Tuesday, May 26, 2009

False oppositions 

The first ideological travesty of the Obama era NOT inherited from the prior administration is now clear, and, as such things go, it is relatively new. In a predictable yet troubling development, Obama is prying apart minority rights and leftism, identity and class, and setting them at odds. It is the "balkanization" of the 1970s and 1980s on an institutional, not activist, scale.

There was a first hint of this in a post by Scats a while back (I forget the link) in which a grass-roots organizer lashed out against leftist pessimists for not understanding the real needs of the people, etc. etc. There are indeed two languages here, two creeds, and Obama really only takes one on board: that of the community organizer who aims for everyone to "make it," for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and communities to become successful and essentially contribute to democratic and capitalist society on equal par with other groups. Obviously this is a fundamentally different belief than the notion that there is something irrevocably corrupt and self-destructive in capitalism that will make it impossible for every lower- and middle-class individual to "make it"; that the system is in fact DEFINED by the success of some at the expense of a much larger group.

The problem emerges from the Obama era's "image economy," which has been as important as anything else for its popularity and support. We are finally treated to the image of elite minorities, Sotomayor being the latest, who are essentially exceptions to the rule, people who overcame all odds to rise to positions of the utmost prominence in government and the like. And the thrill of these images is almost impossible to resist-- at long last, "we" are getting our own.

The problem is the inevitable part-for-whole logic of such images. Their implicit message is that now "there are no excuses"-- the system actually works. Our task is merely to allow everyone the same fabulous opportunities that provided the world with Baracks and Michelles. Utopia here is the "strong middle class" of every Obama campaign speech. Obama's consistent omission of the poor, however, is the price. For we are ALL now "middle class," no matter how far from that class we are. We are all aspiring to make it, to be included, to throw our faith and effort into the system and await its returns.

In this way, the optimism and collectivity of race movements is being directed against the white party-poopers on the left (who were, as it is now clear, actually preceded by feminists and gay-rights folks, who saw this problem coming). Naturally this is all fucking bullshit, a complete fiction. The camps are always already integrated, both in terms of individuals and thinking. The left's interests and fearless marking of class stratification is still of use to race advocates. Race movements still provide essential models to the left, particularly in terms of how class oppression is compartmentalized. The task now is not to let Obama divide the very Multitude that brought him to power, but to reconstitute as a UNITED critical apparatus that prevents him from consolidating power and extinguishing critique itself.


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