Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Month: July, 2014

Trigger warnings, collectivised healing, and movement-building

the larger context from which trigger warnings emerged. In particular, this intervention emerged from the recognition by many of us in the anti-violence movement that we were building a movement that continued to structurally marginalize survivors by privatizing healing.

trigger warnings cannot be viewed in isolation. Rather, they are part of a larger complex of practices designed to de-privatize and collective healing. They came out of the recognition that we are not unaffected by the political and intellectual work that we do. These practices also recognized that the labor of healing has to be shared by all. Trigger warnings are one of many practices that insist that one does not have to be silent about one’s healing journey – that one’s healing can occupy public and collective spaces. And healing can only truly happen when we take collective responsibility for creating structures and practices that enable healing.

The intervention of trigger warnings also often shifts from asserting a public space to organize around trauma to creating a safe space from it 

[emphasis mine].

what are the organizing practices and strategies for building movements that recognize that settler colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy have not left us unscathed? How do we create spaces to experiment with different strategies, as well as spaces to openly assess and change these strategies as they inevitably become co-opted? How do we create movements that make us collectively accountable for healing from individual and collective trauma? How do we create critical intellectual spaces that recognize that intellectual work is not disembodied and without material effects? How do we collectively reduce harm in our intellectual and political spaces? And finally, how can we build healing movements for liberation that can include us as we actually are rather than as the peoples we are supposed to be?


Solid summary of the income penalty of ‘being female’

‘While many aspects of working life have changed in recent decades, the inequality of outcomes experienced by male and female employees has been remarkably resistant.

‘Proponents of the “merit” argument would have us believe that the dearth of women in leadership roles is an accurate reflection of the proportion of “women of merit” in the workforce – that they aren’t just MIA (and easily locatable by a good search party), but rather they’ve willingly gone AWOL, choosing to work less hours, being less ambitious, failing to “lean in”, and so on.

‘I could expend many thousands of words refuting these “explanations” but I won’t – they are just part of the smokescreen that keeps us focused on the “faults” of the female workforce. To understand the continuing levels of disparity evident in Australian workplaces we need to scrutinise the institutional and societal structures that underpin the inequity. A good place to start is with an examination of the factors contributing to the gender wage gap.

‘Currently, the gender wage gap sits at 17.1%. This means that, on average, women earn 82.9 cents to every dollar earned by men for the same or equivalent work. At its narrowest, in 2005, the gap was 15.1%. Since then it has been widening, eroding progress to the point that the current gap is now larger than it was 20 years ago – in 1994 it was 16.2%.

‘So, we have two graduates with no experience and the same qualifications, but the male gets paid $5,000 more on average than the female. This alone should dilute any support for the idea that the gap is simply circumstantial and not sexist. Further evidence is available from an extensive study completed in 2010 by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, The impact of a sustained gender wage gap on the Australian economy.

‘After accounting for differences in male and female work patterns and experience, qualifications and so on, the researchers found that 60% of the gender wage gap was due to “being female”. To be clear here, this means that most of the gap is not related to choice of occupation or sector of employment, having dependent children or a uni degree, or any other such variation. It’s just about being female. In their modelling, this “being female” penalty equated to a deficit of $3,394 a year on average.

‘Further evidence of the “being female” penalty is demonstrated in studies investigating decision-making around hiring and promotion. The most compelling of these studies use matched curriculum vitaes, which are identical in content, except for gender. A good example by Rhea Steinpreis and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee involved the comparison of CVs for two job applicants who were going for their first job after completing graduate school.

‘The CVs, identical except for the applicant’s name (Karen Miller or Brian Miller), were distributed to 238 US psychology academics. Among other things, the academics were asked to assess the quality of the candidates’ work experience (teaching, research and service), and to state whether they felt the candidates should be hired. The study results showed that, irrespective of the gender of the participating academic, they were more likely to rate the male job candidate higher than the female candidate on each of the aspects of work experience assessed.

‘They were also more likely to recommend hiring the male candidate than the female candidate. So, to be explicit: two candidates with identical CVs achieved different outcomes. As the researchers concluded, “The present findings indicate that at the fledgling stages of the career of a young professional, gender is seen as an indicator of success”.

‘Experimental research provides clear evidence of stricter standards for women than for men when both perform at the same level and performance evaluations are objective – but can nevertheless be interpreted as either conclusive or inconclusive evidence of competence. Double standards provide the mechanism for those differences in interpretation.

‘However, such judgments are affected by gender stereotyping, such as expectations about what women are like and how they should behave. Therefore, when a female applies for a job or a promotion into a position that has been traditionally seen as a “male” job, her perceived attributes don’t fit well with the male-type template of perceived job requirements.

‘She is therefore viewed as being less likely to succeed in such a position, leading to being less likely to be hired/promoted into it. Given that the vast majority of occupational roles, and leadership roles in particular, have been traditionally viewed as “male” jobs, this is where the “being female” penalty occurs. Thus, as per the double standards for competency, to get the job or promotion, she will have to demonstrate, indisputably, that she is more qualified and competent than a male would have to be to get the same job.

‘Thus, females doing “female-type” work were not penalised because they were perceived to be a good fit when evaluated against a female template of job performance, while females performing “male-type” work were judged more harshly because they were perceived to be a poor fit with the male template of job performance. An additional finding of the study was that, overall, females had to receive higher job performance ratings to gain a promotion than did their male colleagues, indicating the competency double standard.

‘Evidently, any time taken out of the workforce will have an adverse impact on an individual’s career progression, including lifetime earnings. However, even when women take a minimal amount of maternity leave, say 12 weeks, they are penalised for it in a way that does not happen for men or women who take a similar amount of leave for other purposes (e.g. long service leave).

‘From a financial perspective, this ‘motherhood penalty’ adds to the pre-existing “being female” penalty affecting the gender wage gap. Ian Watson’s study on managers also included an investigation of gender wage differences in relation to the parental status of the managers. Examining the data for managers with thirty years of work experience, he found that males with no children earned approximately $120,000 a year on average. For men with children, each child they had acted to increase their earnings by $2,000–$5,000 a year, resulting in a salary of about $130,000 for managers with three or more children.

‘In contrast, the base rate (no children) for females with equivalent work experience was around $95,000, which decreased by $2,000–$7,000 per year for each child, to an annual salary of approximately $77,000 for managers with three or more children. Thus, the combined “being female” and “motherhood” penalties mean that, in comparison to a male with equal years of experience and number of children, an Australian female manager with thirty years work experience earns approximately $35,000 less per year if she has a single child, $40,000 less if she has two children and a massive $53,000 less per year if she has three or more children.’


Great summary of flaws in the way Conservatives have misinterpreted Moynihan (re: universal minimum wage research)

‘Gobry is right that the negative income tax experiments are the best test we have of this policy to date. But “best” does not equal perfect. My concern is that Gobry reads the experiments to be saying more than they are in fact saying, given both flaws and limitations in their methodologies and other conclusions they came to that Gobry failed to mention. Here are a few concerns worth raising.

1. “Worked less” sometimes means “the results were underreported.”

2. “Worked less” does not necessarily mean “dropped out of the labor force forever”

3. “Worked less” sometimes means “got more education”

4. “Worked less” is sometimes a good thing

5. You can only know so much from short experiments

‘So here’s my takeaway: a negative income tax or basic income of sufficient size would, by definition, eliminate poverty. We still don’t know if there’d be much of a cost in terms of people working and earning less. If there is, the effect is almost certainly small enough that a negative income tax can offset the lost earnings and remain affordable. The worst case scenario is that we eliminate poverty but see a modest decline in employment. The best case scenario is we eliminate poverty at even lower cost and don’t see much of an effect on employment. That’s a gamble I’m willing to take.’


Connection between higher minimum wage and unemployment

‘Earlier this year, more than 600 US economists – including seven Nobel laureates – signed an open letter to Congress advocating a $US10.10 minimum wage. They said that, because of important developments in the academic literature, “the weight of evidence now [shows] that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers”.’ There hasn’t been much research in Australia yet, but what little there is tends to back up the mounting evidence against previous conceptions of higher minimum wages creating higher unemployment.


A basic history of the US war on welfare

LBJ set up a lot of welfare, but already by Nixon the government and people had turned on it, blaming it for the massive deficits obviously caused by the war effort.


Austerity in the UK and the waning of the left

‘As political theorist Antonio Gramsci pointed out, it is the “traditional ruling class” rather than its opponents who are best positioned to take command of a crisis.

‘the right and even much of the centre-left argue that austerity is simple economic common sense: addressing the deficit boosts the confidence of consumers and investors and enables new cycles of growth. If this were the case, the project would have to be deemed a failure. The evidence of present and past austerity programmes, and even the view of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is that they retard growth rather than stimulate it. They certainly don’t make the repayment of debts easier.

‘let’s take an example of an early austerity programme. In New York in the mid-1970s the city was running an increasingly unmanageable deficit, with the servicing of debt consuming about a fifth of its operating funds. Underlying the crisis was the evisceration of the city’s manufacturing base in the postwar era, which drove up unemployment and thus welfare rolls. One of the main factors sustaining employment had been the growth of the city administration. The growing power of public sector employees allowed them to win better pay and conditions, and gave them a degree of political clout. The costs of the state’s expansion were partly supported by federal funding, but taxes on local business and property owners made up the rest. The postwar agenda of liberal reform, especially that associated with Lydon Johnson’s Great Society programme, was ideologically legitimised by the idea of America as a wealthy, growing economy in which some of the benefits should be extended to the poorest.

‘However, as the global economy tanked in the early 70s and the Bretton Woods systemcollapsed, New York began to accumulate more and more debt. Ironically, the same banks that would later complain of fiscal irresponsibility profited greatly from the debt. As it mounted they demanded that the financial system should have first line on the city’s funds in the event of bankruptcy. From 1975 to 1978, therefore, New York City was subject to an austerity regime. This involved not simply a set of policies, but an exceptional form of the state – a set of special institutions with extraordinary, wide-ranging legal powers, the most important of which was the Emergency Financial Control Board. Dominated by bankers, corporate interests and the city executive, these institutions took command of the crisis by cutting services to low-income New Yorkers, attacking working conditions for the city’s unionised workers, and offering incentives to its wealthy financial class.

‘The elite argument for austerity was simple. The city’s crisis was primarily one of overspending, driven by too many services for the poor, too many bureaucrats to run them, a union-driven cost of labour increases, and a corrupt and inefficient city management driving the productive layers out of the city with burdensome taxes. The solution was to reduce the burden of the unproductive on the productive, and let wealth creators keep more of their wealth. This argument was supported by the majority of the media. The union-led opposition highlighted the tremendous wealth enjoyed by the bankers and corporations who were demanding austerity, but the business interests were canny enough to recede into the background and refuse to publicly comment on controversies in which they were deeply involved.

‘The unions were no match for the organised business offensive. The major corporations had their control of markets and operating capital as a considerable leverage over the city. The political clout of the unions, meanwhile, was based around bargaining mechanisms designed to swerve the very kind of confrontation they could not avoid. They accepted the dominant narrative about the crisis and its causes, accepted the need for some cutbacks, and then sought to narrowly protect their conditions within that framework.

‘The austerity solutions worked in the precise sense intended: by drastically reconfiguring the city’s class relations, reorganising the state to marginalise popular constituencies, and winning the ideological battle for placing more authority and wealth in the hands of entrepreneurs, they started to restore profitability to capital. Soon, the austerity project would be launched nationwide, beginning with the Volcker shock in which loan rates were raised to a crippling 21%, thus driving down incomes, suppressing growth and breaking the spine of organised labour, with similar overall effects.

‘The austerity project thus took hold of a situation in flux, a crisis, and imposed a solution in the interests of a specific class. It did so along three axes: class, state and ideology. First, it reorganised the balance of class power in such a way as to transfer wealth away from popular consumption and towards business investment. Second, it reorganised the state apparatus in a profoundly undemocratic way, linked to a wider tilt in the balance of power toward authoritarianism, marginalising and excluding popular constituencies. And third, it reorganised the ideological terrain: while the wider crisis was caused by generic dysfunctions inherent in capitalism – the decline of manufacturing, for instance, due in part to capital’s drive to reduce costs and rationalise production – the narrow focus on the fiscal crisis allowed elites to highlight overspending as the key problem. On the basis that theirs was the only solution that could restore growth and general prosperity, they could link their particular class interests to the interests of the whole city. And in the process they began to displace the postwar liberal consensus in favour of a neoliberal orthodoxy that placed the emphasis on markets and competition.

‘The austerity projects we face today are different in one important respect: they come after almost 40 years of neoliberal offensive. This is something which large sections of the left have totally misunderstood; a significant reason for its disarray. For most of the past three decades, neoliberalism has been chiefly analysed as a kind of free market fundamentalism, which is but a glimpsing scratch of the surface.

‘If neoliberalism was chiefly about free market fundamentalism, then it would be possible to understand the salience of the state as a post-credit crunch economic factor as a repudiation of that orthodoxy. Indeed, many on the left did prematurely pronounce neoliberalism deceased.

‘However, the dominant strains of neoliberalism have always favoured an interventionist state. It is not the volume of state activity that is the concern of neoliberals, but its character. Neoliberalism is unlike classical liberalism in that it does not assume a human propensity to truck, barter and trade as the basis for political organisation; neoliberals learned through the bitter experience of the 20th century that human behaviour could be as collective as it could be competitive. Thus, a strong state was required not merely to protect property, but to discipline its subjects and educate them in the new neoliberal dispensations.

‘Ideologically, there has been a long-term generational shift against the welfare state, and in favour of competitive behaviour. Indeed, competition has increasingly been built into the public sector (“internal markets”), and disciplinary techniques built into social security (in the form of “workfare”, for example.) While older generations experienced the welfare state as part of a collective unity, younger generations have experienced it as part of a zero-sum competition for resources. This is the ground on which support for some of the most punitive aspects of austerity, such as welfare cuts, has been constructed; this is the result of a conscious political strategy. The traditional ruling class is not merely good at exploiting opportunities; it thinks long-term in a way the left must learn to do.’


Ta-Nehisi Coates on conflating black culture with a culture of poverty

Coates is extremely good and distilling and clarifying arguments until they’re all but undeniable. This article is too incredible.

‘Chait is conflating two different things: black culture—which was shaped by, and requires, all the forces he named; and “a culture of poverty,” which requires none of them.

‘That conflation undergirds his latest column. Chait paraphrases my argument that “there is no such thing as a culture of poverty.” His evidence of this is quoting me attacking the “the notion that black culture is part of the problem.” This evidence only works if you believe “black culture” and “a culture of poverty” are somehow interchangeable.

‘The point has obviously eluded Chait. Instead of considering that I may well have been responding to my actual lived circumstances, Chait chooses to assume that I was responding to some inscrutable call of the wild:

When the imprint of this culture was nearly strong enough to derail the career of a writer as brilliant as Coates, we are talking about a powerful force, indeed.

‘What’s missed here is that the very culture Chait derides might well be the reason why I am sitting here debating him in the first place. That culture contained a variety of values and practices. “I ain’t no punk” was one of them. “Know your history” was another. “Words are beautiful” was another still. The key is cultural dexterity—understanding when to emphasize which values, and when to employ which practices.

‘Chait endorses a blunter approach:

The circa-2008 Ta-Nehisi Coates was neither irresponsible nor immoral. Rather, he had grown up around cultural norms that inhibited economic success. People are the products of their environment. Environments are amenable to public policy. Some of the most successful anti-poverty initiatives, like the Harlem Children’s Zone or the KIPP schools, are designed around the premise that children raised in concentrated poverty need to be taught middle class norms.

‘No, they need to be taught that all norms are not transferable into all worlds. In my case, physical assertiveness might save you on the street but not beyond it. At the same time, other values are transferrable and highly useful. The “cultural norms” of my community also asserted that much of what my country believes about itself is a lie. In the spirit of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and Malcolm X, it was my responsibility to live, prosper, and attack the lie. Those values saved me on the street, and they sustain me in this present moment.

‘People who take a strict binary view of culture (“culture of privilege = awesome; culture of poverty = fail”) are afflicted by the provincialism of privilege and thus vastly underestimate the dynamism of the greater world. They extoll “middle-class values” to the ignorance and exclusion of all others. To understand, you must imagine what it means to confront algebra in the morning and “Shorty, can I see your bike?” in the afternoon.It’s very nice to talk about “middle-class values” when that describes your small, limited world. But when your grandmother lives in one hood and your coworkers live another, you generally need something more than “middle-class values.” You need to be bilingual.

‘In 2008, I was living in central Harlem, an area of New York whose demographics closely mirrored the demographics of my youth. The practices I brought to bear in that tent were not artifacts. I was not under a spell of pathology. I was employing the tools I used to navigate the everyday world I lived. It just so happened that the world in which I worked was different. As I said in that original piece, “There is nothing particularly black about this.” I strongly suspect that white people who’ve grown up around entrenched poverty and violence will find that there are certain practices that safeguard them at home but not so much as they journey out. This point is erased if you believe that “black culture” is simply another way of saying “culture of poverty.”

‘Accepting the premise that “black culture” and “a culture of poverty” are interchangeable also has the benefit of making the president’s rhetoric much more understandable. One begins to get why the president would address a group of graduates from an elite black college on the tendency of young men in the black community to make “bad choices.” Or why the president goes before black audiences and laments the fact that the proportion of single-parent households has doubled, and carry no such message to white audiences—despite the fact that single parenthood is growing fastest among whites. And you can understand how an initiative that began with the killing of a black boy who was not poor, and who had a loving father, becomes fuel for the assertion that “nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father.” In his best work, Chait mercilessly dissects this kind of intellectual slipperiness. Now we find him applauding it and reifying it.

‘”Culture is hard, though not impossible, to quantify,” writes Chait. “Which does not mean it doesn’t exist.” Indeed. I have done my best to identify specific cultural practices and outline how they work in different worlds. Much of that evidence is built on memoir, and thus necessarily subject to an uncomfortable vagueness.

‘But quantifying the breadth and effect of white supremacy suffers no such drawbacks. Some of our most celebrated scholarship—Battle Cry of Freedom, Reconstruction, The Making of the Second Ghetto, The Warmth of Other Suns, At the Hands of Persons Unknown, Family Properties, Confederate Reckoning, Black Wealth/White Wealth, American Apartheid, Crabgrass Frontier, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, When and Where I Enter, When Affirmative Action Was White—is directed toward, with great specificity, outlining the reach and effects of white supremacy.

‘It is not wholly surprising that Barack Obama tends not to focus on this literature, whatever its merits. I do not expect the president of the United States to make a habit of speaking unvarnished and uncomfortable truths. (Though he is often brilliant when he does.) Of course removing white supremacy from the equation puts Barack Obama in the odd position of focusing on that which is hardest to evidence, while slighting that which is clearly known.

It is hard to explain how the United States has progressed from chattel slavery to emancipation to the end of lynching to the end of legal segregation to electing an African-American president if America has “rarely” been the ally of African-Americans and “often” its nemesis. It is one thing to notice the persistence of racism, quite another to interpret the history of black America as mainly one of continuity rather than mainly one of progress.

‘This certainly is a specimen of progress—much like the ill-tempered man might “progress” from shooting at his neighbors to clubbing them and then finally settle on simply robbing them. His victims, bloodied, beaten, and pilfered, might view his “progress” differently. Effectively Chait’s rendition of history amounts to, “How can you say I have a history of violence given that I’ve repeatedly stopped pummeling you?”

‘Chait’s jaunty and uplifting narrative flattens out the chaos of history under the cheerful rubric of American progress. The actual events are more complicated. It’s true, for instance, that slavery was legal in the United States in 1860 and five years later it was not. That is because a clique of slaveholders greatly overestimated its own power and decided to go to war with its country. Had the Union soundly and quickly defeated the Confederacy, it’s very likely that slavery would have remained. Instead the war dragged on, and the Union was forced to employ blacks in its ranks. The end result—total emancipation—was more a matter of military necessity than moral progress.

‘For the next century, the United Stateslegitimized the overthrow of legal governments, the reduction of black people to forced laborers, and the complete alienation—at gunpoint—of black people in the South from the sphere of politics.

‘Chait’s citation of the end of lynching as evidence of America serving as an “ally” is especially bizarre. The United States never passed anti-lynching legislation, a disgrace so great that it compelled the Senate to apologize—in 2005.

‘”You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches,” said Malcolm X, “and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress.”

‘The notion that black America’s long bloody journey was accomplished through frequent alliance with the United States is an assailant’s-eye view of history. It takes no note of the fact that in 1860, most of this country’s exports were derived from the forced labor of the people it was “allied” with. It takes no note of this country electing senators who, on the Senate floor, openly advocated domestic terrorism. It takes no note of what it means for a country to tolerate the majority of the people living in a state like Mississippi being denied the right to vote. It takes no note of what it means to exclude black people from the housing programs, from the GI Bills, that built the American middle class. Effectively it takes no serious note of African-American history, and thus no serious note of American history.

‘You see this in Chait’s belief that he lives in a country “whose soaring ideals sat uncomfortably aside an often cruel reality.” No. Those soaring ideals don’t sit uncomfortably aside the reality but comfortably on top of it. The “cruel reality” made the “soaring ideals” possible.

‘From Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning What God Hath Wrought:

By giving the United States its leading export staple, the workers in the cotton fields enabled the country not only to buy manufactured goods from Europe but also to pay interest on its foreign debt and continue to import more capital to invest in transportation and industry. Much of Atlantic civilization in the nineteenth century was built on the back of the enslaved field hand.

‘White supremacy does not contradict American democracy—it birthed it, nurtured it, and financed it. That is our heritage. It was reinforced during 250 years of bondage. It was further reinforced during another century of Jim Crow. It was reinforced again when progressives erected an entire welfare state on the basis of black exclusion. It was reinforced again when the intellectual progeny of the same people who excluded black women from welfare turned around and inveighed against it through caricaturization of black women.’


‘Who is dependent on welfare?’

Ananya Roy testing apart ideas about welfare an an amazing video.

‘post welfare generation’ – grew up at a time when the welfare system was systematically dismantled. A time when ‘welfare, rather than poverty, had become the problem to be solved’

Reagan literally invented the concept of the welfare queen

The middle class ‘enjoy a host of hidden government subsidies that bolster opportunity and mobility, but they do not think such subsidies should be available to the poor

‘…the rich have state help, the poor have self help

‘…fretting the welfare dependency of the poor while failing to realise that they are dependent on welfare

‘I live in public housing, because the tax deduction I enjoy on my mortgage is a more substantial handout than any money spent by the US government on what has come to be stereotyped and vilified as public housing’

Corporations are the real welfare queens e.g. wal-mart pays its workers so little that the government has to give them welfare i.e. its business model hinges on leaching from the government.

Poverty is not only economic, but also a poverty of power. Part of this is to be defined as dependent.