In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote:
“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
I wonder if Fukuyama would make that same statement today? If Western liberal democracy, represented by the United States, is indeed the final form of human government, we are in deep trouble. And not only us humans. Other animals in particular and all life on planet Earth in general is doomed. Given the state of our global financial economy, endless wars and mass human suffering, have we really arrived at the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution? What does ideology even mean?
The philosophical definition of ideology is a set of beliefs by which a group or society orders reality so as to render it intelligible. From a government/political perspective, ideology is defined as a body of ideas that reflect the beliefs and interests of a nation, political system, etc., and underlies political action.
Note that neither definition has words like “truth” or “objective reality” in them. Believing something does not make it true, nor does a belief necessarily reflect reality. Most Americans believe Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are liberals. Most Americans also claim to believe in a supreme being. These beliefs shape their reality and to some extent guide their behavior. Someone who identifies themselves as a liberal might vote for Obama or Clinton. Someone who identifies themselves as a Christian might pray and go to church on Sundays.
What a wonderful world it would be if reality was whatever we wanted to believe it to be. Truth would be relative, since my beliefs (and therefore my reality) would differ slightly from the beliefs of others. Clearly, this type of thinking is inherently problematic, particularly when people hold diametrical beliefs. One has only to look at the disastrous effects of cultural relativism in Europe for evidence of this claim.
Yet this is exactly the situation created by ideology. Today, the United States is dominated by neoliberalism, an ideology determined to reduce state interventions in economic and social activities and deregulate labor and financial markets, commerce and investments. The aim of neoliberalism is ostensibly to liberate the enormous potential of capitalism to create an unprecedented era of social well-being in the world’s population.
Neoliberalism seems to be a boon for the 85 richest people on the planet, but ask any of the 3.5 billion poorest people on Earth how it is working for them. I doubt they have even heard the term before. We don’t have to go to a Brazilian favela to find people for whom an “unprecedented era of social well-being” is a sick joke. Right here in the United States, where we used to have a middle class, neoliberalism is working its magic, with a vengeance. 2.3 million Americans are in prison and at least as many are living on the streets. More than 46 million people live in poverty, 22% of whom are children. Unemployment is so rampant, the government has resorted to simply faking the numbers. In the three years after 2008 when the financial crisis began, 95% of the income gains in the United States went to the richest 1% of the population.
Is neoliberalism the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution? It appears to be more of an endgame.
Fukuyama implies that we have arrived at a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds.” We are supposed to believe that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to neoliberalism. There is no alternative to capitalism. There is no alternative to a consumption-based economy. There is no alternative to endless growth. There is no alternative to usury and centrally-controlled fractional reserve banking. There is no alternative to energy created from non-renewable resources. There is no alternative to the healthcare “industry.” There is no alternative to the way we educate our children. There is no alternative to the two-party system. There is no alternative to war. There is no alternative to drone attacks that kill innocent civilians. There is no alternative to spying on innocent civilians in the name of national security/interests. There is no alternative to the necessity of “leaders.” There is no alternative to human civilization as it exists today.
Yet all of these things are simply the manifestation of ideology. These are nothing more than a body of ideas that reflect the beliefs and interests of a nation. Someone decided this was how the world should be, and we have all been manipulated to believe in these ideas. Can’t we come up with some better ideas? If the system isn’t working, it’s not the failure of the system that is the problem, it is a failure of imagination. Rather than trying to fix a system that fails the majority of people on the planet, maybe it is time for an altogether new system.
Beliefs are powerful. They not only give us courage to persevere, they also hinder us from truth and reality. Consider the poor Southerner on food stamps and welfare who votes Republican. Or the Pope, who claims to care about poor people, while living in an opulent palace decked in gold and priceless artwork. How much longer will we believe the ideologies of those who clearly care nothing about our best interests?
Some people will continue to simply go along to get along. As long as we are still able to buy cheap, low-quality goods at Wal-Mart made by Chinese slaves, stuff our faces with low-grade, cancer and diabetes-causing junk food, and pay a fraction of the price at the gas pump that everyone else in the world pays, we should just keep our mouths shut, our heads down and lose ourselves in endless distractions and mindless entertainment.
There is no alternative…or is there?