Published online 19 January 2015.
Omigod racists!….. under capitalism.
This is a well-promoted line. Don’t say anything that would mark you as a racist, because if we can get all of the racists to shut up capitalism will be totally kewl. Never mind that past capitalism (and to a certain extent present-day capitalism) is what made racism what it is, and that the situation cries out for a remedy or something like that.
That one is similar to:
Omigod sexists!….. under capitalism.
Sexism demeans women to be sure. What matters, however, is that in respecting women in our careful use of language we make the existing power structure look good, because it’s important to appear nonsexist when exploiting a working class composed of women. Meanwhile we have:
Omigod Islamophobes…… under capitalism.
This one is a close relative of:
Omigod antisemites…… under capitalism.
Now, it’s important that we respect people regardless of their religious affiliations, sexual orientations or age or “ability” or body weight status or whatever, because if we can keep focused upon those things for long enough maybe we can ignore the real dirty deeds that get done every day. After all, if we could just rid the world of “discrimination” and “prejudice” then we could pretend that everything was just wonderful! And that’s what really matters, right?
After all, you don’t suppose there’s any connection between the rise in expressed Islamophobia and antisemitism in Europe and the fact that Europe is in recession, do you?
Folks, did you ever read Dinesh D’Souza’s (1996) book The End of Racism? D’Souza’s embrace of culturalist arguments is pretty objectionable, so that might stop a lot of people right away. (From the Amazon summary: “Much of what D’Souza says flies in the face of liberal doctrine. He maintains that there are cultural differences that account for distinct levels of achievement among races, and that racism cannot be blamed for ‘black failure.'”) It’s pretty disgusting stuff.
But the most amusing thing about D’Souza’s argument is that he maintains that there is such a thing as “rational discrimination.” The heart of this argument can be read on pages 277 and 278:
As Randall Kennedy observes, “The market cannot be counted on to drive out all forms of discrimination.” Conventional economic theory holds that arbitrary racial discrimination is economically costly. The reason is pointed out by Nobel laureate Gary Becker: employers who don’t hire the best person for the job are going to suffer relative to their competition. Even discrimination based on arbitrary features can be profitable, however, when the cost of discrimination is lower than the transaction cost of evaluating candidates on an individual basis. In such cases, the result is what economists have called “statistical discrimination” or what I have termed rational discrimination.
So, to be sure, there is a reasoning behind “rational discrimination,” as a logical core for racism — it’s a bourgeois, capitalist logic. Racists think like employers conducting hiring reviews, or insurance assessors conducting risk estimates. Also note D’Souza’s caricature of hiring as such. In real hiring, there is typically no one “best person for the job” — rather, the number of “best people for the job” must usually be pared down to correspond to the number of job openings, through some sort of (potentially massive) statistical discrimination. Such statistical discrimination, like racism, gets worse when there’s a jobs crisis.Oh and also please note D’Souza’s “remedy” for rational discrimination. Page xxiv:
Precisely because I am disturbed about the individual injustice perpetrated by rational discrimination, I advocate strategies that are aimed at changing group behavior so that there will be no empirical grounds for such discrimination to continue.
You see, if the oppressed change their behaviors, then nobody will have any cause to think like employers or insurance assessors….. under capitalism.So do you all seriously think you’ll get rid of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism etc. while leaving capitalism untouched?
Happy MLK day!
Side note: there is also an interesting piece by Victor Wallis in the December 1997 issue of Capitalism Nature Socialism (titled “Ecological Socialism and Human Needs”) in which we are asked to envision a society without wasteful professions. Wallis begins:
Ecological and socialist criteria converge in demanding an end to the wasteful consumption of resources and energy. Among human activities, we may classify as preeminently wasteful those which are undertaken not in response to universal human needs (which include spiritual or cultural as well a material objectives) but rather in conjunction with institutional imperatives reflecting the power and the interest of a particular class.
So here are the activities Wallis suggests are especially wasteful:
* The advertising industry, together with private insurance, banking, and associated communications, accounting, and legal services;
* The construction, resource-use, and services arising from the automobile/ shopping mall/ suburban sprawl complex;
* Excess energy use arising from the global integration of production processes and from over-reliance on long-distance trade;
* The development of a highly specialized fuel-intensive agriculture with heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides;
* Certain fuel-intensive, typically macho recreational activities giving their users an artificial sense of power (car-racing, snowmobiles, jet-skis, speedboats, etc.);
* A growing sector of purely status-related luxuries, defined as such by (a) their frivolity — including pandering to sexist or racist norms (e.g. cosmetic surgery to disguise age or ethnicity) — and (b) their highly restrictive prices;
* The police, private protection, penal, and military services built up in response to the threat and/or the reality of challenges — whether individual (delinquent) or collective (revolutionary) — to concentrated private wealth;
* Whatever proportion of general production (and construction) or ancillary services — including health care — is accounted for by demands placed upon the system, or upon individuals, by the abovementioned practices. (49)
But, hey, I guess everyone’s got to have something to sell!…..
Until that day, I guess we stay, doing what we do, screwing who we screw….