Navigating Neoliberalism: Capitalism an Exercise in Forgetting

Being young and unemployed,

I’m prone to complain. Not just about the difficulties of finding a job, indeed, most of them sound remarkably tedious, but about all manner of things. My mom and my sister are both teachers who work too much. They don’t have a choice; ‘You’re never on top of things in teaching,’ says my mother who has been in the classroom, well, since she was 5 years old, but teaching – at the same primary school – for 35 years. She’s hoping to retire in a year and a half and she’s able to do so because she has planned how every single one of her pennies is spent all of her life. I think she works too hard.

So, after four years of a History degree (with at the most 8 hours of lecture time per week), which allowed me an abundance of ‘free time’ to spend as productively (or not) as I like, I have come to resent the way the world works. I exclaim, ‘I can’t believe other human beings came up with the idea of working for 5 days out of 7 (which easily becomes more with ‘homework’)! Why would another human being inflict that on another?! Where is the time – and energy – to do anything else but work?’ I’m not lazy; I just want more control over my time and more freedom to, ‘take the road less travelled’ without feeling pressured to do something ‘worthwhile’. And then I desperately try to think of solutions but …

… The Economy? I just don’t get it.

“What if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about” Maybe? (Image: Richard Morrison)

In his article, ‘Navigating Neoliberalism: Political Aesthetics in an Age of Crisis’, Nick Srnicek contends that the economy as an object ‘extends itself beyond the finite capacities of human comprehension’. This is at the heart of the stale neoliberal ideology that has been so long pervasive and has only served to sap us dry and render us incapable of thinking of adequate and reasonable alternatives to being overworked and exploited, leading laborious lives of labour until we’re 65. I know that in The West it’s not half as bad as elsewhere around the globe, but that’s not the point. It could be better. His solution is found in technology and aesthetics: mathematical and technological tools are required to ‘extend cognition beyond the sensible parameters of the human’ coupled with ‘an aesthetics of the interface which modulates the relationship between the technological representation of the complex economic object and the human cognitive system’ – creating a more accessible and comprehensive understanding of the economy, which extends across ‘space and time’ and encompasses, ‘property laws, biological needs, natural resources, technological infrastructures’. In other words, it dictates our lives. Therefore, we must learn how to navigate it. First, we must make it navigable.

Now, Srnicek provides solutions mainly with The Left in mind as if it is only people of a more socialist inclination who can relate to the notion of feeling alienated in the physical space and the society they live in. But really, the only reason why Neoliberalism has become so entrenched is because people are so afraid of alienation and anomie to the point they have stopped searching and exploring their identity, singularly and collectively, and don’t bother trying or striving for anything more (because, I hasten to remind you, there is more to life than a lucrative job). They, or we, just get on with it, and capitalism thrives, so that we might forget about certain death. What does it even matter, anyway? One might consider global capitalism to be just one big existential crisis.

I think Srnicek is absolutely right when he suggests that we need to use our imaginations, moreover, ‘sensible imagination’ in order to use technology and art to its fullest extent to reign us in and get us thinking about the world we live in – much like a mirror – and how to transform it into a place we feel connected to, a place that reflects our individuality – a place we can affect. He quotes Fredric Jameson, Marxist political theorist; ‘The future becomes a threat when the collective imagination becomes incapable of seeing alternatives to trends leading to devastation, increased poverty, and violence’.

We need to use our imaginations to encourage us to be realistically optimistic about the future. And the aesthetics of our imagination not only need to be relatable but tactile and inclusive of individuals too. This is how art can become increasingly political. Franco Beradi describes modernity as ‘a complexity that is too dense, too thick, too intense, too speedy, too fast for our brains to decipher’, the point of political aesthetics, Srnicek states, is to turn this ‘chaos’ that ‘composes the world’ into a tangible and consistent ‘plane’. On this premise of new images and stimuli, our imaginations can be motivated to understand what we have and what we could have – to think differently; it can encourage optimism, which is necessary for change.

‘capitalist realism has lost its sense of the future’

We shouldn’t only be worried about the Coalition Government’s call for austerity because of cuts to all manner of public services and hiking university fees, but because, as Srnicek points out, debt is representative of the ‘capitalist belief in a better future’. The current financial crisis gives us reason to believe that even ‘capitalist realism has lost its sense of the future’, therefore, when no one has the faith in improvement – or rather, since this ‘implosion of the future’ – apathy flourishes. This is indeed depressingly dystopian.

So where does that leave us? Well, I am neither artist nor economist, but I think we have to try to wrap our collective head around this one. In the meantime, we need consistent injections of joy.

[toggle title=”Submitted by Marianna Massa”] Marianna Massa is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University. A Wordscover Author from October 2012 to February 2013[/toggle]

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3 thoughts on “Navigating Neoliberalism: Capitalism an Exercise in Forgetting

  1. Hmm, what do I suggest? First of all, I think we need a slower pace of life. Things have gotten way out of hand – forget supplying the demand, we created so much of it.

    There will always be some kind of work to be done, but I think it should be of a nature that allows us to keep in touch and get back in touch with the things, e.g. food, we rely on.

    Basically, I’m looking for something very different to what we have now, but in the meantime, then perhaps job shares and part time work – with higher salaries – should be more commonplace.

  2. . I exclaim, ‘I can’t believe other human beings came up with the idea of working for 5 days out of 7 (which easily becomes more with ‘homework’)! Why would another human being inflict that on another?!

    What do you suggest?

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