BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Fear is Our Forté

Islamic State bombings in Brussels and Paris are headline news. Henry A. Giroux goes beyond that violence and the fear it generates for the back story of lawless wars, cold, hot and obscured in America’s Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016).

Giroux urges readers to fundamentally rethink the idea that terror is foreign to the American experience, steeped in a history of genocide and slavery. Thus contrary to the mainstream narrative, terror and the motivating force of fear elites use to try and control the populace did not begin with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Giroux sets the record straight, in part, taking aim at the cultural effects of the growing national security state that smashes civil liberties. Further, he links this authoritarian trend to the growing class gap of income and wealth, and overall mayhem and murder that characterizes US society in 2016.

Radical teaching and learning can flip the destructive script of a financialized and militarized order, he writes. Giroux excels at spelling out the potential for students and teachers to educate and emancipate themselves for a popular economics and politics, e.g., democracy.

The author details how and why classrooms that aid critical thought can counter the personal and political violence that reigns supreme at home and abroad. This harmful dynamic can and does paralyze some Americans captured by a corporate screen culture into a curable condition he terms “an ethical tranquillization.”

Despite massive business-led propaganda to demobilize the citizenry since the 1970s, people are organizing to oppose to injustice, instability and inequality. Giroux lived through the movements of the 1960s, and calls for a rebirth of that era’s dissent.

Such grassroots activism partly involves opposing the corporate reform of public education in 2016. A noxious strand is high-stakes tests that equate learning with students’ test scores.

This equation benefits global firms such as Microsoft Corp. and Pearson Education. Under this regime, testing data handcuffs teachers and students.

The primacy of student test scores deprives them and their teachers of the necessary time to question the status quo. Fighting this trend is the fledgling movement to opt-out of high-stakes tests.

Such mobilization is at the heart of the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s radical pedagogy. Giroux is a firm practitioner of that approach.

Meanwhile, the financial and political terror in our era harms working families, petty criminals and the poor. They occupy the margins, homeless encampments, prisons, victims of economic restructuring affecting Americans of varied backgrounds.

The collapse of the white working class, whose increased morbidity rates from self-medicating to deal with the pain of downward mobility, are but a symptom of this demise. Their bitter fate that the Trump movement exploits is the result of bipartisan political policies and priorities favoring Wall Street over Main Street.

I agree with the author on the significance of African Americans rising up against domestic terror at the hands of the police, e.g., the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Youth Project and We Charge Genocide. On a similar note, Latino/a migrants whose labor services are central to the US economy are opposing their maltreatment by law enforcement agencies.

Giroux culturally centers his political critique of capitalism on education’s potential to spur progressive change. Revolutionary ideas matter, and the left must struggle to establish and maintain a culture that puts human needs over private greed, employing what I see as an updated strategy that Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, theorized a century ago.

This project is a daunting ideological and practical challenge, indeed. Cultural, financial and political forces combine to “individualize social issues.”

Therefore, Americans can and do blame themselves for their inability to find decent jobs and shelter. It cannot be the system!

Giroux’s chapter covering the corporate attack on higher education suggests solidarity and unity with popular movements in and out of the university as a way to rescue democracy. The necessity of such an approach is plain as day.

The rule of the people versus that of monopoly-finance capital is the main challenge that ordinary Americans face, amid permanent war. Critics such as Giroux help us to connect the dots to grasp this wicked whole and its parts.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2016

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