“As for living, our servants will do that for us.”
– Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Axël
In the posthuman context one wants to rephrase that to say: “As for dying, our proxies will do that for us.” In the age of neoliberal fragmentation the self is no longer confined to some unified sphere of consistency that can be tracked, identified, and commoditized according to external market pressure, but is as Deleuze once described it a ‘dividual’, a datatized agent of the simulated virtual economy. The neoliberal self is dispersed in the free-floating bits of flotsam and jetsam of that vast assemblage of phantasmatic networks to be exploited by machinic algorithms in a posthuman economy of the endless transactions and brokered financialization. Self as Proxy, a self-constructed kit of affective relations built not by some internal mechanism but by the neoliberal market forces and their minions in the Grand Cathedral of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (so well documented by Philip Mirowski). In today’s neoliberal hypercaptalist state the self is immersed in the flows of data, unhinged from its physical status within the water bag we call the body, it is seen as a flexible and liquid commodity, neither manufactured or fabricated, but more of a neurogram: a programmable commodity of accelerating human capital moving toward greater and greater energy flows within the digital marketplace guided by neither rational choice nor the neoclassical sense of self identity but as performative player in a vast game script structured by a mathematical information economy modulated second by second in a global system run amok on the shores of a desperate elite that no longer believes in its own mystical religion of money.
Why worry about job loss in such a world? Think of it as an opportunity for a major overhaul, an upgrade, a self-modified algorithm one can install as part of an everyday maintenance program. Designer drugs to modify not one’s brain but one’s desensitized body laid on ice awaiting the expected post-singularity when humans and machines merge in immortalist visions of economic heaven. We are told over and over that the self is illusion, that the brain’s plasticity allows for multiple roles to be cast in flexible functions and mechanisms, just another graft of the fractured rhythms of accelerating world. Accountability? The legal definitions are evolving too, at least that’s the latest bit of wisdom from the neoliberal ignorance. Slowly but surely the neoliberal self is dissolving into the very fabric of the market where rules are just another set of algorithms pumping the fluid of wealth from the poor to the rich. As Philip Mirowski describes it satirically:
This is the true terminus of the neoliberal self: to supplant your own mother and father; to shrug off the surly bond ratings of earth; to transform yourself at the drop of a hat or the swallow of a pill; to be beholden to no other body but only to the incorporeal market. It doesn’t matter if the procedure actually lies within the bounds of contemporary scientific possibility, because it is the apocalypse and the Rapture of the neoliberal scriptures.1
All of the above may seem like a mad satire of the our present world, even the peregrinations of a mind at the end of its tether. Yet, living in America as I do I feel like a one of those old gnostics that has suddenly awakened from his sleepwalking existence, his zombiefied dream state within the ideological mindmeld of the mediatainment scapeworlds that pervade us. But this is no religious vision, nor is it some battle between gods of Left and Right like some all encompassing dualism of those old preachers of the desert. Instead this is the truth of which George Orwell once stated:
The Party could not be overthrown from within. Its enemies, if it had any enemies, had no way of coming together or even of identifying one another. Even if the legendary Brotherhood existed, as just possibly it might, it was inconceivable that its members could ever assemble in larger numbers than twos and threes. Rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflection of the voice; at the most, an occasional whispered word. But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning.2
Everywhere one turns we hear over and over how we are powerless against the incomprehensible market, as if the market had become our god, the invisible hand that guides our lives like chess pieces on some world board that no nation, corporation, or economist can either know nor control. We want to say with Orwell that we too could wake up together and throw off the chains of servitude to this world system if we only would. No instead we are put to sleep by the very enemies we so hate. Why? Philip Mirowski speaking of the 2007 Crisis of the economy and its aftermath tells us, speaking to the mechanics of the Fed and its minions satirizes their crying and helpless stance in ignorance and apathy:
First off, you can’t blame us just because the neoclassical orthodoxy we actively help enforce is pathetically empty in its ability to discriminate such matters. Moreover, we assert those who were adamant in sounding the alarm were cranky Cassandras and perennial moaners, which means mostly pariahs exiled outside the orthodoxy, so we, the Fed, were fully justified in ignoring them. When in doubt, always err on the side of Pollyanna optimism. Finally, the supposed consensus enforced at the Fed was clearly not based on any demonstrable intellectual discernment, so much as herding behavior and the chairman’s visible iron hand, but not to worry, because it is eminently “rational” to stick with the herd. People whine about the parade of economists being unable to come to a conclusion, but soothing their anxieties concerning dissention and disputation is the main reason we were right to persist in our stubborn errors. We simply channel the cultural zeitgeist.(Mirowski, 3870-3876)
Cronyism and protectionism have been with us from the beginning of this nation, and one might extend this to all supposed nations under the neoliberal thumb. What seems clear is that most of the economists that purport to give us the truth of this event are in the pay of the very ones that caused it. Pleading ignorance is the first line of defense for these creatures. The failure of economics forecasting is the failure of economists who not only lack any understanding of the facts, but who are actually paid to distort the facts and put the blame not on the very financial institutions that caused the issue but to propagandize the citizenry into believing that knew all along just how the crisis came about and how to fix it. The Great Bailout in which the institutions that failed regained ascendency through an influx of trillions. Yes, this is better than the great train robbery. And, as Mirowski reminds us the blame was finally laid not on Wall Street, the Fed, or the Bankster-Industrial complex but on us the People. Yes, we are to blame they reiterate over and over and we must pay.
Mirowski spends a full chapter in his new book outlining how naturalized the neoliberal economic world view has become over the years. He shows a litany of both Nobel Prize economists and their epigone who are all aligned in a coterie or cartel of intellectual survivorship that lives in denial of the truth, and in fact espouses a new economic mythology or social constructivism to support their continued intellectual control of the academic, governmental, and corporate/financial institutions. With the help of the neoliberal press and media the crisis of 2007 and the glut of books, journal reports, etc. lay the blame everywhere but at the door of the neoliberal economists themselves.
Mirowski asks a simple question: How did these neoliberal economists dodge the bullet? Why are they even more entrenched in the places of power within both the government and private enterprise systems that they were before? For all the calls for reform of the very institutions whose deregulation caused much of the latest issues we discover that instead of reform we are getting guffaws and prognostications that it was not the institutions that failed us but we who failed the institutions: and we must pay and pay dearly with austerity and endless taxation for years to come.
The truth is that the neoliberal consensus has become the Orthodoxy of our Era, a new vast Cathedral with the economist as High Priest preaching the gospel of prosperity for all and happiness to those who deserve it. These grey men of renown hide everywhere in plain site guiding, cajoling, interpreting, complexifying, mythologizing the raptures of our ignorance. The old theme of the Market as to great for any one individual to master, that like the invisible hand of god we must allow the market to work itself out without intervention. As Mirowski aptly remarks: “Economists, it appears, have unexpectedly displaced the clergy as the untouchable Delphic oracles in modern society” (Mirowski, 4022-4023). Mirowski describes four basic techniques and ploys that have helped these neoliberal autocrats to remain fixed in their power pulpits across the world. There is the immunity granted by the Financial Sector and the Fed; the immunity conveyed by the Neoliberal Restructuring of Universities; the propaganda that Neoclassical Economic Theory Denies That Academic Markets Can Ever Be Corrupt; and, finally, the notion that a “double truth” is the neoliberal economists best friend (i.e., there is the truth for the public at large, and another truth for the oligarchic elite insiders). As Mirowski remarks this it the theme that the crisis has revealed a severe epistemological contradiction that festers at the heart of the modern economics profession; this has dovetailed with a new set of practices and institutions that have developed since 1980 to paper over the contradiction.(Mirowski, 4429-4431). And, yet, the neoliberal economist self-image may be breaking down: “it sets up a treacherous dynamic interplay between the economics profession and the general public, awkwardly brought closer to the surface by the crisis. In a word, neoliberal theory in the context of economic crisis creates problems for economists’ self-image as public intellectuals.” (Mirowski, 4432-4434)
But what is the key to their continuing success? Ignorance? Yes. The economists and their institutions sponsor a message of pure ignorance with relativistic glee in the face of public anger. This is what Mirowski terms the postmodern imperative of the neoliberal machine; its agnotology (i.e., It is not the study of ignorance and doubt under all their manifestations, as sometimes mistakenly asserted, but rather the focused study of the intentional manufacture of doubt and uncertainty in the general populace for specific political motives.). In the neoliberal playbook, intellectuals are inherently shady characters precisely because they sell their pens-for-hire to private interests: that is their inescapable lot in life as participants in the marketplace of ideas. It is the market as superior information processor that ultimately sorts out what the masses should deem as truth, at least in the fullness of time.(Mirowski, 4435-4437). As he remarks:
…orthodox economists tend to waver between two incompatible positions, depending upon which appears more convenient for the entity that provides their institutional identity (as explored in this chapter); but the only way they can manage to accomplish this is by fostering greater ignorance among the public , their primary audience. Indeed, the think tanks and corporations that employ economists frequently explicitly seek to foster ignorance as part of their business plans: that is the postmodern phenomenon of agnotology. Economists, witting or no, have become the vanguard of the purveyors of ignorance in matters pecuniary, precisely because they cannot face up to their own epistemic dilemma. The crisis only highlights the divergence between “Trust us” and “Trust the neoliberal market.” (Mirowski, 4458-4464)
One could retrace the full gamut of propaganda from Bernays to Chomsky and how it blinds the public through media blitz and other mythical mindmelds to control public opinion. Disinformation can sometimes be more potent than the truth, but in this case for every book published that might actually shed light on the truth there are a hundred others to refute it, along with journals, newspapers, talking heads, etc. So the public at large sifting through all the mess of information glut is offered the devil’s bargaining chip of “Trust Us” from the in-power media critics to trust them with the truth. Mirowski points out economist after economist that speak the truth go unreflectively unnoticed in mainstream media and get little or not hearing in mainstream economy journals of repute. One need not go far to see the truth of this, one could return to the father of neoliberal thought, Friedrich Hayek in the Constitution of Liberty: “There is not much reason to believe that, if at any one time the best knowledge which some possess were made available to all, the result would be a much better society. Knowledge and ignorance are relative concepts”. This relativization of knowledge and ignorance is at the heart of the postmodern neoliberal vision. The production and proliferation of excessive information is one of the key ways the neoliberal world stays in power. Another way for it to enforce its Rule of Ignorance that the Market as information processing system is to great for any one individual to control or know. Only the High Priests of the new Cathedral of the Neoliberal Religion can hope to provide us with oracular messages from its dark pools of machininc nightmares. And, this is the neoliberal escape hatch and why it continues to survive amid so much scrutiny on the Left, because the target is hidden behind a glut of information and ignorance carefully crafted by the Neoliberal Thought Collective Mirowski so carefully registers.
But for all that one wonders: Who is listening? Have we all become dupes in a neoliberal theatre of cruelty? Who will pierce the veil of maya that has blinded the public at large in a world of illusions? Every move the Left makes is coopted by the NTC (Neoliberal Thought Collective) and turned to its own purposes. Without access to the mediscape the Left is powerless to change public opinion. We see this in many of the recent failures of the Occupy movements. Mainly derided in the mass media or for the most part ignored we see nothing really changes in the public at large who blissfully unaware or even asleep drift to the somnambulant beat of the neoliberal snake charms. Even now I get the feeling no one is listening. Even those who read my blog very rarely use their voice to communicate. Most blithely glance through the information and turn away to something else without it registering. More and more I’ seeing that blogging is more of a note taking occupation that makes little difference in the truth of things. I become more pessimistic day by day that all this blogging, academic lecturing, etc. is going nowhere. That nothing is going to change, but that what is peering over the horizon is a darker world of control growing more pervasive not because we are ignorant, but because we do not act on what little knowledge we do have. There is no solidarity, to connection, no communication. There is just this noise of endless chatter to no effect….
Why? Why do we seem alone in this dark age of neoliberalism? Where is the greatness of the Left today? Is there anything more than an eclipse? Everywhere you turn there is in-fighting, back biting, conniving, blamers rather than the energy to shape and change the state of affairs as Marx once espoused. Where is our hope?
1. Mirowski, Philip (2013-07-09). Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Kindle Locations 3081-3084). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
2. George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four (Kindle Locations 819-823). Kindle Edition.