Saturday, July 26, 2008

Contradictionary: "inequality" vs. "class"

[Update: I've been working on a linguistic analysis of the Second Amendment and DC v. Heller, and plan to post about it. But I've gotten pretty distracted by the definition of "natural born citizen" in the Constitution and the issue of whether John McCain falls under it (the answer is no). I will post about that too. For now, here's a brief note about political discourse. - Uri]

In his book "A No-Nonsense Guide to Class, Caste and Hierarchies," Jeremy Seabrook makes an important point about the discourse of inequality and class. Seabrook points out that "inequality" is a depoliticizing term, compared with terms of class.

"Inequality" is like sentences with passive verbs. It de-agentivizes. If you point out that a society has high levels of inequality, people think it's a problem, but the term doesn't point the way to any particular solution of the problem. "Inequality" fits in nicely with a mystical view of economics in which economic facts are not ultimately attributable to human actions but instead to a "market".

In contrast, "class" makes things much clearer. It suggests that society is divided or partitioned into groups of people with different roles, realities and interests, and suggests some facts that "inequality" suppresses: that the different interests puts the groups at odds with each other and that the different roles give the groups different levels of capacity to change government, society and the economy so that they are more in line with the class's interests.

How we conceptualize inequality and class affects the kinds of solutions we seek. If the problem is inequality, unfortunately caused by the mystical operations of the market, then the solution is accepting it and trying to ameliorate it. If the problem is that an economic class or coalition of classes is waging class war against the rest and winning, then the solution is either for the other classes to fight back, or to reach some sort of class peace agreement.

Inequality talk is pervasive. Even the SEIU's videos that I've watched has leaders speaking about the problem of inequality, and if a union isn't engaging in class talk, then who is? Yet it seems to me that class is a much more accurate concept for describing how society actually works. Let's ditch the inequality talk.


castingxxx said...

— Roy Sorensen, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Vagueness"


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