"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Feb 21, 2011

The Season

I want to mock this (from John Cole), but it was once a position I shared more closely:

"I do, however, want to state again, that I find the almost celebratory reactions by Americans on twitter to be odd. Not to be an old fart, but the fear of the unknown is just too much right now. While I’m all in favor of people being able to democratically choose their own future, I’m also cognizant that a lot of these people might choose to go with leadership that will make life very difficult for the United States. Like I said before, free societies mean societies that are free to hate us."

His initial point is not invalid. Fear of the unknown will drive "middle class" reactions to waves of protest, uprising and revolution - both domestic and foreign -  because those people who consciously identify as "middle class" are more often than not deeply conservative. I don't mean to imply that they don't self-identify as social democrats, liberals, labour or progressives. Many of them probably do. But, their self-positioning in the middle of a consciously admitted class structure, often after extended education in a professional or skilled career and with all of the accompanying socialization, speaks to an acceptance of an order of society which (a) has classes and (b) has them working to belong to the economically more independent managerial and middle tiers which nonetheless and ironically depend rather fundamentally on an entire class existing in relative and actual poverty beneath them, as a defining limit to their own comparative affluence.

In other words, they have an investment in the way of things.

The "Tea Party" reveals perhaps one manifestation of this reaction to systemic change, especially insomuch as the average Tea Partier possesses greater wealth than most Americans, and certainly than most people who have the misfortune to live elsewhere atop resources rich people want. That the Tea Party is xenophobic, border obsessed, anti-immigrant, and prone to grossly if unconsciously racialist characterizations of Black and Hispanic Americans should come as no surprise. That its members lionize strong political and religious women while backing the most aggressive legal and judicial attacks on the autonomy of women in at least a generation should also come as no real shock. The American middle class has a deliberate shape, one cultivated by tax law, religious propaganda, politicking, media, entertainment and rent/lending practices - and that shape is functionally Anglo-European*, familial and nativist.

I don't know as much about the BNP and its analogs in France and Germany, but a cursory reading of their place in their own contexts seems to mirror that of the Tea Party and other xenophobic and nativist groups stateside.

But, professional liberals depend also on the maintenance of this order in which we find ourselves, because they too identify consciously as members of the much lauded "middle class." As noted over the last several months, liberals will embrace an expansion of social tolerances with greater alacrity than their nativist counterparts, but that appears to provide the relative limit to their revolutionary and reformist potential.

Because a liberal is not a reformist or a revolutionary. He or she is in fact someone who accepts and/or believes in the validity of his or her class, and the place occupied in the scheme of things. Liberals may not have nativist tendencies, or at least as overtly so as their more consciously conservative counterparts - but they do identify with their own wealth, education, institutions and merit certificates in a way which marks them, to even a casual observer, as invested members of the capitalist project.

Like their nativist counterparts, liberals have begun to look for causes and symptoms of a social decay they can perceive, but cannot properly identify.** Unlike the nativists, they find their bête noire not in foreigners, blacks or non-familial women, exactly - but in the "corruption" of once trusted institutions. The liberal does not want to abolish those institutions; institutions which enforce class, which define property, which confirm their merit, which punish transgressors. The liberal wants to restore them.

Similar to the nativist who wants to restore a mythical golden age of national and religious purity, the liberal wants to restore mythical institutions of justice and merit.

And both projects, we should understand, reflect a conservative impulse so entrenched in membership within the capitalist "middle class," and in the encompassing and reinforcing identities of that class, that any perceived or existential threat to it will likely force a series of rubicon crossing events which place all members of the managerial middle class in opposition to the poor, the oppressed, the alien and the underclasses, whether or not both wider camps continue to fight each other for control of the emerging milice rump state which even now takes on a clear shape in the "anti-terror" apparatus which consumes more and more of the tax receipts of various Western governments; a leaner, more efficient state, stripped of its cumbersome welfare functions, to better serve transnational capital during the period of flux which will shatter norms and Westphalia over the next decades.

Cole, of course, does not necessarily outline or identify these factors. He doesn't need to. Instead he uses a rote, casual and I daresay even instinctive short-hand, when he writes:

"I’m also cognizant that a lot of these people might choose to go with leadership that will make life very difficult for the United States. Like I said before, free societies mean societies that are free to hate us."

John Cole, uniquely a good liberal and a recovering nativist, does not have to spell out his identities. His is no voice-over commentary. It's implicit, a part of the dialogue itself. For Cole - as with both the institutional liberals and the nativist reactionaries - the "United States" which is perhaps already threatened by revolution and unrest is also "us."

And he means it - as I think do most liberals and nativists  - when he says that he believes that unrest and social collapse threaten that conscious "us."

Because it does.

And we whose very existences threaten it should take note. And take notes. Because when push comes to shove, and it will come to shove, they are going to push back like fully invested, co-opted, threatened people. And they already live rather comfortably not only with the reality of prisons, endless wars and pacification - but with the ideas of them...

*  - the old, first Republic Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic ideal has of course been expanded as waves of Poles, Italians, Greeks, Irish, Jews and other Europeans have been incorporated into the urban (and later, suburban) body politic by law and industry - usually as a counterweight to blackness and actual black people, but also as a buffer against poor and rural whites. We should also note that the liberal sense of triumph over prejudice, paranoia and narrowness is in fact a confirmation of the basically exclusionary form of the middle class. Whereas the liberal identifies as a member of that class by seeking to return it to a largely fictional ideal of universal brotherhood and merit, the nativist more correctly identifies it as, well, native.

** - this is a willfully broad statement as I have neither the time nor inclination to write out the five or ten pages necessary to make this point in finer detail...


Anonymous said...

Very fine.

Would it be a push to lump "progressives" in with the "liberals" you discuss?

Jack Crow said...

Thanks, Charles.

I think "progressive" and "liberal" tend to mean the same thing, at least in the States. (Except for maybe some socialists who use "progressive" to distinguish themselves from capitalist liberals. I don't know.)

When I read British, Australian, Canadian and Kiwi press and blogs, I get the impression the words do have different meanings, though.

David K Wayne said...

'Progressive' has been co-opted by the Labour Party to mean anything anti-Tory really. Most people to the left of the Labour Party wouldn't call themselves 'progressive', they'd say socialist, Marxist or anarchist.

Our 'progressive' middle classes are very much about preserving institutions (and restoring access to them). They're worried about their rate of dismantlement, but more open to 'market solutions' if its sold as pragmatic.

But your post is pretty applicable to the UK. Substitute BNP/EDL for Tea Party, and your Democrats are pretty much doing the same as our Tory Party. The Labour Party (even after Blair) seems to be firmly to the left of Clinton, Obama etc. This may be because their ties to the unions, and local politics, are deeper. Of course, this may change very soon.

Anonymous said...

W -

Labour is left of Clinton/Obama in deeds/policies?

Which party has authored the frightening change to cameras everywhere, privacy nowhere? Is it a synthetic multi-party project, or is there a primary culpable party?

And why have Brits gone along with it? I suspect that if we had the same kind of overt visual surveillance implemented here, people actually might start throwing rocks and stringing lampposts with hemp.

OOPS. Did I just have a moment of naivete instead of skepticism?

Jack Crow said...

My familiarity with British politics is probably more deficient than warrants a reply, Charles, but I think there's a noticeable degree of difference between MP level Labour and the national party long run by Blair and Brown.

At least, that's the impression I got from an old friend who worked for an MP (Labour, and a socialist) from Lancashire.

Anonymous said...

Being totally ignorant of UK governmental structure, I don't grasp the difference between MP level and national level... that's sad, but true. I am ignorant of every nation's government's architecture and operation, except ours.

Tangential point: why in Hades do people read John Cole? Is it because he says what they think too, rather than challenging anything that has any heft? The commenters in that thread, at 160something right now, are largely imperialists too, when they're not talking process as if process is substance. Thankfully a few in the thread have some sanity, but of the vocal & posting, it's largely a bunch of white noise. Pun intended.

David K Wayne said...

OK -
Labour basically has two tiers: parliamentary MPS (including cabinet and leader/Prime Minister) and then its nationwide network of councillors, activists, union reps, policy/research orgs etc. In electing their leader, and even dictating policy (up to a point) it has far more accountability than the Conservatives - who are way more centralised in policy, leader elections etc. Which is why the Conservatives usually accuse Labour of being in 'the pockets' of the unions (several million members vs. a couple hundred Conservative MPs. You tell me what's more 'democratic'). Labour is also more likely to take on policies based on local needs and community groups' social policy recommendations. Even in more right-wing policies, their education spending, police tactics etc. could vary from region to region. But its still based on research and statistics, unlike the Conservatives who go for 'one size fits all'.

The parliamentary Labour Party is more right-wing and London-based (much more so since Blair - 'New' Labour was a semi-Thatcherite rebranding). The national network of Labour tends to be more left-wing, but again Blair's machinations diluted that. A lot of this was changes to the way they raised campaign funds (finance capital instead of unions), press attitudes, expelling far-left factions etc.

Economically, Labour are still to the left of Obama They did increase public spending significantly when they took power: health, council funding, public sector jobs, worker's rights, crime rates and schools all saw improvements, if only in better resources. A big switch rightwards since the 90s was in crime (and of course military) policy. We've got police up the ass, but crime did reduce drastically. They used to have an image of being 'soft' on crime (and immigration), so they basically went nuts in law enforcement - and still got vilified for (grossly exaggerated) crime/immigration levels. Labour also tends to be more pro-EU. The Conservatives hate it for pesky shit like human rights and limits on the working week.

Blair centralised his control (he did win a huge landslide after two decades of defeat), and the repercussions have been very damaging to the party, and the country. I'm sure you know how he (pretty much single-handedly) forced through a very hawkish foriegn policy. Then there was his cosier relationship with finance capital and the press, which switched to the Conservatives for their own short-term greedy reasons as soon as he was gone.

Anonymous said...

Thanks W that's very helpful. And it sounds very parallel to how the Democrats in the USA have changed, though I'd say here you don't see real local broad-band interest or representation by any Democrat unless it's a very small very local election. At most levels the Democrats are the equivalent of the Republicans with only a different mask or fascia or presentation. Fr Smith's "ratchet effect" theory over at SMBIVA is one of the best descriptions I've seen of real Democrat workings, I'd recommend reading it if you haven't before.


Hope you don't mind the cross-link, Jack!

David K Wayne said...

Maybe I should mention that an MP is a representative of a local area/constituency, who 'represents' that area and goes to London to vote on national legislation (if they don't toe the party line it can have bad repercussions for their career. Even with very senior figures like Robin Cook who had to resign over oppossing the Iraq invasion). Whatever party has the most MPs form the government (the Prime Minister is an MP too).

Scotland, Northern Ireland and (to a lesser extent) Wales have their own devolved parliaments and some autonomy over certain laws (not defence or welfare). For example, university and elderly care is free in all three. Which annoys right-wing idiots in England, who think everyone should be fleeced until bankruptcy. In my experience, they have better healthcare and education systems in those places (crudely put, the English are the stupidest fuckers in the UK - we'd have Conservative govt. non-stop if it was just England).

Anonymous said...

Good post, as I expect. For completeness, you might add Mexicans, Asians and Central Americans in a separate, but closely related category, to your first footnote. A great deal of the nativist/racist historical and contemporary reaction has been directed at these other-colored peoples and yet they integrate (at varying speeds) into the class structure. A few at the top, the many at the bottom, pitted against one another and the existing lower class to boot. It is the reactionary nature of the tea partiers as opposed to the conservative nature of the "liberals" or "progressives which distinguishes them.

Either way, when push comes to shove, it is the government with the power we have ceded it and the government is not us.

Randal Graves said...

Yeah, yeah, Egypts & MPs are fine & dandy, but dammit, feds, stop droning wedding parties for five seconds to make sure there's a NFL season this fall. I want my fucking 5-11, a distraction that only affects [mostly] Murkans. I hope I'm not on camera.

Word verification: foldo. Heh.

Richard said...

Liberals have always been in the vanguard of American exceptionalism. The rejection of the centrality of the US as the great modernizing, humanizing force in the world by the left during the 1960s created a fault line between liberals and leftists that persists to this day. Hence, liberals are always going to be anxious about indigenous revolutionary movements independent of US, Eurocentric influences. Zionism is, of course, interwoven in this fabric, as Israel is a form of exceptionalism in a different guise compatible with the US and European sense of cultural superiority, while pan-Arabism obviously is not. The persistence of pan-Arabism and Islamic utopianism in the movements in North Africa and the Middle East is alarming to people like Cole, and renders them, by definition, illegitimate. We have seen a couple of ways of dealing with this liberal anxiety: (1) to magically define the revolutinary movements as primarily driven by westernized youth with a facility for using social media; and (2) to characterize the roots of these movements as having emerged from US NGOs that emphasize non-violent resistance as a form of political organization, as does Gene Sharp and Otpor, among others, which explains why the NYT has been so enamoured of them. Neither is true, but to engage these approaches rationally is to miss their real intended purpose.

Anonymous said...

Yep! Good points Richard. Something can't plausibly happen independent of the USA's influence, and there's always a yeoman's effort in punditry and journalism to fabricate connections to the USA, whether indirectly through tech etc as in your (1) or taking a more bold tack and asserting that yes, our policies caused this, as in your (2).

There isn't really a better living example of hubris than the liberal/progressive (USA progressive) point of view.

Personally I point the finger at using "meritocracy" to implement a twisted form of nerd rage. The "merit" in the present meritocratic approach reminds me of the confusion people have over "competence."

"Merit" in 2011 America means Ivy, Ivy-equal (Stanford, CalTech, MIT, etc), Corporate.

Once those fascia are found, the superficial indicia of merit, the discussion is closed: merit exists. It is assumed that a good resume means wise policy and lack of personal ambition or greed. And people are shocked to learn that Obama's "community organizer" work was for business interests, not personal assistance to the poor... I can't know whether to laugh or cry.

"Competence" is judged the same way as "merit" with a lot of loaded assumptions that whomever holds "merit" will be "competent" at doing holistic policy creation and implementation... will have the interests of average folks in mind and will prudently protect those interests. But again, the things advanced: Ivy, quasiIvy, corporate... meaning, upper-middle and upper class interests.

It's quite a con job. I'm impressed by its accomplishments. As a matter of competence I'd rate it highly, 5/5 stars, in achieving what's intended.

The fans of "meritocracy" in American liberal/progressive people would wonder, however, how so much "incompetence" can happen when there's so much merit in charge of things.

Anonymous said...

The only problem with this post and most of the comments is that the majority of John Cole's readers, whom i assume are part of this frightened, privilege-protecting liberal class you speak of, seem to think he's being a bit of a reactionary dipshit.

Anonymous said...

There's only one thing wrong with your comment, Nonny.

I mentioned what you just said -- several comments up.

(see Feb 21 @ 9:10 PM)

Anonymous said...

I mentioned what you just said -- several comments up.

this doesn't really merit splitting hairs, but you said 'a few' whereas I said 'a majority'. In other words, what you said is almost exactly opposite of what I said.

Anonymous said...

And you never heard of understatement used as a sarcastic vector? Interesting. Thanks for the weighty contribution!

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Charles, pipe down. It's obvious that you weren't being sarcastic but who cares. Why don't you just stand by your original claim?

I didn't pretend that my contribution was weighty. But the thing is, it gets to a point where everyone is so much in agreement on something (LIberals are assholes) that no proof is required when some claim is made. My contribution to this discussion was a true statement: the majority of John Cole's readers disagreed with him, many vehemently so. That's enough to warrant making it.

Jack Crow said...

The majority of Cole's readers disagree with his leftover conservative foreign policy positions. His regular liberal readers, on the other hand, are largely in agreement with him on domestic policy, fealty to Obama and liberalism in general.

That's pretty evident from actually reading the comments, there.