Sixteen years since Globalization and Its Discontents and neoliberals are still struggling to see the wood for the trees…
If you don’t know Prof Rodrik’s work, you’re welcome.
There’s no shortage of criticism of the 21st century’s globalised form of feudalism we know as neo-liberalism, but to take it down so cogently, authoritatively and with such a ceaseless grasp of the economic facts is music to the ears.
As I grapple with my ingrained support for free trade; Rodrik’s words are never too many.
Journalists have been getting an awfully bad rap recently. The proliferation of “alternative facts” seems to have undermined their authority (indeed, their very purpose) and various world leaders, representing nations traditionally supportive of the Fourth Estate, have recently been appointed who deem them as nothing more than a biased, elitist mouthpiece who speak like defenders of democracy, but act as unelected legislators.
So, never one to fly in the face of public opinion, I thought I’d chip in to mankind’s apparent preference for authoritarianism. This particular thumb biting is in response to a flurry of articles by my favourite brown-noses, the Financial Times. In this recent spew, they have been temperately covering the, almost benign, little “shift” to the Right in the world’s fifth most populace country. [‘shift to the right’ – FT; ‘faith in Bolsonaro’s free-market conversion’ – FT; and many more…]
While The Telegraph is for middle-class morons too prudish for the Sun (when I taught English as a foreign language, The Telegraph was the go to newspaper as it contains the simplest english), FT occupies a terrible middle ground. Some of its writers are excellent (Sandbu), some of its brains intimidating (Tim Harford), much of its news valuable, but there can be little doubt that they do represent what populists accuse them of being and, with them, I find the fawning fetishisation of power and the status quo particularly unxious.
Like the girl with no friends, joining in the chauvanistic “banter” of arseholes, in the hope they’ll let her join the gang and not bully her as well, you can always trust FT to print whatever line of argument will appeal to that familiar, self-serving worldview that says, “They may be harsh but classical economics and laissez-faire markets are practical, sensible, and we are practical, sensible people. It may be tough but there’s an unsubstantiated MBA logic that’s long served us well. It’s common-sense.”
As I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I’d like and am keen to get this out, I thought I’d save myself some time by lifting the following elucidation of ‘common sense’ straight from Ania Loomba’s life-changing read, Colonialism/Postcolonialism:
“Gramsci makes a crucial distinction between ‘philosophy’ and ‘common sense’ — two floors or levels on which ideology operates. The former is a specialised elaboration of a specific position. ‘Common sense’, on the other hand, is the practical, everyday, popular consciousness of human beings. Most of us think about ‘common sense’ as that which is obviously true, common to everybody, or normative. Gramsci analyses how such ‘common sense’ is formed. It is actually a highly contradictory body of beliefs that combines ‘elements from the Stone Age and principles of a more advanced science, prejudices from all past phases of history at the local level and intuitions of a future philosophy which will be that of the human race united the world over’. Common sense is thus an amalgam of ideas ‘on which the practical consciousness of the masses of the people is actually formed’ (Hall 1996b: 431)…. Hegemony is achieved not only by direct manipulation or indoctrination, but by playing upon the common sense of people”
Before we get back to FT, I have another passing thought regarding the rationalizing, normalizing tendency known as ‘common-sense’. Orwell wrote, “There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows” and who could deny him?
Today, Britain stands “a little offshore island, poor and cold”. It’s people are the most powerless, wretched and denigrated in the Western World bar (by some margin) its offspring over the Atlantic. While the Swedes have their Independence, the Danes their Happiness, the Germans their Success and the French their Republic, the Brits have their hierarchy and an empty promise of Greatness. Be you proudly working class, proudly middle-class or proudly upper-class, you will be proudly British despite it all – likely, because of it all – and because class, “subjects”, “betters”, negative freedom, “ambition” are all part of British common-sense, the sick man of Europe will remain the sick man of Europe (before leaving Europe), and there will be no revolution in Britain.
Now, back to the flinching cowards..
Painting Jair Bolsonaro’s election as anything other than an utter disaster for everything we as a species have managed and hold dear, is not much of an exaggeration. He threatens an environment already on the brink of irreparable damage [12 years to apocalypse]; despises indigenous peoples, blacks, women, and gays; has zero understanding or appreciation of democracy; and has already proven himself a deft hand at misinformation and manipulation via social media. The terrifying thing is, with Brazil’s moral benchmarks, he could really make some headway on these fronts. Ethnic cleansing of Brazil’s black favelas is almost certainly on the cards as he sends stormtroopers in with a license to do whatever the fuck they want (if that sounds like an exaggeration and not calm and measured ‘common-sense’, I encourage you to read… anything about Brazil). Women can say goodbye to the recent promises of abortion access (though, I have to concede, most Brazilian women seem more than happy with this – I wonder how they’ll feel about narrowing the definition of rape?). The world as a whole can bid adieu to our diverse brothers and sisters in the Amazon – and perhaps the Amazon itself. Legal procedures and representation, voting eligibility and access, sedition and political opposition…. we’ll see.
But never mind all that! I’m simply being a naive dreamer; cliché of Generation Snowflake that I am. I’m just thinking about the wet, softy human rights issues. We’d all like to think about them but, first, we must consider the economy and – “Haven’t you heard!?” – #Bolsomito has employed a Chicago-trained investment banker as his Finance Minister; Phew!
Because countries the world over are known for growing into prosperous economies when they have financiers in the Treasury, right? Human capital is raised through well financed education and healthcare which taps into the potential of the entire population, infrastructure is improved, R&D and patient capital are invested in, healthy reserves are built up in the Treasury and pension funds. That happens, right? Right?…
After all, look at the standards of living and human attainment levels coming out of the world’s Social Darwinist, low tax, low welfare, oligarchies; like the US – the world’s worst people – or the many African nations the US remade in their image; paragons of Freedom the lot of them.
Of course, here again, I’ve let my snowflake concerns for the bottom 99% get in the way of the adult considerations of the common-sense FT. I should be thinking of the hard facts of stock markets and government budget balances, which always benefit from Chicago-trained financiers running the Treasury. Look at what a sterling jobs Greenspan and Paulson did in the US. After all, bar every other example in history, Chile proves that a psychopathic Fascist, leading a cabal of feudalistic oligarchs, sat atop of shockingly violent and repressive pigmentocracy, is always a win for long run, economic prosperity.
“Now”, says the FT journalist, “With this common sense well established and us all in agreement that the Far Right’s benefits far out-weight their negatives, let us proceed with cutting the taxes of the cool guys across the bridge from our offices and removing any supports which may create opportunity and challenges to their children’s privileged birth-rights.
See, cool guys? I’m sensible. I’m one of you. Please let me join the gang.”
Project-Syndicate is a new website for me but seems promising.
It’s been a while so, to liven things up and treat my one loyal follower (Mum), I thought I’d try a different approach and go with a list:
To get me started, I asked my brothers to give me single word descriptions of Facebook. The responses were:
“Connection”, “Events”, “Photos”, “Data”, “Controlling”, “Time Wasting”, “Addictive”, “Anti-social”, “Unrealistic”, “Fake”, “Connection”, “Reminisce”, “Depressing”, “Withdrawal”, “Membership”, “Propaganda”, “Supercilious”, “Stalkers”, “Pernicious”, “Insidious”.
So, let’s give this a go…
- Keeping in touch with old associates is difficult. As the trajectories of our lives pull us further and further away from one another, it is not surprising that the fragile strings of relationships often snap. This is often no-one’s loss. The greater the stratification, chances are, the greater the schism in personalities. However, as Mary Schmich put it, “the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young”; and as a stereotypical ‘man’, useless at keeping in touch, Facebook has provided a wonderful “cheat” to remind me, to prompt me. This is not merely because these friends possess the treasure of knowing past yous, but because, as the divergence of your roads increases, so does the heterogeneity of experiences and the amount you can learn from one another.
- As my general misgivings of Fb have grown over the last couple years, I have found that the major pro, restraining my finger as it hovers over the “Delete account” button, has been “Events”. Over the years, I have collected a personalised blend of institutions to follow and of friends to emulate. Consequently, my Home page is awash with events’ bulletins for all manner of nights out, lectures and seminars, special offers and novel adventures.
- As much as Fb has provided valuable connections to otherwise lost associates who have enriched my life, even including these, I would say the number of Fb “friends” is double the number I actually talk to (and this is in spite of the occasional culling). The ratio is considerably worse once you detract those Facebook friends I talk to exclusively off Fb, via (oh, I donno) the phone! For the most part, anyone important to you, you should have the number of, message, call, write to, see in person even! The others are, for most of us, kept around in some strange attempt to quantify our social lives, to validate ourselves via the ostensible strength of our online Sims or because we like spying on them to compare how your lives are panning out. This competitiveness is pathetic and the sign of an unhappy life. “Happiness comes from within” may be a hack line but, if you must look abroad for affirmation, you clearly know looking inwardly would only upset you.
- ‘Positive violence’ is not the violence of chains, but that of blindness. It is not violence by restricting you from doing something, but by encouraging you to do something else and preventing you from ever realising the alternatives. The point must be made that, while Fb may not have banned me from looking up events by myself or using other forums to find them, it has fostered a path dependency. Who knows, perhaps if I had to look up events by myself, I would find more, break beyond my echo chambers more, be invested to go to the damn things more often. Who knows whether my friendships would be stronger without Fb. If I couldn’t feel closer by seeing friends existence on my Profile, I might have to actually speak to them instead, to make an effort, to replace keeping people on ice with “we should get a drink sometime” and, instead, go and get a drink sometime.
- Facebook doesn’t just increase our connections with old associates, it connects us to the world. Never before has it been to easy to access news of all kinds, from all places. Of course, the internet has brought most of this change, but Facebook can personalise your updates and “democratise” information, giving us a tool to produce information almost as easily as we consume it.
- Fancy your own personal shopper, who can suggest a variety of products specifically tailored to you? Simply provide them with your information and Fb will show you a world of products you may well, god forbid, never otherwise know about. As facetious as that last sentence may have been, there is obviously a legitimate benefit to greater information in an economy. It helps us choose the best products, the best companies and avoid inertia.
Of course, having said that, your Fb personal shopper will never tell you that perhaps you need to try a new style, that perhaps you spend too much on clothes anyway, that you read too many populist economics books and you should try something heavier. As they do with your news sources and general worldview, algorithms stereotype you; and so you reproduce yourself as farce. Oops, I’ve strayed into cons!
- There’s a reason broadsheets haven’t traditionally been free. It is a full time profession being an investigative journalist and a life long vocation differentiating opinion from argument (the latter being opinion backed by facts and the weighing up of possible alternatives). News shouldn’t be free, nor should it be something you are unwilling to pay for. Yes, echo chambers existed before, but they were not nearly as insidious. Buy a “Left” wing broadsheet, for example, and it will be pretty hard to miss the greater number of Right wing ones (at least if you’re from the UK). As strong as your echo chamber may be – as a result of reading predominantly from one angle and associating disproportionately with people of similar backgrounds and views – rest assured, nothing will tweak your perception of reality quite like seeing the world almost exclusively through a 30x20cm square of artificial light whose pixels vomit out unverifiable information sources chosen specifically to corroborate your opinions and feelings – especially when there is no regulation, no standard to abide. What you consider the ‘Centre’ will be utterly shifted away from reality.[ How Duterte Used Facebook – Davey Alba; Brazil Battles Fake-News “Tsunami” – Dom Phillips]
- The greatest misinformation surrounding the above topic is that the easily accessible news of Fb is “free”. With every click, every browse and every second spent reading a particular article or on a particular website, you are paying with your data. From the moment my 15 year old self joined the new fad of Fb, I had signed away all rights to my online information to Fb, whomever they sell it on to or whoever steals it from their not-so-carefully-guarded vaults.
What a moron! Surely, any 15 year old in 2007 should have known what that meant! Should have read the small print. Should have foreseen the future of Analyticas and Palantirs harvesting said information to sell in-depth psychological profiles of me to corporations and political campaigns, domestic and foreign. It was all explained in the T&Cs, right!?
It should have been obvious, as I’m sure it is to all of us, that when Fb describes us as “customers” what it means is “suppliers”. Supplying the “goods” of our information to their corporate customers – just that Fb keep all of the money (cos they’re “just like all about bringing people together, maaaan”).
- In One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse borrowed the psychoanalysis of Freud’s Civilisation and Its Discontents to explain how we internalise the norms of society – specifically, Consumerism, Materialism and the needless flogging of overproduction’s surplus. Instagram is an even more insidious and terrifying harbinger of this excess, with close correlation to young people’s growing anxieties and unhappiness amid the bombardment of beautiful, bikini clad, 6-footers living a life of 5 star, luxury travel and enforcing the message that this should be the benchmark for a happy life, and that “Bali Body” and “Gym Shark” will help you get there.[see Jean Twenge’s iGen].
With breaking news of our encroaching apocalypse amid Capitalism’s systemic environmental destruction, I wonder, wouldn’t we all be better off without Fb advertising that “thing“, selected with algorithmic precision, I didn’t even realise I wanted but then was convinced I needed?[IPCC – Global Warming at 1.5; Disposable coffee cups – George Monbiot]
Whilst we’re on the topic of apocalypse, how much longer are we going to let the likes of Cambridge Analytica (reincarnated as Auspex International, for anyone interested in committing a mass shooting) aid corrupt elites and allow fascistic despots to strangle Freedom out of the life of the Developing World before we realise it really does us (“The West”/”The First World”/”The Developed World” – basically, anyone who caught the industrialization wave in the nineteenth century and aggressively started colonising everyone else) no favours in the long run.