Blog Posts

On Personal Responsibility and Careerism

For decades, we've been hearing how everyone should 'take responsibility for their actions,' and that we are each responsible for our 'success' (or lack thereof). And because these statements are rather broad and simplistic, it's served to foster a kind of reflexive denial of same in others. Today, we're still stuck in that false dichotomy, which leads us to ignore a few pretty serious questions. Namely, what to make of the fact that, especially when we are performing certain roles within institutions, we are actually encouraged not to take responsibility for our actions, and not to think about how we feel about what we do. And that seems to me a pretty important question to ask, both because of how much of our life we spend playing such roles, and because it relates to how we think and act at other times. I'd like to explore this issue here, and see where it leads us.


In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin talks about what drives conservatives, who he proposes we call reactionaries. Namely, a desire to silence and repress (or, as academics like to put it, deny voice to) others. In this, they are motivated in part by a strong conviction that their putative 'inferiors' have no right to speak (or to be heard), in part by fear of the personal and political consequences of the latter being heard, or of their organizing themselves. And they tend to justify this stance, and any actions they take to maintain hierarchy and inequality, using claims such as that the world can only function if everyone 'knows their place' (and submits or obeys). I found his argument quite thought-provoking, and it led me to wonder what analogous desire and world-view animated those who in the media are called 'the (center-)left' -- and who in the US self-identify as liberals, elsewhere as liberal or social democrats --, but who don't subscribe to the ("radical") egalitarianism and belief in solidarity that I see as the foundation of left politics and democracy.

Linking Neoliberalism, Identity Politics and Bureaucracy

Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have already done a lot to analyze and explain 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.* But where Harvey's account of the start of the counterrevolution only includes the conservative response, Chomsky points out that elite liberals were just as disturbed by what they termed "an excess of democracy". He notes, describing 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.

Video Posts

Life under Meritocracy -- embodied edition

I am a dutch white guy 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 (Calvinist) cultural 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.

On the need for ideological control (and debt peonage) in democratic societies

Until 2008, I'd mostly been ignoring political economy as an area of study, as the subject bored me, and I found the mindset too unpleasant. The financial crisis changed this, and alerted me to the fact it wasn't wise to leave this to the 'experts' (who hadn't seen the crisis coming).

I started out doing the responsible thing, and informing myself by reading the serious media, paying special interest to those who were critics, to see how they explained things. Most of what I read there didn't really explain much, however, as the crisis tended to be presented as a fluke or a "natural disaster", while the "f word" was barely even mentioned. This suggested collective blindness to me, 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. So I started looking for alternative sources, moving around until I encountered Naked Capitalism, and David Harvey's work. Since then, I've slowly been (re-)educating myself, and unlearning to accept the status quo as normal.

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

Reintegrating the dismal science

There are a number of ways to explain what money is, and what it allows us to do. Sadly, the "origin story" that we were all taught in school is a very misleading morality tale, in which exchange of goods is presented as a wholly separate sphere of life. Supposedly, humans were stuck with a so-called "barter economy" until they invented money. This is a complete fairy tale, and this matters a great deal.

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

As I've argued elsewhere, while most of us are unaware that we've been taught (and are taught, and are teaching) this lesson, just about everyone alive today has been raised to believe that the weight of someone's needs may depend on how we value them. By the time we're adults, this idea and logic are deeply rooted, though 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. Elites think this way about non-elites (esp. the unemployed, the indigent and the "less educated"). Most of us tend to victim-blame. And so on.

Nonviolent Communication -- an introduction

A large part of the reason I started this blog is to introduce others to Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication. I ran into his work about a half-decade ago, shortly after going vegan. It resonated with me very strongly, because he and his work showed me not just why it is so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone's needs have equal value, but also how we can learn to listen for and express what's alive in ourselves and in others, and how to separate the strategies we come up with to meet our needs from the needs that we try to meet that way, and to always focus on the latter. Briefly put, NVC showed me how language enables and reinforces domination structures and inequality, both inside our heads, and in the societies we produce through our actions. 

Book Posts