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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/26/20

Fascist Culture, Critical Pedagogy, and Resistance in Dark Times

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From Counterpunch

Tea Party people against the government providing medical care to veterans
Tea Party people against the government providing medical care to veterans
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We must believe in the Principle of Hope. A Marxist does not have the right to be a pessimist ~~ Ernst Bloch

cccccccccc The promise, if not ideals, of democracy are receding as the barbarians who breathe new life into a fascist past are once again on the move subverting language, values, courage, vision and a critical consciousness. Education has increasingly become a tool of domination as right wing pedagogical apparatuses controlled by the entrepreneurs of hate attack workers, the poor, people of color, refugees, immigrants from the south and others considered disposable. In the midst of an era when an older social order is crumbling and a new one is struggling to define itself, there emerges a time of confusion, danger, and moments of great restlessness. The present moment is once again at a historical juncture in which the structures of liberation and authoritarianism are vying for shaping a future that appears to be either an unthinkable nightmare or a realizable dream.

We have arrived at a moment in which two worlds are colliding and a history of the present is poised at a point when "possibilities are either realized or rejected but never disappear completely."[1] First, there are the harsh and crumbling worlds of neoliberal globalization and its mobilizing passions that fuel different strands of fascism across the globe, including the United States.[2] Power is now enamored of amassing profits and capital and is increasingly addicted to a politics of white nationalism and racial cleansing. Second, there are growing counter movements, especially among young people, with their search for a new politics that can rethink, reclaim and reinvent a new understanding of democratic socialism, untainted by capitalism. [3] What is not in doubt is that something sinister and horrifying is happening to liberal democracies all over the globe. The global thrust towards democratization that emerged after World War II is giving way once again to authoritarian tyrannies. As alarming as the signs may be, the public cannot look away and allow the terrors of the unforeseen to be given free rein. For those who believe in democratic socialism we cannot allow the power of dreams and militant hopes to turn into ashes.

We now live in a world that resembles a dystopian novel. The COVID-19 crisis created a surrealist nightmare that floods our screens and media with images of fear. We can no longer shake hands, embrace our friends, use public transportation, sit in a coffee shop, or walk down the street without experiencing anxiety and fear. What must be acknowledged is that the pandemic is more than a medical concept. It also refers to ideological and political plagues that emerged as a result of the irresponsible response of the U.S. and other countries such as Brazil, the United Kingdom, and India to the COVID-19 crisis. Marked by inept leadership rooted in a distrust of science and reason and a blind allegiance to market forces, what emerged over time was unimaginable suffering, massive deaths, and a further legitimation of lies and right-wing violence. The horror of the pandemic often blinds us to the fact that anti-democratic economic and political forces that have prioritized profits over human needs have grinded away at the social order for the last 40 years.

A form of predatory capitalism has waged war on the welfare state, public sphere and the common good since the 1970s. As a form of predatory capitalism, neoliberalism believes that the market should govern the economy and all aspects of society. It concentrates wealth in the hands of a financial elite and elevates untrammeled self-interest, self-help, deregulation, and privatization as the governing principles of society. Under neoliberalism, everything is for sale and the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism. At the same time, it ignores basic human needs such as healthcare, food, decent wages, and quality education. Neoliberalism views government as the enemy of the market, limits society to the realm of the family and individuals, embraces a fixed hedonism, and challenges the very idea of the public good.

We live in an age when economic activity is divorced from social costs, while policies that produce racial cleansing, militarism, and staggering inequality have become defining features of everyday life and established modes of governance. Clearly, there is a need to reclaim a notion of democratic socialism in which matters of justice, equity, and equality become the central features of a substantive democracy. The good news is that the demonstrations taking place both in the United States and across the globe suggest that the spirit of democratic socialism is in the air.

The pandemic revealed in all its ugliness, the death producing mechanisms of systemic inequality, deregulation, a culture of cruelty, and an increasingly dangerous assault on the environment. It has also made visible an anti-intellectual culture that derides any notion of critical education, that is an education that equips individuals to think critically, engage in thoughtful dialogue, appropriate the lessons of history, and learn how to govern rather than be governed. At the same time, the claims of neoliberal capitalism have been undermined as a result of the economic failures and medical horrors let loose by the pandemic. What was once unthinkable is now said in public by demonstrators across the globe such as those in the United States protesting police violence and the brutality of economic inequality. Young people are calling for a new narrative to repair the safety net, provide free healthcare, child care, elder care and free quality public schools for everyone. There are loud calls to address state violence, and the plagues of poverty, homelessness, and the pollution of the planet.

The pandemic is a crisis that cannot be allowed to turn into a catastrophe in which all hope is lost. While this pandemic threatens democracy's ability to breathe, it offers the possibility to rethink politics and the habits of critical education, human agency, and elements of social responsibility crucial to any viable notion of what life would be like in a democratic socialist society.

Put differently, amid the corpses produced by neoliberal capitalism and COVID-19, there are flashes of hope, a chance to move beyond contemporary resurgences of authoritarianism. Paulo Freire understood that such a politics is rooted in a pedagogy of hope, one that integrated a critical reading of the world with an attempt to put into practice modes of struggle based on the principles of social and economic equality and human freedom.

It is hard to imagine a more urgent moment for taking seriously Freire's ongoing attempts to make education central to politics. At stake for Freire was the notion that education was a social concept, one rooted the goal of emancipation for all people. Moreover, this is an education that encourages human agency, one that is not content to enable people to only be critical thinkers, but also engaged individuals and social agents. This is a pedagogy that calls us beyond ourselves, and engages the ethical imperative to care for others, dismantle structures of domination, and to become subjects rather than objects of history, politics, and power. If we are going to develop a politics capable of awakening our critical, imaginative, and historical sensibilities, it is crucial for educators and others to remember Freire's ongoing project of literacy.

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Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America's Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, includingTikkun, (more...)

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