How Capital Wins, Part 3

Let’s take another example. We keep hearing about identity politics a lot. But today’s identity politics is deeply neoliberal in nature. It changed dramatically as the neoliberalism conquered our minds, and we still talk about it like it’s the same kind of identity politics that existed in the 1970s and was actually a wonderful and powerful thing.

Neoliberalism destroyed people’s capacity to get together and advance a collective agenda on behalf of their group because it eroded the very concept of a group. Inclusivity erases the boundaries of groups. And we all know that there is nothing liquid capital hates more than boundaries.

Take the Civil Rights movement. It achieved its greatest victories when it was about addressing centuries of a very specific brand of horrific violence against a very specific group, African Americans. But once it became about an undefinable group of “people of color” that includes somebody like Elizabeth Warren, it can’t achieve anything.

Or take gay rights. Again, when it was about gay people fighting against very specific kinds of oppression visited upon specifically gay people, this was a powerful movement. Once it turned into LGBTQIA+ABCDEFG and so on into infinity, it was diluted as being about everybody who is vaguely uncomfortable with vaguely defined gender roles. Gay people are still horribly oppressed in many places around the world. But we don’t even hear about it any more because it’s all about isolated individuals who have the cultural and economic capital to yelp more loudly about their solitary discomforts.

Then, let’s take women’s rights. Once you can’t define, or in some circles even use, the word women, there are no women’s rights. There is only the right of already very powerful (in comparative terms) women to articulate their individual grievances.

Who gains from all this inclusivity? A black boy in East St Louis? A lesbian in Magadan? An indigenous woman in Chiapas? Obviously, not. Their historic and legitimate grievances are co-opted by those who are already winning in the neoliberal competition. Collective vindication turned into neoliberal competition, and we haven’t even realized that it was happening.

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30 thoughts on “How Capital Wins, Part 3”

  1. I think your observation about the difference between the identity politics of the 1970s and identity politics now is very useful and helpful. And the example about the LGBTQIABCDEFG (keep those letters coming) movement is spot-on. Now even clearly heterosexual couples are part of the “queer” community if one or both individuals in the relationship identity as “agender” or “non-binary.” It’s becoming ridiculous.

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    1. We’re also supposed to include asexuals. Like, someone who isn’t trans and who is only interested in people of the opposite sex is supposed to count, somehow.

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  2. Actually, it’s the most privileged who like to tell others how to live of how to succeed. Luck and the environment play a major role is personal success, which most of the privileged refuse to recognize.

    Anyway, regarding your point about groupness, it’s one thing to single out someone as special to you or having a shared identify to you, but it’s quite another to tell someone they can’t do that. If I’m queer, you can never be queer. The thing that hinders the LGBT movement as well as Hispanic political power is infighting between subgroups — the opposite of inclusion of everyone. Many gays are openly hostile to the TG community. Puerto Ricans are hostile to Mexicans; both are hostile to Central Americans. The nuisance in writing surveys for example is when to use the term “Hispanic” or the term “Latino.” Depending on the respondent, one term may be positive and other other an insult, but that varies by group.

    This risk in discussing inclusiveness if arguing from extreme. In reality, if you push much of the left, you’ll see a “yes, but” response to inclusion. The most truly inclusive groups on the planet are either Unitarians or Quakers, and both represent a very small part of the population.

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    1. This is another foundational idea of neoliberalism: placing a limit on somebody’s desires is an act of violence. We are schooled into accepting this idea, which is the basis of consumerism. In reality, there is nothing inherently bad or damaging in saying, “no, you are not one of us, no matter how much you might want to be. Desire is not enough and not every whim should be gratified.” We perceive this as some sort of a great taboo only because it goes against consumerist mentality.

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      1. I think the problem is: who decides the criteria by which someone should be included or excluded? Who are the gatekeepers of a certain community? There are times things aren’t clear and well-defined.

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        1. I think with the three categories discussed here, for instance, it’s pretty clear. We all know I’m a woman, not gay and not African American. Problem solved. 🙂 It only begins to get complicated if I get into the neoliberal state of mind and try to enhance my competitive advantage by saying that well, I have Jewish ancestry, and that’s almost like a person of color. Plus, I’m kind of queer because I don’t conform to all gender stereotypes, etc.

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  3. —In reality, there is nothing inherently bad or damaging in saying, “no, you are not one of us, no matter how much you might want to be. Desire is not enough and not every whim should be gratified.” We perceive this as some sort of a great taboo only because it goes against consumerist mentality.

    Well, what do you think of the following example, then, which goes under “nationalism”: Russian minorities in the post-Soviet states (I guess same goes for the Serb minorities in other states of former Yugoslavia.) Let’s also exclude examples where there is or was an outright war. Let’s consider Baltic states, for example. Where the Russians are treated OK, but not as “one of us”. What is the reasonable response of a group to not being treated as “one of us” in this scenario? Desperately trying to become “one of us”, without any guarantee of succeeding? Returning to Russia, where they will be “one of us” (debatable if it would work after so many years, the mentality has changed somewhat, etc, but let’s simplify) on an individual basis, so to speak? Engaging in some sort purely internal struggle (forming Russian political parties and using the opportunities provided by the current political system, but also strikes, mass protests, etc without calling for Putin’s help) to force the majority to treat them as “one of us” ? Is there a rational answer for why they should not attempt to return back to Russia with the territory on which they are currently residing? I mean – aside from just being nice to the “owners of the land”? Why should one be particularly nice to somebody who is not treating one as “one of us”? Why should anyone expect patriotism from people who are not treated as “one of us”?

    My point is not that I support such a development – I do not – my point is that I am not sure questioning exclusion is always some sort of consumerist game that is played for the benefit of neoliberalism. Sometimes it is a serious issue, people could get hurt…

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    1. I would integrate in this situation. I can imagine a culture worth preserving but the Russian-speaking culture – which is my culture – is, frankly, not it. I don’t see a point to making any effort to hang on to it. I just read that half of all bank loans in several Russian regions are taken out to pay for New Year’s celebrations. And then people pay them out the rest of the year. How is that a culture worth preserving? Who’s the Cervantes it gave to the world? Who’s any writer it had in 1605?

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      1. We are not really talking about what you personally would do or about your personal respect or lack thereof towards Russian culture. Or at least I am not. I am talking about the principles, about nationalism as a general phenomenon that is supposedly in opposition to consumerism and neoliberalism. Wouldn’t the choice to integrate in this situation be more consumerist and neoliberal than the rest of the choices I pointed out above?

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        1. Nationalism includes the idea of shared geography – the idea of non-geographically based ethnic or religious groups is very fluid. Russians in this case aren’t that much different from Somalis who tend to gravitate toward each other while making as little effort to assimilate to local norms as possible.
          To the extent that non-local ethnic ties overcome national loyalties Russian minorities in the Baltics are inherently disruptive to traditional nation state structures – and that makes them neoliberal by default. Neoliberalism always seeks to undermine established order that isn’t based on private economic transactions (it tries to protect those and disrupt everything else).

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        2. Nationalism is on its way out. It’s powerless to do anything any more, and we are still talking about it like it’s this powerful force it was back when capital still needed it. Look at the US. Trump was elected to shore up the nation-state. He had both chambers of Congress. And yet he has managed to do absolutely nothing. Because neoliberalism doesn’t tolerate nationalism.

          In the Baltic states, isn’t it true that the young people are leaving in huge numbers to work in the richer EU countries? How can we talk seriously about any real threat from nationalism there if nobody truly even cares enough to stick around? If even the president of the US can’t put the most minuscule obstacle in the way of the flows that are washing away the nation-state, who has a hope in hell to do it?

          But we are still stuck on the outdated dangers from scary nationalists, who don’t even exist any more, and disregard the real threat from something that actually does exist.

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          1. Remember when Trump supported this extremely modest immigration proposal last year? The one that would end chain migration and institute a point system like the one that has existed in Canada for decades without bothering anyone. Plus, it would eliminate the lottery that 99% of the population hates. A modest, tiny little thing putting the smallest of crimps into the match of fluidity. And what happened? Nothing. It didn’t even get to a vote, let alone pass.

            The sitting US president whose party holds Senate and Congress can’t pass a measure that voters passionately want and that will shore up the nation-state.

            So, tell me, folks, should I worry about the big scary nationalism that will exclude me from an identity I want or whatever or worry about the nation-state being as impotent at defending my right to a retirement? I’m paying into the retirement plan of the state of Illinois that I know won’t exist by the time I retire. And there’s no entity but the state that could possibly want to protect it. So why shouldn’t I be for the nation-state?

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          2. I do not see particular “dangers in nationalism” specifically in the Baltic states scenario. Exactly because, among other reasons, there is a powerful safety valve allowing both the Baltic people themselves and the local Russians to go to the West. And Baltic societies are in general quite well-functioning. These are the two main things that make Baltic states more resistant to Russian imperial nationalism than, for example, Ukraine. But without them – who knows…

            What I am interested in is why should anyone accept being excluded, and if non-acceptance of being excluded (despite the same geographical location) is something particularly neo-liberal… Or labeling something “neo-liberal” is just a trick allowing “us” to not recognize the legitimacy of “their” concerns? Cliff is asking “what are they [Russians] ready to give up to be accepted as “our own””… But the whole point is to be accepted without/before integrating to the extent when one becomes indistinguishable from “us”. Otherwise the two sides are not equal partners, “us” are not giving up anything, “we” are just accepting those whom we deem sufficiently integrated, and reject others “who did not give up enough”. Aren’t the supposed “nationalists” doing what they are doing just in the name of their psychological comfort (of living in an unilingual society, for instance), and therefore their behavior is no less consumerist than the behavior or desires of the Russians for unconditional acceptance?

            As for the prejudice… I have been often accepted as “one of us”. Which had an interesting unintended consequence – “us” were quite keen on discussing “those Russians” with me. So I have the first-hand knowledge that in the field of prejudice both sides are even and nobody has moral high ground.

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            1. I don’t see why it should be particularly traumatic to realize one doesn’t belong to a group. I don’t particularly value men’s opinions on menstruation or childbirth, for instance. And I don’t feel bad if men don’t want my input on specifically male things like beard-trimming, or whatever. When African American people talk about racism, I’m happy to stay mum because I freely concede that I don’t know what they do about it. I know that I’m an immigrant and quite transient, so I don’t lecture locals on how things around here should be. At the same time, I don’t want their input on my place of origin. Questions are welcome but nobody is allowed to lecture me on how things were in the USSR, for instance. And so on.

              In terms of specifically nation-states, accepting before and without any promise of integration results in a bunch of ghettos springing up that are closed off from each other. We’ve seen this happen in a bunch of places. How is it a good thing?

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              1. \ I don’t see why it should be particularly traumatic to realize one doesn’t belong to a group.

                Because it leaves (relatively) not mobile (unlike you) majority without protection and comforts of home, without a place in the world they may feel is theirs to feel completely ‘at home’ in, in all senses of the word.

                Why should it be traumatic to experience social, political and economic rejection in a place of one’s birth and/or in a place one is unable to leave for various reasons?

                Rather than letting African Americans talk about racism, not belonging brings to my mind Jewish history outside of Israel. Why was it traumatic?

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              2. How traumatic being excluded may become also depends on what alternatives one (or one’s group) have. In the case of the Baltic states one alternative would be preservation of two parallel societies for as long as natural evolution requires, facilitating integration but not forcing it on anybody. Unfortunately, the majority is not interested in this alternative.
                As for “is it [segregation] good for anybody?”question – (aside from me feeling that this question is informed by the neo-liberal doctrine facilitating intermixing 🙂 ) my position is that the majority is not supposed to force segregation upon the minority, but minority itself can choose to segregate if it deems this is in its cultural / national preservation interests. In the case of the Baltic states the majority does not recognize the Russian minority as a group that has legitimate group interests beyond playing balalaika on Sunday evening. As a group that can make decisions about what is good for themselves by themselves.
                And again, if we are talking about the particular example of the Russians in the Baltic states and not some “spherical Syrian refugee in German vacuum” situation – regardless of how many people on both sides do not want to recognize it – the cultural differences between those Russians who lived in the Baltic states for several generations (including soviet era migrants) and the local nations are small. This does not make them “brothers” or justify any imperialist bullshit, but those differences are small. The level of difference is much closer to that between the Anglophones and the Francophones of Quebec than between the N-th generation Berliners and refugees from a Syrian village.

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              3. I in no way support hassling or persecuting minorities for doing their own thing because it makes them happy. Like the Amish or the Hasidim, to give some obvious examples. If anybody tried to force them into anything they don’t want, I’d be the first to protest.

                What I do oppose is when the minority (or worse yet, some idiot do-gooder on their behalf) tries to make the majority change to accommodate the minority’s difference. Like if the Hasidim are offended by my manner of dress, I’m not changing my dress. They’ll have to stuff it and live with the aggravation.

                In the case of the Baltic states, an analogy would be, say, an EU official forcing Lithuanian schools to provide Russian-language classes in every discipline and schools had to close all art and PT programs to pay for that. That’s different from Russians organizing their own schools on their own dime.

                The demands to be “inclusive” do nothing except make everybody hate everybody else. For example, I was the most trans-friendly person one can imagine. But then I was forced to rewrite my CFP for a feminist conference to edit out the word “women” in the name of trans-inclusivity. That didn’t do much for my friendliness, that’s for sure. And the worst part: it wasn’t any trans-person who did it. It was a bunch of inclusive do-gooders.

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              4. If you look at the history, in most cases the dominating group made some concessions to the other group(s) not out of the goodness of the heart, but because the minority (or otherwise disenfranchised group) forced the dominant group to make these concessions. “forced” not necessarily by violence, but forced nonetheless. Maybe the threat was about some unacceptable reputational losses, or about sabotaging some goal important for the majority, or perhaps the ability of the minority to organize and unite non-violently demonstrated their potential ability to organize violently. Or something else. And the minority had to do that using their internal resources in order to be taken seriously in the long term. Thus, EU, or Putin, or some other kind of external do-gooders forcing the majority will not accomplish anything permanent.
                The idea that minority can have or do whatever on their own dime is rooted in the “owners of the land” paradigm, where the majority determines what is the “right way” for everybody. In this paradigm the state, collecting and distributing taxes, is the property of the majority (as opposed to all people), and the minority is merely the object of the actions of the majority, the minority is the property of the state. There is no solution within this paradigm. But in the light of the previous paragraph, the minority needs to demonstrate its ability to build its own parallel education system on its own dime in order to be taken seriously.
                By the way, I can do Devil’s advocacy to Russian activists too, I should tell how I did it once … one day not on New Year’s Eve… Happy holidays!

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              5. This is the kind of inclusive thing I’m talking about:

                 controversial new train has joined the fleet on children’s show Thomas the Tank Engine.

                Nia, a Kenyan refugee train, will join international characters from Australia, India and China, among others. The new train aims to teach children about female empowerment, gender equality and the issues facing refugees.

                https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newshub.co.nz/home/world/2018/10/new-refugee-character-for-thomas-the-tank-engine.amp.html

                I personally know people who shield their toddler from books about Thomas because “all the characters are male-presenting.” You say this won’t accomplish anything permanent but that depends on how we define permanence. I have no doubt that the Thomas books will be outright banned within a decade. As will anything that doesn’t aggressively indoctrinate into the ruling dogma. The folks who think Thomas should “teach about the refugee experience” are a tiny minority. Yet they keep us all cowed.

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              6. The people who invented this Kenyan refugee locomotive are part of the dominant group. That’s why they can promote their ideas freely. These are not the actual Kenyan refugees who are promoting it. If actual Kenyan minority wanted to be heard about some issue that is important to them, they would have to do something that is hard to ignore, not just create animations…

                By the way, I may be ignorant, but I thought that Kenya is a relatively functional country. I know Kenyan military periodically goes into neighboring countries to bring some law and order… A quick google search on”Kenyan refugees” returns multiple references to refugee camps in Kenya, populated by people from neighboring countries (Somalians, Ethiopians, Sudanese, etc). Something official: https://www.unhcr.org/ke/figures-at-a-glance
                Thus, I suspect that “Kenyan refugee” is an artificial PC construct that was invented this way exactly because there unlikely are any “Kenyan refugees” to complain about it, at least if that term is to be understood literally.

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              7. A few weeks ago, a very non-immigrant English professor from Arkansas came here to lecture me about my position on birthright citizenship. I actually have a birthright citizen in my immediate family, and at least she was lucid enough to realize that it’s bizarre for her to hector me on the subject. So she pretended to be an immigrant called Yusef. You just can’t make this shit up.

                So yeah, absolutely, these people only act from a place of enormous privilege to hector us about our privilege. At work, a very American fellow who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish publicly lectured me on the correct way of speaking Spanish. It would be funny if he weren’t in the position of power. The whole incident started when another colleague asked me how to say something in Spanish correctly, and the SJW fellow just had to butt in. I only managed to shut him up because I can speak the SJW language (as opposed to the Spanish language) so well.

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    2. “Where the Russians are treated OK, but not as “one of us””

      Do Russians in the Baltic states want to be “one of us”? What are they prepared to give up to be “one of us”?

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      1. Exactly. They are super proud of their culture and deeply condescending to the locals. So what do they expect? I’d hate them, too. I remember the “ethnic Russians” back in Ukraine. They were honestly insufferable. It’s not that they were distinct. Which they were. But they were extremely condescending. My best friend was such a person. I love her but this was really annoying. She couldn’t quite scoffing at our food, literature, music, etc. And now Ukrainians are to blame for not being inclusive enough of her and her family.

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        1. ” They are super proud of their culture and deeply condescending to the locals”

          I have some sympathy for them, they went from being a confident majority (in the USSR) to becoming an unpopular minority very rapidly. That has got to be very disorienting. And local governments did not always handle things in a…. positive and outgoing manner.
          But at the end of the day they need to decide whether to fully join their new countries or remain in a ghetto. For the time being many of them seem to prefer the ghetto.
          But it also seems that Russia doesn’t want them (back in Russia). The official Russian position doesn’t seem to have moved from the USSR – Russians can be as Russian as they want anywhere and shouldn’t have to integrate.

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  4. “The folks who think Thomas should “teach about the refugee experience” are a tiny minority. Yet they keep us all cowed.”
    Just today I came across this quote by Yoram Hazony: “Liberal premises have no resources for tolerating a diversity of political and moral traditions. Where liberalism is taken seriously, in its unmixed form, it will uproot every other political and moral tradition from the past”
    I’m still thinking about some of the implications of this…

    (source: https://twitter.com/yhazony/status/1080008448916492288)

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    1. At the point of “we need a little refugee train to be inclusive,” liberalism loses all political content. It becomes about some raw and festering wound that people try to minister to with all these refugee engines and diversity mantras. I’ve never seen anybody defend refugee engines and Co without getting extremely emotional.

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