Being proud to be a deviant!

A powerful essay from George Monbiot.

Many will be aware that on a fairly regular basis, I repost essays here from George Monbiot, the last being Monbiot Unmasked on the 6th August.

I do so because in a world where much of the media is ‘bought’, and do understand that I use the term loosely, solid and trustworthy correspondents are to be applauded and, in turn, their views shared.  Mr. Monbiot is a classic example of someone who adheres to a truthful perspective. I am more than grateful for the blanket permission given to me by GM for the republication of his essays.

Thus with no further ado, here is George Monbiot’s essay Deviant and Proud published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper on the 6th August, 2014.

ooOOoo

Deviant and Proud

August 5, 2014

Do you feel left out? Perhaps it’s because you refuse to succumb to the competition, envy and fear neoliberalism breeds.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th August 2014

To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed.

I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe (1). What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why.

We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identity is shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t.

Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power (2). It’s rapidly colonising the rest of the world.

Verhaeghe points out that neoliberalism draws on the ancient Greek idea that our ethics are innate (and governed by a state of nature it calls the market) and on the Christian idea that humankind is inherently selfish and acquisitive. Rather than seeking to suppress these characteristics, neoliberalism celebrates them: it claims that unrestricted competition, driven by self-interest, leads to innovation and economic growth, enhancing the welfare of all.

At the heart of this story is the notion of merit. Untrammelled competition rewards people who have talent, who work hard and who innovate. It breaks down hierarchies and creates a world of opportunity and mobility. The reality is rather different. Even at the beginning of the process, when markets are first deregulated, we do not start with equal opportunities. Some people are a long way down the track before the starting gun is fired. This is how the Russian oligarchs managed to acquire such wealth when the Soviet Union broke up. They weren’t, on the whole, the most talented, hard-working or innovative people, but those with the fewest scruples, the most thugs and the best contacts, often in the KGB.

Even when outcomes are based on talent and hard work, they don’t stay that way for long. Once the first generation of liberated entrepreneurs has made its money, the initial meritocracy is replaced by a new elite, which insulates its children from competition by inheritance and the best education money can buy. Where market fundamentalism has been most fiercely applied – in countries like the US and UK – social mobility has greatly declined (3).

If neoliberalism were anything other than a self-serving con, whose gurus and think tanks were financed from the beginning by some of the richest people on earth (the American tycoons Coors, Olin, Scaife, Pew and others) (4), its apostles would have demanded, as a precondition for a society based on merit, that no one should start life with the unfair advantage of inherited wealth or economically-determined education. But they never believed in their own doctrine. Enterprise, as a result, quickly gave way to rent.

All this is ignored, and success or failure in the market economy are ascribed solely to the efforts of the individual. The rich are the new righteous, the poor are the new deviants, who have failed both economically and morally, and are now classified as social parasites.

The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafka-esque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition, known in Russian as tufta. It means the falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power.

The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy.

These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia; both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors, the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways (5): just as we congratulate ourselves for our successes,we blame ourselves for our failures, even if we had little to do with it.

So if you don’t fit in; if you feel at odds with the world; if your identity is troubled and frayed; if you feel lost and ashamed, it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Paul Verhaeghe, 2014. What About Me?: The struggle for identity in a market-based society. Scribe. Brunswick, Australia and London.

2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/18/conservative-financial-crisis-opportunity

3. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/may/22/social-mobility-data-charts

4. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/aug/28/comment.businesscomment

5. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/07/one-per-cent-wealth-destroyers

ooOOoo

What powerful observations; what common-sense written by Paul Verhaeghe, and beautifully reported by Mr. Monbiot in an incredible essay.

You have probably guessed where I stand! 😉

8 thoughts on “Being proud to be a deviant!

  1. Of course markets are not perfect and sometimes too stupid and sometimes too harsh. BUT history can sure point at hundreds of example of government ruled markets where everything was so much worse.
    The basic problem is that governments are usually not run for the citizens but more for the governments instead so we citizens end up living in somebody else´s business. And that somebody else´s government business is sure run with strict consideration of market forces.
    And sincerely to equate the way assets were allocated in Russia with the way assets are allocated in free markets is not intellectually too honest. For instance most of the members of the reigning plutocracy have become so not because of the market but by the help of monopolies, and most of these created under the shield provided by intellectual property rights.

    And let me tell you how Venezuela is now redistributing income. By not allowing the market to take the decisions of how to allocate resources they created many scarcities in consumer products. And so in order to better apportion those scarce products they are installing a centralized rationing which requires every consumer to register with his fingerprints when checking out from a store. But since many of the poor do not anyhow have the money to buy the products they can now lease out their fingers. And of course the bigger the scarcity, the higher is the value of the fingers, and the larger is the redistribution of wealth. So friends you see, Thomas Piketty can go back and sleep calmly now.

    And do not get me started on that government intervention called bank regulations: by which banks are allowed to hold much much less capital when lending to the “absolutely safe” like the infallible sovereign and the members of the AAAristocracy, than when lending to the “risky” like small businesses and entrepreneurs; which means bank can leverage more their equity when lending to The Infallible than when lending to The Risky, which means banks earn much much higher risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to The Infallible than when lending to The Risky; which of course means banks lend only to The Infallible and not to small businesses and entrepreneurs; which mean that our young will find it harder and harder to get jobs.

    One of the biggest problems we citizens have is with corporations paying taxes… that dilutes our tax representation.

    I am always proud. It is always the other who are the deviant 🙂

  2. Until business and government is run for the benefit of the people they depend upon rather than for a small minority of rich and powerful people then there will never come about a society that Monbiot envisions.

  3. I am proud.

    I enjoy GM. On this one, I think he is only scratching the surface, but manages to come to an effective and appropriate paragraph at the end.

    I have taken the liberty of interspersing in his words may comments. I hope they come out in a different color. If not, in italics.

    Dogs probably understand the market in different terms. They don’t screw it up, like we humams can.

    My comments suggest one of the problems in posting here thight might more properly be addressed to GM, but I feel comfortable that you might comment on specific points without causing grief between you and him. Regards to all of you, Paul, Jeanie, and the four leggeds without number.

    Lew …

    1. Lew, good to hear from you and trust you are well. Regarding your reply, with your thoughts interspersed with GM’s, what I would like to offer is emailing those to me and I can then include the whole in this place. Best wishes, Paul.

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