11 August 2013

Making the Invisible Backdrop of Neoliberalism Visible

Neoliberalism's trickle down effect
When synchronicity happens in my life, my ears perk up! It's the Universe's way of telling me to pay attention. And it happened again this past week.

A little history first. As you may know, I have a consulting "entity" (it's not profitable so it's not really a business; it's only me so it's not really an organization) called GreenHeart Education whose byline — "Greening the heart of teaching... one teacher at a time" — I sometimes rue. Although it feels like the educational monolith can't be moved and we can only chip away at it (one teacher at a time), it's also pretty evident that only a massive transformation will create the change that's necessary.

A very caring and knowledgeable houseguest sat at our breakfast table last week and said matter-of-factly: "If we don't stop creating our money from debt, nothing else can change." That our banking system is allowed to make money from debt is something my hubby and I have known about for years, but I'd never heard it put so succinctly.

Then an equally caring and knowledgeable friend wrote to say that she's been looking into the ideology of neoliberalism and its impacts on our education systems — and she has been pretty shocked by what she's uncovered. Indeed, echoing our houseguest, she said that within a neoliberal economy, "we MUST keep shopping to finance a debt economy, and we MUST keep the economy growing for the same reason." (Bingo, synchronicity. Ears perked up!)

Neoliberalism (unlike neoconservatism, which is so in-your-face with military force as its main expression) has been  
surreptitiously installed (in most if not quite all EuroAmerican countries, and increasingly globalized) as our social, political but especially economic backdrop, certainly without fanfare, without informed vote, in short, without us noticing. Indeed, Bronwyn Davies and Peter Bansel have written an article called Neoliberalism and education, in which they ask: "How does the calculated invisibility of neoliberalism work against our capacity to make a critique of it?"

As my friend pointed out, "Neoliberalism is not something teachers are taught about. It is specifically relevant to the language, policy, goals, methods, and assumptions of public education." And that's when I realized the source of my angst around trying to teach teachers about transformative education for sustainability. We're working against an enemy that has made itself invisible against the backdrop of its own making. Beige against a beige backdrop is pretty hard to see, let alone acknowledge, define, understand and mitigate — and throw out on its ass if we want to survive the climate change emergency.

The juggernaut that I've spoken about in the past — this is it. It's neoliberalism. Heck, I even managed to write about it without noticing it (a testament to its invisibility, or impenetrability perhaps)! The neoliberal worldview is so entrenched and seemingly intractable that Margaret Thatcher used to say "There is no alternative" (acronymized to TINA). And it's entrenched because it helps the rich get richer, ensures that those with power grow more powerful, and keeps the financial elites on their thrones — so it ain't goin' anywhere any time soon.

Neoliberal. Such a nice word, eh? Neo, new. New can't be bad, can it? Liberal ... liberal sounds nice (unless, ahem, you're a conservative, but then you're probably in on the deceit). Progressive, open-minded, free, enlightened. Yeah, sure. Like the military, the backers of neoliberalism choose nice, reassuring words to cover up the evil of their deeds.

Alas, it's summer so I'm not going to write a treatise on neoliberalism (though my friend's email was almost poetic). But I would like to render it visible ... hence all the images (with thanks to their creators) with this week's post. And I don't think you have to speak Spanish to see that South American citizens are at the forefront of those fighting the neoliberal enemy: the wealthy, the governments, Big Money and corporations who are all laughing behind our backs. 

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?