October 14, 2008

Faith, hope and capitalism

Some interesting responses to my post on positive thinking, neoliberalism and CBT.

During the course of a post that's well worth reading in its entirety, Ktismatics observes:

    The economic threat posed by letting psychological symptoms speak is that the symptoms will direct peopleís attention not deep inside themselves but outside, to socioeconomic conditions that provoke depression, anxiety, rage and alienation as natural reactions to sick situations. It turns out that the same psychotherapeutic techniques work equally for all these conditions. It also turns out that the same mood-enhancing medications are prescribed for all of them. Leader regards this convergence as evidence that diagnosis isnít all that important, that the same underlying intrapsychic condition can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms. But couldnít the same conclusion be drawn if you listen outside the self for causes? Workplace stress, alienation from coworkers and customers, exploitation by management and capital; the pressure to compete as worker and consumer; the nearly universal demand for presenting a facade of relentless optimism, as k-punk cogently observes; the expectation that you can buy your way into happiness; isolation from others in the community and even from oneís most intimate friends ó arenít these ongoing external sources of unhappiness at least as likely to cause symptoms as are traumata experienced long ago in infancy?

Meanwhile, Mark Thwaite at Ready Steady Book writes:

    That the global economy is in such tatters because of a lack of "confidence", a lack of faith in other words, is astonishing proof of the validity of Marx's theory of reification, but beyond that shows that a profound irrationality sits at the heart of the global social system. A social system that claims it can never be bettered or changed or destroyed is, it clearly turns out, based almost entirely on our faith in it! The astonishing amount of energy -- and money -- being mobilised by governments, politicians and journalists to try to keep us keeping the faith shows clearly that it is time for us all to dream again of better worlds.

But if Steve Shaviro and No Useless Leniency are to be believed, then that's the last thing we can expect to happen. Both cite Gilbert Achcar's claim that recession impedes radicalism, and his hope that "that the new period of economic growth is consolidated so that the new wave of radicalisation which appears to be taking shape is strengthened." I wouldn't like to speculate on the likely political effects of the upcoming downturn, but I would suggest that Anchar's arguments ought to be treated with a measure of scepticism, since his claims about the possible radicalising effects of the boom were certainly wrong. "The new period of economic growth" was consolidated, to the point where it was one of the longest booms in history, but, far from feeding a growth of radicalism, this produced an atmosphere of unprecedented political and cultural conservatism: the "end of history" which Anchar attacks Perry Anderson for invoking. Look at how quaint Anchar's fin-de-millennium hopes look now:

    Are the recent demonstrations against the neo-liberal order in Seattle and Washington, the movements around demands in the world of American labour over the last two years, or even the campaign around Ken Livingstone in London signs of a reversal in mood, the first fruits of a new wave of radicalisation, which could change the intellectual climate in the English speaking world? One can legitimately hope this is so without sowing illusions.
Posted by mark at October 14, 2008 12:06 PM | TrackBack