Commercial consciousness has permeated every aspect of life so thoroughly that we no longer take note of it, like the background hum of forgotten machinery.
Benicio del Toro as Fenster in The Usual Suspects (d. Singer 1995)
“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”
Can anyone really imagine any American politician saying this out loud? Even as a metaphor– one of the ways James intended this statement– it’s impossible to envision the most “radical” political figures in national politics– an Ilhan Omar or a Rashida Tlaib– using such language.
One of the secrets of American politics is that both Democrats and Republicans share a common philosophy: they are Liberal in the broadest sense of that term, which is to say they are devoted to the notion of a Free Market as the foundation of political rights, the social order, and economic prosperity. Unified by this commitment, in the absence of any substantial disagreement on the basic principle, Dems and Reps have had to find other ways to distinguish themselves from one another. The easiest, most inflammatory and engaging means of doing so is to fight Culture Wars that focus on issues of identity and morality rather than on the structural violence of the inequality that is an unavoidable outcome of the capitalist system. Though they may quibble about specific policies, on the issue of political economy, as Barack Obama affirms, the two parties are fundamentally in agreement.
The discourse of “the West and the Rest” relies on the method of Othering. The construction of the myth of the West depends on its other, the Rest. If the Westerner is defined by attributes such as industriousness and fondness for liberty, for example, then the non-Westerner is necessarily lazy and slavish.
Here is a quote from Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts:
“[T]he Other [is] a form of cultural projection of concepts. This projection of concepts constructs the identities of cultural subjects through a relationship of power in which the Other is the subjugated element. In claiming knowledge about [non-Westerners] what [the discourse of “the West and the Rest”] did was construct them as its own (Western) Other. Through describing purportedly [non-Western] characteristics (irrational, uncivilized, etc.) [“the West and the Rest”] provided a definition not of the real [non-Western] identity but of the Western identity in terms of the oppositions which structured its account. Hence, irrational Other presupposes rational Self. The construction of the Other in [West/Rest] discourse, then, is a matter of asserting self-identity, and the issue of the Western account of the [non-Western] Other is thereby rendered a question of power” (Edgar and Sedgwick 2002).
One way consent (hegemony) is manufactured and maintained is through particular uses of language. Here’s an example from the New York Times:
Note the use of passive verb construction when the police originate violence and the use of active verb construction when ordinary people do.
photo by Julio Cortez
I mean, dude, do you not even see