Behold court nominee – now Justice – Brett Kavanough. In one concentrated packet of self-pitying, entitled rage we can observe the embodiment of capitalist deregulation in its purest form. Let me explain. Regulation is often discussed as those laws that limit business practices considered harmful to people or nature. For corporations and their politicians regulation is a destructive and misguided offense: reckless interference in the free market; suffocator of innovation; killer of jobs.
Actually, regulation is the web of feedback loops that keeps living systems viable. In ecology it works largely through species interactions to maintain a level of system balance. If foxes eat too many rabbits, for example, the resulting bunny shortage will cause the foxes to die back, migrate or find other food. In any of these cases, the rabbit population gets to recover. Capitalist feedback respond to shortage in the opposite way, by escalating instead of backing off. When Lake Superior trout were fished to near extinction, corporations developed robotic submarines to hunt the surviving spawn in their lake-bottom hideouts.
Our nervous systems practice regulation through “exitatory” and “inhibitory” impulses. When you’re hungry you get the urge to eat. When you’re full you get the signal to stop. This governs all kinds of impulses. Fantasies about harming ourselves or others, eating unrecognized berries, taking things that aren’t ours, saying things we would regret. These possibilities cross our minds regularly but inhibitory impulses keep us from acting recklessly.
Deregulation is the operating principle of capitalism. Eliminating the inhibitory impulse allows wealth to be accumulated without concern about consequences. Maritime companies scrape ocean ecosystems in pursuit of shrimp, grinding up whole ecological communities in the process; mining corporations fill rivers with toxic trailings, industrial agriculture drains aquifers and sterilizes soil; consumer markets serve up carcinogens in foods, toys and cosmetics; products are designed for disposability and obsolescence; workers are deliberately overworked and underpaid.
For the system to work, the very notion of regulation must be discredited. Regulating anything – guns, pesticides, “dark money,” male entitlement, car emissions or food ingredients – amounts to an attack on everyone’s personal freedom. A culture of aggressive deregulation threatens people’s capacity for restraint and erodes the boundary between idle fantasy and actionable reality. High school fantasies about shooting up the school (especially the bullies) are not new. The socially sanctioned abandonment of impulse control is. The assault on social self-regulation takes the form of ridiculing compassionate behavior or efforts at mutual understanding as “political correctness” – to be replaced with unregulated racism, misogyny and other hatreds.
But deregulation is not for everyone. In order for business to be deregulated, workers must be controlled. For the racist and misogynist impulses of white male culture to be unleashed, the resistance of women and dark people must be contained. For waters to be freely poisoned, incarceration industries to flourish, protest must be criminalized. The freedom of the colonizer assumes the subjugation of the colonized.
Brett Kavanough is both an instrument and product of this process. As a Justice, he can be counted on to accelerate the deregulation of the rich and the over-regulation of the poor. On the stand and in the courts he embodies the double-faced principle of entitlement: the rich white man has no boundaries that society has the right to enforce; women, the dark and the poor have no boundaries the white man is bound to respect.
But while we are transfixed by the scale and ferocity of the assault, we must make sure to notice the undercurrent of fear that fuels it. An aristocracy resorts to full spectrum reaction when the sugar coating on its rule is wearing off. If we hold that fear up as a mirror we will see in the reflection a view of ourselves that we might not recognize: powerful, resilient and heirs to a rich history of resistance.
That’s the “we” we’ve been waiting for.