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Archive for the ‘Metapolitikk’ Category

“Le silence eternel des ces espaces infinis m’effraie”. 

[“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread”].

– Blaise Pascal (1670) –

Her følger utdrag fra min masteroppgave, Beyond the End of History (2011), som jeg skrev på engelsk.  Jeg har ikke prioritert å oversette disse passasjene, bare redigert dem, utelatt unødige detaljer og omskrevet litt her og der (vil på forhånd unnskylde eventuelle stilistiske feil; man er jo blind for egne mangler). I introen annonserte jeg følgende:

«Though relegated to the back burner, the larger considerations of ”post-abundance” and material collapse remain inseparable from the commanding question of this thesis.  The real metaquestion is: does liberal democracy really represent ”the end of history” in  the face of a potential ecological disaster or are there new waves of histories awaiting us? In other words: is there a vaster heaven above? Whether we are at a terminal stage of history or just at a terminal stage before the initiation of a novel epoch, remains a conundrum. Though these sweeping vistas are kept at bay in the coming chapters, a boomerang will recur with vengeance in the conclusion and force us into an acquaintance with the shadow of future. The spectre of material collapse and post-abundance will hopefully lead us to an Archimedean point which enables us to pose adequate inquiries about where the torrents of history might flow».

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FRA SISTE SEKSJON AV KONKLUSJONEN:

“Pascal’s Wager” [le Pari de Pascal] is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe in God. As he saw it, it was safer to bet on God’s existence than to bet against it. Pascal’s Wager is a powerful metaphor: do we dare to bet against a possible ecological collapse, and leave the foundations of our economic and political system unquestioned? Perhaps nothing will happen, and all the preceding passages on [the current] mass extinction were the fancy of just another alarmistic discourse, the [doomsday scenarios] of the 1970s digitally remastered.

If we bet on the possibility of collapse within the next decades, then we must find an answer to the question “what we must do?” Both bets have repercussions, and so does the indecisive “neutral” middle-ground of the agnostics.  How much knowledge should we have before an informed decision is made? Næss would say that we can never know enough. The snapshot of empirical events presented in this chapter is certainly selective. Some scientists may disagree with the statements on looming disaster, but both peak oil and the notion of mass extinction are mainstream today. Doomsday scenarios are no longer sectarian by nature.

The issue of climate change for instance, has so far – at best – produced nostrum with limited resonance, since many emerging economies are not willing to diminish their carbon emissions yet. Socio-economic catch-up is their first priority. Why should they be denied the same material standard as the developed world? So goes the argument. The climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 ended with a whimper: the governments failed to concert strategy and pool their effort, and no solution has as yet been advanced.

Much of this failure is due to what Kenneth Waltz labels the anarchy of the international state system. Though this anarchy is not absolute: superpowers and great powers have certainly a greater say, and the lesser powers bandwagon the mightier ones. But still there is no omnipotent and planetary sovereign which could impose its will in instances like the climate summit in Copenhagen.

As long as the international system of states prevails, deep ecologists and other green radicals probably have little scope to advance their views on ecological issues. And that is the case domestically as well: as implied in chapter four and five, the inextricable nexus between market forces and political establishments is also a major confinement. But is it possible to see anything beyond the horizon of what Fukuyama calls “the End of History”? It is difficult to provide a simple answer here, but the political status quo might already be faltering due to the financial crisis alone. And if the predicaments of the Anthropocene evolve more drastically in the next decades, a denouement might also haunt the liberal democracies.

Nonetheless, every real existing regime today is heading towards perilous times of unprecedented challenge. That applies to nominal democracy as well as unconcealed despotism. If a planetary breakdown in the fabric of nature occurs within the next generations, it will be interesting to see how the caretakers of prevailing systems are going to survive the watershed. A return to the political status quo ante will be quite wearisome to say the least. It is premature to exclude an event where liberal democracy meets its Nemesis. In cyclical terms, one age hostile to a specific Weltanschauung might be succeeded by another more receptive to its ambitions and so forth until the end of human history. Not “the end” in  a linear Hegelian sense adopted by the epigone Fukuyama, but the end of material existence as such.

It is possible that both endpoints might coincide: a Fukuyaman stalemate being the eschatological accomplice of physical extermination. The “progressive” view of history would then be “vindicated”, relegating any notion of cycles to the dustbin. Perhaps no (human) witnesses would remain to affirm such a Hegelian “victory”, but a tree falling in the forest when nobody hears it still makes a sound.

Are there options left against a potential encounter between the “historical” and material endpoints? As of 2011, Fukuyama’s terminal as an eternal objective condition seems questionable. The ideological stasis might not have been exceeded yet, but the surface of planet earth is changing at a pace where deficient theoretical – and hence practical – ingenuity leaves future to the confinement of punitive circumstances.

In light of the prospects above, I ask “what is to be done?” This “we” could be  deep ecologists or some other radical group. The common denominator of these groups could be the search for alternative political ways beyond liberal democracy and/or Neoliberalism, which do not necessarily end up in totalitarianism. Also, thinkers from the past of different stripes should be consulted: whether they are hibernating or consigned to oblivion by the ravages of time, they might shed some light on our current situation in analogous terms. Hence, the approach to the history of ideas should not resemble the way scavengers approach their carrion. And there should be no cordon sanitaire around past thinkers who are deemed radioactive.

Many subversives might for instance scourge the prospect of consulting Liberals like Adam Smith (1723-1790) or John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), which is understandable along subversive lines. But these thinkers had insights regarding resource depletion. From Adam Smith  – most famous for his notion of “the invisible hand” – to John Stuart Mill early theorists of the wealth of nations were pessimistic about their societies’ long-term prospects for growth, and assumed that the productivity gains from specialization and the division of labour would be thwarted after a certain point by exhaustion of the soil and population increase. Smith and Mill argued that growth was expected to peter out after a time, arrested by changes endogenous to the growth process itself, and giving rise to a growthless stationary state.

The example of Smith and Mill is not a digression, because it captures the essence of the law of diminished returns: in manufacturing, diminishing returns set in when investment in the form of additional inputs does not cause a proportional increase in the rate of productivity.

While this is not exactly analogous to the processes that cause diminishing returns in increasingly more complex societies or an increasingly more complex science (ibid.) – where disciplines fail to communicate with each other – the term “diminishing return” might be helpful in contemplating some of the challenges ahead. In analogous terms, would specialization and division of labour between scientific disciplines be thwarted due to diminished returns? If so, what are the consequences in terms of finding alternative energy sources? This could be an additional research project of ecopolitical interest.

Consulting past thinkers – whether they are Smith, Marx, Heidegger or some  pre-modern traditionalists – could be a challenging task. They might shed light on some current predicaments in analogous terms, but the past is a foreign country. The commensurability with our own time is uncertain. Therefore we must also look beyond the horizon of our present and try to imagine an alternative future which follows a different trajectory. This is the task that Wallerstein calls utopistics: the analysis of possible utopias, their limitations, and the constraints on achieving them.

During the Cold War (and in Eastern Europe immediately after its end), Utopia had become a synonym for Stalinism and had to designate a program which neglected human frailty and original sin. As Fredric Jameson sees it, the relationship between Utopia and the political, as well as questions about the practical-political value of Utopian thinking and the identification between Socialism and Utopia, very much continues to be an unresolved topic.

Jameson seems to (selectively) confine the range of Utopias to the “Leftist” varieties. But Utopia should not be monopolized by Socialism or by any other ideology. If Utopia is any form of “ideal-state” which has not yet emerged, then the term “Utopia” is an empty shell which could be filled with an opulent repertoire of imagined societies. Hence, the range of Utopias is infinite: from feudalism to futurism, from absolutism to anarchism, from clericalism to libertinism, etc.

Paradoxically, according to Jameson, the increasing inability to imagine a different future enhances rather than diminishes the appeal and also the function of Utopia. As he sees it, the very political weakness of Utopia in previous generations – no account of agency, nor a coherent historical and practical-political picture of transition – now becomes strength in a situation in which neither of these problems seems to offer candidates for solution. Most interestingly for our ecological purpose, is that Jameson suggests developing an Angst about losing the future which is analogous to Orwell’s anxiety about the loss of the past and of memory and childhood.

This would be a good deal more intense than the usual rhetoric about “our children” (keeping the environment clean for future generations, not burdening them with debt, etc.); it would be a fear that locates the loss of the future, of history itself, within the existential dimension of time and indeed within ourselves.

The Angst about losing the future might be a point of departure, but how to proceed from there to something tangible? Gopal Balakhrisnan’s advice is: “To be politically effective, one must take stock of the remorseless realities of this [world], without recourse to theoretical ecstasy”.

Those utopians that do not ruminate on this message before they enter the great outdoors, run the risk of being beset by a veritable catalogue of disasters at worst.  But in a time when ecological impasse looms, the opposite  – the inability to imagine another world beyond the horizon of status quo – might even be more dangerous.  “What is to be done” first and foremost is to imagine other possible worlds. From the latter we could deduce “what we can hope for” through the tool of utopistics. Practical and concrete measures come thereafter: like what kind of strategies should be pursued if an ecopolitical transition is to be secured? For instance, would the solution be a partial withdrawal from the world by a “creative minority”, while the fallacies of the political status quo are simultaneously pushed to their ultimate conclusion?

Answers are not provided here, but such a strategy implies risk, but so do most other strategies in this regard as well. A quote by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1521) – who has often been regarded as the quintessential connoisseur of political intrigue – is of utopistic value:

“Fortune provided the matter, but they [Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus] gave it its form; without opportunity, their prowess would have been extinguished, and without such prowess the opportunity would have come in vain”.

– Machiavelli (1513) –

An ecological predicament would be a potential opportunity, but also a potentially insurmountable abyss. The prowess would be an equilibrium between utopistic sensibility/imagination and practical skills which take stock of the remorseless realities of  the world.

Reklamer

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The transition to liberalism takes place in an imperceptible manner, like continental drift, thus hiding its effects from view. Its most terrible consequences are those of the long term. These effects themselves are concealed, paradoxically, by the resistance to which this transition is currently giving rise among those who defend the old order by drawing on the resources it contained, on old solidarities, on reserves of social capital that protect an entire portion of the present social order from falling into anomie. This social capital is fated to wither away – although not in the short run – if it is not renewed and reproduced.

But these same forces of “conservation”, which it is too easy to treat as conservative, are also, from another point of view, FORCES OF RESISTANCE to the establishment of the new order and can become SUBVERSIVE forces. If there is still cause for some hope, it is that forces still exist, both in state institutions and in the orientations of social actors that, under the appearance of simply defending an order that has disappeared and its corresponding “privileges” will be able to resist the challenge only by working to INVENT and CONSTRUCT a new social order.

– Pierre Bourdieu (1998)

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Neoliberalismen behandles ofte som pornografi: man kan ikke definere hva det er, men det gjenkjennes når man ser det. Neoliberalisme er vanligvis et polemisk begrep for å omtale nåtidens dominerende tankevev. Den tas på en måte for gitt, og undertegnede er intet unntak. Selv om man slutter opp om kritikken av fenomenet [se f.eks ”Reisen til helvete på første klasse”], betyr det ikke at forståelsen er fullendt. Så hvordan fange denne usynlige dragen i ord?

Subversive aktivister som stormer barrikadene behøver selvfølgelig ikke å grave seg ned i dette tåkete gjørmelandskapet. Deres lodd er å skape konkret historie. Følge handlingens imperativ, heroisk og forvandlende. Allikevel, selv fotsoldatene må hente sin viljestyrke fra noe mer enn sitt eget mot. For noen må tenne deres gnist på ny, vekke troen på at en annen virkelighet er mulig og at det eksisterende systemets sotteseng ikke er reisens ende. Elitetroppene derimot, skal gå bak fiendens linjer. Lære seg hans språk og tilrane seg hans hemmeligheter. Avsløringsprosjektet går alltid forut for frigjøringen.

Man kan kun erobre neste VENDETID ved å erkjenne HVA den herskende tankeveven er: HVEM manet den fram, HVORDAN spredte den seg, gjennom HVILKE forpostfektere, lanseknekter og geriljasoldater? Philip Mirowski fra Notre Dame er kanskje den som har kommet lengst i å forstå neoliberalismens genealogi og VÆREN. I 2009 var han og  Dieter Plehwe fra Berlin redaktører for boken The Road From Mont Pelerin.  Som mye annet Mirowski har skrevet – bare for å nevne More Heat than Light og  The Effortless Economy of Science? – er dette en veritabel tour de force.

Et mesterverk i sin sjanger, og han skriver gjennomgående bedre enn gjengse norske akademikere (de siste er preget av yrkesskade og stilistisk uførhet). Referanserammen er ufattelig mye større, og han er like bevandret i verdenslitteraturen som naturvitenskap, matematikk, økonomi, historie og kontinental så vel som anglosaksisk filosofi. Han er et utdøende tilfelle av det klassiske Bildungsmensch, mer tysk og kontinental enn amerikansk. Kjemper som Mirowski bygger i fjell, mens akademiske dverger borer seg på stadig smalere felt. De siste mister helheten av syne og eksisterer på et areal tilsvarende et frimerke. Men nok polemikk for denne gang (jeg kunne ikke dy meg).

Over til det vesentlige: hvorfor er det så vanskelig å definere ”neoliberalisme”? En mer amorf tankevev kan neppe forestilles i dag. Den kan ikke reduseres til ti bud, og det finnes intet ”neoliberalt manifest”. Som Mirowski sier: De aller fleste forskere i USA anser begrepet om neoliberalisme som et innholdsløst skjellsord oppfunnet av venstresiden. Men neoliberalisme er en korrekt betegnelse på et reelt fenomen”. Problemet ligger i at de som stemples som ”neoliberale” aldri kaller seg selv for det. Derfor må man først dra på en begrepshistorisk reise og tørke støv av arkivert flaskepost fra det forrige århundret.

Vi behøver ikke å gjenta fortellingen om Augusto Pinochet, Margaret Thatcher og  Ronald Reagan som alle kjenner fra før. De to siste var bare kulminasjonen av et METAPOLITISK FORARBEID gjennom nesten to generasjoner. Uten denne premissleveransen hadde kanskje aldri deres revolusjon funnet sted. En omveltning som feilaktig fikk fortegnet ”konservativt”, mens det egentlig var snakk om marxismens mørkeblå tvilling. Konservatismen avgikk altså ved døden allerede ti år før man demonterte Jernteppet.

Ifølge Dieter Plehwe var det den sveitsiske økonomen Hans Honegger som i 1925 lanserte begrepet neoliberalisme. ”Neoliberalismen” til Honegger var imidlertid et annet kreatur enn mutanten som senere ekspanderte. Her er arven fra klassisk liberalisme fremdeles til stede. Frihet forstås utelukkende negativt, dvs. frihet fra ytre tvang og begrensninger. Men det var ikke før 20 år senere at neoliberalismen fikk sitt teoretiske momentum (etiketten ble riktignok løsaktig brukt av franske liberalere i Colloque Walter Lippmann på 1930-tallet).

Mirowski og Plehwe sporer neoliberalismens egentlige fødsel til 1947, da tankekollektivet Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS)  ble etablert for å skape et alternativ til klassisk liberalisme. Bortimot 40 økonomer og intellektuelle møttes for å diskutere fremtiden, liberalismen og den vestlige sivilisasjonens verdier. Initiativtakeren var den østerrikske økonomen  Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), og blant deltakerne på denne første kollokvien var en rekke andre fremtredende menn, blant dem Milton Friedman (1912-2006) og Karl Popper (1902-1994). Tankekollektivet tok sitt navn etter stedet de møttes i april 1947, nemlig Mont Pèlerin nær Montreux i Sveits. MPS var heterogent, og både libertarianere og anarkister deltok. Men de ble etter hvert marginaliserte.

Som allerede nevnt, er det ingen i dag som er selverklærte neoliberalister. I begynnelsen brukte faktisk medlemmene av MPS betegnelsen ”neoliberal” også om seg selv. Deriblant Friedman i en artikkel fra 1951. Det som har forvirret kommentatorer i ettertid, er at betegnelsen gikk ut av sirkulasjon i de innerste kretser allerede på slutten av 1950-tallet. Da insisterte de ikke lenger på at de representerte et brudd med den klassiske liberalismen. Mirowski mener allikevel at de forble nettopp neoliberalister, fordi deres grunnsyn var uforandret.

Neoliberalisme er ikke det samme som klassisk liberalisme. Motsetningen i neoliberalismen mellom stat og marked er en skinnmotsetning. Påstanden om at vi trenger mindre stat og mer marked, og at målet er en ekstremindividualisme av den typen Ayn Rand (1905-1982) forfektet er bare en myte (Rand var ingen neoliberaler). Hayek og Friedman trodde aldri på det. Staten var instrumentelt viktig for dem, og de var inspirerte av den autoritære tyske juristen Carl Schmitt (1888-1985).

Neoliberalistene har alltid søkt en OMDEFINERING av statens rolle, aldri dens utslettelse. De ønsker ingen minimalistisk nattvekterstat. Fri konkurranse er ikke nødvendigvis et gode, og monopoler er ikke nødvendigvis et onde sett fra Hayek og Friedman. Begge deler relativiseres. Og diktaturer kan være funksjonelle så lenge de er (økonomisk) liberale, som Hayek sa i et intervju med den chilenske avisen El Mercurio i 1981. Hayek innså allerede i 1920-årene at den klassiske liberalismen var stein død.

Hans senere arbeid var et svar på utfordringen som ble servert av Schmitt: ”Hvordan kan politisk orden og frihet sikres dersom staten ikke har andre begrensninger enn de lover som lages av dem som til enhver tid sitter i parlamentet eller regjeringen”? Vi skal ikke besvare gåten her, men det kan sies at den har forblitt uløst i det 21.århundret. Hayek tok ikke sikte på å konfrontere Schmitt direkte, men tillot seg heller å skumme fløten av arbeidet til Det tredje rikets kronjurist.

Mirowski tilføyer: ”Det går en anekdote om at Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) en gang stormet ut av et møte i MPS og skrek til de andre medlemmene: Dere er sosialister alle sammen! Det er en morsom historie. Samtidig er den ikke bare morsom, for den har en kjerne av sannhet i seg som de fleste overser. Von Mises så at de andre i en forstand VAR ”sosialister”, fordi de hadde et begrep om å styrke staten. Gruppen av teoretikere i MPS, med von Hayek, Milton Friedman mfl. i spissen, hadde langsiktige mål om endring av samfunnet. De var ikke konservative, de var radikale. Og de har lykkes. De skapte et system som gradvis har erobret sentrale institusjoner verden over. Det handler om en samfunnsmodell som er autoritær og hierarkisk i sitt vesen, og som vil skape et helt bestemt marked som er avhengig av en sterk stat”.

Da Mirowski gjestet Oslo i fjor høst, tegnet han opp et kart der han viste innflytelsen fra gruppen i MPS via universitetet i Chicago til dagens store amerikanske tenketanker som Cato Institute og American Enterprise Institute. Han var også opptatt av innflytelsen i Norge, der man kan spore en linje fra Trygve Hoff (1895-1982) – som var redaktør i Farmand og medlem av MPS – via Libertas til dagens liberale tenketank Civita.

Rekkevidden har omsider blitt planetarisk, selv om den kanskje har vært på retur de siste to år. Hemmeligheten bak neoliberalismens slagkraft er dels at den ikke erklæres for hva den er. Tåkelegging er altså hersketeknikk, selv om den er ubevisst av de fleste utøverne i dag. Ifølge Mirowski var den neppe ubevisst hos Hayek selv, som var den mest sofistikerte av MPS-medlemmene i både bredde og dybde (Friedman nådde ham ikke til knærne).

For Hayek var det ikke ønskelig at folks frihet skulle forlenges fra kunnskap i samfunnet til kunnskap OM samfunnet, fordi slik makrososiologisk selvransakelse om hvorfor man PASSIVT aksepterer ufullstendig kunnskap fører til spørsmål om hvorfor markedet skaper rom for visse former for kunnskap og undertrykker andre. Tilstrebing av et helhetssyn undergraver idealet om markedet som den ultimate informasjonsdevise. Hayek var ifølge Mirowski tilhenger av doktrinen om DOBBEL SANNHET: nemlig at den politisk-økonomiske eliten skulle forstå nødvendigheten av å undertrykke demokratiet, samtidig som massene ble oppmuntret til å erodere legitimiteten til ”formynderstaten”.

Christian Arnsperger skrev i 2007 at Hayek nektet andre det som ga sistnevnte en mening i livet: å teoretisere om samfunnet som HELHET, å hevde sin egen forståelse av MENINGEN og FORMÅLET med den menneskelige evolusjon, og viljen til å påtvinge den sin egen utopi gjennom et prosjekt som ikke var altfor langt unna den totalitarismen han selv kritiserte. Som Arnsperger nådeløst sier: ”[it is] a theory to end all theories; not so different from the end of history scenarios so beloved of his epigones”. Frihet – ikke minst frihet til å tenke helhetlig – må derfor være like ujevnt fordelt som materielle goder innenfor markedet.

Tatt ut av sin sammenheng virker dette som en konspirasjonsteori og en stråmannsanalyse der man tillegger Hayek synspunkter han kanskje ikke hadde. Dersom man kun leser det som er utgitt av Hayek så kan man kanskje tro det, men Mirowski og hans team har gått enda grundigere til verks. De har saumfart arkivet over referatene fra MPS og derfra konkludert med disse påstandene. Han tilføyer at historien om neoliberalismen ikke er risset inn i stein, og mye gjenstår å finne ut.

Allikevel er hans studium en upolert diamant som danner en plattform for de som ønsker å forstå historiens kanskje mest suksessfulle metapolitiske prosjekt. Deltakerne i MPS forstod utmerket godt nødvendigheten av interdisiplinaritet, og holdt seg unna akademias stadig mer sterile spesialisering. Dessuten lyktes de i å oppnå kontakter i maktens korridorer. Selv for de som føler aversjon mot neoliberalismen, er deres eksempel noe å lære av for alle de som har et seriøst ønske om å endre status quo.

Bak ethvert VIRKELIG vellykket opprør kreves det minst en generasjon – kanskje mer – med METAPOLITISK ouverture som spenner fra det esoteriske til det populistiske. Barn av den passiviserte allmuen og overløpere fra herskerklassen må organisk inngå i åndens stille veving før mulighetsrommet er sprengt fullt ut. Morgendagens forbundsfeller har kanskje ikke krysset hverandres spor enda. Selv om det murres i Spania, Hellas og Frankrike – samt andre land – og forholdene for et omslag blir stadig bedre tilrettelagt, hjelper det ikke om man samtidig ikke tar sikte på å skape en positiv visjon.

Konseptuell forståelse alene blir uansett altfor intellektuelt. Her må demningene som holder følelseslivet i sjakk åpnes. EKSISTENSIELL ANGST hos et bredt lag unge mennesker som instinktivt merker at deres liv er uten framtidshåp om det herskende tankevev holdes i live, er kanskje det eneste som kan bryte sirkelen. Angsten skal være fødselshjelper for viljen til mestringsopplevelse, mestringen av å gripe ØYEBLIKKET som igjen skaper LYSNINGEN for det autentiske håp. Historiens tilsynelatende slutt er bare et langt interregnum. For historien vil gjenfødes. Nemesis og Fortuna vil atter gi tilværelsen fylde.

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floatingmosque_full

APROPOS: «Wikipedia som metafor»

Av Philip Mirowski (2009):

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, claims that he got the idea for the site from his reading of Friedrich Hayek’s famous article on “The Use of Knowledge in Society”, the ur-text of the Mont Pèlerin thought collective. In other words, Wales subscribes to the precept that objective knowledge is a state rarely attained by any individual because his or her experience is subjective and idiosyncratic; that no individual is capable of understanding social processes as a whole. But given appropriate (market-like) aggregation mechanisms for information, the system ends up arriving at the truth through “free” entry and exit.

But Wikipedia in action is not some democratic libertarian paradise in cyberspace, but is rather predicated on a strict hierarchy, in which higher levels exist to frustrate and undo the activities of participants at lower levels. The notion that “everyone can edit” is simply not true; many controversial pages would not even exist were interventions from those lower down in the hierarchy not blocked.

I cannot resist highlighting the irony that Wikipedia, the purported poster child of neoliberalism, cannot even manage to get its own internal entry on neoliberalism straight. The conviction that the truth “emerges” from random interactions of variously challenged participants in the precincts of Wiki-world only holds water if we are allowed great latitude in the definition of “truth”. Neoliberals have great faith in the marketplace of ideas; and for them, the truth is validated as what sells.

The reader might object at this point: but Wikipedia is NOT a market and rejects advertising. Here is where the political lesson comes home. One must start by inquiring how it is that Wikipedia has managed to displace so many other comparable websites that also attempt to aggregate information into bite-sized chunks for the masses. There are two fundamental considerations that interact to sustain and promote its growth, and both of them are indeed related to neoliberal ideas.

The first is: the secret to a successful website in the dawn of the twenty-first century is that it attract or expropriate FREE INFORMATION and repackage it into formats that allow for capitalization and the creation of “derivatives” that can themselves be marketed. Sites like YouTube or Facebook or Twitter suck people into providing free content, which can be leveraged into something that can be retailed, such as advertising, personal information, marketing surveys or surveillance. Wikipedia accomplishes this by appealing to the VANITY of NONSPECIALISTS and AUTODIDACTS who are convinced their own lubrications deserve as much attention as that accorded recognized intellectuals.

Secondly, the success of Wikipedia is nonetheless traceable to how the site fits into the larger business plan of commodification of the Internet. In particular, the SYMBIOSIS of Google and Wikipedia goes quite the distance in explaining how it is that Wikipedia has been blessed with exponential growth. Google started out with a good search algorithm coupled to an essentially impossible goal: fast convenient access to everything on the Web. What Google needed for effective search was some other entity to preprocess the vast masses of dreck clogging the Web and crossreference the refined results in such a way that it would show up early on Google search results.

Conveniently, Wikipedia’s policy of citing everything from other sources exactly meshed with Google’s ranking algorithm. As in so many other instances, Google wanted access to such services for free. Thus Wikipedia materialized as a Godsend for Google’s business plan. Moreover, the supposed Chinese Wall between Google and Wikipedia makes it possible for Wiki-workers to think they are squirreling away for the betterment of humankind, while Google positions itself to the premier portal for information on the Web and the biggest corporate success of the “New Information Economy”.

What are we to take away from this Wiki-interlude? First and foremost, neoliberalism MASQUERADES as a RADICALLY POPULIST philosophy, which begins with a set of philosophical theses about “knowledge” and its relationship to society. It seems to be a radical leveling philosophy, denigrating expertise and elite pretensions to hard-won knowledge, instead praising the “wisdom of crowds”. It appeals to the vanity of every self-absorbed narcissist, who would be glad to ridicule intellectuals as “professional secondhand dealers in ideas”. In Hayekian language, it elevates a “cosmos” over a rationally constructed orders designed to achieve intentional ends.

But the linked lesson is that neoliberals are simultaneously elitists: they do not in fact practice what they preach. When it comes to actually organizing something, almost everything, from a Wiki to the Mont Pèlerin Society, suddenly the cosmos of a spontaneous order collapses into a constructed and intented end. In Wikipedia, what looks like a libertarian paradise is in fact a thinly disguised TOTALITARIAN hierarchy…It adds up to a “double truth” doctrine: one truth for the masses/participants and another for those at the top.

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