Neoliberalist subjectivity, then, is about bringing a mentality of “winning” to every aspect of life — every little thing is a performance, a contest — while being forever discontented with the fruits of such success. The winning and losing is mediated by metrics, which induce one to assent to more invasive surveillance. The surveillance merely assures an audience for one’s performances and makes sure they are evaluated, given meaning. The metrics also overlay a veneer of objectivity to the endless evaluative process — numbers masquerade as a general equivalent. Neoliberal subjects want to “win” by amassing the most “human capital” across all the various dimensions of their lives, and they are invited to participate in the processes that harvest that capital as way of proving to themselves that it ever existed.
Isn’t this the reality behind our obsession with social-media? Behind all that fine discourse of Instagram/SocialMe/Facebook’s transformative possibilities for photographer – most all of which remain for the moment nothing more than a mirage – is this lurking fear that somehow by not participating, we are at risk of failing. Though no one seems to know what it is that we fear to fail at, or why we even believe we would. All are swept into the frenzy by a debate that insists that irrelevance and obscurity awaits those who wait. Perhaps what rankles, and confuses, most is the ‘all or nothing’ nature of all these pronouncements. Neoliberalism is a politics of fear. You are with us, or against us. A fear that compels individuals to then rush, trampling others along the way, towards the imaginary utopia that never quite seems to arrive. It is a politics that reduces everything to have meaning only if it has meaning to the self.
This is the real neoliberal project: the creation of individuals competing against each other, measuring individual success, constantly monitoring and carrying out self-surveillance, and constantly uncomfortable at not being in the race. A self-fulfilling fear of failure where success – more measurements, more assessments, more effort, more hard work, more striving, more clamouring, and more stuff leads to little more than more insecurities, more fears, more uncertainties, leaving us more easily manipulated, ‘advised’, adjusted, modified and influenced.
And you can see this being sold to us all over the place….the new mantra of ‘the individual as the market’ or ‘the brand’ or in fact, ‘the corporation’ where everyone is being told to simply forget that there are things called corporations, and begin to behave as if you are a corporation of 1. Here is Oliver Lang (see: http://lightbox.time.com/2014/08/01/lightbox-follow-friday-oliver-lang/#ixzz398ZCQzbk) , owner of the business called Mobile Photo Network, waxing lyrical – repeating in the process the same tiresome and syrupy language about the revolutions that is Instagram (no conflict of interest here, right Time Lightbox?!!!!)
Once a photojournalist begins to develop their audience, they should be thinking of how they can leverage their following to obtain funding for assignments. They should connect with local Instagram users, if there are any, in the communities that they are visiting to take on an interactive, curatorial role. They should let go of the preconceived ideas of photojournalism, forget the hero image, the World Press Photo awards and the potential portfolio of images. They should instead create communities around which a new audience will appear, out of reach of a traditional faceless media.
The constant use of vague phrases, and imprecise terms – ‘develop their audience’, ‘curatorial role’, ‘communities’, ‘faceless media’. All this has been repeated ad nauseam, and without any greater consideration of analysis for meaning and content.
The corporation of one. Cliches about how the ‘brick-and-mortar’ businesses will die in the face of the new digital utopia ring again. Just 2 decades after this sort of gibberish was being sold before the bursting of the internet-bubble, we have people repeating the same nonsense. And they can do it because ironically we are further along the trajectory of being reduced to thinking of ourselves as atomised, disassociated individuals, The new neoliberal self: we constitute a singularly, not a society. The phrase ‘community’ refers to ‘Followers’ which we are to believe constitute a community. Community: a word that once meant a polity that has a shared interest in the common: education, infrastructure, property, laws, rights, healthcare, social values, shared burdens, shared benefits, shared sorrows and shared struggles i.e. a shared sense of consequences of life and living. Today, it is simply a statistic we are all chasing’. It is more a ‘consummity’ – a group of consumers we can convince to hand over cash for our work. Exploitable. To be exploited. Used for our own corporation-of-one. A one-way transactional relationship. We know not what they are, nor do we care: they are simply a quantifiable, and marketable commodity. Just like ourselves – capital assets constantly looking to quantify our material and fiscal worth to others.
How quickly voices emerge telling us to ask for nothing, but to transform ourselves into little corporations. We may be living through an economy that has been allowed to crash, and where the government has chosen to spend tens of trillions of dollars to save corporations and corporate elite and let sink millions of citizens, schools, hospitals, and other public goods. Lets ignore all that. Lets not challenge the man-made state of affairs – political, economic and social that has meant the destruction of the craft of photojournalism, and journalism in general. Lets ignore that the State has abandoned you, or corporations will not give you a decent wage, or that they are cutting employment as they boost profits and shareholder returns, etc. Lets all sing the songs of the utopia that awaits those who ‘truly’ grasp the possibility of social media, unshackled the corporation from any worker responsibility, liberate the government from any public accountability, and become a market / product of one.
We are a neoliberal society because we have abandoned the public. And the best way to avoid a serious discussion about the damage being done to the body social and body politic of this country, we have people selling us false promises of a utopia where everyone is his/her own master…her own corporate headquarters. These new imaginary individual corporate kingdoms are going to bring in a new prosperity, for as long as these people refuse to talk about reality – of healthcare costs, of the need to pay for a child’s education, of the rising cost of living, of the disappearance of a State for social, and economic protection, of the massive investments in common infrastructure that is necessary to hold a society, and in fact, make a real community. If our politics is spectacle, our activism merely consumerism, our sense of responsibility little more than periodic charity, and our ideas of community little more than digital click throughs, we are in a dire place. If not in reality, than certainly in rhetoric and discourse.
And it is rhetoric. For all the promises of a new utopia, what is not promised is a reduction in taxes, or in our demands for your hard work or share of your earnings. For as long as you are not in the top 1% of course. And there will be no reduction in the protections and safety-net, subsidies and pork-barrel projects for our chosen few. When you, as a citizen, ask for your public good, you are the free-loader, the exploiter, the burden, the failure, the irresponsible, the unpatriotic, the loser, the moocher. When the corporations, the military or the politicians ask for it, they are the ‘job creators’, the ‘achievers’, the ‘most intelligent person in the room’. We are all achievers now, and the world is becoming a land of the free. You just have to get your earned collection of ‘Followers’ and all else will fall into place.
The neoliberal individual. Social media, with its fake ‘community’, its shallow ‘friends’ is the living example of this – there are no ‘friends’ or a ‘community’, it is merely a list of people we are expected to milk for money. A market. A consumer group. All our relationships reduced to calculated materialism, and measured for their return-on-investment. From friendships to relationships….whats it in for me?
There are no imaginations beyond the immediate gain. The neoliberal self. As Morozov recently pointed out: (see: http://bit.ly/1oXNJcW
The digitisation of everyday life and the rapaciousness of financialisation risk turning everything — genome to bedroom — into a productive asset. As Esther Dyson, a board member of 23andme, the leader in personalised genomics, said the company is “like the ATM that gives you access to the wealth locked within your genes” (7). This is the future that Silicon Valley expects us to embrace: given enough sensors and net connections, our entire life becomes a giant ATM. Those refusing this would have only themselves to blame. Opting out from the “sharing economy” would come to be seen as economic sabotage and wasteful squandering of precious resources that could accelerate growth. Eventually, the refusal to “share” becomes tinged with as much guilt as the refusal to save or work or pay debts, with a veneer of morality covering up — once again — exploitation.
The refusal to share is also marked by the fear of losing out. We are not sure what we are losing out on, but we suspect that we are. Perhaps one of the reasons so many can’t leave social media, even though they find it tiresome, time-consuming and boring. The neoliberal self driven by fear, constantly looking over her shoulder, constantly measuring her speed of ‘progress’, determined to always ‘get ahead’, convinced she isn’t ‘doing enough’, and told she must ‘do more’, measure more, evaluate me, reveal more, and surrender more. This is the underlying contradiction in our debates about surveillance and the NSA spying: the fact remains that it is built on the very tools we have unleashed to satisfy our own narcissism, insecurities and desire for consumption. We have accepted the consumerist digital marketplace, and remained silent about the ‘cost’ – in terms of information, patterns, behavior insights, that we leave behind. We have been making this compromise for so long that it no longer seems a compromise. As a writer at the Economist once asked: if Google can get to your data, why object to the US government doing the same? And in fact, if Google can sell your data, what is keeping you from selling yourself?