Maybe people can’t think any other way

In Deep Green Resistance, Chapter 7, Aric McBay writes about the psychology of resistance. One of the first studies he discusses is this one.

“In the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments into social effects on perception. Asch set out to prove that when faced with a crystal-clear, objective question, a person’s judgment should not be affected by others.

Experimental subjects were brought into a room one at a time with people posing as participants: the experimenter’s confederates. They were shown a set of lines: a “reference” line, and several comparison lines of varying length, one of which matched the reference line. The experimenter asked the participants to call out which line matched. They did this twelve times with twelve different figures. The trick was that the fake subjects—the experimenter’s confederates—lied. They were instructed ahead of time to choose a line which was very clearly too long or too short.

After five false participants had stated their choice, the genuine participants would state their choice. The results of the experiment were completely the opposite of what Asch had expected. In more than half of the trials the subjects went along with the consensus, even though the correct answer was obvious. Some 25 percent of the participants refused to conform in every trial, but 75 percent of the participants gave the consensus answer at least once. Interviewing the participants afterward, Asch found that most people saw the lines correctly, but felt that since the rest of the group was in consensus, they themselves must be wrong. Some knew that the group was wrong, but went along with it anyway to avoid standing out. And some insisted, after the experiment had completed, that they actually saw the lines the same way as the rest of the group.” (p279-280).

The significance of this study for the authors of Deep Green Resistance was that most people are not psychologically suited for resistance. This study also illuminates how otherwise intelligent people can go around insisting that the penis is female. This is now the consensus in Liberal circles, and because it’s the consensus they either can’t or won’t believe anything else.

I was reminded of this study when I read an article recommended to me by commenter Liberationislife on this post. She was explaining to me that it’s not ideology that determines the relations of production, but the relations of production that determine ideology. She recommended this article to me, and I found it fascinating and informative but also difficult to wrap my head around. I have gone back to it every so often to read it again. It seems to me like this article is not just explaining historical materialism, but also Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Here are some quotes that relate to the fact that the relations of production determine ideology, from the article What is Historical Materialism? by Alan Woods:

“The notion that the development of the productive forces is the basis upon which all social development depends is really such a self-evident truth that it is really surprising that some people still question it. It does not require much intelligence to understand that before men and women can develop art, science, religion or philosophy, they must first have food to eat, clothes to wear and houses to live in. All these things must be produced by someone, somehow. And it is equally obvious that the viability of any given socio-economic system will ultimately be determined by its ability to do this.”

“In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production… The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence (which) determines their consciousness.”

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.”

This all makes me think that you actually cannot change the relations of production using ideology. It only changes due to processes of evolution. Of course, if all workers in the world adopted socialist ideology, we could change the relations of production relatively quickly. But if the method of production is actually what determines how we think, then how do we get most people to start thinking in another way?

I am always frustrated about how many people seem unable to think in any way besides Individual Empowerment and Choice™. But I’m starting to understand now that they’re psychologically unable to think any other way. Because our mode of production right now is neoliberal capitalism, that’s the only way people know how to think.

From the book Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction by Manfred B Steger & Ravi K Roy, here are some quotes about neoliberalism:

“Neoliberalism is a rather broad and general concept referring to an economic model or ‘paradigm’ that rose to prominence in the 1980s.” (p11)

“The view that people are isolated individuals whose actions reflect mostly their material self-interests.” (p2-3)

“The self-regulating market as the main engine powering the individual’s rational pursuit of wealth” (p2)

“The state is to refrain from interfering with the economic activities of self-interested citizens” (p3)

“rooted in competitiveness, self-interest, and decentralization, celebrates individual empowerment” P12)

Also, the authors note that the man who wrote the first founding principles of neoliberalism was Friedrich August von Hayek who, along with his intellectual associates, was “vowing to stem what they saw as the ‘rising tide of collectivism’ – be it Marxism or even less radical forms of state-centred planning” (p15).

Two prominent neoliberal politicians, Reagan and Thatcher, both dismantled the social safety net, destroyed unions, and lowered taxes on the rich, in order to eliminate the steps that had been previously taken toward collectivist government.

Neoliberalism is an ideology, an economic system and a set of government policies. The ideology is promoted through the media constantly.

Neoliberals “saturate the public discourse with idealized images of a consumerist, free-market world. Skilfully interacting with the media to sell their preferred version of a single global marketplace to the public, they portray globalizing markets in a positive light as an indispensable tool for the realization of a better world. Such market visions of globalization pervade public opinion and political choices in many parts of the world.” (p11)

Capitalism has been in place for quite a while (I’m not sure how long actually) and neoliberalism, which is a specific manifestation of capitalism, has been around for the last thirty years. That means that all millennials today grew up in neoliberal capitalism and it has been the economic system for their entire lives. It really shows.

People of any age can believe in the ideology of neoliberalism, and I think that older people are just as likely to believe in it as millennials. An important characteristic of the belief in neoliberal ideology is the inability to think of people as a collective or a class. The authors of Neoliberalism did actually note that neoliberalism deliberately sets out to oppose Marxism (quoted above). It has unfortunately worked very well. When I explain to people that although yes, people have individual rights, that’s not where my analysis ends and that’s not the end goal of my activism, they don’t always seem to get it.

I’m a bit clearer about why this happens now. Neoliberalism is shaping the way we think right from a young age, and it’s the economic system that is producing our material needs, and people are unable to think outside of this system. Those of us who do think outside the system just appear strange, misguided, or nonsensical to those who have bought into it.

This raises the question—how do we get people to think differently? And what mode of production will happen next, and what kind of ideology will it bring, when capitalism falls? That is if the entire planet hasn’t been destroyed of course.

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7 thoughts on “Maybe people can’t think any other way

  1. Ideas do matter. Although material reality produces ideology, dialectical forces produce counter-ideologies. Everybody would have the same worldview if this were not the case. The inherent contradictions in the capitalism make counter-ideologies to neoliberalism attractive. Unfortunately, not all of those counter-ideologies are good for humankind or the planet, e.g. religious fundamentalism, fascism, populist conservatism, etc. Remember that history and thought are dialectical. People will think differently – you just have to tease out those ‘different’ thoughts, analyse them, make them coherent, so that they can effect useful social change.

    People need to remember that Marxism is supposed to be dialectical, as well. It should adapt like society. It’s not a religion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think similar environments and technologies necessarily lead to similar social structures.

    For example, both early Mesopotamian and Indus Valley civilizations relied on agriculture and irrigation. Mesopotamia developed hierarchical city-states. And based on city planning and house sizes, the Indus Valley doesn’t seem to have.

    For another example, both classical Roman and late Roman civilization relied on regionally varied types of agriculture. Classical Rome had a mix of free farmers and slaves, while Late Rome had an increasing proportion of serfs.

    I think warfare probably created the state, patriarchy, slavery, serfdom, and capitalism…

    Like

  3. As a liberal, i really hate that term “neoliberal”. It may be neo, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with liberalism at all, it seems more like rebranded libertarianism.

    Like

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