Under the Hood

as the cow said to the farmer … we're sick of the bullshit!
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Under the Hood
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Every now and then someone will begin a sentence with "I'm no expert but …" which will invariably, though not always, precede a monologue resembling little more than a passing acquaintance to the subject at hand, revealing the speaker's pre-conceived version of the truth. This is not knowledge, it's an opinion, which, as Plato put it, is the bridge between ignorance and knowledge, and which outs itself as nothing more than ideology.

Ideology is not grounded in kindness or knowledge, it's usually grounded in the preservation of power, in privilege, prejudice, in any or all its manifest forms, or in fear, or a combination of all of those things. Ideology preserves injustice, destruction of environment, marginalisation of minorities, racism, institutionalised discrimination, species extinction, preservation of privilege, and high-office graft. And for the ideologue, the truth of a matter, or the facts that may prove or undermine their ideology more often than not are less important than the number of people prepared to believe in it.

Ideology encourages hyper-partisan reasoning due to what psychologists call "motivated cognition," which is the act of deciding what you want to believe and using your reasoning power, with all its might, to get you there. Just as it's true for individuals, it's also true for organisations and nation states. The manifestation of this is essentially that, for example, a racist will always be a racist, a bigot will always be a bigot, a fundamentalist will always be so, vociferous in their denials. What it takes to shift these views is usually a life-changing event and life changing events generally can not be planned or orchestrated.

Economic Ideology, for example, as it's extant is underlined by the following patently contradictory statement by Australia's Prime Minister, who evidently does not recognise irony when he sees it, in response to the government's reducing the Jobseeker payment - "the government can’t allow the lifeline [to] hold Australia back as we move into the next phases of recovery." (Nov '20). Whilst this statement (article here) demands closer examination it's perhaps best left to let it speak for itself, or, in the spirit of Hamlet, allow it to be "hoist with its own petard."

Most of us will believe what ever we want to believe anyway but at least 'Eat Your Greens' provides spme sprt of framework for those of us with open minds. So, 'Eat Your Greens' looks at the juxtaposition between economy and society, a distinction that political ideology fails to make. Making political decisions based solely on an Ideology starts wars, divides communities, discourages innovation, promotes secrecy and advances prejudices. And yet ideology is often based on minimal examination or appreciation of the things that make a society work. It's good then to ask oursleves how we might go about defining one.

The modern incarnation of the term, popularised by post World War II free-market proponents, such as economist Milton Friedman, emanated out of a push-back against post-Keynesian theories that advanced the view that the state is best positioned to support the social and economic well-being of its citizens. Keynesian economics got us through the post war recovery so I don't quite know from where neo-liberals might get their evidence to back their assertions.

Neo-liberalism's underlying principle is one of the State having a passive, rather than an active, role in society and economy, although the theory never holds because governments intervene in the economy when it suits their ideology, which, with that one single stroke, has their theory disproven. It's proponents claim that the market is better positioned to deliver prosperity, health outcomes and many services hitherto the preserve of governments, adopting a “if it's not working, and particularly if it is working, let the market take it over” philosophy. If there was a single event to punch a crater size hole in that theory it is Covid-19, although it's not as if we weren't warned, with the failure of the privatised aged care system being its poster child.

A neo-liberal would advocate government staying out of the way and allowing individuals decide, individualism being the bastard child of neo-liberalism. This meme falls at the first and most fundamental hurdle, that being a mis-interpration of what economics actually is. Economics has very little to do with maths, or statistics, it’s not logical, it never has been.

Economics is a study in sociology, it’s irrational, mad as a cat and prone to outbursts that defy the logic purported to it. A neo-liberal, even a rabid one, would surely not attempt to make the claim that their theory is a panacea but nonetheless, they will almost always look to the market as the default setting for addressing what they adjudicate to be a hitherto faulty or implacable situation.

Let’s step back a bit - the natural enemy of the neo-liberal would be the socialist, another term most people would struggle to muster up a definition of. Broadly speaking, socialism is the democratic (or in some cases, the revolutionary) socialisation of the means of industry, production, distribution and exchange. In its diluted form then, socialism exists in some form or another, in every developed country in the world. Each time a government interferes in the market, it is, by its actions, setting aside any ideological adherence to neo-liberalism while at the same time trumpeting its virtues.

Publicly funded health care is a form of socialism yet very few of us would demand that the government placed the responsibility for health care wholly and solely into the hands of the market, particularly given that private health care costs two to three times the cost of operating the public system. It would represent something more than an act of political folly.

Neo-liberalism, econonically speaking, advocates a takeover, while politically it abdicates responsibility, arguing that it has handed over control and therefore oversight, to the market. It will argue that is therefore not at fault if the whole thing implodes. And here is the rub, neo-liberals find it almost impossible to seperate a society from an economy, they view the economy as holding primacy and believe that all good things emanate from it. Time and time again they are proved wrong and time and time again, they look for new strategies to implement and promote their logic. We only have to look at how neo-liberalism increased inequality in the aftermath of the GFC to prove the point.

There is no doubt that the market has given us great innovation, it can and does drive progress but it is, at its core, an amoral system, it makes no attempts at being moral, nor should it - such that any contingency related to catering to the needs of people, be it fairness kindness, or compassion will have a price, or cost, assigned to it, set against the end result, which is not fairness, kindness or compassion but profit.

Neo-liberalism doesn’t fix things - it doesn’t, for example, provide for an equitable health care system or solve the problem of homelessness or domestic violence. It’s not designed for equity, rather the opposite, it’s designed for inequity, there is always winners and losers, it’s the core of its model.

It’s important to note that Socialism on it’s own does not work any more than neo-liberalism on its own does, however, neo-liberalism as it’s advocated by our current government, does not deliver a strong or fair civil society any more than putting a saddle on a horse guarantees that you will be able to ride it. Neo-liberalism makes no effort to account for suffering, citing disadvantage as a natural by-product of a healthy economy and therefore, according to the neo-liberal model, a healthy society. I enjoy the dynamics of the market and the benefits it can provide but at the same time I bristle when caring for people is reduced to an auction, it begets the things that diminishes us as a society and reflects back to us our core values.

There is no such thing as Society, well ok, according to Margaret Thatcher there isn’t, only individual men and women, and families. This noble yet flawed notion makes sense only so long as the model holds its ground. It’s when something, say, a pandemic, comes along to shatter every flank and gland of that theory that it forces each individual in this supposedly non-existent society to abruptly adjust their ideological position. Although, for some close to home, that position appears to die hard. There is a cogent argument to suggest then that Individualism flourishes when all is going well but Collectivism flourishes when things are not so flash. So, to extend the argument, why not make it permanent.

The idea that an individual might have to reject, or at least sideline, the ideal of collectivism in order to make personal progress in the world might have come about as a result of a certain hostility towards the original idea of Collectivism, with its shadowy association with the evils, perceived or otherwise, of Socialism. The “if we go down the path of this collectivism idea then we’ll all become Socialists” theory is daily debunked because governments intervene constantly on behalf of the collective, or so it is assumed, or promoted.

The results of individualism are supposed to be, firstly, Freedom, followed close behind by Prosperity - however, ask the parent of a child diagnosed with a life changing illness or living with a disability for their definition of freedom and prosperity and you’ll likely get a very different answer to the same question asked of the couple around the corner renovating their house. Individualism lurks within that rich tapestry of aspirational cornucopia we are reminded we’re all entitled to - take away our individualism and, we are told, you take away our aspiration.

Individualism will always rise in good times and in bad, it promotes innovative thinking, it enhances lifestyles but making our way knowing, or at least feeling, that we make true progress as a Society, having our individualism flourish as part of a collective shifts the ideas of freedom, prosperity and aspiration to another level of our being. We become a great society when the attention Individualism demands in order to succeed is set aside. It won’t prevent the individual prospering and it might just save one somewhere else.

It's been said that leadership is the art of letting down people at a rate that can be tolerated. It appears then that we're a tolerant lot, in this respect anyway. Maybe we don't recognise it when we see it. Well may you peruse 'Eat You Greens' and decide that we're somewhat obsessed with leadership and you'd be right? Why shouldn't we be? When we scratch a number on our ballot note, we're essentially casting judgement on national leadership.

There's the question then, what is this leadership thing that rolls off the tongue like it's the key to the meaning of life. Whilst we also need to ask questions of leaders in other areas of our society, business leaders and the like, it's the politicians who make the laws, they need to be held to account and not think that they can talk their way out of a hole of their own making.

When Ghandhi said "there goes my people, I must follow them, for I am their leader" he wasn't trying to be funny, or dabbling in some sort of populist irony, before nightly news grabs were confected, he was defining what leadership is without having to write an academic paper on it or proclaim it in front of a camera crew. Sometimes leadership might be a "hang about, we're in the wrong jungle" moment but mostly it's the art of listening.

Good leadership is honest, gentle, visionary, courageous, free of ideology, compassionate and kind. We find this leadership in the oddest of places, packing food in community halls, at dimly lit suburban playing fields, on the streets late at night, people doing things for other people. On a national level, leadership determines our democracy, the type of one we have, how much of one we have and in the end, if we really have much of one at all. Isn't that worth taking a look at?

"Opinion is the bridge between ignorance and knowledge" - Plato …
"he not busy being born is busy dying" - Bob Dylan. …
"There are two types of people in the world: those who think there are two types of people in the world, and those who don't" - Trevor from down the road. …

 

Republished under Creative Commons Licence

 

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