"...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

Mar 12, 2011

...on crawling out from under the failures which came before, and the ones which compound them further...

In the eighties, as one of only a few communist sympathizers in my small town, I was struck by the willingness of most of my friends and neighbors to tolerate my public possession* of a few works by Marx (and all the others they'd never heard of) - because communism was seen as so ridiculous and impossible, that only a contrarian, willful, rebellious young'n would trouble his or herself with it. My scout leader was amused enough to make me Senior Patrol Leader because, and I remember this distinctly, "At least a red believes in discipline." When I was finally kicked out of the Scouts, it was for selling pot, not for reading Karl Marx.

No one doubted that we'd grow up and get over it, which is of course exactly what happened. Because you don't get gainful employment posing as a red.

I suppose if I'd grown up almost anywhere but New England, the story might be differently told, but the only roles you couldn't inhabit (well, openly) during that time, and in that region, were (a) homosexual, and (b) pagan, and by the mid to late eighties, enough of the local kids were into Ouija, meditation, seances, tarot and the rest of the faux spiritualist baggage handling that Fag™ was really the only verboten identity. It still is, as far as I can tell. (Well, in a nod to some progress, skinheads get little love. See, sometimes advances are made.)

Those members of the dominant culture who had no cause or reason to question it, or even be aware of it in a conscious way, expressed and probably felt the abiding confidence which characterized that slice of history. They were sure of themselves, and their concerns and fears reflected this fact. Red baiting was still in vogue, obviously, and the Soviet Union was very much the Evil Empire which any right believing person disdained and pitied, in a distant and detached fashion, but in all truth the Soviets were way the hell Over There. They were a foreign threat, and one which managed itself very nicely, in tidy packages which were fit for domestic consumption.

They were a given. Easy to detest, because nothing was known about 'em except that they were Bad - but not supremely so, especially after Chernobyl and the Afghan debacle. They were also easy to ignore, those Soviets who were so much a part of a the world that I doubt anyone believed they were going anywhere, except perhaps the Party leaders trying to stave off collapse.

Plus, the wily Japanese were already in the ascendant as the new black beasts of foreign concern

Anyway, the real threat on the homefront was homosexual satanism, or satanic homosexualism, or demons in our midst, or homegrown nihilist godlessness...or black men. The kind of problems which might trouble a people who knew their place in a stable, divided and manichean world order and who just wanted to "get ahead" and keep the shit that proved they'd done so.

We had invented domestic worries, which everyone pretended were real, and therefore made so. Kind of like today, when it comes to Mexican migrant workers, Arabs, Muslims, Central American gangs and the Chinese.

The culture in force encouraged a facile self-satisfaction for those who benefited from it.

This was not the case, in that small circle of would-be revolutionaries. Or for the loose affiliation of like minded fellow travelers to be founded in Portland, Burlington, Worcester or Boston. Especially Boston.

In those circles, I remember almost no one who was sure of his or her self. It was a milieu characterized by self-doubt coupled with supreme historical arrogance, deliberately struck and ridiculous poses, sectarian nastiness, recrimination, turf conflict, ideological puritanism, doctrinaire immovability, implacable hatreds and an unjustified certainty in the immediacy of the historic moment when the various vanguards would announce themselves to the masses - often imagined, those anonymous multitudes, as historically ready and ripe for the exact message which the various vanguards and true revolutionaries had finally refined into the core dogma of a future perfect. Or, in equal measure, sure that the same masses were so dumbly benighted that only a true dictatorship of the proletariat could usher in the coming age of collective revelation.

Decades have passed, the beneficiary classes have grown smaller and the ruling class richer, but the anti-capitalists don't seem to have moved much from their treasured, comfortable and familiar estate, replete in their replication of all the same tropes. It's a whole new generation come and gone. Two of them, in fact.

And yet these kids are stuck in the same places as their various sectarian ideological forebears - sniping at each other from behind fictional barricades, convinced they alone possess the secret keys to a revolutionary tomorrow, as sure of their place in vaunted Clio's ledger as the Trots, Bolsheviks, CPUSAs, Maoists and Bakuninists who preceded them.

In truth, I think they're even worse off. Because now they not only have ideological baggage over which they can savage each other, they have all the identity shit to go with it. It's not enough to say, aloud, "dump the bosses, feed the poor first, break the banks and disarm the enforcers."

It's not enough - at least, that's what I get from reading their manifestos and complaints - to organize and stand together.

Now, you have to make sure you make all the right noises about the "queer struggle" and "white privilege" and "the kyriarchy" and "marginalized bodies." If you don't, you're an Enemy. Big E.

Not a class enemy. An identity one.

Never mind that very few identities are stable over time, or essential, or immune to influence and alteration. Never mind that most of us exist as cultural hybrids, since almost none of us are villagers from single industry, three family, one church backwater hamlets stuck in the lesser years of the Nineteenth Century.

Which brings me to a pause, because something has to be written in implied bolds before I continue: I don't for a moment think that it's easy to be handicapped, gay, black, trans, illegal, or often enough, female. White men, especially ones with money and legacy, do really still run the damned imperial project. And they make sure, in their various legal and illicit ways, that their sons and favored daughters stand to inherit it.

The capitalist endeavor - if a cobbled together series of crises, Emergencies, enforcements, enclosures, wars, conquests, dynasties and corporate boards can really be treated as a templated whole - produces its own conquered internal spaces, bodies, communities and symbols. Capitalism, in its everyday operation, in the outcomes of competition between factions of the ruling class, in the production of commodities, and in the consumption of them, also produces those persons who define capitalist existence by failing it, and failing within it.

It produces losers, defeated subjects - people not only immiserated, but signified as such. It is not mere coincidence that whore, cunt, nigger, bitch, faggot, tranny, wetback, gimp, crip, dyke, tard, idiot and gay  work as stand-ins for "outsider, excluded, loser, abusable, defeated"  whether or not their hostile users know it precisely in those terms.

They mean, in short, "glad I'm not one of you, and oh yeah, I can do violence to you."

All of this is true, I think, and not only particularly, regionally -  but generally so.


When it comes to building an actual resistance, an opposition, and perhaps even a revolutionary movement which has any kind of resilience and durability, purity tests for attitude, doctrine, belief, outlook and especially identity sure seem like a shortcut to self-destruction.

Excluding anyone who doesn't pass muster on some aspect of identity marginalization is excluding everyone. Our encultured and assumed identities not only overlap, they also contradict each other. Insisting on a homogeneity of belief, with regard to identity, is insisting on failure, because the capitalist mode of production which produces us and our materially shaped outlooks also shatters, commodifies, marginalizes and/or absorbs any identity the co-option or isolation of which profits those who rule its centers of power and influence.

While in the schoolyard, during intense and almost routinized sexualization of gender and identity, as well as race, being cast out as a "faggot" or a "nigger" or a "bitch" can and does reinforce the disciplinary and normative order. But, years later, that same identity can be commodified, packaged, sold, accepted and marketed as a signifier of toleration, wealth and status, especially for those willing to embrace the gap between the process which isolated them as a defeated body and the process which re-absorbs the isolated identity as a confirmation of the rightness and goodness of the dominant order. If you don't believe me, look to Bravo, A&E, MTV and Lifetime as media examples how this is done.

Any identity produced by that order can be consumed or used by it, to whatever ends or means serve those who rule it, and enrich themselves by doing so.

Identity is febrile, shifting, unstable ground, because almost none of us possess a singular one, especially when it comes to those produced by our involuntary and enforced participation in capitalist exchange. (Perhaps the only people I know who have publicly singular, and almost neuter identities, exist as symbolized permanent toddlers - those with Down's Syndrome, Autism, severe mental handicap...and the black-men-as-bad-children which populate news casts, Hollywood movies, cop shows and rap videos.)

It is not a good place from which to make a revolution, or to challenge the order which benefits from the many competing identities which it itself produces, manages and fetishizes.

Identity conflict  - especially in the form of purity tests - serves the interests of those who rule, because they are the ones who arbitrate which identities signify success, and which ones confirm the system by virtue of their exclusion from it.

Struggling to make sure that everyone in a movement (especially one whose members propose to significantly challenge or even topple the status quo) consciously identifies as anti-racist,  pro-queer, feminist, and ally-of-this-and-that is struggling to ensure its defeat. There is no way to successfully police the attitudes of people who come together at great risk - and with the increased probability of sanctioned harassment, rape, injury, incarceration and death - in order to organize conflict within and against the capitalist system which produced them.

We can only learn to see how others are marginalized by living, working, struggling and fighting with them.

Didactic, moralizing tirades will not do it. These tirades will, on the other hand, cut off fellow workers and resisters before they ever commit their emotion, loyalty, bodies and reason to a conflict which promises hardship, isolation and the full force of a threatened order waged against and inflicted upon those who undertake the great work of destroying it.

This is not to suggest, even remotely, that a community in opposition ought to tolerate racists, misogynists, bigots or the package deal of inherited privileges.

But, if we are to avoid the sectarianism of the middle decades of the anti-capitalist project, we should probably avoid its more obvious errors.

And we can begin, I believe, by refusing to compound them with another set of purities.

I don't know, I could be wrong.

I probably am, and I've learned to count on that fact.

I know, all the same, that when I look upon the sleeping faces of my children, and wonder at the future they are forced to inherit, that I really don't have a choice. It's either my body, love, loyalty and mind against the system which guarantees their misery, or my complicity in their suffering.

And I'm not willing to let the manufactured differences produced by that system get in the way of what needs doing, and will be done...

* - in hindsight, it was all probably more ostentatious than I remember it was...


Jack Crow said...

I suppose I could have saved a whole lot of time and data if I'd just written: there's a difference between refusing to work with an active bigot, and insisting that everyone you work with is ideologically and identity pure.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I see there was a difference between being a scout in the 70s and one in the 80s.

Jack Crow said...

I don't doubt it, under. It took a decade to lobotomize American radicals, or for those were were rad to trade out Marx for cocaine and heroin.

By eighty or eighty one the plutos had well and truly won their contest with second and third sons of privilege.

The student leaders went on to become professionals, the unwashed masses lost ground in real wages and income, the drug war kicked into high gear and there wasn't as much need to reinforce compliance with overt scouty nationalism. Reagan was the sign of victory.

Sam said...

Excellent stuff! Have you read Walter Benn Michaels' "Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality"? He seems to flesh out the argument you laid out here.

With the D and R legacy parties, we have a sort of niche marketing - pitting cultural complements against one another. This serves to (1) provide the illusion of democratic choice, (2) mutually reinforces both parties, (3) assures upwardly redistributive policy outcomes, and (4) erodes social capital amongst those *within* a party (b/c there's a hierarchical orientation from member to party). I'm not convinced (third-/minor-) parties are a worthwhile endeavor either. Parties seem to function like another identity - a barrier b/w policy and people.

The "debate" leading up to the health insurance rentier bailouts seemed to be more of a debate over whether or not someone liked President Lightbringer or the D party, than any collective evaluation about whether the insurance rentiers had a legitimate business model (i.e., on not providing a good or service). And i definitely don't have Americans-Are-Stupid syndrome that typifies the pwogs who gave us Lightbringer; rather i believe we have to assume that people have agency and have reached rational decisions. Yeah, when people pull the R lever, they're voting against their interests, but they certainly are doing so if they pull the D lever too.

It seems that our lives are suffused with the sort of niche marketing that crowds out any sort of over-arching class (i.e., the non-rentiers or poorest 99.9%). The "tolerance" movements seem to function like the racist/bigoted/etc ones: both serve as status inflation mechanisms to fragment potential non-rentier class solidarities.

And i agree with your sentiment that we shouldn't *excuse* racist/bigoted/etc behaviors; rather, perhaps we can *explain* these behaviors as a consequence of the rentier economy in which almost all of us are subjects.

Randal Graves said...

You're not being very tolerant, Jack. Chortle.

Good stuff, but now I better be on the lookout for roving gangs of satanic homosexuals that have no doubt migrated to the midwest.

Will Shetterly said...

I love "identity enemy." I think that's at the heart of the problem with identity politics: it accepts and perpetuates the racist and sexist categories that the rich have sown to divide us. Identity Politickers don't notice that the rich have a more flexible understanding of identity: Barack Obama and Condi Rice are much easier to understand if you think of them as members of the tribe of the rich rather than the race of the oppressed.

Mandos said...

Yes and no. Is it invidious of me to point out that it's almost always white male economics-focused radicals who make this complaint?

Essentially, it's saying to oppressed identities: "in order for all of us to eat/survive, we're going to have to throw your issues under the bus. Maybe later we'll get back to your problems."

It's never suggested that, you know, that those who belong to oppressor identities should just, you know, shut up and accept that they have to follow and not lead.

Mandos said...

I mean, I know where this is coming from. A case study is pretty much the entire feminist blogosphere, which, if you follow it at all, has fissioned and fissioned and fissioned over time into smaller and more ideological divided fragments. Purism happens.

I don't think there's an easy solution, but I pretty sure that the solution doesn't involve calling the differences "manufactured." They have real consequences.

Will Shetterly said...

Mandos, the people who "belong to oppressor identities" include women, people of color, and LGBT folks. The oppressed include white men who get dismissed by richer folks as white trash or rednecks--in the US, 50% of the people living below the poverty line are white. No socialist, communist, or anarchist who rejects identity politics is asking for anyone's issues to be thrown under the bus. Equality for all is a fundamental aspect of opposing capitalism--the earliest feminists and antiracists of the 19th and 20th centuries were reds.

Agreed that there's no easy solution.

Anonymous said...

I'm echoing Will S here.

Not a class enemy. An identity one.


Or to use the lingo of Empire's Bullyboys: Head shot. Clean kill.

Anonymous said...

It is a tough issue Jack and my hat is off to you for tackling it and doing it well. It is easy to understand why attacks on someone's gender, race, etc. engender such strong reactions. They are intensely personal and it is difficult to respond to them in an impersonal way. But they are the result of capitalism and the liberal democracies it spawned. The attacks are in fact impersonal and structural. They are felt at a personal level and are effective for just that reason. How else could you get women to accept 70% of men's wages? How else could you get poor whites to blame the system's oppression on blacks, who have less power than they do, o to get poor blacks to blame it on spanish speaking immigrants described as "illegals"? How else could you get legislatures to spend days debating "gay marriage" bills rather than healthcare for kids? It is because the impersonal system raises personal emotions to the front and deflects the attacks from the source of the problem.

And I worry about my kids too. They are in their mid-20's, doing fine, but still, I just don't see how they are going to do it. So I love them as best I can and try to apply the lesson I learned from them as they grew up to everyone I meet: I'm going to love you however you are. I am going to love you whoever you are and not loving me back will not stop me.

Anonymous said...

And what Will S said.

Jack Crow said...


I'm not singling you out, because I'm thinking on my replies to everyone else, and it sometimes takes me days to get them right - but, I don't disagree that it's somewhat predictable that white men don't necessarily feel comfortable with having their identity challenged either, especially given the benefits which accrue to it, and the various protections afforded it.

I don't know if it matters, but I don't inhabit that enforced category, despite benefiting from an education suited to those who do. My counter-argument isn't a defense of a whiteness which I don't possess, and couldn't begin to care about. I'm all mixed up, and I can claim Cherokee, or Jew, or Italian, or anarchist, or communist, or polymorphous perverse, or pragmatist, or hetero, or husband, or dad, or pointillist and have them all be right at some point throughout my day.

If it helps explain my approach, I'm not a moral thinker, nor am I an ethicist. I'm thinking about the tactics available to us, and how we can successfully organize, and maybe as importantly, survive and withstand the reaction of organized ownership.

A couple of posts down, someone called me a sly boots (anonymously, the bastard) and I hope that comes through with this post, as well. In order to book-end my dispute with what Will very accurately identified as categories perpetuated by opposing them as such, I had to concede that ultimately the people who discuss marginalized bodies are in fact right about that marginalization.

The topic is not invalid. The method I've aimed my arrows at is. It doesn't work.

What you describe in the feminist blogosphere also happened to the various workingmen associations after the First International. It happened after 1848, 1871, 1905, 1917, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1939, 1945, 1950, 1953 and with a bathetic majesty during the entirety of the Cold War.

Going into opposition to the community in force is a dodgy proposition. About the only internal rebels who don't fragment are the ones funded by one or more of the various ruling class factions, which might explain why and how fascists, falangists and rightists in general manage to stay so organized and on message. Their rebellion confirms and exists within the sanction of the national and mythical identities which serve to divide the rest of us.

We don't make those identities. We don't own them. We don't even license them. Each of the oppressed identities is an imprint and marketed category which exists because it's useful to those who rule. There's not a grand conspiracy, here, either. These produced social markers cut across class and economic analysis because social production of value is uneven. Some people need to be excluded. Capitalism does not work if everyone ends up equal.

As a result of various historic and material antecedents, blacks and the Irish were the original oppressed imported nations, women were subject to their husbands, queers were signs of moral decay, and et cetera. I'm not denying these available facts.

I'm only suggesting that strengthening these categories with attitudinal purity tests will not give the results imagined by those who advocate doing so.

Anonymous said...

If it helps explain my approach, I'm not a moral thinker, nor am I an ethicist. I'm thinking about the tactics available to us, and how we can successfully organize, and maybe as importantly, survive and withstand the reaction of organized ownership.

I definitely get that.

I have a similar perspective. And I have occasionally been called insensitive etc for disregarding identification with Oppressed Category of the Moment/Place/Group in Question. It's not that I don't or can't identify with them, it's just that I don't see the point in worrying on categories which ignore the larger Class issue, the one largely forgotten by those who focus on identities and Chosen Oppressed Group. Focusing on niches ignores and/or prevents true commonality on the pivotal issue: power classes. So I agree with this, completely so:

I'm only suggesting that strengthening these categories with attitudinal purity tests will not give the results imagined by those who advocate doing so.

JRB said...

Remarkable piece.

I only want to discourage the use of litmus tests in general. If people (especially within resistance organization) appear to be doing things we disagree with, they shouldn't be summarily written off or condemned -- and that includes when they appear to us to be applying qualifying tests to others.

This doesn't mean tolerating anything and everything, but demonstrating an inclination to tolerate others, if only to better understand what their behavior means. Too often we come to conclusions about each other without bothering to ask questions. And the fact is that most of us struggle through these kinds of things and need support, because nobody can see things from all perspectives.

Just something I would emphasize while reading this post.

Mandos said...

I guess there are two issues at stake. I have a tendency towards rubrics/schemata like these, so please bear with me:

(1) the very existence of a prior reality of the identity issues at stake apart from the history of the current state/socio-economic order.

(2) the lived reality of those who belong to oppressed/suppressed identity groups within the practical, day-to-day aspects of opposition.

But what is the primary means by which TPTB use identity politics to divide their opposition? By encouraging those who identify with the dominant identity group to resent the "encroachments" of the less dominant ones.

So it is in that context in which people who try to advocate for oppressed identities react. I don't always think that the reaction is healthy, but we have this problem of who must make the first move.

Mandos said...

As an aside, may I suggest that some of these problems, at least on the blogosphere if not in Real Life, are partly a function of American culture? That is, a tendency towards fundamentalisms (plural intended) and...um, "counter-fundamentalisms".

I say this because I also read a lot of Canadian online feminism, and the tendency towards fractal ideological schism is much weaker there. Which is a fancy way of saying that people get along better without necessarily agreeing. It could be just that it's (obviously) a smaller place.

Will Shetterly said...

Mandos, I love discussions about justice too much, so please bear with me, too.

1. Identity politickers assume all identity issues can be seen as separate from the class struggle, but history suggests otherwise. The easy one is race, a creation of the slave trade. Sexism is more complex, but Engels was right to identify it as the first oppression.

2. Lived reality is important, but it's never the whole of understanding a problem. The classic analogy: if you want to understand the goldfish bowl, you have to understand it from the pov of the goldfish and from the pov of those outside it. People trapped in the class system have targets, but their targets are not necessarily accurate--just as some straight white men target GLBT, women, and folks of color, some GLBT, women, and folks of color target straight white men when the problem is the system itself, a system that, when last I checked, included a black woman who is rumored to be gay living in a 50 million dollar home that's not far from the camps of homeless straight white men.

Full agreement that making the first move is tricky.

what the Tee Vee taught said...


JM said...

About Walter Benn Michaels:

I agree with Mandos here, sorry lads.

Will Shetterly said...

JM, yes, fans of identity politics really dislike Walter Benn Michaels. But did you notice that there's little substance in that post you linked to? If you want to understand neoliberalism, I recommend David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism. It includes a few paragraphs about how very compatible identity politics and neoliberalism are:

"Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them."


"Civil rights were an issue, and questions of sexuality and of reproductive rights were very much in play. For almost everyone involved in the movement of '68, the intrusive state was the enemy and it had to be reformed. And on that, the neoliberals could easily agree. But capitalist corporations, business, and the market system were also seen as primary enemies requiring redress if not revolutionary transformation; hence the threat to capitalist class power. By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interest could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as a both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s."

BDR said...

I got kicked out of the Boy Scouts for streaking across the Appalachian Trail footbridge over I-70 while on a training hike for Philmont. The Man said I was disgracing the Scout uniform.

Cüneyt said...

We cannot ignore inequality between ethnic or sexual groups.

If we do not ignore inequality within society itself, allow only freedom of some to access the higher classes and ignore other kinds of freedom, then we risk replicating in target identities what has been achieved in the majority population. They will be like the whites: ruled by a few tokens to make the rest identify with the power structure, to feel like "it reflects us," to ignore one's conditions because one like oneself is represented.

Call me histrionic, but I find the idea terrifying. What revolution has the bourgeois revolution failed to co-opt?

Jack Crow said...

There's a lot here to ponder and to which I must reply. It's going to take me a while.

Will Shetterly said...

I left a reply for JM that's not appearing here (caught in a spam filter?), so instead, I'll try linking to a blog post of mine: David Harvey on Neoliberalism and Identity Politics. It includes a little about Walter Benn Michaels.

Jack Crow said...

Will, I'll see if I can dig it out. I have the filters set really low, and I don't block comments.

Jack Crow said...

I'm not sure anyone is suggesting that inequality be ignored.

I know I haven't suggested it.

I think - and I'm following JRB's excellent lead here - that we have to understand that a person's experiences never have a perfect duplicability.

It seems very important for a transsexual activist I read to point out the privilege expressed by "cissexuals."

I happen to think all these terms are likely to fall flat against the incomprehensibility of most other folks, because the focus fails to address overridingly common and shared injustices, but that doesn't mean that they're not important to the people experiencing these crises.

If a person wants to dedicated her/his life to easing the transition between unbearable identities, I don't think it's a useless task or wasted effort. It's not my place to decide, or to judge, or to obstruct. I won't ever die that person's death so it is never my place to live that life.

But I think it needs saying that revolutions are not made by dividing people up into niche identities which are then defended and fought over to the ultimate benefit of those who rule.

I think we have to worry that shit less, not more. Getting all hopped up on identity doesn't seem to help the people whose personhood doesn't fit the prescribed social identities allowed on the personae commodities market.

It isolates them further, forcing them to self-separate. I know that's part of the larger feminist indictment against the culture and society we have - that the original enforced identity (gender) arbitrates roles without reference to person, and it's as valid a complaint against the system as I can personally imagine.

I just don't think the answer to that problem is to run around with metaphorical clip boards, keeping the score on who has what privilege-through-identity, when, where and how.

When bringing the whole thing down can not only give us shared experience, it puts us together on the same side, where these manufactured identity differences no longer have to play the greater part in shaping how we relate to each other.

Of course, it's wise not to import them into the struggle. But, it's also wise not to import the self-marketing, self-selling territoriality of capitalism as well, no?

As my ex- once mused, in a surprising display of unexpected wisdom: ya don't wash up to take a bath.

(or something like that - I lose coherence when enmigrained...)

Will Shetterly said...

I keep coming back to Thandeka's Why Anti-Racism Will Fail. Among her brilliant points is this:

The privilege that, according to the anti-racists, comes with membership in white America, actually belongs to a tiny elite. Let me illustrate this point.

Imagine that business and government leaders decreed that all left-handed people must have their left hand amputated. Special police forces and armies are established to find such persons and oversee the procedure. University professors and theologians begin to write tracts to justify this new policy. Soon right-handed persons begin to think of themselves as having right-hand privilege. The actual content of this privilege, of course, is negative: it's the privilege of not having one's left hand cut off. The privilege, in short, is the avoidance of being tortured by the ruling elite. To speak of such a privilege -- if we must call it that -- is not to speak of power but rather of powerlessness in the midst of a pervasive system of abuse -- and to admit that the best we can do in the face of injustice is duck and thus avoid being a target.

My point is this. Talk of white skin privilege is talk about the way in which some of the citizens of this country are able to avoid being mutilated - or less metaphorically, to avoid having their basic human rights violated.

To people who see the world in black and white, either you're privileged or you're not. But to the rest of us, privilege ultimately lies with the rich, the ones who make the rules and benefit from them.

Jack Crow said...

Thank you very much for that, Will.

I don't think well with a face-crusher on, but that's still got me musing a bit.

Jack Crow said...


The language of faith isn't my own, but after reading the full speech/essay, I couldn't help but see some correlation between the extreme confessionalism of the identity policers with purists in other radical movements which ultimately failed because fighting the oppressors lost its allure in comparison to the hunt for internal and internalized impurities.

Anonymous said...

Getting all hopped up on identity doesn't seem to help the people whose personhood doesn't fit the prescribed social identities allowed on the personae commodities market.


It should never devolve to a battle of "I'm more wounded than you, in weirder and more rarefied ways than you."

But that's a heavy part of identity politics: the emotional hurt and concomitant feelings of betrayal, isolation, devaluation.

Newsflash: EVERYONE's been hurt.

Examine the causes of the hurt and try to find ways to improve things such that the causes are minimized to the greatest extent possible.

Changing one's society is an act that requires self-confidence, and victim status is the diametric opposite of self-confidence.

There's no way to reform society while waging a war of victim status one-upmanship. It seems instead to be a great way to ensure that nobody ever gathers any social cohesion of the type that could reform a society.

JM said...

One other thing too, Benn Michaels' argument can be seen as neoliberal:

Will Shetterly said...

JM, you already posted that. Did you read my quotes from David Harvey on multiculturalism? I kinda think Harvey knows more about neoliberalism than voyou, whose argument boils down to "No, no, no! *You're* the neoliberal!"

It's true that the upper classes do all they can to obscure the class struggle, but the class struggle is visible to those who look. Most poor white men are aware of it, for example, though they're overlooked or seen as the enemy by identity politics believers.

Jack Crow said...

And those who insist on the primacy of identity-as-politics continue to fail to understand that they tighten their own bonds by defending the identities assigned to them by the ruling classes.