Monday, January 31, 2011

Market Fundamentalism

Quite a few readers have probably already seen the text of British author Philip Pullman's January 20th speech, "Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value." It was co-published on two blogs, False Economy: Why the cuts are the wrong cure and openDemocracy: Free thinking for the world.

This passage gets to the heart of it:

Philip Pullman, by False Economy
What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses. I’ve always hated it. It started coming in when I left the teaching profession 25 years ago, and I could see the way things were going then.

In a way it’s an abdication of responsibility. We elect people to decide things, and they don’t really want to decide, so they set up this bidding nonsense and then they aren’t really responsible for the outcome....

And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market.

Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life.

I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history.

"Everything solid melts into air," he said. "All that is holy is profaned."
Market fundamentalism.

I have been required to spend the last ten years calling the folks who walk into the library "customers." Much of what the library administration talks about, most of what the City government measures and what City Council says in its debates is couched in consumer-oriented rhetoric.

Nothing is considered valuable now unless it sells.

We are all starving while the market rules.

My brother, who has been teaching theater at college level for a couple decades, puts it very well:

I sometimes imagine a parallel with the "dark ages" when the Church aligned with Power forbade many kinds of knowledge by condemning modes of learning, teaching, experiencing - such things went "underground."

Maybe today Market Fundamentalism is this same Church, of course still aligned with Power. But instead of a Dark Age, we are in an Age of Glare - instead of restriction of information, literacy, books to the monks and the supervision of the Church, we are immersed and bombarded with information of all sorts from every digital option possible.

But the Channels of information providers and the devices themselves stimulate and feed the neurological stimulation paths of "fight or flight" and avarice, while starving the real organs of understanding.

Breathing, self-observation, watching one's step, traveling within one's experience, stepping aside from the crowd, remembering one's experience, staying watchful for the harmonious and meaningful, restraint, stopping.

These are the ancient tools that still need to be studied, practiced, applied.

Sir Galahad, by Edwin Austin AbbeyMany children experience these modes of being first in a public library. I will never forget the children's room of Boston Public Library, with its [Holy Grail Murals by Edwin Austin Abbey], and the worlds of books, such as Doctor Dolittle, that we traveled in, discovering and practicing these necessary tools of experience.
What are we to do?


Karen Packard Rhodes said...


Mike said...

Thanks, Karen. I appreciate support from migratory lifeforms with tropisms for bookstores.


Surly Librarian said...


A comment from Gary Baker was accidentally lost in the moderation process, but I have managed to retrieve it through an email copy. Here it is:

"Has it occurred to you that education is not failing because it is too market driven, but not market driven enough? In many ways, it is among the most Marxist of American institutions. The government attempts to provide a "once size fits all" solution that stresses equality, and in doing so cannot cater to the individual strengths nor easily address individual weaknesses.

"Yes, in the market system many ventures fail. And the reason they fail most often is that other competitors provide better service at a better price. Academia has been largely shielded from those pressures, with the result that we are now spending twice as much per pupil (corrected for inflation) with no discernible increase in quality.

"There are other factors involved, to be sure. The schools of education shifted emphasis from excellence in academics to political activism. Unions protected inept teachers and encouraged mediocrity. Parents were either too busy to provide proper guidance, shut out by the system, or just content to let the schools raise their kids. But the fact remains that there are very few competitive pressures on the school system relative to other ventures and while other ventures have improved, education has not."