The Null Device

There may be no alternative

An interesting article on the artificial and constructed nature of neoliberalism, the supposedly neutral post-ideological ideology, touted as the mirror of that which is and cannot but be:
The public at large would be hard pressed to know that this strange doctrine of economics actually had a place of origin in the Mont Pèlerin Society, which was the brainchild of Friedrich Hayek. Mirowski tells us that one of the keys to Neoliberalism has always been a sort of “double-truth”, the ability to convey both an outer exoteric version of the truth to the public at large, while at the same time conveying an inward esoteric truth to those in the know: what he terms the Neoliberal Thought Collective.
One fundamental contradiction of neoliberalism is that between its assertion of naturalism—the market is the state of nature, to deny it is to fall foul of it, and resistance is useless—and that the specific kinds of market forces, and specific order of society, championed by neoliberalism are anything but natural; in that, neoliberalism diverges from the classical liberalism it purports to be, and becomes a constructivist ideological project; human relations need to be redefined to fit its market-based paradigm, and alternatives need to be bulldozed out of the way, to fit the vested interests of its stakeholders. No alternative must be allowed to challenge this model:
6. Neoliberalism thoroughly revises what it means to be a human person. “Individuals” are merely evanescent projects from a neoliberal perspective. Neoliberalism has consequently become a scale-free Theory of Everything: something as small as a gene or as large as a nation-state is equally engaged in entrepreneurial strategic pursuit of advantage, since the “individual” is no longer a privileged ontological platform. Second, there are no more “classes” in the sense of an older political economy, since every individual is both employer and worker simultaneously; in the limit, every man should be his own business firm or corporation; this has proven a powerful tool for disarming whole swathes of older left discourse. Third, since property is no longer rooted in labor, as in the Lockean tradition, consequently property rights can be readily reengineered and changed to achieve specific political objectives; one observes this in the area of “intellectual property,” or in a development germane to the crisis, ownership of the algorithms that define and trade obscure complex derivatives, and better, to reduce the formal infrastructure of the marketplace itself to a commodity. Indeed, the recent transformation of stock exchanges into profit-seeking IPOs was a critical neoliberal innovation leading up to the crisis. Classical liberals treated “property” as a sacrosanct bulwark against the state; neoliberals do not. Fourth, it destroys the whole tradition of theories of “interests” as possessing empirical grounding in political thought.
7. Neoliberals extol “freedom” as trumping all other virtues; but the definition of freedom is recoded and heavily edited within their framework. It is economic freedom only.
Of course, imposing the economic freedom of those with the means to exercise it requires considerable effort, with significant proportions of the economy being employed as guard labour:
12. The neoliberal program ends up vastly expanding incarceration and the carceral sphere in the name of getting the government off our backs.
Friedrich Hayek himself, as much as he cautioned against the threat of Communist serfdom (which would be an inevitable consequence of state intervention in the economy), was not a fan of democracy, seeing it at worst as a problem to be mitigated, and at best a placebo button, giving those at the top of the pyramid a veil of legitimacy that, say, the Bourbons and Romanovs didn't have:
Hayek, no friend of democracy, looked upon this closed society of elite intellectuals as if it were a new Platonic Academy. In fact he saw democracy as a hindrance to the neoliberal world view, saying to his friend Bertrand de Jouvenel, “I sometimes wonder whether it is not more than capitalism this strong egalitarian strain (they call it democracy) in America which is so inimical to the growth of a cultural elite.”
Meanwhile, it turns out that the neoliberal order is not particularly good for the mental health of those subjected to it, or so argues that perennial Cassandra of the Left, George Monbiot, citing a new book by a Belgian psychoanalyst, Paul Verhaeghe. (No idea whether he identifies as a Marxist psychoanalyst, a peculiar school of thought which, these days, seems to outnumber Marxist economists.)
The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty, and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition known in Russian as tufta. It means falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power.
These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia: both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors – the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us.
And here is a piece by the BBC's esoteric historian, Adam Curtis, about the men who brought Hayek's neoliberalism—and its vector, the pseudo-academic, ideological PR agency known as the think tank—to Britain; a tale also involving legendary pirate radio station Radio Caroline, rock star turned gonzo anti-politician Screaming Lord Sutch, and the small-'l' libertarianism of the Sixeventies:
The Think Tank that Antony Fisher set up was very different. It had no interest in thinking up new ideas because it already knew the "truth". It already had all the ideas it needed laid out in Professor Hayek's books. Its aim instead was to influence public opinion - through promoting those ideas. It was a big shift away from the RAND model - you gave up being the manufacturing dept for ideas and instead became the sales and promotion dept for what Hayek had bluntly called "second-hand ideas".
Reg Calvert was part of an old, unruly tradition of true independence and libertarian freedom. A real bucaneer who would ignore rules and the structure of class and power in Britain while merrily going his own way. Smedley on the other hand was a "privateer" only to the extent that he wanted to bring the private sector back to power in Britain. Other than that he wanted the traditional power structure to remain the same. And to do this he (and his Think Tank) wanted to reinvent the free market as a managed system - managed by them, and any true "privateer" - like Reg - who challenged that power was doomed.
If one sees the epoch from the youthquake of the Sixeventies to the triumph of Reagan and Thatcher's free-market ideology and a globalised quasi-feudal corporatism with the levers of power far out of the reach of the populace as one revolution, it could be argued that this was another case of a revolution (in this case, loosely defined as a period of phase transition or instability, in which old certainties come undone and the future is up for grabs) being seized by a well-organised faction with its own Nietzschean will to power. In this case, the Bolsheviks are the interests of concentrated wealth and power, their ability to exercise their power limited by things such as Roosevelt's New Deal, or even the post-Enlightenment doctrines of universal human rights, and the hippies (in the loose sense of the word) are the chumps who kicked off the revolution and then got it taken from them by someone far more devious.

There are 2 comments on "There may be no alternative":

Posted by: Dan Sun Aug 10 10:57:27 2014

I say, the provided semipermalink to this screed - http://dev.null.org/blog/archive/2014/08/07#0045_there_may_be_no_alte - it links to a blank page. Help! How do I make it Go Viral? *wrings hands* Please fix the naughty computer?

Posted by: acb Sun Aug 10 13:43:27 2014

Try the item link: http://dev.null.org/blog/item/201408070045_there_may_be_no_alte

I'll look into why the archive link isn't working, but that is odd.

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