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Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
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What happens to a society when thinking is eviscerated and is disdained in favor of raw emotion? [1] What happens when political discourse functions as a bunker rather than a bridge? What happens when the spheres of morality and spirituality give way to the naked instrumentalism of a savage market rationality? What happens when time becomes a burden for most people and surviving becomes more crucial than trying to lead a life with dignity? What happens when domestic terrorism, disposability, and social death become the new signposts and defining features of a society? What happens to a social order ruled by an “economics of contempt” that blames the poor for their condition and wallows in a culture of shaming?[2] What happens when loneliness and isolation become the preferred modes of sociality? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and is no longer able to connect personal suffering with larger social issues? What happens to thinking when a society is addicted to speed and over-stimulation? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of a society are violence and ignorance? What happens is that democracy withers not just as an ideal but also as a reality, and individual and social agency become weaponized as part of the larger spectacle and matrix of violence?[3]
The forces normalizing and contributing to such violence are too expansive to cite, but surely they would include: the absurdity of celebrity culture; the blight of rampant consumerism; state-legitimated pedagogies of repression that kill the imagination of students; a culture of immediacy in which accelerated time leaves no room for reflection; the reduction of education to training; the transformation of mainstream media into a mix of advertisements, propaganda, and entertainment; the emergence of an economic system which argues that only the market can provide remedies for the endless problems it produces, extending from massive poverty and unemployment to decaying schools and a war on poor minority youth; the expanding use of state secrecy and the fear-producing surveillance state; and a Hollywood fluff machine that rarely relies on anything but an endless spectacle of mind-numbing violence. Historical memory has been reduced to the likes of a Disney theme park and a culture of instant gratification has a lock on producing new levels of social amnesia.
As we learned in the recent debate between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton (a billionaire and millionaire), ignorance is the DNA of authoritarianism, serving to subvert the truth and obscure the workings of power. Willful ignorance has become a normalized political tool and form of public pedagogy that both provides the foundation for what Noam Chomsky labels as the rise of the “stupid party” and which works incessantly to create a “stupid nation.”[4] Trump, of course, proves that stupidity is in fashion and deeply entrenched within the larger culture while Hilary capitalizes on her penchant for disingenuousness by claiming support for policies she really disdains, i.e., stating she will raise taxes on her buddies from Goldman Sachs and other members of the financial elite. Hardly believable from a woman who “has earned millions of dollars from speeches to Wall Street banks and investment firms (and) was paid $675,000 for a series of speeches to Goldman Sachs.”[5] No hints of the radical imagination here, or the truth for that matter. Only the politics of stupidity and evasion and a media spectacle supporting the celebration of corrupted and limited and pathologized political horizons.
Manufactured ignorance also makes invisible the corruption of the financial elite, allowing them to plunder resources and define the accumulation of capital as a divine blessing. It gets worse. Manufactured ignorance aided by the voracious seductions of commodified corporate-driven disimagination machine that promotes a culture of empty pleasures through and endless regime of consuming and discarding. American society is now dominated by a pervasive commodified landscape of disimagination machines that extends from Hollywood movies and video games to mainstream television, magazines, news, and the social media. These mind-numbing desiring machines which thrive on speed and sensation function mostly as workstations of ignorance to create a fog of distractions that promote forms of social amnesia that erase from memory and public discourse the structural, systemic and social forces that reinforce what can be called organized powerlessness and massive human suffering. This is the stuff of a politics of disappearance that erases the presence of the poor, unemployed, the “approximately 11 million Americans cycle[d] through jails and prisons each year,” black youth, immigrants, ecological disasters, class warfare, acts of state sponsored terrorism, the rise of the police state, and the rise of the warfare state.[6] As the machinery of social death accelerates, America’s most precious investment, youth, also disappear. As neoliberal disimagination machines such as Fox News make clear youth as a social investment no longer count in a society that disdains long term investments and their messy calls for being included in the script of democracy. As such, the current war on youth is about erasing the future, at least any alternative future and any notion of imagination that might summon one into view....

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