Humanities & Social Thought

Laws of the Land

Here is the only law about laws: No Law is Partisan.

Here are some other laws:

1) Suffering is contagious. If you care about those who suffer, then you care about people who cause suffering.
2) The political is not personal, and the personal is not political. The relationship operator is wrong. The political affects the personal, and the personal affects the political, but they are distinct and non-interchangeable.
3) A justice system defines consequences for behaviors and consequences for those behaviors outside of that system are not meritocratic, though they may still be in the best interest of a group of people or the public.
4) Political power relationships do not divide right from wrong.

Dear Diary Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

American Grownups: Morality and Accountability for Privileged Adults in the U.S.A.

On my 31st birthday, I’ve learned to refrain from the temptation of feigning earnestness. I want to talk about compromise. Specifically, I want to talk about the compromise that is living better than other people live, despite knowing that other people are living in worse conditions. I want to talk about the relationship of that compromise to the accountability of adulthood.

I am a petty person, which means I take small things very seriously. I take small things very seriously because they feel very serious to me. The good news is that since I have a lot of experience blowing things out of proportion, I have a good handle on what the experience of white male privilege is like; I know what it’s like to feel that something is very unfair despite it really being absolutely nothing compared to larger injustices. I also know the rhetorical response to this backwards and forwards, and I know why it doesn’t work. I know why shaming Neo-Nazis and Nazism doesn’t get rid of Neo-Nazis or Nazism.  It doesn’t work because the experience of something being very unfair is real, regardless of whether or not you think it should be. That’s not a moral position, that’s a recognition of a central truth about being in the world, namely that being for us is entirely inside our own experience, and thus experience is the shape of our own reality. I talk about Kant a lot, because he’s my go-to example about the kind of slow, meticulous thought that we’re losing. But he comes to mind now in the middle of this Heideggerian gobblygook because Kant’s critiques taught me how to think about various phenomena in terms of their limits. What are the limits of experience?

Today, every internet article is supposed to be read as a come to Jesus moment, revealing some great organizing truth. And I don’t object to these articles because I think I’m more right or better than their writers. I object to them because they’re boring, masturbatory performances that stink of the overestimation of their own moral jurisdiction. The judgment of the Left is meaningless in the face of experience; it doesn’t matter that you think that white guy doesn’t get to feel lonely. He’s going to feel lonely anyway and the deeper down he hides it, the more likely it is to turn into something that explodes, something that can’t be ignored. The greatest limit of experience is its limit on what you can be. Any belief that you have transcended your own experience is an illusion inside your own experience. There is no you outside of your experience, but there also is no world, there also is no anybody else. The limits of your experience are the same as the limits of your reality. That’s why the experience of white dudes that seems so blown out of proportion from the outside can radicalize from the inside – it’s proportional, just not to the reality you experience.

I am laying this out starkly, but none of this is news. You already knew that telling someone their feelings don’t matter isn’t going to stop them from having those feelings. You already knew that shaming them for their feelings wasn’t going to end white supremacy. And you already knew that experience was relative, that the alienation white dudes feel might consume them even though a God’s eye view may not grant them the right to get consumed. No amount of articulating the fact that we know these things, or feeling bad about them, or performing our guilt about it, will do anything except try public patience. It’s simply and utterly childish.  And you know that we can’t simply decide to discard our privilege. We have to use it on behalf of people with less privilege. That’s the accountability of American adulthood. What does it mean to use our privilege well? What does it mean to be an American grownup?

It means blowing up the false dichotomy of there being a central dichotomy. The world is complicated, people are complicated, and there are many sides to every issue. By many, I mean way more than two. The in crowd and the out crowd was a high school idea, at the latest. Time to put that one to bed.

It means differentiating between experience and perspective. You can have enough perspective to know that yours is not the only experience, but there will never be enough perspective to let you make someone else’s experience take the place of your own in guiding you. Let that ship sail.

It means recognizing the supremacy of primacy. That is to say, you will experience a “normal” that will not be shared by everyone that will provide you with default functionality. All things are not equal, you will unconsciously give more weight to certain ides and behaviors than others, because they support the structures of your “normal.” The primacy of a “normal” cannot be avoided without absolute dysfunction.

It means constructing without shame. Your life will be guided by a series of social constructs that you contribute to and help maintain. You cannot exist merely in the rubble of social construct, because social construction is what enables functionality in a social society. Yet no social construct is entirely inclusive; you will contribute to the alienation of others and so will they.

It means owning that no kind of political identity category that you or anyone else belong(s) to can substitute for actual identity, which has at its heart is your personality, which persists. The things that make you an individual matter. The straight, white, rich dude who is spreading his legs when he sits on the bus and insisting on the existence of his own alienation is more than the cis-het-patriarchy because he is less than it, too. Political identity categories don’t shoot up churches, or march in Charlottesville, or hide their emotions because they’ve been shamed; people, individuals with individual personalities, do.  Political identity categories don’t live in high crime neighborhoods, or get murdered by police, or get paid less for the same job, or have a harder time getting health coverage; people, individuals with individual personalities, do. That is to say: the fact of a a true condition of society does not itself give you permission to stop acknowledging that you are bringing the individuality of personality to bear on what is happening, and it does not give you permission to forget that you are showing up for people, not just categories of people.

It means showing up anyway. Despite the fact that you can’t center someone else’s experience, despite the fact you’re not going to make social change by having the right views, despite the fact that your sorrow or guilt over your own privilege is actually meaningless, despite the fact that showing up has absolutely nothing to do with you or your identity in any way, despite the fact that the struggle of being an individual would continue even if the struggle of being part of a group were to cease, you have to show up. You have to speak up for the rights of others so that they’ll be there to speak up when it’s your turn. It’s not a moral act, it doesn’t really speak to your character, except to reveal whether or not you’ve grown up. Unfortunately, the world and the people in it are far too messy to make human rights or civil rights a question of morals or a question of identity. They are neither of those things. They’re a question of process, a commitment to show up over and over and over again. That’s it. There’s nothing else there. In the face of this, it is often tempting to turn that process into a moral endeavor but all that does is make the process less accessible. In other words, turning the process of showing up into a question of morals is itself immoral. It does not matter one little bit what you believe. If you’re a grownup, you’ll show up.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

Do You Exist? (Or: The Deconstruction of Being)

I was recently reflecting on the relationship between the idea that we are a product of our conditions and personal experience.
I came to this when I was watching the newest season of House of Cards with a friend and [spoilers] we were watching the break down of Will Conway, the opponent of Kevin Spacey’s character in the U.S. presidential election. In the show, knowing that he can’t win a straight election, Spacey’s character manipulates the situation to stay in office and drag out the election for months, and this eventually leads to the psychological breakdown of his opponent. I expressed some sympathy for Conway and my friend said, “Who cares? He’s still a rich, white guy.” And that got me thinking: who does care about the significance of experience outside of the context of identity politics? Who recognizes it? If nobody does, does it exist? Outside of the political categories to which I belong, do I exist? (At this point my thoughts veer away from the specific conversation about House of Cards; please do not read the rest of this essay as a commentary on my friend)

In this new context of thinking about what is and is not real, I suddenly realized there’s a through line here: erasure of actual experience in favor of representational meaning is a bipartisan effort, recently made famous by Trump. If it doesn’t matter what you experience unless it can be categorized politically, then there’s no you anymore, you have been abstracted into broader categories of  identity over which you have little to no control, and absolutely no authority. Nobody can speak to your experience, so the saying goes, but it seems to have an unspoken second half: and therefore, nobody acknowledges it.  Cuz if a white guy’s whiteness and guyness erase his experience — that is, if categories of political identity are the only way to measure what is happening in the world — then it doesn’t matter what happens, it only matters how we label what happens. And that way of measuring the real is actually the baby of the Left, although it is currently being fostered by the Right. Mommy and daddy don’t get along, but they’re both parents of this thing, now.

The Left, within its own, has tolerated for far too long this stubborn refusal to acknowledge and uplift the role that experience plays in Being, and consequently, the role that Being plays in creating the conditions in which we live together.  The pinnacle of this moment is the President himself, who does not acknowledge experience, meeting the Left on its own chosen battleground: naming what we see. It was, I am beginning to see, only a matter of time before the Right figured this out; if the only thing the Left measures meaning with is labels, the only thing they have to challenge are the labels. They don’t have to get into the experience of being sexually harassed, they just have to claim that the name for it is something besides sexual harassment. And so on, and so forth.

All of this is very interesting but it actually isn’t even the crux of the point.  The take home message here is not actually political, it’s deeply personal. Jean Baudrillard, in his famous work, Simulacra and Simulationargues that when we replace meaning with symbols that point to meaning, e.g. when we use a label like “man” to define the experience of a man, we cease to be, and instead, become a mere simulation of being. (For him, we already had by 1981 when this was published.) I want to suggest that this critique carries far more weight for each of us personally than it does for all of us communally, because the consequence is that while we only exist as a function, you don’t exist at all. There is no part of you anymore that’s you, it’s all some subset of we. 

I try to avoid prescription, but I think there’s something to be said for taking some time to pay attention to the parts of your conception of yourself that are not direct products of your political identity, and then to extend that lens to the world. What would a dead, rich white guy in North Korea look like that through that lens? What would your best friend look like? Your worst enemy? Your family? You? Do you exist?

Dear Diary Humanities & Social Thought

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Climbed Up the Spout Again

So last week, I formally dropped out of NYU’s interdisciplinary masters degree program for the humanities and social thought. The primary reason is that I ran out of motivation entirely, “burnt out” isn’t quite correct– I’m not exhausted, I’m not even exhausted with intellectual thought or writing, I just don’t care about school. I do not care. This is not the first time this has happened in the many years I have spent in and out of the academy, but it is the first time where I decided to say “fuck it, seeya.”

In any situation where something aint workin’, it’s usually a combination of me not doing what I should and them not doing what they should, and usually, it’s worth it to let them get away with it and take responsibility for my end of shit and walk away with the rubber stamp. This is the first time when I’ve concluded that what the institution has to offer doesn’t make up for what the institution should be providing and isn’t, and that is because I am “established,” by which I mean I have found a career, not just a job. It is also because in NYC, the things that the academy provides can be found elsewhere without any of that pesky “for credit” business.

All that said, there’s a question about what it’s like to be a grad school drop out that isn’t really related to the why or the how — I made a grownup decision on behalf of my grownup self and it is the first one I made despite the prevailing wisdom disagreeing with me. My co-workers were disappointed, my mom was disappointed, my friends were disappointed, hell my lyft drivers were disappointed. Yet: I’m still here. The world has not collapsed. And in fact, there are avenues re-opening that haven’t been available to me for a while.

There’s only so often we can do this, make decisive breaks that move us in a particular direction, leaving behind other paths, and other options, that we once seriously considered. Most of the time, we have to keep doing what we’re doing, even when we wonder if we’ve somehow missed some sign, some signal, along the way. But much more frequently, we can make the category of decision on a micro-level by simply asking ourselves, “why do I feel like I have to do this?” Even when we decide the reasons are legitimate and we must Do The Thing, we’re making intentional decisions instead of letting ourselves be driven by the events and pressures that surround us.

This is a good practice to develop because it is the key to not simply being products of the conditions in which we live, but exercising some control over the shape of our experiences. Insofar as we engage in reproducing our own conditions, we are part of any problems that exist within those conditions, and only by practicing this kind of mindfulness can we grasp our power to change conditions and solve problems.

By “grasp,” I mean both “to take or have,” and “to understand.” Dropping out of grad school has revealed to me a level of control I have over my own life that, though always assumed on some level, I never exercised before — to go against deeply held, common wisdom without a sure and obvious reason, because I can. Uncommon sense may be our sixth sense, the one that is capable of seeing a sum that is not simply the arithmetic of our parts.


Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction Uncategorized

The Case Against Narcissism: Donald Trump and the Horror of Being

About a year ago, I came across an article about how mindfulness can be bad for middle class white people sometimes. At the time, I was taken aback by the sheer hubris of The Guardian writing a “story” about this- like, you can just imagine them “recovering” over their Starbucks Vente Soy No-Whip Chai Lattes, right? But in the wake of the Trump presidency, and the growing question of what it means to be accountable and to whom one is accountable, the same article floated back into my mind, framed somewhat differently: can the simple condition of awareness cause pain?


In my own, brief existence, there has never been a moment when it is clearer that we are what we believe, and that those beliefs together produce a reality in which each of us individually must exist. This observation has taken the political world stage as we watch Donald Trump go to town on this thing we think of as “truth.”  But it would be naïve to assume that this phenomenon has suddenly sprung into existence. Rather, Trump calls our attention to this collective act of being by rejecting it outright. In the analysis of why Trump rejects consistency, most media and individuals have concluded that it must be because he doesn’t want to acknowledge anything that might reflect badly on him, or his brand. His fragility and defensiveness, his overly literal solutions (such as the wall and the ban), and his overly literal measurements of what is allowable (when he doesn’t pay people or businesses he hires, when he talks about assaulting women),  are all taken as evidence that Donald Trump is mainly interested in Donald Trump. I would like to assert the opposite: Donald Trump is on the run from Donald Trump.

Martin Heidegger, author of Being and Time, is famous for two things- for introducing the idea that we, humans, are concerned with being, and for being a Nazi. How, one often wonders, do the people who have so much insight into the human condition always end up being such lousy examples of human beings themselves? It may be that those who are most sensitive to world disclosure are the same as those who generally make the conditions of the lives of the people around them worse.

World disclosure, identified by Heidegger in Being and Time, is the process by which any entity (living or non) gains meaning. However, the warning here is that this is not the cultural notion of meaning. Rather, it refers to becoming intelligible in the world.  The assumption here is that an entity’s existence does not automatically make it intelligible. A baby looks at many things and few of them are disclosed to it, in the sense of “world disclosure.”

And yet, moving beyond Heidegger perhaps, although certainly still to do with being, a human is unique among entities, for at the same time he is disclosed to the world, that is the moment when he becomes complicit.

There’s that word again, that seems to rise like a tide of self righteous anger: complicit. Still, it’s worth remembering that we are complicit not only in suffering, but in the all. And perhaps that is still terrifying, but it’s a different kid of terrifying. Just a few days ago, an article was rising on this tide and floating through my feeds. The woke misogynist, this article argued, was the guy who identified as feminist, even spoke like a woke man, but was in the end, merely a hypocrite, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, undeniably Part Of The Problem. And, bracketing the grievous act of sexual assault for the moment, we are confronted with a question that this article shies away from addressing: in the messy relationship between ideology and practice, what does it mean to be? For the unspoken rare universal truth is that no human escapes the grasp of hypocrisy entirely, we all struggle to embody the change we want to see in the world, and we all fail sometimes. The question here is not, “should we forgive someone who commits sexual assault if he’s really a feminist who just slipped up,” no, the question is “who or what is a feminist accountable to?” And put as the philosophical question that underlies the practical question, “what is accountability?”

There seem to be two conflicting definitions. The first is the degree to which a person’s deeds match the belief sets they explicitly subscribe to, and the second is the degree to which a person shows up for and on behalf of other people. These are not the same thing by a long shot. The former, the consistency between a person’s alleged belief sets and his actions, is measured most often by the category of potential victim: feminist accountability is judged by women, anti-racist accountability by people of color, and so on. This measurement is then adopted by the larger group as a social conviction.  The latter, the comprehensiveness with which one is accountable to other people, is measured through the response one has to the expression of experience by another. This latter definition requires first the ownership of experience, and second the expression thereof not couched in any kind of rhetoric, but rather true because by definition, experience cannot be false. We cannot have false experiences, and in expression, they are only false if we are lying. To take the tremendously upsetting example from the article as a way of showing this point, the experience of sexually assaulting someone may not be that of committing a sexual assault, even if that is exactly what is happening. If a perpetrator of sexual assault says, “I did not experience sexually assaulting someone,” that is true. If he says, “I did not sexually assault someone,” that is false. The question here is not, “should we forgive someone who commits sexual assault if he doesn’t experience it as sexual assault,” no, the question is, “what is the relationship between experience and accountability?” And put as the philosophical question that underlies the practical question, “how does experience become intelligible?”

Through the process of world disclosure – that is when an entity becomes intelligible to the world – it becomes an element of that world, in fact it collaborates in the very constitution of the world. For that reason, the mere act of awareness is world-constituting. This is a process that can be described in technical terms, philosophically, but it can also be described in the disquiet of a middle class white woman who breathes in and out and counts her breaths. It can be described in the pain of a sexual assault victim in Brooklyn, New York, who faces the deeply disturbing gap between the ideals we hold up and the actions we take. Our very thereness makes us complicit in something far more horrifying than the narrow and deep suffering of people who are not us. It makes us complicit in constituting reality.  A person is because he or she is intelligible to us, and if we did not recognize him as such, he would live in a different reality, based on a set of conditions that are still entirely imaginary, that we have constituted together and subjected him to.

This is not a new claim, but it is quite a large one. The border between a person and the conditions in which he or she lives is porous, and the conditions themselves are constituted by all people together, but not to equal degrees. The President of the United States of America, alternatively called The Leader of the Free World, has, according to many, the largest amount of complicity. My assertion is that his own complicity in the constitution of reality already terrified Trump before he was president. Consider that if people are partially or wholly a product of the conditions in which they live, then accountability to belief sets is far less relevant than accountability to each other. We are constituted by each other, and that is true because of the fact of our existence, not because of any choice we can make. What we owe, we owe to each other and not to anything greater than or external to each other (take that, nation state).
And if, as is reasonable, we find this complicity terrifying, some of us will react, unreasonably, by avoiding accountability. What does avoidance of accountability look like? My assertion: narcissism. Consider that once we have disallowed the measurement of meaning to be a reflection of our complicity, the ways we have left to measure value are identical to those which Trump uses:

-How much human effort can we get on our own behalves for how little of our own resources? This is the measure of the value of work.
-How many other bodies besides our own can we claim for our own use at the cost of the least amount of our own emotional labor? This is the measure of the value of status.
-And of course, the literal barrier, the wall, as a measure of the value of protection.

The reason why these things are all absurd and offensive behaviors in our view is that we take into consideration accountability to each other. We do not, on the whole, sexually assault each other, because we constitute each other, and because we hold ourselves accountable for our own role in creating the conditions that define our experienced reality.

And finally, we reacquaint ourselves with the plain truth that this complicity is not a choice, it is true because of the fact of our existence- it becomes true as soon as we exist, and it remains true as long as there is human society. Indeed, even after death, what we have done and thought and shared continues to constitute people and the world.

But accountability is a choice. A person can run from the very notion of himself to avoid the complicity the fact of himself creates. Of the multitude of ways a person can run from himself, I have briefly approached two: to hold ourselves accountable to rhetoric instead of each other, and to measure meaning in the intentional absence of each other, using the literal mechanism of more and less. Trump does not want to be held accountable; no one is surprised by that statement. But what Trump does not want to be held accountable to is his own complicity, which requires him to avoid the very fact of himself. Donald J. Trump is not a narcissist, he is exactly the opposite. No one’s home.

As in the case of  the sexual assault perpetrator, the question is not, “Do we forgive Donald Trump because he is acting out of a place of pain, fear, and guilt?” The question is, how do we approach Donald Trump from the perspective of a man running from himself, instead of a man who is only interested in himself? And put as the philosophical question that underlies the practical question, “what does the fear of being mean?”

If what we are seeking is a more accountable society, forgiveness is never the question because on the societal stage, ethical jurisdiction and accountability are not the same. The relevant measurement of the perpetrator is not how right or wrong his experience is, as if his experience can be right or wrong. It cannot be either of those things any more than it can be false. Rather, the measurement that is a reflection of societal accountability is the one which tells us how the experience of perpetrators of sexual assault is produced. We hold ourselves accountable for the production of that experience, and we send him to prison not because of his experience, but because of his action.  If you think your own moral judgment of an admittedly immoral human helps constitute the change you want to see in the world, well — that’s just narcissism.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction Uncategorized

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 3 of 4)

Image result for define "trigger warning"

Triggering: Preventing normal function by causing a person to relive past trauma.

I have been engaging in the ongoing debate around trigger warnings in a very limited way for a straightforward, if judgmental reason: I do not think the debate is being had on behalf of the ideas it tries to claim jurisdiction over (yes, I know, I really like using the word “jurisdiction.” Mainly because it has the word “dick” in the middle). There is a simple solution to the question of trigger warnings, and the fact that we have not embraced it seems to me to suggest that we’re in this thing for the wrong reasons to begin with. Let’s take a look.

The question is, purportedly, whether or not we should institutionalize the use of trigger warnings by creating a policy at the institutional level that promotes their use in the classroom. We will start with the assumption that there is nothing inherently wrong with trigger warnings, because the people who argue that the world is simply an unsafe place and folks need to learn how to live in an unsafe world are obviously correct, but are not really saying anything about trigger warnings. Some people drink tea as a coping mechanism and you don’t hear anyone saying that people do not deserve to drink tea because they should just get used to an unsafe world.  The fact of the unsafe world is the premise for the trigger warnings, not the argument against them.

The argument allegedly for trigger warning policy cannot be pinned down because the various strands contradict each other:
– Some supporters claim that trigger warnings are a coping mechanism for people who experience PTSD, and are only legitimate within the context of a psychiatric diagnosis. In this case,  in order to be entitled to trigger warnings, you also need what is essentially a ‘doctor’s note.’ Moreover, it is understood that the trigger warning allows the student to engage with the material in a different way that is better for him or her, but does not excuse the student from engaging with the material.
– Some supporters claim that teachers or professors should ask at the beginning of the semester for students to provide introductory information, including what, if any trigger warnings they would like.  Detractors assert that students should not feel obligated to reveal any of their past traumas to teachers/professors. It is not clear whether or not, in this case, students should be allowed to  simply not engage with the material.  The definition of what is a trauma, and what constitutes coping with it is entirely decided by the teacher and the student in this case.
– Finally, I have seen a few arguments that support trigger warnings for the express purpose of allowing students to avoid engaging with material they might find triggering. It should be noted again that “triggering” does not mean “uncomfortable” or “upsetting,” but rather, “preventing a person from normal function.”

The argument allegedly against trigger warning policy is that any policy which encouraged trigger warnings would have to have a definition of what constitutes “triggering,” and gives easy rise to institutional bias or discrimination.  Also, frequently, the “unsafe world, get over it” argument that I rejected above. There is something to be said for the fact that universities are explicitly places for freedom of ideas, including offensive ones, but not much — we live in a time when pursuing education past high school is mandatory for many people, and it’s plain silly to say that people who have to be there have to be traumatized. This argument carries into the individual classroom as well: either students have total authority over deciding which content they will or will not engage in on the basis of their own past traumas, they have a doctor’s note, or the teacher ends up having to make a call about what is “legitimately” traumatic.

The trouble across all these arguments for and against is that it is difficult to design a system for the administration of trigger warnings, less than whether or not trigger warnings are in and of themselves worthwhile. The solution to this problem strikes me as pretty obvious. Simply create a policy which requires annotated syllabi. Providing small summaries of what to expect in the media that students are required to engage with can only help them contextualize their work for the purposes of the class. And, by default, such a syllabus would also solve the problem of “trigger warnings” by offering short summaries of the content the class will be working with. Not to mention, a good percentage of my professors would have been better professors if they’d visualized the class well enough in advance to know what we were going to be reading (GUYS COME ON THAT IS [PART OF] YOUR JOB). Given the straightforwardness of this solution, one wonders why it’s still an argument at all. There shouldn’t be anything fundamentally controversial about summarizing. Yawn.

So the question I have is why are we still arguing about this? And the answer that I come up with is: People are arguing about experience of identity, instead of the administration of identity. It doesn’t matter what you personally think a traumatic experience should or should not be and it doesn’t matter what you personally think feeling safe should or should not be like. I mean — it matters — but not to this debate and not to questions about categories of identity. We can all agree that no one should be subject to whatever it is they experience as trauma or lack of safety. We can also probably mostly agree that the fact that no one should doesn’t ever mean no one will. Therefore, there is no actual debate about the worth of trigger warnings, because even if they’re only effective a small percentage of the time, that’s still a small percentage of a problem we all recognize being solved. But when we argue about the experience of identity, it becomes a lot more personal: suddenly it’s about who gets to call their own experiences legitimate, which is not an okay position to be put in or to put someone else in, at all, ever.


Humanities & Social Thought Media Non-Fiction

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 2 of 4)

{Spoilers for BOY MEETS WORLD and for the new film, “Don’t Think Twice.”}

14212588_328432474171482_5796106988774123007_nI came across this meme on Facebook not too long ago. I reposted it with the note: “Unless you legitimately want to, in which case, you do you.” To my surprise, there was a lot of backlash. For many people commenting on the thread, all who self identify as Leftists, a woman who makes the choice to go to the college her boyfriend is going to in order to be with him has internalized sexism. The questions that arose on the thread included:

– What is the author’s responsibility regarding ethical representation in fiction?
– What is the feminist answer to ‘what should a woman do?’
– What age does a person gain the jurisdiction to decide what makes him or her happy?
– What is the value of choice?

The consensus seemed to be that being able to choose herself over a man made a woman more free,
as opposed to having a choice.  Generally, there was also common agreement on the idea that a teenager might make a bad choice because she’s a teenager,  that is that she cannot yet be trusted to make important social decisions on her own behalf. I was a curmudgeon and disagreed on just about every point.

Don't Think twice
Don’t Think Twice

Not too long after that, I saw “Don’t Think Twice” in the theater.  Brain child of Mike Birbiglia, this was a wonderful movie about what it means to “make it,” and how we change as told through the perspective of millennials, focused on professional comedy. One character, Samantha, gets an audition for a nationally syndicated show, and on the day of her audition, concludes that she doesn’t want to try out. Her boyfriend also gets an audition at the same time, he tries out, and he makes it.  At the end of the movie, she’s broken up with her boyfriend, and become a teacher, choosing to teach students improv instead of seeking national notoriety for her own performance.  Some may come away thinking her choice was a product of internalized sexism, or a reflection of the film writers’ sexism, because her boyfriend’s success is analogous to how we understand success generally, and her decision along the same lines seems like the back up plan. Others will say that this is different because she is choosing between two different career options, not between herself and a man. But perhaps, the correct answer is really “whatever she chooses, as long as she chooses, is a feminist choice.”

This is the question we ask about Topanga and about Samantha and about our sisters, daughters, wives, and friends — is it necessary for them to make decisions which challenge the patriarchal norms in order for them to be feminist decisions?  If those decisions make them less happy, according to their own experience, is it really challenging patriarchal norms? If we say that making decisions which apparently benefit men in their lives exemplifies internalized sexism, are we denying them jurisdiction over their own experiences?

I’m putting this in the series on the administration of identity vs. the experience of identity because I think that often in the literature, in the class room, and at the protest, we are fighting on behalf of the right to make a choice that some women may not want to make. We are therefore dealing with the administration of identity — the right to choose as opposed to the particular decision. The particular decision will always be a product of experience, the right to choose a product of the administration of experience. This difference is key.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 1 of 4)

I want to talk about the difference between what we experience and what we study about experience. On this topic, many will feel that I should provide evidence and build a persuasive argument. There is certainly a place for that, but it aint Facebook, it aint in a personal essay, and it sure as hell aint on my front lawn. The thought that drives this essay could be summed up as “peoples is peoples and feels is feels.”

I have a friend who complained on Facebook that her male colleagues refused to go through doors she held open for them.  She asked her Facebook friends to help her come up with a retort, because these men were promoting the patriarchy by insisting on outdated, sexist chivalry.  What followed was a lively discussion among many women, all of whom implicitly agreed that the point was to call these men out for being sexist. Let us assume that in the way “micro-aggressions,” or small interactions, contribute to larger narratives, men not walking through doors women hold open for them does indeed promote patriarchal norms that are oppressive to women (this could be argued, but let’s not argue it here). While it would seem at the outset that the way forward would be to deconstruct this sexist act and through this determine the best course of action, including how best to respond, this process actually has very little to do with experience, and much more to do with administration and policy making. The administration of identity and the experience of identity are two very different things that need to be treated differently. The question of how to respond to a man who won’t walk through a door you hold open for him is different than the question of how to minimize the number of micro-aggressions against women.  You are not a category (women) and he is not merely a representation of all sexist micro-aggressions.

If we were to respond to this situation experientially, though, we might see something like this-

W: It bugs me when I hold open the door and you don’t walk through, because it makes me feel like you don’t [take me seriously/see me as your peer/like me very much].
M: Sorry! I was just trying to be polite.
[M proceeds to walk through the door]

In this instance, we are talking about experience, and not about large movements that come out of the academy and activist frameworks. Despite the fact that nobody said “micro-aggression,” “patriarchy,” “sexism,” or “feminism,” this was an example of two people addressing all of these things, from an experiential perspective. This is what actually living is actually like, which is separate from the study of living.  What the experiential perspective demands of us is emotional honesty.  It is my on-the-record opinion that it is easier to accuse someone of being sexist than admit that someone has hurt your feelings. But relying on administrative wrongs (those patterns of actions or policies which have been institutionalized culturally that promote injustice) abstracts oneself into a mere category, at which point, there’s no individual to have hurt or to have wronged, there’s only the idea of a particular group of people. You can no longer retort anything at all, because a category can’t talk. Moreover, it is in fact just as sexist, if not more so, to erase the female self in order to make an argument about oppression against females.

All of this is true, I think, and grounds for speaking from a personal place when you feel hurt, angered or alienated by someone else’s actions. But the most important reason to live life as oneself and not as some broader abstraction is that the point of the whole mess, just about everything there is, is the strange and wonderful beauty that is you encountering the world. You are the individual, inherently deviant from the categories to which you belong, you are the only thing like you this world will ever see.

Live that. Experience that.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

Postmodern Cynicism and the Oppressive Idea.

In a speech about gun control this year, President Obama referred to the body politic. He asserted that far from being inappropriate, a national tragedy is a good time to politicize experience. We may wonder what it means to “politicize” something and why that might be disrespectful. There are certain kinds of relationships that might suffer from being politicized. For example, LGBTQ+ relationships are both personal — peoples’ love lives — and political. It is possible to trespass into the personal by politicizing a particular relationship, as opposed to a category of relationships. This is an important distinction. The body politic deals with experience at the categorical level, it cannot speak to the personal experience and when it tries to do so, this is inappropriate politicizing. However, certain specific events can lead to appropriate discussions of categories. Obama argued that mass shootings in the United States have become a category, they can now be discussed as such without trespassing into the personal experiences of particular individuals. It is only through such politicization that we can begin to administrate at the categorical level — that is, for example, pass gun legislation. The common argument made against politicization is the use of people’s real experiences towards some agenda, which may result in a lack of recognition of the people themselves as one’s purposes may be self serving, after all. But the real opposition to the body politic is not the personal experience; it’s cynicism.

There are — on the Left, anyway — many well known factors that contribute to the ability to effectively create better conditions for oneself. To the extent that these factors are unequally distributed, they make up what we call privilege. We argue that because underprivileged individuals do not have equal power in representing themselves, those people who have privilege must use it as leverage on behalf of those who don’t. During her DNC speech, Michelle Obama observed that the fact that her girls lived in the White House was an indicator of stunning progress, because the White House was built by slaves. This progress, then, could not have happened without people who were willing to use their privileged positions to take a stand against slavery, and discrimination, and segregation.  For much of American history, on the Left, this kind of change was seen as profitable for everyone, not only the disempowered folks. The notion was that today it is you, but tomorrow it could be me. When we fight for better conditions for any group of people, we fight for the right for better conditions for all people.

Today, we have a new notion, we refer to people who use their privilege to better the conditions of people who are underprivileged as allies. Inherent in the idea of the ally is a lack of shared experience, it differs from the earlier notion in that it does not assume that tomorrow, it could be me. Rather, there are distinct islands of populations, whose islandic natures actually mutually constitute each other through experience. That is to say, because we cannot speak to the experience of populations we are not part of, the existence of the experience of each particular population is what ensures its separation from other populations. The mutually enforced ocean around each island of experience is called freedom. Compelled to respect this space, we must also accept that there is a “way things are.” We cannot reconstitute or reimagine this map, we certainly can’t bring these islands together under the banner of a common category — the notion of the ally hinges on the idea that the ally himself is not in the same category as the population(s) he defends. There is, has been, and may always be the category of the oppressed, or actual victims. But there was once also a category into which both the privileged and the underprivileged fell — the category of potential victims. It no longer exists, and so mutual interest cannot be used to justify collective action. The lack of mutuality expresses itself among the “woke” privileged as cynicism, and this cynicism becomes the justification for a lack of action altogether.

Cynicism simultaneously claims a consciousness and disclaims a conscientiousness. To be cynical, one must be aware of a poor condition; it is necessary to perceive its existence in order to believe that it cannot be changed. At the heart of the change of any condition is the expectation of the change, and a feeling of entitlement to the change. But maintaining this expectation is cooperative in nature — it requires developing a resistant norm shared and mutually constituted by those who seek the change.  This is a particular form of conscientiousness that cynicism invalidates.  A cynical person does not feel entitled to any change, rather he feels as though the right change is never going to happen.

It is therefore my assertion that cynicism among the privileged is, itself, a form of oppression. It actively tears apart the norms which guide collective resistance, those norms which are local to the particular type of community that embodies resistance. Moreover, the ally is an expression of this same cynicism because it assumes an inherent lack of collective, and provides a kludgy alternative — a federation of islands insisting that their genuinely different experiences means there can be no more general category to which they all belong.  This insistence that we must be aliens unto each other is the same as the insistence that the right change is never going to happen. We can only achieve better conditions for underprivileged folks by acknowledging the thin, carefully constructed line which divides the privileged from the oppressed. This line has moved so often throughout the course of history, it behooves us to realize that there are no allies. There is only the universal human right to be free from oppression and discrimination on the basis of those things which are inherent to us. The belief that there is a power structure which is static and untouchable in nature, whose objectives do not shift across populations, is a weird postmodern cynicism. It is weird because it insists that particular power constructs are immutable on the basis of deconstructionist ideologies. But the definitions promoted by these constructs change over time and are thus deeply mutable. It is this postmodern cynicism that wrenches the resisting collective apart by transforming it into “allies.” It is this postmodern cynicism that injures the body politic by preventing it from any movement. It is this postmodern cynicism that is, itself, oppressive.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

Making Way for the Neoliberal State: Theoretical and Practical Origins

The emergence of the neoliberal state has been attributed to numerous causes, prominent among them are economists in the academy and the tension between strong centralized governance and business interests.  David Harvey argues that key politicians and corporations led to the rise of the neoliberal state. Harvey’s account of the events and intents of the times is not always organized well and occasionally contradicts itself. His main contentions are that the neoliberal state is a product of class war, in which businesses learned how to represent themselves as a class, and that neoliberalism itself was not planned in the same way, for example, The New Deal was – it was ‘stumbled upon.’ Countering Harvey is Daniel Stedman Jones, who argues nearly the opposite, that the neoliberal state exists in large part due to economists in the academy who wrote the political economic theory and then personally advised the policy makers, including Reagan and Thatcher. For Stedman Jones, there was nothing accidental or coincidental about neoliberalism and least of all, the neoliberal state. What Harvey and Stedman Jones have in common is the belief that the origins of the neoliberal state can be traced back to a small group of key people and events. There is a third argument, asserted by Johanna Bockman, that is provocative and unusual but most importantly, methodologically different. Bockman argues that neoliberalism as a governing rationale has roots in socialism and contains certain socialist ideologies within it, still. Her discussion of the origins of the neoliberal state are premised on the idea that neoliberalism did not emerge out of a vacuum due to the need to oppose socialist constructs, but rather that socialist ideas transformed into neoliberal ideas in response to heavy criticism of socialism after World War II. The method here is not one that focuses on particular events or people, but rather examines the conditions of the time as agents themselves, and sees the individual actors and events as necessarily following the conditions.          While all three historians have narratives that converge at many points, where they absolutely diverge is in their analyses of the relationship between theory and praxis in the development of the neoliberal state. This paper will compare the different historians’ accounts of the origins of neoliberalism, and will argue that a method which premises itself on the notion that there is a causal relationship between ideas and practices will always lead to stronger conclusions.

I. David Harvey’s Neoliberalisms

In A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Harvey gives us a densely populated account of the persons and events that figured prominently in the rise of the neoliberal state in the West. Neither chronological, nor thematically driven, this small volume requires a surprising amount of mapping by the reader. For this reason, certain contradictions within his work were perhaps more immediately apparent. The gravest contradiction might be between definitions of neoliberalism. At the outset, Harvey defines it as promoting the welfare of citizens through individual freedom specifically as it relates to the search for profit, within a state that guarantees the free market, strong private property rights and free trade.  For Harvey, this is a strong state in a certain sense – it uses force to defend the rights of the individual, as opposed to defending a concept of ‘society.’ It also is obligated to create markets where none exist – this is the particular and strange strength to institute and enforce inequality. But for Harvey, this is also a restrained government. It has no power to work towards a public good, or even to conceive a public good, outside of the individual’s right to promote his own interests.[1]
Eighteen pages later, Harvey uses the word “neoliberalization” to describe the political project of class war. He argues that businesses learned how to act as a class, and that the “elites” went from being what we commonly refer to as old money, or aristocrats in Britain, to being capitalists. But in so doing, he is thrusting upon us a new definition of neoliberalism in which the individual is not the greatest benefactor of the free market, but in fact one economic class is, the business class. The key difference between Harvey’s first definition and his second is that the first is a theory, and the second describes actions taken by various real parties.  It is possible to present a theoretical definition followed by a definition in practical terms that are consistent with each other. But what Harvey is actually arguing here is that neoliberalism as it is practiced has no relationship to neoliberal theory. The political project of neoliberalism is carried out by actors who are mainly interested in the accumulation of capital. The accumulation of capital is one of Harvey’s definitions of Capitalism; the other is economic inequality. There is more trouble though, as Harvey also contends that neoliberalism was not foreseen, arguing that even as business interests became dominant, due to a stagnant economy and the failure of Keynesian policies, “no one really knew or understood with any certainty what kind of answer would work and how.”[2] It is thus not that the business class is co-opting neoliberal theory for its own interests, it is that in fact there are two different neoliberalisms emerging, the one in the literature, and the political project, and they remain largely disconnected in Harvey’s work.
The second contradiction in Harvey appears in his discussion of when neoliberalism finally emerges as doctrine in an explicit way. This is a stark contradiction in the book, where he argues first that, “The capitalist world stumbled towards neoliberalization as the answer through a series of gyrations and chaotic experiments that really converged as a new orthodoxy with the articulation of what became known as the ‘Washington Consensus’ in the 1990s,”[3] and nine pages later that, “the dramatic consolidation of neoliberalism as a new economic orthodoxy regulating public policy at the state level in the advanced capitalist world occurred in the United States and Britain in 1979.”[4] This poses a problem for the reader who tries to map out Harvey’s narrative because in the 1990s, Bill Clinton is deregulating Wall Street, and in 1979, Paul Volcker is dramatically changing monetary policy in the U.S., and Harvey is mainly arguing that it is the events that gave rise to the neoliberal state, and not any kind of intellectual or theoretical framework. There is yet a third point where Harvey suggests that neoliberalism becomes the dominant political economic ideology during George W. Bush’s administration, when Paul Bremer restructures the economy in Iraq under neoliberal policy, privatizing all the public business and foreign or global ownership of Iraq’s private sector. This the reader can safely rule out as the pivotal moment, however, because it is in 2003, which is far too late for such a moment.
This is the great problem for Harvey’s work– in a narrative devoid of any theoretical or intellectual basis, indeed a narrative in which the think tanks and theorists are merely tools of the political interests, Harvey must rely on pivotal moments to move his narrative forward, which requires a chronological recounting that does not contradict itself.  A narrative about a neoliberal state that emerges on the basis of a cooperation between some kind of intellectual platform and some kind of political platform could have contradicted itself without necessarily being wrong. While it is not entirely clear how neoliberalism becomes the dominant governing rationale in Harvey’s account, there are several events he highlights that are worth mentioning here. One strength of A Brief History of Neoliberalism is that it gathered much of the events in the United States and England in the seventies and eighties into a single volume, allowing the reader to see the political constellations, if not the causal conditions, of the neoliberal state. Due to the remarkably dedicated focus on the events themselves by Harvey, his work – after a chronological remapping – provides an excellent frame of reference for reading Stedman Jones and Bockman. What follows is a rough timeline of events leading to the emergence of the neoliberal state in the West, as originally aggregated by Harvey, and paraphrased and organized chronologically by this author.
In the late sixties and early seventies, Keynesian policies came under scrutiny as the U.S. economy experienced “stagflation,” the condition in which unemployment rises along with inflation, and demand stagnates. During this time, in the U.S., capitalist interests gain power. Certain economists, including the “Chicago Boys,” who belong to the University of Chicago’s school of thought under Milton Friedman, form a group called the “Monday club” which seeks neoliberal economic reform in Chile. In 1973, in Chile, under Pinochet, the first neoliberal state is instantiated. The coup is supported by both public agencies and private corporations in the U.S. After Pinochet rises to power, labor movements are eliminated with force, and collectivism itself comes under attack in numerous places. This experiment in deregulating the labor market and dismantling collectivist efforts is ultimately a massive failure, which for Harvey exists as an example of U.S. imperialism – using Chile as a laboratory for high ideals while regarding its citizens as less-than. In part because of this failure, and in part because of the Democratic Congress under Nixon, many Keynesian reforms were signed into law in the early seventies. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher takes office in England. She had campaigned on fixing the economy. Under the influence of Keith Joseph, who was essentially a vocal polemicist with connections to the British neoliberal think tank called the Institute of Economic Affairs, she campaigned against collectivism, and supported individualism and family values. This manifested in policy as “confronting trade union power, attacking all forms of social solidarity that hindered competitive flexibility (such as those expressed through municipal governance, and including the power of many professionals and their associations), dismantling or rolling back the commitments of the welfare state, the privatization of public enterprises (including social housing), reducing taxes, encouraging entrepreneurial, initiative, and creating a favourable business climate to induce a strong inflow of foreign investment (particularly from Japan).”  Thatcher went as far as to say that there was no society, only the individual and his or her family.[5]
Also in 1979, Paul Volcker, serving as the head of the Federal Reserve Bank, significantly changed U.S. monetary policy, in order to stop inflation. This created an economic recession that was required, in Volcker’s view, to get out of the current economic crisis – the stagflation. The change in policy would become known as “the Volcker shock.” As a direct result of the Volcker shock, in the early eighties, Mexico went into default with the U.S., and the Reagan administration rolled over the debt in return for the neoliberal restructuring of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Volcker had advocated for.[6]
The neoliberal policies instantiated by the Reagan administration during the eighties mirrored the response to the fiscal crisis in New York in the seventies, featuring the criminalization of the poor, the privatization of public spaces and services, and the reshaping of civic duty into economic productivity. Bill Clinton deregulated Wall Street in the nineties, and finally, in the early 2000s, the Bush administration turned to Iraq and instantiated its neoliberal reforms on the international level.[7]

II. Daniel Stedman Jones and the Theoretical Foundations of the Neoliberal State

Harvey provided a comprehensive, if not chronological, account of the events leading to the neoliberal state that emerges in the seventies and eighties in the U.S. and Britain. But the theoretical underpinnings are not present in Harvey’s work. In Masters of the Universe, Daniel Stedman Jones uncovers the primary thinkers and writings that as Hayek noted, created the alternatives to be seized by the politicians when Keynesian policy failed. This theory first begins to be articulated in the forties by three people in particular: Karl Popper, Ludwig Von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek. These scholars are mainly interested in redefining liberalism after WWII, with a focus on moving away from centralized governance and socialism.[8]

They sought to define a new market liberalism that opposed both the New Deal on the one hand and laissez-faire economics on the other. Hayek wrote an essay titled “The Intellectual and Socialism,” in which he successfully argued that a network of thinkers, writers, and media had to be developed to advocate for this new market liberalism, and to oppose the present and powerful network that socialist interests had long since developed. This led to the formation of the “Mont Pelerin Society,” named after the place of their first meeting. In the statement of the group’s principles, Lionel Robbins, an economist at the London School of Economics wrote, “The central values of civilization are in danger. Over large stretches of the earth’s surface the essential conditions of human dignity and freedom have already disappeared. In others they are under constant menace from the development of current tendencies of policy. The position of the individual and the voluntary group are progressively undermined by extensions of arbitrary power.”[9] Many of these scholars were Eastern European, and had either fled Europe during WWII or stayed under duress. Stedman Jones argues that this was foundational in these thinkers’ dislike of the New Deal, and collective solutions to social problems generally. Stedman Jones sees plurality as being fundamental to freedom for the Mont Pelerin Society, and one-size-fits-all solutions to social problems oppose the very fact of plurality. This should not be confused with traditionally Democratic notions of political equality. Indeed, Hayek suggested that the West should be wary of Jewish immigrants because they were kicked out of Europe on the basis of their Jewishness, not because of any particular dislike for totalitarianism.[10]

In 1963, Milton Friedman publishes a book called Monetary History of the United States with Anna Jacobson Schwartz. In this book, Friedman’s main intellectual argument is that the variable the government can reasonably predict and control in the economy is interest. Where, under Keynesianism, it was concerned with the full employment of its citizenry, it should instead be concerned with unnecessary inflation, which acts as an invisible tax. Friedman would go on to advise both Reagan and Thatcher. [11]

This makes up the theoretical basis for neoliberalism, but there are a number of factors inside the economic crises that arise that are not merely theoretical which are not addressed directly by Stedman Jones. The seventies and eighties in the U.S. and Britain are characterized by Friedman’s monetarism, and the right wing interest in neoliberal policy. While thinkers in the forties and fifties had articulated an interest in the free market and a definite move away from collective solutions to social problems, they had not gone so far as argue that the free market itself was a solution to social problems. Some were even sympathetic with national solutions to issues such as healthcare and education, essentially advocating for collective solutions only to collective problems, insofar as the uneducated and the unwell were a burden on productivity for everyone. But they offered no political systems or programs at all, theirs was merely theory. In the seventies and eighties, the right needed more than new fiscal policy to get elected. Democracy demanded the construction of consent, and in order to get this is the United States, the Republican party turned to the Christian, moral right. The right had the advantage of not being afraid to represent the strong majority of its constituents, whereas the left had the problem by the very fact of its ideology that it owed equal representation to each of its demographics of constituents. Moreover, these democratic values were coming under fire in places like New York City, where daily life was affected negatively by what was perceived as the same populations who composed these demographics. As a result of criminalizing poverty, drugs, and then later AIDS, large populations of people were ravaged, and this in combination with the rising violence and the defacing of public spaces (the ‘graffiti crisis’) informed a growing resentment by the middle class of the Democratic values and the welfare state, which made them financially responsible for these problems. Privatization became a way for Democrats to reclaim space. There were, thus, a number of political and strategic actors that, when Keynesian policies finally failed in the mid-seventies, put in significant work into the creation of the neoliberal state.

Stedman-Jones argues that none of that work would have been possible without the foundational theory that was developed by the network Hayek had advocated for, after WWII and before the end of the cold war.  For Stedman Jones, neoliberalism and the neoliberal state are largely products of intellectual discourse, and not of tensions between statesmen and businessmen. He sees financial crises as instigating change, but the theory written by Hayek, Popper, Von Mises, and Friedman, among others, as having shaped that change, and some of those intellectuals themselves dictating it as advisors to politicians. Stedman-Jones’s argument, unlike Harvey’s, is much less interested in how a democracy becomes neoliberal, and is a lot more concerned with which ideas from which small group of thinkers heralded comprehensive change. While the intellectual grounding of neoliberal theory is absolutely essential to understanding its rise in politics in the seventies and eighties, it is also undoubtedly true that in addition to the theory, there was needed some charisma, some charm, some good rhetorical arguments and all the other props of popular politics.

III. Johanna Bockman and The Road Between

Johanna Bockman argues that economists in the East and the West consciously attempted not only to explicate a theory of neoliberalism but also to design systems that could be instantiated based upon this theory. She argues that in 1989, capitalist interests essentially caused a reneging of commitments to socialist agendas which might otherwise have seen the rise of socialist democratic markets, as opposed to representative democratic markets. Among the ways in which neoliberalism has socialist seeds within it are its opposition to work – its turn to finance, its monetarism and its prospecting via investment, have together transformed even traditionally production focused areas of the economy into ones that look to find profit via other means than labor. Rather than guaranteeing this as a right for everyone though, as communism does, capitalism – which can only subsist on economic inequality — only promises this to the ‘elites,’ or the upper most economic classes, and what it promises everyone else is the possibility that one day, they might be elites themselves. Bockman also argues that like certain strains of socialism, neoliberalism is actually interested in an authoritarian state, but a smaller one. The authoritarian state in neoliberalism is one that ensures the free market, no matter what, even when Main Street and large swaths of the globe suffer. It has the appearance of authoritarianism that we are familiar with, through the cutting of welfare services and the reduction of public space, but disguises this by asserting that it is protecting plurality, the freedom of the individual.  Most important to Bockman’s argument in socialism’s role in shaping neoliberalism are the socialists themselves. She argues that even Hayek’s neoliberal theory is based in the Austrian school, and that the economists of Eastern Europe when they were finally able to communicate with the left wing economists in the West, towards the end of the cold war, were working together towards socially democratic markets. It wasn’t until 1989, for Bockman, that these left-wing ideas were co-opted by the right to form the neoliberalism we know today.  That the ideas these economists generated were reconfigured for the right wing agenda means that the true origins of neoliberalism are, for Bockman, left wing and transnational.[12]
This argument would face strong critique from Harvey, who sees neoliberalism as largely a political project of the United States and England. If neoliberalism is exported to, or experimented on other countries, this is simply imperialism, and any relationship to foreign economists is necessarily one in which the Western powers are dominant. Stedman Jones, however, agrees with Bockman, in terms of the contribution of socialist economists to neoliberal theory. He sees both the United States and England as being heavily influenced by Germany’s successful experiments with the social market after World War II.  Stedman Jones uses Smith to point out that the fiscal views of neoliberalism do not inherently oppose the notion of a centralized government. Only when the same principles which are applied to the economy in neoliberalism are also applied to the citizen can centralized governance be ruled out.[13]
Where Bockman’s argument is strongest is in method; we need not resort to showing that German economists and American economists were on the verge of saving the world together to suggest that what socialism was doing influenced what neoliberalism set out to do, and moreover, that any theory which follows any other theory in its own field will necessarily carry with it something from whence came, like DNA. There is a method here for thinking about how change occurs that is often overlooked because of the narrowness of discipline or the desire for depth that precludes a broader discussion of transformation. Of the authors here, Bockman is the only one who suggests that there had to be a path, intellectually, from centralized government and the welfare state to small government and the free market, and that this path, by definition, connects socialism and socialist democracy to neoliberalism and representative democracy. While her discussion of specific events, and her focus on 1989 as the moment when the present neoliberal state emerged are interesting, her assertions about the socialist ideas inside neoliberalism are far more compelling, because of the immediate sense they bring to the transition from Keynesianism to neoliberalism. The explication of the ideological transformation justifies the events and theorists’ ideas in both Harvey and Stedman Jones.

IV. Conclusion

Harvey, Stedman Jones, and Bockman each present a narrative that details the emergence of the neoliberal state. For Harvey, it was the mad stumbling of capitalist interests and the politicians who came to support them when Keynesianism failed. Stedman Jones argued that it was a particular set of individuals in the academy in Britain and the U.S. from the forties through the sixties that brought neoliberal policy to the fore.  Finally, Bockman asserted that the conditions in which economists found themselves after WWII forced them to transform socialist conceptions of economy. For Bockman, neoliberalism has socialist ideas within it, and its roots were socialist as well.
Each of these authors explicates an important aspect of the emergence of the neoliberal state. In each case, the historians’ conclusions are strongest when they present a complex relationship between theory and praxis. It is neither enough to say that business interests dominated politics in the mid-seventies, nor to say that the Austrian or Chicago schools of economics guided the political economic policy of the seventies and eighties by themselves. Nor is it sufficient to argue that a transnational market socialism developed by economists in Eastern Europe and the United States bears sole responsibility for the rise of the neoliberal state. Rather the difficulty comes exactly in analyzing the relationship between the theory and the events, the conditions and the choices, the academics and the politicians. There is a causal relationship between published theory, the conditions of the time, and the actions of the people. The emergence of the neoliberal state must thus be put down to this relationship, and any narrative must make its central focus an analysis of this relationship in order to succeed.

[1] Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Pg. 2. OUP Oxford, 2005.

[2] Ibid, Pg. 13

[3] Ibid, Pg. 13

[4] Ibid, Pg. 22

[5] Ibid, Pg. 23

[6] Ibid, Pg. 23-24

[7] Ibid, Pg. 29

[8] Jones, Daniel Stedman. Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Pg. 31. Princeton University Press, 2014.

[9] Robbins, Lionel. “Statement of Aims.” MPS. April 8, 1947. Accessed May 14, 2016.

[10] Stedman Jones, Pg. 36.

[11] Ibid, Pg. 202

[12] Bockman, Johanna. Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism. Pg. 218-221 Stanford University Press, 2011.

[13] Stedman Jones, Pg. 103