Last night I fell asleep completely sober. It was horrible.
Two things kept haunting me, pushing me towards the Smirnoff jug—first, surveillance is going to be near-total within the next ten years. Already, every mediated thing you write, read, or say gets recorded and added to a pile of your data. Every phone call you make, every website you visit, every hour you log playing Madden, every book you check out from the library or buy off Amazon, every purchase you make anywhere with your debit card, it’s all recorded.
This type of perpetual surveillance is seeping into non-media technologies. Data regarding our driving usage will soon be mandated by insurance companies, as will data regarding how often we exercise or how far we walk in a single day (such programs are already in effect, although they are voluntary for the time being—insurers will decrease your rate if you wear a pedometer or stick a montitoring device into your car). And everybody’s talking about the ascension of “smart” appliances, including smart toilets and fridges and beds—basically, embedding a surveillance mechanism into everything we interact with.
The behaviors that can’t be directly recorded can be inferred through our media consumption habits. If you read a lot of beer blogs, it’s assumed you drink more than the average person. If you comment favorably on a CNN.com piece about pot legalization and then book a trip to Washington, it can be inferred that you’re going to partake in pot tourism. This is only mildly troubling when advertisers use these assumptions to personalize the shit that pops up in your facebook feed. What will happen when health insurers start using it as an excuse to raise your rates? Or when the local PD gives it to a judge as reason why they want to raid your house to search for smuggled Seattle Special?
This is especially troubling because of my secondary scary realization: Law enforcement is becoming increasingly algorithmic. Back in the day, I criticized NSA and DHS spying programs because they generated an unparsable amount of data. It was too much to ever go through, which meant it was too much to be of any use in catching crooks or terrorists. That was before Silicon Valley dedicated a decade to optimizing search procedures, though. Law enforcement no longer relies on human beings to sift through data (or clues) and then piece salient points together into a narrative that explains who (probably) committed (or will commit) a crime. Now, machines can do that automatically. Just as no living human being has to know about how you’re planning a trip to Washington to smoke some legal cush, no human being needs to consciously piece together the information suggesting that I favor radical politics and therefore my presence at an Occupy Rally might pose a danger to the community.
It used to be, back when the narratives were pieced together by humans, the accused would be given their nominal day in court. A judge would first have to make sure the case didn’t reek of bullshit, and then a jury of one’s peers would weigh the strength of the state’s narrative against the plausibility of your counter narrative and if they were completely certain of guilt you went to jail. That system is dead. Law and order is now a quota-based system in which the leverage lies entirely with the prosecution, the testimony of cops is considered gospel (even when contradicted by video evidence) (LINK), and acquittals are almost unheard of. Less than 10% of felony cases even go to trial.
What’s worse, though, is that overview-free, automated methods of dispensing justice are becoming more and more commonplace. The thought is that new, algorithmic methods of determining your behavior are infallible, and since the leverage in criminal cases lies entirely with the empowered, that means law enforcement can use data that says anything to prove any point they want and you and I won’t be able to say shit about it.
Consider—and this might be a stretch—but consider the way that youtube recognizes copyright claims. There’s obviously too many videos uploaded to youtube for humans to monitor (100 hours of video are added every minute, according to their site), and so they partnered with major copyright holding companies to develop an algorithm that scans the audio of all videos and matches it up to any copyrighted movies or songs. Of course it makes mistakes. Sometimes audio is incorrectly identified. More troublingly, sometimes the companies who developed the algorithm claimed to own copyright over a song that didn’t actually own. A person whose video gets taken down has no redress—if your vid is said to have violated copyright, it’s down. That’s it. The claims made by BMG or the MPAA are absolute and uncontestable.
What happens when the feds come up with algorithms that “objectively” determine one’s involvement in seditious activity? Or when the local PD decide to make preventative arrests (which are now legal) based on their determination that your media consumption and eating behaviors match those of a potential terrorist?
And the private sector is just as open to such abuse. The same as your average citizen has zero leverage against an overzealous prosecutor or a violent cop, she has no leverage in her interaction with the companies that run our lives. If Blue Cross says we’re more at risk for an early coronary, we get charged more health insurance. That’s it. There’s no fighting back. But what if Eli Lilly looks at our facebook feed, gaming habits, and sleep patterns and realizes that we might be inching towards depression or suicide? Well, then the cost of Prozac all of a sudden goes up for us.
It’s—everything is looking really fucking bleak, man.
Lately, the term privilege has dominated academic and middlebrow discussions of racism , sexism, and homophobia, and lots of other isms . As a term meant to provoke action against social injustice, privilege acts kinda like a Dialectics For Dummies, encouraging people to take an interrogative approach toward the systemic presumptions that allow certain people comfort where others feel oppression or fear. Put simply, privilege advocates seek to make privileged people (the white, male, thin, heterosexual, and/or cis among us) to become aware of their privilege, to realize how hard other groups have it, and to then…. I dunno. Stop doing things that un-privileged people can’t do? Something like that.
There are many, many problems with using privilege as an analytical base for discussing injustice. Foremost of which—and similar to my complaints regarding the Fat Acceptance movement—its most basic goal to is stress the incomprehensibility of our individual experiences. This is a good goal, politically, because it prevents, say, men from defining what ideal femininity should be, or from pathologizing feminine traits because they run counter to societal norms that arbitrarily favor masculinity. But this is a bad thing, intellectually (and also politically), as it atomizes discourse. Instead of appealing to common ground or working across race/sex/gender lines to achieve goals, privilege adherents seek simply to have everyone respect everyone else’s differences. Once we do that, we’ll all just automatically get along.
This is a stunningly simplistic approach to describing social problems. It is so simplistic, in fact, that its limitations for effecting positive change should be clear to anyone who bothers to think about them. Simply convincing a white male or a straight woman that he/she is insulated from the effects of oppressive social systems does nothing to compel that person to work to change those systems. Furthermore, pointing this fact out to people is more likely than not to cause them to become defensive, as privilege discourse often appears to suggest that merely being exempt from systemic or institutional violence is something to be ashamed of.
Aside from it being disagreeable, though, privilege discourse is simply naïve. Its advocates misunderstand the nature of oppressive systems in two key ways:
1) Privilege misunderstands the spitefulness that underlies racism, sexism, and homophobia
Contrary to what the idealists might tell you, spite is huge motivator of human behavior. So is cruelty, and so is sadism. Some people, I’m sorry to say, are just assholes, and they take pleasure in causing physical or mental harm in others. Convincing them to respect cultural differences, or even encouraging them to be less judgey, isn’t going to rid them of their cruel and sadistic impulses. It’s only going to require them to justify those impulses differently. And, trust me, they’ll find another excuse.
When a cop raises his baton, right as he’s about to smash it into the head of a black teenager who had the nerve to loiter near Dillard’s, do you think he thinks to himself: “golly, the only reason I’m doing this is because this black kid’s blackness makes him less human than me?” When a Republican squeals with approval upon reading that several million people have had their food assistance cut, do you think he thinks “awesome, I sure am glad those people who of different ethnicities will feel the pain of hunger?” Of course not. Why? Because the pleasure these people derive from spite isn’t logical. The “logic” is just windowdressing, applied post facto so as to give their hateful actions some sheen of respectability. And this “logic” already avoids hitting upon obvious signifiers of racism or homophobia, and it can easily be amended to avoid any trappings of privilege. The human race will never, ever run short of logical-sounding reasons to justify violence.
Privilege only works if we assume that privileged people will feel guilt once they’re made aware of the harmful actions enabled by their privilege. This might work in a Women’s Study class or in the comments section of Jezebel, but it won’t cut it in 9 scenarios out of 10. If anything, asking the cop or the Republican to interrogate their social privilege will cause them to double down on their hate; in formulating a twisted, broken excuse for their horrible actions, they justify those actions, become more confident in their own righteousness.
But let’s say we’re just seeking to combat ignorance, not hatred. The cop and the Republican are beyond saving, but we might still convert the girl who says we don’t have racism anymore since Obama is President, or the guy who says that blacks really don’t have it that bad since slavery’s been over for a full 150 years. I still don’t think privilege works, because this kind of egregious ignorance doesn’t precede hatred so much as it proceeds from hatred. Like the “logic” deployed to justify more overt and specific instances of sadism or violence, this type of stupidity comes only after a stupid person has already taken a hateful stance towards a group of people he considers beneath him. First the man hates or fears Mexican people, then later—after he is confronted and asked to account for his hatred—he offers up a dumb excuse: they’re taking away jobs, they commit welfare fraud, etc. Merely pointing out the dumbness of the excuse will do nothing to deflate the man’s hate. This hate is sublogical. It comes from spite. And logic simply will not fix it.
2. Privilege denies the material/economic factors that incentivize racism and sexism.
Racism and sexism are not incidental byproducts of a society that just so happens to favor and be run by white males. Racism and sexism are both tactically deployed. They are tools. The empowered classes use them to maintain their power.
Don’t believe me? Think this sounds too Marxist? Take a look at this article from Politico . The article wonders why for it be that Asian Americans don’t vote Republican, even though Asians are typically higher-income and higher-income people should naturally support policies that hurt the poor. The authors do “a study” (seriously) and find that Asians are largely turned off by the GOP’s relentless, but mostly superficial, racism, like in how Republicans are way more likely to tell a Chinese dude that he speaks good English or ask a Japanese woman if they can pet her baby:
Asian Americans who were exposed to this race-based presumption of “not belonging” were more likely to view Republicans generally as close-minded and ignorant, and have more negative feelings toward them. Our findings suggest that Asian Americans associate feelings of social exclusion based on their ethnic background with the Republican Party.
That’s all obvious. What’s hideous is their suggestions for potential remediation. Rather than encouraging Republicans to stop being so fucking racist, they propose a new rhetorical approach, suggesting that the GOP gain leverage by pitting rich Asians against poorer minority groups:
One article focused on the impact of Arizona SB1070, a law that required police officers to ascertain people’s immigration status, indicating the common status of immigrants of Asian and Hispanic origin. Another article focused on how the current immigration reform debate can pit higher-skilled immigrants from Asia against lower-skilled immigrants from Latin America.
[ … ]
The result: When immigration was framed as an issue that teamed Hispanics and Asians together under the umbrella of common interest, 72 percent identified as Democrats and 28 percent as Republicans. But when immigration was framed as an issue that pitted Hispanics and Asians against each other, only 67 percent of Asians identified as Democrats and 33 percent as Republicans.
Fomenting racial divisiveness is an easy way to justify the hateful, materially self-interested politics of economically empowered groups. Duh. That’s such an obvious point that we can write trendpieces about it without offending anyone.
Fundamentally, white power is an aspirational politics , one that takes root when disempowered members of a relatively empowered group become convinced that their personal low status is caused by racial, as opposed to economic, outsiders. This makes racism imminently usable for the empowered classes, because they can deploy it to turn “privileged” people’s attention away from the economic factors that underlie their own disenfranchisement. And so, according to the popular sentiment of America’s white poor, our startling income inequality hasn’t developed because the legal system is ginned to support every whim of the super rich while stomping out workers’ rights. Oh no. It’s because of Mexicans! We aren’t hyper militaristic because spending trillions of dollars on unnecessary weaponry enriches politically connected defense contractors. Oh no. That’s because of Jews!
I—I cannot grasp how racism’s utility isn’t apparent to all of us. It’s a hugely usable tool, one that’s deployed as often by the mainstream left as it is by the conservative right . These arguments are disingenuous and specious to a degree that even a dumb person can tell they are bullshit, and that should make us consider that maybe, just maybe, the people making them aren’t suffering from a lack of enlightenment so much as they are exploiting the hatefulness of others in order to enrich themselves.
Privilege is real, of course, but it is first and foremost a product of a society designed to enrich its elite class by exploiting its lowest classes. Racism and sexism do not therefore proceed from privilege, so much as they are a means of preserving the social structures that result in oppression. The empowered remain empowered because they know how to foment and maintain racist and misogynistic attitudes among the masses. And focusing so strongly on issues of identity, as opposed to issues of class or economic status, only helps to strengthen the tactical power of racism.
White Hot Harlots is proud to announce a partnership with Ross Douthat. Ross is a conservative intellectual and renowned columnist for the New York Times. His work will appear here periodically.
Whenever the talk of American politics turns toward abortion, the same conversations always seem to take place. Taking a look at history might help us understand why we keep having these repetitive discussions.
In 1933, the big question on the mind of European intellectuals was “what is happening right now?” Across the globe, people were turning en masse toward authoritarianism. This turn made little sense, since by definition authoritarianism is bad for most people.
One such intellectual was Willhelm Reich. Reich, a German psychoanalyst, suggested that the turn towards fascism and communism was a result of widespread sexual frustration. In his Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich suggests that “the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.” So far as Reich was concerned, all of the world’s woes could be solved through morw sex.
Reich was a member of the German communist party, and in the 80 years since his book was published, the left still believes that social problems can be traced to a lack of sex. While the belief was patently false in Reich’s day, it at least fit into trends established by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Similarly, todays’ liberals draw their inspiration from Gloria Steinem and Alfred Kinsey.
This background is critical if we wish to understand recent congressional battles about women’s reproductive health. On the one hand, conservatives believe that abortion is society’s ultimate sin and must be stopped. On the other hand, liberals believe that anything that stifles the free and easy exchange of sex can have dire social implications. Both sides need to make adjustments if we wish to solve the abortion debate.
If conservatives want to make the debate more honest, they should admit that abortions are sometimes caused by material conditions, and that perhaps instituting harsh criminal penalties for women caught seeking abortions might be going too far. But on the other hand, no progress in the debate will be made until liberals abandon their long-held belief that sex solves social problems all by itself.
Just as Reich’s communism was naïve, so were the sexual politics of the 1970s. Women predicted complete equality, which of course did not happen. The result of their “feminist revolution” has been a decoupling of sex from love, a society in which more than half of marriages end in divorce, and skyrocketing abortion rates.
Liberals might choose to ignore the link between sex and abortion, but it’s there. The only question is: will they change their path and begin to speak honestly? Will conservatives let such an honest exchange take place?
Only time will tell.
Let’s say, several years ago, I killed somebody. It wasn’t a clear-cut case of murder, though, because it happened in one of those backwater states like Florida where they got wacky gun laws that make it easier for civilians to shoot minorities. Maybe I saw a black kid cutting across my lawn and so then I shot him. That’s borderline legal in Florida. Maybe, if it had gone to trial, the judge or jury would have determined I was within my rights and let me go.
But the case never went to trial, because instead of informing the authorities, I buried the kid’s body in my basement, right next to an inflatable Wal-Mart Santa and a pile of “Sweatin’ To the Oldies” memorabilia. Two years later, my wife goes down the basement and notices a severed hand sticking out beneath a my replica of Richard Simmons’ death mask. She gets scared and calls the cops, and I get arrested.
In that scenario, would my wife be a whistleblower or a traitor? Would the press coverage surrounding the incident focus mostly on me and the crime I had probably committed, or would it instead focus on my wife’s neuroses and proclivities? Would she be barely mentioned, as a witness, or instead would columnists call her a traitor hold her up as an example about how women these days just don’t respect the bounds of family?
This is basically what’s happening in the case of NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden. He uncovered gross criminal activity. He reported it. And instead of focusing on the criminality of said activity, the press has decided to speculate on his mental state and call him a traitor. This is stupid, and it needs to stop happening.
And, please, don’t try to pick out holes in my metaphor. First off, and most importantly, PRISM is not legal. It’s not legal in the same way that murder’ generally isn’t legal, since monitoring the communications in general isn’t legal. The only way that PRISM could have been legal was if it, like murder, gained a special, court-sanctioned exemption. This couldn’t happen, because like my hypothetical murder, PRISM was kept secret, which means it was necessarily kept beyond judicial or congressional review and therefore was grossly illegal.
Second, you might complain that in my metaphor, the wife goes to the proper authorities. Snowden did no such thing, you might say, because instead of submitting his domestic spying information for proper review, he blabbed about it to a newspaper. This criticism is very dumb. You should be ashamed of yourself for making it. Where else could Snowden have gone? Should he have had filed a report with HR? Should he have called the very same authorities who were breaking the law and politely asked them reconsider their actions?
Again, PRISM is illegal. Its secretive nature is what makes it illegal. It’s not illegal because monitoring everyone’s communications is necessarily and always wrong. It’s illegal because it happened beyond the scope of review that sanctions government actions—by being conducted entirely in secret, it subverted the very foundations of legality. In the murder metaphor, the killer’s potential legal defense was rendered moot by the fact that he tried to cover up his actions and put them beyond judicial review. The same thing happened with PRISM. There was no verification, no checks or balances, just a gross over-reach of federal power conducted beyond the boundaries of normal accountability. The only way the wrongdoing could have been exposed was by leaking it to the press.
So everyone, please, stop calling Snowden a traitor, and stop focusing on him instead of on the massive crimes your government just got caught committing.
And a special note to the liberals out there who think that criticizing Snowden makes them appear Serious or Respectable: fucking stop it. You remember back in 05 and 06, when flag-draped septuagenarians would embrace George Bush at town hall meetings and pledge their support to him by giving the feds permission to tap their phones? Remember how stupid and insane those people seemed, trying so desperately to excuse the criminal actions of their bullshit president? That’s what you look like now. Like a bunch of sad, shitty morons.
You heard anything about 3d printers? They’re all the rage in the academic nerd circles, but the only mainstream press coverage they’ve gotten has been about how they could potentially be used to make guns. I say “potentially” there, instead of that they have already been used to make guns, because the news coverage has been particularly misleading in this regard. Supposedly, a gun has already been made, and plans for said gun are freely available on the google. But this “gun” was just the lower receiver of an AR-15. Anybody with access to a high school shop class could have made a better one, too, since this one was made of plastic and only fired 10 rounds a short distance before it melted. (And that’s after the guy who “printed” it had to spend several hundred dollars buying additional, factory-manufactured parts so as to turn it into a fireable gun).
The mainstream media’s imbecilic handwringing over the 3d printed gun is similar to the manner in which academic writers have grossly overreacted to 3d printing as a basic concept. All you have to do is load up your printer with raw carbon and petroleum and trace amounts of various minerals, and, voila, you’ll be able to make whatever the fuck you please. The food-a-rack-a-cylcle from the Jetsons will be real, and so grocery stores will go out of business. Likewise, all manufacturing will grind to a halt, since we’ll all have tiny little factories built right into our homes. You want a metal bedframe? Print it! A strawberry ice cream parfait? Print it!
I’m not kidding: this is what humanities people actually believe is going to happen. And they are as naïvely optimistic as the mainstream media is naively scared.
First off—I don’t know how much climate change reading you’ve done (I would advise against it, if you don’t enjoy being really scared and sad), but it’s pretty goddamn optimistic to assume that first world society is going to resemble its current form in the year 2050. Huge, densely populated swaths of Europe, Asia, and the Americas will soon become uninhabitable. And—seriously, dude—the best estimates say that the east coast will be flooded by 2075 at the latest; that’s assuming we work up the political will to begin aggressively fighting climate change, which we won’t. The worst estimates predict catastrophic change within the next decade.
This isn’t a doomsday scenario. The human race won’t get wiped out. You and I will probably be okay (our kids might not be, though). But a shitload of people will die. Most likely beyond WWII-levels. And however society gets rearranged, it won’t be according to any lofty democratic or equality-based standards. It’ll be somewhere between old-school feudalism and new-school, Chinese-style industrial slavery.
Good, forward thinking social theorists have been making this point for a while. Guys like Matthew Stoller look at massive deleveraging of America’s middle class and our country’s gigantic income inequality not as some accident of capitalism but as an intentional process. The rich are girding themselves against catastrophic social realignment. They have to hoard power because freedom is about to become exponentially more expensive, well beyond the means of people who right now are relatively fortunate.
So pardon me for not embracing a fucking printer as the harbinger of a gloriously democratic, post-capitalist future. You have to be insane to think that regular people are ever going to be given access to 3d printing technology. Democracy is trending backwards. The whole post-war American ideal, where minorities were afforded some basic rights and social mobility was somewhat of a reality? Where you could live comfortably working 40 hours a week and the state served functions other than as a mechanism of oppression? That was an historical blip. It’s gone, dead forever, and it’s never coming back. The government and our elite classes have a clear, vested interest in taking power away from people. It’s no longer a matter of wanting to preserve luxury; it’s a matter of basic survival.
To this end, I think it’s foolish to assume that 3d printing will be anything other than a tool of oppression. Other, supposedly democratizing technological breakthroughs—like cell phones, internet access, and social media—have been widely disseminated only because their use reinforces extant power structures. Your iPhone makes it easier for the government and elite classes to track and commodify you. That’s why it’s not illegal. If it posed an actual danger to power, if its promise of giving a voice to the voiceless were really true, it would have been either outright banned or priced so restrictively high that no truly voiceless person could afford it.
Likewise, the future of 3d printing is up in the air. If the gun example scares enough empowered people into thinking that 3d printing might actually change our social structure, like by arming the citizenry or destroying the financial industry, then it might get banned. If it can be shown somehow to aid in the further deleveraging of non-elites, it will be allowed to exist in a tightly regulated manner. But no way, no how, will it make society more equal or just.
God forgive me, I watched an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher’s panel included Michael Moore, a weasel-faced Goldman Sachs cheerleader, and a Pinterst-looking woman who appeared to be doing a bit. Zach Galafanakis was the episode’s special guest, because apparently he’s some kind of fucking pundit now that he appeared in The Campaign (and, he said, you wouldn’t believe it but real politics is just as goofy as his movie!)
Maher asked Galafanakis why it was that the right was so good at grass roots organizations, what with the Tea Party having so much congressional success, but then the left has hardly any grass roots support. Home for come that be?
The weird fascist Pinterset woman jumped in, saying, no no, it’s a good thing that the Democrats haven’t suffered from that kind of mass movement:
"Do you really want them to? Frankly, the primary process the Republicans have been going through has been painful, has been divisive, has been counterproductive. When conservatives are so busy trying to out conservative each other and that is the primary goal of the primary, it’s not good for the party. I think your party has been smart enough to say ‘He’s a moderate? Lets him stay there and see how he does.’ And primary for primaries sake hasn’t been good for the Republicans.”
A statement like that is just empty think tank pap. It does not deserve to be scrutinized at face value. Reading just a bit between the lines, however, we get a real answer to Maher’s question: the left doesn’t have an empowered grass roots because the party that represents them hasn’t allowed such a movement to form. Effectively, there is no left.
Now, I can’t quite get a bead on where this woman is coming from, ideologically. She’s on MSNBC, but she’s written a book about how the left has launched a war against organized religion. So far as I can tell, she’s some sort of new wave conservative emissary, probably hired by forward-thinking GOPers in order to make their brand more appealing to people who aren’t klansmen. She’s not exactly an intellectual powerhouse, but then again if she were, she probably wouldn’t be on TV.
I’m trying to dissect her image because the only way we can glean any worthwhile observations from her is to view her not as a person but as a marketing strategy. She’s a slogan for a brand. That brand is what I’ve come to regard as “beige-washed conservatism.” It’s the same pro-business Randian bullshit as regular Republicanism, but instead of relying on racism and homophobia for its selling points, it’s now dressed up in boring NPR monotone so as to make it more palatable to people under 50. Intellectualism, like everything else, is largely an affect, a vague feeling that gets triggered into existence by certain empty signifiers. The woman wears glasses. She dresses smartly and speaks in complete sentences. Golly, that must mean she’s smart.
She also tries very hard to seem like a centrist. Her opinions are timid and obsequious, which is what most people now mistake for intellectualism. The Democrat Brand is a sort of emptily elitist technocracy, a system in which the opinions of experts and the financially empowered are prized while everything said by everyone else is ignored. This is good when it comes to stuff like evolution and climate change, but bad when it comes to most matters of social import, or to fields that are as intellectually corrupt as economics. This pinterst pundit fascist woman is apparently the GOP’s attempt to appropriate the Democrat brand for their own ends, like when Wal-Mart began copying the beige color scheme of Whole Foods so as to trick people into thinking they were somehow eco-friendly.
This is the lesson that got learned by the last election: fuck the people. Do not, under any circumstances, take their concerns seriously. Back when the GOP just made bunch of noise about praying away the gay and hunting undocumented immigrants for their pelts, they did fine. But as soon as they elected people who were stupid enough to actually attempt getting any of these things done, the party became unseemly and began losing.
So that’s the new face of politics. The Democrats’ winning strategy—the strategy that embodies the popular perception of intellectualism—is to insulate government from the input of its citizens. Instead, government should be run by hacks and technocrats who are told what to do by media elites, military personnel, and financiers. The Republicans are copying this playbook, apparently, only instead of Bill Gates and Larry Summers, their cadre of elites consists of people like Bill Koch and Ted Nugent. Same shit, different flavor.
Once we come to this realization, we can see how stupid Maher’s question really was. The Tea Party/Occupy split is a false binary. Occupy was a legitimate grass roots organization, which meant it never really existed so far as our elites were concerned. The Tea Party is an astroturf project designed by FreedomWorks and funded by the Koch brothers. Occupy was treated with widespread derision. The Tea Party was a media creation that had an entire cable network. And, most fundamentally, the Tea Party is in thrall of power, while Occupy represents a legitimate (albeit small) threat to power. That’s the biggest difference between the two, and it’s why one has been actualized via congressional representation while the other has gotten the shit kicked out of them by cops.
The Tea Party was an empty marketing gimmick. It was a stunt, a make believe carnival sideshow that got a little bit out of hand. Don’t’ worry, though, because Republicans are going to make damn sure that doesn’t happen again.
According to concerned bloggers everywhere, entitlement is one of the greatest problems facing the world today. No, I’m not talking about Social Security and Medicare (we’ll get to those in a second). Instead, I’m talking about the tendency among commentators to frame complex social problems in reductive terms, blaming bad actions on the fact that the people who committed those actions felt that they were entitled to do so. This is not only a lazy line of argumentation but a privileged one, and its continued use will do more harm than good for marginalized and disadvantaged peoples.
Looking just at posts I’ve read in the last month, entitlement has been blamed for a rash of misogynist facebook humor, a decline in k-12 test scores, the unemployment epidemic among Millennials, BU’s hockey team going on a rape spree, and creepy internet “Nice Guys.” And that’s just what I remembered off the top of my head.
Now, I think Bauerline’s Millennial bashing is bullshit, and I’m just as creeped out as you are by Nice Guys and Men’s Rights Advocates, but neither of those are my main concern right now. My point is that the manner in which these groups are criticized is intellectually lazy and socially problematic. It needs to stop.
First off, rhetoric surrounding “entitlement reform” has been used to bash poor and disenfranchised people for decades. Ever since Reagan evoked his phantasmal “welfare queens,” criticizing entitlement has been little more than politically acceptable racism. Despite all his big talk about cutting entitlement, and despite gutting welfare programs that disproportionately served minorities, Reagan actually expanded government entitlement spending as it was classically defined. He is still generally remembered as having cut entitlements, however, because in the minds of most commentators “entitlements” only include government services that are conceptually linked to poor, black, or brown people. A poor single mother is said to feel “entitled” to her monthly $150 EBT credit. But no one would ever say that a rich Lockheed executive feels “entitled” to receive the billions of government dollars his company receives every year in order to make ineffective, grossly overpriced weapons the military doesn’t need.
When you criticize someone’s concerns as seeming entitled, then, you’re not criticizing their beliefs; instead, you’re marginalizing them as people. Entitlement only works rhetorically when it’s attached to people who don’t count. This is why an AIDS patient is considered entitled when the government helps pay his exorbitant hospital bills, but a health care executive would never be called entitled for reaping personal gain from a monstrously bloated and inefficient health care system.
This is where the pejorative connotations of the term get especially troubling. Entitlements originally referred to programs to which people were rightfully, well, entitled. You paid into Social Security for several decades and then you were entitled to payouts when you turned 65. Entitlements were earned. Once the term got so closely linked to the needs of minorities, however, it became mocking and dismissive. An entitlement is now the exact opposite of what it used to be, an especially unreasonable or unearned sense of deserving something or other.
This is all very stupid. Making an accusation of entitlement the end game of your criticism is just intellectually lazy. Everyone always feels entitled. Duh. If we didn’t, all of our actions would be riddled with guilt. No one except a maniac intentionally does things that she doesn’t feel she deserves to do, and simply explaining that so and so did such and such because he felt it was okay for him to isn’t an analysis. It’s just a basic description of obvious reality, and it’s only an effective criticism of someone if that someone already seems undeserving.
Liberals tend to lose arguments when they frame them in conservative terms, especially when those terms are designed specifically to mock and dismiss the concerns of marginalized groups. Merely turning around the poles won’t work. Entitlement is only a politically potent criticism when it’s applied to groups who are already vulnerable to dismissal or marginalization. That’s why my examples of the Lockeed and Healthcare executives being called entitled seem so off. It’s also why simply calling rapists entitled does nothing to combat rape culture.
The other, bigger danger of these criticisms is that they discourage people from dissent or complaint. While valid criticisms of people senses of entitlement can certainly be made, doing so sets a dangerous precedent that encourages the further dismissal of people who are already in bad shape. Sometimes it’s okay to feel entitled. A worker making minimum wage might feel logically entitled to earning more than $7.50 an hour. A citizen should feel entitled a functional infrastructure and protection against police harassment. It’s not necessarily delusional or narcissistic to want more than what you have.
I want to talk about this again. it happened over 3 years ago, but who cares? look at it!
someone knocked on my door real quick at 1 AM. I didn’t get it because I was home alone and I’m a pussy. When I left this morning, this little fellow was outside my door. That’s meat shoved in its stomach! Anyone know what this means?
Not gonna bullshit. Justin Roiland did this. I still want to beat the shit out of him for it. He is filth.
Something I’ve only read a little bit about, and I’m wondering if there’s more stuff available regarding it, is the influence of the social and behavioral sciences upon business and management theory, and how much that combined influence has seeped into liberalism.
Much has been written (speculation, mostly) about the influence of larger political trends upon what tomorrow’s business elites are taught at today’s business schools. The Reagan Revolution made is moral to be a cunt, and so every single businessperson has acted like a cunt since then. Clinton made it cool for self-proclaimed liberals to not only turn Mexico into a land of subsistence laborers, but to regale in the spoils of doing so. Bush the Younger injected the sub-idiotic supernatural self-certainty of evangelicism into the mix, and Obama is doing is damndest to make sure that the corporate sector becomes permanently entrenched against the constraints like “environmental regulations,” “safety concerns,” and “labor laws.”
That’s all easy enough to trace, and a great deal has been written about all of them.
Much more interesting, and maybe even more pervasive, is the extent to which sociology and psychology have been appropriated by business thinkers and then weaponized against US workers. For example, when you work at certain retail chains like Target, your manager will begin every shift by making everyone do an inspirational chant—real dehumanizing, soul-destroying shit. My guess is that there’s no way that didn’t originate during some kind of Gravity’s Rainbow-style, horrorshow experiment. It started off innocent enough—like the CIA was just trying to figure out what type of speaking voice is the most effective when you’re torturing information out of dissidents—and then, 6 decades later, it morphed into forcing all your employees to wear red and begin their day by chanting about how much they love helping people save on batteries.
More generally, isn’t it weird how much shit your average employee is willing to take these days? I realize that, historically, most folk have always been pliant when it comes to working too hard for too little. But it has to be worse now, or at least creepier. Americans are psychopathically attached to their shitty jobs. They internalize the bizarre, cruel, and uniformly illogical systems of workplace discipline and assessment. They become creepily attached to their corporation, forging conceptions of their selves into which the public and private faces of their employer bleed heavily. We discuss ourselves, even, as if we were corporate entities instead of human beings: just the other day, I heard a student talk about “enhancing his personal brand” and how he hoped working at such and such a company would allow him to absorb some of their ethos into his own. Creepy, right?
This terrifying embrace of the corporate self has made a rebirth of organized labor seem impossible. Ignoring even the legal hurdles and decadeslong deleveraging of non-elite workers, there just isn’t any will to organize. Those of us who have succeeded in whatever job consider our success proof of our manifest internal goodness… and we’ve got no reason to share our success with failures. Likewise, those who haven’t succeeded have been trained to blame only themselves, to think it selfish and disgusting to pine for a better lot. Thinking beyond the individual is discouraged; at times, it’s even regarded as a mental illness. Only the weak and deranged think about things at a societal level. Normal, healthy people accept the fact that they’ve had total control over their own lives and are 100% personally responsible for whatever shape things have taken.
Likewise, questioning the manner in which corporate logic values (or devalues) you is considered the height of derangement. Consider the execrable Who Moved My Cheese. For those of you who have never been forced to read it, the book is a condescending parable wherein two dullards live in a magic room that unseen forces sometimes fill with cheese. Eventually the cheese runs out, and after much soul searching the more industrious of the two stops complaining and feeling like the world owes him a living and goes and ventures out into the maze to find another cheese room. The other one starves, because he is selfish.
The main point of the book is that the forces behind our employment—indeed, the forces that determine whether or not we starve—are utterly beyond comprehension and are only spoken about by people who have personality disorders. Smart people, the ones who don’t starve, they just go out and react to whatever contingencies the mysterious employment forces send their way.
Who Moved My Cheese is beneath contempt, and it would be entirely beneath response were it not such a staple of business speak. Rich, powerful people think it is a work of genius, because rich, powerful people adore anything that not only excuses their largess but also manages to condescend to poor people while doing so. The book used to be given to people who were about to be fired. Now it’s a customary gift to college graduates and new employees.
The fact that such retardation could become canon is testament to the need for the sort of consciousness-raising that liberals are presently so afraid of. And I think the liberal tendency to dismiss the efficacy of class awareness (even while they wholeheartedly embrace identity politics of every other stripe) is because no one ever formulated a fake mythos of “non-violence” to attach to class issues.
What bullshit, non-violence. It doesn’t exist within capitalism. Refusing to directly interact with a violent situation is still a violent act, since you’re allowing violence to happen unencumbered. And if you believe, as you should, that certain societal realities are violent, well then there’s no way to “non-violently” deal with them. And I’m not just talking about using drones to blow up Pakistani children or America’s brutal healthcare or medieval prisons—class warfare is fucking violent. Stealing someone’s pension is violent. Taking away the jobs of people leads to a lack of healthcare, domestic abuse, suicide, assault, murder, the poor academic performance of children and the euthanization of pets. When your company labels you an inefficiency and outsources your job to a Chinese slave, that’s violent. You’ve been assaulted. And just walking away like a pussy doesn’t make it any less violent.
The reason organized labor worked was because, like the Civil Rights movement, it was violent as fuck. Unlike the Civil Rights movement (which was a wonderfully orchestrated product of a very different time), organized labor wore its violence proudly, right on its sleeve.
See, treating black people like humans only tertiarily scares racists; it mostly offends them on a visceral level. No racist is as defensive of his perceived cultural purity as a rich man is defensive of his yacht.
And so the labor movement needed to be violent. It had to not only defend its strikers against Pinkertons but also to put the fear of god into scabs and make the super rich at least a little bit afraid to walk down the street. Powerful people don’t just go and give up their power because it’s the right thing to do, see. They only give it up when they’re forced to by threat of violence or imprisonment.
But liberals all devalue organized labor now, at least partially because its violent messiness runs counter to their core sensibilities. This means many of not most liberals—even academic liberals—have never taken the time to think seriously about why the labor movement was effective, about how violence is actually often an awesome tool that does a whiz bang job of achieving goals.
So your liberals will start talking about how unions won’t work in a contemporary sense, and all their arguments miss the point because all of them are clean and logistic and in no way bloody. This is because, like conservatives, they have internalized shitty management logic. Toothless, meek, identity politics liberalism—the kind that views “opening up a conversation” as the ultimate end goal of all political action—is a product of the acceptance of sociology and psychology-influenced business speak. We used to realize the necessity of conceiving of our employment adversarially. Instead of melting our identities into that of our employer, we conceived of ourselves and our jobs as separate entities locked in a struggle for the allocation of capital. But now we’ve become pliant and timid, convinced that occasionally being given a chance to speak to management affords us just as much agency as a decent salary would. It doesn’t.