Idiotism

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Neal Curtis

You might recognise Neal Curtis' exasperation that: "Privatisation and the associated practices of deregulation, competition, and marketisation have achieved such ascendancy that it is almost impossible to challenge this discourse without seeming to be out of touch, backward, romantic, or even politically sectarian, unwilling to bend the knee to corporate absolutism"

We do indeed face idiotic politicians - like UK ministers George Osborne and Michael Gove. They dogmatically impose mean, whimsical, unworkable, wasteful and regressive policies.

They then label challengers as amateurs, slackers and dreamers. We also face quintessential idiocy in much mass culture, especially TV. The likes of Big Brother, X-Factor and The Apprentice are rarely outshone by critical broadcasting that questions the powers that be. So this enticingly-titled book with a clever cover graphic of a padlock/corporatized/faceless individual instantly draws you in.

Curtis draws on the Greek words idios, meaning private, and idotes, a private person. His core thesis is that the era of neoliberalism produces a very debased common sense notion of human self, permeating every private moment. Idiotism is his buzzword for this process and the state of being that it creates. And yet, bizarrely, Curtis claims that we do not face what Marxists would call "false consciousness".

Idiotism also includes the privatisation of public space. The Occupy Movement highlighted the corporate enclosure of public space like parks, and the plundering of public wealth to rescue private excesses.

Occupy scored in popular consciousness, yet foundered on wider questions of agency and strategy. Curtis is more concerned with asking why it is that mass tolerance survives for a system so patently beyond its sell-by date - economically, ecologically, democratically and culturally. He asks the most philosophical of questions. What is it about our lives that prevents us changing a system we know to be so shit?

Idiotism inhibits everything we do. It "closes down thinking and practice". He gets particularly angry with Cold War capitalist fundamentalist Ayn Rand. However some notions of privacy are welcome. Curtis wants to build on Gramsci's analysis of hegemony, but grounds his own response in terms derived mainly from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, controversial for his association with Nazism.

Even setting aside Heidegger's Nazi affiliation, this sadly displaces any last chance for a classical Marxist theory of alienation. Curtis has not quite nailed his ambitious bid to theorise "idiotism", but there is a rich mix of descriptive truth here, well worth engaging with.

Idiotism is published by Pluto, £19.50