We haven’t really got our minds around it yet, because we’re still in the early stages of it, but we have entered an epoch in which historical events are primarily being driven, and societies reshaped, not by sovereign nation states acting in their national interests but by supranational corporations acting in their corporate interests. Paramount among these corporate interests is the maintenance and expansion of global capitalism, and the elimination of any impediments thereto. Forget about the United States (i.e., the actual nation state) for a moment, and look at what’s been happening since the early 1990s. The US military’s “disastrous misadventures” in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and the former Yugoslavia, among other exotic places (which have obviously had nothing to do with the welfare or security of any actual Americans), begin to make a lot more sense. Global capitalism, since the end of the Cold War (i.e, immediately after the end of the Cold War), has been conducting a global clean-up operation, eliminating actual and potential insurgencies, mostly in the Middle East, but also in its Western markets. Having won the last ideological war, like any other victorious force, it has been “clear-and-holding” the conquered territory, which in this case happens to be the whole planet. Just for fun, get out a map, and look at the history of invasions, bombings, and other “interventions” conducted by the West and its assorted client states since 1990. Also, once you’re done with that, consider how, over the last fifteen years, most Western societies have been militarized, their citizens placed under constant surveillance, and an overall atmosphere of “emergency” fostered, and paranoia about “the threat of extremism” propagated by the corporate media.
In his Prison Notebooks (1930), Antonio Gramsci wrote:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
The world is once again living an interregnum.
Of course, Gramsci was writing about an era of economic depression, rising fascism, and incipient world war. For many, the contemporary world looks oh so similar. The global North is poised between inward-looking old powers and reluctant emergent ones. We have been bequeathed an exhausted civilization determined to accelerate through neoliberalism directly into hothouse eaarth.
This is just another way of saying that the world’s current interregnum is fucking mess. We, indeed, are a fucking mess. Ours is a planet now defined by insane habits of extraction, haphazard technology, janky social networks, and pathological individualism; all forces that lie outside conventional notions of geostrategic power.
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Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a school of psychologists known as transactional analysts came up with a narrative approach to neurosis and personality disorders. The very simple version of the story is that they found that people with psychological problems were living out self-defeating scripts: narratives of which the patients themselves were not conscious, but which exerted a potent gravitational attraction on their interactions with other people. If the patients became conscious of the scripts they were acting out, the spell was broken and they could learn less dysfunctional ways of facing life. Transactional analysis fell out of favor once the pharmaceutical industry got its present stranglehold over the healing professions, but its findings remain telling testimony of the power of narrative to shape values and goals in its own image.
If you have lived and breathed global capitalism since birth, examining its narrative can feel a bit like a fish analyzing water. But, as Rajan argues, we have to examine it because its flaws and strains are threatening to dry up the entire pond.
It gets tougher every day to deny the human wreckage wrought by capitalism everywhere it exists — the steaming heap of alienation, market failures, inequalities, and rigged outcomes. Proponents of globalization cheer unfettered capitalism as the vehicle for spreading democratic values, freedom, and reciprocal exchange, but in reality, as Rajan notes, entry and participation are not equally open to all. This reality is currently erupting into worldwide unrest and the rise of right-wing populism. Clearly, the official story and what happens on the ground don’t match: Lots of people work hard but get little benefit, while plenty who do not work at all get rich.