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What has happened to Britain's ruling class?
by Richard Seymour / Sept. 25, 2018

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expanded version of his talk at TWT

Seymour, R. (2018, September 25). What has happened to Britain's ruling class?. Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/posts/what-has-to-21641230

But these technologies are designed to fit existing social and cultural ideas. They represent themselves as a sort of magical solution to social problems, but their magical effect depends on the way they lubricate way-finding within an existing neoliberal framework. Whatever the problem, there’s an app for that, one weird trick to solve the erectile dysfunctions of neoliberalism.

Where communities break down, the network substitutes. Where news is no longer trustworthy, citizen journalism can bring the news to you direct and unfiltered (that’s pure ideology). Where politicians are no longer trustworthy, online communities can hold them to account (that, too, is ideology; the platforms facilitate online punishment beatings of individuals who breach mores). If you’re depressed, you can get cognitive behavioural therapy through an app on your phone. If you’re poor or underemployed, you can bid for jobs on taskrabbit, or use your car to make money through Uber or spend a few hours working for Deliveroo. If you’ve got a room you’re not using, post it on airbnb. If you think you’re not valued enough in your life, you can bid for a share in an increasingly diffuse online celebrity (again, pure ideology — celebrities are notoriously miserable). In other words, it administers users on the basis of the radical extension of market relations, and commodification.

This is not a hegemonic practice. It doesn’t seek to persuade anyone of the virtues of markets and neoliberal behaviour. It simply builds it into your practical experience. It's the persuasion of reality-shaping: what I might call a sub-hegemonic practice, since it works on the infrastructures rather than through the ideological and political superstructures. This is what neoliberal administrations have been doing for the last few decades, but far less efficiently. Tech treats us as behaviourist experimental subjects, to be hooked and then manipulated in real time for the advertisers. Now they’re under pressure by politicians to use this power for social good, which is terrifying. And in the new smart cities such as the one Google is building in Toronto they will try just that. But it’s neatly congruent with the post-democratic, beyond-hegemonic practice of neoliberal capitalism. It is the ideal model of what Gilles Deleuze called the ‘control society’. No one tells you what to do, what to believe in, what’s right or wrong: on the new technologies, whether it’s gaming or platforms, you are just given a series of stimuli, a set of options within an acceptable bandwidth, and get on with it.

!!!

by Richard Seymour 1 month, 2 weeks ago

But these technologies are designed to fit existing social and cultural ideas. They represent themselves as a sort of magical solution to social problems, but their magical effect depends on the way they lubricate way-finding within an existing neoliberal framework. Whatever the problem, there’s an app for that, one weird trick to solve the erectile dysfunctions of neoliberalism.

Where communities break down, the network substitutes. Where news is no longer trustworthy, citizen journalism can bring the news to you direct and unfiltered (that’s pure ideology). Where politicians are no longer trustworthy, online communities can hold them to account (that, too, is ideology; the platforms facilitate online punishment beatings of individuals who breach mores). If you’re depressed, you can get cognitive behavioural therapy through an app on your phone. If you’re poor or underemployed, you can bid for jobs on taskrabbit, or use your car to make money through Uber or spend a few hours working for Deliveroo. If you’ve got a room you’re not using, post it on airbnb. If you think you’re not valued enough in your life, you can bid for a share in an increasingly diffuse online celebrity (again, pure ideology — celebrities are notoriously miserable). In other words, it administers users on the basis of the radical extension of market relations, and commodification.

This is not a hegemonic practice. It doesn’t seek to persuade anyone of the virtues of markets and neoliberal behaviour. It simply builds it into your practical experience. It's the persuasion of reality-shaping: what I might call a sub-hegemonic practice, since it works on the infrastructures rather than through the ideological and political superstructures. This is what neoliberal administrations have been doing for the last few decades, but far less efficiently. Tech treats us as behaviourist experimental subjects, to be hooked and then manipulated in real time for the advertisers. Now they’re under pressure by politicians to use this power for social good, which is terrifying. And in the new smart cities such as the one Google is building in Toronto they will try just that. But it’s neatly congruent with the post-democratic, beyond-hegemonic practice of neoliberal capitalism. It is the ideal model of what Gilles Deleuze called the ‘control society’. No one tells you what to do, what to believe in, what’s right or wrong: on the new technologies, whether it’s gaming or platforms, you are just given a series of stimuli, a set of options within an acceptable bandwidth, and get on with it.

!!!

by Richard Seymour 1 month, 2 weeks ago

So what is it? Neoliberalism isn’t about ‘free markets’. That’s the populist soft sell, which claims that everyone is just a self-maximiser, out for maximum utility — whatever the fuck that is — yearning to be freed from moralist hypocrisies like ‘public service’. That was the classically liberal creed; just let everyone be as selfish as they really are, and it will all work out! What St Augustine called ‘cruel optimism’. But what posed as description was prescription. The mandarin sell, for policymakers, was different. People were too fucking stupid and socialistic to be self-maximisers. (I paraphrase). The power of the state and law had to be used to make them behave as such.

The issue was never the volume of regulations or spending, but their character. Financialisation, intrinsic to the neoliberal model, necessitated an explosion of regulations. The point was to reform economic and government activity so that everything operated like a market, construed as a kind of Darwinian mechanism for selecting efficiency through competition. That could mean things like Compulsory Competitive Tendering, internal markets, spending caps, workfare, the short-lived nudge unit etc.

It also entailed a counterrevolution against democracy. [...] in most states, it was sufficient to redistribute state power to unelected bodies, quangos, or centralise more of it in the executive, or outsource it to SERCO or similar bodies.

This diagrams a mode of power. One which transferred class power to corporations, linked to a new set of hegemonic practices governing people as ‘entrepreneurs’. For a while, combined with dynamite growth in south-east Asia, a boom in speculative capital, a series of Wall Street bubbles, the concomitant reduction in bargaining power and sharp decrease in share of incomes going to labour, increased profitability and thus investment.

But most people didn’t become neoliberal ideologues. Bits of the new dispensation were popularised and sedimented into more traditional ideologies — social democracy, socialism, authoritarian conservatism, classical liberalism, etc. There has never been a pure capitalist discourse. Ruling class parties had to operate on those traditional beliefs too, though they had trouble substantiating those commitments. Anyway, they were seen, especially on the social-liberal end of neoliberalism, as residual, being gradually supplanted by the new competitive individualism. That wasn’t entirely wrong; it just wasn’t the whole story.

god i love his writing

by Richard Seymour 1 month, 2 weeks ago

So what is it? Neoliberalism isn’t about ‘free markets’. That’s the populist soft sell, which claims that everyone is just a self-maximiser, out for maximum utility — whatever the fuck that is — yearning to be freed from moralist hypocrisies like ‘public service’. That was the classically liberal creed; just let everyone be as selfish as they really are, and it will all work out! What St Augustine called ‘cruel optimism’. But what posed as description was prescription. The mandarin sell, for policymakers, was different. People were too fucking stupid and socialistic to be self-maximisers. (I paraphrase). The power of the state and law had to be used to make them behave as such.

The issue was never the volume of regulations or spending, but their character. Financialisation, intrinsic to the neoliberal model, necessitated an explosion of regulations. The point was to reform economic and government activity so that everything operated like a market, construed as a kind of Darwinian mechanism for selecting efficiency through competition. That could mean things like Compulsory Competitive Tendering, internal markets, spending caps, workfare, the short-lived nudge unit etc.

It also entailed a counterrevolution against democracy. [...] in most states, it was sufficient to redistribute state power to unelected bodies, quangos, or centralise more of it in the executive, or outsource it to SERCO or similar bodies.

This diagrams a mode of power. One which transferred class power to corporations, linked to a new set of hegemonic practices governing people as ‘entrepreneurs’. For a while, combined with dynamite growth in south-east Asia, a boom in speculative capital, a series of Wall Street bubbles, the concomitant reduction in bargaining power and sharp decrease in share of incomes going to labour, increased profitability and thus investment.

But most people didn’t become neoliberal ideologues. Bits of the new dispensation were popularised and sedimented into more traditional ideologies — social democracy, socialism, authoritarian conservatism, classical liberalism, etc. There has never been a pure capitalist discourse. Ruling class parties had to operate on those traditional beliefs too, though they had trouble substantiating those commitments. Anyway, they were seen, especially on the social-liberal end of neoliberalism, as residual, being gradually supplanted by the new competitive individualism. That wasn’t entirely wrong; it just wasn’t the whole story.

god i love his writing

by Richard Seymour 1 month, 2 weeks ago

This is a strangely paranoid discourse. It’s true that the centre has often found its nemesis in candidates, of the right and left, who succeeded in using online networks to outflank the traditional dominance of the centre in the print and broadcast media. But the ruling class, by definition, is the class that rules. And it is the richest ruling class in history, with the most complex and subtle instruments of domination. It has had more opportunity than any other group of people on the planet, ever, to shape politics, culture, and society. Could they really be upended by online mobs so easily?

[...]

In the background to this is a crisis in an older regime, an older way of practicing hegemony. The ruling class never rule by themselves; they never do anything by themselves. They are too divided to have a single interest. They require networks of institutions, think-tanks, lobbies, banks, media outlets and political parties to develop class-wide perspectives and strategies, and win public support. This is hegemonic in the sense that it seeks to build broad, cross-class consent for a social mission, a project for development, which in the last analysis is shaped by and for ruling class interests. It seeks to persuade people intellectually and morally, as well as chastising and disciplining them.

by Richard Seymour 1 month, 2 weeks ago

This is a strangely paranoid discourse. It’s true that the centre has often found its nemesis in candidates, of the right and left, who succeeded in using online networks to outflank the traditional dominance of the centre in the print and broadcast media. But the ruling class, by definition, is the class that rules. And it is the richest ruling class in history, with the most complex and subtle instruments of domination. It has had more opportunity than any other group of people on the planet, ever, to shape politics, culture, and society. Could they really be upended by online mobs so easily?

[...]

In the background to this is a crisis in an older regime, an older way of practicing hegemony. The ruling class never rule by themselves; they never do anything by themselves. They are too divided to have a single interest. They require networks of institutions, think-tanks, lobbies, banks, media outlets and political parties to develop class-wide perspectives and strategies, and win public support. This is hegemonic in the sense that it seeks to build broad, cross-class consent for a social mission, a project for development, which in the last analysis is shaped by and for ruling class interests. It seeks to persuade people intellectually and morally, as well as chastising and disciplining them.

by Richard Seymour 1 month, 2 weeks ago