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Pessimism and the Scholar as Spectator

May 30, 2010

I’m pretty damn pessimistic when it comes to resisting capitalism—I think that economic inequalities are going to get worse in the time to come, and there is probably nothing we can do about that.

Of course such pessimism is viewed by many as “giving in,” or worse, collaboration. If I’m not actively fighting, then I’m de facto facilitating, right?

But what if pessimism is simply realistic? If I had a time machine and was transported back to colonial America, what realistic chance would I have of “resisting” or “challenging” sexism or racism? It would be completely unrealistic to expect me to mount any sort of substantial resistance in such a context.

Is it any more realistic to expect us to mount any sort of substantial resistance to late capitalism right now?

I don’t know the answer to that question; I suppose it’s an empirical matter, and time will tell.

If we can’t do anything of substance to challenge late capitalism, what can we do? We can stand on the sidelines and watch the game. Scholarship could be a spectator sport, where we can explain why some groups consistently win and some groups consistently lose, but we can do little to alter the game itself.

A part of me wants to laugh like a spectator at the present misfortune of my parents’ generation: you’ve made your bed and now you have to sleep in it. Since Nixon/Reagan you rolled back taxation of the rich, social services for the poor, and regulation of Wall Street. Now you’ve lost your retirement savings on the stack market, you’re unemployed but can’t quite yet retire, and you aren’t eligible for any social services that might help. In addition, neither can your children help you because they’re effing unemployed because you preferred for the last 30 years to buy cheap products made with overseas labor. I hope you’re happy with yourselves.

I don’t feel this way every day, but today …

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beelzebub permalink
    June 6, 2010 4:19 pm

    Isn’t it possible to be both pessimistic and resistant? Because it seems like not being pessimistic about something like this, is simply closing your eyes to what’s going on, while on the other hand, ceasing to resist IS giving in (and giving up). Then, of course, if you want to resist somehow, it’s hard to know what to do in the first place.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 7, 2010 8:52 am

    But if resistance is futile (which may or may not be the case), then two questions: WHAT futile actions should we take, and WHY bother?

  3. Beelzebub permalink
    June 7, 2010 1:24 pm

    I don’t know, man. I’m kind of a depressive fellow, so if I told myself that resistance is futile, then…I don’t know. I’m a big believer in maintaining certain delusions that will make people at least a little bit happy. But if we believe that resistance is futile, then it will be. The possibility for change doesn’t just exist in a vacuum; without organization, it always will be futile, so I’d guess the “futile action” that should be taken — that may not provide benefits in the short-term, but will in the long — is to organize and proselytize. I mean, even if you suppose that capitalism isn’t sustainable, that it will collapse under the weight of it’s contradictions or whatever, that doesn’t mean that what comes after it will by necessity be better than capitalism. In the meantime, I’m pretty sure we can limit how much we consume. This probably doesn’t actually answer your question, because I pretty much ignore futility.

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