I am a psychiatrist and Narrative Therapist with an interest in philosophy and history, especially poststructuralism, social constructionism and hermeneutics. My daily work is in a Family Medicine residency program, where I try to help the residents develop some knowledge and skill at understanding people's problems in the context of the many discourses that pull them toward pills, procedures, and "productivity" and away from listening so as to develop narrative empathy for peoples' predicaments. I hope to use this blog to share interesting info about these things, and to refine my ability to describe what's precious but not widely appreciated in this work.
Following Foucault, I believe that even in the most disempowered of lives, there is always lived experience that is obscured when we measure those lives against abstract, universalized norms. Narrative therapists seek to develop ways of thinking and working that bring forth stories of specific persons in specific contexts so that they can lay claim to their otherwise marginalized stories and live out the possibilities those stories reveal for their lives.
Clean and affordable water is the basis of life. Skyrocketing water prices, unsafe supply, failing infrastructure — these problems fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us. This is why public institutions, not private corporations, must lead the development of water systems and delivery. The World Bank Group is uniquely positioned to increase access to clean water for the billions who need it. Instead of using its position to line the pockets of water companies, it should support what is most needed: affordable and clean — and public — water for all.
The continuity of social structure is itself produced by myriad individual decisions and actions. Most people who decide whether or not to take a school exam or aim for promotion for work are not consciously reproducing the class system: they are doing what seems best to them at the time. Similarly most people lighting up a cigarette or going out jogging are not aiming to reproduce the pattern of health inequality.
Sound bites now pass for erudite commentary and merge with the banality of celebrity culture, which produces its own self-serving illiteracy and cult of privatization and consumerism. Moreover, as the power of communication and language wanes, collapsing into the seepage of hateful discourses, the eager cheerleaders of casino capitalism along with the ever-present anti-public intellectuals dominate the airwaves and screen culture in order to aggressively wage a war against all public institutions, youth, women, immigrants, unions, poor minorities, the homeless, gays, workers, the unemployed, poor children and others. In this instance, thinking degenerates into forms of ideological boosterism and the crucial potential of thinking to serve as a dynamic resource disappears from the American cultural and academic landscapes. When thinking itself becomes dangerous, society loses its ability to question itself and paves the way for authoritarian regimes of power. The success of conservatives in colonizing, if not undermining, any model of critical reflection often takes place by reducing thought to a matter of commonsense while supporting rampant forms of anti-intellectualism - most evident in the Republican Party’s recent war on evidence-based arguments, science and reason. At the same time, the success on the part of right-wing ideologues, conservative foundations, and anti-public intellectuals to shape domestic and foreign policy and gain the support of most Americans for doing so speaks to a roundly successful pedagogical and political strategy to manipulate public opinion while legitimating the rise of an authoritarian. At the least, this war on reason and politics raises serious questions about the failure of the academy to counter such views. In particular, it raises questions about the alienating nature of what passes for critical thought, theory and informed commentary in the academy. Moreover, the issue here is not weather critical intellectuals can use theory to solve the myriad problems facing the United States and the larger world, but what role critical thought plays in various sites as crucial to developing the formative culture that produces critical modes of agency and makes democracy possible.
Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner—what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
My morning skim of the New York Times and a number of political science blogs suggests that voices in favor of US intervention in Iraq – that is, people who believe the US has the capacity to reshape the state and control conflict there – are still prominently represented. By contrast, as Gene Demby has noted, most of the mainstream discourse around the shooting deaths of black and Hispanic men in places like Chicago’s South Side presents this type of violence as saddening but inevitable – a natural phenomenon that can’t be controlled by government policy.
By putting government and politics into the center of economic analysis, Polanyi makes it clear that today’s vexing economic problems are almost entirely political problems. This can effectively change the terms of modern political debate: Both left and right today focus on “deregulation”—for the right it is a rallying cry against the impediments of government; for the left it is the scourge behind our current economic inequities. While they differ dramatically on its desirability, both positions assume the possibility of a “non-regulated” or “non-political” market. Taking Polanyi seriously means rejecting the illusion of a “deregulated” economy. What happened in the name of “deregulation” has actually been “reregulation,” this time by rules and policies that are radically different from those of the New Deal and Great Society decades. Although compromised by racism, those older regulations laid the groundwork for greater equality and a flourishing middle class. Government continues to regulate, but instead of acting to protect workers, consumers, and citizens, it devised new policies aimed to help giant corporate and financial institutions maximize their returns through revised anti-trust laws, seemingly bottomless bank bailouts, and increased impediments to unionization.
The implications for political discourse are critically important: If regulations are always necessary components of markets, we must not discuss regulation versus deregulation but rather what kinds of regulations we prefer: Those designed to benefit wealth and capital? Or those that benefit the public and common good?
So it goes in the world of power politics. After this long and arduous history, Jews and the state of Israel have learned, indeed refined, the political art of conquest as a way of life. Unlearning this art is essential but that is another long haul. More and more Jews won’t think the hard work is worth it. Palestinians are on the other side of history – as Jews once were. But, unlike Jews, their way back will be even more difficult. Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is determined to make the resurrection of Palestine impossible. Count Israel’s Gaza invasion as part of that end-game.
In his 1978-79 lecture series, Michel Foucault draws a number of critical distinctions between the classical economic liberalism of the 19th century and the 20th century neo-liberal ideas of the Austrian, Freiburg and Chicago Schools of economics (Foucault, 2008). Where the former identified markets with the process of exchange, and therefore equivalence of value, the latter identified them with competition, and therefore inequality between persons. (Foucault, 2008: 118-119). Where liberalism set about separating state from market, and society from economy, neo-liberalism sought to refashion state, society and economy according to the market principle of competition. Liberalism was a problematic of de-limiting the scope of the state, so as to enable spontaneous and ‘natural’ market forces to arise, whereas neo-liberalism treated markets as artefacts which are dependent on constant legal and technical intervention by state agencies. For the neo-liberal, state, society and economy are all institutionally and ontologically integrated, and all equally amenable to economic critique and re-design along competitive principles. As Mirowki argues, this is a manifestly constructivist programme, that treats markets as legal-technical institutions to be defended and expanded, not as emergent spaces of freedom as in the liberal imaginary (Mirowski, 2009).
William Davies, The Politics of Externalities pgs 6-7 (via karl-marx-ezoos-dot-biz)
This is, in my experience, one of Foucault’s more important, but least recognized, insights. “Free markets” are anything but. Current neoliberalism (meta-national corporate capitalism) has nation-states so dependent on corporate finance that politicians have no real say in banking, trading, or other big-money enterprises. The corporations can now set their own rules, regulating and rigging the markets so that they bear no resemblance to the competition among small merchants and craftsmen that still get trotted forth in explanations of how the market works.