An Economic Doctrine cannot start from the Assumption that we do not Belong

One of the assumptions I found so bizarre in Neoliberal ‘thought’ was the idea of asociality – that people are individuals outside of any society, making selfish, ‘rational’ ‘utility maximising’ decisions as if we do not belong. It is the very opposite of the indigenous view of whakapapa – our belonging to land, people and community.
From this cultish Neoliberal perspective, when someone makes what are patently unethical decisions – perhaps abusing power, or not considering others or our land, or the noam-chomsky-the loss of society.pngfuture of our culture – then that is somehow OK.  “The market will provide,” and other cliches (whenever you read a cliche, take it as a red flag – a thoughtless functionary mind).

And then we start hearing the rhetoric that greed is good, and that those with power have demonstrated ‘merit’, and the narrowness of perspective creeps into our way of life. Our society erodes.  George Monbiot typically writes well about that phenomenon.  An assumption of disconnection leads to disconnection, which leads to negative system effects beyond the ken of narrow men.

Because we think society is not there, it does not matter.  Because we frame the world as a set of infinite resources with an ‘all-knowing’ market, there is no ‘belonging’ to consider – only allocation at the appropriate price.  Yes, the market theoretically knows all about the the certain and controllable collapse that’s coming, and so naturally it won’t occur – no need to worry.   Welcome to the Machine.

When people challenge – for example a sociologist demonstrating that people are social animals, or some historian, anthropologist, land use profession pointing out the nature of belonging, the need to conserve functions, or the constant history of environmental, social and economic collapse (I mean … Hello!!) – the arrogance worthy of a weird cult dismisses it.


Authorities fear thought, and claim they speak for the common good.  And then they collapse under the weight of their own hubris and arrogance.

Worse, they set up structures as happened in our public sector where blind obedience is a career imperative (they call it ‘freedom’ and ‘merit’ – let’s take some words and do the exact opposite to them). The weird cult also dismissed the importance of wider ethics like duty, rights & virtue that go far beyond the ‘rationalised’ injustice that is common when relying on ‘utility’ calculations – dollars as happiness measures for me, today.  And they dismiss the reality that our place is patently *not* a set of resources but is first and foremost a functioning system (as we have a functioning social system), whose function can be destroyed by short term and narrow thought.  And you cannot predict how, when, where, or what straw will break the camel’s back.

I wonder how such an ungrounded, untrue, unethical, narrow and destructive perspective can permeate into our thought and action.  I really do.  It demonstrates the power of myth.  It also demonstrates how very *irrational* we are outside of a deeply social context – a paradigm of belief.

And that is the biggest irony of all.  The cult and culture *within* the Neoliberal clique is palpable.

“Economy” is the management of home.  There are wonderful economists who get that. You can tell who they are because they don’t talk in the framework of simply markets and dollars – they understand power for what it the-economy-is-linkedis, the planet for what it is, community and belonging for what it is, ethics for what it is, merit for what it is.  They understand people and the things that make us whole – our creativity and spirit, our sense of belonging.  They also understand that a ‘thin’ economy with all the money at the top and no demand in the rest of society is doomed to stall.  The small businesses suffer; health and crime rise; the potential of individuals, communities and landscapes lies moribund.  Greed eats the soul of our home, but the greedy can never see that because they aren’t looking.

We need to change this world, and one of the first steps toward a better future in uncertain times is to critique Voltaire’s Neoliberal Panglossian dreamers who think we live in “the best of all possible worlds.”  We need the critical voices, and the loss of those voices *within* our
public and private peterson-political-positioninginstitutions (companies, departments, research, policy, community) is a very serious concern in my view.  We become rigid, autocratic, centralised and hierarchical rather than flexible, dialogic, decentralised and empowered.

But Neoliberalism doesn’t understand the importance of those two cultural distinctions because (well, for a start they are cultural, and culture doesn’t exist) they think they know our world through their incredibly narrow lens.  It is why our Neoliberal Treasury was behind the changing of our public institutions with the State Sector Act 1988.  They created corporate autocracies, and destroyed dialogue and connection.  Read about it here.

And the 1992 science reforms were of the same thinking.  The myopic minds cannot see culture anywhere in their models.  There is no ethos of care, a long term view, a sense of breadth, esprit de corps, institutional knowledge, connection to practice in the field and other colleagues, a focus on cooperative public service goals, an ideal of excellence and inquiry.  There is only self interest and personal utility maximisation.  So it is written in their texts.  Never mind the real world around you.  All for one and one for all.jpegYou have to look beyond the mechanics of the model to the system to appreciate those core community qualities.  Sports teams understand it, the better managers, any half competent military unit.

Like dissent against state communism – to constructively dialogue and openly disagree is a sign of an extremist from the point of view of an extremist.

If any economic doctrine starts with the assumption that we can reduce our home to disconnected ‘resources’ (individuals included under the banner resources) that relate through transactional allocation outside of society, then I’d rather take advice from the soothsayers (and I seriously mean that), because such thinking actively destroys the things that make us whole.

It turns us into zombies and orcs, mere unthinking cogs who act on the whim of whatever ‘meritorious’ authority has schemed their way to the top.  The better soothsayers at least recognises what we all know – that we are part of a society.

Chris Perley

This entry was posted in Thought Pieces. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.