Monday, March 19, 2012

Thought of the Day: Neoliberalism is a Cancer

I said here that “Neoliberalism is a mutation of the liberal tradition. Its values, in practice, are not liberty, equality, and fraternity, but property, exploitation, extraction, and estrangement.” Not only is neoliberalism a mutation of liberalism, it is also a cancer -- after distorting liberal values it spreads those values without limit, just as cancer cells are mutated cells that grow past their normal bodily limits. Neoliberalism takes the traditional liberal values and oversimplifies them, presenting only one facet of them as the whole -- and that partial facet is always the commercial, mercantile side. Freedom, for example, is oversimplified and reduced into the freedom to own property, to buy and sell freely; rather than being, say, a fuller conception of freedom as the empowerment to develop your human abilities, to follow a rational life plan, to create according to your talents, or to work with others to contribute to the public good. 
Neoliberalism’s cancerous growth occurs as its mutated values are spread beyond their original sphere by various means, including privatization and advertising, so that market values, commodification, and corporatization come to dominate other fields of human endeavor -- universities today are a prime example. This cancer even comes to dominate language itself, making the commercial point of view the default point of view. That means that almost any other point of view is a useful counterpoint: putting yourself into the mindset of a people from ancient history, or a of a still pre-modern tribe, or even imagining a different, non-capitalist future gives you lenses of values other than the dominant ones through which to see the world.

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