From the Limits of the Earth to the Limits of Conception, Jamming, 19/06/2018

Here’s a tricky movement to follow if you’re trying to understand what hegemony is. Let me rephrase that.

If you’re trying to understand what Gramsci’s concept of hegemony helps us understand. That concept helps us understand how a complex economic system and the ideas that justify it can constrain each of our capacities to imagine possibilities for people’s lives in communities.

This is going to be a rough few hundred words. But I want to take a first pass at describing this movement.*

Can you reset a civilization? Just turn it on and off again? Because I
kind of feel like we have to do it with ours right now.
* I’m writing this post after a very frustrating evening of finally updating my OS. There’s just something about how long that takes, that annoys me so much. I know basically how everything works, but I’d be a terrible IT guy, simply because you have to wait so long for processes to finish running. And you can’t just read a book while you wait because you can’t risk your bosses perceiving you as slacking off.

When you say the word ‘neoliberalism,’ what do you actually mean? What are you referring to? What’s the concept? What are the material processes you discuss when you use that word?

You’re talking about a set of economic and governance institutions, yes. But you’re also talking about all the communications – books, television appearances, newspaper columns, blogs, videos, posts, films, academic programs, articles, advertisements, slogans, jokes, clichés – that express an ideology, a philosophy.

Individualism as an absolute principle, the reduction of our obligations to each other in a search for the minimal point at which a society can still function peacefully. Then maybe even going past that.

It’s an ideology that’s been mobilized – by think tanks, newspaper chains, television and online news and infotainment networks, all owned or bankrolled by oligarchs who’d prefer never to pay taxes, have no state regulations constraining their cost-cutting, and who want a submissive, pliable, precarious workforce so they don’t have to pay employees very much.

Revolutions in thinking that began in a prison cell.
But an ideology takes on a life of its own. Not literally, of course. But once people start taking the principles of an ideology for granted, they perpetuate it in their everyday conversations, decisions, and ethical stances. Contingent principles about the best way to run a business or handle personal debt are understood as intuitive, obvious, even necessary.

The first step in any revolutionary thinking is understanding that nothing is genuinely necessary.

The moral principles that justify a global-scale economic system are the unquestioned, obvious truisms of the people who live in this system. What’s ubiquitous, what’s everywhere, is all too easily taken as necessary – the only way of life possible, the only personal and economic morality possible.

Does everyone understand this well enough that they know what you imply when you say the one word? Or do they just hear a buzzword that means so many things that it doesn’t have much of a meaning at all?

A critic of neoliberal economics, politics, ideas, and moralities needs to isolate them to criticize them. But you can’t isolate every aspect of the whole world. Nothing is isolated.

Show people where they live in the system, how all these relationships affect each of us. Most importantly, push them to think of other possible ways of life. Maybe get them to play-act it for a little while, in public all together. That’s how you start people thinking differently.

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