All become means

by olasvenle

You’re young, bred by well-off parents in a western society, you start to see social inequalities all around you, you realize it’s more rule than exception, you’re not fed with the image of inherent divine justice. Hence you reduce the numbers of factors involved in societal change and consequently don’t see why thing couldn’t be radically different. Individual and structural reasons are not yet separated. Laws are not yet systematically understood, they rule not over good intentions. Goals are real. Not competition but collaboration is perceived as meaningful human activity.

Goals tend to slowly wither with time and you have to settle with means.

As Jane Bennett has suggested elsewhere[1] you should perhaps not be so harsh on yourself, as non-living matter influence the progress of the world just as much as you do.

Exit the idealism of the youth; enter the circumcision of possible practices of maturity. You cool down, gradually accepting worldly rigidity through complexity. You find yourself quite dependent of the structures surrounding you. The universal measure deciding on your potential actions is more often than not monetary. The values of human actions to the human communities are measured monetarily. So things as well as experiences, actions and services are commodified, priced – get their exchange value. This was introduced with the economies of mass-production in the 19th century. Capitalism meant investing in expectations and profit-making from the exchange value. But capitalism was confined more or less for a century to the market, the industry and the trading professions, while other considerations guided the relationships between citizens and governments. Since then the balance has tilted and the ideology and economic method of neoliberalism has increased the concerns of the market economy at the expense of the common. The government issues have turned mainly into maintaining the prosperity of the free market and administrating it. The measure of success for governments has been reduced to economic growth.[2] Added to that is the notion of governments having to act as markets themselves. Considerations not included in calculations of risks and benefits, costs and profits, are ruled out. In its most developed shape a neoliberal citizenship would have no public to consider, just individual entrepreneurs and consumers. Then no difference would remain between economic rationality and moral, politics or religion. And there you are at the finish line: all has become means.

What people fail to see is that problems like unemployment, poverty, security, justice, sustainability aren’t caused by external factors but are effects of mechanisms within the capitalist system. They have been caused not by immigration but by the economical logic of capitalism. Instead of critique from scholars leading to action, the discontent has been absorbed by populist righ-wing forces pointing to external threats as the root of evil.[3] The NAIRU concept, (level of unemployment equilibrium) was coined by Milton Friedman in the 80s. It’s the condition inherent in capitalist economies, that unemployment rates are prevented from dropping to levels near zero, where shortage of labour would result in raised wages and uncontrolled inflation.

[1] Bennett, Jane. The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter, 2004

[2] Brown, Wendy. Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy. p. 42

[3] Boltanski, Luc. The New Spirit of Capitalism, 2006