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Wed Aug 1, 2012, 02:57 AM


Let Them Eat Diversity

"Jacobin" magazine interview with literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels


Jacobin: Neoliberalism is often presented as a...homogenous ideology, but you differentiate between “Left” and “Right” neoliberalisms—what’s the difference...?

Walter Benn Michaels: The differentiation between Left and Right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that “left neoliberals” are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things...

Jacobin: You mention Tea Party angst, but if we are moving towards an “equal opportunity exploitation” with the ideal of a more diversified elite, wouldn’t that naturally cause a degree of White male status anxiety …

WBM: People always bridle when I say this, but I really doubt that the main issue here is White male status anxiety...people in the Tea Party movement have a problem that is realer than “White male status anxiety,” (and that is) the economic shifts that are taking place... my point isn’t really to deny the phenomenon of status anxiety, it’s just to point out the extraordinaire eagerness of American liberals to identify racism as the problem, so that anti-racism (rather than anti-capitalism) can be the solution...

Jacobin: On the relationship of the academic Left to the White working class, do you see it one of neglect or outright contempt?

WBM: You have a vision of social justice in which it consists of nothing but basically non-discrimination... We worry a lot about whether women are treated fairly in math classes but we don’t worry at all about that the salaries of the women who clean our offices. More often than not I would guess we feel like those salaries are what those women are worth.

(Neoliberal thinkers resort to) the state of the art thing which is to say, "...the lower class is itself a victim of discrimination...." basically just treating the White working class as if it were an identity. That’s cutting edge neoliberalism...(you've) labeled the last class category anyone was willing to recognize—the working class—as an identity category and you can treat it the same way you would race...

There are two ways to deal with this question. The identity way is to... learn to respect difference and negotiate with difference—so that it’s not a problem being different... If the problem is not respecting difference, then the solution is to start respecting it.

But if you think of difference in terms of a class structure where the essence is “more than” or “less than” and not just different from, the problem is not just that poor people belong to a different culture, it’s that poor people are deprived of hundreds of opportunities that rich people are not deprived of and the important thing is not to appreciate their deprivations or the things they remarkably manage to do in spite of their deprivations but to get rid of the deprivations...

None of this ('respect for difference') will make any difference unless we start thinking about the politically relevant question, eliminating the gap between the rich and the poor.


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Reply Let Them Eat Diversity (Original post)
HiPointDem Aug 2012 OP
limpyhobbler Aug 2012 #1
HiPointDem Aug 2012 #2
HiPointDem Aug 2012 #3

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Wed Aug 1, 2012, 05:49 AM

1. ..

Racism, sexism, etc. are all serious problems. But we also need to address the class issues. Sometimes it seems like the class issue is being shorted for time. Certainly in the main place that it counts, the US Democratic Party, we have seen a turn away from its traditionally more populist economic program since the 1980's. I'd say roughly half the elected Dems are now corporate liberals who chose the interests of profit over people every time. Even though they are good on race and gender equality issues, that is not good enough. And it gets more like that every year. As a result, we have unrestrained corporate power, and a middle class that has been decimated but is too exhausted to really fight back. It's class warfare.

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Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #1)

Wed Aug 1, 2012, 01:37 PM

2. class warfare indeed, & pretty blatant.


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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #2)

Wed Aug 1, 2012, 04:30 PM

3. to put a point on it...the liberal vision of social justice is "anyone should be able to compete in


the global commodified marketplace without being discriminated against by race, religion or sexual orientation".

that most will lose that competition is mostly not on their radar screen except for their love for ameliorative 'charity'.

it's -- to me -- a profoundly depressing view, as it condemns most people to stunted lives.

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