Believe you me, neoliberalism is not an institution, but rather a paranormal activity (completely normalized and legally ratified) which operates both in and outside ourselves. This is how it directs our behaviors, those we impose upon ourselves and those we project onto others.
My dear friend, I know what you’re going through. Neoliberalism has you possessed and you don’t know how to get rid of it. If it’s any consolation, let me tell you that you are not alone. Neoliberalism, more than an ideology or a policy, is a demon that has possessed everything. It has possessed the State and all its institutions, the hospitals, the schools, and the workplaces. It has also possessed us. It has taken our bodies, our desires and yearnings, our ideas and dreams. And once possessed, the demon of neoliberalism governs us under its one law: the law of competition.
Compete, compete, compete. This is the universal mantra of our time. It’s omnipresent. Companies compete, markets compete, governments compete — “we must adopt more competitive policies”, they tell us — and to cap it off, we compete against each other. The law of competition is so entrenched that it has become part of our being. I know this is hard to face, my friend, but we ourselves have become small, individual enterprises tirelessly competing with the other small, individual enterprises surrounding us: our peers. This is why you feel so awful lately.
To remedy this dire situation, I suggest you pay no heed to the words of the witchdoctors. If neoliberalism really were, as they like to say, “something that only happens out there” — in the State, the markets or wherever — you wouldn’t feel quite so ravaged, I assure you.
And so, when the day comes when we all feel as bad as you do today, when we say we’ve had enough, we’re up to our necks and we’re ready to face down this evil spirit, we’ll have a very hard time deciding where to begin.
I hate to break it to you, but there is no definitive banishing spell or antidote to end this possession once and for all. What we do have are behaviors which, when repeated, create habits that largely debilitate this malevolent force. It also saddens me to say that putting these behaviors into practice isn’t exactly easy. If you try, it’s quite likely that you will feel immeasurable fear. Your lips will flutter like flies and you will start hearing strange voices in your head — echoes of a ghostly chant intoned from the depths of darkness, begging you to reconsider.
One of the most insistent of these spectral voices is the one preaching that neoliberal possession can be vanquished once and for all, but only after taking the State and its institutions. Please don’t take this the wrong way; of course I support any institutional foray against neoliberal policy, anything of the sort would multiply our chances of confronting this evil spirit. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that it will never be enough. One does not simply banish a specter with a change of policy. This without some new practices of subjectivation won’t accomplish much. As much as the neoliberal demon feels best when governments gravitate towards neoliberalism, it’s capable of adapting to very adverse circumstances. Never forget this.
Another spell to be avoided is the one popularly known as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Under its burden, one believes that victims need do nothing to end the possession; that history will take care of it for them. Rather than striving to create new values to procure a different subjectivity, this spell suggests that neoliberalism itself will take care of everything by means of its own internal contradictions. So, one fine day, out of the blue, with no one having any idea why, we’ll see the birth of some kind of spiritual conquest that changes everything. All we need to do is realize what ails us and await the necessary conditions for our exorcism.
As you will have noticed, both spells ignore the most important lesson that neoliberalism itself has taught us: that possession produces subjectivity. You don’t achieve this by merely taking the State and applying different economic policies. None other than Margaret Thatcher expressed it this way: “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.” And to change people’s souls, my friend, to create a new subject, we must rigorously apply ourselves to each and every one of the spheres of influence affecting said subject. As it happens, this incessant activity is precisely the spirit we’re possessed by.
Yes, I know, I’m only depressing you further. You were just looking for simple way to expunge this cursed demon from your body and here I am, complicating everything. But do not despair, for I also bring good tidings. Listen: if this evil spirit that has possessed us is also capable of possessing everything, everywhere, all at once, then resistance to that spirit could also appear anywhere, at any time. In fact, if you’re paying attention you’ll see that this is already happening every single day. We are surrounded by collective experiences that clash with the evil spirit of neoliberalism time and again. The student debt movement in the United States (“You Are Not a Loan”) and the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), Spain’s anti-foreclosure movement, are two stellar examples, but they are neither the only ones nor the most important. Thousands of people are leading the way every day with all sorts of small actions, simply refusing to become competitive enterprises, facing down the specter of neoliberalism both from the inside (by refusing to act like an enterprise) and in relation to others (by refusing to compete). The raw material for conjuring a new spirit, a counter spirit fit to exorcise the specter now possessing us, is found in these isolated, everyday experiences. We only need to connect the dots uniting these small actions, and that necessarily calls for establishing cooperative relationships.
Given that neoliberalism isn’t something tied to a specific location but rather something that relates to everything, it’s impossible to break free of it individually. Were you to try, the ground would turn to quicksand, and you’d soon understand that no one gets very far without the help of others. That is, unless your path involves feeling contempt and disdain for those who aren’t trying as hard as you; or, in the worst of cases, you seek refuge in a shared identity (a political group, an ideology) that claims to have cast out the neoliberal demon, when all it has really done is push competition into the realm of “small communities”. Sharing, commoning…these, my friend, are the keys to freeing ourselves from the evil spirit currently possessing us. This is how we expand our counter spirit until it, in turn, is able to nourish the whole with a different set of values. From a political party to the depths of our very souls: everything. Occupy Everything, my friend.
You must be wondering about these new values capable of pulling off such an exorcism. I’ll tell you which ones I think fit the bill, but remember: I’m just as possessed as you are and, as you well know, within possession there is no absolute certitude, only intuition. That being said, I believe that cooperation stands out among the rest. It is urgent that we see the other as a comrade and not as an obstacle in our path; only then will we be able to walk in the right direction, on solid footing.Enablement comes a close second. Our spirit must enable us to take upon ourselves all those tasks we now delegate to “the experts”. Lastly, I think that possession by a counter spirit should mean a kind of enjoyment that’s quite different from that of consumerism. An experience where abundance of time and human relations, along with the fostering of communal life, would become the very definition of what the good life is; a different way to measure “wealth”. Let me express it a different way: we will only banish neoliberal possession if we intensify — to the max — the common dimension that imbues every experience. Accomplishing this, my dear friend, would be the most beautiful work of art of all time. It is in our hands to make it so. In yours, and in all of ours, together. Without losing who we are, and without moving from the place we already occupy.
I hope that my words have been helpful and I wish you a prompt recovery. Take good care.
Leónidas Martín teaches A/V, New Technologies and Political Art in the Universidad de Barcelona (U.B.), and the Escola Superior de Disseny (ESDI). All the projects and movements he’s been involved with are as well known among the international art crowd as they are within down and dirty activist circles (Las Agencias, Yomango, Pret a Revolter, New Kids on the Black Block, V de Vivienda, etc.) Read more…