Critical Pedagogy Against Capitalist Schooling: Towards a Socialist Alternative. An Interview with Peter McLaren
JMBT: The first question I would like to ask you is: Considering the fact that you are a critical educator, which would you say are the main components that distinguish a critical education from a traditional one?
PM: While I am a critical educator and have the utmost respect for the field, I do not work in the arena of what might be considered ‘conventional’ critical pedagogy. In the field of critical education there is an entanglement of visions, locations, practices and these understandably vary from individual to individual, neighborhood to neighborhood, district to district, region to region, country to country, etc. Critical pedagogy is, after all, part of a geopolitics of knowledge. For me, the fundamental goal of critical pedagogy is the struggle for a socialist alternative to capitalism—with capitalism understood as a global ecology of exploitation—and the approach I take builds on conventional approaches to critical pedagogy. I include in my recent work insights from the “decolonial school” that contests the coloniality of power, I include advances in critical race theory, feminist theory, and ecopedagogy, to name several areas of interest that I feel are important. My approach to critical pedagogy is therefore radically heterodox—or if you prefer, fundamentally orthodox—depending upon where you stand, or your positionality. But it is safe to say that my approach cannot be essayed by traditional liberal efforts to reform dimensions of capitalist society that most impact teaching and learning. There would be critical educators that would contest my own approach to critical education, and that is part and parcel of being a critical educator, and their (frequent) opposition to my position is not something that I condemn but engage in the spirit of critical dialogue. Of course I fully agree with many of the more accepted goals of the liberal variants of critical pedagogy whose arch-categories include the following—to foment dialogue, to deepen our appreciation of public life, to create spaces of respect and appreciation for diversity, to encourage critical thinking, to build culturally sensitive curricula, to create a vibrant democratic public sphere, to try to change the hardened hearts and minds of our increasingly parasitic financial aristocracy, to build knowledge from the experiences and the histories of students themselves, to make knowledge relevant to the lives of students, and to encourage students to theorize and make sense of their experiences in order to break free from the systems of mediation that limit their understanding of the world and their capacity to transform it, to challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, to fight against white supremacy, etc. But I believe that around the mid-1980s, when corporations began to become more powerful that some nation states, that the battle for critical democratic citizenship became just a smokescreen for the production of consumer citizenship and critical pedagogy as it was then conceived became more like a dying star about to go into a supernova stage and incinerate any hope we had for real educational transformation, locked as we were within a neoliberal state that was quickly consolidating itself (and that a few decades later would have transformed itself into a security state akin to fascism). Hence I looked for a navigatable transit route beyond liberalism in the direction of a Marxist humanism. At the time, when the wet-sock formlessness of postmodern theory was becoming an unwitting companion of neoliberalism, I was mocked by some in the field for returning to a discredited Marxism. But the more our daily toil and struggle in the sloughs of ordinary human existence and human suffering increased, and the more our journey within in the fearful paradoxicality of everyday life contrasted with the neat and seemless principles of neoliberal logic of privatization, the more rational Marxism sounded to me. Critical pedagogy has a transnational heritage. There is no final resting place in the vault of the critical pedagogy pantheon, since critical pedagogy is constantly reinventing itself to meet the challenges of the present. The work of Freire remains central and we need to remember the initiatives of popular educators and socialist Sunday schools, liberation theologians, schools for factory workers, socialist collectives, and other groups in various parts of the world. We not only need to build a collective memory of the field, but a shared memory. So we need to learn the history of struggles for educational transformation as it has occurred throughout the globe. I see my role in very modest terms-to push critical pedagogy in North America in the direction of appreciating socialism as a collective goal. And here I am not referring to the European tradition alone, but to autonomous social movements of indigenous communities in Las Americas and elsewhere. The revenants of critical pedagogy will return to haunt us, should we forget what first animated its mission, which was the struggle against the ravages of capitalism, and to bear witness to a better future. The little maledictions of daily political life over time abrade the flesh of our hope so that we resignedly give over our agency to others to run the engines of democracy. The popular majorities have a pent-up cargo of vitriol aimed at the nation’s corporate bloodsuckers: the rent-extractors, rich financiers, money-for-nothing bankers, kleptocrats, rogue traders, subprime malefactors, neo-feudal overlords of commerce headquartered in Wall Street, Paleolithic demagogues working as CEOs, and hedge fund slime masters, whose corporate machinations collect like massive gobs of rancid spittle in the melting pot of capitalism we call America. Those are the 99 percent, who do not control most of the country’s wealth, who have become the victims of the great recession, and have organized themselves as the Occupy Wall Street movement (and various other Occupy movements). But the anger directed at the banking and finance establishment, or at the government’s bailout of these institutions, while understandable, is nevertheless misdirected. The social relations that have victimized the poor are not simply the result of greedy bankers who over the last few decades have decided to overreach themselves in the squalid frenzy of market deregulation; rather, the social relations that are largely responsible forthe current economic crisis are those produced by the regime of capitalism itself. Paulo Freire would have clearly understood this. And while the anger of the 99 percent may be misdirected, this historical moment presents itself as an opportune time to reflect upon capitalism and to explore alternatives to it.
JMBT: Please correct me if I am wrong but I get from your words that this issue goes beyond every educator´s paradigm. Without playing down its importance, this problem is actually rooted in nowadays neoliberal-capitalist supranational superestructure that imposes its logic over every institution that depends on it. Which epistemology and educative methods do you avail yourself to achieve progress towards a Marxist humanism?
PM: That is an important question. I do agree that neoliberalism is animated by an identifiable logic or system of intelligibility. Neoliberalism’s epistemological imperatives are burningly relevant for every critical educator; they must be engaged, critiqued and contested, but the issue for me goes beyond epistemology. Ideas and paradigms and worldviews are important, and so are new ways of thinking about ourselves and our relation to the ecology of capitalism, but it is those ideas that are located in the routines and rituals of everyday life that are more likely to have an impact on transforming society. Critical consciousness is more of an outcome of certain social practices, cultural formations, habits of mind and the institutional arrangements that help shape them, as well as the rituals and routines that give them legitimacy, than a precondition for them–but there is no question that they are dialectically related. But let me discuss epistemology first, and then try to make a case for why a transformation of our thinking, or our logic, is only one part–albeit an important part — of the dialectical struggle for a democratic socialism. And why such a struggle is enriched by a Marxist humanist analysis as we seek to overcome the current empire of finance capitalism. I’m interested in the evolution of neoliberalism’s cultural logic—or what you refer to as ‘ supranational superstructural’ logic—and also how it has manifested itself throughout regional or national contexts. I’ve been interested in this topic since the early 1960s. Those were wide-awake days of wide-wale corduroy pants, Maynard G. Krebs beards (as opposed to today’s popular shadow beards), fake turtleneck sweaters (known as “dickies”), fake turquoise Navajo necklackes, milk-crate-living room-décor, and neighborhoods where you could count on your mom-and-pop stores being in the same location for at least the next five years; that was before the days when your favorite empty back lot would suddenly give birth to a Walmart, a Costco, a Home Depot or your local ravine transformed in a month into a suburban business park or cookie cutter strip mall. Then came the nerd-cool days and the high tech revolution, a status-obsessed culture of consumption, more sophisticated and devastating U.S. imperialist wars, purblind postmodern doxa, and, of course, the trend towards cultural studies in the academy. And along came advances in information technology and the social media that were able to pry open some cracks in the corporate pavement and the petrified slough of everyday life, where internet culture was able to fertilize some of Tupac Shakur’s famous roses springing from the cracks in the pavment in the form of “talk-back” forums and on-line petitions.
Yet, even with new forms of resistance ushered in by technological innovation, the stiff-gestured ideology of neoliberalism has arched towards a state of “human exceptionalism” where all of humanity is now supposed to feel free to exploit at will the relations between nature and society any way that it chooses, as long as profits can be squeezed out. You really can’t describe the situation we are in today as an estrangement between the bankers and corporate CEOs and the rest of the 99 percent that brings out the worst in both—barefaced greed and a hateful relish in the suffering of others in the first and a dystopic and quiescent resignation to the inevitability of capitalism in the second. Because there is no possible future for capitalism that doesn’t reproduce the immense suffering of the popular majorities–the 99 percent– in the present because capitalism is premised on the free development of the few at the cost of the exploitation and immiseration of the many.
The epistemological presuppositions that undergird neoliberal capitalism can be unraveled like an unspooled film; each application of neoliberal prescriptions to knowledge formation can be scrutinized in the context of the larger mise-en-scène. Cultural theorists have done an excellent job of understanding the impact of neoliberal ideology on the production of space, place, scale, historical time, and race, gender and class identity and human agency. I agree that this is important work and we need to look at such production in relation to the commodification of everyday life. Among other things, neoliberal logic is a logic of the lowest common denominator, a technocratic rationality in which value is accorded to how much surplus value can be extracted and accumulated. Finance or asset capitalism, accumulation by dispossession, disaster capitalism, crony capitalism–all of these incarnations of capitalist exploitation are an outgrowth of neoliberal ideology. I would not be able to think outside of neoliberalism’s own limits without the fertilizing influence of Marx. Utilizing a historical materialist critique has helped me to think more deeply about how we might live differently in the present and imagine futures of concrete possibility outside of neoliberalism and the logic of value production and where we can break free from the production of time, space and self which exists under the servitude of capital.
Historical materialists generally believe that it is possible to grasp the object of knowledge, that a world exists independent of our existence, and that this world can be directly grasped (although not fully grasped) in itself. They wager that the objective world needs to be understood in relation to others, to the social character of both our being human and our becoming more fully human. I call this a transformative volition, or protagonistic intent, a praxis of the possible that moves in and on and through the world designed to transform the material and social conditions that shape us (and are shaped by us) so that our capacities are enhanced and our humanity enlarged. Here, the world can be conceived as a concrete totality , a reality that is already a structured, self-forming dialectical whole in the process of coming into existence. Here the challenge is to avoid solipsism and idealism through a method of analysis and a conception of the world that involves a dialectical analysis of reality and a dialectical unity with the oppressed. Here I try to be consistent with the holistic human science developed by Marx, who, by the way, was no economic determinist. Historical laws of tendency of capital are not the same for Marx as natural laws. Marx did not ascribe to the idea that capitalism follows universal evolutionary laws. History does not follow a single trajectory, there are many contingencies and regularities, broadly predictable tendencies and possible futures. Marx believed in the primacy of material relationships as against the primacy of “spirit” and made us aware that profit does not come from market relations (buying low and selling high) but from human labor power and the sweated labor of the toiling class. Now I am not saying that I believe spiritual values are unimportant. What I am saying is that we need certain material conditions to obtain in society before the quest for spiritual values can be pursued effectively. If we want a simple formula to examine humanity, we could say that those who have to sell their labor power to earn a living (those who produce the profit for the capitalist) are part of one class–the working class. Those who purchase human labor and take the profit away from labor are part of another class—the capitalist class. I follow Marx’s focus on the development of human productive forces—a very complex process that is historically related to the material conditions of production and the class struggle. Every given stage of development of the productive forces of society—that is, of the human species, and of the division of labor—is bound up historically with certain social relations of production, particularly class relations. Once a particular form of class domination comes into existence as a result of this complex process of historical development, the dominant element in the relations attempts to freeze it into place, and the existing society loses its progressive character. Despite changes in the material conditions of production, any ruling class will seek to preserve its rule at all cost, thus becoming a fetter on further social and economic development. The state, law, religion, and the entire realm of ideas, to the extent that they represent the overarching interests in society and are conditioned by the underlying set of socioeconomic relations, will all be enlisted for the purpose of defending the status quo and of patching up society’s contradictions, often through the disheveled fantasies of Hollywood or the brittle enchantments of popular culture. Now what does this all mean for education? Well, it means trying to push capitalists to address the suffering of the poor and the oppressed, as long as capitalism continues to operate, but we must recognize that we need to move beyond capitalism if we ever hope to bring about genuine equality and a greater unfolding of human powers and capacities.
While well-meaning progressive educators might be willing to criticize the manner in which humans are turned into dead objects that Marxists refer to as fetishized commodities, they are often loathe to consider the fact that within capitalist society, all value originates in the sphere of production and that one of the primary roles of schools is to serve as agents or functionaries of capital. Furthermore, they fail to understand that education is more reproductive of an exploitative social order than a constitutive challenge to it precisely because it rests on the foundations of capitalist exchange value. Reading Marx and Freire may not alchemize us into revolutionaries capable of transcending capitalism but ignoring what they had to say about transforming education in the context of class struggle would be a huge loss to our efforts.
Much of my work has tried to demonstrate that many liberal progressive educational reforms are embedded in a larger retrograde, opportunistic and banalizing politics that situates itself a culture of liberal compassion and a polyglot cosmopolitanism that does more to impede educational transformation than advance it.
JMBT: We agree that Education acts as a social reproducter of the Neoliberal system. And so, it is imbued with its Neoliberal logic and perpetuates the extreme wealth of a negligible minority against the vast majority of people that struggles to reach a respectable life. What can Educators do to change this situation and move forward a Global Humanist development? How did you start out in your life to become a critical educator?
Okay, let me begin, then, with your question about my own history, just briefly. Like many young people growing up in Canada during the 50s and 60s, I felt increasingly like I was being swallowed up in some viscid mass of dull, mind-numbing convention, particularly my experience of being schooled, since I like to make a distinction between being schooled and experiencing an education. Education requires the cultivation of critique, or critical consciousness, and in my teenage high school years, being intelligent or able to conscript concepts into the service of sustained analysis was not something that earned one a lot of attention with one’s peers, and I was culturally shallow enough to want to be part of the popular crowd, so I would often hide my intellectual curiosity about life, mostly during moments of grinding loneliness. In those moments I would expostulate with myself about why my life at school seemed so ruinously vacuous, why I was so interminably miserable, why acts of creativity, and why displays of ingenuity and wit seemed to be off-limits and treated by so many teachers as unjudicious, as a type of impolitic epistemological breach. I did have two wonderful and exceptional teachers my last year of high school—Dennis Hutcheon and Harold Burke. Mr. Burke would do dramatic readings in class. With lungs as unfillable as St. Peter’s Basilica, he would bellow samplings from Shakespeare and contemporary plays, which he scrupled to be an indispensable part of a good education, and of course he was right. In his classes we made earnest, if not halting, attempts to fathom the doxa and paradox, the stereotype and the novation of everyday life. From Mr. Burke I would learn to appreciate the power of rhetoric, and often engaged in debates with a shameless extravagance. Such profligacy could be tolerated in a young sprat in those days, and the gasconade that flushed out of my mouth no doubt made me insufferable among many of my more learned peers. “Hutch” developed a course on Communication and the Media that examined the theories and ideas of Marshall McLuhan. He was also a Catholic convert and largely as a result of his influence I became interested in theology (although Hutch became a conservative Catholic in his later years while I ventured into the chilly hinterlands of the Jesuit mind to explore abstruse books deemed by the guardians of the faith as heretical, works by liberation theologians and apostates). Wanting to join the priesthood, but not having much religious faith, I abandoned the idea, destining myself to live on the secular fringes of what was considered at the time the normal world (where the men no longer were required to wear fedoras, but where sterile office cubicles in some cold stone building became the bleak destiny of so many of my contemporaries). Often I found myself lost in a world of reading– Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Hesse, Genet, Proust, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Gregory Baum—where I tried in vain to dislodge myself from everyday life in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale, what was to me a Cimmerian land of gloom and despair. The work of Dylan Thomas, Vachel Lindsay, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, and then, of course, the Beat Poets, helped de-anchor me temporarily from my malaise but the intemperate despair of youth would inevitably overwhelm me.
I grew up in a conservative working-class family who had left its roots in farming communities of Ontario to travel to Hamilton, Toronto and other large metropolitan areas (where my dad landed a job as manager of Eastern Canada for Philips Electronics and brought us temporarily into the middle class). I was told that my ancestors worked the shipyards in the docks of Glasgow as riveters and welders, but I haven’t really gone deeply into my family tree, all that I remember are pictures of my great uncle on the farm, photos of my maternal grandfather in a kilt and carrying a riding crop, and photos of my paternal grandfather selling soap out of the back of a car. My paternal grandmother lived with us until she died when I was about sixteen and I remember she could kick over her head well into her eighties. An only child, who watched my father, a WWII veteran in the Royal Canadian Engineers, enter the reserve army of labor after he was fired from Philips and my mother-a homemaker-venture out to work to support the family as a telephone operator when my father’s emphysema made it impossible for him to continue working in part-time electronics stores, I grew up angry, suspicious of giving my life over to a corporation, or what we called “the suits.” Prior to my dad’s illness, our house was a fusty solarium of normalcy: television detective stories and westerns in the evening, televised hockey games, televised comedy shows; in short: televised happiness for a life unexplored (although I did long to travel, Kerouac-style, with Buzz Murdoch and Tod Stiles in the excellent Route 66 series, and later, down the long and lonesome highway with Jim Bronson [Michael Parks] in the hit television series, Then Came Bronson). In the late 60s, I had joined the Yorkville Village hippie community as a part-timer, as what was called a “weekender” and Yorkville as I remember it was as much a state of mind as it was a cluster of streets downtown where we used to hang out, try every drug imaginable, and sometimes, if we were lucky, get “turned on” to good books and albums and meet Pre-Raphaelite-looking young women who knew members of the Toronto artist and literati circles and would invite us along to parties and gatherings where we would pretend to fit it. Yorkville was a place where, potentially, you could develop a more discerning eye for understanding the production of culture and sometimes come to recognize the coincidence between mass cultural production and the regression of one’s own intellect, as bikers, greasers, hippies, teenyboppers, and sometimes political organizers, congregated in the coffee shops and flop houses, or just hung out on the streets, all pretending that we were creating a new society free from the normative shackles of conventional morality and lifestyle but basically we were looking for drugs, sex and rock and roll and our twenty minutes of fame. That I was living in the latest phases of capitalist globalization was not something that arrested my attention, even momentarily. It had not occurred to me that such a exploration of the “integral society” was important—or even significant—or that it was necessary to fathom the means and ways that I was situated in the larger social order, immersed in an internally differentiated yet dialectically unified nation state called Canada, living in the fringes of a civil society consisting of an ensemble of practices and relations of power dialectically interpellated by and integrated within the state. That was life before critical theory, sociology, anthropology, hermeneutics and existential phenomenology. Life was lived as a crude binarism: We were cool and everybody else was suspiciously uncool, especially anyone over thirty. There was even an adversarial relationship at that time between youth-based politics and social movements advocating class struggle. Yorkville was more about lifestyle and counterculture as opposed to the political transformation of society, and the Maoists that you might infrequently encounter appeared to us as too militant or dogmatic to be taken seriously if one wanted to enjoy the bohemian lifestyle and that’s what we were looking for in those days. I became politicized later on, mainly by Americans who had left the US as a result of the Vietnam war and ended up my professors at Waterloo University and the University of Toronto, although admittedly this was a New Left politicization, with identity politics, civil rights and new social movements (feminism, gay rights, immigrant rights) displacing rather than integrating into much of the previous class-based political formations.
I recall that there was a City Controller, Herb Orliffe, who suggested, ominously, in the Spring of 1967 that Yorkville’s hippies should be warehoused in work camps where they would learn a trade. I recognized that a desinence had arrived in the trajectory that my life was taking, and that the Yorkville scene was dying, and by 1968, I had come to the inevitable realization that a change in my life was sorely needed. Well, I’ve written about what happened next—the beating I took with flashlights administered by the Metropolitan police in a dank North York jail, meeting Alan Ginsberg, my trip to the US, my psychedelic evening with Timothy Leary, the exhilarating craziness of San Francisco and Los Angeles in the summer of 1968, so I won’t recount those days here. How was any of this distinctly Canadian, I’m not sure because I didn’t really reflect upon my Canadian roots until I ended up in the United States, what began as a desperate sojourn but what has lasted 28 years and counting, having lost my university teaching post in Canada due to my increasingly politicized teaching, and being rescued by Henry Giroux, who brought me to Miami University of Ohio and helped me figure out how to do political work and remain in the academy. Living in Ohio, I was often told by students that I reminded them of a Northern American, a decaffeinated American, rather than a Canadian, an observation, frankly, I found disturbing, and very telling about the US students and culture. While geo-specifically Canadian, and working within a coloniality of power that I often felt obliged to critique, I think my identity growing up in Canada was more mobile than nationalist, if not badly mangled, bleeding through the figurative membranes of its Canadian-ness, as something that was always already foreign to itself, as I really didn’t have a sense of what it meant to be a Canadian but at the same time I tried to account for the people I met and the ideas I encountered in the context of living a life in the service of something larger than one’s nation state, trying to understand what it meant to be of service to society. I felt I belonged everywhere, and nowhere, everywhere an aberration, and nowhere did I feel remotely comfortable–I suppose I grew comfortable in my discomfort. Moving away to the US, however, motivated me to claim a Canadian identity (as opposed to re-claiming an already well sutured Canadian identity) inasmuch as I grew to loathe the US political scene, its American exceptionalism, its imperialist wars, its phony democracy, it’s incipient and then blatant fascism—and I wanted to claim something outside of that, which at times I would label Canadian. Especially during my visits to Latin America, I highlighted my Canadian identity but, to be fair, I have been impacted in many ways by American activists and thinkers and I feel I am all the better for that. I am more interested now in a politics of solidarity and “communalidad” than I am in conventional identity politics. What drives me today is not narrating the many trajectories of selfhood as much as committing myself to a protagonistic politics, forging a united front against capital and its attendant hydra-headed antagonisms: racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, abelism, speciesism, and the like. What I can tell you now is that I do feel much more comfortable among workers and the popular majorities than I do among the transnational capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, and that is the case in all the countries in which I am regularly privileged to spend time. Well, on to the next parts of your question.
If there exists a structured silence and motivated amnesia surrounding the urgent task of historicizing power relations in concrete material conditions of production and reproduction, and if, following this, there exists a grand refusal to disclaim the limitations of bourgeois ethics in the project of social transformation and, finally, if there remains a studied reluctance to engage the concrete multilayered totality of everyday life in which use value is subordinated to exchange value, then we can’t simply blame the education system or teachers for churning out capitalist dupes. We are all dupes to some extent and each day I am striving to become less so, as I continue to take advantage of my potential to be a learner. As I tried to point out in my discussion of my experiences as a youth growing up in Canada, teachers are not immune to the ruling ideas of their society, which, as Marx noted, are usually the ideas of the ruling class. And, so, as we know, the educators themselves must be educated. As Marx opined in his Theses on Feuerbach, “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated.” Even the teachers unions have been in the grip of neoliberal education policies, although for years I have advocated a social movement unionism—that is dedicated to engage beyond workplace concerns, but also in terms of wider political struggle for social and economic justice, for human rights, and for participatory and direct democracy. Social movement unionism works with affiliates in worker’s movements, women’s movements, student movements, other human rights organizations to and integrates them into a broader network or popular front against injustice and exploitation by the ruling class.
Revolutionary critical pedagogy is part of an ecosystem of political activism that includes community organizations, teachers organizations, and larger human rights groups advocating for multicultural education, gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual rights, living wages, ecological justice, and disability rights, and anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizations. Here we find curriculum organizations, teacher education organizations, and educational policy organizations working together against standardized testing, the privatization of public schooling, the school to prison pipeline, advocating for parent and community involvement in schools.
The overall agenda that I have been trying to develop since the mid-1990s is captured in the description of what István Mészáros calls socialist education: “the social organ through which the mutually beneficial reciprocity between the individuals and their society becomes real.” My concern has been with marshaling critical pedagogy as a broad, non-sectarian coalition or social movement into the service of altering historical modes of production and reproduction in specific social formations, including if not especially educational formations.
The question we need to ask is: How do you abolish value production, wage labor? We need to go beyond state intervention into the economy, since this is not socialism. State intervention into the economy doesn’t prevent value-producing labor, alienated labor. In fact, capital is a social relation of abstract labor, and it is precisely capital as a social relation that must be transcended. Of course, this is the challenge for all of us. To go up against the ideological state apparatuses (that also have coercive practices such as non-promotion and systems of privilege for those who follow the rules) and the repressive state apparatuses (that are also coercive in that they secure internal unity and social authority ideologically via patriotism and nationalism) is not an easy task. There are disjunctions and disarticulations within and between different social spaces of the superstructure and we must work within those, in spaces of the legal and ideological systems that can be transformed in the interests of social and economic justice. The struggle is multi-pronged.
Revolutionary critical pedagogy is a mode of social knowing that inquires into what is not said, into the silences and the suppressed or the missing, in order to un-conceal operations of economic and political power underlying the concrete details and representations of our lives. It reveals how the abstract logic of the exploitation of the division of labor informs all the practices of culture and society. Materialist critique disrupts that which represents itself as natural and thus as inevitable and explains how it is materially produced. Critique, in other words, enables us to explain how social differences—gender, race, sexuality, and class—have been systematically produced and continue to operate within regimes of exploitation—namely within the international division of labor in global capitalism, so that we can fight to change them. Thus, a pedagogy of critique is about the production of transformative knowledges. It is not about liberty as the freedom of desire, because this liberty, this freedom of desire, is acquired at the expense of the poverty of others. A pedagogy of critique does not situate itself in the space of the self, or in the space of desire, or in the space of liberation, but in the site of collectivity, need and emancipation.
To sum up, teachers need to support sustainable alternatives to neoliberal capitalism with its emphasis on economic growth; protect nature’s resources for future generations; protect ecosystems and help support biodiversity; support a community based economics, and a grassroots democracy that includes participatory and direct forms, embody anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic pedagogies that respect diversity and work from a post-patriarchal perspective. I won’t summarize here the imperatives and practices of critical pedagogy, or popular education, except to say that these approaches build from the experiences of students, and employ languages that help students interrogate the transparency of their own experiences, that is, languages that enable students to challenge the interpretation of their experiences and that assist students in connecting their own experiences and histories to broader situations that are local, regional, national and global in scope. I think it’s important to give students the opportunity to think dialectically and employ an historical materialist perspective in analyzing their own communities and relationships in their neighborhoods and schools. Not only do teachers need to become critical researchers but they should give students the opportunity to acquire research skills. There are lots of theoretical perspectives that teachers can draw from—critical disability studies, critical ethnography, feminist theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory and the work of the new “decolonial school” who work from the premise that we need to fight the “coloniality of power.” Also, liberation theology offers a tremendously rich source of understanding state power as a form of ‘social sin.’ What this comes down to is encouraging teachers to become transdisciplinary public intellectuals who are engaged in what Henry Giroux has called “public pedagogy.” Teachers can learn a lot from the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela in becoming “public pedagogues,” and the work being done in the misiones Bolivarianas. Here students connect their learning to working on community projects. All learning is connected to improving the lives of families and social groups. All of this activity requires adopting a philosophy of praxis. It is a disposition that one acquires. It does not come from becoming critically conscious and then entering into revolutionary activity, in fact critical consciousness is more of an outcome of revolutionary activity than a precondition for it. The revolution makes critical educators as much as critical educators make a revolution. As Che taught us, revolutions produce subjectivity and agency (aesthetically, ethically and ideologically) simultaneously with new social relations of production. I call this “protagonistic agency.” An agency for building a radically new future.
JMBT: We know the importance of the production of knowledge because it imposes the established “truth” inside schools. The most inhumane consequences of the capitalist system are behind this ¨truth” that perpetuates human inequality. What role do media and textbook publishers play in this issue? What can be done to establish mechanisms that ensure that the knowledge taught in schools is reliable?
Since capitalist democracy is really an oxymoron, capitalism’s relationship to democracy has always been a “sweetheart deal”, with one partner playing off the other. One plays the comic, while the other plays the ‘straight’ man who sets the comic up for the joke. One plays the good cop, and the other plays the ‘bad cop’ and then they switch roles. Capitalism produces economic inequality and extreme poverty while democracy covers it up in the name of the never-ending search for ‘diversity,’ or ‘human rights’ or ‘freedom of choice,’ or whatever is the flavor of the month, thereby undermining the whole notion that we can have any real political equality in a capitalist society. The popular majorities—those who are forced to survive on wage labor, sometimes known as the 99 percent—are never able to win great substantial victories for democracy, but are forced to accept incremental steps towards achieving some small victories in the areas of progressive taxation, health care, universal education, retirement pensions, and environmental and consumer protections and civil rights. Even though these small victories are reversing themselves, drastically in some case, the transnational capitalist class makes sure the situation doesn’t get so bad that the 99 percent takes to the streets like they did during the Occupy Wall street movement heyday, so they will sell hope for the future for those that agree to be patient. But such hope is really snake oil in disguise. The rich don’t need government social assistance, they can buy all that they need of anything, privately. With so much structural dependence on corporate dollars, real democracy is out of reach in the United States. What about the world-producing power of the media? In these days of finance capital and banking deregulation, the media are going to remain in the hands of private corporations that work hand-in-hand with the government.
Powerful commercial media owners who are sanctioned by the government control the production of knowledge, and set the limits on what gets said and what doesn’t get said, and create the contexts in which information is valued or perceived as unimportant. The military/industrial/digital sectors of the media are all part of the ‘power complex’ we associate with finance capitalism. Robert McChesney has written about how the media operate as an oligopoly through corporate lobbyists, political campaign contributions, government media policies, the control of news coverage by corporate elites, and the enforcement of monopolistic rights for those broadcasters who can make the most profit. Media reform almost impossible in this context.
The potential of the internet for the deepening and enhancement of democracy has been destroyed by the success of monopoly capitalism and the internet has actually contributed as much to inequality as it has to fostering equality and here I am particularly concerned about the potential of the media to aid in the surveillance of citizens and well as the propagandizing against socialist alternatives to capitalism. Google, for instance, spent 5 million dollars lobbying in Washington in the first three months of 2012. Political participation as a means of creating a more democratic future is limited by the internet’s commercialization. We are seeing antitrust laws being overlooked, we are seeing an increase in digital technology patents, and the monopoly of corporations such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft. You can’t have a real democratic public sphere that advances the interests of community and public participation as long as it is monopolized by corporate greed, fueled by indirect government subsidies and made to bow to commercial interests through an increase in copyrights, patents, and proprietary systems. It is interesting to me how the corporate media in the United States helps to disguise itself as being “free” by attacking Hugo Chavez’s treatment of the media in Venezuela. Most media outlets here in the United States criticized Chavez for restricting and manipulating the media in Venezuela. But the Venezuelan government does not control its media. Many people in the U.S. believe that all the television channels and newspapers are pro-Chávez. The truth is that most of Venezuela’s media is anti-Chávez. Yes, Chávez took action against anti-Chávez network RCTV (Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional) but the U.S. media does not provide the historical context.
As reported in only a few alternative media outlets, Venezuelan television has four major networks: Venevisión, Televen, Globovisión, and Venezolana de Televisión (VTV). Of these four networks, Venevisión and Televen are moderately anti-Chávez, Globovisión is very anti-Chávez, and VTV is extremely pro-Chávez. There is the notorious RCTV (Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional) which faked film footage to make it look like pro-Chavez gunmen were shooting down demonstrators on the streets of Caracas when in fact it was anti-Chavez gunmen. This is one of several reasons that the government of Venezuela declined to renew RCTV’s broadcast license. About 60% of the television audience in Venezuela watches Venevisión and Televen. Only about 6% of Venezuelans watch VTV. Most Venezuelan media is owned by right-wing business elites who are strongly mobilized against the socialist politics and policies of Hugo Chávez that support Venezuela’s poor and powerless. The majority of the Venezuelan media notoriously conspired with the coup leaders in their failed 2002 attempt to oust Chavez from power. The media refused to show statements by the Chavez government condemning the coup d’état. When the coup d’état failed, the private Venezuelan networks refused to broadcast the news that Chávez had been restored back to power as a result of hundreds of thousands of pro-Chavez supporters surrounding Miraflores Palace demanding him back and as a result of sectors of the military turning to support Chavez. You can see the footage of this in the fly-on-the-wall documentary directed by Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, This Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Or watch Oliver Stone’s documentary, South of the Border. Again, President Hugo Chavez did not “shut down” RCTV on May 27th. The Venezuelan government decided not to renew the broadcast license that granted RCTV a monopoly over a section of the publicly-owned frequencies. It is the case that RCTV still reaches half the population through its cable and satellite operations. That’s not bad for a television station that committed treason against a democratically-elected President, whose many election victories were considered extremely fair by President Jimmy Carter.
Sure, it is true that government television is overwhelmingly favorable towards Chávez but only six percent of Venezuelans watch government-owned VTV. And yes, Chávez did interrupt news programming with hours of cadenas (political viewpoints) but this hardly counteracts or balances out the 23 other hours of anti-Chávez broadcasting. Okay, what about the newspapers? Venezuela has three major newspapers: Últimas Noticias, El Nacional, and El Universal. Últimas Noticias is pro-Chávez; El Nacional and El Universal are anti-Chávez. El Nacional, as is commonly known, is owned by Miguel Henrique Otero, a founder of the anti-Chávez organization Movimiento 2D. There are also more anti-Chavez radio stations in Venezuela than pro-Chavez stations, since only 14 percent of radio is publicly owned.
That this ardent visionary who fought austerity measures , who agitated for the poor and the powerless, who founded the movement for the fifth republic, who integrated the downtrodden and marginalized into the mainstream of Venezuelan society, and who helped make his country one of the most equal in Latin America, would be so demonized in the capitalist press is not so surprising. This son of rural schoolteachers created a crack in the concrete wall of finance capitalism where some roses were able to push through. The wall is growing, unfortunately, and getting thicker. I look at media, surveillance technology, and military technology now, such as drones, and really do believe we are living in the midst of some kind of Orwellian dystopia. Amidst this chiliasm of doom, there are courageous people speaking out—the journalist Chris Hedges is one, Noam Chomsky is another, and there are others. And they are certainly true heroes. But what can we say, as educators, about living in the United States today when Congress unanimously passes The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where Section 1021(b)(2) of NDAA gives the military having the power to detain you on American soil, without due process, indefinitely, at the discretion of the President? On December 4, 2012, the new NDAA passed the Senate with a 98-0 vote. That is the date that fascism was formally installed in the United States. When I was a young man, I read Orwell’s novel, 1984. In fact, I have the first Signet Books edition, published in 1950 by the New American Library. The cheap, pulp-fiction book cover shows a sexy woman in a low-cut dress, standing back-to-back with a man wearing a sleeveless work shirt. To the left there is a man in a black cap and black jumpsuit and he looks like he is holding the handle of a whip. The advertisement at the top of the front cover reads, “A Startling View of Life in 1984. Forbidden love….Fear….Betrayal.” And on the back, there appears a question: Which One Will YOU Be In the Year 1984? There are four choices: Proletariat, Police Guard, Party Member, Male and Party Member, Female. I’ll just read you the description of the Party Members. Party Member, Male: “Face-less, mind-less, a flesh-and-blood robot with a push-button brain, you’re denied love by law, taught hate by the flick of a switch! Party Member, Female: “A member of the Anti-Sex League from birth, your duty will be to smother all human emotion, and your children might not be your husband’s!” Now the book was obviously marketed to depict the impending communist threat of the Soviet Union. But look around today and consider who is executing enemies by flying drones, who is practicing ‘extraordinary rendition” and arresting people without due process and moving them into secret detention centers, who has created a national security state with cameras at every corner? In the year 2006, during the Bush administration, the FBI were investigating the library at UCLA to see what books students were checking out, the same year I was placed at the top of the “Dirty Thirty“ list of leftist professors by a right-wing group who offered to pay students one hundred dollars to secretly audiotape my seminars, and 50 dollars to provide notes from my classes. When I scan the cover of 1984, it does not surprise me that it was meant to titillate the reader. Today it is clear that it is so-called capitalist democracy that has ominously spawned a complacent populace (outspoken, yes, but never the less complacent), complacent enough to purge the collective psyche and keep it at bay long enough to enable us to commit the most heinous of crimes. Just like in 1984, we ‘invent’ enemies and then build a war economy trying to fight them. Take the war on Iraq. The company, Halliburton, which was run by former Vice-President Dick Cheney, was given $39.5 billion in Iraq-related contracts over the past decade, with many of the deals given without any bidding from competing firms. While the financial cost of the war was in excess of $1.7 trillion dollars, the cost in human misery knows no price. Today it seems that human relationships are more than ever self-interested; loyalty among friends is disappearing; people who claim a friendship with you will betray you in acts of self-righteous indignation if it gives them an advantage; love has been reduced to chemicals swarming through the body while the heart has been replaced by a hornet’s nest. I believe that imperial capitalism has served as the incubus in creating a collective U.S. Psyche, whose structural unconscious is indistinguishable from the character in American Psycho. By the time that the Psycho finds out who he is, will it be too late?
JMBT: We believe that it is necessary to show in every educational curricula issues such as water poisoning by extraction of heavy crude oil, child exploitation or deforestation for commercial reasons. We believe that to teach about the reasons and the consequences of those sad situations should be the first step to raise awareness and walk towards social justice. Do you think it is possible to introduce this type of knowledge in education?
This is an excellent group of questions, Jose. What can we do as educational and cultural workers, at this crucial moment in history, when corporate revenue expands as the job market shrinks, when there is such a callous disregard for human suffering and human life, when the indomitable human spirit gasps for air in an atmosphere of intellectual paralysis, social amnesia, and political quiescence, when the translucent hues of hope seem ever more ethereal, when thinking about the future seems anachronistic, when the concept of utopia has become irretrievably Disneyfied, when our social roles as citizens have become increasingly corporatized and instrumentalized in a world which hides necessity in the name of consumer desire, when media analyses of military invasions is just another infomercial for the US military industrial complex with its huge global arms industry, and when teachers and students alike wallow in absurdity, waiting for the junkyard of consumer life to vomit up yet another panacea for despair? Just what can we do as inmates in the prison-house of capitalism, ensepulchured in the cold vault of commodity culture?
You mentioned in your question about the exploitation of children. What about the murder of children? What about the justification of torture? As Americans flock to the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, by the brilliant and gifted director, Kathryn Bigelow (whom Naomi Wolf appositely named the new Leni Riefenstahl, “torture’s handmaiden” and “apologist for evil”) to rejoice in the apparent success of the U.S. government’s plan for sodomizing and water boarding suspected Muslim terrorists, no U.S. citizen, whether living within or outside the U.S., is safe from drone surveillance or assassination. President Obama can protest all he wants about the availability of guns in the United States (300 million guns are registered to private owners), but he does not seem to care a whiff about all the children dying in his drone strikes around the world. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been approximately 399-500 drone strikes to-date, and approximately 3,000 individuals have been killed by these strikes, many of them innocent civilians, including women and children. In Pakistan alone, 891 civilians have been killed by U.S. drones since 2004. These airborne assassination operations are taking place at the behest of those leaders who seek no alternative to profit-driven imperial rule and are occurring with increasing regularity throughout the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
Innocent men, women and children in countries that the U.S. is not even at war with are being killed by U.S. hellfire missiles, attacks which go unchallenged by Congress or the Judiciary, and most of which are approved by President Obama. Of the over 3000 people killed so far, the vast majority of them are non-combatant “collateral damage” deaths and of these, 172 have reportedly been children. Of course, the so-called ‘permanent’ war on terrorism can be waged on sovereign countries with the use of drones, for surveillance, or weaponized in the case of the “grunts” of the drone world, the Predator and the Reaper. Here the military fist goes airborne to extend its lethal reach, in the form of cog-eyed ‘droogs’ affixed with the sandals of Hermes, their brass knuckled missiles covered with lightweight latex autopsy gloves. But, alas, there will be no silver-bodied Marias from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to man the anti-aircraft guns and lead the oppressed to victory over their oppressors. We live at an ignominious time in history, when the president of the United States has the power to make targeted killings of American citizens. A U.S. airstrike in eastern Afghanistan not long ago killed 10 civilians, including five children. The deadly attack came just hours after the State of the Union speech in which President Barack Obama falsely claimed that the more than decade-long U.S. war and occupation in Afghanistan “will be over” by the end of next year. Okay, on to the next part of your question.
You mentioned “deforestation” and the “poisoning of water.” Yes we should be examining these issues at all levels of the school system. When we think of questions such as “how to provide a stable growth of the global economy so as put the aggrieved communities of the world back to work,” we make the mistaken assumption that just getting people to produce and consume more commodities is the answer to the problems we are facing during this horrific economic crisis. We think that if we become more creative and more efficient producers, then we could also pay off the debt, create jobs, increase economic equality, find ways to protect the integrity of the planet’s ecosystems and dramatically increase biodiversity, and the like. This is a collective flight of fancy that only helps reproduce the geopolitical and economic logics of the existing corporate oligopoly. Because increasing the size of the economy does not necessarily mean there will be more jobs. And the larger the economy, the more danger we pose to the planet’s biodiversity since we will be using a greater number of resources, and releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The problem is that our economy is already too reliant on growth as it is—the goal of the economy should not be continuous growth, it should not be reliant on aggregate growth as a model for generating jobs. All this talk about expanding the economy at all costs really is a smokescreen for raising taxes on workers, cutting taxes on corporations, undermining worker safety, and paying less wages to workers, not to mention weakening the labor unions.
We need in our schools to excavate the relationship between capitalism and ecological sustainability. We should have as an important theme in our classrooms the great financial crisis that erupted in the fall of 2008 and the deep global recession that followed in its wake. But do you think this would go well with the oligarchic bourgeoisie, who are currently profiting from the fusion of banking and monopoly capital and who are consolidating their power through an intersection of economic and political forms of domination? As capital moves freely, investing in production or in fictitious forms of capitalism, and as speculators, financier capitalists, stock and bond traders, investment bankers, hedge fund mangers, and others help to unleash the forces of capital accumulation globally, and as neo-liberalism with its aggressive pro-market state policies allows this finance capital to restructure itself, to diversify its forms, to expand its accumulation opportunities through the growth of retail, financial and service industries, and enhance its global reach, then it is safe to assume that our ecosystems have been harnessed exploitatively in a system of capitalist commodity production such that we cannot talk about capitalism at all without talking about capitalism as a world ecology. The whole physiognomy of capitalism has changed, with finance capital requiring a parallel accumulation of political power, with financiers married to an unchecked political oligarchy spawning highly parasitic fanancialized forms of capitalism such as asset-stripping. The vampire of capitalism has grown a second set of fangs. The long shadow of Nosferatu falls across a systematic and ongoing attack on the living standards of the vast majority of the population.
We need economic policies that don’t rely on benchmarks such as increasing the Gross Domestic Product. We need to improve the well-being of workers and bring to a grinding halt long-term environmental damage. We need to shorten the working day, not increase it, and distribute evenly the available work. We need to abandon our debt-based money system because if you have a debt-based monetary system you will have to generate constant economic growth in order to pay back your debts.
We need to adopt a vision of sustainability and self-reliance animated by socialist ideas and ideals such as egalitarianism and social justice. I have labeled such an effort ‘revolutionary critical ecopedagogy’ which is a combination of an historically focused application of Marx’s theory , revolutionary critical pedagogy and theoretical advances made in ecopedagogy work, such as the admirable accomplishments of Richard Kahn, David Greenwood, Tina Evans, Donna Houston, Sam Fassbinder, Anthony Nocella, Steve Best, and others.
We have entered a post-genomic era in which we yearn to create some kind of bio-scientifically engineered paradise where all sentient life can languish in some bovine stupor, in some chemically altered pseudo reality stage-managed by transnational psychotropic drug dealers who offer to chemically separate us from the emotional squalor of our Precambrian brain through a vast array of designer lifestyle drugs, where we sit in uninterrupted epiphanic bliss at the feet of a statue of a Quarter Pounder in some prosaic cobblestone courtyard at a secluded Ronald McDonald House next to an 18-hole golf course, or in some kind of edenic trans-human extended epiphany in a university seminar room overflowing with just the correct mixture of a Leibnizian optimism and Nietzschean Dionysian pessimism. Or where we can be perpetually ‘on the road’ in some bohemian fantasy redolent of the 1960s San Francisco Renaissance. But is all this necessary if we have already embraced the Hobbesian vision of complete submission to total authority, if we have become willing supplicants of a communications post-industrial complex in which our feelings are already given structure by the primordial rants and faits et gestes of intrepid talk show hosts with their bone-hard patriotism? Where pundits bloviate incessantly about God and country, corporate gasbags and blathering propagandists who would be more appropriately rendered if all but their voices were replaced by animated characters. Only a cartoon character without a soul could actually defend large corporations and the wealthy who avoid more than $100 billion in taxes every year by setting up offshore tax shelters in places like the Cayman Islands (home to more than 18,000 corporations), Bermuda and the Bahamas that help giant multinationals like General Electric avoid billions of dollars in corporate income taxes. Or defend the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, which found that the first amendment to the U.S. constitution, on freedom of speech, prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, a ruling which effectively gives corporations the same status and rights as people, thus coining the term corporate personhood. Or defend the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, a spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and gives vast, unchecked surveillance authority to the government, and extends the powers of the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance of Americans’ international emails and phone calls. Or support the news laws that make it an act of terrorism to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on the corporate-controlled farms that produce much of our meat, eggs and dairy products. With many Tea Party supporters maintaining that legislation aimed at reducing gun violence is a violation of the God-given right of ‘man’ to have access to assault rifles, that state action against the right of self-defense is by default a violation of the natural rights of man, and that the only way to stop violence like the recent Newtown school massacre is to have more male teachers armed in class with guns, we might want to consider this country as filled with religious extremists of the same ilk as those we are currently labeling ‘terrorists.’
Bill McKibben makes a crucial point that climate change is an issue that does not have the luxury of lengthy debates such as those that address, say, educational policy or immigration, debates that often spawn only incremental changes. Climate change is about physics and if we don’t act now, it will be too late. The fossil fuel industry creates carbon dioxide and transforms it into heat. And it’s the most lucrative business on the planet. If we want to stop the arctic ice from melting, we need to cut toxic emissions by about 5% globally each year—starting immediately. The fossil fuel industry has already bought off Congress. The White House has overruled the EPA on its proposals for stronger smog and ozone regulations and the mining industry is already buying off vast tracts of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. It’s almost too late to say it’s too late.
Jason W. Moore argues persuasively that we cannot separate political economy, sociology, ecology, biology, and other disciplinary approaches involved in understanding humanity from extra-human nature. This is because humans and the rest of nature mutually constitute each other. According to Moore, capitalism is a way of harnessing the endless accumulation of capital, it is, in effect, “a world-ecology.”
Neoliberalism—which relies on a coercive state-finance nexus as its lodestone—has reordered the global relation between humans and the rest of nature. Human nature is reduced to labor productivity. Unlike the case in former crises of capitalism, there is no sign today of a new labor productivity revolution anywhere, not here in the U.S., in Latin America, or in China. According to Moore, the four cheaps—cheap energy, cheap raw materials, cheap labor power and cheap food were necessary for post-1983 capitalist profitability. This is no longer the case, as we are seeing a reversal of cheap food, energy and raw materials, and labor power. Moore warns that we are facing seemingly insurmountable problems: rising energy costs, escalating competition for arable land for agrofuels, the grow of invasive species, the herbicide/glyphosate-resistant superweeds effect, aquifer depletion, and end of cheap water as global warming melts glaciers, and the weakening effectiveness of fertilizers on yield growth. Neoliberal capitalism has exhausted all the ‘free’ wealth of nature—uncommodified energy, water, resources and labor—in short, it has exhausted the very conditions of its reproduction. The world-historical collapse of capitalism’s longue duree regime of profitability and the epochal rupture of neoliberal accumulation by dispossession, is signaled by an endemic decline on the profit rates that has haunted the specter of capitalism for decades.
Capitalism has voraciously sucked the productive system of the world dry—nature’s available bounty—by replacing living labor at the point of production by more and more innovative forms of labor-saving devices. Capitalism—which we view as a world ecology rather than an economic system—is responding to this crisis by redistributing value from labor to capital, with “value” here referring to the elements of production, labor power, means of production, and profit. This extraction of value undermines opportunities for productive investment and this can be seen in the degrading practices of outsourcing, casualization, dehumanizing working conditions and union busting. For the past four years almost nothing meaningful has been done to stop the rampant production and release into the atmosphere of ever greater amounts of carbon dioxide, and there have even been more frantic calls for more production of oil and expanded use of coal as a fuel. We have entered a new era of nature-society relations with the advent of the penetration of finance capital—which is ushering in the end of cheap food, resources, water, and everything else. All of global nature has become dependent on a circuit of capital premised on accumulation by financial means rather than on industrial or agricultural production. These are all messages coming from Jason W. Moore, John Bellamy Foster, Joel Kovel, and other Marxist thinkers who are talking ecology seriously. Now it is up to critical educators to bring this message into the classrooms. We also need to listen to authors such as Heather Rogers, who has undertaken a devastating critique of “ethical consumerism” and today’s much-touted “green” solutions—carbon offsets, organic food, biofuels, and eco-friendly cars and homes—in her book, Green Gone Wrong . According to Rogers, Wal-Mart and General Electric are just two of many firms that are pushing green capitalism. Rogers reveals how recent efforts to go green by swapping our dirty goods for “clean” ones are mired in contradictions and false assumptions, as these ‘earth-friendly products’ do little to minimize damage when they fail to break the mold of consumption and waste. Rogers expertly admonishes what she calls “lazy environmentalism” and also “greenwashing”—corporate public relations campaigns designed to soothe and prevent public criticism of corporations over pollution, waste, environmental decimation and health threats. These approaches still rely on market forces and therefore cannot make the type of difference necessary to protect the planet. Green Gone Wrong explores how the conversion from a “petro” to a “green” society affects the most fundamental aspects of life: food, shelter, and transportation and includes unintended consequences such as massive clear-cutting, destruction of native ecosystems, and grinding poverty. Rogers exposes eco-friendly consumption and market-friendly buzzwords like “green,” “organic,” and “fair trade” and shows us that they are, in effect, mostly disingenuous scams. We can’t save the earth by purchasing compact fluorescent light bulbs, hybrid gas-electric cars and carbon offsets or by buying the correct environmental friendly products. Organic food shoppers may be unwittingly subsidizing big farm companies that are eradicating forests and defiling the soil in some developing countries because their governments are often not concerned about environmental problems. And many well-intentioned NGOs just don’t have much power. The production of “green” goods is actually contributing—although not intentionally—to the escalation of environmental ills. What is offered to consumers by the Green Marketplace—organic and fair-trade foods, eco-architecture, bio-fuels, hybrid automobiles, and carbon offsets, etc.,—just will not work within the social universe of capitalism and the consumer marketplace and often leads to problems that green capitalism was designed to alleviate. Small farmers who use “unconventional” or “beyond organic” agricultural practices are often unable to make a living wage and have to rely on off-farm sources for the majority of their income. Those who are cashing in on the green revolution are corporations such as Walmart and General Mills. Keeping up with the demand for organic foods has led to deforestation in places like Paraguay where stretches of rainforest are turned into organic monocrops like sugar cane. Ecoarchitecture can help reduce the 40 percent of all CO2 gas in the United States that comes from buildings but such architecture is limited to wealthy Americans. Demand for palm oil—which is increasingly used in biodiesel—is growing and to meet this demand tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia are being torn up to provide land for oil palm plantations. Crop-based biofuels are also destroying food supplies and pushing up the price of corn and other crops up to 80 percent. In India, Rogers discovered that carbon offset ventures were doing more harm than good because carbon offset money discourages certain countries from investing in wind or solar power and continues their reliance on fossil fuels. Greenwashing by the public relations industry has all but camouflaged the unprecedented historical outcomes of planetary genocide, ecocide, zoocide and epistemicide. We can’t trust sustainability efforts to be placed in the hands of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). What we need, according to Richard Kahn, Sam Fassbinder and Anthony Nocella, is a critical intervention by visionary educational leaders who are willing to going together with social movements, in order to transfigure the relationship between the school and the society as part of a larger struggle for liberation.
Kahn, Nocella and Fassbinder argue forcefully that education for sustainability must take on the insurgent standpoints of militant research that are demanded by ecopedagogy. Ecopedagogy, in turn, is viewed as an affiliated movement-of-movements that aims to explicate the qualitative differences within the academy between capitalist and related oppressive forms of disciplinary ‘greenspeak’ and democratic and disruptive forms of ecological disciplinarity. Kahn, Nocella and Fassbinder do an excellent job of critiquing the predominant forms of sustainability taught in universities which have to do with environmental sustainability taught in departments of environmental science and environmental studies and dealing with ecology, resource management and environmental economics. Here we see a polarization emerging between sustainability as science and sustainability as justice and equity. So, as Kahn notes, we have environmental literacies in the university antiseptically cleaved from issues of cultural and linguistic democracy, indigenous sovereignty and human rights. The critical ecopedagogy of scholar/activists such as Richard Kahn, Sam Fassbinder, Tina Evans, and David Greenwood operates within an overall dialectics of justice in which environmental justice and ecological justice (the former relating to the unequal distribution of harmful environments between people and the later referring to the relationship between humans and the rest of the world). Kahn rips a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that lists a representative sample of 175 academic institutions that regularly violate the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, to name just a few. Kahn, Nocella and Fassbinder also argue that gross industrial pollution is both a major social and biological harm that disproportionately affects the poor and people of color, as well as being a primary contributor to the ruination of the land and destruction of species diversity. So definitely, pollution needs to be a thematic focal point of school curricula. So yes, we do need ecopedagogy.
JMBT: In Global Education Magazine we work every day to achieve worldwide social justice. It enables us to initiate an era of brotherhood between all human beings in order to enrich mutually and in which any person in the world will be snatched away their dignity. Can you give us any advice?
PM: History is a mirror that reflects who we are by how we engage and interact with others. History reflects our own agency back at us and calls into question our ability to transcend ourselves. Your goal of creating a global brotherhood and sisterhood is a necessary means of forming structures of dissent. Only through the creation of a culture of contestation can we hope to transform the world. I would only say, stand steadfast in what you are already doing and try not to lose resolve. Capitalism is trying to restore the conditions of its reproduction by destroying you, by destroying the value of your labor power. The rate of global exploitation is increasing exponentially. We cannot sanitize the present. Peasants are being driven from the countryside of their ancestors into the cities to be used as cheap labor. Stand with them. Factories are being shut down and recuperated by workers. Stand with them. Throughout the advanced capitalist world, unions are under assault. Stand with them and encourage them to be truly ‘tribunes of the oppressed.’ Indigenous groups are fighting to reclaim their land and their rights. Stand with them. Prisons are filling up with capitalism’s racialized ‘surplus’ population. Stand with these victims of injustice. Women are are being raped with impunity and forced to bear the worst burdens of capitalist super-exploitation. Stand with them. Stand with the victims of war, with those who are disabled, with those who are losing hope, with those are losing faith that another world is possible. Capitalism cannot escape the gravity of its hubris, and if it is busy reconstituting itself, so must the revolutionary self-activity of the oppressed meet it in stride by rekindling the socialist imaginary. Luchar hasta vencer.
JMBT: And finally, do you have any additional comments for our readers?
PM: It is gratifying for me to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance through the pages of this courageous magazine. We all share more than what divides us. We can be a unifying force for change. Together, we can turn possible futures into tangible realities that can liberate us from the chains that make us as much as we make them. We have the power to break our chains. But it will take more than one fist to hold the hammer. And more than one heart to give us the courage to grip the handle firmly. I believe it is important to remember that with every cul-de-sac we face in human history, we have the possibility of creating a new horizon of hope and the chance to move foreword. Thinkers such as István Mészáros, Paulo Freire, Peter Hudis, Michael A. Lebowitz, Marta Harnecker, John Bellamy Foster, Carl Boggs, Ramon Grosfoguel, E. San Juan, Joel Kovel, Jan Nederveen Pieterse, William I. Robinson, Kevin Anderson, Henry Giroux, Bertell Ollman and many others have been theorizing about changes that need to be made to make the world a more livable and humane place. As Michael Lebowitz put it so aptly, socialism requires social ownership of the means of production and social production organized by workers for the purpose of meeting the needs of society. In other words, real human development will require socialist production organized by workers and this, of course, requires a society that undertakes production directly and consciously for the needs of society. It is up to us to begin the task of building such a society. My role has been to excavate the ways in which educators can play a part in this process. I am not interested in making education more effective, or efficient, or smooth-running, or successful. It is already too successful. But what is it successful at doing? That is the question that haunts this generation and all preceding generations. In its present form, education is successful at creating the conditions of possibility for capitalism to reproduce itself. My job is to disturb this process and help re-direct the purpose of education to rebuilding a democratic socialist alternative to capitalism. Rebuilding such an alternative is not the call for a blueprint. Especially not one forged in the crucible of Western imperial culture. I am reminded of a story about Gandhi. In 1931, during a conference held in London, Gandhi was asked by a British journalist what he thought of Western civilization. “I think it would be a good idea,” he replied. What a socialist future will look like is to be determined by those who are struggling for it. The struggle for socialism can always turn into its opposite. And this is precisely why we need to think critically about where we should be headed and how we shall get there.
This interview was published on April7th: World Health Day in Global Education Magazine.