“Changing the soul of people”: P2P Culture Wars and the fight against the imperialism of market reason

Must see video by David Harvey below. An excerpt on why it is important:

“Harvey says that the academics are refusing to learn from the capitalist crisis, that they are still retailing the same vulgarising neoclassical theories that they have been for a century, and especially since the Seventies. The theories don’t work, don’t explain anything, reduce complex historical processes to dicta of vicious circularity, but they continue to be orthodox. Proof, surely, that the purpose of higher education is to indoctrinate more than it is to educate, encouraging intelligent people to believe that in studiously internalising capitalist ideology, they have been inducted into a caste of rational beings from which the great unwashed are excluded. If you’ve had a read of Dan Hind’s book The Threat To Reason, you’ll remember that it is his argument that a primary threat to reason arises from the corporate annexation of Enlightenment. This takes place in two ways: first, in the sense that the tools made available by the scientific revolution are hoarded and deployed solely in order to accumulate capital, in strict secrecy (this is Occult Enlightenment); secondly, in the sense that capitalists denounce their opponents – be they environmentalists, opponents of nuclear energy, peaceniks, or anticapitalists – as counter-Enlightenment forces. In this Folk Enlightenment view, as Hind calls it, the forces of reason are on the side of markets, big business and – let us not forget – war. I mentioned the recent example of BA boss Willie Walsh describing BASSA workers as “reactionaries” opposing the rationalisation of the airline industry.

One aspect of this specious conception of “reason” is the encroachment of a set of analytical principles established by marginalist economics into other fields of social science. Though specifically concerned with the workings of markets, it is assumed by their advocates that these could apply universally. And, as Ben Fine and Dimitris Milonakis argue (From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics, Routledge, 2009), the 20th Century saw a growing tendency for various authors, including the writers of such ordure as Freakonomics, to extend them as universally as possible. Freakonomics (and its Super- sequel) discovers a market logic behind a bewildering variety of social phenomena. Gary Becker finds that market logic explains a wide range of phenomena including crime and punishment. For Robert H Frank, “economics explains everything”, and he encourages his students to find ways to apply market laws to all manner of questions. Everything up to and including romantic relationships can be understood in terms of utility maximization. Thus, the search for a partner can be interpreted as a petty entrepreurial activity in a competitive market, in which – acting on information and incentives – couples form property-based relational contracts as a means for effectively utilizing resources, and the relationship is only sustained for as long as each maximises the utility that the other receives.

Underpinning this approach is three basic analytical principles. The first is individualism. The individual is taken to be the self-sufficient unit of all forms of behaviour, the real basis of all fictitious corporate entities. The second is rational self-interest. The individual behaves in ways that will maximise utility to herself, on the basis of a rational assessment of the information available in the market. Here, utility is purely subjective – whatever is useful to an individual is whatever she thinks is useful, while there is an assumption of an “implicit market” in all walks of life, even where there are no commodities, no price signals, and no currency. The third principle is exchange. Utility maximisation optimally takes place through the act of exchange, and that exchange can take place between the drug dealer and the addict as much as the lover and the pursued. This kookiness, where it is not merely circular and vulgar, descends into absurdity when the suitability of the theory can only be established through an ad hoc proliferation of conceptual innovations, as when – for example – Becker explains criminal recidivism in terms of a “preference for risk”. This naturalises and universalises the cut-throat self-advancement of career-minded bourgois WASPs, distilling it into a set of puerile anthropological axioms.”

Watch the video:

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