What’s Wrong With Identity Politics (and Intersectionality Theory)? A Response to Mark Fisher’s “Exiting the Vampire Castle” (And Its Critics)

by Michael Rectenwald on December 2, 2013

Marxist and other “left” critics and opponents of identity politics are often mistaken for opponents of the identity groups that such politics aim to support and promote. Such critics can be easily mistaken as opponents of gay rights, LGBT rights, black and Latino equality, or the like. In their retorts to “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” several of Mark Fisher’s respondents voiced this conclusion about Fisher himself. Such a mistake is often due, in no small part, to the ill stated, incomplete and ad hominem character of the critiques themselves. Unfortunately, Fisher’s article is no exception in this regard.

Rather than carefully explaining the problems with identity politics from a Marxist (or other) perspective, Fisher snidely and blithely dismisses such politics and their proponents as hopelessly “petit bourgeois.” As such, not only does he open himself up to the tu quoque retort (you too are resorting to a politics of identity), he also falls victim to the counter argument that his attack on identity politics is explicable strictly in terms of his identity – as a privileged white Marxist male. I will discuss the circularity of such defenses of identity politics below. My point here is that such epithets as Fisher’s do little or nothing to analyze identity politics and clarify its shortcomings. Rather, Fisher tells us that identity politics pretends to deal with collectivities but instead works to individualize and condemn. We are told that identity politics operates through guilt and serves to incapacitate. We are told that identity politics is petit bourgeois. But we are never told why or how any of this is the case. I’m not referring, as so many critics of Fisher’s article have, to the article’s lack of examples. Instead, I’m pointing to the paucity of analysis.

Much better in this regard is a longer article by the feminist Marxist blogging at Unity and Struggle: “I Am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory.” Here, while some unfortunate lapses into a humanist essentialism are apparent, the author otherwise argues rather convincingly that identity groups, such as “straight white man,” “gay black man,” “lesbian black woman,” “trans* person,” etc., are not natural categories into which people are born and sorted. Rather, they are relatively recent formations possible only under capitalism, equivalent to occupations with their own forms of alienation attendant upon the division of labor. As Marx wrote in The German Ideology, “as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape.” Similarly, identity, like an occupation, is a trap, because it curtails human potential and bars workers from participation in the social totality as fully developing individuals. Identities are reified social categories from which we should emerge, not within which we should be compelled to remain.

The problem with identity politics, then, is that it is one-sided and undialectical. It treats identities as static entities, and its methods only serve to further reify those categories. It aims to liberate identity groups (or members thereof) qua identity groups (or individuals), rather than aiming to liberate them from identity itself. Identity politics fails not because it begins with various subaltern groups and aims at their liberation, but because it ends with them and thus cannot deliver their liberation. It makes identities and their equality with other “privileged” groups the basis of political activity, rather than making the overcoming of the alienated identity, for themselves and all identity groups, the goal. The abolition of the one-sidedness of identity – as worker, woman, man, or what have you – represents real human emancipation. Always failing this, identity politics settles for mere linguistic emancipation, which is offered (and policed so assiduously, as Fisher notes) by the defenders of the sanctuary of identity.

As I suggested above, the most common response to Fisher’s article has been that his position is explicable strictly in terms of his identity. No sooner does one make a critique of identity politics, than is one’s identity deemed the cause of said critique. It is as if identity explains the argument itself, and causes it. Once identity is deemed the actual causal factor of a statement, nothing that is said means what it says. Everything is explicable only in terms of identity, and the content of the statement becomes identity itself. Once set, identity is a trap from which no one escapes. Of course, such defenses are circular, reverting to that which is being critiqued to explain those doing the critiquing.

The Problem with Intersectionality Theory

Fisher never explicitly refers to intersectionality theory, but it lurks just beneath surface of his contempt in “Exiting the Vampire Castle.” Developed in the 1970s and ‘80s within feminism, intersectionality seeks to understand how power intersects identities along various axes, including those of race, gender, sexuality, or sexual preference, etc. It aims to locate the articulations of power as it traverses various subordinated peoples in different, multiple ways. Suggestive of a radical critique of patriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy and other forms of domination, it complicates any sense of gender, sex, class, or race as homogenous wholes. And it problematizes any hierarchy of one categorical determination over others. As such, it appears to serve as a method of analysis for opposing oppressions of all kinds. Intersectionality should, it seems, work to deepen our understanding of the composition of class society, and to add to the means for overcoming it.

But operating under the same schema as a more simplified identity politics, intersectionality theory serves to isolate multiple and seemingly endless identity standpoints, without sufficiently articulating them with each other, or the forms of domination. The upshot in political practice is a static pluralism of reified social categories, each vying for more-subaltern-than-thou status on a field of one-downsmanship. While it may be useful for sociologists attempting to describe groups and their struggles with power, as a political theory, it is useless, or worse. This is because, by ending with the identification and isolation of its various constituencies, it in fact serves to sever the connections that it supposedly sought to understand and strengthen. The practical upshot of intersectionality theory is the perpetual articulation of difference, resulting in fragmentation and the stagnation of political activity that Fisher bemoans.

Theory as Historical Practice

But theory like this, or any other, as the author of “I am a Woman” suggests, does not appear out of thin air. Rather, it is produced in relation to the social relations of production and the overall social relations themselves:

There was no revolution in the US in 1968.  The advances of Black Power, women’s liberation, gay liberation, and the movements themselves, have been absorbed into capital.  Since the 1970s, academia has had a stronghold on theory.  A nonexistent class struggle leaves a vacuum of theoretical production and academic intellectuals have had nothing to draw on except for the identity politics of the past.

Identity politics and its variants developed during a moment when the Marxist critique of capitalism had lost a degree of credibility due to the fiascos of the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere. Labor movements had given way to the New Left movements that attracted students and others toward liberal variants of political activism. Housed in the academy, theory became abstracted from social relations and the social totality. In a field of free play, divorced from working class politics, it focused on various kinds of putative determinations, including those of language, rationality, identity, “power” (vaguely conceived), and other “prison houses,” as Frederic Jameson referred to the categories of poststructuralist containment. Identity politics marked the limits of postmodern political engagement.

But, identity politics has not since “been absorbed into capital,” as suggested in the quote above. As forms of alienated labor, capitalist relations have always determined them. They have been the products of capitalism from the outset. By treating such categories as ends in themselves, therefore, a politics based on identities necessarily leads down the blind alley of reification. That is, such politics, even when “successful,” necessarily ends at the limits of identity itself. The problem is, while theoretically, we might all wake up tomorrow to changed identities, or to changed conditions for our identities, we would still be exploited under capitalism. Running the circuits of capital from production through consumption, identity can only lead us back to the office, the factory, or the streets, allowing at best our coalescence around particular consumer cultures.

Why is Identity Politics Individualistic?

Finally, as I mentioned above, Fisher claimed that while promising a politics of collectivities, identity politics is actually individualistic. One might wonder how he arrives at such a statement, especially since he merely asserts it rather than arguing it. He could have argued that because identity politics and intersectionality focus on difference and its articulations, the divisions are potentially endless, but necessarily extend to differences not only between groups, but also between individuals. One’s “display” of the characteristics becomes a requirement for the politics of identity. Identity politics requires identification, which requires signaling of individual membership by virtue of particular characteristics.

The understanding and appreciation of individual difference is surely not a liability in itself, by any stretch. Nor does understanding and appreciation necessarily entail an individualistic ideological and political agenda. But because identity is the object rather than merely the starting point, the ends rather than only the means of collectivity, identity politics continually devolves into the articulation of the requirements for group membership, and thus, to the individual. This individualism extends to those whose “privilege” differentiates them from the identity groups in question. That is, each encounter with the group involves the articulation of the characteristics of the group, and the evaluation of all comers on the basis of such characteristics. Whether or not this involves the imputation of guilt to non-members is a question of particular circumstances, and likewise, cannot be generalized without qualification.

But identity politics does involve a linguistic policing around various identity formations, not only to determine eligibility for membership, but as importantly, to guard against the ill treatment of said group and its members as representatives thereof.  Of course, any political movement on the left worthy of support will defend those subject to various forms of discrimination and abuse. But in the case of identity politics, the defense is of the group and its individual members as such, as particular identities, for the maintenance and continuation of said identities, and not for their liberation from the liabilities that all identities necessarily entail. Thus, identity politics is exclusionary and divisive, continually falling back on difference in order to establish group identity and cohesion.

One might say that the individualism of identity politics merely represents an extension of reification – that is, the extension of the logic of difference and containment to the level of the individual.

What Should Marxists Learn From Identity Politics?

Ironically, socialism itself is culpable for the existence and prevalence of identity politics today. Not only did Stalinism (with the help of McCarthyism in the U.S.) undermine the prospects of socialist politics in the West, but also, as Ross Wolfe argues in The Charnel House, the identity politics that arose in the 1960s, ‘70s and ’80s developed in reaction to the identity politics of actually-existing socialism itself:

The various forms of identity politics associated with the “new social movements” coming out of the New Left during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (feminism, black nationalism, gay pride) were themselves a reaction, perhaps understandable, to the miserable failure of working-class identity politics associated with Stalinism coming out of the Old Left during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s (socialist and mainstream labor movements). Working-class identity politics — admittedly avant la lettre — was based on a crude, reductionist understanding of politics that urged socialists and union organizers to stay vigilant and keep on the lookout for “alien class elements.” Any and every form of ideological deviation was thought to be traceable to a bourgeois or petit-bourgeois upbringing. One’s political position was thought to flow automatically and mechanically from one’s social position, i.e. from one’s background as a member of a given class within capitalist society.

Anyone whose working-class credentials were not considered impeccable was expected to go through rituals of self-criticism or “autocritique” [from самокритика, a crucial shibboleth in the Stalinist vocabulary] confessing one’s incorrigible bourgeois intellectual habits in order to purify himself. Maoism radicalized this with application Third World and minority contexts.

As we see, the policing of identity borders and the categorical reification of identity formations are not new with contemporary incarnations of identity politics. Where contemporary Marxists are the critics of identity politics, then, the tu quoque retort really does apply.

Therefore, Marxists disgusted with identity politics should take the lessons of their critique back to the heart of Marxism itself. They really should examine their own house first. I refer here to the kind of policing of the category of “working class” that marked the Old Left and that, with exceptions, continues to mark Marxist politics at present. Are students “working class?” Are graduate teaching assistants “workers?” Are academic Marxists “workers” – or even real “Marxists?” Can a petit bourgeois intellectual really understand the working class? These questions reflect the identity politics that subsists in many Marxist milieus.

The extirpation of such identity policing within Marxism itself is much more important politically than the battle with the identitarian left. As Ross Wolfe writes, “It shouldn’t matter who people supposedly ‘are.’ All that should matter is the kind of transformation they hope to effect in the world.”

{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred Welfare December 3, 2013 at 4:44 am

The criticism is not refined. The competition and pressure over sexual orientation involves both an immanent instinctual drive component and a cultural religious component squeezing everyone in between and forming the sides of married or unmarried. The pressure against the unmarried hardly varies by “orientation.” The nature of the fixed relations and spheres of relations is based upon the ranking structure of how many offspring and offspring of offspring one has produced regardless of conflicts. The relations in the nuclear family has relieved somewhat the pressure from the families of origin, the grandparents, and the pressure from the children which are permitted to disperse at a legal age, but the larger structures, the institutions, continue to pursue an intensification of reproduction. Sexual orientation identities merely function as mediations of this pressure in the attempt to avoid or assauge or comply with it. Kinship rank (unmarried, married, married with offspring, and married with offspring who are married with offspring) crosscuts social-economic class that is aligned with ethnicity. But, these constant social formations are compromised by the role of the institutions, today primarily the media, and the mode of reproduction within the particular geographical regions. The intersectionality relationships are the same old racist relations, sexist relations, and class relations of old – these identity differences or conflicts arise within personalities which are socialized within a particular ethnic class, all of which still follow patriarchal values. The issue should be: what is a value oriented movement? Just what gets exchanged during interaction??

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Michael Rectenwald December 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I think you misunderstand the historical construction of identity categories. Whether or not there is an “instinctual component” to sexual orientation is not the issue. Prior to the development of capitalism, the category of “gay” or “homosexual” did not and could not exist, simply because they had not yet been made possible by capitalism’s breaking-down of feudal relations. These are historical categories, not natural verities. This is where you’re mistaken from the outset, and thus seeing complications. The complication you don’t grasp is that identities are not “given” at birth, but made historically. Thus, one could have “homosexual” desires and activities before capitalism, but not homosexuality as such.

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Fred Welfare December 4, 2013 at 12:20 am

The identity of homosexual or the category of homosexuality is surely an overlay upon both the category of sex because the category of homosexual is a gender attribution but it is also an overlay upon the category or rank of married-unmarried, upon reproductive status. The history of the behavioral practices and the history of the terms are both effects of the structure of the marriage institution and the family institution. These attributions are related to socio-economic categories as well which points towards the issue of a power politics or power ranking where the marital status takes the higher rank position over the unmarried and homosexual identities. Although the terms of identity have a history, the person who experiences the effect of the identity attributions has a temporal relation to each term. The term does not have the same force of meaning each time it is applied especially as the person’s role within the institution of marriage changes. How would you explain the motivation to achieve familial rank unless you combine the biological species predisposition (on the continuum from male to female) to the marital-family being? One essential context in which language or attitude is expressed is that of lineage. The categories of ethnicity and gender are genetically different and they are historically related to class status, with much variation, but the identity politics are not simply tools within a sphere of power relations. Rank status with the familial-marital institutions has a structural effectivity upon the political, economic and ideological aspects of the identity conflicts.

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Ross Wolfe December 4, 2013 at 5:20 am

I would highly recommend you check out John D’Emilio’s essay on “Capitalism and Gay Identity,” from 1982. Homosexual behavior has existed since the dawn of recorded history, but homosexuality as a category of identity or lifestyle is a much more recent phenomenon.

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Fred Welfare December 4, 2013 at 5:35 am

Familial-marital identity or status has exited just as long but the nature of familial-marital status or rank is today an institution, a particular institution related to the current and particular mode of production under the larger structure of capitalism. My point is that homosexual identity, or any particular identity, has to be considered in connextion to the reproductive structure. The ranking system of the institutions of the family under the current form of capitalism is, from the bottom up: unmarried, married, married with offspring, married with offspring that are married, married with offspring that are married with offspring. The issue of identity politics is that individuals are being labeled in various ways because of their ethnicity, their gender (a broader spectrum of physiology and sexuality than male or female) or their socio-economic class which may include a group or regional analysis. But, these identities are always in relation to a foundational reproductive context which, in our society, involves particular marital forms by law. How can anyone think of class exploitation or emancipation without simultaneously thinking of the exploitation or emancipation of one’s marital status or family status/position.

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Michael Rectenwald December 4, 2013 at 6:12 am

No one is denying the mode of production of the family or kinship relations. The point is that under capitalism these are subsumed as forms of alienated labor, regardless of status. Further, identity is not static, as you suggest, but rather also changing, and dependent on that which it is not. A equals A but it is also “not A,” as well. Of course, all Marxists recognize the family as a structural problematic and a if not the means for the reproduction of labor, both its own and that which it provides to capitalist forces of expropriation. Rank and status as/in family are surely part of the one-sidedness of identity which Marxism seeks to resolve. I don’t see how your point really changes much, other than to add some granularity on identity. It doesn’t do much with reference to the argument, however.

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Fred Welfare December 4, 2013 at 9:08 pm

In the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and in the Communist Manifesto, Marx specifies the distinction between the social formation and the economic sphere. He describes the social formation outside of the economic sphere along Hegelian oppressor-oppressed lines. But, he specifies that his object is the economic sphere. So, today we are faced with wild identity politics, identity politics which primarily relate to family-sexual identity (try to recall the ranking structure of the family lineage): gender discrimination in all of its forms is obviously relevant to both sex and reproductive status, racism is obviously relevant to interracial taboo enforcement, and socio-economic class discrimination by exclusion is related to the skills and personality characteristics that are associated with class. All of these markers are related to the social formation outside of the economic sphere, however they have clearly infected this sphere. Why are certain jobs or positions open only to certain types of persons, why are promotions given only to certain types of persons, why is seniority either denied or contested where it is officially acknowledged. The other side of the coin from the mode of reproduction is the mode of production. Why are some people married and others not, why are some married, and unmarried, people with families of various sizes, or why have some people not reproduced, why are grandparents and especially greatgrandparents given the status in our society which they have for doing nothing but reproducing. So, this value structure is relevant to the social relations of reproduction. In many contexts, a collective belief is that a certain wage should accompany family status and that one’s income is evaluable in terms of family status – individual achievement and upper class avarice be damned. So, the contradictions of the social relations of production are closely related to the social relation of reproduction, but this connextion is ignored. If you want to understand the causality of the identity politics, one sector to examine is the reproductive context involving mate selection, pair-bonding, interpersonal conflicts, violence, and personality.

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Ross Wolfe December 4, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Take ancient Sparta, for example. As in the other city-states, most able-bodied adult men were married to a woman and had children with her. In the field, however, in foreign military expeditions and so on, male soldiers would often become sexually intimate. Not just for any proximate lack of females in the vicinity (though perhaps this is why homosexual intercourse has been associated with navies and seamanship since time immemorial), but because it was an accepted and standard practice. It was thought to have practical benefits, as well: those who fought beside others with whom they’d been intimate would fight harder to protect them (and also prove their strength, avoid humiliation). This sort of behavior took place regularly, and was not considered taboo. But it would be folly to suggest that they “identified” as gay, whatever that might even mean at that point in history.

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Fred Welfare December 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm

You say most were married but I doubt that. Ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman men were usually in the military or farming and would not “marry” until at best their 30’s, most later if at all. Casualty rates were extremely high and lives were shorter. Reproductive rates were low. Polygyny and polyandry were very common: men held harems if they had the power, and men shared women with their kin and friends. The reason for the homosexual behavior is related to the sex ratio and to the fact that pre-Christian or polytheistic people actually appreciated homosexual activity and relationships: it was a value and often a norm. But, I doubt that the homosexual behavior itself was a cause for protectiveness – relationships of affection are common among those on the same side regardless of sexual behavior, consider solidarity or comeraderie. For example, one questionable assumption for the acceptance of females in line units in today’s military is that males will become more protective, but instead, females risk sexual assault.

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anatole noziere May 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Homosexuality as a category of identity or lifestyle recognized as such by heterosexuals, and by heteronormative society, is indeed probably no more than a century old. But homosexuality, as a category of identity or lifestyle recognized as such by homosexuals, is at least as old as Minoan Crete and the first epic poem in any language, ‘Gilgamesh.’

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 2:33 am

I do think it’s interesting that most of these comments boil down to: “gay people don’t exist.”

Then again, I’ve had the same thoughts regarding the Marxist critique of race and the modern-era production of racist social structures that themselves depend on people “affirming” their own race. So I suppose I cannot judge too much.

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Michael Rectenwald September 25, 2014 at 5:11 pm

No one is saying “gays do not exist.” What I and one or two others are saying is that the category “gay” for example did not pre-exist capitalism, and in fact becomes possible under it. As such, the question is, what would become of it with the eradication of capitalism. And I think that’s hard to say, other than to suggest that the category itself would be emancipated from the logic of capital, no longer dependent on the reproduction of labor, people, or commodities.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I still think there’s not enough emphasis being placed on the insight intersectionality brings forth. It might be a type of essentialism, but it a biological essentialism, which is mighty hard for critical theory to refute. My favorite example is race, not sexuality, since while forms of each have always existed (ethno-nationalism, various forms of sexual behavior categorized as deviant) race especially catches my eye as the product of early-modern capitalist practice, or perhaps more specifically mercantilist practice. Even at the very dawn of the New World, before the social scientific support of racism in the nineteenth century, people like Cotton Mather and later the Founders treated race as essential and therefore exploitable.

That said, I think it would be hard to argue that even something so culturally ingrained as affirmation of ethnicity, or even more race, would disappear along with capitalism. I’d like to think so, but it’s not as if capitalism is the only social force in history that seeks to categorize people and make them adore their categorizations.

“Gay” as a very *certain* kind of identity might disappear in the flood of capitalist demise, but not all homosexuals identify as “gay” even in our own era, and the catch-all term people here are using belies an ignorance of contemporary queer culture, and homosexual anti-queer culture.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 2:29 am

“Thus, one could have “homosexual” desires and activities before capitalism, but not homosexuality as such.”

You are only partially correct. In ancient Rome a subset of prostitutes were called cinaedi because of their exclusive sexual relations with men, not women. This lot in life was not so much determined by one’s accident of birth (and thus economics) so much as an already-inclined sexuality that was not based on, albeit, the same reasons their customers paid to have sex with them. Homosexuality as such did exist then, though it was not exactly synonymous with men who paid to have sex with men; rather it was more synonymous with the prostitutes themselves who exclusively serviced men despite the notoriously low financial incentive for doing so, as these were among the poorest workers in the polity.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 2:25 am

I think Marxism has a lot to say about the family and the historically contingent nature of what is considered as natural or unnatural, but this strikes me as incorrect:

“Sexual orientation identities merely function as mediations of this
pressure in the attempt to avoid or assauge or comply with it…”

While the essentialist identity of “gay” (or equivalent) arises from 19th and 20th social sciences, you are confusing it with the orientation and inclination itself. If there is a deeply biological route for such orientation, be it homosexual or heterosexual, I don’t think you can attribute that to the merely bourgeois structure of the family. Exclusive homosexuality predates capitalism, indeed, it predates the West itself. “Sexuality in Medieval Europe” is a good academic work on the cultural turn in the middle ages from sex being what one does to sex being what one is. Regardless, the physical inclination was always there.

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Fred Welfare September 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

There is however a status difference between unmarried and married, between being a husband or a father – a wife or a mother, and between being a grandparent or not. The kinship roles that we “”achieve”” are to one extent a matter of circumstances and to another a matter of motivation. Intersectionality simply points to the phenomena of differential discrimination and harassment due to one’s peculiar position in the culture, perhaps because of distinctive differences in the kinship structures or practices of different groups or because of intergroup competition and cooperation. Basically, all intersectionality explains is the nature of the pecking order humans live in where rank in a dominance hierarchy is the be all end all.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Intersectionality wasn’t meant to be an all-inclusive theoretical system, though. It has no inspired treatise and is usually used alongside other critical lenses (often, even, alongside Marxist criticism). Not to mention it, as a form of conflict theory, traces intellectual roots right down to Marx himself.

Its only problem is not recognizing the contingency of human relations according to one epoch, another epoch, and so on. But I don’t think it’s trying to make its claims as stalwartly as folks here seem to think, barring a few radicals like that Dworkin woman.

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Fred Welfare September 26, 2014 at 12:42 am

No, I think intersectionality carries a universalist application: each person takes up a particular position in history on this planet in terms of their race, their gender, and their economic income (last year’s tax statement or their father’s occupation, for example). Intersectionality is the specific tension between conflicting extremes on these dimensions which are historically variable. The problem that race or ethnicity is often correlated with religion and that gender is associated with specific roles due to anatomy is hardly deniable. Race and ethnicity are mediated by class and other factors to the extent to where community or kinship relations can occur with some authenticity and sincerity, but the drumbeat of kinship rank from unmarried to married to married with children to married with married offspring to grandparenting is a necessary sequence.
If intersectionality is exclusivist, then you would need to explain the system outside of the intersectional dimensions.

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Jeremy Paler September 26, 2014 at 1:34 am

“No, I think intersectionality carries a universalist application: each
person takes up a particular position in history on this planet in terms
of their race, their gender, and their economic income (last year’s tax
statement or their father’s occupation, for example)”

But that isn’t universalist, nor a symptom of eternal verity, it’s the opposite of universalist: it’s individualist.

“The problem that race or ethnicity is often correlated with religion and that gender is associated with specific roles due to anatomy is hardly deniable.”

But the more interesting and stronger correlation is the correlation between income and religiosity. Increase income, decrease religiosity. I don’t think you can say one’s income is an aspect of identity politics, but it is an aspect of (by definition) one’s class and one’s material circumstances. It is well known that (with the exception of America) the more materially well off nations in the world are also the most atheistic, while the opposite holds true for the poorer countries. I think class determines religiosity far more than does perceived race or ethnicity; regardless religion is not transmitted biologically but wealth often is in a way.

The association of gender with certain roles is less due to anatomy, barring certain discriminatory practices in the workforce due to potential maternity, and more due to cultural assumptions, which are themselves not eternal. In some cultures women fought in wars alongside the men long before the advent of Western feminism. Now, granted, Marx wrote mostly about the West and probably did not quite intend his system to be applied *whole-sale* to pre-industrial cultures, but he also did not have the vast knowledge of pre-industrial cultures we have now. This dismantles the historical universalism.

“the drumbeat of kinship rank from unmarried to married to married with children to married with married offspring to grandparenting is a necessary sequence.”

Well, I’m not sure what you mean by this. These basic structures, by far, predate capitalism. Even the nuclear family was a large part of Roman culture, albeit the husbands were allowed much more freedom under the domus than they are now. We like to think of modern capitalism engendering our family structures but their underlying parts are Western at the core, not just modern. You *can* find many examples in anthropology where this is not the case, but again, Marx intended to write more about the West he knew, be it modern or ancient, than about scattered “non-world-historical” cultures as found in his ethnological notebooks on Africa and Asia.

Besides–when it comes to his ideas on Asia, he was pretty much just guessing, or putting in an unknown variable in an equation to fit the theory.

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Jeremy Paler September 26, 2014 at 1:36 am

By the way, I’m really liking this website!

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Fred Welfare September 26, 2014 at 2:57 am

Yes, intersectionality is universalist or inclusivist: every person has a position indicated by the unique configuration of their race, class, and gender and other factors, like religion.
It is probably not accurate to claim that as individuals or nations get richer, they become more atheist. The US is one of the richest nations and their civil religion is widespread: everyone abides the holidays of Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day among others. Christmas is very widely respected. The State government is like god in terms of dependency. So, it might be more accurate to say that as nations get richer, they become less pagan and more institutionalized by the state. Even if the atheist label holds any water, it is the same thing as a religion because it holds the place of one. But why accept anyone’s argument who cannot give any explanation whatsoever of the cause of the universe or life?
Gender is associated with “”certain”” roles because only women can ‘use’ sperm to reproduce and only a male can produce sperm and deliver it into the female. The behaviors related to each gender role are determined by their anatomy. The exceptions are in-vitro fertilization and other similar procedures. ALL other behaviors can be performed by any BODY even though there are taboos and transgressive proscriptions in place. Parenting can be performed by anyone.
There are no examples in anthropology that contradict the kinship structures of unmarried-married-parent-grandparent.

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Jeremy Paler September 26, 2014 at 3:56 am

“Yes, intersectionality is universalist or inclusivist: every person has a position indicated by the unique configuration of their race, class, and gender and other factors, like religion.”
I think we might have a different conception of what universalism means. I don’t mean it in the sense of certain traits belonging to every imaginable human culture without qualification, I mean it in the sense that, say, liberal democracy or Marxism are supposed to spread and replace all human cultures with their social formations. I refer to the Enlightenment doctrines as universalist, as well as two of the three major monotheisms.

“It is probably not accurate to claim that as individuals or nations get richer, they become more atheist. The US is one of the richest nations and their civil religion is widespread: everyone abides the holidays of Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day among others. Christmas is very widely respected. The State government is like god in terms of dependency. So, it might be more accurate to say that as nations get richer, they become less pagan and more institutionalized by the state.”
Nationalist civil religion, though indicative of false consciousness, is not metaphysical religion. By religion I mean what Marx meant by it. America is somehow the exception to the rule but it is statistically true that as atheism decreases in a country so too there is a correlative decrease in material well-being. The Islamist states are chief examples of this and the nominally atheist Marxist states still practice very powerful forms of civil religion.
“Even if the atheist label holds any water, it is the same thing as a religion because it holds the place of one. But why accept anyone’s argument who cannot give any explanation whatsoever of the cause of the universe or life?”
Well, this is completely untrue. Atheism is not just reactionary to theism, but neither need it be positive. You are confusing what atheism is to an enormous degree, I think. “Secular humanism” holds the place of religion, atheism itself does not.

“Gender is associated with “”certain”” roles because only women can ‘use’ sperm to reproduce and only a male can produce sperm and deliver it into the female. The behaviors related to each gender role are determined by their anatomy.”
I need examples of this. The anatomy of biological sex exerts very, very limited influence on the practical daily lives of our species. Again, the behaviors are associated *culturally,* not naturally. But I think you and I are in agreement on this issue and are just using different words.

“There are no examples in anthropology that contradict the kinship structures of unmarried-married-parent-grandparent.”

I still don’t understand how you’re specifically relating this to identity politics. Even if that kinship structure is universal, I would think that disqualifies it from comparative identity politics because there is no structure constituted by opposing it.

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Fred Welfare September 26, 2014 at 4:38 am

Perhaps you are mixing universalist with diffusionist. Since every single person does have the identity markers indiced by intersectionality, it is by definition universal. Whereas, enlightenment and liberal perspectives are obviously not universal; not only can people disavow and contradict their substantive claims, but both perspectives have proven to be historically relative and neither are in effect today.
The current events of today vouch for an ever-deepening envelopment of religions by theocracies, by state structures. Call it false consciousness or what you will, but we experience the Islamic State, the Christian State, or the effects of religious practices and identities on legal practices and enforcement procedures the world over. So, religion is no longer a separate peace from the realpolitik of work, family, and sex but instead religion has infiltrated these domains. Whether you complain that this is illusory or not, we live under theocratic regimes: the leadership of nations practice and follow particular religious beliefs. Even if China is a so-called communist state, the people and their leaders are either Confucianist or Buddhist. Your claim that nations grow rich as they become more atheistic is nonsense: atheism is a form of retardation that denies humanities historical exploration of religious themes and discovers new ideas about the relation of the origin of life and the universe to a creating event and perhaps to a being, but to disclaim human history and reject religious ideas is a position of denial not of enlightenment. Atheism can only be considered as a stage in one’s spiritual development, not a justifiable reason because no one is satisfied with the lack of an explanation. Consider Weber’s thesis!
Identity is closely related to kinship terms: son. daughter, father, mother, grandparent, husband, wife, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc. When these are superimposed by intersectional identity terms, the exogamy and endogamy taboos related to incest and marriage practices pop right out as severe limitations on who is and is not historically designated as a possible partner in a voluntary association and who has to be accorded a distanciated respect or civil indifference. The discrimination experienced in our everyday world is not only intersectional identity features, but one’s cultural rank in terms of role, as well.

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Jeremy Paler September 26, 2014 at 5:16 am

Ah, I suppose diffusionist is what I meant, then.

“Your claim that nations grow rich as they become more atheistic is nonsense: atheism is a form of retardation that denies humanities historical exploration of religious themes and discovers new ideas about the relation of the origin of life and the universe to a creating event and perhaps to a being, but to disclaim human history and reject religious ideas is a position of denial not of enlightenment. Atheism can only be considered as a stage in one’s spiritual development, not a justifiable reason because no one is satisfied with the lack of an explanation.”

No, this is nonsense. Atheistic (literally, a-theistic) scientific explanations of material phenomena, psychology included, are not in the least religious yet provide enormous insight into the inner workings of the world and the universe. You may look at Nietzsche’s thesis that Christian pursuits of things-in-themselves cannibalized itself and turned into scientific practice, but you may go no further than that. Marxism sought to be an atheistic science and apparently it still seeks such a goal. I don’t know where you’re getting this from, but any talk of “spiritual development” frankly does not belong in leftist discourse.

Jennifer Armstrong December 3, 2013 at 5:55 am

golly.

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Devin Bartolomeo December 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

The critique of the “identity politics” strawman is as idealist and unmaterial as they come. One could as easily say we shouldn’t aim for working class emancipation (and make no mistake, categories of “identity” are mostly themselves [meta]-class, very real, very material) because the goal is to work for a classless society!

The writings of J Sakai, Butch Lee and Red Rover are a welcome antidote to this kind of pseudo class-fundamentalism.

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right! December 3, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Red Rover, Red Rover, come over, Red Rover.

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Michael Rectenwald December 3, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Please explain how the critique of identity politics is “idealist.” One say that about anything, and without the slightest bit of justification, it signifies nothing.

Further, there’s a difference between working-class emancipation and the emancipation of groups based on identity. The working class is *not* an identity– it is a positionality in the social order. This positionality is determined by exploitation, which is verifiable and concrete. Only the emancipation from this makes possible emancipation from other categories, because the other categories are forms of alienated labor. The emancipation of the working class means the end of capitalism, whereas the same is not true for other identities, as long as the working class is not emancipated. I can’t imagine how you can’t see this.

The common mistake identity politickers make is to mistake working class positionality for an identity.

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Devin Bartolomeo December 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm

“The working class is *not* an identity– it is a positionality in the social order. This positionality is determined by exploitation, which is verifiable and concrete.”

Do you or do you not think that exploitation, oppression and outright liquidation of women and PoC/colonized communities is “verifiable and concrete”?

“The common mistake identity politickers make is to mistake working class positionality for an identity.”

And the mistake (one I can only assume to be due to deliberate obtuseness) of you dogmatic pseudo-marxists is to pretend that exploitation/oppression/liquidation of such groups is not “real” because…well, because. There is a mountain of material evidence for this but you’ve still got your fingers in your ears. The only analogy I can think of that encompasses the ridiculousness of such denial is an evolutionary scientist insisting everyone hew to a strict Darwinian gradualism and calling punctuated equilibrium “hyperactivity science” or some other such bullshit term that noone else uses. Only the scale of your denial is worse because it has real consequences for real people and is much more easily researched in the here and now.

http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2005/10/28/sakaisettlersocr.pdf read some J Sakai and get back to me when you’re done.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 2:38 am

“When the working class is emancipated, all identity groups can likewise be emancipated.”

I generally agree with that statement. The history of America’s various minority groups point to that, very much so. But I don’t agree that, according to your logic, for instance: a working class gay man will cease to be gay once he ceases to be working class.

That makes no sense whatsoever. Where philosophy tries to trump biology, biology always wins. Essentialism has its origins in Aristotelian philosophy, and survived in scientific practice for some time, but it simply cannot compete with the theory of the biological basis for sexual orientation which, like it or not, is going to encompass some sort of identity function because we are always “in culture.”

Frankly, this thought process absolutely reeks of homophobia, whether it is historically contingent or not. Some things are false consciousness, some things are not.

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Michael Rectenwald September 25, 2014 at 4:49 pm

No, there is no suggestion that a gay man will cease to be “gay.” But the category as it used now only became possible with the breakup of the extended feudal family, the introduction of individualism, and the notion that one’s identity derives from oneself and is of one’s own kind (sui generis). The category since became a market, and as such the locus for particular commidificaiton. What I am suggesting is not that people will no longer identify as gay, but rather that the category itself will be emancipated from the logic of the market and its dependencies on capitalist reproduction — of labor, of people, and of goods. What that will look like is hard to say, but in no sense is there anything homophobic about it. In fact, how do you know that I am not gay myself?

But one can say that their liberation would follow in the sense that the reproduction of the family as it is would no longer be necessary, and as such, the categories that the family excludes and/or demotes and denigrates would no longer suffer the same.

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Michael Rectenwald September 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm

One might also suggest that since the category will no longer be embattled and beleaguered, its function as such, as a kind of form of protection and politics, will be unnecessary.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Good points each, Michael. Your first post cleared some things up for me–pretty much all of it actually. Barring the biological factors, be they by birth or environment, it makes sense the (to be vulgar) superstructural categories of any sort of minority group would change once its process of cultural reproduction concomitantly.

I don’t know if you are gay, but if you were, you would not be the first gay man I’ve met who yearned for the extinction of the category. Take that how you will; I myself am an enthusiastic and exclusive homosexual.

However, your second post seems extremely Sartrean regarding homosexuality and its offspring identity categories (recall his passages in Being and Nothingness about the matter). You are thinking of gay human beings as if they are a negative reaction-formation. Political solidarity might result from such defensiveness, but I think that is *all* you can say about that. We needn’t think people are purely formed by struggle, at least any different struggles that punish the most and the least of our species simply by surviving on the planet. Sometimes Marx needed to let go of the dialectic and drink some strong tea instead.

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Taryn December 4, 2013 at 1:32 am

J. Sakai’s quote of “Race is a social construct, but so is a tank formation!” is particularly useful within this conversation

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Michael Rectenwald December 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Another way of putting this is to suggest that identity categories are forms of alienated labor, and like other occupations under capitalism, while the categories can be challenged and deconstructed, they will remain alienated and reified for as long as the system that employs them remains in effect. This doesn’t deny the “materiality” of identities,
yet it does not put their overcoming on par with overcoming capitalism
itself. In fact, it makes their *total* overcoming impossible without
the overcoming of capitalism. I know that this is basically what I
argued in the essay, but I think it could have been made even more
explicit and also avoided your charge of “idealism.” Identities are practices that, like or as positions within the division of labor, are real, are material, are enmeshed in social relations, and cannot be overcome in projects strictly devoted to the same.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 2:40 am

You will never convince anyone that homosexuality is a form of alienated labor.

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Michael Rectenwald September 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm

I should say that they are analogous to alienated labor — that is, the categories themselves. The point is that 1) such categories were impossible before capitalism (and the breakdown of the extended feudal family, the rise of individualism) 2) they have been reified and targeted as sites of commodification: 3) only the eradication of capitalism can emancipate the categories from the logic of capital, under which they are reified, sites of commodification, and dependent on capitalist relations of production and reproduction — of labor, of people, and of goods. As I said above, it’s hard to say what will become of such categories that arose under capitalism and did not pre-exist it. But one can say that their liberation would follow in the sense that the reproduction of the family as it is would no longer be necessary, and as such, the categories that the family excludes and/or demotes and denigrates would no longer suffer the same.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I don’t see how your first point connects in any way to homosexuality or its ephemeral categories of being. Your second point, however, is absolutely spot on (one need only think of any sitcom starring a gay character…and weep). But again I think you’re focusing too much on the way gay identities are formed–which is especially bothersome if you are oriented towards heterosexual activity and identification. Are we all formed in the bluster of bigoted families and beatings in the street? Being minority does not necessarily entail suffering (albeit it it is more likely in a liberal capitalist, even more likely in a theocratic nation-state, but less likely amongst smaller pre-industrial kinship groups whose gender categories are remarkably different from the West’s).

Deleuze and Guattari, although this is probably the only time I’m ever going to cite anything they’ve ever written, wrote a good little treatise on something very much like this topic. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” You should pick it up, it’s good, as for the formation of minority subjectivities not always being the result of blood and bluster.

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Ashwin Kumar A P December 5, 2013 at 9:26 am

How would identity politics, a recent export from the West, to many non-Western countries, look like if seen through a comparative cultural perspective? Could it be that the source of identity politics lies deeper than in post-soviet Socialism? I find the following link interesting in this regard:

http://www.hipkapi.com/2011/03/23/indian-americans-and-identity-politics/

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anechoic December 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm

why don’t we all wear T-Shirts with our special interest group identity emblazoned across it? Just look for the label! :(

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Fred Welfare December 5, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Why wear a t-shirt? Your ethnicity, gender and class are marked by your appearance. I doubt that these ‘demographic’ factors qualify as a conscious identity similar to my career choice or my efforts at mastering a sport. Anyone who identifies me on the basis of my appearance or markers of identity has to be considered as naive. How could such a person recognize my history or biography by such a categorization or identification? They cannot. Identity politics consists of deeper factors related to aggression and biological markers that emerge only in a moment when competitors with predispositions meet which leads to the query, ‘why do these predispositions conflict?’

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Jurriaan Bendien February 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

The concern about intersectionality arises out of competition. If for instance you get 300 applications for one job, who are you going to select? Who are you going to give a go? At some point it is, in practice, likely that it cannot be a fully “objective” selection and may indeed become rather arbitrary. You are going to look at anything to disqualify applicants.

People are likely to feel, that they are not getting a fair go, that they are being discriminated against for some or other reason. It increases the intensity of culture wars, and social solidarity with somebody who doesn’t belong to your own set goes down the gurgler. You get social fragmentation, meaning that people can no longer identify or empathize with people very different from who they are themselves. And then leftists try to bring people back together again, uniting them against a common enemy.

The problem is, they don’t emphasize what all these people have in common with each other as human beings, but that their differences, i.e. gender, ethnicity, class, age, sexual orientation etc. should be given due consideration, because that would be fairer. But that opens up a moral conundrum. In the end, it is no longer about social and civil equality, but about why special privileges should be accorded to people because of their identity, not because of their actions, achievements, competencies etc.

Even if people believe in fair competition, that doesn’t mean that it is actually going to be fair. As far as I know, there is both fair and unfair competition all the time, in capitalist society. The promise is held out, that there will be fair competition, or that competition can be made fair. But there is, in reality, always both fairness and unfairness.

The problem is really with the kinds of competition there are. Leftists have typically pointed out that capitalist competition can never be truly fair, it is just that the intensity of competition can vary, and the more intense the competition is, the more likely it is that it will become unfair.

If an economy is growing cumulatively, and markets are expanding, the intensity of competition is reduced, since economic gains can be made by all, without being at the expense of others, even if the gains are unequal. But when the economic cake shrinks, then the gain of one can only be made at the expense of the others. At that point, former friends turn into competitors or even enemies, and al sorts of extra reasons are invented for why some people ought to have a bigger slice of the cake.

The real issue is, what are we competing about, anyway? Is that real, or desirable? Some forms of competition are healthy, others are unhealthy. Unlike what the Left says, the concept of competition is actually a quite complex concept, although there are also very simple forms of competition to be found.

The intersectionality approach does try to try to tackle that question to some extent. It is just that people get nowhere, when they assert that their own identity deserves privileged treatment, or that they deserve to be taken seriously because of their personal characteristics, rather than what they do, what they have to offer, or have achieved.

Why has intersectionality become so popular recently among Marxist and other leftist academics?

To understand this, it is first of all necessary to realize that the intersectionality discourse is not new. Historians can tell you that it first arose in the 1960s when new social movements began to emerge as “single-issue” movements to campaign for causes which the trade union movement or the labour movement would not take up. But actually the more distant roots are with the “front organizations” set up by the Communist Parties in the 1920s and (especially) 1930s. The urgency of intersectionality increased in the 1980s, when parties and movements began to fragment and splinter, in response to the social crisis created by the long recession. Women were screaming “me first”, blacks were screaming “me first”, gays were screaming “me first”, unions were screaming “me first”, but none of them could really convince.

The objective reason why intersectionality is suddenly popular again now, is because the slump of 2007-2009 suddenly increased net official unemployment by 30 million workers, and real unemployment by roughly double that amount (since a lot of unemployed either dropped out of the workforce, or began to work reduced hours). That has created an enormous increase in competition between workers for jobs and promotions. So, there is again a lot of “me first” ideologies, which explain and justify why people should get access to jobs and resources, in preference to somebody else. And inversely, you have to state reasons to keep the competitors out of your own territory, which promotes xenophobia and racism.

The subjective reason is, that there is actually a market for intersectionality ideology among academic careerists, and it satisfies the academic ego’s, because it provides a shortcut to moral righteousness. You can be a Leftist and liberal, advance your career, and appear politically correct all at the same time. The more hostile that rightwing people become to positive discrimination and intersectionality ideology, the more that liberal Leftists feel justified in their stand, and the more they start talking about a fascist scare. The academics have little experience of the real world of work and the suffering it contains, rather, they “symbolically represent” what is happening in the real world, distorted by their moral allegiances. Intersectionality doesn’t really exist, it is just an academic idea, but within the academy, the idea of intersectionality can obtain a real force which it doesn’t have in society.

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Fred Welfare February 21, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I think intersectionality is real. When we are interacting with others, or merely present in a particular social space, one important aspect of our self, that is, our awareness that we are socially relating to others (whether by face to face interaction or by merely being observed and observing – and all of the distinctions that thereby occur), is our role or identity and I would consider these as very similar even though we might be ‘playing’ several roles at once, but we are managing our identity through the impressions we make which may or can be intentional and voluntary. However, there are certain aspects of our self which we cannot simply “control” by what we say or do or how we act: we cannot modulate our sex or race and our class background (include education and income level) can be manipulated but it can also be discerned. I agree this is arguable, there are arguments about perception and categorization, and even the universal problematic of the observer and the observed, but regardless of the markings of social role that can stimulate others and that you can control: your clothing, insignia (formal and informal), gestures and postures, word choice, etc. People will contextualize or assess you by their assumptions regarding gender and ethnicity which you can mediate, but you have to deal with it. It becomes particularly important in specific circumstances involving selection, threat and danger: the difference between this or that gender, this or that race, and this or that class (with specific forms of capital) can be very important. So, intersectionality is the awareness of this synthesis of the characters that each person exhibits which can only be mediated after their effect as stimuli. This can be experienced easily if the context changes from one configuration of race-sex-class to its opposite!

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Jurriaan Bendien February 22, 2014 at 11:06 am

For me, intersectionality is not real. It is the middleclass ideology of liberal academics who want to be in charge of the “fair” allocation of resources of their university, government organization or human resources department (and give themselves a rich helping of funds at the same time!).

If you meet a black person, you have to pity that person for his suffering being black, acknowledge his victimhood and your own guilt, and give him some extra money.

If you meet a woman, you have to pity that person for her suffering being a woman, acknowledge her victimhood and your own guilt, and give her some extra money.

If you meet a gay, bisexual or transgender person, you have to pity that person for his/her(?) suffering, acknowledge her victimhood and your own guilt, and give her some extra money.

If you meet a workingclass person, you have to pity that person for her suffering being workingclass, acknowledge her victimhood and your own guilt, and give her some extra money.

Of course, if somebody is black AND a woman AND working class (the true intersectionality), you have to give EXTRA money and maybe even offer to clean her toilet as well!

As regards myself, I cannot afford intersectionality. Why? Two reasons.

Firstly, because I am unemployed right now, and I live in a neighbourhood where people live from a hundred different ethnic backgrounds. Not only is my own intersectionality infinitely complex, their intersectionality is infinitely complex too. We have just so many additional characteristics which make us different and unique, that in a sense we might as well come from another planet.

Fortunately though, we can – unlike the liberal bureaucrats who exploit us with intersectionality concepts – treat each other as human beings rather than statistical aggregates, and understand each other without a lot of academic verbal garbage.

The second reason is, that if I started to treat people in the intersectional way, by running through a long checklist of whether they are white or coloured, male or female or transgender, etc. etc.I would be regarded as racist and discriminating, or as a liberal idiot who doesn’t understand anything. Over here, people wanted to be treated as human beings, not as statistical aggregates by liberal and Trotskyite exploiters.

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Fred Welfare February 22, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Please explain why you paired liberals with Trotskyites. When I enter my work place, my students are blacks and the teachers/admin are blacks or Jews. I cannot engage in any intellectual discussion because of low literacy levels. Whites have an unconscious fear of blacks and Jews are suspicious of white male sexuality. Who cares? Their majority status in that setting turns your version of intersectional itch on its head-how can I pity them when I am the object of their anger? Is it right to simply dominate a woman and make/expect her to produce children, obey my expectations, and hesitate to develop her social and cultural capital? You may believe that we have a right to do wrong, but I object to that; I must consider the synthesis of role status, of intersecting identities and impression in each context. Yes I abhor the calculated funding problems but I understand that it is a mediation pro tempore.

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Jurriaan Bendien February 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Fred, as far as I am concerned, you are just a petty racist making all kinds of generalizations about people that do not hold water, using academic verbiage that could mean anything. The intersectionality ideology is a middleclass ideology of liberals and Trotskyites intended to split and disunite the people, promote social envy, and promote unfair competition between people. There are liberals who like to appear more “Left” and “radical”, and there are also Trots who like to appear more liberal, humane and generous than they really are. I mention the liberals and Trotskyites, because they are the ones verifiably making the intersectionality argument. If you want to wallow publicly in your liberal guilt-trip, that is fine, just as long as you don’t bother me.

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Fred Welfare February 22, 2014 at 10:42 pm

You are angry and rejecting. Morally, social solidarity is a value to be realized, but when others are angry and hostile, how can solidarity occur? What can be said to an angry person? Why interact with someone who will merely get angry? Don’t you think you need to justify your treatment of others. The point of intersectionality is that these differences that segregate people are wrong. Surely, you don’t believe that intersectionality was created or discovered in order to implement liberal or neoliberal policies and practices. How do you explain hate?

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Jurriaan Bendien February 22, 2014 at 11:30 pm

You are correct, I reject your moral effluvium utterly. But I am not angry at all (that is merely your psycho-therapeutic projection); I just think your viewpoint is silly and contemptible, and that it leads eventually to the exact opposite effect than what is presumably aimed for.

I don’t need to justify my treatment of others at all, unless others feel badly treated by me. The reason is because I normally treat others with integrity.

But intersectionality is a racist ideology. Racists treat strangers “as if” they know them, in order to hang labels on them; but intersectionalists hate it, if it happens to themselves. You, too, are exactly the same. “Blacks are such-and-such”, “Jews are such-and-such” etc. What a crazy generalization scheme!

Point is, the intersectionalist is someone who thinks he is arguing from a morally superior position. He sees himself as a schoolmaster in the world, dispensing a lesson. He believes that people should be nice to each other, and for this purpose, he deigns from his rostrum to provide the populace with the tools to be nice to each other.

In this case, the tool is a matrix of identity variables.

If perchance the populace doesn’t wish to accept these tools, they are morally deficient and morally wayward, and then they need a lecture about the importance of being nice to each other and how to get there.

A sharp observer might say, “it sounds very much like the intersectionalist is a religious sermonizer”, and that is partly correct. Intersectionalism has roots in American christianism and evangelism.

The basic problems with the schoolmaster approach are:

(1) the intersectionalist isn’t actually morally superior, and has no moraly superior position. Not infrequently he is a morally inferior hypocrite. He doesn’t actually understand anything about how morals are formed in the real world, and what keeps them in place.

(2) the intersectionalist really hasn’t got a clue about why the different groups are not nice to each other in the first place. He doesn’t really understand what the conflict of interests is about, how that conflict actually emerges, and what would solve it. He assumes simply that it is a matter of “attitude”, and therefore, if attitudes were changed with the help of a moral lecture from the intersectionalist (to be sure, paid for by the university, or by tax money) everything would be well.

(3) By emphasizing how people differ, instead of what they have in common, and by treating them in bureaucratic-administrative terms of racial, sexual or class categories, rather than as human beings, intersectionalists make all the problems worse, and not better.

In summary, the intersectionalist “imagines” that, with the aid of his conceptual grid, conflicts between people with different characteristics will be solved, but in reality the exact opposite is achieved.

The useful functionality of the intersectionalist’s self-deception is precisely, that he can be the lackey or hack of the oppressor, who divides and disunites the oppressed. The role he performs, is in reality the exact reverse of what he imagines it to be: he is helping by his intersectionality to maintain and perpetuate the whole system of racial, sexual and class oppression, rather than destroying it. You begin to destroy social oppression when you begin to treat the Other as a human being, instead of “a gay”, “a black”, “a woman” and so on.

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Jurriaan Bendien February 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm

The sad thing about the intersectionality ideologues today (such as some liberal sociologists, the International Socialist Network and theorists of the Fourth International) is that they have learnt absolutely nothing from more than thirty years of activist experience with this strategy. It is as if political history never happened.

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Fred Welfare February 23, 2014 at 1:51 am

I can see your point about my subjectivity: I merely experienced anger from some blacks at work and sexual shame from some Jews at work. I should not generalize. Intersectionality is not however a moral theory. It is meant to be objective: there are people who identity as one ethnicity or another, there are males and females (and yes possibly some form of hermaphroditism), and there are people with different amounts of accumulated wealth, and therefore different interests to self-protect. People have many other characteristics which can be identified in terms of roles and personalities, etc. So, why intersectionality? Race,class and gender combine in different ways to produce a hierarchy in different contexts. You eschewed my earlier representation of the possible transpositionality of these markers! What a person thinks about these objective configurations is subjective, but the objective facts are nevertheless actual and real. Aside from the consequences of these constellations in particular contexts, the objective facts MUST abide by our society’s interpersonal norms. Therefore, when we speak of social realities, we should conform our speech so that it is accepted by others. Acceptability is a form of justification, unlike actual racist and sexist behaviors which do not follow a logic of justification and are therefore not moral. It seems to me that it is the objectivity of social reality which should be addressed in terms of the norms, like the one you offered, treat people like humans – we are all the same. Intersectionality is a way of identifying possible discrimination which is a moral issue.

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Jurriaan Bendien February 23, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Well if some black people are angry with you, for being you, that is not your fault, and as a teacher I assume you have ways of dealing assertively with this. Maybe they are prejudiced about you, but I have no knowledge about that which I can offer. Jews with sexual shame? It is possible, but then anybody can feel sexual shame sometimes. It has nothing per se to do with Jewishness. Anger and sexual shame are not things which are characteristic only of particular ethnic groups, surely. The fact that some black people get angry with you has nothing to do with the fact they are black surely, since most black people will treat you in a civil way, if you treat them in a civil way, and I assume you do.

I just fail to see how the intersectionality approach is going to help you there though. It is just a question of saying: “look we are all human beings here and there is some stuff we have to do together, let’s do it with respect for each other. And if we can’t do that, why are we here?”

The classic liberal paradigm for resource allocation has been one of meritocracy and equality of opportunity. The idea is, that everybody gets an equal chance to prove themselves, and that the system rewards competencies in an evenhanded way, so that those who prove themselves the most competent, reap the most rewards for their effort.

This concept has traditionally been criticized by the Left, especially from a structural viewpoint: there exists an (unfair) hierarchy of positions already, and the selection mechanisms by which people are placed in positions are often hardly fair, just, or objective either. There are systemic biases, which discriminate along lines of gender, ethnicity, class background, sexual orientation, age etc. so that rather than equality of opportunity existing, the system merely reproduces the social inequalities which already exist.

There is a lot of social scientific research about this by now, which demonstrates the validity of this criticism, since we can statistically track the intergenerational mobility of people from different sorts of backgrounds and with different characteristics. And we can show that a majority of people pretty much end up in the same sorts of positions that their parents had.

Intersectionality responds to exactly this kind of situation, by demanding awareness of particular handicaps people might have in trying to “make it” and particular biases than might affect their trajectory through life. The suggestion is, that somehow we can compensate for the inequity by special pleading, positive discrimination, cultural sensitivity, humane treatment and so forth. Head start programs have been implemented, legal changes have been applied to remove the legality of unfair, biased or unequal treatment and so forth. All this has no doubt has had considerable effect, especially for women. Yet, I hasten to add, the biases, unequal treatment, and unfairness has never been removed. And we can show that statistically also. Quite simply, there are still winners and losers, and that doesn’t change a great deal. The focus on how people differ just adds to the social envy and status anxiety.

That gets me back to the original point I made in this conversation: underlying the whole ideology of equality of opportunity is the concept of competition, which means that many people must inevitably lose. For every group of winners there is necessarily a group of losers. And as long as you have capitalism, that is not going to change very much at all. At best you can say, that at some moments, depending on economic conditions, the competition will be more ferocious or less intense, and that at some moments, this or that group will be more or less successful in advancing their position. There will always be outcry about unfairness, because the system is never wholly fair.

If this is accepted, the question then is what notions of intersectionality really can achieve. My point here is that by focusing on particular inequities, the functioning of the system for allocating rewards as a whole is overlooked. By focusing on the personal characteristics of competitors, and trying to make the rules of competition fairer, we have already accepted the competition principle, and thereby we have already accepted that some must necessarily lose.

So long as great social inequalities exist between adults, this situation will reproduce itself in their children. By administering “badges of ability” (the term is Richard Sennett’s – see: The Hidden Injuries of Class) for which students have to compete, the self-respect and self-confidence of students becomes dependent on achieving these badges of ability, so that psychically they learn to divide themselves into winners and losers. They internalize the rules of competion already before they know what they mean.

What then can you do, as a teacher? Well, it follows from what I have said, that if you dislike the competitive game and its inequities, you can only do three things: (1) treat all the students as human beings of equal dignity and worth, (2) reject all sorts of silly competitive behavior, and get them to cooperate with each other, to ensure that all will get as much success as they possibly can, and (3) try to get “all” the students to succeed, rather than just some of them. It’s a mammoth task, I am not saying it is easy, but you can try. The question is, whether each can succeed on their own terms, never mind all the terms which others might like to impose on them, and all the distractions of social envy and social jealousy. But if you agree with such an approach, what matters is not how people differ (whether they are male or female, black or white, gay or straight, working class or middle class, etc.), but what they all have in common, and how they can use what they have in common, to create a better outcome for all of them. Teachers cannot abolish capitalism and its inequities, but what they can do, is to instill the value of cooperation, on the basis of equality and fair play. Then at least students learn what social relations could be like, even if in reality they are often not like that.

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Jurriaan Bendien February 23, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Actually, in the mid-1980s when I was a student activist in New Zealand, there was already a journal called “Race, Gender, Class”, inspired by the tripod theory. The periodical solicited “Contributions which will assist understanding and radical political action in the broad areas of Maori self-determination, feminism, and socialism.” I actually published an interview in it once. That is now almost three decades years ago, but I regret to say that the quality of the discussion hasn’t advanced much at all, since then. The question that I have to ask then is: why? I can only surmise, that the tripod ideology serves certain personal interests that academics have, and that it responds to the never-ending moral controversies surrounding competition in capitalist society. It fits with what people want or like to hear. When the economy is booming, and all can get ahead, the discussion is put somewhat on the backburner, but when the economy slumps, the discussion is revived again.

Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 2:46 am

“The academics have little experience of the real world of work and the
suffering it contains, rather, they “symbolically represent” what is
happening in the real world, distorted by their moral allegiances.”

This is incredibly disingenuous. Lest we forget Marx had a doctorate, it is a myth that academics either don’t work or have never worked outside of academia. Most of them spent their twenties either slaving in the outside workforce, often at menial tasks, and/or living on starvation wages as they pursued their higher degrees. The people who go directly from university into the workforce often suffer less than those who do the grueling slog of the PhD, and they are renumerated more for their efforts, too, even into middle age.

Stop spreading myths.

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Jurriaan Bendien September 25, 2014 at 8:30 am

Jeremy. To a certain extent you must be right. I well remember being paid “starvation wages”, “slaving in the outside workforce” and the “grueling slog of the Phd” as a student (I didn’t finish my own Phd, but did help a friend finish his). Actually it was fairly mild stuff, compared to being in the workforce fulltime for most of the 25 years afterwards, where nobody really cares or knows about your particular academic background anyway. But my comment was not directed at “who suffers the most”, and “which victim deserves the most sympathy” which are the themes of the intersectionality crowd. Nor did I say that professional academics have no experience of the real world of work. No doubt they do have some, although they know it’s temporary, and that they have a “way out”. Friedrich Engels wrote once, that “people think differently in a palace, or in a hut”. That’s one part of what I had in mind: the fact, that academics have a particular mentality with which they view the world, and a particular way of grasping what is happening in the world. If you are experienced in this, and you are discussing in a group of people with both professional academics and non-academics, you can usually tell rather quickly who are the academics, and who aren’t. The other part I had in mind is, that (especially) in the humanities and social sciences people often write abstractly about things which go far beyond anything they have experienced themselves, guided by their own moral sympathies. I am not condemning this as such, merely stating an epistemological reality. The distortions of thought do become a problem with academic intersectionality theory, where the academics think that if you are e.g. black and working class and female, that you must have a particular place in the hierarchy of suffering and oppression and deserve special sympathy and privilege for that fact. In reality, you cannot generalize like that about people, something which you would know if you had live a long time in the real world.

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Jurriaan Bendien September 26, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I read over my original comment that provoked Jeremy Paler’s distaste, but I stand by what I said. BTW I am not “anti-academic” – contrary to Paler’s smearing – and I know very well that people from any background can suffer. I am talking about the limitations of academia in the context of the false and pernicious ideology of intersectionality. The difference between Jeremy Paler and myself is that I have personally experienced everything I am talking about, whereas he is just wafting a moralistic victimology which is neither here nor there, and never comes to grips with the topic. I know very well about the degradation of academic work, because I hold a Master’s degree in Education, and I studied the topic in detail.

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Fred Welfare February 27, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I would agree that liberty and equality are contested and that there was no real interest in these statuses until the Enlightenment period. Rawls simply provides a counterfactual or thought experiment for understanding equal liberties and exceptions to the ideal type. Pertinent work is occurring on this all the time, e.g. Jurgen Habermas, Jeffrey Friedman. I am not willing to jettison the discourse on freedom and equality even if both ideologies of the bourgeiosie or capitalist class and the state are uncritical and undifferentiated. I have not found any substance in Fukuyama.
Thank you for the references on Mandel, Miliband, and Claessen. As for Poulantzas, as I read him, he analyses the situation of capitalism through a differentiating lens which I find interesting while he indicates relevancies and problems. So I wonder what you meant by his mistakes?

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Jurriaan Bendien February 27, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Of course we always have to be concerned with freedom and equality, I don’t deny that for a minute. It is merely that these crucial concepts allow for many different permutations of argument. This creates the possibility for viewpoints which seem, on the face of it, to be progressive and worth adopting, but which, in reality, are not at all progressive, and really more the contrary.

If, in identity politics, I vigorously assert (hypothetically) that e.g. “I am a christian”, or “I am colored”, or “I am bisexual” or anything like that, then nothing in particular follows from the mere fact that I have such a characteristic, and people can draw all kinds of conclusions. What you conclude will depend on your perception of what the context is, and about that people differ too.

The root problem of intersectionality is the breakdown of a consensual morality, a set of norms that everybody can agree with. When you have an economic crisis, the economic cake shrinks, and competition intensifies; social social solidarity decreases; and social fragmentation and disintegration increases. But intersectionality doesn’t solve that problem, and it can’t. All it really says is that we should help the disadvantaged in proportion to their handicap. But we don’t need intersectionality for that. A religious victimology of suffering will do the same job quite nicely.

There exists no good Marxist treatise on equality. There exists no good Marxist treatise on freedom either. I read a lot of the literature during my life, but I never found any explicit treatise worth mentioning. Marxism is a theory and a movement without an explicit, coherent ethics, and that is one of the reasons why it has failed, so far, in my opinion.

The main thing about Poulantzas is, that he was still heavily influenced by Althusserian/neo-Stalinist structural-functionalism and super-abstractionism, and that led him astray. His concept of social classes did not have very much to do with Marx, or with the real world, for that matter. Yet, I don’t really want to discuss Poulantzas here now, because this thread is about the concept of intersectionality. Maybe we can discuss that privately or at another forum. Same with Fukuyama. Unless, that is, you can prove that Poulantzas or Fukuyama have a contribution to make to the critique of intersectionality.

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Liberty Union Party March 14, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I’m not much of an analyst any more but i feel that all you need to see the faults of most intersectional thinking is to look at it’s fruit. Many intersectionalists are uncritical supporters of Obama and the Democratic Party in the US. Their blindness to the cruel imperialism of these politicians shows clearly the failure of their analysis.

— Liberty Union Party member opinion

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Fred Welfare March 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm

What I see is Obama hitting pretty hard on the foundational basis of intersectionality: sexual assault judicial actions against the military institution, provisions for health care for the poor especially inner city groups, minimum wage imporvements and now an attack against the surplus labor exploitation practiced on the workers. The treatment of workers and teachers is already at an all time low, but Obama’s proposals are point on.

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Jurriaan Bendien March 18, 2014 at 11:16 pm

You are right that some of Obama’s social legislation is morally progressive and a step forward for Americans. Yet – aside from being only a few snippets from the salons of the rich – the problem is that you can rarely legislate better human relations into existence.

Better human relations grow out of a better way of life. If there is rising competition for jobs and resources, you don’t get better human relations, because it is the very opposite of social solidarity. You can e.g. give women the right to vote, which is certainly progressive, but that doesn’t mean of itself – as feminists pointed out – that the position of women gets significantly better, certainly not the position of all women.

There is no big secret about the ingredients of a better way of life. But it is not going to come about, just because Obama signs another law, or issues an order to appease the moral feeling of the middle class. It is going to happen, if people themselves conclude they have had enough, and start to do something about it themselves, together – in other words, when they feel that they have to change something themselves, about their own relations.

But my experience is that intersectionality ideology doesn’t really help with that. It doesn’t tell people what they have in common, but how they differ. People are not judged on their actions and achievements, but on who they think they are. And so on. Intersectionality ideology is a reflection of status competition, and it is usually status competition that rips progressive organizations apart.

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Fred Welfare March 19, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Great song. So, gender and race should not play a role in attitudes towards others, especially in terms of work roles. Ideally, I would agree. But, intersectionality is claiming that paying attention to race and gender is important because of the problem of stereotypes. Is stereotyping occurring? As for class, an important layer on the mix, status differences have an effect on person perception. The effect is particular to the person’s involved in any situation or context. I get the point that each person is an individual and should be understood as unique. The unique aspects of a person do have to be integrated with another’s for relationship to occur! But, I am also concerned about bias, some people are hell bent against certain ‘traits’ and I think that needs to be pointed out and confronted.

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Jurriaan Bendien March 23, 2014 at 2:15 pm

People talk about cognitive intelligence (IQ etc.), emotional intelligence (EQ), but there is also “social intelligence”. Intersectionalists score very low on social intelligence.

The reason is, that they think that if somebody is black, or female, or holebi, or working class etc. that they can automatically infer something from that. And you can’t, or only very little. Trust me, I worked for a while as research statistician.

I have been to a few dozen countries in the world, and in each of those countries the bottom line is, that people want to be recognized and respected as human beings of equal dignity – first and foremost.

Of course, if you strike up a friendship with somebody from an another ethnic group, you are going to find out more about what the ethnically distinctive characteristics are of that person, as you go along. You find out more about the ways in which ethnicity can matter.

The most important problem with discriminatory biases though is, that people have presuppositions about a human situation, even although there is really nothing in the situation which warrants those presuppositions.

Thus, the a priori differentiations used by the intersectionalist actually achieve the exact opposite of what they intend: instead of sensitizing people to biases, they create artificial distinctions which place people in categories which may not even express anything about the sense they have of who they are.

If for example you see a guy whose skin colour is black, that does not mean necessarily that this black guy constructs his own identity as “being black”. He might construct his identity as “I am an accountant, a construction worker, or a councillor” etc. Maybe (and very likely) he just doesn’t want to be endlessly reminded of the fact he’s black, he gets sick and tired of that stuff. More importantly, even if he identifies as black, you don’t even know what being black means to him. In fact, you don’t even know him… that is the whole point. Yet before you know anything about him, you have already placed him into a category which implies something about how you are going to approach this guy.

If you had social intelligence, you would approach a human being first as a human being with equal dignity, and through interacting with that human being find out what he or she really means, and how you ought to regard that.

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John Smith March 31, 2014 at 8:30 pm

My first instinct, I must confess, is to take issue with the idea that the tu quoque argument holds any validity in this instance. While I agree that attempting to mechanically, and in a 1:1 fashion, trace someone’s (perceived) ideology, or ‘bourgeois ideological elements’ from their (perceived) bourgeois upbringing, is highly problematic, to say the least, we should also recognize the dictum it is indeed our “social being that determines [our] consciousness”. It is no wonder, then, that participation in identity politics is highly correlated with our income, education, etc or that of our parents. Whether or not ‘subaltern’ subjectivity can ever be effectively subsumed into, or constructed out of, bourgeois consciousness is another argument altogether. I tend toward agreeing with Gadamer’s ‘fusion of horizons’, personally…

But, more importantly, defense of proletarian subjectivity need not exhibit all of the pathologies of ‘identity politics’ you identified. Identity politics devolves into a subjectivist version of liberal individualism precisely because it is subjective and based upon difference/différence in an almost unlimited number of vectors of analysis. Proletarian subjectivity is based upon, ideally, a single vector of analysis (relationship to the mean of production) and, therefore, (ostensibly) scientific/objective, even if there is some nuance (eg. is middle management petit bourgeois or working class). In sum, proletarian subjectivity is an attempt to construct, or a theoretical/scientific identification of, a universal subjectivity – of universality, rather than a particularist milieu of individual subjectivities.

Interestingly, at this point, it should be clear that it is not the ‘theory’ of identity that is the problem, i think, but the ‘practice’ of identity ‘politics’ that is highly problematic, as I think you were pointing out with your reification critique. But, I’m no expert, so maybe I’m way off base. Good day

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Michael Rectenwald April 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

Class is not primarily an identity, but rather a positionality relative to the means of production and capital in general.

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Jacob Richter May 20, 2014 at 2:03 am

On the problematic minefield of “identity politics,” I think it’s time the left learned from Michael Lind’s “Radical Center” politics on social issues. Sure, don’t tolerate racism, sexism, and other forms of identity-based discrimination when it comes to internal organizing, but out in the public policy sphere it’s the “democratic deficit” and working-class economic issues, stupid!

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Eric Madison May 20, 2014 at 10:18 pm

All identity politics–to the extent that it privileges “pure” or “natural” or “personal” differentiators over social class and the effects of class warfare–opposes scientific socialism, which is meaningless without the conception of history as progressive and driven by economic class conflict.

The much-derided “conventional” Marxist view (not BTW the Stalinist view) sees the flowering of individuality as the consequence of a future permanent solution to economic class conflict, not as a “spiritual” condition prior to and transcending immersion in that conflict.

Identify politics, as such, completely obscures this and is fundamentally puritanical, moralistic, and anti-historical.

Indeed, the post-modernist view in general–of which most, if not all, instances of Intersectionalism and its affines are examples–opposes any view of history as progressive or weighty, and specifically rejects any notion of scientific progress as even conceivable, let alone relevant to–or acceptable in–discussions of history.

This is really what is at issue here. But today’s obscurantists know better than to make falsifiable assertions about measurable facts. Thus they avoid not only censure but also–and more importantly–the ridicule that has lurked beyond the firelight of Theory at least since Alan Sokal launched his memorable and still unforgiven parody some twenty years ago.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 3:47 am

And the biggest flaw in this line of thinking is:

“identity” is not equivalent to “identity politics.” Unless someone here is about to spouting off about the French post-structuralists and say neither you nor I (nor Marx) exist, we ought to keep this in mind. Identitarians and the identitarian left, with left automatically injecting politics into the fray, are also different things.

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Jeremy Paler September 25, 2014 at 6:57 pm

I would like something clarified. A trope in these comments asserts that the working class is not an “identity.” I think I get the gist of that, in a certain spacial functionalist view of dynamic social totality, but I really think we are confusing our use of “class” as a category which ought to be anathema to any Marxist criticism.

Class need not be eternal, no Marxist can indeed say this was the case, but at that identities themselves need not be eternal either. I don’t think many supporters of intersectionality theory would say they compose the verities (Foucault, Butler, for gender, other critical race theorists who nevertheless trace the origins of such identities to specific historical conjunctures). Yet, at least how I think, class is very much like an identity when applied to a person–thus false consciousness. You can have the English and French bourgeoisie Marx analyzed, or you can have the bourgeoisie that existed in Northern America in the nineteenth century, or the scattered bourgeois of the American South in the same time period (alongside their feudal counterparts). But the entire point of class criticism is that while classes change over time, the individuals who live under their umbrages probably do not–I don’t think Marx had it in mind that the proletarians he wrote about would actually live to see the communist eschaton.

The sheer similarites in discourse between intersectionality proponents and Marxist class theoreticians really makes me think the criticism of the former by the latter is missing a whole, whole lot of important relations between the history of these two strains of thought. It might be undialectical, and less dynamic, but as applied to living, actual people with limited lifespans instead of whole historical epochs, it seeks the same emancipatory force as Marxism does, and is used alongside it (specifically Marxist-feminism) often enough that I am left wondering: why the hostility?

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Michael Rectenwald September 26, 2014 at 5:56 am

I’ll reply soon, but not tonight; too tired. But this is a great post.

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Jeremy Paler September 26, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Any thoughts, then?

Class, I think, originated as a critical concept (if not as an already-real category in feudal relations) in nineteenth century social science. So too did scientific racism and other attempts at categorizing social essences. I don’t really buy that class is not a received identity considering it is materially based and that most wealth is inherited from families, not earned through income. If anything class is THE foundation for other identities, from which they arise.

I’d prefer clarity over long-winded theoretical mumbling. Sometimes I get lost on these comments. I am not a stupid man, but only a stupid man confuses long-windedness for intelligence. You’ve been fine in this, Michael, but others I’ve seen really boggle…

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Michael Rectenwald November 17, 2014 at 5:47 am

Sorry for the long delay. I should say and should have said that class is not *primarily* an identity. I should have noted that there are two sides to class — the side that is based on the objective position of the class with reference to capital, as well as the formation of the consciousness of that class *as* a class, i.e., its “subjective” character, or, frankly, its identity. So yes, you are right by correcting this one-sidedeness in my statements.

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Michael Rectenwald November 17, 2014 at 5:50 am

And frankly, in my own work, I pay a lot more attention to the latter aspect, the aspect treated so well by E.P. Thomspon in the Making of the Working Class, which emphasizes precisely the “subjective” side of class, which, after all, is the side from whence politics derives.

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abraham Weizfeld PhD March 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm

There is no way to reconcile Marxism with ‘identity-politics’, which is to say that Marxism is isolated from the actuality of oppression due to the categorical imperative of the class dynamic alone. Even Marx acknowledged the existence of social ‘Orders’, a concept that this and all other Marxist works ignore to their fault. This discussion is not new. Consider the debate and the exclusion about the Jewish Bund in 1903 when both factions united to expel the Jewish socialist revolutionary movement from the 2nd International. And consider Marx’s first pamphlet published in 1848 entitled ‘The Jewish Question’, which defined the Jewish People as an unhistorical Nation, doomed to disappear from history and yet even the Nazis could not accomplish that projection. The Marxist error is not only in its fixation but also in its methodology by retaining the classical causal method in which class is the cause of all. Pity the poor Marxists who seek to reconcile such theory with the actuality. No wonder the Marxist revolutions have ended up in a dead end.

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Rosa Harris March 22, 2016 at 8:08 pm

I gave up on trying to use the term “working class”. I feel that at the time Marx put it forward what he was pointing to was the excluded elements in society and at the time it’s form was primarily as factory workers. This group did encompass the many different oppressed identities in Europe at the time but has now lost that generic expression.

Today I think the meaning or intent of Marx is better expressed as the excluded. The excluded has the power as a term to speak to all. You feel it in your soul every day.

So I say, us, the excluded. Those of us who are left on the outside, without voice, who feel power less, we are the excluded. We are the uncounted. Often we are the unseen.. those things this society wishes to hide. We are made to carry its shame and it’s fear. The excluded, without place yet everywhere present. Without power, yet infinitely powerful. We alone can create the possibility of a world that is ours

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Fred Welfare February 25, 2014 at 3:54 am

Rawls begins his theory of justice with the consideration of the original position in which a person is asked to consider what interests would fair if you did not know your race, gender, or class before you were born. Rawls concludes with his famous 2 principles of Liberty and Equality which can be condensed into equal liberty as the primary good. A person has the right and should be able to choose whatever actions s/he desires without concern for whether others consider them to be good. This does present the problem of possible harmful consequences of the choice of action, but in the cases where no harmful consequence occurs, this seems to be the best solution. However, as you stated, Rawls is embroiled in endless moral controversy mostly because other people simply do not understand the moral problem. They are unable to imagine making a decision that would benefit them without knowing their race, gender, or class. Mostly, they just a pick a good, like a hedonist outcome, without considering the intersection, and are immediately recognized as having picked a heteronomous choice in which one configuration is benefited and another burdened.

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Jurriaan Bendien February 26, 2014 at 12:00 am

I mentioned previously already about meritocracy and equality of opportunity. John Rawls’s theory fits completely within that framework. He fully accepted the principle of equality of opportunity, overlooked the problems with it, and then he proposed a “top up” theory of justice, whereby you give some extra resources to the disadvantaged. And that sounds a helluva good kind of christian compassion. I mean, I am in favour of equality of opportunity too in that sense. How would you like it if, in a marathon, some able-bodied men get a headstart of one mile, because of their skin colour? That would be very unfair, surely. Originally, intersectionality was a concept of the radical Left, but over time it has now been absorbed into Rawlsian liberal reformism, whereby rich people show a bit of charity for the poor. Rawls assumes that there will always be inequality but he thinks it is fairer and better if we mitigate that reality to some degree. Unfortunately in the real world, competition is not sportsmanlike. There is no “level playing field.” I think Rawls does understand what the moral problem is, but for a philosopher his answer is just terribly lousy, in a technical sense. The reason for that is, that all his core concepts are very poorly defined, superabstract and vague. He doesn’t really think through the concept of inequality. You can conclude all kinds of things from Rawlsian ideas, and that is precisely also what happens: a Rawlsian reformist bureaucracy arises to redistribute resources to the poor, according to its own terms. Of course, the reformist bureaucracy doesn’t forget its own material interest, and stuffs its own pockets with money from taxes and endowments! Here, where I live in the Netherlands, we are supposed to have one of the most “Rawlsian” countries in the world. But actually, researchers have discovered that the wealthy middle class gets much more financial benefit out of the Welfare State than poor people do. It turns out that Rawlsian redistributive justice was a wonderful ideology to justify middleclass people helping themselves to state funds, and using the state to protect their property. It turns out that Rawlsian ethics is just an apology for inequality. A true ethics is an empirical ethics, but an empirical ethics is so threatening and close to home that academia will not discuss it much. A

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Fred Welfare February 26, 2014 at 2:45 am

Keeping up with Rawls is a full time job, he has revised his position several times. But, his 2 principles of liberty and equality are definitely key factors to any moral understanding of human social foundations. He does stipulate that the difference principle, under the equal liberty standards, permits inequality if it benefits the worst off. This may of course be flawed in particular cases. Intersectionality is empirical fact which should be adjusted by policies which seek race and gender balance and a redistribution of income to level the field. So, I think of intersectionality as an index of inequality and a claim to a possible solution: balancing. However, our social foundations are exactly the opposite: segregation is endemic, gender discrimination is ridiculously ubiquitous, and class differences just keep getting more extreme, not to mention group and kinship differences. So, it is really just a rule of thumb for identifying what’s wrong. Social boundaries or economic boundaries as found in Poulantzas may be more explanative. Do you read Poulantzas?

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Fred Welfare February 26, 2014 at 2:45 am

Keeping up with Rawls is a full time job, he has revised his position several times. But, his 2 principles of liberty and equality are definitely key factors to any moral understanding of human social foundations. He does stipulate that the difference principle, under the equal liberty standards, permits inequality if it benefits the worst off. This may of course be flawed in particular cases. Intersectionality is empirical fact which should be adjusted by policies which seek race and gender balance and a redistribution of income to level the field. So, I think of intersectionality as an index of inequality and a claim to a possible solution: balancing. However, our social foundations are exactly the opposite: segregation is endemic, gender discrimination is ridiculously ubiquitous, and class differences just keep getting more extreme, not to mention group and kinship differences. So, it is really just a rule of thumb for identifying what’s wrong. Social boundaries or economic boundaries as found in Poulantzas may be more explanative. Do you read Poulantzas?

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Kevin August 6, 2015 at 11:39 pm

As a Canadian living in a semi-socialist society your comment is “bang on” (accurate without being hyperbole). We are currently in an election with parties guaranteeing gender parity. So next we will have equal representation based on race, sexuality, ableism? Equal representation will happen in time, oppression is an issue but forcing equality artificially is insane.

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