Excerpt from an Aug 2018 article by Chris Lehmann, contributing editor of In These Times, is editor-in-chief at Baffler and the author of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).
These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform.
As Giridharadas notes, defending MarketWorld requires no end of distortions and diminutions of social thought. The social psychologist Amy Cuddy, for instance, delivered one of the most successful TED talks in history by presenting feminist activism largely as a matter of adopting tweaks to personal comportment in the workplace, such as “power postures.” Such glosses on social conflict, Giridharadas writes, “have given rise to watered-down theories of change that are personal, individual, depoliticized, respectful of the status quo and the system, and not in the least bit disruptive.” Bruno Giussani, the TED official who hosted Cuddy’s talk, concedes as much, noting he’d even coined a term for the elite evasion of social conflict: “Pinkering,” after the Harvard linguist Steven Pinker’s argument that the arc of history is bending ineluctably toward world peace.
Reporting from the last convocation of the CGI, Giridharadas quotes former President Bill Clinton’s valedictory address to this High Church of MarketWorld. “Good people, committed to creative cooperation, have almost unlimited positive impact to help people today and give our kids better tomorrows,” Clinton intoned. “This is all that does work in the modern world.” Giridharadas rightly dubs this latter claim “astonishing”—it’s redolent of Margaret Thatcher’s insistence that there was simply “no alternative” to untrammeled capitalist rule.
Giussani suggests that such Olympian narratives of elite reassurance serve to dismiss any critical perspective as backward and unenlightened: “Your problems don’t really matter compared to the past’s, and your problems are not really problems, because things are getting better.”
Asked whether all this flagrant Pinkering had contributed to the backlash of pseudo-populist anger now roiling the West, Giussani avers, “Of course that distortion contributed. I believe even that it is one of the biggest engines of it.” Nevertheless, the lead theorists of MarketWorld hope to ride out the present crisis by cleaving to their pet shibboleths more firmly than ever. The surprise “yes” vote on Brexit, for instance, prompted Clinton to observe that Brexit supporters simply “had no idea what they were doing.” As Giridharadas drily notes, “The people setting themselves the task of understanding the anger around them were precommitted to the idea that the anger had no possible basis in reason or conscious choice.”
And that, by and large, is the discursive world we continue to inhabit since the election of Trump. MarketWorld’s hireling political mouthpieces stolidly insist that all is fundamentally well in the world—that Democratic leaders are being targeted by the Trumpian forces of darkness because they’re “effective,” as Pelosi outlandishly claimed in a recent Rolling Stone interview. In point of fact, of course, the neoliberal dream of governance has been a grotesque bust, with Pelosi’s Democrats facing the lowest ebb of political influence in America since 1924. But that’s a bitter truth that will never penetrate the high-priced pageants of neoliberal self-congratulation.
Chris Lehmann, a contributing editor of In These Times, is editor-in-chief at Baffler and the author of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).