Attempt: On “Emotional Labor”

Back in the hey-days of October, Haley Swenson wrote a piece called “Please Stop Calling Everything That Frustrates You Emotional Labor.” I missed it because I have found Slate’s contrarianism gradually turn into knee-jerk left-liberalism as Jamelle Bouie became its political editor.  Bouie represents a millennial Democratic politics that often use far more radical social justice language than it’s actual policy advocacy.  It was as if Slate wanted to run in the other direction from the time before his death when Christopher Hitchens was a primary voice of the political end of the magazine.  Regardless, Swenson describes the internet “political discourse” diluting a term to near meaningless.  She explains the history of the “emotional labor” here:

In her 1983 book The Managed Heart, sociologist Arlie Hochschild first coined the phrase emotional labor to describe the work of flight attendants and bill collectors to consciously regulate their own feelings and attempt to shape the emotions of others to get their jobs done. Women and low-income workers were being asked to very subtly (and very deftly) fix up people’s feelings without being recognized or compensated for that very tricky part of their labor.

It is interesting how much of the critical theory that was Marxist-adjacent was adopted by bloggers in the late aughts.  In particular, the language around these theorists from the 80s and 90s made it into blog and social media talk: Crenshaw’s “intersectionality,” McIntosh’s specific use of privilege, and Hochschild’s “emotional labor.”  I suspect this is because a generation of people in sociology and critical studies courses in undergraduate core requirements were superficially exposed to these neologisms and/or compound concepts and the ideas expressed in them by over-worked graduate assistants and young adjuncts who teach most undergraduates.  So the treatment was superficial.  Combine that with the deadlines around think pieces and the brevity required for engagement on most social media, the hollowing out of political theory happens particularly quickly when these concepts are weaponized.

So what has happened to “emotional labor”?  Before I go into Swenson’s analysis, let’s look at the limits of the term.  Emotional labor was not the same as “doing things that are emotionally draining without being paid.”  It was not a theory that encouraged one to commodify one’s personal distress.   It was specifically limited to emotional distress in the service sector and female employment that was largely uncompensated and which does have a personal and interpersonal health cost.    Swenson then goes on to point out how at the end of the aughts, the term became far broader:

So what exactly is emotional labor? Emotional labor is simply the management of feelings (your own or someone else’s) to accomplish some goal—to leave a customer satisfied or to get someone to do something they might not otherwise want to, or to keep your household functioning. Note that there are many other kinds of labor that can produce these outcomes too (simply providing information to someone, for instance), but emotional labor concerns the work of emotion management—say, delivering bad news about a flight cancellation in a comforting way, so that disgruntled passengers hardly notice the news is bad.

One notes, again, the expanded definition includes transactions that are not specifically commodified transactions but do have end-specific goals.  So we move from the purely economic sphere in areas which are, to use a Marxist way of phrasing, part of “the production or reproduction of social relations.”   To speak like a normal person, when one has to manipulate displays of emotion to make something work between people–personal or economic.

Swensen notes that this expansion of emotional labor can be a form of gatekeeping, which ultimately actually reinforces some pretty traditional gender roles under the guise of progressive or feminist politics:

The anxiety women feel about it shouldn’t be confused as proof that their way of doing things is right and the men in their lives are incompetent or wrong. Sociologists have a word for the tendency of women to set the terms for how parenting or housework should take place and then policing that line in such a way that men are effectively shut out of doing it. It’s called maternal gatekeeping. It’s a problem that’s bad for fathers, kids, and the mothers who end up stressed and overworked because of it. If we chalk up every dispute over how and when something should be done to emotional labor, we might bulldoze our way past the possibility that our own expectations can be our worst enemy.

This may be particularly pernicious. Other forms of pernicious uses of the concept that she does not note are demands to further commodify activism or relationship “labor.”  For example, the pain of activists who are constantly asked to “educate” others on topics of their own experience is labeled “emotional labor” that is entitled to compensation.  There has been a recent backlash against this “we have no responsibility to educate you” sentiment often justified in “emotional labor,” but the backlash is on tactical grounds.  After all, there are plenty of people who are opposed or ignorant of someone’s experience perfectly willing to offer a counter-narrative for free.  Yet, beyond that, I think we should be honest that commodification of our own experiences probably increases our own alienation in regards to that experience. Instead of normalizing our traumas through exposure and helping others see our points of view, we set it off as a trauma that too much to bear without specific compensation.

I personally find these kinds of expansions of terms fascinating as it proves that our specific jargon, like even someone like George Carlin pointed out about euphemisms, that the expansion of the term weakens its use and can often lead to the opposite point.  Like the euphemism that becomes a coded slur itself, the expanded logic of a sociological term like “emotional labor” can actually lead to some practices that have nothing to do, or maybe in some ways are subtly opposed, to the original coiner of the neologism or phrases’ point.  Sometimes, in the realm of politics and language, victory in terms of ubiquity is defeat in terms of clarity.  Or, you can lose for winning.

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Brief Thoughts on Brotopia: Or reflections on Silicon Valley as Wall Street and quasi- monopoly capitalism

Reading Emily Chang’s adaption from her book, Brotopia, in Vanity Fair,  I have to admit that the lurid details don’t surprise me at all.  Yes, it is a boy’s club, and yes, it seems to engage in boy’s club excesses and “decadence.”  I wouldn’t dispute any of that.  Is it in any way surprising that a new attempt make money from innovation and disruption in an area of the economy that is heavily dependent on monopoly mirrors the decadence of similar booms in the financialization period of the late 70s through the Mid-80s?  It was a transitional state of economics who “disruption” is oddly dependent on barriers to access being selectively broken down.    It shares similar traits in a variety of ways–it creates bubbles of investment fueling innovation that applies largely to the outside world and has little checks that such cultures in the earlier periods of capital development that created more clearly physical commodities.

A younger me would explain this purely in terms of labor theory of value.  An even younger me, in my more geo-libertarian days, would explain this in terms of monopoly access creating a quick influx of wealth in limited area.  Indeed, the housing patterns around the Bay Area in California even mirror those of New York.  In a way, now, I think both are right because this kind of market boom is not impossible, but things like IP protect the risky behavior. After all, not only are a lot these Silicon Valley ventures not really profitable with IP, many aren’t profitable without government money directly.  Often this will be explained as reinvestment into products, which in some cases it is, but in physical commodities not protected by IP, the re-investment has to be slower as the competition driving prices down off-sets the gains.  By definition, this tamps down on risk behavior and on QUICK excess income.  It also makes investment more risky even with slower growth, which is why in the dreaded “neoliberal” period, these markets depend on state level invention to really work.  Even the heroic periods of capitalism, such as the “Robber Barons” period, depended on access to exclusive rights to both moderate overuse and to secure pricing.

OF course, a male-driven culture with a lot of young people with money would be decadent, we know that because it rhymes with the wall street boom.  There are reasons why it rhymes with Wall Street though in ways beyond the madcap hedonism and excess Chang describes.

Multiculturalism is not a thing.

The battle between “multiculturalist” and anti-Davos nationalists is a battle based on fallacious premise: that there even is “multiculturalism” in any thick sense.  The old metaphorical argument goes, multi-ethnic nation states used to be melting pot, softening down the differences and melting the identity down into a singular white paste. Now, in a metaphor, I have heard since the 1990s, we have replaced that melting pot with salad bowl, each element contributing to the dish, whole and without it’s identity changed.  The nationalists argue that either a melting pot is still needed with basic cultural softening returning, or, increasingly, even that was a utopian pipe dream and we need barricades of good, decent frog-nazis to combat the force feeding of salad the Lizard people at Davos and D.C. are forcing upon us.

Yet, all this is predicated on some simple misconceptions about culture and identity. Misconceptions that inform ideas beyond “multiculturalism” itself.  Most of these battles define culture in various superficial degrees.  To ask ourselves, what truth there could be between these two positions, we have to ask ourselves, “what is culture in the first place?”  Culture is, like most abstractions, is disputed term in itself. Like more obvious and semi-cognitive terms like “equality,” “freedom,” etc., part of the battles about culture have both sides of the debate hide a definition that is often different from what is being debated.   Culture is larger than religion, language, even ethnicity, as anthropologists will inform you that their can be common cultures between ethnicities, classes, genders, etc.

If we trace the etymology of the term, it is comes Cicero in his Tusculanae Disputationes here he referred to “cultura animi.” He meant the grounds to cultivate the mind towards it’s highest good. It was an agricultural metaphor for teleological development.  To cultivate yourself was a social practice that made one something more than mere being, a barbarian, but fully human.    Note that it has none of descriptive habitus in its original use.

To stop here or to assume this root gives us the sole insight into what culture is would be etymological fallacy. And, frankly, it would cut against my point: even people who share a language, a religion, a technological level of society, have different ways of being fully human.  More modern definitions will, such as the one in the Cambridge dictionary,  will assert: “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time,” or to use the definition in the source of all that is easily looked up on the internet, Wikipedia, “a culture” is the set of customs, traditions, and values of a society or community, such as an ethnic group or nation. Culture is the set of knowledge acquired over time. In this sense, multiculturalism values the peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between different cultures inhabiting the same planet. Sometimes “culture” is also used to describe specific practices within a subgroup of a society, a subculture (e.g. “bro culture”), or a counterculture. Within cultural anthropology, the ideology and analytical stance of cultural relativism holds that cultures cannot easily be objectively ranked or evaluated because any evaluation is necessarily situated within the value system of a given culture.”   The definition is expansive, but it can be reduced to “the elements of a person and group’s that are acquired through social learning.”

So, at various, levels of analysis, there are multiple cultures within on culture: different religious, gendered, class, regional, and even professional practices. However, there are common forms of life they share.  To return to out salad bowl metaphor, if we whole cultures to co-exist in a polity or economy in a completely self contained way, the metaphor also implies they are cut from the root and cannot grow.  Indeed, one sees this in a lot of talk of “cultural appropriation” as if “habits” and customs can be owned by abstractions like nations or ethnicities.  An abstract “owning” an abstraction. Often the practices have roots in other cultures, so we tend to go back to the early modern period and freeze time there, or at the development of separate cultures.  There is nothing “progressive,” or, frankly, even anthropologically or philosophical coherent about this.  Yet it fits with the “salad bowl” notion of intact and easily frozen identities. Admittedly, the history of ideas behind “cultural appropriation” are more complicated than this, and some of which are even legitimate in my view, but this more common and base understanding seems to be a misconception that fits with our shallow notion of identity and multiculturalism.

However, the moment two “cultures” interact without its members trying to eradicate each other, a “third” culture is born from the exchange.  New habits are socially learned, modified, exchanged.  Boundaries are softened, loan words are spread, ways of life alter.

In short, there is no way to stop the melting effect, but it is rarely total unless a campaign of erasure is attempted.  However, this still does get to why,  any thick description of “multiculturalism” is generally false.  A friend of mine, who writes the blog Cold Dark Stars, pointed out in “Multiculturalism and the Clockwork City,” points out:

Canada sells itself as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. It is true that many religions, skin tones, and languages coexist here. But the diversity stops there. In a clockwork world where synchronicity is required, only the right sized gear or spring can fit. The immigration system has already filtered the worthy candidates that can adapt to the friendly and generous canadians. That cab driver used to be a doctor in Islamabad. That engineer’s parents were the upper one percent in China. I am studying a PhD in the natural sciences. Someone in some office with a masters degree in public policy has decided that we were more worthy than the others. There is no diversity in any of this. No varied modes of life. Either a skilled worker, a technocrat, or a capitalist.

I would go further then him, but it hints at the key point. Economies cannot tolerate cultures that are counter to production. Sub-cultural modes can co-exist, home languages can remain intact, but material culture still has to fit in the dominant modes of production, consumption, and exchange.  Cultural forms that cannot be commodified are simply not sustainable.

In short, the overarching culture trumps not matter how much civic or national difference one allows.  This is why isolated peoples are changed by the moment of study or contact with the outside, and if they are fit into the networks of trade, are subsumed into the larger global culture around capitalism.

I lived in many countries and seen this over and over.  It is not that capitalism or liberal modernity erases most cultures, or even melting into the same stew of whiteness, but it dissolves their boundaries.  Remnants remain.  The Protestant capitalism has differences from the Confucian capitalism even after both have given up their traditional faiths and speak a common language. However, can they be said to have completely separate “life-ways?”

Indeed, many of the frognazis point out that multiculturalism has a homogenizing effect.  They aren’t entirely wrong, but except themselves from the equation. They say multiculturalism is about creating new markets, finding cheap labor, undercutting the common culture. This seems like a profits imperative, and one that goes far beyond immigration issues.

Multiculturalism in a sense of completely separate and intact cultures co-existing unchanged is not a thing.  Most of what is fought for by “progressives” and “reactionaries” (two terms of orientation that are merely slurs without the specific issues that one is progressing or reacting to being stated) around this so-called “multiculturalism” is proxy for other issues.  Be it free movement of peoples, or belief that economies can grow perpetually behind the imagined communities of nation-states. Something else is almost always at stake.

People will fight to maintain elements of their traditions, language, and ethnic identity beyond joining or participating in a culture, but they are also subsumed within that culture.  Even culture separatism is borderline impossible because that act itself changes the culture in response to perceived foreign elements.  Any definition of “multiculturalism” thus must remain thin and focus on elements of identity that don’t impede the general economic culture of a polity or system.  Cultures that really and truly oppose this often just die out from their members being unable to reproduce their ways of life.  Most battles about so-called “thick multiculturalism” are thus red herrings, or people trying to sell you something. Furthermore, anytime you hear about defensive of a pristine and unadulterated culture, feel free to roll your eyes because the very declaration of that battle means adulteration has already happened.

The Spectre of Culture (Wars)

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That’s because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today’s reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn’t to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.

— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

This book was written before the economic down and the explicit shift on both the left, which had been heading this way explicitly since the late 1960s, and the right, which had had done it in coded language only since 1980s but became explicit about towards the end of the Bush administration, moved into one would, with the condescending vague hope, the “late” phase of the culture war.

Now, I don’t think we need to rebuild the “progressive” coalition like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, but I do essentially agree with them.  In lieu  of any thing like a mass movement, we are left with spectacle around campuses.  This has happened over and over again as people effected directly by economic and policing politics do not have the leisure to maintain mass protests, and the protests move to places where people do, campuses.  To talk in liberal terminology here, this moves from a site of lesser privilege to a site of more privileged, even if intersectional oppressions abound.

In the communist movement, the key point of the abolition of “value” is that value was generated by working class.  There ability to change society was not their status as victims, although they clearly were, peasants were also victims, but as Marx noted, all peasants revolts could generally achieve was just replacing the old ruling class with themselves.  They did not have the power to end what produced the need for feudal or even an agrarian capitalist society.  It was the proletariat’s power that had as the people who made the stuff that society ran on that made them the subject of change. Not their victimhood.

So why is identity victim so popular and why is there a race for even the objectively powerful to claim it?  Victimhood is a quicker proxy for group cohesion than symbolic kinship.  Symbolic kinship is what enabled tribal societies to expand blood bonds through rituals of inclusion, adoption, etc.  Marriage, replacing the labor of lost members of the tribe, or even suing for peace made this possible.  In fact, as Marshall Sahlins pointed out, while sociobiology and some branches of evolutionary psychology had assumed reproduction, sexuality, and tribal determined kinship,  the evidence is that its inverted even in hunter gather societies.  However, a quicker, albeit much less stable, was to generate a “political” body was victimization.  It generates the other to define the tribe.

IF you view culture as two things, the habits of a society to organize around its own reproduction as a whole (which is, in some ways, a codification of economic and familial relations) and as the means to govern conflicts within that unit without explicit or even implicit violence, you can see that culture develops from these two impulses.  Culture wars would naturally accord when patterns of life dissolve, which capitalism after the world wars has clearly done even in the most “developed” countries for both good and ill.

Furthermore, in moments without political clarity and where prior oppressions have made other forms of social life more distrusted, and there is no-to-little-mechanism to organize by class in terms, victimhood as a cultural politics would be innately appealing. Think about the shift from the Black Power movement to the Rainbow coalition to focus in social justice on structural oppression.  All three movements actually shared a view of structural racism beyond individual bigotry, and all three moments acknowledged the horrendous victimization of the African diaspora and other people termed “black” in the Americas and from European colonialism.  However, the focus from power to integration to justice moves the focus of agency.

As middle class and working class “white” (read rural and suburban, which gets coded for white) life does decline as wealth becomes urban and even more highly centralized and uneven, the mantel of victimhood is claimed, and it is made to deliberately mirror that other identity movements.  Whiteness becomes defined as, instead of a lack of identity as it was seen in most of twentieth century, as a besieged but substantive identity, as you see pop up in the rhetoric around the alt-right.

In a different time, this does resemble fascists movements claim of victimhood.  Something that we forget about all three of the major European fascist movements and the Klan.  So it can be serious as death politically when a dominant social group does pick up the rhetoric of victimization. However, in the “first as tragedy, then farce” way, things degenerated quickly.

Berkeley, for reasons having to do with both the free speech movement and the birth of the new left, has taken on weird symbolism.  In a way, it has become a manifestation of our dreams of internet culture.  The shouting and burning away of Milo recently was a spectacle for both the so-called “alt-light” and antifa movement to appear to matter.  However, it did nothing but boast his book sells and maybe stop a doxing, which is a small victory. The neoconservative and religious right finding Milo’s complicated stance on teen-adult relationships between gay men, a stance that many of the radical left actually share with him, is what had is book deal ended and lost him a media outlet.  The prior Berkeley moment was a spectacle, but it was all light, no head.

So again, things move to Berkeley when the Alt-right decided to make it ground zero for a gay pride style protest.  Caitlin Johnstone says in her article, I Think We Can Safely Say The American Culture War Has Been Taken As Far As It Can Go,

Okay, that’s it. That’s as far as the American culture war can possibly be taken. When you’ve got people dressed as superheroes brawling with people dressed as ninjas over who’s got the better warmongering neocon politicians in Washington, you’ve taken this idiotic game to its most ridiculous possible extreme. These Berkeley demonstrations where right-wingers who think America is one COEXIST bumper sticker away from full-fledged Marxism gather to have fist fights with lefties who see Adolph Hitler’s face on every mammal without a Tumblr account have taken the artificial dichotomy created and promulgated by America’s ruling elites and made it so cartoonishly exaggerated that it’s lost all shape and meaning outside of “hey look at me!” social media vanity politics.

If you haven’t been following (and I would not blame you if you have not), there was yet another pro-Trump demonstration in the ultra-liberal city of Berkeley, California yesterday, which was once again met with counter protests from masked “antifascists”, and which once again turned violent. This happened because people who voted for Trump last year are tired of being painted as racist Nazis by the people who voted for Clinton, so some of them have been staging the conservative equivalent of a gay pride parade to let everyone know that they’re out and they’re not ashamed. The people who voted for Clinton, meanwhile, have been brainwashed by corporate media into believing that their nation is being taken over by fascist bigots, so when they saw what they were being told was a rally for white nationalists and neo-Nazis assembling in their neighborhood, they came itching for a fight. Tempers flared and fists flew.

I’m not calling for this behavior to stop, for the record; if a bunch of bored internet denizens want to get together and break their hand bones on each other’s skulls with poorly-thrown punches in order to feel something, that’s fine by me. I just think it’s worth drawing attention to how ridiculous this whole thing is getting. Because some rich people and their politicians figured out that rural Americans have different fears than urban Americans and that these fears can be used to keep voters fighting each other instead of demanding a just and equitable society, you’ve now got guys dressing up like Captain America running around breaking sticks over the heads of dreadlocked black bloc liberal arts majors in one of the most expensive parts of the wealthiest nation on earth.”

This in a moment where Trumps politics are shifting. He is going back to the normie neoconservative foreign policy hawking that has defined Republicans. Partly because it clears the charges of being a Russian stooge, in a new liberal quasi-McCarthyism, while not substanceless, does seem to be going to a paranoid style of politics liberals in the past avoided.  The fact that these manifestations of internet debates on radical political cultures have come to substitute for the work that needs to be done in the US.

This farce may be an indication that things are actually darker than anyone realizes, but what looms is not mass radical movements. This is not Rome in 1931.  IF fascism was defined by total mobilization, then this is inverse.  It’s demobilization, depoliticization, and the decline of the energy of the politics around victimhood.  There is such a thing as a tragifarce.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Wonktopia’s Little Big Horn or Wonktopia’s Crossing the Rubicon.

Plot Twists abound: I have been avoiding continuing to blog about the minutiae of Trump transition team and general Democratic reaction to it.   I have been avoid this because it is droll, complicated, and I want to see how everything plays out. However, recent events have let me to write on what I am seeing as a dangerous trend in progressive circles.

You can’t save wonktopia with wonks in the security sector of the executive giving vague releases. The CIA’s consensus view that Russia was election tampering has been picked up with a confluence with the faithless elector argument.   Podesta and the White House seem  trying to expand the argument by having a report given to the Electors. The issues with using an anti-democratic institution to restore a popular vote without either legislative, judicial, or state oversight should be obvious as it creates precedents that literally violate several state constitutions and statutes on faithless electors, tries to bypass the one function of the electoral college to favor another function, and does nothing to address that legislative and state (and probably judicial) would have absolutely no incentive to government with a Clinton executive.

The compromise elector is to the install a moderate Republican as a compromise, but in light of the CIA’s supposed revelation, there is an urgency to do something. Most progressives favor Kiasch or Rubio being installed, which would be interesting in so much that almost no one voted them and would destroy the primary/caucus process that is a province of the states.  If they put in Clinton as the executive, it would be worse.

The problems is that Electoral College is anti-democratic but it keeps large swaths of the country from feeling like they have no federal recourse. In Latin America, where no such institutions existed in the post-Revolutionary Republics both rightists and far leftists in non-metropoles were kept out, and the results were either a quasi-dicatotorships like the PRI in Mexico or lots of civil wars like most of Central and South America. Without the states having more representation of urban areas and without significant work at state level, this use of executive and procedural power that Wonktopians have become addicted to since 1960s, risks empowering their opponents more and more as well.

Furthermore, the claims are thin: The Democrats are asking the entire country to embrace faithless electors off of a statement by the CIA prompted by a President of the opposing party that has not proven anything but illegal release of true documents and possible theft of RNC data. IF there is vote hacking or manufactured documents, then we need to know. We don’t know that. The Democrats are essentially asking for a anti-democratic institution to save democracy from an election where a foreign power may have done agitprop and that is so far all we have evidence for. The FBI seems hesitant to endorse the claims as well. 

The kinds of constitutional crisis this can provoke as serious, and while it is a stretch to imagine civil war immediately, the use of executive procedures would prompt popular revolt in most of the states and would lead to pressure for amendments to the constitution and a possible backlash against Democrats in the next congressional election period whereas such an election would traditionally favor Democrats if prior history is an indication. This would be effectively risking killing most of the structures of the Republic t0 save the popular legitimacy of the Republic. It either looks desperate and doomed, or like crossing the rubicon.

Either way, it would make progressives complicit in their supposed worse fears of constitutional crisis.

 

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Week 3, Day 2: The Anti-Fascism of Fools, Or Listen Leftist!

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Presumably by giving them free press.

As much as I love Umberto Eco, if I see his 13 Ways of Looking at a Black-Shirt essay on twitter again, I am going to get a baseball bat and figure out how to use it through social media.

It’s time for a talk. I am too old to on the dirt-bag Brooklyn left, too Southern for that too. I am too young to be some Boomer nostalgia head who beats off to the pictures of naked women protesting the Nixon election or Black Panthers lining the streets with AK-47s and copies of Chairman Mao’s book.  Or to be remotely convinced by Badiou’s recounts of Mai’ 68.

I said Occupy was going to be a failure a month in, and how it failed would be important. It failed in the worse way: Like 68’ers pretending that François Mitterrand would stop liberalization of the economy or stand-up to DeGaulist tendencies within the state.  Kind of way, progressives speak about their involvement with the Bernie Sander’s campaign as Tulsi Gabbard talks about possible positions in Trump’s cabinet. 

First, let’s deal with Eco.  I am an Eco partisan and I don’t think his thoughts on Ur-fascism are without points, but he is myth-making.  Interesting the semiotician most responsible for calling out our secular myths in the last thirty years ends up doing it himself. What right-wing movement doesn’t meet Eco’s criterion?  Nebulous notions of the past?  Selective populism? Selective modernism?

I saw the same essay applied to Neoconservatives in the Bush 43 years. When I was twenty, I even though there may be some truth to it when I was involving in the anti-war movement in Georgia. At the time, I was also reading the American Conservative and following the beginnings of a young Ew England rightist, Richard Spencer.

Lately, I see even NPR giving Richard Spencer press.  I am going to admit to something: I have had a correspondence with him. I have known what Alterative Right, National Policy Institute, and Radix was doing, and even pointed people to their use of Marcuse and Adorno in their theoretical work. I pointed out that Spencer was part of getting both Alexander Dugan, the Russian Fourth Positionist, and Alain DeBenoist, the French New Rightist, into marginal counters of American political thought. He has even hoped that the Alt-Light of Steve Bannon and the anti-SJW rhetoric would propel his message to larger and larger audiences.

Liberals, in your myths, you have been more than happy to be do so.  You have been kicking a gas can fire into a dry field in an attempt to scare people into voting for voting for DNC and a liberal status quo? Has it not occurred to you that your exposes may be spreading the very thing you think you are fighting?

Sure, Fascists reject modernism and have Heideggerian critiques of technology, but they also use that media better than most of their opponents. Sure, Trump and Bannon flirt with fascist like ideas, but they aren’t clearly fascists.  Fascists tend to be scorned ex-leftists who cynically use Populists.  Don’t believe me?  Really study Italy. Study the SPD involvement with the Freikorp.  Study how Chancellor Ebert, a centrist Social Democrat, aided and abetted the very militias that would form the core of both the SS and the SA. Learn how Oswald Mosley was a staunch advocate of Keynesianism.  Just because Jonah Goldberg wrote a stupid book about it called Liberal Fascism equating liberalism, the left, and fascism together (and ignoring the conservative parts of the fascist coalition), does mean it was all false as scholars of Fascism like Ze’ev Sternhell have pointed out.

So your reaction is to say that Trump, since he is supported by NPI and even gives token cabinet heads to people they like–such as Jeff Sessions–must be the same as NPI will have about as much effect as when The Federalists pointed out that the CPUSA endorsed Barack Obama. If you don’t drink the kool-aid, it doesn’t work.

So if not Hitler is it better to attack Trump for being Berlesconi?

Writing for Jacobin, a magazine I have mocked in the past,  makes some key points tangentially related to the above. Trump’s clear analogy to Berlesconi is actually weaker than it seems:

Trump and Berlusconi are both men who came to power from business rather than politics, and both have presented their inexperience with the political establishment as a mark of purity. They have both insisted on their entrepreneurial success as the most evident proof of their qualification to rule the country. Like Plato’s tyrant, they both exhibit an ethos based on a dream of continuous and unlimited jouissance and an aggressive and hubristic eros (though Berlusconi prefers to think of himself as an irresistible seducer rather than a rapist).

They both indulge in gross misogynistic and racist jokes and have reshaped public language by legitimizing insult and political incorrectness as acceptable forms of political communication and by embodying an exhilarating return of the repressed. They both revel in kitschy aesthetics and don the orange hue of artificial tanning. And they both allied with the far right in order to advance a political project of authoritarian neoliberalism and unbridled capitalism.

Yet as Arruza notes, these similarities are superficial:

Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.

These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience.

The idea that you fight all rightwing populists the same way is belied by not knowing the conditions are different for different kinds of populism. Saying one is fighting fascism by pointing out how scary Trump fans are spreads a fascist message to those who don’t yet believe it, but are primed to by alienation. Saying that you are fighting a media mogul with no real substantive politics who rules with a coalition isn’t going to work with Trump either.

Arruza does point out the problems of anti-Trumpism that anti-Berlesconism could teach us:

Mainstream Italian anti-Berlusconism has always suffered from a grave form of selective amnesia. The effects of six years of harsh austerity policies and virtually no significant social opposition have never been taken into consideration as a decisive causal factor in the consolidation of Berlusconi’s power. Nor has mainstream anti-Berlusconism ever shown any willingness to admit the substantial continuity between Berlusconi’s second government’s austerity policies and those of the center-left.

Berlusconi’s attack on labor rights was, for example, just an effort to expand the casualization of work introduced by the center-left (a goal realized years later by the center-left Renzi government through the Jobs Act). His privatizations of public services were primed by the center-left’s embrace of the notion that “private” is better.

The center-right’s immigration law, which criminalizes illegal immigration, is nothing but an amendment of the previous center-left law. Italian participation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was made politically possible by the first violation of Article 11 of the Italian constitution — which prevents Italy from participating in wars of aggression — carried out by D’Alema to allow Italian forces to contribute to the bombing of Serbia.

Most of the things Trump will use as executive power were began under Reagan, expanded exponentially under Clinton, expanded under Bush, and even MORE expanded under Obama. So the Democratic left is going to have a hard time doing anything against it because it can’t own up to its own role in this. Instead, it spreads the ideas of the far right supporters of its enemy and hides the fact that it doesn’t have any ideas of its own to counter with. Keynesian stimulus and infrastructure? Well, Trump is going to try to do that, and when it fails, he will have a GOP congress to blame. Clinton didn’t even make that promise and Sanders would have been in the same situation but with a coalition of DNC Democrats opposing him as well.

Arruza also said something that I have been pointing out in this series on her personal facebook feed:

An element of useful knowledge is coming from Trump’s election: the neo-Nazi and white supremacist right has kept grass-root organizing and coordinating over the course of the years, while the ‘left’… well was busy discussing whether yoga classes and pumpkin spice latte are instances of cultural appropriation or safety pins are instances of white paternalism and guilt, and bashing any attempt at class analysis as economic reductionism and any attempt at having strategic discussions, and developing a politics of solidarity and universalistic demands as Western imperialism. It’s time to wake up from this sleep of reason, before their clubs meet our heads.

Trump may not be fascism, but keep it up, and see what comes next. You may even be in a country where you have no say in government and win the popular election year after year The funny thing is most of it will be from free press from anti-Trumpists and people who see opportunistically see the Trump admin as way to further some stimulus and alliances to demographics like the Friends of BJP.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Week 3, Day 2: Rove Vs. Bannon, The Tale of Two Enemies.

I was, perhaps, too curt about the how serious Steve Bannon is compared to the who most of the liberal and even neoconservative press portray him as being.  You don’t fight a media mogul with mind like Otto Von Bismark like he is a caricature from American History X. Bannon may or may not be a racialist, he definitely doesn’t have problems of Richard Spencer. Indeed, the mainstream media realizing that Richard Spencer exists has been a boon for Radix as they keep trotting him out to scare liberals into not trying to play politics with the GOP.  From what I can’t see why liberals are having so much trouble with this, but this gives Steve Bannon cover:  Bannon is not an alt-rightist a la Spencer, and only tried to wrestle the brand away from Spencer as a way of conveying mystique.  Furthermore, Spencer himself had forgone that brand in favor of Radix several years ago out of differences with some of the bloggers.  People outside of /pol/ or readers of the most dark and obscure corners of American Conservative and Taki Magazine probably have no idea of this history or how they are playing into it.

When Steven Bannon says he wants that dark power, he isn’t kidding, and Bill Kristols and liberal bloggers of the world are giving it to him. Even the National Review is on watch.  When the Daily Kos and the National Review agree on something, people take notice, but often for the wrong reasons.  Bannon isn’t wrong that making Dick Cheney and Karl Rove names progressives used to scare their children to sleep at the end of Bush era and the beginning of Obama’s presidency was a source of real political power for both Cheney and Rove. So you respond by him saying that by giving it him?  The DailyKos is literally giving Bannon what he wants:

Hurrah for honesty, at least. Even Dick Cheney, who certainly inhabited the dark side, didn’t—at least publicly—praise Satan. Bannon could have mentioned some others imbued with the darkness-is-good vibe: Silvio Berlusconi, Augusto Pinochet, Francisco Franco. But that would have been too honest.

Indeed, in fact, by listing Berlusconi in the same league as Pinochet and Franco, they are try giving Bannon and Berlusconi (and by proxy Trump) more power. After all, Pinochet and Franco successfully used left and liberal idiocy against itself and buried their opposition: literally. Bannon would love for the American public to think he can do that, because if they think that, he can.

The National Review is smarter, but still doesn’t see the irony, when Tuttle says, “The problem is not whether Bannon himself subscribes to a noxious strain of political nuttery; it’s that his de facto endorsement of it enables it to spread and to claim legitimacy.”  The National Review is also spreading the message of that nuttery by looking  like elitists denouncing it, and making Bannon look like the sane option who is just a Machiavelli using tendencies of degenerated capitalist democracy against itself.

This is where the contrast with Karl Rove really comes in, while Karl Rove was a Machiavelli. He didn’t have the vision or real focus of Bannon. Rove was a political operative who wanted a generation’s long GOP dominance for a New American Century.  A century that was just an extension of the post-war American dominance.  It was Reagan’s America, but also Kennedy’s America. Rove used Kennedy’s model for tax cuts, encouraged mild flirtation with direct stimulus, and saw how to get aging boomers out to vote against social norms of changing since the 1960s. Yet, while in the seeming blinkered vision of US politics, this was only extending the tactics of the Boomers into another generation:  a bit of Kennedy, a bit of Nixon, and a large dose of Reagan.

Bannon makes Rove look positively myopic. Rove’s permeant GOP majority was generational, and would just extent the current out 40s years. Bannon is talking, and has been talking, in terms of epochs going back to World War 2.  Yes, his sensationalist media seems like the worse excesses of the Drudge Report, and its support for the GOP in the Bush 43’s Presidencies, but Breibart under Bannon was playing a much longer came that Breibart under Breibart. Don’t believe me?  Read the speech Bannon had linked to Buzzfeed: 

And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

Now, what I mean by that specifically: I think that you’re seeing three kinds of converging tendencies: One is a form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief.

I see that every day. I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment. And you’ve had a fairly good track record. So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

Bannon is mixing capitalism with Catholic social teaching in a way that resembles a Nationalist form of Post-Keynesianism. Deficit spending priming the pop on investment within a polity, currency manipulation maintaining that, and lots of infrastructure investment being made. Even after that infrastructure is non-productive. If that resembles Peron’s Argentina or China, it is important to remember that most of respectable non-neoliberal left believes the same thing. Bannon has swept their own policies out from under them.

Furthermore, is Bannon wrong about his analysis of post-World War II “West”? He is right, for example, that Christendom more than race defines its borders. Iranians are caucasians after all. He is right that secular capitalism and Islamism have worked together to accidentally create ISIS. What Bannon does though is combines Paleo-conservatism and neoconservatism while rebuking both:

They have a Twitter account up today, ISIS does, about turning the United States into a “river of blood” if it comes in and tries to defend the city of Baghdad. And trust me, that is going to come to Europe. That is going to come to Central Europe, it’s going to come to Western Europe, it’s going to come to the United Kingdom. And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.

The language mirrors the New American century, but the goal absolutely does not. Bannon agrees with Elizabeth Warren about the problems of Goldman Saches, and he should know, he worked there. Bannon agrees with Putin about the decline of the West and the decline of Christendom, and he agrees with Marxists that the middle class was under attack by large global powers. There is a reason a why people in both old centers of power are afraid of him, and some of it is his nationalism, but others is that he has found a mixture to show them all as empty and use parts of all of their rhetoric.

If Rove’s ambition of a generational GOP majority in congress, Bannon’s is more akin to František Palacký than James Carvel. Trump may be cheeto Benito form of Huey Long, but Bannon is far, far more serious. Continue to make him into a caricature, he’s already told you he’s fine with that.