Monday, August 15, 2011

Convenience and Neoliberalism (13 Aug 2010)

Jodi Dean makes an interesting point in this post about "neoliberal appetites." At issue is the question of whether the neoliberal regime we are all familiar with now -- deregulated markets and post-Fordist production processes and so on -- allows individuals to assume more responsibility and have more flexibility with regard to how they fit into economic relations. Bosses are less domineering, workers are more autonomous and collaborative, and self-regulation dictates the terms of self-exploitation. This is sometimes discussed in terms of "bioproduction" and "governmentality" -- terms from Foucault's later work. Occasionally, left-leaning types will celebrate this development as empowering a deterritorialized "multitude" that is paving the way for a postcapitalist world.

But the aggressive brand of individualism promoted by neoliberalism -- the sorts of subjects it requires -- doesn't allow for personal development so much as it indoctrinates us into a myopic insatiability. Dean argues:
The very incentive structure that would be necessary for competition to replace something like normalization is missing. The internet, pay for view, video on demand, DVR, instant messaging -- our entire media habitat conditions us to immediate gratification rather than self-discipline, self-control, self-governance. Fast food and convenience -- again, we focus on what we want now, not what we might need or use later. The neoliberal attitude is that markets and competition induce certain behaviors (laws of supply and demand) and that this is sufficient for self-governance on its own. It isn't--as Hegel and Adam Smith already knew.
The way I interpret this situation is that neoliberalism necessarily promotes convenience and expediency as its values to accelerate the circulation of commodities, the consumption of goods and services, as a consumerism-based economy requires. Repressive desublimation, to use Marcuse's phrase, characterizes neoliberal subjectivity more than any sort of internalized self-control. Consumers work better for the system when they have outsourced self-control, seek it in further acts of consumption -- buying diet books and exercise books, subscribing to magazines that preach simplifying your life, etc. Dean notes that "the culture of immediacy, of communicative capitalism, dissolves these sorts of mechanisms [of self-governance] and instead provides instant tidbits (lichettes) that entrap us in circuits of drive." My translation: the emphasis on real-time applications and technology short-circuits the possibility of reflexivity; we become too focused instead on updating and refreshing the content available to us instead of governing our own output and intake. As a result, we become to incompetent to be trusted with power, and democracy, as Dean points out, begins to seem impossible.

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