coromandal


it’s your fault

Oprah says it’s not the system, it’s you.

She tells us the market will solve grave political, social and environmental problems, as long as we adjust ourselves to its demands.

She sees your anxiety and tells you it is not the fault of all of these very real external social problems; rather it is your fault, you just haven’t worked hard enough to comply with the rules.

For someone doing well, emphasizing how you improve yourself through your own efforts is empowering; the successful cling to this ideology because it has worked very well for them.

But, for someone with anxiety and thoughts of alienation, Oprah’s ideology is pretty dispiriting. It reinforces a punitive view that becomes pervasive and pushes people deeper into helplessness and passivity.

What we get is a passive, atomized, isolated populace unwilling to think and to articulate what ails them and how to make it better; a culture that is punitive – a very real Stockholm-syndrome culture of self censure and self defeat; and finally institutions that, although fatally flawed, remain unchallenged and increase in corruption and power.

The irony is that the message seems so affirming and yet is so destructive, and the tragedy is the lives that it takes.

From New Prophets of Capital:

Oprah is one of a new group of elite storytellers who present practical solutions to society’s problems that can be found within the logic of existing profit-driven structures of production and consumption. They promote market-based solutions to the problems of corporate power, technology, gender divides, environmental degradation, alienation and inequality.

[…]

Oprah recognizes the pervasiveness of anxiety and alienation in our society. But instead of examining the economic or political basis of these feelings, she advises us to turn our gaze inward and reconfigure ourselves to become more adaptable to the vagaries and stresses of the neoliberal moment.

[…]

The way Oprah tells us to get through it all and realize our dreams is always to adapt ourselves to the changing world, not to change the world we live in. We demand little or nothing from the system, from the collective apparatus of powerful people and institutions. We only make demands of ourselves.

We are the perfect, depoliticized, complacent neoliberal subjects.

extract from New Prophets of Capital by Nicole Aschoff, published by Verso Books.

 

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cruel optimism
April 19, 2014, 10:26 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

We are told we need hope when there is none. Hope is the lingua franca in a society in which the relationship between work and the expected dividends of that work are broken – when you work your ass off and get nowhere. Hope is turned into a virtue and an issue of personal responsibility. Thereby, no efforts are expended to make the system any better and you alone are responsible for your relative successes and failures.

Cruel optimism says ‘you must believe in a brighter future,’ as it erects insurmountable obstacles to finding that success.

From an essay by Jo Littler:

According to Cameron’s stated worldview, the ability to ‘believe in yourself ’, and by extension, your child, is primary. This is a discourse which vests not only power but also moral virtue in the very act of hope, in the mental and emotional capacity to believe and aspire. Hope and promise become more integral in an unequal society in which hard work alone has less and less chance of reaping the prizes. Through this rhetorical mechanism, instead of addressing social inequality as a solvable problem, the act of addressing inequality becomes ‘responsibilised’ as an individual’s moral meritocratic task. This process devolves onto the individual personal responsibility not just for their success in the meritocratic competition, but for the very will to compete and expectation of victory which are now figured as moral imperatives in themselves. Not investing in aspiration, in expectation, is aggressively positioned as an abdication of responsibility which condemns yourself – and even worse, your child – to the social scrapheap. […]

Here, social disadvantage is only ‘real’ in that it is an obstacle over which pure mental will and aspiration – if they are expressed correctly by being combined with hard work – can triumph. These tropes and discursive elements generate an affective mode which Lauren Berlant aptly identifies as ‘cruel optimism’. This is the affective state produced under neoliberal culture which is cruel because it encourages an optimistic attachment to the idea of a brighter future whilst such attachments are, simultaneously, ‘actively impeded’ by the harsh precarities and instabilities of neoliberalism. If ‘Aspiration Nation’ is related to such ‘cruel optimism’, it also draws on the English trope of ‘having a go’, which involves a sort of non-competitive competitiveness, of being prepared to compete without any expectation of winning, out of a recognition that sporting competition is a mode of social participation; although the difference is that in the Aspiration Nation you can’t just do your best: you have to want to win.

Jo Littler, Meritocracy as Plutocracy, New Formations

from Spurious by Lars Iyer

 

 

 

 



work and home intertwined

Capitalism is on trial.  In its most virulent form it seems to be failing entire classes of people in many corners of the world.  There is an awakening of masses of people from North Africa to Europe and North America to how a dogmatic form of capitalism has insidiously and systematically undermined their ability to make for themselves dignified and fruitful lives.

For those of you so inclined, the passage below is a damning list of the effects of capitalism.  But it’s much more than just a list.  It makes the argument that capitalism has made us profoundly passive in our personal and social lives, and that this translates into an inability to demand basic freedoms in our shared economic lives. Continue reading