The Dystopian Promise of Neo-Liberalism
September 6, 2016 § 3 Comments
I spent late last week laid up with the flu. This means I read. A lot. I don’t have the patience for TV when I’m sick, unless it’s hockey. And since it’s late August, that didn’t happen. While laid up, I finished Jonathan Lethem’s early career Amnesia Moon, and also ploughed through Owen Hatherley’s The Ministry of Nostalgia. On the surface, these two books don’t have anything in common. The former is a novel set in a dystopic American future, whilst the latter is a polemic against austerity and the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
But both point to a golden era past. In the case of Amnesia Moon, obviously, given its dystopic future setting. And Hatherley is perplexed over the British right’s ability to control a public discourse of British history and memory.
In Amnesia Moon, the protagonist, a man named Chaos in some situations and Everett Moon in others, finds himself in Vacaville, which is actually a real place, about halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco in North Central California. In Vacaville, the residents are kept unstable by the central state: they are forced to move residences every Wednesday and Sunday. The majority of the residents work mind-numbing jobs, including Chaos’ love interest, Edie. The society is run by the gorgeous, who are featured on TV every night, parading about in an early version of reality TV. The people of Vacaville love and worship them. All of pop culture in Vacaville has been re-written to venerate the president and the ruling class. But most insidious, everything in Vacaville, for all residents, is based on ‘luck,’ a state-sponsored system based on a test administered by bureaucrats. Not surprisingly, those with the best luck are in the ruling classes. And then everyone else is organized and assigned their place in society based on their luck. Not surprisingly, our Edie has bad luck: her ex-husband has lost his mind, so she is a single mother with two children. She is also kept in place by a desperate government official, Ian Cooley, who is in love with her.
Compare this to Hatherley’s view of the United Kingdom in 2016:
We find ourselves in an increasingly nightmarish situation where an entirely twenty-first century society — constantly wired up to smartphones and the internet, living via complicated systems of derivatives, credit and unstable property investments, inherently and deeply insecure — appears to console itself with the iconography of a completely different and highly unlikely era, to which it is linked solely through the liberal use of the ‘A’ [i.e.: austerity] word.
See the similarities?
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I can’t say that I do–but, being American, I’m wildly ignorant of all things British. I can see where a welfare state can easily become a prison of sorts–but a fully capitalist, competitive environment lets large numbers fall through the cracks–governance by neglect. It’s a conundrum that will probably only be solved by a nuanced combination of both approaches. And we are only ramping up to an era where manufacturing, and many other jobs, are looking to become fully automated–how will we retain vitality and growth when work itself becomes obsolete? How do you maintain capitalism without wage-earning consumers?
I am also not British, but I am Canadian (living in the US), and I see what exists in the US as being an utter and complete failure. I don’t know as much about Britain as I do about Canada and there the welfare state has not ended up that way. I’m not even sure it has in the UK. But. Times are changing, and the austerity politics of the UK, which we haven’t seen fully in the US or Canada (yet), have been structured to attack the poor; they’re the ones who are paying the price whilst the middle and élite classes continue life largely unaffected. All the cuts seem to be directed at the poor. As for capitalism, I think that’s the problem. Not that I want a socialist revolution, but capitalist has evolved to a dangerous tipping point where share-holder value is the most important thing and damn everything else.