In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin convincingly argues that a large part of what drives reactionaries is the desire to silence and repress anyone they consider inferiors. This partly from a strong belief that ‘such people’ have no right to speak (or to be heard); partly because they fear loss of personal status if the latter are heard, or if they successfully organize themselves; and partly from a conviction that society can only function properly when everyone 'knows their place'.
This argument struck me as correct, and it led me to wonder what would be the analogous motives and world-view of those who the media
refer to as 'the (center-)left' (called liberals in the US, liberal or social democrats
elsewhere). This because I knew that the overwhelming majority of them in no way subscribe to the ('radical') egalitarianism, inclusiveness and
pro-emancipatory solidarity that I consider as central to 'leftism' (and generally to being human).
For decades, we've been hearing how everyone should 'take responsibility for their actions,' and that we are each responsible for our 'success' (or lack thereof). And because this is obviously pretty glib, it's fostered a kind of reflexive denial in others. As such, we seem to me stuck in a false dichotomy, which leads us us to ignore a very important point. Namely, that we are actively socialized not to take responsibility for our actions, and not to apply our values, for a large part of our lives. Namely, when we perform institutional roles, especially but not limited to when we do 'our jobs.' And that seems to me a pretty important omission, given the amount of time we spend acting out such roles (aside from 'worker', 'boss' or 'manager', also 'student', 'teacher', 'parent' and so on), because of how influential those institutions are, and because what we do while working for institutions tends to affect how we think and act 'privately'.*
As I've explained elsewhere, the society we live in today strongly encourages people to reason meritocratically, and to embrace notions such as that someone's moral value depends on whether and how others view them. In extreme cases, this leads to people dismissing others and their needs wholesale (e.g. when they categorize those others as property, a pest or relic).
Marshall Rosenberg, Walter Wink, and Walter Kaufmann have made compelling cases that humans have to be actively taught both this general way of thinking, and that it's okay to employ violence to 'put people in their place,' or to realize a desired outcome. And Rosenberg in particular has also offered strong evidence that even though most people alive today reason this way, pretty much everyone values helping others without hurting them, meaning that we all have the same basic needs and moral psychology.
Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have already done a lot to analyze and explain the rise of neoliberalism. Both agree that it should primarily be understood as a political project, aimed at discouraging, and keeping 'ordinary' people from participating in politics, after the events of the 1960s.* But where Harvey's account of the start of the counterrevolution only includes the conservative response, Chomsky points out that elite liberals were just as disturbed by what they termed "an excess of democracy". He notes, describing the Trilateral Commission's The Crisis of Democracy:
This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.
As Walter Wink has pointed out, violence is a tool that allows us to realize certain outcomes that seem desirable to us: to change either the person we inflict it on, or those around them, by 'making an example' of them. Resorting to violence as a matter of policy (as our current justice system does) presupposes that people willingly act badly, so that there's no point trying to change their thinking: all we can do is declare undesirable behaviors 'punishable offenses,' so that the 'bad people' will have 'reasons' to not do the thing. Yet, as Marshall Rosenberg has noted, if fostering lasting behavioral in people is our aim, then violence never works, because while people may comply, they lack intrinsic motivation to act differently. For that, we need to ask -- and care about -- why people choose to harm others, so that we can to try and show them ways to meet their own needs in ways that don't involve harm to others.*
Reintegrating the dismal science
There are a number of ways to explain what money is, and what it allows us to do. Sadly, the "origin story" that we were all taught in school is a very misleading morality tale, in which exchange of goods is presented as a wholly separate sphere of life. Supposedly, humans were stuck with a so-called "barter economy" until they invented money. This is a complete fairy tale, and this matters a great deal.
One of the main reasons why I created this blog is in order to introduce people to, and explain the personal, cultural and institutional consequences of taking Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication (NVC) seriously. I was introduced to NVC a few years ago, shortly after I and my partner went vegan. I've since come to find it invaluable, because of how it's helped me to better understand not just why it is so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone's needs have equal value, but also how we can overcome this.