Garret Keizer on Privacy and Class. September 14, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Capitalism, Class, Economy, The Left.
I’m never entirely surprised by the rage that enters into discussions of public versus private sectors, particularly from those in the latter. Having worked in that area for a large portion of my own working life the lack of autonomy in many jobs is something that – again having direct experience of same – is enraging. That that energy – understandable as it is – tends to be channelled towards attempting to pull others down (as exemplified by a comment the day before yesterday) rather that pushing everyone’s situation upwards is a depressing indictment of how orhodoxies aren’t simply economic but are broader and more constraining…
And in a context where the vehicles for shifting employments from one situation to another – the unions, are both enfeebled (or non existent) in the private sector, or can appear unconcerned with the situation of private sector workers, and add to that a suspicion of unions and the means for positive change are limited. Worse again one could argue that the best opportunity that unions had to ameliorate this in the private sector, the period of social partnership was simply blown by them. And of course it’s not just the workplace because this goes far beyond that.
Which brings me to an interesting podcast from Slate with an interview by the excellent (and Scottish) June Thomas with Garret Keizer who was discussing the issue of privacy in reference to his book on the same topic. What was telling was how explicitly Kezier positioned this in the context of class.
I just made a short check list of a whole bunch of things that people of certain classes can afford and people of other classes can’t. Not only does one’s privacy depend in some ways on ones class but one’s enjoyment of the private life that privacy protects can also depend on class. So you can talk about having the right to privacy that is protected by the Fourth Amendment that guarantees some protection against warrantless searches of your house but what if you don’t have a house, what if you’re sleeping under a bridge or what if you do have a house but you have to work three jobs just to pay for the mortgage. So you have an abstract theoretical right to privacy but your actual experience of the things that cause us to regard privacy as a value is extremely limited.
Again I think it is possible (and necessary) to draw that much wider and to reconfigure privacy as part of that broader area of autonomy’. Simply put in our societies privacy and autonomy are curtailed by economic position.
If one sees this starkly in the workplace in terms of power dynamics, it is also evident in every part of life, from the domestic space – where one lives, the nature of the accommodation (even to the issue of how much space there is from the neighbours or can one hear them through the walls>), interactions in the public sphere – and in particular with ‘services’, both public and private and so on and so forth.
DCTU – MARCH AGAINST AUSTERITY – 26th November November 26, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Class, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Leaflet can be downloaded DCTU Pre Budget Demonstration 26 Nov 2011 Leaflet 3
Colleges and third level and school league tables… November 22, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Capitalism, Class, Culture, Economy.
It’s fascinating some of the assumptions that underpin the 2011 Irish Times School League Tables published this week in the Irish Times. Not so much the following, though it seems to indicate that talk of access remains fairly rhetorical given the structural aspects of the system:
WHILE VIRTUALLY every student in middle-class areas proceeds to college, the progression rate is less than 40 per cent across huge swathes of working-class areas in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. The two-tier nature of Irish education is highlighted in the “2011 Irish Times School League Tables” published this morning.
But more so this:
Overall, this year’s list shows fee-paying schools and Gaelscoileanna tightening their grip on the top positions in the league tables. State schools within the “free’’ education scheme perform well in the overall top 50 list, which tracks progression to all third-level colleges.
But they perform less well on tables which track progression to high-points courses in the seven universities, the teacher training colleges and the College of Surgeons.
Note the distinction between ‘all third level colleges’ and ‘high-points courses in the seven universities’. I find it curious that these are the metrics used. What particular virtue do those courses, or indeed the seven universities, bring that ‘all third-level colleges’ don’t. In a way it reminds me of a piece in the Sunday Business Post some time back by Adrian Weckler which I took some exception to but which had a grain of truth to it where he noted the aversion by some of the middle classes to tech. My problem at the time was, as I noted… ‘He’s definitely correct in that we need to have the best and the brightest engage with science and technology. But… Weckler’s argument seems rooted firstly in misconceptions as to what represents the best and the brightest and secondly how that should be achieved.’ But I think we see some of that aversion in operation here in a back-handed sort of a way.
There’s a clear over emphasis in parts of the society as regards some types of education as against others and this list is evidence of same.
What does it tell us really? Nothing we don’t know already. That certain schools, and certain social groups, focus upon narrow outcomes. I tend to think that that’s a bad thing both societally, and perhaps individually. I suspect little or nothing will be done to alleviate this. In a period where economic intervention is seen as beyond the capacity of the state why should social interventions have any greater strength.
There are other issues as well. I wonder what it is like to be in a school where every single one of ones peers is going to third level and few if any are going to make any other choices as regards their life. Hard to think that that is the sort of pluralistic environment that opens minds in ways other than the academic. Or even that.
Willie O’Dea is OK (on the video) December 17, 2010Posted by Tomboktu in Art, Class, Music, Reaction, Society.
I don’t listen to Joe Duffy, but Panti blogged about yesterday’s programme where the Rubberbandits’ Christmas video was the topic of discussion. Interesting to hear Willie O’Dea making sense and one of the indignant caller having their lack of understanding of art exposed, and by somebody with a broad working class Limerick accent to boot.
24 minutes into this Joe Duffy show, some of the up-on-their-high-horse set get ripped apart by somebody with a broad Limerick accent.
Rubberbandit: “Somebody needs to give that man a dictionary and he needs to look up the word ‘irony’”
and later …
Indignant caller: “I don’t watch MTV like Martin Scorcese”.
Rubberbandit: “Then, man, you’ve no business looking at art [...] We don’t create music for people like you who are going to interpret something literally. [...] It’s about metaphor, it’s about art, it’s about different viewpoints creating the meaning. Do you know what I mean?”
Indignant caller: “Absolutely not. Why would I as an individual who would watch that video once and listen to that track once come away with all that? That’s rubbish. [...] What’s coming out of that video is the usage and promotion of drugs. It’s a joke.”
Rubberbandit: “It is a joke, yeah. You’re hitting the nail on the head there, kid.”
And the offending video:
Elsewhere today March 17, 2010Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Class, Economics, Housing, Human Rights, Ireland, Justice, Political Philosophy.
HumanRightsInIreland, a blog run by Irish academic lawyers, has a series of posts today on the theme (to my ear, hi falutin) of ‘Human Rights Lexicon’. However, don’t let that put you off. I recommend the post by Illan Rua Wall on the right to housing in a post-crash Ireland. It gives some thoughts that are new to me on how we might approach economic injustices through the legal concept of human rights. (Whether it will ever get legs is another story.)
To begin the task of shifting the neo-liberal imagination, I suggest the crime of squatting (for it is a criminal offence in Ireland). Squatting is to take direct action, not against this or that policy of the government, but against trite neo-liberal abstraction and injustice. By placing people, real lived experience, in these ‘toxic’ assets, the reality of the situation is manifested in a material sense. Ireland is increasingly a country which is divided between the rich within their neat comfortable zones, and the poor who are increasingly subjects of toil, insult, degradation and burden. It is not alone in this, but that is not the issue. What if the 43,000 families currently waiting for social housing, broke into the empty houses and apartments all over the country, now in state (or at least NAMA) ownership? I suggest this would at once be an a-legal vindication of their economic rights, but it would also present an attempt to rupture the neo-liberal ideological hold on the country.
Identity Politics Good. Class Politics Better. August 23, 2009Posted by Garibaldy in British Politics, Class.
Interesting article from the current London Review of Books by Walter Benn Michaels, a professor of literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The article touches on some of the themes raised in this recent piece I wrote on the necessity for the left to concentrate on economic issues, specifically the failure of identity politics to address the fundamental importance in society of economic relations. The flavour of it may be guessed by the fact that Michaels has written a book entitled The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (which I am planning to order for myself in the near future).
Michaels starts by talking about how over the last forty years sexism, racism, and homophobia have declined in America, and obviously acknowledges this as a good thing. And then there is the ‘But’. And it is a big ‘But’.
But it would be a mistake to think that because the US is a less racist, sexist and homophobic society, it is a more equal society. In fact, in certain crucial ways it is more unequal than it was 40 years ago. No group dedicated to ending economic inequality would be thinking today about declaring victory and going home. In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4.
He goes on to make another important point:
More generally, even if we succeeded completely in eliminating the effects of racism and sexism, we would not thereby have made any progress towards economic equality. A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.
Michaels believes that the increasing intolerance for racism, sexism and homophobia is in accordance with the key ideas of neo-liberalism – to put it crudely, when Regan and co and later Bush and his cohorts argued for spreading democracy it wasn’t entirely a front for economic imperatives, but a genuine part of their world view, wherein legal equality and a heavily skewered version of meritocracy were key components of their ideal socieities. But, Michaels points out, just as it is intolerant of discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality, so neoliberalism increases the tolerance of economic inequality.
Hence the extraordinary advances in the battle against discrimination, and hence also its limits as a contribution to any left-wing politics.
Couldn’t (and didn’t) put it any better myself. Michaels swiftly outdoes himself though.
But a diversified elite is not made any the less elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is right-wing politics.
Exactly. Hence the facility with which so many seeming radicals obsessed with identity have shifted quickly into the realms of vacuous New Labour politics, if not further to the right.
Michaels singles out the US universities as an example of the inadequacies of identity politics, whereby the race for diversity covers up the failure to address economic inequality. In the UK, the same function is performed by Oxbridge admitting state school pupils whose social and economic background is by and large the same as those of their public school cohorts. In Harvard, which I think takes 40% legacy students (other colleges take more and won’t even reveal the figures), 9% of students are black – but only 7% are poor. Michaels uses the outrage over the recent arrest of Professor Gates in Harvard as indicative of the fact that anti-racism and anti-discrimination enables the elite to feel better about the possession of its wealth – if discrimination against peple is removed, then their wealth is because of their talent, not structural inequality. And the poor deserve to be poor.
in a society like Britain, whose GINI coefficient – the standard measure of income inequality – is the highest in the EU, the ambition to eliminate racial disparities rather than income inequality itself functions as a form of legitimation rather than as a critique.
I’d say that in Britain gender and sexuality would be more important than class, but the point holds.
Michaels’ article is itself a review of a report from January 2009 from the Runnymeade Trust, Who Cares about the White Working Class? The introduction by the report’s editor begins with the subtitle ‘Class Re-emerges in Political Discourse’. Reintroduced, apparently, by Harriet Harman of all people, in a speech to the TUC conference in September 2008. The report points out that when it has suited them, politicians and pressmen who object to the use of class as a political term when it smacks of increasing equality have expressed a great desire to ensure that the white working class is not left behind when they might support the causes of the xenophobic right. The introduction ends with the hope that it will
initiate a dialogue to ensure that a re-emergence of class onto the political agenda will not feed divisions, but promote equality for all.
And here we need to return to Michaels, to see how in the absence of clear class politics, the language of class can obfuscate rather than elucidate the challenges for the left.
In the event, however, what Who Cares about the White Working Class? actually provides is less an alternative to neoliberal multiculturalism than an extension and ingenious refinement of it. Those writing in this collection understand the ‘re-emergence of class’ not as a function of the increasing injustice of class (when Thatcher took office, the GINI score was 0.25; now it’s 0.36, the highest the UK has ever recorded) but as a function of the increasing injustice of ‘classism’. What outrages them, in other words, is not the fact of class difference but the ‘scorn’ and ‘contempt’ with which the lower class is treated.
Michaels highlights a dangerous tendency in what he calls ‘left neoliberalism’, whereby being working class is like being a member of an ethnic group, and that all that is needed is to treat them with respect rather than addressing the injustice that workers suffer.
The great virtue of this debate is that on both sides inequality gets turned into a stigma. That is, once you start redefining the problem of class difference as the problem of class prejudice – once you complete the transformation of race, gender and class into racism, sexism and classism – you no longer have to worry about the redistribution of wealth. You can just fight over whether poor people should be treated with contempt or respect. And while, in human terms, respect seems the right way to go, politically it’s just as empty as contempt.
Michaels points out how race in the US has functioned similarly to sectarian identity in Ireland. Poor whites have been encouraged to identity with the white elite, while poor racial minorities have been encouraged to identify with rich people of similar colour, and see their wealth as somehow reflecting well on them. Anyone familiar with Daniel O’Connell’s selling out of the forty-shilling freeholders, never mind the history of Northern Ireland, will recognise this pattern. At the same time, anti-discrimination in Michaels’ argument seeks to form a sense of solidarity between the liberal white academic and the African-American woman who cleans his office for a tenth of his salary. She is supposed to recognise that he values her as a person, and her culture as equal. And thus forget about the income disparity. Michaels doubts that she does, and he may well be right. But the problem for the left is that far too many people do buy into the myths of an unequal society. Again, Northern Ireland gives the perfect example.
So how can we apply Michaels’ argument to our own situation? Ireland is a changing society, with growing diversity in colour and culture among its inhabitants. That brings challenges, which are often met by placing people into pre-determined boxes, especially in NI, where we remain Protestant Atheists and Catholic Atheists in the census. And we must meet those challenges. And sections of the broad left are doing so. One of the issues on which trade unions have been active in the north of late is in reaching out to immigrant communities, and there is a burgeoning NGO sector (some of it state-funded) dealing with these communities. Several recent Workers’ Party Ard Fheiseanna have been addressed by representatives from immigrant communities too. But whereas The Workers’ Party maintains its focus very clearly on class, the same cannot be said for everybody. While Ireland changes and throws up new situations, the Left must place class at the centre of all it does, including issues surrounding immigrant communities and racism. We cannot allow ourselves to be sucked into the vacuous equality-speak of what Michaels terms the left neo-liberals. A case in point would be the complete mess that has been made of the NI Human Rights Bill by the Human Rights Commission, where at times it seems every interest group has been included to the detriment of the overall goal of providing a strong, simple, and clear Bill of Rights. As the diversity of Irish society grows, we must avoid the temptation to fall into the identity politics trap, as has happened so many before. Class is the fundamental division of society. We know that. We must remember it. And we must communicate that message at all opportunities.