it’s about the extraordinary frustration of romance under capitalism.
Both sides are projecting their individual struggles.
What’s annoying is both sides have valuable politics.
It’s true that oppressions based on specific identities need to be addressed. It’s also true that to defeat capitalism, a strategy and analysis which places class as the central factor (not the only factor) is most effective.
My friend joked to me, “it’s not so much that identity politics is wrong, it’s just that class politics is more right.” In reality it’s about striking a balance and combining both in a way that’s not reductive to either. Really identity and class must become identical in order to defeat Trump.
But the entire maelstrom of Gamergate vs. SJWs, or SJWs vs. the Alt-Right, or feminists vs. brocialists to me seems like an “adult” version of the kindergarten exchange “boys are gross”/“girls have cooties.” Is this even about anything?
What’s funny is we get lost in a vortex of incoherence. We forget our own motivations. We get caught up in arguments we don’t know why we entered into and forget ourselves. We lose consciousness of whether we’re in these arguments for personal or political reasons. The two become entirely blended and we forget which were which.
(I, of course, am perfectly self-aware of every single reason I perform every single action. 😛 )
The personal can indeed be the political, but maybe precisely which type of personal we mean here is getting confused.
Is this the type of personal which is appropriate to politicize? The type we do unconsciously? When we use politics as a weapon of projection or revenge for our private frustrations or conflicts?
Or maybe it is appropriate? Maybe our private struggles are precisely political.
The mistake would be to assume that people’s individual, emotional, romantic struggles are somehow apolitical, or worthy of dismissal, or targets for mockery.
All sides are experiencing the extraordinary alienation of love under capitalism.
EMOTIONAL VULNERABILITY UNDER THE RECESSION
What’s funny is, even people who are in relationships often end up feeling like they, too, are experiencing the extraordinary alienation of being single under capitalism — even when they’re not single. You can feel even more alone even when you’re “with” someone, all the moreso precisely because you’re not supposed to feel alone, but feel alone anyway.
There is both an extraordinary alienation of being single under capitalism, and an extraordinary alienation of being in a relationship under capitalism.
Capitalism is a bad relationship you can’t get out of.
I’m stuck in a relationship with money.
I’m stuck in a relationship with having to pay to eat. I’m stuck in a relationship with landlords and paying rent. I’m stuck in a relationship with bosses and working jobs. I’m stuck in a relationship with credit cards and debt and payments. I’m stuck in a relationship with student loans, with degrees and resumes and job applications and hiding Facebook from employers. I’m stuck in a relationship with myself who until recently I didn’t particularly want to be.
The extraordinary alienation of love under capitalism is not a side issue: it is the main issue. Human beings, as social creatures, express their emotions primarily through their connections to others (or lack thereof).
We experience capitalism’s pain primarily through romantic frustration, drama, conflict, or alienation.
We feel like we’re not supposed to talk about these feelings, or see them as personal failings. They are not. They are systemic.
To demand love, and satisfaction in love, is to demand a society that accommodates love — a society that has time for love, a society where people have time for each other, where people have the resources to see each other and the resources to spend on each other and themselves.
To demand love, and satisfaction in love, is a political demand.
To be clear this is not the looks-privilege ideology demand for universal pity sex as some people on Tumblr are liable to imply. (Who wants pity sex anyway?) But if you do feel like the universe is playing hard-to-get with itself, and perhaps with you in particular, do keep in mind that we are often ourselves part of this problem.
As a mind-opening exercise, imagine someone describing you back to yourself as a prospect for a blind date. Would you be interested, neutral, or grossed out, and what does this say about how open-minded or judgmental you are, and how can you then judge the rest of the world for their narrow preferences, if you would reject yourself? Maybe your own preferences shouldn’t be so narrow. Maybe there’s more to human variety than you’ve been appreciating. (I applied this to myself thoroughly long before preaching it, with delightful results. I’m now much happier with myself and others.) Perhaps this sort of imagining the other side could help with our political conundrums as well.
It would be strategic for the Left to recognize that the extraordinary alienation of romantic frustration under capitalism is the strongest possible connection that most of the working class has to politics, and if we connected to those emotions in our political communication, most people would find it far more relevant to themselves.
Heterosexuality is still the dominant sexual orientation and will probably remain so for some time. So it only makes sense that the two sides of the projective politico-romantic divide (feminist/brocialist) might have a rough divide along gender lines, ie if love is the main expression of alienation, we project our hostility along the lines of love, ie toward the opposite sex. Men and women fight.
Since everything is an interconnected totality, and the severity of capitalism expresses itself through the weaknesses of the Left, ie we even experience the Left’s own problems as romantic frustration.
You have probably lost count of the times you have personally witnessed the argument over class vs. identity politics manifest as literal boyfriend-girlfriend drama.
I have beyond lost count, it is at this point a joke to me, or even higher than a joke — more of a cosmic archetype of yin and yang. But this isn’t apolitical — it’s hyper-political. How we relate is everything.
The Left’s gender conflict is simultaneously symptom and cause, cyclic chicken-and-egg expression of our pain and frustration as a Left. It is Crystal Castles band drama on repeat. (Dude, does anyone know what the fuck actually happened?)
This would make our political projections of our private pains a giant exercise in defensiveness.
And Nicole Arbour’s video is a great discussion of the inherent defensiveness of the ultra-casual nature of modern dating culture (or really non-dating). We spend our whole life building defenses only to have them imprison us.
It’s not surprising that even the author of the video herself is embroiled in a dramatic online spat over claims of abuse — her ex-boyfriend, another, bigger YouTube personality, making accusations against her.
As in all claims of abuse, it’s hard to know what the hell happened. The events are so individual and opaque. Was she inappropriately controlling, or properly standing up for her boundaries in a consensually monogamous relationship, and her boyfriend was being an asshole and fucking deserved to get punched? Sometimes shit happens.
Ultimately the doubling-down on conflict on all sides is just all the more defensiveness against acknowledgement of our own vulnerability. Vulnerability to what?
To our powerlessness, to our pain.
Recessionary damage to the job market and wages has left us with an entire lost decade of growth — an entire decade of our lives missing gone to the capitalists, lost to exploitation. All the jobs created back, in the meantime, with employment just now back up to levels of 2008/9, are temp jobs. And damage to our standard of living correlates to a greater social fragmentation.
It probably sounds like I’m about to preach against the Left’s fragmentation and disunity into forty sects, against the working class’ atomization without unions, or the effectively disorganized state of the working class in top-down bureaucratic unions. Those would be relevant points to make.
Instead I think the recessionary social fragmentation has literally intensified the venom of online/otherwise Leftist infighting generally, including the general projective politico-romantic gender divide. The bitterness of callout culture and intra-Left debate is quite possibly us taking our frustration out on each other because we have so little ability to take it out on the powerful.
The recessionary social fragmentation also takes the not-unrelated form of the increase in romantic failure in general, another form of the gender divide — an increase in people failing to find or keep relationships in general, despite the “ease” and “abundance” of the modern dating environment with online dating apps like OKCupid or Tinder. This is both because of the general isolation that poverty imposes on a person, but also possibly because of the increased social tension generated by the toxic political and cultural social environment generated by the Recession.
We are more romantically alienated than ever despite being more digitally connected than ever.
Millennials are delaying marriage, not for mere cultural reasons of being uninterested in some bourgeois tradition, but because we’re broke, and marriage is seen as something of which we are unworthy until we “get our lives together” — but the economy has kept our lives very not-together, beyond anything our individual actions could control.
This is the first time in US history that there are more single than married women (and single people in general). Liberal NPR has tried to spin it that for women it’s “by choice” but it’s again often the “choice” of wanting to build up a career before feeling worthy of partnership, so like many economic “choices” under capitalism it seems like not actually a choice.
INCHING CLOSER TO UNITY
Of course I’m not dismissing the actual politics behind the class-vs.-identity debate. I engage that debate vigorously, certainly picking my own leaning, for what (I tell myself at least) are materialist strategic reasons, while acknowledging that it is also often a matter of striking the right balance rather than a zero-sum.
But there is definitely an emotional content underlying the whole thing on both sides, imposed if nothing else by a sort of embarrassing self-awareness of the gender/other demographics on both sides. In all seriousness, the next time this argument rages beyond our ability to reason or listen to each other, when it becomes a matter of disposing of each other as participants or cutting each other out, maybe all sides should just admit to themselves what they actually want.
We want each other.
But without giving up ourselves.
We work on the same problems from opposite sides, from inverted perspectives, working towards what is hopefully a uniting synthesis. We want to reach a state where we can unify with each other without compromising ourselves. This is no simple task.
Our internal conflicts are the long prelude to our unification, the necessary working out of molecular differences finding synthesis particle by particle, a slow-burning chemical reaction resulting largely in combination.
We inch closer and closer.
Hopefully we are getting there.