I’ve recently found myself thinking back to an argument which Jeff Weeks makes in The World We Have Won. From pg 7:
The real achievement is that inequality has lost all its moral justification, and this has profoundly shifted the debate. Inequality now has to be justified in ways it never had to be before.
I take his point to be that the burden of justification has shifted from inequality to equality. This does not necessarily entail a diminution in oppression, but rather a cultural shift in how oppressors seek to legitimate their action e.g. patently Islamophobic sentiment is articulated in terms of a concern for gender equality.
Trump and his supporters are pushing against the boundaries of this framework, but it is still for now in place. What gets dismissed as ‘political correctness’ is something we should fight for. This much shared passage from Richard Rorty illustrates what is at risk if we don’t:
Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
A slogan more frequently encountered on pro-police demos has been repeatedly daubed inside the Facebook headquarters, creating embarrassment for a corporation whose staff are overwhelmingly white and male:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reprimanded employees following several incidents in which the slogan “black lives matter” was crossed out and replaced with “all lives matter” on the walls of the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.
“‘Black lives matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t – it’s simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve,” Zuckerberg wrote in an internal Facebook post obtained by Gizmodo.
Will such attitudes inevitably thrive under the conditions of meritocratic elitism which characterise much of the technology world?
Thanks to Peter Holley for sharing this with me. The Finnish Foreign Ministry has launched a “don’t come” Facebook campaign in Iraq and Turkey:
The thrust of the Ministry’s Facebook campaign is to persuade young men coming from conflict-ridden areas that it’s not work the risk and expense to come to Finland, said Finns Party MP Sampo Terho.
“This realistic message about the possibility of receiving asylum status in Finland is in the best interests of Finland as well as those who are planning the journey. If it’s practically a sure bet that you will be repatriated, why then would you waste up to 10,000 euros on the trip?” Terho queried.
According to the Finns Party parliamentary group the campaign has been rolled out in Arabic and is directed at young men planning to travel to Finland to seek refuge. The Foreign Ministry said Friday morning that the Facebook update had received close to 80,000 views.
Terho, who is the head of the Finns Party parliamentary group, said that the aim of the campaign is to try to curb the so-far “uncontrolled” influx of people.
It makes the British Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ van seem remarkably low tech in comparison:
Given what seems likely to be a hardening climate of opinion across Europe, it strikes me that some disturbing examples of digital authoritarianism might be enacted, in a register of exceptionalism, normalising their potential wider application in the future. As Peter observed to me, it’s the use of the capacity for modelling built into the Facebook platform that’s really interesting here: the efficacy of the intervention rests upon a claimed capacity to identify and engage with “young men planning to travel to Finland to seek refuge”. How might this same ambition manifest itself domestically?
It’s probably 12 years since I first heard this song. It’s been on my mind today as I’ve been thinking about recent events in Europe. It’s one of those songs that indexes my unfolding life, as I recurrently come back to it and find something slightly new each time. The depressing thought I had earlier was how much less abstract it seems now than it did a decade ago:
Is this what we deserve?
To scrub the palace floors?
To fight amongst ourselves,
as we scramble for the crumbs they spit out?
Frothing at the mouth about the scapegoats that they’ve chosen for us.
With every racist pointed finger, I hear the goose steps getting closer.
They no longer represent us. Is it not our obligation
to confront this tyranny?
I’m currently listening to BBC Any Questions and, perhaps predictably, it’s filled with UKIP supporters following their success this week. Its astonishingly depressing stuff. But one recurrent feature has been the notion that politicians have continually suppressed free debate on immigration by “playing the race card” until Nigel came to their rescue and allowed the “silent majority” to freely voice their concerns. One caller I found particularly interesting said: “anyone who criticises an ethnic minority group in this country would be immediately labelled a racist. Then there would be those lazy analogies where anyone who criticises ethnic minorities is said to lead to the gas chambers”.
The point here seems to be an expectation of criticism free speech rather than free speech – why do so many seem to believe that their views being criticised amounts to views being suppressed? I think a lot of these people are effectively trying to say “you’re being racist about racists” i.e. those inclined to criticise ‘ethnic minority groups’ are being treated unfairly, reduced as complex persons to this one particular trait that is the target of their critics. It’s a reflection of the same tendency which leads some to argue, with seeming seriousness, that “posh people are the last persecuted minority”.
Those making this argument don’t see themselves as racist, with ‘racist’ being a term seen to imply imminently genocidal inclinations*, but rather as having ‘legitimate fears and anxieties’ targeted at ‘ethnic minority groups’ (understand as homogenous blocs). So to be called racist is experienced as an impediment to their articulation of these anxieties… until Mr. Farage comes along to stand up for this ‘silent majority’.
*I suspect answers to the question “what is a racist?” vary significantly along party lines.
Two excellent looking events organised by people in my department:
Workshop on Race, Racism and Digital Communications, 10.30-1pm, Gillian Rose Room (R3.25), Ramphal Building, University of Warwick [with the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, Warwick]
Discussion featuring Alana Lentin, Sanjay Sharma, Kirsten Forkert and Nathaniel Tkacz on transformation of race through digital communication networks, ambient racism and racism denial on social media, and social media responses to government immigration campaigns. Lunch provided.
Seminar and book launch for Stories of Cosmopolitan Belonging: Emotion and Location (eds Hannah Jones and Emma Jackson), 1pm-4pm, Gillian Rose Room (R3.25), Ramphal Building, University of Warwick
[with Urban Studies, University of Glasgow]
Discussions on home, migration and belonging including Kieran Connell on music and Black British identity in Birmingham and Melissa Fernandez Arrigoitia on public housing struggles in Puerto Rico, with contributions from Emma Jackson, Hannah Jones and Goldie Osuri.
http://digitalracism.eventbrite.co.uk and/or http://cosmobelonging.eventbrite.co.uk i
Curse this ranting audience member for making me warm to David Aaronovitch:
If only this could be laughed off in reality. I find it hard not to be severely pessimistic when I think this through.