Monday, May 01, 2017

Henry Giroux - The Case For "Thinking Dangerously"

McMaster professor and public intellectual Henry Giroux on the need for "thinking dangerously" to counter the spread of authoritarianism and preserve hope for a democratic restoration.

What happens to democracy when the President of the United States labels critical media outlets as “enemies of the people” and derides the search for truth by disparaging such efforts with the blanket term “fake news”? What happens to democracy when individuals and groups are demonized on the basis of their religion? What happens to a society when critical thinking becomes an object of contempt and is disdained in favor of raw emotion or disparaged as fake news? What happens to a social order ruled by an “economics of contempt” that blames the poor for their condition and subjects them to a culture of shaming? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and becomes indifferent to the use of language in the service of a panicked rage that stokes anger but not about issues that matter? What happens to a social order when it treats millions of illegal immigrants as disposable, potential terrorists, and criminals? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of a society are violence and ignorance? What happens is that democracy withers and dies, both as an ideal and as a reality.

How else to explain the present historical moment with its collapse of civic culture and the future it cancels out? What is to be made of the undermining of civic literacy and the conditions that produce an active citizenry at a time when massive self-enrichment and a gangster morality at the highest reaches of government undermine the public realm as a space of freedom, liberty, dialogue, and deliberative consensus? Americans are in the midst of a crisis of history, politics, and agency, made all the more obvious by a government populated by right-wing extremists attempting to implement death-dealing policies regarding health care, the environment, the economy, foreign policy, immigration, and civil liberties.


Democracy fails in an age when its leadership is stripped of credibility. As a habitual liar, Trump has attempted to obliterate the distinction between the facts and fiction, evidence-based arguments and lying, and in doing so has dangerously enlarged the landscape of distortion, misrepresentation, and falsification. ..[He]has also created among large segments of the public a distrust for both the truth and the institutions that promote critical literacy and informed judgment. Consequently, he has managed to organize millions of people who believe that loyalty is more important than the truth and in doing so has emptied the language and the horizon of politics of any substantive meaning, thus contributing to an authoritarian and depoliticized culture of sensationalism, immediacy, fear, and anxiety. Trump has put in motion all the anti-democratic forces that have haunted American society for the last forty years
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Under a relentless attack on the truth, honesty, and the ethical imagination, the need for the American public to think dangerously is crucial, especially in a society that appears increasingly amnesiac—a country where forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. Rather than draining the swamp, the Trump administration has pushed cronyism and the rule of the elite to a new level of political corruption. All of which becomes all the more threatening at a time when the United States has tipped over into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat.
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Against the current assault on critical thinking and the institutions that nurture it, it is crucial for Americans to reclaim the call to think dangerously again and employ language in the service of compassion, justice, and civic responsibility. In part, this suggests learning how to hold authority accountable, search for the truth, make authoritarian power visible, and recognize that no society can escape self-reflection, deny the injuries of state induced injustice, or dispense with truth itself. Dangerous thinking should cause trouble, exercise its right to both understand and interrogate critically the major problems people face while being able to connect such issues to larger structural considerations. Thinking dangerously means refusing a culture of immediacy and sensationalism. Such thinking requires using historical memory as a resource and connecting private troubles to broader political, structural, and economic issues. Such thinking nurtures the social imagination and envisions a future in which the impossible becomes possible once again.

11 comments:

Toby said...

Good advice here in Canada.

The Mound of Sound said...

Agreed, Toby.

liberalandlovingit! said...

Dangerous thinking should cause trouble? Yup.
Exercize its right to understand and to interrogate?
Uh huh.

Deacon Jester said...

Thinking, dangerous and otherwise, got us here.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not sure I agree, Deacon. Trump was propelled to power on belief and desire, emotions that were largely detached from intellect. There perhaps has never been a greater exercise of mass suspension of disbelief in a Western nation since the first half of the last century.

The Mound of Sound said...

LALI, I agree and, as Toby points out, we could use a good dollop of it here at home.

liberalandlovingit! said...

MoS,
To build on what critical thinking is left in society, and to change hearts and minds even by a degree- is my sole aim. And I'm no great thinker- a good reader though. Information and knowledge are the seeds of wisdom and I know there is some left in this world. At the very least, as someone said- 'we can go out literate' and be ready with an answer.

Deacon Jester said...

Not thinking of this nature: http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2017/05/cullman_woman_prayed_about_sto.html

The Mound of Sound said...

Deacon, I checked out the link. I'm floored, not a clue what to make of that. Let madness descend.

Deacon Jester said...

The thing is this - where she's from no one would find this all that unusual.

The Mound of Sound said...

Deacon, I still don't get it. Praying to God for guidance - a woman with tats on her temple and neck, a really bad dye job and dreadlocks imagines some guy is her boyfriend, goes apeshit on his car windshield and no one would find that unusual? As a species we are so screwed.