Thursday, November 04, 2010

Close to me

Financial Times:

[T]he extreme polarity [of Congress] reflects the electorate itself: on Tuesday nine out of 10 African-Americans voted Democratic whereas more than six out of 10 whites voted Republican.

Those acute racial divisions are replicated by almost every demographic measure. Whether it is the old, who turned out in droves to vote Republican, or the young, who emerged only in trickles to vote Democrat, or the small towns (Republican) versus the urban centres (Democrat), Tuesday highlighted an increasingly divided US political map.

An individual's "political" profile often relates in an important way to their proximity to capital. For example, "progressives" are clustered in close physical proximity to capital centers -- what are known as cities -- whereas "conservatives" are dispersed at successive intervals between them.

Capital's ability to assert itself at a cultural level varies by distance. City life is the embodiment of capital's "liberating influence," freeing up the individual for work -- the primary criteria by which she is judged. Social minorities, for example, whose persecution at first owed to that fixed quality making them "minor," discovered in capital a welcome indifference.

It is the same quasi self-sufficiency of rural communities in general that permits a measure of cultural independence from capital, e.g. the form we know as "social conservatism." This is a rebellion and reaction to capital which arises out those hierarchies not yet vanquished by it (or other means), as in the case of "small town"-style homophobia.


Ethan said...


Anonymous said...

so why does "small town" reaction to capital take the particular form of homophobia?
(great post btw)

JRB said...


I think the short answer is because capital is indifferent to it -- and capital is the thing that presses down on their lives.

The small town then rallies around its traditional "values," which are themselves premised on certain ideas about what families and marriages are for, in keeping with the economic requirements of agricultural communities.

Brian M said...

Is it wrong to take advantage of, then, this liberating aspect of "capital"? Is traditionalism, even if opposed to capital, right, as some advocates for "indigenous" cultures argue, even as said cultures stone their gays and heretics? That's the dilemna?

Cüneyt said...

Uh, yes! The small town is a bastion of criticism to capital...

I don't see this as some kind of internalized classism; these people genuinely love capital. Their support for centralized power stems from Jeffersonian republicanism.

Cüneyt said...

Oops--and the plantationism on which it rested.

Anyway, JR, I have to say I don't follow you here.

JRB said...

Brian M:

I think you have support the liberating tendencies of any social context while challenging what is imposed. So the choice is always internal to "modernism" or "traditionalism" -- or for that matter "communism" or "anarchism" -- not between them.


The small town is a "bastion of criticism to capital" in the same way most communities are bastions of criticism to what is happening to them without their consent. I'm just pointing to the fact that this is called "capitalism," not "Obama."

Our political system holds up different ends of capitalism for us to get angry at so we can be divided over which end is worse.

Cüneyt said...

Alright; I get that to a certain degree. So would you say that libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism are objections to capitalism, too, just that they don't know it? I mean, I wonder where you draw the line.

Most of your "Tea Partiers are workers too" stuff has worked for me, but I just didn't find this article working nearly so well for me.

Cüneyt said...

And I'm sorry to keep spamming, but another thought that comes to mind is that you're talking about a very narrow period of capital's lifespan. Try telling ethnic minorities in the early nationstate that capital was indifferent. A lot of codification of national identity took place right alongside the routinization and mechanization that are hallmarks of industrialized capital. Maybe now, maybe in American cities, maybe in some industries, maybe in some classes, are all tolerated, and the system displays some kind of ruthless-but-pragmatic indifference. Wasn't always thus.

And I wonder where capital is more greatly diverted to public works: in those cities, or in the ostensibly free zones of rural conservia.

Richard said...

Isn't the tightening of certain so-called traditional bonds part of the tacit deal capital makes with working males, providing them with access to some element of power close to home, while stripping it out of it?

JRB said...


I appreciate the skepticism! More to say on this soon ...


My personal sense is that capital, as an economic process, doesn't care; but rather that societies, in their reaction to capital, do. Groups with pre-existing social power are best able negotiate their relation to capital, whether as its agents or in the course of class struggle.

For example, the US white-male working class loses its base of power in a global economy, just as it maintained one in more "national" times. The basis of such social power was unionization, through which white-males reproduced their preferred hierarchy, now under capitalism. As national unions are broken, so is the vehicle for that particular hierarchy -- and capital asserts its rightful place in a new landscape.

Brian M said...

I guess what I struggle with is that absent the destructive forces of "capitalism": is there any possibility of challenge to traditional rural or small town social structures? Especially given that many Marxist or "revolutionary" challenges to capitalism have evolved to be reactionary and authoritarian to the extreme??? (Gay Rights was not a priority in Soviet times, was it? and certainly other autoritarian pseudo-marist states showed extraordinary degrees of reaction (Romania?) On the other hand... Afghanistan's marxism was more progressive for women than any native cultural tradition would probably allow.

I don't know any answers. It is a fascinating question, though.