Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?, 0 Books, 2009

Mark Fishers Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Is the philosophers first book ( to my knowledge ) that outlines his views on this emerging political/philosophical paradigm. Fisher has commented on his blog, K-Punk, about Capitalist Realism for a long time and personally I think a book outlining the position of various modern day forms in relation to C.R. is long overdue and needed now, post-crunch, more than ever before ( the reason for this will be outlined later and is detailed wonderfully in the closing pages of the book ). The premise of the book is exploring the modern day disease of Capitalist Realisms infectious value attribution, bureaucratic epidemic and tangible evasiveness. The term was first used in the 50's and 60's referring to commodity art ( Pop Art ) and also for German Abstract painters like Gerhard RichterSigmar Polke and Wolf Vostell. Everything has a value, everything is something to be exchanged, bought in to and sold and measured.


Fisher explores a myriad of facets of this post modern disease, it's effects on public sectors like the N.H.S. and the rather crushing and paradoxical contortions it's applies to the education services. Fishers main ally in painting the multitude of wrong doings and perversions of Capitalist Realism is in fact an integral component of Capitalist Realism. This component is 'The Business Ontology'. Fishers remarks on this particular symptom had me almost laughing and certainly cringing, many members of my family work in various capacities in education and are involved with their corresponding unions whereas I work in a private sector for an enormous multi-media service provider. Business Ontologies have eroded the productivity away from both private and public sectors with alarming effects.  Fisher is employed in the higher education sector and often describes circumstances of how The Business Ontology is at odds with or hindering 'the job' of teaching tomorrows bright young citizens, his exasperation is familiar and not dissimilar to so many despairing soliloquies I've nodded along to over supper. The Business Ontology is information ages obsession of quantifying all aspects of life, naturally it's most damaging to the public sectors where 'care', 'quality' and 'experience' matter most. The Business Ontologies of the public sectors often coincide with Kafkian/Orwellian modes of anxiety inducing monitoring and de-centralized hierarchies of evaluation, but more on these later.... Todays obsession with reducing life into ticks and crosses or ( perhaps more aptly considering the causation mechanics ) zeros and ones has reduced whole careers into 'dancing bears', dancing at the mercy of the zeros and ones. For example if a class of children finish a year on above average grades, the teacher of their next years class starts with the prospect of a disadvantage. Teachers are targeted ruthlessly today, but do not have the prospect of un-capped commissions like their highly targeted counter-parts in sales or recruitment sectors. A teacher has to show that his or her class achieve a certain amount of improvement from point at which they entered the year. So if a class of seven year old girls enter the academic year with a 'reading age' of a masters graduate their teacher would still need to achieve a whole years improvement in their reading age. Naturally this happens all the time across the UK, learning is not a linea progression and the leaps and bounds children make through education come at different times for different children. This blinkered targeting occurs in every facet and at every level of today's education systems, the problem would not be quite so chronic if the teachers failure to achieve targets did not result in endless evaluations and re-training, leading to more stress and time and work for people who are already wasting an inordinate amount of time of this Information Age Market Stalinism. This I.A.M.S. is not just infecting education, it's the reason why a hospital would rather operate on bunions as opposed to tumours ( the former having a faster turn around time and chance of 'full recovery' ):  it's all so that targets can be hit and boxes ticked, for they are ultimately what decides the level of funding for next year. It's, of course, not strictly the targets that do the damage, it's their acute nature. A target, that can be measured and quantified, will always be simplistic and essentially incompatible with complex and unquantifiable aspects of life - these aspects are what makes the public sectors, people helping and working with people. Because of such an innate incompatibility the striving and achieving of these targets is contrary to the real intent of the public sectors, to hit the targets and to play by the systems rules one would have to actively work against the traditional moral and ethical strata of these established services. This is not an exaggeration, but the prevalence of 'the system', the I.A.M.S., is now our modern life, working against a system that actively destroys and throttles the efficiency and purpose from our work is now what we accept life is all about.    


Another set of mechanisms that erodes and strangles in unison with the I.A.M.S. and various maladies mentioned above is Kafkian/Orwellian modes of decentralized hierarchy's and constant evaluation/indefinite post-ponement of punishment and resolution. Anyone who has been frustrated with a large corporations labyrinth of call centers will be familiar with these mechanisms, but the obstructions for people to acquire a service or buy a product are the least worrying effects. In the public sectors such as Education Fisher explains of how external assessment bodies such as the infamous O.F.S.T.E.D have drifted away from their established format of a large, intrusive and diligent inspection every four years to a format of out-sourcing the inspection to the teachers themselves, yearly, or termly self assessments, targets achieved and targets set, short term goals and long term goals now dominate the process of homogenizing the education service. For someone who has not experienced the blindingly absurdity of UK Capitalist Realism, and the New Labourian malaise of I.A.M.S. a school that evaluates and constantly renews its goals and processes may sound like an effective system. Unfortunately this is a county mile, along 20 zones and speed bumps and speed cameras, away from the reality. For the departments and teachers themselves this results in a daily auto-flagellation, it wouldn't be so disastrous if the targets and goals did not mutate and shift with such fickle predictability. The result is that the teachers are trapped under an anxiety inducing cloud of constant evaluation, constant punishment and criticism. The quick but thorough and consistent four yearly inspections have been exploded and atomized to a level of constant presence at every level, the entities within the system have to adhere to the sectors paradigm and as a result operate for the I.A.M.S. as opposed to utilizing it for helping them work. In effect the entities themselves revert to systemically autophagian components whilst dancing for the zeros and ones.

Atomized Temporality/Ontology:

The various injuries incurred by the public sector through 1: the de-centralized/kafkian modes of evaluation and 2: contorting to conformity with the Business Ontology are only two examples of the areas that Fisher explores with regards to modern Britain's public services awkward trapping within Capitalist Realism. His methods of fleshing out and evaluating how almost every thread of modern Britain's fabric is writhing under Capitalist Realism are concise and profound. I have only hinted upon the few spheres of Capitalist Realist rot that Fishers book echoed from my own experience. The main impression left upon me after finishing Fishers Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? is the feeling that economic systems, political mechanics, our psyche, temporalities and ontologies have been exploded, atomized into isolated positions of helplessness, where Capitalist Realism can control and order solely propagate. Fisher provides hope that we can break free from such control, I feel too large a proportion is Putrefying and converted to the mechanisms of Capitalist Realism.


I intend to post further thoughts on the specifics of some of the other areas explored in Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? in the future, in the meantime please feel free to make your opinion known to me regarding my comments.

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