Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lefty Kitsch

Just added a couple of new links to my side bar, including feminist blog The F Word (thanks Lousie) and Labour Left Briefing. I had a rather nice surprise when I clicked on Labour Left Briefing - I usually have the sound turned off, but this time the computer I used wasn't muted and seemed to have the volume turned right up. If you've got sound try the site - it plays a rather kitschy version of 'The Red Flag', complete with pan pipes intro, bagpipes, bodhran, Scottish bloke singer and, of course, Billy Bragg on backing vocals. Go on, give it a go.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dirty, Evil Foreigners

I know I'm probably just pointing out the bleeding obvious here, but this whole media crisis about Charlie Clarke's released and re-offending foreign prisoners is a bit xenophobic isn't it? Now I'm as in favour of seeing New Labour squirm under pressure as anyone else, and, more seriously, I'm aware that some of these ex-prisoners were guilty of serious violent crimes. Apparently, some of the released prisoners were gaoled for rape and child abuse. I don't want to see sex offenders reoffending.

But that's not what this whole thing is about is it? It's precisely the fact that these people are foreign and are immigrants, not the issue of their (proven or alleged) criminality which is driving the media witch-hunt. In fact their criminality is, effectively, a wholly secondary or incidental factor in this news hype. They are foreign muggers, foreign murderers and etc - which, of course, makes their crimes much more heinous than any indigenous Brit crimes.

This is another manifestation of the profoundly anti-immigrant and racist attitudes which seem increasingly to be worming their way into the mainstream media. Actually, I'm surprised that a paper like the Grauniad seems to be pandering to them.

Grumpy Old Millionaires

I watched a bit of the BBC2 series Grumpy Old Men last night. I wouldn't normally make a great effort to see it, but it does sometimes raise a few chuckles. I had a rather unpleasant shock, however, when I was informed by the voice over narrator bloke (Geoffrey Palmer) that the grumpy old men category covers those between the ages of 35 and 55. Leaving aside the obvious problem here - where do the over 55's fit in - aren't they precisely old men? - I was more than a little alarmed to hear that in 4 years time I am officially old and grumpy. True, I'm possibly a teensy bit grumpy already and last time I had reason to check I was indeed a man, but old in 4 years time - me? 35 still seems like a relatively young age to me. I suppose it would, though, wouldn't it.

Once I had managed to repress a mild sense of panic occasioned by this definition of old age, the rest of the programme was just irritating. I'll leave Will Self out of the following general condemnation - one of the only interesting and really amusing contributors to the programme. It doesn't hurt, either, that his rants, unlike those of the other contributors, are underpinned by a socially liberal, Old Labour kind of outlook. Most of the others, however, strike me as a privileged and reactionary bunch of whiners. OK, maybe it seems rather silly to call the contributors 'whiners' - the whole point of the show is to provide a series of tongue-in-cheek, 'grumpy old men' semi-comic whinges - but, even so, the sight and sound of that right wing multi-millionaire, Tim Rice, and professional old Etonian, Nigel Havers, banging on about how awful their existence is leaves, I think, a bad taste in the mouth. One of the things that particularly annoyed me, last night, was when Rice, Havers and fellow millionaire Rick Wakeman (the one with the permanently lank, Stringfellow-esque long hair) ranted on about call centre workers. Now, sure, being cold called by someone trying to flog you 'financial services' is annoying and shouldn't happen and I don't doubt that the new directory enquiries services are shit - but I have to say that my sympathies are with the minimum wage workers in the call centres, rather than with a mildly irritated Tim Rice on the other end of his gold plated phone in his second mansion. I worked in a call centre once (the only job I was ever fired from - I was marched out of the building by security guards and everything) and it was fucking awful.

It's also a bit rich, I think, to see wealthy media people, who've all done very, very well out of our consumer society and service economy, berating the evils of new communications technology and of our low attention span, disposable, commodified culture. It's not just that they are amongst the major beneficiaries of this very society they pretend to loathe, it's that most of them, in their own different ways, have done more than their fair share of contributing to its generation and reproduction in the first place. Once Tim Rice apologises for all of the muzak 'musical' shite he's churned out over the years (Evita in particular) then maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't mind him complaining about the awfulness of the modern world.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Here We Go Again... Yawn

The Left/Right political axis is dead, y'know - it's like so last century. The world has moved on. You see, we live in qualitatively new times where the old fordist/modernist/nation-state centred (delete as appropriate) ideologies are now moribund. In this new emerging globalised (oh praise be!) order, the political, economic and social problems we face have changed fundamentally - and so, then, must our political approaches. We need to go beyond the old politics, the old binary distinctions and political polarisations. In fact, in these new post-ideological times, we need to go beyond ideology ... blah, fucking blah and so on and so on.

These views seem to me to underpin Jeff Davis' wonderfully important, aposite and groundbreaking observations in the Grauniad today. Well they would be groundbreaking views if we hadn't heard them before, over and over and over again. Last time it was the 'Third Way' ('non-ideological') ideologues (where are they now?) and the time before that it was some of the postmodernists, and the time before that it was Tony Crosland and before that it was... bored now. It doesn't help, of course, that Davis is wittering on about that whole motherhood and apple pie, down with bad things, beyond left and right, Eusless Manifesto thing whatever it is. Bland, grey sludge begets bland, grey sludge. I think we're probably going to see more of this sort of thing in the weeks ahead, now that Martin Kettle and fellow ex-lefties searching for a home (must be in a respectable area close to good schools for the kids) have cottoned on to the latest pro-war left internet front organisation (sign the petition, link to the blog, talk about how the movement's really growing, sit on your arse, wait for it to fizzle out like all the other PWL fronts). There are a lot of ex-Third Wayers out there looking for 'a movement' - something, anything, as long as it confirms their hopes that the whole Left/Right thing is dead and that, therefore, it's quite all right to be liberal, vaguely in favour of social justice (as long as taxes don't go up) and, at the same time, to be very rich and own several properties.

Shame that, over ten years ago now, Norberto Bobbio showed quite convincingly in my view that the idea that the Left/Right distinction could ever be 'a thing of the past' is, frankly, a bunch of arse. A big, smelly, pooey arse. He also argued that, as this fantasy that the world was moving 'beyond Left and Right' has kept on cropping up with impressive regularity (and fallen flat on its face with similar reliability), it was bound to re-emerge again (and again and again) in the future - well, here we are once more - isn't this nice! Bobbio also argued that, very often, those loudly trumpeting the end of the Left/Right distinction and the glorious dawning of some post-ideological new age, have got something to hide - an ulterior motive which makes them desperately - too desperately - keen to consign the 'old' politics to the dustbin. They really, really want it to be true.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Sea

Did you miss me? You probably didn't notice I was away. Bastards. However, I've just arrived back oop North from a week and a half's kind-of-holiday in deepest Hampshire. It was very nice, thanks for asking. It wasn't really a proper holiday because I took my blinking thesis with me, but it was a chance to get away from the routine for a while. I stayed in a secret location somewhere near Fareham and right by the sea. The seaside is something (like Marmite, cider, Girls Aloud or cricket*) that you either love or hate. I've always been a bit of a seaside hater -beaches are smelly, unhygienic, usually scattered with litter, and as far as I'm concerned the sea is full of disgusting slimey creatures which crawl around in their own wee-wee and poo-poo. In my experience most of these foul animals lurk in the shallows, about a metre away from the shore line, waiting to bite you between the toes should you be so fool-hardy as to fancy a little wading amongst the sharp pebbles and unclean marine vegetation. I have distinct memories of being a young child in swimming trunks and inflatable arm-bands at the edge of the water for the first time and being convinced that going into that stuff was a very very bad idea. I knew that, beneath the mats of floating weed and amongst the pebbles, it was full of horrible things - unfriendly things, things watching and waiting, things best left alone. What I like least of all is that beach smell - the stench of rotting sea-weed. It's somewhere between the smell of a fishmongers' waste bin at the end of a very hot day, week-old sweaty socks and a heavily used but unflushed public toilet. I'm not really much of a beach person. In fact, throughout much of my life I have probably loathed the beach more than I have loathed cucumbers - which is really saying something.

However, I have to say that my attitude towards the sea may be changing - I rather enjoyed being beside the seaside this time. I didn't do anything silly like actually going into the sea - but I did walk a dog along the beach a few times and found the experience very pleasant. It helped, of course, that there was a marvellous view across the channel to the Isle of Wight and that the weather, for me, was fantastic - bright, clear and warm without being too hot. I wouldn't have believed it up until last week, but there is something very healthy and invigorating about sea air. I feel ten times better for it. I'm pretty convinced, too, that the light is slightly different near the sea - it felt softer - but I may well be imagining this. I suppose, actually, I may have been confusing geographical location with temporal location - it just happened that better spring time weather emerged while I went away and perhaps being by the sea had nothing to do with that whole different air/light thing. Still it's nice - if, perhaps, slightly unscientific - to think so.

* I am in favour of all those things.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

CSE Conference - Selected Highlights

As mentioned below, I went along to a Conference of Socialist Economists... errr... conference last weekend. Thought I might as well squeeze a blog post out of it. I only made scribbled notes I'm afraid, so the following might well be rather fragmentary.

The most interesting session I thought was one in which Prof Paul Rogers and Prof Peter Gowan spoke on the USA's current imperial drive. Paul Rogers provided some fascinating snippets of info. Apparently Rogers spoke in some detail with a number of (unnamed) senior neo-con figures before the war in Iraq. He claims that Iran, rather than Iraq, was regarded as the biggest threat to US interests in the Middle East and that neo-con strategists initially intended the war on Iraq as a kind of stepping stone on the way to Iran. He also argued that the US didn't have the military hardware in position to attack Iraq until early 2003 and so all that UN to-ing and fro-ing in the run up to the war was pretty irrelevant. The US always intended to attack - it just had to wait until the ships, aircraft, tanks and troops were ready.

He argued that the neo-cons calculated that, with the collapse of the USSR, the US had a thirty year 'window of opportunity' to establish strategic control over oil supplies in the ME, before new superpower challengers would emerge - most significantly, China.

Clearly, the neo-cons are still hoping to take advantage of this window of opportunity, although their project has suffered huge setbacks over the past 3 years. Rogers said that he thought that the chances of an attack on Iran are currently 50/50. It's clear, however, that the US could not attack Iran without British assistance. The US military would need access to UK bases in order to launch an effective attack.

Peter Gowan offered an 'interim assessment’ of 'the bid for a New World Order based on American Primacy'. He didn't really say very much that was new and offered a potted version of the theory set out in his (excellent) Global Gamble book, with a couple of updated observations added on. Gowan argues that competition between advanced states of the West has, since the end of the Second World War been contained, to a great extent, within a system of overall US hegemony - 'Pax Americana'. Competition between advanced western states takes the form of a jockeying for position within this hierarchical system of domination. Unlike earlier imperialisms the US empire is a 'non-territorial' one. It is not founded on the direct control of subordinate territories but on a particular kind of statecraft in which the international order is shaped so that sovereign states tend to act in ways that are in keeping with the general interests of the USA. Over the past 50 years or so, the precise configuration of the relationship between the US and its allies/protectorates/subordinates has been significantly altered a number of times. With the ending of the long boom, for example, American administrations in the 70s re-ordered the protectorate system in order to reduce strains on the US economy condititioned by the Bretton Woods financial system. More recently, the ending of the Cold War has necessitated a further re-configuration of Pax Americana. This re-configuration, Gowan argues, is still in process and the Iraq war represented a central part of its strategy to re-order the international state system.

Gowan argues that the collapse of the USSR, although, of course, a welcome development, confronted the US ruling class with a big problem. How could they maintain 'Pax Americana' when the basis for that protectorate system - the external threat of the Warsaw Pact - no longer existed? He argued in his speech that there was a high degree of consensus between the US business class and the political elites that there should be no restructuring of the basic structure of the US state (he calls this a 'momentous non-decision') - it was necessary to retain the enoromous US military-industrial complex, since a great deal of US capital 'clusters' around it. This helped to condition the nature - military - of the process of the restructuring of the US hegemonic domination over allied/rival power centres (Germany, France, Japan etc). The US engaged in a series of actions designed to bind other advanced states to the US and to head off the emergence of rival alliances amongst advanced western powers (and China). Gowan regards the action in Yugoslavia, essentially, as having more to do with the prevention of a hegemonic alliance between Germany, France or Russia and the re-assertion of US comand over NATO
than with the re-shaping of political-military relations with the manifest enemy - in this case, Serbia. He argues that Iraq should be seen in the same light - that US objectives had quite a lot to do with the reshaping of relations between the US and European states and between the US and China and much less to do with the actual threat of Iraq.

Gowan's interim assessment is that US grand strategy is now in a bit of a mess. He pointed to the growing moves towards co-operation between Germany and Russia (first I've heard of it), observed that South Korea was moving out of a US orbit and that Japan, too, was now less securely anchored to the US. So it's not looking good for the neo-cons. Gowan's final point however, was that the neo-con grand strategy was not yet dead - there could well be an attack on Iran - and there is currently no coherent alternative either outside or within the US.

My problem with Gowan's thesis is that it seems rather to 'outward-in' and top-down to me in its presentation of the relationship between the US and its subordinates. In his book, Gowan does argue that the re-shaping of the US hegemonic system is carried out through more than geo-political grand strategic manouevring - he talks about 'globalisation' and financial/trade liberalisation as an essential part of the process. However, it seems to me that there's more to be said here - further to go. I think we should concentrate more on the ways in which subordinate states are actively complicit within this process of re-configuration - they are not simply acted on, as passive dupes. This is why I've got a lot of sympathy for Panitch and Gindin at the moment, who argue (along Poulantzian lines) that the internationalisation of capital and the import of US MNC capital brings changes to the relations of production within the host social formation/state. This makes those economies more reliant on US capital and, thus, makes their states more willing to take on the role of US subordinate. As Poulantzas wrote:

states themselves take charge of the interest of the dominant imperialist capital
in its development within the ‘national’ social formation, i.e. in its complex
relation of internalization to the domestic bourgeoisie that it dominates.
(Poulantzas, 1979: 73).

Or something. Anyway, I put a question along those lines to Gowan and he didn't seem too impressed with the whole Panitch, Gindin, Poulantzas thang.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On the Off Chance...

I'm going to the Conference of Socialist Economists conference on 'Empire and Beyond' this Saturday. If any other left bloggers (or left blog frequenters) are going, let me know and we could meet up - and what fun we shall have. I'll buy you a Kit Kat.

I'm quite excited about meeting Peter Gowan and Colin Leys. I'll see if I can ask them some brilliant questions and then I'll probably come away from the conference with a professorship in the bag or something.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Grauniad Does Marxian Economics

Blimey. Here's Andrew Glynn in today's Grauniad arguing that with the vast size of the 'reserve army of labour' in rapidly industrialising China and India we might well see a huge increase in Western FDI in those countries and a concommitant "long period of investment stagnation in the industrialised countries". Glyn admits that, currently, Western based MNC investment in developing countries' is still only 3-4% of their investment at home each year', but argues that, in the near future, 'the trickle [could] turn into a flood? '[W]ith such low wage costs in China and growing numbers of skilled workers,' Glyn argues 'why should northern producers continue investing to maintain their capital stock in the north, let alone extend it?'

Such developments would 'bring intense pressure on jobs and working conditions in Britain and elsewhere' says Glyn and, indeed, the 'bargaining chips would be in the hands of capital to a degree not seen since the industrial revolution'. Glyn raises the possibility that Marx's prediction of a 'rising rate of exploitation' (and does Glyn suggest, a gradual, but sure, process of 'immiseration' of workers?*) will soon be borne out - after having been temporarily counter-acted by the contingent political necessity of (and possibility) of Keynesian labour-capital compromise during the Cold War period.

If memory serves, Glyn is rather neo-Ricardian in outlook (perhaps I'm thinking of a different Glyn(n)?). His (implied) assertion that the profits squeeze of the late 60s and 70s was driven by a strong and organised labour movement - 'a decline in the power of private ownership' - certainly seems to me to rest on neo-Ricardian assumptions. More orthodox Marxists would assert that the labour/capital struggle is not necessarily a zero-sum game and that the end of the long boom cannot be explained simply by reference the weakness of capital in relation to labour (in this case why did the profits squeeze only start to hit home in the late 60s and why were growth rates in the 1950s, at the height of the 'Keynesian consensus', so high?) In other words Glynie-boy has forgotten all that stuff about the LTV, the organic composition of capital and the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall, innit.

This neo-Ricardianism seems to condition Glyn's suggestion that investment might be about to flood out of the advanced capitalist world and into the newly emerging giants of Asia. It seems unlikely to me, however, that capital is about to start flooding out of the West - which is not to say that it will not increasingly migrate. Glyn is sailing uncomfortably close to the breathless hyper-globalisation theories that were all the rage a few years ago, but are now fairly scorned and rather dated (they seem very 1990s now, like Britpop or Vic and Bob). There are many reasons why capital does not tend to have a high propensity to flee overseas (except financial capital - hot money). Key amongst these reasons is the fact that there tends to be a certain 'structural interdependence'* between state and capital - that is capitals usually grow up within a single state and become structurally intertwined with 'it's' state and also with other home grown capitals, making it quite difficult for that capital to later up-sticks and move into a new 'ecosystem', as it were, in which structures are often quite different. The Regulation School Marxists also talk about 'Social Structures of Accumulation' - which covers the same territory as 'structural interdependence' in a way. But the Regulation School also, centrally, assert that there can be different types of successful accumulation regimes and that, therefore, profitable accumulation does not necessarily require global uniformity or convergence on the same neo-liberal territory - low wages, low corporate taxation, low public spending, low inflation etc. Many capitals will actually continue to find Western European capitalism more to their liking and their convenience than low wage China for the foreseeable future (unless something changes drastically). In fact some social democratic theorists and politicians (see Colin Hay, Mark Wickham-Jones, Oskar Lafontaine, Will Hutton*) argue that profitable accumulation is compatible with a much more robust (trans-European) social democratic regime than currently prevails. I think this social democratic theory has severe limitations (see an excellent critique of Hay and Wickham-Jones here, by David Coates*), but the overall, general idea - that higher public spending, better welfare, higher corporate tax and so on is still, at the moment, compatible with capitalism - is broadly convincing.

None of this is to suggest that there's nothing in Glyn's argument. Clearly capital will increasingly migrate to Asia - though it won't flood out, and we're not on the edge of competitive collapse. Clearly, the emergence of serious global competition will frighten the shit out of Western capitalists and will be used by Western neo-liberal politicians as a big stick with which to beat the labour movement. There will be increasing struggle over the future of the welfare state. Perhaps the biggest threats, which Glyn doesn't mention, however, are the environmental and the military ones. It's clear that the planet simply cannot sustain advanced capitalist patterns of production and consumption in the USA, Europe and China and India - in fact it can't even sustain the US economy on its own as it is for very much longer. Secondly, the emergence of China as a serious contender for the status of world superpower is likely to translate into serious military rivalry between it and the USA (and Europe possibly). These two probable developments do not bode well for the future.

Sometimes I think that the question of humanity's future comes down to a rather simple calculation. Which of these two paths would kill fewer people: 1) a transition to socialism, or 2) an attempt to beef up social democracy in Europe in the hope that we're not wiped out in a global inter-imperialist bloc war and in the hope that advanced capitalism can be modified in order to make it more environmentally sustainable. Both of these paths might wipe out the human race - any transition to socialism is likely to be a bloody affair, and in the age of nuclear weapons and desperate imperial blocs it might well be a suicidal undertaking. On the other hand, a radical reformist project might not work (and even if it could be reached it could never be a finished, stable regime because it necessarily runs up against the logic of capital), might not be able to head off environmental catastrophe and might be knocked out anyway by increasing imperialist bloc tensions.

Sorry to sound so melodramatic. We're all fucked though aren't we?

* Which in fact Marx did not predict - it's a myth.
* This is Harman's term, I think.
* Actually I'm not sure about Will Hutton anymore.
* My hero - him and Eagleton. Don't tell him.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Feminism Versus "Feminism"

A few days ago Kate Taylor produced an impressively stupid article for the Guardian entitled 'Today's ultimate feminists are the chicks in crop tops'. The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about the content (and quality) of the argument - but I'm going to quote some of it anyway, just to show how utterly depressing it was. The article seems to have been written as a response to US feminist Ariel Levy's tirade against 'raunch culture' and British feminist Rachel Bell's criticism of Nuts, Zoo and etc. Taylor argues:

"today's girls are playing with the old-fashioned notion of being seen as sex objects.

This is not terrible news. In fact, to me, this is the ultimate feminist ideal, which Levy would realise if she stopped shouting at MTV for a moment and thought about it. She proclaims that boob jobs and crop tops "don't bring us any closer to the fundamental feminist project of allowing every woman to be her own, specific self". But what if a woman's "own, specific self" is a thong-wearing, Playboy-T-shirted specific self who thinks lap-dancing is a laugh and likes getting wolf-whistled at by builders? What if a woman spends hours in the gym to create a body she is proud of? Is that a waste of time, time she should have spent in a university library? No"


"I've worked for GQ and the Sun, and in neither place did I see women being exploited. Does Bell have any idea how much money women make when they take their clothes off? How much freedom and independence these girls can earn in an hour? Abi Titmuss and the new breed of totty generally own the copyright to their naughtiest photos, so with each publication they rake it in. Look at lads' mags from a different perspective and you see that what's being exploited are men's sexual responses, to give money to women.

It has always been like this, and it always will be, because men's achilles heel is that they go to pieces when a woman drops her top. Old-style feminists never understood this, but their way is not the only way to achieve equality with men. The world is different now, and we should follow the trends instead of waving the banners of 20 years ago."

Here's the marvellous finale;

"If a thong makes you feel fabulous, wear it. For one thing, men in the office waste whole afternoons staring at your bottom, placing bets on whether you're wearing underwear. Let them. Use that time to take over the company."

Notice the standard right wing, pro-market, 'modernising' polemical tactic of pushing extremely tenuous claims in the form of apparently self-evident truism. Taylor simply asserts, for example, that 'it has always been like this' and that 'the world is different now'. Both of these claims seem, at the very least, highly contentious. Of course, there's an awkward paradox lurking there too - it's 'always been like this' (resistance is futile and it has always been futile) but also 'things have changed' (so perhaps it was possible to resist in the past, but not any more?) It's highly reminiscent of the standard New Labour 'globalisation' discourse - the justification of welfare cuts and so on by reference to trans-historical, primordial, elemental 'laws of the market' beyond conscious human control and, simultaneously, by reference to the fundamentally changed economic paradigm of globally integrated markets.

"Does Bell have any idea how much money women make when they take their clothes off?" Taylor claims. This is breathtaking stuff. Leaving aside the question of whether Abi Titmuss, specifically, is exploited by the soft-porn, topless 'celeb' in glossy magazine industry, what does Taylor think about the hundreds of women in the sex industry who don't earn Titmuss's wages? Does Taylor imagine that Titmuss and her (presumably) high paid ilk are anything but a tiny minority? One often hears this, in arguments attempting to absolve the porn industry of any blame - the huge earnings of a few particular superstars are pointed to, as if these are at all representative. The scale of misery, exploitation, deperation and brutality only a few rungs down from the 'porn star' level is huge - and usually unacknowledged by eager pro-porn advocates.

Furthermore, Taylor doesn't seem to have grasped the main point which people like Levy are trying to make - which is that, regardless of the pay packets of the lucky few on the pages of glossy magazines, the major issue at stake here is the way in which the proliferation of (wholly unrealistic) sexual images of 'glamour models' and so on shapes cultural and social attitudes and assumptions about the role of women, the status of women, the way in which women should look or behave and so on. Surely it's not unrelated that alongside the explosive growth of the fashion industry, the celeb industry and the porn industry (all of which promote and circulate in their different ways, images of women who tend to look rather similar - slim, pretty, big breasted, passive) there are growing numbers of young women who suffer from depression and eating disorders. There is enormous pressure on girls to look and behave a certain way - to look like the images of young women they see on advertising boards or on TV, to behave as the glossy magazines (women's and men's) tell them to (or imply that they should).

The main thing to say about Taylor's article though, is that it is, simply offensive. It is offensive to argue that 'successful' women should wear crop tops, thongs and gyrate in front of men - that this is somehow to be 'liberated'. The idea seems to be that women should revel in their own sexual inferiority - that to be an objectified bit of T&A, is all that women should aspire to. What was it that Marcuse said about internalized oppression and 'false liberation'? I can't be bothered to get a quote - but you know what I mean.

Taylor's article prompted, thankfully, a storm of criticism in the letters page of the paper. In today's Guardian Madeleine Bunting hits back, too. The article is important I think, because Bunting sees Taylor's 'raunch culture' in the context of the increasing commodification of human sexuality. It does not appear to have occurred to Taylor that the growth of 'raunch culture' is driven by marketisation and the search for profit rather more than it is an expression of autonomous, freely chosen self-expression on the part of individual women. As every socialist knows (and as, in fact, every competent capitalist knows, come to think of it) capitalism cannot stand still - capital must accumulate and continually expand in order to survive. This accumulation-drive, inherent in the logic of capitalism, means that capitalists are continually on the look out for new markets. Over time more and more spheres of human life become marketised - colonized by the law of value. There's been a capitalist market in sex for quite some time, but over the last 20 to 30 years especially, the significance and extent of this market has grown exponentially. Sex and sexual relationships are of course an essential part of human existence and so the colonisation of this sphere is particularly lucrative. The market here isn't simply in sex directly - prostitution or pornography - but is also manifested in more indirect forms. Advertisers routinely use sexuality to sell us stuff (clothes, mobiles, music) and it seems to me that the market now increasingly mediates actual personal human sexual relationships. I'm thinking here of the influence of 'lifestyle' magazines and so on in which both women and men are surreptitiously pressurised into behaving in certain ways - persuaded to conform to manufactured 'lifestyle' norms. These normalised behaviours of course link relationship 'success' to consumption - if you want to attract and keep a man you'd better use Max Factor, or wear these designer clothes, or have your hair cut like this. But they also help to reproduce specifically capitalist, market forms of identity (of self-conception) in the sphere of inter-personal relationships. That is, increasingly commodified sexual relationships/identities are increasingly individualised, atomised and operate on the basis of a competitive, instrumentalist logic. As Bunting writes:

Another of the many concepts of the market that have infiltrated intimacy is an instrumentalism: "I get this need met in return for meeting her need on that"; when people talk honestly about their relationships, you can often hear the totting up of an emotional account. At its crudest there is no responsibility to the other person beyond the striking of the deal.

You often see this sort of individualist-instrumentalist logic in both women's and men's magazines approaches to relationships - how to dump your current partner and 'upgrade to a better model', how to get into bed with as many women/men as possible, is your man/woman 'holding you back' etc etc? The centre of attention must be you (naturally, a utility maximising market individual) and the prime consideration must be the question of what you get out of it, how do you strike the best deal, how do you hoodwink and outplay your partner-competitor in the sexual market? This isn't liberation, 'girl-power' or emancipation - it's just another form of enslavement for both men and women.


It's worth reading the comments underneath Bunting's article, incidentally. Some fuckwit named Tim Worstall (a right wing blogger if memory serves) has provided some particularly moronic (and implicitly chauvinistic) views. Said fuckwit brays:

"Every trade takes place in a market. Whether we're talking about sex as physical gratification being exchanged, or rather more romantically about love and mutual affection being shown in a physical manner, that's still a market. Just about everything that humans do is a market transaction, not all of them involve money to be sure but they are still exchanges."

The old saying that 'some people know the price of everything and value of nothing' pops to mind first of all. It always surprises me to find that there really are people who really do appear to think that all of their interations with other human beings are wholly instrumental, utility maximising, competitive manoeuvrings. Secondly, Worstall's definition of market exchange is ludicrously wide. If the description 'market transaction' can be applied to every human interaction - 'just about everything that humans do' - then the concept of 'market transaction' is so stretched that it becomes meaningless.

I would leave a comment on the Guardian site for Mr Worstall, but I'm afraid that if I register to post on the site I'll spend too much time there and I should be working.

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