Here is a good article on neoliberalism and mental health, although I would say “capitalism and the human spirit.” The basic point is that capitalism creates a world that tears down the human spirit at the same time it destroys human community. Spirit and community go together and depend on one another. Capitalism ruins both.
Capitalism is inherently cruel. It is a system of ruthless competition, of relentless growth and expansion, of war and imperialism, of extreme polarization of wealth and poverty.
Of its myriad cruelties, one of the worst is its attack on the human sense of worth. Capitalism is about winners and losers. Most people are losers.
The meritocratic ethos of contemporary capitalism … states that social class is no longer relevant, and therefore everybody ends up with the socio-economic position they deserve. This produces a chronic sense of self-blame, unease, anxiety and self-recrimination, with individuals having nobody to blame but themselves for not being famous, very rich or more attractive.
If you are a loser it’s because of yourself—you failed because you’re just not worth that much. The market carefully calibrates relative worth: price is worth. If your price is low, so is your worth.
Another of capitalism’s great cruelties is its incessant focus on the lone individual. Everyone stands alone, and should. You have it inside yourself to excel. If you don’t, the blame goes inside.
The social world [is seen as] is a fixed set of institutions, no matter how unjust, but [where] the psychic-emotional world is sufficiently malleable as to compensate for that. Problems and solutions are therefore all within the individual but also within the power of the individual.
With capitalism, society becomes reconfigured into separate “agents,” as the economic textbooks like to say, each seeking its own gain in the free market. Capitalism is like battery acid drenching the flesh of human society. It is the death of solidarity. Of community.
This cluster of ideas—that the free market is just a neutral arbiter of worth, that each individual has it within themselves to succeed or fail, and that social arrangements are irrelevant to this—these ideas are as superbly designed to defend and justify capitalism as any I can imagine.
I remember reading an excellent history of Tibet by Tom Grunfeld. The author discusses the social and political consequences of the belief in karma.
This doctrine could be seen as one of the most ingenious and pernicious forms of social control ever devised. … If one were born a slave, so the doctrine of karma taught, it was not the fault of the slaveholder but rather the slaves themselves for having committed some misdeeds in a previous life. In turn, the slaveholder was simply being rewarded for good deeds in a previous life. For the slave to attempt to break the chains that bound him, or her, would be tantamount to a self-condemnation to a rebirth into a life worse than the one already being suffered. This is certainly not the stuff of which revolutions are made; it is not, therefore, surprising that there were few peasant revolts, for this idea of karma was universally accepted. [my emphasis]
This, by the way, is the traditional Tibet celebrated through a romantic fog by devotees of the Dalai Lama and company. Traditional Tibet was actually a impoverished and deeply immiserated society of absolutely Stygian backwardness. The lives of serfs were so bad that population had been steadily declining for centuries. It was Chinese communism that rescued them from all that.
But there were no revolts. The doctrine of karma helped see to that. We have our own odious karma doctrine in market ideology. We have no revolts. No class consciousness. What Stygian darkness lies ahead?
- Mental Health and Neoliberalism: an Interview with William Davies
- Grunfeld, A. Tom. The Making of Modern Tibet. Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.