Capitalist Realism

...being a book by Mark Fisher, known to most as k-punk. I haven't read it, but I just attended a talk he gave at my university. Penetrating the rhetoric wasn't easy, but as far as I understand, the argument runs as follows:

The shift from a industrial to a post-industrial economy happened in 1979, when the US put up interest rates and deregulated capital and labour markets. This was sold to workers as a liberation from oppressive factories, and many bought into the 'neoliberal' ideology. However, they were duped. Jobs have become very insecure, while at the same time encroaching more and more on our lives. Today, workers are both expendable and always on call. Without the clear-cut division between blue-collar and white-collar classes, the former have been left with nothing to push against. They have been freed from Fordism only to be abandoned.

My finely honed historian's sense of detail rebels at the amount of generalisations in the above exposition. (Which countries are we talking about? Which workers have been stranded?) But let's leave pedantry aside, it's very tedious. The analysis is solid enough. Onwards.

The central thesis put forward by Fisher is as follows. As our lives have become more autonomous and flexible, so have the methods for regulating and controlling them. Before, oppression came straightforwardly from the capitalist bosses. Now, it's ideological and internalised. Everyone is indocrinated to think business sense is the only way to run things. This ideology is reaffirmed through assessment forms and targets. The pressure to perform is no longer applied from outside, but from WITHIN YOUR MIND. It's constant and suffocating, doesn't improve productivity, and just generally makes you feel kinda down.

So. Capitalism isn't the only realistic way of organizing society, and yet the neoliberals have convinced absolutely everybody that it is. It constantly oppresses us, and yet we are unable to formulate any critique of it. It makes us unhappy, and yet it is ideologically bulletproof. These two propositions seem kinda strange when you put them side by side, don't you think? Is belief powerful enough to override everyone's true interests? Are we all THAT easily fooled? Maybe capitalism's success lies in the fact that, apart from the various abuses skewered by Fisher, quite a lot of people don't mind it all that much. I mean, assessment forms as tools of oppression? It's quite a paltry form of coercion, isn't it?

Explaining why people consent to 'business ontology' etc. doesn't require some grand neoliberal conspiracy, in my view. Most people consent because it doesn't oppress them very much. All that said, I'm not advocating that we should ignore those that ARE oppressed. Job insecurity is not a good thing. Target culture isn't either. But for me, these problems don't cause enough resentment to delegitimise a market economy. They don't make capitalism unrealistic.

No comments:

Post a Comment