The Privatization of Hope

Hope is being privatized. Throughout the world, but especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, a seismic shift is underway, displacing aspirations and responsibilities from the larger society to our own individual universes. The detaching of personal expectations from the wider world transforms both.

The phenomenon is usually described as “individualization” resulting from broad trends of social evolution, leading as Thomas Edsall described it in the New York Times, to “an inexorable pressure on individuals to, in effect, fly solo.” This suggests that the individualized society is a normal phase of historical development. However, the privatization of hope is a more compelling framework by which to understand this moment. It refers to political, economic, and ideological projects of the past two generations, including the deliberate construction of the consumer economy and then the turn toward neoliberalism. We have not lost all hope over the past generation; there is a maddening profusion of personal hopes. Under attack has been the kind of hope that is social, the motivation behind movements to make the world freer, more equal, more democratic, and more livable.

Not only does this privatization weaken collective capacities to solve collective problems, but it also deadens the very sense that collectivity can or should exist, as the commons dissolves and social sources of problems become hidden. This leads to pathologies that, according to a sociologist Edsall cites, “undermine solidarity as the glue of social life.” Americans are less and less aware of how their paramount concern for their personal selves is intertwined with their social selves, indeed often unaware even of having a social self.

Read the full article at Boston Review


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