Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Aspiration and choice – the two great phantoms of the neoliberal agenda

Aspiration and choice – the two great phantoms of the neo-liberal agenda. Everyone aspires to do better for themselves and their children; everyone wants the freedom to choose how they live their lives. These two pillars form the basis of Western political thought, and anyone who dares question their validity is either an oppressive totalitarian or a patronising do-gooder with no experience of the real world.

In the 2010 election campaign the three main parties will all be pushing the choice and aspiration mantra. More choice over schools – to the extent that parents are able to set up one of their own, the right to chose which hospital you go to, choosing your police chief, helping people become home owners, raising the aspirations of old industrial working class areas to the giddy heights of the service sector – the list is endless. Each policy is, in its own right, a worthwhile cause, yet not a single one addresses the fundamental iniquities of our current economic and political system. People are encouraged to engage with these small issues as long as they don’t challenge the hegemony of the monopoly class.

While the Marxist economic truths of a ruling capitalist economic bourgeoisie are known to many, what is often ignored is the hegemony – the control of ideas and ideology – that manipulates social consciousness. The dominant class is able to put forward a world-view, which is embodied in the lifestyles of those in power. The moral and political values of this class come to be seen as “common sense” by the majority of the population. Ideology is thus transformed into culture, yet this culture – although adopted by a society – remains the ideological political control of the ruling elite transformed into an apparently “normal” word-view. This cultural indoctrination then prevents anyone from challenging the ideology, as an attack on the elite becomes an attack on society as a whole.

Whereas in the past the church was the dominant vehicle for hegemonic control, the Western neoliberal establishment has the exponentially more powerful tool of the mass media. No longer are we preached to every Sunday, now we are bombarded with a never ending torrent of news, television, radio, print, billboards, music and the internet. Everything is an advert. Everything promotes the market driven consumerism of the capitalist machine. Aspiration and choice are merely another weapon in their arsenal.

When reduced to their fundamental essence, aspiration and choice are about nothing but money, and money is about nothing but property. Parents choose a certain school as they are led to believe their children will get a better education, a better job, and earn more money. The rising landlord class is heralded as the new model for retirement so not only will you be mortgage free in your own house, but you’ll also own a second – or a third – to generate you more money. People are sold images of success, whether in choice of car, clothing, jewellery, holiday destination, even the food they eat, as markers of how well they are doing in society. Always guided by the aspirational lifestyle programmes broadcast around the clock on television. The hegemonic market tells us what we want and what we want to be seen to have. Thus the circle is complete, not only do the ruling elite own the means of production; they also own the culture that sustains their consumer base.

Yet what is the great conspiracy? Surely there is not some wealthy elite in black limousines directing the capitalist system? No. But it is worth noting a point raised during this election campaign. It concerns the prospect of a hung parliament: the parliament democratically elected by the people of this country.

“The fears of a hung parliament are that there would be insufficient agreements to make the tough political choices necessary to cut the public spending, that is necessary to restore a fiscal path to sustainability.” David Page, economist at Investec Securities.

“The prospect of a hung parliament sent sterling falling sharply against other major currencies on the financial markets today. The pound lost more than four cents against the dollar, hitting a fresh nine-month low of $1.4784, down from around $1.52 overnight. This is its lowest level since May 2009, putting the pound on track for its worst daily performance since February 2009.” The Guardian Monday 1 March 2010.

Political change in this country will be a long and difficult struggle. The struggle will not be one fought against a ruling military aristocracy; it is a struggle of ideas, a struggle against culture. While the people of this country are spoon fed the choice and aspiration agenda, nothing will ever really change. The phantom empowerment of the individual within the system prevents the actual empowerment of a whole society in attaining true freedom

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