The Proper Diagnosis

Before heading to bed I read this Adrienne LaFrance piece for The Atlantic about techno-authoritarianism, and maybe it’s only because I recently read Clara E. Mattei’s The Capital Order but 3,000 seems like an awful lot of words not to include a critique of capitalism, which is the actual, underlying disorder.

This seems especially perplexing given that LaFrance makes hay over Marc Andreessen’s “manifesto” approvingly citing Italian futurist F. T. Marinetti as among his “patron saints of techno-optimism”. As pointedly noted by LaFrance, “Marinetti followed his Manifesto of Futurism (1909) with his Fascist Manifesto (1919)”. Mattei’s entire book is about how capitalism creates and manipulates austerity, with half of her pair of examples being Italy between the two world wars.

At any rate, in the depths of today’s existential depression, a state in which I find myself in more and more over the past two months or so, I’m especially frownful at any analysis of any part of the American economy that can’t spare even half a sentence for a critique of capitalism, so in the wake of the LaFrance, I offer two other links that I read just before it.

danah boyd:

People keep telling me that it’s clearly technology because the rise in depression, anxiety, and suicidality tracks temporally alongside the development of social media and cell phones. It also tracks alongside the rise in awareness about climate change. And the emergence of an opioid epidemic. And the increase in school shootings. And the rising levels of student debt. And so many pressures that young people have increasingly faced for the last 25 years. None of these tell the whole story. All of these play a role in what young people are going through. And yet, studies are commissioned to focus on one factor alone: technology. (And people get outraged when reports like the one from the National Academies show inclusive causality.)


Now let’s look at some of the sources of anxiety. Reducing climate anxiety through sound approaches to combating climate change would certainly be constructive. So would ensuring that young women had reproductive rights. So would protecting students from being shot down at school or walking down the street. So would empowering motivated youth to get an education without become trapped in indentured servitude. So would providing food security for families. So would making sure that a parent could afford to be around to help them out. So would guaranteeing that young people are accepted in a society no matter their gender, sexuality, ability, race, religion, caste, etc. Y’know… the fundamentals.

David Roth:

There’s a bit in Maureen Tkacik’s comprehensively damning 2019 feature about Boeing in The New Republic that I keep coming back to, both here and in general. The central tension of that story is about how, as a former Boeing physicist told Tkacik, “a long and proud ‘safety culture’ was rapidly being replaced… with ‘a culture of financial bullshit.'” The supplanting of that purpose—of any purpose, really, at just about any business in just about any industry you can think of—with the blank nihilism of financial capitalism’s profit-driven imperatives is familiar by now; management’s quest to see how much more cheaply an increasingly poor product can be sold at the same price and under the same name as what came before is, at bottom, the story of basically every industry or institution currently in decline or collapse.

If it was always foolish to expect the free market to make things better, it feels more fanciful by the day to imagine a future in which the cynics and sociopaths in charge of that market do anything but continue to make it worse; they’ve evinced no capacity for that, but also no interest in it. Whether this deterioration is the result of buccaneering libertarian delusion or just a bloodless calculation that concepts like “safety” and “quality” are more nice-to-have’s than need-to-have’s, it appears to be the only idea that any of these people have. As this slips further into abstraction—if those mishaps-at-altitude don’t really ding the stock price enough to bother any of the parties capable of doing something about them—the problem compounds and compounds.

As I’ve said before: we really need some sort of a People’s Diagnostic Manual because the correct diagnosis isn’t that I’m depressed, it’s that the pathologies of neoliberal capitalism hurt people rated as not having any value. From the abyss, I spit at anyone who fails to make such a proper diagnosis, and offer the boyd and the Roth as empathetic counters that the only way out, for the world writ large if not necessarily in time to help me, is through solidarity and mutual capacity.