When Heroes Become Villains: Rethinking Individualism and Neoliberal Capture🌍🚀

Today, I am all out. My well of creativity is dry.

I feel sickened with despair as the majority of the Western World stands by in silence while Palestine is obliterated.

As the wonderful Louise Adler said so well in this brilliant interview, the world stood by and watched as 6 million Jews were exterminated in the holocaust. How can we stand by now?

Louise has the right to speak. Her grandparents were concentration camp survivors. She has risked her job and position many times by speaking up for Palestine.

In a world so fractured by polarisation, I am considering what it means to risk to speak up.

In my case, there is not much risk. Hate mail, trolls. I will not lose my job, as many have and will. I am unlikely to be shot.

Still, considering deeply the places I do not risk is an excellent self-inquiry.

Why do I stay safe? There can be excellent reasons for this. I may only have a superficial knowledge of the subject.

I am by no means, an expert on the Middle East. I do know that one atrocity does not give a field of acceptance for a reciprocal and greater atrocity.

An atrocity is. Being atrocious back, amplified, only keeps the game of horror in play. It also creates a whole new generation of young haters. The game of horror never stops. It cycles again and again. 

For the past few months, I have been seeking to understand the capture of intelligent people by whacked-out conspiracy theories.

As Naomi Klein suggests in her brilliant book Doppelgänger, the neoliberal capture has invested the last few decades in preaching that all success is an individual endeavour. Joseph Campbell has some responsibility in this with his monomyth – the hero’s journey, which fed entirely into the hands of the neoliberal economists and game players.

Success is an individual endeavour. Floor by floor, step by step, we climb to the top. Meritocracy beloved. Neglecting, of course, to consider that the majority of people do not have equal access at the ground floor level. Many cannot even get into the building. Not suitable clothing, ethnicity, race, education, vintage.

The individualism story has become the dominant narrative. Rise up by your bootstraps. You have the power. Anything is possible.

Power is seen in the individual and teams. We eradicate the power of institutions, structures, legal codes, how we count and measure things, the context, warm data, and the environments that the individual is in.

And the hero, so loved, can quickly turn into the villain. Now, we point at the individual villain. They did this to us.

Conspiracy theorists today refuse to consider the substrate of human life and coordination. They do not point to the legal codes that insist on profit over everything or the global casino of financialisation.

Staying trapped in the individualism myth – they turn a hero into a villain, making everything the villain’s fault. The shadowy cabal or the person. Fauci, Gates, Biden. Hillary.

COVID upended everything because suddenly, we had a virus that needed the community to work together for us to become citizens rather than the ‘make-it-on-your-own’ individual.

I worked hard for this. My success is all because of me. (It never is. You cannot open a can of tomatoes without a thousand people or more making that possible.)

The neoliberal class made us believe that if we did not succeed in life, it was our fault. Debt. Your fault. Poverty. Your fault.

Guilt on guilt on shame on shame. Single mother struggling. My fault.

Oh, I swallowed it all and persecuted myself endlessly for decades.

Superiority came with the self-made. “Look” at me. I did this. And you, you sicken me because you drag me down, and I have to spend my taxes on you.

By the way, I was raised in a middle-class family where this neoliberal doctrine was the code. I looked down on people in my youth. The poor. The disadvantaged.

The journey to see the cruelty of Neoliberal individualism has been one of the most challenging journeys of my life. I had to be thoroughly broken. Brought completely to my knees and held there for a long time – long enough to smell the dirt and sense into humility.

It included the need to recognise how my family and many others in my ‘class’ gained their position.

As a settler of a colony that murdered and debased people who had existed here for 60,000 years.

“We are now reaping the rotted harvests of decades of deliberately sown mistrust – mistrust of the very idea that we are members of communities and societies, mistrust of any expectation that governments can and should do anything positive for us.” Naomi Klein.

It took decades after the war to neoliberalise people. The fires stoked by anti-black and anti-migrant hysteria that pointed at the people as welfare costs, taking their jobs.

And then. COVID. And the governments immediately started the most significant social programs ever. Paid to stay at home and do nothing. Free vaccines. Suddenly able to afford the unaffordable.

And those people we had spent decades ridiculing, the health care workers, garbage collectors, carers – the low-wage earners- were now essential.

The whiplash was too big for some to reconcile.

Fuck you: We won’t mask or jab or stay at home to protect people we have already chosen not to see. Naomi Klein

Freedom was the cry. Not freedom as a collective. But freedom as atomised individuals who saw anything collective as the enemy.

I want my freedom to continue to do exactly as I like, just as the neoliberal myth has told me. Rugged man. Hero. 

And the machine, Moloch, laughs with glee at our foolishness.

If we are having a lovely swim in a beautiful swimming pool and someone wants their freedom to piss in the pool, does freedom still work for you?

Perhaps air – and breathing, matters to you in your cry for individual freedom? Or clean water?

Buying uncontaminated food?

Until we realise that we live in an ecology that depends on many, on a healthy Earth, until we recognise that meritocracy works far more advantageously well for those with access to education, networks and finance, we will remain in our dream of the hero.

The conspiracy gurus of the world, the Bannons, Carlsons, Wolfs, and so many others, jumped all-in on the opportunity, speaking some truths about the machine, which is very broken, yet making it all up to us, the individual—demanding our freedom and stirring hate, provoking more racism. Feeding the fire of fear and scarcity.

They will take your jobs. They will rape your children. 

The leader of the opposition in Australia, Peter Dutton, thrives on these narratives.

I revert to Israel and the genocide it is enacting as I write. The hard right wants to see Israel wipe out Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas wants to wipe out Israel.

So much of the neoliberal narrative lives in the minds of the hard right.

Individualism. Anti – other. Anti-society. Anti-collective if you are different.

Here I am, at this point. Unsure how to finish this article. Despair. Questions. Feeling for the many people who wanted peace and got bombed to pieces or torn apart.

Heartbroken. Angry.

Right now I have nothing left to offer.

All the while, a bunch of mostly men posture at COP28 while the oil deals are done on the sidelines. The contrast is sickening and hideous.