Dec 15, 2016

Razer: why I have not received a single Christmas card this year

I have lost many friends this year arguing about the distribution of cultural capital versus the distribution of actual capital, writes Helen Razer.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

So, 2016 may well be remembered by political scientists as the year in which the median voter theorem became about as useful as tits on a windmill. The time may be more personally remembered by us as one when we stopped talking to so-and-so. Brexit, Trump and Hanson were among the public shocks that provoked our private disagreements. Of course, there are far worse outcomes that the rise of right populism will produce than frosty relations on Facebook. But, being now largely friendless, I have had time to consider how these small and intimate arguments help me understand the large events at their centre. Perhaps your own brawls have been similarly instructive. I don’t suppose that my private arguments, most of which have been quite serious and one of which resulted in the end to a professional arrangement, have precisely the same nature as yours. For a start, I have long been a member of the media class, so we can rationally suppose that the people with whom I am familiar are way more stupid than your mates. I mean, seriously. These journalist people have become quite thick. The man who came to fix my fence in June provided me with a far more enriching exchange on class-motivated voting than anyone I know at Fairfax. He could see plainly what was invisible to that class: the Democratic National Committee had made a terrible mistake in grinding “to a pulp” the candidate who dared talk about economic capital. I agree with my fence-mender, which is why I have lost a number of friends. Economic capital matters to a voter, especially one that fears, or has experienced, its loss. Of course, many of my media colleagues must be aware that their employment is insecure, that at any moment, a boardroom decision about profitability could put an end for good to their diet of humanely raised beef. But many of the people that I know, like most in the knowledge class, see economic capital and cultural capital as indistinct. This has been their labour experience. Their non-financial assets -- their accents, their taste in food, their identities -- have been directly related to career advances. Of course, being human, they suppose that their conditions are the same as everybody else’s. The guy who mended my fence has never experienced this correlation, as real as it can be in other sectors. The democratisation of cultural capital has been of central concern to knowledge class people these past months. If only we weren’t racist, sexist or homophobic, they say, then there would be ample opportunity for everyone. And while I agree that such cultural bigotry is vile and can often prevent economic mobility, I have not been able to agree that economic capital and cultural capital behave identically. Tolerance, in other words, don’t pay the bills. Nor does it result in the provision of social services. [Razer: Yes, world is fukt. No, Gillian Triggs is not to blame.] It is quite possible to run an unjust, and ultimately self-defeating, austerity regime while believing in the equal distribution of cultural capital. Look, for example, at David Cameron. They guy who said “We are all Thatcherites now” posited himself as a multi-culti champion for the EU. That this guy, whose cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels resulted in a 2015 spike in deaths, could be seen on the just side of a debate sent me spare. It sent the people with whom I was arguing spare as well. They believe that tolerance, respect and equally distributed cultural capital will result in a good life for all. They also believe that the health of the British finance sector is a measure we can use for the health of the people, even if they happen to be dying.  “Look at the growth under Obama!”, my combatants say, as though the matter of widespread social and economic poverty in the USA were not a legitimate measure of anything. These are legitimate measures. Cultural capital and GDP are not the only way to gauge a flourishing society. My frustration with this belief has produced so many arguments this year. There can be no doubt, of course, that the racism and sexism that Trump publicly advances -- that which he formerly eschewed within those New York City liberal circles in which he so recently chose to socialise -- has potency. To say that racism is nothing in a powerful nation state that built its economic power on this evil is actually stupid. Of course his racism is something. And I have tried to express this with many friends who are no longer my friends. But all they hear is “I don’t want people to be equal”. To say that the rise of Trump or Hanson or the decline of support for the EU is something that can be explained is not to say that you endorse it. This, however, is, in my experience, how such claims have been understood. One is seen as a stupid, even a racist, positivist if one observes, as Clinton 1.0 once did, “it’s the economy, stupid”. No, it’s not the economy, some of my former friends tell me, and if you think that shuttered services, poor health and job losses impact on a person’s vote, well, you are, if not actually racist, then so ensconced in your white privilege you can’t see racism in others. Also, you have been, along with those few thousand voters who decided on the President, deluded by Russian “fake news”. In other words, if you can’t see that cultural and economic capital are exactly the same thing, then you are stupid. Yesterday, as the French Prime Minister called Donald Trump “not clever”, he echoed the anxiety of many centrists known to you and me. Trump seems to be boorish, impulsive and is largely seen by measured liberals as lacking in the good that they rank highly, expertise. All of which is probably true -- you can’t see Trump’s as the stuff to inspire one of those Ivy League political superheroes beloved by Aaron Sorkin. But surely you can see that Trump, or people like him, are, without an adjustment to the way in which we think of economic and cultural capital, here to stay? [Razer: The alt-right is filled with party starters, the left with party poopers] This, really, has been my only argument. The Right is on the rise, and the rational centre is no longer a meaningful answer to it in the opinion of many voters So, shouldn’t we do something about that? This question, you’d think is something that would occur to the centrist Hollande, who currently enjoys a 4% approval rating and faces a defeat by the right as certain as anything can be in this era. But, instead, he chooses to do as my knowledge class former friends and just says that a terrible fact is stupid. This attitude recalls to me that of atheist Islamophobes; Sam Harris types believe that in calling the idea of God stupid, they can cure the afflicted. Such a view again privileges the cultural over the economic and material, and attributes all extremist views just to extremist views, and not to the conditions in which they were mutated. To say that the decline in real wages and failure of healthcare, education and other services we have seen in the West over the last 40 years does not inform peoples’ votes is quite a lot like saying that sanctions and air-bombing in Iraq had nothing to do with Islamism. Yes, the “solution” at which some forces have arrived is fucking ludicrous. But no, your centrist solution of a purely cultural antidote to these troubles is not any better. The right is on the rise. Hungary, France, Holland and Finland are among the other Western nations where it has grabbed, or is about to grab, significant political power. When it is beaten back, as it has been in Spain by Podemos or in Greece by Syriza, the cultural centre is not doing it. One can argue that the rational, educated, tolerant and culturally inclined figure of Clinton was the better choice for US voters to make. Certainly, life in the West would appear less ugly if it had been made. But voters aren’t making that choice, and short of electing a new lot of voters, we have, ourselves, as I have told my former friends, no choice but to see that the centre is failing the people. The stoushes we have been having in our private lives are not going to be one nth as damaging as those we see unfold in states in coming nationalistic years. If you or I lose a few mates, it’s really no big deal. It is, in my cantankerous, friendless view, a big deal if we keep seeing the equal distribution of cultural capital as the solution to all of our problems. This is both the extremism of the centre, and the reason I have not received a single Christmas card.    

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

28 thoughts on “Razer: why I have not received a single Christmas card this year

  1. andrew

    If I sent Christmas cards I would send you one.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hugh Harris

      I’m a Sam Harris type so I won’t be sending any Xmas cards.
      But I am aggrieved at Razer’s appalling simplification of Sam Harris views, and the hypocrisy of labelling him an Islamophobe while critiquing identity politics. Please become familiar with secular centrist views before straw manning them.
      The remaining argument is self defeating. If economic inequality causes cultural discontent then by definition you have both factors to deal with. No one says both are not an issue. But identity politics forbids honest discussion of the Islamism and cultural issues: now, there’s a factor in the rise of the hard right. Break out of your bubble and acknowledge that.

  2. form1planet

    I received two Christmas cards this year, one from a real estate agent and one from the bank. It’s so good to know there are some relationships that endure, regardless of differences in political views.

    Helen, I’m not your friend, I don’t have your address and I don’t do cards anyway, but in lieu of a printed missive let me just say that I have thoroughly enjoyed being ranted at by you this year. It’s been thought-provoking and funny, it has made me question my views on some occasions and caused me to splutter expletives at the screen on others. I don’t always agree with you but I will keep reading. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, however uncomfortable they make us and however unpopular they make you.

  3. Petra Raptor

    >being now largely friendless
    Moving in a circle of like-minded supports one’s beliefs and therefore validates one’s self-esteem.

  4. Damien Flattery

    Disenfranchised voters wanted to talk about the distribution of actual capital, sure.

    But in the era of fetishised capitalism where “small government”, tax cuts and budget surpluses are the be-all and end-all, the vast majority still only see it in terms of acquisition of their own PERSONAL wealth, being only what they “deserve” for their “hard work”.

    It does not matter how many strings the government pulls to rig the system in THEIR favour instead of the banks’, they will believe that they EARNED that wealth through their own personal “hard work” and sure as hell don’t want to pay tax to the bloody government to redistribute to losers!

    After all, the average voter also LIKES to see others worse off than themselves. This applies across the board from coal miners to housing speculators – they all need someone lower down the pecking order to kick to boost themselves up.

    The unexamined life loves a scapegoat.

    Hence the belief that openly socialist Sanders would have been able to break through is delusional to say the least. The voters who turn to hard right candidates do not want to be “equal”. They want to be dominant.

    And to say that “centrists” can act to recapture this demographic simply by talking about economic redistribution is equally delusional.

    We are witnessing the political equivalent of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and this idea that there is some latent Marxist revolution out there at this stage is as unhelpful as a “Feel the Bern” bumper sticker.

  5. Will

    Well said, Helen. The rise of the political hard right across the developed world is clearly a consequence of the deleterious effects of the concentration of economic capital. What confuses centrists is that those effects are mediated by the state, so structural injustice appears (like cultural injustice) to be caused by political exclusion. Which is exactly what the hard right is saying! How did it go? “The best trick the devil ever pulled what convincing us that he didn’t exist.” Merry Christmas!

  6. Keith1

    I think it goes like this in rust belt America, “Give us secure jobs and incomes that increase very gradually over our lifetimes and you can pretty much do what you like: send us to war, make nice about minorities, feather your own nest, call us scum – whatever floats your boat. But if you can’t give us secure jobs and incomes that increase very gradually over our lifetimes, then we reserve the right to behave badly – very badly in fact.”
    I don’t know if that puts me in the same camp as HR, but curiously enough I don’t get any Christmas cards either, except from real estate people. Maybe a lifetime dedicated to not sending them has something to do with it.
    Anyway, have some happy couch time, Helen, and come back in 2017 full of vigour, good health, and enough energy to be as pissed off as is required.

  7. zut alors

    ‘I have not received a single Christmas card.’

    But did you actually send any?

    I ignore 25th December but maintain the practice of sending cards to keep in touch via hard copy. Also, it’s vital to support Oz Post lest it be dismantled.

  8. wadholloway

    Love your work, Helen. I probably wouldn’t send you a xmas card, I’ve nothing to sell, but if it’s any consolation I wrote the following in my xmas blogpost: My favourite on-line writer remains Helen Razer, our last remaining marxist-feminist, at Daily Review and Crikey. As an example here is ‘How Hillary Clinton uses feminism to advance her neoliberal, hawkish agenda’, Daily Review, 13 June 2016.

  9. Jackol

    Meh, Christmas cards are overrated.

    Thanks for your writing, Helen, it’s always thought provoking and enlightening, and for that I am grateful.

    Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas, or whatever floats your boat.

  10. Dog's Breakfast

    “Bernie needs to be ground to a pulp. We can’t start believing our own primary bullshit.”

    Wasn’t aware of that little tidbit. Made me shudder.

    Thanks Helen, f#$%K xmas cards.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details