Oedipal Drama

All of these sad little whelps of, “George Washington was a slaveowner! Benjamin Franklin was a sexist! And I’m not, I’m not! I’m better, mommy, right? Say I’m better and you love me more!” make me feel vicarious embarrassment. 

Washington and Franklin believed things that were normal and acceptable in their age. And so do the sad whelpers. But Washington and Franklin achieved something aside from that, and this means that the thirst of the whelpers for praise and recognition will not be quenched. 

This is, of course, as oedipal as it gets. A little boy discovers that daddy is not perfect and can be fought for mommy’s affections. A little girl discovers that mommy isn’t perfect, etc. To make the conflict that tortures them as obvious as possible the sufferers concentrate on those known as “founding fathers.” 

None of this does anything for racial justice. It’s not outwardly oriented at all. If a person with OCD touches a photo of MLK 5 times as part of his anxiety-reducing exercises, none of this has a political meaning. It’s part of his individual pathology. 

Remember, substituting politics (i.e. acting together for common good) with exhibitions of unshareable individual pathologies is neoliberalism’s way of destroying public life. People think they are very politicized when in reality they lead the most apolitical existence imaginable. 


7 thoughts on “Oedipal Drama”

  1. There was abolitionism in Washington’s time and before, so it’s a bit of an exaggerration to suggest slavery wasn’t questioned or wasn’t controversial, or challenged, or resisted. But the point isn’t that Washington was a Bad Man (it is not new news that he had slaves, by the way, it was never unknown), it’s that US really was able to create itself because of slavery and that these roots still show, still structure institutions.

    But it’s true, your larger or actual point and it is so tiresome not to be able to have a conversation because people just have to repeat slogans or show they have understood, and can reproduce certain accepted arguments.


    1. “it’s that US really was able to create itself because of slavery ”

      Sounds kind of exaggerated, only what… 6 % of slaves from the Atlantic slave trade ended up in what’s now the US and two of the main slave crops (rice and sugar) were not practiced on a large scale. It was my understanding that slavery was gradually dying out in the US until the cotton gin made it economically feasible again.

      I don’t think the US was ever economically dependent on slavery the way the Caribbean or parts of Latin America were….


        1. “Leave it to this guy to butactually slavery”

          Thank you! I agree! Understanding the real horrors of slavery means understanding the reality rather than hollywood burlesques of slavery or hyperbolic pronouncements by people building a political career.


      1. It’s different stages of capitalist development. In the primitive stage of accumulation of capital, slavery is very useful. But as the capitalist model matures and you need to industrialize and create a consumer class, slavery becomes an obstacle and is dumped.

        Now, the problem is that capital stops acting in this direction almost right after slavery disappears. The rest of the work of achieving racial justice lies with people who are willing to work against the logic of capital, at least a little bit.

        To put it bluntly, slavery was historically doomed. Racism wasn’t and isn’t.


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