Tuesday, 10 January 2017
it is with great sadness that we learned about the death of our long-time author Zygmunt Bauman, who passed away yesterday at the age of 91. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
In his memory, we would like to draw attention again to his final two articles on Social Europe published in November 2016 after the election of Donald Trump.
"Trump: A Quick Fix For Existential Anxiety" and "How Neoliberalism Prepared The Way For Donald Trump"
As far as we know these were his last published articles.
Saturday, 7 January 2017
|Zygmunt Bauman (b. 1925), Polish philosopher (Wikipedia)|
Zygmunt Bauman talks retrotopia and humanity's disillusionment with the future.
Zygmunt Bauman’s nine decades have been lived close to the marrow of history. Born in 1925 to non-practicing Polish-Jewish parents in Poznan, his family fled to the Soviet Union in 1939 as Nazi tanks rolled into Poland.
Having served in the Red Army with distinction, he returned to Poland after the Second World War to study sociology at Warsaw University. But, with Communism having long since lost its lustre and his academic career impeded by anti-Semitism, he emigrated to the UK in 1968, where he took up a chair of sociology at the University of Leeds.
But it’s after his retirement in 1990 that the probing intelligence, for which he is so renowned, started to generate book after book. Intimations of Postmodernity (1992); Liquid Modernity (2000); Society Under Siege (2002); Strangers at Our Door (2016) ... the list goes on.
In fact, over the past quarter century he has published some 40 books, not for the sake of it, but because the world as it is is not how he feels it ought to be. Or, as he put it in 2003: ‘Why do I write books? Why do I think? Why should I be passionate? Because things could be different, they could be made better.’
The exchange below took place earlier this year after an initial question about the significance of the EU referendum result (published in August’s spiked review) prompted the following conversation about the future, the past and the fate of the Enlightenment project.
spiked review: You’ve spoken before of popular disillusionment with national politics in a globalised world, and people’s sense that national politicians are powerless to affect change. Have your views changed in light of the EU referendum and the prospective Brexit?
Zygmunt Bauman: I believe that the collapse of trust in the capability of all (I repeat all) parts of the territorially sovereign state’s political establishment across the developed world to deliver desired change (or indeed any promised change) is precisely what, paradoxically, has sedimented the Brexit phenomenon.
With voters’ frustration with the political elite complete, and their total refusal to invest trust in any part of the political elite, the referendum provided an unprecedented opportunity to match the polling choices with the sentiments struggling for expression. It was a unique occasion, in that respect, and so very different to routine parliamentary elections!
At a General Election, you may express your frustration, your anger against the most recent in a long line of power-holders and promise-givers. But the price you pay for this emotional relief is merely to invite Her Majesty’s Opposition, an inseparable part of the political establishment, to enter ministerial offices as Her Majesty’s Government. In this endless game of musical chairs, you come nowhere near to expressing the total, comprehensive nature of your dissent.
The occasion offered by the Brexit referendum was completely different. With nearly all sectors of the political establishment positioning themselves on the Remain side of the division, you could use your single vote for Leave to release your anger against all of them in one go. The more all-embracing your frustration, the more tempting it becomes to do just that - to grasp that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vent your anger.
review: You’ve written of the end of progress, the loss of belief in the idea that the future will be better than the past. Is there anything in the Brexit phenomenon (and, indeed, other populist movements on the continent) that promises a new, perhaps even better era for Europe?
Bauman: We still believe in ‘progress’, but we view it now as both a blessing and a curse, with the curse part growing steadily, while the blessing part is getting smaller. Contrast this with the attitude of our most recent ancestors - they still believed the future to be the safest and most promising location for hopes.
We, however, tend to locate our fears, anxieties and apprehensions in the future: of growing job scarcity; of falling incomes and so also of the decline of our and our children’s life chances; of the increasing frailty of our social positions and the temporariness of our life achievements; of an unstoppably widening gap between the tools, resources and skills at our disposal and the grandiosity of life challenges; of the control over our lives slipping from our hands.
It’s as if we, as individuals, are being degraded to the status of pawns on the margins of a chess game being played by persons unknown. They are indifferent to our needs and dreams, if not downright hostile and cruel, and are all too ready to sacrifice us in pursuit of their own objectives.
What the thought of future tends nowadays to bring to mind, therefore, is the growing menace of being discovered and classified as inept and unfit for task, denied value and dignity, marginalised, excluded and outcast.
A rising majority of people have by now learned from their own experience, and that of their nearest and dearest, to discredit the uneven, capricious, unpredictable and notoriously disappointing future as the location for investment of hopes. My latest book, Retrotopia, touches precisely on these issues. Let me quote a fragment from its introduction:
‘This is what Walter Benjamin had to say in his Theses of the Philosophy of History, written in early 1940, about the message conveyed by Angelus Novus (renamed Angel of History), a 1920 Paul Klee painting:
“The face of the Angel of History is turned towards the past. Where we perceived a chain of events, he sees a single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is what we call progress.”
Were one to look closely at Klee’s drawing almost a century after Benjamin produced his unfathomably, incomparably profound insight, one would catch the Angel of History once more in full flight. What might however strike him or her most, is the angel changing direction - the Angel of History caught in the moment of a u-turn.
His face is turning from the past to the future, his wings being pushed backwards by the storm blowing this time from the imagined, anticipated and feared-in-advance future towards the paradise of the past (itself retrospectively imagined after having been lost and fallen into ruins). And the wings are being pressed now, as they were pressed then, with equally mighty violence so that now as then “the angel can no longer close them”.
Past and future, one may conclude, are in the process of exchanging their respective virtues and vices, listed - as suggested by Benjamin - a hundred years ago by Klee. It is now the future that is booked on the debit side, having been first decried for its untrustworthiness and unmanageability, with more vices than virtues, while it is the turn of the past, with more virtues than vices, to be booked on the credit side - as a site of still free choice and the investment of still undiscredited hope.’
I believe that the Brexit episode, as well as ‘other populist movements on the continent’, are manifestations of the above discussed ‘retrotopian tendency’. In the absence of effective tools of action capable of tackling the problems of our present situation, and given the rising number of disappointments brought by successive futures credited with developing these tools of action, it is hardly surprising that the proposition of the u-turn of exploration looks misleadingly attractive.
The possibility of ‘a new, perhaps even better era for Europe’ emerging in the aftermath of Brexit, may yet appear, as its unanticipated yet plausible consequence. But that will be because we become frustrated with the use of antiquated tribalisms to deal with the present-day challenges generated by the emergent globalised human condition of worldwide interdependence.
review: The idea of a retrotopian tendency does make sense, given the widespread fear of the future. But how do you account for the co-existing tendency to view the past as a negative moral absolute, a way, if you like, of morally orienting ourselves in the present by saying ‘we know we are against that’ or ‘never again’? I’m thinking here of the centrality of the Holocaust to contemporary political and historical discourse, which has really come to the fore over the past 20 years. And I’m also thinking of the recent but continued focus on historical sex crimes in the UK, where it often seems as if the relatively recent past is being turned into a site of barely believable corruption and immorality against which we affirm ourselves in the present. The future certainly seems discredited today, but is the past not equally so?
Bauman: Isaac Newton insisted that each action triggers a reaction … and Hegel presented history as a strife/friction between mutually prompting and reinforcing oppositions (the intertwined cancellation and absorption process known as ‘dialectics’). Were you to start from Newton or Hegel, you’d arrive at much the same conclusion: namely, that it would be indeed bizarre if the retrotopian tendency was not fed by and feeding the future’s enthronement and dethronement (your question above being, by the way, a good example of that dialectics).
Retrotopia, just as the orthodox Future-utopia, refers to a foreign land: unknown, unvisited, untried and, all in all, un-experienced territory. This is precisely why retrotopias and utopias are resorted to, intermittently, whenever an alternative to the present is sought. Both are, for that reason, selective visions, and in both cases they are selective visions that are obediently and obligingly amenable to manipulation. In both cases, the floodlights of attention are focused on some aspects of, to quote Leopold von Ranke, wie es ist eigentlich gewesen [how it really was] but in a dense shadow. This allows both to be ideal (imagined) territories on which to locate the (imagined) ideal state of affairs, or at least a corrected version of the present state of affairs.
So far, utopia and retrotopia don’t differ - at least in their proceedings and the partiality of results. What really sets one apart from the other is the changing of places between trust and mistrust: trust being moved from future to the past, mistrust in the opposite direction.
Your own example captures that process, implying as it does that the unavoidability of the ‘retrotopian tendency’ coincides with the popularity of ‘never again’. After all, retrotopia derives its attraction, among other factors, from the ‘never again’ sense that the future may, and is likely to, ‘do it again’. That ‘centrality of the Holocaust to contemporary political and historical discourse, which has really come to the fore over the past 20 years’, which you so rightly note, wouldn’t otherwise happen. It testifies to the collapse of confidence in the future’s ability to raise moral standards.
review: You talk, correctly I believe, of this intense mistrust of the future, which, in turn, generates these retrotopian dreams of a past that never was. But why has the future ceased to be the location for our hopes, the space in which we imagine and envisage how things ought to be? You partially answer this where you note that ‘a great and rising majority of people have … learned … to discredit the uneven, capricious, unpredictable and notoriously disappointing future’.
But European history is pockmarked by the experience of assorted horrific events which did not necessarily result in a widespread loss of faith in the future. For instance, the Thirty Years War was followed by the first stirrings of the Enlightenment, one of the most future-oriented and optimistic of cultural moments. Even after the catastrophe of the World Wars and the Holocaust, the postwar period, up until the 1970s, was arguably marked by a degree of optimism, that things were getting better, indeed, ‘that you’ve never had it so good’, and then, of course there was the Sixties, a moment of great social and political experimentation.
So what is it about life in society today that has rendered the future up as something to be mistrusted, to be feared even?
Bauman: Thinking of the future ‘as something to be mistrusted, to be feared even’, is by no means novel in human history. In fact, it goes back to pre-Socratic times, more precisely, to the 8th century BC - to Hesiod’s Works and Days, and in particular the story of the ‘Ages of Men’ it contains.
This was a story of continuous decadence, corruption and degradation, from the ‘golden age’ peak to the ‘iron age’ bottom of bottoms, in which Hesiod located himself together with his contemporaries. His description of the condition and dynamics of the iron age’s inhabitants was strikingly reminiscent of the characteristics our own contemporaries impute to our own 21st-century condition when embarking on the retrotopian journey; that is, it was atrocious, horrifying and repulsive.
As Hesiod saw it, the ‘race of iron’ was doomed ‘never to rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night’. In the age of iron, ‘the father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guests with their host, nor comrade with comrade’, and ‘there will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right, and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them.’ In the iron age, aidos (the Greek name for the feeling of reverence, and also for the shame which restrains people from wrongdoing) will be increasingly conspicuous by its absence only.
In its reaction to the heritage of pagan Greece, Christian Europe introduced a third element to the Hesiodic cycle of decline and fall: redemption, the prospect of chronological reversal of golden and iron eras. Saint Augustine, for instance, introduced a linear concept of time that flowed from the inferior City of Man, worm-eaten by indelible traces of original sin and, like Hesiod’s iron age, endemically corrupt, to the perfection of the City of God, led by the Christian church, the avant-garde and the place d’armes. In the Middle Ages up until the modern age, however, the predominant model of time-flow was closer to Hesiod’s than to Saint Augustine’s.
During the Renaissance, things change. Francis Bacon dared to visualise the rule of salomon’s house, the ideal college in his utopian work New Atlantis, as the culmination of the long, wobbly and thorny upward climb of humanity to a new golden age. And in an attempt to go beyond the querelle des anciens et des modernes, Isaac Newton tried to put sticks in both warring anthills, proclaiming in a letter to Robert Hooke on 5 February 1675: ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’
In the interests of simplifying this convoluted story of inter-crossing, inter-twining, mutually inspiring and reciprocally detracting lines of thought, I suggest the year 1755 as the watershed point separating the two competing visions of apocalyptic decline from the beginning of men-designed and men-guided history - the emergence, that is, of a vision of continuous, essentially unstoppable progress.
In that year, an earthquake, followed by fire and succeeded by deluge, combined to wipe the city of Lisbon from the face of the earth. At that point, Lisbon was admired and revered as one of the richest and most powerful economic and cultural citadels of what, by its own definition, constituted the avant-garde of the civilised world. To put it in a nutshell: now standing charged with its endemic indiscrimination, moral numbness and dumbness, as well as indifference to human ethics and values, nature - that order established by Deus (since then absconditus, leaving the fate of humans to their own ingenuity and inventiveness) - needed to be taken under new human management.
The new management was sternly and resolutely forward looking. ‘New’ turned into the tautology of ‘improved’ and ‘better’, as much as the ‘old’ turned into a pleonasm for ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘outdated’. In the process, this transformed the extant and soon-to-be old into the realm of condemnable imperfection, earmarked for waste disposal. And it expanded the space of desirable and welcome novelties, until consumer markets made it all but instantaneous. Life became future-oriented and ever more hurried.
But increasingly, the symptoms suggest that that era of human management is more a temporary aberration than a new paradigm. I feel tempted to suggest that when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the ‘life towards the future’, as Ernst Bloch had it, will be filed in the annals of human history as a rather uncharacteristic and surely untypical episode - a romantic adventure, hotly passionate, but brief.
review: You’re right about the significance of the Lisbon Earthquake. Perhaps the most famous response - and one that echoes your assertion that the response to the earthquake was to take God-forsaken nature under human management - is Voltaire’s Candide. The final line, a riposte to apostles of Panglossian progress, resonates here: ‘We must cultivate our garden.’ It captures well the Enlightenment sense that humanity can emerge from its ‘self-incurred tutelage’, as Kant put it, the sense that through our own reason (and there is/was no higher authority than our own reason!), we can grasp the laws of the natural and social world, and shape the world according to our own rationally chosen ends.
Why then in the 21st century, at a time when our ability to ‘manage’ nature, ‘to cultivate our garden’, to ‘live towards the future’ is unparalleled, does the Enlightenment project (if I can call it that) appear as a ‘brief’ interlude?
Bauman: George Steiner once said that the privilege of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Holbach, Condorcet and their ilk was their ignorance: they didn’t know what we know and can’t forget. Isaiah’s ‘New Jerusalem’ descending - reluctantly and not without resistance - from the heavenly future, will do so in the company of Auschwitz, Kolyma and Hiroshima. All of these were the fruits of our garden’s keen and skillful cultivation.
review: You even liken the progressive relationship to time, and to nature, to a passionate affair. Do you think that, following this affair, we are returning to our long-term relationship with temporality, an older, almost theological-allegorical conception of time, of the fall and apocalypse, of decadence and redemption? After all, from environmentalism to radical Islam, there is no shortage of a sense of the End Times.
Bauman: I repeat what I said before: the future (once the safe bet for the investment of hopes) smacks increasingly of unspeakable (and recondite!) dangers. So hope, bereaved, and bereft of the future, seeks shelter in a once derided and condemned past, the home of superstitions and blunders.
With the options available among time’s offers discredited, each carrying its measure of horror, the phenomenon of ‘imagination fatigue’, the exhaustion of options, emerges. The end of time approaching may be inane, but is surely not unexpected.
Zygmunt Bauman is a sociologist and author, most recently, of Retrotopia, published by Polity (order this book from Amazon(UK)).
Friday, 6 January 2017
|Credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times|
My patient and I both knew he was dying. Not the long kind of dying that stretches on for months or years. He would die today. Maybe tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the next day.
Was there someone I should call? Someone he wanted to see? Not a one, he told me. No immediate family. No close friends. He had a niece down South, maybe, but they hadn’t spoken in years.
For me, the sadness of his death was surpassed only by the sadness of his solitude. I wondered whether his isolation was a driving force of his premature death, not just an unhappy circumstance.
Every day I see variations at both the beginning and end of life: a young man abandoned by friends as he struggles with opioid addiction; an older woman getting by on tea and toast, living in filth, no longer able to clean her cluttered apartment. In these moments, it seems the only thing worse than suffering a serious illness is suffering it alone.
Social isolation is a growing epidemic - one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.
About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. People in poorer health - especially those with mood disorders like anxiety and depression - are more likely to feel lonely. Those without a college education are the least likely to have someone they can talk to about important personal matters.
A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.
Another analysis that pooled data from 70 studies and 3.4 million people found that socially isolated individuals had a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age.
Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.
The evidence on social isolation is clear. What to do about it is less so.
Loneliness is an especially tricky problem because accepting and declaring our loneliness carries profound stigma. Admitting we’re lonely can feel as if we’re admitting we’ve failed in life’s most fundamental domains: belonging, love, attachment. It attacks our basic instincts to save face, and makes it hard to ask for help.
I see this most acutely during the holidays when I care for hospitalized patients, some connected to I.V. poles in barren rooms devoid of family or friends - their aloneness amplified by cheerful Christmas movies playing on wall-mounted televisions. And hospitalized or not, many people report feeling lonelier, more depressed and less satisfied with life during the holiday season.
New research suggests that loneliness is not necessarily the result of poor social skills or lack of social support, but can be caused in part by unusual sensitivity to social cues. Lonely people are more likely to perceive ambiguous social cues negatively, and enter a self-preservation mind-set - worsening the problem. In this way, loneliness can be contagious: When one person becomes lonely, he withdraws from his social circle and causes others to do the same.
Dr. John Cacioppo, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, has tested various approaches to treat loneliness. His work has found that the most effective interventions focus on addressing “maladaptive social cognition” - that is, helping people re-examine how they interact with others and perceive social cues. He is collaborating with the United States military to explore how social cognition training can help soldiers feel less isolated while deployed and after returning home.
The loneliness of older adults has different roots - often resulting from family members moving away and close friends passing away. As one senior put it, “Your world dies before you do.”
Ideally, experts say, neighborhoods and communities would keep an eye out for such older people and take steps to reduce social isolation. Ensuring they have easy access to transportation, through discounted bus passes or special transport services, can help maintain social connections.
Religious older people should be encouraged to continue regular attendance at services and may benefit from a sense of spirituality and community, as well as the watchful eye of fellow churchgoers. Those capable of caring for an animal might enjoy the companionship of a pet. And loved ones living far away from a parent or grandparent could ask a neighbor to check in periodically.
But more structured programs are arising, too. For example, Dr. Paul Tang of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation started a program called linkAges, a cross-generational service exchange inspired by the idea that everyone has something to offer.
The program works by allowing members to post online something they want help with: guitar lessons, a Scrabble partner, a ride to the doctor’s office. Others can then volunteer their time and skills to fill these needs and “bank” hours for when they need something themselves.
“In America, you almost need an excuse for knocking on a neighbor’s door,” Dr. Tang told me. “We want to break down those barriers.”
For example, a college student might see a post from an older man who needs help gardening. She helps him plant a row of flowers and “banks” two hours in the process. A few months later, when she wants to cook a Malaysian meal for her boyfriend, a retired chef comes by to give her cooking lessons.
“You don’t need a playmate every day,” Dr. Tang said. “But knowing you’re valued and a contributing member of society is incredibly reaffirming.” The program now has hundreds of members in California and plans to expand to other areas of the country.
“We in the medical community have to ask ourselves: Are we controlling blood pressure or improving health and well-being?” Dr. Tang said. “I think you have to do the latter to do the former.”
A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart. Increasingly, however, research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. It’s up to all of us - doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities - to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.
Correction: December 24, 2016
Dhruv Khullar, M.D., M.P.P., is a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Follow him on Twitter at @DhruvKhullar.
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
|False Sunflower (Photo: Wikipedia)|
In recent times, the concept of resilience has become widely used in a wide range of industries in the areas of climate change, economic upheaval, education and personal development.
It has been suggested that resilience is the latest buzzword for community engagement and in the corporate workplace, taking over from the concept of ‘sustainability’ which has been in common currency since the 1980s.
It has also been suggested that resilience is a neoliberal construction and that it serves the purpose of maintaining the status quo; that individuals, communities, students, and workers should just accept that life is tough, unable to be changed, but should learn to bounce back and ‘just get on with it’.
Further, it is argued that this passive acceptance is in response to the immovable ideological monolith of neoliberalism and its attendant constructions (self-regulation, managerialism, the ‘audit culture’, and so on).
As a thinker who believes that the neoliberal ideology is very damaging to community life, and to collaboration and the sharing of ideas, this critique has caught my attention.
However, rather than providing a critique of this position, I would prefer instead to reframe the concept of resilience, and to argue that resilience is a neutral concept which has been hijacked and co-opted by neoliberalism.
This is in the same vein as many potentially positive ideas/ concepts/ programs that have been co-opted by the overarching dominant ideology of the contemporary era.
The basic underlying notion of resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity (but it is also so much more than this as this article shows) and, as such, is a neutral concept without ideological backing.
The fact that we live in a global neoliberal environment, and that when we ‘bounce back’, we do so within that environment, does not mean that we ‘bounce back’ in order to reclaim our place in enhancing neoliberal capitalism.
Instead, we have no choice but to bounce back in this situation because that is the environment in which we live. However, perhaps we should see resilience as a site of resistance instead.
One of the key points in building resilience is to create social and community networks. As Emile Durkheim, the famous sociologist argued, when the bonds that attach people to society are weak, then people are at their most vulnerable.
It is widely argued that neoliberalism destroys social and community networks by individualising people. After all, it was Margaret Thatcher who argued that there is no such thing as society, intimating that we are all just atomised individuals.
If the active construction of social and community networks, and thus the strengthening of social bonds, is one of the keys to the building of resilience, then this surely can be seen as a site of resistance against the individualising tendencies of neoliberalism.
The next point is that resilience is not simply a ‘bouncing back’ to the way life was prior to the upheaval. After all, humans learn from their experiences. There is no reason that I can think of to suggest that people cannot ‘bounce back’ to surpass their previous quality of life under many circumstances.
Again, if neoliberalism tends to make people passive and encourages resilience merely to restore the status quo of corporate power so that everyone can be a passive consumer in the corporate-led marketplace, surely the surpassing of the previous qualities of the individual or the community after bouncing back may also include the surpassing of previous knowhow, skills, and wisdom.
This then appears, to me, to be a very active process of the individual reshaping themselves through the building of stronger social and community networks than previously, rather than a passive acceptance of the neoliberal corporate status quo.
There are many reasons such as the above for taking a positive view of the notion of resilience, which I will write more about in future articles, and which will feature in the resources I am putting together over the next couple of years in conjunction with a great team that I am collaborating with.
Overall, the main point of the argument here is that resilience is a neutral concept and is not part of neoliberal ideology. The fact that it has been co-opted by the neoliberal corporate and government agenda does not negate the fact that it is, in fact, a neutral concept.
Any idea can be co-opted by such a powerful all-pervasive ideology, however, if seen from a different perspective, and through an evidence-base, resilience can also be seen as a powerful site of resistance against neoliberalism.
As it is a neutral concept, all of these notions of resilience are open to debate, but we should not be blinded by either side of the argument.
Let’s treat the concept as a neutral one and work with it to strengthen those aspects of society that we want to see improved, rather than just applying more ideology to the concept.
Sunday, 1 January 2017
Anger, Violence, Diminishing Trust, and Positive Psychology: The Inherent Contradictions Within Neoliberalism
|Panopticon looking inwards & outwards (sahipkiran.org)|
At the start of 2017, I look out on the world that we, as humans, have created. We are a species of great paradox, perhaps the most significant being our uncanny ability to destroy and create at the same time. At this moment in history, it is clear that the pace of destruction is rapidly outpacing the pace of our ability to create. Let me attempt to pull together some major trends and my thoughts on these below to see if they can take us anywhere.
1) I believe that violence and anger are on the increase because people are grieving. Grieving for what? Firstly, we, as a species, are grieving for our environment that sustains us. The evidence is there - we appear to have reached some kind of tipping point in which the environment seems to be spiraling out of control. Regardless of what our leaders tell us, we know deep down that things have changed. Secondly, we are grieving for a way of life that has been killed off by neoliberalism. We hate being tracked, we hate being watched, we hate being so stressed that we have no time for our families, we hate going to jobs we no longer enjoy, we hate living in a society in which most jobs are increasingly unfulfilling, we hate being rendered increasingly powerless.
2) This grieving manifests itself in (mostly) male violence, primarily because women are again being increasingly relegated back to the ‘caring’ roles that they have (socially) inherited. Road rage, poorly regulated gun ownership and use in the USA, spiraling domestic violence - if people usually males - have no power outside of the home, they are more likely to attempt to wield it inside the home.
3) In an attempt to “re-empower” ourselves, we turn to esoteric teachings, positive psychology, and self-help programs instead of taking action. We resort to “policing” ourselves and others with an increasingly moralistic view of how we, and others, “should” live. We take on a set of beliefs and are amazed that these beliefs do not form the underlying basis of government policy. It is no surprise that positive psychology and self-help took off rapidly at the same time as neoliberalism first took a stranglehold on modern Western society in the mid-1970s. After all, just as self-regulation is one of the major tenets of Protestantism (one of the bases of Western society), so too is self-regulation the basis of neoliberalism. If we, as a society, put as much energy into these false promises, and actually took action to build the type of community we want, we would have a very different and far more cohesive society.
4) Of course, this massive interest in positive psychology has resulted in the corporatization of the field through the development of a ‘coaching’ industry. Such coaching has all manner of ‘weird and wonderful’ techniques to turn YOU into a ‘better’ person. From aligning your energy with the vibrations of the universe through to manifesting whatever one wants through positive thinking, there is the possibility of thousands of product differentiations, a classic capitalist approach to the market. But … there is one major issue with all this coaching which aligns with many of the issues raised in point 3 - basically, everyone wants to be a coach (because we love to moralistically tell others how to be a better person) while nobody wants to actually be coached.
5) We don’t believe or trust anything anymore, except that everyone is ‘out to get us’. For example, there is a growing trend for people to reject the VERY strong scientific evidence that immunization is necessary to stop us from getting mass-scale disease, and instead, to believe that medical and pharmaceutical corporations and governments are deliberately pushing immunization in order to make profit. We have become obsessed with junk science - immortality, colonizing other planets, transhumanism, dinosaurs (yes!), and yet we mourn and grieve for what we have lost. We believe that our governments, hand-in-hand with corporations, are deliberately trying to poison us on a mass-scale through chemtrails! How is this paranoia going to help us? Why do we, as the public, continue to find this fascinating? Why, for example, are we fascinated with colonizing other planets, when such a belief clearly opens the way to trashing our own planet, even if it is not feasible that such a fascinated individual would ever even escape the inevitably deadly holocaust of a dying ecosystem that could no longer support human life on earth. Why do we continue to support such projects when we refuse to do anything to save animals that live on earth today? We are more fascinated with dinosaurs than with the dying cheetah, the dying elephant - we seek to destroy our cradle, and for what?
6) Being a socialist at heart, and for a long time now, I look in despair now at the “self-proclaimed Left” that currently holds the banner for progressive social change. The “Left” is not only widely dispersed with no unifying pathway to the future, let alone a plan of action, they also appear to be terribly confused. How else can we explain why so many people on the Left hold up Vladimir Putin as a hero of the Left when Russian society can only be described as a form of ‘gangsta’ capitalism in the 21st century. How else can we explain some of the insane responses from previously rational leftist commentators to the victory of Donald Trump? The same response was not there when Reagan or Bush (esp. senior) were elected. The response to such a question is inevitably because “he is worse; he is a fascist”. Perhaps it’s because Trump is so overt about his prejudices, unlike Reagan and Bush who played the game and kept their prejudices hidden. So, take this opportunity to confront the overt - or would you rather allow yourself and the rest of society to sweep the very same prejudices under the carpet because they ‘play the game’?
The argument that is NOT put forward by today’s Left is that put forward by Karl Marx himself; that capitalism would continue to evolve (and strengthen) to the point that capital accumulation would become highly concentrated which would lead to an evolution of the social system into a form of socialism, and eventually, communism. In Marx’s analysis of capitalism, which incidentally, most lefties haven’t read, revolution is not mentioned. It is not until you read the second part of Marx’s work, his political work, that we come across the concept of revolution - and what is it? It is a way of speeding up the inevitable evolution of society from capitalism to socialism to communism. So, good people, go and read the full canon of Marx instead of just reacting!
I will leave you with your own solutions to these issues. My only solution is to get out into the community, be active, and shape the community into what I want it to be. This is the essence of grassroots action. We need to stop acting as selfish individuals whose only interests are our own. This is a very powerful approach as it empowers people to do good for each other. My only other solution is at the ballot box where I simply refuse to vote for the thugs that populate both of Australia’s major political parties. So, this is not a request for a dialogue; in fact, I have no interest in discussing these thoughts. This is in fact a plea for people to get out into the community and to work at the grassroots to create a better and more connected community.