Asia and hormones

zippycat at zippycat at
Tue Jun 23 14:10:42 PDT 1998

Dennis R Redmond wrote:

> On Fri, 19 Jun 1998, Doug Henwood wrote:
> > I just got nonmember submission bounce from one PF, who said that instead
> > of discussing the "major crisis taking place in Asia" we are hearing
> > instead "endless drivel about prostitution and identity politics." This
> > should appeal to no one else but "captive undergraduates whose hormones
> > undoubtedly predispose them to reading whatever is most titillating."
> *Yawn*. Obviously someone who's never heard of the hundreds of thousands
> of Thai sex workers forced, even at the height of the Asian boom, to sell
> their labor-power for cash. And why don't so many Asian countries have
> powerful Left parties? Might this just have something to do with a certain
> identity politics -- silicon Confucianism or market Maoism, take your pick
> -- where a largely male and ethnically homogenous workforce has been
> convinced to work long hours for local businesses for the sake of national
> development strategies in Singapore and elsewhere, whilst women are
> consigned to the duties of telephone-answering services and baby-raising?
> No, that can't be it: it's all the fault of those damn tree-hugging
> eros-spouting university hippies. If only they'd sublimate those, er,
> unproductive expenditures into productive labor, everything would be fine!
> -- Dennis

Thank you so much, Dennis, for stating so eloquently my own reaction to PF's comment. Actually, my first reaction was: Oh poop on PF! As perhaps the number one drivel despenser on the unworthy topic of prostitution, I heartily apologize if my jejune maunderings gave anyone out there the vapors. I entered this list, like so many others, because I'm a big fan of DH and wanted to hear the analyses that he and others have to give of "the major crisis taking place in Asia"--as well as other aspects of our increasingly "dynamic" neoliberal order. And I certainly didn't mean to get bogged down into discursions into "identity politics"--which I, like so many others on this list, had long viewed as a blind alley for the left. But I think that most of us have come to acknowledge that "identity politics" is a loaded term that can have many meanings, and that we need to clarify exactly what we're talking about. There's the i.d. politics Dennis alludes to, which I think relates to understanding how, as DH put it, "people are psychologically complicit in their own oppression." And while some on this list may roll their eyes at even this kind of discussion, I'm grateful to those who are not. And then of course there's the other kind of i.d. politics, which as a perhaps lone non-academic in this crowd I may view differently from others, but which I could caricature in three words: "The Village Voice." It seems that I and just about everyone I know can remember the article we read that finally, after a long and slow drip-drip, finally broke us of the habit of reading that rag, which at least at one time had seemed like a fun and often astute political organ. In my case it was a cover article on black runway models, and how that year fewer models of color were being hired for the major fashion shows! Like I or anyone aside from maybe the models themselves could or should care that the fashion industry that year wasn't using their likenesses to commodify desire. And, boy, what a tough beat! My point is that even people who belonged to the groups that were continuously being "validated" in that paper eventually got tired of all the cheerleading and rainbow painting.

Anyway, I do mean to make good on my promise to leave this list soon, for my own good, and I wish again to thank those out there who responded thoughtfully to my sometimes painfully nonrigorous formulations. Before I go, though, I'm surprised no one has commented on George Packer's memior in this month's Harpers, "Sisyphus in the Basement: Reflections of a lapsed socialist." One paragraph, in particular, seems particularly germane:

"The reigning lefting ideology of the past two decades has been the

identity movements--black, Hispanic, female, gay, deaf, and

others--that fall under the term 'multi-culturalism.' But beyond

wishing them success in their struggles to find a place in the sun,

there's not much an outsider can do to belong meaningfully. The

point of identity politics is that some people 'don't' belong.

'Diversity' as a hardened system of thought (rather than a justified

struggle for equality) has given us the spectacle of full-scale war

over English department hirings, sensitivity-training consultants,

and a fragmented and unstable Democratic party: on the whole, not a

very promising direction for a political movement to take.

Meanwhile, the left has abandoned its historical claim to speak for a

universal humanity against the privileged few. This claim has now

fallen into the hands of conservatives. On the left people speak of

'group interest' and 'decentered knowledge'; on the right they speak

of reason, virtue, freedom, and responsibilities, when what they

really mean is 'tough luck'."

Perhaps that is a crude caricature of the left's failings, but I find it hard to fault entirely. Does anyone else beg to differ?

All the best,

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