Ok but WHY did the white men do this? Thoughts on Trump’s victory

November 10, 2016 § 2 Comments


By whitney waller (connect-the-dots) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In this blogpost I take as my starting point Eric Kaufmann’s article “Trump and Brexit: why it’s again NOT the economy, stupid” (on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog). I think Eric has got some useful data but I am not convinced by the way he joins the dots and constructs his story of cause-and-effect. The story I would find more convincing would be to half-agree and half-disagree with him: I think he’s right to say it’s not class, but wrong to say it’s not the economy. I think he’s right to say that there is a values divide (“between those who prefer order and those who seek novelty” as Eric puts it), but he doesn’t convincingly explain the cause of the rise in ‘Right-Wing Authoritarianism’ (which he doesn’t link to white supremacy and misogyny, but should). His argument is that “rapid ethnic change [nationally or locally] leads to an increase in anti-immigration sentiment and populism.” This argument raise a new question: why?

He thinks the answer is that the rise in anti-immigration sentiment and populism is the response of those who can’t deal with rapid ethnic change – because of their values, which favour cultural continuity and order over novelty and diversity. I think there’s some truth in that, but I think that to suggest this is the whole explanation and that the economy has nothing to do with it – which is what Eric seems to do – is bizarre.

A quick look at the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Sun newspapers in the UK, or a quick listen to Trump’s speeches, suggests that anti-immigration sentiment is not simply “they’re not like us, our culture is being eroded”; instead, a really strong narrative stoking anti-immigration sentiment is “they are stealing our jobs and our taxes are going to give them houses and welfare benefits.” In other words, anti-immigration sentiment is closely tied to the economy. In the UK, this narrative goes further in order to target both the EU and human rights legislation: the immigrants are getting jobs and houses and benefits at the expense of natives because the EU’s human rights laws gives them preferential treatment over natives – so we need to get rid of the immigrants, the EU, and human rights legislation. In both the UK and the US, out-of-touch liberal elites are seen as favouring immigrants over natives.

At its core, this is not about Right-Wing Authoritarian voters feeling that rapid ethnic change threatens cultural continuity and order. Instead, it is about these voters coming to believe a narrative, promoted by right-wing populist voices in politics and the media, which sees rapid ethnic change as the cause of specific problems these voters face. Eric is right to say their decision about how to vote didn’t have “much to do with personal economic circumstances,” but only in the sense that rapid ethnic change is not, in fact, the real cause of the problems these voters face.

What he misses is that their decision about how to vote had everything to do with their perception of the cause of their personal economic circumstances. These voters feel as if the immigrants are the cause of the problems they face. They accept that narrative, and ignore data that suggests immigrants are not the cause. And crucially, the problems these people attribute to immigrants are economic problems. The narrative they find compelling and based their voting decision on is about clash of civilisations and competition, and yes, part of that competition is cultural, but a lot of it is economic: it’s about jobs, and who benefits from how the government spends tax revenues.

I think this narrative is factually incorrect insofar as the elites are not really favouring immigrants over natives; instead, I think the elites are favouring themselves over everyone else, and then turning the natives against the immigrants to prevent the natives and immigrants forming an effective coalition against the elites. Values matter insofar as they make divide-and-rule possible, by making it possible to construct immigrants, Muslims, and ‘nasty women’ as scapegoats for what elites are doing to non-elites. And this has been happening to an ever-increasing extent since the 1970s, hand-in-hand with increasingly precarious employment and living conditions for all non-elites. No non-elites like this very much, but non-elites respond to these conditions in different ways, depending on their values. Right-Wing Authoritarians respond by saying “Stop the world, I want to get off.” And more than anyone else, it is white men who say this. Why is that? I think Naomi Klein’s explanation works quite well:

Here is what we need to understand: a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.

At the same time, they have witnessed the rise of the Davos class, a hyper-connected network of banking and tech billionaires, elected leaders who are awfully cosy with those interests, and Hollywood celebrities who make the whole thing seem unbearably glamorous. Success is a party to which they were not invited, and they know in their hearts that this rising wealth and power is somehow directly connected to their growing debts and powerlessness.

For the people who saw security and status as their birthright – and that means white men most of all – these losses are unbearable.

Naomi Klein points the finger at the rise of the Davos class, and I think she is right to do so. What this means is that while Eric is right to say it’s not the working-class who voted for Trump, he is wrong to say it’s not the economy. It is the economy: it’s neoliberalism. Moreover, it is class, too: but rather than it being about the working-class, it’s about everyone outside the Davos class.

Some notes on the Labour Party leadership contest

July 21, 2016 § 2 Comments

Maybe my optimism is unwarranted, but I find reasons for hope in some of the articles I have seen in the past week discussing the current leadership contest within the UK Labour Party. Before, I felt despair, because it seemed like the Labour Party was engaged in a dialogue of the deaf between pro- and anti-Corbyn factions, caricaturing each other, talking past each other, both unable to acknowledge that some points made by the other side might be substantive. This filled me with despair because it seemed so obviously counter-productive if one of the goals of people linked to the Party is to figure out how best to present an effective opposition to the Conservative government. In the past week I have seen some articles written from one side that at least start to engage with what the other side is saying. To me, this seems crucial if people linked to the Party are become clearer about how the Party can move forward from its current civil war. So here I want to say a little bit about some of these articles, as well as about a local ward branch meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago.

The article I found most compelling was Matt Bolton’s “The Terrifying Hubris of Corbynism”. My understanding is that Matt’s argument against Corbyn as leader goes like this. Before Brexit, it was possible to successfully argue in favour of doing two things together: keeping Corbyn as leader and trying to transform Labour into a strong anti-austerity party. Transforming Labour into a strong anti-austerity Party would probably take a long time, and might involve more than a decade of Conservative rule during which Labour would not be a very effective party of opposition. Brexit means Labour needs to be an effective opposition party right now – with the possibility of getting elected in the next general election. Matt’s view is that this is not possible with Corbyn as leader, so it is no longer possible to successfully argue in favour of keeping Corbyn and transforming Labour through a long period of being out of power and ineffective as an opposition party.

If what Matt says is correct, then right now, the Parliamentary Labour Party (the MPs) need to explain to the Party members (the people who are going to decide who wins the leadership contest) why they think the Party has a better chance of winning a general election with Owen Smith as leader rather than with Jeremy Corbyn. More than anything else, I think this requires two things: explaining why Corbyn does not have the support of most of his MPs, and explaining the evidence – the facts – that make the anti-Corbyn faction confident that the Party has less chance of winning a general election with Corbyn as leader. I don’t think that MPs have done enough in this direction yet, although Jo Cox co-wrote a useful article before her murder and Thangam Debbonaire has written this.

I also feel the pro-Corbyn faction have some questions to answer about how they see things moving forward, and this is where I find Matt Bolton’s argument about the nature of Corbynism persuasive, insofar as from their actions (and from the arguments they present), it really seems that that many Labour members who support Corbyn don’t understand the distinction between ‘party politics’ (which aims to gain power in order to make changes in society) and ‘extra-parliamentary activism’ (which aims to influence those in power in order to make changes in society), and don’t understand that by voting for Corbyn as leader in the current contest they might be ensuring the Party cannot be an effective party of opposition, which means the strength of the forces challenging Conservative rule in the UK will be massively reduced (which is apparently what is bothering some of those in the anti-Corbyn camp). Assuming these members want to challenge Conservative rule, this starts to sound like an example of people being given a vote on a yes or no question (in this case, yes to Corbyn as leader or no) where it is difficult for these people to understand what is at stake and the likely consequences of voting one way or the other. A bit like the EU Referendum.

What I have just written might make it sound like I think I’ve got it all figured out and/or that I’m satisfied with these broad brush-stroke comments. That’s not the case. I’m still trying to figure this out, because it seems important to try to understand what’s going on; like Ani Difranco said, if you don’t understand then how can you act. I’m writing this to solicit feedback, to try to understand better than I currently do.

I attended a meeting of my ward branch of the Labour Party last week. The focus of the meeting was four emergency motions related to the recent vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader by the Parliamentary Labour Party. The debates around the motions were a dialogue of the deaf, two groups of people talking past each other, often aggressively. The meeting’s one saving grace, for me, was that some of the questions posed pushed me into a self-doubt about my own position in the debate. I think this kind of critical self-doubt might be exactly what both sides of this debate need right now – or, if not self-doubt, then at least a greater clarity about why the other side takes the position they do, and what evidence and arguments might be presented to them that they might find persuasive. Having come to the meeting sure of which way I would vote on the motions, I stared at my ballot paper for a long time before indicating my decision.

But I’m not sure many others in the room felt that way. Instead, it seemed like most people left the meeting with the same affiliation they entered, with the same level of certainty about the rightness of their side and the wrongness of the other side, no closer to figuring out what would be best for the future of the Party and the constituencies it serves.

izzy whizzy let’s let sticky. and messy

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment


What can an open, insurgent publishing body do? – An Interview with Stevphen Shukaitis

December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

This quote struck me:

There’s something quite interesting about collectives and projects that persist for that length of time. Oftentimes within radical political circles you don’t get that level of persistence in time. It’s interesting to see what value you can have for forms of collectivity that endure. Midnight Notes, AK Press, and Ruigoord are other examples. I think there’s a value in—not necessarily stability because obviously they keep changing—but what kinds of projects persist and that hold together a kind of milieu. That’s what I see as one of the main values of that kind of project.

And this one:

It’s strange because doing all those other things like writing a book, doing public speaking events, or doing interesting things politically or artistically are the things that your colleagues are interested in – but they aren’t the things that register in the value metrics of the university. It’s almost like a kind of schizophrenia between knowing these two things in order get any credit for your work. It says you have to publish in these places and do this, and there’s stuff you also want to do. It’s almost as if you manage to play the first set of value metrics in a way that is deemed to be satisfactory, then you are allowed a greater leeway where with the other things you are doing you can do what you want. It’s kind of a schizophrenic response to knowing how to use those different measures of importance – and the difficult part is how to play with them without letting them change what’s really important to you.This is somewhat awkward for me, in that I didn’t want to have to divide up doing, you know, ‘this is my political work and this is the academic work.’ Sometimes it’s helped to actually make that sort of division.

And then this one, for me, seems to be the focus of the radical academic’s “measurable written outputs that fit the value metrics of the university”:

It’s just this sort of punctuated point where you have to constantly say, ‘okay, this is what’s happening. How do I think about it in a way that sort of re-opens political possibilities?’

The blog on which I found this article is awesome, and finding it makes me feel my morning has not at all been wasted. Thanks Chris R for sharing it on facebook. See you soon. Cycle safe.

Class War University


Summary: Stevphen Shukaitis, editor of Minor Compositions, talks about the possibilities for open publishing as an experiment and a provocation. Drawing on his book, Imaginal Machines, he reflects on the challenge of resisting the recuperation of radical energies in work. As a professor in a business school, he shares his approach to radical teaching: using traditional materials for subversive ends. 

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Why you should boycott Amazon, and how to do it

September 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

Step 1: Read this article – http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/commentanalysis/corporatewatch/isittimetoboycottamazon.aspx

Step 2: Look at some of the alternative websites the article recommends for buying books. I just bought two books from http://www.hive.co.uk/ for less money than it would have cost me to buy them on http://www.amazon.co.uk/ – with the added advantage that Hive pay their taxes and support local independent shops.

Article on The Baffler

July 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Here’s a nice article on the transformation of John Summers from struggling adjunct professor to editor of The Baffler, which also summarises why the magazine is something to watch: http://www.cjr.org/feature/unconventional_wisdom.php?page=all

Simon Danczuk’s “Growth not Gramsci” *sigh*

July 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Here’s a nice response to Simon Danczuk’s recent attack on the “extreme left in British politics.” No time right now to comment on Ed Miliband and the unions.

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