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Friday, June 24, 2005


class in america

radical author j. sakai, who authored the wonderfully observant "settlers", offers some insights into his book in this interview.

This liberal intellectual polarity that "race issues" and "class issues" are opposites, are completely separate from each other, and that one or the must be the main thing, is utterly useless! We have to really get it that race issues aren't the opposite of class issues. That race is always so electrically charged, so filled with mass power, precisely because it's about raw class. That's why revolutionaries and demagogues can both potentially tap into so much power using it. Or get burned.
sakai brilliantly deconstructs american racism as a class issue, with the proletariat itself stratified into levels that have everything to do with cultural inheritance -- of which race in our postmodern conception is only an ancillary part. he notes similar stratification occuring in northern ireland, between unionist settlers and loyalist indigenes where religious affiliation serves as the ancillary part, and tibet, where chinese confucianism and tibetan buddhism are in conflict. but neither does he forget the long history of social castes in the american immigrant experience, where the racial classifications of victorian europe separated celt from nord from slav.

paul fussell has written marvellously on the hidden american class structure, which obviously does exist even if it is eternally denied. sakai's contribution to revealing some of the depth of the structure is welcome.

as the failure of american education to promote any longer a common culture has destroyed the primary methodology of assimilation which once mitigated this stratification, one might imagine the gaps between and within classes and cultures would remain or even widen in america going forward. but the experience of past civilizations in this sense is one of a softening and blurring of cultural lines -- without enforcement, the society is slowly deprived not just of a dominant culture but of any identifiable culture at all. a palpable nebulousness -- a sense of society as an undefinable amalgamation of individuals without affiliation -- is recorded in the histories of many declining civilizations.

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Of course in America it has become "wrong" to define anything as the common culture. People cry out cultural oppression and cultural genocide and other assorted useless blather.

Of course, it is just a symptom of the larger problem of the desire to reduce everyone to an irreproachable culture of One where everything and anything a person does or feels should be tolerated. This is not a calm for uniformity which is just as unhealthy but rather the realization at some point that maybe we shouldn't just shrug our shoulders at all that people do.

Note that I don't think this necessarily has to be political/legal matter and is one area where I take strong issues with the social engineering via law of the many Liberal or the morality policing of many Conservatives. People forgot the simple power of reinforcing our societal norms on a personal level.

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