Neoliberalism + Responsibility
The definition of neoliberalism I use in this post comes from Camille Barbagallo, who shared it in Left Book Club's Anticapitalism and Care event earlier this year. You can watch the full talk here and read some of the notes I took on it here.
Under neoliberalism, which has its roots in christian heteropatriarchy, we’re encouraged to think of our lives as a series of correct/incorrect, good/bad choices that we make, or fail to make. (Thank you, Camille Barbagallo, for this gift of a definition.)
Because, if you are responsible for what happens to you, you can be punished (or rewarded) for it. And by extension, what’s happening to you certainly doesn’t have anything to do with me, because you made the choices you made, and should “suffer the consequences” (even if those consequences are unjust, inhumane, violent).
Neoliberalism justifies a lot of cruelty.
Not everything that happens to you is a result of a choice you made or didn’t make. Even without systems of domination, which make many people suffer so a few don’t have to, life is unpredictable and random. Things happen to us, that we didn’t cause, or choose, or ask for.
This isn’t to say that we don’t have any responsibility or power. I think we have immense (especially collective) power, and I do believe that we have a deep capacity for and responsibility to each other’s well-being, particularly people who have been made to suffer for generations under systems of domination like capitalism, ableism, colonialism, and white supremacy.
But/and, I think that when we’re encouraged to scrutinize our lives, and the lives of others, to feel an outsized sense of shame and guilt and blame and fear about our choices, past, present, and future, and when we live under an economic and cultural system that makes some of us responsible so other people don’t have to be, we have to look and listen carefully to our notions of responsibility, and what they point us towards.
Who do we make responsible? Who is presumed innocent of responsibility? And who benefits from us feeling this way about ourselves and each other? And, what might be possible instead?
I think we can learn to care, deeply, with complexity and integrity, about each other, despite what the systems tell us.
If you’re interested in learning more about my coaching, or know someone who might want to work with me (angst about your job or what the heck you should be doing with your life is a good indicator), there’s lots of ways to connect with me - I send out bi-weekly email notes, have sliding scale monthly check-ins through Patreon, and offer 1:1 coaching work for people leaving their jobs, seeking career changes, working on writing or other creative projects, or who feel stuck around work or purpose under capitalism.