Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Formative Culture in the Age of Imposed Forgetting

by Henry A. Giroux

Culture has become a pivotal educational machine, often commercializing, brutalizing, and infantilizing what it touches. We need a formative culture unfettered by the forces of consumerism and violence. The cultural politics of casino capitalism has numbed our sense of social and moral responsibility. Against this moral coma, with its theater of cruelty and legalized irresponsibility, we need to recast the language of politics. We must create public spheres and pedagogical practices that celebrate the public good, civic courage, compassion, and meaningful spirituality. Both pedagogy and the educational force of the cultural apparatus are crucial to any viable language of democratic politics.

If it is true that a new form of authoritarianism is developing in the United States, undercutting any vestige of a democratic society, then it is equally true that there is nothing inevitable about this growing threat. The long and tightening grip of authoritarianism in American political culture can be resisted and transformed. This dystopic future will not happen if intellectuals, workers, young people, and diverse social movements unite to create the public spaces and unsettling formative educational cultures necessary for reimagining the meaning of radical democracy. In part, this is a pedagogical project -- one that recognizes consciousness, agency, desire, spirituality, and education as central to any viable notion of politics. It is also a project designed to critique and make visible the commonsense ideologies that enable neoliberal capitalism and other elements of an emerging authoritarianism to function alongside a kind of moral coma and imposed forgetting at the level of everyday life.

Evidence of such a project is visible in the multidimensional political and pedagogical work being done at Tikkun and Truthout. It is also visible in the Freechild Project, which organizes youth groups to fight against the many injustices young people face in the United States. All of these organizations engage in cultural practices and forms of public pedagogy that make visible the exercise of ruthless power on a number of fronts. They engage in a form of memory work and public pedagogy that creates the conditions for individuals and groups to develop alternative public spheres in which dialogue and exchange combine with varied forms of political intervention.

But such a project will not gain momentum if the American public cannot recognize how the mechanisms of authoritarianism have impacted their lives, restructured negatively the notion of freedom, and corrupted power by placing it largely in the hands of ruling elites, corporations, and different segments of the military and national security state. Such a project must work to develop vigorous social spheres and communities that promote a culture of deliberation, public debate, and critical exchange across a wide variety of cultural and institutional sites in an effort to generate democratic movements for social change.

At stake here is the construction of a politics bolstered by a formative culture that creates the ideological and structural conditions necessary for a broad-based social movement that can move beyond the legacy of a fractured left/progressive culture and politics in order to address the totality of the society's problems. This suggests finding a common ground in which challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation, and exclusion can become part of a broader challenge to create a radical democracy. We need to develop an educated and informed public that embraces a culture of questioning capable of interrogating society's commanding institutions. We live at a time that demands a new language for thinking through politics and about the promise of democracy, one that recognizes that without an informed citizenry, collective struggle, and viable social movements, democracy will slip out of our reach.

Henry A. Giroux is a professor in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (2010) and Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (2011).

His articles in Tikkun include "The Politics of Lying," March/April 2006; "The Corporate Takeover of Higher Education," March/April 2005; and "Higher Education Without Democracy?," November/December 2008.

Source Citation: Giroux, Henry A. 2011. Formative Culture in the Age of  Imposed Forgetting. Tikkun 26(1): 41

tags: Culture, Education, US Politics  
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