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writing for godot


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Saturday, 23 March 2019 23:00

Capitalism anaesthetizes its own acolytes (Joseph Schumpeter)


1. ‘Consumerist capitalism’ has progressively been adopting the agenda and the contents of the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s, as for example, elements related to people’s (assumed) participation in decision-making. More advanced (cynic?) capitalism has even adopted some of the ideals of the political left especially as refers to individuals’ rights. Not going as far as the expropriation of the means of production, it has heartily adopted the right of citizens to a minimum wage. (The globalization phase of capitalism* has even proposed the universalization of this right…). Capitalism simply needs all this since, for its proponents, it guarantees them the opening of the new markets they need.

*: Actually more accurately: the global marketization phase of unfettered global capitalism.


2. Consumerism is nevertheless plagued by grave contradictions. The main one is the fact that the individual consumer considers him/herself deserving of all his/her rights as a consumer and is thus perennially unsatisfied.** A big backlog of resentment thus slowly builds. Large masses of persons grow up educated into consumerism, but are economically unable to become the consumers-they-want-to-be thus their enormous resentment. The resented thinks of him/herself as somebody against whom grave injustices have been bestowed upon. Becoming a ‘victim’ will, therefore, turn out to be the central issue in the expression of all that resentment. When all this ill-feeling comes to the surface, the purported universality of capitalism as a ‘progressive force’ gets shattered.

**: In the rush of commerce, despair comes home to roost and to harden us slowly into resignation. (Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things)


3. The Ultra-right has subsequently done nothing short of (purportedly) joining the struggle of the victims, explicitly (or implicitly) to thus defend its position of domination. Faced with this, the Left became disarmed (anesthesized?). The question then is: Have the Left-wing parties ended up converging with such a capitalist agenda?*** If so, this would mean for them not to abandon the struggle for individual HR (with their ethical and political significance), but to more aggressively embark in the complex, but not impossible, task of struggling for a universal narrative additionally based on the respect and fulfillment of collective HR, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. (Claudio Zulian)

***: Therefore, beware: Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the Left. It has been a mistake for the Left to mobilize people around old ideas… It is simply not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. (George Monbiot) Have they been talking as firefighters and not daring to talk about water…? (think HR…).


So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognize it as an ideology (G. Monbiot)


-Neoliberalism is nothing but the capitalist system with its present specificities based on the detriment of all HR of the vast majority of people. (Alejandro Teitelbaum)


4. The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is being promoted by invisible backers. The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. The words used by neoliberalism (or better, by the neoliberal global restructuring drive) often conceal more than they reveal. ‘The market’ sounds like a natural system that just may bear-upon-us-equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. ‘What-the-market-wants’ tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. (G. Monbiot,


5. The time is thus overdue to shift the debate from trade and technology constraints to market power and politics --where winner takes all. The continued aggressive use of, for example,

  • patent rights to defend and increase market power rather than innovation,
  • of large-scale privatization of public services,
  • of public subsidies to large corporations across non-financial sectors without clear economic or efficiency justification,
  • of tax avoidance by multinational enterprises through profit-shifting practices, and
  • of stock market manipulation to boost CEO compensations

are all features of a rampant capitalism gone haywire. The time has come for embarking on a global new deal. (Richard Kozul-Wright, UNCTAD)


6. From the HR perspective, the key questions to pose to ‘the market’, then, will relate, not only to what resources and how resources are allocated, but to whom and why.


An asymmetrical distribution of gains, losses and power is characteristic of globalization in its current form (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


7. Concepts, as much as rules of the game, are never neutral and they are there to consolidate power systems,**** be they old or new. But beware, dominant concepts do not have boundless validity (although their boundaries are difficult to assess) --be it because the dominant groups have a vested interest to keep them and/or to hide them so as to better legitimate their domination-- their validity can be successfully challenged!

****: To consider: The hierarchies of power are no longer linked to the ownership of ‘things’, but are linked to the ideological conformism and acceptance of them by the silent majority. (Henri Laborit)


8. These dominant groups never-felt-so-much-power/never-had-so-little-fear of the little power of the dominated groups though. Their arrogance and ostentation have currently no limit. Despite of this, I would say they have an abyssal fear of what they do not yet control. As never before, this fear corrodes them from inside; it makes them fear for their security. So, the other side of the coin is that these dominant groups never felt so defeated like today***** while keeping a proud patina of dignity. This is not the result of a tie between two antagonistic forces; far from it. It rather seems to be a pause at the edge of the abyss while looking back. (B. de Sousa Santos)

*****: I ask you: Does the growing ascendance of the HR movement play a role in this?

Beware of rich people who say they want to change the world (Anand Giridharadas)


-Society’s winners can seem so generous, until you consider what they are really selling.


9. ‘Change the world’ has long been the cry of the oppressed. But in recent years, world-changing has been co-opted by the rich and the powerful. These winners have actually been selling …fake change. Fake change is not evil; it is change-the-powerful-can-tolerate. Elites generally seek to maintain the system that causes many of the problems they try to fix  --and implementing their ‘helpfulness’ is how they pull off their trick. Their do-gooding is thus an accomplice to greater, if more invisible, harm. What their ‘change’ leaves undisturbed is our winners-take-all economy.


10. Do not underestimate rich people’s strong interest in convincing the public that they can help out within the system that so benefits them, the winners. But changing the world actually asks more than just giving back. It also takes giving something up. (A. Giridharadas)


To close the gap between the UDHR and 21st century facts and reality, we have to break the stronghold of the current incarnation of the capitalist system (A. Teitelbaum)


-Mind you, greatly accumulated power cannot be lost half way… (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)


11. Things being the way they are, it becomes progressively clearer to me that given the conditions of the current political system, there is no more room for influential popular participation in the decision-making process, because state institutions are now totally subdued to the reproduction and the preservation of the prevailing system and have thus scrapped what is left of representative or ‘delegational’ democracy.


12. Given the complexities and challenges of current realities, let us recognize that we hold no corner on strategic truths here. Still, one can see four main priorities for action in countries affected by the neoliberal, corporatized and commodified model:

  • A sustained broad-based movement.
  • An activated labor movement (including professionals).
  • More emphasis on local and regional organizing; and
  • Carefully confronting the role of political parties understanding that the importance of party building goes far beyond electoral campaigns.


13. All these priorities must link HR activism with social movements that focus on social class oppression, flagrant, widespread HR violations (including poverty as the Nr. 1 violation) and the decisive rejection of considering the prevailing social and political conditions as ‘normal’. (Howard Waitzkin)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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