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Capitalist Realism
Is There No Alternative?
Mark Fisher
read on September 11, 2020

This was a very short book, but one that I very reluctantly finished. It's not bad, per say, it's just so self-referentially academic that I couldn't follow large portions of it. Fisher makes references to other authors and ideas without adding any surrounding context, and I was often left confused in exactly the same way as while reading The Left Hand of Darkness, for exactly the same reason. One random example:

Postmodernism can be construed as the name for the complex of crises that the decline in the belief in the big Other has triggered, as Lyotard’s famous formulation of the postmodern condition – ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ –suggests.

It is baffling to me that the above sentence could mean anything at all, and the book is filled with them. That said, Fisher makes many points that I thought were interesting, and honestly just wished that someone could dumb down a bit for me.

  • Interesting point that Capitalism has had no intellectual resistence since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. A whole generation of people today have no viewpoint for any alternative economic ideas other than capitalism.
  • "Interpassivity" as the idea that watching a film like Wall-E is actually damaging, is it "performs our anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to consume with impunity."
  • Interesting discussion about the stress that capitalism puts on people:

I want to argue that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill? The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high.


In The Selfish Capitalist, James points to significant rises in the rates of ‘mental distress’ over the last 25 years. ‘By most criteria’, James reports, rates of distress almost doubled between people born in 1946 (aged thirty-six in 1982) and 1970 (aged thirty in 2000). For example, 16 per cent of thirty-six-year-old women in 1982 reported having ‘trouble with nerves, feeling low, depressed or sad’, whereas 29 per cent of thirty year-olds reported this in 2000 (for men it was 8 per cent in 1982, 13 per cent in 2000).


Specifically, James points to the way in which selfish capitalism stokes up both aspirations and the expectations that they can be fulfilled. ... In the entrepreneurial fantasy society, the delusion is fostered that anyone can be Alan Sugar or Bill Gates, never mind that the actual likelihood of this occurring has diminished since the 1970s – a person born in 1958 was more likely than one born in 1970 to achieve upward mobility through education, for example. The Selfish Capitalist toxins that are most poisonous to well-being are the systematic encouragement of the ideas that material affluence is they key to fulfillment, that only the affluent are winners and that access to the top is open to anyone willing to work hard enough, regardless of their familial, ethnic or social background – if you do not succeed, there is only one person to blame.

In general, I thought that this was an interesting approach to take. The internalization of these health problems onto the individual (you are not strong enough, you are not good enough, you need to work harder) is structural necessity of capitalism (after all, each of those are selling opportunities) that must be feeding emergent behaviors at the societal level that are hot garbage.

I did not like this book. It was needlessly obtuse and honestly I lost the thread on what the main points even were. However, I've often thought about the general human misery caused by the constant push for faster progress, and what possible alternatives would be. I think the core problem is actually one of foreign policy. We feel nationally compelled to lead the world, and there are obvious lifestyle and saftey benefits of doing so. If the USA slows down in order to prioritize equity and happiness, those values don't necessarily win - USA will just diminish on the world stage. Fisher doesn't stray anywhere near these considerations, and I'm not saying that there aren't answers here, but this is the far more interesting avenue of inquiry to me.

Author Bio:

Mark Fisher (11 July 1968 – 13 January 2017), best known for his blogging as k-punk, was a British writer, critic, cultural theorist, philosopher and teacher based in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. He initially achieved acclaim for his blogging as k-punk in the early 2000s, and was known for his writing on radical politics, music, and popular culture. Fisher published several books, including the unexpected success Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009), and contributed to publications such as The Wire, Fact, New Statesman and Sight & Sound. He was also the co-founder of Zero Books, and later Repeater Books. He died by suicide in January 2017, shortly before the publication of The Weird and the Eerie (2017).