NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback
11-01-2010, 05:49 PM (This post was last modified: 11-01-2010 07:34 PM by achali.)
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback
I'm reading Slavoj Zizek's "First As Tragedy, Then As Farce".. a marxist critique of the failures of capitalism.
Coming from the marxist perspective, it's no suprise but, one of the things he brings up is the irrationalities of focusing on culture period. Now, this itself has been a point of critique, from blacks in particular, of marxism -- this lacking of respect for the cultural perspective.
But Zizek is no amateur philosopher and his logic is sound. He seems to assign culture to the cause of survival, while arguing that the systemic "nature" of capitalism makes culture mostly irrelevant when it comes to the cause of justice (which he seems to argue can only be brought about through fundamental change).
So in short, he's saying the poor can survive with strong culture, in a sort of enlightened cynical bubble, but as long as the systemic injustice of capitalism prevails, justice will always be out of reach.
Whispers of late-stage Martin Luther King.
The reason I thought of this was because your post brought up the issue of the culture of wealth.
I also watched Frontline's report on the BP oil spill "The Spill" which, along with the other recent failures of corporations drenched in systemic greed, begins with focusing on the business culture of BP's board and executives (their propensity to cut costs even if it undermined safety, incompetence of individuals, hiring/promotion mistakes, etc).
Makes me wonder about the energy being put into studying either the culture of poverty or the culture of elites.
On one hand the discussion seems to enable those who do pro-active long-view cultural recovery work to find more financial opportunities for the work.
On the other hand, the root style of how the academy focuses on culture seems to reinforce the ignoring of the systemic failures of capitalism. Culture is linked with pathology -- i.e. it's only rational for the rich to protect their advantages, and it's correctable for the "next BP" to learn from the cultural mistakes of the past (hiring, risky decision making, etc. They even had other oil companies testify how unwise BP's company culture was supporting the hypothesis that this was a cultural failure of one company, not a systematic or ideological failure of an economic system's rules); and it's rational for the poor to waste money on short term pleasures when their larger world is one of despair.
The first half of Zizek's book is called "It's Ideology, Stupid!" (where he breaks down the ideology of capitalism, in contrast to the assumed rationality of capitalism, arguing Harold Cruse style that "Utiopias of alternative worlds have been exorcized by the utopia in power, masking itself as pragmatic realism" and the second part of the book is called "The Communist Hypothesis".
Cedric Robinson took a giant step in his articulation of a unique tradition of black radical critique of capitalism, but one of the reasons Zizek's arguments are so enticing is because aside from communism there still has yet to be a modern fundamental pro-active alternative to capitalism (Zizek dismisses small scale organizing as part of the "cynical bubble" movement, akin to closing your eyes and plugging your ears to the larger global system while creating local safe spaces -- which begs the maroon question -- see "Why Maroon Community Is Not Enough For Me" & "Remarks From A Refugee Turned Maroon". So, all he has to do after illustrating these many systemic failures is state a modernized communist hypothesis and it comes across as if it's the only modern alternative hope, because in a way -- within the matrix of western civilization -- it sorta is. Otherwise, until western civilization has its run, it seems folks will have to continue to endure the boom bust cycles of capitalism. Zizek means it as a challenge to the left to radicalize itself again, but it might serve as a sober reminder for radicals who aren't communists that those cynical bubbles will continue to serve as necessary retreats while capitalism continues to play out volatile cycles.
Here are some other interesting excerpts from the book.
p36: "... the temptation to 'morph' legitimate business into a pyramid scheme is part of the very nature of the capitalist circulation process. There is no exact point at which the Rubicon was crossed and the legitimate business morph into an illegal scheme; the very dynamic of capitalism blurs the frontier between 'legitimate' investment and 'wild' speculation..."
p66: "'Western Buddhism' is... a fetish: it enables you to fully participate in the frantic capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless the whole spectacle is, since what really matters is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw... unaware that the 'truth' of his existence lies in the very social relations he tends to dismiss as a mere game."
p77: "... no less utopian is the liberal-pragmatic idea that one can solve problems gradually, one by one ('people are dying right now in Rwanda, so let's forget about anti-imperialist struggle, let us just prevent the slaughter'; or, 'one has to fight poverty and racism here and now, not wait for the collapse of the global capitalist order'). John Caputo wrote: 'I would be perfectly happy if the far left politicians in the United States were able to reform the system by providing universal health care, effectively redistributing wealth more equitably with a revised IRS code, effectively restricting campaign financing, enfranchising all voters, treating migrant workers humanely, and effecting a multilateral foreign policy that would integrate American power within the international community, etc., i.e., intervene upon capitalism by means of serious and far-reaching reforms... if after doing all that Badiou and Zizek complained that some Monster called Capital still stalks us, I would be inclined to greet that Monster with a yawn." The problem here is not Caputo's conclusion that if one can achieve all that within capitalism, why not remain within the system? The problem lies with the "utopian" premise that is is possible to achieve all that within the coordinates of global capitalism. What if the particular malfunctioning of capitalism enumerated by Caputo are not merely accidental disturbances but are rather structurally necessary?"
p78: "After denouncing all the 'usual suspects' for the utopianism then, perhaps the time has come to focus on the liberal utopia itself [...] what we are confronting in today's crisis are the consequences of the utopian core of this order itself." [...] "The ongoing financial meltdown demonstrates how difficult it is to disturb the thick undergrowth of utopian premises which determine our acts. As Alain Badiou succinctly put it: 'The ordinary citizen must 'understand' that it is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but it is imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks' financial hole? We must somberly accept that no one imagines any longer that it's possible to nationalize a factory hounded by competition, a factory employing thousands of workers, but that it is obvious to do so for a bank made penniless by speculation?' [...] let us not also forget that the sublimely enormous sums of money were spent not on some clear 'real' or concrete problem, but essentially in order to restore confidence in the markets, that is, simply to change people's beliefs!"
p.82: "Daewoo Logistics in South Korea announced that it had negotiated a 99-year lease on some 3.2 million acres of farmland on Madagascar, amounting to nearly half of its arable land. [...] The Daewoo representatives claim that their deal will also benefit Madagascar: not only is the land they are leasing not in use now, but, 'although Daewoo plans to export the yield of the land,... it plans to invest about $6 billion over the next 20 years to build the port facilities, roads, power-plants and irrigation systems necessary to support its agribusiness there, and that will create thousands of jobs for Madagascar's unemployed. Jobs will help the people of Madagascar earn the money to buy their own food -- even if it is imported.' The circle of postcolonial dependence is thus closed again..."
p.84: "In order to approach these problems adequately, it will be necessary to invent new forms of large-scale collective action; neither the standard forms of state intervention nor the much-praised forms of local self-organization will be up to the job."
p.93: "In order to cope with these threats [population growth, the consumption of finite resources, carbon gas emissions, and the mass extinction of species] the dominant ideology is mobilizing mechanisms of dissimulation and self-deception which include a will to ignorance: 'a general pattern of behavior among threatened human societies is to become more blinkered, rather than more focused on the crisis, as they fail.' The same goes for the ongoing economic crisis: in late Spring 2009 it was successfully 're-normalized' -- the panic blew over, the situation was proclaimed as 'getting better', or at the very least the damage as having been controlled (the price paid for this 'recovery' in the Third World countries was, of course, rarely mentioned) -- thereby constituting an ominous warning that the true message of the crisis had been ignored, and that we could relax once again and continue our long march towards the apocalypse."
p.98: "[The antagonism between the] Included and the Excluded is the crucial one. Without it, all others lose their subversive edge -- ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development, intellectual property into a complex legal challenge, bio-genetics into an ethical issue. One can sincerely fight to preserve the environment, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, or oppose the copyrighting of genes, without ever confronting the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded. [...] Corporations such as Whole Foods and Starbucks continue to enjoy favor among libeals even though they both engage in anti-union activities; the trick is that they sell their products with a progressive spin. [...] In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian battling against poverty and disease, and Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire. There is another key difference between the first three antagonisms and the fourth: the first three effectively concern questions of the (economic, anthropological, even physical) survival of humanity, but the forth is ultimately a question of justice. If humanity does not resolve its ecological predicament, we may all vanish; but one can well imagine a society which somehow resolves the first three antagonisms through authoritarian measures which not only maintain but in fact strengthen existing social hierarchies, divisions and exclusions."
|Messages In This Thread|
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback - kamille - 10-23-2010, 03:14 PM
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback - achali - 11-01-2010 05:49 PM
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback - nikki - 11-02-2010, 03:09 AM
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback - achali - 11-02-2010, 02:13 PM
Amilcar Cabral's theory of class suicide & revolutionary socialism by Tom Meisenheld - achali - 11-07-2010, 06:59 PM
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback - nikki - 01-29-2011, 04:21 PM
RE: NY Times: ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback - frank661 - 08-10-2011, 09:00 PM
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