Integrated Empire: On(Neo?)Liberal Multiculturalism and State Appropriation of the Dead January 23, 2013Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Decolonization, Environmental justice, Feminism, Occupy Wall Street, Queer politics.
Tags: kirtland air force base, politics, ricardo flores magón
On Sunday I participated in the anti-police-brutality contingent of the local Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration. While the fact that the mounted cops were carrying bokken unnerved me, I enjoyed marching with comrades and family members of police shooting victims. The event’s official speakers illustrate in dizzying clarity the ascendant political-affective order of liberal multiculturalism, an ideology prides itself in its inclusion and diversity. I started my escape from the plaza as soon as a colonel from nearby Kirtland Air Force Base began professing eir support for King’s dream; an ROTC band had played and the national anthem was being sung by the time I got out of earshot. The 2013 U.S. military positively embraces King as a symbol of American exceptionalism, with the Air Force going so far as to claim that ey would be proud of the nuclear Global Strike team. As long as each recognized social group gets proportional representation, nukes are cool, right? King would be down with a little fission-fusion posturing.
The situation seems surreal, but governments habitually co-opt the legacies of even vaguely radical figures. For example, were ey to return to life, anarchist-communist Ricardo Flores Magón would be enraged by how the Mexican state and so many historians have invoked eir name for their own ends. Flores Magón considered the Mexican Revolution unfilled and rejected the nominally revolutionary government that emerged in the 1920s. Ey had enough of following to encourage such posthumous incorporation, demonstrating that statists will enlist even anarchist bones when advantageous. Though U.S. official have so far shied away from making dead anarchists into state mascots here, they might do so to anyof us in the future. Beware. (Does this amount to argument for indefinite life extension?)
In all its absurdity, the assertion that King would bask in the atomic glow of the U.S. war machine strikes me as a emblematic of a great spirit of the age. Leon Panetta’s recent decision to let women into combat positions constitutes more of the same. Hey, look, everybody gets to shoot at bad guys now! Inclusive imperialism! Isn’t that wonderful?
I mount a twofold critique liberal multiculturalism. First, liberal dreams disgust me. Were the sweeping proclamations of equality in opportunity ever realized, I would remain ardently opposed. An empire in which folks of all colors, genders, sexual orientations, and so on sit in the war room together remains an empire and needs smashing. Second, this fanfare about diversity comes alongside extreme inequality in the most old-fashioned essentialist terms. As the status quo comes directly out of European colonialism, it’s unclear whether equality could plausible happen without revolution
Is liberal multiculturalism even any good in theory? Taken to its logical conclusion, inclusion strengthens support for the status quo of militarism, capitalism, colonization, and heteropatriarchy by extending the benefits thereof to – as USAF’s Warren Ward writes – “every race, creed, background and religion.” The problem isn’t the system, it’s that some folks get excluded on an irrational basis. The problem isn’t omnipresent coercion, but the unreasonable application of force. King’s sweeping indictments of capitalism and militarism disappear in liberal renditions because they’re incompatible with grand liberal visions of a just hierarchical society and/or equality in conformity.
The former entails the purification of capitalism, competition, and inequality via the elimination of prejudice. Refusing to serve or hire somewhere because of the color of their skin is irrational and makes the system look bad; you should only discriminate rationally. Fire drunks and troublemakers, not black folks. This analysis ignores the structural role of nonnormative (queered) populations in the actually existing economy. If complete, the dream would either lead to groups excluded and oppressed strictly for their inability or unwillingness to obey, or consensus in favor of bourgeois values – the equality in conformity scenario. Queerness – in its broad sense – gets policed and controlled if not exterminated entirely. The reductionist Enlightenment aesthetic turns human beings into machines, maximizing value for the bosses and those exceptional enough to win their favor or beat them at their own game. That’s the beak expanse I imagine when I hear the song of assimilation. It amounts to distilling oppression into the exploitation of labor and the iron fist of the law.
(In case you think I’m being to overly acerbic, I should note that I’m referring to sort of liberalism practiced by the contemporary U.S. political establishment. At best they see out to future of comfortable little worker bees feeding a gluttonous elite that some eventually join; even that might be too generous.)
Regardless of the merits or horrors of this heterotopia, it’s critical to remember that the liberals aren’t anywhere close to achieving their professed aspirations for a postracial, postgender, LGBT-friendly country. The racial stratification of wealth in the United States, for instance, has increased lately and its magnitude defies dismissal or rationalization. When you scale up to the whole world, the gap become astronomical. White-privileged folks control a vastly disproportionate share of the planet’s nice things. The election of the first black U.S. president has not stopped the mass incarceration of the black community. Straight terror against remains standard and may even be increasing despite the successes of the mainstream LGBT movement. The same goes for patriarchal violence against women. Etc. In the era of It Gets Better, there’s limited evidence in that direction.
If behavior and place in the hierarchy as much as or more than appearance creates traits like whiteness, straightness, and masculinity – and liberalism historically exudes each of these three – then the notion of defeating white supremacy through full integration into the colonial nation-state becomes incoherent. If capitalism can function without a hyperexploited underclass, the species has yet to experience it. I’m not certain liberals will eternally fail to fulfill their dismal ideals, but they’ve got a long and tricky trail to travel.
I recommend rowdy rejection of assimilation into the status quo. We can do so much better. This inauguration protest gives me hope. Here’s to insurrection, outrage, love, sharing, and decolonization.
Rest in peace, Dr. King.