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The underclass wants to become the overman! - click opera Page 2
February 2010
 
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Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 04:50 am
The underclass wants to become the overman!

I've discovered a connection between two battles I find myself fighting on Click Opera: the battle against people who think I should pay more attention to the downside of Japan, and the battle against purveyors of a 1980s-style identity politics focused on victimhood.



The connection became clear to me when I answered this anonymous comment in the early hours of this morning:

Momus' perception of Japan seems to be skewed by the fact that his mates are all successful creatives or else trust-fund kids; I mean, how many Japanese does he know who've been hospitalised through overwork, for example? I can count four among my Tokyo friends just off the top of my head, unfortunately. That's a side of this country subject to wholesale sweeping-under-the-carpet on this blog, unfortunately.

Now, I could have answered this by saying that I know very few trust fund kids, somewhat shun the ones I do know, and would much rather have dinner -- as I did on Monday night -- with a group of recent immigrants to Japan from Malaysia, people who get up at 6 in the morning to scour the markets for food ingredients for the Malaysian restaurants they cook in. Or I could have answered that Hisae's family, with whom I'm staying here in Osaka, are mixed Japanese-Korean. Hisae's mother runs a small clothes store on an arcade, importing items from China and Korea. (Neither Hisae's mum nor the Malaysians, by the way, complain about overwork.)

Instead, I wrote a mini-manifesto, between the lines of which anyone attuned to these things can clearly read the ideas of Marx and Nietzsche:

The fundamental premise of this blog is that you get to the essence of a culture via its talents, not its problems. Ability, as Joseph Beuys put it, is the true human capital. Now, of course there's a place for examinations of the stumbling blocks a culture faces on the way to its achievements. But I think the Dogs and Demons approach -- examining Japan through its problems -- does not get to the heart of Japan's amazing achievements, and its massive success. Problems are distractions from the essence of something, someone, or some place, not a key to understanding it.



The useful thing about this statement is, I think, that it expresses -- in the words of Joseph Beuys -- the single most powerful idea of Marxism: that ability, not money, is the true human capital. But there's also a Nietzschean element in the thought, an emphasis on contention, striving and ambition. The underclass wants to become, if you will, the overman. Problems and distractions cannot bend it from a historic act of will: the fulfillment of (in Marxist terms) its historic destiny to enjoy the fruits of its labour, and take the ascendent position warranted by its productive abilities.

Now that's what I call a left wing position! That's the long march! That's the shining future that justifies present austerities and struggles! Unfortunately, I think a lot of power has been sapped from the radical tradition by what I'd call "problem narcissism": the tendency to make problems, obstacles, or deficiencies the key to identity, and a destination in themselves, rather than mere distractions from the goal of dominance-through-ability. The result is the PC identity politics landscape we all know so well, with its emphasis on victimhood, on symbolic reparation and tokenistic compensation, on "respect" based on the hiding of (unchallenged) stigma via policed language, and, worst of all, on the built-in presupposition (so damaging) that all difference is bad difference, and must therefore be suppressed and spun out of view.

Anon's critique raises the spectre of class war in its association of success with "trust fund kids and successful creatives", but it's a phoney class war. As Beuys and Marx (and Nietzsche, for that matter) agreed, creative ability is absolutely key to all human ability. For Beuys, "everyone is an artist". Anon wants to say that rich and privileged people are the only artists, and that normal people are basically victims, falling by the wayside.

Of course victimhood is an important part of Marx and Beuys' thinking: Beuys said "Show your wound!" and Marx covered the problems of 19th century workers in enormous detail. The important thing is that Marx didn't end with that suffering, victimhood and failure. Marxism is a praxis dedicated to putting those who work, those who create, those who control the ultimate human capital of ability, in the place they deserve: the place of power, will, success and determination. Marx would have been appalled by the "problem narcissism" of identity politics, which -- like a sick man proposing you identify him entirely with an illness which is nevertheless unmentionable -- proposes the gaining of respect for "identifying deficiencies" ("deficiencies" mapped spuriously to identities based on difference: being a woman, being black, being gay) as the ultimate goal of radical politics.

Just as Japan reportage which looks at perceived problems (themselves, all too often, seen through an ethnocentric lens focused on "bad differences") rather than its core creative abilities as a nation misses the essence of Japan -- the Japanese people's extraordinary will matched to their great abilities -- so 1980s-style identity politics defines identity as a series of shortcomings, sees them as "bad differences" from the norm, and demands respect for them in terms which merely underline its bad faith; the perception it shares with its enemies is that it perceives difference as deficiency. And so political struggle gets turned into a series of semantic negotiations in which supposedly-bad differences are spun, if not into good differences exactly, at least into a series of respectful silences, compensations, tips of the hat, correct terminology (according to an endlessly-turning treadmill powered by stigmas which are never, themselves, challenged, probably because the stigmas encode the victimhood so essential to the whole enterprise) and "appropriate language".



I fundamentally reject the idea that this is a progressive politics. As I've said, this negotiation simply encodes more subtly the prejudice it seeks to rebuff. Progressive politics, for me, has to go back to Marx's basic, positive, clear and forceful idea (it was William Morris's too) that ability is the true human capital. We have to stop associating creativity with privilege or class. All human beings are creative. That, rather than problems or victimhood, is what's at the core of an individual, a class, a nation, and the species itself.

100CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)

Problems are distractions from the essence of something, someone, or some place, not a key to understanding it.

This is silly. You need both the positive and negative perspectives of something to understanding it. After all, you can find something positive in anything. A description of Mussolini's Italy that talked mostly about how he got the trains to run on time would hardly give us a rounded portrait, would it? And how does this square with your writings on the U.S., where you almost exclusively focus on its problems?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)

I have to agree that your anti-PC argument seems to come from a position of privilege. You assume that everyone is like you, in a position to achieve what they want to achieve if only they focus on the positive. Stop bally well moaning and get on with expressing your creative abilities! But the trouble is some people can't do that. They're too fucked up by their circumstances. They need help. And therefore they need people to recognise that they need help. And they might never entirely recover from their circumstances, because their circumstances might be out of their control. And therefore they will continue needing help. They might never be able to entirely not be victims, but they will nonetheless do better if society at large recognises them as victims. Sure, there are people out there jumping on the "victim" bandwagon when they'd do better just getting on with what they've got. But that's a marginal issue, not the main one you want it to be.

I've noticed that very often your arguments, ostensibly argued from a Left position, end up looking like a Right position. The anti-PC argument is one of them, as is your anti-human rights argument.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)

Human rights and PC are totally Tony Blair, ie centre right politics. If you want anti-PC and anti-rights arguments, look to leftists like Badiou and Zizek.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 11:43 am (UTC)

We have to stop associating creativity with privilege or class. All human beings are creative. That, rather than problems or victimhood, is what's at the core of an individual, a class, a nation, and the species itself.

There's something almost libertarian about this. All human beings are not creative, but they are all potentially creative. And whether they turn out creative or not may well have a lot to do what class they are or what privileges they have. Those who have to expend all their energies just surviving or helping their families to survive are probably going to far fewer gallery openings than others. Those who have the benefits of education are probably going to be a lot more imaginative about how they deploy their talents than those who haven't, etc., etc.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)

But surely that doesn't really explain the fact that many of the most beautiful craft work is produced by the very poor, people not far above subsistence level. Look at the average middle-class family in the developed world and what they mostly do is consume. Look at peasant cultures until very recently and craft/decoration are often an intrinsic part of their societies. It seems, sadly, that once we can buy it in and have someone else make the choices for us, we give it all up. Perhaps human beings are just lazy?


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
Veggie Shokudo

Hi Momus,
A pleasure to meet you tonight at Yoyo's. Hope you enjoyed the food and reconnecting with Koenji. If you have the time, why don't you drop by the TAB office to say hi to Paul and the rest of the team? Cheers and see you around,

Darryl


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Veggie Shokudo

Yes, great to meet you all! I got a guided tour afterwards of the Shiroto no Ran areas, and the Asoko clubhouse!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)

"(Neither Hisae's mum nor the Malaysians, by the way, complain about overwork.)"

Oh, that's alright then. From your highly representative control group we can safely
disregard illness (not to mention death) by overwork as not really an issue in Japan.

Pat, to say the least.

Tell that to my two friends who lost their fathers while in early childhood, thanks to the 残業 culture.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)

Yeah.... they aren't exactly held to or even have access to the kind of duty that fells overworked Japanese. Restauranting and officework have very different failure risks and stress schedules. Completely different emotional environments.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)

Great post. Dismissing the Japanese Way simply because they have a relatively high suicide rate (or some other Inexcusable Fault) would be to miss out on a lot of good ideas. But it seems Westerners--or at least Americans--are constitutionally disposed to cynical snarkiness.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)

Momus takes a swing at victim culture, political correctness and human rights... have you been reading the Daily Mail or something?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/columnists/article-320038/So-human-rights-really-violated.html


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)
no abilty no money no soceity

leave the capital,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
........................what else was it


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
"talents, not problems"

I don't think it's necessary to make this an either/or proposition. And as an American, I don't get how you get to the essence of our culture w/o looking at slavery - which is definitely a "problem." -Robyn


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Dec. 9th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
Re: "talents, not problems"

In my text I don't say problems shouldn't be looked at, but that they cannot be allowed to become an end in themselves, or the kernel of a politics.

I planned to add -- or rather make specific, since the idea is present in Nietzsche -- that identity politics and Christianity have a lot in common, notably an emphasis on sacrifice, and the idea of a magical transformation of losing into winning.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Dec. 10th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)

Riding the shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo, after publishing this blog about ability being the true capital, I passed a mysterious building entitled Ability Bank.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Dec. 10th, 2009 02:38 am (UTC)
lolz

keep digging that hole, old chap...


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Thu, Dec. 10th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
the tyranny of the capable

what do we do with the losers, the lame, the incapable, the ignorant do-nothings who fail at putting on their own shoes and have bad haircuts and can't understand when we explain to them the simple truth


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Dec. 10th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
Re: the tyranny of the capable

we ought to judge societies precisely over how they treat these so-called lumpenproletariat. we've already seen in history what the most heartless of societies like to do with them...


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 11th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)

Hear Hear on the last paragraph.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009 11:26 am (UTC)
Exactly...


Momus nears the truth, and the victim fetishists (good term whoever coined that up there) scream about class and privilege.

There are whole (money grubbing/greedy/capitalistic) industries that thrive on the perpetuation of victimhood. They keep the stereotypes alive. They make sure to create a permanent underclass because without, they'd be out of a job. Follow the money...


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Dec. 15th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Exactly...

hey einstein, that's rather like saying the fact that the mainstream co-opted hippie fashions in the 1960s and 70s means they actually CREATED those fashions. after all, follow the money...

one thing comes first, and then (granted) the exploitation of it follows...

geez...


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