Neoliberalism’s Border Guard

In the most recent episode of this series, the ghost of Outis had fun watching a Disney movie.  Afterwards, he spoke with Zootopia‘s star, Judy Hopps, about the movie’s sly humor, and its efficacy at stigmatizing prejudice and fostering empathy for the suffering of others.

After my visit from Judy, I felt reinvigorated, ready to take a fresh look at the questions that had puzzled me.

I could discern three large scale principles at work in deciding whom to include and whom to exclude from the liberal tent.  One is postmodernism.  One is smartness.  And the third, seen clearly in Zootopia, is a consensus about the reality of certain kinds of suffering and trauma.

During the past few decades, the importance of smartness has if anything increased.  A college education has become a basic requirement for being middle class, and parents of all political stripes scrabble desperately to get their children into the “best” schools.  The credentialing sectors of capitalism have been dominated by liberals for decades, but only recently have we successfully leveraged this strategic asset into the idea that liberals are basically the same as educated people.

Other sites of cultural production – Hollywood, television, marketing, social media corporations – are also stereotypically liberal, and have become much more responsive to pressure from progressives.  Movies like Zootopia, watched by millions of parents and children, show how it is possible to direct corporate power toward positive goals.  We have succeeded in dividing capitalism into two halves, one still ugly and irredeemable, but the other (the cultural and credentialing sectors) tamed, dynamic, and fashionable.  We absorb into our alliance everyone from marketing professionals to college professors to people who just like the Daily Show, reinforcing our sense of truth by identifying things as stupid, backwards, or insane.

Looking now at the other two principles – postmodernism and suffering – Wendy Brown foretold that, as foci, they would be unable to coexist.  Since the time of her prediction, the balance between the two has shifted dramatically, and it has become clear that Brown was rooting for the losing side.

Postmodernism lamented the modern world’s lack of orienting fixed points, and maybe tried to make a virtue out of this disorientation.  Maybe, as I suggested to Foucault, it tried to establish the insistent assertion of the lack of fixed points as its own fixed point, and then covered the maneuver in a bewildering morass of verbiage.

The contrast with the familiar liberalism of today is stark.  We have reconstructed ourselves as progressives, burying postmodernism and reconstituting a robust sense of absolute morality and truth.  The process took some time to gather steam, but is now at the helm of mainstream culture.

Although we believe in some positive ideals like education, we have been especially successful at vanquishing the corrosive doubts of postmodernism by setting up negative ideals as transcendentally true.  At the center of our imagination are atrocities like slavery, genocide, rape – these no one can doubt, these are things to which at one’s peril one refuses to kneel.  Who can deny that they exist, that they hurt, that they are evil?

We therefore pick out vivid episodes in which certain groups of people suffered, and make it clear that anyone that does not ritually acknowledge the reality of their suffering is unworthy to be part of society.

In this way, we manage to stigmatize horrible, regressive behavior, but that isn’t enough.  High profile instances of genocide and torture don’t appear every day, and commitment flags without regular stimulation.  And so we have taken seriously at least one idea from postmodernism, the fascination with slight conceptual nuances, and the faith or fear that these nuances can produce enormously consequential effects.  We focus not just on torture but also on less obviously brutal but still hurtful behavior (“micro-aggressions”); not just on behavior but on language, not just on language but also on thoughts.

By discouraging hurtful speech and sensitizing people to implicit bias, we make the world a more pleasant place.  Critics of progressives complain about “political correctness,” but you can’t forge a unitary culture without imposing boundaries, and we mainly focus on obvious principles of good manners and consideration toward others.

Zootopia as an Allegory

Although there is still a long way to go, the progress of our culture toward liberation is historically unparalleled.  Zootopia provides an extensive allegory about our achievement.

We naturally dread the uncivilized past.  One symbol of the past is the pathetic figure of Judy’s parents, who tell her to settle and not follow her dreams.  More frighteningly, the plot of the movie revolves around the mysterious fact that some animals are reverting to wildness – the past is thus not merely the past, but threatens to return.  There is a still more insidious threat, which is the possibility that some part of the past remains lodged inside of us, like the specks of evil that St. Augustine once believed that God places in us in order to foil our efforts to attain goodness on our own.  This fear is hardly surprising, given that we have come to a consensus that certain ways of talking that just twenty or even ten years ago passed without comment in liberal circles are, in reality, clearly problematic.  The climax of Zootopia is when Judy, without any selfish or cruel intent, loses control of her mouth – and primitive, nonprogressive ideas escape from it.

Zootopia doesn’t merely show us the shadow of the past, but also offers us, as individuals, hope in the exciting future.  Judy avoids becoming a carrot farmer like her parents, and is able to move past the degrading experience of working as a “meter maid.”  By virtue of being impressive, competent, and using the rules in her favor, she is able to rise to the top and be valued for her abilities.

Leftists often worry that professional success can lead to people losing their moral compass.  Zootopia offers a helpful perspective on this dilemma.

When Judy reaches the pinnacle of success, that is precisely when she messes up and says problematic things.  At first glance, Zootopia seems to suggest that morality is far more important than worldly success.  Judy responds to her fault by taking a leave of absence from her job and feeling terrible.  In the end, she is only able to redeem herself by treating herself as utterly worthless:  by confessing abjectly to Nick, pronouncing herself damned, and handing him the only key that can set her free.

I now realized, though, that the message of the movie was optimistic.  True, if we say or think wrong things, we need to respond seriously, the way Judy did.  But if we do that – and if we express support for progressive ideals and acknowledge our privilege – then we can be as successful as we want to be.  There doesn’t need to be any conflict between ambition and being a good person.

That doesn’t mean that liberals have to care about professional success.  If you want to care about people in Africa or the plight of the working class, that’s great, too.  The important thing is that we come together on the important things, like basic moral principles and recognizing the suffering of marginalized groups.

As this consensus consolidates, society will continue to progress.  Some people will try to derail the process, maybe due to sensitivity about having been called out, or anger at losing their privilege.  More and more, those people will be seen as throwbacks.  Demographic forces will render them irrelevant.  Maybe they will just be swept away by globalization.  Or – maybe – they can work at the DMV.

The Phantom

A bell sounded and roused me from my vision of the future.

There I saw a Phantom, draped and hooded, gliding like mist along the ground towards me.  It was shrouded in a deep, black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing visible except one outstretched hand.

“The Spirit of Liberalism Yet To Come, I presume?” I asked.

The Spirit did not answer.  I felt a stab of fear at what it might show me.  Would the current positive trajectory continue?  Would the future bring cultural progress in ways I couldn’t even imagine?  Or would the 2020s instead feature a cyclical swing back to postmodernism?  Or something worse still?

The Spirit merely pointed onward with its hand.  I followed it, and found myself listening to another speech, taking place not in the far future, but toward the end of 2016.  Yet my sense of foreboding did not abate, and for apparently no reason at all, the cloud-capped towers and gorgeous palaces of my vision suddenly seemed insubstantial, and vain.

I remain curious why the “debate” over antiracism as a politics takes such indirect and evasive forms – like the analogizing and guilt by association, moralistic bombast in lieu of concrete argument – and why it persists in establishing, even often while denying the move, the terms of debate as race vs. class.

He seemed to refer to “antiracism” as if it were not an obviously good thing.  I looked at his name plate.  Adolph Reed?  Who was this person?

In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to a recognition of injustice, which will in turn lead to remedial action – though not much attentions seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work.  I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus.

I did not understand why the sound of his voice troubled me so much.

“Spirit!” I exclaimed, “this is a fearful place.  I will not forget its lessons, trust me.  Let me go!”

But the Ghost only pointed, with an unmoved finger, at Reed, whose icy words burned in my ears.

These responses [show] how fundamentally antiracism and other identitarian programs are not only the left wing of neoliberalism but active agencies in its imposition of a notion of the boundaries of the politically thinkable – sort of neoliberalism’s intellectual and cultural border guard.

“Answer me one question,” I cried.  “Are the things Reed says the shadows of things to come, or are they merely his own cynical perspective?”

I caught at the Spirit’s spectral hand.  It sought to free itself, but I persisted.  Yet the Spirit was stronger than I was, and repulsed me.  I fell to the ground, and when I arose, I was alone in the weeping land.

* * *

The series concludes tomorrow, with Outis reaching new conclusions and making an important decision.

Sources:  Adolph Reed’s remarks are from a recent interview and an earlier article.  Some of the thoughts on political correctness are based on Belle Waring’s Crooked Timber article.

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  1. animalogic

    “These responses [show] how fundamentally antiracism and other identitarian programs are not only the left wing of neoliberalism but active agencies in its imposition of a notion of the boundaries of the politically thinkable ”

    Yes:there we have it.

    Neoliberalism (unlike conservatism, often mistaken for each other) has NO social/cultural values…or, perhaps, more precisely, it has ANY social/cultural values which directly/indirectly advance the 0.1%’s Will to wealth & power. (Likely, “wealth” is redundant, as it’s a manifestation of power).
    Neoliberalism is powerful, like all great “evils” because it is completely protean.
    (It makes the Nazi’s look child-like & naive: after all, the Nazi’s actually “believed” in certain things…[ evil nonsense, but that’s not the point at the moment].
    Feminism…? gender discrimination….? racial equality ? …. racism ? Yes, OK, looks good, let’s see what works best for us….

    1. Moneta

      I often wonder if liberalism goes hand in hand with the availability of energy and resources… shrink these and witness a surge in all types of discrimination.

      You will notice that genocides are closely tied to the availability and distribution of resources… we humans seem to be masters at inventing all kinds of reasons to explain why we deserve the loot and not others.

  2. Moneta

    There is still the issue that some professions are more prestigious or lucrative than others and attract many individuals with a skill set that would better serve other functions. And we do this under the guise that we can do whatever we want if we try hard enough.

    There is a difference between PC and truly valuing every individual in society no matter their job or profession.

    1. Uahsenaa

      There is a difference between PC and truly valuing every individual in society no matter their job or profession.


      Mere inclusiveness, while not in itself a bad thing–being aware of other people’s circumstances is simply polite–it doesn’t really get you much further past where you already are and in large part can be satisfied with better rhetoric (or better PR, if you insist on being cynical about such things), all the while capitalism goes on its merry way, because no real pressure to change has been applied. Valuing people for who they are and integrating them into the social order implies that they have something to contribute and that they have a responsibility for making things better for others, not just making themselves more comfortable in public.

      What so often gets lost in these conversations about safe spaces and what have you is that we should have a sense of shared responsibility, responding TO others’ circumstances while also being responsible FOR the conditions that oppress us all to greater and lesser degrees.

      In other words, it’s about checking your privilege AND seizing the means of production, because without the second one, the first just ends up being mere window dressing.

      EATF – I really like these. I’ll be sad when they conclude!

      1. Eclair

        Uahsenaa, ‘check your privilege AND seize the means of production,’ may become my New Year’s resolution for 2017.

  3. Disturbed Voter

    The idea that we have progressed past prior barbarisms … we have forgotten that “the past is prologue” among other things. Progressives think that if we completely forget the past, then the memes that created the sins of the past will become unthinkable, that like interrupted family violence, a chain will be broken and we can heal. Such people don’t believe in the existence of Evil.

      1. Synoia


        A Lion killing a herd of antelope and eating just one, is evil, because it is a manifestation of Greed.

        1. animalogic

          As a bird lover (and a total aside) I’ve always thought domestic cats are often evil on the similar ground that they play with, ie torture (not eat)their victims.

  4. craazyman

    How can anyone work at the DMV in the future if the future is driverless cars? That’s a deep thought. They may have to be prison guards, if they’re not in prison themselves.

    Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Phantom turned out to be a black dude. Maybe Eddie Murphy! Hahahahhahahah aahahahhahahah. Or James Earl Jones if you want a baritone.

    Sorry. Judy still has me cracked up completely. This is a movie? Oh man. It’s surprising to me she didn’t go into therapy and confess her guilt, or maybe admit her debauched state, get tattoos all over her body (I guess a rabbit can’t get tattoos, but anyway) and become a sex worker or a cage fighter and beat people up. Freedom!

    I still think Al Camus should show up somewhere. After all, he wrote the book. At the end of the Rebel he sort of lays it all out, even Judy probably never read the Rebel. Why reinvent the wheel? It’s like if it’s laying right there, then use it! No need to drag shlt around on a sledge. I think. I read someplace that even Camus got sick of al the BS and told them to go someplace and eat shlt. Wow. After all that? That’s kind of depressing and hilarious at the same time.

    I hope the Phantom is a black dude and a comedian. Maybe Chris Rock?

    1. craazyboy

      Driverless cars still need license plates. These are an important source of revenue too – funding inmate rent at private prisons, public-private k12 scools, and perhaps even anger management therapy.

      Dave Chappell is still lurking. He’s got an uppity mouth on him.

      I’m gonna have to see this Zootopia flick. I hate talking about stuff I don’t know about.

      But maybe I’ll opine later anyway after I have time to carefully read this latest installment from Outis. But right now gotta go to the gym and punish myself.

    2. Steve H.

      The workers at the DMV know they will have jobs because driverless cars do not allow people to break the rules. This paradoxical conclusion results from the condition that those who are in charge of the rules are the ones most likely to break them.

      For evidence, please watch to the conclusion:

      Zootopia – Judy’s Speech + Ending

      1. craazyman

        If what’s her name, the rabbit, made a speech like this I’d be impressed. It may be too complicated for a rabbit, or for a postmodernist. hahahahahah. sorry. but if they ignore it it only shows their ignorance. (I copied and pasted this from the internet . . but it’s the “Real Al”)

        “The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy. He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave. Therefore, thanks to rebellion, there is something more in history than the relation between mastery and servitude. Unlimited power is not the only law. It is in the name of another value that the rebel affirms the impossibility of total freedom while he claims for himself the relative freedom necessary to recognize this impossibility.”

        The Rebel
        Albert Camus

        1. flora

          ah, well… there’s the old philosophical argument that in shorthand is called “the one and the many.”

          In the Constitution this tension is recognized with the shorthand “Majority rule, minority rights.” The majority may not over rule the inalienable rights of the minority.” The majority should not oppress the minority, but neither should the minority imperil the majority. (how well this works in practice is another discussion.)

          Officer Bunny’s credo focuses entirely on “the one”. What does she want to do? What rules impede her that she feels she must break? Assigned to parking duty? (Wherein she might learn a lot about the community, the characters, the workings, the usual comings and goings?) She sees parking duty as a suppression of her unique qualifications. No problem, abandon her parking duty post at the first chance to leap ahead. (pun intended) Too bad about the community of little mice she nearly destroys. (the many) Too bad about flubbing a press conference she isn’t ready for and setting loose a panicked frenzy in the city (the many). What is solely important is “the one”. (OK, it’s a kids’ story, exciting scenes are necessary, follow your dreams and all that, but still….)
          And, presto! It all works out OK! (thank goodness the city survived! heh)

          where was I going with this stream of consciousness?……

  5. tony

    There is a lecture named “The Accidental Suicide of the Roman Empire” by Michael Kulikowski. One of the arguments he makes there that the late Roman Empire politics used totalizing and mutually exclusionary rhetorical categories to exclude and often kill political opponents.

    In the 4th century this was the concept of ‘the barbarian’ vs ‘the Roman’. These concepts had nothing to do with the actual qualities or origins of the person, much like the claims of Trump and Bernie racism and misogyny had little to do with actual policies and qualities of the targets.

    However, the stigmatizing effect of these binary categories was such that once people of the Empire stopped obeying them they could be used as tools of power. The first was Alaric, who actually started to act like a barbarian and sacked Rome after several betrayals and rejections by the Roman elites. Alaric could not use this identity to a permanent advantage, but those who came after him could. This open contempt led to the destruction of the Roman Empire.

    In the US politics we see the same dynamic. It doesn’t matter how many black lives Hillary has destroyed, but if she were to ever say a racial slur she would be done. Trump has been branded everything from Voldemort to Hitler, and violence against his, and Bernie’s, supporters is justified by labeling them bigots and by definition outside the polity.

    Something interesting happened with one of the attacks, though. Clinton called them ‘Deplorables’ a term meant to imply that they are irredeemable bigots. Now Trump and his supporters identify as The Deplorables. In the last few years I have seen more people identify as racist, and why not? You are going to be called one anyway if you won’t submit.

    After a term or two of Clinton justifying all her terrible policies by attacking every critic as a racist, maybe those excluded from power will openly identify as such. Then we’ll live in interesting times.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      In the UK everyone against mass immigration was deemed racist.

      It works for a while but then people stop caring about being called “racist” as the word just means someone against mass immigration.

      The liberals then needed a new word and found “xenophobic”.

      I am not sure how long “xenophobic” will retain any meaning and most don’t care after the “racist” stuff.

      I often read the Guardian to peer into the strange world of UK liberals and the metropolitan elite, it’s weird.

  6. makedoanmend

    As a socialist, what I miss is the conservative (small c) conversation in our daily affairs. This label of progressivism is just so coy and unconvincing in the face of neoliberalism’s full spectrum dominance of all facets of society and culture. The conservative gave voice and depth to our internal doubts about how the future was all brite and new – at least the few conservatives I knew.

    I wonder would a conservative voice (seemingly non-existent any more) have argued for a more instructive change from industrialisation into what we’ve now become – might they have mitigated the course and provided pointers to alternatives?

    Maybe they did and I wasn’t listening.

    I know Reagan was no conservative and Thatcher lost all moorings as an enlightened Tory as the “project” became all consuming to the detriment of all else. The Tory today isn’t conservative – far from it – a real ideolgical zealot for the promotion of “me, myself and (at most) my class” in most cases.

    Is Progressivism just a balm for those who want to feel good about themselves but don’t want to do think about anything in particular? In fact, it is just a cover for I’m ok, screw you pal when the chips are down?

    I never really liked Disney films as a kid and I certainly don’t like them now – but each to their own.

    1. jrs

      well the first problem is there is no such thing as progressives, a couple of years ago many of those calling themselves progressive were actually on the left at least to some degree (as far left as Sanders at any rate). But now progressive while it is still sometimes used in that sense also means anyone and anything Dem party no matter how right wing some members of that party become.

    2. Mel

      The Archdruid Reports might have something for you. John Michael Greer self-identifies as a Burkean Conservative. The recent archive has an essay on The Rescue Game that touches on the antiracism discussion.

  7. diptherio

    I’m glad you’re making these points. The arc of the story mirrors a number of conversations I’ve been having lately with people from poor, white, rural backgrounds. The insistence by good liberals of making a show of their concern for, and outrage over, both major and minor affronts to people of color, women, LGBTQI people, etc., while at the same time making jokes about toothless, inbred trailer-trash, is starting to really piss some people off. These are not conservative people. These are people to the left of Chomsky.

    For some reason, you can slander and shame poor white folks all you want…oh yeah, it’s because they’re deplorable racist, fundamentalist Christians who vote for evil Republicans and probably don’t even have a GED, much less a college degree…so f— ’em. The good liberals, on the other hand, are highly-educated, fundamentalist secular humanists, who’ve been to college and vote for evil Democrats…which makes them God’s chosen people, apparently. The rest are blasphemers, barely even human, and deserve whatever they get.

    Until we make a real commitment to both listening to everyone’s suffering and then to doing practical things, now, to remedy that suffering, we’ll be doomed to Dollary Clump elections and divide-and-conquer tactics forever after. Let’s not go down that road, how about? How’s about let’s try treating each other with respect and compassion for once, just to see how it goes? Every other way lies damnation, imho.

    1. Eclair

      And, in the vanguard of slandering and shaming poor white folks, the NYT headline this morning: Trump’s Big Bet on Less Educated Whites. Complete with map showing the preponderance of these ‘deplorables’ in the old north-east rust belt cities and the mid-west. Conclusion: you have to be dumb to vote for Trump.

      Not, you have to be unfortunate enough to be living in an area that has been brutally stripped of production/extraction jobs by deliberate government/corporate policies over decades. Leaving families and whole towns and counties filled with unemployed people who have neither the resources nor the will to attend Harvard.

      As a simple rule for living, ‘Be Kind,’ works. But it doesn’t get you a high level job in a hedge fund or on an election campaign committee.

      1. Synoia

        My first stay in the US was in upstate NY, the Catskills.

        The poverty in Hudson, NY and Coxsackie, NY and Albany, NY and pockets Zeta, NY, of Woodstock, NY and Kingston, NY was absolutely amazing to me, freshly from a third world country.

        1. Eclair

          Yes, Synoia. I lived in Troy back in the ’70’s; decay was in the air. Plus, there is poverty in the western part of NY state also. Jamestown, NY is another example of a despondent and abandoned-by-government-policy once flourishing city; there were over 40 furniture factories, mostly staffed by Swedish immigrants who had cut trees in winter and made wooden furniture in summer, back in rural Sweden.

          The country-side around is beautiful … and filled with mostly decaying family farms. Again, government policy could support the smaller farm, which could provide good vegetables, cheese, milk and grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as decent pork, to the entire state. The Amish are gaining a foothold here, but they must rely on huge families to provide workers.

          I read a few years ago that the health outcomes in Chautauqua County were the worst in the state.

    2. Carolinian

      Thanks for that “practical things.” As one of the commenters here (ok it was me) said at the beginning of this series, liberalism is about creating societies that work. Since our world is rife with problems we need hard headed practical people and not those who say things like “Vladimir Putin has no soul.” Trump on the other hand claims to be practical but probably doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do should he actually be elected. I’ve pushed back against the idea of using Hollywood as a stand in but there’s clearly one way that H’wood has poisoned the minds of our elites with it’s good guys/bad guys narratives. When asked why he changed the real life Sully story to make the FAA into villains Eastwood supposedly said it was because the story needed an “antagonist.” It’s right there in the screenwriter’s manual. Perhaps our biggest issue these days is not ideology but that our elites have a reality problem.

    3. craazyman

      everything you say is true . . . but I still think Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” list is hilarious.

      1. B1whois

        Yeah, because demeaning people is ok when it is funny. Kind of like those funny blooper videos where you know someone got hurt…

          1. savedbyirony

            No it’s not. Some event or comment that triggers our stress release in highly tense situations, incongruous observations, witty word play are just some of the other sources of humor to us. If “most humor is based on cruelty” appears accurate to us based on our daily lives and especially media/entertainment influences, that is an example of the dominance of cruelty pushed, praised, normalized/”humorized” and practiced in our present society.

        1. craazyman

          Get a grip on reality. Rednecks love that stuff. They think it’s hilarious.

          You must not be a redneck because if you were you’d be ROTFLYAO.

          There’s like 300 reasons somebody might be a redneck. My favorite was the one “You think a subdivision is part of a math problem.” There were lots of good ones. “You take fishing poles into SeaWorld.” That’s hilarious. How about “You ever got too drunk to fish.” Those are two fishing jokes. Rednecks love to fish, usually while drinking beer sitting on the coolers in the sun with their fat bellies sticking out of their shirts. How about “You’ve ever used a weedwacker indoors” . Just thinking about that is hilarious.\

          How about this one — “Going to the bathroom at night involvles shoes and a flashlight.” Whoa. You might just be locked out of your house and don’t want to pee in your backyard pool.

          It’s weird. I can actually think of a few ways I could use a weedwacker indoors. I wonder if that means I might be a redneck. I’m from the south and i’m a white man so it’s possible!

          1. craazyboy

            Ditto. I’ll also add the one, “You mowed your front yard and found a car.”

            We used to call stuff like this “ethnic humor”. What makes it funny is there are a few grains of truth to it, maybe even call it “stereotypes” which are then hyper extended larger than life.

            Having half German ethnicity, I think I have a vague idea how it works. You just have to think, hahaha, yeah I get it. But that ain’t really me. Except for the Master Race part, of course.

    4. Michael

      Having grown up with plenty of rural white working-class relatives — they are, in fact, super racist, and they would absolutely damn their children to poverty to keep African-American folks from becoming equals.

      The way you can figure these things out is #SinglePayerNow and #FightFor15. If you ask folks about this, you’ll suddenly hear about how “lazy” people don’t deserve good wages and “some” people would abuse the medical system and get “their” health care through the ER, etc. etc.

      1. Yves Smith

        Bullshit. Maine is an entire rural poor white state and it’s liberal. Ditto the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

        You are a class bigot, pure and simple.

    5. animalogic

      For those who are interested & haven’t heard of it, the Unz Review is a site where you can directly access current “white resentments” (the site is quite politically eclectic).

  8. DJG

    Sorry: I’m not buying this episode: For instance, maybe the reason for the stress on smartness is plain old class warfare. The U.S. slavishly follows English fashions, and one of the fashions in England (with which we have that Special Relationship) is that the upper classes made sure that their kids got into Eton, Cambridge, Oxford–the whole self-perpetuating educational system of the Pythonesque English “smart” twit. So the U S of A has imitated its betters in producing a lot of Tony Blairs. Exhibit A: Chelsea Clinton.

    This has little to do with smartness. It is all about class privilege. (Which has little to do with postmodernism and its supposed piercing insights.)

    1. Uahsenaa

      I agree wholeheartedly, but you do get the ontogeny a little backwards. Tony Blair et al. are Clintons, not the other way around.

      I say this not just to be pedantic, but neoliberalism is very much an American phenomenon, and in political terms Third Way-ism spread from the US to the Commonwealth. We are, in no small part, the vector of infection not the host. You know, by some definition of “we”…

      1. DJG

        Hmmm. Not sure. Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land doesn’t make it sound as if Blair was some Flaming Red from the Midlands who was corrupted by Bill and Hill. I suspect the corrupting was mutual. But it is true that the U.S. has been in the forefront of making up these craptastic doctrines.

    2. Yves Smith

      You apparently aren’t old enough to remember when the Ivies had comparatively few “legacy” admissions and were filled largely based on their views of merit and creating a diverse student base. I know of multiple cases where children of important donors and fundraisers at Harvard were not admitted, despite going to private schools and having good SATs.

  9. flora

    The title- Neoliberalisms Boarder Guard” – and this quote:
    “Looking now at the other two principles – postmodernism and suffering – Wendy Brown foretold that, as foci, they would be unable to coexist. Since the time of her prediction, the balance between the two has shifted dramatically, and it has become clear that Brown was rooting for the losing side.

    combine to make me wonder. Does liberalism simply accommodate itself to the prevailing ruling power structure, regardless of that structure’s philosophy? Is liberalism today a philosophy or a social emollient? Desirable social traits do not challenge the ruling neoliberal philosophy, although they make create a nice social space within neoliberalism.

  10. DJG

    Not buying this episode: “High profile instances of genocide and torture don’t appear every day, and commitment flags without regular stimulation. And so we have taken seriously at least one idea from postmodernism, the fascination with slight conceptual nuances, and the faith or fear that these nuances can produce enormously consequential effects.”

    Oh really?

    This sentence is on the order of, Who speaks of the Armenians?

    Guantanamo is high profile. Homan Square is high profile. Yemen is genocide. What are the Dakota Pipeline protests about? Genocide. Your bourgeois eyeglasses just don’t allow you to look. It has nothing to do with micro-aggressions.

    1. Eclair

      Excellent point, DJG. Genocide and torture are what OTHER countries do. We, the USA, on the other hand, are simply tough on crime. Can’t allow trespassing on private land, selling cigarettes without a license, or being involved in a resistance movement against a foreign country that has invaded your land.

    2. jrs

      And the majority of Americans actually approve of U.S.government torture at this point when polled, don’t they?

    3. FluffytheObeseCat

      Boy howdy. You have some trouble seeing sarcasm when it’s in perfect, Swiftian form. I didn’t see Rock City lover saying he believes we don’t have high profile instances of genocide and torture appearing every day………. I saw him saying we don’t see it. And our weak-assed commitment to bogus ephemera sure does flag when we aren’t artfully over-stimulated. Every day.

      Possibly our only saving grace.

  11. fresno dan

    “In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to a recognition of injustice, which will in turn lead to remedial action – though not much attentions seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work. I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus.”

    (below from yesterday’s links – and “John” is John Podesta)

    Dear Neera (and John)—
    So my 25-year-old Michael DeLong has applied for a Firearms Safety Policy job at CAP…

    I think he is a very, very strong candidate on the merits, given what he has been doing in Portland at Ceasefire Oregon in the three years since he graduated from Reed College, and how effective he has been there. But I find myself somewhat anxious the somebody already in Washington and with better connections might crowd him out…

    May I beg you to reassure me?

    Brad DeLong

    Connections, merits, race.
    The fact that there is never actually enough jobs at decent pay is theoretically UNpossible, according to our secular religionists (i.e., economists). Better to blame the toothless denizens of trailer parks for inner city squalor and not our entrepreneurial job creating (sarc) tech titans…
    Yes…the 0.1% have so, so little to do with poverty…

    1. flora

      I think you are right. I think Reed is right. Reed’s words brought me up short. Liberalism complacently thinking it has solved all the big problems by naming them is…. a problem.

  12. Pelham

    Re society’s efforts to eliminate micro-aggressions and make everything more pleasant: What if that’s not the result?

    What if there are more people who want to commit — or who don’t care if they commit — micro-aggressions than there are people who are likely to be offended by them? And what if the constant societal clamp placed on those who would carelessly commit micro-aggressions is more onerous and painful collectively than the collective pain suffered by those sensitive to and subjected to micro-aggressions?

    The net effect of the potentially explosive buildup of resentment among those carelessly inclined to commit micro-aggressions but restrained from doing so could end up producing more negative effects across society than the opposite case, in which those harmed by micro-aggressions would be required to toughen up and accept them as part of the ordinary rough-and-tumble of daily life.

    1. Synoia

      The Middle Class (police, military) always suppress the Working Class at the behest of the Upper Class.

      The revolution you desire only comes when the Middle Class (Managers and Doctors and Lawyers and Accountants) have nothing to loose, because revolutions need Managers.

      1. Portia

        that is such a great insight, thank you. I heard an architect and a high school teacher this morning in such denial about what is happening, talking about the “violence” to be expected and feared if Trump were elected. they were puzzled when I pointed out the violence coming from the Hillary campaign people. the architect seemed to believe that what has happened in Michigan could never happen in Vermont. I see the corporate wolves descending already here–it gave me a real shiver to realize they are descending on a herd of unconscious sheep. We have lost our buffer–Sanders all but gone and Jeffords gone, and the rest awash in PAC money.

    2. Hierophant

      I think there are more people who feel their right to free speech is being curtailed by the PC brigade, then there are people in the PC brigade who are hurt by ‘wrongspeak’. When casual everyday speech is suddenly termed racist, bigoted, etc. then everyone is suddenly a racist, bigot, etc. People either feel guilty for their sins, or angry for being called a sinner. As far as I can tell the only thing liberalism is capable of is dividing people up, making them hate each other, and destroying our ability to heal those divides by speaking to each other in a common culture/language.

  13. gnokgnoh

    Micro-agressions are just that, micro. If I tap my foot repeatedly against my chair in a quiet room and annoy everyone in the room, wittingly or unwittingly, they have every right to ask me to stop. I don’t have to stop, but I do. I also don’t argue with them that I did not intend to annoy them, or that I cannot stop, so please move to another room.

    This is expected, civilized behavior between human beings, and it is ridiculous to pillory people who feel that language or other nuances can be annoying, even sometimes offensive. The only problem is the word, “aggression,” which makes it sound intentional. It is not always intentional.

    My wife, on the other hand, thinks that me tapping my foot is intentional, and therefore an aggression.

  14. nihil obstet

    Concern over micro-aggressions is meant to replace concern over macro-aggressions like inadequate pay.

    Race and gender are major determinants of pay. If only we could eliminate the little indications of racism and sexism, the day of jubilee when everyone is paid according to ability (the meritocrat’s illusion) will arrive. Yeah, right /sarcasm!

    If we paid everyone pretty much the same, we’d eliminate most of our concern with micro-aggressions.

    1. gnokgnoh

      I frankly don’t agree. Micro and macro aggressions operate in different spheres entirely. That was exactly the point I was trying to make

      1. nihil obstet

        As you say, we disagree. The concepts of “micro-aggression” and “political correctness” arose because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in employment but as years passed, it was clear that women and minorities were still paid less than white men. So the discrimination must lie in attitudes, frequently unconscious attitudes, but ones that resulted in continued discrimination. The argument was that by stopping verbal denigration of those in the discriminated-against group, you would correct or eliminate the attitudes that resulted in paying and promoting them less.

        The term “politically correct” was developed to end the ingenuous claim by members of the privileged group that they just couldn’t understand why comments invoking demeaning stereotypes were offensive — “don’t you have a sense of humor”? The response was “Even if you don’t understand why suggesting that the women on the professional staff need a break to put on makeup before the meeting is a problem, let’s just say it’s politically incorrect.” The anger of many white men at the whole concept indicates that there’s a lot more going on here than simply manners or some neutral rule of civilized behavior.

        Micro-aggression doubles down on the concept that members of discriminated groups will get respect and opportunity through raising awareness of and eliminating disrespectful speech.

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