Academic journal article Theory in Action

Poisoned City in the Age of Casino Capitalism

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Poisoned City in the Age of Casino Capitalism

Article excerpt

In the current age of free-market forces, privatization, commodification, and deregulation, Americans are no longer bound by or interested in historical memory, connecting narratives, or modes of thinking that allow them to translate private troubles into broader systemic considerations. As Irving Howe once noted "the rhetoric of apocalypse haunts the air" accompanied by a relentless spectacle that flattens time, disconnects events, obsesses with the moment, and leaves no traces of the past, resistance, or previous totalitarian dangers.1 America has become a privatized "culture of the immediate,"2 a society in which the past is erased and the future appears ominous.

Under the rule of neoliberalism, the dissolution of historical and public memory "cauterizes democracy's more radical expressions." 3 By restaging the relationship between the state and economic power, neoliberal logics frame all aspects of conduct, modes of governance, and daily existence in exclusively economic terms. Neoliberalism has subverted the radical repositories of memory while also subjecting the dreams of social justice and full civic participation to the onedimensional dictates of the market. The American public's vision of a good and just society is now haunted, if not subverted, by the demands of a consumer-obsessed social order defined by possessive individualism, instant gratification, and a growing infantilism. The only subject of any value is the one propelled by the demands of constant consumption and self-promotion-an endless investment in and promotion of the self in changing markets fixated on the pursuit of financial gain. The self in the age of consumerism, celebrity culture, and branding becomes an illusory figure indifferent to the responsibilities of democratic participation and governance. In the era of Donald Trump, American politics denotes an age of forgetting, civil rights, full inclusion, and the promise of democracy. There is a divorce between thought and its historical determinants, a severance of events both from each other and the conditions that produce them.

The recent crisis over the poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan and the ways in which it has been taken up by many analysts in the mainstream media provide a classic example of how public issues have been emptied of any substance and devoid of historical understanding. This is a politics that fails to offer a comprehensive mode of analysis, one that refused to link what is wrongly viewed as an isolated issue to a broader set of social, political, and economic factors. Under such circumstances shared dangers are isolated and collapse into either insulated acts of governmental incompetence a case of misguided bureaucratic ineptitude, or unfortunate acts of individual misconduct, and other narratives of depoliticized disconnection. In this instance, there is more at work than flawed arguments or conceptual straitjackets. There is also a refusal to address a savage neoliberal politics in which state violence is used to hurt, abuse, and humiliate those populations who are vulnerable, powerless, and considered disposable. In Flint, the unimaginable has become imaginable as 8,657 children under six years of age have been subjected to potential lead poisoning.4 Flint provides a tragic example of what happens to a society when democracy begins to disappear and is surpassed by a state remade in the image of the corporation.

What happened to the children in Flint, Michigan represents an egregious criminal act or even better an act of domestic terrorism and those responsible should be held accountable in a court of law. As Robert Thompson, a practicing pediatrician and former director of the Department of Preventive Care at Group Health in Washington State observed in a personal email to me, "one note of emphasis I would add. As contrasted to other instances of bureaucratic malfeasance, the Flint issue to me is perhaps the worst I have seen. Lead poisoning damage to the kids in Flint is NOT something that can be reversed. …

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