- The Disimagination Machine and the Pathologies of Power
We’ve entered a world in which politics has no shape, people don’t feel they fully understand the rules of the political system they operate in, hence the sense that what needs to change is to have less of it. That’s frightening, because all the precedent that I can think of then points against faith in democracy, rather than the belief in more democracy.—Tony Judt
The Violence of Neoliberalism
We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy, and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market driven society, mega-corporations, and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”1 Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values, and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources, and individuals now considered disposable.2 This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prisons and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.3 In one glaring instance of [End Page 257] universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.”4 Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge and militarized naming rights. Corruption, commodification, and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that markets should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”5
The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyper-individualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections, and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival of the fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice system stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”6 or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.7
Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009 while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”8 American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty, and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.
The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed...