The Erosion of Neoliberal Ideas in the West


“By some it is said that only the strong arm of government can protect men against the brutal oppression of their machines; by others that only the power of government can realize the beneficent promise of the machines. But all agree that in the recent progress of technology there is some kind of deep necessity which compels mankind to magnify the sovereignty of officials and to intensify their intervention in affairs. The modern state holds its sovereign power by grace of the gods of the machine.” – Lippman, 1938

“Liberalism” takes many forms, but common between all of them is the goal of undermining authoritarian forces for the sake of empowering the individual Older forms of Liberalism sought to free the individual from officially sanctioned privilege of the ruling classes who feared that placing power in the hands of the masses would lead to chaos. Liberals in the United States and France responded with a host of works that lead to newer systems of capitalism to replace the mercantilism before it and the democratic state to replace multi-class systems.

By the early 19th century, the scope of power for these democratic states had grown as a response to warfare, economic hardship, and new ideas of how wealth redistribution may benefit the whole. Neoliberalists like Lippman and Hayek argued that class-based authoritarianism which stifled the individual in the previous era had been replaced by a tyranny of the majority.

In every case, the antipathy toward liberalism comes from the fear that the masses will be unable to act on their own behalf. Today in the west, we have new fears about whether individuals can be trusted to attend their own ends without paternalistic forces helping make decisions on their behalf.

At a philosophical level, the belief in human agency – the philosophical kernel of neoliberalism – has been radically called into question on a number of fronts. An increase in cognitive psychological research has argued quite thoroughly that the paradigms of individual agency that neoliberalism originally rested on – namely that individuals can be relied upon to make their own rational decisions – has been repeatedly debunked.

The zeitgeist of the early 21st century argues that human individuals are influenced by morals1)See Jonathan Haight and short-term gains than by rationality. Neoclassical economics – the traditional foundations of neoliberal economic arguments have given way to the wave of Behavioral economics which replaces the rational “homo economous” human with humans that are driven to make predictably irrational 2)Predictably Irrational decisions most of the time based more on habits3)The Power of Habit and simple behavioral factors rather than deeper cognition4)Thinking Fast and Slow. Luckily, using “libertarian paternalism,” humans can be “nudged5)Nudge” most of the time toward better decision making. The economics community – and the western world at large – seemed to turn toward this idea in full force when the 2017 nobel prize in economics was awarded to Richard Thaler, the Obama administration commissioned “nudge units6)Source Needed)” and the European Union turned toward these practices to influence its own citizenry.7)Source Needed

This shift represents a fundamental shift away from the individual human as cognitive agent to the human as an animal that can be nudged and channeled by artificiality in the material and social world around her. We are no longer human centered – we are designing systems that humans happen to be a part of. That we are seeing a shift in the patrons of design from the corporate world toward NGOs, Governments, and Healthcare institutions is a further reflection of this shift.

In a more pragmatic sense, many aspects that the neoliberal frame has traditionally considered externalities have come into focus even in the corporate world. In an economic sense, we see the late 20th century emphasis on building wealth in an absolute sense – neoliberalism’s classic benefit – giving way to an increased focus on equality. While neoliberals argue that “a high tide raises all boats,” their opponents argue that equality is more important than simple, objective quality of life improvements. ((Probably should mention Pickety here.

Conversations about the environmental impact to material wealth have also started to enter the mainstream consciousness, and in a more ephemeral sense, the concept of “dignity” has yet again evolved, placing higher demands on human systems than traditional neoliberal institutions seem able to provide.

…de-platforming idea and the erosion of debate and critical thinking in practice

 

A Shifting the Center of Gravity Eastward


More profoundly – and of much more consequence for design on the world stage – is the rise of the east, and of China in particular. While the Tiger economies (list) and the Dragon (China) have adopted a few tenets of capitalism to feed their rapid growth, there has never been adoption of the philosophical ideas in the east of which neoliberalism is based. As the center of gravity of the commercial world shifts eastward, the underlying cultural values that design, as a practice and as an industry, rests on will become considerably more Asian.

What are these values and how are they likely to shape the future of design? I explore these in Section II.

2.2 The Garden: Macro Sociological Forces in the 21st Century world

2.3 The Seeds: Value structures of the East and New West

How should we think about difference in culture?

If young Turks drink Coca-Cola, this does not necessarily affect their attitudes toward authority. – Geret Hofstende

In Part I, we identified The Seeds, that is, the cultural values from which design method and practice grow from, as well as The Garden, the economy and society that they grow in.

There is an immense desire to conclude that because the material aspects of the world appear to be in convergence, that the social or psychological forces driving individuals and groups may also be in a state of convergence. From the perspective of sociologists that study intercultural values, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Geret Hofstede, who has studied organizational cultures across the world for several decades is quite blunt: “There is no evidence that the values of present-day generations from different countries are converging.”

Hofstede describes an “onion model” of culture consisting of four layers. The three outer layers of easily identifiable “practice,”: Ritual, Symbols, and Heroes. The inner core consists of “Values,” which he describes as “broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others.” He continues:

…young Turks differ from old Turks, just as young Americans differ from old Americans. In the “onion” model, such differences mostly involve the relatively superficial spheres of symbols and heroes, of fashion and consumption…Culture change is slow for the onion’s core, labeled values.

If Hofstende, and a number of other that study cross-cultural values are correct, the similar surface-level changes that we see across the world are not evidence if fundamental values changes among growing populations.

The Dis-embedding of Design


“There is something in the move to the mind-centred view which has given us a fatal susceptibility to atomistic theories. Philosophy keeps having to climb out of them.” – Charles Taylor, A Secular Age

Both Nesbit’s (2003) single-axis analysis of cultures and Hofstende’s () individualism axis show Anglo cultures – and the United States in particular – as outliers not only relative to Eastern cultures, but most measured cultures in the world. The vectors in particular that these neoliberal cultures ….

To understand this to a finer resolution, it helps to understand the effects that Western Europe – and the Germanic, French, and Anglo-Saxon cultures in particular – underwent during the enlightenment era.

Sociologist and political scientist Charles Taylor describes the broad transition from medeaval European cultures through the Enlightenment era as a period of “disembedding.”

…What Taylor refers to, of course, is the transition from an earlier, more wholistic sense of the christian god as an embedded force in a coherent and wholistic universe to the “secular” christian god of the modern era that both operates outside of the logic of the universe and invites his followers to also disembed themselves from it. It is thanks to the breaking apart of God, man, and the rest of the universe that liberals and neoliberals alike attribute the Protestant world’s Webberian work ethic (Fukuyama Quote).

Even in the modern era, there are measurable differences between eastern and western minds’ propensity to dissembled objects from their contexts. (Nesbit…)

Shifting metaphors – from mechanisms to…


It seems that both in the east and the west we’re seeing a shift toward a more moral, less mechanistic world. This is a change of philosophy in the west, and a continuity in the east becoming more important because the east is growing.

neoliberalism is built around the idea that freedom of movement is a good thing – it helps us realize the potential of a large group of individuals. Freedom of movement, though, is no longer stressed

* Chinese see it as a way to control things
* the political right in the west sees it as a bad thing – free movement of capital, but no longer import talent
* The left in the west is mixed, wanting essentially the opposit of what the right wants – limitations on capital movement by increased freedom for human movement.

We’ve moved on – especially in the last 20 years – from believing that humans have agency. The brief democratization that HCD gave us has already given way to the temptation to influence people through constructed environments and objects. In the west, this is a somewhat morally-driven shift. In the east, it has been obvious from the beginning.

In both the east and the west, we see a turn away from the humanistic ideals of the late 20th century toward a more paternalistic morality and design. In the west, we see a conversational shift from giving freedom to the consumer to make her own choices toward a desire for constructing systems that impose limits. Interestingly, these limits are willingly accepted by the majority of consumers. We also see a shift away from neoliberalism in what is lacking – years ago there was widespread outrage when Americans learned their government was tracking things and hiding nefarious deeds from them. In this day in age, these revelations continue more frequently and to ever greater magnitudes, but public concern tends to be more driven by partisainship than principles.

In the east, where I argue a new energy aroudn design is likely to grow, the underlying measured morality of the people is based on fundamentally different principles. Harmony is primarily stressed,

Fukyyama argues that man needs not oly material needs, but ks also faced with thr metaphysical need for recognition “as a man” from his fellow men. His Hegalian-Kojèvian notion of “the first man” created this recognition through mortal combat and victory over his fellow man – implying a strong sense that this recognition is primarily based in the empiracl demonstration of power.

It may be of note that liberals start from the assumption that individual men are in a constant state of war, and thus the purpose of social institution is to mitigate this tendency. Other traditions, whether from forign soil or simply more modern western interpretstions of moral psychology and evolutionarly biology cannot possibly rationalize the idea of the individual man. Man is, by nature, always embedded in a society, so while he may have an individualistic desire for personal recognition within the group, it is not a prerequisite that he has ever seen himself as an individual existing apart from it.

Chinese philosophy and thought is extremely different. Instead it prizes:
* 1…
* 2…
* 3…

 

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. See Jonathan Haight
2. Predictably Irrational
3. The Power of Habit
4. Thinking Fast and Slow
5. Nudge
6. Source Needed)” and the European Union turned toward these practices to influence its own citizenry.((Source Needed
7. Source Needed

This shift represents a fundamental shift away from the individual human as cognitive agent to the human as an animal that can be nudged and channeled by artificiality in the material and social world around her. We are no longer human centered – we are designing systems that humans happen to be a part of. That we are seeing a shift in the patrons of design from the corporate world toward NGOs, Governments, and Healthcare institutions is a further reflection of this shift.

In a more pragmatic sense, many aspects that the neoliberal frame has traditionally considered externalities have come into focus even in the corporate world. In an economic sense, we see the late 20th century emphasis on building wealth in an absolute sense – neoliberalism’s classic benefit – giving way to an increased focus on equality. While neoliberals argue that “a high tide raises all boats,” their opponents argue that equality is more important than simple, objective quality of life improvements. ((Probably should mention Pickety here