Note to reader: I wrote this piece as part of a course I am completing on edX entitled ‘Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking’. You can access the course here.
The time of my secondary school graduation, 1998, still resonates like an earworm song. Early December was crackling with unspoken pressure as this was when final grades were given. They would determine both my tertiary education and employment prospects, and felt like the final arbiter of my existential value. I was reduced to anxious tears as so much hinged on them. Enter the workforce directly from school? That was a sin of the indolent, weak or stupid who couldn’t get high marks. Little did I know, but the naïve and hubristic teenage me was a zealous disciple of neo-liberalism. I sang from its hymn sheet that predetermined the role of the citizen as a mere consumer and employee, worshiped the free market as the arena for all human transactions, decreed our brothers and sisters worldwide as only having value in the production of cheap products and commodities, and proselytized that there was no such thing as society. I unreservedly accepted its pieties, and never committed the heresy of questioning it. After 22 years, the scales have fallen from my eyes.
The world has since partaken in a smorgasbord of human suffering. Two punishing global financial recessions (2008 and 2017) fueled by economies fed by rapacity and nihilism, brutal military campaigns which have not only included two immoral military invasions (Iraq and Afghanistan), but also numerous insidious proxy wars (Yemen, Syria, Libya etc.) that are often devoured like perverse reality TV shows, three global pandemics (H1N1, Ebola, COVID-19), crippling de-industrialization, bloated income inequality, discrimination and exploitation that voraciously eats away at communities worldwide, the gobbling up of our environment, and rising drug consumption and depression are among the feast of calamities that have been dished up. If the neo-liberal bible had a passage akin to Jesus feeding the multitudes, it’s prophet would have taken all the fish and loaves for themselves, told their followers that someone else made them go hungry then proclaim they’d never been fuller.
The high cardinals of international finance and politics resist casting down this ideology. Meanwhile, prophets of media partisanship sermonize about a holy war between righteous capitalism and godless socialism; two ideologies borne of the 19th century. An alternative to this status quo is rarely given. However, something is stirring, and old truisms are collapsing. There is a questioning of scripture occurring even among those besides the usual leftist pariahs. It’s best personified in the statement made by paleo-conservative Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who said in 2019 that, ‘anyone who thinks the health of a country can be summed up in GDP is an idiot… We do not exist to serve markets… A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.’
Faith and believing in something bigger than oneself can be a force for unity and justice. However, the powerful continue to worship the graven image of neo-liberalism; a dogma they magically expect to do everything while they need do nothing. This isn’t faith, but superstition. Shouldn’t we start genuflecting at the temple of internationalism, participation, pluralism, humanism, ecological
protection, and generosity instead? Regardless of color, nationality or creed, we share greater commonalities than those who wish to distract and divide us want to acknowledge. Despite attempts to convince us otherwise, the values of family, community and altruism, which themselves are pillars of prophetic Christianity and were feared to be swallowed by soulless capitalism by Max Weber in ‘The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism’, still exist. We witnessed them in the response taken in nations that best coped with the COVID-19 aftermath. Shouldn’t our economic systems better reflect these values?