On racial ideology and its sources

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Sun Jul 5 14:31:14 PDT 1998

On Carrol Cox's posts on racism as ideology.

It should be mentioned that racism as an ideology historically co-evolved with European nationalisms and colonialism, particularly the Protestant branch of this capitalist expansion (English and Dutch) during and after the Reformation. In any case the Americans gave it several unique twists. I think one of those twists was to de-couple nationalism and colonialism from racism, or rather specialize or localize or isolate racism from its ground in this mixture of nationalism and colonialism.

So, it is for these historical reasons (the linkages: nationalism/colonialism/racism), that I think a drive to find or generate solidarity among African Americans in some form of nationalism is wrong headed. It seems to me that the whole question of large scale identity formation (nation-states) which has been endless repeated internationally during this current era is a dangerous historical turn. Furthermore, it seems to be a reaction to the ever accelerated rate of global capitalist expansionism and its socio-economic destabilizing effects. This latter process seems to dissolves national and cultural borders and identities through an endless flow of mass produced US-Euro consumer junk. Somehow these same economic production/consumption processes are dissolving our own historical-social configurations (identities), hence internally we seem to be recapitulating or mirroring what is occurring internationally. And hence a rise of ideologies, or at least questions, moves, aspirations toward something like a more cohesive, localized, focused ideological system. These moves toward the ideological seem to say, we can make up in some imaginary realm what we completely lack in a concrete material reality.

I would also like to point out that the excerpts from Barbara Fields which characterized ideology, are essentially how an older cultural anthropology would characterize a mythological system of thought (Levi-Strauss, _The Savage Mind_, _Structural Anthropology_). The specific difference is that an ideological system is simply a more rationalized, technically articulated system with more formal institutional expressions embodied in laws, policies, and socio-economic processes. In other words ideology is a 'civilized' form of a mythological system of thought and action. Ideology like mythic systems, determine to a large extent how we view the world, particular the socio-economic and historical context in which we are embedded.

'An ideology must be constantly created and verified in social life; if it is not, it dies, even though it may seem to be safely embodied in a form that can be handed down.' Almost identical phrasing is used in characterizing how a mythological system works within non-western cultures and societies. Except in the case of the mythic, it is not just society that is incorporated, but the physical world and its biological processes. This too is involved in the ideological realm, since how we deal with resources and the natural world including the sciences are intimately commingled with our ideological constructs.

What is the point of setting up an similarity relation between the mythic and the ideological realms? This similarity makes it possible to extend and apply a great deal of cultural anthropological work and ideas. For example, I don't think that leftist or progressive sociologists, economists, political scientists, or historians are very adapt at analyzing how the cultural milieu works as a medium through which ideologies are expressed, transmitted, and propounded. Since much of this cultural product remains as material and material history, it stands as potential evidence for various ideological shifts and transitions in current and past history. (see Arnold Hauser, _Sociology of Art_)

Here is a simplified example. Corporations are legal fictions (from Doug's book _Wall Street_) that have no identity, personality, or body, yet we all imagine they do. How is that? How is this mythic image maintained? The primary means is the name and logo, which are carefully crafted designs (imaginary masks, cartouche) which give an 'identity', a 'personality' and a 'body' through endless media images. So, it is through media (culture) that this mythic system or 'ideology must be constantly created and verified in social life'.

It is through mass media and its axillary cultural productions that our images, belief systems, ideological and mythical worlds are simultaneously configured, expressed, re-enforced, and propagated.

I think in a sense the whole ongoing debate between leftist schools, the old hard line materialist and the newer post-modernist can be reduced in a fashion to the difficulties in finding a cohesive and inclusive analysis between the obvious material determination of economic, political, and concrete social practices, and the much less obvious determinations of cultural media productions and their attending effects and practices.

Of course it isn't just a problem of analysis, but the informed means to actions, that is important. I also think that without some understanding of how ideological systems work, it is unlikely that we will be all that effective in battle.

On this consumer business. Sure, not buying Nike shoes or refusing to use a Microsoft operating system seems like a pathic and fruitless boycott based on some half baked morality. On the other hand, it is just as silly to buy Nike or Microsoft, and then claim that those transactions don't count as political acts. They do count, since without these transactions (in sufficient quantity) neither company would exist and niether would their particular abusive and oppresive practices.

Chuck Grimes

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