Henry Giroux's Critical Reads & Thinking Dangerously in an Age of Trump
It’s time to think dangerously again. In part, this means learning how to hold power accountable, search for the truth, embrace thoughtfulness, and recognize that no society ever reaches the limits of justice. Such thinking should be capable of both understanding and engaging the major upheavals people face and be able to connect such problems to both historical memory and larger political, structural, and economic issues. Such thinking nurtures the imagination and envisions a future in which the impossible becomes possible once again. Hannah Arendt has argued that all thinking is dangerous; this appears particularly true in the age of Trump.
What happens to democracy when the President of the United States labels critical media outlets “enemies of the people" and derides the search for truth by disparaging such efforts with the blanket use of the term, fake news? What happens to a society when thinking becomes an object of contempt and is disdained in favor of raw emotion? 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 to a social order ruled by an “economics of contempt” that blames the poor for their condition and wallows in a culture of shaming? 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 a social order when it treats millions of illegal immigrants as disposable and potential terrorists and criminals? 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 will wither and die as both an ideal and a reality.
The need to think dangerously becomes particularly important in a society that appears increasingly amnesiac - a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. 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. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.
Thinking dangerously is inseparable from the notion of critical reading and reading critical books. It is about how knowledge, desire, and values become invaluable tools in the service of economic and political justice, how language provides the framework for dealing with power and what it means to develop a sense of compassion for others and the planet. Reading critical books is no longer an option but a necessity in the fight against manufactured ignorance. Such reading is the foundation for thinking dangerous and acting courageously. Critical reads are the basis for a formative and educational culture of questioning and politics that takes seriously how the imagination can become central to the practice of freedom, justice, and democratic change.
Henry A. Giroux is a prolific writer and political commentator, who was a central figure in the development of critical pedagogy. His most recent book, America at War with Itself: Authoritarian Politics in a Free Society,was published by City Lights in 2016. See Giroux's list and more Critical Reads here.