"Man walks along the railroad tracks, he's goin someplace, there's no turnin back". - Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad
Barack Obama's recent announcement in support of gay marriage was a good thing to be sure, but the unabashed orgy of celebration that came from the progressive side of the street made me a little nervous. It was as though we believed that the downward spiral of our modern democratic societies was going to be halted by such an act; as though this pledge of support by our fatherly POTUS would turn the ship of state around and we'd all begin to sail out of Gomorrah towards the promised land again. Fat chance.
This outpouring made me think that we're generally still deeply blind to what in my view is the single greatest threat to our world and our societies, a radical economic theory and the elite class that's plundering the planet and state coffers with it. Here's King's College professor of theology and politics Luke Bretherton writing after the Occupy movement broke out, speaking to the nature of this economic worldview:
If the Occupy movement bears the mantle of one form of anti-statist, anti-capitalist school of anarchism that stretches back to the anarcho-syndicalism of Proudhon and Sorel, many of the bankers seem driven by an alternative stream of anarchism, what Murray Rothbard, a student of Ludwig von Mises - the grandfather of neo-liberalism - called "anarcho-capitalism."
This stream is equally anti-statist but pro-capitalist. It is no less a millennial vision of the end of history than that embodied in the TAZ or witnessed in the worship at the Cathedral. It sees the best of all possible worlds as an apolitical socio-economic realm that spontaneously organizes itself and provides material prosperity for all through the free decisions of individuals in the marketplace.
In this vision it is government and regulation that must be resisted and defeated if the new time and space when there will be prosperity for all is to be ushered in.
This economic theory is often called neoliberalism, or free-market fundamentalism, and whatever we want to say about it in theory (and it might even be a good one), in practice it's been a tool of plunder like the world has never seen. Somewhere in their graves the barbarian hordes strewn under the soil across the Asian steppes are wistful with admiration. Horses, arrows and good old fashioned savagery never took home booty like this.
And these corporate radicals found a great weapon to continually divert our attention away from the economy and what they are doing with it- they prey off the culture wars. While premodern, modern and postmodern sensibilities duke it out and rake at each others eyeballs in the ongoing dogfight over cultural values, the neoliberals (or the elite corporate-political class) use these social battles as wedge issues to get people to ultimately vote against there own economic interests. The author Thomas Frank has done really important work exposing this in the American context, and I wrote a post about that you can read here (the current post is really a continuation of that one). Here's Frank in a recent interview, where he talks about being in awe as the Republicans in the US continued this extreme cultural charade, despite all the wreckage from the Bush years:
And if we want to get a little closer to what this actually looks like on the ground, check out this video Bill Maher aired on his show Real Time a couple of months back.
Commenting on the situation in the United States in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey writes- "Not for the first, nor, it is to be feared, for the last time in history has a social group been persuaded to vote against its material, economic and class interests for cultural, nationalist and religious reasons". It's probably as old as the hills, this shit. If I knew more about the ancient world, I bet the elite classes in Rome fucked over the plebs with all sorts of cultural diversions too. But the stakes are high now, real high, and if we don't come to grips with the barbarians in suits and the economic weapons that they wield, continued societal deterioration and some form of collapse will be our destiny.
And it's not to say that these cultural issues don't matter, they do, but all the social change in the world isn't going to mean much as poverty and madness increase, as toxins and poisons seep further and further into everything, as the land, soil and oceans are exploited to exhaustion, as organized crime flourishes and local crime rises and jails become full of the "dangerous classes" the neoliberal system will only continue to create. In defense of our lands, our families, our nations and our Earth, I think it's crucial that we make the economy and this economic worldview the front line of our actions and protests in this world. The people of Greece, Spain, Iceland and Quebec, they know what this is all about, this "austerity" being forced upon them by the ruling class. It's a criminal act of a criminal elite. It must be resisted, and we must understand their tools and ideologies or we'll be slowly stripped of everything that was fought for and gained in the modern era (1).
I'm reminded of something I heard Naomi Klein say once. She talked about how when she was in university (late 80s early 90s) the progressive political causes of the day were cultural ones, having to do with race, gender and sexual identity and equality. The "political correctness wars" as she put it. But then at some point people looked around and saw the huge amount of power corporations had begun to wield in that same period. They saw how the international economic institutions had been infiltrated by an extreme economic policy, how governments were increasingly under capture by monied interests. Shit.
Let's not make this mistake again, let's not expend untold amounts of energy bickering over cultural issues (as important as they are), while the thieves fill their black satchels in the shadows all around us. Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is still one of the best introductions to neoliberal economic theory and how it's implementation has played out across the globe in the past decades. It remains important reading.
And all of what I've written here has now suddenly come to the shores of my own country of Canada too. Stephen Harper and his conservatives- who aren't really conservatives at all but business radicals- are Calgary School neoliberals and they're using all the standard moves in the neoliberal playbook. Authoritarian decisions. Fear mongering. Labeling dissidents as radicals. Dismantling of environmental policy. An attack on science and its authority. And lo and behold, even the issue of abortion and a women's right to choose has reared its head, to the ghastly astonishment of many Canadians who were sure they'd never see that corpse rise and stagger again. Don't take the bait. Don't take the bait. Sure we'll have to battle this band of criminals on that front too, just to keep the writhing fangs out of our necks, but it's paramount that the free market ideology that this group of true radicals is using against us be understood and rejected.
The new world our heart's tell us is possible is gonna have to pick a fight. And the vaneer will come down quick, I'm sure of it. It already is. We'll be shocked by how better the world will be, and in a hurry. It'll recuperate like a marine reserve. Life will flourish. And then we'll be up and running, with a leg to stand on as we create what's next. However, first things first- let's occupy the economy and throw off the shackles of market-fundamentalism once and for all.
(1) "Over the course of [the 1980s and 1990s] there would be a complete reformulation of the ways of governing capitalist economies. The elections of Reagan and Thatcher, following the morass of economic policy in the 1970s and aggravated by a further oil price increase in 1979, ushered in an era of unprecendented ideological assault on the central tenets of post-1945 economic management and social policy at both the domestic and international levels. The "post-1945 settlement" which characterized the "golden age" involved a greater role for the state in the economy and an acceptance of its responsibility for full employment and social equity. This was the case in the Anglo-American version of capitalism and even more obviously the case in the northern European corporatist countries. The market fundamentalism or neoliberal revolution of the 1980s, spearheaded in the Anglo-American world, sought to tear up the settlement". Bowles, Paul. Capitalism. Britian: Pearson, 2007. p.145