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Zombie Neoliberalism | Dissent Magazine
"For someone who demands that Democrats return to the questions of class that once supposedly drove the party, Frank has a fraught relationship with the radical left. Perhaps it’s to be expected of someone who cut his political teeth in the decades when the idea of socialism was all but dead. His books are peppered with denigrations of communists past that feel particularly dated in a post–Cold War era where many of today’s Bernie Sanders supporters and new Democratic Socialists of America members scarcely remember the USSR. He often draws equivalencies between left and right, positioning himself, like any good New Dealer, as the compromise keeping the commies at bay—the only reasonable position between two wildly irrational poles. This leads, at times, to a curiously apolitical reading of politics, one that strikes an above-the-fray pose that ignores the realities of struggle.

Frank is sharper when he examines the Democratic establishment. Listen, Liberal is a biting diagnosis of the cult of smartness that has become liberalism’s fatal flaw. Given his own weakness for pretending to float above partisan conflict, the book is a self-critique as much as anything. In previous books he glanced at the failures of liberalism, only to return to pointing out how very bad the right is. When he notes today that “Nothing is more characteristic of the liberal class than its members’ sense of their own elevated goodness,” this is an unsubtle rebuke to his own earlier assumptions.

Criticizing the fetish for smartness within the liberal class (the term that he uses for what others have called the “professional-managerial class”) puts Frank in familiar territory. His skewering of tech-fetishists from the first dot-com era turns into a skillful reading of Obama’s turn toward Silicon Valley (and the fact that so many former Obama staffers have wound up there). The failure of the “knowledge economy” has been a subject of Frank’s since way back. There is, he notes, a difference of degree, not kind, between the Republican obsession with entrepreneurs and business and the “friendly and caring Democratic one, which promises to patch us up with job training and student loans.”

Since Trump’s win, Democratic strategists have doubled down on the idea that victory lies with Frank’s “well-graduated” professional class, the “Panera Breads” or the suburban voters of Chuck Schumer and Ed Rendell’s famed predictions that Democrats would make up any losses with blue-collar voters who defected to Trump by gaining ground in affluent suburbs. The most obvious problem with this strategy is that it does not approach a majority: only a third of the country has a bachelor’s degree, and only 12 percent an advanced degree beyond that. The other, and more significant, problem is that this assumption encourages a belief in meritocracy that is fundamentally anti-egalitarian, fostering contempt for those who haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps—and Republicans already give us far too much of that.

Liberalism’s romance with meritocracy has also fostered an obsession with complexity for its own sake—a love of “wonky” solutions to problems that are somehow the only realistic way to do anything, even though they require a graduate degree in public policy just to comprehend. Politics by experts gives us a politics that only experts can understand. Complexity allows people to make things slightly better while mostly preserving the status quo and appearing to have Done Something Smart.

In Frank’s description of Hillary Clinton we see where all this leads: a feeling of goodness that replaces politics. This isn’t entirely fair, of course—for the millions of Clinton voters (and there were, we should remember, some 3 million more of them than Trump voters), one can assume that at least as many of them were motivated by her actual stated policy goals as Trump voters were by promises of jobs and a wall. Yet Clinton came up short in the key states that lost her the Electoral College as much because poor and working people stayed home than because of any sizable flip of the mythical “White Working Class,” those bitter non-degree-havers of the coastal media’s imagination, to Trump.

Feeling good about voting for Clinton because she was less crass than Trump—the campaign message that the Clinton campaign seemed to settle on—was not enough to inspire a winning majority at the polls. Feelings, Frank would agree, are no substitute for politics.

What is left of liberalism these days, then? Surveying the wreckage of the Democratic Party, one is tempted to answer: not much. On the other hand, the 2016 election (and the 2017 elections in the United Kingdom and France) show us the rise of a current presumed dead for decades. In the wake of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the United States has seen the awakening of socialist politics, breathing life into the kind of class talk that Frank has yearned for his entire career. It is important, then, that we take note of the limitations of longing for a vanished past, that we salvage the lessons from recent history that Frank offers in order to move forward.

Frank’s books presume that a return to the New Deal is the best we can hope for. His frequent invocations of FDR demonstrate the problems with Frank’s take on “culture.” Many New Deal programs, after all, excluded workers who were not white men, and while the best parts of the New Deal have resisted right-wing attempts to take them down, nostalgia for its peak is similar to that which motivates right-wing populism. It is the left’s version of “Make America Great Again.”

The echoes of Kansian arguments have returned to a left grappling with the best way to respond to Trump; some have forthrightly said that pandering to presumably cultural-reactionary Trump voters is necessary, that Democrats should discard “identity liberalism,” in Mark Lilla’s words. In Kansas, Frank wrote, “If basic economic issues are removed from the table . . . only the social issues remain to distinguish the parties.” But this is also true in reverse: when Trump ran to the left on trade, denouncing deals that Hillary Clinton had backed, few people were able to successfully explain why Trump’s racism and sexism made him, still, a bad deal for working people.

Frank demonstrates both liberalism’s promise and its limitations—which are also the limitations of Bernie Sanders and those who, in trying to defend the left against its more disingenuous critics, wind up casting the New Deal–state as the apotheosis of all possible politics rather than as one temporary phase in the class war.

For it is class war that we are in, whether we like it or not, and we will not win it with smartness or with better billionaires. It is a power struggle in which the right will aim to divide and conquer, to mobilize racism and sexism to maintain a hierarchy, and the center will attempt to smooth the roughest edges in order to hold onto its own power or, what’s worse, because it genuinely believes that there is still No Alternative.

“Liberalism,” Frank notes in The Wrecking Crew, “arose out of a long-ago compromise between left-wing social movements and business interests.” In most of his books there is a brief acknowledgment of this kind of struggle—nods to what Kansas refers to as “decades of movement building, of bloody fights between strikers and state militias, of agitating, advocating, and thankless organizing.” We need that kind of fight once again, if we are to hope for things to get better.

John Feltner of Rexnord knew; he joined his union comrades on the picket line even as he was preparing to lose his own factory job. Feltner told me about his time at “union school,” held on the grounds of the great labor leader and five-time Socialist presidential candidate’s home, and how compared to Debs’s day, neither political party spoke to him.

We need to ensure that our politics are not just a welfare-state version of Make America Great Again, a kinder fetishizing of the industrial working class that leaves so-called “social issues” out of the picture. For that hope, we need to turn to the social movements of recent years, to the growth of the Movement for Black Lives and the promise of the Women’s March and particularly the Women’s Strike, to the activists sitting in and disrupting town halls to save healthcare and even improve it, as well as the burgeoning membership of socialist organizations and the rise of Chokwe Antar Lumumba in Jackson, Mississippi. The groundwork is being laid, but as Frank notes, no benevolent leader is going to bring us the change we need.

That is going to be up to all of us."
2017  neoliberalism  sarahjaffe  donaldtrump  thomasfrank  hillaryclinton  meritocracy  smartness  elitism  politics  us  elections  newdeal  economics  workingclass  class  classism  berniesanders  socialism  capitalism  chokweantarlumumba  liberlaism  unions  labor  activism  organizing  chokwelumumba 
6 weeks ago by robertogreco
Mike Gravel on Twitter: "Why is the media so in love with Buttigieg? Because his resume—USSYP, elite college, Rhodes—is an exemplar of meritocratic success. He is the child and apparent savior of America’s meritocratic ruling class."
"Why is the media so in love with Buttigieg? Because his resume—USSYP, elite college, Rhodes—is an exemplar of meritocratic success. He is the child and apparent savior of America’s meritocratic ruling class.

Professional Democrats and elite journalists are largely in thrall to the cult of meritocracy, which is the solidification and beautification of inequality. It is inequality based on socially-defined merit—but inequality nonetheless. It is “talent” made god.

And because the new elite ostensibly owes its position to merit, rather than inherited privilege, it feels no sense of noblesse oblige that older aristocracies felt; as Christopher Lasch pointed out, there is no valor or chivalry in the new system, just Darwinian triumph.

Ultimately, as Lasch said, “meritocracy is a parody of democracy.” Meritocracy is an idea that allows the ruling class to hold on to power through the illusion that they deserve it because of merit (read Genovese). It tells the underclass—don’t worry, all is just in the world.

The popularity of true leftism seems to augur the return of old class-based politics, when Democrats were populists who fought for equality, not inequality under the veil of meritocracy. Buttigieg is the archetypal meritocrat—he is the perfect one to save the system.

It is the dream and hope of the meritocrats in journalism and politics that Buttigieg’s shininess distracts from the ravaged country that the current system, the one he clearly wants to perpetuate, has created.

The rule of the meritocrats, the “best and brightest,” has given us a country riven by rampant inequality, drug addiction, and endless wars abroad. Whether their name is Wolfowitz or Summers or Rubin, they’ve been in charge for decades—and look how far we’ve come!

To paraphrase Bakunin: “When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called ‘the Meritocratic Stick.’”

It’s time to return to a politics cognizant of class, one that is not obsessed with helping the best and brightest rise to the top, with making our unequal system more diverse, but instead concerned with leveling the system entirely. The promise of a good life for all."
mikegravel  meritocracy  elitism  highered  highereducation  2019  inequality  noblesseoblige  society  socialdarwinism  journalism  journalists  education  petemuttigieg  capitalism  liberalism  neoliberalism  class  classism  rankings  success  justification  talent  christopherlasch  chivalry  power  control  self-importance  canon  politics  policy  mikhailbakunin  paulwolfowitz  larrysummers  robertrubin 
9 weeks ago by robertogreco
[psych/anthro/soc, Patreon] Class (American) - Sibylla Bostoniensis
Analysis of social (as opposed to economic) class in the US, why it's difficult to talk about, codeswitching, etc. I felt this.
class  classism  sociology  personal-history  america 
11 weeks ago by amsone
The 3-ladder system of social class in the U.S. | Michael O. Church
"Typical depictions of social class in the United States posit a linear, ordered hierarchy. I’ve actually come to the conclusion that there are 3 distinct ladders, with approximately four social classes on each. Additionally, there is an underclass of people not connected to any of the ladders, creating an unlucky 13th social class. I’ll attempt to explain how this three-ladder system works, what it means, and also why it is a source of conflict. The ladders I will assign the names Labor, Gentry, and Elite. My specific percentage estimates of each category are not derived from anything other than estimation based on what I’ve seen, and my limited understanding of the macroeconomics of income in the United States, so don’t take them for more than an approximation. I’ll assess the social role of each of these classes in order, from bottom to top."
sociology  class  classism  amateur-academia 
11 weeks ago by amsone
Good Skin vs. Bad Skin: The Cultural Ramifications of ‘Bad Skin’ - Racked
We treat not just the skin as bad, but the person under it. The problem is even though drinking water and using SPF and getting sleep helps, some people are just more prone to cystic acne or seborrheic dermatitis, the way others are prone to thick hair or small feet. But that hasn’t stopped us from moralizing any of those qualities and seeking to “improve” our own condition with anything available. And those resources typically become more available the more money you have.

However, considering how common all these skin issues are, the question becomes why can’t we just all cut each other some slack? Who doesn’t suffer pimples and dull skin? The answer is, often, the wealthy, which is not to say that their skin is immune to problems, only that they have the resources to devote to it. They can afford to cover their teeth in veneers, spend thousands of dollars and hours with a personal trainer, and drop $450 on La Mer moisturizer and cortisone shots for their zits.

If wealth is our reward for a job well done and a life well lived, good skin becomes outward proof of goodness. Because we assume society is a meritocracy, we assume those at the top are there because they’ve done something right. And if they have straight teeth, toned bodies, and smooth skin, that must be “right” too. It’s not that we think having bad skin is a moral failing. It’s that we think poverty is.
jaya-saxena  charlotte-bae  skin-care  classism 
march 2019 by yolandaenoch
Stop Designing Bike-Friendly Cities Only for Wealthy White Cyclists - CityLab
Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.
politics  bicycle  cycling  urban  planning  advocacy  classism  wealth  bikelane  infrastructure 
february 2019 by ivar
Finding the Future in Radical Rural America | Boston Review
"It's time to rewrite the narrative of “Trump Country.” Rural places weren't always red, and many are turning increasingly blue."

"Rural spaces are often thought of as places absent of things, from people of color to modern amenities to radical politics. The truth, as usual, is more complicated."

"In West Virginia, what is old is new again: the revival of a labor movement, the fight against extractive capitalism, and the continuation of women’s grassroots leadership."

"Appalachia should not be seen as a liability to the left, a place that time and progress forgot. The past itself is not a negative asset."

"To create solidarity in the present, to make change for the future, West Virginians needed to remember their radical past."

"West Virginia’s workers, whether coal miners or teachers, have never benefitted from the state’s natural wealth due to greedy corporations and the politicians they buy."

"It matters that workers are rising up, and it matters that women are leading. It matters that the fight against extractive capitalism is fiercer than ever."

"The 2016 election still looms over us. But if all you know—or care to know—about Appalachia are election results, then you miss the potential for change. It might feel natural to assume, for example, that the region is doomed to elect conservative leadership. It might seem smart to point at the “D” beside Joe Manchin’s name and think, “It’s better than nothing.” There might be some fleeting concession to political diversity, but in a way that makes it the exception rather than the rule—a spot of blue in Trump Country.

If you believe this, then you might find these examples thin: worthy of individual commendation, but not indicative of the potential for radical change. But where you might look for change, I look for continuity, and it is there that I find the future of the left.

It matters that workers are rising up, and it matters that women are leading. It matters that the fight against extractive capitalism is fiercer than ever. And for all of these actions, it matters that the reasoning is not simply, “this is what is right,” but also, “this is what we do.” That reclamation of identity is powerful. Here, the greatest possible rebuke to the forces that gave us Trump will not be people outside of the region writing sneering columns, and it likely will not start with electoral politics. It will come from ordinary people who turn to their neighbors, relatives, and friends and ask, through their actions, “Which side are you on?”

“Listen to today’s socialists,” political scientist Corey Robin writes,

and you’ll hear less the language of poverty than of power. Mr. Sanders invokes the 1 percent. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez speaks to and for the ‘working class’—not ‘working people’ or ‘working families,’ homey phrases meant to soften and soothe. The 1 percent and the working class are not economic descriptors. They’re political accusations. They split society in two, declaring one side the illegitimate ruler of the other; one side the taker of the other’s freedom, power and promise.

This is a language the left knows well in Appalachia and many other rural communities. “The socialist argument against capitalism,” Robin says, “isn’t that it makes us poor. It’s that it makes us unfree.” Indeed, the state motto of West Virginia is montani semper liberi: mountaineers are always free. It was adopted in 1863 to mark West Virginia’s secession from Virginia, a victory that meant these new citizens would not fight a rich man’s war.

There are moments when that freedom feels, to me, unearned. How can one look at our economic conditions and who we have helped elect and claim freedom? But then I imagine the power of people who face their suffering head on and still say, “I am free.” There is no need to visit the future to see the truth in that. There is freedom in fighting old battles because it means that the other side has not won."
rural  westvirginia  politics  policy  us  economics  future  history  democrats  republicans  progressive  race  class  racism  classism  elizabethcatte  aaronbady  nuance  radicalism  socialism  unions  organizing  environment  labor  work  capitalism  inequality  appalachia  coalmining  coal  mining  coreyrobin  grassroots  alexandriaocasio-cortez  workingclass  classwars  poverty  identity  power  change  changemaking  josemanchin  2019 
february 2019 by robertogreco
Chevanni Davids on Unschooling - YouTube
"Chevanni's comments on unschooling, critically looking at a quest for humanity through self directed education."

[from this longer video: ]
unschooling  chevanni  2018  history  self-directed  self-directedlearning  education  learning  indigeneity  socialjustice  classism  humanism  english  schooling  nature  everyday  food 
january 2019 by robertogreco
15 Worrying Things About the CRISPR Babies Scandal - The Atlantic
He relied on an aids association to reach out to the patients and falsely described his work as an “aids-vaccine development project.” He told delegates at the Hong Kong summit that he personally took the volunteers through the informed-consent process, along with another professor....a vulnerability at the heart of modern science. That is: Small groups of researchers can make virtually unilateral decisions about experiments that have potentially global consequences, and that everyone else only learns about after the fact.
biotech  ethics  crispr  aids  health  classism  science 
december 2018 by jomc

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