Tuesday, March 18, 2008


great and gutsy speech in a lot of ways - calling your grandmom kind of racist, bold! - no seriously it's good, but those two blatantly pandering (I hope) John Edwards-esque passages (note the reference to the 'shuttered mills') where he blames the problems of working class whites solely on their capitalist bosses' 'corporate culture' and 'Washington lobbyists' and blames health care problems solely on 'Washington special interests' etc are terrible, both in their cartoonishness and the way in which it undermines his thesis, which is that we live in a complex world rooted in an inescapable and occasionally really shitty history and that in order to solve social problems we have to stop blaming everything on others (inc other classes, countries, etc), acknowledge and take responsibility for our own role in creating our world, and work with other ostensibly right-minded individuals to make a good faith effort to solve them. uhh, unless you're a white working class Pennsylvanian, in which case you're allowed to wallow in wan 1960s-style paleo-socialism for a bit longer? I liked the parts where he told the truth better.

globalization is continuing to change economies and ways of life all over the world - sorry, America, this includes us, too - at an ever-faster pace in a decentralized process that is an unavoidable cause as well as effect of our technological/social evolution and is impossible to stop, yet also continues to provide us with more and more tools (technological, institutional, social, etc) to help us try and keep up with the pace of change. like race and other challenges of history, it is one that is posed repeatedly and constantly on both personal and macro levels in obscure and literally innumerable ways, and we have no real option but to accept the world-challenge that we don't fully understand, that we are required to answer yet can't solve without others, make our best guess at the solution, never find out if any of our answers were right, and, if we're nice and audaciously hopeful, share good notes with as many equally ignorant people as possible along the way


w&w said...

>and work with other ostensibly
> right-minded individuals to make a
> good faith effort to solve them

you mean, like, in a revolution?

i dunno. i hear you, in a sense, that things are more complicated than those passages suggest. but i also think it's quite legit to blame other classes (namely, the rich, and especially those corpo-capitalists who value the profit margin more than, say, a commitment to local community & sharing the wealth) for a lot of grief in the world &, more specific, in this country.

goddamn america...

johnnn said...
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johnnn said...

wwwwayne! as we know, leaving aside the ostensibly major differences between your mostly-unreconstructed Marxism (and I mean that warmly and in the 'I'm makin a joke but on some level I'm not really kidding' way that I take your revolution line) and my maybe marginally-reconstructed free marketeerery (I'm tacking back to the center, like everybody else, fwiw), in a practical sense all we disagree on is how much grief in the world is attributable to (now officially!) socially sinful greed - you say 'a lot', I say 'ah some I guess, but who's keeping track?', etc. as you acknowledge, when you are hearing me, in a sense etc, it's not the *only* reason, and it's a very big and complicated socio-economic-historical story, that, just like race and gender, is characterized by a few identifiable heroes and villains as well as (and in my view, mostly) much larger, diffuse currents of history, society, et al. and for race and gender, Obama did a real nice job in the speech doing that thing he does, where he creates a big field of common agreement between, if not everyone, definitely people like you and me, or even people a bit to my right, that makes the differences seem awfully small in the grand scheme of things, and makes cooperation possible, despite differences in ideology, and because of bonds of friendship and sociality. why is class stuff any different? as I said, I'm willing to write it off as a bout of mildly disappointing but expected pandering (to both white working class Pennsylvanians and maybe to Edwards himself) - as with corporations, I like to demand a certain level of integrity from my politicians, but I understand their basic incentive structure well enough to know not to ask too much of them.

you've written well and often about the importance of not essentializing gender or race - what about essentializing class? take a look at all those suddenly totally fucked people at Bear Stearns, formerly rich capitalist types that struggled and failed to keep up with/understand the changing global economy, due to their own failures as well as larger, systemic failures. they are unemployed and many have just lost their life's savings in a weekend, and there was nothing they could do about it. what does that have to do with the essentialized, class-caricature of the crooked capitalists running the world for their own profits at the expense of the working class? economic challenges no less than race-relations challenges are all 'our' problems, not 'theirs'

w&w said...

i don't think (and i say that in a more reflective than colloquial way) that i 'essentialize' class, though it's worth pointing out that one's class status is quite often (and increasingly?) a matter of birthright -- that despite discourses of meritocracy (only in America, as the O-man might say!) there remain some serious structural (which you acknowledge) barriers to class mobility. and i can't really see a way that the generally stable class relationships that emerge/maintain from that will ever really change as long as the system remains what the system is (free mkt, etc.).

& is it actually true that anyone who worked at bear stearns is actually in dire straits this week? i have trouble believing that. call me naive (ok, don't), but it seems to me that few people invested in bear stearns (or at least few of the super-rich, who, yeah, i can't but help feeling are villainous) actually lost their savings, which is why the thing was bought up rather than allowed to go belly-up. too many have invested too much in the larger system to let that happen. even the individual i-bankers who may be out of a job are no doubt eminently capable of landing on their feet and getting another ridiculously overpaid position somewhere else helping poorer people to become even poorer.

all that said, "our" problems, yes. i fully agree. we all hold some responsibility for the shape of our society. but it's hard to pretend that we need to take "equal" responsibility when we have nothing like equal power, capital, etc.

stephenjames said...

As much as I really feel the overwhelming complexity of the structure we inhabit, that its determinants are certainly not dominant classes, races or people, but in fact forces outside of any person, I do think Obama's point, set inside a bit of empty rhetoric, about corporate greed in the political process is valid. The effect of business cash on legislation is almost uniformly to make it impotent in a compulsive effort to prevent regulation. Nevermind that regulation doesn't HAVE to hurt business, as regulation of the derivatives market would certainly have helped a lot of the people who have now been burned in it by the recent collapse.

Just want to say that yes, I agree with Obama that lobbyists/funding in politics continues to be an unsettling determinant, even if we can't apply all of our woes to this or any scapegoat.