Neoliberalism: the invisible monster

I had intended for this blog post to be about some books that I read recently and greatly appreciated, but instead, something rather big happened here in the UK which derailed me. (Apologies to writers Angela Topping, Kate Garrett, Sarah James and Jessica Starr – reviews of your books will be along later.)


I refer, of course, to the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not, and the outcome in which a 52% majority decided to leave the EU. I was shocked and saddened by the news, and the subsequent car crash that is UK politics. I was (and still am) disturbed by people’s reactions to the news, as witnessed on the internet (particularly social media), as well as ‘meatspace’ i.e. the real world. It is enough to send anyone reeling, but as an HSP, I feel that it has quite genuinely wormed its way into my head and parked itself with a huge amount of anxiety, rumination and a feeling of powerlessness and pointlessness: that there is no way out. That there is no way for cooperation to win. That always, always, the powerless are trampled on. That quiet, reflective people have no ability to effect change. That we don’t have a voice. Liars win. Aggression wins. Everything I do is pointless, and without worth.


And yet, and yet, hope wishes to prevail. Optimism would like to resurface. But it is still too early. I am experiencing a form of grief. Because any kind of separation brings about grief.


I have been (and still am) reading dozens of news articles and trying to process the why of the matter. Some individuals are very ready with generalisations and absolutes. People voted leave because of X. This happened because of Y. It is human nature to try to simplify things in order to find a certain sense to those things. But this is an incredibly complex issue, with layers and layers of political manoeuvring and lies to uncover, economics to make sense of, and people’s very genuine disillusionment with the state of the UK (and UK politics) to pick apart. Throw in a good dollop of racism and xenophobia, nasty political campaigning and the media aiming to outrage (not forgetting the actual reason for the referendum – the advantages & disadvantages of the EU [which I still think was a distraction]) as well all the negative affects of austerity, the issue of class and wealth, and hey presto! A perfect recipe for disaster.


I feel as though I am living in a state of limbo right now. Everyday life goes on, of course, (although I am noticing my anxiety seeping into my interactions with my family far too much) but my mind keeps returning to the why. And what now?


This article, by John Harris, is probably the most useful and insightful one about the why of what happened last Thursday. In it, Harris writes:


If we fear not just what this decision means for our country but how much it says about Britain’s underlying social condition, we will have to fight. But first, we will have to think, probably more deeply than ever.


And thinking is what I am doing right now. The whys are going around my head and the possible answers to those whys. And yet I know that I am missing something. I feel as though there is a something just out of sight, or possibly there, but not visible to the human eye. So it was a happy coincidence that I began to read How Did We Get Into This Mess? by George Monbiot last Saturday, because straightaway in the introduction, Monbiot very quickly made visible the invisible.


Take, for example, the ideology that now governs out lives. Not only is it seldom challenged it is seldom even identified. As a result, no one seems to know what to call it. Neoliberalism? Market fundamentalism? Laissez-faire economics? Though it is a clear and consistent belief system, though it is the ideology to which most governments and major opposition parties subscribe, and though it determines everything from the distribution of wealth to the treatment of the living planet, it has no standard or widely recognized name.


What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?



And, I would add, to operate invisibly.


We need to go back to the 60s, 70s and 80s and once again acquaint ourselves with what Thatcher did to the U.K. We need to immerse ourselves in history and learn about the rise of neoliberalism, the rise of individualism, and the dreaded curse of competitiveness, which has led us to this moment.


We are, as Monbiot suggests living in an Age of Loneliness. And so, in my eyes, the UK annexing itself from the EU – a supposed act of “taking back control” – was actually an act of enabling further loneliness.


So what now?


We need to name the nameless. To clothe the invisible monster that is neoliberalism and give it a form. For when we can see our foe, we can begin to fight it, rather than each other and ourselves.


We writers, artists, mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sensitive folk, and above all, the wild men and women – for there is nothing that neoliberalism hates more than wildness, the wildness of the human spirit and the natural wild – we must, in our everyday lives name the nameless and fight in our own gentle ways.


Disconnection must be countered by connection. Competitiveness countered by cooperation. And at the most fundamental level, hate needs to be countered by love.


The good thing about wildness, and the natural wild, is that it has an intrinsic desire for life and growth. It wants to grow. It wants to live and thrive. And with very little – empathy, a few kind words and deeds – it can and will thrive. Let us be like gardeners and tend to the wildness within ourselves and each other. But let us also be mindful of the nameless thing that wants to trample on us. Let us name it and fight it.


Neoliberalism image
Neoliberalism, the invisible monster


If you would like to learn more about the invisible monster, this is a useful book: A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey.

Or check out Wikipedia’s definition (the first paragraph is a good summation, and the paragraph about neoliberalism and feminism is also enlightening).


Writing Bubble

19 thoughts on “Neoliberalism: the invisible monster”

  1. Excellently put! I was terrified when I heard the result as so many others were. I haven’t been able to understand the situation at all. Reading this has put some things into perspective for me. #whatimwriting

  2. I’ve been having a strong emotional reaction to this as well – feeling disconnected from whole sections of the population, bruised, frustrated, worried for the future, ashamed of the ignorance and racism and xenophobia, and at the same time eager to remain positive and optimistic, to see the best in people, and keep believing in democracy… Thank you for offering a some thoughts on how to frame and understand it all – I’ll get reading 🙂

  3. maddy@writingbubble

    As you know, my emotions have been all over the place since the referendum too and I can really understand your feeling of powerlessness and the sense that liars and aggression wins. And yet I also believe so strongly, as you say, in meeting competitiveness with co-operation and hate with love. Thank you for this post – it’s definitely given me more to think about. And much thinking needs to be done. Thanks for linking to #whatImWriting xxx

  4. Wow – so much food for thought here. I think you have hit on the crux of it too – this potent force of neoliberalism working just beneath the surface and rendering all of the debate and discussion about the things that people *think* are the issues almost meaningless. I dread to think how much ground is being gained by these ‘dark forces’ whilst everyone is so emotionally distracted by the events of the past week, and so caught up in trying to make sense of something that actually doesn’t make sense at all in the way it is currently framed. I’m not sure what the answer is, but this is one of the main reasons I am so resolutely backing Corbyn – his is a different breed of politics, both more old-school and more progressive – and I think that is precisely why the establishment is so very afraid of him! x

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sophie. I’m glad that my post has been helpful brain food! And I think you’re right – a lot of people are very much looking to the Labour party to deliver a different kind of politics. Let’s see what happens…

  5. It’s ironic that so many people voted leave thinking/hoping it would give back power to the disenfranchised, whereas it might very well unleash even greater neoliberal forces and cause more inequality. I watched ‘Requiem for the American Dream’ recently in which Noam Chomsky explains and gives his view on neoliberalism and the effects of a collapsed manufacturing industry in western countries. Sobering viewing indeed.
    And yes, we really need to protect and nurture the wildness of the imagination, it may seem like a small act but it can have huge positive effects.

    1. Thanks Susan for dropping by and for your comment. I’d really like to watch ‘Requiem for the American Dream’ and will try to when I’m in a better frame of mind (no doubt it’ll be sobering viewing). And I’m glad that you agree that nurturing the wildness of the imagination is a positive act. 🙂

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