The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. (Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind)
For those of us who have seen lives and cities decimated by the ideological mantra of neoliberalism – ‘free markets’ and ‘privatization’ good/ public sector bad – the reality of this ideological stance is personal.
As a society we have under estimated the power of this ideology. Yet it has under pinned successive governments’ since Margaret Thatcher with a blueprint of how society should be structured and has determined what, and whom, counts in society, differentiating between the deserving and underserving. This ideology has provided governments with a framework to structure the role the state, the free markets, families and individuals in meeting need in society. It still is driving government policy and tells society who will receive what, how much it will cost, who will pay for it and how it will be provided. A particularly disturbing aspect of the current ideological crisis is the displacement of responsibility for ‘austerity’ and a failing public sector onto seemingly everyone, except those who have created it; uncaring leaders, an under regulated financial sector and sheer corporate greed.
However, the exercise of neoliberal ideology is not just about political power and the domination and oppression of those most marginalized in society. It also requires the consent and compliance of wider society to operate without challenge.
For real change to occur society needs to withdraw its consent and compliance if we want to see a shift away from the current approach.
Arguably our biggest problem has been the lack of vision our politicians seem to have had over the last 40 years. Regardless of political persuasion, few have been able to conceive of a world not centred around neo-liberalism and a free market, and those who have, have been pilloried in our increasingly biased media machine. The global pandemic provides an opportunity to forge a future based on compassion not consumerism, valuing people not things and respect for ourselves, each other and our environment.
Rejecting neoliberalism will do more long term good than sticking with the status quo. Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. Maybe the time is coming for us, the people, to be brave and imaginative and believe the unimaginable is possible for all our futures ……