Blog Posts

Linking Neoliberalism, Identity Politics and Bureaucracy

Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have already said a lot about the rise of neoliberalism. Both agree that it should primarily be understood as a political project, aimed at discouraging and keeping 'ordinary' people from participating in politics, after the events of the 1960s (partly through impoverishment, partly through Bullshit Jobs). But where Harvey, in his account of the start of the counterrevolution, only mentions the conservative response, Chomsky points out that elite liberals were just as disturbed by what they termed "an excess of democracy". Chomsky, speaking about the Trilateral Commission's The Crisis of Democracy:

This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.

Today, more than 40 years have passed. And it seems to me that on the whole, this two-pronged attack has been pretty successful, given how little people still seem to demand of their politicians and parties, how much agreement there is between politicians concerning the basic premises of what politics should be about, and how unequal the income and wealth distributions have become. The question I'd like to explore here is how they did it, and how today's political apathy, especially of the educated, fits in. Now, I obviously won't be providing a complete account here, as there are way too many moving parts. But I do hope that this post will provide food for thought, and suggest a few new avenues to explore.

On Personal Responsibility and Careerism

It seems fair to say that for the better part of 4 decades, a large part of what we've been hearing from neoliberals and conservatives alike is variations on how we should all 'take responsibility for our actions,' and that we alone are responsible for our "success" (or lack thereof). And because this is very obviously and unfairly incorrect, it's served to foster a kind of reflexive denial of same in others. As a result, we seem to be stuck in a false dichotomy, and we seem to be largely blind to the questions that matter, and to the obvious -- that employment contract and wage slavery or no, we are still human, and we have a responsibility to act fairly. To try find a way out, I'd like to propose taking the first position seriously, and seeing where doing so leads.


In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin explains what drives those he calls reactionaries (though most of the people he discusses are usually called conservatives, a point I'll return to below). Namely, a desire to silence and repress (or, as academics like to say, deny voice to) others. In this, they are motivated either by the thought that their supposed "inferiors" have no right to speak, or by fear of the (personal and political) consequences of their being heard, and their self-organization. Which they in turn usually justify by invoking the notion that the world can only function if "people know their place". I found his thesis quite thought-provoking, and wondered what analogous desire and world-view might animate those who the media call 'the left' (and who in the US self-identify as liberals, elsewhere as liberal or social democrats). Because whatever it would be, it was clear to me that these they didn't subscribe to the radical egalitarianism that I associate with 'left politics'.

Video Posts

Nonviolent Communication -- an introduction

I first encountered NVC slightly over 5 years ago now, shortly after going vegan. It resonated with me very strongly, though it took me a while to figure out how to integrate its insights, especially when it comes to engaging in advocacy. And even now, I still feel like an amateur. :) Nevertheless, it was the missing link I'd been looking for, as it provides us with a way to give everyone's needs equal weight, and to learn what it means to embrace egalitarianism, as well as how to get there.

Life under Meritocracy -- embodied edition

I am a white male with a lower middle class background, who was among the first to go to uni, with an extended family that I felt strongly encouraged me to embrace petit-bourgeois (protestant) values and life goals, in a society that does the same. As a youth, I encountered few positive role models or like-minded peers, and lots of confirmation that I was different, which I didn't know what to do with, and found difficult to accept. Due to social awkwardness, some early bullying and the like, and because I equated social status, likability and attractiveness, I also long doubted both my general likability and physical attractiveness. This gave me the freedom to not care much about people's appearance beyond basic hygiene, as I saw these as facts of life for everyone.

Some thoughts on "How to Turn Litter into Money": Linking Promises, Money and Violence

Reintegrating the dismal science with other human behavior

There are a number of ways to explain what money is, and what it allows us to do. Sadly, money's "origin story", which we were all taught in school, is a very misleading morality tale, in which human interactions that involve goods are treated as a wholly separate sphere of life, in which people would only engage in spot trades. According to the tale, humans were only willing to move away from direct exchange once they invented currency. This picture is a complete fantasy, in ways that matter a great deal.

Chomsky on the need for ideological control

Up until 2008 I had mostly been ignoring the world of politics, having accepted the suggestion that we were in a post-political age. But when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, I realized that elites can't handle the responsibility of running the world by themselves. So I tried to do the responsible thing, and inform myself -- reading the elite media, paying special interest to those who were critics, to see how they explained things. However, most of what I read struck me as unconvincing, as the crisis tended to be presented as a fluke or a "natural disaster", while the "f word" was hardly even mentioned. This struck me as indicative of collective blindness, given how beneficial the run-up had been to some, and given what I already knew about (the lies leading up to) the invasion of Iraq, and the Dot-Com bubble. As such, I went off on my own, moving around until I encountered Naked Capitalism, and then David Harvey's work. Since then, I've slowly been (re-)educating myself, and unlearning to accept the status quo as normal.

Veganism, and "so long as we accept violence in any form, we accept violence in every form"

Although we're mostly unaware that we're being taught (or teaching) this lesson, nearly everyone is raised to believe that the weight of someone's needs depends on how we view them. By the time we're adults, this idea and logic are deep-seated indeed, though people differ in how broadly they apply it. Sadly, most of us apply this logic to our thinking about non-nationals, and people with a different ethnic background. As many or more people apply it to their thinking about people who adhere to no or different religions. Elites think this way about non-elites (and esp. the unemployed or "less educated", or those "left behind by globalization"). Whites about non-whites. And so on.

Book Posts