Called, "DiEM TV: Another Now with Yanis Varoufakis," this, one of several Varoufakis videos, focuses on how to break up Amazon dot com - but then passes on to how to break up the feudal world order. Varoufakis has unique experience of the global financial-political system, and so he does a good analysis of Amazon's engulfment of the real world and of feudal capitalism. Most interesting is his advice on how to break this behemoth down to size via Lilleputian-style exploitation of the financial system. Part of the video involves Varoufarkis reading from a novel he recently published about a global-democratic revolution after the 2008 financial collapse, Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present. You may or may not hold Varoufakis's communistic value solutions, but his methodology could also play out with many different new kinds of polities. I enjoyed this mixture of Socratic style and Swiftian analogies. You may wonder at his aiming ammunition at Amazon dot com, when his books sell there, but he says his publishers choose to market them there. This does not detract from his analysis. You may also wonder about his understanding of alternative energy resource-limits, but that also should not prevent you from learning from this analysis. Video inside article.
It's not an easy life described within the covers of Donna Ward's semi-autobiography, She I dare not name: A spinster’s meditations on life, Allen and Unwin, NSW, 2020. In a vocabulary measured with precision but rich with imagery, Ward evaluates her experiences as an unmarried woman who achieved this status without wanting it at all. The book is very honest in its descriptions of how this came about and the importance that it has in defining the course of Donna’s life. The term "spinster," is initially called up like some daemonic creature. It is something she almost dare not name! As we read on, we realise that spinsters are not gothic inventions, but human like their married counterparts, probably equally defined by hazard.
It seems to be a case of pot luck that brought Donna to the point of which she writes, in a book finished in her sixty-seventh year.
Donna describes early years rich in experience of nature and travel, warm relationships with larger-than-life parents, and the birth of a young sister in her early childhood. This was however an event notified by her father, only one day prior, with something like sexual shame.
“He said this as if he barely understood anything about it , as if it was something Camille and Mum had cooked up between themselves that very day , something so shameful he’d had to fly all the way home to sort it out, though I didn’t think he was doing a good job of it.”
Mostly, however, her account of her childhood reads almost like a comforting and exciting slide show with non-sequential images and vignettes, depicting mostly carefree recollections. One senses though, that Donna’s parents are involved with each other more than they are with Donna, and that their relationship with her has conditions attached. In primary school, Donna experiences a “desperate relationship with spelling and arithmetic,” to the extent that she is sent to a psychiatrist. No-one can determine whether she is “brilliant or dumb.” Her mother cannot hide her shame from Donna. By the time Donna is ten, though, she is a good student.
It's in adulthood that the going gets really tough. Donna also indicates that she has a very poor relationship with her sister. Where she might have expected to benefit socially in many ways, from an introduction into her parents' well-connected circle in WA mining world, instead, having chosen to do social-work, she is marked as an outsider.
Ward moves from Perth, Western Australia, to Melbourne, Victoria, as a young woman, and predictably has to make her own way in the big city. She shares houses but mostly lives alone. She goes to university and gains her degree. She lands her ‘dream job’ but loses it to a male in the ‘recession we had to have’, as it was termed by the then Federal Treasurer Paul Keating, in 1990.
This job-loss was probably a defining point in Donna’s personal development. Where professional status might have compensated an early lack of unconditional love and brought her earning capacity and social rank up to something recognisable to her former peers, her job-loss plunges her into indeterminate socio-economic status. In parallel with other isolated social and economic victims of economic rationalism, she must individually craft a new survival path. She achieves this with difficulty, an exotic traveller in the new age, finally emerging as a neo-classical philosopher on non-marriage.
Descriptions of her social encounters give the reader a sense of her tumbling around in a sea of strangers interspersed with special friends and lovers poetically anonymised for publication as archetypes or as characters in Ancient Greek tales. Our heroine or protagonist does her best with what she encounters. The life she grapples with is one that has no markers or guideposts and she feels herself to be at the mercy of the preferences of the males she becomes involved with, or the narrative they see for their lives, with respect to other female players. Then again, it was she who decided not to go through with marriage to a Japanese fiancé. In her chapter, ‘The Weight of a child’, we glimpse another of life’s cul-de-sacs as she briefly recollects terminating a pregnancy that resulted from rape.
“I could not have that child, the conception had been so rude. The way his father pushed me onto the couch, held me at the throat, tore my panties and took his revenge, took what I had denied him years before. […] In the autumn of 1977, when the jacarandas were yellowing and the plum trees sapping their leaves, I let that child go, lest I be tied to his father for the rest of my life. I believed another child would come along. (Ward, Donna. She I Dare Not Name: A spinster's meditations on life (pp. 248-249.)
No-one seems to be looking out for Donna, our heroine. She just has to take it on the chin. Is this a failing of her character or is it due to the milieu and time she finds herself in? We found her a very likeable character. In many ways we were reminded of our own photogenic childhoods with happy pictorial vignettes bathed in yellow light, freedom, and cosiness, along with similar struggles in adulthood.
This narrative raises the question: How does a young woman in a big city, away from her parents and her natal community, find love, or find that suitable person with whom to form a family? It is clear from Ward's writing that that her drive to ‘nest’, to be part of a couple (duo), and to have a child, is very strong. It seems both hormonal and social. She wants to be part of the world of couples, to alleviate loneliness, to find security, and to change her status. In the face of disappointment, she soldiers on courageously, but her essentially solitary situation – despite friends and jobs - makes her vulnerable to predatory or incompetent approaches.
She mentions serial recoveries from the emotional hurt of broken relationships. Is life really meant to be so hurtful and stressful? Many women and men would relate to the bruising nature of the relationship-seeking process in the 20th and 21st century urban social environment.
The author describes her experiences, starting in the 1970s until the present. Dating is one way we do this in the West. Both parties do a series of interviews over dinner and this process can go on for years. There are more casual opportunities in which to evaluate potential partners, such as clubs with shared activities, like tennis, bushwalking, or Meetups; churches, political groups, universities, and work. A friend of mine met her life-partner and husband through an ad in a ‘singles magazine’ in the 1980s. These days she might have found him via internet dating services.
The quest for a mate is not a level playing field between men and women if they want children, as the woman is almost invariably up against time constraints. These constraints become increasingly urgent as she moves from her twenties to her thirties. A woman has a brief period in her life from about age sixteen to twenty-five, when she is most sought after by men her own age as well as those considerably older. In terms of sexual attractiveness, she has the odds in her favour then, more than she will have at any time in the future.
If she misses this opportunity to light on the ideal partner, or at least a suitable one, she has her work cut out. It will dawn on her gradually, as she approaches thirty, that really there is not much time and there is a decreasing number of men to choose from.
The finishing post in this ‘race’ is usually considered to be forty, after which a woman will not necessarily expect to ever conceive. If she wants to and she does, it will be a bonus in any permanent partnership she manages to secure.
The woman is, as was Donna Ward, expected, under this pressure, to make a wise assessment of the men who cross her path, to get to know them better than superficially, and to try not to get hurt. Whether she will have descendants depends on how she negotiates this situation. Adding to the difficulty of the task, in her most propitious years, she is necessarily young and inexperienced.
How could our society better provide a benign environment for young marriageable people to meet in relative safety? Should mothers give guidelines to their daughters as to how to as to how to negotiate the situations they will face? Did most mothers also have to just find their way through the minefield? Did they think, "Well I had to do it, and my daughter now faces the same challenge!"
Do most of us leave this all-important decision to complete chance? The writers' parent’s generation, reaching adulthood in the 1940s, were more connected, and their parents more so. They did not often travel far or without introductions. They grew up in more predictable communities with pathways to identifiable milestones (rites of passage) and traditions, and relatives and connections, for negotiating these. At the same time, in the Anglosphere and Europe, in the 1950s and 60s, a burgeoning manufacturing industry meant plentiful jobs. An explosion in energy resources and transport allowed people to commute by car to work, from affordable housing in new estates on land once out of reach. That meant more people could move out of home, get a job, and get married. It was called the Baby Boom. Unfortunately, the explosion just kept magnifying and accelerating globally until mass transport and travel broke time-worn connections, dispersing people, at ever increasing speed to the four winds, far away from the familiar pathways, milestones and traditions.
Thus, our heroine dispersed like a dandelion seed and landed in Melbourne, apparently without any significant connections, in a city with diminishing social capital.
Did most women of her generation negotiate the getting hitched and having children part successfully - if not forever or until ‘death us do part’ - at least for long enough to have a child or two? Why did some, like our heroine miss out, or was the experience more common than we may think? Good luck finding statistics on how many women die without having children. As you can see from the graph, the unmarried proportion of the population has been steadily increasing since the 1970s oil-shock.
Maybe those who did not partner for long enough to have at least one child lacked the connections to find a suitable partner. This seems to be the case with Ms Ward. Many of her encounters with men seem accidental, lacking formal introduction or context, and so she lacks essential information. In assuming reciprocally honest interactions, she is fooled, more than once, by men who are thus easily able to conceal the fact that they are already partnered. Positive tit-for-tat, where good deeds and bad deeds are quickly reciprocated is only possible in viscous societies, where people stay close to where they originate from. Melbourne’s population is close to thirty-five per cent diaspora. Another way of saying this is that people can get away with breaking trust in an anonymous or constantly changing population, unless they belong to a stable enclave within it. Donna didn’t.
A major part of Ms Ward's serial emotional recoveries from serial romantic disappointments come from the blow to her self-esteem, because she mistakenly believes that there must be some flaw in herself, invisible to her, but which these men can see.
A more informed perspective might explain, however, that Ms Ward is a stranger trying to make her way in foreign territory, where her pedigree is unknown, where she has little or no personal status. She does not read the signs accurately or speak the local social language fluently. She is proceeding using signs she learned in West Australia for a small network there, which has probably gone extinct. She did not avail herself of that network when she was in West Australia because she had different values from her parents. This was because she came from a different generation at a time when values were changing rapidly. In her case, Aboriginal rights and Germaine Greer were (by her account) two contemporary changes that obviously influenced her and helped to separate her from her origins. The first affected her relationship with her mining father, and the second affected her relationship with men more generally.
Apparently, she did not want to be part of the money and status oriented, environmentally exploitative, mining crowd her parents belonged to. So, she migrated from West Australia to Sydney, then Melbourne. She acquired some social credentials and connections from universities there, but they were not enough to establish her as a local candidate for the kind of marriage she wanted. She found a good job, but the 2008 recession removed that job, so what were her prospects? We don't know. Having a house is certainly a plus, if you want to attract a mate, but, although she seems to have a house, we do not know how big her mortgage is. She would have needed to be careful not to marry someone with lesser prospects, for fear of being impoverished by divorce, and that would rule out a large and growing demographic.
Ms Ward seems to assume that marriage must have its basis in love. Most people want to marry up and for love, and most who marry say they did marry for love, but how many really do? Is the number of divorces an indication?
Since Ms Ward seemed to have limited opportunities, for one reason or another, perhaps she could have ranked her priorities differently. Reading closely, her real priorities might have been marital status, children, and companionship. Unfortunately, she seemed to put love up at the top. Love is a western ideal but, unless you are very lucky, that is a musical chair game that leaves many more standing than seated, and childless if they persist as the stakes go up. It might be better to look for respect and kindness. Love might come later, and, if it doesn't, affairs within marriage are the tried and true solution.
It is easier to understand the problem of partnership in the west, if you imagine that you are arranging a marriage for someone in 19th century England or in 20th century India, where your parents work out early where you are situated with regard to income expectations and earning, education, charm, and physical attributes. Although your parents might use marriage brokers, it is still likely that they will employ those brokers to find someone within their circle, or at least within a similar circle. When they find a candidate, each set of parents checks the other out for compatibility. After that they decide whether or not to let the children meet.
Given that parents do not generally perform this role as explicitly in contemporary Western society, many young women have to fend for themselves. Perhaps a way women (and men) could try to look after their own interests better could be by cultivating a perspective as if they were their own in loco parentis. Such a perspective would indicate a major change in the concept of marriage in Australia.
The ideology, or perhaps the theology of neo-liberalism is partly based on the idea that 'markets', that is to say, the scope of human activity where trade of valuable goods and services occurs, reveals a fundamental truth or reality beyond that scope of immediate trade. One could say modern Capitalism, or Neo-Liberalism is essentially a form of 'Marketism', where market forces rule all, judge all and value all. The exact name employed to describe this isn't as important as the realisation that underlying what we call Capitalism today, or Neo-Liberalism, or Growth or even The Economy and Society, is a fairly rigid belief system that market forces are behind much of how the world works, and that market freedom is among the most important freedoms for human liberation. It is an idea which some may argue over its correct taxonomy, but it is clear that it is a distinct thing. Many of its opponents, often people whom Neo-Liberalism has failed, critique the damage wrought upon the environment, the dog-eat-dog mentality which emerges, the financial crises the erupt like clockwork, but often fail to think outside the frame of reference of 'Marketism'.
I will look at three ways in which Market economics on its own can fail to solve major problems or provide a reasonable, dignified quality of life.
Markets can only provide marketable solutions to problems
The statement that a market system can only provide a marketable solution may seem like a tautology that carries no meaning or profundity, but it only does so if one believes that the limits of the market are the limits of human activity. Free Marketeers argue that the Free Market will provide solutions to problems, because where there is a need, there is the possibility of profit, and therefore an opportunity for someone to benefit by fulfilling that need. This simple analysis seems complete and logical but in doing so disregards quality and places no value on optimal solutions. When people are faced with a problem, a desire, a need or some other challenge which requires a solution, the best solution isn't necessarily the most profitable. We therefore have a disconnect. The most profitable solution, or the most marketable one, is not necessarily the one which most effectively and efficiently addresses the issue, and the more complex the issue, the greater the disconnect between the two is. A market may respond to a need to listen to music while jogging effectively and efficiently, but it is less effective when dealing with problems such as climate change. With this problem, the solution is presented as marketable energy efficient products, "green" technology, carbon credits, things which may at least slightly lower carbon output from what would have otherwise occurred. Missing from these marketable solutions though are caps on carbon output, regulation of industry, cultural change or prioritisation of energy expenditure. The prioritisation of where energy is expended is determined currently by the market, and the market in practice, has not been capable of regulating its use of energy to avert a climate catastrophe.
Cars are another example of a marketable solution to a problem, but not the most efficient solution. A car represents a sell-able item and exists as a solution to efficient transit. But if the problem to be tackled is moving around the city, this isn't the most practical efficient solution. Our roads are clogged with single passenger vehicles and people are taking longer and longer to traverse the city. One can find better solutions in urban design, public transportation and thoughtful measured placement of residential, commercial and industrial areas. Such a solution though exists outside of the market. Market forces cannot control city design writ large and no single company, entrepreneur, businessman or merchant has the power or inclination to approach the problem from this angle.
Governments and other organisations which act on behalf of a collective are able to implement such solutions, but Free Market ideology argues that the government should do as little as possible, and for many Free Market Libertarians, nothing at all. If Free Marketeers were to have their way, such solutions would never eventuate in the future.
A belief in markets solving problems therefore excludes all non-market solutions to problems, solutions which may be more effective, more efficient, or may be the ONLY effective solutions. The more our culture is framing things in terms of market economics, the narrower our scope for human ingenuity and problem solving becomes. Solutions which may have been trivial decades ago, such as prudent regulation disappear from our scope of thought and we are left with non solutions or a belief that nothing can be done.
Free Market ideology is egalitarian
Equality is seen as an unquestioned positive, and Neo-Liberals use equality in a cynical manner to support their ideological agenda. One of the fundamental tenets of Free Market Libertarianism is that all desires and all market activity is equal. The people who want to trade hardcore pornography have just as much right as people who want to trade pharmaceuticals or food. It is argued that it is left to people to determine what they want to buy, want to sell and want to produce, and that this very act of trade is sacrosanct, and cannot be interfered with. To interfere with it is a violation of someone's rights, and regardless of whether that person is seeking to buy cigarettes, amass residential property for their own petty insecurities, or fund development of software or research into Multiple Sclerosis, their rights are the same. As a result, the resulting transactions are deemed equal, and no one has the right to prioritise one over the other, except when dealing with their own personal transactions. So we observe people's right to buy up the entire street for no other reason than a personal whim to be equal to someone's right to buy shelter for their family. Someone's right to remove trees and wildlife from their property is equal to the rights of others to live in a world with nature. Someone's right to pollute as much as they wish is equal to someone's right to secure a future for their children without the disastrous effects of climate change. This ideology states that one person's situation, no matter how dire, or how much more it affects that person, should not impinge upon anyone else.
This ideology levels human needs, and despite being touted as equality, for most people this means their needs, their quality of life are subject to the whims of merchants and the elite. It stultifies political action by convincing people that they don't have the right to shape society in a way which benefits them and their nation. It is essentially a slave morality, and makes people subject themselves to forces that others control. It is ironic, as people like Ayn Rand promoted market capitalism as a force which empowers people to live in their own best interests, to liberate peoples own will to live from the demands of the masses, but in practice it forces people to voluntarily limit their political and social power, and accept intrusions on their quality of life in the name of the market.
Free Markets degrade the human spirit
Going back to Ayn Rand and many Free Market Libetarian thinkers, there is an emphasis placed upon the right of individuals to support themselves through their own work. The idea, noble enough, is that an individual has the right to the fruit of their own labour, and preventing a person from providing for themselves, and denying them the ability to use their own talents and efforts for their own profit is evil. This idea is the cornerstone of much modern freedom, and anyone who supports human freedom and dignity would support this notion, to a practically reasonable degree. Taken to its absolute thought, it works against the human condition. The original thinkers of the Enlightenment, and of early Liberalism saw this condition in opposition to slavery, feudalism and other systems whereby people worked for someone else. It was argued that it was a natural right for a man to be able to work for himself. This idea has been corrupted in the 20th and 21st century, and Free Market Libetarianism today posits this not only as a right, but as an ideal. Free Marketeers today also take it to an absolute, with many claiming that taxation, any level of taxation at all, is essentially no different to theft by gunpoint. What was a general idea of social organisation is now seen as a set of axioms to be followed dogmatically, even if people don't benefit from them.
Also, this idea has been taken from being one person's right not to be enslaved, either literally or figuratively, to an exaltation of work as a good in and of itself. Human beings are seen as Homo economicus, creatures who exist only to gain profit and in the metrics of what is desirable in life, everything which doesn't fit in with Homo economicus's need for profit is disregarded. Spirituality, nature, security, society, belonging. Only that which people do to trade goods counts, and all other aspects of humanity disappear, as they don't appear on the profit registers. Neo-liberalism therefore sees humanity as nothing more than people seeking to consume, reproduce and consume more, trying to consume more than they produce. There is no other goal than to grow and consume, and human beings therefore are seen as nothing but animals. Society, civilisation, should have no other goals, other than self-perpetuated consumption. Humanity therefore is seen as nothing but an endless competition for resources, with that scramble for resources being more honourable than art, contemplation or self enlightenment. In more enlightened times work was seen as an embarrassing necessity, and the highest act that one could take part in was art, politics, education and religious service. They saw the goal of humanity as not to perfect the art of acquiring wealth but to improve itself. Religion rightfully saw base lusts as desires as sin. It is no coincidence that, of the seven deadly sins, greed, avarice, pride, envy, are the most animalistic. Rather than succumb and nurture these, we should move beyond them. Neo-Liberalism however makes greed a virtue. Human beings are ranked solely on their ability to acquire wealth.
The natural hierarchy which occurs in market societies is therefore based solely on one's skill as a merchant. Regardless of one's ability to build, invent, create art, produce food or goods, teach, write or philosophise, one's success is based on one's ability to do business. Therefore, those who progress in companies and "win" at life are those that can play the corporate game. Whether an artist or writer, you are not judged by your ideas, but by your ability to sell. Banal pop music is put ahead of true art because it has a better marketing team. Even whether one can get a house these days is based on one's ability to play the property market. People absorbed into this culture judge a person's success of failure based on their ability to work a market. As a result, it is the merchant class that has become the elite, as the merchant class consists of those most adept at playing markets. People who have valuable social skills, but no desire or skill at profiteering, are left by the wayside. Teens that can't sell themselves in interviews are judged as lazy and a worthless drain on society. People who aren't competitive may miss out at auctions. People who provide no benefit to society, but are aggressive and acquisitive, are lauded as producers and job creators.