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Sat Jun 8, 2013, 03:45 AM

 

Let Them Eat Diversity: multiculturalism as an artifact of neoliberalism

Walter Benn Michaels: ...For me the distinction is that ďleft neoliberalsĒ are people who donít understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism...neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.

Capitalism throughout the 19th century and through much of the 20th was classically imperialist, which is basically impossible without racism... neoliberalism involved internationalization in a way that cannot be reduced to what imperialism was before...involved, above all, a kind of powerful necessity for mobility not of only of capital, but of labor. ...when you begin to produce these massive multi-racial or multi-national...workforces, you obviously need technologies to manage these work forces... multiculturalism and diversity more generally are even more effective as a legitimizing tool ...the model of social justice is that the rich make whatever they make, but an appropriate percentage of them are minorities or women... American society today, both legally and politically, has a strong commitment to the idea that discrimination is the worst thing you can do, that paying somebody a pathetic salary isnít too bad but paying somebody a pathetic salary because of his or her race or sex is unacceptable...

The truth is, itís hard to find any political movement thatís really against neoliberalism today, the closest I can come is the Tea Party... First of all, neoliberal economists are completely for open borders in so far as thatís possible. Friedman said years ago that, ďYou canít have a welfare state and open borders,Ē but of course the point of that was ďopen the borders, because thatíll kill the welfare state...Ē itís quite striking that you have all this protesting against illegal immigration, and especially at a time when itís down. So why are people so upset about it? They are upset about it not because it has gotten worse, it hasnít, but because they somehow recognize that one of the primary sort of marks of the triumph of neoliberalism in the U.S. is a very high tolerance of illegal immigration, and that illegal immigration is the kind of ne plus ultra of the labor mobility that neoliberalism requires...

Iím certainly not saying that the Tea Party has the diagnosis right. The Tea Party thinks that immigrants are taking away their money. Itís not immigrants who are taking away their money; itís neoliberalism thatís taking away their money....Tea Partiers in general are richer than most Americans, closer to the top 20 percent than they are to the middle. But if you look at the distribution of income in the last 10 years what youíre struck by is that the top 20 percent looks like itís done very well in relation to everyone else...but... if you separate out the top 1 percent from the rest of the 19... Almost all the increase has gone to the top 1 percent. So you now have a threat even to the upper middle class... which is now not exactly losing ground in relation to the country as a whole, but is losing ground in relation to this new phenomenon, this extraordinary success of the top 1, or to some extent, the top 5 percent. And you begin to see those people actually feeling a certain sense of anxiety....And the Tea Party I see as one response to that...

I really doubt that the main issue here is white male status anxiety... my point isnít really to deny the phenomenon of status anxiety, itís 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.... itís worth remembering that the vast majority of poor people in the country are White.... they are poor not because they are the victims of prejudice; they are poor because of other structures of exploitation. The fact that most of our poverty is not produced by prejudice should suggest to us that if we are actually concerned about poverty, no matter how much anti-discrimination work we do we are not going to take care of the poverty problem...

BKS: In your book you also describe how categories of class have been turned into a culture ó like itís a heritage to be proud of ó why is studying working class literature in the same way we study, say, African-American lit ďprofoundly reactionary?Ē

WBM: In so far as it suggests that they think the way to deal with the working class is by respecting it... If you genuinely thought that working class virtues were real then of course it would make sense to be nostalgic for them and think it really is better to belong to the working class. But of course the whole concept of the working class depends on there being a class structured society. My argument is fairly straightforward....in so far as weíre appreciating the characteristic products of victimization, we are not actually dealing with exploitation, but rather enshrining victimization, treating it as if it had value and therefore ought to be preserved. And thatís obviously reactionary.

http://jacobinmag.com/2011/01/let-them-eat-diversity/



18 replies, 5960 views

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Arrow 18 replies Author Time Post
Reply Let Them Eat Diversity: multiculturalism as an artifact of neoliberalism (Original post)
HiPointDem Jun 2013 OP
GeorgeGist Jun 2013 #1
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #2
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #12
Laelth Jun 2013 #3
handmade34 Jun 2013 #4
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #5
TheKentuckian Jun 2013 #6
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #7
leftstreet Jun 2013 #8
FarCenter Jun 2013 #9
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #10
Fumesucker Jun 2013 #11
struggle4progress Jun 2013 #13
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #14
struggle4progress Jun 2013 #15
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #16
struggle4progress Jun 2013 #17
HiPointDem Jun 2013 #18

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 05:44 AM

1. I sense sophistry.

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Response to GeorgeGist (Reply #1)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 05:47 AM

2. by their fruits, etc

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #2)

Sun Jun 9, 2013, 12:20 AM

12. kick

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 05:52 AM

3. Brilliant. Well worth reading in its entirety. k&r n/t

-Laelth

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 06:00 AM

4. rec n/t

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 02:15 PM

5. kick

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 02:43 PM

6. The old "let's talk about anything but the money" routine is always a factor.

Got to keep eyes away from the roots and running in circles burning daylight while the hoards pile up.

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Response to TheKentuckian (Reply #6)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 08:01 PM

7. always. it's very effective in these times.

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 08:53 PM

8. DURec Excellent, excellent article

Thanks for posting this

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 08:59 PM

9. Petroleum engineers are more alike, regardless of race or nationality, than they are like citizens

 

of their own countries. Or so a sociology professor asserted a couple of decades ago.

It is mainly the lower classes that identify with nationality, religion, race, language and other markers of ethnicity.

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Response to FarCenter (Reply #9)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 09:00 PM

10. mainly the middle classes.

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2013, 09:16 PM

11. Ouch..

Major social changes have taken place in the past 40 years with remarkable rapidity, but not any in any sense inimical to capitalism. Capitalism has no problem with gay people getting married and people who self-identify as neoliberals understand this very well. So I think the main thing to say there is that, maybe in the book a lot of the examples tend to be academic examples, but I think you can find examples in American society everywhere of the extraordinary power, the hegemony of the model of anti-discrimination, accompanied by defense of property, as the guiding precepts of social justice. You can see this in the study that people have recently been making fun ofóthe one that shows that liberals are not as liberal as they think they are. What it showed was that when people were asked about the question of redistribution of wealth they turned out to be a lot less egalitarian than they thought they were. People who characterized themselves as ďextremely liberalĒ nevertheless had real problems with the redistribution of wealth. And someone pointed out, I think he teaches at Stanford, that thatís the wrong way to think of this, because yes itís true that especially as people get more wealthy they tend to become less committed to the redistribution of wealth but there are lots of ways in which they become ďmore liberalĒówith respect to gay rights, antiracism, with respect to all the so-called ďsocial issues,Ē as long as these social issues are defined in such a way that they have nothing to do with decreasing the increased inequalities brought about by capitalism, which is to say, taking away rich liberalsí money.

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Sun Jun 9, 2013, 02:00 AM

13. Class analysis was a brilliant idea, and it is still very useful, provided

we avoid the standard cartoon misrepresentations of it and get down to the hard nuts-and-bolts work of applying it

A first point is to understand what a class is: it is a collection of people who have similar circumstances and occupy a similar structural position in the economy. For this reason, the members of a class have similar material interests

In particular, one will not really understand the power of class analysis, if one insists on grossly over-simplifying it as (say) the working-class versus the capitalists. The modern economy is international, and the circumstances and structural position of (say) a Chinese electronics worker, who lives in barracks and works long days assembling products for consumer markets elsewhere, are simply not the same circumstances and structural position that most DUers enjoy

A second point is to understand the relationship between class and consciousness: people naturally view the world from the perspective of their own circumstances and position, and members of a class are likely to interact mainly with other members of the same class, so a common consciousness of the world will emerge -- but this development of consciousness is also affected by traditions, current culture, and mass propaganda, among other influences

In particular, a class may not spontaneously develop a coherent and realistic consciousness of its own circumstances and position relative to other classes, nor does a class necessarily develop a useful analysis of its interests and how to promote those interests

A third point is to understand that class analysis is not intended to be an academic exercise in abstract thinking about universal categories: it is intended to be a scientific tool that helps movements organize for change. Saying that it is a scientific tool means that it is to be applied in a cyclical scientific manner, by: forming an idea about how the social and political worlds work; seeing what actions the idea suggests; experimentally checking whether the action actually seems to lead to progress in the effort to obtain change; then revising the idea based on the ways it seemed to work and the ways it seemed to fail; and seeing what next actions are suggested by the revised idea ...

In particular, class analysis is to be conducted together with ongoing organizing and ongoing struggle for social and political change, not separate from such struggles, and it brings with it the presupposition that real social and economic change always involve economic rearrangements. And since it involves experiments with organizing people, it cannot ignore the presuppositions they bring to their struggle from their traditions, the current culture in which they function, and the influences mass media has upon them

A fourth point is to understand that consciousness can be manipulated and often is, sometimes more deliberately, sometimes less deliberately: some people profit by current social, political, and economic arrangements, while others are exploited by their circumstances. Those who profit from current circumstances will naturally promote social theories that justify current circumstances, sometimes by indifference, sometimes by cynical calculation. Such manipulations are ongoing; they are constantly reinvented; and they may assume surprising and unexpected forms

In particular, historical racism in the United States has been very closely associated with certain economic arrangements, propped up by law and violence, that continually enforced a social hierarchy forcing African-Americans to the very bottom of the economic ladder. Jim Crow laws were not simply about prejudice against blacks: the laws created an instantly identifiable underclass and kept their wages artificially low. The victims of this system therefore needed to dismantle not only the system of economic exploitation; they also needed to discredit the racial theories that were used to justify the exploitation. This racial tactic is also visible in the Juan Crow system


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Response to struggle4progress (Reply #13)

Sun Jun 9, 2013, 02:42 AM

14. and does this post have something specific to do with the OP, or is it just a general exposition?

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #14)

Sun Jun 9, 2013, 06:25 AM

15. Michaels, in the interview linked by the OP, does touch on class issues,

but only in a generic and abstract manner

I agree with much of what he says, in some philosophical sense, but his emphasis is wrong. Since he neglects what careful class analysis can bring to concrete struggles, he misses the related fact that organizing effectively for change requires us to move flexibly in the real cultures that actually exist and that still exhibit the imprints of their past development

Consider, for example, his assertion that there is no such thing as race. On my view, that assertion is indisputably correct, from a biological point of view: a number of workers (including Margaret Mead and Ashley Montague) effectively developed that view after WWII

Nevertheless, race has a social reality: many people still believe it obviously exists, and that belief is not always merely evidence of their confused unscientific thinking. To analyze the social idea of "race," we should consider the uses that have been made of the idea. In the US, the idea was used in a systematic way to construct an easily-identifiable and exploitable underclass, first under chattel-slavery and later under Jim Crow. Officially sanctioned racism simultaneously created the class and obscured the actual reason for the existence of the class (exploitation) by providing a visceral alternate interpretation (inferiority). That class was actually created by the system, which segregated the class members from other segments of society and forced class members into similar circumstances and social position. And the class correspondingly produced its own consciousness

Many people today are quite proud to call themselves "black" or "African-American," because their immediate ancestors by courage and intelligence survived that time and left them a substantial cultural legacy. And this is not really ancient history: a friend of mine, who only recently passed, was raised by relative born into chattel-slavery before the Civil War. So if people tell Michaels he is a racist, when he argues there is no such thing as race, he should perhaps be more interested in what they might be saying -- and his failure to do that suggests he has no yet understood the uses of class analysis and its importance for organizing

It is certainly true that as the social and economic system has evolved in the US, it has increasingly adopted the view that discrimination is counterproductive; and I am sympathetic to Michaels abstract view that such growing tolerance cannot by itself accomplish needed social and economic changes. But again he neglects historical context in favor of abstraction. Inciting prejudice has long been deliberately been used as a tool to divide people and to keep them from working together -- and sadly it works because intolerance may be easier to create and escalate than tolerance, as shown (say) by the genocides in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. Moreover, if those profiting from current circumstances exhibit much more inclusiveness than those organizing on behalf of persons suffering under the system, then the status quo is likely to prevail.

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Response to struggle4progress (Reply #15)

Sun Jun 9, 2013, 02:42 PM

16. I don't understand the sense in which you're using 'class analysis,' or claiming that Michaels

 

isn't doing 'class analysis,' but something else. The article is based in class analysis. Additionally you imply Michaels fails to recognize the social reality of race & the use of race as a construct to divide people when such an awareness is clear in the piece, and explicit in the 2nd instance.

I also notice you seem to conflate race & class in your post.

Finally, you claim the idea of race is important 'for organizing' & say that Michaels is unaware of history. But one of Michaels' primary points is that in an era when non-discrimination has become something like an official dogma, inequality has grown substantially & organizing against it has withered.

as for rwanda etc, one of the problems with identity politics is that it reifies identity as essence, which can promote the very things you list.

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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #16)

Sun Jun 9, 2013, 07:40 PM

17. No: I distinguished between "race" as a vacuous "scientific" idea, racist theorizing as ingredient

in a system of oppression that deliberately created a "n*****" underclass to exploit, and "race" used as a descriptor of the resulting class

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Fri Jun 14, 2013, 12:06 AM

18. kick

 

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