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Interview with Jefferson Cowie. March 1, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Many thanks to the person who forwarded this. An interesting interview… I don’t agree with all of it but thought-provoking…

HH: You also describe this period as one in which a shift took place: “With class identity growing feeble as the decade wore on, the more powerful draw of individual rights against discrimination gained momentum.”[3] Can you elaborate on the relation between “class identity” and individual rights/identity politics during these years?
C: What you can see is a decline of collective economic rights. As I said, there was, at the same time, a failure to link together the new social movements and the old labor movement. The consequences are that that women and minorities end up looking to sort of a classical, individual, constitutional rights paradigm. Now they’ve achieved tremendous things through group identity: women’s rights, rights for African-Americans, gay rights. But by and large these are essentially expanding the notion of what individual rights are. That’s a good thing. But when justice becomes defined solely as the expansion of individual rights that becomes problematic.
      You know, there was just a big victory in New York with gay marriage. You have the extension of marriage to a group of people who have not had that right socially and politically recognized. That’s great. But how many gay people still don’t have health care? That’s the dichotomy we’re left with today. So, a collective claim on the economic right of health care is a different animal. I think we’ve lost that. I think that’s the tragedy of the 1970s.
  The culturalization of politics that emerged in the 1970s plays into this, where the culture wars become—not that they’re not important—the essence of what politics is. I think one of the tragedies of the left since the 1970s is to lose the economic argument. Winning the cultural argument by and large—there’s still a lot of work to do—but I think the level of cultural freedom is actually pretty high compared to what it once was, while the level of economic rights is horribly low. That is the question at stake now down on Wall Street. The occupiers are, for one of the first times in recent memory, except perhaps Seattle in 1999, demanding economic accountability. The economic questions, and the way economic interests drive politics, are the umbrella for all other questions of equality and justice. I find that very refreshing.
  Now we have Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as the centerpiece of employment relations, not the National Labor Relations Act. The EEOC says that you cannot discriminate in the workplace. A good thing. In the book, I point to this case in the early 50s that came up in front of the National Labor Relations Board in which an employer fired some workers and then the employer claimed, “I didn’t fire these workers because they were union workers or union activists. I fired those workers because they were blacks.” And the NLRB said, “Oh, ok, that’s fine, ‘cause we don’t do race. We do unions.” And today, it would be the opposite. You could fire with impunity anybody who wants to make a collective claim on the workplace, but you cannot discriminate against an individual’s civil rights. Sometime we have got to get back to being able to talk about both at the same time in this country, but we have not found that discourse.

HH: Is there a personal side to that as well? I wonder a bit about time and family or even more broadly about the personal dimensions of this question.
C: There is, there’s a life course dimension to it, for sure. I think that’s the case for a lot of people. Young people have a sense of immediacy and urgency that is full of energy and possibility. You get toward your middle age and you worry about the next generation, and what’s wrong with them. I think that’s important but I also think that my politics have become deeper in a way because I think about legacy, about my kids and the unstable world that they inherit. I end up saying, “well, the system’s not gonna take care of my kids, so I better make sure that I do.” So it breeds, on the one hand, a radical critique of the system, but on the other hand it becomes “Alright, clearly the message is every person for themselves. I better take care of my own.” And I hate that. It makes you sort of schizophrenic in a way about how you approach contemporary problems. But fundamentally, it doesn’t change the way I see the solutions.

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1. FergusD - March 1, 2017

but I also think that my politics have become deeper in a way because I think about legacy, about my kids and the unstable world that they inherit. I end up saying, “well, the system’s not gonna take care of my kids, so I better make sure that I do.” So it breeds, on the one hand, a radical critique of the system, but on the other hand it becomes “Alright, clearly the message is every person for themselves. I better take care of my own.”

That’s a great point which I feel very much.

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2. Dermot O Connor - March 1, 2017

‘Culture of Narcissism’ by Christopher Lasch (1979) might be of interest, written in the relatively early days of the ‘self-actualisation’ / identity politics phase. Digs into that creep Jerry Rubin and the SoCal nitwits who infected us with their middle class mea-firsta bollocks.

sample quote: “According to Sheehy, ‘it is our own view of ourselves that determines the richness or paucity of the middle years.’ In effect, she urges people to prepare for middle age and old age in such a way that they can be phased out without making a fuss. The psychology of growth, development, and ‘self-actualization’ presents survival as spiritual progress, resignation as renewal. In a society in which most people find it difficult to store up experience and knowledge (let alone money) against old age, or to pass on accumulated experience to their descendants, the growth experts compound the problem by urging people part fourty to cut their ties with the past, embark on new careers and new marriages (‘creative divorce’), take up new hobbies, travel light, and keep moving. THIS IS NOT A RECIPE FOR GROWTH BUT FOR PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE. It is no wonder that American industry has embraced ‘sensitivity training’ as an essential part of personnel management. The new therapy provides for personnel what the annual model change provides for its products; rapid retirement from active use.”

http://firmitas.org/Narcissism.html

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WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2017

I love Christopher Lasch! Not exactly left wing but some good ideas none the less and a good BS meter.

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Dermot O Connor - March 1, 2017

He goes off into some wonderful Freudian riffs (which are more entertaining as Freudiana to me than useful). But this quote is great, as it seems to be 99% of the heat we see with online lynch mobs these days:

“When the images of power overshadow the reality, those without power find themselves fighting phantoms.”
—Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism

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3. lamentreat - March 2, 2017

Thanks, interesting stuff.

“You have the extension of marriage to a group of people who have not had that right socially and politically recognized. That’s great. But how many gay people still don’t have health care?”

It could be argued that the extension of marriage is in some ways linked to a crisis of health coverage. As the welfare state does not (or no longer) guarantees care for the individual, people partner together to share the burden, not least via “partner benefits” of the kind that marriage often brings.

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4. ivorthorne - March 2, 2017

“The culturalization of politics that emerged in the 1970s plays into this, where the culture wars become—not that they’re not important—the essence of what politics is.”

Well this and gossip. Getting good political reporting and analysis in Ireland is a bit like trying to follow the Premier League when all you have are reports of transfers.

The only issues that really seem to get ANY level of analysis are social issues like gay marriage, abortion, drug legalisation, prostitution etc. There’s been a housing crisis for years but it took a bunch of celebrities occupying a NAMA building before anyone gave the issue any serious coverage.

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WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2017

I agree but I think that a prosaic reason for that is that social issues are easy to define lines on (or at least easier) whereas economic issues, like housing, etc are more difficult to do so – so one can have as dublinstreams correctly notes S. Coveney coming out and saying near enough ‘progressive’ things about housing and yet not addressing the nature of ownership, etc. And getting that latter into the conversation is more difficult because people, reasonably enough, expect clear solutions rather than complexity.

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5. ivorthorne - March 2, 2017

I agree for the most part. I think though that we have to recognise that what is simple or complex is relative.

Identity politics works because we have certain narratives that we accept. If you’re trying to achieve something for people with disabilities or LGBTQ people, adopting the narratives used in the cases of African Americans or suffragettes is productive (at least in the short to medium term). In the same way, comparing bad things to Nazi or slave-trade tends to get the point across.

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WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2017

Can’t disagree with that ivorthorne.

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