Friday 16 September, 2022

Ideology and tunnel vision

Ideology is what determines how you think even when you don’t know you’re thinking. It’s what makes some courses of action seem ‘obvious’ while others are, literally, unthinkable.

Since the 1970s, ruling elites in most western democracies have imbibed a particular ideology — neoliberalism. This is a particular way of viewing the world, a view that:

  • Atomises people (“there is no such thing as society; there are only individual people and their families”, as Thatcher used to put it).
  • Prioritises the interests of corporations over those of civil society.
  • Undermines agencies of collective action like trade unions.
  • Imposes market logic on everything — even when doing so is a catastrophic error, and
  • Systematically undermines state capacity. When a British government faces a problem, its reflex response is not to see how public sector organisations might be harnessed to tackle it, but to outsource the work to corporations, even when they are manifestly incompetent or, on occasion, corrupt.

This comes to mind as the Truss administration tries to grapple with the soaring cost of heating one’s home this winter. The reflex strategy is to pay colossal subsidies to energy companies so that they will reduce the bills consumers pay. The end-result of this will be a massive boost to the already ballooning profits of these corporations.

But it is also an irrational, wasteful and iniquitous way of tackling the problem because, among other things, it amounts to a subsidy to well-off consumers while probably not doing enough to help poor households. A much more efficient and fairer way to help people through the energy crisis would be to subsidise average consumption, while leaving those who exceeded it to pay the market price for electricity, gas or oil.

In the UK at the moment, the average household consumes 3,731 kWh of electricity in a year. That comes to 10.23 kWh per day. So wouldn’t it be smarter — and fairer — to subsidise consumption up to that level, and let households which consume more face the market rate? And pay for the subsidy by a windfall tax on energy companies.

It won’t happen, of course, for the simple reason that it’s ‘unthinkable’.


Quote of the Day

“When it’s 3 o’clock in New York, it’s still 1938 in London”.

  • Bette Midler

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Bob Dylan | Shelter from the Storm


Wonderful song.

Long Read of the Day

The Monarchy, the Subaltern and the Public Sphere

Marvellous essay by Ethan Zuckerman, one of the wisest observers of the online world known to me. He’s currently developing a new course on “The Digital Public Sphere” for his lucky students at the University of Massachusetts. The new course — which I’d certainly want to attend if I were over there — is based on three principles:

  1. Democracy requires a robust and healthy public sphere.
  2. The public sphere includes at least three components: a way of knowing what’s going on in the world (news), a space for discussing public life, and whatever precursors allow individuals to participate in these discussions. For Habermas’s public sphere, those precursors included being male, wealthy, white, urban and literate… hence the need for Nancy Fraser’s recognition of subaltern counterpublics.
  3. As technology and economic models change, all three of these components – the nature of news, discourse, and access – change as well.

The obvious change we’re all focussed on at the moment is the displacement of a broadcast public sphere by a highly participatory digital public sphere driven by social media. The consequence of this is a huge diversification of viewpoints expressed in the public sphere. The thing I liked about Ethan’s essay is the way he uses a recent controversy over criticism of the late Queen – to explore the nature and significance of the transition from a broadcast-dominated to a networked p public sphere.

Worth your time and attention.

My commonplace booklet

“Russian police arrest man for holding up blank sheet of paper”

My admiration for the barrister who was questioned by police for holding up a blank sheet of paper in Westminster the other day prompted Patrick O’Beirne to email that there was a precedent for this kind of protest — in Novosibirsk of all places!

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