Immunology, the Human Self, and the Neoliberal Regime

Essay Excerpt

My own focus in this article is on neoliberal ideology—that fusion of theory and practice that has emerged in recent capitalist history. Surely, the latter-day growth in the relative size of the entire financial sector has been influential in changing the overall emphasis of capitalist praxis from Saving to Consumption, and from “planning the future” to “making material choices now.”

Comparing my notions of short and long term shows that they share the quality of being mutually constitutive (like “self” and “other”); whereas in neoliberal praxis, there is little attention to the long term. To be rational is to be efficient, which means extracting the maximum material reward for the individual from a time period defined by environmental or other material constraints. This emphasis on individual maximization leads in neoliberal economic policy to an obsession with the short term. In turn, that leads to a definition of “efficiency” in which costs are cut in relation to benefits, inputs reduced in relation to outputs, and in consequence, “streamlining” and “downsizing” are celebrated.

One disastrous consequence is that neoliberal policy allows whole economic sectors to collapse (e.g., small-publishers, -shopkeepers, -farmers, and fishermen) because of their inability to reduce material costs in relation to material benefits in a short term. In dramatic contrast, Jeff Pratt invokes Weber's material rationality (as opposed to formal rationality) to show how the old Tuscan small farmer carries “unnecessary” crops and varieties—that is, varieties unprofitable in the short term—because tutto fa (“everything counts”). The old man, therefore, could be more successful over several economic cycles than his fellows who mono-cropped—because those who maximized income in a short term would be run out of business by large estates in a subsequent cycle when produce prices fell (Pratt 1994) (140-141).

Clough, Paul. "Immunology, the human self, and the neoliberal regime." Cultural Anthropology 27.1(2012): 138–143.

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