Earlier this week, I viewed a Book TV presentation by Nancy MacLean speaking about her book, Democracy in Chains (https://www.c-span.org/video/?430379-2/democracy-chains). My cousin recommended it to me. I had just sent him a link to an AlterNet article about how and why the US media news reports have changed over the past 30 years, ‘What the News Won’t Tell You about the News’ (https://www.alternet.org/media/what-news-wont-tell-you-about-news?akid=16185.17111.wdxyTO&rd=1&src=newsletter1083631&t=4). We help keep one another up on important information.
Nancy MacLean’s book documents how libertarians, and later neoliberals, gradually developed an approach to the meaning of life that holds that people need the ‘liberty’ to sink or swim. The meaning of this word in their minds is that if you succeed financially in the world, then you take care of yourself. If you don’t succeed in this way, then you have to make do with whatever happens. If you get sick and can’t afford medical treatment, well, that’s all part of your ‘freedom’. If you inherit a lot of money, and become the CEO of a corporation, you can be paid millions of dollars per year, and that’s part of your freedom to take care of yourself.
There are a number of assumptions in this libertarian spirituality. One is that you are free to work hard enough to succeed, therefore if you don’t succeed, it’s your own fault for being lazy or not a superior person. If you can’t work, say because you’re disabled physically or intellectually, then, in a true ‘survival of the fittest’ spirit, you should be allowed to die. It’s a hyper competitive, ‘every man for himself, devil take the hindmost’ ethos. It suits men more than women, because they can work harder and don’t have to deal with childbearing or child care.
Another assumption is that hard work pays equally well for all people. The obvious falsity of this can be demonstrated by looking at the hourly wage for manual labour verses sales or financial services. Further, a capitalist system depends on having an excess of labour for the number of jobs available. Without this, labour could demand a better wage because there would be competition for labourers. Globalization has pitted people across the planet against each other for a decreasing number of jobs. The rapid increase of robotic assembly lines has further devalued human labour and disappeared jobs that formerly were plentiful. There simply are not enough jobs to go around, especially at a living wage.
Disdain for those who don’t succeed financially, is then coupled with a sense of entitlement and exceptionalism. No matter what advantages they have had over others, those who do succeed are entitled to all the power, prestige, and privilege they can accrue. This is the approach to life that informs the recent ‘health reform’ bills that have narrowly been defeated in the US Senate. The super wealthy pay for the political campaigns of the senators, who are then expected to pass legislation to make the super-rich even wealthier, at the expense of everyone else.
As I was listening to Nancy talk about what she had discovered in the papers of one of the main economic theorists who developed this approach to life, it gave me a new appreciation for why Spirituality: A User’s Guide is an important book at this time in history. Hearing about a spirituality based on disdain for the vast majority of human beings (and the planet), and promoting the power of a select few, was a splash of cold water to my awareness. It has been obvious that greed is heavily practiced in the world today. But to learn that such a destructive philosophy is being aggressively pursued by a powerful segment of the financial elite revealed a level of self-indulgence and hatred for others that is deeply disturbing.
Promoting a spirituality based on love may at first glance appear to be unremarkable. Isn’t that what we all agree on, even if we don’t manage to perform from this motive all the time? What we are learning is that the people in charge of the financial world don’t agree with love as a basic principle of life. That’s why it is so important that each person begins to consciously look at what are the underlying principles reflected in their own approach to life. Through the media, many have been educated into an exploitative dynamic with regard to others, rather than one based on love. If you want a world which promotes mutual respect, care for the less well off, equality before the law, and a sustainable approach to the planet, you need to wake up and work for a government for the people, not by the wealthy for the wealthy.