Monday, 31 October 2016

The Other Red Pill: the Desert of the Real

In the previous installment of The Other Red Pill, we broke down the basics of economic relations and class and how ownership of capital, or lack thereof, was crucial to that.  While many factors and variables play into things, higher levels of ownership of capital translate into being higher on the class totem pole (bourgeoisie as opposed to proletariat, in Marx's admittedly antiquated terminology) and thus into more wealth, privilege and political influence.

It's important to keep in mind that class structure, even when framed in these concrete terms, is surprisingly complex.  The small shopkeeper and the majority shareholders in the world's largest banks are both, technically, bourgeoisie, but exist worlds apart from one another in terms of actual wealth and influence.  Ditto for unskilled and uneducated laborers vs. highly trained professionals who own their own tools but are still employed by others.  To say nothing of the role of government and its employees.  If you have any kind of investment portfolio or even a savings account, you are, to however limited an extent, the owner of productive capital.  So go straight to gulag, enemy of the people!

Marx was sharply critical of the class structure of his day, perhaps because it was so stark: there was the bourgeoisie who grew fat off the toil of the laborers.  Before this, the emerging middle class first acquired the capital needed at the dawn of the industrial revolution through such niceties as the enclosure of agricultural lands, acquiring large stocks of precious metals, usually by force from foreign cultures, wars with rival powers and the notorious Atlantic slave trade, among others.  By the time Adam Smith's famous theories of market theory and the industrial revolution came along, they were - believe it or not, surprisingly progressive doctrines.  Probably not to poor sods toiling away in textile mills for fifteen hours a day in early 19th century England, mind you.  Nor to the poor sods similarly toiling away in China today, so that you can buy stuff on a mixture of high interest credit and wages not high enough to be at all interesting.  The gravy train chugs along.  For the bourgeoisie, at least.

So if your boss is a prick, take heart in the fact that he's not unusual, and that his boss is probably a bigger prick still.  Bosses have a very long history of being jerks.  That's not likely to change soon.  If yours isn't, you're the exception rather than the rule.  Count yourself lucky.

So what does all of this have to do with anything, you might ask?

A great deal, as a matter of fact.

Not in the sense that there's going to be a revolution, as Marx predicted and hoped, to overthrow the class structure and bring about a classless society.  That's not politically feasible, obviously, and may not even be desirable.  The real issue today is that class, in the historical materialist sense of the term, has largely faded from the public mind, even among anti-capitalists.  This has resulted in distortions in the way a lot of social issues are perceived.

It is no secret, for example, that income inequality has risen sharply in the past several decades.  It is no coincidence that this has occurred alongside a steady withering of the "old left" - a way of analyzing inequality in terms of class and a subsequent rise of the "new left", which emphasizes identity and culture as driving forces of inequality.

A lot of factors have fueled this trend, beginning with the Frankfurt School in Europe prior to WW2, and the proliferation of their theories in postwar academia.  Then came the new social movements emergent in the 1960s, and as a parallel development beginning in the 1970s and 80s, the demise of socialism.  In the early 1990s the USSR dissolved, driving the final nail into the coffin of Marxist credibility in the eyes of many.  The unions grew weaker as a result of manufacturing jobs moving to more repressive, low wage environments.

Leftist parties, desperate for new bases of political support, turned to an emergent class of urban knowledge workers, cosmopolitan in it s racial and gender composition and educated in an academia that cared much more for cultural critical theory, postmodern philosophy and identity politics than the dry, antiquated theory of Marxist materialism.  Leftist ideology gradually forgot how essential economic relations were to the concept of class, and began to see inequality through lenses of culture and identity instead, casting white males in the role once reserved for the bourgeoisie and women, people of color and LGBT people in the role once reserved for the proletariat - often with little regard for the actual class of the people in question.  Academically trained "leftists" attributed privilege to even poor and working class white males that they would not attribute to "marginalized" CEOs, however less common they may have been.

Conservative parties also cashed in on the changes that were taking place.  They appealed to white male working class voters through appeal to their own identities, and with union stewards far less likely to be on hand to advise the white proletariat of its true class interests, they were more likely to cast their lot in with right wing parties.  This did little good, as these parties merely exacerbated the economic inequalities already long on the rise.  Much of the voting middle class were sitting ducks for right wing politicians in the 1990s and early 2000s who framed capitalist economics in terms of morality and individualism instead of class relations.  The left, for its part, now cared much more about culture than about economics, and it was along these lines that political battle lines have since been drawn.

It is no secret that the left/right divide has grown more bitter in the last fifteen or so years.  From social conservatism and liberalism, we now have the emergence of the identitarian determinism of the Social Justice Warriors on the left and its shadow counterpart, the Alt-Right - both of which are the terminal points for class-blind politics on both ends of the spectrum.  From here, the frustration and militancy on both ends are only going to get worse so long as the class relations that are the real causes of inequality and alienation remain invisible and the resulting social problems blamed on identity groups - white males for the SJWs and Jews and other minorities for the alt-right.  And for added instability, toss mass Islamic immigration into the mix.  One need but look at the state of race, religious and gender relations as reflected in any social media outlet to see the consequences.  Intersectional feminists will not be losing their taste for white male tears any time soon, and that, quite frankly, is the least of our worries.

All the while, wealth inequality and its consequent effects on politics from the local to the global are only going to get worse.

As Morpheus so bluntly put it to Neo in that iconic moment in The Matrix - "Welcome to the Desert of the Real."

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