A Moral with No Fable
Another week, another flame-out between liberals and the left over which we should ‘choose’ in the alleged battle between class and identity. Believe me, folks, I don’t like writing these pieces any more than you like reading them, but until we can bury this utterly false dichotomy once and for good, these beatings are going to continue.
Certain upstanding citizens of the tsk-tsk internet have echoed the opinion recently that, if forced to choose between race and class, they will choose the latter every time, and any mean old leftists who think otherwise can go suck on a lemon. This shouldn’t cause anyone undue stress because, of course, no one ever will be forced to make such a choice; like most entirely bogus either-or scenarios, they are constructed for no other reason than to make the person choosing one or the other feel good about themselves. It should go without saying that the people making these bold stands on a position nobody forced them to take are themselves overwhelmingly white and are, thus, members of the race and class that not only doesn’t have to choose one or the other but, historically, is given the luxury of ignoring both.
I’m not sure what prompts these occasional explosions of how-dare-you-ism about the purported clash between class-first and identity-first politics. If done properly, the leftist approach – which, though few liberals are willing to articulate it as such, is essentially the Marxist project – will also address most, if not all, matters of race, gender, sexuality, and the like. I spend almost all my time around people on the left and, if anything, they are far more sensitive to what we might call the politics of social justice than most liberals I have known. It might just be, as some have speculated, that they put up this artificial divide in order to entirely escape the possibility of having to talk about class at all.
Regardless, here we are again on the same old merry-go-round, on which the Left, whatever it is currently claimed to consist of, is accused of ‘not caring’ about the fate of women, gays, or people of color because they stubbornly insist on a material analysis of politics and history. I have addressed the fallacy of this approach so many times already that I’m beginning to bore myself, and I hardly want to go back and re-litigate the position that, for example, the ways in which racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like are expressed are almost entirely economic in nature. Nor do I want to have to rehash the point that at the very least, improving the material conditions of historically oppressed minorities is at least a practical and achievable aim, unlike, say, “eliminating racism”, a goal which exists largely on a metaphysical plane and is beyond the ability of the political system to address.
Instead, I want you to consider a scenario. It shouldn’t be too difficult, as it is not a pure thought experiment, but rather an analogy whose real-world equivalent should not be too hard to find: imagine, please, a country in which a socialist revolution has taken place. It is a multi-cultural society, and contains a vibrant mix of blacks, whites, and other races; it has the usual percentages of women, of queers, of trans and disabled people. Its government has deliberately chosen, for who knows what reason – cruelty? Indifference? The influence of some charismatic leader? – to do absolutely nothing to eliminate the sins of racism, of misogyny, of homophobia.
All it has done is rigorously enforce its conception of class equality. Every citizen has access to a quality education, the best medical care available, and a living wage regardless of their ability to work; there is no poverty, no deprivation, and no austerity. Scarcity is a thing of the past. No one goes without a home; mental health care is free and universally available, and every workplace is fully democratic, with the means of production held by the people and the necessities of life at the disposal of every citizen. Nothing is scarce. The state exists only to administer the will of the people, but choice or by circumstance, it will do nothing about issues of personal identity. Bigotry and prejudice is held to be beyond its scope, except insofar as these conditions might interfere with the iron rule that material comforts must be made universally available to all.
Now imagine another country. This country has solved its problems with bias. It is not an ethnically homogeneous nation, but in it there is no racial strife, no misogyny, no transphobia. Through some miracle – a government crackdown? A robust educational system? A massive personal transformation? – it has managed to rid itself entirely of these bigotries and prejudices. Everywhere you look, there is equality and parity: in the government, in private enterprise, in the military and in the courts, there is not just proportionate representation, but total equality. Nowhere do you look and see only white men’s faces. Nowhere do you travel and not see a wide and vibrant palette of human colors, all completely free from the hateful sting of racism and sexism.
However, the country has done nothing to address class. It is ruthlessly capitalistic. The boardrooms, courtrooms, and halls of power are peopled with men and women, gay and straight, black and white; but their authority stems from wealth and position. The prisons, hospitals, and homeless shelters, too, are peopled with men and women, gay and straight, black and white; and they suffer unimaginable pain and misery if they are not rich enough to afford the ever-increasing costs of basic human necessity. All are equally comfortable in the mansions and high-rises, assuming they have the wealth to buy in; all are equally miserable in the slums and ghettoes, assuming they lack of money to buy themselves out. All manner of catastrophe and horror may be visited on the poor, so long as it is not a product of prejudice.
Which country would you rather live in?