On classism and solidarity in oppression

Fine, but unless you’re rejecting the importance of this material plane, you must believe in resources. The food you were missing is not illusory, and neither is shelter. I know enough people with a constant need of both to keep their children from dying, and as it happens, right now the supply is entirely tied up within a monetary framework.

It’s all well and good to point out that framework is purely a social convention, and we can in theory deny its reality. It’s better still to look for an alternative. But it seems like what you keep doing is assuming anyone can reject it at any time, without caring how many would have no resources if they did so, and it’s really hard to see it as anything but indifference to the problems the less privileged currently face.

Poverty is an important cause, but trying to help other underprivileged groups is important too. From all I can tell, the two only come into conflict when people try and derail one with the other, or refuse to support causes that are focused around other demographics, or other forms of opposition to them.

If you’re worried about fragmenting the left, you would do much better to persuade people not to oppose them like that, than to try to persuade people to worry less about problems particular to women and minorities.


My point was that student activists, knowingly or not, are competing for roles in the middle class – and that insisting on the primacy of class politics, in that milieu, is just as much a maneuver in that competition as anything else. So the identity politics crowd, who thought other wings of the left were trying to pre-empt them, were not entirely wrong about this.

I saw lots of situations as a student where poverty was a disadvantage – but not at the level of making political arguments. I’ve never encountered an identity politics advocate arguing that poverty among whites wasn’t an issue. Perhaps this plays out differently in New Zealand, but I’d be surprised.

Classically, the theoretical point under contention is: if you’re black and working class, do you ally with working class white people, or middle class black people? Are white people in the working class more motivated to fight racism than are black people in the middle class? And this can be extended to other forms of oppression.

Here’s the big problem: acts of betrayal – “microaggressions” and worse – are a daily fact of working class life. If you want to achieve working class solidarity, and you’re in a privileged group, you really need to prove that you’re consistently on the side of the less privileged group. Which means, among other things, not putting up with “microaggressions”.


Yes, absolutely. Although I’ve never sought primacy for class issues.

I would seek to give poverty primacy. The neat thing there is that every single issue activist who would also sign up to that is forced to lose just a little in the cause of a more economically equal and egalitarian society for all.

Agreed. Political argument is cheap and the internet has made it financially cheaper, while simultaneously cheapening the quality of the discourse.

Which cuts to the quick of my irritation with identity politics in the UK. That example works just as well if you flip the races and make the issue class struggle, as you intimated can be done. With the sneaky disadvantage there that pointing it out is frowned on if you’re white and male, unless you’ve already chosen to lose face by thoroughly outing yourself as being from the lower social orders and delivered lots of personal examples of poverty porn in the deprivation and oppression bingo stakes …

Our New Zealand experience is different to the UK. We arrived here privileged as Shortage Skills migrants. Unless deciding to avoid private practice, and working here full time solely in the public sector in a socio-economically deprived area counts as activism, I can’t claim to be an activist. Action on poverty here naturally and justifiably channels more resource into Māori and Pasifika communities. I’m entirely cool with paying higher taxes for that if it comes with a decent social contract for all. The New Zealand voting public don’t seem to think the same way, sadly.

It’s OK. Easily done.

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A thousand times, this:[quote=“aeon, post:19, topic:51190”]
If we aren’t tackling poverty, we’re just arguing over the distribution of the scraps left by the super rich.

We all need to take a peek out from under the heel of the boot.


It being “entirely tied up” is precisely a matter of theory over practice. Literally growing on trees, food and shelter are actually the most plentiful things in the world. If they don’t exist where you are, and you refuse to budge, this is a choice. If you refuse to try growing any food, this is a choice. If you have enough and don’t share any, this is a choice. You also seem to assume that within the context of the discussion money = class structure, when again nothing precludes people from using their own monetary frameworks as well.

It only moves from practice into theory when people don’t do it, which is, again, their choice. I never said that how anybody lives isn’t “real”, but that we can each choose how we live. Other people’s system is not necessarily your system.

Exactly, the main problem is that you can’t see it, and many people choose not to. The safety net these people are using is cut from the same cloth as the cocoon which isolates them. Destroying one destroys the other. What remains is your environment, your skills, and what relationships you create with other people (aka real social groups). It has worked for people for hundreds of thousands of years, and is even easier now. Wanting people to even try to be sufficient and connected enough to reject a lapdog’s “privilege” is anything but indifference. People are the real social capital, the fuel for the machine, and they can make many other things happen. It sounds like yours is the cynicism that people either live under the protection of a single totalizing Society, or go squander their efforts as ineffective, atomized individuals. I encounter that a lot here. It seems many don’t trust the masses of people to be able to organize amongst themselves.

And even if people don’t reject the social conventions of outsiders, I do not merely assume but know that they can, because I acknowledge that this is their choice - not an inevitability. Because they have the agency to make this decision, and I don’t assume that the power lies elsewhere. While the entire model of having/lacking some vague privilege has people only exist under the shadow of a hierarchy others - there is no way to keep it, and maintain equitable living.

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Yeah, this is exactly the indifference I’m talking about. Right now these things are not choices for everyone. Save only in the most meaningless sense where consequences are ignored; how for instance people “chose” to be slaves, because they always had the option of being executed instead.

If you wanted to talk about us many people for who these are real choices, and what we should be doing, I would be all for it. But instead you’re really making a point of dismissing the many people who don’t have that privilege - and now, also, the many people for whom the last hundreds of thousands of years haven’t worked - and I know enough about the kind of callousness not to expect it to lead to anything worthwhile.

Not in the slightest. I have a lot more sympathy for anarchist ideals, things like Holz’s coopernation, and so on than you’re assuming. I just think anything of the sort is rendered a pointless non-starter when someone sets out with nonsense and indifference, like how poverty can’t be an issue because parents with sick or starving children could all go forage in the woods or find someplace they could farm or whatever.


Try taking some responsibility. Perhaps you are indifferent to making such choices if you find them meaningless. You are entitled to make such an evaluation, but I do not share it. I see this as anything but ignoring consequences, rather, it is a matter of embracing them. Oppression works by convincing people that they have no choice, and it does this by preying upon their insecurities, both real and imagined. Then people are sold “survival at all costs” to bring them into a system. It’s bogus, there are no guarantees. And yes, people who are slaves who are aware that they can choose between living as slaves, refusing, escaping, or dying in the attempt do in fact have a more accurate understanding, and are thus in a position to make better choices. The illusion is to put blinders on, and suggest that since some options are risky, that they don’t exist. And again, I think this implies an atomized understanding of people. If, using your analogy, slaves refuse to be slaves, it doesn’t only get them retribution - it also has the larger effect of making slavery unprofitable. It would be more callous to assume that everybody should be a slave to their survival instinct. It’s a selfish attitude.

Telling people what they should be doing would be arrogant. I’d rather just educate them to be aware of situations and navigate their own decisions.

People knowing that they have choices is the first step, and it makes a tremendous difference. I honestly can’t conceive of how any sort of just change can happen without this - only subjecting people to more coercion. I never said that poverty can’t be an issue. What I said is that to know what people need you need to communicate with them directly, rather than measure them with the standards of the oppressor. Otherwise we risk offering them impossible “emancipation” by making a place for them in the same system they are working against. I have seen this myself, I try to network with people and 99.99% of the “help” is to get me to be employed, earning money, and tied to a house - things which all place me directly within a system I am working against. So I am acutely aware of this. If we are/have cultural capital, then we are not “impoverished”, we simply need to associate and network with other people - as equals.

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Sure, but is that what counts? When people are asking how to make a world where there are more alternatives than just those, constantly bringing up the facts that slaves can always try risking death by escaping is not really doing any favors.

I’m pretty sure we all understand people aren’t technically trapped in poverty, that anyone who is willing to assume great risks to themselves and loved ones can go out and probably end up even more miserable, but just maybe find a life closer to their hopes. But is that close to good enough? I don’t pretend for a moment any of us armchair philosophers have more insight into the situations of others than they do themselves, or that poor people are all too foolish or cowardly to try, so no, if most people aren’t trying it means it isn’t. I’d like to find a way to create alternatives that are; pointing out they could always be taking the horrible existing ones is just privileged condescension.

It’s also condescending to assume people have simply been sold survival at all costs, instead of considering that many people have things they want out of life, and seeing themselves or their children die tends to ruin them. There’s much more to that than simply the “standards of the oppressor”, it’s the standards many make for themselves. Personally, my principle is that I’d like things to be as free as possible, in the sense that people can actually do the things they’d like as much as possible.

Is that a sense you care about? Because while you can fault social safety nets as being part of the current oppressive system, which isn’t entirely wrong, it at the same time in many places has given a lot more of such freedom than most people enjoyed the previous hundred thousand years. I do hope to see something better still, and no, it doesn’t have to come from a totalizing society.

But chastising people who don’t yet enjoy such freedom about all the risks they still have available is not helping anyone toward that, it’s only insulting them. If you disagree on that, I think that would be where I go back to leaving you to it.


Food is plentiful because of industrialized agriculture. Subsistence agriculture is less productive, there’s not enough arable land in the world for everyone to practice subsistence agriculture, and there’s essentially no unclaimed, unused arable land in the world, except perhaps the land underneath forests which are already dangerously depleted.

Changing agricultural practices would require large scale coordination – which is possible, but somehow you’d have to convince a lot of people to act together.


Nicely said. :smiley:

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My wife’s family bootstrapped themselves out of developing world poverty with no social safety net. They went from hunger, wooden huts and farm labour to professional/technical jobs and mainly middle-class affluence over just 3 generations, with our (middle) generation seeing the largest change over our lifetimes. However, they had the support of a community that was mainly trying to do the same; strong family ties with the Asian concept of filial piety; and a rapidly growing economy on their side as they did it.

Poverty in the developed world lacks those characteristics, so a social safety net is necessary. Our poor are frequently trapped by being pulled back down even as they are oppressed, and we have economies that have ossified an unjust wealth distribution.


That is a social safety net. It just happens to be the traditional form.

Oh, it’s not ossified. Its proponents actively hunt down and destroy any resistance to its accelerating growth.


OK, I can buy that. But in that form it’s only a local safety net that can easily fade away over time. Without support at a national level it can disappear, particularly as inequality increases.


On the topic in general, after having skimmed through some of the replies, though this is probably just to the fourth wall:

“The Problem”, for me, is that people overestimate their own capacities and they tend to carry that into groups they join. This is as opposed to doubting one’s own perceptions and doubting one’s own groups perceptions. Which, really, is a very basic concept that is often repeated through history.

The contrary view is taking one’s self as a sort of traveler. Instead of being “I am a doctor, white, male, who likes pizza”, you are someone who is as happy in Vietnam eating bird nest soup as you could be hanging with a South American tribe and chomping down on some nicely sizzled grub worms. (Providing, of course, that it is not too well done.)

Someone who can blend in to any group, and so, likewise, is aware of one’s own limitations, and the limitations of others.

Seeing but not judging.

This can be a bit ironic for groups that propose to shelter the weak and oppressed because they often their own selves end up very individual and “my group” focused. Which is the very problem with those who are narrow minded, judgmental, self-righteous, and hypocritical.

For example, with the “red pillers” [sic – I HATE that they are using such a beautiful term] … you see a situation where, for me, what I think? It is not unlike what I think with sexist, misogynist cultures of a variety of stripes: how wonderful it would be to turn them into women.

That seems so far from them, though very likely a reason they take such extreme Us Vs The So Very Distant And Hated Other is because of underlying homosexual tendencies, or otherwise some reason to engage in self-hatred of any “feminine” aspect of their own self.

Like with a North Korea or your local “corner” cult, they are the opposite of distrusting their own self and distrusting their group. They have gone to the extreme, and that is exactly where the problem is. Ignorance is one word for that. Conceit is another.

Narrow mindedness, judgmentalness, static, dead…

A devotion to killing the capacity of empathy… and most assuredly an extraordinary selfishness, even if that selfishness extends to one’s own group, which it can and does do.

And that is exactly what it is: the vice of selfishness taken to the extreme. I suppose the nature of selfishness tends to elude our perceptions when we see it manifested in a group, as opposed to in an individual, but it remains the very same animal: hungry, greedy, an appetite, distinctly without the capacity for love, but instead only love’s shadow - no desire for the pleasure of Other, only desire for pleasure for self.

Therefore, all said, it is true: devotion to diversity, open mindedness, desire for fairness, willingness to view matters from distant individuals and groups is a way for personal and global betterment… as long as one does not corrode these things and turn it into illusions that flatter the self and the group.

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You’re ignoring the lived, historical experiences of slavery, at least in the New World in the past few centuries. The reason Haiti had a slave revolt and the US did not was because a) Haiti employed the language of rights from the French revolution, which had just happened, and had France still in something of a state of chaos, geopolitlically b) the racial/gender make up of slavery was different in Haiti - not as many families, more men with less to lose and c) space! Communication on the Island between groups of slaves was far easier than it was across the US south at the same time. It was often milies to walk to the nearest plantation, much less to the entire state that plantation was in. None the less, slave revolts happened in us history, it just didn’t prove to be as effective as in the case of haiti.

As for the make up of runaway slaves in the US, it was disproportionately male, because women bore children, and overall, had stronger family ties on plantations, and hence felt more obligation to stay and take care of those obligations. Here we can see that, yes, people are making choices within the institution of slavery, but that doesn’t mean they felt the same set of choices were available to them. You’d have us believe that things that to an outsider seems like an easy choice is the right one, but I’d offer that no it was not an easy choice to go with your baby or toddler to escape being a slave, and that young men felt they had more options. Plenty of people, men and women, made the choice to go, despite the trade offs - which could include their own death, to the brutalization of their left behind family members - but others did not and I will not condemn people for making that choice. When you’re living inside oppression, you can’t always see all the good choices…

I dont’ think the argument is really about how we relate, person to person, but rather how the system of symbols and signification warps our relations to others, often in ways that are imperceptible to many. If we can’t describe that system, we’re lost in setting up alternatives, I’d argue.


Ah, I see the problem.

Shh, dear, the grownups are talking.



How about you, Elusis? On what criteria do you think people can/should classify each other?

That’s the communication problem we seem to be having here. We’re not saying that individuals and their direct community are doing so, but that others, those who have very real power in this world are the ones doing so, and that that fact has real world consequences.


I’m not sure that it is a communication problem - I think I understand quite well what you mean by this. But I interpret it as more an incongruency of attitude or intention. Can I name any of these powerful “others”, and audit what their “very real power” presumably is? Or is this merely a reflex to defer personal responsibility, by assuming that others input is naturally more valid, more effective? I mean this in a purely agnostic, practical sense - not to say that it is or isn’t the case. But do I have any first-hand evidence for this, apart from my day-to-day interactions with other people? To be honest with myself, I actually don’t.

What is the difference, really, between “individuals and their direct community” and “others… have very real power”? Any such others are merely other individuals acting within their community. There are no shadowy superhuman agencies involved here, merely people such as you and I. This I think is the sticky problem of “walking the walk” in every day life, that I cannot recognize in people around me equal respect, agency, or autonomy if I need to reflexively disclaim that some are more equal than others. Being free to organize with people around me is how we create, if you will, structural equality. It’s a losers gambit to insist that our interactions must remain informal and impotent, while only others by default have any systematic, institutional rigor.

This relates to why I was snarking at Elusis. The dig about “grownups” implies a sort of initiation. Adulthood is socialized threshold people cross over by performing certain cultural tasks, and is measured by certain cultural markers. Did you choose your initiation, your culture, or did it choose you? Who do you credit with being able to establish the patterns of social living? People who are unwilling to undertake the personal responsibility of creating and maintaining the actual structure of society really function (not a value judgement!) more as pets or children. If/when we’d assume that others actions are the ones of consequence, that others are in charge and will clean up, that others exist to punish us for exercise our person-hood and social interactions - this would not be, by my estimation, living as “grownups”. The term indicates physical maturity, but not mental, emotional, nor social maturity - which one might hope would accompany this.

Edit: Part of the point of this being that defining our own criteria for both social class and/or wealth is empowering to both ourselves, and those we talk about. In contrast, saying that a system of classification appears “dominant”, and then subjecting others to it, is directly disempowering. It is crucial to be aware of how others perceive and classify, but the distinction should be made and reenforced to mitigate its effects and prevent others from unthinkingly internalizing such values.

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That isn’t what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the very real government, local, state, and federal which do indeed impact lives daily, whether you accept that or not. Law enforcement, courts, legislative bodies, and the systems of signification which help to create the notion of common sense - all exert real world forces on human beings.

My point is that not all people are as freely able to participate in this in modern society. We probably have more freedom to do that here and in other democracies, but depending on what you do, you are going to come up against real world consequences.

Some times if there are clashing definitions, there is going to be a battle, and someone is going to win out. Again, if you study your US history, then leans towards the power structure, though not only. The most successful civil rights campaigns tend to defer to the mainstream, liberal consensus about what makes a “good” society, and that leans towards the bourgeouis definition of such things.

I honestly think your underestimating people’s ability to disentangle themselves from these structures of power and signification. For some, it is not desirable to do so, and for others, the costs are far too high. It’s not enough to say that “well, those people just made a choice”, because it assumes that people don’t realize it’s a choice, but that they did decide they’d give up too much by making the choice that might alienate everyone they know and love, or put them into physical danger. I find it very unempathetic on your part not to take that into consideration.