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The Liberal Psyche: Session Three

In this third and final session with the Liberal Psyche, the psychotherapist provides examples of how the wealthy join across ideological fences on issues ranging from war, education, abortion, welfare, environmental protection and many others to protect and preserve an economic system which has treated them well.

Joseph Natoli

The privatization of everything public, from war, prisons, health, air waves, welfare, energy, transportation, regulation, police, rescue, immigration and deportation, education and every branch of the Federal government in some way or another is not a concern for the wealthy, whether they be liberal or conservative, because money has already moved them into private solutions.

Legislators can here be seen as mostly wealthy individuals who have stock accounts. Their wealth emerges not from public salaries but from those accounts, as does the wealth of the top 20% of the population. Profit is not made by nationalizing private enterprise but rather by privatizing public institutions.

The wealthy in the U.S. at this moment, in the name of "austerity," are set up to do what was done to nationalized holdings when the Soviet Union collapsed: make a real killing in privatizing such holdings. Only the wealthy are positioned to reap the profits. Fear of what the national debt will do to our children's future is not unlike the fear of WMD's: both become crises to which capitalism responds in the same way: privatize whatever has not yet been privatized and demonize entitlements and regulatory efforts.

The assault “for-profit” educational corporations are making on public funds formerly directed to public education does not anger those whose children already attend private schools.

The collapse of inner city Detroit means nothing to those living in Bloomfield Hills as long as private security does its job and public funds are spent keeping Soccer Moms in the burbs safe.

The collapsed state of the “infrastructure” means little to those who fly from spa to spa, from one gated, well tended community to another, or who, most significantly, profit from global and not domestic investments.

Everyone not in prison or unconnected with anyone in prison is disinterested whether “for-profit” prisons has generated a demand for "customers" to fill the cells.

Those, liberal or neoliberal, receiving dividends from investments do not adopt a critical attitude toward privatization. This mutuality of interest on the bedrock level explains why the severe asymmetry of power in the U.S. has been allowed to slowly develop. Liberals can do no more than timidly disrupt an economic system they have lost the power to critique.

Unless an issue becomes a problem to the top 20% of Americans, it is not a problem and is not addressed. Poverty is the major issue not so addressed. The increasing impoverishment of those who hold they are middle class Americans as well as those already below the poverty line is a direct result of a wide wealth divide which has turned egalitarian democratic interests into plutocratic interests.

Some concerns which have reached public attention seem neutral in regard to the wealth divided. But they are not.

The New York Times reports that only recently have cases of autism been discovered in poor and minority families. Were we looking there? Was the problem displaced by everyday survival problems? Does the disastrous effects of poverty create a situation where autistic difference is not prominent alongside the differences that poor nutrition, illiteracy, and all manner of dysfunctionalities we can lay at the doorstep of poverty?

It seems to be the case that autism has catapulted to a national concern because it’s an issue that affects the wealthy as well as the poor. But it’s not the effect on the poor, which, as I say, has only recently been noted, that labels autism a problem to be solved. A flood of people drowning in underwater mortgages has not yet generated a cold call to me to support those who lost their homes because of globalized financial finagling and Wall Street greed. I have, however, had calls from Hearts for Autism for a contribution. It seems that subprime crisis has been laid at the feet of that 47% Romney said were looking for government handouts. That crisis has become no more than an opportunity for the top 20% to depict those who lost their homes as Jerry Springer types. Why should tax payer money in any way assist these folks?

On the wealth side of town, when wealthy property owners – liberal or neoliberal -- object to the aesthetics of windmills in their sight line, we have an alternative energy “problem.” Nuclear waste can be stored only in places where the wealthy and powerful aren’t. Once again, what serves the wealthy liberal serves the wealthy neoliberal and although neoliberal policies do not serve the many who are not wealthy, wealthy liberals have no strong incentive to attack them. And they certainly have an incentive to join with the right on keeping any leftist critique out of sight.

We won’t soon resolve the illegal immigrant issue because the wealthy on both sides of the ideological aisle enjoy the labor of immigrants either in their homes or in their factories and fields. Illegals who work in the fields and factories, who mow the lawns and wash laundry, who are nannies and cooks and gardeners work for both wealthy liberals and wealthy neoliberals. A neoliberal strategy to get votes from the non-wealthy is to play to their bigotry and racism. Loud proclamations against Americans of any color, immigrants, all now suspioned to be illegal, and gays attract votes from those who suffer from neoliberal policies. But this is a front, a sharade which obscures an underlying reality: cheap immigrant labor means greater profits. Liberals in power are not removed from this top 20%. Bill Clinton had a hard time in nominating people who didn't have illegal immigrants working for them. And it is not at all clear that liberals are protecting U.S. labor unions from cheap immigrant labor.

Soft drug legalization, most notably marijuana, is a real problem to those who don’t want to see something that sells for $300 an ounce legalized and on sale at Krogers for .99 a baggie. Only those who already have a great deal of money can import huge quantities of pot. Most significantly, however, is the fact that wealthy players who need quick cash infusion can find the quickest and greatest return in drugs. Drugs are a frontier of endless profit, a frontier the wealthy on both sides have no interest in closing down.

The addictive effects of alcohol far exceed those of marijuana but alcohol remains legal, after, of course, its prohibition in the U.S. had made many of today’s “legally wealthy” wealthy. The medicinal benefits of marijuana as well as its less harmful status – harm having yet to be proven – in comparison with prescription drug abuse makes it increasingly difficult to keep it illegal. One must conclude that only the combined forces of the wealthy, liberal and neoliberal, keep this profitable industry alive. Those who reap profits on both sides of the border have the political power to keep their industry profitable.

The illegalization of anything turns it instantly into a profitable frontier. Gun ownership remains legal in the U.S. although its illegality would substantially increase profits to be made in gun trafficking. Once again, we need to retreat to the stage of our psychomachia to see what is going on here. Gun ownership holds a commanding place in the American psyche, an irrational place when considered elsewhere in the world where gun where guns are restricted and gun violence is minimal (exclusive of wars, which the U.S. weapons industry profits greatly from).

Rationality and irrationality mean nothing in our psychomachia.

What has power is the gun-freedom link that has been forged. You may be jobless, "underwater" with your mortgage, and deep in credit card debt but gun possession means that you retain personal power, that you can retaliate when provoked, that no one can "tread on you." Meanwhile, of course, on the stage of everyday life, you are busy only retaliating against yourself, the wealthy have been treading on you since Reagan, and you are more likely to feel that you are being provoked by someone as bad off as you are. You are more liable to use your gun against victims than against perpetrators.

There are also issues that serve the moral pretensions of both liberals and neoliberals, prostitution being one and euthanasia being another.

There is a battle for a moral high ground which explains why an upside down view of “Moral Hazard” arises. In this topsy turvey view, government aid in any form will corrupt the receiver while denying any assistance will preserve moral integrity, though a healthy life, or life itself, may not be preserved. This corruption in itself of Christian virtues is mindboggling considering how loudly these virtues are proclaimed in the U.S. I indentify a corruption that exists in making it hazardous for the good Samaritan to act humanely. And this has not been strenuously exposed and ridiculed by liberals who had already under Clinton’s leadership deleted names from the welfare roles and turned away the real bodies those names represented. No one knows where those “liberated” welfare recipients went and while it is not in the neoliberal interest to find out, liberals have accepted the unsupported conclusion that their lives have improved, although it's not at all clear how many survived this "liberation."

Any issue, such as the idea of man-made global warming, which can disastrously affect the bottom line produces heated objection on the part of neoliberals and tepid support by the liberals. No presidential candidate, since global warming clearly became a cause for concern, had made environmental issues key in their platform although in his second presidential campaign, President Obama engaged the issue. It was finally difficult to avoid this topic that market rule has so wanted to keep out of sight.

Wealthy supporters, both liberal and neoliberal, are well aware of how their dividends would be affected by serious, effective and immediate imposition of environmental regulation. In a plutocracy, issues which have negative impact on the wealthy do not get political play. What liberals try to do is appease environmentalists while at the same time doing very little. The wealthy, taking a lead from Louis XVI, presume that they are dealing with a deluge after they’re gone and meanwhile it’s a feast of short term return on investment, a triumph of le ROI.

Wealthy liberals have always joined with wealthy conservatives in being able to fly to a European city or spa and shopping spree for a legal abortion regardless of what the abortion law may be in the U.S. . The abortion issue is hardly an issue that challenges the rapaciousness of a market-driven ideology. A driving feature of the issue on the pro-choice side was to liberate women from a biological determinism, one which either kept them out of the money-making arena or seriously hampered their careers within that arena. The more American’s business became business, the more crucial it was for women to hold onto any semblance of equality with men by being able to enter unshackled into that arena.

I enter the dangerous waters here only to point out that the liberal attachment to “pro-choice” does not in any way launch an attack or even a critique of unbridled capitalism. The focus on “choice” usurps critique while pretending to offer the continuing possibility of critique via personal choice. On the issue of abortion, which the market has no interest in, neoliberals are free to adopt a “moral high ground” position, one which draws to it the allegiance of those whose faith is not restricted to free market play. The faithful as well as the racists and the bigots can be brought over, in politics, to the side of the wealthy. However, within our psychomachia the neoliberalism of profit-is-the-only-moral ground is camouflaged by its anti-abortion stand while liberalism and the left are depicted as having the "blood of the innocent" on their hands. This issue, like gun control, plays out on a psychic stage which ideology cannot reach. Neoliberalism's actors on this stage take leading roles.

The illusion that we are “free to choose” infects liberals as well as conservatives but it serves the profit making of conservatives while it distracts and abuses liberals. This “free to choose” serves a neoliberal ideology working to reduce all social matter to the level of personal choice. In this way, all solidarity movements, from unions to OWS to the Federal government itself, are condemned as usurping a domain best left to personal choice.

All social movements then are unnecessary, possibly intrusive and possibly endangering one’s “civil liberties.” Americans now will assert the protection of “civil liberties” as their bedrock concern. Any interruption by anyone or any institution – except corporations which create jobs – in a personal freedom to choose is now the greates evil.

This idea of personal choice as final arbitrator runs directly counter to the liberal hope of applying social solutions to social problems. Governments exist to foster and maintain a “commonwealth,” a reign of “We the People,” of "One for All!" that cannot bend to kings or tyrants, or even to the will of a majority that abnegates minority rights. Liberals in fact are ideologically bound to the view that there are historical, material, objective conditions that temper our “free to choose” and that those conditions can be manipulated by the power that wither the majority or the wealthy possess. However, on our psychic stage, it is very difficult and in fact has proven impossible for liberals to assert that the social, political and economic problems generated by wealth and power in too few hands cannot be resolved by “personal free choice.”

These are difficulties not only because the neoliberal ascendancy of personal free choice drowns out all “Marxist” disagreements but because liberals are as attached to these illusions as are the neoliberals.

If you cannot expose the sacred “individual chooser” as already a product of choices made elsewhere and by others, or at least investigate the possibility and the extent, then any socialist critique of capitalism lacks any and all magnetism. The idea that the chooser has already been to an unknown degree already chosen by the cultural surround is an idea that would transfer attention from the chooser to the surround. This should suit a liberal mission but we see scant signs of a critique of individual autonomy and unconstraint free will.

When circumstances suit the wealthy, there is little incentive to push a politics that pays less attention to an Oprah sponsored “Will it and it will happen” and pay more attention to the place we occupy. Where there should be a persistent critique, a steady hammering at the dangers and illusions of neoliberal discourse, we find instead a reticent, passive and equivocal opposition. This did not leave OWS with a great deal to which they can join their anger, disgust and protest. In our psychic battle, they are denied a place by one and orphaned by the other.

On these issues, and many more, wealthy liberals join with wealthy conservatives. The presence of any attachment, therefore, to market socialist, social democratic or democratic socialist ideologies that would provide liberalism with an offense against the looting form of capitalism that holds the highest ground in our psychomachia is not made and will not be made by the wealthy.

Perhaps this is so because they cannot experience or imagine any reformation of capitalism that would move it toward public or cooperative ownership. Perhaps this is so because any and all varieties of socialism are smeared as Stalinist and/or disproven by Soviet collapse. The liberal psyche is no less shadowed by the historical legacy of communism than is neoliberalism. Once again the two join in our psychomachia.

Liberals with wealth, voice and influence are simply weak foils of conservatives in our psychomachia not only because the strong position of the neoliberal view has liberals cowering apologetically but because liberals are themselves in so many ways more magnetized by neoliberal forces than by any strong critique which must come further to the left than liberals can go.

The so-called Third Way advocated by Clinton and Tony Blair proved to be only a front for further liberal concessions to neoliberalism. While effective in getting Clinton a second term, the excesses of neoliberal market rule would have been earlier and more clearly exposed if Clinton had not won the `96 election. No Clintonian appeasement to an already out of control economic system would have delayed what the 2008 financial collapse finally revealed.

I suggest that if neoliberals had gained the presidency in '96 and not 2000, the country would have been learned to be more suspicious of a neoliberal's casus belli. We could also conjecture that if we bring neoliberalism back to power earlier than 2000 and thus awaken the country's suspicions of such power earlier, a gone wild financial sector might have been been brought to heel sufficiently to avoid the 2008 Wall Street fraud and looting and subsequent collapse, seemingly affecting everyone but the looters. With George W. Bush out by 2004 and Obama in at that time, even the continuation of a Clinton like leaning into the neoliberal, would have left Obama at the beginning of his second term --- 2008-- too experienced and too wary to bail out Wall Street while leaving the rest of the country in dire straits.

The "dreaming" here is instructive. What did happen, what the reality and history of it is, Obama, only in his first months in office, failed to pursue the perpetrators of the crisis and left the matter open for neoliberals to make the case that if was government largesse that caused the crisis.

Now in 2013, in his real second term, Obama has been hardened by his experiences but he is surrounded not only by neoliberals, who have not come out badly considering the depths into which they have plunged the country, but weealthy liberals who are also enjoying the fruits of the steady and vast transference of wealth from the bottom and the middle to the top.

Joseph Natoli's latest book, OCCUPYING HERE & NOW: THE NEW CLASS WARFARE is on Amazon's Kindle, is short and inspiring.