified people — in my lifetime — seems to have left no mark on the memory of the “no abortion with my tax dollars” crowd; they actually glory in the concept that women who seek abortions deserve to die. That is the “pro-life” view in a nutshell and they have proven it over and over by bombings, shootings, murder, and intimidation and terrorism FOR ATTEMPTING TO EXERCISE THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BODILY AUTONOMY. The same people will fight to the death for their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS without any fucking well ordered militia in charge (thanks Scalia RIH).

The same people so concerned about the sanctity of life, as is the common phrase goes, only care up to the moment it the born baby is in need of assistance. Then it is all, YOU SPREAD YOUR LEGS, TAKE CARE OF THE BASTARD YOURSELF YOU SLUT. Real life affirming and “all about the children” as this Tea Party Woman claimed were the concerns that made women turn to the Tea Party. THEIR KIDS, mind you, NOT ANYONE ELSE’S SPAWN. ESPECIALLY IMMIGRANT KIDS! Those lives don’t matter. If those mothers and kids need help, well “not with my tax dollars” or government programs. That just teaches them to be dependent and not work hard because only by working with sweat on your brow are you righteous in the eyes of their god. The fact that I’m guessing she has an illegal Mexican maid and.or nanny to take care of her house and children while she is a work as a Professor (which makes her well above the $30k “middle class”) and WHILE SHE GETS A FULL YEAR SALARY PAID for her sabbatical to write her book. Yep, she don’t need no stinking handouts.

They do not see that their tax dollars are being burned up by corporate subsidies, corporations and billionaires efforts to not pay taxes (by offshoring the money where it can do no good to anyone but the hoarders), the military-industrial complex — except for the soldiers, who get squat for pay compared to mercenaries, and suffer to obtain veteran’s benefits once they get home, and of course all the financial and banker theft that is ongoing in the even bigger too big to fail banks. The pittance they are bitching about for abortion wouldn’t ever register on a pie chart of expenditures by the government. But they also don’t want to pay for any poor kid’s school lunches, or any kind of discretionary spending money, or medical care, or pretty much anything for anyone but themselves and the ever richer they aspire to be someday.

This has led to ridiculously arbitrary limits on assistance such as 5 years maximum lifetime family assistance, and 2 year unemployment limits — whether there are jobs or not (and they are pretty tightly controlled as well). The lifetime limit especially drives me nuts because it so clearly is a judgement on the poor that they would prefer to live on a pittance and undergo constant reporting, surveillance, drug testing, limitations, and micro controls of their lives so that they could live without regard to reality. For example, maybe you are 20 and you have a kid and your husband deserts you. You need assistance. You develop a chronic disease and need assistance. Your kid is in a car accident requiring 24 x 7 care. We all live a long freaking time and the odds of multiple events happening that would put anyone in a position of needing assistance is high. And yet, Congress picked this 5 year cap out of their asses so they didn’t “create a culture of dependency” so nice of them to be looking out for us that way. Yet they are so penurious and restrictive they do not provide enough assistance to actually allow anyone to pull out of poverty. And that’s the way they like it. As I have said before and will say again: cannon fodder and cheap labor to quell any HOPES of living an ECONOMICALLY SECURE LIFE like the rich living off inheritances, investments (because every dime they have isn’t required to eat), and of the backs of the WAGE SLAVES doing the actual work.

Okay, so that was the hopeful part plus a digression from making the mistake of listening to the Tea Party woman speak irrationally and with circular and illogical “reasoning.” Now be prepared for the mortar shell introduction (pp. 9-11).

America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse the the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War. –John Le Carre

America is descending into madness. The stories it now tells are filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, and legitimate all manner of corruption and mayhem. The mainstream media spin stories that are largely racist, violent, and IRRESPONSIBLE — stories that celebrate power and demonize victims, all the while camouflaging their pedagogical influence under the glossy veneer of entertainment. Violence now offers the only currency with any enduring value for mediating relationships, addressing problems, or offering instant pleasure. A PREDATORY culture celebrates a narcissistic hyper-individualism that radiates a near sociopathic lack of interest in  — or compassionate and responsibility for — others. Anti-public intellectuals who dominate the screen and aural cultures urge us to SPEND MORE, indulge more, and make a virtue out of personal gain, while producing a depoliticized culture of CONSUMERISM. Undermining life-affirming social solidarities and any viable notion of the PUBLIC GOOD, politicians trade in forms of IDIOCY and SUPERSTITION that seem to mesmerize the under-educated and render the thoughtful cynical and disengaged. Militarized police forces armed with the latest weapons tested in Afghanistan and Iraq play out their fantasies on the home front by forming robo-SWAT teams that willfully assault PROTESTERS and raid neighborhood poker parties. Congressional lobbyists hire by big corporations and defense contractors create conditions in which war zones abroad can be re-created at home in order to market military-grade surveillance tools and weapons to a full range of clients, from gated communities to privately owned for-profit prisons.

The stories we tell about ourselves no longer speak to the ideals of justice, equality, and democracy. The landscape of American Politics mo longer features towering figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. whose stories interwove moral outrage with courage and vision and inspired us to imagine a society that was never just enough. A culture that once opened our imagination now disables it, overwhelming the populace with nonstop marketing that reduces our sense of agency to the imperatives of OWNERSHIP, shopping, credit, and debt. But these are not the only narratives that diminish our capacity to imagine a better world. We are also inundated with stories of cruelty and fear that undermine communal bonds and tarnish any viable visions of the future. Different stories, ones that provided a sense of history, social responsibility, and respect for the public good were once circulated by our parents, religious institutions, schools, and community leaders. Today, the stories that define who we are as individuals and as a nation are manufactured by corporate media that broadcast the lifestyles of celebrities, billionaires, and ethically frozen politicians who preach the mutually related virtues of an UNBRIDLED FREE MARKET and a PERMANENT WAR economy. The power to re-imagine, doubt, and think critically no longer seem possible in a society in which SELF-INTEREST has become the “only motive force in human life and competition” and “the most efficient and socially beneficial way for that force to express itself.” (pp. 10-11)

I was going to try to add some commentary here but in the face of such concise, elegant prose, I don’t think I can add more. Perhaps just note that WE LACK SOCIAL BONDS on so many levels, that we are inclined to see everyone as a potential enemies. As a woman, I certainly fear for my safety every time I am walking down a street alone at night. I still remember the searingly sad story of the woman (Kitty?) is New York that screamed for help for hours and NO ONE HELPED even though she was surrounded by apartment buildings. Windows were shut to keep out the screams. Contrast that to the two Swedish men who did not hesitate to intervene and catch the recent white boy swimmer from Stanford. Too many guns, too quick to draw: especially on people of color by police. Too much fear.

More from page 11:

These stories [see above quote] reciting the neoliberal GOSPEL are all the more powerful because they seem to defy the public’s desire for RIGOROUS accountability, critical interrogation, and openness as they generate employment and revenue for RIGHT-WING THINK TANKS and policy makers who rush to satisfy the content dictates of corporate media advertisers. Concealing the conditions of their own making, these stories enshrine both GREED and INDIFFERENCE, encouraging massive disparities in wealth, health, nutrition, education, housing, and debt. In addition, they sanctify the workings of the market, forging a new political theology that inscribes a sense of our collective destiny to be governed ultimately and EXCLUSIVELY by market forces. Such ideas surely signal a tribute to Ayn Rand’s dystopian society, if not a rebirth of Margaret Thatcher’s nonfiction invocation of the mantra of the wealthy: the is nothing beyond INDIVIDUAL GAIN and the CORPORATE ORDER.

There are so many perfect points made that you should not just read the book, you should buy it to return to many times to draw even more from his analysis.

p. 20: As political power becomes increasingly disconnected from civics, ethical, moorings, it becomes easier to punish and imprison young people that to educate them.

From the INFLATED RHETORIC of the political RIGHT to the market-driven media peddling spectacles of violence, the influence of these criminogenic and death-dealing forces is undermining our COLLECTIVE SECURITY by justifying cutbacks to SOCIAL SERVICES and suppressing opportunities for democratic resistance. Saturating mainstream discourses with ANTI-PUBLIC narratives, the neoliberal machinery of CIVIC DEATH effectively weakens public supports and prevents the EMERGENCE of a new ways of thinking and speaking about politics in the twenty-first century.

The next sentence needs a paragraph all by itself despite the continuation in the above section.

But even more than neutralizing all forms of viable opposition to the growing control and wealth of predatory financial elites, responses to social issues are increasingly dominated by a MALIGNANT characterization of disadvantaged groups as DISPOSABLE populations.

The next sentence likewise needs to stand out.

How else to explain the right-wing charge that the POOR, DISABLED, SICK, and ELDERLY are moochers and should FEND FOR THEMSELVES?

A few more lines (carries over to p. 21):

This is not simply an example of a kind of hardening of the culture, it is also part of a machinery of social and CIVIC DEATH that crushes any VIABLE notion of thE COMMON GOOD, public life, and the shared bonds and commitments that are necessary for community and DEMOCRACY.

Before this dangerously authoritarian mind-set has a chance to take hold of our collective imagination and animate our social institutions, it is CRUCIAL THAT ALL AMERICANS think critically and ethically about the coercive forces shaping U.S. culture — and focus our energy on what can be done to change them. It is not enough for people of conscience only to expose the FALSENESS of the stories we are told. Educators, artists, intellectuals, workers, young people, and other concerned citizens also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be for our communities and ourselves. This demands a BREAK FROM ESTABLISHED POLITICAL PARTIES, the creative of ALTERNATIVE PUBLIC SPHERES in which to produce democratic narratives and visions, and a notion of of politics that is educative, one that takes seriously how people interpret and mediate the world, how they see themselves in relation to others, and what it might mean to imagine otherwise in order to act otherwise.

p. 36: Social bonds have fragmented as a result of the attack on the welfare state and the collapse of social protections. Moreover, all possible answers to socially produced problems are now limited to the mantra of the INDIVIDUAL, MARKET-BASED solutions. It gets worse. Increasingly, those individuals and groups WHO QUESTION the SAVAGE LOGIC of the free market or are UNABLE TO FUNCTION WITHIN IT as atomized employees/consumers are viewed contemptuously as either traitors or moochers and are rendered DISPOSABLE by corporate and government elites.

It’s your own damn fault you are a loser.

Public problems now collapse into the limited and depoliticized register of PRIVATE ISSUES. [Your mortgage is not my problem!] Individual self-interest now trumps ANY consideration of the GOOD SOCIETY just as all problems are ultimately laid at the door of the solitary individual whose fate is shaped by forces far beyond his or her personal control.  Under NEOLIBERALISM, everyone has to negotiate their fate ALONE, bearing full responsibility for problems that are often not of their own doing. The implications, politically, economically, and socially for young people are disastrous and are contributing to the emergence of a generation that will populate a space of social abandonment and terminal EXCLUSION. Job insecurity, debt servitude, impoverishment, enlistment to war zones, incarceration, and a growing network of real and symbolic violence have dismissed too many young people to a future that portend zero opportunities and zero hope.  (pp. 36-37)

p. 59: The consolidation of capitalism, counterintelligence, and the carceral state [prisons] with their vast apparatuses of real and symbolic violence must also be situated and understood as part of a broader historical and political attack on public values, civic literacy, activism, and SOCIAL JUSTICE. Crucial here is the need to engage how such an attack is aided and abetted by the emergence of a POISONOUS NEOLIBERAL public pedagogy that depoliticizes as much as it entertains and CORRUPTS. State violence cannot be defined as simply a political issue. Also operating in tandem with politics are pedagogical forces that wage violence against the minds, desires, bodies, and identities of young people as part of the reconfiguration of the social state into the PUNISHING STATE. At the heart of this transformation is the emergence of a new form of CORPORATE SOVEREIGNTY, a  more intense form of state violence, a ruthless survival-of-the-fittest ethic used to LEGITIMATE the concentrated power of the RICH, and a concerted effort to punish young people who are out of step with official lists, ideology, values, and MODES OF SOCIAL CONTROL.

Making young people bear the burden of a severe educational deficit has enormous currency in a society in which existing relations of POWER are normalized. Under such conditions, those who hold pwer accountable are viewed as treasonous while critically engaged young people are denounced as un=American.

BTW, I just watched the movie TRUMBO (based on a book) and even though I knew a lot about the blacklist, it was extremely interesting to see a fact-based view of the insanity. Dalton Trumbo’s book, When Johnny Got His Gun, was probably one of the great OMG moments of my young naive life. Kurt Vonnegut’s work shredded a lot more, especially Catch-22. The real Americans in TRUMBO were the ones who kept their ideals. Especially the guy John Goodman portrayed talking truth to power by bringing out a baseball bat. It never fully disclosed why Hedda (gossip columnist) was so virulently hostile to “communism” per se, and Trumbo, it seemed, in particular. Mentioned her son was in the military but I’m not sure if he was killed. Of course UNQUESTIONING patriotism was mandatory for all then, and pretty much now too. We sixties hippies need to take back our power! True patriots do not feel threatened by intelligent critiques and suggestions for ways to have a better, more democratic, and just society, i.e. the dream of the Founding Fathers they love so dearly (even while misrepresenting what was actually intended in the Constitution and Bill of Rights).

p. 60: In any totalitarian society, dissent is a threat, civic literacy is DENOUNCED, and those public spheres that produce engaged citizens are dismantled or impoverished through the substitutions of genuine education with job training.

p. 64: At the same time, important issues are buried in the fog of what Gerald Epstein has appropriately called manufactured crises. These crises are designed to stir popular sentiment but actually legitimize policies that benefit the wealthy and hurt working- and middle-class communities. For example, Epstein rightly argues that the debate about the fiscal cliff is

‘a debacle on the part of the Obama administration and for progressives and for workers and for families. It’s a real disaster. . . . we shouldn’t be having to sit here talking about this; we should be talking about what are we going to do about the employment cliff or climate change cliff. But instead we’re talking about this fiscal cliff, which is a manufactured crisis.’

The fiscal cliff argument — rather than the so-called fiscal cliff itself — is possibly a real crisis in that it serves to divert attention away from pressing issues ranging from chronic mass unemployment and and widespread impoverishment to unprosecuted crimes of economic mass destruction and the relationship between corporate predation and the housing crisis and the student loan debt bomb. And while neglecting the economic impacts on impoverished and middle-class families, this politics of distraction works assiduously to undermine any collective understanding of how economic, cultural, and social problems are interrelated ideologically and structurally as part of an assault by market fundamentalists on all aspects of public life that address and advance the common good.

In such a discourse of disconnection, the expanded reach of politics becomes fragmented. Private troubles are separated from PUBLIC considerations, thereby narrowing our capacity to perceive the confluence of socio-economic-cultural interests and the prevailing issues of our particular political moment. . . . Similarly, the mainstream debate over taxing the rich refuses to address this issue through a broader analysis of a society that is structurally wedded to perpetrating massive inequities in wealth, health, nutrition, education, and mobility along with the considerable suffering and hardships entailed by such social disparities.

In this denuded version of politics, the relationships between personal troubles and larger social realities are covered over. (p. 65)

p. 68:  . . . power of the surveillance state — the enforcement arm of the neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory capitalism that present itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form encircled by ideological and political certainty, and a cultural practice that replace open civic powers with a closed set of consumer choices. As a result, corporate predation is emerging as a normalized form of low-intensity ambient violence that is conscripting all political differences, viable alternative, and counter-readings of the world into the service of financial elite and a savage form of Social Darwinism.

Social Darwinism is a curse upon the brains of ignorant people.  It should have remained discarded in the dustbin of history post WWII. Complete rubbish.

So I did finally decide to just take a few photos of some particularly good pages so you will understand why this is a “buy” book, not just a “read” one. The sentences are for an audience above The Donald’s reading comprehension level so it takes time to fully grasp and reread for one thing. The beauty of his expression about profound issues warrants rereading. And among the pages I have selected, he cites a number of my favorite other authors, including Chris Hedges.


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