Searching for Truth

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’, but, in fact, do not correspond to reality. In Nietzsche’s view there is no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consists of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Nietzsche argued that truth is impossible – there can only be perspective and interpretation – there are no absolute and fixed truths. Truths are illusions about which one has forgotten what they are; they are lies according to which we find it necessary to live. The sole opportunity for truth and the only experience of reality, Nietzsche claimed, are from an individual’s perspective within life.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) developed the concept of cultural hegemony – whereby the ruling class of a capitalist society coerced the working class to adopt its values in maintaining the State. Gramsci developed the theory to explain why workers in industrialized countries in Europe had not risen up in revolt against the capitalist system as predicted by Marx. He claimed society is manipulated and controlled as a direct consequence of ‘false consciousness’ and the creation of values and life choices that are to be followed. In advanced industrial societies, hegemonic cultural tools such as compulsory schooling, mass media, and popular culture indoctrinate the workers. Gramsci described cultural hegemony as a form of thought control by the dominant economic and ruling elite that permeated throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality. He warned of the necessary struggle, “To tell the truth is revolutionary.”

The Information Age began in 1989 along with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Telecommunications, computers and the Internet allowed instantaneous communication, notwithstanding the vast geographic difference that separated jurisdictions. These high-speed technologies allowed the cross-border flow of commodities with great efficiency. Ronald Reagan had been president for two terms and neoliberal capitalism had become established. The fabrication of trickle down economics provided the opportunity to dismantle the gains of the New Deal. It justified slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro-growth agenda claiming centralized planning of big government doesn’t work because it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. In 2015 Ted Cruz observed, “the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income nationally than any year since 1928.”

Global corporations adopted disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so-called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This also involved cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused.

Media does not hesitate to create cognitive dissonance, the feeling of uncomfortable tension that occurs in the pairing of unrelated facts to create correlation. Roger Ailes and Fox News understood this all to well and regularly distort information. An example of this is President George W. Bush’s speech in which he mentioned Iraq and the September 11th attacks in the same sentence. The close proximity of the mentions is designed to create a correlation in people’s minds when the reality is different. By insinuating, people subconsciously take the idea and turn it into a possibility. This information is fed into the conservative echo chamber of which Fox News is the centerpiece, and through repetition, the correlation becomes fact based on misinformation. As a result, in 2013, two years after the terrorist’s strike against the US 70% of Americans believed that Iraq was involved. The belief in the connection persists even though there has been no proof of a link between the two.

News systems have changed greatly in the past decade. The future of publishing is being put into the hands of the few, who now control the destiny of the many. Emily Bell observes, news publishers have lost control over the distribution of their journalism, which for many readers is now “filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable”. This means that social media companies have become overwhelmingly powerful in determining what we read – and enormously profitable from the monetization of other people’s work. As Bell notes: “There is a far greater concentration of power in this respect than there has ever been in the past.”1 The Facebook app, ‘Paper’ tracks the news you’re interested in and gives you more of that and less of everything else, never burdening you with contradictory information or telling you anything new.

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, written after the Second World War, introduced a concept of reality control that the population could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday language and thought. Orwell’s prophesy in his novel was the appearance of a state in which the truth does not exist; it is merely what ‘big brother’ says it is. Rather than Big Brother watching, today we have multiple big brothers in the form of huge Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, which log every keystroke. Hossein Derakhshan, observes, the “diversity that the World Wide Web had originally envisioned” has given way to “the centralisation of information” inside a select few social networks – and the end result is “making us all less powerful in relation to government and corporations”.When it comes to the Internet, Amazon, Netflix and Pandora use complex algorithms to make recommendations based on what similar people like, and Facebook and Google use them to cull pertinent information from personal emails and Internet searches in order to provide unsolicited user-specific advertising.

The increasing prevalence of this approach suggests that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the values of journalism – a consumerist shift. Instead of strengthening social bonds, or creating an informed public, or the idea of news as a civic good, a democratic necessity, it creates gangs, which spread instant falsehoods that fit their views, reinforcing each other’s beliefs, driving each other deeper into shared opinions, rather than established facts. In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true – as we often see in emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time. The influence of false information on consequences has become apparent in recent elections in the UK and America.

When a fact begins to resemble whatever you feel is true, it becomes very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and ‘facts’ that are not. During Brexit the Leave campaign was well aware of this – and took full advantage, safe in the knowledge that the Advertising Standards Authority has no power to police political claims. A few days after the vote, Ukip’s leaders informed the Guardian that they knew all along that facts would not win the day. Their plan was to take ‘an American-style media approach’. Two political slogans or lies incorporated into the campaign: an extra £350million a week would be spent on the National Health Service if the UK backed a Brexit vote, and it would address concerns over the level of immigration that was threatening social and national identity. What is common to these two reasons is that both involve the diminishing status of truth.

During the 2016 US election style was more important than content. The Internet proved to be a barrier to new ideas – if you’re a hardcore liberal Democrat, for instance, Google shows you news from blue-leaning states. If you’re a conservative Republican, then you get everything that’s slanted that way. In this manner, the Internet became a series of tunnels of misinformation. The algorithm-induced information echo chambers allowed the FSB and FBI to independently undermine one of the candidates in the 2016 US presidential election. The Evangelicals’ mini bubble filtered out Donald Trump’s character flaws and religious beliefs, rather focused on the fact he could deliver conservative judges to the Supreme Court. While it was workers’ fear of neoliberal economics that allowed Donald Trump to win, the economic elite’s interests remain well represented in his cabinet, so the power of the oligarchs continues unabated.

When searching for truth, we must realize the Internet search algorithms are not arbiters of the truth. In fact, there is no such thing as an unbiased news site. This does not mean that there are no truths. Most skeptics believe that by continuously questioning our knowledge, the source thereof, and what is held as “truth,” we can greatly reduce the risk of being deceived. However, the oligarchs and their proxies take advantage of the structure of the Internet to control information that serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward. We must be ever more cognizant of the the social media subtleties that impact us. It is more important than ever to actively seek out alternative views to sense-check our understanding of truth. In addition, progressives must buy subscriptions to printed press in order to ensure the quality of newspapers. Otherwise, the result is a less well-informed public. Today, truth involves not only a search, but also a struggle.

1 Viner, Catherine. (12 July 2016) How technology disrupted the truth. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth

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Choices Have Consequences

Brett Stevens observes, most people see the world in binary categories. They believe that there is either an inherent moral good that we must all obey, or there are no rules and life is pointless anarchy. Nihilism argues for a middle path: we lack inherent order, but are defined by our choices, which means that we must start making smarter choices by understanding the reality in which we live more than the human social reality which we have used to replace it in our minds. Searching for a level of thought underneath the self-serving methods of politics and economics, the philosophy of nihilism approaches thought at its most basic level and highest degree of abstraction. It counters the self-deception of groupthink – individuals not considering all the alternatives, as they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.1

While many rail against nihilism as the death of culture and religion, the philosophy itself encourages a consequentialist, reality-based outlook that forms the basis for moral choice. Unlike the control-oriented systems of thought that form the basis of contemporary society, nihilism reverts the crux of moral thinking to the relationship between the individual and the effects of that individual’s actions in reality. As a direct consequence of nihilism, man is forced to see reality for what it is: a random, irrational, and chaotic existence in which our role is infinitesimal. Nihilistic despair occurs upon finding something that once had value or meaning being not as good as you believed. Not surprisingly this happened when Wall Street protesters called out the ruling class of elites by connecting the dots between corporate and political power. Now many realize the economic system is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind.

Political nihilism is a world-view that’s rational, logical, empirical, scientific and devoid of pointless, extraneous emotion. It’s the logical psyche that distills everything down into what is known, what can be known and what can’t be known. However, truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view. Whatever man can make work in order to achieve his purposes becomes the truth in the system. There is no objective reality behind truth – different perspectives produce different truths. Nihilism is a consequence of the personal realization that values previously assumed inviolate are wholly false and unworkable. And while an acceptance of nihilism immediately returns a perspective of utter futility for life and universal existence, this perspective is not the final resolution. Actually existence has even more purpose now because a proper perspective has been attained and a reason is finally clear – the complete destruction of the debasing, ideologically derived moral order.2

The philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche claimed there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class, and facts cannot be separated from interpretations. Objectivity is beyond human capability because the mind cannot know ‘truth’ in an objective sense. Minds are useful, but according to Nietzsche invariably flawed because they cannot separate facts from human error and moral values, which inevitably are subjective. If all perspectives are subjective and hence flawed, what perspective is society to follow? Nietzsche’s perspective was that no source of knowledge was authoritative. Sources of knowledge won ascendancy based on which ones were backed by holders of power. Thus, perceived truth depended on power. Real truth, if it existed, was not ideology that cannot be challenged, but was relative and subjective. It depends on circumstances.

For Nietzsche, the values (culture and traditions) of the dominant society (with an ideology consistent with its interests) were oppressing the emergence of a new generation of stronger individuals and a more vigorous society and culture. Darwin effectively showed that searching for a true definition of species was not only futile but unnecessary since the definition of a species is something temporary, something which will change over time, without any permanent, lasting and stable reality. Nietzsche strived through his philosophical work to do the same for cultural values. He substituted Darwin’s adaptive fitness with creative power – and called for a ‘re-evaluation of all values.’ Ideas should change as soon as information and input changes. Recognition that moral values are subjective and that rights can only be interpreted in their social context frees the observer to break from the bondage of false views to see society more clearly, if still subjectively.

Nietzsche considered nihilism a transitional stage that accompanies human development. It arises from frustration and weariness. When people feel alienated from values, and have lost the foundation of their value system but have not replaced it with anything, then they become nihilists. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values, and science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science or society, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves as xenophobia. If there is a morality in the nihilist world, it is the unceasing awareness of consequences.

Political nihilism involves the destruction of illusions, the negation of mythology and the removal of the elite who profit from the existing propaganda of artificial confusion. Neoliberals created the illusion cutting taxes for the rich will actually create well paying jobs for the rest of society. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. However, in this so-called evolutionary environment of the market the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to grow. These illusions must be destroyed with truth – tax cuts for the rich do not create well-paying jobs for the middle class and there is no justification for the presence of competition in all parts of social activities.

Donald Trump employed populist nihilism during the 2016 presidential campaign attracting voters disillusioned with the establishment choices. The opportunity was created as the ideology of the dominant society, fundamental neoliberal economics, alienated workers from values such as the American dream. Neither ideology nor facts inform Trump’s decision making, so he could easily adopt political nihilism. What do his choices for cabinet inform us? Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and hedge-fund manager, was appointed to Department of Treasury; Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, was appointed to Department of Commerce. These appointments will ensure the Wall Street-Washington corridor continues to function. These choices make certain the economic elite’s interests will be looked after. “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed,” observed Friedrich Nietzsche.

Political nihilism is a branch of nihilism that follows the characteristic nihilist’s rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions. As such, nihilism does not support equality, however neither does neoliberal capitalism. Nihilism is not about disregard for the law, rather consists in rejection of all value judgements. Nihilism views rights as irrelevant because it’s the underlying structures of morality and the roots of truth, myth and collective delusions that dictate significance. Morality and ethics, a product of the dominant class, laced with hypocrisy and abuse are warped into illusory forces. In this system, with no absolute truth, individuals must evaluate one moral position in relation to other moral positions. Winston Churchill observed, “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

The present system is fundamentally broken; it is necessary to reject the dogma of the past. What will drive change is a doctrine of skepticism coupled with questioning that refutes the ideology, sacred values and principles that maintain neoliberal ideology along with the supporting social and economic institutions based on false beliefs. In this manner new values appear to replace the old. The new system will be configured for a biologically-based existence. This process would reject arbitrary values in favor of cause and effect, with a sustainable mental and physical environment that promotes independent thinking and critical expression. We must make smart choices – and choices have consequences – replacing the existing corrupt political, economic and social systems with a more sustainable environment in order to achieve the goal of making good decisions on how we use our world and the things in it, for all our benefit.

1 A Philosophy Based In Nothingness And Eternity – A Call to Action. (06 Sept 2016) http://www.nihil.org/nihilism/nihilist-book-nihilism-a-philosophy-based-in-nothingness-and-eternity-released

2 Nihilism Defined. http://www.counterorder.com/nihilism.html

 

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Why Co-operation is Necessary

Class conflict and struggle occur, according to Karl Marx, because of the economic organization of most societies. Consequently, capitalism due to its internal contradictions, inevitably moves from crisis to crisis. The nature of economic relations in Europe’s industrial societies, Marx believed, was the central problem for the world’s rapidly growing population. He dismissed the Malthusian notion that the rising world population, rather than capitalism, was the cause of ills. He argued that when society is well ordered, increases in the population should lead to greater wealth, not hunger and misery. Marx posited that a decisive stage in the development of the class struggle would be the moment when workers “discover that the degree of intensity of the competition among themselves depends wholly on the pressure of the relative surplus population” and thus on their being able “to organize a regular co-operation between employed and unemployed”.1

One of the central features of capitalism is the oversupply of labor, or surplus population – a large mass of people that enter and leave the labor force according to the needs of capital. Treating labor as a disposable and/or easily replaceable part of the production process promotes capitalism’s central driving force – the never-ending drive to accumulate wealth. The contradiction between capital and labor is a thing of the past as a new line of demarcation has developed between the “productive” and the “unproductive” members of society. Now the exploited are redefined by their exclusion and by their increasingly precarious relationship to work. A consequence of neoliberalism is the reconfiguration of class relations in a society where the explosion of inequality and economic instability has profoundly dismantled the working class. This system replaces exploitation with the problem of surplus population that consists of the unemployed, the impoverished, immigrants, the excluded, the underclass, and the insecurely employed.

The post-War social welfare state – normalizing work for some and thus normalizing “non-work” for others, helping some to stable, life-long employment while simultaneously allowing others to settle into years of unemployment or social assistance – made the distinction between “active” workers and the unemployed possible. It’s from this perspective that the category of the unemployed as a matter of concern for public policy, in conjunction with the concentration of unemployment, helped to produce, both in theory and practice, a group truly isolated from that of the “salaried population.” As long as we were in a situation of full employment and unemployment was relatively low, the new protections made available to workers posed few problems. Workers continued to have lifestyles and trajectories that were fairly homogeneous, thus facilitating a sense of cohesion and collective organization.

However, as soon as unemployment began ticking upward and became ‘structural’, welfare protections benefiting both workers and the unemployed tended to differentiate between the two and thus fracture the working class into two segments: those with work and those without. Indeed, this very argument was at the heart of the private speech that Mitt Romney gave to wealthy donors during the 2012 presidential election. In his view, the election was going to be tight for any Republican in a country where, according to him, 47% of Americans “pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.”

Herbert Marcuse notes the working class is no longer the agent of social change. Now underprivileged groups require active minorities, students and the young middle class intelligentsia to advocate for radical reform. The classical worker has disappeared and the majority of the people now belong to a post-industrial neo-proletariat, which, with no job security or definite clear identity, fills the area of probationary contracted, casual, temporary and part-time employment. In the system today there is no longer a separation between the rich and the poor. At the centre are the workers who pay taxes for a system of ‘handouts and entitlements’ against the excluded who missed the benefits of 1960s and 1970s. These two fractions of the proletariat redefine the social question. The excluded pose the problem – the so-called surplus population has become the central political subject, rather than the working class per se. It is no longer the fact of being exploited that poses the problem so much as it is one’s relation to work.

Neoliberal capitalism has enlisted these two fractions of the proletariat into destructive competition against each other. The clash is no longer between labour and the privileged elite rather between a proletariat that pays taxes with an underclass that relies on a system of handouts and entitlements. Neoliberalism is redefining the social question as a conflict between two fractions of the proletariat. This new dynamic aims at limiting the social rights of the ‘surplus population’ by pitting active workers against them, while on the other side mobilizing the surplus population against the privileges of the active workers. In the end, both end up accepting to their detriment the centrality of the category of exclusion which is a neoliberal creation.

The post-industrial society is divided between those who have access to the labour market and those, in varying degrees, who do not. The world of labour shifts to exclusion, poverty, and unemployment and the intellectual world largely goes along with this dynamic. This displacement indirectly puts workers who have a job on the same side as the privileged with acquired advantages. This takes the focus from the inherit inequality in the system and focuses on the distribution, specifically its disproportionate effect on the excluded – such as the unemployed, minorities and immigrants. The issue is no longer unemployment as such, but its over representation among certain groups and hence the discrimination to which they have clearly been subjected.

During the primaries Bernie Sanders advocated breaking up the biggest banks, doubling the minimum wage, and putting the entire country on Medicare. His message resonated and he drew massive crowds nearly everywhere he traveled. Much of the enthusiasm for his candidacy came from college students and progressives who think the party establishment has been compromised. “We are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society,” Sanders claims. “Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This is a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue.” Sanders’ message is the need to get big money out of politics and restore democracy. Super PACs enable the wealthiest people and large corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money allowing them to buy elections and elect candidates who represent their interests, not the people.

Donald Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism. This was combined with attacks on Clinton’s character with promises to reduce threats to security, customs and values of Americans. He became an early leader of the Republican hopefuls out maneuvering his fellow contenders using fear as a motivating factor – banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of policies. In particular, he captured the concern of the Republican base over the fear of illegal immigrants with respect to loss of jobs and traditions. Brietbart (news) which taps into a general fear which white workers have over the loss of status finds common ground with Trump.

Neoliberalism is a consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. It has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Neoliberal capitalism is associated with increasing income gradient between the rich and the rest of society. This increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society over the past four decades led to the hollowing out of the middle class, leaving many people angry. Sanders’ angry voters sought the necessary change to create greater equality in society. Trump’s angry supporters who put him over the top want better jobs and less handouts and entitlements to those they believe are taking advantage of the system, including immigrants.

Republican success in the recent election relied on specific messages targeting the differences between the employed and the underclass in America. Republicans took advantage of the success of neoliberals in shifting identity from what people own (class) to the difference of what people are (identity). Thus, one’s position in the (class) relation capital/labor is no longer the object of a fundamental contradiction. The main effect of this approach, which necessarily ends up pitting different segments of the wage-earning working class against each other (on the basis of their different identities), makes it difficult to think abstractly about the forces that produce inequality within the working class. The problem is therefore not so much inequality as seen through the lens of manipulation by an economic elite, but rather the way in which the effects of inequality get distributed throughout society (with certain groups comparatively sheltered from them, and others not).1

What sustains neoliberalism is the ability to which it has been able – explicitly but more often without anyone realizing it – to penetrate and restructure the vision of its opponents. Today, more than ever, the success or failure of the struggles to come against neoliberalism depends on the capacity of political and class organizations (e.g. unions) to draw attention to the socio-economic stakes represented by the ‘surplus population,’ and to convince the ‘stable’ working class that their fates are intertwined. We shall only move forward once the ‘stable’ working class unites with the underemployed / discriminated class to counter the ruinous effects of this so-called natural law that supports a theory whose function serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward. This is why co-operation is necessary.

1 Zamora, Daniel. (13 September 2013) When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: The Condition of the Surplus-Population under Neoliberalism http://nonsite.org/feature/when-exclusion-replaces-exploitation

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Pursuit of Happiness

The Renaissance rediscovered much of classical culture and revived the notion of humans as creative beings, and the Reformation, more directly but in the long run no less effectively, challenged the monolithic authority of the Roman Catholic Church. For Martin Luther, as for Bacon and Descartes, the way to truth lay in the application of human reason. Received authority, whether of Ptolemy in the sciences or the church in the matters of the spirit, was to be the subject to the probing of unfettered minds. Central to the Enlightenment of the 18th century was the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. Humans are rational beings and can exercise reason regarding both theoretical and practical matters. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom and happiness.

For the individual, John Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. On the level of institutions it becomes important to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions of institutions and to make the corresponding distinction for the uses of force by these institutions. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ as envisaged by Locke was not merely the pursuit of pleasure, property, or self-interest (although it does include all of these).  It is also the freedom to be able to make decisions that results in the best life possible for a human being, which includes intellectual and moral effort. Since God has given each person the desire to pursue happiness as a law of nature, the government or institutions should not try to interfere with an individual’s pursuit of happiness. Thus we have to give each person liberty: the freedom to live as he pleases, the freedom to experience his or her own kind of happiness so long as that freedom is compatible with the freedom of others to do likewise.

For the most part there are two types of happiness: the Benthamite or hedonic and the Aristotelian or eudemonics. Jeremy Bentham is primarily known today for his moral philosophy, especially his principle of utilitarianism, which evaluates actions based upon their consequences. The relevant consequences, in particular, are the overall happiness created for everyone affected by the action. For Bentham happiness was a daily experience. He believed the goal of public policy was increasing the contentment and happiness of the greatest number of individuals possible in a society.

For Aristotle happiness was about flourishing and the power of controlling one’s destiny. This was an evaluative wellbeing, that is, the way people think about their lives as a whole including its purpose or meaning. So our function and therefore key to happiness is to be realized through the proper exercise of reason. Tarnas explains, “For Aristotle the goal of human life was happiness, the necessary precondition for which was virtue. But virtue itself had to be defined in terms of rational choice in a concrete situation where virtue lay in the mean of two extremes. Good is always a balance between two opposite evils, the mid point between excess and deficit: temperance is a mean between austerity and indulgence, courage a mean between cowardness and foolhardiness.”1 In other words, pleasure tends to lead us towards bad acts and towards a lack of self-control. In order to be happy we must control our vices, no matter how much pain (or discomfort) it causes us. According to Aristotle, this is the only way to achieve a life filled with long-term happiness, rather than one filled with temporary pleasure from our vices.

Ayn Rand described her philosophy, objectivism, as the blending of free markets, reason and individualism. It was to be a system of rational self-interest and self-responsibility. Rand spoke of the importance of ‘self-esteem’, meaning a justifiable pride in one’s accomplishments. Self-esteem was deemed a necessary defense against altruists who wanted people to give up their liberty or property for the sake of an alleged greater good. Someone with self-esteem would not be bamboozled by false guilt into giving the fruits of his labor to tax by government. Rand claimed a man’s self-esteem encourages him to seek growth. She adopted Aristotle’s self-love in which we love ourselves in the proper sense when we pursue our own true good. This means using reason to make intelligent decisions rather than being buffeted by desires: having regard for long-term interests rather than acting on impulse, behaving with dignity, and treating others with respect.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It maintains that the market delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. While economic and technologic changes play a role, so does ideology that emphasizes the source of success to be competitive self-interest and extreme individualism. Citizens are redefined as consumers, where democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. This transition is exemplified in the replacement of the idea of a ‘career’ with the idea of a succession of working projects. This new format of ‘learn to learn’ and be flexible, autonomous and creative – the attainment of which is regarded as an end in itself – is the definition of human capital. Individuals are no longer owners of careers, rather consumers of goods, competencies and knowledge. A career itinerary that went from job security to personal self-realization has disappeared.

Under neoliberal subjectivity of human capital, happiness has become a prior condition to pursue the fulfillment of those social and economic needs that are no longer guaranteed, as well as increasing the odds of achieving valuable outcomes in the labor sphere. With this institutional use, happiness has been established as one of the most urgent and primary of the needs of individuals in a neoliberal society. The positive psychologist role is to provide a positive and individualistic discourse that aims to justify happiness as a necessary psychological state from which to start pursuing the satisfaction of other needs. Happiness has become a sort of moral imperative as well as an indispensable framework through which to reshape the worker identity within the emerging economic and labor settings of neoliberal capitalism. This puts the onus on the individual for continuous investment in oneself, that is, to enroll in an incessant search for goods and psychological techniques that allow continuous personal growth and progress.2

A study by Gerdtham et al. (1997) found good health to have a significant positive effect on happiness. As health is a strong determinant of happiness then there is every reason for enhancement of health to be a policy priority of the state. Today the causal interaction between happiness and health is well documented. People who are happy enjoy a better health while unhappiness depletes the state of health reducing the immune resistance and originating psychosomatic disease that may lead to depression and suicide. Today the imperative for striving for higher and higher levels of self-improvement brings new narratives of suffering. Individuals are worried about never being able to catch up, giving them a sense of meaninglessness, emptiness and depression when they feel overburdened with responsibilities attached to the project. This is the root cause of the epidemic of mental illness – anxiety, stress and depression – seen today.

Locke believes that using reason to try to grasp the truth to determine the legitimate functions of institutions will optimize human flourishing for the individual and society both in respect to its material and spiritual welfare. Thus we derive the basic right of liberty from the right to pursue happiness. Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. Today’s largest institution, the corporation, champions an economy shaped by competitive self-interest and extreme individualism. This neoliberal working ethic creates exceptional stress on personal responsibility. Every choice made by the individual at any moment is not only liable for defining them, but is also liable for appreciating or for depreciating their worth as a person. John Locke coined the phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ in his book An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. When writing the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase from Locke. While happiness is one of the most important needs of neoliberal society, it is not the same happiness celebrated in the United States Declaration of Independence.

It is necessary to challenge the monolithic power of corporations supported by an ideology serving the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward. Individuals, as creative beings, must reject the concept of human capital that limits their goals of freedom and happiness. With the widening income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society, income matters to happiness as it affects the ability of how to live one’s life. The view of self-interest as the driver of the common good overlooks the benefits derived from a range of public goods in the form of a money system and sewers to health care and education. Quality of life factors, the most important determinants of human happiness and wellbeing, will create opportunities to organize our societies from a sustainable scale perspective. Seeking ecological sustainability and social justice should increase dramatically individual freedom to pursue personal interests. The challenge to implementing solutions will require the oligarchs to put aside vested interests. In their pursuit of happiness they refuse to give up the short-term benefits they derive from the current paradigm.

1 Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our Worldview. New York: Ballantine Books 1991 p. 67.

2 Cabanas, Edgar and José-Carlos Sánchez-González. Inverting the pyramid of needs: Positive psychology’s new order for labor success. Psicothema 2016, Vol. 28, No. 2, 107-113 doi: 10.7334/psicothema2015.267

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The End of Democracy

The council of barons established by the Magna Carta grew over the centuries into a parliament representing the church, wealthy noblemen like the barons, commoners and people from the emerging middle class. William signed the English Bill of Rights assuring the power of parliament and indirectly denying that kings have the divine right to rule. The Glorious Revolution in 1688-1689 marked the beginning of modern English parliamentary democracy. It was called glorious because it achieved its goals without bloodshed in England. This struggle between the king and parliament ended in victory for the people. The new parliament separated the dominant institution of the day, the church, further from the process of government to reduce the church interference in government. Some describe the Enlightenment as beginning with England’s Glorious Revolution.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition, and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. Voltaire criticized the class system of the time – a rigid class system based on inherited positions of nobility and wealth – as being a system exclusively dominated by elite who possess all the financial, political and social power. Voltaire spread liberal rationalist Enlightenment to continental Europe.

Classical liberalism is associated with the movement of political and social philosophy which from the mid-seventeenth century interpreted human society to be an association of free individuals. This liberalism emphasized the freedom of individuals to pursue their own self-interest without reference to traditional collective privileges (of the land-owning nobility, of the guilds of artisans, of the Church). Over the past two hundred years individualism and capitalism rose together. Individualism supports self-interest in business organizations, and is responsible for many of the possibilities available to society. A philosophy developed by Ayn Rand during the Cold War blends free market, reason and individualism. Since the last three decades of the 20th century, people expressed their individuality through exercising choice. Rand espoused a philosophy that leaves the individual unencumbered to pursue self-interest enlightened or otherwise. She promoted the American values rational egoism and individualism. This philosophy supports globalization, which enables the spread of individualism around the world.

When Francis Fukuyama announced the ‘end of history’ in his essay in 1989, it was based on the belief of the triumph of liberal capitalist democracy over other forms of government as the great ideological battles between east and west were over. Liberal capitalist democracy allows people to thrive in an increasingly globalized world. It was believed that if a state wished to enjoy the greatest prosperity possible, it would have to embrace some form of capitalism. The natural desire for peace and well-being would set nations on a path to progress. Since wealth protection depends on the protection of private property, the ‘capitalist’ creep would invariably demand greater legal protection for individual rights. Since only liberal capitalist democracy allowed people to thrive in an increasingly globalized world, this, in turn, would guarantee the future of free democratic states. However, the era of accelerated deregulation and individuals moving money around the world with the click of a button had just commenced when Fukuyama recorded these observations.1

Individualism is a balance between self-reliance and personal responsibility and egotism. The rise of individualism was the result of people living and acting as individuals, rather than members of a larger group. Alex de Tocqueville observed in the 19th century that private interest and personal gain motivated the actions of most Americans which, in turn, cultivated a strong sense of individualism. His definition of individualism was withdrawal from society at large, with a spiritual isolationism. He noted, “It tends to isolate them from one another, to concentrate every man’s attention upon themselves; and it lays open the soul for an inordinate love of gratification. [The advantage of religion] is to impose on man some duties towards his kind and draw him from the contemplation of himself.”2 He saw individualism and market capitalism as a significant force in America. To keep individualism from slipping out of control, he recommended participation in public affairs, growth of associations and newspapers to ensure the principle of self-interest was properly understood and to create a support system from religion.

Globalization is driven by the desire of corporations to pursue economic liberalization. In this system countries primarily compete for the world’s investment capital. This means capital moves to locations where it will find the best conditions for return. This activity increases the opportunities for commercialization or introduction of a commodity into the free market for mass consumption. The process of corporate expansion across borders creates rapid change in many communities with subsequent negative consequences for workers. The fact that there is little international regulation has dire consequences for the safety of the people and the environment. Multinational corporations are responsible for the removal of traditional government accountability to a fixed population for much of politics. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The new corporate values of globalization normalize through a doublespeak, selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy.

Neoliberalism broadly describes a regulatory system, encompassing economic policies emphasizing market deregulation, privatization, and an altered role for the state. Neoliberal capitalism applies to all sectors of society. Neoliberals emphasize that the role of government is to create a good business climate rather than look after the needs and the well-being of the population at large. In a crisis, conflict between the integrity of the financial institutions, on one hand, and the well-being of citizens on the other, the former is privileged. Deregulation has been above all else, a means to reducing corporate business accountability to the public. This system claims the common good depends entirely on the uncontrolled egoism of the individual, and especially on the prosperity of the corporation, hence freedom for corporations consists of freedom from responsibility and commitment to society. Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as it is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost.

At the individual level neoliberalism insists that rationality, individuality and self-interest guide all actions. Neoliberals reform society by subordinating it to the market. The goal is to essentially erase any distinction among the state, society and the market. The major challenge of the neoliberals is how to maintain their pretense of freedom as non-coercion. Their answer is to treat politics as it were a market and promote an economic theory of democracy while redefining the shape and functions of the state. The system constantly proclaims anyone can make it if they try hard enough. We are forever told we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Neoliberal ideology serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upwards.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been a belief that there is no alternative to globalization, but we now realize we bought into an illusion. As expectations give way to reality we realize the connection between capitalism, democracy and liberalism is broken. It is a consequence of restructuring class power in favour of the elite. Free markets have enlarged the gap between rich and poor as well as reduce the average income across developed and developing countries. In the 17th century the church was the dominant institution, while today the corporation is the dominant institution. Today there is a need to challenge the blind faith in the present deregulated market, to understand that the middle class has been deceived, and introduce interventions to reduce the influence of corporations in government affairs. In reality, this system rigs the market – from low capital gains taxes to stock buy-backs – for the elites to ensure the markets benefit them.

Health equity suggests that everyone can reach their full health potential and that they should not be disadvantaged from attaining this potential as a result of their class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance. One of the most important life conditions that both determines whether people are included or excluded from society and whether they stay healthy or become ill is their income. This is especially the case for people living on very low income, that is, poverty. In addition to an individual’s income affecting whether he or she stays healthy or becomes ill, is the overall health of all the members of a society which is more determined by the distribution of income rather than the overall wealth of the society. In summary, inequities reduce the freedom and opportunities for an individual to reach wellness or good health in general, and, their full potential, in particular.

Everyone must have the freedom to reach their full potential – the opportunities one has to reach his or her potential is the most important measure of freedom. We now live not only in a market economy, but also a market society, where the market and its categories of thought have come to dominate ever more areas of our lives. The spread of the paradigm of the market means commodification into every aspect of life – money appears to be able to buy anything. However, competition dictates that corporations maximize profits which, in turn, triggers the ongoing commodifying of services. A major driver of this commodification is to cut labour costs. The commodification of everything – with the increasing income gap, many lost the opportunity to achieve their full potential – is the end of democracy.

1 Stanley, Timothy and Alexander Lee. (01 Sept 2014) It’s Still Not the End of History. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/09/its-still-not-the-end-of-history-francis-fukuyama/379394/

2 de Toqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America Vol 2 section 1 Chapter IV http://www.gutenberg.org/files/816/816-h/816-h.htm

 

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Potential as a Freedom

Life is an unstable equilibrium between agency and determinism. Human agency is a collective of systemic thinkers and doers creating conditions where individuals can transform the status quo. Causal determinism is the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.The essence of free will is that the person really could do more than one possible response to a given situation. To the determinist, causes, including unconscious causes, are operating to bring the person inevitably to what he or she will eventually do. From deterministic perspective, the environment controls everything. Determinists contend that freedom of choice and individual creativity is nothing but an illusion. Agency assumes intellectual creativity that enables individuals to conceive original ideas and then have the freedom to act on these inspirations – often in opposition to limitations that are imposed within a particular environment. Personal agency is the humanistic term for the exercise of free will.

For John Locke (1632-1704) humans entered into social contracts only to help adjudicate disputes between individuals or groups. The purpose of authority was to protect human equality and freedom; this is why social groups agreed to a ‘social contract’ that placed authority over them.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) maintains that the wealthy trick the poor into creating a government with the sole purpose of protecting their property and locking in moral inequality as a permanent feature of civil society. In this manner, the social contract is promoted as treating everyone equally, but in reality, it is in the interest of the few who have become stronger and richer. For Rousseau the income gap is a problem – the very rich and the very poor would value money more than liberty. Rousseau warned large income gaps created the opportunity for liberty to be sold.

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), an English clergyman and scholar, argued that increases in population would eventually diminish the ability of the world to feed itself, based on his conclusion that populations expand in such a way as to overtake the development of sufficient land for crops. Malthus advocated welfare reform, and criticised the recent Poor Laws, which provided increased money depending upon the number of children in the family. He argued that this only encouraged the poor to give birth to more children, as they had no fear that the increased number of offspring made eating any more difficult. Malthus reasoned that the constant threat of poverty and starvation served to teach the virtues of hard work and virtuous behaviour. His work was incredibly popular and widely read by social Darwinists.

Newtonian determinism explained the equilibrium of the free market system described by Adam Smith. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) developed and applied evolutionary theory to the study of society. Spencer applied Newtonian determinism to his analysis, making him one of the first people since the Enlightenment to exclude free will from his analysis. He believed that human society reflects the same evolutionary principles as biological organisms do in their development. Following a universal law, Spencer believed, social institutions such as economics can function without control. His claim social laws are as deterministic as those governing nature supported his concept survival of the fittest and allowed Spencer to believe that the rich and the powerful become so because they are better suited to the social and economic culture of the time.

The elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 can be viewed as inaugurating the formal period of neoliberal dominance. Neoliberalism would counter the economic problems created by the 1970s oil crisis and runaway inflation. Economies would automatically self-adjust to full employment and it would be unnecessary to use fiscal policy to raise employment. The neoliberal market ensures that factors of production are paid what they are worth obviating the need for institutions of social protection and trade unions. In fact, institutions of social protection can cause unemployment by interfering with the market process. In reality, neoliberalism creates a labour market climate of employment insecurity which results in widening wage and income inequality. Compared to 1945 to 1980, this last 35 years has seen substantially slower economic growth and widening income inequality both within and between countries.

Nicos Poulantzas claims political power is founded on an unstable equilibrium of compromises. As neoliberalism unfolded,  the compromises made by the economic elite to set the equilibrium benefited the working class possessing the higher degree of privilege (white middle class) by allowing them improved standards of living through access to education, social mobility, home ownership and consumer credit, on the understanding these compromises do not spill into the political sphere. This released the oligarchs from the constraints of democracy. This equilibrium was thrown off tilt as neoliberalism succeeded in reforming society by erasing any distinctions among the state, society and the market – subordinating society to the market. This unleashed unbridled greed which led to the reversal of the previous compromises that were serving as a buffer between the elite and the working poor, underemployed, unemployed and the generally disenfranchised.

The neoliberals promoted minimal government and regulations which led to the looting of the public coffers by tax cuts and the accumulation of ‘public’ debt. Wealth is concentrated through multiple processes: refusal to pay a living wage, elimination of corporate and wealth taxation and redistribution of the tax burden. The tax breaks also include use of off the grid banks and laundering public funds into corporate hands. This coincides with historic levels of corporate profit and wealth accumulation on one side and widespread appearance of stagnant wages, under employment and ‘austerity’ measures for everyone else. The increased economic gap and reduced mobility left many workers with the stark realization their children are on the way to being less well-off than they are.1

Back door subsidization occurs, such as student loans and foreign aid used to finance weapons industry. The Federal Reserve constant use of quantitative easing which increases the price of shares and property, while the interest rate that middle class tend to use for saving are affected disproportionately. The political consequences of this ‘social contract’ betrayal has been the success of the ‘leave’ vote in Brexit and angry voters  turning to candidates outside the mainstream parties during the 2016 primary elections.

The neoliberal social contract proposed that unrestrained inequality in income and flexible wages would reduce unemployment, but in fact, throughout the rich world both inequality and under employment have soared. Today the middle class realizes that the entire structure of neoliberal thought is a fraud. The neoliberal elite demand a dressed-up sophisticated economic theory be applied regardless of the outcome which has nothing to do with economics but everything to do with power. In 2001 George W Bush responds to a recession by opportunistically cutting tax rates for the wealthy. The neoliberals try to control the debate explaining away the economic failure highlighted by the Great Recession. Full employment is replaced with ‘natural rate of employment’. Neoliberal counter argument to failure is to claim even though the markets may be failing having government remedy market failure would even be worse, owing to bureaucratic inefficiencies and lack of market-styled incentives.

During the 19th century, cracks appeared in the wall of the belief of determinism. The random possibilities followed by choice introduced by Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection soon destroyed the efforts to apply Newtonian determinism to social issues. It introduced the concept of freedom based on chance and choice. Boltzmann’s second law of thermodynamics could only work with the introduction of chance and treating the motion of atoms statistically. Then, in 1927, Werner Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle – occasionally referred to as the Principle of Indeterminacy. It was a revolution in which classical mechanics (that presupposes exact simultaneously values can be assigned to all physical quantities) was replaced with quantum mechanics that denies these possibilities (that the position and momentum of particles cannot be known). The Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Mechanics says one can only predict the path of electron around an atom; the exact locations of electrons can only be known within certain limits. This was a case of irreducible randomness disproving causality.

In the past, the main criticism of Darwin’s natural selection was the requirement of multiple generations before change occurred, which did not fit changes occurring over a life time. In the past two decades epigenetics, a new revolutionary process, has changed this thinking. It is now known that genetic change can occur much more quickly than previously thought, responding from messages coming from other genes, hormones, and from nutritional cues and learning. The realization that the epigenome is highly sensitive and responsive to environmental influences, including toxic exposures, dietary factors, and behavioral impacts, serves to focus future state priorities. How we develop mentally and physically have a tremendous impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life options. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make.

The future is what we decide to make it. Personal agency refers to the choices we make in life, the path we go down, and then their consequences. A cultural process gave rise to the inequalities, Rousseau noted, it will take a change in cultural process to reverse the harmful inequalities. We must not give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by ideology that limits our freedom. The environment, heredity, chance, friends, luck, (things over which one has little control), plays a greater role in wellness than personal life style choices. Controlling epigenetic harms, or environmental harms, is about treating an individual’s potential as a freedom. It is necessary to challenge the status quo of neoliberalism with its causal determinism, and create conditions where individuals can incorporate epigenetic risk into a new social contract. The relevant consequence of this change is the freedom that optimizes the human experience allowing individuals more opportunities to reach their full potential.

1 Jenkins, Colin. (22 May 2014)  Neoliberalism’s Balancing Act: Shifting the Societal Burden and Tempting Fate http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/neoliberalisms-balancin g-act.html#.V-MkryXrtd8

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Today’s Social Fantasy

A fantasy is something produced by the imagination that might possibly be accomplished, although the chances of its fulfillment are quite remote. Illusions, in contrast, are based on false beliefs, and it is their lack of fruition in the face of overwhelming odds that define them as illusions. Both fantasy and illusion contain an element of wish fulfillment, but the chief difference is that fantasies can sometimes come true, while illusions are always based on misconceptions of reality. In some situations there may be a substantial overlap between fantasy and illusion, and the line of demarcation needs to be based on how far removed from reality the fantasy lies in order for it be considered an illusion. Fantasies and illusions also operate on the conscious as well as unconscious levels. In contrast with illusions, fantasy is a product of the imagination based on reality, but as a way of avoiding it.

The market is an anxious social fantasy, supporting the purported natural order in the economic realm. Japhy Wilson observes, “The source of profit in exploitation is concealed by the understanding of economic value as an expression of subjective preference or desire, rather than a measure of labour time… The aim is not to create a world that never existed, but rather to liberate the pre-existing reality of ‘spontaneous market forces’ and ‘entrepreneurial zeal’ from beneath the dead hand of the interventionist state.”1 Both progressives and conservatives desire a powerful regulatory apparatus. Progressives prefer that these tools be used to create greater equality; conservatives that they allow the redistribution of wealth upwards.

There is an anxious desire to hide the ugly realities of capitalism beneath a harmonious order. Adam Smith’s classical introduction to economics, The Wealth of Nations (1776), was popular because it provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system explaining how, when one acted in their own interest it actually helped someone he did not even know. Smith posited that rational self-interest, informed by moral judgments based on fairness and justice, would lead to the best interests of society guided by ‘the invisible hand’ of the marketplace. For the system to function effectively, Smith identified two requirements; one was the market needed to be free of government intervention, and the other was there had to be competition.

Friedrich Hayek (1889-1992), who admired Adam Smith and built on the ideas of his teacher Ludwig von Mises, explored the truths of the Austrian school. Hayek published his book The Road to Serfdom in 1944 with new ideas, sounding the alarm that the West was rapidly abandoning its inheritance of individualism. He claimed there was a slow process under way in which important personal liberties were being extinguished by the state. He looked backwards at the awful history of the first half of the 20th century, musing upon the nature of the enemy. With the success of his book he decided to create a movement connecting liberals scattered around the world who met periodically at Mont Perlin in Switzerland. The Mont Perlin Society was drawn together by the common sense of crisis.

Neoliberalism rose to prominence by representing the subsequent crisis of the 1970s as a crisis of Keynesianism, against which the neoliberal project could be advanced as the return to the natural order of market society. In this system the source of profit in exploitation is concealed, economic value is an expression of subjective preferences, rather than a measure of labour time. This system constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted consumers. We are forever told we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited.

Why is the Great Recession still slamming the middle class? Today’s regulations support neoliberal policies insulating both capital and the state from democratic control. The consequence is a hegemony that relentlessly hollows out the state and marketizes all forms of social existence under the claim the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation. The evolution of the neoliberal project should be understood, not as a meticulous manipulation of social reality, but a series of increasingly desperate attempts to hold the very fabric of reality together. Neoliberalism has become an anxious form of crisis management attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions.

Neoliberal policies maintain that every human capacity, every public policy should be guided to meet the needs of corporations to accumulate greater and greater profits. Its imminent instability lies in its inadequacy, profit is not enough – neoliberal capitalism is imbued with its own instinctual drive for endless growth. The goal is the integration of all human activity, and they are not happy unless there is greater and greater growth. In the end the expression of the incapacity of capitalism becomes the inadequacy of benefits to everyone. The neoliberals insist that unrestrained inequality in incomes and flexible wages reduce unemployment. However, a UN report states that the greater inequality becomes the less stable the economy and the lower the rate of growth.

Freud described the reality principle, the ability to evaluate the external world and differentiate between it and the internal world. The reality principle did not replace the pleasure principle, but represses it, such that, a momentary pleasure; uncertain of its results, is given up, but only in order to gain in a new way, an assured pleasure coming later. The reality principle strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. In neoliberalism the reality principle is replaced by the performance principle. The performance principle presupposes particular forms of rationality for domination that stratifies society, Herbert Marcuse observed, “according to the competitive economic performance of its members.”2 Domination is exercised by a particular group in order to sustain and enhance themselves in a privileged position. The neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems – emphasizing individual responsibility while failing to address systemic state violence in all its manifestations – healthcare, education and the war on the poor.

Neoliberal capitalism as market rationality describes individuals as consumers, not citizens. This self-interest and competitive relations among fellow workers leads to alienation. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as do emotional commitment to the enterprise and the organization. The consequence of this process is enough to make us more selfish, more miserable and less concerned about the welfare of our fellow human beings and the welfare of the state. This leads to tolerance of structural violence and supports pervasive inequality, as there appears to be no alternative to the new reality principle – the performance principle. In other words, the enforcement of the neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems, either focusing on market based solutions to system ills, or emphasizing individual responsibility, which in turn, distances us from the structural violence in the system.

An economic system that rewards psychopathic personality traits has changed our ethics and personalities. Freud claims there exists a dynamic balance between the individual and society that consists of aggressive instinctual impulses, but society attempts to oppress the individual into its requirements. Herbert Marcuse noted violence is a pain-causing process present whenever there is a difference between the actual and the potential for a person. It pervades the social fabric in insidious ways now made apparent when relations of repression result in outbursts, with root causes barely understood. Marcuse termed this ‘surplus-repression’ referring to the organized domination in modern society over and above the basic level of repression of instincts Freud believed necessary for civilization. Henry Giroux likens this more extreme form of repression to a widespread system of ‘culture of cruelty’, which tends to normalize violence to such a degree that even the common occurrence of gun violence fails to trigger a systemic analysis or response.2

Neoliberals have trouble with health inequalities because of the priority for economic growth. Consequently they put forward proximal or downstream public health responses limited to health behaviorism. Rather than attack the fundamental causes of health inequities they focus on smoking, unhealthy dietary sources, poor housing conditions, failure to use contraception. However, more and more health inequalities are increasingly viewed as an outcome of material, social and cultural inequalities across societies, which, in turn, are the product of inequalities in power, income, wealth, knowledge, social status and social connections. Politicians only focus on short-term policies. This results in expenditures downstream, chiefly outcome-focused activities in the name of reducing the consequences of health inequalities, not addressing the root cause of the health inequalities. In this manner neoliberals promote a parallel fantasy world in which downstream, easily tackled exposures are posited as a potential solution to health inequities.

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. Today’s social fantasy is an impossible dream in which the long established social gradient in health is gradually flattened via a series of downstream interventions and policies which, for the most part, focus on trying to change behavior that affects health outcomes, particularly in poorer communities, rather than change the social and economic environments which inform people’s circumstances and decision-making. Under the confines of neoliberalism it is impossible to address the social determinants of health.

1 Wilson, Japhy. (6 June 2014) The economics of anxiety: neoliberalism as obsessional neurosis. https://www.opendemocracy.net/openeconomy/japhy-wilson/economics-of-anxiety-neoliberalism-as-obsessional-neurosis

2 Anderson, James. (29 July 2014) Recuperating Marcuse against a culture of cruelty. https://roarmag.org/essays/marcuse-neoliberalism-culture-violence/

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The Myth of the Market

A myth is a widely held but false belief or idea that serves to explain the status quo in a society. The function of a myth is to justify an existing social system and to account for its rights and customs already in practice. A myth provides people with explanations that enable them to direct their own actions and understand their own surroundings. The ideas behind the myth supporting neoliberal capitalism are articulated by Tim Harford in Adapt (2011), “the economy itself is an evolutionary environment in which a huge variety of ingenious profit-seeking strategies emerge through a decentralized process of trial and error… what emerges is far more brilliant than any single planner could have dreamed up.”1 The function of a mythological order is to validate and maintain a certain sociological system – a shared set of rights and wrongs, proprieties and improprieties, on which social units depend for their existence.

Darwin was not the first naturalist to propose that species change over time to a new species. In 1809 Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) described a two-part mechanism by which change was gradually introduced. The first part of Lamarck’s theory claimed species start out simple and consistently move towards complexity and perfection. The second part dealt with the inheritance of acquired characteristics. He believed that changes in environment or the conditions of life react upon organism in the direction of their needs or functions. This Lamarckian inheritance (mechanism of evolution) involved the inheritance of acquired traits. He believed that the traits changed or acquired over an individual’s lifetime could be passed down to its offspring. That is, when environments changed organisms had to change their behavior to survive. If a giraffe stretched its neck for leaves, for example, a ‘nervous fluid’ would flow to its neck and make it longer. Its offspring would inherit the longer neck and continued stretching would make it longer still over several generations.

Fifty years after the publication of the ideas around Lamarckian inheritance, Charles Darwin published his Theory of Natural Selection. The predictive power of Darwin’s theory rests on its specification of systemic selective forces, based on the algorithm of variation, selection and retention. Darwin never came to any satisfying conclusion about how traits were passed on from parent to offspring. Within a couple of decades of the publication of Darwin’s ideas most scientists accepted that evolution and descent of species from common ancestors were real. Natural selection had a harder time finding acceptance. By the late 19th century many scientists who called themselves Darwinists actually preferred the Lamarckian explanation for the way life changed over time.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a Victorian biologist and philosopher best known for developing and applying evolutionary theory to philosophy and the study of society. In Spencer’s view progress was a direct consequence of adaptation. He believed in Lamarckism inheritance of acquired characteristics in both biological and social evolution. This meant that populations can be modified by the actions of their members much more rapidly than if the process has to wait for the appearance of favorable characteristics by chance variation. He replaced Darwin’s natural selection with survival of the fittest. The concept survival of the fittest allowed Spencer to believe that the rich and the powerful become so because they are better suited to the social and economic culture of the time. He believed it was natural or normal that the strong survived at the cost of the weak. The belief that what was natural was morally correct was used by Spencer’s followers to justify opposition for support for the poor as it was believed welfare programs corrupted morals, as well as fitness.

John Cairns, Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (1963-1968), reported on an experiment in 1968 that suggested gene mutations were not solely the result of random chemical events as is currently perceived. In the experiment bacteria were slowly killed and then were given a chance to respond to the stress. The organism his team used was a strain of Escherichia coli that lacked the enzyme to use lactose as a metabolite. Into the organism they inserted scrambled code for the enzyme necessary to grow. Initially there was no growth, then two days later colonies appeared on the agar. Cairns called this process adaptive mutation – proposing they were mutations, or genetic changes that were much less random and more purposeful than traditional evolution. He claimed the results are consistent with Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics. Some social scientists who were applying evolutionary theory began analyzing problems from the Lamarckian inheritance perspective.

With the election of Ronald Reagan neoliberal economic ideology became mainstream. In the 20th century, economics needed to catch up with the advances in science, turned to biology. Neoliberals treat the market as natural which allows natural science metaphors to be integrated into the neoliberal narrative. There is no real consensus of what the market really is, so neoliberals sought strategic interactions of the kind found in social systems which actually constitute Lamarckian evolution. The market was replaced with competition as the defining character of human relations including redefining individuals as consumers. William Davis observed the competitive principle was extended to all aspects of life, “Its advocates shifted from defending markets as competitive arenas amongst many, to viewing society-as-a-whole as one big competitive arena. To convert money into political power, or into legal muscle, or into media influence, or into educational advantage, is justifiable, within neoliberal capitalism.”2

In the 19th century, Herbert Spencer popularized the word evolution, and coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, not Charles Darwin. Spencer’s reputation at the time rivaled that of Darwin. Spencer preferred the Lamarckian evolution of adapted characteristics in which he believed that societies like living organisms evolve from simple states into highly complex forms – equating evolution with progress. He saw evolutionary progress as an economic problem, worked out at the level of the individual. Today the market is considered an instrument of ‘natural selection’ that judges not on the basis of an individual’s ability to contribute to society, but on the basis of the individual’s ability to contribute to the production of surplus value and the accumulation of capital. Neoliberalism is characterized by the implementation of competition as a formal process in all kinds of management activities, and the adoption of post-benefit analysis as a measure of performance.

From the adaptionist point of view incremental adaptation and environmental selection are the cause of all characteristics, and such evolution has produced not only the optimal, but also the best of all possible worlds. Now the tendency is to equate morality and justice to fitness and adaptive value – following the erroneous assumption that evolution is progress. Each person as their own undertaking is a self-entrepreneur, existing in a series of prescribed relationships that are governed by the logic of self-improvement. It is up to us to make ourselves better, we are told, and the system simply supplies us with the appropriate tools to use – tasks to undertake and ladders to climb so that we may realize our potential. Neoliberal ideology claims the market ensures everyone gets what they deserve.

Just over a decade after Cairn’s announcement of adaptive mutation, further work in molecular genetics of bacteria imploded the Lamarckian theory that had been proposed. In order to respond to the stress of a nutrient poor environment, bacteria down-regulate their gene repair enzymes allowing a higher rate of mutation and a higher chance of a population that can overcome the challenge. In stress-enhanced bacteria, mutation is a regulated phenomenon in which the rate of mutation transiently increases several order higher than normal, triggered by stress. Similarly sub-inhibitory levels of antibiotics stress bacteria and increase the rate of mutation, which, in turn, selects for resistance. This is the result of selective advantage of induction of an error prone DNA polymerase, and illustrates the power of natural selection. The discovery of selective mutations made natural selection not just attractive as an explanation, but unavoidable.

The myth of the market as an evolutionary device serves as an explanation and a justification for, the presence of competition in all parts of social activities. For the past forty years, we believed this evolutionary process to be a source of progress, but now we realize we bought into an illusion. With a discrepancy between theory and data, the biologist will declare the theory is wrong, while the economist is comfortable with myths and develops narrative schemes to defend the myth. One specific example is the explanation following the general failure of financial markets in the global economic crisis that triggered the Great Recession. Neoliberal narrative claims markets as superior computational devices, thus the best people to clean up the crisis are the bankers and financiers who created it in the first place. Consequently there is no need to consider further regulations.

In the 19th century the doctrine of social Darwinism was promoted to justify laissez-faire economics and the minimal state, thought best to promote unfettered competition between individuals, and the gradual improvement of society through the survival of the fittest. The neoliberal insistence upon free markets has been closely associated with conceptions of evolutionary order. In 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. In the so-called evolutionary environment of the market the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to grow. With the ongoing hollowing out of the middle class, this myth continues to provide a powerful ideological cover for neoliberal capitalism.

1 Roscoe, Philip. Dr Pangloss and the Best of All Possible Markets: Evolutionary Fantasies and Justifications in Contemporary Economic Discourse. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/20479786.pdf

2 Davis, William. (3 Aug 2016) How competitiveness became one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture. https://off-guardian.org/2016/08/03/how-competitiveness-became-one-of-the-great-unquestioned-virtues-of-contemporary-culture/

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The New Parasitic Bureaucracy

The Occupy Wall Street movement was a protest against the oligarchy that is responsible for the increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. The ideology of neoliberalism drives the social agenda and economic goals of the oligarchs. Neoliberals believe that if the market is left to its own devices, not stymied by regulation, the outcome would be wonderful for everyone. In addition, do not worry about social or environmental issues, as these will sort themselves out on their own. Apologists like Mike Ridley write books such as The Rational Optimist providing excuses for the excesses of neoliberalism. Ridley attempts to provide a scientific justification for the deregulation of business and attacks bogymen like parasitic bureaucracy that he claims stifles free enterprise. His ideas support an ideology serving the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward and an oligarchy blind and deaf to anything but privilege.

The 16th century was an age of economic expansion – for the first time Europe was living off on Asia, Africa and America. This was also the era of the Renaissance State in Europe, which first broke and corroded the power of the cities. The kings put in place machinery to keep themselves in power. This included a huge system of administration centralization, staffed by an ever growing number of officers. The good points were this bureaucracy provided the king with some much needed cash and officials who showed more efficiency and loyalty to their king than the old feudal nobility had. The main drawback was that such a system bred corruption, since money, not ability, was often the key to gaining office. For all the problems this new bureaucracy created, it was still more efficient than the old feudal system and gave kings far greater degree of control over the states.

By the end of the 16th century this administration had become known as the parasitic bureaucracy. Offices in the 16th century were sold and the purchase-price went to the Crown. The middle and lower ranks of the bureaucracy imitated the way of life and the tastes of their leaders. Salaries were not large, and the officials extracted everything they could from the country via their offices. Three quarters of the cost of the bureaucratic machine was made not from the government, but by the country in the form of various taxes and levies. The Crown would sell more and more offices at higher and higher prices, leaving the officers to be paid by the country. The Crown could not afford an absolute loss of revenue. It is clear this expansion of waste had to be at the expense of society. The European economy was expanding at the time, and able to maintain incredibility wasteful, ornamental, parasitic Renaissance Courts and Churches. Prosperity and peace allowed this outrageous system to survive.

In 1620 both the economy and peace failed. In 1618 a political crisis in Prague had set the European powers in motion. By 1621 the war of Philip II had resumed, bringing in their train of new taxes, new officers, and new extractions. In addition there was an economic downturn in 1620. In the ensuing twenty years a new attitude of mind appeared – created by the disgust at that gilded merry-go-round which cost society so much more than it was willing to bear. It was a hatred of princely failures, bureaucratic corruption, and hatred of the Renaissance court. The 17th century protest was not just economic, but about the means of production. It was a desire for emancipation from the burden of centralization, reduction of fees, the abolition of wasteful indirect taxes. Reformers wanted changes: let them protect industry, let them develop productive wealth, rationalize finance and bring down the apparatus of Church and State to a more just proportion. In addition reduce the hatcheries which turned out the superfluous bureaucrats: grammar schools in England, colleges in France and monasteries and seminaries in Spain. In response, let them build up local elementary education: skilled workers at the base of society now seemed more important than those unemployable university graduates that Renaissance foundations were turning out.

The princes knew how to avoid revolution: the parasitic bureaucracies must be cut down, but it was difficult to carry out. It means the reduction of a parasitic, but living and powerful class. This required two things: (1) cut down on costly sinecures of Church and State and, (2) the discovery or rediscovery of an economic system – mercantilism, when city-states made decisions based on the interests of society. In England the Long Parliament (1640) tried not to reverse economic policy rather repair the administration.  However, the opportunity to resume the reforms of Salisbury was rebuffed. Eventually, the rational reformers were swept aside: then the Puritans swept aside the last Renaissance Court in Europe. The enemies of the court were ‘the country’, that indeterminate, unpolitical, but highly sensitive miscellany of men who mutinied not against the monarch, or against the economic system, rather against the ever controlling apparatus of parasitic bureaucracy which had grown up around the throne and above the economy in England. In England this system did not disappear until the restoration of Charles II.1

The fundamental idea of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) was the concept around the development of division of labour. The division of labour developed as a result of the initiative and enterprise of private individuals, and would develop more rapidly when such individuals were free to apply their enterprise and initiative and reap the corresponding rewards. Smith laid the foundation of neoliberalism with his argument that free exchange was a transaction from which both parties necessarily benefited, since nobody would voluntarily engage in an exchange from which they would emerge worse off. This idea was incorporated into classical liberalism supporting the notion that society as a whole would begin to prosper as the level of personal freedom or autonomy increased. Individuals left to their own devices to pursue their own goals, limited only by known and universally applied prohibitions against harming the same freedom for others, would produce superior results for all, rather than allowing one authority to dictate terms to everyone.

In the 1970s the Western world faced a devastating new problem: inflation. It took a crisis to bring new ideas into government, and that was the price-inflation that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. By the end of the 1970s both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were seeking office with new liberal economic policies. These policies were adopted to deal with economies that were getting out of hand. During the 1980s governments of Reagan and Thatcher neoliberal economic ideology became mainstream, and was rebranded trickle-down economics. The idea is simple: The more money the people on top make, the more the people below will benefit from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash.

The market is an instrument of ‘natural selection’ that judges not on the basis of an individual’s ability to contribute to society, but on the basis of the individual’s ability to contribute to the production of surplus value and the accumulation of capital. In the past 30 years the system spread out of control: neoliberals finessed the application of the formula the source of profit is the surplus labour, over and above that required to cover the subsistence of their employees, which the capitalists are able to extract from their labour force. Corporations, meanwhile, regularly augment their capital not only from the profits obtained from realising the products of the surplus labour of their employees, but the more surplus labour they are able to extract, the greater will be that profit. The rate of profit depends on the cost of labour. Therefore, offshoring or outsourcing is all about globalization of production, rather the division of labour that has assumed an international dimension. Whereas the previous division of labour was localized, the current one is globalized to allow corporations to extract more surplus labour.

Globalization has been facilitated by numerous technical developments and the spread of economic neoliberalism. The ugly underbelly of neoliberal fundamental economics was exposed during the Great Recession. Neoliberals blamed individuals who bought risky subprime mortgages rather than the bankers with a sense of entitlement who chose not to apply critical thinking, but to intentionally take advantage of people. It coincided with two unfunded wars that triggered the neoliberal austerity button interfering with the stimulus package to the North American economy. The Brexit vote result is a revolt against globalization that has empowered corporations against communities and the well-paid jobs that once sustained them. The scale of and reasons for the global financial meltdown are posing questions that are every bit as intense as those posed to economists at the time of the Great Depression, and the 1970s oil shock. In both those instances, the inability of the dominant paradigm to accommodate the new realities led to major changes in ways people organized their societies around the world.

Picketty’s most important findings in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that inherited wealth is rapidly reassuming its traditional role as the preeminent source of economic power. Krugman notes this trend is being reflected in conservative economic policy in the US: Bush’s tax cuts were about removing taxes from unearned income. Representative Paul Ryan’s “road map” in 2014 called for the elimination of taxes on interest, dividends, capital gains and estates. Under this plan, someone living solely off inherited wealth would have owed no federal taxes at all. “Of grammar schools,” declared Sir Francis Bacon in the 17th century, “there are too many.” At the turn of the 20th century Andrew Carnegie argued that inheritance tax was the only way to prevent a permanent aristocracy of the wealthy. The goal of both was to reduce the source that turned out parasitic elite.

The 17th century protest was not against the economic system, rather the means of production. The protests in the 21st century – the Brexit vote along with the rise of Trump and Sanders in the US prompts further skepticism in neoliberal market fundamentalism. Neoliberalism happens to be the ideology that has the fortune of coinciding with technological change on a scale that it makes its penetration into every realm of being – redefining the state, institutions of society and the self. Traditional bureaucracy is a system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by (state) officials rather than by elected representatives. Today neoliberal ideology defines actions of the state as well as institutions of society which serve the interest of a financial oligarchy – the new parasitic bureaucracy. Voters in the 2016 primaries cast their vote for leaders outside the mainstream party candidates are not against the economic system, rather are protesting against the parasitic elite responsible for the means of production and for workers being left behind by soaring inequality.

1 Trevor-Roper on the General Crisis of the 17th Century http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/trevor-roper-on-the-general-crisis-of-the-17thc

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The Best Form of Government

The divine right of kings is a Christian political doctrine that hereditary monarchy is the system approved by God; monarchs are accountable to God alone for their actions, and rebellion against the lawful sovereign is therefore blasphemous. Ideology of the divine right of kings aimed at instilling obedience by explaining why all social ranks were religiously and morally obliged to obey the government. The 16th century nation states ruled on persuasion rather than coercion to instill obedience. This propaganda was spread through teaching and preaching – failure to obey is sedition, and morally wrong and will result in divine retribution. The message is this is the best form of government and requires no change. The largest institution at the time, the church sanctioned the rule of the king and the king defended the church in return against change. The opinion that private property in land is necessary to society is a comparatively modern idea, as artificial and as baseless as the divine right of kings. In England, the commons, once so extensive, largely contributed to the independence and support of the lower classes.

Corporations, such as the East India Company, have been around in The Netherlands since the 17th century. The advantage of having a corporation over being an individual investor in trade voyages was the fact that individual debts could be inherited by descendants. A corporate charter, however, was limited in its risks just to the amount that was invested – a right not accorded to individuals. Corporations had therefore the potential from the onset to become very powerful. Following the labour accord around pensions and benefits post Second World War, corporations became a model of long-term employment, providing pathways to economic security and opportunities for upward mobility. By the end of the 20th century American corporations had changed from being pillars of the economy and providing career employment with benefits.

Now the market place is deemed to be a superior information processor, so therefore all human knowledge can be used to its fullest only if it is comprehensively owned and priced. However, the financial return to the shareholder in the terms of dollars is no more rational in the boardroom of the 21st century corporations than in the factories of a 19th mill town – the corporate directors do not do any more than reduce every decision to a financial one. Under neoliberal capitalism employment shifted from career to job, to the task. Now a tiny majority reaps enormous benefits of neoliberalism, while damage to the ecosystem and individuals seems insurmountable.

Neoliberalism broadly describes a regulatory system, encompassing economic policies emphasizing the market deregulation, privatization and an altered role for the state. Markets are the arbitrator of all issues and can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes, the better off the system will be. Public services should be privatized, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. Where neoliberal capitalism has been more fiercely applied, in countries like the US and the UK, social mobility has greatly declined. Today, success or failures are ascribed solely to the efforts of the individual. The neoliberal model insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification, and now people are technically free but powerless. Neoliberalism is associated with the policies of austerity and attempts to reduce budget deficits usually by cutting government spending on social programs. Neoliberal policies increase inequality. This inequality can harm long-term growth prospects. Those with low income have limited spending power and those who become richer have a higher marginal propensity to save, so wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as some suggest.

At the individual-level, neoliberalism insists that rationality, individuality and self-interest guide all actions. Each person is their own undertaking as a self-entrepreneur, existing in a series of prescribed relationships that are governed by the logic of self-improvement. It is up to us to make ourselves better, we are told, and the system simply supplies us with the appropriate tools to use – tasks to undertake and ladders to climb so that we may realize our potential. Precarious workers in this era of insecurity go from job to job, depending on the availability and demand. With no job security and few benefits, the precarious worker now views his development and subsequent success or failure as his own responsibility. Meanwhile, the workings of the system and the pressure to take on such precarious jobs are invisible. Neoliberalism sees the new normal as empowering individuals, and the shifting economy as a valid reason for underemployment.

In 1989 Philip Morris sponsored a touring exhibition of the Bill of Rights. Philip Morris placed advertisements celebrating the freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in dozens of magazines and newspapers. The themes of liberty and freedom of expression were highlighted to gain support for the company’s claim of the First Amendment to advertise and to rally support opposing restaurant smoking bans. The Koch brothers support the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Right to Work Committee designed to undermine unions. ALEC develops model bills supporting the rubric ‘right to work’ touted as giving workers freedom not to join unions. It is based on individual rights of non-union members to enjoy benefits of union representation, such as higher wages and improved working conditions. This legislation is meant to destroy unions. These are examples of how corporations and the wealthy elite manipulate the constitution to serve the interest of financial capital and globalized elite in redistribution of wealth upward.

Neoliberals claim the market will arbitrate any and all responses to climate change. The neoliberals have developed a whole spectrum of responses to global warming. This includes a short-term plan, a medium-term plan and a long-term plan. The consequence of this approach is to leave the problem to be solved, ultimately not by the state, but rather by the market. The short-term plan is denialism; the medium-term involves carbon credits, applying financialization to the issue; the long-term plan incorporates geo-engineering solutions such as natural gas providing clean energy. Each component of the neoliberal response is firmly grounded in neoliberal economic doctrine, and as such, has its own special function to perform. The purpose of climate science denial has been to quash all immediate impulse to respond to perceived crisis and buy time for commercial interests to construct some other eventual market solution to global warming. Denial is cheap and easy to propagate and draw attention away from appropriate responses from the truth.1

Neoliberal capitalism applies to all sectors of society. Their system claims the common good depends entirely on the uncontrolled egoism of the individual, and especially on the prosperity of the corporation, hence freedom for corporations consists of freedom from responsibility and commitment to society. The maximization of profit must occur in the shortest time to ensure shareholder value. The primacy of politics over economics has been lost. Corporations, the largest institution of the 21st century, now dictate policies. Nation states have reverted to virtual feudalism. Neoliberal reform is decided above the heads of citizens and implemented behind their backs, appears as irrevocable reality. Once citizens become aware of consequences, those responsible for the changes are long gone and there is no way to rectify anything – protest and resistance are too late on the scene.

Why do people support an economic system that is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind? We live in a world of illusion and see the world not as it is but as we want it to be. The neoliberal worldview has been embedded in contemporary culture to such an extent and now is so pervasive that any countervailing evidence serves only to further convince people of its ultimate truth. Like a law of nature, people believe nothing can change without the market, there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. To put it simply, cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Cognitive dissonance is often resolved in our short-term economic interests, ignoring competing concerns for long-term health and ethics. We must not give up the struggle for truth. This working-class mythology needs to change.

John Locke (1632–1704) effectively refuted the theory of divine right of kings propounding the idea the power to govern was obtained from the permission of the people as a social contract. In his view, the social contact only works because the people accept the laws and because they are for the public good. That means persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon an agreement among them to form the society in which they live. Locke supported economic inequality with his vigorous support of the right to property. There is a limitation or caveat in his statement – the individual is entitled to ownership, but only if this leaves “at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.” This was intended to ensure that the situation of others is not worsened by one’s appropriation of property.2

“We are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society,” Bernie Sanders claims. “Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This is a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue.”3 If one is going to change an economic system that is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind, one must refuse the transparent falsehood that around us is the best form of government.

1 Mirowski, Philip. (2013) Never Let A Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. VERSO: London p. 333-337.

2 De Fremery, Robert. Nozick and Locke’s Proviso. http://www.ditext.com/fremery/nozick.html

3 Prupis, Nadia. (10 Feb 2015) Bernie Sanders: Keeping US from Becoming Oligarchy Is ‘A Struggle We Must Win’. http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/10/bernie-sanders-keeping-us-becoming-oligarchy-struggle-must-win/

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