Giroux: America at War with Itself

“Thoughtlessness is the essence of totalitarianism.” —Hannah Arendt, quoted by Henry Giroux, Professor at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario, whose new book, America at War with Itself, explores the rise of authoritarian culture and politics in the US.

Editor: Giroux’s book says what I have long felt: that there is a war going on in America, a civil war, a war of “all against all.”

To what extent is the contemporary Buddhist imperative to “not think” a possible contributor to totalitarianism?

From poisoned water and police violence in our cities, to gun massacres and hate-mongering on the presidential campaign trail, evidence that America is at war with itself is everywhere around us. The question is not whether or not it’s happening, but how to understand the forces at work in order to prevent conditions from getting worse. Henry A. Giroux offers a powerful, far-reaching critique of the economic interests, cultural dimensions, and political dynamics involved in the nation’s shift toward increasingly abusive forms of power. His analysis helps us to frame critical questions about what can and should be done to turn things around while we can.

Reflecting on a wide range of social issues, Giroux contrasts Donald Trump’s America with Sandra Bland’s to understand who really benefits from politically fueled intolerance for immigrants, communities of color, Muslims, low-income families, and those who challenge state and corporate power. A passionate advocate for civil rights and the importance of the imagination, Giroux argues that only through widespread social investment in democracy and education can the common good hope to prevail over the increasingly concentrated influence of extreme right-wing politicians and self-serving economic interests.

Praise for America at War with Itself:

“This is the book Americans need to read now. No one is better than Henry Giroux at analyzing the truly dangerous threats to our society. He punctures our delusions and offers us a compelling and enlightened vision of a better way. America at War with Itself is the best book of the year. “––Bob Herbert, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and former Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times

“In this current era of corporate media misdirection and misinformation, America at War with Itself is a must read for all Americans, especially young people. Henry Giroux is one of the few great political voices of today, with powerful insight into the truth. Dr. Giroux is defiantly explaining, against the grain, what’s REALLY going on right now, and doing so quite undeniably. Simply put, the ideas he brings forth are a beacon that need to be seen and heard and understood in order for the world to progress.”––Julian Casablancas

“In America at War with Itself, Henry Giroux again proves himself one of North America’s most clear-sighted radical philosophers of education, culture and politics: radical because he discards the chaff of liberal critique and cuts to the root of the ills that are withering democracy. Giroux also connects the dots of reckless greed, corporate impunity, poverty, mass incarceration, racism and the co-opting of education to crush critical thinking and promote a culture that denigrates and even criminalizes civil society and the public good. His latest work is the antidote to an alarming tide of toxic authoritarianism that threatens to engulf America. The book could not be more timely. “––Olivia Ward, Toronto Star

“The current U.S. descent into authoritarianism did not just happen. As Henry Giroux brilliantly shows it was the result of public pedagogical work in a number of institutions that were part of a long-standing assault on public goods, the social contract, and democracy itself. Giroux powerfully skewers oppressive forces with the hallmark clarity and rigor that has made him one of the most important cultural critics and public intellectuals in North America. His sharp insights provide readers with the intellectual tools to challenge the tangle of fundamentalisms that characterize the political system, economy, and culture in the current conjuncture. America at War with Itself makes the case for real ideological and structural change at a time when the need and stakes could not be greater. Everyone who cares about the survival and revival of democracy needs to read this book.”––Kenneth Saltman, Professor, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Author of The Failure of Corporate School Reform

“In book after book, decade after decade, Henry Giroux has joined Noam Chomsky among our most prolific, clear-sighted public intellectuals. His latest, America at War with Itself, begins with Donald Trump’s rise in the 2016 election as symptomatic of the anti-democratic forces Giroux has anatomized in American society, including the sway of authoritarianism, violence, militarism, and ‘the terror of neoliberalism.’ This book provides bracing revelations of the evasion of cogent causal analysis in our mainstream public discourse. For example, ‘The call for gun rights conveniently side steps and ignores criticizing a popular culture and corporate controlled media which uses violence to attract viewers, increase television ratings, produce Hollywood blockbusters, and sell video games that celebrate first person shooters. . . . Such violence serves not only to produce an insensitivity to real life violence but also functions to normalize violence as both a source of pleasure and as a practice for addressing social issues.'”––Donald Lazare, author of Thinking Critically About Media and Politics and Why Higher Education SHOULD Have a Leftist Bias.

Henry A. Giroux’s most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting and America’s Addiction to Terrorism. A prolific writer and political commentator, he has appeared in a wide range of media, including The New York Times and Bill Moyers.

Publisher City Lights Publishers
Format Paperback
Nb of pages 320 p.
ISBN-10 0872867323
ISBN-13 9780872867321

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5 thoughts on “Giroux: America at War with Itself

  1. I’ve practiced Buddhism for 22 years and have never heard the injunction, “Don’t think.” The closest to it I’ve come, and never directly from a Buddhist teacher, is Susan Piver’s presentation in the webinar, Awake in the World II, as a misconception about meditation — that one must stop thinking to meditate. She suggests letting thoughts happen and watching them — which is what my root guru had also taught me. As well, Shastri Ethan Nichtern, in his presentation said, in so many words, “Trying to stop thinking is being mean to the thoughts. Treat them as guests.” Further, meditation expert Joseph Goldstein, in his presentation, which again I had learned from my root guru, Kema Ananda, addresses a state called absorption: when one’s awareness and concentration and meditative skill have increased to the point that the intention to think thoughts is noticed and the thought diverted from arising as attention is shifted elsewhere — the thinking of the thought is seen as unnecessary and uninteresting in moments of immediate knowing. A direct perception of the transitoriness of phenomena, this insight into impermanence becomes very powerful. The ephemeral nature of experiences in absorption makes non-identification with them easier. But it is wrong to call this absorption stopping of thinking, more accurately freedom from the imperative of thought, Back to the Heart Sutra with one of the five Skanhas, or “tendencies confused mind has to identify with,” stated as mental formations, or thoughts.

  2. I’m glad that in your life as a Buddhist you have never encountered the imperative to avoid thinking. I have come across it several times, both explicitly and in subtle forms, especially in Dzogchen. I have seen a very prominent form of anti-intellectualism in American Buddhism, which is just mirroring the anti-intellectualism in the culture. Btw, there is no such thing as “direct perception.” It’s another Buddhist myth. In order to perceive anything by sight, your brain has to process visual information through a complex series of processes that involves many areas of the brain. Furthermore, much of what we see is “top down” processing of visual information that is lost during the perception process, which then has to be reconstructed from memory by the brain.

  3. That’s why my exemplar is Dr. Ambedkar. He developed his mind first through education. He had two doctorate degrees and a law degree. Then he practiced Buddhism. And he used his sharp, well-trained mind to bring about social justice for all marginalized groups in India.

  4. What I meant by direct perception of the transitoriness of phenomena could also be expressed by saying direct experience of the transitoriness of phenomena. But how is that experience to be known except through the five physical senses and the sixth sense of knowing directly through the mind? I think I would call that sensual experience — perception.

    I remember the Beatles’ song with the lyrics, “turn off your mind, relax and float downstream; it is not dying; it is not dying.” In those days, given the opportunity I would have happily glommed onto any teaching or practice that gave me a break from the over-intellectualization that university education had left me with.

    But the teacher I was fortunate enough to find was not of that school, instead, the Southeast Asian school of Mahasi Sayadaw, Munindra, and his root guru from Ontario, Namgyal Rinpoche, as well as learning from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and others. So watching the mind in meditation became a central practice, and substituting a meditative exercise for the ordinary stream of consciousness, i.e marking the mind’s thought, then returning to the object of meditation — the breath, and then always to that which was the most obvious thing in the mind, whether sore knees, grief for the sixth mass extinction (not prevalent then), or disagreement with a colleague, or anything else that was foremost in mind, marking that, then returning to the breath until another element of consciousness became more evident. It is a powerful and gentle flow that heals without effort, best learned from a qualified teacher in continuous meditation sessions in a supportive environment, that may last a day or two, or even as long as three years….

    I learned virtually nothing of the Dzogchen tradition you mention, as errant in its teaching to avoid thought. The most recent spiritual teacher I have worked with, not strictly a Buddhist, advised to use “common sense, reason, and logic” as guidance. Maybe the “avoiding thought” was a distortion of the Dzogchen beliefs, I do not know. But you can read in my earlier comment about hearing other Buddhist teachers dispelling the misconception, so it must be more widespread than my own experience has encountered.

    Dr. Ambedkar sounds like a very virtuous individual. Does he live in North America? I cannot imagine the mirroring of the anti-intellectualism that I know to be part of American culture, by Buddhist thinking. It seems that doing that would be so foolish, kind of like a grasp for a solid concept to reinforce a negative thought pattern. I will send you you an e-mail soon. Kind regards, Phil

    1. Instead of “direct perception” (a Shambhala term, taken perhaps from Suzuki Roshi), I prefer to think of it as “seeing things as they are”, without being filtered through religion, politics or other ideology and preconceptions. “Common sense, reason and logic” sounds like a very good prescription for training the mind. Dr. Ambedkar was an Untouchable in India who got himself educated and rose to power during the post-colonial period in India when it threw off British rule. Dr. Ambedkar was the first Minister of Law in India and wrote the constitution for the new republic.

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