On the other hand, the proliferation of “markets,” whether represented by dating apps or college rankings, have given us new ways of determining our intrinsic worth, which is what shame is all about. And to the extent that we have embraced these systems, which I think is far reaching, we’ve got a whole new set of things to be ashamed of. You could almost say that we’ve come to replace some of our old-fashioned notion of self-worth as family members, as citizens, and definitely as consumers by the scores that we’ve achieved. In that sense we’ve externalized and even privatized the dominant shaming mechanisms.
How could we possibly keep up with all of these ways of evaluating ourselves and being evaluated?
I think the easiest way to access how shame worksvis-à-visfree markets is to think about how easily scores and scoring systems evoke in people a deep sense of shame.
Whether it’s an SAT score, a GPA, the ranking of the college you went to or your kid got into, your weight, your BMI, your IQ, or your Twitter followers, people have gotten used to – and to a large extent embraced – the concept of being measured by externally defined, maintained, and verified scoring systems. They have profound effects on society, at least to the extent they people care about them.
We have basically told these companies that the smart thing to do, the shareholder thing to do, is to lie and to break the law.
Now technology is 99% about shareholder value and 1% about the betterment of humanity.
The markets are failing.
Michael’s big moral surveillance apparatus is a correction, or perhaps update, of Sartre: hell isn’t other people, it’s neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the practice of transforming everything, even traditionally non-economic phenomena like friendship or learning, into deregulated, financialized markets. Financialized markets are ones built on investment rather than commodity exchange; deregulated markets nominally allow for any and all behavior, but tightly control background conditions so that only a limited range of behavior is possible. Privatizing formerly public things such as infrastructure or schools or prisons is a common method of transforming things into markets. Setting up the season 1 neighborhood so that the quartet of dead people torture each other, Michael is a technocrat who effectively privatizes hell by contracting the work of abuse out to independent, uncompensated laborers. (After all, his whole approach is to disrupt eternal damnation by superficially flipping the good/bad script…It’s Uber, but for hell.)
That eagerness to coddle capital has always been part of our culture. Maybe it could be justified in a society hemmed in by commodity money and weak financial markets, where there might be some limitations to the amount of capital available for investment. But there is far more capital looking for profits today than there are plausible investments. We’ve just run a huge real-life experiment. The Republican tax bill gave corporations billions of dollars in tax breaks for money stashed “offshore” to avoid taxes. The brilliant CEOS had no profitable use for it and gave it to their shareholders.
What bearing does this have on institutional racism and its causes? The neo-colonial economic model is about coercing labor apart from whatever racial and / or national animosity might exist. American industries could have offered market wages to the Mexican peasants that NAFTA targeted until they agreed to work for them- this is the way that labor ‘markets’ work. But instead they chose to ‘free’ several million people from subsistence economies to compete with previously displaced Mexican labor and American industrial workers with the result that wages were lowered all around.
As uncompensated labor, slavery reduces employment and wages for the non-chattel working class. Without slavery, plantations and factories hire labor and pay it the prevailing wage. But doing so reduces profits. Then consider: this dynamic places the working class in direct competition with more deeply exploited classes, be they slaves, descendants of slaves or displaced peasants. This economic relationship of competition is (1) imposed from above and (2) socially divisive by being economically divisive.
From slavery through convict leasing, Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow, the economic lots of American blacks were never left to market forces. Each of these institutions were used to expropriate the product of black labor outside of market forces. And this racialized economic ‘management’ impacted labor markets more broadly through controlling the supply of labor. What this means is that ‘management’ of black labor was to manage the supply, and with it the price, of the entire working class, not just blacks.
In human terms, unless the source of this systematic exploitation is made visible, the class dynamic that it establishes is to make the most deeply exploited the most blameworthy. Slaves, descendants of slaves and displaced immigrants were never the creators of the circumstances of their exploitation. The fallacy of ‘takers’ that unites white racist chatter confuses state strategies to maintain relative class positions for employers with the power to expropriate social resources. The class that largely controls economic outcomes remains well-hidden in this ruse.