“Neoliberal Utopias and Nightmares.”
Acclaimed science fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin, in her book The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, crafts a tale that crackles with the electricity of life. This is not a book review nor really a review of the sci-fi novel, for in truth, I’ve not read it. But I have read the introduction of scholar, philosopher Elizabeth Povinelli’s, her work is entitled Economies of Abandonment, the title of which is telling. It’s “The Child in the Broom Closet.”
There is a child living in a dark-setted broom closet in the city of Omelas. She’s covered in sores and filth and waste. And everyone in knows this, and all of Omelas is happy. They go about their lives, their work, their play with a silent knowledge of this child’s intense and unremitting suffering. Indeed, Povinelli suggests that Omelas’ happiness rests upon the suffering of this tortured, miserable, lonely child. She is naked and beaten and unloved, for when some sensitive soul feels this rank injustice, their hot tears cool and dry under the simple icy reality that this is just the way things are in Omelas. Some quietly leave the city of happiness, burdened by the knowledge of this bitter cruelty.
Povinelli uses LeGuin’s fictional creation to examine our present reality under what she turns late liberalism or neoliberalism. By this, she means the social-political project of almost unchecked capital accumulation while raiding the public commons for private gain such as the state’s elevation of private schools during the concomitant abandonment of public schools. In a nutshell, neoliberalism means the triumph of the market over all others social values. What does this mean when we think of the battered and bruised child in the broom closet?
The neoliberal Clinton era that began with executions and ended with a consolidation of mass incarceration also featured the unprecedented prosecutorial, judicial, philosophical attack on children dubbed vicious superpredators by Hillary Clinton who her words needed to be brought to us. It is noteworthy, therefore, that Pennsylvania, the site of the greatest number of juvenile lifers on earth, reflected the loss of votes for Clinton in two discrete populations: about 1% less black votes than Obama received, and an overwhelming number of prison guards who voted for Trump despite the fact that president was most responsible for this prison jobs and this prison boom by sending billions of dollars to states to build new prisons in his notorious 1994 crime bill. Like the tortured child in the broom closet, children were cast into the hells of adult prison while the newly rich neoliberal class drank champagne and enjoyed the good life.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.