American Sociologists’ Problem is that they’re small-time Dem Party hacks

I distinctly remember thinking Jeff Manza had his shit together. I thought that in grad school. Then I read a review he wrote in 2015 “Reconnecting the political and the economic in the New Gilded Age.” Did something happen to him–or to me–in the intervening years?

A Review of a Review: Upshots, with my corrections for reality.

  1. Once upon a time, Sociology reduced inequality to “social stratification,” an anti-Marxist concept that helped Sociologists ignore increasing X-treme class inequality, until a French economist forced them to tapdance.
  2. U Chicago-brand Monica Prasad wrote a book on how finance is defs not politically- organized. I think this is the same book as the one where she thought, based on not looking for disconfirming data, that the flood of global capital to the US from Nixon on was just lucky and in no way the result of prior elite organizing and the way capitalism works. According to Manza, Prasad’s 2012 thesis is that financialization happened from below, when Midwestern farmers (AKA the German Populist Enemy Within) demanded and got cheap credit.
    1. I hope (but doubt) that what Prasad is doing is clearing a place in the hearts of elites for Sociology as a court philosophy. I will look away while she does that, and I am not going to be worrying about whether she will be rewarded for such work.
    2. What is particularly disturbing is the degree to which the sociological hierarchy falls all over itself praising Prasad’s various “historical” narratives about how finance is defs not politically organized. Only one causal chain can explain that protection racket as far as I can tell, and it is the facts that Dems take their money from finance (Manza 2015: 456, citing political scientist Nolan McCarty’s work), and sociologists fall in line as small-time Dem Party hacks. This loyalty (I can’t believe it’s patronage.) is fast turning Sociology into that academic discipline that uses a flimsy, transparent moralistic claim that it is so concerned with the Little People that it is now explaining the rise of social, political, and economic inequality as the micro work of the Little People. Sociology, the discipline thats sine qua non is societal expansion, goes from denying inequality in the 20th century to, in the 21st century, explaining that the irrational Little People made inequality. Just shut the whole shitshow down.
  3. The sociologists try to argue that finance, the organizing force of capitalism, had no agency in anti-inflationary policy, capital flooding, and by extension inequality. In the bat-shit crazy Dem Party view forwarded by Prasad, Krippner, and Manza, Volcker’s wage-suppressing anti-inflationary policy was just serendipitously followed by an influx of global capital. No, that doesn’t make sense from anything anyone has ever known about financial capitalism ever.
    1. In defense of this indefensible Crazy Coincidence thesis, Manza mumbles something about how Greenspan was “natural”…and in no way a GIANT POLITICAL MACHINE of the 20th Century as has been shown over and over again.
  4. So Manza struggles throughout this 2015 review to establish “the popular foundations of a high-inequality regime” (457). It is really painful to watch. The Little People caused post-Trente Glorieuses epic inequality. Ahhhggggghh. That’s the sound of my eyeballs rolling. How, uh, counter-intuitive.  How contrarian. Wow. Much agency. So capillary. Amazeballs. With that kind of theory fueling them, no wonder the Dems are so hapless.
  5. On p. 450, Manza confuses Institutionalism with Power Resources Theory, by erasing the part of PRT that identifies labor movement and labor movement repression as causal factors.
  6. Usefully, Krippner 2011 (Capitalizing on crisis: The political origins of the rise of finance) shows that the role of finance grew throughout the US capitalist economy. In 1950, 10% of US corporate profits were financial; by 2000, 40% were financial. This is good data to use in building an argument that increasingly, economic growth is about claims on past and future wealth.
    1. While Manza likes Krippner because Krippner, like Prasad, is saying that the American working class was paid off and supported financialization and inequality, it seems that somewhere in Krippner there is also an allowance for the fact that financialization may have been in the interest of capital. Weird. HELP US, GHOST OF BOURDIEU!
  7. Apparently it is not enough to finger Midwestern farmers as the cause of financialization and inequality. Manza goes insane attempting to report on Krippner’s theorization of the causal relation between the American working class, qua consumers, and anti-inflationary policy (Manza 2015: 454).
    1. Supporting evidence for all this American worker-fingering insanity is information from Streek (2013) that American “consumers” benefitted from anti-inflationary policy. Holy shit, liberals (I don’t mean Streek, who got plucked here). Consumers have always been the intermediate beneficiary of imperialism, colonialism, slavery–cheap goods.
      1. But beyond that Triangle Trade capitalist jump-start moment in the industrializing cities of England, in their worker/reserve army form, that is, most of their lives, the people who are occasionally consumers are not necessarily the beneficiaries of anti-inflationary policy, commodity cheapening, diminished state accountability to the working class and reduced working-class supportive public infrastructure, junk jobs and underemployment.
      2. American “consumers” are still the primary global consumer beneficiaries of capitalism. Nonetheless, that does not mean that these people caused anything. They are among the most powerless people in the world. It is illegal for them to organize. They have no political representation. Working Americans are famously indebted to the teeth. They are under continuous, massive surveillance. They are infamously incarcerated en masse. They are global capitalism’s worker prisoners, and the cage is usually not gilded. If they’re agents, they’re not sovereign agents, their agency is delegated–Meaning, to understand causation, we need to identify the sovereign agents whose interests are delegated to the non-sovereign agents.
      3. There may be symbolic domination going on, but it doesn’t mean the interest is American consumers’ own interest, which the Sociologist Dems are leaning on to try to build their causal argument. The American working class has been consuming, not on income, but on debt. Individual debtors benefit from inflation, not anti-inflation.
      4. American working class debtors are massively different from the exceptional American capitalist class and state, in that American working class debtors’ terms of credit are far, far worse.
      5. Bereft of the means of production at the expensive center of global capitalism, consumption is required; this consumption is not unambiguously in working peoples’ interest.
      6. Do you know what is unambiguous? Anti-inflationary policy is the unambiguous interest of finance. If we’re interested in causal arguments–we have the motive. Now all we need to do is look to see if financial capital used its power for political organization.
    2. Manza tries to claim he is using a Gramscian framework. If that’s a Gramscian framework, then let’s just kill it off before we add any more insult to the injury of Gramsci’s death in Turi di Bari.
  8. Also on 454, Manza seems to think that Power Elite/Power Structure research was defeated by Institutionalism in the 1980s-90s. Wut? Skocpol and Domhoff fruitfully argued throughout their careers (Kind of a model career-long debate, really.), until ultimately, Skocpol admitted she was wrong with her thesis that middle class state workers make US policy. …Because state-centrism was a bat-shit crazy thesis that only survived because capitalism works through misdirection and lying.
  9. Manza gives a nod to a non-crazy theory. Mark Mizruchi (Michigan, 2013) associates the rise of inequality with the decline of politically-organized capital’s willingness to compromise, eg. when the CED (Committee on Economic Development, from 1942) converted into the fascist Business Roundtable in the 1970s. Mizruchi thinks that business went fascist because rivalristic payments to shareholders became the focus of business management. That begs the empirical question of how finance was deregulated to make shareholders’ financial interests the governing interest.
  10. On p. 455, Manza reveals his “own view” on what caused “the extraordinary shifts in distribution and life chances inaugurated by the high inequality regime”: When the Little People elected Reagan, that forced a “rational” CEO reaction “to support policy agendas that may prove destructive in the long run.”  Groaaaaannnn. Oh, Dems. What happened to you, Jeff Manza? Were you always a putz?
  11. Jeff Manza sweetly believes that the US is a “democratic polity where the interests of the 99 percent have ample opportunity to demand” democratic policy (455). Now he’s just trolling. He is baffled by why the 99 failed. How has pluralist theory even survived into the 21st century?!!??? It’s not pluralism. It’s frustrated, ad-hoc Dem Party efforts at electoral strategization without acknowledging the political-economic structure that they have contributed to building. At first, I thought Manza was willfully ignoring the work of Gilens and Page, but then toward the end it seems like he might know of its existence?
  12. Manza has to resort to some political scientist dudes (McCarty et al) to figure out how the Little Peoples messed up Camelot. The idea he gets from Polisci McCarty, and proposes to import into Dem Party Sociology, is that the US has “polarized” politics. “Polarization” refers to the fact that immigrants have reduced citizenship, where capitalists have super-citizenship, were one to obliquely admit of class. No, it’s not clear what this has to do with Manza’s agenda. But as we have since seen, what the Dem Party did with that “polarization” insight was to endorse the Chamber of Commerce’s Open Borders (Decimated Citizenship) platform…permitting the continuance of polarized citizenship and inequality. They must have decided, against the empirical evidence, that the citizenship polarization was not between immigrants and capitalists, but, more fancifully, between immigrants and working-class Americans. It’s difficult to say how Dems construe the decimation of social citizenship rights and the epic growth in criminalization as enhanced working-class citizenship. We are forced into the hypothesis that political and ideological liberals have been conservatized by their dependent relationship with finance.
  13. In a flat-ontology approach to surveyed attitudes data that should leave Dem Party wonks creaming their pants, Leslie McCall discovers that “Americans do not support programs of redistribution that reward people who are not working” (Manza 2015: 458).
    1. To me, in all this mess, what is really interesting, and for further exploration, about this manufactured consensus and sine qua non of living in the US, is that owners are considered to be part of the working people, per conservative economic theory. So liberal Anglo-American policy provides public subsidies to business owners, regardless of the business’ function and functionality, in direct opposite to the social democratic policies forcing/incentivizing profitable business and quality jobs. With increasing productivity, and technological unemployment and underemployment, the liberal state that follows existing attitudes is forced to endlessly, irrationally subsidize business owners and withhold resources from workers, or imprison workers. That is the social contract in the US: If you own a business, you will be socially subsidized. If not, you may get lucky, or you may be made into a prison slave.
  14. Manza thinks that McCall, Newman, and Jacobs’ survey findings indicate that “egalitarian politics are crippled by public preferences. What I am especially attracted to…is the simple possibility that since the origins of the American welfare state, in the broadest possible sense Americans have more or less gotten a version of what they want”…including CRIPPLING INEQUALITY!!! It’s so hard to tell if Manza is a minor Dem Party hack or a Canadian. Manza considers Little Man individual preferences to be “the most parsimonious and elegant solution to the puzzle of the comparative weakness and limited generosity of the American welfare state” (and here he cites himself, from a time in which I didn’t find him loathesome). We have conservative economists. Why do we need sociologists? Why does anyone need a junior economist who can’t do math? Fold up the shop.
    1. From economic and other historians, far more sociological hypotheses about what is conditioning attitudes for surveys: The persistence of inegalitarian slavery institutions; capitalist-funded instruments of right-wing organization, including, inter alia, religious organizations.
  15. Then, bizzarely, far, far too late in this game, Manza acknowledges Gilens (2012): “the rich (those at the ninetieth income percentile) get what they want (their average policy preference) far more often than the poor (respondents at the tenth percentile).” Manza learns nothing from Gilens, because unlike the Dream Jeff Manza that I have carried in my head all these years, the actual Jeff Manza is stone-cold class blind and utterly unconcerned with face validity.
    1. That sick fuck Manza goes on to cite a fanciful discussion of oligarchy by a fellow named Winters (2011) in which the US–despite all empirical evidence–is not a “warring oligarchy” but a “civil” oligarchy. WHAT ABOUT THE FUCKING BIGGEST FUCKING MILITARY, MULTI-TIERED POLICE SYSTEM, AND CARCERAL SYSTEM THE PLANET HAS EVER KNOWN?????!!!!! Fuck. Put the fucking Dem Party sociologists out to pasture.
    2. I will be far less exercised if someone can tell me that Manza wrote that whole review sitting on his hands and trying earnestly to suck the cocks that need to be sucked for Sociology not to die.
  16. Suzanne Mettler (2011) calls the tax expenditure system “the submerged state.” Manza coins the term “tax avoidance industry” (or something like that. I can’t find it now and am leaving. Might try to find it later. Might have a life instead).
  17. In the end, Manza recommends researchers find out how former public servants get rich serving capital and then prancing through the revolving door into capital’s waiting opium den. Such Elite Theory interest dissection would probably contribute to providing knowledge for a future society that didn’t want to devolve into a giant stinking pile of shit. I have no idea what the fuck Dems are going to do with that knowledge that they’re not already doing, which is parlaying a sclerotic, capitalist-elitist political system into personal family fortunes.
  18. I am just going to underscore that never once in that entire Manza lit review article did anyone ever feel the need to justify with clear scientific data or theory the elitist assumption that the American hoi poloi want to be raped. Liberalism has been captured by conservatism.

After the Civil War Democrats almost never won in the Midwest, and the Democratic Party was controlled by business conservatives who were happy enough to lose. They saw their role as freezing out the Progressives and the Populists.

It didn’t always work. In 1915 the North Dakota Republican Party was taken over by a Socialist splinter group called the Nonpartisan League, which was a major factor in ND politics for 30 years and controlled the state for some of that time.

–from HS Merrill. Bourbon democracy of the American Middle West, 1865-1896.

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Graeber critiques Vulgar Foucault & ANT

Universalizing elite perspective is the characteristic danger of an anti-sociological philosophy.

“Vulgar Foucauldianism came to dominate so many ostensibly oppositional academic disciplines at the time—came to enshrine the particular class experiences of the professional-managerial class as universal truths: that is, a world of networks and networking, where games of power create social reality itself, all truth-claims are merely stratagems, and where mechanisms of physical coercion are made to seem irrelevant (even as they became ever more omnipresent) because all the real action is assumed to take place within techniques of self-discipline, forms of performance, and an endless variety of dispersed and decentered flows of influence. As a description of academic life, or for that matter professional life in general, such descriptions are often spot on. But it’s not what life is like for most people on earth and never has been. Indeed, the very fact that it was being posed not as a type of class experience but as a universal truth (in fact the only universal truth, since all others are denied) demonstrates just how wrong-headed the tendency, at this time, to dismiss older forms of ideology really was…

“Vulgar Foucauldianism simultaneously developed the subjective experience of professional-managerial work arrangements as the basis for a universal principle of human sociality, and denied the central importance of either capitalism, or the threat of direct physical violence, at exactly the moment the threat of direct physical violence was becoming central to the operation of capitalism.

But the same effacement can be observed even in those approaches that most loudly claimed to be doing the opposite. Proponents of actor-network theory, for instance, insist that they were “doing the work” of unearthing the connections that were simply presumed by theorists of “the social.” But in reality what ANT mainly does is translate academic politics into the very constitutive principle of reality. ”

— Graeber 2014. Anthropology and the rise of the professional-managerial class.

http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.3.007/1651

“Radicalism is not a form of experience. Once the foundation of real experience has been abandoned, a hierarchy of radicalism rises above it. This can be surpassed, it would appear, only by further radicalism. A mystical constellation is formed that can be overcome only by doing away with the inverted relation between the two levels of radicalism—in other words, by going back to experience itself. When Marx says that being radical means nothing more than getting hold of things by their roots, and that the root of a human being is the human being, it becomes clear that radicalism in analysis and struggle can only be intensified downward. It is a bourgeois reflex to process it upward, toward ideas, platforms, and authorities. The only reliable means of penetrating this veil is the “materialist instinct” of the masses. In fact, this instinct acts like an emergency brake in bringing the entire train to a halt, as is proved in the case of all counterrevolutions.” –Negt & Kluge 1993 Public Sphere and Experience: 93.

 “In those areas of society where this hybrid of proletarian interests and universal, ubiquitous bourgeois norms of organization develops, it is no longer possible to speak simply of a bourgeois public sphere. It is decaying in these areas, but it still exists in this decayed state. The type of proletarian public sphere that has developed by using bourgeois organizational forms not only binds together real proletarian interests and experiences but concentrates them into a specific stage of a proletarian public sphere. This sphere distinguishes itself from the bourgeois in its external forms—the workers’ association, the working-class housing estate, and the trade union.

 At this level, proletarian interests participate in the movement of society.

Insofar as they do, this is not a mere semblance but real participation. Not only can the apologists of the existing system point to this fact, but the workers themselves rightly see some of their demands thereby fulfilled while regarding others as promises for the future, as granted in principle. This assumption is not a total delusion. Their interests have in reality been incorporated into the social context of living—as they will also be in the future programming and consciousness industry—but they are incorporated as merely objective interests, as the satisfaction of reified needs. The integration begins with the fact that their marriages are modeled on the bourgeois family; that they employ the language and culture of bourgeois society; that they have to frequent institutions or organizations—generally centralized ones—to maintain this status quo. This results in an aporia: they are unable to abandon this manifestation of the proletarian public sphere that restricts them to a passive standpoint, for if they did they would have to cut themselves off from their experiences and interests that have been organized by it and have taken on its forms. But neither are they able, on the other hand, to maintain this state of affairs. They remain blind to the laws of the movement of capital and the whole historical process if they simply try to maintain the status quo defensively— even if defense appears to be their strength. At the least sign of crisis or of a change in the status quo—for instance, through additional political repression— this state of affairs, which has been accepted as stable, works to the disadvantage of the workers. They become the object of redistribution or the more the mere raw material in the process of social exploitation.” –Negt & Kluge

 

What’s interesting to me about Negt & Kluge‘s social-philosophical/antisociological (anti-comparative) formulation is that when they—rarely– try to give examples of their idealist assertions—eg. asserting that a bourgeois marriage standard is carried by the working class, they fly far apart from empirical reality—particularly outside of the notable core social democratic failures of the German-speaking Catholic conservative states and the English-speaking bourgeois states. Even in Anglo-American states, feminists observe that the single-parent household is the family form of poverty under capitalism.

As is so often the problem in English-language societies, our abstractions are borrowed from the German (often via the French), and so they, and our analytical apparatus are rooted in their very particular geopolitical position and historical accidents.

Nowhere is sociology, particularly comparative empiricism, more important than in societies that have to borrow their philosophy from other societies. It becomes a check on abstraction excesses in accounts of the social.

Bibliography

Zamora, D. 2016. “Michel Foucault, Neoliberalism…” In These Times.

U Chicago’s Critical Inquiry used to have Becker & Ewald’s lecture/discussion on Foucault posted. But they removed it.

Extractivism & Universities

The late 20th century was full of analyses of the growing post-secondary education market. These analyses came to the simple conclusion that the role of the university in society was growing and so with it, opportunities for good careers in scholarship. Democrats imagined a world of increasingly-civilized middle class people.

But scholars are not very organized. Meanwhile, financialized capitalism does organize managers and surveillance software commerce. Organization, it turned out, was the relevant variable.

Fast forward 30 years and now post-secondary education budgets, derived from both states and individual families, serve many economic purposes, from hosting the managerial labour market to the marketing labour market to the accountanting labour market, to construction industry and the surveillance software industry, and on to immigration screening and prep.

To accomplish this reorganization, most of the unorganized people undergoing the extensive and intensive education regime to become doctors of philosophy and scholars were converted into cheap, just-in-time, deskilled front-line service workers.

As conservatives identified, universities were in the business of rent extraction. The problem is where the rents come from. With neoliberalization, rents would be extracted from students’ families and scholars, rather than the tax-paying public, identified as the Trente Glorieuses source of rents in conservative economists’ shaky political revision of the rents concept.

This conversion to mining scholars makes lots of sense in a financialized era: As food pulp becomes an underlying commodity market securitizing financial rents on ag land, post-secondary education was converted into a commodity market undergirding managerial, marketing, financial, software systems, and construction rents.

In addition to securitizing financial and other rents, universities are also managed to provide auxillary services in support of capitalist social reproduction. From their traditional low-key side role supervising young elite men working through the often-rough early transition to adulthood, professors have been saddled with more and more extreme, unpaid, consuming social reproduction job responsibilities. Extreme odd jobs foisted upon professors in the neoliberal era include: 1) serving as an unpaid part of immigration gatekeeping, by helping attract, weed and secure skilled labor; 2) serving as an unpaid part of the university front line “accommodating,” AKA insufficiently providing caretaking services to young people with mental illnesses and sometimes suicidal tendencies. This additional responsibility requires reconceptualizing not only the professor-student relation as a form of crisis comms management, but also the classroom–not as a collective learning environment, but as an optional venue for amateur psychological and social group experiments;  and 3) grant writing for public scholarly resources in order to both fund university rentiers and deploy young female students in symbolic support of the blasted, tattered social reproduction of dis-organized, racialized and poverty populations.

All this semi-official, multi-layered, inefficient and inappropriate redeployment of scholarly workers within the neoliberalized university is of course a symptom of core capitalism’s incapacity to simultaneously foster economic growth and the life conditions of economic growth. The borders have been militarized. The public mental health institutions dismantled. The students are supposed to take on debt to do post-secondary education work full time while doing remunerated junk jobs full time while lurching into young adulthood. The welfare state has been hacked back down to Nightwatchman Poor Laws. O, the abstract/elite liberty. Professors are serving as free immigration guard labor, amateur psychologists and social workers, and amateur social-work managers, and they’re doing that on top of their academic responsibilities simply because they have been identified as a remnant capable population of workers. Tenured professors are still capable because they’re getting paid just enough to live with only the crisis of overwork, while the rest of working families are drowning in crisis.

This proletarianization of a disorganized people who deferred income, and took on debt, in order to attain semi-sovereign and self-developmental work, is the function of management and surveillance software firms, which tend to be integrated. The proletarianized scholars tend to come from poorly-networked social backgrounds, such as working-class families, or they are female and subject to reduced credit and cooperation within the decent-compensation, semi-sovereign labour market.

Immigration and university privatization culturally cement this top-down-led reorganization. The internet abounds with triumphant stories, in extremely non-proficient English, of international students who were “friends” with the Anglo or American university chancellor or president (A friendship only possible above a very high wealth bar.), students who declined to do the work for a class, got a grade that inconvenienced them, and summoned their class network to kick the professor’s “ASS out into the gutter.” Global consumers clearly perceive this to be a global upper-class mafia age.

Scholars who study academia have reminded me to never forget that administrators see scholars as strictly “peasants.” That labour-disciplining, aristocratic entitlement culture, the expectations of servitude and expropriation, trickles down to the credential consumers, aligning them with the university’s internal and external array of gape-mawed rentiers in management, marketing, construction, finance, R&D, intellectual property rights, and surveillance software (including course/immigration skills-evaluation and testbank software, accounting software, classroom-allocation software, performance metrics and evaluation software, and consumer satisfaction metrics).

The culture is further amplified amongst those competitive academics with a system-gaming orientation.

 

Post-secondary public education mining services

The Chronicle for Higher Education would not let me post this response to a 2018 article advertising edu-software:

“Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children” (WoSPThoC) is the most effective frame in which to market digital education and labor surveillance technology, and I can recognize a resonant, gendered application of moral discourse on behalf of American managerial talent’s competitive position in that dynamic international software market.

I am disappointed, however, when there’s a wasted marketing opportunity to overlap WoSPThoC with Anti-Racism TM and Positive Psychology. Anti-Racism TM has been deployed effectively in previous and concurrent Anglo-American welfare budget privatizations, K-12 privatizations, and in the development of militarized Open Borders-carceral labour markets, while newer Positive Psychology enjoins everyone to be their very best selves, extend their credit, and cooperate fully with private property and its paternal guardians.

We should not miss opportunities for discursive reinforcement in a booming market such as post-secondary education budget mining. I would like to suggest my innovative advisory, consultant, and Influencer expertise to any post-sec market development team that may be monitoring this promotional spot.

For Services Rendered: Market-rate Payment Up Front

Menu de Service

Note: A la carte menu items are priced according to an algorithm containing the variables: a) interested parties’ capacity to pay, where “interested parties” designates originating parties, and does not refer to any intermediary agent making the commission inquiry; and b) my assessment of the cost of tooldom to me, a person of modest means. You will see below that given the interested parties’ capacity to pay, my rates are an incredible bargain.

RE: Research and publication services involving the care of infants and youth: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. My lifetime supply of unpaid labour is long overdrawn.

Expertise Price
Theory and comparative empirical research, critical: Immigration, gender & social reproduction; imperialism & racialization; metatheory; political sociology, Power Resources, Power Elite and networks; waste siting and internal colonialism in capitalism; social epidemiology; militarization, financialization, and carceralization. Prix Fixe, Included with academic TT position
Theory and empirical research, coalitional-constructivist: Economic democracy, FT & economic solidarity, co-ops, & unions; historical materialism, critical realism, epigenetics and developmental biology; social movements; history of working class struggle, instituted achievements & state capacities. Prix Fixe, Included with academic TT position
The history of the Atlantic Anglo Empire-Scandianvian rivalry, including as expressed in international organizations, & Atlantic Empire tactics to undermine Scandinavian moral credibility, particularly where the Anglo Empire bombs places, converts citizens into migrants, Scandinavia takes them in and settles them, and Atlantic Empiroids publish denunciations of social democracy on behalf of the immigrants. A la carte: $100,000 per essay on the theme of Social Democracy & Scandinavians are the Racist, They Have No Moral Standing (UN Meeting Motions Against Militarized Apartheid Are Totally Illegitimate).
Comparative empirical research into the macro-history of migration & capitalism; 100 years history of imperial interventions, migration, and resettlement politics/discourse, policy, and outcomes, particularly in Scandinavia, Austria, France, UK, US, & Canada. A la carte: $100,000 per essay on the theme, ‘Open Borders’: Curing the Welfare State & Racist Working Class

1) Sample Contract for the Service “Social Democracy & Scandinavians are the Racist” Article/Essay/Chapter

We the undersigned Academic and Intermediary do hereby contract for the Academic to pen an article or essay, receivable by Intermediary within one month, in which Academic shall argue that Social Democracy and Scandinavians are the Racist, They Have No Moral Standing.

This article shall:

a) Prominently feature some decontextualized Scandinavian politician statements or policy proposals that are, at least appear to, or can be argued to be symbolically violent toward Immigrants.

b) Cite some immigrant grievances in Scandinavia. This will be shooting fish in a barrel as immigrants are  not at home, are in transition, and Scandinavians themselves are working with immigrants to ask these questions, improve the system.

c) Not consider by contrast, how immigrants in liberal countries, ie Canada, are mandated to silence about grievances with the country, its people. The article will not provide context showing how the implicit anti-racist model, Commonwealth liberal settler countries, import a low percentage of refugee migrants, and, because the point isn’t to improve the immigration system in a developmental, humanitarian direction, assign media and the ethnic business communities the responsibility of enforcing discipline eliciting ritualistic, public loyalty affirmations from immigrants.

c) Construct immigrants as a racialized, permanent ontological category;

d) Depict Scandinavians as blonde Nazis;

e) Invoke a narrative structure posing Blonde Beast Social Democrat Scandinavians just abducting this Race of Immigrants out of the blue in order to restage Kristallnacht.

f) Avoid the context (Anglo-American imperial war, eg. in the Middle East) of how these immigrants came to be living in Scandinavia;

g) Include no data, including no comparative data, on immigrant composition/characteristics (category of immigration–refugee, family reunification; education level or enrollment; gender and age composition of immigrants) or outcomes over time and generation, save data on employment levels upon immigrant arrival;

h) Include no data, including comparative data, on public attitudes toward immigrants and immigration; public resources accessible to immigrants; nor any data on how long Scandinavian countries have been taking in successive waves of populations bombed out of their homes by the US/UK/France & Israel, nor any data on how those successive waves of immigrants have fared in Scandinavia across outcome indicators;

i) Include no data on how much research and public advocacy is funded and dedicated to immigrants within Social Democratic Scandinavian countries, nor how many immigrants are involved in and managing this work in Scandinavia.

j) Rather, create the impression that Scandianvia is a dank Capitalist/Nazi bunker  screaming for the replacement of its political leadership and all its labour markets with the sagacious and moral experience of Imperial race, labour market, and communist revolution experts;

k) Conclude with thoughts about how there is no sense in studying or organizing a social democratic coalition, because it will just end up in fascism. All we need to know is a story about Bernstein.

l) Conclude with thoughts on how base, abject Social Democratic Scandinavians have no moral standing (such conclusion as may be further applied for example in international organizations, particularly when the unpleasant topic of imperial bombing or apartheid is raised).

In exchange for this service, the Academic shall receive US$100,000, of which half shall be paid in advance, and half upon receipt of contracted service. In lieu of cash transfer, a greater market value in cars and real estate assets will be considered.

2) Sample Contract for the Service “‘Open Borders’: Curing the Welfare State & Racist Working Class” Article/Essay/Chapter

We the undersigned Academic and Intermediary do hereby contract for the Academic to pen an article or essay, receivable by Intermediary within one month, in which Academic shall argue that The Racist Problem to Be Eradicated in the US is Borders (AKA Society, Citizenship, and the Remnant Welfare State).

This article shall:

a) Randomly list some of the legal, carceral, and policing injustices visited upon American hemisphere working class immigrants to the United States, just enough to plausibly recall a Left posture, and connect these injustices to Borders and native working class & smallholder savagery;

b) Meanwhile avoid or dismiss any systematic discussion of unfree labour, global labor arbitrage and social reproduction effects within capitalism, semi-regulated mass migration’s contribution to union decline, or impacts on low-wage labor.

c) En passant, this article may mention why Latin Americans were uprooted from their homes, but this military intervention should in no way be linked systematically to the US’s global political-economic role and labor’s relationship to that; rather the mobilization must be breezily implied to be caused by Borders and White Smallholders.

d) It should be left assumed that uprooting is on balance a positive outcome for a racialized ontological category, the Immigrant. Logic: After all, how can the Immigrant exist, if citizens aren’t disrupted? You’re welcome, Immigrants! We are your saviours. Anti-racism.

e) Vigorously assert that mass semi-regulated immigration has but positive economic effect in the US;

f) Deploy phrase “work that Americans won’t take,” as if that’s not blatantly an employer framing denying all Marxist social reproduction analysis.

g) Avoid identifying Who’s Driving This Bus, and What Are The Contents of Chuck Schumer’s Stock Portolio? Avoid dwelling on the role Open Borders played in restoring the Latin American population to California, but only to avoid linking that demographic shift to the Democrat Party’s recently restored electoral viability in California, and especially to avoid a thorough-going analysis of the extent to which this iteration of demographic-shift political strategy can work for the Dems in the larger US, comparisons with the Dem Party’s historical reliance on demographic political shift (African-American internal migration in the mid 20th century) and its emancipatory limits (the financialized surveillance-and-war economy and its militarized carceral state), the extent to which the Dem Party is promoting the Open Borders political frame, and the probability that anarcho-communists, as opposed to capitalists, have been and will be providing the substantive content of Open Borders policy in this Dem Party coalition.

h) Never admit the starkly-obvious political-module homologies between anti-racist 1980s anti-welfare state politics, anti-racist anti-public education politics of the 1990s-2000s, and today’s anti-racist anti-borders politics and political coalition. Identify society, citizenship rights as the downpresserman (according to the conservative political philosophy we founded progressivism upon after 1968).

i) Keep the critique of labor vulnerability policy and institutions secondary to the Open Borders frame, implying that labor vulnerability is simply an epiphenomenal effect of native smallholder racism, easily disposed of, rather than a central concern of capitalism, and Borders are the principal factor cause of labor vulnerability.

j) While being spectacularly incurious, ahistorical, and unrealistic about who controls, and has long controlled, Open Borders frame and policy (Politically-organized capital.), suggest that alternative policy approaches, such as state-backed unions regulating employers, are impractical and unthinkable.

k) While diligently avoiding a thorough-going political-economic analysis, be sure to not consider that the current problem with Borders is that they have become heavily militarized to surveill and regulate smallholders, even while open-borders mass migration soared, and that, like militarized public schools are not public schooling, militarized borders have little to do with societal borders. Do not suggest that the driving problem is that the US labour market has been retooled for policing and incarceration on behalf of Atlantic imperialism’s Nightwatchman state-brand surveillance and military tech commodity market.

l) Conclude by identifying as racist any analysis maintaining that the target of real left organizing cannot be to dismantle the welfare state, public schools, or the porous, far-flung borders of the sprawling Manifest Destiny country, but rather to organize and strategize the rebuilding of a working class-participatory parity-scaled civilian society with non-militarized, human-developmental economic roles for the working class, such as have been increasingly, coalitionally denigrated and eliminated since the capitalism-coordinating restoration of Atlantic finance.

In exchange for this service, the Academic shall receive US$100,000, of which half shall be paid in advance, and half upon receipt of contracted service. In lieu of cash transfer, a greater market value in cars and real estate assets will be considered.

Backgrounder

When I was developing my diss project back in the day, my advisor was a lovely 2nd gen feminist who’d gained prominent international stature by lucking into a respectable newspaper baroness bequest as well as by writing about Swedish economic democracy from a feminist perspective. She suggested a project: I could work under her friend, a research manager with the state-funded Swedish Working Life Institute. The research plan was that I would care for and interview immigrant children in Sweden to record how Swedish society and the state was failing them. This would contribute to my advisor’s friend’s larger, multi-decade, state-funded research agenda. I prepared by reading contemporary articles like Chris Caudwell’s New York Times exposes on Swedish immigration failure, OECD and Migration Institute analyses of “immigration crisis” in Sweden, and books like Alan Pred’s “Even in Sweden,” all making the case that there was a racist and market crisis in Sweden, and social democracy was to blame.

Across the consensus that the social democratic state was a failure because immigrants, the story was a little confusing, though, because immigrants were cast both as criminals and victims. Media types argued that the social democratic state had to be shut down because of immigrant criminals. As a sociologist, surely my job was to show that immigrants were victims of the social democratic state. But unlike masculine economists, whose job was to show that immigrants are economic victims of the social democratic state, my sociological lady-job would be to show that immigrant babies feel bad because of the social democracy.

When I got to Sweden, I found out that like my advisor, her researcher friend was approaching the end of her long career, and actually already had a Swedish PhD advisee working on the final stages of that particular project, minus the caring labor because male researchers don’t use that research and advocacy methodology. (Sidebar: Not only community-based research but pro-immigrant/-immigration advocacy organizations expect women to contribute child care work in the course of their volunteer advocacy work as well. In both research and advocacy, it is thought that child care work is a way that the female outsider can contribute in kind to a subaltern community she’s working with, offering both tangible social reproduction labor and a symbolic gesture toward community restoration. Male researchers and advocates don’t do this, or they manage female researchers to do it, because no subaltern community expects dominant-society men to do free social reproduction work when they obviously have paid work to do. Male researchers just nobly manifest their gender and colonial status, a golden shower of dignity upon the researched subaltern community.)

In Sweden I was invited by the Left Party to a model immigration research debriefing and policy-formation meeting in which a Left Party representative’s daughter presented her research, conducted at the University of Minnesota, arguing that Somalis had it great in the liberal immigration regime, whereas they were victimized by the social democratic state and society. (That caring, expert immigration knowledge didn’t hold up to subsequent revelations that Somalis were actually subjected to egregious policing and surveillance in the liberal country, nor the fact that they are equally confined to high-rise towers no one else wants to live in. But that dog-bites-man story does not have an intellectual market.)

I was struck by this whole situation. Why did my advisor believe that I should, for my dissertation, just shadow her good friend’s advisee’s nearly-completed immigrant grievance-amplification project, in a field of research crowded with immigrant grievance amplification? How is that a dissertation? Why would I, as an American, even serve as a backup for this research agenda?: Amplifying the grievances of immigrants to another country. In the tremendous doctorate-level contribution that is redundant discursive amplification, did anyone care about the context or actual data for what was a sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit comparison? As someone who woke up every week day for four years to take Swedish classes, why would I be a good candidate for interviewing people who spoke neither Swedish nor English all that well? What is that even about, especially given that Sweden, as a social democratic country, clearly had piles of academic and state workers and organizations, including immigrants, already dedicated to this task, and that these had a legitimate, funded state-society role, and their advocacy research was far and away more influential on politics and policy than any sociology research agenda in Atlantic Anglo-America?

And so my actual dissertation was born, a social science project beyond discourse: What were the array of challenges and assets immigrants arrived to in Sweden? What were their life chances? What did the intergenerational life chances look like? How did these all compare to immigrant outcomes in liberal regimes? What was going on with these concerted, if contradictory, international discursive projects to hang war migrants’ violated innocence and criminality on Swedish social democracy? Where were the demand for contextless pathologizations and denunciations of the Swedish social democratic society coming from, where were they selling? Why were immigrants and immigration the vehicle for this project, given their migration was forced by imperial disruption?

Fast-forward to 2018, as the Atlantic Left joins the Dem Party-capitalist campaign for Open Borders coalition. What should support this bedfellowing? How  ’bout another contextless discursive round of How social democratic societies fail immigrants and Nordic people are Nazi Viking Marauders? Yeah, just go back to that well! This time, though, it’s really righteous, because Nordic-social democratic fascism for sure. Not unlike before. OK, but it’s really righteous because this time, instead of comparing Social Democratic Immigration Failure to liberalism, the Left, at least, compares Social Democratic Immigration Failure to FULL (ideal) COMMUNISM. We’re learning new political tactics! And See? Communists have a place in the Dem Party.

Can’t wait for the discourse this time, unlike all the times since the 1970s, to result in some seats for the Dem Party, as well as of course totally-rewarding, It’s A Small World imperialism-driven migration, and INTERSECTIONAL COMMUNIST REVOLUTION. Hell, this will even be satisfying from the perspective of Israel’s geopolitical need for revenge on and moral containment of Sweden, which has repeatedly played a critical, anti-apartheid role in international institutions. And yet, howevermuch I look to you exactly like the sort of person who should spend a lot of “research” and “education” time babysitting for free, if you want the Scando-slag service, you know what, I’ve studied how this political discourse goes, I know how it works and what its function is, my expertise is worth it, and this one, my friends, is a commodified “knowledge” market. Go back to your empire Party boss–er, partners, communists, and bring me back some money. Then we’ll talk bizniz.

Pay up

Do these ovaries make me look slavey?

Dysfunction-function junction

“Hamilton-Paterson sees the destructive impact of the ‘money men’ on industries more clearly. The catastrophic and unnecessary fate of ICI (which broke the hearts of some of my own chemical-engineering relatives) came about as men and women with long shop-floor experience and technical qualifications were pushed out of management by newcomers who claimed to be financial wizards. They weren’t. They played the great corporation for short-term stock-market gains, and they lost.

Hamilton-Paterson adds the example of Network Rail’s bungled electrification of Great Western (its cost rose in two years from £874 million to £2.8 billion). ‘That’s privatisation for you: layers upon layers of managers and accountants who know nothing about railways. The old British Rail alternative was layers upon layers of experienced railwaymen who knew nothing about accountancy but who did know exactly what electrifying a line entailed and simply got on and did it.’ Later in his book, he attacks the notion (‘holy writ’ today) that a college degree in management enrols one in a portable profession in which it hardly matters what a company does.”

Neal Ascherson, “As the toffs began to retreat” LRB 40(22).

If your goal is to play the institution housing an accretion of wealth–the corporation, or the privatized public good/service–for stock-market gains, then it very much doesn’t ever matter if you accomplish any substantive social or environmental goals.

“People talk easily about political ‘consensus’ in the postwar years. Edgerton disagrees. There was no lasting consensus between the parties on the welfare state, he says, and the idea of a ‘Butskellism’ common to Labour and Tory is a myth. Only for the ‘warfare state’ was there a consensus, to keep its secrets and to pay its vast bills. Britain’s hugely profitable arms trade is an enduring by-product of that state, and here Hamilton-Paterson contributes an unsettling thought. ‘It is the arms industry perhaps more than any other that best preserves the inventive standards and traditions of British engineering, research and technical expertise.’”–Ascherson

Historical materialism v. modern scepticism

 An outline of the historical march of the skepticist-materialist argument

 

1)       Scepticism (From 360 BC, Democritus et al) rests on the idealist epistemological assumption that we can only know an artifice of categories, which may or may not correspond to the world behind it. The world is behind a veil of categories and inaccessible. Therefore we can never know the non-artificial world. All paradigms (and their theories, approaches, etc.) rest upon a foundation; each foundation is a biased selection of these artificial categories, with no guarantees as to their veracity. Therefore no paradigms are truthful, except the paradigm that points out that paradigms are untruthful.

 

2)       The founding Western materialist Epicurus (307 BCE) follows Democritus, but critiques the logic of the skeptic epistemology, holding that applied consistently it undermines itself and it does not correspond to how we navigate and encounter the world—how we know. (Pace Bhaskar) For realism, we must allow for actual encounters with (and feedback from) a world that can resist artificial constructions and promote innovation in categorical construction. Epicurus elaborates upon the physics foundations that emerge in our characteristic array of human senses and that emerge in but do not fully determine our concepts (constructions). The materialist system is designed to register changing (and distinguish them from consistent) relations, for a fuller discussion see Lewontin, Gould, Levins (but this has ramifications for your critique, see below). (I also have a lecture on this.)

 

3)       Christianity teams with other Western idealists to destroy almost all materialist texts and expurge from recorded scholarship the materialist tradition for 1,000 years (from the 3rd century AD)–until the Enlightenment recovers the materialist tradition in the 17th century.

 

 

4)       In the 1840s Historical Materialism (Marxism) modifies materialism’s sensory epistemology with historically-situated social constructionism—pace The German Ideology (The materialist Feuerbach introduced ahistorical social constructionism to materialist epistemology), see also Marx’s dissertation on Epicureans v. Democritus (Skeptics). Thus the epistemology of historical materialism is distinguished by three forms of recourse to the world behind social categories (which includes social and natural relations): a) categories partially informed by sensory information, b) sensory information, and c) historically-embedded relations. These three historical-materialist epistemological foundations are not held to provide knowledge completely independent from social constructions—they do not preclude social constructions, but rather they can cast into doubt, modify, limit, and check social constructions; although Marxists use social constructionism as a tool (consider the false consciousness argument), Marxism as an historical-materialist paradigm is not a radical social constructionist (idealist) epistemology. As historical materialism does not jettison ontology and its epistemology is a combination of sensory information and historicized social constructionism, its social constructionism is not absolute social constructionism.

 

5)       In the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the 1968 “collapse” of the French Left, Postmodernism brings the idealist skeptic project to “political intervention” by isolating (and, claiming exclusive ownership of) modern materialism’s social constructionism, while rejecting Hist-mat’s sensory epistemology and its ontology. Postmodernism claims that to know we purely depend upon social constructions, built with power-over, which can only be known as it weaves the veil of artificial constructions absolutely separating human knowledge from the social and natural world. For logical reasons adumbrated below as well as historical-political context reasons, Postmodernism’s frequent political intervention targets Marxists.

 

 

6)       Thus targeted, historical materialists (Marxists) have responded to Postmodernism with the Epicurean critique of scepticism, adding the “Healthy Approach” manouever (see below). Insofar as we recognize that all categories are socially-constructed, all approaches and paradigms must rest upon assumptions, and thus scepticism can be applied to any approach or paradigm. Thus when we engage in deconstruction, critique of metanarratives, critique of grand narratives, etc., we are never innocent of politics, we always choose which foundations of which approaches and ideas we attack at which juncture. Ethically, we should be able to defend with integrity why we see the target as either the prime enemy worthy of continuous deconstruction, or as particularly prone to obscure its assumptions (eg. Because it rejects social constructionism). The Hist-mat approach holds that it clearly forwards social constructionism, that postmodernism’s social constructionism is derivative of and not epistemologically superior to Marxim’s, and Marxists clearly have explicitly, repeatedly laid out Marxist epistemology. Marxists point out that as Postmodernism fixates on Marxism as especially needing foundations-exposing political intervention above most other given paradigms, Postmodernism’s scepticism/Deconstruction/critique of metanarratives are subject to critique on the basis of what kind of social relations they support, because they can and they do choose. Although postmodernists assert the claim that the very act of deconstruction alone is definitively ethical, liberatory (as ultimately guaranteed by the skeptic epistemological assumption), nonetheless from the historical materialist epistemological position (a refutation of skepticism), each particular application of skepticism remains vulnerable to a critique of its situational ethics.

 

7)      When postmodernists are confronted with the ancient materialist critique of skepticism (the modern version being absolute constructionism), they deploy the rhetorical move of temporarily moving down to a “soft” constructivist approach–eg. From “Lyotard’s work is characterised by a persistent opposition to universals, metanarratives, and generality. He is fiercely critical of many of the ‘universalist’ claims of the Enlightenment, and several of his works serve to undermine the fundamental principles that generate these broad claims.” down to “Lyotard’s narrative in The Postmodern Condition declares the decline of only a few defunct ‘narratives of legitimation’ and not of narrative knowledge itself. It is not logically contradictory to say that a statement about narratives is itself a narrative, just as when Lyotard states that “every utterance [in a language game] should be thought of as a ‘move’ in a game” his statement is itself a ‘move’ in a language game.” Here in its soft constructionist version, we have a postmodern admission that recognizes the defensible approach involves not fighting against the tyranny of metanarratives or grand narratives per se, but making political choices (with ethical ramifications) about which community to demand to defend its foundations. This is in essence a reversion to the historical-materialist position, which is more sustainably undergirded by historical-materialist sensory-soft constructionist epistemology, not radical constructionist skepticist epistemology in temporary suspension. If you are going to attack historical materialism on the idealist grounds of scepticism, then you must know that its critique of scepticism’s infinite logical regress is forthcoming, and you can’t in good faith defend your position from that critique by pretending that you invented or you own soft constructionism, which is a partial epistemology forwarded by historical-materialism and designed to require a materialist supplement.

 

 

 

Although they have been in conversation (and in the case of materialism, suspension), over 2500 years, no one has found a way to reconcile materialism to scepticism (of whatever necessarily idealist bent). They are distinct traditions, with distinct epistemologies corresponding to a presence and an absence of ontology. 
   

 

Appendix: Skepticism v. Epicureanism
Skepticism
Skepticism (Democritus) rests on the idealist assumption that we can only know an artifice of categories, which may or may not correspond to the world behind it; we shall never know. The world is behind a veil of categories and inaccessible. Therefore we can never know the non-artificial world. All paradigms (and their theories, approaches, etc.) rest upon a necessarily biased selection of these artificial categories. Therefore no paradigms are truthful, except the paradigm that points out that paradigms are untruthful (scepticism!).
While Democritus is the skeptic that Epicureans originally critiqued, the idealist Descartes (Cogito ergo sum) is the first modern skeptic. Descartes’ skeptical hypotheses included “reality” as a dream or alternatively a contrivance of the devil. (Other modern skeptic hypotheses about reality include Brain in a Vat, Matrix, and Last Thursdayism, incl. Creationism. We will get to postmodern scepticism in a moment.)
Most philosophies have weaknesses and can be criticized, and this is a general principle of progression in philosophy. Pierre Le Morvan (2011) has distinguished between three broad philosophical approaches to skepticism. The first he calls the “Foil Approach.” According to the latter, skepticism is treated as a problem to be solved, or challenge to be met, or threat to be parried; skepticism‘s value on this view, insofar as it is deemed to have one, accrues from its role as a foil contrastively illuminating what is required for knowledge and justified belief. The second he calls the “Bypass Approach” according to which skepticism is bypassed as a central concern of epistemology. Le Morvan advocates a third, historical-materialist approach—he dubs it the “Health Approach”–that explores when skepticism is “healthy” and when it is not, or when it is virtuous and when it is vicious.
The Greek Materialist Critique of Skepticism
Epicurus started with Democritus, but had critiques of Democritus’ approach.
Materialist Epistemology is connected to Ontology
Epicurus says that all sensations give us information about the world, but that sensation itself is never in error, since sensation is a purely passive, mechanical reception of images and the like by sense-organs, and the senses themselves do not make judgments ‘that’ the world is this way or that. Instead, error enters in when we make judgments about the world based upon the information received through the senses.
Skepticism-tends-to-Nihilism (Infinite Regress)
Epicurus says that it is impossible to live as a skeptic. If a person really were to believe that he knows nothing, then he would have no reason to engage in one thought or course of action instead of another. Thus, the consistent skeptic would engage in no thought or action whatsoever, and would die.
Epicurus thinks that, in order to make judgments about the world, or even to start any inquiry whatsoever, we must already be in possession of certain basic concepts, which stand in need of no further proof or definition, on pain of entering into an infinite regress. This concern is similar to the Paradox of Inquiry explored by Plato in the Meno, that one must already know about something in order to be able to inquire about it. However, instead of postulating that our immaterial souls had acquaintance with transcendent Forms in a pre-natal existence, as idealist Plato does, Epicurus thinks that we have certain ‘preconceptions’–concepts such as ‘body,’ ‘person,’ ‘usefulness,’ and ‘truth’–which are formed in our (material) minds as the result of repeated sense-experiences of similar objects. Further ideas are formed by processes of analogy or similarity or by compounding these basic concepts. Thus, sense-experience undergirds all concepts, through which sensory data is filtered. (Historical materialists will modify this epistemology by adding a non-absolute social constructionism, but not excising the role of the senses in knowledge formation.)
Epicurus is concerned to refute the skeptical tendencies of Democritus, whose metaphysics and theory of perception were similar to Epicurus’. At least three separate anti-skeptical arguments are given by Epicureans, all basically addressing the problems with vicious scepticism, AKA either infinite regress (No idea or action can be asserted to be true, including this one, because nothing in human understanding can rest upon anything other than unprovable assumptions. A thoroughgoing commitment to scepticism precludes thought and action.) or poor-faith posture scepticism—a postured commitment to absolute scepticism (eg. A stated commitment to critiquing metanarratives.) as a fig leaf over an actual political game, the selective application of scepticism against a political enemy, whether the skeptic is calculating or being used as a tool.
For example, Harvey implicitly critiques (by analogy) a form of vicious skepticism:
“(T)he whole baggage of ideas associated with postmodernism could be deployed to radical ends, and thereby be seen as part of a fundamental drive towards a more liberatory politics, in exactly the same way that the turn to more flexible labour processes could be seen as an opening to a new era of democratic and highly decentralized labour relations and co-operative endeavours” (Harvey 1992: 353).
But though it can be portrayed that way, that is not how it is deployed nor how it operates.
Obviously, there is an alternative to vicious, bad faith, or “unhealthy” scepticism, and that is, for explicit reasons of political choice (which, Historical-materialism holds, can themselves be subject to contextual critique), deploying the sceptical approach, not as a total (totalizing) approach, but to instrumentally identify (and possibly to refine) or critique paradigmatic assumptions. Virtuous skepticism requires political judgement, and a refinement of epistemology to permit social constructionism, and not social constructionism to the epistemological occlusion of all else. (Correctly) identifying assumptions is not a complete manoeuvre, as, explicitly acknowledged or not, all approaches must rest on epistemological assumptions, even scepticism, and this includes postmodernism.
The Epicurean/Materialist Critique of Skepticism (incl. Democritus)
As Skepticism has been modified by postmodern social constructionism, the following 2/3 Epicurean critiques of scepticism pertain:
1) Skepticism is a Self-refutating Argument
If a skeptic claims that nothing can be known, then one should ask whether he knows that nothing can be known. If he says ‘yes,’ then he is contradicting himself. If he doesn’t say yes, then he isn’t making a claim, and we don’t need to listen to him.
2) The Argument from Concept formation
If the skeptic says that nothing can be known, or that we cannot know the truth, we can ask him where he gets his knowledge of concepts such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth.’ If the senses cannot be relied on, as the skeptic claims, then he is not entitled to use concepts such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ in formulating his thesis, since such concepts derive (at least partially-HM) from the senses.
The “Modern Epicurean” (Historical materialist) Response
Given the Epicurean tradition was destroyed for a thousand years by an idealist coalition of Christians & skeptics, materialist assumptions have been modified since the Enlightenment, notably by historical-materialism:
1) Maintenance of insistence on the role of senses in epistemology (Epistemology connects with ontology.), while allowing that social relations (featuring power) also condition the concepts (which are therefore partially social constructions) through which knowledge passes.* See E Scarry, Marxist historical materialism.
2) Maintenance of the Epicurean insistence on the necessity of establishing concepts (paradigmatic assumptions), adding a condition that those concepts should be made explicit (which is NOT understood as a property of postmodernism). The paradigm is not moot when the assumptions are exposed; the paradigm changes when both the sociological relations and the sensations informing the assumptions no longer hold.
*Note: You can see here that false consciousness is a problem for historical materialists because it is produced when power disallows and strips away sensory information from social construction. In effect, Marxists recognize in false consciousness radical social construction, and since radical social constructionism legitimates such concept-stripping (or refuse to recognize a diminishment in concept formation), Marxists do oppose radical social constructionists.
Postmodern scepticism (The aftermath of the 1967 Six-day War and conservatism’s 1969 defeat of the Paris students)
Postmodernism is modified form of scepticism that rests upon rests upon the epistemological assumption (as all positions and approaches, not just Marxism or other “totalizing ideoglogies,” must rest upon characteristic assumptions, pace Kuhn) that we can only know social constructions. This is an assumption because it is not provable against the alternative (Hist-mat) epistemological assumption, sensation interacting with social construction; but it is required to found the postmodern project (to found the view that deconstruction is a particularly, and uniformly liberatory project). It is this epistemological assumption (and the corollary jettisoning of ontology) that distinguishes the skeptic (incl. Postmodern) tradition from the materialist (incl. Historical materialist) tradition.
Postmodernism is a form of scepticism that in adopting historical materialism’s constructionism (a part of the epistemological foundation of historical-materialism, which also retains materialism’s sensory epistemology connected as it is to its ontology), was reformulated in a reaction to the materialist critique of scepticism’s tendency to solipsism (see above). Post-modernism tries to save the idealistic skeptic project by isolating and adoting historical-materialism’s social constructionism and jettisoning Hist-mat’s sensory epistemology and its ontology. Postmodernism claims that while our senses are immaterial to epistemology (sensation is always behind the veil of social constructions), we instead use social constructions, built with power-over. For social science postmoderns, rejecting historical-materialist dual epistemology and clinging to sceptical idealism, material relations do not inform concepts. The social constructions are the pure product of BrainS in a Vat. Social change is a matter of wilfully changing the concepts against a social power that exists only to the extent that we imagine it to. Historical-materialism’s weaker and sensory-supplemented version of social constructionism fails to reach the same political diagnosis.
This idealist diagnosis is what repeatedly leads postmodernists to determine that historical materialism is the most direct and dire political threat to freedom. However, historical-materialists are dissatisfied with the postmodern approach not (just) because it fingers historical-materialism as the problem but because its sceptical epistemological assumption is logically unsatisfactory and postmodernists tend to play fast and loose in alternating between absolute scepticism and soft social constructionism (just as conservative economists interpolate between hard and soft versions of their own assumptions when faced with devastating critique, pace Varoufakis, who also examines further correspondences between the contemporaneous assumptions of postmodernism and conservative economics).