Liberals and class

I want to shortly clarify one of my points from the prior post about what I called “liberal cultural space.”

So the identitarian swing among liberals (and left of liberals) has been pretty successful in disciplining people from privileged identities from arguing against the seriousness of oppression that does not affect them. A man that tries to mount an argument that sexism or sexual assault or other related gender oppression is not that big of a deal is rejected as being way out of line. A white person saying racism is not a big deal is similarly rejected. Same for cis people talking about trans issues or straight people talking about LGB issues and so on down the line.

It is not that you cannot talk about those things entirely. It is that it is inappropriate for you to opine on their legitimacy. The rationale for this rule is too big to explain here, but one major one is that those not in a given identity have a diminished (not non-existent) understanding about what it is like to actually be in that position and suffer that kind of oppression.

This movement has been successful enough that someone like Ezra Klein would never conceive of writing a post at Wonkblog arguing that sexism, racism, anti-LGBT oppression, and so on is not a big deal. He would never ask the question: what’s more important, reducing sexual assault by 50 percent or unemployment by 50 percent. Liberalism as a cultural phenomenon has so successfully pounded it into his head that this is inappropriate that he wouldn’t dare. Not only would he not dare, but he probably doesn’t even want to dare. That’s the end success of the identitarian move. It doesn’t merely ask people to censor stupid stuff they may ignorantly say. It convinces them that in fact it is pretty ignorant to say it.

But, this is not the case for class issues. It is somehow acceptable within the liberal cultural space to debate the merits of those pounding away on class oppression by saying it is not as big a deal as unemployment. This comparison is totally gratuitous mind you on the merits because they don’t trade off at all, not even at the marginal dollar.

So in my prior post, I point out that Ezra Klein is a rich kid from a well-off background and that he actually admits to having been a fuck up, but still got into very competitive colleges and went on his merry way in life. Despite being on the privileged end of inequality and a beneficiary of it, he goes after class inequality in a way that he would never ever do for something like gender or racial inequality or oppression. That liberalism makes people feel like this is appropriate and doesn’t cause them to self-censor shows you, in part, what liberalism thinks is most important. At the end of the day, class inequality is kind of a negotiable thing. You can be in the tent if you are alright with it, provided you aren’t sexist and racist of course.

Now maybe you think it should be OK for people privileged with respect to a kind of oppression to speak about how that oppression is not so serious. I am not having that debate here. Even if you do think that, it does not erase the fact that this is not the place the dialectic of liberalism is at. It prohibits and mocks and sanctions individuals from privileged identities to dismiss racism, sexism, and so on, but is basically alright and open to class privileged people dismissing class inequality. I think that’s worth noting as a cultural point about liberalism, which is not what I usually write about, I know. It’s not some Ezra-only point. He is just a perfect example of it.