Sunday, April 29, 2007

The urban right, part 1

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I am a fan of The Wire. It is an HBO series based around politics and the drug wars in Baltimore. One of the repeated themes is the extent to which life in the central city is lived under the thumb of the street crews who are in "the game" of selling drugs. Even those who try to leave the life eventually become its victims. "Snitchers" wind up dead.

So I was intrigued by an article in last month's Atlantic, illustrating the impact of the "stop snitchin'" movement (sentiment may be more accurate) in Baltimore. This particular bit of fiction is based in reality.

My first impulse, of course, is to think of Milwaukee alderman Michael McGee, Jr. who has been the sentinel of submission to street crime here. But that strikes me as too easy. I take a back seat to no one in my disapproval of McGee. Whether or not his constituents like him, he is, objectively, part of the problem, rather than the solution.

But isn't the real question why McGee's reverse Theodore Bilbo routine works? Isn't the broader question why people do stop snitching? Conservatives are amazed that, while Milwaukee's central city is plagued by an intolerable level of violence on a daily basis, the issues that have generated the most energy within that community over the past year have been the Jude beating (understandable), the proposal to use flexicuffs in MPS and the temerity of "outsiders" to become involved in the McGee recall.

It won't do for us on the right to denounce this as PC or irrational. It is both but it is also impervious to our disdain. Maybe the answer is that we have no business giving a damn. Patrick McIhleran, in a column yesterday, suggested that proponents of the city's "cause" who want suburban money need to listen to suburban viewpoints. One could say the same with respect to conservatives.

But there is a body of opinion that explicitly rejects Patrick's argument. It was in fact the prevailing view in the 60s and early 70s - and still is within certain academic circles. Conservatives, suburbanites and, for that matter, whites should shut up, listen to the oppressed and do what they are told.

Should conservatives care about the problems of the inner city? And, as I contend, they must, don't we have an obligation to understand why what seems obvious to us often has so little traction? Isn't that the beginning of persuasion?

More to come.

4 comments:

Dad29 said...

Interesting start.

Anonymous said...

Yeah well, nicely said. But the answer is obvious to people who live here and pay attention, don't live in a bubble.

Milwaukee is getting to being S. Africa just with a lot of latinos as a major mystery third variable. How will they address/engage this game down the road I wonder.

The logic you touch on works out like this: Whitey can lay down and take a beating until he's finished, or he can be The Man and act like it--which is not the image of Tom Barrett or Nan Hegarty. It's not Hitler either, but a lot of people think it is and for other reasons as well prefer option #1.

Those who consider themselves the nails in life tend to be pretty machiavellian. They don't believe we can all get a long, but they'll play that game because they see it can be played so that they win and others lose. This is altogether pretty smart.

They are right--the reality of life is it's a zero-sum game, you're a hammer or a nail. Probably some of both, but total it all up, you're either on the inside or out. Outside the bubble of our affluence, most of the world is unambiguously composed of nails.

Nails will never not see a hammer as a hammer. Do you want to be feared or loved by the nails--keeping in mind the love option is all kiss-ass phoney. Fear in the biblical sense--"respekt" on the streets--is real and granted as a matter of course; it's a function of and proof of authority.

Most white minds submerged in the guilty pleasures of late capitalism don't jive with that anymore, regard it as primitive, fearful, and an unPCness that even most 'conservatives' uphold. Most of the world however admits it readily and always has.

You said:
"Conservatives are amazed that, while Milwaukee's central city is plagued by an intolerable level of violence on a daily basis, the issues that have generated the most energy within that community over the past year have been..."

NB: You could make the same statement about Iraq/Iraqis. Naivete about power, about one's own power and that of angry tribes fueled by intense ethnic chauvinism, is a devastating weakness.

The past 30 or so years in the USA are an anomaly in the full sweep of history. A chance veneer of security and prosperity plus lukewarm and leftover marxism permeating the world has created a situation in which being a soft wimp is considered by many to be a great virtue. Rich--at least in the eyes of many--soft wimps are targets.

The world population is best broken down politically into 1) tribal blood & soil traditionalists well seeded with Marxist articulations of natural resentment, and 2) the soft, urbanized bourgeois, which is overwhelmingly of european descent but a global minority and shrinking by the minute, mainly in europe.

Caught between those two identities, you have lots of people like McGee Jr. who are pretty well urbanized, bourgeoisifed 1st worlders but for whom this is in itself an instrinsically fearful, stressful, unstable identity tied as they are by a deep sense of blood tie to their people.

In their own other way, the scots-irish "redneck" culture written about by the uber-right wing democrat from VA, are in the same boat of experience.

I can't flesh this out as fully or as seriously as it deserves here, so I will just indicate an unpacked example:

Thabo Mbeki, president of S. Africa, former S.A. Communist Party, educated intellectually in the UK by leading Marxists and trained militarily by the USSR.
http://business.iafrica.com/features/751448.htm

He is, as the article says, a member of the small S.A. black elite.

If he were a Milwaukee 6th District alderman, maybe he'd live on Commerce st. or a RW bungalow.

That is why the guy has to work so hard to keep a "radical" image.

from the article on Mbeki:
"Yet, if South Africa’s politically connected black elite has sometimes made it hard to sustain this crude black and white narrative [noting politics is not all white vs black people but there are class division among blacks that are constantly denied by blacks, particularly the elites], the unmistakable imagery of an embattled president fending off an incipient rebellion by his own black constituents inside the ruling African National Congress (ANC) ahead of its policy conference later this year, has now rendered it untenable."

"Paradoxical? Yes, but par for the course of a desultory economic empowerment process that has entrenched the privileged position of the established business sector, enriched a few well heeled blacks, and marginalised many."

"It is this latter constituency that President Thabo Mbeki has failed to win over to his side in a 'them versus us' racial bon-fight he has fomented in his attempts to rationalise the government’s failure to narrow South Africa’s severe wealth inequalities."

"There are 12 million people, 61 percent of the economically active population, who are either unemployed or underemployed. The figure rises to about two-thirds for black Africans of which 6.2 million, or 73 percent, of those who supposedly work earn less than R2500 a month, according to the March 2006 Labour Force Survey."

----

Those are the keys to understanding McGee and the cultural logics he rides on. Expose him as an elite tied to a bunch of other fairly affluent black businessmen (principally Geritol Jones) and a man who does not sleep anywhere near the heart of his district, then note the deep needs and suffering of his district...he's done. But the hard part is cracking the "need to believe" on the part of the truly disenfranchised. They would rather march behind fake comrades who at least look like them and have achieved iconic "leader" status than fight their own leader-exploiters. That's not a game that's known.

Rich said...

You write:
"Patrick McIhleran . . suggested that proponents of the city's "cause" who want suburban money need to listen to suburban viewpoints."

That only makes sense. But no problem of this kind was ever solved by orders from on high. That's classic, proven, economic development practice--which goes double for crime & safety issues.

So I've gotta shake my head when you say:
"Maybe the answer is that we have no business giving a damn."

Suburbs exist because folks didn't give a damn in the first place. It's easier to opt out of being part of the solution in the city center, and just move a few blocks west or north or south across the municipal boundary. I know; that's what my Dad's family all did.

With economically successful residents taking their tax base to surrounding communities--and with it their expertise and social networks and shared culture--central city's decline/collapse was inevitable (regardless of race).

"But there is a body of opinion that explicitly rejects Patrick's argument. . . . Conservatives, suburbanites and, for that matter, whites should shut up, listen to the oppressed and do what they are told."

This is, flat-out, false. I don't see anyone telling "whites" or "conservatives" or the Mayors of Wauwatosa and Waukesha and Delafield what to do or what to say. That's simply not the case.

The reverse, though, is true. There's never been a shortage of suburbanites with opinions about what's wrong with the city they're no longer a part of. Too often with racially-tinged language.

Mr. Eisenberg, you implicitly argue for the opposite of your complaint. It's pretty clear you AND/OR Milwaukee conservatives believe that "Suburbanites" (white & conservative) should be in control of the decisions, and everyone else "should shut up . . .and do what they are told." That belief is what has always made Milwaukee-area conservatives uncomfortable with democracy in the City of Milwaukee. You don't want to work for it.

That's not hyperbolae! If you think I'm wrong, then you have only one option to prove it:

Propose a merger of all municipalities bordering on the city of Milwaukee, forming one, unified Metropolitan City. Mequon, West Allis, Wauwatosa, Brookfield, New Berlin, Oak Creek, Whitefolks Bay, Menomonee Falls are all required, and Waukesha has to be in for any scenario to be realistic.

You'll get the say you claim you want--and with it, the responsibility every citizen shoulders in a democracy. If, of course democracy and responsibility is what you're after. Because the surburbanite, from their safe perch, evades that--fiscally, socially, democratically.

That's the only way to restore a functional city in which NO ONE can continue pretending they're not part of the problem--and part of the solution.

But then, Mr. Eisenberg, you'd have to give up pointing fingers, and get to work.

If you don't get a favorable response to this perfectly reasonable proposal, then that exposes the hypocrisy in demanding that a sovereign city "take suburban viewpoints into account."

If you fail to propose a muncipal merger, it just exposes your persnickety finger-pointing as a fraud, incapable of any real self-examination.

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