2011 | Shock Treatment

Disaster capitalists share the same inability to distinguish destruction and creation, between hurting and healing.
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

Revolutions do not occur when a population gains the capability to implement it, but only when it acknowledges this capability.*
Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff, The Brain*


Over the last six months or so, a lot of effort has been put into trying to make the current Dutch government change its mind concerning the budget cuts on culture. Leading professionals from the fields of art, economists, philosophers, politicians and many more have all tried to persuade the government to be more sensible in its approach to the cultural sector. In order to speak a language that was believed to be understood and appreciated by the government, a lot of the arguments used where based on the language and the reasoning of economics. The main arguments generally revolved around 1. The destruction of capital as a consequence of the rigorous cuts, 2. The importance of cultural activity as an incentive for foreign investors to settle, 3. The (economic) innovation which springs from a diverse and rich cultural climate. All in vain.

Any argumentation based on economics proved pointless. If anything, so much capital is being destroyed, so much well invested money is being forcibly removed, so many institutions are being ruined, that economically speaking, this is about the worst course of action conceivable. From an economical point of view it is clear, that the best argument would be for an increase of the investments in arts and culture, as it is a sector, which time and again has proven its economical worth and stability, as opposed to e.g. the housing market, professional football, the banking sector etc.

The drastic cuts can therefore only be seen as an ideological move on behalf of this government, and the talk of ‘cleaning’ or ‘curing’ the sector as a euphemism of the worst sort; neoliberal newspeak for administering shock treatment. The much debated ‘lack of vision’ is another argument used against the budget cuts, but it only stresses the complete misunderstanding of what is happening. There is no cultural vision, because the government does not care about culture as such. There is, however, a  clear neoliberal vision, that of the scorched earth. Just as the farmers in the Amazon ruthlessly cut down ancient forests and replace delicate, fertile and rich environments with uniform genetically modified soya-plants, so this government plans to cut down the Dutch cultural rainforest and replace it with the barren wasteland of the neoliberal ideology. Centers for knowledge and innovation, libraries and institutions which have evolved over decades are replaced with the uniform seeds of entertainment and market-approved ‘culture’. And all the while they tell us in a patronizing voice: It’s for your own good, we are liberating you.

And here is where it gets really depressing: We, the cultural sector, the public sector and the opposition parties, do not seem to get it! We still go along with the notion, that, indeed we need to cut the budgets for the cultural sector, sell off our public utilities, we need to tighten the belt all around because, well, there is the crisis, right? We try to pretend we understand why and try to act just like the ‘grown ups’, we ‘take responsibility’. We try to come up with arguments that we believe would make sense to them, economical, ethical, historical. But the fact remains, there is no sound reason for the budget cuts or the general dismantling of the welfare state. There is only the ideologically driven desire to tear down all that stands in the way of making a buck. Public utilities? Waste of money! Sick people? Business opportunity! Arts and education? Freeloaders and know-it-all’s – up against the wall!

The government means to demolish all the public structures at once. Now, while they are in ‘power’. They know they may not be in power for long, hence the sycophantic insistence on the mantra of the 18 billion euro. Once destroyed, it will take decades to rebuild. It will not matter who wins the next elections, the damage will be done. The cultural sector, healthcare, public utilities etc., all destroyed. To the neoliberal each sector is a new Iraq, a new Green zone. It may cost an insane amount of money to ‘liberate’ it – but, hey, that is just taxpayer-money – in the end all that matters is, that the multinationals can expand their markets. And if we dare question that simple fact, we are quickly and forcefully reproached for being against freedom and democracy.

Well, perhaps we need to be against that kind of freedom and democracy. Perhaps freedom is not worth defending if it means the freedom of the strong and wealthy to financially subjugate and enslave the weak and the poor. Perhaps freedom is not worth defending if it means the freedom to invade other countries and loot their resources. Perhaps a democracy in which the soundbite, the tweet and the outright lies of the elected officials are the main sources of information, is not worth defending. Perhaps a democracy ruled more by fear of the other, than the promise to help your fellow man, is not worth defending. Perhaps it is time to rethink the very foundations of our society and ask ourselves ‘is there really no other way?’

Of course there is another way. It may be unclear at the moment, but as we regain our voices, formulate our ideals and puncture the neoliberal bubbles, it will become clearer. It may not bring the promise of a new utopia. It may require us to be a lot more humble than we have become accustomed to over the last centuries, but perhaps it is time we became part of the world instead of always trying to be above it. If we dare climb down from our Western pedestal, we may find ourselves in a sustainable world among neighbors, instead of in a gated community among enemies.

Or not, who knows.

The only certainty we have now is, that if the neoliberal ideology is allowed to continue its unfettered rampage, then the fire-brigade coming to the aid of the burning cities of the near future, will be the tsunami of melted polar ice caps – finally flooding the very last remnants of Dutch culture.




*my translation