An actual blip. | The Baffler
Aaron Timms,  October 2

This Is Not A Blip

What’s wrong with what liberals say is wrong with the world

An actual blip. | The Baffler
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In March, the Colorado River Research Group published a report urging water watchers to stop using the word “drought” to describe environmental changes in the southwestern United States. “Drought,” the group wrote, implies that “the condition is temporary—a deviation from a norm that is expected to eventually return.” But what is happening in the Colorado River Basin is not temporary. There will be no return. The old norm is dead. A better word to describe emerging conditions, the researchers suggested, would be “aridification”: the period of transition to a permanent condition of increasing water scarcity.

A few weeks later, David Lipton, the second-in-command at the International Monetary Fund, gave a speech in Sofia on the future of multilateralism. The occasion was the annual gathering of Eurofi, the pretend think tank set up by Europe’s main banks as a lever to keep Brussels market-friendly and free of anything that might faintly resemble profit infringement. Lipton, a cartoon technocrat with a brush of hair so tough and a gaze so unblinking he sometimes appears to have been taxidermied while still alive, began by lamenting that “until recently, the theme of multilateralism probably would have prompted me to focus on governance reforrems at the IMF.” But, he added, “times have changed. We live in an era of doubts and questions about the global order. We are in a trust recession.” The consequences of this slump in global trust, Lipton continued, are everywhere obvious: the rise of right-wing populism and protectionism; anger about income inequality; the growing popularity of “single-issue movements, online groups and communities that form on social media.” But Lipton also had good news: regulations introduced after the financial crisis led, ironically, to a renaissance in public trust in banks. Trust, in others words, “can be rebuilt.” For Lipton, the moral was clear: “We can restore trust in institutions and larger purposes if we set out to regain the sense that something concrete can be achieved by working together.”

The speech went largely unremarked in the media. The Eurofi conference plonked along to its main program: a stultifying succession of panels and round tables on European financial integration, trade processing regulation, and opportunities and challenges for the EU in digital payments. But something about Lipton’s words stuck with me. Partly it was the glib and overconfident view of historical change as cyclically preordained, which directly fed his insistence on framing the current political moment as just that: a moment, a parenthesis, an aberration, a recession. But my suspicion of the Lipton theory of trust recuperation stemmed, more fundamentally, from the connection between diagnosis and treatment. Since this moment is just a moment, Lipton implied—no more than a drought—it’s fair to assume that the conditions that have brought it into being are temporary, a deviation from a norm that we can all be assured will return as the dominant theme of human endeavor: the rain will come again another day.

With this scheme of things firmly in view, our priority as policymakers is something akin to intellectual maintenance work: ensuring that we all prepare for the eventual return of the old order, but not in a way that disturbs its underlying assumptions and priorities. An ailing global body politic needs nudges, to borrow the pet slogan of former White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, not reconstructive surgery: nudges and cuddles and playful Zuckerbergian pokes. The recession is bad, but not so bad that it demands anything more of policy than mere gradualism. In fact, when pressed, Lipton has admitted elsewhere that “things are good,” really. Booms come, busts go. We must take the world as it is. Just deal with it.

For Lipton, as for many others in the political and policy establishment, the way out of this recession is by finding the path back to the ancien régime. The way that multilateralists regain public trust in multilateralism is to continue being multilateralists. The answer to bad institutions is institutions. The woes besetting the global liberal order call not for less but more of the global liberal order. We have diagnosed the disease. And its cure, apparently, will be its cause.

Small Whigs

But today’s political climate is not simply a passing weather pattern. This is not “just a phase,” to use the self-comforting brush-off of the parental homophobe. This is not an aberration or a parenthesis. Politically, economically, culturally, we have passed from drought to aridification, from illness to decay. This is not a blip.

Lipton himself is a fairly obscure figure—but he’s emblematic of the grip the ideology of the blip has over our institutions. Across the political and intellectual establishment, in both the United States and abroad, on questions of policy and political strategy, blip thinking is rampant. In speeches and books and the pages of the serious financial press, self-styled Important People have produced an ocean of plangent prose over the past twelve months that repeatedly mischaracterizes the entropy affecting the world today as a mere fad, the geopolitical equivalent of the common cold. (You’re not a thinker on global issues today unless you’ve done a Crisis Piece; somewhere in the world, there’s probably a fresh one in production right now.)

To be sure, not all tropes of blip thinking are entirely new: it’s been almost four years, for example, since democratization theorist Larry Diamond spoke of a global “democratic recession.” But the blip thinker is a determined renovator; Diamond’s thesis acts as a setting stone for Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, the latest contribution to Great Man Theory by blip thinker-for-life Francis Fukuyama.

We have diagnosed the disease. And its cure, apparently, will be its cause.

Other examples of the form are more straightforward. Echoing Lipton’s recessionary language, Emmanuel Macron told an audience of world leaders earlier this year that we are living through “a moment where trust is shaken.” Jeffrey Goldberg, among the media’s most faithful lepidopterists of the blip, described it as “a moment in which truths that seemed self-evident are in doubt.” A moment, but no more: a thing to be endured, a storm to wait out. Barack Obama’s speech last month at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—his first dip of the toe back into the waters of partisan campaigning since the 2016 election—was a small classic of blip thinking. For years, Obama told the assembled students, “most Americans have operated under some common assumptions about who we are and what we stand for,” but now those assumptions are under attack. America, he continued, is in a “funk”—a difficult condition, though a transient one. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.”

“This moment really is different,” Obama concluded, but amid “the threat to our democracy” it is still within the power of the people to get to the ballot box and “restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.”

This is a signature move in the rhetoric of the blip, a riff on the Whiggish view of history as the victorious struggle between reason and superstition: opponents of the blip, whether doughy centrists like Macron and Obama or semi-reformed neocons like Fukuyama, are almost always on the side of “values” (“common assumptions about who we are and what we stand for”), democracy, order, justice, sanity itself. “The instigators of instability have won an advantage over the forces of order,” Yascha Mounk warns us in The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It. A young academic with an old man’s disease (Blairism), Mounk is perhaps the most ferocious blip thinker of them all. His book takes a global crisis and uses it as the basis for a wrenching plea to crack down on tax avoidance—a bafflingly miniature vision for change that is nevertheless, in the intellectual economy of the blip, not atypical.

Against unreason, disorder, and disease, blip thinkers pose as angels of reason and health—as the guardians of what is normal, what is right, and therefore of what is natural. They go high, as Michelle Obama instructed them to, and by occupying the intellectual heights position themselves as the logical administrators of what comes next. Who, really, is going to argue against sanity? Against reason? The exercise has no meaning; the only way to debate reason is through reason. In this world, diagnosis is more than a peripheral rhetorical game; it is the only game.  

But as the Colorado River Research Group reminded us, words matter. Cornelius Castoriadis once said that the only thing not defined by the imaginary in the sphere of human needs is an approximate number of calories per day. Blip thinking is defined as much by the words it places beyond argumentation—its initiating vocabulary—as by the content of what it imagines its main ideas to be. In that sense it’s no different than any other form of descriptive political thinking. And its truth, to echo Castoriadis, is no more than a “mobile army of metaphors, metonyms and anthropomorphisms, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, obligatory and canonical.”

Join Together in the Brand

The ideology of the blip moves confidently from one fallacy to the next. For the blip thinker, it’s essential to paint the present “moment” not only as an offense to reason, but as historically exceptional—and therefore as an aberration. “This is not normal,” Obama told the graduating students at the University of Illinois in September. “These are extraordinary times.” “Each and every day,” Mounk tells us in The People vs. Democracy, it is “becoming clearer that we live in extraordinary times.” (A few hundred pages later he clarifies that we are merely “entering extraordinary times.”) The challenges of this extraordinary, abnormal, exceptional time are, not surprisingly, often described as “unprecedented.” This is the logic of war, which enacts and mandates a suspension of business as usual but is always waged with the goal of achieving what came before: peace. In the hands of the blip thinkers the language of exceptionality is always a language of nostalgia. This reduces what should be an existential crisis to a simple PR problem. Reactionary populism, a fraying social contract, the algorithmic toxicity of online debate: in the ideology of the blip these become not the invitation to reconsider the wisdom of our prevailing political economy, but proof that the powerful need to work harder to get “the people” on board with the liberal-capitalist project.

After anti-globalization protests led to the cancelation of the World Trade Organization’s annual meeting in 1999—in retrospect, one of the first tremors of the popular rage felt more fully today—WTO director-general Mike Moore declared, “We’ve got to get this fuckin’ show back on the road. . . . We’ve got to rebrand!” Blip thinking is an update on this strategy. It offers the establishment the easy way out by substituting branding for radical change. Its proposals for incremental reform are mostly indistinguishable from the countless other ideas abandoned in the doomed, decades-long project to humanize capitalism. Trust may indeed be “shaken,” as Macron claims; but if we are to restore it in the long run, it will require more than light policy tinkering and a lick of hashtags.

Blip thinking offers the establishment the easy way out by substituting branding for radical change.

In the ideology of the blip, the characteristics of this “moment” are usually exogenous—“democratic shifts and the winds of change,” Obama called them, and other explanations don’t get much less windy than that. There is income inequality. There is wage stagnation. There are right-wing populists and other opportunistic demagogues. There is hate speech online. Technology companies exist, and have power. Our phone-addled brains are turning to milk. And yes, these things all suck but they’re just . . . there. How did they come to be? This is a mystery—a mystery the blip thinker does not spend much energy trying to solve. Mounk offers an illustrative passage:

First, during the period of democratic stability, most citizens enjoyed a rapid increase in living standards. From 1935 to 1960, for example, the income of a typical American household doubled. From 1960 to 1985, it doubled again. Since then, it has been flat. This has heralded a radical change in American politics: citizens never especially liked politicians—and yet they did, by and large, trust that elected officials would stick to their end of the deal, and that their lives would keep getting better as a result. Today, that trust and that optimism have evaporated.

Ignore, for a moment, the John Kellyesque ahistoricism of this view of a placid and trusting public—the neo-Blairite’s equivalent of “women were sacred.” At this point the reader may have some questions. What is it that caused income to stagnate after the mid-1980s? Mounk doesn’t know—or if he does, he doesn’t say. And could it be that policy choices made in the 1970s and early 1980s were somehow responsible for the economic stagnation and festering resentments that led us to where we are today? Again, silence. Causes identified, Mounk gets on with the rest of his book, a plea for Third Way centrism après la lettre. To get into harder questions like these would, of course, be problematic. Best instead to stick to the script: civil, rules-bound democracies built on free markets are awesome.

The blip thinker, to be fair, is not uninterested in causes. But the etiology of the blip never looks further back than a few years. It is as unapologetically shallow as blip thinking’s vision for the future is near-sighted: to defeat regressive populism, Mounk suggests, we need “a forward-looking strategy that helps . . . win the next election.” Most examples of blip thinking involve some rehearsal of causes, all of them invested with a kind of cosmic immanence. This chronicle usually follows a familiar sequence. First, manufacturing declined in the advanced economies. Unemployment rose. White people got anxious. Then brown people came along. Outsourcing made things worse. The internet was born. Social media became a thing. White people kept getting born, creating more angry white people. Banks got big. Then there was the financial crisis. Brexit happened. Trump happened. Charlottesville happened. As a result, we must defend as a matter of urgency the liberal economic order.

Old World Odor

Absent from this analysis is any quest to understand the deeper structural determinants of global entropy, much less how this “moment” and the very order blip thinkers adore may be causally joined. Occasionally, it’s true, the blip thinker will have a crack at generalization, outlining a longer-range history of causation. These attempts at theory never end well. Hence, for example, Fukuyama suggests that “demand for recognition of one’s identity” is the “master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today”—a selective and shoddy analysis that nevertheless ushers him to the real point he wants to make in his new book, which is that identity politics are bad.

By now the blip thinker is faced with a choice. Having identified, however superficially, the causes of this “moment,” she (though let’s be honest, it’s almost always a he) could take a position on ways to fix the underlying problems. This might involve dismantling the perverse system of executive incentives in public companies, reorienting the technology sector away from noxious advertising- and data mining-dependent models of success, exploring new models to unshackle the economy from debt-fuelled growth, or any number of projects that are already in the public domain and subject to vigorous debate.

But it turns out the blip thinker is not really interested in thinking at all; the ritualized genuflection in the direction of historical causes is no more than a procedural formality. The blip thinker’s real interest lies in defending the recent status quo. Rote disavowals of this position usually come unstuck within a few paragraphs, although the tells can be subtle: Mounk tells us that “the defenders of liberal democracy will not vanquish the populists as long as they seem wedded to the status quo,” even as he advises that the “first part of the solution to the threat of populism” is to “fight to preserve the basic rules and norms of the existing political system.” Again, it’s in the cracks of this argument that the strategy lies, in vocabulary choices and things left unsaid that the blip thinker’s true stripes show: the real faux-pas is “seeming” wedded to the status quo. Being wedded to it, on the other hand, is just fine. The challenge of our time is to run a good marketing campaign.

No, the blip thinker does not want to go forward but back, which is why it is so important to paint the current moment as “extraordinary:” amid the extraordinary, the only sensible recourse is to the ordinary, to the order that reigned during “normal” times of peace and trust. The status quo goes by different labels—the “rules-based order,” “liberal democracy,” “market discipline,” “efficiency”—but it never deviates much in its lightly sketched form from a caricature of America as it is imagined to have stood, phallocratic and proud, on November 7, 2016: a place of joyfully free markets, sensible presidents, wise technocrats, nice people on the internet, and opportunity for all. No bad news here.

For God’s Sake, Do Nothing

Blip thinking is also exculpatory; it exempts its users from thinking too deeply about how we got into this mess, what their own role may have been, and the difficult work needed to get us out. What gets lost amid all this is the obvious contribution that the old order made to the emerging catastrophe. The global “populist” moment did not arise in spite of liberal capitalism, in defiance of the global rules-based order, but because of them. The situation today is not the parenthesis of progress but its product. And this is what is truly deranging about blip thinking: by mistaking entropy for a fleeting moment of collective madness, it ensures the political establishment’s comfort in doing nothing to address the real problems besetting the world today. It is a call for only the most superficial form of action—which is to say, an excuse for inaction.

The blip thinker does not want to go forward but back, which is why it is so important to paint the current moment as “extraordinary.”

What might a truer account of the entropy infecting our world today look like? The process by which we got here is complex and cumulative. But let us begin, in perhaps slightly parochial fashion, by looking more closely at the domestic origins of the 2008 financial crash, widely seen by blip thinkers as the root of all our present woe. A tyrannical, rapacious, destructive U.S. financial industry did not descend from heaven. It emerged as a result of bad policy choices made fifty years ago—choices that laid bare the irreducible tension in liberal democracy between markets and the people. As sociologist Greta R. Krippner has shown, financialization of the U.S. economy was the policymakers’ response to the distributional conflicts triggered by inflation in the late 1960s and 1970s: deregulation was a way of letting the market, rather than government, decide how to distribute capital among competing actors.

The chief policy call behind this turn to financialization was the early 1980s repeal of Regulation Q, the New Deal-era ceiling on the interest rates that could be paid on consumer savings deposits. Removal of the internal and external constraints on credit led to an economic boom that continued, with only minor interruptions, right up until the financial crisis, and has resumed in largely identical form since. Once the United States financialized nearly all facets of its political economy, the rest of the developed world followed. But where previous periods of growth had their roots in the productive economy, the boom of the last forty years has taken place despite a fading prosperity—fueled by debt and led by finance. Meanwhile the policy dilemma that prompted this turn to the markets in the first place—how best to distribute wealth in times of scarcity—remains unaddressed, suspended amid Lipton’s phony “good times.” We still lack the social consensus or public philosophy to guide questions about the just distribution of wealth. Instead we shrug and say, “Let the market decide.” To this day, growth in the real economy remains weak and the return on capital high: an unchanging divergence that markets alone cannot cure and that all but guarantees a future of serial asset bubbles, growing income inequality, and social conflict. Our prosperity is artificial. The rising tide sinks most boats. This is not a blip.

The pathology of growth and accumulation, especially at the level of the firm, has been central to this cycle of ever-expanding credit and consumption. You could tell the history of major financial busts simply by compiling the growth targets set by successive generations of executives at big banks in the United States and Europe. This isn’t exclusive to banks but a logic endemic to all firms: the need to grow, and keep growing, and keep growing still, whatever the costs. In the words of Chuck Prince, CEO of Citigroup in the run-up to the financial crisis, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”

Blip thinkers are especially fond of pointing to the role of social media, as a vector of collective discontent, in accelerating the rise of today’s “populist” repudiation of neoliberal governance. A handful of firms now stand for a multitude of sins. The valorization of hate speech, the unmooring of information from truth, our blitzed attention spans and insatiable appetite for distraction, Donald Trump, Brexit, the poisoning of the public consciousness, the very abdication of our collective reason and will: it’s all because of them. This is true in part (albeit a very small part) but what the blip thinker ignores is how the social media giants’ business model—burning eyeballs for ads—responds to the fundamental imperative of all companies: the imperative of growth, and fealty to growth as the sole true marker of success. Market-based liberalism’s pathology of domination has been a ritual lament of cultural critics for nearly a century now. Our collective failure to control, defuse, and redirect what Christopher Lasch called “the growing influence of organizations that operate without regard to any rational objectives except their own self-aggrandizement”—a failure of the systemic imagination—has united thinkers as diverse as Randolph Bourne, Herbert Marcuse, and Richard Rorty. And yet, here we are. This is not a blip.

Prog Schlock

At this point, the blip thinker will interject: but things are so much better now than they used to be! Standards of living have risen across the globe, along with literacy, lifespans, opportunities for leisure and self-actualization. Firms have done more good than bad. They have innovated. They’ve created jobs. They’ve offered benefits, in all senses. This recitation is a standard trope in the mythology of the blip—and an important rhetorical strategy to reinforce the underlying mantra of status quo-preserving gradualism. America’s twentieth-century economy, Obama told the students in Illinois, “led to unrivaled prosperity and the rise of a broad and deep middle class and the sense that if you worked hard, you could climb the ladder of success. That’s the story of America. A story of progress.”

The sentiment behind these words is, in fact, a century old: in 1914 an editorial writer in The Nation dismissed critics of the dehumanizing aspects of mass production by reminding them that modern industry “led to a steady shortening of the hours of labor” and created “wider opportunities of pleasure, of spiritual excitement and growth.” Though the criticisms accumulate, the response stays the same. In the mind of the blip thinker, individualistic capitalism, for all its faults (and in a thought system that values equanimity and respect for the other side above all things, those faults must be acknowledged), is the most successful motor of progress we have discovered yet. And we cannot, surely, argue against progress. We cannot argue against innovation. This is a rich culture’s credo: success validates everything. In trying to hold on to the baby, blip thinking makes an apology for the bathwater.

The blip thinker’s narrative of progress stresses the benefits for all of “a growing pie.” Its teleology is equality: of wealth, of opportunity, of self-worth. But the liberal market order has never been about equality; it’s a mechanism for achieving productive growth through competition. Conflict, tension, division, and unhappiness are its steady states. This may be the blip thinker’s biggest mistake: to shill for the liberal order on the basis of values that order rejects. “I am not in favor of egalitarianism,” Milton Friedman wrote in 1976, following a controversial trip to apartheid-era southern Africa, “in the sense of equal results.” For the liberal order’s most ardent defenders, inequality has always been the sine qua non of a functioning market. We’ve grown the pie, then thrown it back in our own face.

This willed imbalance goes back even further, to liberalism’s roots. Slaveholding, colonization, the immiseration of the working class: these were not dirty secrets of early liberalism but founding principles. Edmund Burke felt that the “haughtiness of domination” of slave-owners in the American South fortified their “spirit of freedom,” rendering it “invincible.” Jeremy Bentham dismissed the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man as a pile of “anarchical fallacies,” its “absurd principle of égalité” pleasing only to “fanatics and the ignorant multitude.” From its earliest days, Domenico Losurdo tells us, the liberal market was “a site of exclusion, de-humanization and even terror.” This history is well known, but frequently forgotten. When blip thinkers lament growth in income inequality or the effects of wage stagnation, they forget that liberalism itself is premised on the idea of keeping people down. When they plead for the defense of the liberal order, they ignore that their totem is a monument to social exclusion—the very ill they seek to remedy.

The contemporary rise of reactionary populism needs to be seen in the context of liberal democracy’s history.

This is not a blip—but liberalism is flexible. It can adapt. In recent decades the liberal order has morphed into a mechanism for democratically elected leaders to avoid making tough decisions. In liberal democracy’s lopsided coupling, it’s liberalism that trumps democracy, government that yields to the market, experts who tell lawmakers which laws to make: a multi-form transposition of the philosophy’s foundational logic of domination and subjugation, freemen and slaves, owners and owned. The partnership between liberalism and democracy can never be equal. Indeed the whole point of the postwar neoliberal project was to “undo the demos”—a point made at length by Quinn Slobodian in his majestic new history, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Reasoning that, as Wilhelm Röpke put it, “a nation may beget its own barbarian invaders,” neoliberals have always seen democracy as a problem to be contained. And this is precisely the condition the blip thinker seeks to preserve. Blip thinking is a call to action from establishment political deciders that handily absolves them of the need to make any tough decisions at all.

Trust, Busted

The contemporary rise of reactionary populism needs to be seen in the context of liberal democracy’s history. It’s best understood as a collision between two groups and two domains formerly held at arm’s length: the encased market, with its laws of competition and imperatives of accumulation and growth, and the unruly demands, fed by the hyperactive information transmission channels of social and digital media, of the people. It is the revenge of the demos—however strenuously the blip thinker maintains this crisis of liberalism is in fact a crisis of democracy. Rather than seeing this collision for what it is—the revelation of a fatal tension in the liberal order that was always there and will never go away—and taking the demands of the people seriously, the blip thinker wants to simply magic the old truce between liberalism and democracy back into existence. The problem sits out there, among the consciousness of the public, not within the institutions in which the public has lost “trust.” The blip thinker thinks people, not the world, should change.

But let’s not be fooled: the claims of today’s populists to represent “the people” are every bit as disingenuous as blip thinkers’ ministrations to the weak. No surprise, then, that what blip thinkers and their presumed enemies on the populist right want often ends up looking the same. In a spirit of deregulation, to unlock innovation and growth in the financial industry, Bill Clinton and Larry Summers—blip thinkers ahead of their time—gave us the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. In a spirit of deregulation, to unlock innovation and growth in the financial industry, Donald Trump rolled back Dodd-Frank.

It’s worth taking the time to watch the signing ceremonies of the 1999 Act and Trump’s partial repeal side by side. The ceremony of twenty years ago is filled with measured oratory, flutey references to Lincoln and Oliver Wendell Holmes, pauses for gentle laughter, a warming collegiality: the theatre of grown-up government. Trump, introducing the new legislation, simply says, “There’s never been a comeback like we’ve made.” Then he gets on with bashing the media. This is a difference of style, not of substance. Both the blip thinker and the demagogue work toward the same outcome, but the road the former takes to get there is so much more dignified, so much more presidential. Blip thinking offers Trumpism in nicer clothes. This is more than a metaphor; fashion is often on the fringes of the blip thinkers’ critique of Number 45, who see in his fat-man suits and too-long ties a devastating betrayal of the liberal-executive dress code. This guy doesn’t even know how to wear a tie presidentially!

When the blip thinker expresses displeasure at the populist “moment,” the concern is merely aesthetic: if only these people knew the right way to act. But unintentionally, a deeper truth emerges. If blip thinking abhors the stench of populism, that’s because it stinks itself—because, to borrow a line from Theodor Adorno, its mansion is built of dogshit. No amount of reform, no matter how well meaning, can remove the stench of dogshit from the house of the liberal order. That order is necessarily of the same essence as all those forces to which it fancies itself superior: populism, breakneck capitalism, nativism. They are its offspring. An instrument of facilitation cannot be an instrument of redress, and this is why all the remedies proposed by blip thinkers are bound to fail—or to succeed only in deepening the miseries that led us here.

Global entropy will not yield to merely technical solutions. In August a group of Finnish environmental researchers released a paper suggesting that in the emerging era of material and energy scarcity, capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill the earth. Growing human suffering followed by certain ecological destruction: this is the future to which blip thinkers would commit us.

Nudge on, noble cowards. “No widely applicable economic models have been developed specifically for the upcoming era,” the researchers warned. But the situation is not desperate; unhappiness can be the beginning of promise. If there is some hope, it lies in the imagination, in describing a future that does not fall back on the terms of the past. This means setting out new vistas for the expression of human desire and potential without recourse to the exhausted binaries of markets and state, individual and government, freedom and control. It means a new model of development, a new vision of the civic and economic constitution, that avoids the cancers of modernization and growth. This is, unreservedly, a radical project. But before the struggle for equality comes the struggle for vocabulary. Before treatment of the global disease can begin in earnest, we must own up to liberalism’s failures. We must first say: this is not a blip, and nothing in our intellectual knapsack today will do for the journey ahead.

Aaron Timms is a writer currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

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