Henry Giroux, born September 18,
1943, in Providence, Rhode Island, is an American cultural critic. One of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, he is best known for his pioneering work in public pedagogy, cultural studies, youth studies, higher education, media studies, and critical theory.
Under the Bush administration, a seeping, sometimes galloping, authoritarianism began to reach into every vestige of the culture, giving free rein to those anti-democratic forces in which religious, market, military and political fundamentalism thrived, casting an ominous shadow over the fate of United States democracy. During the Bush-Cheney regime, power became an instrument of retribution and punishment was connected to and fueled by a repressive state. A bullying rhetoric of war, a ruthless consolidation of economic forces, and an all-embracing free-market apparatus and media driven pedagogy of fear supported and sustained a distinct culture of cruelty and inequality in the United States.
In pointing to a culture of cruelty, I am not employing a form of left moralism that collapses matters of power and politics into the discourse of character. On the contrary, I think the notion of a culture of cruelty is useful in thinking through the convergence of everyday life and politics, of considering material relations of power - the disciplining of the body as an object of control - on the one hand, and the production of cultural meaning, especially the co-optation of popular culture to sanction official violence, on the other. The culture of cruelty is important for thinking through how life and death now converge in ways that fundamentally transform how we understand and imagine politics in the current historical moment - a moment when the most vital of safety nets, health care reform, is being undermined by right-wing ideologues. What is it about a culture of cruelty that provides the conditions for many Americans to believe that government is the enemy of health care reform and health care reform should be turned over to corporate and market-driven interests, further depriving millions of an essential right?
Increasingly, many individuals and groups now find themselves living in a society that measures the worth of human life in terms of cost-benefit analyzes. The central issue of life and politics is no longer about working to get ahead, but struggling simply to survive. And many groups, who are considered marginal because they are poor, unemployed, people of color, elderly or young, have not just been excluded from "the American dream," but have become utterly redundant and disposable, waste products of a society that not longer considers them of any value. How else to explain the zealousness in which social safety nets have been dismantled, the transition from welfare to workfare (offering little job training programs and no child care), and recent acrimony over health care reform's public option? What accounts for the passage of laws that criminalize the behavior of the 1.2 million homeless in the
The growing dominance of a right-wing media forged in a pedagogy of hate has become a crucial element providing numerous platforms for a culture of cruelty and is fundamental to how we understand the role of education in a range of sites outside of traditional forms of schooling. This educational apparatus and mode of public pedagogy is central to analyzing not just how power is exercised, rewarded and contested in a growing culture of cruelty, but also how particular identities, desires and needs are mobilized in support of an overt racism, hostility towards immigrants and utter disdain, coupled with the threat of mob violence toward any political figure supportive of the social contract and the welfare state. Citizens are increasingly constructed through a language of contempt for all noncommercial public spheres and a chilling indifference to the plight of others that is increasingly expressed in vicious tirades against big government and health care reform. There is a growing element of scorn on the part of the American public for those human beings caught in the web of misfortune, human suffering, dependency and deprivation. As Barbara Ehrenreich observes, "The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks." <1>
A right-wing spin machine, influenced by haters like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Ann Coulter, endlessly spews out a toxic rhetoric in which: all Muslims are defined as jihadists; the homeless are not victims of misfortune but lazy; blacks are not terrorized by a racist criminal justice system, but the main architects of a culture of criminality; the epidemic of obesity has nothing to do with corporations, big agriculture and advertisers selling junk food, but rather the result of "big" government giving people food stamps; the public sphere is largely for white people, which is being threatened by immigrants and people of color, and so it goes. Glenn Beck, the alleged voice of the common man, appearing on the "Fox & Friends" morning show, calls President Obama a "racist" and then accuses him of "having a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." <2> Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh unapologetically states that James Early Ray, the confessed killer of Martin Luther King Jr., should be given a posthumous Medal of Honor, <3> while his counterpart in right-wing hate, talk radio host Michael Savage, states on his show, "You know, when I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi. That's what I see - how do you like that? - a hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children." <4> He also claims that Obama is "surrounded by terrorists" and is "raping