17 February 2013

Neoliberal Madness

There’s an idiomatic expression, at least in American English, that goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.” I’ve noticed this idiom pop up in a few Top 40 pop songs. First, there’s Olly Murs’s “Troublemaker,” in which Flo Rida raps,

            Maybe I’m insane
            Cause I keep doin the same damn thing
            Thinking one day we gon change

Then, there’s Usher’s “Numb,” in which he sings:

            Keep on doin the same old thing
            And you expecting change
            Well is that really insanity
            Or just a loser’s game

Usher’s formulation clearly shows that this is a specifically neoliberal conception of insanity: inflexibility is a loser’s game, not a winning bet. Neoliberalism requires flexibility and adaptability for success. Crazies/losers are inflexible—they keep doing the same old/damn thing, expecting this to work, expecting to win from this invariant behavior. (Interestingly, the probability should work out in their favor, right? Each coin toss is a 50/50 chance of turning up heads or tails, so if you keep calling heads, eventually you’ll win. So the question is: why is it compelling for us to think that inflexibility is probabilistically a losing bet, when in fact it might not be?)

If there are other examples of this idiom in recent/recent-ish song lyrics, I'd love to know!

1 comment:

  1. inflexibility is an illusion. change is continually operating, even when you think you're doing the same thing over and over again. it is embracing the change that breaks the illusion of sameness. change is a constant process even when you're whirling in circles. the question is not whether to be flexible or inflexible, but do you recognize the world you're in?