The Omnipotent Self

One of the deadliest components of neoliberal mentality is the idea that everything that happens to us is the result of our choices. We have to be good entrepreneurs of our selves, exercising careful self-management. If we do everything right, things will turn out great. If we mismanage, we’ll suffer. This means that whenever things go bad, it’s your own fault.

The problem with this way of thinking is that often terrible things happen to great people who don’t deserve them. We need to place such events within a meaningful narrative to help our psyche absorb the shock and not unravel. And the narrative that neoliberalism provides stresses the psyche even more because it generates guilt. Instead of giving comfort, it creates more discomfort.

Every philosophy of life has some explanation for the bad shit that randomly happens to people. Christianity, for instance, gives a lot of attention to helping people deal with random bad shit without feeling guilty for it. I’d say it’s one of the most seductive aspects of Christianity. Many people come to faith during terrible times because that’s where they find comforting answers.

Neoliberalism, on the other hand, burdens people with guilt and loneliness. It’s always your fault. Everything is always your fault. You are always ashamed of not being perfect, always guilty, always responsible. There’s no forgiveness of sins because there’s nothing outside of the self. There’s nobody and nothing looking out for you, and that’s terrifying.

The other side of the neoliberal coin is smugness. If everything bad is deserved, then so is everything good. Everything that works is proof of the self’s amazingness. People spend their lives oscillating between smug judgmentalism and guilty terror.

Pleasure of Familiarity

At a conference on Don Quijote, a world-famous specialist on Cervantes started his talk as follows,

No matter how much research I do, what new things I uncover, and what complex, interesting arguments I weave, nothing makes the audience as happy and elicits such fierce nodding as when I mention that the first part of Don Quijote was published in 1605. There’s no greater pleasure than hearing something you already heard a million times. New knowledge is uncomfortable. Familiarity is sweet. So here goes: the first part of Don Quijote was published in 1605!

Took all I had not to roll my eyes in stupid pleasure and nod.