Sunday, 8 August 2010

Economy is Ideology.

Rob Ager is a film analyst and specialises in psychology, so it's fair to assume that he's no layman when it comes to Kubrick or Freud. Ager has reviewed such films as The Shining, The Big Lebowski and Blade Runner, providing internet-surfers everywhere with an interesting and enthralling take on cinema. He's explored the political themes of Kubrick's films, finding important messages relating to the genocide of Native Americans but also a strange conspiratorial strain in Kubrick's work. Politically, from what I can gather, Rob Ager is a supporter of UKIP and a fan of Antony C Sutton, which might place Ager on the libertarian right as opposed to the nationalist base that UKIP often panders to. Ager's political leanings are further outlined in his articles, particularly Economy versus Ideology (see here) in which Ager argues that capitalism is the absence of ideology.

In Economy versus Ideology, Rob Ager claims that ideologies are philosophical, spiritual and moral doctrines which would mean that capitalism is not an ideology. The implication being that capitalism does not include philosophical, spiritual and moral doctrines. The intellectual patriarch of capitalism was Adam Smith, a classical liberal economist and a moral philosopher of the Enlightenment, and the ideas of a free-market are embedded deep in liberal thought. The liberal conception of freedom, as the freedom to do as you like provided you harm no one, is built into capitalism and advocated by libertarians like Friedrich von Hayek. Early liberals like John Locke were defenders of the private property rights, but property in the sense of land, water, businesses, hospitals etc.

Liberals are supposedly dedicated to a pluralistic vision of society, in which individuals are free to live as they want provided they do not harm others. Theoretically, a liberal society leaves room for people to live their lives as they see fit. But in such a society you have to accept certain doctrines, you must accept all of the rights and freedoms espoused. The right to private property is a perfect instance, what about people who think that education and health-care should not be run privately but publicly for the Common Good. These views are against a human right, in theory, which is a central piece of liberalism and by extension capitalism. The claim that liberalism and capitalism are neutral seems absurd since both make assertions as to how people should live.

Interestingly, Ager labels the claim that "democracy has prevailed" over ideologies as "misleading" and suggests that a more accurate term would be that "science, industry and economics have prevailed". This is ideology at it's purest, as ideology can and often does imitate the form of a science - e.g. Marxist science in the Soviet Union. Ideology is reflexive, it can redouble on itself, presenting itself as neutral knowledge which opposes itself to common "ideology", as Ager does in his own article. Both claims are ideological since "democracy" has prevailed in the guise of a polyarchical system, as an extension of state-capitalism, and the same is true of economics, industry and science. All of which have "prevailed" in a form which is embedded in the dominant ideology - e.g. liberal economics, evolutionary science which sanctions egoism, industry as state-subsidised and deregulated.

I think it's about time that we put forward a definition of capitalism. Capitalism is a socio-economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, it is characterised by the free-market and the profit incentive. This is a vision of society, not how it runs naturally, that has developed in Western thought. It could be argued that capitalism is the absence of ideologies other than itself, as it seems unlikely that the freedom of individuals would extend to the freedom of breaking apart the dominant ideology to put in place one which they favour. Ager should know this himself, as UKIP stands for liberal freedoms and rights but only as part of a vision of an independent United Kingdom in which the veil is illegal and all citizens are obligated to speak English.

An ideology is a system of beliefs, values and theories about the world and how it works. But it does not necessarily require the belief of it's participants. Take South Africa, you didn't have to be a racist to be complicit in the racist ideology that was dominant for so long in that country. Say you come along a bench designated only for white people to sit on, your immediate reaction is one of disgust as you're totally opposed to Apartheid and white supremacy. But because you're a tired person with white skin you sit down on the bench anyway. In doing so, the dominant ideology is maintained and perpetuated without your consent or dutiful belief. Capitalism is even more subtle than fascism and communism, which were crude in the imposition of their ideology. For instance, the free-market may appear to be freedom from interfering doctrines but it in itself is a doctrine.

Capitalism is an ideology in the sense that it includes a vision for society, based on assumptions about human nature and theories about the way the world works. Competition and the profit motive are held up as natural ways of running the world, as we have evolved through self-interested behaviour we should act to further our self-interest. This is the reason that CEOs read The Selfish Gene, liberal capitalism sets the bar low for human nature asserting that we are naturally selfish. Economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, the ideologists of liberal economics, have shaped the world as it we know it. The mass-privatisation of state-industries has largely been down to the theories they propagated throughout their careers, this has radically altered society transforming it into an arrangement, prone to malfunction, between atomised individuals.

It's also interesting that Ager mentions that ideologies, like fascism and communism, were used to manipulate the masses into passivity to the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In Britain we're more unequal than we were 40 years ago, wages for working-class people have risen by 50% in between 1997 and 2009 while income for the upper-classes has increased by around 300%. It was the economic policies of the last 30 years, which were significantly more right-wing, that have resulted in this inequality. The way the Republicans and Democrats in the US, as well as the Labourites and Conservatives, have promised greater freedom and equality through such policies as deregulation. Interestingly in Ager's article, capitalism is presented as a way for the working-class to empower itself but nothing could be further from the truth.

Related Links:
Economy versus Ideology by Rob Ager
New Labour, New Fascism, New Racism by Rob Ager
Man-made Global Warming is not Scientific Consensus by Rob Ager
Antony C Sutton, Speeches and Interviews

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