Neoliberal TerrorPolitics / US Politics Dec 06, 2012 - 10:19 AM GMT
What is neoliberal terror? In a recent on-line article ('Hurricane Sandy in the Age of Disposability and Neoliberal Terror') Henry Giroux claimed that firstly hurricane Katrina, then hurricane Sandy imprinted their "haunting images of the abandoned, desperate and vulnerable", "and for a moment imposed themselves on the collective conscience of Americans".
Roughly 45 000 dead to date in Syria and its daily atrocities however do little or nothing additional to speed the decline of McDonald burger sales or YouTube views of Lady Gaga in any of the countries making up the self-declared International Community. Shocking images of dead bodies floating in the flood waters of New Orleans and smashed houses in New York state were in no way different from Daily Disaster fare pumped out by mass media, round the clock, between the football news and the advertising for clean low CO2 diesel cars. We can assume this fare is beamed at the Consumer Masses to reassure them things are even worse in lower latitude, browner and poorer nations with strange and violent religions, cultures and customs. One day, perhaps, after liberation and ideological cleansing Syria will be a bijou tourist venue. It can accede to liberalism and to Consumer Culture.
For Giroux, the base of daily disaster fare is the image of "those populations excluded from the American dream and abandoned to their own resources". For American dream you can read any kind of hope for a meaningful life and place in a just society. This dream motivates the Arab Spring and revolt against dictatorship, but dream shortage is rampant and massive inside or outside the US, and inside or outside almost any other country among the 193 recognized states at the UN, also including the Vatican and Palestine as observer nations. Much more important, and a sure sign of the US modernizing itself, understanding its downsized New Normal status, learning to play soccer as well as absurd and incomprehensible American football, paying more for gasoline, living on food stamps, trying and failing to pay the mortgage, neither Katrina nor Sandy led to any aroused or sustained sense of moral outrage. They were both simply "disaster events" during which Americans become human waste, like anywhere else, and are left to die.
For Giroux, a "leftie" advancing into the fashionable field of global warming hysteria this new callousness is par for "an era eager to accommodate rather than challenge global warming".
Barack Obama and his junk newsbyte scriptwriters could or might run with this bait. Not acting to fight global warming is, quite frankly, a crime against humanity. Freakish weather events, according to Giroux, are now so commonplace they "encourage the denial of planetary destruction". In fact, as he admits, daily disaster fare has a declining marginal yield or productivity resulting in what we can call natural catastrophe fatigue. This sets in like a cancer, but in no way can we blame the media for missing out on its self-assigned role of rousing the TV watching masses with climate disaster fare, although Giroux attempts to do this in his piece.
Major natural disasters - we would imagine if we were average airhead Consumer Cattle browsing junk images each day - are now vastly and frighteningly more frequent "than previously". When that "previous time" might have been is not usually described - let us say along with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) before the 1980s - although the purest of global warming hysterics trace the Original Sin back to about 1800: in fact European coal trade between different nations in Europe started in 1695, so we can comfortably go back 300 years. If we want.
For Giroux, the media's graveyard voyeurism and lust for images of blood and body parts on the pavement after car bomb attacks, and bloated bodies floating in the floodwaters, what we can call "titillating TV", is because mass media refuses to handle the Big Themes of power, politics, poverty, race and class.
For the "lefties", who have made a mass migration to global waming catastrophe, freak weather events are able to show that the American dream is a myth. What that dream could or might have meant in relation to freak weather events, or anything else, has in fact been totally mythologized: firstly the claim there was a dream, secondly what its contens might have been, but most important of all this is an antique dream: it dates back to the 1770s. To be sure, global warming could have been already under way in the 1770s "but we didnt know", at the time!
CULT OF INJUSTICE
Also dating from the late 18th century, Neoliberal terror emerged in that era, a purely European phenomenon or invention. American leftists argue there is less equality in the United States than there is in Europe - with its official 11.7% unemployment rate for the Eurozone countries. Europe provides equality to sup on the global warming and terror atrocity brain warp pumped out by state owned, and private owned TV channels, and of course the liberty to not have anywhere to live, but deals out more than US-sized helpings of inequality when it concerns getting a job. A permanently crippled economy, the result of Neoliberal Do Nothing, provides all the help that is needed.
Differences between the US and Europe are in reality minimal: both are throwaway societies that not only endlessly create material waste, but now also produce and then dispose of waste human beings. The linked leftist claim is that vast differences in power, income, wealth, knowledge, resources and opportunities only merge natural catastrophes (now made worse by human global warming) with sustained or structural moral and social neglect. In other words a world of human suffering. Neoliberal brain damage is however slightly different, because it almost hysterically defends Do Nothing as the "only way to run the economy". All human history proves the contrary.
The fundamental lesson of Hurricane Sandy, for well-placed members of the Obama administration is not to be found in the lack of disaster preparedness but in the claimed higher level crisis. This disaster of global warming is spun to argue for an urgent need to pursue "new neoliberal reform", which traces back to what "neoliberalism" means. To understand this meaning (or rather the lack of it), we have to go back to the 1760s and the times of Adam Smith, his friend Francois Quesnay, and Quesnay's circle of parasites and soothsayer court jesters at the soon-to-disappear court of French king Louis the XVI - the last Louis of the line.
The founders of "liberalism" as an economic and political doctrine, social doctrine, and great excuse for doing nothing were sure of one or two things that have not changed since their time (despite the global warming). As Smith said, and his friend Quesnay said, the only source of real wealth is farming, mining and manufacturing. All the rest, from the monarchy, military and tax gatherers, politicans and predicators, soothsayers and jesters, downwards and right across society, are parasites. Smith very clearly (in 'The Wealth of Nations" and elsewhere) says that all service sector activity is parasitic on and dilutes the real wealth produced by farming, mining and manufacturing. Pure-bred neoliberals can argue that their squeaky-clean dream economy should only include farming, mining and industry. Since around 80% of the population in a country like the US, today, have service sector jobs (when they have a job) we can figure out how many should disappear.
In no way did Smith, Quesnay, Turgot, Say or other "early liberal luminaries" complain about injustice, nor criticize their own parasitic status, but in Quesnay's case and simply because he was a court jester threatened with the abrupt loss of his soothsaying job, he warned that there were limits on how long the party could be kept going. His writings could be interpreted as saying that a policy of "disposable humanity" in which huge chunks of society are blighted by their definition as, and assumption that they are Born Losers and are unworthy of a meaningful social existence can cause "blowback". In the 19th century both David Ricardo and Karl Marx, from different standpoints, carried on that argument. Ricardo, in the 1820s argued that only economic growth could buy time before the Apocalypse, which he set at about 1860 (when world population would exceed 1 billion). Marx also was particularly eloquent about the social and political change that was needed. Violent change.
YOU NAME IT
Their times were still long before totalitarianism, fascism and Nazism. For early liberals the main problem was merely a question of human resource allocation but even in their time, lacking social protection, "disposable humanity" came into the crosshairs of the Punishment State. Today, in part due to rampant population growth and so-called economic "progress"the number of throwaway humans, to keep under control or throw away, has exploded. When thrown away they can at least generate a source of titillating TV, a source of entertainment for graveyard voyeurs watching bodies floating belly-up in the (global warming increased) floodwaters.
The founding fathers of liberalism - who founded the cult of Do Nothing - had in the late 18th century already abandoned any rational hope of changing a culture of excessive inequality, casino-type gambling with economic betting chips, and massive debt. As we know the very first modern-style stock market crash was also a French event (but organized by Scotsman John Law), dating from 1720. Apres nous le deluge! With global warming, we are told to expect the oceans to rise, and rise, swamping the fleshpot cities of Criminal Humanity.
Mitt Romney, the Mormon Candidate, made a renowned reference to the 47% of Americans who do not pay income taxes, for whatever reason, as "people who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." The you name it includes Bread and Circuses - a one liner dating from the last days of French king Louis, from his comfort lady Marie Antoinette, who herself was supplied with brilliant dinnertime one-liners by....Francois Quesnay.
The only real change since that time, we can surmise, is that bread and circuses has morphed into War and Circuses.
Moving into the 19th century, the Liberals quickly found solace in Social Darwinism. This can easily be tweaked to firstly argue for doing nothing, to the economy, but dividing and ruling society by population sorting, starting with race, class and nation. In an interesting example of learn nothing-forget nothing, both 19th century Social Darwninist economists and post-1980 neoliberals deliver almost identical soundbytes and one-liners. Their sure-fire recipe is ringfencing wealth, and racking up inequality, the two-only methods of social and economic "management" that Neolibs offer, because their proclaimed Higher Goal is choking off the "drains on efficiency and progress" that are caused by too many persons.
Disposable and surplus human beings are the problem. Why they were born in the first place is answered by the famous liberal economic one-liner: "The rich get richer and the poor get babies".
A completely predictable post-Hurricane Sandy proposal, from the Romney camp was therefore to create free trade disaster zones - in which all normal regulations, licensing and taxes would be suspended. This only proves that in a context where media manipulation has built up hysteria on freak weather to rare summits, the New Awareness of "ecological dangers to humanity" can be used either way, by the Left or Right to churn out more of what they already offered. More important and newer, newly dehumanized and surplus-to-need populations can be bluntly ignored. Graveyard Voyeur TV cams will swoop over the disaster scenes and send back supposedly thrilling footage to the couched potatoes in from of their flat screens. After that, with a sigh, we switch back to Do Nothing mode, the only (neoliberal) way to "manage" the future.
At first glance, America seems catatonic to the ongoing web of ecological disasters, both real and imaginary; it seems indifferent to the plight of its increasing, and increasingly disposable populations who suffer most from the unnatural but very human disaster of liberal economic laisser aller, laisser faire. The range of neolib things on offer is of course already well known: massive inequality and poverty, perpetual debt, constant unemployment, homelessness and the smug one-liner that capitalism and democracy "are the same thing".
NEW POLITICS-NEW ECONOMICS
Certainly since the 1980s, any consumer-citizen-voter in the self-declared advanced nations is nothing but an "economic agent" subject to the corrupt and anarchic free play of rigged market forces. Systematic corruption of the casino economy and its cult of derivatives creating a timebomb able to blow away all the world's banks, has built permanent threats of instant collapse. Simply due to the permanence of the collapse threat, it is imagined as never able to happen. At the same time, the "economic agents" who are programmed to act with zombie-like mindlessness and perfect greed, have become so dehumanized they are reduced to the status of human waste: they are totally disposable. Only a certain number know this at present, but the numbers are rising.
Democracy, even from its real beginnings in Greece's warring city states several hundred years before Jesus Christ also includes the right to be left alone. To be sure it also includes social co-existence, cooperation, common action towards common goals, ideas of moral value and good behaviour - - but democratic protection for all members of society (which in Ancient Greece excluded slaves and foreigners) starts with the basic right to be left alone.
The decision and the action by somebody else, or some other bodies working together, to force equals into misery and indignity is not leaving others alone. It is the call for uprising and civil war. Today the name is "terrorism", but it means exactly the same. It means revolt against 'social redundancy' and it can only be violent.
Today, the American public's brainwashers can try trapping and fooling the Herd with a crisis of negation, pretending that America is 'post historical' or that because of iPhones and Facebook there is no historical possibility of struggle, resistance and civil war. Whereas in late 18th century France, democracy did not yet even exist before its civil war, making it similar to the Russian revolution or today's Arab revolt, the corrupt and moribund democracy which now dominates the United States and its lookalike Mature Democracies also has no magical protection. Neoliberal No Alternative, or the perpetual reduction of choice, makes the final choice impossible to be anything but radical and violent. The final choice is between human beings turned into "market surplus" commodities, or something else that is completely different from and nothing like the present.
Gnawing at this radical vision, freezing change, buying one more day for Do Nothing, keeping the couched potatoes stupid and greedy, the most dangerous threat for America and other Mature Deomcracies is the corrosive loss of conviction, loss of faith in open democracy, and mass psychological withdrawal. The late stage market economy and its Internet culture can be called custom made to aid this evil task, but behind the sideshows and smokescreens the number of people who know they are considered disposable and condemned to zombie status continues to grow. When the numbers are sufficient, the pressure cooker's lid will blow, or as Marxists say "nothing left to lose but the chains of servitude".
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.
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