Voyou Désœuvré

I was very happy to see this response from the newly-formed coalition at Berkeley to the stupid College Republican bake sale. As College Republican groups have been doing for years, the Berkeley group decided to sell cupcakes at different prices to people of different races to make some kind of facile point about affirmative action.  The thing about the Republican stunt is that it’s stupid, and intentionally so, which makes it difficult to know how to respond. The coalition, as it turned out, had the right strategy – ignore the ten racist wankers with cupcakes, and organize a few hundreds students, mostly of color, in a striking demonstration of their visibility on Sproul Plaza. Don’t engage with the idiots, just show how pathetic and marginal they are.

I was happy to see this successful response, because the response from the University administration had been (predictably) useless, and the response from Student Government (perhaps not quite as predictably), also awful. Read more↴

Towards the end of this interview with Doug Henwood, Adolph Reed criticizes the tendency to describe the effect of race on contemporary politics using analogies drawn from the racism of the past—as a “new slavery” or “new Jim Crow.” I was reminded of Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History”:

One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.

It’s no accident that the description of contemporary racism in terms of past racism appeals to progressives, because the structure of the argument is itself progressive; that is, it suggests that there is a natural tendency for things to get better, and things which are bad are bad because they are outdated. This view presents racism as an atavism, and, in doing so, actually downplays the importance and persistence of racialized inequality; racism, it suggests, should have ceased to exist some time back in the 50s, but mysteriously has failed to do so.

I realized the area I’d moved into was further along in gentrification than my old neighborhood when I went out to get some food and quickly came across a smart-looking cafe with only two items on its menu: soup and grilled cheese. This is probably a good thing; personally (the soup/grilled cheese combo was quite tasty) but also ethically. As a white guy who doesn’t have a huge income but has quite a lot of, for want of a better term, social capital, gentrification is my essence, quite independent of my will in the matter; so, better to live somewhere that’s already pretty much gentrified, rather than assist in kicking off the process in some new area.

I say “ethically” rather than “politically,” because centering your analysis around anti-gentrification leads to moralism and bad politics. Read more↴

A footnote in Capital:

In English writers of the 17th century we frequently find “worth” in the sense of value in use, and “value” in the sense of exchange value. This is quite in accordance with the spirit of a language that likes to use a Teutonic word for the actual thing, and a Romance word for its reflexion.

Marx misses a trick here by failing to point out why English has this strange dichotomy. Read more↴