This bit of racism typifies why I can’t suffer Liberal politics (I can’t suffer Conservative politics either, but that’s another story). I wish not to chastise any further the unfortunate woman who sent out the racist email from a Liberal cabinet office. I assume she’ll be the last person to act so recklessly and thoughtlessly in the future. Besides whatever unconscious passive aggressive barbs are contained in her email should be worked through between her and her therapist.
Instead I mean to read this incident more symptomatically and in its peculiarity as a particular effect of ideology, namely of Liberal ideology. I’m repeatedly admonished for using that old weathered term, “ideology”. I’m told either that, like socialism, ideology belongs to another time, conjuring up anachronistic images of the Red scare and old Italian communists like Gramsci, or I’m told that I’m to accept that in late capitalist societies we are now not only postmodernist but postideological too. Bullshit! I would argue that at no time has humanity been any more ideological than in western late capitalist consumer societies.
Ideology is not merely an integrated and co-ordinated system of beliefs. In fact, ideology is really not a belief or rational conviction at all and for two reasons: 1) it is a position to which one often will irrationally and chauvinistically adhere, even despite evidence to the contrary, and 2) like “culture”, ideology works implicitly and largely unconsciously, which is one of the reasons we can’t be reasoned out of our ideologies. The most famous statement on ideology was that uttered by Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Living unconsciously, unreflectively, and unknowingly bears only the trace of living ideologically. Late capitalist consumer societies not only are more profoundly marked by this way of living/spinning than any other society in history, but also we enjoy it so much that we have gradually exhausted the possibility of even imagining alternative ideologies. We are so completely resigned to a Liberal/Capitalist ideology that we can’t but fail to act in the face of impending catastrophes (economic, environmental, social or otherwise). So what is Liberal political ideology?
The Liberal ideological universe is one comprised of “flexible” values and fluid truths (that’s a kind way of saying that in the Liberal ideological universe one will say and do anything for approval and success), all of which are commanded by entitlement, opportunism and an abiding desire to win at all costs. Moreover, since everyone (from big business to workers, students, immigrants, and the poor) must remain placated at all times, in this universe a principled stand cannot be taken. In fact, in this universe this absence of principle is elevated to core ideological imperative. Be everything to everyone.
That Liberal ideology resembles capitalism itself and its various reincarnations (from unfettered industrial capitalism, to welfare State restricted capitalism, to late global capitalism) should come as no surprise. As is well known Liberalism was an ideology seminal to the growth of capitalist economies. In fact, the original freedom which Liberals sought after was for the market’s freedom from regulation. Think of Victorian London, of Charles Dickens’ novels, and there you have early Liberals version of a great society with an unfettered free market economy.
This linking of Liberal ideology to capitalism is important because Liberalism overcomes social prejudice and injustice much the same way as capitalism is said to have overcome things like sexism, racism, homophobia etc.: through expediency and self-interest. Social justice, equality, fairness in Liberal/Capitalist ideologies are not adopted as matters of ethical principle, but as ways of furthering self-interest and self-preservation. Markets thrive on the circulation of capital irrespective of characteristics or value systems of those circulating that capital. Liberal ideologues thrive on power and vote getting and thus at times it becomes expeditious and advantageous to adopt policy that incidentally is also socially just and ethical. But let’s be clear. What drives Liberal ideology is not principle or ethics or fairness but pure self-interest and self-aggrandizement.
The racism issuing from Queen’s Park is symptomatic of several things. First and most importantly, ideology and racism are deeply entrenched in our lives. “We do it, but do not know
we are doing it”. Even after getting caught red-handed, there is the unfortunate attempt to deny and disavow by claiming that the email didn’t refer to anyone outside of Siu’s circle of friends. This the “I’m not racist some of my best friends are black” denial is simply reprehensible. At least own what was done, even Michael Richards did that.
Second, this passive aggressive “innocuous” form of the racism is peculiar to Liberal ideology. But of course it’s never innocuous nor innocent. A formal admission of guilt and an apology is the very least this young man deserves. For his part, Mr. Reid responded with grace and intelligence.
“This isn’t a Confederate flag in a pickup truck,” he said. “But it’s the kind of private view that affects decisions about someone like myself in the job market.”
Third, when the truth surfaces in the Liberal ideological universe it can only do so on veiled or spontaneous terms, such as Freudian slips, passive aggressiveness, carelessness. Had the media intercepted a racist missive from the Conservatives, it would have been very different in form. Racism, fear, and hatred in Conservative ideology is visceral, owned and explicit, not disavowed, concealed and implicit as it is Liberal ideology. The truth always returns and I think in this regard also of George Smitherman and Sylvia Watson unwittingly uttering the fateful truth when they’ve accidentally called McGuinty, “McGuilty.”
Hence the old truism that the difference between a Conservative and a Liberal is that with the Conservative you see the knife coming.