Conservative Soc Mov Module: Muslim "Honor Killing" Criminals

The thing about conservative political strategy is that it is modular. Conservatives have got a playbook, and it’s not that elaborate. So if they do it to Sweden, they will do it to the Anglo world:

Canadian media sells “Honour Killings” as indication of “natural” Muslim seditionist tendencies.

Political strategy question: How do you get a people who see themselves as super-civilized liberators to support anti-liberatory conservative policies?

It turns out, this is easier than a level one Soduku puzzle. Start with flattery, and then they’ll turn on their own righteousness nozzle. Nationalism + defensive, instable, cul-du-sac liberalism  =  conservative-pliable mass psychology. Think of how conservatism has bloomed in contemporary Sweden, France & Canada.

On the advice of a elder feminist, I went to Sweden to study how their welfare state repressed immigrants. What I found there was a full-blown conservative campaign to destroy labor rights in Sweden, using the double-barreled politics of describing immigrants as both criminals and victims–criminals who make having a welfare state impossible (Because they can’t be trusted, and destroy civilization.), and victims of a welfare state thats de-commodification policies don’t let them “express” (sell) themselves. The conservative-fed media conclusion was that if you got rid of labor protections (and so by extension the labor confederation and social democracy), immigrants would be good and thrive, just like they do in Austria and the Anglo countries.

The Swedes were in complete denial about the potency of immigration politics in Sweden–Despite the legislative meetings and bills; despite feminist galvanization against the cruel, cruel, racist state and the cruel, cruel anti-Swedish civilization Muslim fathers; despite the massive media coverage of these conservative themes (and a very few, although of course always tragic, instances of violence within Muslim households) and simultaneous neglect of contextual data clearly showing that patriarchal violence is common across “civilizations” and hardly monopolized by Muslims; and despite the fact that Karl Rove was there in Sweden strategizing with a new conservative political coalition about this conservative campaign. One year later, the conservative coalition was the ruling government, and it has been ever since.

Now the exact same political trope is being used in Canada. Why now, eh?

You have to know your audience. On the other hand, there you have your data. Are you going to tell some unreconditioned, decades-old tool story about how the immigrants are super oppressed by the state and their fathers? Sure some of them are, sometimes. And they are oppressed by “authority” in a broader sense. So look, there’s something else going on here as well. Something rather pressing.

As Nancy Fraser has argued, people need to strongly consider that the contemporary incapacity of pro-liberation liberals to apprehend conservatism and conservative strategy is decidedly non-trivial. That incapacity decides labor policies and capital regulation in favor of capital. It feeds state-based working class institutional breakdown and reinstitutes full human commodification. It allows capitalist elites to confidently delegate to altruistic liberal managers the diligent pursuit of the task of imposing proletarianization, irrational and ideological privatization, and austerity. In an era of declining growth, it fuels capitalist expansion via primitive accumulation, rather than allowing humans to decrease our throughputs while rationally redistributing accumulated surpluses. Not really ironically, it exacerbates racism and sexism. It promulgates vicious war.

What I’m talking about is this problem: People can be very nice. People can be anti-authoritarian. People can be pro goodness and they can be all about extending moral consideration. Not conservatives, but liberals to lefties. (Though conservatives can champion  elaborate decorum. Order, you know.) 

All that fails to solve this problem: Without an adequate, socially-embedded theoretical framework (eg. Marxist), even self-identified progressives’ work (in the broad, materialist, Scarry sense) can be readily co-opted by conservatives to advance the conservative goal of shrinking moral consideration, monopolizing surplus and stunting human development. This is the problem of directive hegemony (Therborn. As opposed to legitimation — Habermas).

(Discuss Desai, Hall on the historical Thatcherite construction of conservative hegemony, around here.)

If structure is the accumulation of collective action, then conservative collective action creates the pathways that convert altruistic intentions and beliefs into dehumanizing hierarchy and tyranny.

Political-economic engagement (intellectualism, to use Perry Anderson’s term) is not just for conservatives or property-owning white men. Political-economic literacy and engagement matter. A lot. To everybody.

To illustrate this point further, I will discuss how the summer 2011 Winnipeg Rebelles gathering unfolded. Hint: To work together–to express our humanity, even feminist, multiculti lefties/progressives need to be able to distinguish conservatism. And in my personal experience in the technocratic, anti-Big Questions, anti-macro theory Anglo world, this has been an unmet need for over a quarter century, at a minimum.

We’ll see what happens to the Honour Killings conservative strategy in Canada. If Canadian feminists and the judiciary can avoid getting sucked in, if they firmly assert that violent patriarchy is not the exclusive property of Muslims (Obviously, in Canada there is already wide recognition that Aboriginal women are killed by their male relatives.), then maybe they can keep the neocon anti-Muslim “Clash of Civilizations” politics out of courtrooms and out of currency. And just maybe it will not justify, in the minds of Canadians, both Israel bombing Iranians (Yes, partly on behalf of Anglo-American geopolitical/energy strategy.) and domestic austerity measures.


Repression in Capitalist Societies

Acute and suggestive, Corey Robin on analyzing despotic, tyrannical, and totalitarian power in the capitol of capitalism:

 “However much coercive power the state wields–and it’s considerable—it’s not, in the end, where and how many, perhaps even most, people in the United States have historically experienced the raw end of politically repressive power. Even force and violence: just think of black slaves and their descendants, confronting slaveholders, overseers, slave catchers, Klansmen, chain gangs, and more; or women confronting the violence of their husbands and supervisors; or workers confronting the Pinkertons and other private armies of capital…

The fact is that a great deal of political repression happens in civil society, outside the state. More specifically, in the workplace.

There’s a reason so much of American repression is executed not by the state but by the private sector: the government is subject to constitutional and legal restraints, however imperfect and patchy they may be. But an employer often is not. “

Gruesome contemporary example.

I love Robin’s book idea: Careerism: Prolegomena to a Political Theory. I think it would likely be an incisive clearing of the goopy theoretical decks on power and hegemony.

On White Male Property owning Citizenship in the US

Civic virtue as a property of propertied white men:

A number of authors argue that the 19th Century concept of US citizenship and civic virtue was grounded in being a white male property-owner — with property-ownership construed broadly to include tool-owning tradesmen, a notion that spilled over into the racial exclusivism practiced by the US craft unions:

Political and legal theorist Aziz Rana’s The Two Faces of American Freedom (2010).

Historian David Montgomery’s Citizen Worke(1995).

Political scientist Rogers Smith‘s Civic Ideals (1999) gives a fairly broad backdrop.

Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that liberalism is essentially about exclusion: the advancement of slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Much of his book Liberalism, A Counter-history (2011) is focused on the United States, in both the early republican and antebellum periods. (Here is a New Left Project debate on Losurdo‘s thesis . Here is a review of Liberalism in Counterfire.) Jodi Dean has argued that the exclusion thesis is a red herring; the problem with capitalism is exploitation, not exclusion.

Christopher Tomlins’s Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early Republic (1993) (It can complement the Orren text, see below.)

Andrew Shankman’s Crucible of American Democracy (2004).

Seth Cotlar’s Tom Paine’s America (2011).

On how long citizenship actually took to get to white males, cross-class, in the US:

Best book about thwarted suffrage in the US (including that of working class white males) is The Right to Vote (2000) by historian Alex Keyssar. (Hear Keyssar speaking about contemporary barriers to suffrage in the US.)

Political scientist Karen Orren’s book Belated Feudalism (1991) is about the persistence in the US of feudal common law, in the form of employment law, well into the 20th century.

Thanks to John Gulick, C. Robin and Anthony Galluzzo.

What’s at Stake in Understanding Conservatism
From a review of Manisha Sinha’s The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina:

Sinha demonstrates that “South Carolina pro-slavery thought was not the expression of Southern Republicanism, but increasingly its very negation. It was not a coincidence that secessionism was strongest in South Carolina, the only state by 1832 where presidential electors and the governor were not popularly elected, where the legislature was crudely malapportioned, and where local offices were limited by the state government. It was also not a coincidence that slaves were a majority of South Carolinians, and slaveholders nearly a majority of South Carolinian whites. And it certainly was not a coincidence that non-slaveholders were noticeably less enthusiastic for nullification, secession in 1851 and secession in 1861.

Leading Carolinians like John Caldwell Calhoun, Senator James Chesnut and the creepy, incestuous James Hammond all sneered at the Declaration of Independence. Sinha quotes one bravado warping Patrick Henry to declare “Give me Slavery or give me death.” Notwithstanding the views of some historians to the contrary, the South Carolinians criticized the North less for its oppression of wage laborers than for the possiblity that those laborers could vote themselves into power. They did not condemn Lincoln as an intolerant Protestant but as a dangerous socialist and feminist. Moreover, they were not slow to raise the Nativist card against the immigrants who were bolstering the North’s population.

Calhoun’s idea of a concurrent majority was not a thoughtful protection of minority rights, but a way to prevent one minority, his own, from ever being outvoted. Once the Confederacy was set up, the Southern elite dispensed with political parties. South Carolina also began to dispense with competitive elections, while its ruthless elite certainly did not act sentimentally (or even decently) towards opinions on slavery.

There have been many frauds and bullies in American political life: the Nixons, the Hoovers, the McCarthys, the Tillmans and the Bilbos. But much of their malignancy was purely personal, and they never threatened the core ideals of the republic. Calhoun was different, very different. Extremely intelligent, he was also utterly principled, and absolutely ruthless in carrying out that one principle. The problem was that the principle, despite all the complications of honor and paternalism, was slavery. More so than anyone else, Calhoun was the greatest enemy of liberty and freedom the United States ever had.

If you still don’t understand what’s at stake, perhaps you might glance at contemporary S. Carolina and US politics, inter alia. History is a child with progeria. 

“It isn’t that Americans view the past as irrelevant; it’s that they regard it as the stuff that dreams are made of, straw spun into gold, camera-ready for the preferred and more profitable markets in prime-time myth.

Why then argue for uses of history other than the ones that sponsor the election campaigns, blow the bubbles in Wall Street, underwrite the nation’s wars? The short answer is William Faulkner’s ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.'” (Lapham, Lewis. 2012. P. 28 in “Ignorance of Things Past,” Harper’s, May.)


Varoufakis on the neoliberal era complexity fraud, and its consequences.

The above article has something to say about rationality, that can pertain to the False Consciousness post below.

TBD here: An essay on my experiences on a late 90s National Science Foundation complexity grad student training team, consisting of ecologists and computer programmers, associated with the Santa Fe Institute. In which I engage with Varoufakis’ points, by discussing what I learned about (systems) “complexity,” its mathematical analysis, and its uses.

False Consciousness

Marxists have a term for the moment of adhering to a political cause that, while perhaps having the critical mass to affect social relations, does not optimize your long-view interests: False consciousness.

Academic anti-Marxists will sometimes confuse the term false consciousness with a conservative concept used initially by 20th century anti-communists, the insult “Useful Idiot,” which disparagement  accuses a person of being too dumb to know what’s right, and so being liable to be used, typically by the Left, for a wrong political cause. There are however non-trivial differences between the concepts, what they assume (about the distribution of humanity and rationality), how they function. If we avoid muddying them together, we will better understand hegemony and power.

Therefore I suggest that it is time for a full-blown historical-materialist renewal of the concept of false consciousness, written principally to this audience: North American social scientists. (Not to the conservative economists. They’re too far gone with their inhuman conception of rationality.) I’m talking the sociologists. It’s time to seriously, rigorously, historically, comparatively, theoretically and empirically readdress “bounded” rationalities and the historical, place-based, social, habituated, and institutionalized constraints that overdetermine which rationality paths are followed and which atrophy.

“(A)ll forms of political organization have a bias in favor of the exploitation of some kinds of conflict and the suppression of others because organization is the mobilization of bias. Some issues are organized into politics while others are organized out” EE Schattschneider 1960: 71.


H1: Does the contemporary denunciation of the concept of false consciousness stem from the union-lite/free neoliberal era’s occlusion of the identity of conservatism?

We recognize that individuals, to varying extent, hold conflicting views, ideologies, morays, culture. However, since very, very often more than a gaggle of flaneurs are required for insight, we are interested not just in marveling at or celebrating the presence of ideological mish-mosh, but in discerning how such pastiches are assembled and activated.

First we start with the premise that social network-based political ideologies, such as conservatism, can be identified. For example, in his distillation of the trans-historical (since Enlightenment) pillars of conservatism, [A Political Science Expert on Conservatism] identifies these pillars with an eye to content validity–He reviews the conservative cannon as presented in conservative libraries and published by conservative presses (eg. The Liberty Fund), parsing out ephemeral v. consistent elements of conservative thought.

Then we consider a case study to test the hypothesis:

For example, ideological liberals etc. may be captured in a right-wing coalition because conservative coalition builders explicitly appeal to liberal identity markers (Eg. Compassion for human suffering) that do not clash with an essential conservative agenda (In other words, that are not exclusive to liberalism, though liberals may feel proprietary over them).

The case of the conservative education reform campaign’s “Waiting for Superman” is instructive here. If the conservatives build their base and coalitions, as with not just the Little King strategy but typically (loss) passion, certainly we can see the deployment of loss passion in the propaganda documentary “Waiting for Superman.” The conservative campaign attaches the trauma the liberal viewer sees in the faces of the little African-American children to the idea that unions are to blame for American social disasters (racism).

Now when this passion adheres liberals and other anti-racists to the conservative campaign, are the anti-racists now conservative–that is, are they rational (or irrational) conservatives? Not necessarily. (They are invited into the conservative fold. They may or may not continue down this path to the point where they accept the fundamental pillars of conservatism, at which point they are conservatives.)

a) Do the anti-racists understand the logic and trajectory of the conservative political campaign?

b) Do the anti-racists believe that by adhering to the campaign, they can steer the conservative education reform campaign to achieve their own goals? (Resistance! Very agential!)

c) That is, does the conservatism disappear when it coheres a coalition? Does, for example, anti-racism become a stable pillar of conservatism?

a) No, and b) Perhaps, but not necessarily, and c) Nuh-uh. Usually, under such circumstances, liberals cannot transform their resistance (if it exists at all) into their home-turf antiracist goal because 1) they don’t know what conservatism is, what they’re dealing with. (It is pro-inequality divide-and-conquer strategy. There’s a reason why conservatives are quick to identify “Useful Idiot” strategy.) 2) The structure is not favorable (as indicated by the direction of hegemony); and 3) they’re not sufficiently organized to pull of that kind of collective, machiavellian political manoeuver in the face of an organized, politically-conscious conservative opposition.

Let’s attend to the first question and its no, not least because it’s determinative of the outcome of the second & third questions about the (Christian/manga) fantasy of resistant innocence.

The antiracist agenda does conflict with the home domain of conservatism. In coalition with a conservative campaign, liberals are acting as conservatives in this moment (which may last their whole paid adult careers, eg. Ravitch). To the extent that they lend their support to the conservative campaign, due to their belief that the conservative funded and managed campaign is compatible with antiracism, antiracists misrecognize the basis of conservatism as merely loss passion. They spend this moment, perhaps their whole lives, in false consciousness, working for a goal they cannot apprehend because they see only antiracist passion, (or Little King incentives), and/or necessary income and social relations (the risk-aversion, conflict-aversion and optimistic bias that would characterize a society in which repression was imposed primarily in the workplace). As adherents to the conservative campaign (rather than conservatives), they may flicker between false consciousness, conservatism, and liberalism. (But typically they won’t be leaders of the campaign unless they understand conservatism. We have to agree that Ravitch is unusual.)

It is in the moments, such as Ravitch’s and this letter, where we see a person materially freed from service to someone else’s interests, that they–and we–can recognize the distance between their consciousness and that of their owner (including the ‘master’ in the Western master-slave legal tradition, see Graeber ch. 7).

It may well be that this is possible in our epoch because we have an active political-economic (and consequently intellectual) culture of conservatism obfuscation. After all, so much surplus is at stake and being fought over.

H2: To the extent that intellectuals decry false consciousness (or muddle it together with the conservative “Useful Idiot” accusation), do they deny their culpability (perhaps as believers in the end of history and the end of historical-material existence–the end of Enlightenment conservative-liberal-radical conflict) in participating in the obfuscation of historical (including present) conservatism, its premises, its logic, and its utopia?

I would be concerned as well about the resonance, in our era, of denying the structured variability in the distribution of patchwork consciousness. Without comparing across societies, we know that the more educated people are, the more consistent their belief structure is. If you could/did compare across societies, I think it is likely that the neoliberal era has imparted an especially patchwork consciousness–on the working class. But not so much on the capitalist class. That would not simply be a flourishing of bricolage, to be celebrated. It would spark a discussion of how hegemony works.

Can a conservative campaign that adheres non-conservatives to its cause end up somewhere else, somewhere truly antiracist or otherwise liberatory, due to its contradictions unfolding? Maybe over a long time, with other favorable coincidences. Social science: N = 1 (…ergo, to be innocent of history is to fail to do social science). That’s not really an excuse for valorizing and supporting obfuscation (Or is that manga innocence?), is it.

This article discusses Right populism–how the Right culture is invoked by elites (in this case Santorum) for political purposes. It’s a good analysis of how conservative ideology works across class, and the end is particularly acute. While Santorum’s hoi poloi political audience is ignited by the idea that prohibiting the democratization of freedoms will put them in competitive stead in the Kingdom of Heaven, nonetheless, creating caste institutions has never empirically worked to simply create a family zone of free self-replication. That is the marketing version of conservatism’s impact on non-elites.

While the poor fear and loathe liberal education, where they are expected to compete, without the appropriate human capital, with elites and their management class in superficially-democratic education institutions, nonetheless the alternative that conservatives promote–caste institutions (Private education for the elite v. Family-only socialization for the poor.) are part of a social system where raw, non-Foucauldian power constrains that within-family freedom to self-replicate in a very ham-handed way.

Postmodern thought can’t even begin to conceptualize this kind of power anymore, despite the fact that it’s a form of power that never went away and is still predominant. This theoretical limitation is why many Leftists see postmodern thought as intimately tied to the conservative ascent.

This is a case of false consciousness, because the antimony is false and it is imposed by elite ideological entrepreneurs and the absence of working class institutions–such as a working class union confederation–that could spotlight alternatives.

There are forms of education that are neither liberal–built for worker standardization and hierarchy-legitimation (such as are France’s, the UK’s, the US’ current Jim Crow-influenced education systems) or built for maintaining a caste system (with education a privatized cost affordable to only elites, as in the conservative socialization model). Sweden for example has education (not just training) institutions by of and for workers (Folkskolan), and has almost-completely socialized education, K-university, as well. They have amazing social mobility compared to the Anglosphere. Working class people in Sweden never have to feel like education is about shaming them into the chauffuer’s seat. Nor do they have to feel like they need a caste system to have a shot at dignity.

Because conservatism has been the ascendent politics of our time, we need to notice how conservatism works differently from liberalism or socialism, and we need to take seriously the ample comparative historical record of how conservative regimes impact their subjects. Doing so validates the concept of false consciousness. If Hegel’s “struggle for recognition” (“Kamft um Anerkennung”) is the intersubjective struggles wherein individuals work out their asymmetrical relationships to arrive at a moment of mutually recognizing the humanity of one another in the hope that each will attain sovereign agency over their own mind and body, that’s the liberal version of Kamft um Anerkennung. There’s a conservative version, which is what Santorum’s Michigan audience was immersed in. There people struggle to arrive at a moment of mutually recognizing the divine election of one group in the hope that the “elect” Little King group will attain sovereign agency over their own mind and body, as well as that of other groups, their offspring and the children of the non-elect as well. Yet as Markell shows, whether liberal or conservative, struggles for recognition are not sufficient to produce resolutions of conflict. Paradoxically, seeking sovereign agency and emancipation in recognition without questioning the normative sources of privilege in a system actually has the effect of reinforcing societal injustices. The Little King gambit is elites offering the olive switch of false consciousness, a dram of absinthe, a Trojan Horse. It’s not harmless. It’s not empowering. It’s not too-cool-for-skool subaltern monkeywrenching resistance. It’s in fact as Old School as the American South, and oh so much older. But it is not so old school that anyone with half an interest in comparative history, half a claim on an intellectualism shouldn’t be expected to know it by heart.

TBD: On hegemony and consciousness, via Hall, Anderson, Therborn, Leys, Gramsci & Desai 1994.

What is at Stake in Understanding Hegemony and Consciousness: For social movement, for analysis
From notes on Desai, Radhika. 1994. “Secondhand Dealers.”
Intellectuals: What are they? What do they do?

Perry Anderson: Intellectuals study and are engaged with social reality. They build culture that provides a society’s fundamental concepts of humanity and society. Intellectuals are required in crisis. They are not listened to so much in a (perceived) stable structure of routinized social order. (Consider regular capitalist disruption, AKA“creative destruction” :Schumpeter). Intellectuals are fully activated when they have access to a society’s means of communication (Debray). Otherwise, intellectuals remain in monk-like subcommunities until structural opportunities are favorable. Intellectuals do not invent ideas whole cloth. They take pre-existing ideas (possibly from thwarted intellectual subcommunities) and use them to build upon.

 What intellectuals do: 

1) Social engagement (praxis). Use pre-existing ideas as foundation: build frame resonance
2) Cohere subordinate ranks around a ruling agenda (establish hegemony), by:
a) Secure assent (Gramsci)
b) induce TINA deference to elite rulers, accommodation of allies, and resignation (Therborn)
c) Support elites’ monopolization of violent coercion.

The function of intellectual frameworks: Coherence, legitimacy

 Intellectual frameworks manufacture conceptual coherence, RE: 1) What is happening 2) What will/should happen in the future.

Prestige-backed legitimacy: A product of prestige (social resources: cooperative social networks) and material resources (eg. provided to conservatives by capitalists, who control social surpluses, power), and intellectual work.

With (a degree of relative) coherence and legitimacy, people can be rallied, hegemony can be built, policies can be collectively developed.

 To build hegemony, to establish a social order:

1) ‘war of position’ – carried out by intellectuals through social engagement, organizing and building:

a) collective actions galvanizing critical mass political/social movement mobilization

b)  associational forms (eg. organizations, institutions, the Citizens Committee, the trade unions) and coalitions,

c) development of culture and ideas (complementing aspirational social order) and prefigurative politics, and

d) generally building an extra-government civil society, preceding and eventually alongside:

2) ‘war of maneuver’- a direct revolution, critically disrupting the opposing collectivity to (attempt) overthrow/defeat oppositional order. Viable wars of manoeuver need to be based on the strength of war of position. Build new relations so you can dismantle old relations (addressing conservatives’ loss passion).

 The interrelationship of  collective action, structuration & consciousness

The working class institutions of the welfare state societies were the accumulation of 1870-1945 collective actions. Instituting a social order takes exhausting work. But history—and collective action–doesn’t end once collective action has built a structure.

Both left and right observers think that in an era when the right was embracing the long fight of hegemony, the Anglo-American lib-left abandoned intellectualism.

 Conservative collective action in the form of Thatcherism reintroduced the importance of ideas + righteous proselytism (passion) to Western politics. Thatcherism was an ideology armed with a set of economic theories. An intellectual framework.

Comparative liberal strategy in US: Ford Foundation defunded intellectual work in 1970s, transferring support to myriad local community organization projects. Not unlike CBPR (Community-based Participatory Research) today, see Bourdieu’s critique.

 Components of contemporary Right social movement in Britian:

1)  Organizational form: Think tanks (IEA, CPS, etc.) Small budgets (in UK)
2) Political opportunity structure (POS): centralized British rule Conduits: media, politicians, outside advisors, No 10 Policy Unit Crisis: Falling profit rate
3a) Pre-existing Content: Friedman, von Hayek, Virginia Public Choice School (Economics of Politics). Market theories, state failure theory, libertarianism, anti-communism, authoritarianism.
3b) Modified content: Eg. “Property owning democracy” slogan “Microeconomic” focus on policies + monetarism
4) Goal (utopia): To transform (Fabian) elite policy-making consensus, implement conservative policies providing capitalists full discretion, exclusive state support.

Microeconomics as a resonant conservative social movement hegemony strategy, what it accomplishes:

1) Focuses intellectual activity on policy reform

2a) Discredits big picture, outcomes considerations and evaluation

2b) …Without which, the big picture goals are kept from debate and policed by the centralized think tank organization (eg IEA editorial board)

2c) Exception: macroeconomic monetary policy—anti-inflation campaign

3) Microeconomics allows intellectuals and technocrats to never even come close to the nature and the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, thus shielding experts and decision-makers from rational criticism. “But such is the fate of all idealisms which give language an existence independent of the material conditions of social life and reproduction” observes Varoufakis.

 4) In the neoclassical microeconomics “Empire of Ordinal Preference, the only possible data that social theory can go to work with are the differences in individual whims and freely-chosen identities. These data are then, courtesy of their ordinal properties, impossible to compare across persons (for this would require a metanarrative) or procure a view of capitalism as a system. Thus in a fully-fledged microeconomic or postmodern schema, social relations are confined to interplay, voluntarism, tolerance and exchange; society is the playground where the latter unfold; and discussions of the General Will, exploitation and developmental freedom make no sense. The asymptotic limit of postmodern fragmentation is the neoclassical general equilibrium economic model. Both Neoclassicism and Postmodernity espouse a radical egalitarianism which is founded on the rejection of any standard or value by which either individual action or the institutions of late capitalism (e.g. the labour and capital markets) can be subjected to rational criticism.” Microeconomics finds in contemporaneous, complementary Postmodernity “easy-pickings for a similarly viewless/valueless tradition, one which bears the additional weaponry of intricate mathematics and endless econometric ‘evidence,’” –Varoufakis.

Why do we romantically insist that lands and bodies can be colonized, but never the minds that interlace them? Southern politesse and noblesse oblige never protected the poor, the racialized, or the marginalized. I am arguing it would be far more liberatory to engage the hegemonic fight, to struggle to claim conceptualizations within the context of their political interest home base, and to recognize that in capitalism, hegemony is not a fair fight on an even playing field. (For example, In their article on the corporate response to fair trade,  the authors Fridell, Hudson & Hudson discuss the “Lemon Problem”–the empirically-demonstrated, characteristically-uneven distribution of information in capitalist relations–as it impacts consumers trying to make ethical decisions.)

In terms of pragmatics, I am not arguing (I realize this is a long post.) that we should run around, emotionally deaf, accusing marginalized people of false consciousness. It is not all about studying (as care-taking) down. We need to recognize false consciousness as a political, hegemonic goal secured by reducing non-elites’ freedoms and inducing pain (see Graeber on Nietzsche, and Elaine Scarry). We need to struggle to articulate counter-hegemonic ideas, ideals, relations, and institutions; and we just cannot do that if we cannot even make contextual, interested distinctions and conceptual frameworks, and have to pretend that no one else in a speechifying social species is doing that…because…why?

The idea of false consciousness is not the problem, and even though in capitalism the powerful have an advantage in wielding the charge, that’s no different from all the rest of their hegemonic advantage. They have hegemonic advantage with postmodern concepts, as has been demonstrated ad nauseum. This advantage is no reason to black-box the relationship between consciousness and material relations. The problem is, as Fraser, Markell and many others have observed, asymmetrical relationships and conflict. Leftists cannot just bow to conservatives and agree asymmetrical relationships don’t exist/are without effect, we can’t forfeit consideration of interests and rationality to game theorists and conservatives’ focus-group marketing firms, and we cannot polite asymmetrial relations away or pretend we’ve found a way around them, within the system. Put false consciousness back on the table, and let us analyze how structured interests v. marketing play out across the scales of space and time.

US Apartheid and Education

Education in high-inequality America is an excellent case study illustrating the importance of having the capacity to distinguish conservative campaigns, and to understand their logic and social trajectory.

Popular theory holds that feeling affected when you are shown images of suffering will allow people to make ameliorative changes. Yet both images of suffering and human sentiments can be mobilized for a variety of ends that may subvert ameliorative change. (Soc Mov lit: (J Jasper and Poulsen, J Goodwin, F Polletta, V Taylor) ) Take the example of the conservative education reform campaign’s strategic manipulation of antiracist sentiment, including through the conservative education reform campaign’s documentary “Waiting for Superman.” There is a reason that this particular education reform campaign does not, despite its compassionate–even antiracist– articulations, reduce child trauma, education failures, social welfare failures, poverty, and education and welfare outcomes inequality. That reason lies in the logic and trajectory of conservatism.

Eight pieces on the progressive perspective on US apartheid and education reform:

Two progressive views on Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman”:

Waiting for Superman is a Propaganda Campaign” (Pallas 2010).

Lois Weiner’s “A Witch Hunt Against Teachers” (2012) reveals the new divide-and-conquer public education destruction strategy: ‎”Instead of teachers as a group being blamed for children’s lack of achievement, only the ‘bad teachers’ are going to be targeted. And who are the ‘bad teachers’ in this new campaign? Those who oppose what’s supposed to be ‘right for kids’: the use of standardized testing, charter schools, privatization — and the destruction of teachers’ unions.

Hollywood will once again enter the fray of school politics, with a new propaganda vehicle, Won’t Back Down, an action film, funded by the same right-wing think tank that produced Waiting for Superman. This time Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal will carry the message that good teachers don’t need or want unions or any of those ‘selfish’ (so un-mother-like!) desires like pensions, good salaries, limited working hours.”

2 selections from the progressive US African-American community, courtesy of Black Agenda Report (BAR):

Progressives and teachers favor Finland’s anti-inequality, pro-teacher model of education excellence, described in “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success” (The Atlantic 2012).

Conservative Moralism’s Empirical Education Reform Failures in the US: 

Teach for America: The Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-gooders” (Hartman 2012).

Diane Ravitch, a former high-flying anti-union education reform crusader, saw the data and had a change of heart:
Ravitch: “As I became a scholar and, you know, got into the academic world, I found myself—I don’t know. I fell into a sort of a conservative mindset about a lot of things.

…If you believed that children should study history and geography and real things, you’re conservative in the academic world, because you’re not supposed to believe in a real curriculum. I believe that it’s not conservative; it’s actually very liberal and empowering to have real knowledge… But having been castigated as a conservative for believing in having a traditional curriculum, when I went into the Bush administration, I found myself kind of getting caught up in the choice rhetoric. And so, for about ten years or so, I was advocating for charter schools. They didn’t exist, so I didn’t know how things would turn out.

…Over the years, from the period in which charters started and in which the whole Accountability movement started (And what Accountability ultimately meant, not just in the Bush administration, but in the Clinton, and now in the Obama administration, Accountability means who should be punished. If the scores don’t go up, who should be punished? Teachers. Teachers should be punished. The unions should be demonized.), I began looking at the results. When I looked at No Child Left Behind and saw, you know, we’re not really making any improvements under No Child Left Behind—the test scores have been either stagnant or made tiny improvement. Actually, the gains before No Child Left Behind on national tests were larger than since No Child Left Behind was adopted. I mean, I looked at the evidence, and I thought, all these things that I hoped would work didn’t work.

…This is the great legacy of No Child Left Behind, is that it has left us with a system of institutionalized fraud…(E)very year we get closer to 2014, the bar goes up, and the states are told, ‘If you don’t reach that bar, you’re going to be punished. Schools will be closed. They’ll be turned into charter schools.’ That’s part of the federal mandate, is that schools will be privatized if they can’t meet that impossible goal. So in order to preserve some semblance of public education, the states have been encouraged to lie.

…’The Billionaires Boys Club’ is …a new era of the foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations—the Walton (WalMart) Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations—Gates, Broad and Walton—are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the US Department of Education.

…I’m just trying to say the evidence says No Child Left Behind was a failure, and the evidence says that charter (privatized) schools are going to lead us into a swamp of—well, first of all, they’re not going to be any better, because if you look at national test scores—charter schools were first part of the national tests in 2003—they didn’t do any better than regular public schools. They were tested again in 2005, 2007, 2009. They (privatized schools) have never outperformed regular public schools.”

–Dr. Diane Ravitch,
Research Professor of Education at New York University,
Assistant Secretary of Education and counselor to Education Secretary Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush and appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board under President Clinton.Interviewed on Democracy Now!
March 5, 2010.

Thanks goes out to my colleague, sociologist Chris Powell, for pushing me to articulate what is at stake in the contemporary era, in having an historically-embedded grasp of conservatism–the reactionary drive to shore up surplus accumulating/maldistributing social orders by psuedo-speciating humanity. Recognizing conservatism doesn’t require favoring one axis of oppression over others, a contentious primary concern within the neoliberal-era Left. On the contrary, an expanded literacy in and capacity to distinguish conservatism enables us to be better insectionalists. By grasping the trajectory of conservatism, we can avoid the characteristic Left problem of the neoliberal era–becoming class blind in order to see racism and/or sexism, and in the process betraying our antiracist and feminist aspirations, as in the cases of conservative US education reform, discussed above, and conservative Swedish labor market reformNancy Fraser’s feminist call to distinguish feminist anti-authority from capitalist creative destruction also points to the problems of an incapacity to identify conservatism.

(The previous epoch is more infamous for the reverse problem of class-literate racism and sexism, which was not as uniform–to start, see here, and here–as is today popularly imagined. But this infamy may be an effect of the relative ease of denouncing the foibles of the dead. It may well be that some communities’ more adequate understanding of conservatism could have contributed to better intersectionality in the past as well.)

Here’s a letter from a man with a visceral grasp of what conservatism is about.

Engels on Speculation and Political Formation in the US

Friedrich Engels (1892) on political-economic constraints, including speculation, on US political development:

“(W)holly different groups and interests are represented in each of the two big parties, depending on the locality, and almost each particular section of the possessing class has its representatives in each of the two parties to a very large degree, though today big industry forms the core of the Republicans on the whole, just as the big landowners of the South form that of the Democrats. The apparent haphazardness of this jumbling together is what provides the splendid soil for the corruption and the plundering of the government that flourish there so beautifully. Only when…settlement on the land becomes more and more difficult or falls prey to gouging — only then, I think, will the time come, with peaceful development, for a third party. Land is the basis of speculation, and the American speculative mania and speculative opportunity are the chief levers that hold the native-born worker in bondage to the bourgeoisie.

Only when there is a generation of native-born workers that cannot expect anything from speculation any more will we have a solid foothold in America. But, of course, who can count on peaceful development in America!”

Merci to Doug Henwood.