Unity & Freedom III: Raising Goats, Research Time, 18/08/2016

Continued from last post . . . Any kind of exclusion ultimately undermines democracy. It creates communities of the privileged and the downtrodden – it creates races.

Because race isn’t real in the same sense as an ethnicity, a culture, or a community is. Race is different than all those things, despite the attempts of racial supremacist communities – generation after generation – to convince us that there’s a substrate to race that makes it something more than systematic exclusion.

From a rally by Jobbik, the radical nationalist political
party of Hungary – rabidly anti-Semitic, anti-Roma.
Try to prove that there's an ethnic basis for race? You find real ethnic diversity within race and the history of racialization patterns changing so much that the categories contradict each other.

How about a genetic basis for race? Don’t make me laugh. Genetics is way too complicated to be any workable substrate for traits on the massively general scale of races.

And cultural substrates for race? This is how racism against Muslims is usually expressed. But culture is also too changeable and mutable for the absolutes of racism. You might be able to make that charge to an ignoramus, but as soon as anyone discovers anything about the real cultural diversity* of the globe’s billion-or-so Muslims, it falls to pieces.

* As with all human culture, its complexity is fractal. Human variety never escapes complexity and paradox.

There are a lot of ways for a racialization process to begin. For a catalogue, just look at human history. The history of European global empires, especially, but human history in general. The slave trade, colonizer-colonized relationships, settler-indigenous relations, any vector that creates a majority-minority dynamic.

If I can describe what racialization is in the most general terms, it’s taking some particular person and making them an Other. No longer understanding another in terms of their singularity, but according to a vector (or many vectors) of difference from you.**

Emmanuel Levinas is the only theorist of the Other in
the broadly "Continental" set of 20th century European
philosophers who I could really deal with. Because his
work is all about foregrounding the singularity,
uniqueness, and infinite potential of each Other we
** When I worked in the academy, I was never quite able to put my finger on why so much talk in “Continental” philosophical studies about the Other (with a capital O) never excited me, and sometimes made me feel squidgy and strange. 

Most people who consider themselves progressives do their best not to take part in any racializing behaviours or thoughts. Even most conservatives or nationalists have (at least until relatively recently) avoided articulating their politics in racial terms. But you can’t really have nationalism of any kind without a racializing process. As in the rise of Trumpism, it’s best simply to be honest with yourself about that.

But as modern democrats, we end up caught in the most insidious racialization that there's ever been. A citizen's racialization of the foreigner. And because the philosophy of modern democracy has defined the achievement of freedom as occurring through the state, the citizen believes his freedom to be universal. 

The democratic state is just the instantiation of freedom. Freedom itself is universal. But if the material space of freedom is defined by territorial boundaries and citizenship documentation, then it isn’t universal. The state doesn’t achieve a universal freedom – it's a material restriction of freedom by territory, birth, and law.

This is the heart of the critique that Etienne Balibar brought to the people and politics of Europe when he published We, The People of Europe in the early 2000s. 

That moment may have been a critical tipping point, when it was still possible to achieve the ideals of the European Union, and before the now-pretty-much-unstoppable rise of racist nationalism that the EU was supposed to starve to death.

That time is past, I think. And we're left with a much more dangerous time. But Balibar's philosophy at that missed moment of opportunity can offer us some ideas to rebuild our dreams in reality. Or at least give us ideals to carry through as we try to survive the current convulsions.

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