The Cult of Neoliberalism
by Guy Walker
by Guy Walker
On the television, a blonde, big-titted newscaster with brightly lacquered teeth, smiles. She adjusts herself in her seat, then looks into the camera—no, she looks directly at you—and says with imperious eruditic poise, “James Franco reveals his new tattoo, paying homage, respect, what have you, to Emma Watson.” She dawdles on, her various grunts and farts of the English language make sure that now you know things. You roll your eyes. You’re better than this: you read Camus and roll your own cigarettes. You can say ‘grandiose’ and ‘ubiquitous’ in the same conversation. You gave your Facebook profile a rainbow filter for a week. You don’t like the Koch brothers. You are a liberal and you care about the issues.
A girl you’ve been seeing texts you, and you respond “omg, I was JUST thinking about you,” in a novel unparagoned display of dank haecceity, that your synchronicity is not just fun as others have it, but it’s most likely fate or love. You’re going to see her tonight, and you have a pretty good theory about pheromones, so you only shower today with water, confident your b.o. will work its cavorting physiognomic magic, corralling her into your gallant arms, your libidinal steam rising off of you under the neon lights. You piss, shit, and jerk off all in the same toilet, the pool of scummy toilet paper and turds swirling away into the distant netherworld of sewers, nightmares, and overweight rats. You change the channel to CNN, then CNBC, then Fox, then MSNBC. It is all the same. The same white-fanged automatons hunched over their papers discussing the most recent GOP debate. Anderson Cooper turns to his colleague and asks, “Now Mason Lovebottom, on a scale of one to a hundred, how shitty did Jeb Bush perform last night?” Mason puts on his glasses, mutters a prayer under his breath, then looks up to Anderson and replies, “Well Anderson, what we have here is a queer dialectic of brothers and personalities. It’s a love story. No, maybe a coming of age story, in which two brothers clamor for beauty. George Bush has already won—he is painting dogs in his apron. Jeb will have to suffer under his shadow, wrestling with Pan in abandoned meadows. Trump on the other hand …” Their talking fades away into the sky of billions of others’ exclamations, the whole world digressing and chewing up the evening sky, as a night bird flies by, catching a mosquito in her mouth.
How exactly did the Republican Party contort itself into such a cryptofascist—and sometimes so overtly fascist—ideology? How did the so-called liberal class push so far right, especially when it comes to globalized free trade? There are landmark policy changes, such as the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, large-scale privatization of prisons, the passing of NAFTA and the WTO, the signing of Contract With America (the conservative agenda Newt Gingrich more or less copy-and-pasted from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union Address, detailing what the Republicans would accomplish if they became the majority party in Congress) that all occurred under President Bill Clinton for example. Critics of President Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership call it his Trojan Horse, his corporate preference over sweeping democratic opinion, putting 40% of the world’s economy into the hands of 800 corporations. But these are merely the symptoms of an overall shift towards feudal tyranny. The Republican Party deformed into a circus of idiocy partly because of the rightward feudal shift of the Democratic Party, but more so because of the ideological nature of the beast of politic. Free trade—or the marketplace, more generally—is the idol of worship in all of this. To turn every action into a market transaction. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are generally regarded as the initial leaders in the cult of neoliberalism, in which the marketplace is god, and no thing can obstruct its growth. As an ideology, the marketplace is incontestable. And like all ideologies, its truth and power is a facade.
Baudrillard postured it as, “what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum.” A church or temple or mosque is the architecture not of faith itself, but of the signs that constitute faith. Women in their sundresses and their after-church banter are merely the tragic spectacle of faith, morality only a wad of swollen panties. In neoliberalism, the marketplace has replaced god, into flawless inevitability, into an incontestable declaration of truth. It’s another ideology of temper and balding reason. John Ralston Saul, author of Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, describes neoliberalism as an ideology where there is no memory. A refusal of history, in which fuck-ups are not questioned against the system of belief. When a child of a frantically religious family dies, after prayer and worship, the family doesn’t usually question their own faith. They move on, regretful only that they didn’t pray harder. When the United States has faced three financial collapses in the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century, our political and financial leaders do not question the despaired fuckery of their own ideology. Adam Smith has been jerking them off with his invisible hand for over three centuries. And even though every free market economist praises Adam Smith as their cult leader, no one ever actually reads him. Margaret Thatcher carried The Wealth of Nations around in her purse, but she only did in the way a twenty-five-year-old wearing a fedora brings Heidegger to the café, never actually reading it, but using it more as a prop to help create the facade of intellectualism and intrigue. The truth is Adam Smith was distrustful of businessmen, stating that “the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” It’s no surprise then that the average compensation of worker to CEO salaries increased from 30:1 in 1970 to 500:1 in 2000. It’s no surprise that Dick Fuld, then-CEO of Lehman Brothers, was paid $484 million from 2000 to 2008, when the company finally collapsed. It’s no surprise that while dealing with the 2008 collapse, constituents called their representatives one hundred to one against the bailout, and were obviously not represented.
Neoliberalism is radically different from classical liberalism. Classical liberalism (historically, political and economic liberalism were the same, as economics was distinguished as a separate discipline in the middle of the 19th century) is more anti-utopian, more about process than outcome, in response to the over-regulated Communist centrally-planned societies. A moderate distribution of wealth is justified, because of the nature of the market: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Neoliberalism on the other hand, ultimately wants every action of every human to be a market transaction—every fuck, every sunrise, every poem, every wave, dream, heartache, laugh, shit, must feed back to the market. Because the market is a drunken god, never to be questioned.
In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal—stimulating the economy through free trade, while the wealth was constrained and distributed through programs and regulations. From WWII on, the wealth of the top one percent stayed more or less stagnant, until the 1970’s, when growth collapsed and inflation skyrocketed, diminishing the wealth of the top one percent from 35% in 1965 to 20% in 1975. It was because of this dramatic plunge that the superwealthy attacked for the privatization of everything, to turn everything into a commodity—prisons, healthcare, education, war, dick.
The tendency towards ideology is inherent in American politics. There isn’t a single Congresswoman or Congressman today who is an admitted atheist or even agnostic. Belief in the illusory and wretched is a prerequisite for those who seek power. In Hobbes’ Leviathan, the beast is merely an artificial beast of power and strength, the representation of god. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is perhaps more a metaphor for the huge than its reality. Jacques Derrida, in The Beast and the Sovereign, describes the power of the facade, perhaps the abstract reality of the simulacrum: “In all cases it has to do with know how to cause fear, knowing how to terrorize by making known. And this terror, on both sides of the front, is undeniably effective, real, concrete, even if this concrete effectively overflows the presence of the present toward a past or future of the trauma, which is never saturated with presence.” The sovereign is able to transform itself into the form of the animal, while at the same time commanding over all the animals. Neoliberalism is god only insofar as it is believed to be god. The sun still bleeds at night. The animal is always singing. The cult of neoliberalism is powerful only by the death of men.