These reversals include the “see-me” society of human beings taking over the roads with their feet and displacing the normal vehicular traffic; the freedom from social order and decorum often found in J’Ouvert; and, of course, the all-day dancing—where a mass of humanity share together for a short time moments reminiscent of what Lloyd Best once called “automatic solidarity” and The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows calls “sonder.”
Why do I like these aspects the most? Because they offer a glimpse of a different world. Of course, this glimpse is fleeting and ephemeral, and it does not bring real, long-lasting social change, but for a brief instant—even for those not on the rum—between 4 am on Monday and dusk on Tuesday the world does feel different.
My last column covered the phenomenon of dead-end jobs. The phenomenon was offered as an indicator an unsustainable modern world. One possible solution to this troubled world is the concept of basic income. Martin Luther King Jr called it “guaranteed income” and it too is a glimpse of a different sort of world from the everyday one we experience. And while I promised in my last column to cover it today, I will return to it in the next one.
Instead let’s think more about this broken modern system. Since the 1970s, neoliberal policies have been implemented the world over. According to the Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance, Neoliberalism is a term describing, “political positions loosely based on a collection of neoclassical economic theories, favouring privatisation and deregulated global markets.”
These political positions and their policies produce an economic system designed towards “short-term profit maximisation in place of long-term societal and environmental balance.” These specific policies slip into our cultures, worldviews and institutions. One central way can be seen in how identity has been transformed into an intensely individualised process some describe as a “culture of narcissism,” and how the importance of community has dissolved.
Examples of this trend in cultural terms include the growth and globalisation of self-help literature and therapeutic culture. For the sociologist Heidi Rimke, self-help literature has appropriated “democratic liberalism’s and neo-liberalism’s ways of seeing the individual and the social world” and as such “self-help promotes the idea that a good citizen cares for herself or himself best by evading or denying social relations.”
This call for people to seek the answers to the issues, risks and problems in their lives from within themselves has dissolved and emptied out the role of communities and other networks of social relations in everyday lives.
This has wide implications. Not least replacing the importance of social bonds and relations. Essentially the importance of community, of the social bonds and relations we share with others has been diminished to make way for ideas about the world based on the importance of the individual above the group.
Another piece of contextualisation to better understand the institutionalisation of a “culture of narcissism” locally might be suggested from data from the UWI and the massive growth in students studying for a (non-professional) Psychology BSc degree.
We might suggest this growth alongside a decline in sociology students can be connected to arguments that play on the epistemological distinctions between a science of society and its structurally patterned social arrangements/obstacles (sociology) vs a science of the mind and its atomistic individualism (psychology).
As another sociologist Eva Illouz remarks, “while psychology supposedly addresses and helps resolve our increasing difficulty in entering or remaining in social relations, it actually encourages us to put our needs and preferences above our commitment to others. Under the aegis of the therapeutic discourse, social relations are dissolved by a pernicious utilitarianism that condones a lack of commitment to social institutions and legitimises a narcissistic and shallow identity.”
The argument has also been made that the discipline of Western Psychology is a natural bedfellow of neoliberalism and its culture, because psychology much like self-help recipes leads to a privatisation and depoliticisation of personal concerns that cannot be framed as problems of collective action.
This privatisation of personal concerns in turn can be understood as a central aspect of the process of reformation and disciplining of the self in the context of the rise of neoliberal governmentalities throughout the Western world since the 1970s.
In the field of anthropology this transformation is concerning because there is a common understanding in the discipline that well-being is dependent on social bonds and relations. In the anthropological literature over and over again this appears across cultures and time. And of course, well-being is fleeting and yes it is limited. But it is also social, hence the power of fleeting friendship and community for a limited time on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.