Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Let Them Eat Diversity!

See this magnificent interview of Walter Benn Michaels in the socialist magazine Jacobin:
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1
Granted there is a bit of exaggeration here and there, and some vulgar Marxism, but this article is brilliant stuff.

The fundamental arguments of Walter Benn Michaels in this interview, written in 2011, are as follows:
(1) there is, in reality, a right-wing and left-wing neoliberalism.

(2) the left-wing neoliberals actually fail to understand that their beliefs reinforce and support neoliberalism, and that they are unwitting tools of neoliberalism:
“For me the distinction is that ‘left neoliberals’ are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things. ....

... today’s orthodoxy is the idea that social justice consists above all in defense of property and the attack of discrimination. This is at the heart of neoliberalism and right-wing neoliberals understand this and left-wing neoliberals don’t.”
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1
(3) Michaels points out that early American neoliberal Gary S. Becker in his book The Economics of Discrimination (Chicago & London, 1973) argued that discrimination in capitalism on the basis of race, class or gender is inefficient and reduces incomes.

The tendency of capitalist production, in other words, is to break down such barriers in the name of economic rationality.

This is exactly the argument that Noam Chomsky has made:
See, capitalism is not fundamentally racist—it can exploit racism for its purposes, but racism isn’t built into it. Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangeable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional. I mean, they may be functional for a period, like if you want a super exploited workforce or something, but those situations are kind of anomalous. Over the long term, you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist—just because it’s anti-human. And race is in fact a human characteristic—there’s no reason why it should be a negative characteristic, but it is a human characteristic. So therefore identifications based on race interfere with the basic ideal that people should be available just as consumers and producers, interchangeable cogs who will purchase all the junk that’s produced—that’s their ultimate function, and any other properties they might have are kind of irrelevant, and usually a nuisance.”
from Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power (2002)
(4) right-wing neoliberalism has actually therefore enthusiastically and logically adopted “social justice” as a strategy in the “defense of property” and capitalist enterprise.

(5) though Michaels mentions the Marxist falling rate of profit doctrine in his explanation of the development of capitalism, I have no doubt we can ditch this as Marxist dogma (see here and here).

More important is Michaels’ analysis of the connection between mass immigration and globalised neoliberalism:
“An easy way to look at this would be to say that the conditions of mobility of labor and mobility of capital have since World War II required an extraordinary upsurge in immigration. The foreign born population in the US today is something like 38 million people, which is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Poland. This is a function of matching the mobility of capital with the mobility of labor, and when you begin to produce these massive multi-racial or multi-national or as we would call them today multi-cultural workforces, you obviously need technologies to manage these work forces.

In the US this all began in a kind of powerful way with the Immigration Act of 1965, which in effect repudiated the explicit racism of the Immigration Act of the 1924 and replaced it with largely neoliberal criteria. ….

While at the same time we’ve had this increased immigration from Mexico, people from the lower-end of the economy, filling jobs that otherwise cannot be filled — or at least not filled at the price capital would prefer to pay. So there is a certain sense in which the internationalism intrinsic to the neoliberal process requires a form of anti-racism and indeed neoliberalism has made very good use of the particular form we’ve evolved, multiculturalism, in two ways.

First, there isn’t a single US corporation that doesn’t have an HR office committed to respecting the differences between cultures, to making sure that your culture is respected whether or not your standard of living is. And, second, multiculturalism and diversity more generally are even more effective as a legitimizing tool, because they suggest that the ultimate goal of social justice in a neoliberal economy is not that there should be less difference between the rich and the poor — indeed the rule in neoliberal economies is that the difference between the rich and the poor gets wider rather than shrinks — but that no culture should be treated invidiously and that it’s basically OK if economic differences widen as long as the increasingly successful elites come to look like the increasingly unsuccessful non-elites.”
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1
So the practical effect of neoliberalism is not just to use cheap labour for unskilled jobs, hold down real wages, or break down the effectiveness of trade unions through a diverse workforce, but to be concerned with getting minorities into the new neoliberal elite, so that elite is diverse, even when economic inequality soars.

(6) Michaels has a cutting analysis of Postmodernism, and floats the idea that “postmodernism” is “the official ideology of neoliberalism.”

Even more, academic education in the humanities, steeped in Postmodernism and SJW cults, has this remarkable trait:
“… elite universities more generally do a very good job of providing the upper middle class with its impressively good anti-racist, pro-gay-marriage conscience. But the more striking thing here is that when it comes to respecting difference, the academic world is hardly very different from the corporate world. The kind of distinctions and divisions that academics have learned to make in various identity categories are absolutely matched in sophistication by the ones that are made by any major US corporation. ….

... if you get to the core of it, anti-discrimination — which is after all something we are all, including the general American public, committed to — has become the almost exclusive criterion of political morality. American society today, both legally and politically, has a strong commitment to the idea that discrimination is the worst thing you can do, that paying somebody a pathetic salary isn’t too bad but paying somebody a pathetic salary because of his or her race or sex is unacceptable. That is, in some sense, built into the logic of liberal capitalism, but it has reached new heights in the last thirty or forty years. And from that standpoint the American academy is really only following along with what is been central to American society more generally.”
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1
(7) Michaels even argues that the core of the Tea Party Movement was an element of profound middle class – even upper middle class – hostility to neoliberalism on the issue of mass immigration:
“The truth is, it’s hard to find any political movement that’s really against neoliberalism today, the closest I can come is the Tea Party. The Tea Party represents in my view, not actually a serious, because it’s so inchoate and it’s so in a certain sense diluted, but nonetheless a real reaction against neoliberalism that is not simply a reaction against neoliberalism from the old racist Right. It’s a striking fact that what the American Left mainly wants to do is reduce the Tea Party to racists as quickly as humanly possible. They’re thrilled when some Nazis come out and say “Yeah, we support the Tea Party” or some member of the Tea Party says something racist, which is frequently enough. But you can’t understand the real politics of the Tea Party unless you understand how important their opposition to illegal immigration is. Because who’s for illegal immigration? As far as I know only one set of people is for illegal immigration, I mean you may be [as a Marxist], but as far as I know the only people who are openly for illegal immigration are neoliberal economists.

First of all, neoliberal economists are completely for open borders, in so far as that’s possible. Friedman said years ago that, ‘You can’t have a welfare state and open borders,’ but of course the point of that was ‘open the borders, because that’ll kill the welfare state.’ ….

“… one of the primary sort of marks of the triumph of neoliberalism in the US is a very high tolerance of illegal immigration, and that illegal immigration is the kind of ne plus ultra of the labor mobility that neoliberalism requires.
I mean that’s why for years — even though it’s a kind of contradiction in terms — as a policy it’s worked well. The Bush administration did everything it could to talk against illegal immigration but leave it alone and I’m sure the Obama administration would do the same thing except its hand’s being forced by the Tea Party. So you get these people who are saying illegal immigration sucks, and even Glenn Beck will say ‘immigration good, illegal immigration bad’ and, what he’s reacting against is not, as he thinks, socialism but currently existing capitalism, but he has no clue.”
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1
Events have moved on since Michaels said this, and the Trump movement – in important ways – is, I would argue, a right-wing populist movement against neoliberalism.

(8) American liberals have become infested with the idea that the major problem of modern society is racism, and anti-racism a panacea for all ills, when of course the major problem is the destructive effects of neoliberal capitalism.

(9) Michaels points out that most of the poor people in America – given the fact that most people are white – are of course white working class people, but American liberals are often not just indifferent to the poor white working class, but actively hostile to them with a vicious SJW mentality that sees such people as the worst type of racist, sexist, homophobic evil oppressors.

In fact, “anti-racism” is now the official religion of both the mainstream left and right:
“… there is an important sense in which anti-racism is absolutely the official ideology because no one can imagine themselves to be committed to racism. It’s become a kind of moral imperative rather than a political position, deployed by the Right as well as the Left.”
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1
But of course identity politics based on this obsession with witch hunts against racism and discrimination cannot provide the real economic solutions to the disaster of neoliberalism.
That is a lot to digest here, but it seems to me there are excellent insights that are absolutely correct.

Moreover, Michaels has an interesting book on this subject here:
Michaels, Walter Benn. 2006. The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. Metropolitan Books, New York.
Becker, Gary S. 1973. The Economics of Discrimination. University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.

Michaels, Walter Benn. 2006. The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. Metropolitan Books, New York.

Michaels, Walter Benn. 2011. “Let Them Eat Diversity. On the Politics of Identity,” Jacobin Issue 1

I’m on Twitter:
Lord Keynes @Lord_Keynes2

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Some Reading on What went Wrong with the Modern Left

Here is a brief reading list, which provides food for thought:
Schlesinger, Arthur M. 1998. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (rev. edn.). W.W. Norton, New York.

Buchanan, Patrick J. 1998. The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice are Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy. Little, Brown, Boston and London.

Bawer, Bruce. 2012. The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. Broadside Books, New York.

Liddle, Rod. 2015. Selfish Whining Monkeys: How We ended up Greedy, Narcissistic and Unhappy. Fourth Estate, London.
Note carefully: the ideological outlook of these authors is different: Arthur Schlesinger was an American Old Liberal. Pat Buchanan is an American Paleoconservative.

Rod Liddle is a British ex-Labour party supporter who now appears to be a conservative who identifies with the working class. Bruce Bawer seems to be an old-fashioned American liberal, but progressive on many issues.

Yet all of them, broadly speaking, seem to be able to identify serious problems with the development of the modern left, cultural leftism and identity politics.

Of all these books, Rod Liddle’s is the least serious.

Arthur Schlesinger rightly warned of the dangers of Postmodernist multiculturalism, which he correctly saw as very different to the old-fashioned, melting-pot liberal nationalism of America. In his own way, Buchanan warned of the same problem, but with additional emphasis on the destructive aspects of free trade.

Bruce Bawer’s The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind (2012) is an excellent work examining the rise of Postmodernism in the academy and its development into the Social Justice Warrior (or SJW) catastrophe we see today, developments which can be traced to French Poststructuralism and Postmodernism, and their devastating ruination of left-wing intellectual life.

The Illusionist suggests another book:
Lasch, Christopher. 1995. Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. Norton, New York and London.
Christopher Lasch was a neo-Marxist but turned culturally conservative with a quasi-Marxist economic critique of capitalism, but combined with some unfortunate Freudian psychoanalytic charlatanry and Frankfurt School Marxist nonsense to boot.

Admittedly, I have not read Christopher Lasch’s book in full, but summaries and critical reviews of it (e.g., Rankin 1996), and Lasch’s 1994 article here from Harper’s, suggest that it, too, to a great extent puts its finger on what went wrong with the left.

As Lasch points out:
“In our time … the chief threat seems to come not from the masses but from those at the top of the social hierarchy, the elites who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production, and thus set the terms of public debate. Members of the elite have lost faith in the values, or what remains of them, of the West. For many people, the very term ‘Western civilization’ now calls to mind an organized system of domination designed to enforce conformity to bourgeois values and to keep the victims of patriarchal oppression—women, children, homosexuals, people of color—in a permanent state of subjection. ….

The industrial working class, once the mainstay of the socialist movement, has become a pitiful remnant of itself. The hope that ‘new social movements’ would take its place in the struggle against capitalism, which briefly sustained the left in the late Seventies and early Eighties, has come to nothing. Not only do the new social movements—feminism, gay rights, welfare rights, agitation against racial discrimination—have nothing in common; their only coherent demand aims at inclusion in the dominant structures rather than at a revolutionary transformation of social relations. ….

The upper middle class, the heart of the new professional and managerial elites, is defined, apart from its rapidly rising income, not so much by its ideology as by a way of life that distinguishes it, more and more unmistakably, from the rest of the population. This way of life is glamorous, gaudy, sometimes indecently lavish. ….

To an alarming extent, the privileged classes—by an expansive definition, the top 20 percent—have made themselves independent not only of crumbling industrial cities but of public services in general. They send their children to private schools, insure themselves against medical emergencies by enrolling in company-supported plans, and hire private security guards to protect themselves against the mounting violence. It is not just that they see no point in paying for public services they no longer use; many of them have ceased to think of themselves as Americans in any important sense, implicated in America's destiny for better or worse. Their ties to an international culture of work and leisure—of business, entertainment, information, and ‘information retrieval’—make many members of the elite deeply indifferent to the prospect of national decline.

The market in which the new elites operate is now international in scope. Their fortunes are tied to enterprises that operate across national boundaries. They are more concerned with the smooth functioning of the system as a whole than with any of its parts. Their loyalties—if the term is not itself anachronistic in this context—are international rather than regional, national, or local. They have more in common with their counterparts in Brussels or Hong Kong than with the masses of Americans not yet plugged in to the network of global communications. ....

The changing class structure of the United States mirrors changes that are taking place all over the industrial world. In Europe, referenda on unification have revealed a deep and widening gap between the political classes and the more humble members of society, who fear that the European Economic Community will be dominated by bureaucrats and technicians devoid of any feelings of national identity or allegiance.”
For something written in 1994, this is quite prescient.

We can add to this the generation of Millennials, indoctrinated in cultural leftist nonsense and various SJW cults, who are pathetically and dangerously ignorant of Old Left economic and cultural thought, and whose agenda is – paradoxically – aiding and abetting the catastrophic effects of transnational and globalised neoliberal capitalism.

Even worse, Millennials are so out of touch that many of them are obsessed by the cult of open borders, a policy which would be a wet dream for First World capitalists. Even the Marxists amongst the Millennials seem to be infected and infested with all the insanity of cultural leftism. E.g., your foolish Marxist Millennial who holds a sign with the words “Borders are Racist!” is essentially a tool of neoliberal capitalism.

This is why, if things are to be reversed, the nation-state will come back in a big way soon. National borders, regulated national capitalism, and cultural and civic nationalism – they will need to make a big comeback. To tame the destructive and harmful nature of transnational neoliberal capitalism, you need a powerful national government to make it work for the citizens of each nation. Both transnational corporations and the elites need, for want of a better word, to be made “patriotic” again.

I add an interesting video with Rod Liddle relevant to this post:

Lasch, Christopher. 1994. The Revolt of the Elites: Have they Canceled their Allegiance to America?,” Harper’s Magazine (November) 289.1734: 39–49.

Rankin, Aidan. 1996. “Christopher Lasch and the Moral Agony of the Left,” New Left Review 0.215 (January 1): 149–155.

I’m on Twitter:
Lord Keynes @Lord_Keynes2