Truth in a Neoliberal World: Navigating Challenges and Rediscovering Humanism

Added about 5 months ago by Alan M. Suggate

Living Culture, Living Christ: On Becoming Fully HumanWhat challenges are Christians facing at the beginning of 2024, asks Alan M. Suggate, author of Living Culture, Living Christ.

At the heart of the challenges facing our planet in 2024 is the issue of truth. Truth is not an abstraction, but rooted in practical experience. It aims to grasp down-to-earth reality, and so generates trust. It raises three fundamental questions: Who are we as humans? How are we to relate to the natural environment? What forms of knowledge are open to us?

The sciences and technology have immense prestige, both as the key to prosperity and as the only agreed forms of public knowledge. Meanwhile most values, whether artistic, moral or religious, are privatised as mere matters of individual choice or taste. These twin trends dangerously reinforce one another, but are so pervasive that we hardly perceive them. They feed into the neoliberalism advocated by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. For them the market is an autonomous realm, entirely neutral over values and purposes. Participants are free to pursue their own goals, and bound only by its procedural rules. The outcomes are just factually what they are. For Hayek, a market society has no purpose beyond the choices of its free individual citizens. So the very idea of economic or social justice is a destructive mirage. Friedman advocated deregulation, privatization and cutbacks in social funding. Primacy is given here to maximal economic benefits and maximal freedom of the individual.

Hayek and Friedman were Cold-War warriors, believing any form of socialism was doomed to slide into Soviet totalitarianism. They warned politicians not to interfere in the market. Ever since neoliberalism was embraced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan, there have been many variants, but behind all lies a network of thinktanks, which assiduously advise politicians and shape public opinion. They are backed by media moguls and by the billionaires who secretively provide the finance.

Markets are a given of human life, but the form of neoliberalism is highly problematic. First, the promotion of the autonomy of economics, the obsession with economic growth and the satisfaction of individual consumer preferences are starkly incompatible with our finite ecological system. Yet devotees of neoliberalism downplay the climate emergency, scenting a restraint on trade or even a diabolical socialist plot or a hoax. They assume we are free rational individuals in a mechanical universe which is there for us to exploit and control in the name of utility. In reality, we are embedded in nature, which consists of complex self-reinforcing systems that can patently be radically destabilized, yet also have remarkable powers of self-regeneration. Humans need respectfully and creatively to work with their grain.

Secondly, as Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, points out, to seal off economics from values and purposes leads to commerce expanding ever deeper into the personal and civic realms. The price of everything becomes the value of everything. By contrast, Carney affirms many values, like solidarity and fairness, as signs of a good society. The truth is that human beings are not just economic units: individuals have an inherent dignity; they are also incurably social: people flourish by living in groups and doing things together, and there are values, purposes and ends which need to and can be socially agreed. The human task is rationally to pursue the common good which includes the good of each member (never fully attainable, but it embodies the crucial direction). That is the basis for democracy as we have known it. Yet now, as neoliberalism is inflated from an ideology to obvious truth, so politics is degraded into populist power games and irrational culture wars. On the day when Sue Gray’s Partygate report was published, a lady interviewed at a bingo hall in Wakefield opined that as Boris Johnson had won power in 2019, she fully expected him to do whatever he liked, and good luck to him. We have been lured into a feel-good entertainment society, and detach ourselves distrustfully from politics and retreat into our private world. Yet we need to be active citizens who share in sustained pursuit of truth and the good life. This involves seeing through manipulation and calling power to account.

Thirdly, our shrunken sense of knowledge makes life more and more impersonal. The Post Office scandal reveals the toxicity of a management fixated on its duty of making money for its shareholders and on the infallibility of technology. We need to recover a much wider view, and that entails giving primacy to persons – a renewed humanism. This humanism can readily be underpinned by Christianity, which sets our humanity in a fuller context and vision. It rejects the relegation of the faith to the private realm. For God is the Creator, Redeemer and Transformer of all that is. Christians are to be there in the public square, playing their part in forging a truthful civil society. They are to show the difference that inhabiting Christian practice makes, building up local lay communities committed to worship, reflection and adventurous discipleship.

Living Culture, Living Christ is available now from Sacristy Press in paperback and e-book.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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