Y’know what really creeps me th’ fuck out?
Some apes have had mirrors placed in front of their cages and been given crayons. They draw the cage, but they don’t draw themselves in it. I look at those drawings, and one time it hit me: maybe they do.
Maybe they see their constraints as defining who they are. I’ve always found that chilling.
I’ve found something worse: a self-portrait that doesn’t include the cage.
Anand Giridharadas writes an arts column for the times, but he also writes a mish-mash of columns about international political dynamics. His sense of politics matters.
And it’s awful.
The two Brooklyns awkwardly coexist, nowhere more starkly than in politics: Brooklyn votes emphatically for the left’s relative egalitarianism — giving President Obama 81 percent of its vote — even as its gentrifiers drive out the poor, secede from the public education system and, in many ways, embody how the country increasingly shows the patterns of an inheritance society.
Anand Giridharadas, I happen to be roommates with Al From. I read him your column (I had to; he’s too high to read much before noon, most days) and he laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Doesn’t this guy know that the Democratic Party isn’t a vehicle for egalitarianism?” Al said in-between puffs from his vaporizer. “Hasn’t this schmoe figured out that it’s Neoliberalism With a Human Face, and that merely voting for these guys won’t do anything about advancing class mobility?”
“I think he’s viewing it through a more touchy-feely lens, like, how it feeeels to vote Democratic?” I offered.
“Word,” Al said. “That’s dumb.”
Giridharadas’ larger mistakes have to do with where this analysis of how things feel leads him.
[Brooklyn] is a place where two conservative notions flourish: the idea of competitiveness, in which life is imagined as a brutal Darwinian struggle and it’s never too early to start preparing your kids to outsmart the local math genius; and of traditionalist purity, in which good parenting means returning to The Way Things Were, resisting grain-fed beef and formula-fed humans (and shaming parents, particularly mothers, who fall short because of physiology, ambition or, simply, a focus on different things).
This isn’t “Darwinian competitiveness” and “traditionalism”. This is “life under a market society”, where consumption choices reflect personal values and the only way to win is through comparison to others in the marketplace.
This has nothing to do with partisan politics. It’s about political economy shaping subjective experience. It’s about how one feels one has to live in order to gain meaning in the environment our institutions and culture create.
Giridharadas should be able to see this from his own writing, in which
that $1,049 Bugaboo stroller, that musically enhanced play date, that ergonomic carrier, that free-range egg, that multilingual nanny, that wrenching decision by the powerhouse mother to quit work against her own expectations and desires
are seen as partisan political choices.
Repeat after me, as many times as it takes, maybe start with a simple 150 repetitions in the time it takes you to mousse your hair every morning: Those. Are. Not. Partisan. Political. Choices. They are choices made under the assumption that politics is only consumption, and so that the kinds of consumption you indulge in say what partisan team you’re on.
Does this conception of politics, in fact, hide where the real power in politics operates? Does it obscure the decisions people make that build the institutional, structural factors under which consumption choices are made?
Will Giridharadas demonstrate it in his next paragraph?
Fuck THIS bullshit:
[A]ll the questions of taxing and spending begin with this one: How do you allocate your resources between your children and everybody else’s?
1 in 6 people can’t get adequate nutrition on a regular basis. Wages have not increased for forty goddamned years. All the economic gains in the past decade have gone to the top 10%.
In case anyone reading this has Giridharadas’ comprehension skills, I’ll spell it out for you: those things determine the resources you have to spend, on your children and everyone else’s. All the questions of taxing and spending exist prior to your decision as to whether to quit your job for your shitty kid. Prior to what kind of food to buy.
*That’s* the arena for partisan politics. Not “oh Joffrey is so tuckered from his multiple violin and Mandarin lessons he can barely eat his grass-fed beef I quit my law firm partnership to prepare all day for him, so I feel guilty as a Democrat.”
YOU’RE DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK, GIRIDHARADAS. STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT.