I don’t think we have quite the same concept of neoliberalism. I’m talking about the free-market ideology that supports the dominant corrosive form of capitalism found, more or less, in all industrialized nations. It has nothing to do with Christianity except that the “conservative Christian” sects betray their creeds and myths and become not just social Darwinians (the upshot of neoliberalism is social Darwinism, as it is for all politically “conservative” policies), but functional atheists. Most so-called religious folks may claim they’re theists, but if they live as though there were no God, such as by living as selfish social Darwinians, they’re as good as being atheists. Christopher Hitchens made that point.
So yes, neoliberalism is certainly dominant in the rich and powerful sectors of capitalist countries, but it’s also implicit throughout those places, even in so-called ordinary Christian churches. As Philip Mirowski points out in Never let a Serious Crisis go to Waste, neoliberalism isn’t just a development in economics but an extension of free-market ideology into our lower-class self-images. We implicitly support the free market by buying more products than we need and by denying progressives the chance to govern, as occurs in both the US and Canada. (The “socialist” NDP aren’t trusted to govern the country.)
Rationalizations of capitalism are dominant not just in vocal, nominal atheists, but in fake, conservative Christians who are functional atheists, whose religion is so secularized as to be a joke and an excuse for them to do whatever they want.
You even imply that neoliberalism is dominant when you speak of your “Follow the money” creed. In so far as much of human behaviour around the world is explained in terms of power inequality, neoliberalism currently factors into that universal explanation, because today money and power flow through the corrupted form of capitalism that’s rationalized with the neoliberal ideology which unites “conservatives” and liberals.
You say the philosophical implications of our thoughts are too varied to justify talking about dominant trends in atheists. Sure, if we were to do a deep dive into anyone’s belief system, we’d find idiosyncrasies that call for a nuanced analysis. But there are plenty of trends that unite most of us, because the majority doesn’t philosophize at all; instead they absorb their main philosophical assumptions from popular culture. The mainstream culture is the source of their convictions, so we have only to look at the cultural trends to see what philosophical work has to be done.
And what we see is neoliberalism butting up against or absorbing some stale vestigial religions (in the Muslim world, mind you, the premodern religion is still quite fresh and potent), and conflicting more recently with populist, isolationist backlashes. The main conflict, as I see it, isn’t between left and right any longer, but between globalization (plutocracy) and the search for an alternative to capitalism that might derive from the new technologies and that can be locally applied to circumvent the corrupted political and economic systems.
Where do atheists fit into this? It’s a question of real conservatism versus radicalism. Radicals are always in the minority; they’re the vanguard that seeks to overthrow the system. Currently there is no major, established alternative to free-market capitalism (especially since communism collapsed), so the radicals are having trouble getting traction. Most atheists (meaning secularists in general, including fake theists), then, are conservatives in that they want to protect the current systems more or less as they are rather than risk reforming or replacing them.
What are the main philosophical implications of these dominant sociological trends and conflicts? I write about them at length. (See, for example, “Some Basics of Cynical Sociology.”) Marx had the crux of it when he distinguished between the material and the ideological causes of our actions (the base and superstructure). Most people don’t take ideas seriously, but are puppets of larger economic and technological forces that shape our environment and determine how we have to adapt to survive. For them, philosophies and religions and the arts have only superficial value, at best, since they use them just as props for pre-established, natural power dynamics.
A minority rules in spite of the trappings of democracy (even the Nordic democracies are succumbing to neoliberalism), and that minority is naturally corrupted by its privileges. A majority follows those corrupted leaders as conservatives just trying to get by in the prevailing system. A second minority stands on the outside, as idealistic intellectuals and artists, radicals and rebels who are disgusted with the system and want to change it or at least withdraw from it.
In short, we have the alphas, betas, and omegas of the dominance hierarchy that prevails in the animal kingdom. So as I put it on someone else’s blog, in “The Secret History of Enlightened Animals” (second link), the driving conflict throughout our history has been that between what we can call the animalists and the humanists. The former are the true conservatives who are content with a human approximation of the evolutionary dominance hierarchy, while the enlightened humanists envision a progressive, transcendent alternative. The debate between theists and atheists is largely window dressing since, as I said, “conservative Christians” are functional atheists, given their neoliberalism which Jesus obviously would have condemned.
You say we don’t have any intellectual debt to society. Indeed, the debt for intellectuals is to themselves and their muse or daemon. This minority of outsiders is philosophical in that they love knowledge more than opinion, even at the cost of their happiness, as you point out and as I’ve written about at some length (see third, fourth, and fifth links, for example). It’s not just that artists have to suffer to produce great work, although that does seem to be so. It’s that artists and intellectuals produce their best work as social outsiders, when they’re haunted by radical critiques of society and disgusted by what passes for social normality. They’re perfectionists in that they take their art and their ideals to be sacred.
You say this drawback of intellectualism is eliminated when we remove the existential threats, such as poverty, oppression, sexism, global warming and so forth (I take it). But you’re talking about utopia if you’re implying there would be no more call for tortured artists and philosophers to be repulsed by the mainstream state of affairs. There are tantalizing clues in the new technologies, to how a transhuman (enlightened, non-animalistic) society might work, but no one’s figured that out yet. (I write about this through the sixth link, in “Digitizing the Mind: Why Information won’t be Owned.”)
What we know for sure is that both powerful governments and powerful private centers of power (corporations, unions, NGOs) tend to be corrupted by their dominance. Dictatorships and monarchies become monstrous and animalistic, and the same happens in capitalist republics, as the wealthy few capture the governmental and economic levers of power. Communist and socialist societies regress and turn into dictatorships to suppress the animal inclinations of the population (the selfish drive to compete and to dominate).
My point is that one of the existential threats is our animal nature. That’s what’s driving human history and most of our behaviour. Until that’s not so, artists, intellectuals, and radicals will be sidelined, and they’ll work on polishing their ideals that address the larger implications of what most people do and say.