29 July 2013

Only A Pawn in Their Game

White alienation is on the rise. “Going back to the 1980s, never have whites been so pessimistic about their futures,” according to a recent article about increasing economic insecurity published by the Associated Press. “Just 45 percent say their family will have a good chance of improving their economic position based on the way things are in America.”

Such pessimism corresponds, of course, to the objective economic situation facing the majority of white Americans. As the AP explains, “While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in government data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.”

While decreasing racial disparities in the poverty rate hold out the possibility that whites and non-whites will come together in the face of shared economic immiseration to challenge the neoliberal policy regime responsible for their increasing insecurity, it is overly sanguine to believe that the collective experience of acute economic anxiety will lead inexorably to proletarian racial harmony. Indeed, the perverse racial equality promoted by neoliberalism’s program of universal dispossession is haunted by the specter of a racialized politics in which the objective social antagonisms of capitalism’s bio-polar class structure become increasingly displaced into threatening forms of populist chauvinism that could radically transform the American political landscape. As Walker has discussed at length in two recent posts, the unleashing of such reactionary forces could eventuate in a Rand Paul presidency, a scenario that harbors the possibility of accelerating national and international disintegration and hostility.

Our chances of averting such a catastrophe depend on our ability to articulate a narrative that will place the subjective experience of economic distress in an objective perspective that discloses the class-bound economic mechanisms driving contemporary inequality. As William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, tells the AP, “It’s time that America comes to understand that many of the nation’s biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position.” He goes on to caution, “There is the real possibility that white alienation will increase if steps are not taken to highlight and address inequality on a broad front.”

Unless progressives, socialists, and leftists can forge such a narrative and present it alongside a political program based on the regulation of financial corporations in the public interest and the creation of jobs through large-scale investment in infrastructure, transportation, and education, rising white alienation will continue to portend reaction.

19 July 2013

(Un)Education in America

Tomorrow's schools, today
In June I wrote a post about the internship and its role in the redefinition of labor and training. Widespread divestment from training, in which the cost of training is transferred from the employer onto workers, is manifesting itself as a demand for prior experience. Workers are to have been trained elsewhere, and are expected to hit the ground running. Paired with a general job shortage, these demands for experience can only be met at the workers’ expense, by paying for training programs or by working for free. The internship is a perfect example of this trend.

But there is another, arguably more important aspect of divestment from training—the turn toward cutting and streamlining public education. Primary and secondary schooling is intended to foster good citizenship, to provide care for children while their parents work, and to train productive future employees, among other things. Today, we are seeing a redefinition of the government’s role as educator and trainer that could prove vital to any future economy.

14 July 2013

Culture as a Historical Problem, Part II: Rock and Roll as Mass Social Critique

“I got my own world to live through, and I ain’t gonna copy you... I’m the one who’s gonna have to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.”
—Jimi Hendrix

The sixties and the rise of rock provide another interesting case in the study of culture as a historical problem. As the student-led new left, civil rights, anti-imperialist, environmentalist, and feminist movements all gathered momentum in the great counter-cultural wave that swept across the U.S. during the 1960s, commercially produced “popular” music worked as a common affective and thematic canvas for the different people involved in them. Rock was the quintessential musical genre of the decade; its coalescence and mass dissemination through analog media was financed by the culture industry, but it cannot be denied that it played a major role in channeling and expressing the basic rejection of “the establishment,” which was something shared by all the major movements of the era. What about rock music as a cultural form allowed it to have this kind of effect within the historical conjuncture in which it emerged? What allowed it to function as a vehicle for mediating a massively widespread rejection of the status quo?

03 July 2013

Rand Paul could redefine American politics, straight into disaster

A path to the triumph of American reaction
Part 2 of 2 | Part 1

When a capitalist regime of accumulation breaks down, the only impractical path forward is to maintain the status quo. Fundamental change becomes necessary, but the direction of that change is not foreordained. Progressive change is that which opens a path to overcoming the crisis. Reactionary change, on the other hand, can only intensify the disorder and leads ultimately to disaster.

If the scenario sketched out in the last post came to pass and Rand Paul rode to election in 2016 on the back of a populist coalition of fundamentalists, libertarians, and anti-authoritarian progressives, he would have to choose one of several different paths upon inauguration. He could pander to the social conservatives while the entrenched House Republican majority (probably joined by a new Senate majority) continued to push an anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-abortion agenda; in that case, the Republicans would quickly lose the new constituencies the election had brought into play. Alternatively or alongside the fundamentalist path, Paul could give in to the power of his corporate backers, basically continuing the economic policies of the Obama administration with a harsher edge, and soon find himself on the defensive against a progressive challenge from the Democrats.

These options are straight out of the long-established Republican playbook, and they had real efficacy as long as neoliberalism remained healthy. Now that neoliberalism is disintegrating, however, they no longer represent a viable politics, and would gradually deepen the crisis while extinguishing the Paul administration’s legitimacy. The outcome would be an increasingly progressive and post-neoliberal Democratic Party in line with the popular progressive majority. It’s the best we could hope for in the event of a Paul victory.

The really frightening prospect is that Rand Paul actually means what he says and seeks to make good on the hopes of his anti-authoritarian supporters on both the left and the right. Because in that case, he might be able to remake the Republican Party as a populist force capable of confronting and destroying the corporate-state elite. In the process, the only hope for overcoming the crisis of neoliberalism in a progressive direction would be extinguished, and the world would move ever-closer to real disaster.