In a recent discussion with Bill Moyers, a synopsis of which follows here, Professor Henry Giroux explained how zombies are an appropriate metaphor for a society whose political, media, and financial institutions are without a soul, most the members of which society walk in a world in which the lust for power and wealth corrupts absolutely, and sucks away real life. What's at stake, said Giroux, is not just the fact that you have rich people who now control the economy and all the commanding institutions of society. What you have is basically a transgression against, and abandonment of, the basic ideals of democracy.
Giroux is the author of several great books, a few of which are: America's Education Deficit and the War on Youth, Twilight of the Social, Youth in a Suspect Society, and Neoliberalism's War on Higher Education. He also posts a lot of essays online at various web sites like TruthOut and CounterPunch.
Giroux argues that democracy is too important to allow it to be undermined in a way in which every vital institution that matters is in crisis -- everything from the political process, to the schools, to the inequalities, to the money being put into politics -- all those things that make a democracy viable. The key problem is that this crisis, while associated increasingly with the economic system, has another dimension, something that most of us haven't gotten yet: What the reigning elite are now in fact telling the American people, if not the rest of the world, is that democracy is an excess, a luxury that is no longer affordable. The powers-that-be are telling us that we don't any longer need the welfare state, and that the survival of the fittest is all that matters.
We are thereby seeing a consolidation of power that is so overwhelming, not just in its ability to control resources and drive the economy and redistribute wealth upward, but basically in its ability to provide the most fraudulent definition of what a democracy should be. I'm referring to the incredible and vicious set of assumptions that are being systematically foisted upon us:
* profit-making is the essence of democracy,
* economics is and should be divorced from ethics,
* the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism,
* the welfare state is a pathology that must be done away with,
* any form of dependency is disreputable and needs to be attacked.
The overarching lie is that capitalism is synonymous with democracy, that we have no way of understanding democracy outside of the market, and that we have no way to understand freedom outside of market values.
When Margaret Thatcher (metaphorically) married Ronald Reagan, two things happened
The first was this then-burgeoning assumption that the government was evil except when it benefited the rich. So it wasn't a matter of smashing the government as Reagan seemed to suggest, it was a matter of rearranging it and reconfiguring it so it served the wealthy and the elites, especially the corporate honchos and banksters.
But Thatcher said something else that's particularly relevant to this discussion. She said there's no such thing as society; there are only individuals and families. And so, with the growing popularity of this view among conservatives, what we begin to see is the emergence of a kind of survival-of-the-fittest ethic that legitimates the most incredible forms of cruelty, that seems to suggest that freedom in this discourse has to do with getting rid of the concept of society, getting rid of the social -- so that popular discourse will only be about self-interest, and only about how possessive individualism is now the only virtue that matters. So freedom, which is actually essential to any notion of democracy, would now become nothing more than a matter of pursuing one's own self-interest. Problem is, no society can survive if these intellectual conditions come to predominate.
So what is society, really?
It's an entity in which the wealth is in some ways and to some extent shared, in which there is a mesh of organizations that are grounded in a social contract, and that takes seriously the mutual obligations that people have to each other. But more than anything else it has to do with something FDR once said: You not only have to have personal freedoms and political freedoms, like the right to vote and the right to speak out, you also have to have socioeconomic freedoms, i.e. you have to have the freedom from want, the freedom from poverty, and the freedom from being disadvantaged by no-good health care and no-good education.
Getting ahead cannot be the only thing that motivates people. One must imagine ALL that makes for a good and satisfying life. And that means we need to be able to make decisions as citizens, and learn how to govern, and not just be governed, as a citizen -- a citizen who is a political and moral agent, who in fact has a shared sense of hope and responsibility to others and not just to him or herself.