Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Frank Capra on the rules of art

"There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness." —Frank Capra

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two incompatible tests of American Indian identity for Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has been getting flak from American Indian Democrats over the question of whether she can claim a Cherokee heritage.

One test is racial.  Karen Geronimo, a Mescalero Apache, said, "“Someone needs to make her take a DNA test."

The other test is tribal. Jim La Pointe of the Rosebud Sioux said, “I’d like to hear her speak her native language."


Karen Geronimo's test is meaningless, unless you think race matters. Historically, American Indians didn't care about race. Like the Greeks and Romans, the test that mattered to them was the one Jim La Pointe suggests: when you speak, do your people understand you?


Elizabeth Warren might pass the DNA test. But that would make her a Cherokee in the same way a DNA test would make me a Celt.


Warren has responded as well as she possibly could to the controversy:




She doesn't say this, but her response is based on something that's true: Who you are has more to do with who you think you are than what your genes can say.

Quotes from The Party - For Elizabeth Warren, Bad Blood Over Indian Heritage Claims.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oscar Wilde on disobedience and socialism

His The Soul of Man under Socialism has this fine observation: "Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion."

Anyone who likes Wilde should read that essay. Or who likes socialism or anarchism. Or who likes good writing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

about the shrinking life expectancy of less-educated US whites

Because it's the New York Times, you should expect a failure to analyze the role of class in Life Expectancy for Less Educated Whites in U.S. Is Shrinking, but the data's interesting. They note:
The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008, said S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs. By 2008, life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of white women of the same education level, the study found. White men lacking a high school diploma lost three years of life. Life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the data showed.
Black poverty is more urban, which probably translates to better health care than the rural poor get.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

jackhammer advice (applies to almost everything)

It's better to approach the job as many small sections rather than a few large ones.

Why, yes, I am jackhammering the slab in the back yard, and hope to get to the old sidewalk about the house, too.

Thomas Jefferson on rich and poor

"Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." —Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ta-Nehisi Coates is oversimplifying again

In The True Face of 'Voter Fraud', Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds readers about the history of racism behind attempts to limit the vote.

But he's leaving out the bigger picture. From Sharon Smith's 'Race, class, and "whiteness theory"':
When the racist poll tax was passed in the South, imposing property and other requirements designed to shut out Black voters, many poor whites also lost the right to vote. After Mississippi passed its poll tax law, the number of qualified white voters fell from 130,000 to 68,000
So, what's most relevant? Disenfranchising black folks or disenfranchising poor folks? The rich are happiest when the poor can't vote because poor folks of all hues have this annoying notion that wealth should be shared.

If you think you can generalize about white Southern voters, see Paul Krugman's Bubba Isn't Who You Think:
...income levels seem to matter much more for voting in the South. Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago.

Friday, September 14, 2012

predator theory vs rape culture theory: looking for solutions

“Rape is part of our culture. It’s normalized to the point where men who are otherwise decent guys will rape and not even think that it’s wrong. And that’s what terrifies me.” —Jessica Valenti, describing the theory of rape culture
"These are clearly not individuals who are simply in need of a little extra education about proper communication with the opposite sex. These are predators." —David Lisak, co-author of Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists
In Meet The Predators, Thomas tries to merge predator theory with rape culture theory by advising, "We need to revoke the rapists’ social license to operate." But where is this social license? People who are not rapists know that "no means no"—and so do rapists. That's why they lie about their rapes. The ones who get people too drunk to resist don't talk about getting people drunk; they talk about getting drunk and having wild consensual sex.

Let me stress this: There is no social license to rape. I've lived in many parts of the US and have had friends from many social classes. Not one has indicated that they believe in a social license to rape. Statistics strongly suggest that some of the people I've known have raped someone at least once in their lives—but not one has ever suggested they've been involved in nonconsensual sex.

Now, I'm in many ways anomalous, so perhaps I'm anomalous here, too.

But our society's take on rape is clear: No means no.

Valenti, without evidence, says the solution to rape is to change our culture. Lisak, with a great deal of evidence, says the solution is to aggressively prosecute rapists.

I'm with Lisak.

• This post is a followup to seven problems with "rape culture" theory.

ETA: There's been a little discussion about this on G+. To stress a point: Predators know how to act to hide the fact that they're knowingly raping people. Teaching them about "rape culture" would only change their buzz words.

seven problems with "rape culture" theory

From Rape culture - Wikipedia:
Rape culture is a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudesnorms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone sexual violence.
Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blamingsexual objectification, and trivializing rape. Rape culture has been used to model behaviour within social groups, including prison systems where prison rape is common and conflict areas where war rape is used as psychological warfare. Entire countries have also been alleged to be rape cultures.
Where the theory of "rape culture" comes from has not been resolved. People agree it began in the 1970s. It may have begun with "Rape Culture", a 1975 documentary about prison rape. The basic theory describes the attitude toward rape in prison well: prisoners didn't accuse rapists and blamed the victims for many reasons, including the fears of being known as a snitch or becoming the next target. Only recently have the numbers for prison rape been taken seriously by the Justice Department. When prison rape is included, there appear to be more reported cases in the US of men being raped than women.

While the situation for society is analogous—victims are reluctant to come forward, knowing that some people will doubt their stories and some will blame them—extending the theory of rape culture in an artificial environment like prison to understand society in general creates problems:

1. The theory assumes a community accepts rape. Most societies treat rape as one of the most serious crimes a person can commit. Where rapists are executed or castrated or incarcerated for years, does it make sense to say rape is normalized, excused, tolerated, or condoned?

2. The theory assumes a culture is defined by its crimes. The US's most common crime is shoplifting. People joke about it and friends excuse it. Is the US a "shoplifting culture"? Aggravated assault is the US's most common violent crime. Does the US have an "aggravated assault culture"?

3. The theory assumes a culture is defined by the minority of men, women, and children who rape. Meet The Predators uses studies of rapists who have not been caught to conclude, "The vast majority of the offenses are being committed by a relatively small group of men, somewhere between 4% and 8% of the population." David Lisak, author of one of the studies, concluded that repeat rapists commit 90% of all rapes. If 5 to 9% of men are or have been rapists, do they define their culture? 16% of the US population is Hispanic—is the US's culture Hispanic? 25% of the population identifies as Catholic—is the US's culture Catholic?

4. The theory assumes sexual imagery promotes rape. But if, for example, the canonical advertisement of a woman in a bikini standing next to a new car promotes rape, does the image of the car promote theft?


5
. The theory assumes the subjects of its jokes show what a society approves.  Do we have a zombie culture? Does the US approve of pianos falling on people and roadrunners tricking coyotes into standing on the air? Do dead baby jokes promote abortion and indifference to infant mortality rates?

6. The theory assumes teaching people the theory of rape culture will reduce or eliminate rape. But if rapists thought society approved or tolerated rape, why would they hide their identities? Only the most insane rapists don't try to conceal their crimes. Would teaching repeat rapists the theory of rape culture change their behavior?

7. The theory does not include an explanation for rape culture or practical steps toward a solution. We live in a rape culture because people are rapists? Men are rapists? Greedy people are rapists? How do we make things better?  Some feminists want to change the law so that people accused of sexual crimes are presumed guilty, but we know false charges of rape occur.

We need to distinguish between cultural attitudes toward rape and "rape culture". People who study cultural attitudes try to limit their preconceptions. People who study rape culture seek to confirm what they believe, which makes them assume causation in what may be correlation.

A part of rape culture is to accuse people who question it of being "rape apologists", so I'll be as clear as I can: One rape is one rape too many. But questioning someone's approach to a problem is not the same as questioning the problem.

Well, unless your theory assumes it does, which suggests I should add an eighth problem with rape culture theory.

Final thoughts: predator theory vs rape culture theory: looking for solutions.

Older posts on rape culture:


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad, artists of their time

It's been too many years since I read Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Conrad's Heart of Darkness—I think I'll try to read them back-to-back soon. For now, I'm relying on old memories and recent readings about Achebe's denunciation of Conrad.

Achebe is interviewed in The case against Conrad. He says Conrad "is obsessed with the physicality of the negro" and misses the fact that Conrad was obsessed with physicality in general. Achebe conflates Conrad with Marlow and makes an odd assumption: Why does he think Marlow has a "pure" soul? Heart of Darkness is about imperialists whose souls are not pure at all—Kurtz looks within himself and famously sees "the horror!" the horror!"

In the interview, Achebe says something that's mostly true and very revealing:
This identification with the other is what a great writer brings to the art of story-making. We should welcome the rendering of our stories by others, because a visitor can sometimes see what the owner of the house has ignored. But they must visit with respect and not be concerned with the colour of skin, or the shape of nose, or the condition of the technology in the house."
When the point of view character is supposed to be a typical man of his time and place, a white visitor to Africa who exploits it without wanting to understand it, would it be realistic for Marlow to write "with respect" of Africans, ignoring their physical traits and technology? The story's power would be lost if the viewpoint character was an academic who calmly observed what happened and placed everything in perspective.

I might agree with Achebe if he was talking about essayists. But a storyteller's job isn't to be respectful—it's to be honest in a way that the essayist may try to explain, but can never duplicate. The essayist seeks answers. The storyteller seeks questions that linger when the essayist's work is done.

PS. This post was supposed to be about how Conrad and Achebe can't be divorced from the time when they worked, and Achebe's criticism of Conrad says more about people of Achebe's time than it says about Conrad. Art is always about its time, and criticism is always about its time, so in great criticism, you find interesting ideas in conflict, but in most criticism, you find the platitudes of the present being applied to the art of the past.

Maybe I'll return to this subject, but I suspect I'm done with it now.

Recommended:

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chinua Achebe

Rights of Passage

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon

The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon - YouTube:

my new theme song?

The Indelicates - "Class" - YouTube:

Basic Income worked in Canada's Mincome test

Mincome - Wikipedia:
Mincome is the name of an experimental Canadian Basic income project that was held in Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s. The project, funded jointly by the Manitoba provincial government and the Canadian federal government, began with a news release on February 22, 1974, and was closed down in 1979. The purpose of this experiment was to determine whether a guaranteed, unconditional annual income actually caused disincentive to work for the recipients, and how great such a disincentive would be. A final report was never issued, but Dr. Evelyn Forget [for-ZHAY] has conducted analysis of the research. She found that only new mothers and teenagers worked less. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies, and teenagers worked less because they weren't under as much pressure to support their families, which resulted in more teenagers graduating. In addition, those who continued to work were given more opportunities to choose what type of work they did. In addition, Forget finds that in the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent, with fewer incidences of work-related injuries, and fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse.[1] 
External links 

Monday, September 10, 2012

the simplest way to end poverty


"How much would it take to bring all the officially poor up to the poverty line? Surprisingly little: about 1% of GDP, or not quite 10% of the Census Bureau's estimate of the income of the richest 5%. It's about half the increase in the military budget since 2000. . . . the solution to ending poverty is pretty simple: you give poor people money, preferably taken from rich people."
—Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer #134, 2/17/12

Anyone who inherited anything has no right to complain about giving money to people.

dirty words are reminders of the class war

"Dirty words" were said by the people who worked in the dirt.

Inspired by THE POWER OF DIRTY WORDS | Norman Spinrad At Large: "In French-conquered England, the three classes spoke three different languages.  The language of the conquering power was French, the language of religious power and high-toned intellectual discourse was Latin, and the language of the conquered natives who became the lowest class serfs had already been  a proto-English “Anglo-Saxon.”"

the social justice workers that I love


I've long been a fan of liberation theologists who risked their lives and their standing in the Catholic church by speaking out for sharing the wealth. I love Dom Hélder Câmara for saying, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."

"Why are the people poor?" is the most dangerous question anyone can ask a capitalist. The answer's obvious: in this world that has enough for everyone, the only reason anyone is poor is because the rich don't share.

Speaking for "social justice" makes sense in countries where socialists are marginalized, imprisoned, or killed, but social justice is a movement that cannot exist without the tolerance of hierarchs who will squash it if it goes too far. That's what happened to the liberation theologists; Wikipedia notes, "The influence of liberation theology diminished after proponents were accused of using "Marxist concepts" leading to admonishment by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1984 and 1986. The Vatican criticized certain strains of liberation theology for focusing on institutionalized or systemic sin, apparently to the exclusion of individual offenders/offences; and for allegedly misidentifying Catholic Church hierarchy in South America as members of the same privileged class that had long been oppressing indigenous populations since the arrival of Pizarro."

In Martin Luther King's time, socialists were excluded from political discourse in the US. To be effective, he had to talk about social justice instead. In a 1963 WMU Speech, he said, "I think with all of these challenges being met and with all of the work, and determination going on, we will be able to go this additional distance and achieve the ideal, the goal of the new age, the age of social justice."

But his concept of social justice was very different than that of identitarians who appropriated the term. That became clear as his focus expanded from race to poverty and peace, when King was willing to directly confront capitalism directly with statements like “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

thought of the day

People have done awful things in the name of everything. This does not mean everything is awful.

funny find of the day


do different forms of oppression intersect or dogpile?

Or "the problem with the middle-class feminist theory of intersectionality, part 2".

If you wonder why the implications of a word like "intersectionality" should matter so much when anyone with half a brain knows a disabled queer black woman is going to have a harder time in the US than an able straight white man, it's because social justice warriors take a religious approach to understanding injustice.

They claim socialists who stress the importance of class are "class reductionists", even though socialists have always been at the front of the struggles against racism and sexism. Whenever a group creates a label for their opponents, you know the matter no longer has anything to do with reason. When I hear of any debate over theoretical points, I remember Michael Servetus, the unitarian who Catholics and Protestants both wanted to burn for heresy. For some people, nothing is more offensive than having their belief rejected.

Thanks to the discussion in the comments at the problem with the middle-class feminist theory of intersectionality, I'm going to try to sidestep the problem with "intersectionality" from now on by using a different term for what happens when several kinds of prejudice work together: dogpiling. Social justice warriors would be able to continue to argue that each dog comes from a different place, socialists would be able to argue that one or two dog handlers are siccing the dogs on the working class, and everyone should be able to agree that we need to do something about those damn dogs.

the whiteness of whiteness studies: David Roediger

I've written elsewhere about Judith Katz, who promoted "racism = power + prejudice", Peggy McIntosh, who wrote "The Invisible Knapsack", and Tim Wise, star of the lucrative private school anti-racism lecture circuit. Now it's time for David Roediger, one of the white creators of whiteness studies. Whiteness studies and Critical Race Theory are closely related, but they differ in that Critical Race Theory was developed by capitalists, while Whiteness Studies is the creation of socialists who accept many of the tenets of CRT.

Sharon Smith's 'Race, class, and "whiteness theory"' is my favorite refutal, perhaps because it's written for general readers. She observes:
....the theoretical framework of “whiteness theory” has more in common with postmodernism than with the ideas or politics of Black nationalism. Historian David Roediger helped launch this academic trend with the publication of his 1991 book, The Wages of Whiteness. Despite the legally sanctioned and violently enforced system of white supremacy, backed by both political parties after Reconstruction, Roediger asserts, “working class ‘whiteness’ and white supremacy [are] creations, in part, of the white working class itself.”

...Roediger’s analysis is flawed on several counts. First, he appears to assume that working-class interests have been defined historically only by the actions of white males, as if women and African Americans—not to mention other oppressed populations—have not played an active role in defining working-class identity. Second, Roediger falsely assumes that by designating class as the primary antagonism in capitalist society, Marxism discounts the importance of race. Most significantly, Roediger’s entire thesis rests on the assumption that white workers benefit from the existence of racism.
Smith points to two earlier white writers who helped lay the groundwork for Roediger: 
...Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe—self-described post-Marxists—first articulated the theoretical framework for identity politics in their 1985 book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. Laclau and Mouffe’s (extremely) abstract theory divorces every form of oppression not only from society generally, but also from each other. As they put it, society is a field “criss-crossed with antagonisms” in which each form of oppression exists as an entirely autonomous system.

According to this schema, social class is just another form of oppression, separate from all others, leaving the system of exploitation equally adrift. Furthermore, each separate system of oppression has its own unique set of beneficiaries: all whites benefit from racism, all men benefit from sexism and all heterosexuals benefit from homophobia—each in a free-floating system of “subordination.”
Smith quotes another of Roediger's critics, Gregory Myerson:
[W]hile it is true that the various identity categories intersect—class is lived through race and gender etc.—and while I am also willing to accept that no experience of oppression should be privileged over another, it does not follow that multiple oppressions require multiple structural causes.… [Roediger’s] working class appears too autonomous, at times nearly sealed off from ongoing processes of class rule. This autonomy, inconsistently maintained…requires Roediger to supplant class analysis with psychocultural analysis.
I read The Wages of Whiteness when it came out. I vaguely remember Roediger's psychocultural riffs. Those sorts of things can be very entertaining, but they always tell you more about the writer than the subject. If you think I'm suggesting that whites who write about racism using the language of psychotherapy may be analyzing themselves rather than the people they call white, yes, I am. That doesn't mean the work is not worth reading—it can be very much worth reading because people who write about whiteness call attention to a part of history that too many historians neglect.

But you need to remember when you're reading that the writer has an agenda. Roediger has said Wages of Whiteness "was designed as a provocation."

For a rigorous socialist criticism of Roediger, read "On Roediger's 'Wages of Whiteness'" by Theodore W. Allen, author of The Invention of the White Race. Allen notes,
In his "Afterword" to the second edition, Roediger, with exemplary professional courage and integrity, acknowledges errors committed in the original edition. Some unspecified sections of the first edition, he notes, were "embarrassingly thin." He refers to "many shortcomings," for which he presumes others will be able to make amends without much difficulty. But there is one, major, error that he "sharply regrets," and for which he foresees no simple and easy amendment. That error, he says, was his acceptance of "the dominant assumption...[,] the unexamined and indefensible notion that white males were somehow 'the American working class.'" Reflecting on this "flat mistake," he recalls that he himself had expressed a contrary view. He frankly attributes the error to the effect of his "White Blindspot." This political disability, he goes on to say, incidentally caused the tone of the book to be unduly pessimistic.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dashiell Hammett on why people cling to crazy beliefs

"Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend. Thinking's a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can. That's why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they're arrived at, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane, and self-evident And if you let it get away from you, then you've got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wangle yourself out another to take its place." —Dashiell Hammett, The Dain Curse

Seminole Canoe Builder Practices Ancient Art

Canoe Builder Practices Ancient Art - Sun Sentinel: "When they joke about whether the canoe comes with an outboard engine, Billie tells them, "Nope. It has an inboard In'jun.""

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon

Emma and I finally saw it. Maybe it was just that we weren't expecting much, but we really liked it.

the problem with the middle-class feminist theory of intersectionality

When I first heard of Kimberlé Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality, I loved it because I thought it explained the way that different prejudices interact with different people. I misunderstood it entirely.

Intersectionality assumes all prejudices are unique. Identitarians love it because it was founded on the notion that different forms of oppression have no connections; they only have intersections. It is extremely convenient for capitalists who don't want you to wonder about underlying causes.

Its great problem is its inherent anti-scientific nature—it rules out the possibility of interrelatedness. It leads social justice warriors like Coffeeandink to say things like, "...I do think class is a significant axis of oppression separate from but interacting with race and gender. I just don't think it's the root oppression that is the basis of all other oppression, or that eliminating class injustice will magically cause other forms of prejudice and injustice to fade away."

Now, the last clause is a common straw man, but as for the basic identitarian take on class, race and gender being separate—

Historians like the eminent Trinidadan historian Eric Williams disagree: Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” People who use "race" and "racism" in wildly imprecise ways have trouble understanding what he meant, but until the development of the African slave trade, prejudice was tribal, not racial—perhaps the most famous example is the Greek prejudice against barbarians, people whose talk sounded like "bar-bar-bar" to them.

Socialist feminists also disagree with intersectionality. Engels wrote, "The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male." While Engels is not saying that sexual oppression is class oppression, he's suggesting a link that later writers would explore about the relationship between the nature of economic hierarchy—what middle-class feminists call kyriarchy—and sexual exploitation.

While "kyriarchy" strikes me as a redundant word, it is fascinating that capitalist feminists are fumbling for a broader understanding of oppression. It may force them to abandon intersectionality.

Recommended:

RACE - The Power of an Illusion . Go Deeper | PBS.

Slavery and the origins of racism by Lance Selfa.

'The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy', by Rev. Thandeka.

Marxist Internet Archive Library of Feminist Writers.

ETA: After considering the discussion in the comments, I wrote do different forms of oppression intersect or dogpile?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Adolph Reed Jr. on race and social justice

In 2005, in "The Real Divide" Adolph Reed Jr. wrote something that's still true in the age of Obama:
...race is especially useless as a basis on which to craft a politics that can effectively pursue social justice.

Before the “yes, buts” begin, I am not claiming that systemic inequalities in the United States are not significantly racialized. The evidence of racial disparities is far too great for any sane or honest person to deny, and they largely emerge from a history of discrimination and racial injustice. Nor am I saying that we should overlook that fact in the interest of some idealized nonracial or post-racial politics.

Let me be blunter than I’ve ever been in print about what I am saying: As a political strategy, exposing racism is wrongheaded and at best an utter waste of time. It is the political equivalent of an appendix: a useless vestige of an earlier evolutionary moment that’s usually innocuous but can flare up and become harmful.

There are two reasons for this judgment.

One is that the language of race and racism is too imprecise to describe effectively even how patterns of injustice and inequality are racialized in a post-Jim Crow world. “Racism” can cover everything from individual prejudice and bigotry, unself-conscious perception of racial stereotypes, concerted group action to exclude or subordinate, or the results of ostensibly neutral market forces.

It can be a one-word description and explanation of patterns of unequal distribution of income and wealth, services and opportunities, police brutality, a stockbroker’s inability to get a cab, neighborhood dislocation and gentrification, poverty, unfair criticism of black or Latino athletes, or being denied admission to a boutique.

Because the category is so porous, it doesn’t really explain anything. Indeed, it is an alternative to explanation. 
Exposing racism apparently makes those who do it feel good about themselves. Doing so is cathartic, though safely so, in the same way that proclaiming one’s patriotism is in other circles.

It is a summary, concluding judgment rather than a preliminary to a concrete argument. It doesn’t allow for politically significant distinctions; in fact, as a strategy, exposing racism requires subordinating the discrete features of a political situation to the overarching goal of asserting the persistence and power of racism as an abstraction.

This leads to the second reason for my harsh judgment. Many liberals gravitate to the language of racism not simply because it makes them feel righteous but also because it doesn’t carry any political warrant beyond exhorting people not to be racist. In fact, it often is exactly the opposite of a call to action. Such formulations as “racism is our national disease” or similar pieties imply that racism is a natural condition. Further, it implies that most whites inevitably and immutably oppose blacks and therefore can’t be expected to align with them around common political goals.

This view dovetails nicely with Democrats’ contention that the only way to win elections is to reject a social justice agenda that is stigmatized by association with blacks and appeal to an upper-income white constituency concerned exclusively with issues like abortion rights and the deficit.

Upper-status liberals are more likely to have relatively secure, rewarding jobs, access to health care, adequate housing, and prospects for providing for the kids’ education, and are much less likely to be in danger of seeing their nineteen-year-old go off to Iraq. They tend, therefore, to have a higher threshold of tolerance for political compromises in the name of electing this year’s sorry pro-corporate Democrat. Acknowledging racism—and, of course, being pro-choice—is one of the few ways many of them can distinguish themselves from their Republican co-workers and relatives.

As the appendix analogy suggests, insistence on understanding inequality in racial terms is a vestige of an earlier political style. The race line persists partly out of habit and partly because it connects with the material interests of those who would be race relations technicians. In this sense, race is not an alternative to class. The tendency to insist on the primacy of race itself stems from a class perspective.

For roughly a generation it seemed reasonable to expect that defining inequalities in racial terms would provoke some, albeit inadequate, remedial response from the federal government. But that’s no longer the case; nor has it been for quite some time. That approach presumed a federal government that was concerned at least not to appear racially unjust. Such a government no longer exists.

A key marker of the right’s victory in national politics is that the discussion of race now largely serves as a way to reinforce a message to whites that the public sector is there merely to help some combination of black, poor, and loser. Liberals have legitimized this perspective through their own racial bad faith. For many whites, the discussion of race also reinforces the idea that cutting public spending is justifiably aimed at weaning a lazy black underclass off the dole or—in the supposedly benign, liberal Democratic version—teaching them “personal responsibility.”
Martin Luther King agreed with him: "In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Union Maid - Billy Bragg, Mike & Ruthy Merenda, Dar Williams, New York City Labor Chorus

Union Maid - YouTube:

Too Much Quote of the Week

“Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension — and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?” —Mike Lofgren, former Republican congressional staffer, Revolt of the RichAmerican Conservative, September 2012 issue

Bonus fact: Only two of the world's 34 top industrialized nations — Chile and Mexico — have a lower tax burden than the United States.

working class bingo

Happy Labor Day!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

a surprisingly good article about consent and the state

I was initially put off by a certain amount of rhetoric that I associate with social justice warriors, but the writer draws conclusions they would not. From For Julian Assange, Justice Foreclosed | The Nation: "It should be possible to imagine a resolution outside the criminal justice system for problems that arise in the course of consensual sexual coupling: dissatisfaction over the use (or ill use) of condoms, constraints that keep people from expressing their wishes or intuiting those of another, selfishness, insensitivity, confusions as “yes” slides into “no” and back to “yes,” perhaps wordlessly—all issues that seem to apply in the Assange case but exist beyond it. That will require a braver sexual politics (and at least another column), and it does not demean experience to recognize that the language of punishment is a poor substitute for the lost language of love."