Intersectionality vs dominant identity politics*

by John Quiggin on December 31, 2019

Shorter JQ: Although the idea of intersectionality emerged on the left as a solution to problems involving class and identity politics, it turns out to the be the natural response to the rise of dominant identity politics on the right.

As I see it, intersectionality combines a recognition that people are oppressed both through the economic structures of capitalism and as members of various subordinate groups with a rejection of both:

* “essentialist” identity politics, based on the claim that some particular aspect of identity (gender, race, sexuality, disability etc) should trump all others; and
* “working class” politics, presented as a politics of universal liberation, but reduced by the failure of revolutionary Marxism to another kind of identity politics (I took this formulation from Don Arthur on Twitter. I had something to say about class and Marxism a while back)

The point about intersectionality is that there many kinds of oppression and injustice, and they interact in complex, more than additive, ways. The resulting political strategy for the left is not so much that of a “rainbow coalition” of distinct identity groups but a kaleidoscope in which different facets come to the fore at different times and places.

Now think about dominant/default identity politics (I’ll use the US/Australian version, but other versions can be obtained just by changing the dominant identity). The key idea, is that well-off, white, Christian men are being oppressed by virtue of challenges to their natural position of dominance, and rejection of their natural expectation of deference.

The central claim is also addressed to white Christian women, particularly married women, who are assumed to identify their interests with those of their families.

Looked at this way, the claims of dominant/default identity politics are the exact opposite of those underlying intersectionality. The more someone deviates from the “typical” American/Australian, the more they are seen as benefiting unfairly from social welfare systems, anti-discrimination policy and so on.

The right (along with much of the centrist commentariat,least until recently) at mostly fails to understand its relationship with intersectionality, in two ways.

First, they mostly don’t recognise their own politics as identity politics, though this is changing. This recognition is welcome for overt white supremacists, but more problematic for those who want to retain the illusion that their movement is based on broad ideological principles.

Second, they miss the point of intersectionality completely, seeing it as just old-style identity politics on steroids. That’s unsurprising, since they never paid much attention to disputes within the left over class and identity politics, and have used “identity politics” as a rhetorical cudgel.

How will all this develop? As white Christians become a minority, the implied political strategy is a combination of political mobilization for rightwing whites and voter suppression for everyone else. If this succeeds, we’ll be well on the path to dictatorship. If it fails, the right will need to expand the notion of acceptable identity, a path proposed, and then abandoned, after their 2012 election defeat.

* As usual from me, amateur analysis, probably unoriginal and possibly wrong. Feel free to point this out in comments.

{ 79 comments }

1

Bob 12.31.19 at 3:21 am

Apologies for hijacking this thread for a different topic, but I just finished reading your book, “Economics in Two Lessons,” which I enjoyed immensely. I did have some questions and comments though, and I wondered whether you would be interested in collecting mine and any others that might be out there and then doing a response on CT. I know that the book was “workshopped” on CT previously, but I think the issues your book raises are worth further discussion.

I’ll leave one rather general question now: you point out the rather embarrassing fact that economists with totally divergent opinions have been winners of the economics Nobel. The philosopher Brian Leiter made a similar observation in a recent paper, likening philosophy to economics in this respect:

“To be sure, every field of inquiry features disputes, but at least in the fields that serve as our paradigms of knowledge, such as the natural sciences and mathematics, one finds nothing like the preposterous proliferation of incompatible positions that is the hallmark of more than two thousand years of philosophy. Economics may be the closest analogue, notable because it too, like much of philosophy, poses as though it were a cognitive discipline that produces truths rather than disguised practical agendas.”

So my question is this: is there anything like the climate change consensus in economics–i.e., a group of core, “settled” ideas about which the vast majority of economists, regardless of political leanings, agree? In your book you suggest indirectly that the view that current intellectual property laws are too generous to inventors and authors might be a candidate. But are there others?

2

John Quiggin 12.31.19 at 3:39 am

Good question, and thanks for kind words about the book. From within the discipline it looks as if the problems are worst in macroeconomics, and much less in microeconomics. But that’s not really useful, because the big question in macro is the extent to which the classical microeconomic model works as a description of the world. As I argue, if the economy is not operating at full employment, then any partial equilibrium microeconomic analysis is, at best unsafe.

That said, I think there would be near-universal acceptance of the *principle* of opportunity cost and of the view that *in properly working competitive markets*, prices reflect opportunity cost. Much less agreement on whether properly working competitive markets are the norm.

The example of climate change is interesting. There is, I think, a pretty broad consensus that, given a reasonable amount of time to work, and no political/distributional constraints, a system of carbon pricing would be the most cost-effective way to address the problem and that, under the same assumptions, it doesn’t matter much whether this is a carbon tax, a system of tradeable emissions or some hybrid. But, as I say here, the political constraints have proved insuperable in most places.

3

Tim 12.31.19 at 3:46 am

“If this succeeds, we’ll be well on the path to dictatorship.” This seems predicated on the idea that ‘whites’ will only be able to hold onto power by Dictatorship. Population trends suggest whites will still be the largest group [just under half] in 2055. A considerable group given their, to borrow the phrase, ‘privilege’. Add conservative asian and even Catholic latino voters, is it that difficult to envisage a scenario where Republicans sometimes achieve power without Dictatorship? They are already benefiting from the radical left helping drive traditional working class white voters to the right [helped by Republican/Fox etc hyperbole].

4

Matt 12.31.19 at 6:17 am

As I see it, intersectionality combines a recognition that people are oppressed both through the economic structures of capitalism and as members of various subordinate groups

Hmmm, maybe intersectionality is used this way sometimes, but I think it’s much more commonly used (at least in the US, but also I think more generally) to talk about the ways that, say, black women face oppression both as women and as blacks, and how this isn’t just additive of the two. The issue about capitalism may or may not come into the analysis. (One standard “left” criticism of much “identity politics” is that the people involved are trying to “perfect” capitalism, not oppose it, and there is no inherent reason why this can’t apply to people making/appealing to an intersectionality analysis, too, I’d think.)

5

b9n10nt 12.31.19 at 8:42 am

Reminded of this Chomsky quote:

I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom.

Seems at once obviously true and ever more hopelessly naive: there are constituencies for belonging and constituencies for acquiring; there are no superhero just-here-to-do-some-good constituencies.

(See also this post by Tyler Cowen on India as a compelling statement on the tensions between political idealism and realism.)

Maybe intersectionality, a concept that animates Chomsky’s ideal, is arising in a sociological “perfect storm” wherein oppressed peoples are sufficiently urbanized/atomized & sufficiently secure & free to seek a coalition of belonging and acquiring together, instead of separately.

6

Ray 12.31.19 at 9:03 am

@Tim Don’t forget that the GOP’s base trends very old in comparison with the Dem base. A realignment is possible but it would probably require a shift in priorities to attract younger voters when the old people who vote Republican pass on.

7

Murali 12.31.19 at 10:36 am

more problematic for those who want to retain the illusion that their movement is based on broad ideological principles.

What if my political beliefs really are based on broad ideological principles? Are you suggesting that all politics is identity politics?

This cannot be right. After all, there do seem to be broad ideological principles. Therefore, it must be possible for political beliefs to be based on those principles (even if somewhat imperfectly).

Or perhaps broad ideological principles and identity politics are not mutually exclusive. After all, if wrong political beliefs can be based on broad ideological principles, then those wrong political can also oppress particular groups more than others.

But identity politics, I take it, is more than the expression of the idea that sometimes certain groups of people get oppressed more than others. It is a political program built for the purpose of benefiting one group (or one set of groups) over others. The claim that all politics is identity politics then is the claim that all political programs are built for the purpose of benefiting some groups over others. If true, then identity politics is not compatible with broad ideological principles

This is to be distinguished from the claim that every political program ends up benefiting some group or other. The last claim is true, but trivial (or almost so). The claim that all politics is identity politics conflates the latter claim (that every political program happens to benefit some group) with the former (that such benefit is their purpose).

Perhaps the thought is that in actual fact, the reason why most of us have our political beliefs is that the political programs we favour gives some advantage to our ingroup over some outgroup (or at least we believe that they do confer such advantage). Then since most adherents of such programs favour those programs because they believe it will benefit their ingroup, those programs can be said to be built for the purpose of benefiting said group.

But, if this is what the claim that all politics is identity politics amounts to, then its unclear what normative implications this fact can have. The mere fact that people happen to form political beliefs based on what they believe will benefit them does not mean that there aren’t objectively correct principles of morality/justice. The existence of such principles (and our evidence regarding those principles) is what makes it the case that we ought to accept one political belief or other. If so, then defences of broad ideological principles are not inappropriate. Neither are attempts to ground our own political preferences on the basis of such broad principles. Then the observation that all politics is identity politics is normatively inert (except for the purposes of political strategizing and prediction. i.e. if you want to come to power, advocate political program A instead of B).
The salience of the observation that all politics is identity politics only comes to the fore if there were no true moral/normative political principles. However if there are no such principles, that seems to undermine the leftist project. After all, if there are no true moral principles, then egalitarianism is false and there is no basis to criticise any power grab I might happen to make or any oppressive structure I implement (except insofar as doing so is inefficient or counterproductive to my own idiosyncratic ends)

Or are you suggesting that false political doctrines are never based on broad ideological principles?

But this seems implausible because there is no reason why there couldn’t be false or oppressive political doctrines based on broad ideological principles.

8

rivelle 12.31.19 at 11:33 am

JQ is right to emphasize the similarities and continuities between the identity politics of the liberal and rightist varieties. They exist along a continuum and easily located within the ideological cultural and civilizational symbolic of Western capitalist polities. Understood as a power-elite *ruling ideology*, this is what is properly described as “Liberalism”. (In contrast, superficial electoral politics and journalism are merely epiphenomenal when they seek to pigeon-hole parties, politicians and policies into granular categories of “left”, “center”, “right”.)
For reasons similar to those outlined above, Corey Robin and Slavoj Zizek have rejected labelling Trump a “fascist”, especially when this label comes from political centrists – DNC Democrats; “bourgeois liberals” etc. Robin and Zizek emphasize the manner in which Trump is simply capitalist business as usual. And since the start of the Trump admin., Robin also has noted the many political weaknesses of Trump and the GOP, over and above Trump’s neophyte incompetence and vainglorious stupidity.

See here, for example https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/02/american-institutions-wont-keep-you-safe-trumps-excesses
The problem with Robin’s and Zizek’s positions though, Fascism is just as much capitalist business as usual. Capitalist economic activity can operate effectively under both centrist and hard-right ideologies, the relation of Liberalism (including “conservatism”) and Fascism is along a continuum and the first can readily morph into the second.
(cont. in next post)

9

rivelle 12.31.19 at 11:33 am

Two recent books describe the inter-relationship between Liberalism and Fascism as capitalist ruling ideologies.

Domenico Losurdo – Liberalism: A Counter-History.

Ishay Landa – The Apprentice’s Sorcerer: Liberal Tradition and Fascism

A review of Losurdo’s book on Amazon provides a good summary of its thesis.

“1. Liberalism does not expand the boundaries of freedom in an organic dialectical process. Liberalism has undergone profound changes in its history, but not because of any sort of internal tendency towards progress. The expanders of liberty have been rebellious slaves, socialists, organized workers, anti-colonial nationalists, and other forces outside of the Community of the Free. Generally, the Community of the Free only grants accessions when faced with powerful opposition from outside its walls.
2. Ideologies such as white supremacy, social Darwinism, and colonialism were created by liberals as a means of defending the liberty of the Community of the Free. When the American Founding Fathers rebelled against Britain, one of their most commonly stated reasons for doing so was that the British government didn’t respect the freedom Americans had imbibed through their Northern European blood. The Framers saw themselves as the preservers of the freedoms of the Glorious Revolution, a revolution based on the right of freedom-worthy peoples to dominate the supposedly insipid masses. They were explicit in this respect, and the later history of liberalism continued to attest to this tendency.
3. Liberalism contains within itself the semi-hidden corollary that human behavior must be strictly regulated in order for freedom to be maintained. In liberalism, individuals have the freedom to compete with one another and rise to the top based on merit. Liberal elites have often interpreted this as proof that those at the top of the social ladder deserve their place. The other conclusion that stems from this is that criminals, the uneducated, the poor, and non-Western cultures fully deserve their servile status. If nature wanted them to be part of the Community of the Free, so goes the logic, then it would allow them to participate in liberty. Therefore, the dominated peoples of the world must hold their position due to their own internal defects. For Losurdo, this belief is what defines liberalism and separates it from radicalism.
4. In liberalism, liberty has historically been seen as a trait that people possess, one granted by nature. Thus, liberalism easily justifies its tendencies towards inequality by devising various ways of explaining why nature simply doesn’t grant some people the liberty it grants others. Meanwhile, radicalism sees the establishment of liberty as an active process. Interestingly, this indicates that negative liberty possesses a magnetism towards authoritarianism. Losrudo points out that during the early days of Fascism, many liberals in the U.S. and Western Europe such as von Mises, Croce, and the Italian liberal establishment saw Mussolini’s regime as a possible defender of classical liberalism and liberty as it was understood by the Anglo-Saxon theorists of liberalism.

This book is as disturbing as it is insightful. I personally see it as self-evident that many of the authoritarian tendencies that Losurdo identifies have made a comeback with a vengeance in the neo-liberal era, and have strengthened since the start of the Great Financial Crisis. Modern liberals, especially in American academia, often assure themselves that liberalism will not tolerate any serious regresses into authoritarianism, because of the myth of the dialectical process I described at the beginning of this review. I even believed in this to some extent, and if I remember correctly, I recall Slavoj Zizek of all people praising liberalism for this reason. Fortunately, Losurdo has seriously damaged my faith in this tendency in liberalism. Again, I don’t even consider myself to be a liberal, I identify as a Leftist (one of the radicals Losurdo describes). Perhaps it speaks to the pervasiveness of the comforting nature of liberalism’s self image that even its critics unknowingly take refuge in it.”

https://www.amazon.com/product-reviews/178168166X/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_cmps_btm?ie=UTF8&reviewerType=all_reviews

10

rivelle 12.31.19 at 11:34 am

This is an excerpt of a review of Landa’s book from Goodreads:

“The last 2 chapters are dedicated to attacking 4 liberal myths about fascism. 1) that it was “the tyranny of the majority” 2) that it was “collectivist” as compared to “individualist” liberalism 3) that the “big lie”, the use of propaganda etc to cover the “truth”, was unique to fascism/”totalitarianism” or started there 4) that fascism was an ultra-nationalist attack on liberal cosmopolitanism.

For 1, he focuses not so much on attacking the idea that fascists were a majority (he does do this, but the book isn’t focused on this sort of thing which has been gone over before many times) but instead how many liberals believed in the tyranny of the majority *against property owners* and were perfectly willing to accept dictatorship to protect the elite minority from the dangers of a majority attacking their elite position – and that liberals were in fact key ideological supporters of the fascist dictatorship to protect the market against the attacks of socialism.

For 2, he points out first “it should be realized that terms such as “individualism” or “collectivism” are, in and of themselves, devoid of political meaning, whether radical or conservative, left or right, socialist or capitalist. It is only the historical content poured into such signifiers, that lends them their concrete ideological import.” These terms aren’t helpful or meaningful as ideals. Nevertheless, he points out how liberal defences of the individual actually often took place from the standpoint of a greater community or goal – he points out how Edmund Burke called society a “family” simply to defend that the elite patriarchs should be able to do whatever they want yet without any responsibility in return. The collective standpoint acts as a justification for inequalities – that allowing the elite to do what they want advances greater goals, like culture, the health of the race, the nation etc. Individualism was actually often a way of advancing socialist goals by pointing out that every human being deserves a certain quality of life and the elite don’t deserve more.

For 3, he quotes liberal philosophers who believed in the dangers of democracy so talked about the need for elites to work behind the scenes so the masses believe they’re in charge while really a small elite do everything. He quotes Leo Strauss extensively, which is kind of weird as he’s “post-fascism”, but it’s valuable as a more developed example of exactly what other liberal philosophers wanted. It shows that “totalitarianism” isn’t so obviously confined to non-liberal ideologies.

For 4, he points out how common ideas of the nation were for liberals – similar to 2 – as a justification for inequality, as a basis for wealth (Wealth of Nations for example), as a myth to rally the masses. Again, he’s clear that nationalism isn’t inherently “good” or “bad” – pointing to the way nowadays third world nationalism is a valuable force for liberation while liberal countries at capitalism’s centre are stressing the opposite. He’s saying that nationalism isn’t a unique quality of fascism at all. He also quotes Hitler suggesting that if Germany isn’t good enough to win its place at the forefront of countries, he doesn’t care for it. He doesn’t present it as if it counters the idea of nationalism in fascism but he points out that it suggests alternative priorities.

The epilogue focuses on one specific historian’s (Michael Mann) ideas about how fascism wasn’t able to take hold in north-west Europe because of their “strong liberal traditions”. He points out first that there were serious differences in material conditions but also that British politicians, for example, were closely tied to fascism, regularly expressing admiration for it and supporting fascists abroad, while implementing “crypto-fascist” ideas at home. Fascism was also impossible without ideas from the UK and the US – eugenics ideas from there especially were very popular among fascists. The idea that it was “liberal traditions” that stopped it spreading is shown as, at best, incredibly naive.”

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/13237181

11

Hidari 12.31.19 at 11:44 am

I agree with ‘3’: I also think that thinking about dictatorship makes us think that the threat is coming from a certain direction, which makes us unprepared if the threat comes from a completely different direction (think of this as being like an intellectual Maginot Line if you want). Things may change in 100 years time (they normally do!).

But it’s clear that for the immediate future (by which I mean, roughly up until about 2050 or thereabouts) ‘Old Skool’ fascist dictatorships are simply a busted flush. Modi might praise Hitler and Bolsanaro might speak approvingly of the previous military dictatorships but even they (more or less) stick to democratic norms (elections etc.) although of course they try and undermine what one might term the ‘true’ spirit of democracy at every turn (the only place on Planet Earth which still habitually uses the ‘dictatorship’ mode of governance is the area round the Gulf, for very specific socio-cultural reasons).

If you are looking for previous analogues for what we are looking at in the future you might look at South Africa (which had elections but only for ‘whites’), Mexico under the PRI, Japan under the LDP, etc. Even in the UK, which is nominally a ‘real’ democracy you have a situation (and have had since about 1950) in which, while elections are ‘real’ the Tories almost always win them, and after 1979, even when the opposition does win the election, it does not engage in any serious ideological opposition to the political philosophy of the Tories (the US is like this too, since roughly 1981).

At the moment at least, the Republicans in the US and the Tories in the UK are simply doubling down on gerrymandering, voter suppression, ‘let them eat racism’ type crackdowns on ‘immigrants’ to disguise (and create a ‘reason’ for) rising inequality, the blizzard of propaganda we call ‘fake news’ (which mainly, contrary to popular belief, comes from ‘mainstream’ media sources): and so far these techniques seem to be working. Outright dictatorship would create foreign policy problems (e.g. with the UN, the EU etc.) and there is little sign at the moment that the Right wants to go down that route, at least in the short term.

12

MisterMr 12.31.19 at 12:11 pm

This is more an answer to the argument about Marxism and class linked in the OP than to the OP itself, but I’ll try to make this decently relevant for this thread.

The problem is in how you define “oppression”.
For example if you take a marxian definition of l class, it means people who don’t own the means of production, that easily means the bottom 80% of the population. However a large part of this group is usually considered middle class, and is not really seen as oppressed.

Following this logic, a dude who has a reasonable but not extremely high paying job would still be part of the oppressed, but then is often represented as an oppressor to people with a worse job or unemployed, or maybe who are unemployed because of a different skin color.
But this lead to the paradoxical situation that this dude might see himself as playing on oppressor team and vote for oppressor party, aven though his immediate self interest would push him in the other direction.

So the main problem for the traditional Marx inspired left is not so much the disappearance of the working class, that by definition is very large, but rather the lack of class consciousness of the same: people of the working class don’t feel they are working class, but rather identify as blue collars (that is not at all the same as working class), Americans (against evil multinational corporations but also against Mexican and Chinese workers, never against local corporations) etc.

The problem of class consciousness is a problem of identity, of the perception of one’s place in the world.
This is not a new problem as the right has a love affair with traditional sources of identity since at least the times of the French revolution, with farmers being more culturally traditionalist than city workers and therefore more counter revolutionary. Basically some blue collar voters today are what in the 19th century were agricultural workers.

The insistence on old cultural forms of identification thus is not something that happens by chance, but something that is the natural course of action from the right, expecially since they still need to win elections, even though they objectively represent the economic interests of a rather small part of the population.

For this reason, you will never see a rightwing party that roots for, for example, transgenders, unless and until transgenderism becomes something normal, and on the other hand if this or that group becomes necessary to form a majority they will simply be coopted in the mainstream against some other minority, so I wouldn’t hope too much in demographic changes.

To give a conclusion to this and linking this to intersectionality, IMHO the point of intersectionality cannot be that of summing together many disparate identities, because there are infinite potential identities and therefore infinite potential claims of being oppressed in one way or the other. IMHO the point is to show that some forms of identity are historical and not some sort of essential and natural things, and this includes the family and gender roles, but also national and nationalistic identifications and so on.

13

MisterMr 12.31.19 at 12:29 pm

An addendum to my previous comment:

The problem with the idea of privilege is that very few people are really privileged, a white male dude certainly isn’t privileged just because he is white and male, although a black dudette could be in a worse position.

It is important to stress that actual privilege starts quite high on the totem pole, most people are not privileged.

14

Hidari 12.31.19 at 12:42 pm

Hayek has a whole chapter in The Road to Serfdom in which he takes various ‘socialists’ (almost all of whom were inconsequential nonentities) who (according to Hayek) ‘switched’ to the Nazis, and draws all sorts of wild inferences from this (like most modern intellectuals, Hayek was much taken with the ‘horseshoe’ model of politics, in which the ‘extreme right’ and the ‘extreme left’ are ‘basically the same’: thereby implicitly positing the political centre as the locus of political virtue).

Back in the real world, OTOH, the liberal political hero of the 20th century in the UK, Lloyd George, was a huge fan of Hitler (Britain’s Petain, according to Churchill).

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/film-emerges-former-prime-minister-9928079

But apparently we can’t draw any conclusions from this about modern liberalism and what it really stands for: it just remains an interesting factoid, like the fact that Italy is shaped like a boot, just one of those things.

CF also the behaviour of the LibDems in the recent election in the UK, and their role vis a vis Brexit and in the Tory-led ‘coalition’.

15

likbez 12.31.19 at 2:25 pm

Tim 12.31.19 at 3:46 am @3

“If this succeeds, we’ll be well on the path to dictatorship.” This seems predicated on the idea that ‘whites’ will only be able to hold onto power by Dictatorship. Population trends suggest whites will still be the largest group [just under half] in 2055. A considerable group given their, to borrow the phrase, ‘privilege’. Add conservative Asian and even Catholic Latino voters, is it that difficult to envisage a scenario where Republicans sometimes achieve power without Dictatorship? They are already benefiting from the radical left helping drive traditional working class white voters to the right [helped by Republican/Fox etc hyperbole].

Radical left is either idiots of stooges of intelligence agencies and always has been.

IMHO the idea that ” whites” are or will be the force behind the move to the dictatorship is completely naïve. Dictatorship is needed for financial oligarchy and it is the most plausible path of development due to another factor — the collapse of neoliberal ideology and complete discrediting of neoliberal elite. At least in the USA. Russiagate should be viewed as an attempt to stage a color revolution and remove the President by the USA intelligence agencies (in close cooperation with the “Five eyes”) .

I would view Russiagate is a kind of Beer Hall Putsch with intelligence agencies instead of national-socialist party. A couple conspirators might be jailed after Durham investigation is finished (Hilter was jailed after the putsch), but the danger that CIA will seize the political power remains. After all KGB was in this role in the USSR for along time. Is the USA that different? I don’t think so. There is no countervailing force: the number of people with security clearance in the USA exceed five million. This five million and not “whites” like some completely naïve people propose is the critical mass for the dictatorship.
https://news.yahoo.com/durham-surprises-even-allies-statement-202907008.html

The potential explosiveness of Durham’s mission was further underscored by the disclosure that he was examining the role of John O. Brennan, the former CIA director, in how the intelligence community assessed Russia’s 2016 election interference.

BTW “whites” are not a homogeneous group. There is especially abhorrent and dangerious neoliberal strata of “whites” including members of financial oligarchy, the “professional class” and “academia” (economics department are completely infected.) as well as MIC prostitutes in MSM.

16

LFC 12.31.19 at 2:51 pm

There is an interaction between ‘liberalism’ and ‘radicalism’ that the review of Losurdo, above, does not seem to recognize. This becomes obvious if one thinks of the history of social movements in the US, for example, and how they have been able to argue that the ideals of the Decl of Independence could be fulfilled only by expanding the operative definition of who counts as a full member of the polity. So the notion that people or peoples have rights “by nature” or via a Creator cuts two ways: it can be used to restrict the range of peoples deemed to have such rights but it can also be used to expand the range to include basically everyone. Historically both options have been compatible with “liberalism,” which is one reason why radical movements have in fact been able to achieve certain things, albeit not all they wanted, within ‘liberal’ or pluralistic polities.

In this context there is nothing fatally wrong w JQ’s kaleidoscope metaphor as long as it leaves room for a principled commitment to egalitarianism (cf Murali above) that recognizes that insanely high levels of economic inequality corrupt the entire political process and move in the direction of replacing an imperfect democracy with a form of oligarchy, one that hurts everyone except a fairly small economic elite and its political servants. IOW it’s fine to talk about different kinds of oppression as long as one also emphasizes a common underlying interest in opposing oligarchy. Change may always come from the bottom up but only in a polity whose structure allows some room for activist social movements to operate in the first place (which is another reason to oppose the tendencies toward oligarchy).

17

bianca steele 12.31.19 at 3:07 pm

This may be a difference between Australia and the US, but the dominant identity in question should probably not be called “white Christians.” There are many white Christians on the left, as well. In fact, a rough survey would likely find that a plurality of leftists receive their political education at church (as is suggested by participation on the Internet, at least). The “identity politics” charge is not usually leveled at them.

I suppose what is meant is “white evangelicals, of the kind who claim they’re the only real Christians and the only authentic white people,” rather some vague and anodyne “of course white and Christian has always been the default American culture, but it’s a universalist and secularized kind of culture” as you’d hear in the mid 20th century.

18

Gorgonzola Petrovna 12.31.19 at 3:35 pm

Ha-ha. Protocols of the Elders of White Christendom.

19

EB 12.31.19 at 3:58 pm

@ Tim #3: Totally. Already, 20% of immigrants voted for Trump. Even somewhere between 12 and 15% of African-American men voted for him. Not because they like him, but because they don’t identify with the rhetoric of the left. And I say this as a longstanding member of the left.

The highly exclusionary mottoes of the various identity-based groups that the Democrats provide a home for are working against us — “the future is female,” “gender is not binary and not fixed,” “the problem of whiteness,” the extreme insistence on equality of outcomes over equality of opportunity — these are all pushing parts of the natural Democratic constituency away and into the arms of the Republicans (or into a stance of not voting at all).

And the rhetoric around economic issues is not helping either. Voters are not stupid; they realize that free college, college loan forgiveness, Medicare for all, and massive spending on housing are not going to happen all at once given the makeup of congress. They are not hearing enough from the Democratic primary candidates about policy changes that can realistically happen in the next 4 years.

20

Peter Dorman 12.31.19 at 6:21 pm

MrMr #12 is really on to something with the comparison between 19th c. ag workers (in Europe) and 21st c. industrial workers. It feels right. How to generalize? Maybe: capitalism is a system of never-ending economic change, where whole industries and regions rise and fall within one person’s lifetime. A locality/occupation on the falling end of things may come to identify with the past, the Golden Age when life was better. This makes them vulnerable to the symbology of tradition, ethnic/regional/religious solidarity, and the politics of resentment, e.g. MAGA. From Olympian heights we can argue that the plight of such groups results from a system that uses and discards them, but from within what has the most power are memories of a lost world, taken by those who appear to be on the rise.

21

soru 12.31.19 at 6:39 pm

The problem is in how you define “oppression”.
For example if you take a marxian definition of l class, it means people who don’t own the means of production, that easily means the bottom 80% of the population. However a large part of this group is usually considered middle class, and is not really seen as oppressed.

I don’t think this is right; unlike ‘exploited’, Marx doesn’t use the word ‘oppression’ in any technical or unusual way, just in it’s usual sense.

So a prosperous middle class person in a liberal democracy is not oppressed. A Marxist would merely point out that they would be in a more capitalist society; one without a universal franchise that requires the rich to seek political allies.

people of the working class don’t feel they are working class, but rather identify as blue collars

If you look into the actual details of vote tallies; you find more or less the precise opposite. There are a key block of people who, objectively speaking, earn most of their income from stocks that they own, in the form of pension funds. Up until recently, this block was the victim of false consciousness; they identified as something like ‘blue collar’, based on the jobs they used to do, and the communities they they used to belong to. As of the last few elections, political activity by the Republicans and Tories has managed to overcome that, so they now vote based on their objective class interests. Those who rely on a small lump of capital have mostly the same class interests as those in possession of more; fewer environmental regulations, lower minimum wages, and so forth.

Meanwhile, most of the current working class don’t get to vote, because they lack citizenship in the countries in question.

22

Stephen 12.31.19 at 8:33 pm

Hidari@11: “the Republicans in the US and the Tories in the UK are simply doubling down on gerrymandering, voter suppression”: I can’t answer for the US, but about the UK you are I fear deluding yourself.

There is no gerrymandering in the UK. Population shifts have affected some constituencies, which have boundaries established by independent, non-partisan Commissions; the last boundaries for England dating from 2007. Consequently, the current boundaries make some constituencies seriously larger than others. The Commission’s recommendations would correct that. I can’t see how you could democratically object to this: except that the current boundaries put the Tories at a disadvantage.

There is no voter suppression in the UK. There is, unfortunately, some recent evidence of serious electoral fraud – look up Tower Hamlets – and there are proposals for reducing that. Again, I can’t see how you could reasonably object.

Yours in the cause of objective truth.

23

Chetan Murthy 12.31.19 at 10:30 pm

MisterMr @ 13:

It is important to stress that actual privilege starts quite high on the totem pole, most people are not privileged.

Uh, I think this can’t be right. [Until only very recently] Many, many white people are privileged, in that they can attack black people with impunity. This is especially true of cops. Many men are privileged, in that they can attack women with impunity.

Privilege isn’t just about money and economic power. It’s also about who gets to put the boot in without (appreciable) consequences.

24

bianca steele 12.31.19 at 10:57 pm

EB’s second paragraph @18 is very clear, I think, about the stakes for one of the more important issues facing liberals / Democrats in the US. Is the party organized around protecting women, LBGT individuals, and religious and ethnic minorities from theocrats who want to tear down Constitutional and statutory civil rights, or is it organized around working people who may have a stake in a less secular, less socially progressive future, but will support a strong government if it supports ordinary working families who belong to the dominant culture?

The “liberalism is fascism; only anarchism is properly socialist” faction seems as strong as ever, though these days, it seems possible to add a third clause, “big government is good,” to the list, to listen to some people. It’s almost as if what they really mean is “all governments are the same, but don’t boss *me* around.”

25

J-D 12.31.19 at 11:15 pm

Don’t forget that the GOP’s base trends very old in comparison with the Dem base. A realignment is possible but it would probably require a shift in priorities to attract younger voters when the old people who vote Republican pass on.

It’s true that the percentage of people voting Republican is highest, and the percentage of people voting Democrat is lowest, in the oldest age cohort; and it’s the other way round in the youngest age cohort; but what conclusion follows from observation of this pattern?

The observed pattern could be a result of an age effect, or it could be a result of a cohort effect.

If the observed pattern results from an age effect, then a conclusion which follows is that the youngest age cohort, which is currently the most favourable to the Democrats and the least favourable to the Republicans, will become progressively less favourable to the Democrats and more favourable to the Republicans as it ages. When the current youngest voting cohort becomes the oldest voting cohort, the expectation justified is that the same pattern will still be observed, with the oldest cohort most favourable to the Republicans and least favourable to the Democrats, the reverse for the youngest cohort, and no reason to suppose an aggregate benefit to either party from the development over time.

If the observed pattern results from a cohort effect, then a conclusion which follows is that the current youngest voting cohort will remain highly favourable to the Democrats and highly unfavourable to the Republicans as it ages, but in that case the observed pattern provides no basis for drawing conclusions about the voting preferences of younger cohorts as they reach voting age. When the current youngest voting cohort becomes the oldest cohort, they may still be favouring the Democrats over the Republicans by a wide margin, but there’s no telling how younger cohorts will be voting and any aggregate partisan effect of the development over time is unpredictable.

26

rivelle 01.01.20 at 1:49 am

I am new to posting on the comments section of Crooked Timber (but I have found been to this site via google a number of times over the years and read some past posts on authors and subjects).
Is there a way to subscribe to comments threads so as to be notified of new comments?

LFC@16

>>>”Historically both options have been compatible with “liberalism,” which is one reason why radical movements have in fact been able to achieve certain things, albeit not all they wanted, within ‘liberal’ or pluralistic polities.”

>>>”it’s fine to talk about different kinds of oppression as long as one also emphasizes a common underlying interest in opposing oligarchy.”

Entrance of hitherto excluded groups, partial accession to the demands of political radicals, is only allowed insofar as it does not interfere with the smooth running of capitalist business as usual. Leading to what you call oligarchy being the last, common obstacle and political opponent. But victory here is impossible unless radical political movements work with a futurist political programme that strives to lay the foundations for the post-systemic, post-capitalist world system or systems.

A historical example of capitalist colonialism returning to business as usual is the Haitian Revolution in which the victors of the conflict were still forced into paying reparations to the losers of the conflict.

However the ideological effects of the Haitian Revolution must also be taken into account. The resonance of this historical event extended as far as into the writings of Hegel (master-slave dialectic) as Susan Buck-Morss describes here:

https://libgen.is/book/index.php?md5=98B8A1E2B90F3AFCFC45BE08C6431E94

On the question of revolutions and their significance (or lack thereof) see Immanuel Wallerstein and his school of World-Systems Analysis. Significant revolutions have long-lasting world-systemic effects and aftershocks. They cement into place secular trends of disequilibrium that disrupt the smooth operations of the capitalist world-system. Efforts to contain these secular trends of disequilibrium fail to return the capitalist world-system to its modes of functioning prior to the disruptive revolution. Instead, secular trends of disequilibrium lead eventually to the capitalist world-system’s terminal historical crisis.

A brief account of Wallerstein on revolution can be found here:

https://libgen.is/book/index.php?md5=812E803C89797CAA485A501D86565D25
A short summary of Wallerstein on the life and terminal historical crisis of the world system can be found here:
https://monthlyreview.org/2011/03/01/structural-crisis-in-the-world-system/

27

Chetan Murthy 01.01.20 at 4:15 am

bianca steele @ 24:

Is the party organized around protecting women, LBGT individuals, and religious and ethnic minorities from theocrats who want to tear down Constitutional and statutory civil rights, or is it organized around working people who may have a stake in a less secular, less socially progressive future, but will support a strong government if it supports ordinary working families who belong to the dominant culture?

There’s an assumption here, that’s buried and unstated: that Trump’s success was due to working-class economic anxiety. And this assumption is false. There have been numerous studies, and they’ve all found that it wasn’t economic anxiety, but instead the old isms: racism, misogny, etc.

If Democrats try to win by embracing racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc (and that IS what bianca and EB are suggesting) then it will only cause Republicans to go even further towards herrenvolk nationalism: after all, they’re not going to stop being lackeys of the ruling class. All you’ll get is *more* fascism, faster than otherwise.

The Democrats can’t win by being fascism-lite. And besides, the base of the Democratic Party wouldn’t stand for it. You’re really talking about starting a new party.

28

LFC 01.01.20 at 6:29 am

rivelle @26

Just to note that I have a lot of respect for Wallerstein but do not nec. agree w every aspect of his prognosis re the future of the capitalist world-system. But this wd prob get too far afield from the main topic(s) of the thread.

29

MisterMr 01.01.20 at 11:01 am

@ Cethan Murthy 23
In my view, the correct way to see oppressions is not as a set of different one to one relationships where one is oppressor and the other oppressed, but one should sum all these relationships and compare the sum to a sort of societal average, so that those above that average and those below are the oppressed. As the society we live in is pyramidal, I expect most people to be below that average.
Now there could be people who are overall oppressed but side with oppressor party because thy are sold on a certain aspect where they are on the winning side, for example a really poor white who takes it against blacks as a psychological reaction. But this would still be a case of false consciousness.

When we speak of things like transgenderism this is more ambiguous, but again I think gender identity is linked to forms of the family that are at the base an economic thing. But then I can’t really get deeper.

30

MisterMr 01.01.20 at 11:12 am

@Soru 21
About middle class people, Marx doesn’t use the term or when he does he uses it in a different sense (it turns out that in 19th century Britain Middle class meant “very rich industrialist who is way above the poor but still not an aristocrat”).

The closest term Marx uses is small burgoise, but it means the owner of some capital good like for example a small family owned shop, which is not the same thing we mean when we say middle class.

My understanding is that most people who see themselves as middle class are actually working class in Marx’sense, as they don’t own their means of production.

When you speak of people who get most of their incomes from pension funds, I tend to see these incomes as deferred wages, only apparently as income from capital, but I see there is some ambiguity (however people who get their income from pension funds have preciously small control on their capital).

31

MisterMr 01.01.20 at 11:14 am

@Peter Dorman 20

We’re on the same page.

32

novakant 01.01.20 at 11:47 am

There is no voter suppression in the UK. There is, unfortunately, some recent evidence of serious electoral fraud – look up Tower Hamlets – and there are proposals for reducing that. Again, I can’t see how you could reasonably object.

Well, reasonable people do object.

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/voter-id/

33

Tim 01.01.20 at 1:28 pm

JQ “Although the idea of intersectionality emerged on the left as a solution to problems involving class and identity politics, it turns out to the be the natural response to the rise of dominant identity politics on the right”.

So the thesis is intersectionality emerged as a response to identity politics on the right.
Is it possible the thesis is ‘backwards’?
That the rise of intersectionality ‘pushed’ the right deeper into identity politics.
Intersectionality grew in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of the Communism system and Marxist ideology.
Intersectionality concentrates on oppressed groups alienated from the mainstream.
The concepts of oppression and privilege lack clear definitions and boundaries. Who is oppressed is almost in the eye of the beholder and how it can be rectified is not clear either. This creates on the right confusion, fear and the feeling the outsiders are after a type of privilege themselves based on gender, race, disability etc.
To compound the problem the identification of the key privilege holders as white, male in the West was bound to ‘trigger’ a response from those people, who probably don’t recognise oppression let alone they might be privileged. Trump’s Virginian coal miners probably don’t feel privileged. Indeed in a Marxist interpretation they probably aren’t, being workers and not the owners of capital. Why would white men vote for a party with intersectionality candidates. Not surprisingly they are attracted to Trump/Republican identity politics who use identity politics to build these fears, ‘build the wall’, ‘stop the boats’.
So intersectionality doesn’t arise in response to identity politics but rather from historical changes and ideological revision on the right. The effect of intersectionality is to ‘push’ the right further into identity politics.

34

Tim 01.01.20 at 1:30 pm

So intersectionality doesn’t arise in response to identity politics but rather from historical changes and ideological revision on the left. The effect of intersectionality is to ‘push’ the right further into identity politics.

Correction ‘left’

35

Jake Gibson 01.01.20 at 3:49 pm

Here, I thought likbez was just a social reactionary, now I find he/she is also an infowars style conspiracist.

I am of the opinion that the real political divide is between egalitarians and hierarchalists.

36

Salazar 01.02.20 at 12:48 am

Hidari @11: “At the moment at least, the Republicans in the US … are simply doubling down on gerrymandering, voter suppression, ‘let them eat racism’ type crackdowns on ‘immigrants’… and so far these techniques seem to be working. Outright dictatorship would create foreign policy problems (e.g. with the UN, the EU etc.) and there is little sign at the moment that the Right wants to go down that route, at least in the short term.”

The problem, in the US case, is that confidence in the Constitution and in the political system in general may wear thin if Republicans keep relying on the Electoral College and on gerrymandering to hold and consolidate power while consistently polling less than their opponents – by which I mean another three, four, five 2016-type scenarios in rapid succession. Of course, system figures like Obama and Biden and institutions like The Washington Post are trying to reassure the electorate by arguing things like “Republicans are better than Trump,” “America needs a strong Republican party,” and so forth. It’s also true the tactics you’re referencing fall short of “outright dictatorship.” But how long can system politicians keep holding off demands for far-reaching Constitutional change if continually faced with electoral robbery?

37

likbez 01.02.20 at 1:11 am

LIkbez, I asked you not to comment on threads like this – JQ

38

bianca steele 01.02.20 at 1:40 am

Chet,

Your reply puzzles me. First, I don’t see in the slightest how you could conclude that I think the Democrats should ignore misogyny or reproductive rights. Second, you seem to have interpreted my statement that many of the “class first” leftists are uncomfortable most of all with a sense that they don’t receive sufficient respect as Christians specifically, with an opinion that they are uncomfortable most of all about their own economic anxiety. Possibly you intended to reply to EB.

Clearly it’s possible that there’s a group who wish the Democrats to cater more to religious conservatives who aren’t affluent, and resent for many reasons that existing Democrats think they don’t belong. I think you haven’t described it totally accurately, though. I think it’s clear they’d simply prefer if the women and non-Christians would just disappear and let them get on with leading the rest.

39

Chetan Murthy 01.02.20 at 3:10 am

MisterMr @ 29:

In my view, the correct way to see oppressions is not as a set of different one to one relationships where one is oppressor and the other oppressed, but one should sum all these relationships and compare the sum to a sort of societal average, so that those above that average and those below are the oppressed. As the society we live in is pyramidal, I expect most people to be below that average.

This doesn’t really help, does it? I mean, MRAs will argue that greater weight should be given to the fact that men have 10 years less life than women, yes? People focusing on inequality will … more heavily weight inequality. Women will more heavily weight bodily integrity, autonomy, safety. Some people of color will over-weight not being killed by the po-po.

And again, pretending that some white boys beating up a gay kid in their high school PE class aren’t oppressors, because their parents are not-so-wealthy …. well, it sure tells me something about the person doing the judging, I guess.

P.S. I read someplace, someone wrote: “we’re all somewhat racist/misogynist, what matters is how much we’ve tried to correct it.” This idea that somehow those who “on average” are “the oppressed” thus are absolved of correcting their behaviour …. well, that’s really “interesting.”

40

Tim 01.02.20 at 3:21 am

In reply to likbez @15 who referenced me @3.

My point is that the right might be able to hold power in the future within a democratic system. That is all. I’m am just addressing JQ thesis.

I think your argument is the right would never form a Dictatorship as they are supporters of democracy, but from there you lose me. I don’t understand your ‘russiagate’/beer hall putsch/cia examples and indeed this section of your reply at all. It is not coherent with any Politics or History I have studied over the years. Is it a new type of radical revisionism, which I haven’t come across before?

41

MisterMr 01.02.20 at 10:58 am

@Chetan Murthy 38

If a group of boys beat another one, this is a matter of legal justice no matter what their sexual orientation or economic class. I don’t see the point of your example.

A better example would be a party that rallies electoral support from working class guys through their omophobia. But even if one can say that ‘straight’ is a dominant identity relative to ‘gay’ I don’t think one can say that straights are ‘privileged’ by being straight, perhaps it would be better to say that gays are ‘ostracized’.

Point is that the concept of ‘privileged’ implies that most people are worse off than the privileged ones, otherwise it makes no sense.

For example in Nazi Germany, jews were oppressed but this doesn’t mean that christians were privileged.

42

nastywoman 01.02.20 at 11:55 am

”The point about intersectionality is that there many kinds of oppression and injustice, and they interact in complex, more than additive, ways”.

Yes!

But now about:
”The resulting and ”good” strategy.
(and let’s not call the strategy ”political” – as nobody likes to be ”political”)

Y’all could start by being less ”theoretical”? – and think about my (currently) fauvorite strategy.

You do what the FC Liverpool did.
You hire a ”really good” German Coach and an Egyptian goal getter.
And then ”many kinds of oppression and injustice” -(for example against Muslims or old enemies or anybody – as long they are Liverpool Fans too) – are getting better and better.
(see the statistics about ”the level of tolerance” in Liverpool compared to the neighbouring British areas)
– and getting back to the ”German Coach” –
(who happens to be a great guy too) –
If people start believing that such a ”great guy” – with ALL the character ingredients of a ”great guy” – is GOD –
(as nearly ALL fans of the FC Liverpool believe)
y’all solved the problem – that a lot less people believe that being an ”a…hole” –
(with all the character ingredients of an a…hole) is ”the GREAT thing” to do.

And y’all probably won’t believe how many -(a… hole) Americans can telly that
”they don’t have a filter anymore” –
or/and that
”political correctness is over” –
and
or/and you have to be ”like a Trump to make it in the 21 century” –
as –
”it is a jungle man”!
”It’s a jungle!’ –
and
the ”good people are always losing”!
as
they ”are getting the ”oppression and injustice”

AND then you guys ALWAYS can tell them: ”That is NOT TRUE as there is the FC Liverpool -(and especially the Fans of the FC Liverpool)

Who got EVERYTHING it/they deserve AND if y’all take them as y’alls role model -(and NOT the corrupt and criminal German Baron von Clownstick) – EVERYTHING will be fine in the future!

Capisce!
(likbez!)

43

nastywoman 01.02.20 at 12:48 pm

@
”I don’t understand your ‘russiagate’/beer hall putsch/cia examples and indeed this section of your reply at all”.

It’s one of the favourite ”strategies” of the members of the TrumpTeam.
Trying to turn the best -(and funniest) synonymous explanations for ”The Rise of Trump” -(aka: ”Trumps Beer Hall Putsch”) – against anybody who is using such… words.

As we never should forget: Trump and the TrumpTeam ALWAYS has – ”the best words” -(even if they have to steel them from such movies as ”Dazed and Confused”)
Remember the use of: ”Neo-McCarthyism” for impeaching a corrupt an criminal President.

44

Hidari 01.02.20 at 12:54 pm

@36 ‘But how long can system politicians keep holding off demands for far-reaching Constitutional change if continually faced with electoral robbery?’

And the answer to that question is: longer than you would think (or would like).

45

nastywoman 01.02.20 at 1:03 pm

AND about:

”How will all this develop”?

It’s obvious by now – that after a writer a the NYT wrote:

”decades of social and political division have set against each other black and white, men and women, old and young and beyond bitter social antagonisms, the country is racked by mass shootings, the mind-bending perils of the internet, revelations of widespread sexual predation, the worsening effects of climate change, virulent competition, the specter of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, grinding student debt and crises in housing, health care and higher education – and such ”frightening environment helped cause depressions – depressions caused catastrophic thinking, and catastrophic thinking made the environment seem even more terrifying than it is”.

NOW the people had enough – and Trump is REALLY getting on their nerves – and they finally will hire a really ”GREAT” German Soccer coach?
-(instead of the Robber-Baron!)

46

Heshel 01.02.20 at 6:35 pm

MisterMr @ 29:

“In my view, the correct way to see oppressions is not as a set of different one to one relationships where one is oppressor and the other oppressed, but one should sum all these relationships and compare the sum to a sort of societal average, so that those above that average and those below are the oppressed. As the society we live in is pyramidal, I expect most people to be below that average.”

I don’t wish to pile onto Chetan Murthy’s thoughtful reply @39, but rather restate the issue a little more abstractly. I engage with this comment out of respect for MisterMr’s overwhelmingly well-considered comments here and elsewhere on this blog.

I think one of the disadvantages of Marxian analysis–and this particular critique is much older than I am–is that it does tend to flatten out the contours of human experience so that it can be rendered more intelligible and commensurable so that there can be a more easily verbalized dialectic about class. In other words, Marxians are lumpers. And lumping has its uses, but sometimes contours are needed to understand the underlying processes that result in the social problems upon which we wish to improve with policy.

One of the advantages of intersectional analysis is that it acknowledges that experiences of privilege/oppression are contextual because they are socially constructed and because social construction is messy and non-uniform. We each experience privileges and/or oppressions that are the results of historical processes (more and more) loosely bounded by geographical inhibitions to travel.

In this way, an African American man can expect to experience such oppressions as being treated as untrustworthy; assumed to be prone to violence; assumed to be a habitual drug user; assumed to lack certain non-cognitive skills (which are really just the current preferred collective habits of the upper middle class–I teach some of their kids kung fu) etc…. A woman can expect to experience such oppressions as being treated as unintelligent; evaluated based on a narrow range of acceptability on her appearance, tone of voice, apparel, accoutrements, hobbies, reproductive choices, sexual choices, really just about any choices.

Even though each of these specific ways of being harmed by the collective (mostly) non-conscious will to discriminate based on things that don’t matter most of the time in most places is at root a failure of most people most of the time to exercise their meta-cognitive skills around the meaning of respect and to whom it is due and what kind of behavior that requires of oneself, they do not easily offer a consensus on the sorts of policies that ought to be implemented across a society because each of these oppressions are historically contingent and enacted in specific kinds of social spaces for specific reasons–reasons that most people most of the time are not required to articulate because hey, everybody’s doing it.

The difference between kinds of oppressions and the kinds of policy solutions they invite sharpens when considering white women’s and black men’s disparate experiences with the police across the history of the (sort of) former confederate states of America–yes, I know it was bad everywhere else, too, but my understanding of the history is that the difference is sharper in the South (no I will not provide J-D with a cite)–or their disparate experiences interfacing with organizations such as firms and universities as the suite of policies known as affirmative action became passed and enforced. In some ways, many individuals classified in each (and both) group(s) aggregately benefited but the benefits were asymmetric and the accompanying backlash manifested as different kinds of oppressions depending on the most salient group assignment.

Incidentally, I think one of the better ways that coalitions form are when activist groups find themselves being deliberately wedged against each other, for instance with aggressive policing proposals, and try to find another way to meet each group’s needs. The recent renewed advocacy for Civilian Police Review Boards seems like one possible way forward to accommodate the need from multiple constituencies that have historically been ignored.

I think intersectionality also happens to give us some useful theoretical tools to help make these kinds of coalitional policy solutions more abundant and more easy to institutionalize throughout a large and diverse state–which is why there is absolutely a political interest among some (probably not so much the Marxians) in detracting from it.

Anyway, two cheers (for now) for intersectionality. But don’t get cocky splitters.

47

ForThisPurpose 01.02.20 at 8:24 pm

In response to J-D at 25: the only study I’ve seen reported on this subject indicates that the reason older cohorts trend more conservative is because of wealth; that is, poor people (who are presumably more liberal/progressive) don’t survive to become older liberals.
http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/05/poor-people-often-dont-survive-to-become-seniors-who-vote.html

48

PatinIowa 01.02.20 at 9:35 pm

One important thing that I think is going unremarked her is that “intersectionality” arose to solve an analytic problem. Here’s Kimberle Crenshaw’s article:

Crenshaw, Kimberle () “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8.
Available at: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8.

The problem arises out of a specific incident (which turns out to be generalizable). African American women applied for jobs in an auto plant, if memory serves. When they were denied employment, they sued. The company (General Motors) said they had not been discriminated against as women–the company had hired many women–all white. The company had hired many African Americans, as well–all men. The court agreed that General Motors had not engaged in impermissible discrimination.

“Intersectionality” was coined to take account of the fact that we all have multiple identities, and that they combine in various ways–it’s nice to be white; it’s even nicer to be white and rich. And if you wanted to work for GM, it’s terrible to be a Black woman.

The reduction of “intersectionality” to a description of a single identity is–in my experience–likely to happen on the left, and almost universal on the right. But the analysis works in the direction of complexity. For example, I’m discovering, year by year, that it’s nice to be white, it’s nicer to be white and affluent, but white, affluent and old isn’t as nice as white affluent and young was. In other words, my identity is fluid. If I live long enough, I’ll cease being temporarily abled.

This complexity returns when we talk about “privilege” and “oppression.” Privilege is always relational. I’ve been in a room full of millionaires at a wedding–they were all, of course, white. You could easily tell the millionaires who were “old money,” from those who had become rich through their professions and financial good luck. And I expect that certain forms of privilege followed from the difference. (Legacy admissions at Ivy League schools, for example.) It would be hard to say that anyone in the room was “oppressed,” until you realized that one of the millionaires regularly beat the shit out of his wife, who had her own money, and was herself a millionaire.

Complexity. I like the kaleidoscope metaphor very much.

I don’t believe that the recognition that our complex identities condition our life possibilities, and that some features of our identities give us advantages, others disadvantages in complex and synergistic ways is making White people more racist, and men more misogynistic. I think it’s the encouragement those tendencies get in the discourse of the right. I don’t fetishize “personal responsibility,” but I do thing it’s a thing.

Here’s the Intersectionality TED talk, which is easy and worth viewing: https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality?language=en

49

J-D 01.03.20 at 5:06 am

yes, I know it was bad everywhere else, too, but my understanding of the history is that the difference is sharper in the South (no I will not provide J-D with a cite)

I did not realise I was so notorious.

As it happens, in this case my understanding of the history is much the same as yours, and I would not have asked you for a citation. However, if somebody asked me for a citation, it would take me less than a minute to find one to begin with:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

In response to J-D at 25: the only study I’ve seen reported on this subject indicates that the reason older cohorts trend more conservative is because of wealth; that is, poor people (who are presumably more liberal/progressive) don’t survive to become older liberals.

I have no idea whether this is true. However, if it is true, then it’s an age effect rather than a cohort effect and the analysis I gave for age effects is applicable.

50

John Quiggin 01.03.20 at 5:50 am

@PatInIowa Thanks, this is very helpful. Thanks to other commenters also.

51

hix 01.03.20 at 6:14 am

How exatly does it have anything to do with priviledge if a millionaire women puts up with getting beaten? Despite the danger of sounding like another commenter, that has everything to do with matching mental health issues and just about nothing with “priviledge”.

Either way, even when applied less confused that priviledge rethoric just comes accross is very aggressive without adding much in analytical value. In the worst case, Ophra Winfrey can cause a shitstorm against an immigrant salesperson (including a lecture on how that person did not properly understand academic american idenity theories in her response) because she did not correctly estimate her wealth in a decadent status good store.

52

Chetan Murthy 01.03.20 at 6:14 am

bianca steele @ 38: [I apologize for basically quoting your entire comment; I had to, in order to properly respond]

First, I don’t see in the slightest how you could conclude that I think the Democrats should ignore misogyny or reproductive rights. Second, you seem to have interpreted my statement that many of the “class first” leftists are uncomfortable most of all with a sense that they don’t receive sufficient respect as Christians specifically, with an opinion that they are uncomfortable most of all about their own economic anxiety. Possibly you intended to reply to EB.

I interpreted your restatement of EB’s position, as an endorsement of that position. If you weren’t endorsing it, then I was wrong. Sorry about that. Notwithstanding, a “class first” leftist who thinks that abandoning “identity groups” in favor of a “broad economic agenda” will win over Trumpists …. that sort of leftist is, indeed, assuming that Trumpists voted for him due to “economic anxiety”. Again, which has been clearly debunked.

Clearly it’s possible that there’s a group who wish the Democrats to cater more to religious conservatives who aren’t affluent, and resent for many reasons that existing Democrats think they don’t belong. I think you haven’t described it totally accurately, though. I think it’s clear they’d simply prefer if the women and non-Christians would just disappear and let them get on with leading the rest.

I can only agree vehemently with you here. Yes, there are some who think that we need to appeal to “religious conservatives who aren’t affluent”, and who basically wish that “[uppity] women, non-Christians [and non-whites]” would just go away. But I don’t think those “religious conservatives” are religious at all. If they were, IF THEY WERE, then they would be quite, quite, quite solicitous for the treatment of their co-religionists amongst those who arrive at our Southern border. Specifically, there are a shit-ton of Evangelical Hispanics in Latin America, and I have never heard a *peep* from Evangelicals about the way those people are treated.

I believe the Bible has some words for such “Christians”, and those words aren’t kind.

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Chetan Murthy 01.03.20 at 6:22 am

MisterMr @ 41:

If a group of boys beat another one, this is a matter of legal justice no matter what their sexual orientation or economic class. I don’t see the point of your example.

Point is that the concept of ‘privileged’ implies that most people are worse off than the privileged ones, otherwise it makes no sense.

For example in Nazi Germany, jews were oppressed but this doesn’t mean that christians were privileged.

I am at a loss, completely agape. Also, your last sentence, boggle the mind, EVEN AFTER the rest of what you wrote. Maybe you should read some about Nazi Germany? Start with … Oh, ANYTHING. I’m reading Goetz Aly’s _Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State_, but Gellately’s _Backing Hitler_, or Eric A. Johnson’s _What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany_ would be fine too.

The IDEA that somehow Jewish people in Germany and Nazi-occupied/allied lands weren’t oppressed, and specifically by Germans IN GERMANY, is …. ridiculous and LITERALLY contradicted by what I read JUST TODAY in Aly’s book. JUST TODAY.

But let me -try- to respond with an analogy:

A feminist might argue that when a man rapes a woman, he is asserting his privilege, secure in the knowledge that he will not be punished, and typically he won’t even be called to any account whatsoever. Your argument is that unless there is a “Rapists-R-US Party”, this isn’t about privilege at all.

That’s bollocks, that is. Check your privilege.

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Chetan Murthy 01.03.20 at 6:36 am

MisterMr @ 41:

For example in Nazi Germany, jews were oppressed but this doesn’t mean that christians were privileged.

Because I was literally reading, this *morning* , I will cite a small portion of Goetz Aly’s book, _Hitler’s Beneficiaries_):

[Aly is describing the theft of household goods from Dutch Jews, given to working-class German families who’d been bombed by the Allies.] After the war, librarian Gertrud Seydelmann recalled the auctions in Hamburg’s working-class districts:

Ordinary housewives suddenly wore fur coats, traded coffee and jewelry, and had imported antique furniture and rugs from Holland and France. . . . Some of our regular readers were always telling me to go down to the harbor if I wanted to get hold of rugs, carpets, furniture, jewelry, and furs. It was property stolen from Dutch Jews who, as I learned after the war, had been taken away to the death camps. I wanted nothing to do with this. But in refusing, I had to be careful around those greedy people, especially the women, who were busily enriching themselves. I couldn’t let my true feelings show. The only ones upon whom I could exercise a cautious influence were those whose husbands I knew had been committed Social Democrats.
I explained to them where these shipments of excellent household wares came from and cited the old maxim “Ill-gotten gains seldom prosper.” And they acted accordingly.

Aly (evidently a competent historian) goes into great detail, describing the expropriation of Jews in Germany and various occupied/allied countries, in each case detailing the value of goods/securities/cash/etc expropriated each year, etc, etc, etc. He cites the various Nazi leaders who made it clear that they were authorizing these expropriations in order to keep their white, Christian) population onside, and cites in detail the various ways in which rank-and-file Germans profited from German’s expropriations of German Jews and in occupied/allied lands. It’s actually quite chilling reading, and dispels any notion that rank-and-file Germans “had no idea what was going on.”

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Kiwanda 01.03.20 at 6:41 am

PatInIowa: Curiously, it seems that intersectionality in this clear limited sense was re-invented in the context of machine learning as “fairness gerrymandering” in this study.

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Chetan Murthy 01.03.20 at 6:53 am

Heshel @ 46:

In this way, an African American man can expect to experience such oppressions as being treated as untrustworthy; assumed to be prone to violence; assumed to be a habitual drug user; assumed to lack certain non-cognitive skills (which are really just the current preferred collective habits of the upper middle class–I teach some of their kids kung fu) etc…. A woman can expect to experience such oppressions as being treated as unintelligent; evaluated based on a narrow range of acceptability on her appearance, tone of voice, apparel, accoutrements, hobbies, reproductive choices, sexual choices, really just about any choices.

First, I don’t mean to beat you up, with this comment. But ….
(1) when you describe Marxists as “lumpers”, I think you’re being too kind. Marxists, it seems to me, don’t actually care about the oppression of women, nor of racial minorities, except insofar as it serves their goals of winning the class struggle. They. Just. Don’t. Care.

(2) your description of what black people and women experience/suffer is too …. Pollyanna-ish. It ins’t about some sort of assumptions of stupidity, or criminality, or this-and-that.

It is about being murdered for doing things that any white person would be completely safe doing. MURDERED. MURDERED. It is about women being unable to walk the streets at night without being in some nontrivial danger. About women being in danger of being raped or killed by domestic partners. It is about a woman being unable to control her own BODY. I mean, the mind boggles …..

[ok, exaggerating for effect here] I mean, the idea that a Marxist thinks that these things are LESS important than merely economic matters like how much *money* a worker makes …. what *difference* does a paycheck make when you literally cannot ensure your own bodily integrity?

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notGoodenough 01.03.20 at 7:04 am

[John Quiggin: as my New Year´s resolution is to try and by more restrained in pursuing my bêtes noires / idées fixes and stay more on topic, please do let me know if I´m straying into the weeds again].

Some thoughts from someone who is, at best, an amateur in this area:

The idea of intersectionality – or perhaps rather the name and a small-but-detectable increase clarity – came to me, I freely confess, rather late in life (probably somewhere ca. 2008/9). My concept might generally be described as “recognising the many-headed hydra of oppression dynamics; seeking common cause; recognising the unique problems facing different identity groups”. So, in the same way my understanding of (a form of) feminism is “promoting equality from the perspective of, and recognising the unique problems facing, women”, my understanding of (a form of) intersectionality might be described as “promoting equality from the perspective of, and recognising the unique problems facing, various different identity groups and the way these mesh together”. In this way, as other commentators note, it is possible to be privileged with respect to certain situations, and then not with respect to others. For example, while I may be privileged with respect to certain ethnicities or genders, I may be not-privileged economically.

Highly speculative bit coming up:

Based on this (which I suspect may be an egregious misunderstanding and misuse of these terms) I did wonder if intersectionality is the natural response to the tendencies of dominant groups to making rights a zero-sum-game proposal. After all, people who are privileged in certain ways but not in others may be susceptible to being convinced to work against their own interests if they feel it is overall (or at least in the most important ways) increasing privilege – e.g. I don´t mind giving some of my pie to X so so long as Y is getting less than me (i.e. I am increasing my privilege vs. Y). Intersectionaility mean while is the argument that we should divide the pie fairly, but enlarge the pie.

These may, however, be just the ravings of a mind sorely in need of caffeinating…

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bianca steele 01.03.20 at 1:33 pm

I think a good way of looking at privilege, building on @46, is that it explains that some people are given the benefit of the doubt and some aren’t. If someone might say to you, “that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, people will understand if you cross the line a little,” and you would be confident that would work out for you, you might have privilege. If you’re a kid and you’re horsing around, we like to say that no one calls the police because kids get the benefit of the doubt generally, but that only happens for kids with a certain kind of privilege. If you look around and you see that there are people speaking out boldly on a range of topics, you might generalize that it’s a norm that people can do that. But if they all happen to be white men who approach things in a specific way, they would seem to have privilege to make use of that norm.

It may be entirely the case that the white men in that position got there on merit and all the other things that are supposed to be operating. Still, without considering privilege that’s only half the story.

It isn’t quite the same as saying it’s a norm that only men can speak out, because “everyone” believes women have the same chances, and everyone believes women should have the same chances. When the idea of privilege disappears, it looks like women have made choices not to go for it.

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Hidari 01.03.20 at 2:29 pm

@46 ‘I think one of the disadvantages of Marxian analysis–and this particular critique is much older than I am–is that it does tend to flatten out the contours of human experience so that it can be rendered more intelligible and commensurable so that there can be a more easily verbalized dialectic about class. In other words, Marxians are lumpers. And lumping has its uses, but sometimes contours are needed to understand the underlying processes that result in the social problems upon which we wish to improve with policy.

One of the advantages of intersectional analysis is that it acknowledges that experiences of privilege/oppression are contextual because they are socially constructed and because social construction is messy and non-uniform. ‘

This may be true or it may not, but…your first paragraph talks about ‘underlying processes’. But what are the underlying processes that cause (e.g.) racism, religious prejudice etc? Too often the intersectional/identity politics viewpoint simply assumes that these things are ‘given’, that they have no history.

For example: from the OP ‘The key idea, is that well-off, white, Christian men are being oppressed by virtue of challenges to their natural position of dominance, and rejection of their natural expectation of deference.’
Yes, but why, in the United States, do wealthy white Christian (mainly Protestant) men have all this power? Obviously the patriarchy predates capitalism. But for the rest, the reason that this is a privileged class in the US is because North America was invaded by wealthy white Christian men, who proceeded to kill and ethnically cleanse the indigenous inhabitants, and the United States was (mainly) founded by these people’s (i.e. the white Christian men) descendants, and this story has everything to do with capitalism and imperialism (and slavery), ‘joined at the hip’.

‘experiences of privilege/oppression are contextual because they are socially constructed’.

Well they are and they aren’t. At the end of the day, some people have money and some people don’t and, in a state like the United States which was set up by (and, therefore, for) white Protestant men, the people who have the money are disproprtionately white Protestant men. In a racist, sexist state like the US, it’s simply common sense that the majority of working class people are going to be (disproportionately) female people of colour and this seems to be increasingly the case.

https://www.epi.org/publication/the-changing-demographics-of-americas-working-class/

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nastywoman 01.03.20 at 3:30 pm

@48
The example of ”the room full of millionaires” – and the suggestion that ”it would be hard to say that anyone in the room was “oppressed,” always reminds me on the downside of ”intersectionality”.
Like – that GREAT moment – when Trump got ”oppressed” so beautifully by Obamas humor – who could have thunked – that it would make Trump President?
As do you guys know – that a lot of Americans just voted for the Clownstick because they thought -(like Trump) – ”we’re going to show this uppidity Muslim Dude from Kenia… –
and as PatinIowa wrote:
”Privilege is always relational” – as indeed I discovered too, that it’s nice to be blond –
and it’s often even nicer to be blond and affluent, but if you are visiting the UK – it can be not so nice to be German and blond –
(especially if you meet some old dudes who still remind WW2)
BUT on the other hand – if you go to Liverpool you get treated like – GOD.
So – not only ”Privilege seems to be always relational” BUT also:

”Intersectionality”

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Tm 01.03.20 at 5:33 pm

The term privilege is often misused. The original meaning of the term is simply a right or an advantage specifically conveyed on a certain group of people. It is not wrong for example to call the right to attend a university a privilege. Not long ago, that right was a privilege restricted to men (mostly upper class but also some lower class). The right to vote, if it is not universal, could also be called a privilege. It is not correct to say that only the upper class can be privileged – privileges can be to some extent independent of class structure. OTOH Real privilege is enshrined in law. Habitual discrimination is a different thing and it’s probably better to call it by a different name.

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MisterMr 01.04.20 at 12:56 am

@heshel 46

Thanks for the thoughtful.

I agree that Marxism has this tendency to lump stuff. I also think that Marxism is a theory about one specific kind of inequality so, even though it has something to say about family roles, it certainly is not the best framework to think about, say, violence inside a family, because the level of argument about family is just too abstract.

However, I have a problem about the use of the term “privilege” for situations different from a minority oppressing a majority.

It is certainly possible for a majority to oppress a minority, or for one group to oppress another of the same size, but I think that the concept of privilege implies a standard and someone who is above that standard (the privileged).

This might seem a purely linguistic distinction but I think it reflect some specifically different social dinamics.

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Chetan Murthy 01.04.20 at 2:46 am

Tm @ 61:

The term privilege is often misused. The original meaning of the term is simply a right or an advantage specifically conveyed on a certain group of people.

This definition works perfectly for the examples most commonly cited by some identity groups, though: “the privilege of (mostly white) cops to murder black people without consequences is unlimited.”[1] “The privilege of (most) men to sexually harrass and/or assault and/or rape lower-status women without consequences is unlimited”[2]

[1] sure, until recently. I mean, Amber Guyger was convicted. I didn’t see whether she’ll actually serve hard time, though. And she’s one of the very, very few.
[2] Again, maybe … *maybe* recently things are getting better. So Cosby’s in the slammer.

These are the exceptions that prove the rule.

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Hidari 01.04.20 at 11:44 am

@ 56 ‘Marxists, it seems to me, don’t actually care about the oppression of women, nor of racial minorities, except insofar as it serves their goals of winning the class struggle. They. Just. Don’t. Care.’

Maybe so, but ipso facto and for the same reasons, the ‘capitalist class’ don’t actually care about the oppression of women, nor of racial minorities, except insofar as it serves their goals of winning the class struggle.

The phrase ‘class struggle’ is invariably misinterpreted by bourgeois liberals (such as yourself), incidentally. The class struggle is not something that working people choose to take part in. The class struggle is something that is going on and will continue whether you choose to fight in it or not (or whether or not you choose to recognise that it is going on, or not).

You don’t need to read this in Karl Marx, incidentally. Listen to Warren Buffet: ‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.’

This is unquestionably and unarguably true. Back in the day, if you go back 20 or 30 thousand years, you had relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherer tribes. It was the changes in human civilisation that date from about 15000 BCE (some would say earlier than that) that moved things towards a class-stratified society, but please note this was not a ‘bottom-up’ thing but a. ‘top-down’ thing. Elites essentially created themselves and then began to create the various stratification strategies that, with increasing elaborations, we have had to live with since then, in order to hold on to the power that they had seized. So Buffet is right. ‘It’s my class that’s….making (the) war.’

The class war is not on any sense fought by the poor who choose to take part in it. The class war is willfully and deliberately fought by the rich, against the poor, who are forced to take part in it simply to defend themselves against this attack (and again, the war continues whether the poor choose to take part in it or not, or even whether or not they recognise that they are taking part in it or not. It’s just that if they choose one of these two options or both of them, then they lose).

One of the core misrepresentations of Marxism (and it’s a claim that has been made over and over again, not least on CT comments threads) is that Marxism is a ‘determinist’ philosophy. But as Hobsbawm pointed out many years ago, even a quick skim through the Communist Manifesto, page one, shows this is not true: viz.

‘Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.’

You have a fight between the rich and the poor. Either the poor can win, or there is mutual annihilation. What can’t happen is long term victory by the rich, because you can have a society without the rich, but you can’t have a society without the poor (the ‘working classes’) or else nothing will get done. You can have a factory without managers but not one without workers.

What we’ve seen over the last 100 years (at least since about 1950) is a series of seemingly endless victories by the rich and powerful over the poor, by the global North over the global South, and yet, mysteriously, these victories have not led to peace or stability or anything similar but have instead turned to dust and ashes in their mouths , and it seems that the current phase of the class struggle will not lead to some fantasy of American power and dominance for eternity but, instead, the ‘common ruin of the contending classes’ in the form of climate change and the oncoming eco-geddon.

And all this happens whether you recognise that this is happening or not.

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soru 01.04.20 at 4:02 pm

Marxists, it seems to me, don’t actually care about the oppression of women, nor of racial minorities, except insofar as it serves their goals of winning the class struggle. They. Just. Don’t. Care.

This is perhaps true, on average. Most such favour measure they see as fixing the problem, rather than demonstrating their empathy for those suffering. For example, in the anti-slavery movement, proto-Marxists were often too busy arguing for economic change (i.e. abolition) to spend as much time as they could have on thoughts and prayers for those enslaved.

Now it may be the case, and certainly a lot of people think, that no such equivalently-effectively economic change is possible, or perhaps desirable, in the modern day. But it is not the case that Marxists agree with that assessment; if you disagree with them, that is the core of your disagreement.

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Aloevera 01.04.20 at 6:54 pm

It always seemed to me that the intersectionality idea began life as highlighting separation or difference: that is, it sought to show why, what had often been presented as a more or less homogenous group (women), was actually not homogenous, and that the experience of Black Women or Women of Color was different than that of White Women and deserved different analytical and/or policy treatment. Thus, the initial impetus of intersectionality sought to *erase any sameness* among groups that appeared to be the same. But what has happened over time is the opposite: intersectionality has become a device for *highlighting (selective) sameness*. Various sorts of oppressed groups are presented as being similar or the same. Thus, for example, American Blacks are presented as analogous to Palestinians, fighting the same fight for the same rights—and the underlying suggestion is that they should join forces to struggle against oppression, gaining strength in numbers. Thus, the real differences that do exist among various groups is erased from consideration. The basic issue here is that various groups are *both* the same or different, depending on where the “camera of analysis” is placed or depending on what we are, specifically, talking about. Perhaps we need to develop some device that can economically and explicitly make both the differences and the sameness among groups clear to people who want to lend any support to some cause—because masking either difference or sameness does not always allow the best or realistic way forward towards solutions to getting rid of oppression.

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J-D 01.04.20 at 11:07 pm

‘experiences of privilege/oppression are contextual because they are socially constructed’.

Well they are and they aren’t. At the end of the day, some people have money and some people don’t

Money is a social construct.

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Chetan Murthy 01.05.20 at 1:13 am

soru @ 65:

For example, in the anti-slavery movement, proto-Marxists were often too busy arguing for economic change (i.e. abolition) to spend as much time as they could have on thoughts and prayers for those enslaved.

Wow, that’s amazing gaslighting. It wasn’t “proto-Marxists” back then: it was .. Marx and his buddies. Look: basically your (class-focused activists’) position has always been that when it comes to these issues of “not economic but still oppression,” the answer is “come the revolution, it’ll all be fixed.” With no actual explanation of how it’ll get fixed. How the executions by po-po, the domestic violence, the rapes, the sexual harrassment and assault, the workplace discrimination, will end.

In the end, you have no explanation other than “trust us.”

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Chetan Murthy 01.05.20 at 1:29 am

Hidari @ 64:

Maybe so, but ipso facto and for the same reasons, the ‘capitalist class’ don’t actually care about the oppression of women, nor of racial minorities, except insofar as it serves their goals of winning the class struggle.

Sure, of course the rich classes don’t care about the oppression of minorities, women, LGBT, etc. They use the oppression of these groups to divide and weaken the lower classes. Of course. But that’s not the POINT. The POINT is that some in these class-based movements argue that its WRONG for (e.g.) women’s rights activists to focus so much on women’s rights — that instead, they should be focusing on building a broad class-based movement for economic redistribution, fighting inequality, etc, etc, etc.

Shorter: “yeah, the enemy are bad guys, so you should work WITH US, to OUR PLAN, instead of working to protect yourselves.” When it turns out that that plan doesn’t actually protect you, well, *shruggie*.

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Hidari 01.05.20 at 10:17 am

‘The POINT is that some in these class-based movements argue that its WRONG for (e.g.) women’s rights activists to focus so much on women’s rights ‘

That’s self evident and obvious bullshit: as J-D would say ‘citation needed’. And no citations would be forthcoming, because you’ve made it up.

What IS the case, is that the radical left has shone a so to speak cynical light on the way that feminism (and gay rights) have turned from women’s liberation (which used to be, let’s not forget the name of the movement), with the allusion here being to gay liberation, the National Liberation Front, the various anti-colonial liberation movement (liberation of course meaning the removal of all barriers to self-realisation) and a right’s based discourse (rights being enforced by the courts, by (mainly) white, male, middle class lawyers, in a legal system that takes capitalist inequalities for granted).

Not that these court cases aren’t worth fighting as such, and that these laws not worth passing, but don’t be surprised when the results of this fighting for ‘women’s rights’ isn’t quite what you anticipated. The law is an ass, after all, and a rights based discourse restricts these rights to those who can afford to fight for them (legally).

This viewpoint also ignores the extent to which the women’s movement developed out of the New Left (and the extent to which the more radical aspects of the movement have been ignored). For example, Marxist feminists argued in the 1970s that housework was work and should therefore be paid for: this argument is far too radical for contemporary discourse and has been mainly ignored, replaced instead with Guardian articles nagging men to do the dishes: but the fact that it doesn’t matter who does the dishes, it’s still unpaid work, is ignored.

Finally, yes: if one is concerned only with women’s progress in a capitalist society and nothing else, yes the left is against it. That’s because if you ignore the overall economic context you end up with risible ‘arguments’ demonstrating all the ‘progress’ that has been made because the majority of American arms manufacturers (who literally manufacture death) are now run by women (apparently this is true) and that this is something we should all get excited about. Or all those drones arguing that promoting murderers like Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher to positions of power is in some way a victory for feminism.

A joke that went around on social media a few years back.

The Left in 1917: ‘Peace! Bread! Land!’

The Left in 2017: ‘We need more LGBQT+ representation amongst the staff of our torture camps!’

Do you see the difference?

Incidentally: Shorter: “yeah, the enemy are bad guys, so you should work WITH US, to OUR PLAN, instead of working to protect yourselves.” ‘

This argument makes no sense unless one presupposes that woman are too stupid or frail to lead (e.g.) trade unions or left wing political parties, a deeply sexist argument, one might think.

But I have no hopes of persuading you. As we have seen in the 2019 election (and in the US) liberals have made it clear that when the shit hits the fan they are going to ‘break for’ the Right, every time, and stab the Left in the back, just as they always have, and I think we now get that particular message.

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Hidari 01.05.20 at 12:06 pm

@ 67 ‘money is a social construct’

True, but in a capitalist society, it buys you food, which isn’t.

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Hidari 01.05.20 at 12:15 pm

‘With no actual explanation of how it’ll get fixed. How the executions by po-po, the domestic violence, the rapes, the sexual harrassment and assault, the workplace discrimination, will end.’

Of course reading this one would have little inkling that of course liberals have been in power in most of the Western ‘democracies’ more or less constantly since about 1945 so they have at the very least facilitated (or turned a blind eye) to all these issues, and at worst actively facilitated them. But of course it’s part of the liberal’s martyology that actually everything is the fault of the (totally marginalised and, in the Global North, completely powerless) radical left, because it’s part of the liberal created liberal mythology that, because liberals have the key to the lock of world history and, essentially have infinite wisdom about all things, they can’t make any mistakes. Any errors that might have occurred is always and in all cases the fault of someone else: the Russians, the ‘radical left’, the ‘alt right’, whatever. And then they have the gall to turn and critique others for not having solutions to the problems they have created (or at least facilitated, de facto if not de jure). When liberalism is finally dead (something that might not be too far in the future now and that’s no great loss) it’s gravestone will read: ‘The operation was a success! Sadly the the patient died.’

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soru 01.05.20 at 12:26 pm

Look: basically your (class-focused activists’) position has always been that when it comes to these issues of “not economic but still oppression,” the answer is “come the revolution, it’ll all be fixed.”

Well, obviously, something like that is true of revolutionary socialists, who I suppose can still be found if you conduct a sufficiently exhaustive search. Anyone who thinks a revolution is both possible and desirable, is naturally going to prioritize it.

Other people have different views, e.g.

All in all, King’s strategic focus seemed to shift ever more toward the economic issues raised by Marxist analysis. King took seriously Marx’s take on the condition of economic labor, the distribution of economic poverty, and the way that real estate is manipulated for the ruling classes.

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au2 01.05.20 at 5:41 pm

Bruce Dixon was a classy working class intellectual we lost last year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQSfxO5qReQ). His activist take on something that seems useful on paper, i.e. “intersectionality”, but in the real world, leads to a lot more toxicity than is worth the trouble is a useful antidote to academic wool-gathering and casuistry:

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/u-s-intersectionality-problem
https://www.truthdig.com/articles/trouble-intersectionality-afro-pessimism-part-2

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MisterMr 01.05.20 at 6:57 pm

@Chetan Murthy

First, I never wrote that in Nazi Germany Jews weren’t oppressed, since they obviously were. I wrote that the fact that Jews were oppressed doesn’t mean automatically that the main identity group was privileged.

The problem is that the word “privilege”, in its strict meaning, means having a right beyond what other people have, as Tim noted above.

Let’s put it in another way: in modern world we have a concept of basic human right.
If a guy of a certain ethnicity is harassed by police, or even killed, we can say that his basic rights were trampled.
But this doesn’t mean that people of another ethnicity who are not harassed by police are privileged : they just have access to their basic rights, whereas the term “privilege” refers to something above basic rights.

So we could define intersectionality as “everyone must have access to his/her basic rights”.
This naturally is a prerequisite of any utopian socialist world we can think of.

But framing this in terms of privilege is wrong IMO.

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MisterMr 01.05.20 at 7:04 pm

Addition to my previous comment:

1) Tm, not Tim, sorry;

2) this story about basic human rights and privilege is my reading of Marx’s “on the Jewish question” so I’d say it is quite orthodox Marxism. In that writing Marx explains the high religiosity of Americans with a “they cling to their guns and their bibles” kind of argument, haha.

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Greg Koos 01.05.20 at 11:53 pm

Southern understanding of liberty c1860, resonates with your observations. “When Southerners spoke of liberty, they generally meant the birthright to self-determination of one’s place in society, not the freedom to defy sacred conventions, challenge long-held conventions, or purpose another scheme of moral or political order.” Bertram Wyatt-Brown in “Southern Honor”

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Orange Watch 01.06.20 at 12:00 am

CM@56:

[ok, exaggerating for effect here] I mean, the idea that a Marxist thinks that these things are LESS important than merely economic matters like how much *money* a worker makes …. what *difference* does a paycheck make when you literally cannot ensure your own bodily integrity?

We live in a country where people are setting up GoFundMes for medical procedures – some have no alternative but to crowdfund their monthly medicines such as insulin – yet here you scornfully dismiss concerns over economic inequality as just being about how big someone’s paycheck is.

Remember in the last thread when you acted bemused after I said you were sitting on a mountain of unexamined privilege? THIS was exactly the sort of thing I was talking about.

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Orange Watch 01.06.20 at 12:31 am

MisterMr@41:

Broadly, on the subject of what “privilege” means in the context of social justice/intersectionality/critical theory/etc., something that is good to keep in mind is that it refers more to negative advantages than positive advantages; which is to say, a lack of obstacles and risks which would make it harder to succeed rather than assistance in making it easier to succeed (although that, too, exists). It’s really not a great choice of words, to be honest, and it strikes me as having been chosen primarily because the academics popularizing it were (and are) more fond of the idea of inverting hierarchies than flattening them. It would be more honest to talk about negative advantage as some people being less oppressed than others, but that doesn’t play as well when you’re trying to retain a hierarchy. It’s far less inspiring to call for casting someone who is oppressed (but less!) to the bottom of your proposed pecking order than someone who was previously “privileged”.

When trying to explain the idea to someone who has never encountered the jargon sense of the term before, I’ve had most luck with analogies such as the following. If life is a track and field race where everyone is stuck in a lane on the track, some lanes have hurdles, some are higher than others, and some have a lot more hurdles. Even though everyone must go the same distance to achieve the same result, there are some lanes that take require more work and/or entail more risk than others to achieve the same result even if we ignore physical differences between racers.

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