BRIAN COYNE. The great fallacy of our neoliberal affluent times

Brian Coyne offers this addendum to what he wrote in response to Richard Cooke’s searing analysis of Rupert Murdoch and his publishing empire. It might be a difficult-to-appreciate observation for many in our world today:

I’m increasingly convinced that we’ve come to believe a massive fallacy in the post-Keynsian, neoliberal land of affluence we’ve enjoyed since the end of the Second World War. It’s a delusion. Collectively we seem to have conned ourselves that we “modern men and women” have finally found the holy grail of perpetual growth: how to stay ahead and continually look forward to next year being more prosperous than last year, and that our standards of living in the educated, affluent world would rise in perpetuity. There is nothing more to be discovered.

It is not only an affliction, or delusion, gripping the mega-wealthy like the Trumps and Murdochs who seem to be of the belief that it has been their cleverness, their brains, that have delivered to them the wealth and power they enjoy. Many in the “aspirational” middle classes, and even the working classes, have also become believers in this delusion – that we, “modern men and women”, have finally found “all the answers” – and that, even if we do not aspire to the wealth and power of the Trumps and Murdochs, at least we have the insurance policies, superannuation schemes, and welfare safety nets today preventing us facing the sort of penury and humiliation that so many of our forebears experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Despite our news media regularly reporting that the lower and middle socio-economic sectors of society are falling behind, even many in the middle classes are beginning to realise that the dream of their children owning their own home and having a higher standard of living than themselves is fading fast. I sense the new reality has not yet widely penetrated the aspirational sectors of society. They vote for Trump – or the wealthy, similar populists in so many other countries of the affluent first world, such as the Morrisons, Duttons and Palmers in our country – or read Rupert’s media in the belief that these people will lead them to some kind of nirvana where they will “feel great again”.

Personally, I am increasingly of the belief that we all still have much to learn about how our world, our universe, and human society, “ticks”. We’ve not yet found the elusive “holy grail” that guarantees affluence or even just financial security.

The lesson we still have to learn…

What we still have to learn is a critical lesson that is relatively new from the realms of fundamental physics; the realm that describes how our universe, and everything in it, “ticks”. The “critical lesson” that has not yet penetrated the general human psyche and mind is the discovery of the fundamental role that chance and randomness play in absolutely everything, down at the most fundamental, quantum level of nature. It is more fundamental than any other driving force in nature; from the insides of the smallest molecule and atom, to events on the largest, cosmological scale of where galaxies interact with one another and where we get the study of Black Holes.

At our macro-level of human experience we seem to be of the belief/delusion that we have finally defeated Madam Chance and Randomness with our sophisticated insurance and superannuation schemes, financial derivatives, future trading and modern understanding of economics and how our world operates politically. As I suggest, it has become some kind of “delusion of our age”. The powerful and wealthy amongst us, like the Trumps and Murdochs, are of the belief that their “success” is a product of their cleverness – that they have discovered “the art of the deal” that guarantees “success”. It has seeped down into the lower socio-echelons of society even to those who don’t aspire to mega-wealth but who only desire for security in their old age and retirement.

I’ve argued before on John Menadue’s website, that we urgently need a renewed appreciation of the massive and fundamental role that chance and randomness plays in the lives of each one of us. Within a spiritual and religious context, I’ve argued we need a new Theology of Chance and Randomness to replace the banalities of the Theology and Gospels of Prosperity and Abundance which have become a massive misreading of the insights that a pretty humble, Nazarene carpenter by the name of Jesus or, in Aramaic, Yeshua, brought into our world.

I believe today that chance and randomness are such a fundamental force in all of Creation, that even if there was some kind of Father Christmas Creator-God who lit the touch paper for the Big Bang, even He did not have the power to eliminate the role of chance and randomness in the outworkings of His Creation. That is how fundamental a force I believe it is.

What I am arguing is that collectively we, all of humankind, need to get our heads around the implications of the role chance and randomness play in the lives of each one of us – and in the political and economic order of humanity that so governs our welfare and future. Collectively, we human beings still do not yet have “all the answers”.

Brian Coyne is editor and publisher of the online website www.catholica.com.au . His formal tertiary degree was in Physics.

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6 Responses to BRIAN COYNE. The great fallacy of our neoliberal affluent times

  1. You are on to something Brian but where does it lead? Hopefully to Simone Weil and The Needs of the Soul. “Respect is due to the human being as such and is not a matter of degree.”

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      Totally agree.
      And before we get to the ‘Needs of the Soul’ perhaps a little attention to: ‘The Need for Roots.’ (Simone Weil). ? So that individuals who want to ‘think’ may do so from the position of strength that comes with security in self – in one’s right to be. Homelessness and dispossession destroy that sense of self – and that is where much of the world IS today.

  2. Bill McMahon says:

    I am intrigued with your “chance and randomness ” Brian. I have had this idea of providence as the engine of our direction (which verges on determinism)
    However great minds have wrestled with this issue. I sometimes think I am heading into madness. Great minds have wrestled with this issue. I have been rereading Peter Kelly SJ , his book “Searching for Truth” which raises this issue for me.

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      ‘Searching for Truth’ was the publisher’s suggestion for a title, or so the author told me. And he did that, apologetically, because he knew that I knew that the title was rank hypocrisy.

  3. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    This is something that is not new to The Irish amongst us…. the world’s 2nd-most successful Dispossessed?
    Kahnemann & Tversky won a Nobel prize for exegising the related economics of emotions and perceptions as determinants of human action. (Michael Lewis has written about this.).
    Dev Patel (slum dog) and Jeremy Irons have come closer in the film: The Man Who Knew Infinity – the Najarayan story, maths and physics for the masses?
    A Spoonful of Sugar helps the medicine go down.

  4. Evan Hadkins says:

    I think that’s right.

    Nic Taleb rights well about this (from what I can gather his politics is just to the right of Genghis Kahn).

    One implication is a shift from efficiency and optimisation to resilience and prevention. One interesting take on it is High Reliability Organisations. For an ecological approach focused on resilience there are two books by Walker and Salt, Resilience Thinking and Resilience Practice.

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