social progressivism and economic neo-liberalism

Sociologist John Gulick responds to an article on Japanese austerity politics:

“Also interesting here are the reform measures being backed by the international tutors of neo-liberal austerity. “Socially progressive” measures such as a more open immigration regime and a higher labor force participation rate for women are being proposed alongside the usual deregulatory, free trade, anti-welfare state nostrums. The Wall Street Journal editorial board really forces one to consider the homologies between social progressivism and economic neo-liberalism. (Yeah, these homologies will differ according to socio-cultural context.)”

My response to Aziz Rana’s nplusone article “Obama and the Closing of the American Dream” –the article claims that the American Dream has been reduced to advancement via educated professional status:

Well, I remember a study not but a few years ago that showed quite the opposite–regardless of whether their businesses survive, Americans have very little regard for education-based professional status. It’s not their dream. They just feel it’s not attainable, whereas thanks to teevee they can incredibly imagine themselves as Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Kardashiods, or a lotto winner. I don’t remember what that study was, but Michele Lamont got similar ethnography and interview data in her comparison of US v. French working class men’s attitudes.

If the American Dream is dead, it’s because we have conservative business policies in place of social democratic business-hudsbanding ALMPs and a policy bias toward quality work and full employment–and that means we have both tremendous incentives to flee a feudal labor market and a high rate of small business failure, reinforcing the options- and freedom-reducing conservative ideology benefitting the top 1% (and scattering Little King incentives below). If the Dream is dead, that’s how it died.

In other words, the causation behind the educated professional path remaining as an insufficient vehicle of social mobility–if you compare Anglosphere countries to Scandinavian countries– surely appears related to the Anglosphere’s characteristically conservative approach to managing the business and labor market policy landscape in such a way as to produce a high business failure rate and feudal workplace conditions.

If you don’t own capital, educated professional status is the one of the few strategies left that provide to the working class a hope of semi-comfort/semi-discomfort and demi-status. The other remaining strategies include patriarchal status (Perhaps that’s why so many women are getting higher ed degrees.), employment in a military, prison, or police institution, and of course deployment as a Conservative Expert or Agitator. In contrast to these latter remnant socio-economic strategies, to be an educated professional today requires enthralling levels of debt for the working class, and, often, insecure income. That debt combines with the disciplinary force of the steadily-growing army of the underemployed (and feudal workplaces); educated professionals today are thereby reduced to just another managerial (manhandling), retainer class. Being a retainer is not anyone’s dream; and it’s better to manhandle than to be manhandled, but it’s not autonomy.

Magical Rectitude:
Synthesizing observations on the coincidence of economic neoliberalism and ineffective social progressivism, with Rana’s analysis of the educated-professional death of the American Dream, as well as observations on neoliberal adoption and diffusion in the professional sublcass

I would very much agree that educated professional status, as one of the last refuges of American-dreaming scoundrels (though it operates the same in other countries as well), requires under the circumstances a desperate careerism that causes the elaboration of both economic neo-liberalism and justificatory, superficial, myopic “social progressivism” (of the quality Nancy Fraser critiques).

The temporary neologism I’m using for this kind of neoliberal social progressivism is “magical rectitude“, because it requires professional, emotive marketing. But I’ll try to get back to Mills and see if he has a term.

I think Rana’s right in pointing out that that American Dream remnant–mobility through education and attaining professional status–when it’s all that’s actually left (aside from authoritarian employment and the reifying fantasies of winning the high-inequality society jackpot) to the working class, is part of a system of feudal social immobility and appropriation. Not least because in that very context, the activity of educated professionalism reduces to serving as either a retainer or a labor repressor/manhandler.

Today’s professionals don’t have the independence Gramsci observed in Traditional Intellectuals. Their work is subordinated to and tied up in economic neoliberalism. At the historic “neoliberal” moment Traditional Intellectuals lose all vestige of autonomy, they have to legitimize their fading middle income and status. To promote a political agenda of non sequiturs, they thus they feel compelled to marketing, to mystifying idealism, framing their captured work as though it were driven by an independent, professional, community-oriented altruistic impulse following a linear path of progress: Deunionization on behalf of the children. Labor market deregulation for the immigrants. Austerity for the immigrants and women. Academic proletarianization for the students and world’s poor. Oil imperialism for Muslim women and Arab democrats.* It’s all fairly transparent (translucent) marketing, sales on behalf of oligarchy. So today’s educated professionals appear contemptible (to the working class, to the elite, to each other) on numerous fronts, and from a social movements perspective they appear captured.

…I think, though, if you think about this sub-class and its co-dimming autonomy and status, especially compounded with its educational, etc. debts, there is a structural, material wedge between educated professionals and the 1% that can be worried to good effect. Hence, OWS.

Gulick responds:

“Degreed professionals are increasingly crowded on one side by neo-Taylorist efficiency experts, and by the cultural hegemony of the self-promotional PR/social media ethos on the other. (Mills was on to this 60 years ago, quite fabulously!) And they are both the administrators and the administered of this.”

* Managerial, professional neoliberal social progressivism has conservative coalition-building and legitimation functions. As compared to such professional neoliberal social progressivism, more properly conservative doublespeak seems to deal more in abstraction: Student debt for the principle of responsibility. Unfettered police powers for freedom. Enthralling women for freedom. No health care access for free commerce. The agenda-setting conservative abstractions are exclusionary and not designed to directly co-opt their victims, but rather to co-opt a protective layer of would-be Little Kings.

For further discussion, see:

Mills, C. Wright. 1951. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. New York: Oxford University Press.

Melville, Herman. 1857. The Confidence-Man.

Nuclear USA

Nuclear facilities in the US, courtesy Mother Jones.

Otsuka Norikazu, a Japanese TV newscaster, devoted himself to the national public campaign, “Let’s support North Japan by eating their food,” often eating radioactive food from the north in television broadcasts.

Norikazu was committed to a hospital for acute lymphatic leukemia on November 7, 2011.

Grimly proving once again: Matter over marketing.

Again with the Containment of US Lebensraum!

Despite Anglo-Israeli-American efforts to isolate Iran, China is building a $2 bn domestic railway line for Iran that could eventually be linked up with Syrian and Iraq railway networks that extend to the Mediterranean.

As it ever has been in the history of capitalism and apparently ever shall be, the Anglosphere is trying to control and exploit the whole globe, and China and India are working with neighboring countries–like capable Iran–to push back and create their own independent transport routes.

Japanese refutation of neoliberalism: Through the meat grinder of electoral politics and the media darkly

If you compare MRZine’s take on the recent Japanese election to the NYTimes’ take, your head is going to swivel around so fast it will fly off its stump.

So the Democratic Party of Japan won the election in a landslide, using a discourse rejecting neoliberalism. They beat out the standard ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

For MRZine, the election was a bafflement. They saw the Left blowing its chances in the polls by failing to take advantage of the growing popularity of Left ideas in the public. They found it only slightly less dismaying than the recent elections in Italy and India.

For the NYTimes the Japanese election was a blood-curdlingly galling victory by social democrats. The NYTimes could not restrain itself from bemoaning the rash (symbolic) rejection of neoliberalism (AKA, in NYTimes-doublespeak, “reform”) undertaken within this long-economically-stagnant liberal country.

Whom to believe?

I think through some triangulation and some extrapolation that what you get is this: The Liberal Democratic Party were the Japanese Clinton Democrats and the Democratic Party is the Japanese Obama Democrats. So what we can expect from the changeover is just about the same policies in Japan, but a small rise in the legitimacy of left-ish discourse, and then increasing frustration and perhaps polarization. (And unless conservatism is reconciled with profitability, a la lucky, temporary Clintonism, the NYTimes will continuing whining away obnoxiously.)

But Japan actually has Left parties. Perhaps, after the disillusionment, the Left parties will do better in the next election. Americans by contrast have nowhere to go but the streets.

false "intelligence" in vietnam war too

From Shane, Scott. 2005. “Vietnam war intelligence ‘deliberately skewed,’ secret study says.” The New York Times, Friday, December 2.

In 1964, the National SecurityAgency (NSA) told officials and the public that North Vietnamese ships had attacked American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Immediately, on August 4, 1964, President Johnson authorized airstrikes to “retaliate” for the “attack”. This expanded the American commitment to the Vietnam War.

The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened.

We do not yet know who engineered or authorized the false Gulf of Tonkin story.

NSA historian Robert J. Hanyok’s research uncovered the lie. “The overwhelming body of (intelligence) reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened,” his 2001 study finds. “So a conscious effort ensued to ‘demonstrate’ that an attack occurred.”

Many of the NSA’s 30,000 employees had not considered the release of false intelligence ethical, and when historians submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to see Hanyok’s study in 2003, the NSA worked to make the study and the research documents available to the public. They are now available at http://www.nsa.gov/vietnam/index.cfm.

war trauma and authoritarianism

Last night PBS, which I normally detest as it is for the most part publically-funded elite propaganda, aired a well-done, provacative show which featured interviews with people in various positions vis-a-vis the Vietnam War. It was an “American Experience” special called “Vietnam: A television history” (see http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/).

I was shocked that that kind of quality work could come out of mainstream media. I thought the Republicans had wholly ruined PBS along with NPR. But apparently recent events have forced some upper working class people (professionals, like communication professionals) to differentiate working class interests from the hegemonic neoconservative articulation of elite interests. The lesson is that upper working class people will not be such good sell-outs and yes-men when the elites pull neoconservatism on them.

Here are the seven groups that featured in interviews:

(1) The capitalist (financial, political, and military) elites who designed and implemented the US invasion of Vietnam in order to promote their control of the Asian economic-political system via opium, heroin, and oil traffic (see the excellent history by Scott, Peter Dale. 2005. “Drugs and oil: The deep politics of U.S. Asian wars.” Pp. 171-198 in War and State Terrorism, edited by M. Selden and A.Y. So. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield).
(2) Working class American men who worked and died as soldiers in Vietnam; and one American sister of a soldier.
(3) Vietnamese men who worked as soldiers in Vietnam.
(4) Upper working class students and academic workers who struggled collectively in the U.S. to end the war in Vietnam.
(5) Liberal elite university administrators who disagreed with pro-war elites, but invited the police to repress the students.
(6) Working class police who fought to silence the students.
(7) The communication professionals (media), who presented to the public pro-war elite propaganda, including lies about the outcome of military clashes and lies about protest in the U.S.

There are some startling dynamics among these groups that I think must be discussed. I address here the dynamics between soldiers and other working class people.

While the working class American men who worked as soldiers in Vietnam were surprised to find that the elites running the war were willing to send soldiers off to be killed for unclear reasons, the soldiers had limited exposure to those elites, and reserved their most virulent hatred for the working class people around them who did not get sent to war and instead struggled to end the war from within the U.S. In fact, decades later, both police and soldiers expressed the desire to be able to kill the non-militarized Americans who did not support war.

This is surprising because elites’ wars, prosecuted without concern for working class lives, often need to be preempted or stopped by the struggle of working class people. If they don’t struggle with authorities and elites to protect the worth and quality of their lives, working class people will be used as a huge supply of not just labor power, but cannon fodder. When I say this, I mean this is true for all working class people, including “middle” class workers. When all is said and done, under capitalism, elites can’t see working class people as anything other than commodities, tools, resources; and working class lives and quality of life are not going to be taken into decision-making consideration without working class people struggling to put their own interests on the table.

The reason for the direction of the soldiers’ hatred, one of the ex-soldiers explained, is that he cannot agree that Vietnam was was not a war for American “freedom” (in other words, an ill-defined, sublime good); he would not be able, psychologically, to accept the idea that his soldier friends died horribly for no sublime cause. He clung to the idea that war is fought for “freedom” and he hated anyone who would say that the war was prosecuted for the machiavellian advantages of elites.

I suspect a bolstering reason why soldiers direct their hatred at their non-soldier fellow workingclass men and women:

Soldiers and police are heavily trained to regard non-militarized non-elites as subhuman. This is pure authoritarian training. Not only designated “enemies” are dehumanized, but working class people who are not militarized are dehumanized through military training, and daily military discourse and socialization. The authoritarian military training is: The proof of humanity is to act as an efficient tool for authority, and, later, to experience trauma doing so.

There is a consensus that non-military working class people did not psychologically support returning militarized working class people after the Vietnam War, but I can see there being difficulty there, because militarized people are so thoroughly trained to regard and treat their non-militarized peers as subhuman. They can’t engage with them substantively. It would be very hard indeed for these groups of people to connect, as war trauma would further cement the ex-soldiers’ authoritarian training and alienate working class men and women from each other.

In a way, it is maybe useful to think of many of the men who return from war as angry ghosts, carrying on their backs the angry ghosts of their friends who died before the war could be ended. They can only demand the silent attention of those who did not endure their trauma, the “living” who must, in the soldiers’ view, only listen passively to the soldiers’ experiential trauma, the story of cruel death. Ghosts are blind and deaf to the experience and struggles of “the living,” and cannot see that the living do care and try to stop more working class people from being sent to cruel deaths. Soldiers see that anti-war struggle as self-interested, since it stems the tide of war and does not benefit their already-fallen comrades. By contrast, true altruism, in their haunted minds, is single-minded loyalty to dead soldiers. Justice, for the ex-soldier/ghost, inheres in the continual, horrific sacrifice of working class lives. I think that this is akin to the psychology of the genocide survivor who feels it unjust that she lives while her family and friends were killed. Justice becomes obliteration.

As a working class person who tries to end the elites’ war, it is maybe wisest to resign yourself to the fact that if you succeed, after war, you will have a population of angry ghosts living amongst you. It is the working class that is haunted by war. Elites live blithely.