Violence, USA: The Warfare State and the Brutalizing of Everyday Life
The permanent state of warfare in the United States has resulted in the expansion of cultures of violence to other public spheres. Henry Giroux reminds us in this Truthout article how resistance to the military-industrial-carceral and academic complex is a challenging, though increasingly imperative, task.
According to Giroux, the “normalization of violence” is accomplished through the reproduction of violent pedagogies in contexts that lack (and sometimes actively destroy) the critical apparatuses for the public to become sensitized to, and thus resist, the dehumanization, suffering and social costs entailed by acts of violence. In discussing U.S. popular culture, Giroux’s concern is not so much the intentions of the artists or the aesthetic merits of Hollywood movies such as The Hunger Games and organized sports that rely on extreme violence for ratings, such as mixed martial arts and professional hockey, but how they are promoted and commercialized in the public sphere in ways that tend to reinforce people’s identities as mindless consumers of violent spectacles rather than as thoughtful citizens capable of denouncing the degradation of themselves and others. Giroux is concerned with how this mass culture of violence leads to the gradual acceptance of violence in everyday life – seen for example in the increasing use of police crackdowns on peaceful protesters and other rampant forms of securitizing and militarizing of public spaces.
Giroux links consumer culture in North America to the emergence of the “warfare state”, which in turn is connected to neoliberal forms of late capitalism that drive policy phenomena such as tax breaks for private corporations and the rich, imposed concurrently with austerity measures for the working poor and middle class. Neoliberal interests in freeing markets from social constraints, fueling competitiveness, and loosening individuals from any sense of social responsibility prepare the populace for a slow embrace of social Darwinism and the mentality of war — not least of all by dehumanizing the other and pitting individuals against the communities they inhabit. Public sanctioning of, or at least the absence of public outcry against, the extreme and horrific acts of violence perpetrated by the military in Afghanistan and elsewhere demonstrate the degree to which violence has been normalized in North American society. Such an unrelenting commitment to the war machine demands that ethical considerations are ignored in order to remain dedicated to violence as the principal strategy of statecraft.
The future implications of Giroux’s analysis is a warfare state working in tandem with neoliberal economic forces to encourage growing income inequality and the further merging of the financial and military spheres in ways that diminish the authority and power of democratic governance, the endpoint of which is devolution into state terrorism, ironically not unlike that which is represented in The Hunger Games. The political ramifications of the turn toward violence and death are destined to be felt throughout society, and can already be witnessed in the expansion of the prison-industrial system and the militarization of elementary schools.
Giroux points to the challenges inherent in opposing the warfare state and its culture of cruelty, and insists that vilification of these ideologies is not enough. Political and pedagogical interventions that enter the conversation in ways that offer both critique and hope should be central in the struggle to create the conditions for a more critical and engaged citizenry. The current efforts by the young, the unemployed, and the disenfranchised need the support of the broader public and progressive social movements if we expect a better future than the one toward which we are currently heading. In this call for accountability and transformative action, Giroux reminds us that “[w]ar does not have to be a permanent social relation, nor the primary organizing principle of everyday life, society and foreign policy.” Read the article…
By Alexandra Epp and Grace Pollock