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Re: <nettime> When repression is cheaper than redistribution
Brian Holmes on Mon, 4 Sep 2017 20:16:27 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> When repression is cheaper than redistribution

On 09/04/2017 04:43 AM, walter palmetshofer wrote:

The question is "Do you really want change or do you want just change things a little bit?"
49:50 "you spot real change, when ..."

That's a great interview from Adam Curtis and t's worth listening to the whole thing. Just to be explicit, in the concusion he says:

"You spot real change happening when you see people from the liberal middle classes beginning to give themselves up to something, surrender themselves for something bigger than themselves. And at the moment, there is nothing like that in the liberal imagination."

Keith Hart is definitely right that the white middle-aged middle classes are not this force of change. It's not happening massively among them/us. Instead the most massive phenomenon is a reactionary attempt to hang on to past gains, that's Trump, that's Brexit, but that's also the US Democratic party whose mainstream constituency wants to keep on reaping gains from the finance-driven economy, without any greater redistribution. There is a powerful self-interest at work: no one in these classes is going to be as wealthy in the future as they are now, that's pretty clear, so practically everyone wants to hang on to what they've got and continue to enjoy whatever income stream is theirs. And that's exactly why so much surveillance and repression is currently tolerated. I would include myself in all the above diagnosis.

But it would be short sighted to see only this half of the situation. Keith also looks at it from Africa, where he has worked for decades, and I'll try a view, not from my personal perspective, but from where I live. I want to specifically address this question of the liberal middle classes.

Right now among precarious white middle class youth in the US, especially those who support Black Lives Matter and go out in the street against Trump, there seems to be an increasing disidentification from the avarice of the older generations. It's an awareness that they will not have access to such relative opulence, coupled with a consciousness of a general condition of injustice going far beyond themselves. I meet young people with a different look in their eyes, not such a self-interested one. Is this just a moral aspiration or will it translate into something concrete? I don't know. In any case, this change began to happen when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was expressed nationally in the Occupy movement, it was solidified with the grassroots response to Superstorm Sandy and it became effective and more or less undeniable as a grassroots political force with the fairly widespread support from white middle class youth for Black Lives Matter and the continuing anti-racist movements.

You get where I'm going. How much denial does it take for a young person not to see that the flooding of Houston, and the suffering of its poorer black and brown inhabitants, is an augury of their own future? I think the only force that could create and maintain that denial would be a new economic expansion that puts lots of money in young white people's pockets and makes them stupid again, as in the dot-com boom (sorry all you dot-commers, but that's how capitalism works). However I also think that the next expansion is going to be highly restrictive, it will happen but the surplus won't reach many people, it won't be like the 90s, much less the 50s. So youth from the liberal middle classes could well begin giving themselves up to something bigger, as a fair number of them are already doing.

Keith is right to say that "we (the insular white critics) are not going to be where the action is," but anyway, giving yourself up to something bigger means precisely that you don't lead, you don't control, you don't have the first or the last word. Something bigger does, and the major question in society right now is to identify what that is, and to influence how it will develop, because socio-economic and climactic condtions are inevitably leading to new forms of collective identification and organization, beyond any mere redistribution of existing spoils, and with an urgency that can't be entirely repressed, no matter how much surveillance is put into it. The current struggles in the US over white supremacy are a prelude to struggles over the role of the state in the face of imperial decline, consequent economic stagnation, massive immigration and concurrent environmental breakdown. Will broad forces of civil society push the state toward egalitarian responses? Or will oligarchical forces push it instead toward ever-greater repression?

These questions become directly sensible in every new racialized confrontation and every new extreme weather event. Lived experience is what overcomes the limits of the liberal imagination.

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