Saturday, 5 November 2011

Organised Religion Vs Neoliberalism

Please note: I make no judgement on any individual, no matter what their beliefs. It is the systems themselves I criticise, as is my right. Not believing in free will (what we have today is a long way from deserving that term), I cannot condemn any individual that has had to live life through these systems.

I want to ask something of all the skeptics out there regarding religion and Neoliberalism. This is a sincere plea; I am a long-time skeptic and would genuinely be thrilled if anyone can spare the time to explain what I hope I am missing. I just want to know peoples thoughts on why I cannot find a single skeptic speaking out specifically on the issue.

See, there are plenty of discussions about religion in the skeptic community, despite it's rather glaring similarities with the political system the majority of skeptics lives are governed by, my own included.

BOTH are doctrinal ideologies conceived by the few and imposed upon the many. Rather than priests etc we have politicians, economists and CEO's. Having "power" to vote politicians into office does not make a difference, morally, in this analogy; would it have made a difference if the Church chose two candidates and asked you to pick? Nor does the fact we have different political parties make a difference; show me which one does not accept Neoliberalism.

BOTH make claims of salvation/prosperity for all those that participate (to the extent they decree), based not on evidence but on outdated books and ideas of human nature. Apparently a "rising tide raises all ships". I think that's the technical terminology anyway for the justification for deregulation in the 70's and 80's. "Trickle-down effect" was another. Yet no one really seems to care that after 30-40 years, not only is there no evidence to show it's true but it has laid the foundation for the ideology to get even more extreme; it has made a virtue out of extreme wealth and managed to convince many people that Greed is Good. I thought extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence? Corporations are people? Now we are just getting ridiculous...

BOTH believe in trying to attain a utopian fantasy. For Heaven read Free Market, a creed which ignores the role of inheritance, ignores the use of money in securing and retaining power through politics, ignores that for the free market to be theoretically feasible, we would need to start from scratch on a level playing field with complete transparency and a public right to corporate data.

BOTH used their monopolies on cultural production to shape peoples identities. Our culture has become suffused with the messages of Neoliberalism, no less so than religious culture pre-enlightenment. We are assaulted from dawn till dusk, day-in-day-out with aspirational images and messages specifically designed to exploit our lack of free will and to manipulate us into spending money (even when we have none). Live through this culture and the chances are you will not ever question it. That's called indoctrination, same as it ever was.

BOTH are quite capable of inflicting massive amounts of suffering on 'others' not of their ideology. We seem well aware (and happy to remind those who claim religion is needed for morality) of religions involvement in the history of warfare . Well, guess what? Need evidence? Oh Dear... I think the bigger question is why you've not come across any yourself.

BOTH govern with a moral code defined and controlled by those in power, which in turn favours those in power disproportionately. Perhaps if they did a swap, and a CEO of Goldman Sachs turned out to be a child molester and a group of Priests brought down the global economy, then we might see some accountability (at least you would hope so)?

BOTH target heretics who dare question their doctrine or authority. Although, to be fair, the lions share of the violence and power in this regard the last few decades hasn't been Religion. Certainly women have been coming under a fair amount of fire regarding reproductive health issues, but religion isn't the one with an intelligence agency employing millions, a police force brutally targeting peaceful protesters, a CIA agency kidnapping people of the streets and detaining them without charge for years in secret prisons, an army that requires further racial-indoctrination so that the soldiers can do as the rulers bid and a national media establishment under it's direct ownership and control. Funnily enough people also get accused of not speaking out because to do so would make their careers, shall we say, difficult? Something to think about.

BOTH prey on the weak, with all the good intention in the world, in order to spread their power. Religion had missionaries; Neoliberalism had the Chicago School of Economics. Graduates moved into the ranks finance ministries of whichever country that found itself on the IMF's agenda. Once there, often by virtue of Neoliberal-backed dictatorships, they would oversee mass-privitisation of state assets (much to the profit of US companies), rocketing unemployment, slashed public spending, and exploding inequality (with all the misery it brings). Naomi Klein and Joseph Stiglitz, among others, have written extensively on this.

So, like organised religion, Neoliberalism is a all-encompassing doctrinal ideology promising salvation it cannot achieve, one that causes immense suffering to others whilst not tolerating any dissention, without any scientific evidence to back it up.

Let me ask you this. We skeptics want a world based on reason and evidence, correct? Then why should politics be excluded? It is based on questions of human nature, and area of study that while particularly contemporary (pre-MRI? Pfft, forget it) is nonetheless now adequate to dismiss these Neoliberal fantasies. How can it be physically possible that an ideology born decades ago could even be remotely accurate?

The one major difference between religion and Neoliberalism is that, in Western democracies at least, religion is responsible for an ever decreasing amount of suffering comparatively speaking. Neoliberalism is the dominant fundamentalist ideology of today; that is what should be skepticism's top priority were we to honestly apply criteria consistently

Change is coming. I don't want people to look back and ask where we were as a community. Don't we pride ourselves on being objective, being consistent? You know what I see in the Occupy movement? The recognition that individuals dont have the answer, that answers only come from evidence and discussion. I see natural skepticism... this movement has emerged around the world with a shared identity already there and it is not the product of an ideological few. It is a crowd-sourced identity, inspired by people around the globe, who have all come to the same conclusions regarding Neoliberalism based on the evidence. It has gotten so bad that they have spontaneously come together in over 900 cities, giving up their lives temporarily to say enough is enough. How have things gotten this far without the matter being given serious attention by the skeptical community?

Imagine if thousands were occupying against the immorality of religions place in the public sector... we would be all over it. I thought I would find support,yet all I hear is cynicism from my peers when I'm merely trying to be consistent, cynicism largely indeterminable from Neoliberal trolls that pester me for having a conscience.

Skepticism isn't just for hard science. It should be for everything that has impact in our public world. Besides, there is data and evidence out there, there is knowledge about how we have evolved and what is good for the mind. Our relative nature is but one piece of evidence not only ignored by Neoliberalism but actively opposed, all for money. Are concerns about empiricism enough to justify not lending our voice against this dangerous ideology?

I can only conclude that were the skeptical community living in the 16th Century, they would ignore the Church and instead focus all their energy on the relatively harmless fortune-teller. A week ago even I would have dismissed this as absurd. I'm not going to go through the possible objections yet because the type of answers I get are integral to the question itself, so I will answer any replies below the line. Also, before you post your reply, just consider 1) what the answer might be were you talking about religion instead of neoliberalism and 2) where the answer comes from and is that the equivilent of taking the Church's word on the matter?. I have found that often sheds light on the matter.


skepolitical said...

I agree with the gist this post and there is a lot to talk about here, but I'm not sure I understand exactly what neoliberalism is, or what you mean it to mean. Not to say you haven't made a cogent point, it's just that neoliberalism is one of those words that seems to mean different things to different people. Like "post-modernim" or avant garde. what exactly do those words mean?

Ben King said...

A working definition of neoliberal here would be the form of democratic governance seen in the west pretty much since Reagan and Thatcher, that is ideologically bound to the idea of the free-market as a panacea.

Economically they follow the theories of Friedman, and through the neoliberal IMF force foreign countries to open their markets to US companies, privatise all sectors and slash all public welfare. It is a one-size-fits-all approach with zero evidential success. Indeed, it has led to many a dictatorial ruler being supported in order to implement these plans.

Theoretically framed in such a way as to invoke its benefits to the greater good, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. Inequality has skyrocketed the whole time.

skepolitical said...

See, I would consider the idea of the viewing the "free-market" (in pedant-quotes b/c there's really no such thing IMO as a "free" market) as a panacea is more a "market fundamentalist" perspective than a "neoliberal" perspective. But regardless, i tend to agree, but there's definitely an overwhelming amount of evidence that there's a benefit to reducing government involvement in the economy to an extent.

It's like most things in life - i.e. it's a balancing act. Too little "G" in the macro economic equation is bad, as is too much.

The correct ratio seems to depend largely on the type of government you're dealing with. i.e. it has to be fine tuned to based on the country you're dealing w/.

In the USA, our central government was designed to be a loosely organized, inefficient mess, and therefore I think the ideal level of government involvement here is relatively less than in Europe (government spending of around 20% of GDP seems to be ideal in my estimation).

Whereas in Europe, where you have smaller, more concentrated population masses and stronger central governments, I'd say the ideal level of governemtn spending would be closer to 30-35% of GDP.
That's just my own rough estimate though.

As for third world hegemony based on neoliberal ideology (e.g. Pinochet in Chile), I'd say that there was some undeniable economic growth as a result, but there was also a lot of suffering and injustice (i.e. atrocities). But that could be due more to having an SOB as dictator in chief than economic freedom...

Ben King said...

TBH, with the market-fundamentalist chicago school of economics being central within neoliberal evolution, they are indistinguishable on economic grounds.

Certainly having an SOB as dictator in chief aint great, but it isn't a separate issue. Oftentimes these dictators received support from the U.S. so that these reforms could be forced through, often for geo-political (stopping them going commie)as much as economic reasons.

I aint no fan of government, neoliberal or not (in the same way I'm not a fan of corporations or organised religion). I fully accept their necessity *up till now* of course.. but I do not think that status should go unquestioned much longer. The longer we go, the more immoral and corrupt they become since they are not evolving at the same rate as civil society.

Were you to establish a government from scratch, using today's technologies, it would be utterly different to the current 18th century relics that are struggling to remain relevant.