Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism
Professor Giroux’s enlightening main points are present in the introduction, expanded in each chapter, revisited in each chapter’s final paragraphs, in the conclusion and throughout the text. It is a little like being hit over the head with a hammer. I sense he thinks that is exactly what America needs.
I certainly wondered how George W Bush’s fraudulent first election was allowed to pass without a single protest march. But though this book’s words are filled with intelligent anger I think the writer’s final call to ‘let’s get back to talking’ is utterly liberal and will achieve nothing.
Supreme Court Judge Lewis Powell’s Memo of 1971 accompanied growth in powerful not-for-profit foundations, taking over liberal academia and promoted a money agenda. These foundations (and I suppose think-tanks) provided the power base for Regan to win the 1980 Presidential race. His emotional debate, describing monetarism as a true American principle and controlling the media, is all part of the ruling elite’s descent into American style fascism. He doesn’t say it but Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are neoliberal neo-fascists.
I am not American. I recall Prime Minister Thatcher using unemployment to manage the workers, wide scale theft of public utilities and companies built up over generations, schooling being touted as the place for children to be taught to be what managers wanted.
Money is a system and like all systems it has no ethics unless we put ethics into it. I was at university at the time of Thatcher, that most zombie of all zombies to use Professor Giroux’s term, who believed the right of money to make money irrespective of human concerns was the purest form of society. The modern nation is to be run like a shop which gives life and meaning to everything else. My weblog accrued 100,000 unique readers per annum which proves there are infinite ways to say as much.
The problem with simple insights is that there are only so many ways one can say the same thing. Though many agree that Marx was right about the capitalist boom and bust cycle, his wider thoughts on political culture were wiped from history by the tyranny of Soviet Communism. But the search for a fairer way of dealing with money is still with us. That search has a dirty name in America, it is called socialism, but what America has today is a plutocracy not a democracy, and not even a plutocracy of individuals but one of corporations finding individuals in their own image and likeness and placing them into the House of Representatives through campaign contributions.
I can agree with Professor Giroux when he says:
“… a pedagogy of social and political amnesia works through celebrity culture and its counterpart in corporate-driven news, television, radio, and entertainment to produce a culture of stupidity, censorship, and diversionary spectacles.” (p9) and again
“There is a mode of terror rooted in a neoliberal market-driven society that numbs many people just as it wipes out the creative faculties of imagination, memory and critical thought.” (p12)
What I have to point out to him is that money is a perfect extension of our natures. We can discuss these matters as we have been taught to discuss but the mass population do not discuss, they react. There is a ‘social death’ (Giroux’s brilliant phrase) that comes about when people know something is wrong, sensing they are demeaned and denied the gifts that their talents promise them. To find the answer and identity they resort to TV and supporting their local football team.
As money describes human beings we have to admit to the fact that the ‘rich’ are us with money, nothing less and nothing more. Money is the eternal zombie (not the people), the deathless, blood soaked vampire. Those who possess most of it derive their living-dead (what Professor Giroux calls hyper-dead) status from its virus like infection in the human brain. The result, as he points is that:
“It is difficult to imagine that anyone looking at a society in which an ultra-rich financial elite and megacorporations have the power to control almost every aspect of politics- from who gets elected to how laws are enacted-could possibly mistake this social order and system of government for a democracy.” (p16)
The most important lesson from this book is his belief that:
“Democracy is fragile and its fate is always uncertain.” (p46)
The lies given by politicians in avoiding the torture issue probably has more to do with the money they lost after September 11th 2001 and exacting revenge. A loss that every affected corporation itemized and assessed. The support given to the banks but not the people is a scandal for Professor Giroux. The journalist Upton Sinclair pointed out in the 1929 Great Crash that the day after the first jolt, more money poured into the market in an attempt to stabilize it. When the prices were stable the richest investors sold out and extended their wealth. The same is happening today.
Professor Giroux’s phrase the ‘culture of cruelty’ evinced in almost all the social decisions taken by the Bush regime, in my opinion, has seeped deeply into the art world. This casino art market abuses artists, misuses the esteem in which artists have historically held, buys effect and controversy, and uses art students as canon fodder in the illusion of non-existent professionalization.
Professor Giroux shows us how the screen image has become the post-modernist version of the Roman Colosseum in a discussion about the popular show 24:
“Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan went to California to meet with the producers of the show. He told them that promoting illegal behavior in the series ‘… was having a damaging effect on young troops.’” (p61)
Orwell’s phrase in Animal Farm ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ is echoed by Henry Giroux when he says “Consumers are in and citizens are out.” (p68)
“There is an undeniable pathological outcome when the issue of national security becomes more important than the survival of morality itself resulting in some cases in the deaths of thousands of children – and with little public outrage.” (p74)
There is no doubt since the beginning of history almost all regimes have carried this out but the vital fact throughout Professor Giroux’s Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism is the last phrase … ‘with little public outrage’. His ambition is to bring debate back into the schoolroom and campus. Teaching criticism is part of his answer from which I disagree. To achieve a well educated citizenry by providing them with free education, money will remain a permanent seducer of the brain. There are many rich predators that still occupy the cultural landscape.
Christopher Hitchens idealistically once said we don’t need leaders. They are the problem. We should govern ourselves within the rule of law.
Not being able to ‘read’ the world, not caring if Muslim children are tortured or bombed as collateral damage in the war with terrorism, not investing in helping citizens leave their tented homes are all acts, as Professor Giroux points out, of disengagement. Professor Giroux argues that American kids on drugs are a result of casino capitalism.
Self-criticism is not an option as personal needs overwhelm the wider vision of the nation’s social issues.
“This is a politics in which the undead- or, more aptly, the living dead- rule and rail against any institution, set of values, and social relations that embrace the common good or exhibit compassion for the suffering of others.” (p32)
No matter how far back the reader goes into history, the reader will find they ignore the nation in favour of their personal needs. The essence of modern finances is that money makes money underpinned by land ownership and real estate.
The incarceration of mostly minority children in America bears heavily on Giroux’s soul.
“How can we reconcile the rise of zero tolerance laws in schools with the presumption that schools should be places where young people can feel safe and receive an education that prepares them to be thoughtful, critical, and socially responsible citizens when such laws impose harsh penalties for often trivial infractions, increase rates of suspension and expulsion, disproportionately target African American youth, push poor young people out of school and often into the criminal justice system?” (p114)
The idea that dropping out of high school is kicking the system is not working. Though it is a hard road it may be the route to becoming a free thinker. An idea cherished and pursued in Chicago by Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren and Jane Addams.
Informal social networks suggested to the paranoia of Joe McCarthy insurrection and revolution. Therefore a shadow has been permanently cast on free-thinkers.
America is the country that defeated Communism. Since that is the only other social system that can exist in the minds of those opposed to Professor Giroux’s way of thinking about society; justice, history and the world must be on the side of capital. Dissent from this obvious conclusion must be punished. This is why so many people believe Obama to be a Muslim, why members of Congress can incite violence and why Fox Corporation’s version of America is the only true vision of America.
Professor Giroux shows us that:
“Among the industrialized nations in the world, the United States ranks first in billionaires and in defense expenditure and yet ranks an appalling twenty-ninth in infant mortality.” (p115)
This is possibly the most vile and horrific statistic in the entire book and one which shows the Government’s priorities are all skewed by the logic of money. He doesn’t say but others do, that modern Government is no more than an exercise in banking.
Professor Giroux sees a way forward:
“…it is up to those who are willing to assume a measure of civic courage and social responsibility to come together and say enough is enough, and then mobilize to force Obama to take seriously what it might mean to live up to the principles of both an aspiring democracy and, yes, the Nobel Peace Prize.” (p160)
He believes democracy itself is under attack and that teaching how to critically analyse what we are being told is the way forward. I disagree to a large extent.
Everyone of us has a serious of assumptions and prejudices that are not learned in school but at home and in our neighbourhoods. Many are taught to debate. They are taught how to strongly defend positions they don’t believe in.
What we really need to teach is how and when to challenge our assumptions and prejudices and to be prepared to be self-critical. Professor Giroux’s book can be read by any of those he mentions as being virulently opposed to the ‘State’ intervening to help the unemployed and homeless. Having read him they will reject everything he says despite the well researched and accurate statistics. Fascism always comes with certainty, American or otherwise.
Education is a key to the future but it is a long term venture. Between the time envisaged by Professor Giroux and now we need other answers. More so when you consider high school debating chambers and university debating chambers will work in different time frames to produce the citizens the country needs. These self-critical thinkers would be the first population of ethical thinkers ever to have lived as a nation.
As I have been brought up by a writer and worked among artists all my adult life I would say this level of deep introspection already exists in creative people who live with a high degree of intellectual uncertainty. Yet as casino capitalism has corrupted the whole of society it has corrupted the art world. What then can we say of the well known artists in this moment before Professor Giroux’s more ideal democratic society? Is Koons no more than a celebrity? Are the Young British Artists false flags?
Daniel Benshana, European Editor
Volume 30 number 2, November / December 2015 pp 24-17