The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'monetarism'
A professor of psychiatry in Dublin suggests that Reaganite/Thatcherite "economic rationalist" ideology may have originated in Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. The claim is based on a diagnosis of Sir Keith Joseph, a pioneer of the radical free-market ideology that strongly influenced Margaret Thatcher:
"His ideas have influenced politics for 20 years. Monetarism has some of the characteristics of Asperger's in its insensitivity and its harshness - that is my point, the man and what he does in life are one. It is important to know this because these people control the destiny of the nation," Professor Fitzgerald said.
People with Asperger's are mostly of normal intelligence but have narrow, intense or obsessive interests. They suffer social impairment and have difficulty making friends and forming and keeping relationships. They lack the ability to understand the subtext of social situations, and make remarks that cause offence or behave in ways that breach the rules of acceptability. They have to learn social skills intellectually rather than intuitively.That doesn't sound too far away from "there is no such thing as society".
Since coming to power just over 10 years ago, Australia's unapologetically right-wing government has been at war with the culture of the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC (which, being a not-for-profit, government-funded entity, tends to attract people with left-wing ideals). Periodic purges of leftists and threats to its funding have kept it mostly timid and less than eager to make trouble for the government or question its agenda, though this is a less than permanent solution. Now the government's Communications Minister has announced plans to change its culture more permanently by introducing advertising.
If this goes through, Australia may soon lack a non-commercial broadcasting network funded on ideals of public service, with everything being turned into a colossal shopping mall of easily digestible mental junk food designed to attract the broadest possible audience, without the risk of challenging anyone's beliefs or requiring them to think. Those who dislike crass, loud, intelligence-insulting ads and programming designed for the lowest common denominator will be out of luck, but then again, such attitudes are fundamentally un-Australian, and have no place in a relaxed and comfortable society.
(As if by coincidence, The Soul Jazz Tropicália CD arrived in the mail today; the booklet, which gives a detailed history of the Tropicália movement and its suppression by the Brazilian military dictatorship, mentions at one stage that immediately after the military coup in 1964, the dictatorship encouraged a "television-based society" to reinforce social control. Television, it seems, is an ideal tool for instilling conformity and passivity, with its passive nature and narcotic pull; after all, why go out and do things in the mundane everyday world if you can involve yourself in the plot of Friends or Lost? And more channels of TV don't seem to be much of an answer; as has been claimed recently, all that replacing a few channels everyone watches with hundreds of niche lifestyle channels does is hasten social atomisation and encourage a sort of nihilistic solipsism and further withdrawal from any sort of social discourse. In short, the effects of television are great if one wants a passive, docile population delegating the consent of the governed to technocrats, not so good if one wants a vigorous social discourse. Discuss.)
And in other news from Australia: the country's political climate may be moving further to the right, with the Christian Fundamentalist Family First party set to win the balance of power in South Australia, getting the preferences of Labor ahead of the Democrats. Family First are the charming people whose policies involve reinforcing social discrimination against homosexuals, stepping up the War On Drugs, and installing a Saudi-style national internet firewall to protect Australians from seeing immoral content online. Now it looks like they may be leaping over the Greens and what's left of the Democrats to become the party of the balance of power for the Howard era.
The Sydney Morning Herald on what the recent lionisation of Kerry Packer as a "Great Australian" says about Australia today:
A decade ago we had a significant succession of truly inspirational governors-general; we looked to the ABC for excellence in broadcasting, to the universities to foster critical minds and to the CSIRO for scientific research of high integrity. If John Howard were a true conservative, he would have sustained those traditions. Instead, he has debauched them. Today we have an invisible governor-general, universities corrupted by their scrabbling for money, an underfunded ABC and a CSIRO where those who are genuinely concerned about global warming are expected to bite their tongues.
According to the latest polling, a majority of Australians accept that they are being governed by a divisive and mean-spirited leader, but apparently they no longer care. It's a "Whatever it takes" world we live in now. If it takes lies to stay in power or bribes to sell our wheat, no matter.
Packer in his lifetime was an icon for those who espoused the philosophy of whatever it takes. There was much to admire in his force of personality and in his exploits, but under no account should he be mistaken for a model citizen. He had utter contempt for politicians, for the arts, for idealism of any kind, for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and for those who did not share his world view. His ethics were defined simply as whatever the law allows.
It is truly appalling that our residual sense of sadness for his family should be channelled by the Packer interests and its claqueurs to raise him to the kind of heroic stature that his life doesn't justify. In some ways he unfortunately represents all that is wrong with contemporary Australia.
If this article is to be believed, the young people who grew up in John Howard's Australia have taken the Tory government's values wholly to heart:
The language of the Howard Government on religious minorities and refugees has resulted in a generation desensitised to the very human realities and manifestations of global inequity and ethnic difference. When Howard talks of "queue jumpers" and "illegals" to describe refugees, there is a knee-jerk tendency among young people to apportion blame rather than feel empathy. This is a state of affairs that Howard has personally overseen, a significant paradigm shift that entrenches a deep and pernicious ethos of social hierarchy and privilege.
Simultaneously, there is a tendency of young people to flock to evangelical religious movements in the past five years, particularly in the outer suburbs of our capital cities. Without wishing to speak disparagingly about young people seeking spiritual depth, we can say that within these new popular religious movements disengagement with mainstream political reality is fostered. To many of these groups, "family values" becomes a code for being anti-gay, anti-euthanasia and anti-abortion. It is alarming to hear how frequently young people today embrace this kind of neo-conservatism, almost like a race to see who can be more right-wing.
Moreover, with Howard's constant talk of a very white-bread brand of traditional family values being paramount to a good society, we have seen a sudden rush of young people to get married early, get a home loan and shift to the suburbs at the first opportunity. This obsession has even extended into the gay community, which after fighting for 30 years to keep the government out of the bedroom, now appears to be fighting for the approval of Howard for their relationships.
Coupled with this, we have witnessed in Australia a new kind of hyper-consumerism. The social centre of town on any given evening is now the local shopping centre. Young people are all too eager to get the biggest credit limits possible, and max their Visa cards out with the casualness of a walk in the park. Indeed, the Howard era has brought us closer to US style ultra-materialism, where "retail therapy" is the new buzz word. Feeling bored or depressed? Better get to Chadstone shopping centre. The so-called metrosexual male has become little more than a crass marketing ploy.The lack of empathy, hyperconsumerism and devil-take-the-hindmost mentality could be the same Hobbesian muscular nihilism witnessed in the United States. Though the rise of US-style right-wing evangelical churches and acceptance of conformistic ideas of "family values" is more alarming, especially coupled with the thread of intolerance for difference hinted at. Australia may be changing, on a deep level, into one large Red State, one in which nonconformity is something to be punished and straightened rather than embraced.
Considering the virtual absence of American authors from this year's Hugo shortlist, Charlie Stross has an interesting piece on the state of science fiction writing today, and in particular the slump in US scifi.
Here's my speculation: American SF is going through a gloom-laden period induced by external social conditions, much as British SF did in the 1947-79 period (and differently, in the 1980-92 period). Extrapolative SF is often used by writers as a mirror for reflecting our concerns about the present on the silver screen of the future. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Puppet Masters" were artefacts of the late 1940's/early 1950's paranoia about communist infiltration. "Fugue for a Darkening Island" was a dismal if-this-goes-on dirge played to the tune of Enoch Powell. "Neuromancer" was 1980's corporate deracination hooked up to an overdose of MTV, mainlining on hidden assumptions of monetarism. When SF is at its most overtly predictive -- especially when it speaks of the impending future -- it is talking about the present, capturing the zeitgeist and projecting it forward.
n American SF today there is a huge surge in the proportion of alternate history counterfactuals: as James Nicoll notes, AH is often used as a consolatory literature that, at its worst, says "we go back in time and make history happen the way it should have happened! Yay, Us! In a completely contrived scenario, we can win!" The boom in fantasy probably needs no further explanation. Ditto the military-SF field, which at its worst reflects the self-indulgent imperialist excesses of the British penny dreadfuls of the early 20th century.
what's almost totally absent is convincing near-future SF about a future America that is anything other than a dystopic rubbish dump. Bleakness is the new optimism. Writers living in the USA today just don't seem enthusiastic about the near future in the way that they did as recently as the 1980's, where at least the cyberpunk future of cliche was a vaguely habitable pastiche of the globalized present. They are, in fact, exhibiting the same canary-in-a-sociological-coalmine malaise as British SF writers of the 1960's and 1970's.
Eric Raymond has written a smug Libertarian critique of Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod, rooted in the fundamental notion of the total bankrupcy of socialism and indeed the undeniable supremacy of the Free Market. No Ayn Rand quotes though. And here's Charles Stross' rebuttal.
(IMHO, the Randian/Propertarian argument of the supremacy of the Free Market is somewhat naïve, for the reasons Charlie describes (markets are good for some things but not all); the recent fashion of defining everything as being, in its basic sense, a market is rather daft. OTOH, I don't think the future belongs to any variant of Marxism (which was, after all, constrained by its 19th-century backgrounds).)
And then there's the "Cowboys vs. Eurotrash" subtext that usually emerges in the whole recurring argument, with predominantly American Libertarians making smug digs at the bankrupcy and impending collapse of Eurosocialism (usually coming down to how the ultimate oracle of the Market has shown that Big Macs and Britney Spears are inherently superior to baguettes and Johnny Hallyday, and any argument to the contrary is just the elitism of sore losers in the global cultural marketplace), and left-leaning Europeans pointing at rampant obesity, firearm deaths and other aspects of the Ugly American stereotype in response.