Francis Fukuyama was on C-SPAN the other day talking about his book on identity politics and I started reading an article by him on the same topic in Foreign Affairs. Part way into the article I found myself impatient with the way he glosses over the micro in favor of the macro, as all Grand Theorists do. Perhaps it is perforce but attention must be paid, paid to the lives of all the people involved in the Grand Theory.
My friend who is knowledgeable about international politics and loans me Foreign Affairs listened appreciatively as I described how I had read about many village and peasant cultures throughout the world and over time: Italian, Provencal, Russian, English, East Indian and Native America , West African, Latin-American, the U.S., Japanese, and others. Some are of this past century, others from earlier times, e.g. Roman. Nothing in depth but enough to let me glimpse how village people conduct their lives and pass through the normal stages of a life-time.
My irritation with the Grand Theorists (GT) is that they seem not to have experienced anything like that life themselves and so cannot appreciate its complexity. One example is hierarchy: the GT focuses on the higher-ups and the relation to those below them, forgetting that those below them have others below them, even if it is only family. A small land-holder has a couple of servants he can lord it over – lord meaning dominate but not necessarily in an exploitative manner. The strictest hierarchy and the one I know most about is the slave and slave holder regime of the Old South as part of U.S. slavery.
Many slaves managed to carve out for themselves some semblance of autonomy simply by being valued by others, either by other slaves or by the slave holder himself or herself and others around them. For example, a slave might be inherited by an elderly widow living in the city. She would have no work for him so he might hire himself out as a laborer or even skilled worker and give a portion of what he earned to the woman in whose service he was.
You have to be careful talking about this b/c a lot of people regard any mention of any amelioration of the slave status or refinement of the relationship between slave holder and enslaved as a white wash of slavery. Far from seeing such entrepreneurial and even autonomy-driven behavior as an indicator of how deep the sense of dignity was among slaves and how willfully and skillfully they turned the tables on the slave holders, they see deals negotiated with slave holders as cooperating with the enemy and as being co-opted.
I’ve said the GT have not experienced the life down below, their notes are not from underground. With me, not only have I read what they could have read, I’ve experienced what they have not, life down below. I married from a working-class White family into a working-class Black family in 1964. Those familiar with American history will note that the 60s were a time of change and turmoil for everyone, but esp for African-Americans. We went from MLK to H. Rap Brown and Stokley Carmichael in short order, within the decade. We saw the nation revulsed and convulsed by events in Birmingham and on the Edmund Petus Bridge, but more importantly for my POV, civic life began to open up for Blacks. My wife was turned down for a teaching job in the 60s b/c she was too dark to work north of the Black/White dividing line in Phoenix but at the end of the decade was recruited by ASU professors working with NDEA funding for a masters program in counseling that would place her in previously all-White schools exactly where she had been openly denied on the basis of her color – in this case, her shade (I think that was considered progress: not all Blacks, just the really black ones). That speed was head-spinning and only matched and even exceeded by the transformation of attitudes toward LGBTQ folks.
It is emblematic of conservatism to underrate the abilities of people lower down in the hierarchy. Right now the code word is “personal responsibility”, a way of labeling persons who find themselves in difficult circumstances and need help. Underneath that is a seething resentment of “gummint”, that behemoth which dominates the lives of struggling CEOs and megadonors.
To be continued…………..
Kavanaugh is in. Or on. And we’re all back under the bus. In some ways, under the bus is comfortable. You get to form your own tight groups, you get creative, you find work-arounds, and you rebel, openly or covertly. But in the end, it is still a beggar’s democracy; you are up against the wall of law and policy created by autocratic, hierarchical, male-dominated social forces which justify any cruelty and any destruction of our country by their theology of male dominance ordained by a god. That’s it in a nutshell – which is convenient for them b/c they are nuts.
How nuts? Because the whole g-d world is changing around them so rapidly that they are dead men walking. Grassley just doesn’t know it. Oh, they are immensely powerful but so was the Czar when the Winter Palace got itself stormed. These forces: globalization, technology spinning off into every corner of our lives, internationalism, immigration, economic disruption, militarization, and on and on, are like a tsunami, except tsunami recede. This won’t. Kavanaugh is the rear guard who thinks it is going to slow the pursuing enemy down. Nothing will slow these forces, not even Trump