Thinking Dangerously

That is, there are no dangerous thoughts for the simple reason
that thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise.  . . .
nonthinking is even more dangerous. — Hannah Arendt

Everyone should read a very important article by Henry A. Giroux in TruthOut; I include a few excerpts:

Thinking Dangerously in an Age of Political Betrayal

Thinking has become dangerous in the United States. As Paul Stoller observes, the symptoms are everywhere including a Texas GOP Party platform that states, “We oppose teaching of Higher order Thinking Skills [because they] have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental control” to a Tennessee bill that “allows the teaching of creationism in state’s classrooms.”

At a time when anti-intellectualism runs rampant throughout popular culture and the political landscape, it seems imperative to once again remind ourselves of how important critical thought as a crucible for thinking analytically can be both a resource and an indispensable tool. If critical thought, sometimes disparaged as theory, gets a bad name, it is not because it is inherently dogmatic, jargonistic or rigidly specialized, but because it is often abused or because it becomes a tool of irrelevancy – a form of theoreticism in which theory becomes an end in itself. …

critical thinking

Theory has no guarantees, and like any other mode of thought, it has to be problematized, critically engaged and judged in terms of its interests, effects and value as part of a broader enhancement of human agency and democratization. At their best, theory, thinking dangerously and critical thought have the power to shift the questions, provide the tools for offering historical and relational contexts, and “push at the frontiers . . . of the human imagination.” … As Theodor Adorno observes, “Theory speaks for what is not narrow-minded – and commonsense most certainly is.” As such, theory is not only analytical in its search for understanding and truth, it is also critical and subversive, always employing modes of self and social critique necessary to examine its own grounds and those poisonous fundamentalisms in the larger society haunting the body politic. …

The United States has moved a great distance away from the critical theories of thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, Edward Said, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Lowenthal, Ellen Willis, Simone de Beauvoir and others. At the current historical moment, critical thinking is utterly devalued, viewed either as a nostalgic leftover of the weighty ideological and political battles that characterized the period roughly extending from the 1960s to the late 1980s, or theory is dismissed as the province of overly privileged and pampered academics. Critical ideas and concepts in support of a equality, justice, freedom and democracy, in particular, have lost their material and political grounding and have become sound bites either scorned by mainstream politicians or appropriated only to be turned into their opposite. …

Sound bites now pass for erudite commentary and merge with the banality of celebrity culture, which produces its own self-serving illiteracy and cult of privatization and consumerism. Moreover, as the power of communication and language wanes, collapsing into the seepage of hateful discourses, the eager cheerleaders of casino capitalism along with the ever-present anti-public intellectuals dominate the airwaves and screen culture in order to aggressively wage a war against all public institutions, youth, women, immigrants, unions, poor minorities, the homeless, gays, workers, the unemployed, poor children and others. …


The assault on critical thought is taking place in a variety of spheres, including higher education, especially at a time when corporatism, a mad empiricism and market-driven ideologies are the dominant forces at work in defining what counts as labor, research, pedagogy, journalism and learning. The notion that thinking dangerously produces forms of literacy in which knowledge is related to issues of agency, public values and social problems is quickly disappearing from higher education and other sites. For example, Republican governors in states such as Texas, Maine and Florida have defunded those fields of study in higher education that cannot be measured in economic terms, while redefining the mission of the university as merely an adjunct of corporations, the military-industrial complex and government intelligence agencies. …

The right wing in its various guises have so devalued any democratic notion of the social and critical thought that it has become difficult to think in terms outside of the survival-of the-fittest ethic and culture of cruelty that now dominates reality TV, the bullies who set policy in Washington and the sycophants who are media cheerleaders for Obama, the bankers and corporate America. Fortunately, we have a number of brave souls in and out of the academy who refuse to give up the language of democracy – from Harvey Kay and Chris Hedges to the indomitable and courageous Bill Moyers.


We live in an era when conservatives and the financial elite collapse public concerns into private interests, define people largely as consumers and consider everyone potential terrorists. Moreover, the apostles of neoliberal capitalism militarize and commodify the entire society, consider youth as nothing more than a source of profit, define education as training, undermine the welfare state in favor of a warfare state and define democracy as synonymous with the language of capital. We live in a period that the late Gil Scott-Heron once called “winter in America.” As the forces of authoritarianism sweep over every major US institution, the time for widespread resistance and radical democratic change has never been so urgent. … As a mode of resistance, dangerous thinking is the basis for a formative and pedagogical culture of questioning and politics that takes seriously how knowledge can become central to the practice of freedom, justice and democratic change. At a time of lowered expectations, thinking dangerously raises the bar and points to making the impossible, once again, all the more possible.

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