In The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disamignation Machine, the newest book published by City Lights, Henry A. Giroux explores the intersections of political power, popular culture, and new methods of social control. Giroux examines how neoliberal discourse (that is economic liberalism, not political liberalism) and the commodification of everyday life constitute an assault on collective memory, civil rights, and public agency. He contextualizes his argument with current events that reveal how institutions of government and business generate false narratives that promote fear, quietism and passivity.
Journalist, broadcaster, and former White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers said “Giroux refuses to give in or give up. The Violence of Organized Forgetting is a clarion call to imagine a different America—just, fair, and caring—and then to struggle for it.”
Comedian Marc Maron recently said on his popular podcast about the book, after visiting City Lights Books, “Holy f*ck, those are some words you don’t usually see together and the poetry of [the title] resonates with me. … I’m like holy sh*t, man, and I’m gonna get this book. I’m gonna read it. I’m gonna rejigger my brain and understand it all.” Now you can too.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five, “Lockdown USA: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Manhunt”:
Lockdown as a policy and mode of control distorts the notion of security by mobilizing fear and leaving the public no option other than to trade civil liberties for increased militarized security. The lockdown that took place in Boston serves as a reminder of how narrow the notion of security has become in that it is almost entirely associated with personal safety, but never with nationwide insecurities stemming from community impoverishment and environmental abuse, a lack of social provisions and health care, and the use of mass incarceration as a response to chronic social injustices. Increasingly, lockdown serves as a metaphor for how America responds to issues facing a range of institutions, including immigration detention centers, schools, hospitals, public housing, and prisons. Lockdown is the new common sense of a militarized society and underlies the proliferation of zones of unchecked state surveillance, policing, and brutality inflicted on the citizenry. Some have argued that because the people of Boston were only advised to stay inside while police in paramilitary formation flooded the city, it is not accurate to suggest there was a lockdown. But the real concern here should have focused on what it means when the militarized security state is out in full force in a particular city and it is no longer necessary for it to impose martial law in order to do so. Rather than follow formal procedure, all that is necessary is for the national security state to give “advice” and thereby legitimate a military occupation regardless of legal processes, let alone consent.
Security in this instance is linked to a hyper-individualistic society that “reveres competitiveness and celebrates unrestrained individual responsibility, with an antipathy to anything collective that might impede market forces”—a world in which the Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest ethos rules and the only values that matter are exchange values. In this panopticon-like social order, there is little support for society being structured and governed in the public interest, of the importance of sustaining public necessities such as decent housing, job programs for the under employed, housing, health care, parks, libraries, community media, and universal education for everyone. Sustained fear becomes an excuse for policies that inflict cruelty upon society’s most vulnerable people. Yet, as David Oshinsky writes, a “nation’s legitimate concern for security in uncertain times” is no excuse for turning such a fear “into something partisan, repressive, and cruel.”
In a society in which any critical analysis of the forces that precipitate violent attacks of this nature is immediately condemned and stigmatized as outrageous if not suspicious activity, there is a stultifying logic that regards contextualizing an event as tantamount to justifying it. This crippling impediment to public dialogue may be why the militarized response to the Boston Marathon bombings, infused with the fantasy of the “homeland” as a battlefield and the idealization of the paramilitarized surveillance state, was for the most part given a pass in mainstream media. Of course, there is more at stake here than misplaced priorities and the dark cloud of historical amnesia and anti-intellectualism, there is also the drift of American society into a media-enforced authoritarianism in which boots on the ground and the securitization of everyday life serve as a source of pride and entertainment—or, for many disposable groups, a source of terror.
The Violence of Organized Forgetting was published in July by City Lights Publishers. You can order the book at the link above or ask your local bookseller for a copy. Stay tuned to City Lights for events with Henry A. Giroux and more of his books.