(This is part 4 in the “Crisis and Inertia” series.)
While climate change constitutes a major if not terminal crisis for civilization (and possibly even for mankind) and certain technologies may also become existential threats in the wrong hands, there are many other crises and threats that seem to be less severe. All economic, political, and cultural crises appear to fall in this “less severe” category, for example – at least, it doesn’t seem likely that another economic crisis or the gradual collapse of democracy will lead to the end of civilization. Nevertheless, they are crises in the sense adopted in this series: they change human civilization’s path or momentum, however slightly.
This fourth episode in the “Crisis and Inertia” series focuses on a number of “social” crises that are all associated with neoliberal capitalism: the growth of (unsustainable) debt leading to economic crises, the dismantling of democracy and the rise of totalitarian surveillance states, the deterioration of civil rights and the growth of neo-fascism, and the hegemony of psychopathy. If you have read the previous installments in this series, you’ll probably notice a change in tone. Writing about these topics I find it rather difficult to not get angry, so this is an angry piece.1
The Economic Crisis
The economic crisis that started in December of 2007 was mostly the result of unsustainable debt, which itself was a consequence of deregulation of the financial industry. Contrary to myth, it is (most of the time, at least) not governments who create money, but banks. Every time a bank gives someone a loan they create money out of nothing. Banks do not need to actually have the money they loan to their customers. They used to be obliged to have at least a small part of it, but “thanks” to deregulation, that part became smaller and smaller until it virtually disappeared. This is – obviously – great for banks, because loans are very profitable. There is no actual work involved in giving someone a loan, it doesn’t really cost anything either, but the lender has to pay interests to the bank, and ultimately has to pay all the money “back”. It sounds like an improbable magic trick, but unfortunately it is real.
Banks make money by lending money (that they don’t have), so the more people are borrowing, the more money banks make. And because banks make much effort to find new customers, debts keep rising. Furthermore, every time a bank creates money out of thin air and loans it to someone, the bank also gets richer directly: it now owns a debt contract (i.e. the contract of the loan), which is worth approximately as much as the amount of the loan. This makes shareholders happy, because the richer the bank gets, the more their shares are worth. However, when a debtor cannot repay or goes bankrupt, then that debt contract suddenly loses its value, and thus the bank gets a little less rich. If that starts happening to many customers at the same time, it becomes a problem.
Too much debt inevitably leads to collapse. Mainstream economics is blind for this because their theory cannot distinguish between loans used for consumption and loans used for investment. The latter are good for the economy (on the longer run, at least); the former not so. Economists might be blind by choice, as many are employed by the financial industry or have other close ties thereto, and that industry makes too much money by handing out loans to let anything stop them.
In 2008 several big banks were on the verge of collapse due to a sudden devaluation of noncollectable loans and a resulting spiral of panic and devaluation, but most of them were rescued by very large amounts of government money (partially tax money and partially money created by governments – so governments do occasionally create money). Politicians and bureaucrats didn’t learn anything from the episode, unfortunately – they believed the banks and their henchmen (i.e. economists) when those said that the crisis couldn’t have been predicted and that they weren’t to blame. Both claims are lies, of course. Some (non-mainstream!) economists did predict that crisis,2 and banks were very much to blame (which doesn’t mean that only banks were or are to blame). Economists again managed to fool people into believing that they are “scientists” rather than just the spin doctors of the financial industry, and politicians bought all the bullshit they were fed. No significant new regulations of the financial industry were implemented. The banks were just handed a big present and were allowed to continue as they please. And because nothing changed, we’re now just waiting for the next big financial crisis.
It is, of course, absurd that banks have the right to create money out of thin air and thereby create a crisis (or crises) that impoverished millions. Or perhaps, “outrageous” is a better term than “absurd”. What’s even more outrageous is that the financial industry and their spin doctors (i.e. economists) have been able to hide the facts about their predatory practices behind myths about governments printing money and politicians irresponsibly spending public money. They have been so successful in propagating this myth that they wrested control over central banks from governments and made those “independent”, thereby gaining a monopoly over money creation and simultaneously getting rid of a key instrument of government oversight. (Another lesson from the bail-outs is that the financial industry objects to governments “printing” money, except if it is to save them.) They effectively tied the hands of governments behind their backs when it comes to financial and economic policy and made themselves lord. All of this is defended by an economic “theory” that is more like a religion than like a science – a theory that is based on nonsensical assumptions, that is self-contradictory, empirically false, and unable to predict anything, and that is studied and propagated by a priestly class of crooks that deserve our loathing and derision, rather than the respect and reverence they commonly receive.3
It’s not just debt that creates economic crises, however. Rising economic inequality is also bad for an economy.4 Mainstream economists deny this because they believe that wealth trickles down from the top, but such trickle-down is a myth, or actually a zombie: it has been proven false, but is apparently impossible to kill.5 The same is true of austerity, for example, which is the mainstream economist’s recipe for getting out of an economic crisis, but which only deepens the crisis and deepens poverty instead. This too is a zombie: an economic idea that has been proven false, but that just refuses to die.6 Economics is littered with such zombie ideas, and the reason they don’t die is an obvious one: the global financial and economic elite profits from those ideas. While most of us suffer from the effects of austerity and the crises they cause, they just get richer and richer.
In the early 2000s (until 2007, that is), mainstream economists believed that there would be no more economic crises – we had entered “the great moderation”, a period of continuous economic growth and increasing prosperity for everyone. Like all of their ideas, “the great moderation” was bullshit propaganda based on nonsensical “theory” and ideologically motivated lies. But contrary to the aforementioned zombie ideas “the great moderation” myth was killed by the financial collapse of 2007 and 2008. New, equally nonsensical self-aggrandizing and optimistic myths have replaced it, however. Reality is, of course, very different – rather than in a period of increasing prosperity for everyone, we entered a period of growing desperation for almost everyone. We have entered permanent economic crisis.7
Thanks to neoliberalism and its ideological arm, mainstream economics, job security is dead, leading to the emergence of the “precariat” – a class of people who live in precarious financial circumstances without any prospects of improvement.8 In all industrial countries, the working poor (a class that overlaps with the precariat) are one the rise. Because – thanks to neoliberalism and mainstream economists again – real wages have been declining for decades, many people cannot survive on a single job and need two (or even more). Most young people have no real prospects of decent work for decent pay (and many are facing student debts). And while most of us struggle to keep our heads above the water, the financial elite just continues to enrich themselves, “generously” doling out some of their wealth to the politicians and economists who enable them.
The Political Crisis
There appears to be a widespread feeling that democracy is under threat. This is quite understandable given that neo-fascism and authoritarianism are on the rise almost everywhere, but to some extent this perceived threat is just that: a perceived threat. What is under threat is the perception that there are functioning democracies, or even just some specific aspects thereof, but the reality is that democracy is a farce, or a smokescreen. There were brief windows occurring at different times in different places between the end of the 1960s and the end of the 1970s in which many countries experienced something approaching functioning democracy, but those windows were closed shut by those whose interests aren’t served by democracy. Since then, democracy only “exists” as perception, not as reality, and since democracy doesn’t really exist, it can’t be under threat either. That doesn’t mean that neo-fascism, authoritarianism, and the growing totalitarian surveillance state aren’t threats, however. Because they entail a return from repressive tolerance9 to open repression, they certainly are a threat to anyone who is dissatisfied with the status quo. But they aren’t a threat to democracy.
There is a wonderful entry for “democracy” in Michael Hudson’s economic dictionary, J is for Junk Economics:
In Aristotle’s theory of the 3-stage political cycle, democracy is the stage preceding oligarchy, into which it tends to evolve. The term is now applied to any pro-American regime supporting the Washington Consensus,10 regardless of its political stripe. Such regimes typically are run by a client oligarchy that owns the TV stations, magazines and other media to shape public opinion along neoliberal lines. Vested interests join hands in subverting democracy at home and abroad by shaping voting patterns through their control of these mass media via direct ownership and advertising to sustain and increase their privileges.11
Arguably, democracy has already evolved into a kind of oligarchy, but perhaps, what follows the first sentence is more the point as a description of contemporary “democracy”. Almost a century ago, Antonio Gramsci made some similar observations – albeit not about democracy specifically – in his Prison Notebooks:
The “normal” exercise of hegemony . . . is characterized by the combination of force and consent, which balance each other reciprocally, without force predominating excessively over consent. Indeed, the attempt is always made to ensure that force will appear to be based on the consent of the majority, expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion . . . .12
In Gramsci’s writings “hegemony” refers to the control of the ruling elite and the state over the population by means of acceptance and the formation of consent. There are only two ways to control a people: one is by force; the other is by means of acceptance of and consent to your authority (and your use of power). The former is costly and inefficient, however, so any stable state needs to rely on the second, “hegemony”. Nevertheless, as Gramsci explains in the quote above, a state can rarely do without force or violence completely, but when it uses force it needs the consent of the vast majority of the population – it needs the popular acceptance of its “right” to use force. One of the roles of the “organs of public opinion” (“the TV stations, magazines and other media” in the quote by Hudson) is to manufacture that consent. More in general, the main role of the mass media is “to shape public opinion” (as Hudson calls it) or to manufacture consent to the status quo (in more Gramscian terms). The mass media have played this role with verve – as Tariq Ali remarked in The Extreme Centre: “the media denounces, in sometimes hysterical tones, any alternative that challenges the status quo, however mildly,”13 and importantly – with exceedingly rare exceptions – they have always done so.
Hegemony restricts the scope of acceptable policy by limiting what is perceived to be “possible”. Hegemony’s most important tool is the spread of the (false!) belief that the socio-political status quo is “natural”, that “there is no alternative” (as Thatcher famously exclaimed). And the role of the so-called “free press” is to spread that belief. In this way, hegemony severely limits what governments and politicians can do (in the public perception!). Any proposal that transgresses the narrow boundaries of the “possible” (and “possible” here realy means “acceptable to the ruling elite”) is deemed populist, absurd, dangerous, or otherwise irrelevant, and anyone making such a proposal is marginalized. The choice that people are presented with in a so-called “democracy” is just a choice between minor variations of the same hegemonic neo-liberal recipe. Hence, there is no real choice, and without real choice democracy is a farce.
Moreover, the political possibilities – and thus what governments can do – are not just limited by narrowing the scope of acceptable policy, but also by reducing the ability of governments to act. This is done in a number of ways, but austerity is the most obvious. Austerity is forced upon governments by the global financial elite and their henchmen, mainstream economists, under the false pretext (see above) that it makes their economies healthier (which it doesn’t), but its real aim is to reduce the abilities of governments to act and to enact policies. Austerity forces governments to become smaller, to reduce services, agencies, and policy areas. The smaller a government, the less it can do, and the less policy choices there are. (And that is exactly the way the financial industry and mainstream economists want it.)
Another way in which governments have been crippled by hegemony is central bank independence (see also above). Traditionally, governments could influence their economies partially by means of monetary policy, but mainstream economists didn’t like this – they preferred and prefer to leave as much as possible to the market because governments and politicians would just abuse their power. And the powerful financial industry didn’t like this either, of course, as monetary policy could go against their interests. So central banks had to be made “independent”,14 with strict rules about their roles and targets (preventing inflation mainly, because banks don’t like inflation)15 and about what they could and couldn’t do. Governments thereby lost an important tool of economic (and financial) policy, but the rules and regulations related to central bank independence (which usually also enforce austerity) tied their hands behind their backs even more.16 The result is that governments and politicians have almost no room for economic policy anymore. This was, of course, the desired result for the financial industry and the rest of the global economic elite, but it leaves citizens with even less choice: if none of the supposed alternatives they can choose from in an election can differ substantially in their effects (or in the effects of their policies) on employment and wages, for example, then what choice do voters really have?
Neoliberalism has waged a war on democracy for about four decades. It is a silent war, as it is obscured by the hegemonic belief that “there is no alternative” and therefore, it receives no or little press coverage. And it has been a very successful war for the attacker: “democracy” has been reduced to a mostly inconsequential choice between different puppets advocating slightly different flavors of the same (inedible) neoliberal recipe. “Mostly inconsequential”, because when it comes to policies that have no significant economic effects there can be substantial differences between candidates and parties, of course. So, if there is something that approaches a “real” choice, then it is usually a choice between a neoliberal who favors abortion and another neoliberal who opposes it, for example. This, at least gives voters an illusion of choice, and an illusion of influence – it is democracy as facade. And, perhaps more importantly, there are other apparent exceptions to the inconsequentiality of elections. In many elections there are candidates or parties that advocate economic policies that deviate from the hegemonic mainstream, creating the illusion of real choice. But almost invariably such candidates and parties are marginalized (often by brandishing them as “populist”), sidelined, silenced, and/or (eventually) corrupted (or – most depressing of all – they radically change their tune as soon as they are elected). (And the mass media tend to play an important role herein.) There are a few cases in which this marginalization and corruption doesn’t immediately succeed, and those cases are grounds for joy and hope, but there are too few of them, and the existence of such exceptions does not refute the general pattern. That general pattern is that democracy is now mostly pretense and facade. (And besides, even if a candidate or party isn’t marginalized, corrupted, and/or incorporated (and isn’t disposed of either), she/he/it will quickly realize that there are insurmountable obstacles preventing the implementation of policies that go against hegemonic interest.)
So, democracy isn’t “under threat” – it is almost dead already. And it isn’t authoritarianism or (neo-) fascism that (almost) killed democracy, but neoliberalism. But – as mentioned above – that doesn’t mean that authoritarianism, neo-fascism, and the rise of the totalitarian surveillance state aren’t problems (or aren’t a “crisis”). In a growing number of countries, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to dissent or protest. Peaceful protesters and activists are rounded up as “terrorists”. Dissenting voices and other “nuisances” to the status quo are silenced or even locked up. And so forth. This used to be common practice in various “undemocratic” countries, of course, but it is becoming more and more common in supposed “democratic” countries. And the growth of the surveillance state makes these developments especially dangerous: the state now has the ability to find out almost everything you do, say, or write (or even to make up stuff that you have supposedly “done”, “said”, or “written”, if there isn’t enough evidence to lock you up). We’re quickly heading towards a totalitarian dystopia of universal surveillance and universal control. A dystopia with nominal freedom of speech, as long as what you say is acceptable to the ruling elite. A dystopia with nominal freedom of association, as long as you don’t use it for real political purposes. A dystopia with nominal voting rights, but no real choice. A dystopia wherein everyone is treated as a potential criminal and a potential threat to the status quo.
The roots of authoritarianism and neo-fascism are partially cultural and partially “hegemonic”. (I’ll turn to the cultural roots (which ultimately are hegemonic as well) below.) Neoliberalism and its ideological branch, mainstream economics, have always had authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies. On a theoretical level, mainstream economists tend to be distrustful of democracy because it enables politicians and governments to infringe in what – according to them – should be left to the market. Democracy is especially dangerous, because it will – supposedly – cause politicians to implement “bad” economic policies just to gain votes. For that reason, mainstream economists want to slim down government as much as possible, limit democratic control, and leave many of the traditional tasks of governments in the hands of non-elected technocrats. Some mainstream economists, such as Jason Brennan,17 even want to abolish democracy altogether.
Neoliberalism isn’t just anti-democratic and authoritarian in theory, but in practice as well, however. As Naomi Klein has documented in her book The Shock Doctrine,18 neoliberal reforms can generally only be pushed through in an effective dictatorship or after some kind of severe shock numbs and occupies the people too much to protest. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and (civil) war all have been abused by governments to enforce neoliberal reforms, and in many countries such reforms could only be implemented after (openly or effectively) abolishing democracy. It is no coincidence that Pinochet, Chile’s brutal dictator who was responsible for ten-thousands of deaths and disappearances, was seen in positive light or even revered by mainstream economists such as Milton Friedman (and even more by Friedrick Hayek, who wasn’t a mainstream economist, but who greatly influenced Friedman). It wasn’t a coincidence either that economists associated with Friedman’s University of Chicago, the hotbed of mainstream economics and neoliberal propaganda, wrote the economic programs of all the South-American juntas. It wasn’t a coincidence that Boris Yeltsin’s effective abolishing of democracy in Russia was associated with a mainstream economic program of liberalization that destroyed Russia’s economy and enriched a tiny minority. What Klein’s book, as well as many other sources,19 make very clear is that neoliberalism is inherently anti-democratic and authoritarian – neoliberal capitalism and democracy do not go together. The extreme free-market fundamentalism of mainstream economics and neoliberal ideologues can only be implemented through shock, violence, and oppression.
As mentioned above, Gramsci (as well as Hudson and many others) pointed out that the role of the mass media (newspapers, TV, and – nowadays – various news providers and distributors on the Internet) is to create acceptance of and consent to the status quo and the policies that support that status quo. It does so by continuously repeating the mantra that “there is no alternative” (subtly changing the wording), and/or that the status quo is “natural”. But it also does so in more specific ways – by presenting policies as “necessary”, as “the only real option”, or as technocratic and neutral solutions to problems, for example. And – very importantly – it does so by creating the circumstances in which such policies are more likely to be accepted. By far the most important tool the media and other spokespersons of hegemony have is fear. Fear creates the fertile soil in which the seeds of acceptance of hegemonic policies grow. By feeding fear of continuing or worsening economic insecurity they create acceptance of economic “liberalization”, austerity, and various other policies that actually realize those fears, thereby fertilizing the soil for another round of policies that enrich the few and impoverish the many. By feeding fear of immigrants they create the conditions that allow concentration camps,20 deportations, and other inhuman atrocities. By feeding fear of criminals they produce the acceptance of ever-expanding surveillance, of a growing police state, and of a continuous undermining of the rights of suspects (which now includes everyone). By feeding fear of terrorism they enabled the undermining of civil rights and the increasing criminalization of dissent and protest. And by feeding fear of any kind they continuously distract the populace from the issues that really matter.
The so-called “free press”, then, is not a friend of democracy – it is a tool of hegemony. And as such, it does more harm than good. This isn’t an indictment of the free press in principle, however. In the contrary, the press should be free – the problem is that it really isn’t. Most of the so-called free press is owned by rich corporations or individuals and to a considerable extent functions as their mouth piece. The mainstream media are “free” only in sense that their owners are free to use them to further their own interests, but those interests are invariably the hegemonic interests. The mainstream press doesn’t have a monopoly, fortunately, but the vast majority of people only read, hear, and/or see whatever the mainstream media tells and/or shows them, and consequently, the only worldview the vast majority of people are acquainted with is the mainstream, hegemonic view – that is, the worldview that promotes the interests of the ruling elite.
The Cultural Crisis
In The Narcissim Epidemic, Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell claim that narcissism has become epidemic.21 As I (very) briefly explained before in my The Hegemony of Psychopathy,22 I disagree with this diagnosis (but not the symptoms they mention) for two reasons.
Firstly, I think that “narcissism” is a misdiagnosis. Narcissism shares most of its characteristics with psychopathy and Machiavellianism (the three are sometimes together referred to as “the dark triad”). They share a pathological self-centeredness, for example. There also are differences, however, and these differences define them. What defines psychopathy, for example, is callousness: a lack of empathic concern (or compassion) and a lack of remorse or guilt. What defines narcissism is grandiose self-worth, but confusingly, grandiose self-worth is also a characteristic of psychopathy, and the latter’s main defining characteristic, a lack of empathic concern, is also a defining characteristic of narcissism. Which of the two diagnoses applies, then, depends on which characteristic is more prominent. But there is another way of looking at the difference between the two (at least, when we’re diagnosing cultures rather than individuals): both narcissism and psychopathy are defects in the relation between self and other, but the narcissism diagnosis focuses on the self, while the psychopathy diagnosis focuses on the relation with the other. Much more than how we think about ourselves, it is how we relate to (or refuse to relate to) others that defines contemporary culture. The defining pathology of our time is not that many of us have inflated egos, but that we live in a culture that devalues care and empathic concern and that promotes callousness. It is psychopathy rather than narcissism that defines the culture of our age.
Secondly, it is deceptive to call this an “epidemic” for several reasons. Epidemics are natural phenomena in which a disease caused by bacteria or a virus spreads from individual to individual, but the spread of cultural phenomena works very differently – there are no bacteria or viruses and “infection” is a bad metaphor at best. In an epidemic a large group of individuals shared a disease, but essentially, there are individuals suffering from the disease. But in case of cultural phenomena, the focus is inherently social – cultural phenomena are social processes rather than individual “diseases”. Calling the spread of cultural psychopathy (or narcissism) an “epidemic” obscures its social dimension, and thereby also its political dimension (because the political is part of the social) – it creates the false impression that what really is a political-cultural phenomenon is something natural instead. The spread of cultural psychopathy is not “natural”, however, and is not an epidemic. Rather, it is an example of what Gramsci called “hegemony”, the spread and acceptance of a collection of values and ideas that support the interests of the ruling class and the state (see above). For these reasons, if one would wish to capture contemporary within a single short slogan (which would, of course, be a horrible oversimplification, the “hegemony of psychopathy” is much more appropriate than an “epidemic of narcissism”.
The hegemony of psychopathy is the spread, acceptance, and normalization of a mindset that combines egocentricity with a lack of empathic concern (and adjacent kinds of empathy).23 It is the mindset of neoliberalism, promoted by mainstream economics,24 and has become the default view of citizens in the minds of politicians and bureaucrats leading to a culture of distrust. Contemporary culture celebrates psychopathic action heroes (such as James Bond and the heroes of most Hollywood action movies), and equally psychopathic business “heroes”. At the same time, empathy and care are devalued or even derided.25
The undermining of empathy is socially destructive, but also has other “interesting” effects. According to research by Jonathan Haidt and associates, there are five or six “foundations” of morality, but people differ in which of these foundations they prioritize:26 Care/Harm, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, Purity/Sanctity, and Liberty/Oppression. The sixth of these was added later (after researching the morality of libertarians), and Fairness/Reciprocity turned out to combine (or confuse, perhaps) elements of equity and of proportionality.27 While there are individual differences in priority, there also are patterns, and perhaps the clearest and most important pattern is that people on the left of the political spectrum value Care/Harm, which is associated with compassion and the avoidance of harm and suffering, as well as Fairness much higher than the other “foundations”, while people on the right of the spectrum value all of them approximately equally or even value Care/Harm and Fairness below the other “foundations”. In more ordinary terms, this means that left-leaning individuals are more empathic and prioritize care, fairness, and avoiding suffering, while right-leaning individuals are less empathic (and/or restrict empathy to members of the in-group) and prioritize tradition, authority, chastity, purity, loyalty (including patriotism), and so forth.28 The following graph illustrates this:
The red line shows the importance or endorsement of empathy, care, fairness, and the prevention of suffering; the blue line represents the importance/endorsement of tradition, authority, loyalty, and patriotism; and the green line represents purity and chastity. People on the far left don’t find chastity or purity important at all and tradition (etc.) only marginally more important, and strongly prioritize care and fairness. On the right of the political spectrum all moral “foundations” are approximately equally important, although the far right prioritizes authority and purity (etc.) above care and fairness.
Importantly, an undermining of empathic concern is, therefore, not just an undermining of the glue that holds together society, but also of the political left. By suppressing empathy, care, and compassion, hegemony has pushed down the red line in the above figure for the whole of society. Thereby the hegemony of psychopathy has shifted the whole political spectrum to the right, and simultaneously made the far right more obsessed with tradition, authority, and purity than it already was (because a decrease in the importance of care and fairness makes tradition and purity even more important relative to those other “foundations”). In this way, the hegemony of psychopathy changes values and culture to strengthen itself. The right – even the extreme right – is no threat to the financial industry and the rest of the ruling elite. In the contrary, neo-fascism is a useful tool to deflect attention from their parasitism and further victimize their victims: migrants, people in “developing” countries, the homeless, the poor, and so forth. But the shift to the right is also a shift to strengthen hegemonic acceptance. Moral “foundations” prioritized by conservatism and fascism (which is really just radicalized conservatism) such as loyalty and respect for authority strengthen the acceptance of and consent to the political, economic, and social status quo.
The hegemony of psychopathy is the hegemony of neoliberalism – the difference is merely one of focus (cultural versus economic and political). Neoliberalism uses, promotes, and is founded on cultural psychopathy. And it uses it so effectively that even most dissent is harmless. The rightward shift resulting from the undermining and devaluing of empathic concern has also shifted dissent to the right, meaning that it embraces conservative moral “foundations” such as Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, Purity/Sanctity rather than Care/Harm and Fairness. Dissent, then, takes the form of radicalizing these conservative foundations by elevating the in-group, and celebrating purity and authority. Such radicalization is the essence of fascism. Hence, neo-fascism is the product of (dissent with) neoliberalism, but even as dissent it is mostly harmless because it doesn’t in any way threaten the power, wealth, and status of the ruling elite. If anything, it strengthens their parasitic stranglehold by deflecting attention.
The foregoing should not be taken to imply that the shift to the right and the rise of the far right is just a cultural phenomenon, however. The decline of the left is also caused by the fact that traditional working class parties were taken over by highly educated members of the middle class, who – under the influence of neoliberal hegemonic beliefs that “there is no alternative” – gradually steered these parties to the right and away from working class interests. Furthermore, these former worker parties often saddled the working class – its former base – with the biggest social problems (pollution, poverty, insecurity, crime, migrants, and so forth). The far right may not really serve the interests of the working class, but they fill a gap left by the traditional left’s betrayal of their historical base, and at least they seem to listen to the working class and take working class concerns seriously.
In the foregoing I have tried to sketch a number of economic, political, and cultural crises: rising debts leading to economic collapse, the gradual disappearance of democracy and the rise of totalitarianism, the undermining of civil rights, the devaluation of empathic concern and care, the undermining of the left and the rise of neo-fascism, and so forth. This is not an exhaustive list of social problems (but this article is already getting too long), but these are among the most important social crises we are facing.
All of these crises have common roots: they are all caused or produced by neoliberal capitalism, and the same is the case for most of the crises discussed in the previous two articles in this series. Debt crises are produced by neoliberalism; the undermining of democracy is produced by neoliberalism; the hegemony of psychopathy and its various corollaries and effects is really just an aspect of (the basis of) (the dominance of) neoliberalism. But climate change is also caused by neoliberalism, and if artificial intelligence (AI) becomes a threat and creates a growing class of disposable people without jobs or purposes, then it does so because of how neoliberal capitalism uses (or abuses) AI. Almost all of the crises discussed in this series have the same roots, and perhaps that means that they really are just a single “plant” and that there really is just one crisis. That one crisis is neoliberal capitalism.
If you found this article and/or other articles in this blog useful or valuable, please consider making a small financial contribution to support this blog 𝐹=𝑚𝑎 and its author. You can find 𝐹=𝑚𝑎’s Patreon page here.
- If I’d have to characterize the tone of the previous episode on artificial intelligence and other technological threats or crises, I’d say it was “disinterested”. I have a hard time taking the supposed threat of AI seriously, and probably that showed.
- Most prominent is, perhaps, Steve Keen. See: Steve Keen (2011). Debunking Economics (Revised and Expanded edition; London: Zed Books).
- See, for example, Keen, Debunking Economics; Ha-Joon Chang (2010); 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism (London: Penguin); John Quiggin (2010), Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton: Princeton University Press); John Weeks (2014), Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (London: Anthem); as well as my previous blog post and this extract from my book The Hegemony of Psychopathy (Santa Barbara: Brainstorm, 2017).
- The relationship between inequality and economic growth is complex and easily masked by other variables in insufficiently carefully designed studies, but even mainstream economists have found that (at least certain kinds of) inequality harm economic growth (especially on the longer term). See, for example, Gustavo Marrero & Juan Rodríguez (2013), “Inequality of Opportunity and Growth, Journal of Development Economics 104: 107-122; and Daniel Halter, Manuel Oechslin, & Joseph Zweimüller (2014), “Inequality and Growth: the Neglected Time Dimension”, Journal of Economic Growth 19.1: 81-104.
- John Quiggin (2010). Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
- On the collapse of capitalism see also: Wolfgang Streeck (2016). How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System (London: Verso).
- Guy Standing (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London: Bloomsbury).
- Herbert Marcuse (1965). “Repressive Tolerance”, in: Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, & Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon), pp. 81-117.
- I.e. neoliberal economic policy.
- Michael Hudson (2017). J is for Junk Economics A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception: (Dresden: Islet), p. 74.
- Antonio Gramsci (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers), p. 80.
- Tariq Ali (2015). The Extreme Centre: A Warning (London: Verso), p. 136.
- ”Independence” here really is an euphemism for a shift from democratic control to control by the financial industry and mainstream economics. So-called “independent” banks are just as “dependent” as government-controlled central banks – they are just controlled by different interests (namely the interests of the financial sector rather than national interests and the interests of politicians deciding what is in the national interest).
- For an exposition of some of the main myths and lies about inflation, see for example: John Weeks (2014), Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (London: Anthem).
- And international trade deals enforcing economic liberalization and banning many other economic policy instruments further limit what governments can do.
- Jason Brennan (2016). Against Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
- Naomi Klein (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Henry Holt).
- See, for example: John Rapley (2017). Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as Religion and How it All Went Wrong (London: Simon & Schuster).
- We may not call them “concentration camps”, but that’s what the camps used for incarceration of immigrants are.
- Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell (2009). The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (New York: Atria).
- Lajos Brons (2017). The Hegemony of Psychopathy (Santa Barbara: Brainstorm).
- Lajos Brons, The Hegemony of Psychopathy.
- Fabrizio Ferraro, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and Robert I. Sutton (2005). “Economics Language and Assumptions: How Theories can Become Self-Fulfilling,” Academy of Management Review 30.1: 8–24.
- I can go on for a while about this topic, but I already wrote a little book about it, so I suggest that you read that if you’re interested. The E-book version is free anyway. See: Brons, The Hegemony of Psychopathy.
- See: Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian Nosek (2009), “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96:1029–46 and: Jonathan Haidt (20), The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon).
- Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter Ditto, & Jonathan Haidt (2012). “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians”, PLOS One 7.8: e42366.
- See also: Paul Bloom (2016). Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (London: Bodley Head).