We have never been neoliberals

Standard economics is denounced as a political program in disguise; and one that both implies and requires a greedy individualistic outlook on social life. The former may as well be true, insofar economic policies can be neatly divided between those that assume standard economics and those (mostly in third world shitholes) that reject it. But the latter is wrong.

An Econ 101 class will teach you that the field is divided in two more or less independent disciplines, Macro and Microeconomics. The object of Macro is ultimately the Dasein of social life as bounded by the reach of policy. It speaks in moods and fears. As a theory, it’s pretty much the primus inter pares of systems theory; it encompasses everything from mineralogy to demography as stylized feedback loops that actually explain the world. On the other hand, micro as a theory says nothing about individuals at all; it speaks in choice structures that (in the version taught in undergrad) are reconciled by an Auctioneer (in Lacan-speak, the point de capiton; in Deleuze-speak, the Virtual). Nothing about this rejects inconsistent decision-making or even multiple personalities. If I’m different persons when drunk or sober, manic or depressive — I’m still selling my time and buying consumer goods, albeit at possibly highly unequal rates.

Indeed, read correctly, the technical lemmata of micro-level theory that prove the inconsistency of aggregate demand and choice (in stark contrast to the non fingo attitude of macroeconomics toward these things) also pose hard constraints on the possibility of individuation itself. The political program of neoliberalism is distinguished from nationalistic, class-interest or otherwise collectivistic programs because it claims that the smallest minority is the individual. But this is actually false: if I’m one person at work, one person as a parent, one person when drunk and one person when manic, guess what: boom, Arrow’s impossibility theorem applies. There’s no I there that can vote. May I insist, this follows straightforwardly from how micro theory understands choice (101 textbooks say “agents”, not “people”; and a deep dive will reveal that what is rigorously meant is agencies), and from the axioms in Arrow’s theorem.

This is what grand axiology does (in this case, an axiology built around the concept of choice, which is probably not fully general): it “de-necessitates” it’s supposed causability chains (sovereign individuality, and worse yet, “rational” choice — a word improperly confused with Enlightenment ideals). Now: micro theory at one point in the 1920s was being used to argue that scientific socialist planning was indeed possible if we could only have means to simulate the secret sauce of market economics. This didn’t pan out (as the more reasonable linear programming project of Kantorovich also didn’t back in the USSR); but did neoliberalism? For a couple of glorious years, even Byte magazine explained that on the Internet one has countless personas, but this, too, didn’t last for long. As it turns out, most people seem to value greatly a kind of continuity between their offline “persona” and their online presence; and more generally a continuity between a group-belonging that warrants their values and the truth of their morality.

Of course: neoliberalism was also a power grab. But so was 20th-century unionism. From a tentative (but frail and not fully thought out) higher-axiology vantage point, it would seem that these press the question of how you, the reader, should value yourself more: as consumer or as worker. In each case, the power grab is enabled by the kind of power it gives you. But neoliberalism (and this is counteracted somewhat by other forces allied to the neoliberal movement, such as cultural and religious conservatism) seems to offer the power to shatter the mirror that produces the illusion of a cohesive identity. You don’t go to the market and say “as a philosopher I want these shoes; as a scientist I want this cutler set whose heft feels like a restaurant’s”. Something disorganized in you wants them. This is also, of course, why drugs disseminate in common circles: you no longer have to be a decadent poet to acquire, as such, some opium.

A Freudian would, at this point, conclude that neoliberal consumerism produces a psychological regression to toddlerhood, but this smuggles strange, alienated-adult values into the word “regression”. Consumerism does seem to heighten (here I’m resorting more to my experience, but you’ll validate it with yours) immature tendencies: people fight over parking lot spaces at malls, it’s awful. But this isn’t infantilism per se, many kids are nice and cooperative by default.

In contradistinction unionism (or whatever new movement that wants to give you power as an X-type person — yes, much of this applies to McKenosha) appeals to a kind of double adulthood where not only you’re endowed with a mature adult socialization, but also you’re able to see the union as the doubly adult body that regulates its relative infantile parts by binding them to the collective contract.

But there’s different approaches to infantile regression and nested adult/adult infancy hierarchies both. Politically motivated trolls (frogs and clowns and all that) employ utterly childish aesthetics and behavior to question group-inflicted adulthood-structures. Why does Pepe say “lol Hillary” and sides with Trump, and not the opposite? Well, isn’t it pathetic how she had to stand back to give way to Obama and waited patiently for her turn — fairly given to her by the adult-of-adult bodies (the party) and the adult that regulates them (political interests at large in the equilibrium producing the stable party)? Trump, on the other hand, launches his entire political career babbling like a toddler about Mexican rapists, but ten days later decides (in a sudden moment of insight while eating faux-Mexican food) he loves them. But Trump (to trust most of my American friends, about 3/4 of them) is no toddler — no toddler can be evil.

As for the nested adulthood structure where the group is the adult that regulates its children… isn’t this how the hierarchy (maybe even the lattice/poset) of larger and smaller axiologies works? In general axiology we’re maximally mature and agree on the most important and generic issues of theory and praxis. Of course, the “trick” here is that, while we’re promised “infinite power” in general axiology, there’s no going up in a corporate ladder, no gradual acquisition of power (that both implies and requires power grabs elsewhere). This is why a toddler-like attitude may be required to explore systems of value and valuable means to acquire them: a refusal of adulthood as submission to the higher adulthood of groups, but rather an experimental and naive (even if deadly serious, as children often are in their games of imagination) openness to the Situation.

On a personal note, this is also why I (despite all my conservative adult instincts) remain a revolutionary, and theory remains a revolutionary project.

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