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General News    H3'ed 5/20/15

The Current Political Condition

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Message Basak Tanulku

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In this piece, I would like to discuss the reasons behind current politically-correct atmosphere which is characterised by a lack of class consciousness. How did we end up in this? This goes back to political economy, which emerged in the 1980s, all over the world. As everyone knows, this era has many names, such as "neoliberal", "consumer", or "global", along with many more beginning with a "post-" prefix, although all these terms may have alternative meanings in different theoretical approaches. During this period, almost all parts of the world, particularly the developed countries witnessed a restructuring of the economy through post-industrialisation and a shift to a service-based economy in which working in various service sector or creative and/or high technology jobs became the "musts" for a person in order to be considered successful and competitive among others. These changes were followed by shifting the heavy production to developing world, the bashing of trade unions and saying farewell to class-based politics, which led to the emergence of a new, more polarised, segregated and differentiated class structure. In this new class structure, the conventional middle classes have experienced a decline both in numbers and prestige, best represented by the public sector workers stigmatised for their perceived "non-job" jobs. Their declining status corresponds to a declining sensitivity towards accumulation and planning for the future, since a more differentiated consumer market with many products necessitated a throwaway society, with an apathetic attitude towards the environment, people and the future. The middle classes correspond to an ordinary and conventional way of life, restricted in 9-to-5 work shifts and households consisting of a married couple with two children and pets.

Instead, another group has benefited from this new economic system. Despite their small numbers in the workforce, they had a high social status and important symbolic power in society: they are the "new middle classes", a term which refers to people working in finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors or various creative or service jobs. They are people with a decent lifestyle characterised by the consumption of urban spaces full of nice neighbourhoods with cafes, boutiques, small restaurants, art centres, luxurious retail, residential and business complexes. They seem to accept any kind of social deviation which indicates their fetishism of difference, parallel with the political atmosphere created since the 1980s. At the same time, another group has emerged, corresponding to spending sprees, luxury brands, and seven-star hotels: the "new rich" who spend huge amounts of money in cities like London, New York, Istanbul, and Dubai, places becoming more similar to each other and characterised by a built environment created by world-known architects, and luxurious hotels containing toilets made of gold. They earn money out of thin air and can be regarded as 'rentiers', people who derive income primarily from speculation. By the impact of this culture, lots of people have become fascinated by the power of money and the lifestyles of celebrities.

In addition, the number of conventional working classes who earn a living through their labour has also declined due to the impact of outsourcing production to developing countries, a process developed by "globalisation". In this process, the productive working classes have lost their class consciousness made by labour and pain. They became stigmatised in everyday discourses through the terms such as "underclass" or "benefit-scroungers" and associated with a lifestyle characterised by consumption, celebrities, and football and tabloid newspapers, long-term unemployment, low level of education, and an attitude towards life which can be summarised as "no future". Their situation is legitimised by political actors and those who are dependent on and earn by such a political context, who see the working classes as an ornament in their everyday lives, like flowers in a pot which "beautify" cities.

Another reason of the decline of class-based politics is the segregation of working classes across ethnic and religious lines as the result of migration from rural to urban areas (within national contexts) and from developing to developed countries (in an international context). Developed countries and large cities in developing countries have received migrants who do not know how to claim their rights and can never be a threat to the existing system. Rather, they might lead to the emergence of right-wing ideologies among local people, who might regard migrants as problems in their societies. This is beneficial to big businesses, as migrants have become a source of cheap labour without being protected by welfare mechanisms, which allows businesses to easily generate profit from them. The migrant workers, due to their ideological background or lack thereof, cannot generate political opposition based on class. In addition, in case of any problem, they become scapegoats and are sent back to where they came from. As a result, there cannot be established working-class solidarity between migrant workers and local people, which explains the reasons for this differentiated and segregated society and who benefits from it. In the end, we have a politically-correct intellectual atmosphere exempted from any antagonism and a society characterised by consumption and speculation. Highly diversified social structure also leads to endless problems which cannot be solved, where people cannot form a consensus and create an alternative to the status quo, despite of emergence of many social movements.

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Basak Tanulku is an independent researcher from Istanbul, Turkey. She holds a PhD degree in Sociology, Lancaster University (the UK). Her main research areas are socio-spatial segregation, particularly gated communities and similar housing (more...)

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