I had to fly back to Athens from Rome last night after my week at the Collegium Phaenomenologicum. I had arranged to stay at a place I found at hotels.com that turned out to be the guest house of a residence in the town adjacent to the airport. Soon after I booked the place I received an email informing me that I would have to pay another €20 for a cleaning fee when I arrived. Since I was unable to cancel and had not been aware of this fee before I booked I requested that it be waived. The owner agreed. He kindly arranged an “airport shuttle,” which he said would be cheaper than a regular taxi at €15 each way. At the airport a man was waiting for me holding a sign with my name on it. He told me that the police had hassled him for stopping right outside the airport and so he had to park in the pay parking lot, which he told me cost €4. I was skeptical because I had been dropped off by a Greek colleague and I saw signs saying the first 20 minutes were free. We got to his cab and drove off. On the way he told me that he was old and tired. He also told me that the recent fires were in the area about 10-20 kilometers away.
This post could have been called, “And then they came for me.” My employer is self-insuring and has experienced recent spikes in health care costs. Several years ago, employees saw their premiums rise considerably and last year they rose even higher. To respond to employee frustration with these increased costs that employees were asked to shoulder, my employer has now begun to offer high deductible health plans (HDHPs). HDHPs offer free preventative care, but everything else for the first $6000 or so (plans vary) must be paid out of pocket, negotiated at the insurance company’s rate, by the patient. After that, patients are responsible for 20% of costs. Alongside the HDHP, patients can set up a Health Savings Account (HSA). Patients can place a pre-tax portion of their paycheck into the HSA and draw on it through a card, like a flexpay account, but this account rolls over year to year. My employer is putting some money each year in each person’s HSA who chooses to take it. At this time, employees still have the option of taking the high premium regular insurance.
I have signed up for the HDHP and an HSA. The HSA is managed by a third party company, Employee Benefits Corporation who is paid by my employer to manage the HSA. Several days ago I received an email from Employee Benefits Corporation. The first line read, “Congratulations, this is your important first step to becoming a better healthcare consumer!”
From what I have described you can see how the HDHP and the HSA are meant to encourage patients to think of their health care as consumers and not as patients. This plan is how Republicans want to address health insurance coverage. Such a plan supposes that patients should think of health care as consumers who have to make wise chooses about how to use their money. I already started thinking like that in the transition to the HDHP. In December, I had a test done that I probably would have waited on and maybe never had done if I would have had them covered in the New Year, but I knew that I wouldn’t have coverage in the New Year. I also got a prescription filled early in order to get it filled under the previous health insurance coverage. Read more
This post originally appeared on Fit is a Feminist Issue and is crossposted with permission.
The strange algorithms of Facebook brought Sam B’s post from several years ago–“Am I really lapping people on the couch?”–to my feed last week. People like to talk about their athletic efforts and workout regimes in terms of how they are doing better than other people. At the yoga studio where I practice they regularly say at the end of class, “You did more in the last hour than most people will do this entire day.” This sentiment suggests that I did something worthwhile because it was better than what other people are doing.
But I hesitate to just blame my fellow athletes for thinking about our physical efforts in this way. This way of thinking is exercising under neoliberalism. If liberalism underwrites capitalism through the idea that individuals bear responsibility for their position in the world and private property requires the protection of the government, resistance to liberalism came from workers organizing for their rights against the ownership class. Neoliberalism demands that workers be considered as individuals, not as a collective with shared interests. If labor opposed capital under liberalism by arguing that labor is the source of wealth production, under neoliberalism workers themselves are viewed as human capital, and as human capital, of being responsible for their own precarious situation that being workers puts them in. As human capital, the workers bear their own risks. Under liberalism, workers could demand that working conditions be improved to protect them because they argued that their well-being was necessary for wealth production. Under neoliberalism, workers are made responsible for the conditions. Read more
As I discussed in this post earlier this month, pointing out contradiction in someone’s position as a means to convert them to your view doesn’t work. Most people recognize that holding contradictory positions is not a good thing, but few seem to think that such a charge demands of them that they change their minds or their ways. It isn’t even that they defend themselves and try to show that they don’t maintain contradictory views. They just aren’t moved by the charge. So pointing out contradictions, as enjoyable as it is, is probably not the best approach for changing people’s minds. Read more
Neoliberalism: What is it?
I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce. I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized. Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others. This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live. This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.
This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Read more
This morning Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s ban on Donald Trump. Yesterday, NPR’s Rachel Martin wondered about how much control social media should have over free speech. With no political efforts to censure Trump, the consequences for his near treasonous speech of January 6 are left to be doled out by private corporations. This situation, I argue, is where the long-developing eclipse of politics in favor of private solutions has led us. If neoliberalism is the marketization of everything, the effort to remove decisions of public concern from public domains into private ones, then the situation in which social media companies have more power over managing the dangerous speech of politicians than the public domain is its logical conclusion.
Even if you are happy with this decision, we should sound the alarms. Not the alarm that Facebook has too much control, though it does. Twitter and Facebook are totally within their rights to ban people from their platforms. They are private companies. That is the problem. Social media is a public utility, and we treat it as such, and then complain that it is run like a private company. But social media companies are private companies. If we want them to be run in such a way that serves the public good, we should nationalize them. Government, not private companies, is constrained by the First Amendment to “make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” If the main site of speech has become private companies, and it seems that companies have more say of speech than the government, then we should really rethink whether those sites of free speech should be private.
Neoliberalism has sapped us of the desire to insist on political solutions and has led us to think that private corporations need to be made to do the right thing by their $130 million-supported oversight boards, rather than by governmental power driven by political pressure. This is wrong-headed. We should not ask private companies to regulate themselves. We should not find satisfaction in private companies punishing those who public officials lack the political will to punish. We should insist on political reckonings.
Already conservatives are bemoaning that Facebook is interfering in the 2024 election. And indeed, Facebook, along with Twitter, seems like the only organization holding Trump accountable. My point is that our satisfaction with this holding accountable is evidence of how much we have ceded the responsibilities of political life to private corporations. We should not find this satisfactory. Not because it wasn’t the right decision, but because the accountability should be a matter of political reckoning. Let’s not cede that space.
The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn’t the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its régime of truth, its ‘general polities’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. –Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in Power / Knowledge, 131
Any conversation about the circulation of ideas online has to understand the material power at work in how ideas circulate, whose ideas circulate without obstacles and whose ideas encounter obstacles. Moreover, this conversation has to recognize that the circulation of ideas involves material questions about who holds what positions where and who is able to set the agenda for what areas of philosophy should be covered in departments and who should be considered worthy for filling those lines, who should be read, who should be cited, who should be appointed editor of prestigious journals, which journals should be considered prestigious, and so on.
A little more than five years ago there was a robust conversation online about how the philosoblogosphere had influenced the material circumstances of what is considered good philosophy in the United States. Ben Alpers the historian of ideas gathers some of the reflections on the sociology of philosophy, concentrating on the way that online voices and rankings amplified particular views of what philosophy is in a way that influenced what kind of philosophy was considered more or less rigorous. In particular, I’m thinking about how continental philosophy programs were excluded from early rankings and how those rankings centered analytic philosophy and analytic approaches to the history of philosophy, but also the way that feminist philosophies and post-colonial philosophies and critical philosophies of race were sidelined.
I was supposed to have one of the busiest semester’s of my academic life on the conference circuit this semester. Three invited panels, one Paris workshop, one interdisciplinary conference, one Italy workshop, one development workshop. Two panels happened before coronovirus hit. The international travel has been canceled and I’m waiting on word that the last remaining events will be a no-go. If you told me at the beginning of the semester that these events would be canceled, I would have thought that the news when it came would be devastating. I’m surprised to learn that I’m relieved. In the age of neoliberalism, the freedom of the collective expectation that you will not and cannot be “investing in” the human capital that you are and that no one else can be either reminds me that the burden of the expectation is a constant weight.
These comments were originally presented at the Eastern American Philosophical Association in Philadelphia on January 9, 2020 at the satellite meeting of the Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World.
I appreciate this book and am glad to have it in the world. Serene Khader canvasses a breadth of debates of multicultural and transnational feminism within the field. She frames possible objections and offers responses in many cases just as the reader begins to consider that objection and in other places where the raising of the objection clarifies Khader’s position. The book is highly readable both for non-academics and technically sophisticated for scholars. I taught the book in my feminist philosophy course that focused on transnational feminism this past semester and it became a touchstone for debates throughout the course. Khader offers nuanced frameworks that aim to be effective in on the ground transnational feminist activism. I have now read and reread this book three or four times and I can say that the initial objections have melted away as I have continued to sit with it, but I think there is still something in my initial concerns that I now think are about whether universalism can be decolonized within a liberal framework. Khader herself points to these questions. In conclusion, I’ll ask whether an alternative notion of universalism in a Marxist or post-Marxist vein is what Khader’s project invites.
I would sum up my remarks with four questions:
- Who is the book for?
- What work does the sense of universalism that Khader aims to recover do?
- What is the status of this account as non-ideal theory?
- Can universalism be decolonized within a liberal framework?
I didn’t want to watch. The tickets had typos (I know, this is the least of our worries). But then I listened to David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism on Audible on the way into work today and remembered that things are not newly bad. Things have been careening toward deficit-driven upward redistribution of wealth since at least the George W. Bush Administration. We need to watch in order to bear witness. In truth, I’m torn between giving Trump too much attention and doing my civic duty. I decided to do my civic duty.
Before the address, I looked up “pre-game” reports and found that ABC called it Trump’s First “Must See TV” State of the Union and almost decided against watching again. But here I am. Girding my loins. I switched to CBS. Ok, I can’t talk about how creepy the thing is, how viscerally difficult it is to watch: Trump’s squint, his hand gestures, Paul Ryan’s self-satisfied smirk. This cannot be my focus. As I’ve been saying since more than year ago, these things are not what we need to concern ourselves with. Read more