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December 29, 2010


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Rob Horning

Thoughts: equality means having to have the confience in self to judge the "intrinsic worth" of things, independent of what distinction they confer. But merit only measured in distinction, refracted in hierarchies? Equality means everyone infinitely responsible to themselves to motivate and fulfill themselves. Would need to will meaning into voluntary obligations or else admit unequal amounts of generosity across populations. Equality would make identity perilously indistinct.

"inequality" seems inseparable from economic position in capitalist society, since economic is the field in which one's particularly superiority is expressed and confirmed. Superiority translates to better opportunities and the ability (thanks to social/cultural capital and habitus) to capitalize on them. Talent has no way of expressing itself noneconomically in a society in which capitla has subsumed anything. Question is whether an alternative could allow for noneconomic expression of talent or would it simply smother and extinguish talent?

Jodi Dean

Your description of equality as infinite self-responsibility strikes me as highly individualistic and libertarian. I don't share that view.
I take the view that an economic approach to talent smothers it.


I think it is extremely difficult for Americans to distinguish inequality of talent (however defined) from inequality of resources or access to the commons. I would suggest most folks think it is unAmerican to even try. This comment is dead on: "Without inequality, we feel absorbed in sameness. Inequality seems indistinguishable from individuality."

I used to believe there was a tipping point at which extremes of inequality in America would move the country to a more egalitarian distribution of basic resources. I didn't envision this as socialism or communism but as a corrective to the extreme concentration of wealth that developed over the last 30 years. But the reality is that this has not happened. In fact, the country is begging for more policies that will generate more inequality and more destitution.

The only slight disagreement with you I have is about the fabled "middle class." There are far more people like myself today that realize this is a fiction. By all measures I am middle class - I own my home, have health insurance, a 401K, two cars, etc... But the Great Recession has demystified all of this - any of us who lose their job now is exposed to potentially years of unemployment, loss of health insurance, and ultimately loss of ones home. There is no middle class family that can withstand protracted unemployment and maintain a middle class lifestyle. It is just impossible. We all either experience it first hand or have friends and family who are dealing with it right now. And if you can find another job it is part time or at half of what you used to make. This is reality and the financial and political elite have their heads up their asses or they just don't care. Either way, this is unsustainable from a political perspective.

What strikes me is I think the elites - dems and Repubs alike - think that the economy is turning around, that businesses are going to start to rehire and things will just go back to the way they were before. But an honest look at the situation just reveals the opposite. Financial collapses always take years to recover from and this wasn't an ordinary collapse. If the government removes whatever limited support it has provided the economy, which looks likely, we will see unemployment actually go up. And this is where radicals who are organized, and have an alternative to the current morass, have an opportunity.


Is it just "rich or poor" though? There is so much nostalgia for the 1950s/60s when it was imagined that everyone was more equal than they are now. Specifically, as Frank Rich's recent NYT piece about killing "the disneyland dream," people seem all too ready to put up this or that "proper appearance," in the sense Zizek gets at in his architecture lectures at Birkbeck

Account Deleted

difference/sameness, equality/inequality and how we tend to use these as interchangeable - as if no substantial, political distinction between the two pairs- always strikes me. (I remember a previous post discussing this) this is probably one of the "victories" of capitalism. the common thought that without a "non-economic expression of talent" people would hardly have any other motivation is both a shallow and limited imagination of humanity and historically it is simply false. Also this big thing about economic inequality fostering "different identities", aren't most of us stuck in boring lives, in jobs that are getting more and more meaningless etc.?
this post makes me think of a question that seems so crucial and difficult. what might a "myth of equality" - and of course I am not using "myth" pejoratively but rather in a functional sense- look like?

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