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22 March 2007 Edition

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Review : Game Theory and the neo liberal agenda

Know Thine Enemy

 

TV Review
The Trap – What Happened To
Our Dreams Of Freedom
Thursdays, BBC 2


There is no doubt that a form of political and economic consensus has developed in the Western world with the dominance of conservative or neo-liberal parties.  What should be of interest to those of us who challenge them, is what ideological, economic and social factors underpin this dominance.
We could do worse than take a look at what Adam Curtis is saying in his series of three documentaries showing on BBC on Thursday evenings. The Trap – What Happened To Our Dreams Of Freedom (BBC2 9pm) has been a fascinating study exploring the origins of the contemporary idea of freedom.
The common language of Thatcher, Reagan, Blair and Bush (Not forgetting Major and Clinton too) is one of bringing freedom – and not just to the people of Britain, Ireland and the US – but as part of a crusade throughout the planet. But what do they mean by freedom, and perhaps more importantly, to what end?
The first two programmes in this series (the concluding part is showing this Thursday) outlined how the people who conceived and implemented Game Theory (the use of statistics and systems analysis as a means to prosecute the Cold War) carried that thinking into political, economic, social and even psychiatric fields in the 1970’s and 80’s.
We heard from leading lights in the right-wing Think Tank, the Adam Smith Institute, boldly stating that human nature is exclusively self-serving; that this competitiveness between us pushes us forward and ultimately liberates us.  It’s all about individualisation folks. No such thing as society (now who famously said that?)
This programme has not all been about politicians and economists.  This selfish concept of freedom has been aided and abetted by a few ‘radical’ 1960’s psychiatrists and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, though there is no suggestion that these scientists are working to any political agenda. More that this thinking has been used by the Right to justify their project.
It is the use of this thinking to drive home neo-liberal and capitalist political and economic hegemony that is of greatest interest though.  It was enlightening and disturbing to be made aware that, on the eve of US President Clinton’s inauguration he was paid a visit by head of the US reserve, Alan Greenspan, to be told that the welfare reform package he had been elected on would not work and that they had a better plan to bring equality and freedom to the poor of the US.  Yes, you guessed it; they said that setting targets, thereby incentivising (promoting the self-interest of) the workers in the delivery of essential public programmes would deliver the goals Clinton set.
None of this would upset the economic system, as they saw it.  It was classic.  Present this right-wing ideology in a way that seemed to satisfy the requirements of a social democratic agenda.  Of course, some 15 years later, we now know the net effect of all of this.  The gap between rich and poor has widened and society is a harder place.  Did Clinton have a choice? Heavy stuff.
Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project, taking the lead from Clinton’s Democrats, went about privatising (or incentivising if you prefer) with a zeal that left the Tories in the ha’penny place.  Targets, league tables, hospital bed counts are all manifestations of how this works in practice.  It takes the human out of humanity.  And it doesn’t work.
I suspect that the British Labour Party knows this now, but how can they dig themselves out of it all?  The markets are happy.  People have been conditioned to a set paradigm.  We are all consumers.  If we deviate or can’t cope with all this competitiveness, the mental health sector awaits.
The statistics bare it out. Nearly 50% of the US population has some form of diagnosed psychiatric condition.  The programme was very good at outlining all of this.
I am looking forward to the last instalment in the series and how this all gets drawn together.  As serious political activists advocating the Building of an Ireland of Equals – a society of equals – it is incumbent on us to understand where our political opponents are coming from and the ideological and strategic basis of their approach.  This TV series helped.
BY VINCENT WOOD

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