living at the end of history – capitalist realism


The idea of the end of History derives from Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Essentially Fukuyama posits the global dominance of liberal democracy as the terminus of historical development.  With the collapse of the USSR, it appeared that capitalism had won the ideological battle as the best provider of “equal recognition under the law”. At the End of History, there may still be inequalities in wealth and opportunity, but in principle everyone has equal status in the eyes of the law.  There is no serious progressive challenger to liberal democracy; individual status needs are to be managed by consumerism.  This idea gained common currency throughout the nineties and was tirelessly repeated: capitalism isn’t perfect but it’s the best system we have, or can have.

Carl Neville – Classless, Recent Essays on British Film

image : QVC

We live in a world in which we have been told, again and again, that There Is No Alternative.  Living in an endless Eternal Now, we no longer seem able to imagine a future that might be different from the present. Steven Shaviro

Following the biggest financial collapse since the 1930s, the apparent relief that astronomical government bailouts have returned us to ‘business as usual’ is surely proof that the expression ‘there is no alternative’ – once an extremist ideological battle cry – is now an accepted mainstream orthodoxy. This is a paradox…  on the one hand, the neoliberal faith in markets has been spectacularly discredited before the eyes of the world, together with the notion that obscene personal wealth – exemplified by banker’s bonuses – is a sign of general economic health; on the other hand, the only available response to such a monumental failure appears to be the most cautious, ameliorative regulation to get the old system up and running again. Dean Kenning

[This is] a subject that has frustrated and haunted me all my adult life-the seeming social, economic and cultural totality of late capitalism and the corresponding impossibility of offering any alternative to the system without hitting a brick wall of ‘being practical’ or ‘realistic,’ translated as ‘there is no alternative to the market.’ Underground Man blog

The last quotes – from Steven Shaviro, Dean Kenning and Underground Man – all come from reviews of Mark Fisher’s (author of the k-punk blog) book Capitalist Realism.

The call center experience distils the political phenomenology of late capitalism: the boredom and frustration punctuated by cheerily piped PR, the repeating of the same dreary details many times to different poorly trained and badly informed operatives, the building rage that must remain impotent because it can have no legitimate object, since-as is very quickly clear to the caller-there is no-one who knows, and no-one who could do anything even if they could. Anger can only be a matter of venting; it is aggression in a vacuum, directed at someone who is a fellow victim of the system but with whom there is no possibility of communality. Just as the anger has no proper object, it will have no effect. In this experience of a system that is unresponsive, impersonal, centerless, abstract and fragmentary, you are as close as you can be to confronting the artificial stupidity of Capital in itself. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

Neoliberal apologists can hardly claim that free market capitalism promotes equality; but our consumerist economy does promise pleasure and happiness, above all else. Why, then, are we in the UK suffering from epidemic levels of depression? Dean Kenning

end of history boys

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