As is well known, Zizek describes contemporary society in terms of the superego injunction to enjoy. We are daily enjoined to enjoy. To be sure, being told to enjoy is nearly guaranteed to preclude actual enjoyment. Imagine kids being told to go have fun, go and play. They usually role their eyes and sit around bored. What do you want to do? I don't know. What do you want to do?
In his new book, Breaks in the Chain (based on interviews with immigrant workers in a meatpacking plant), Paul Apostolidis describes the contemporary factory as a regime of biopolitics rather than discipline. Paul Passavant is also working along these lines, exploring the disintegration of discipline in the society of control.
Foucault describes the move from liberalism to neoliberalism as a move from markets to competition. Neoliberalism is a governmentality based on the self-development of individual capacities in order better to compete. Even if this idea makes sense for Hayek and Friedman, it seems clear enough that it does not describe real existing neoliberalism.
First, real existing neoliberalism has not unleashed competition. Or maybe it's better to say that the notion of competition is incomplete. What sort of competition? One where competitors are equal? One where they know the rules of the game? One with clear rewards and punishment? Competition makes it sound as if there were games with beginnings and endings rather than multiply interconnected and mutually determining processes the conditions, side-effects, and outcomes of which remain opaque. So rather than understanding neoliberalism bluntly in terms of unleashed competition (really, it doesn't even make sense in terms of global markets; as is well known, the US has multiple trade barriers on various products; numerous trade patterns were established prior to the entry of lots of different countries into markets, thereby disadvantaging them; workers aren't free to go where they won't etc), it makes more sense to think about in terms of the diminution of state services for the majority and their redirection toward finance capital.
Second, competition, along with the idea of human capacities Foucault associates with neoliberalism, presuppose a system of rewards. Winners get prizes. Under real existing neoliberalism, perhaps better understood as despotic financialism, to be a winner has little to do with actually winning. It's more a class category--the elite. So CEOs of companies that do poorly still get massive gold parachutes. Investment banks that lose more than they make still give out massive bonuses. At the top of the food chain, there is no punishment and constant reward. Likewise, at the bottom of the food chain there is constant punishment--suspicion, deprivation, harassment, subjugation. Folks here are treated brutality, often by managers trying to demonstrate their own flexibility and adaptability as they substitute physical and verbal abuse for discipline and norms (Apostolidis makes this point in Breaks in the Chain, describing in graphic detail the conditions immigrant workers face in a Tyson's Food factory).
One might start to interject here, asking about all the multiple personnel reviews, department reviews, oversight, etc. In academia and non-profit, there are all sorts of mechanisms of surveillance that one might association with something like discipline and something like rewards and punishment (merit pay, for example). It doesn't really work like that, though. Here is an example: a few years ago I was asked to review someone for promotion at a British university. I was sent multiple forms, multiple lists of expectations, instructions regarding the forms, etc. But I was never sent the candidate's materials. It seemed that all I was supposed to do was to associate the expectations with the forms. Similarly, for large grants one is told what the goals of the project are. Often (not always) proposals that repeat the grant language back are rewarded. There are incentives, then, just to repeat the language of surveillance and skip the actual surveillance (that is, the processes of reflection and behavior modification more typically associated with self-reflection and critique). Our incentives are not to tell the truth but to repeat what the hearer wants--it saves time, is less trouble, makes everything smoother.
To reiterate, the second point is that despotic financialism does not incite processes of self-regulation.
Third, rather than inciting regulation, despotic financialism commands enjoyment: eat, drink, be merry! Relax, pamper yourself, treat yourself, look after yourself, take it easy. The supposition had been that competition under neoliberalism would lead to sorts of self-regulation and self-governance. It wasn't true for hedge fund managers and isn't true for the rest of. Massive bonuses gave folks in the finance sector and incentive to look at the short term balance sheet. No money down mortgages gaves home buyers an incentive to look to their immediate desires and not to long term repercussions. The very incentive structure that would be necessary for competition to replace something like normalization is missing. The internet, pay for view, video on demand, DVR, instant messaging--our entire media habitat conditions us to immediate gratification rather than self-discipline, self-control, self-governance. Fast food and convenience--again, we focus on what we want now, not what we might need or use later. The neoliberal attitude is that markets and competition induce certain behaviors (laws of supply and demand) and that this is sufficient for self-governance on its own. It isn't--as Hegel and Adam Smith already knew.
Neoliberal governmentality presumes feedback mechanisms that should induce certain behaviors on the part of the subject. But the culture of immediacy, of communicative capitalism, dissolves these sorts of mechanisms and instead provides instant tidbits (lichettes) that entrap us in circuits of drive. I mentioned a day or two ago that religious conservativism might seem the proper corollary; it might seem to provide the discipline or restriction or guidelines for self-control absent from neoliberalism. In some cases, this might be true. Yet a prominent strand of American Christianity emphasizes rewards--name it and claim it--as well as individual benefit, the cultivation of individual spiritual authenticity and intense emotionality. It's like the opposite of the Protestant ethic described by Weber, something more akin to an evangelical aesthetics or a Christian affect.
New economy books from the dot com period urge corporations to become more flexible and responsive. Some, citing complexity, suggest that planning is impossible and unnecessary. The environment changes so much that one can't plan. The repercussion, then, is an entity that is purely responsive, but responsive in a way that precludes learning or the establishment of actual practices. Responsiveness takes the place of capacities to lead and initiate. No wonder "awareness" has become a cultural watch word: unable to do anything but respond, those who are to respond effectively need to be as aware as possible.
I should add: neoliberalism destroys the conditions of possibility for democracy by undermining the practices and conditions of self-governance. Republicans (fascists) exploit this, inciting the expression of appetites at all costs--hatred of immigrants and racial, religious, and sexual minorities; hatred of intellectuals, science, universities, education; condemnation of any form of collective regulation (of factory farming, corporate agriculture, food, fast food, guns, pollution, gasoline and energy) as counter to the American way of life. In State and Revolution, Lenin describes the real potential of communism as inextricable from the development of workers' skills--communism is possible because administering the state isn't rocket science; anyone can do it. Neoliberalism is doing more than rendering the state ineffective in matters of collective and social welfare. It's rendering the citizens incapable of self-governance. (The recent Republican attempt to block budget provisions for teachers is a striking current example). It will be very difficult to get to communism from neoliberalism--but the very difficulty tells us why it is necessary. Democracy doesn't even seem like an option any longer.