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.*
Overview for essay
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.
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.
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.