I’ve recently considered some possible lessons a theory of social evolution can teach us today. One lesson is the importance of technology. While techno-optimists praise technology as the thing that can save us from political crises, Marx showed that political crises are precisely the obstacles to technological development. In a world of interstate disunity and class inequality, there are few incentives to massively invest in green energy at the level necessary to fight climate change. States renege on climate accords, and the oligarchical class funds fossil-fuel companies and their political lobbyists to prevent states from doing anything domestically. To unlock technological development, we need to change the political economy.
Instead, sadly, people are often more concerned with ‘culture wars’ surrounding issues of cultural identity than they are with the ‘class war’ between rich and poor surrounding the bread-and-butter issues of political economy. I can’t pretend to not have a position on the socio-cultural issues of the day—like the diversity of Marvel films, the gender norms of bathrooms, and the ethics of consumer behaviour—but I don’t want to prioritise this on the blog, because I see culture wars for what they are: intractable social conflicts that mystify the stakes of the current class war. We should prioritise class over culture, and reduce class inequality by using and fusing the power of states, in order to unlock green technological development. By resolving the class war, the culture war will–ultimately–be resolved, too. Alienation and exploitation produce anxiety and marginalisation. By reducing the former, we reduce the latter. By addressing class inequality, we address status inequality. As French-Martinician writer Frantz Fanon noted, ‘[r]acism is just the superstructure’ which rises on the capitalist base. By changing the base, we change the superstructure. By changing the political economy, we change culture.
If you care more about culture than tech, the state, and class, cool! That’s what the ideology of ‘neoliberalism’ in private states does to us—transferring our attention from issues of material ‘redistribution’ to issues of cultural ‘recognition’. The thing is: if you really want, as I do, a more inclusive culture in which racism, sexism, and all kinds of discrimination are things of the past, then the material change must be the priority. We don’t need to talk about racism and sexism the whole time if we’re focusing on universal policies of political and economic transformation—which will, by reducing disunity and inequality, inevitably reduce marginalisation and scapegoating.
If you care more about culture than tech, the state, and class, cool! In contemporary ‘private states’, as I call them, rising inequality and marketisation is justified by the ideology of ‘neoliberalism’, which prioritises culture and individuality over class and solidarity. Neoliberal private states transfer our attention from issues of material ‘redistribution’ to issues of cultural ‘recognition’. The thing is: if you really want, as I do, a more inclusive culture in which racism, sexism, and all kinds of discrimination are things of the past, then the material change must be the priority. We don’t need to talk about racism and sexism the whole time if we’re focusing on universal policies of political and economic transformation—which will, by reducing disunity and inequality, inevitably reduce marginalisation and scapegoating.
So long as our policies are sufficiently universalist, material redistribution will inevitably bring about inclusive recognition in the end. By reducing exploitation and alienation, we will inevitably reduce racism. As racism itself is a product of disunity and inequality, only by reducing disunity and inequality through political and economic change will the cultural superstructure become more inclusive. Doing so, however, will require us to re-focus our attention from progressive cultural positions to progressive class warfare. We need bread and butter before we have, and in order to have, food for the soul, as it were. If realistic historical materialism (a theory developed in recent posts) tells us anything, it is this:
- Change the political economy, and
- Change in culture will follow.
Focus on (1). Because if we focus too much on (2), then we’ll lose people’s faith in changing (1). If we live in a flawed society, cultural attitudes are flawed, and so putting forward progressive cultural attitudes will be less effective than appealing to universally shared material interests. That’s why class war is more effective than culture war—it’s about universalism, not particularism. And we’ve got to choose. If we don’t, we lose. We can focus either on:
- The base (tech, the state, and class) or
- The superstructure (culture).
Changing (2) will not change (1). But changing (1) will change (2)—or, at the very least, put us in a position where we can try to change (2). Attempting to change both now means we may change neither. The first path, as it enables the second, leads to freedom. The second, as it distracts us from the first, leads to serfdom. We’ve reached the fork in the path.
Which path will we choose?