It seems a little bit of bad faith to me to critique the lack of riots in the U.S. and then say “Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to see cities burn.” Well, ok, I won’t “get you wrong,” you want some kind of middle ground between weekend recreational protest and, um, cities burning. Got it. Whatever that is. But obviously watching cities burn holds a kind of fascination, especially if it’s not your city, and that oppressed people are giving a big fuck you to their incompetent and corrupt minders can’t help but give a bit of cheer to anyone of left-of-center sympathies.
But TR is definitely keeping those complicated desires at bay — don’t get her wrong! — and instead shifting discussion to the safer terrain of, I don’t know, complaining about a lack of a general strike or whatever. This vague idealization of a nebulous ideal of an “activism” (a word that continually strikes me as a bit pathetic, at least etymologically) that is never quite right goes along with other cliches of thinking that radicals, whether or not they are tenured or have sufficient stock investments to be “a bit concerned,” should perhaps avoid, unless they want to come off rather more like Tenured Liberals.
First of all, your words. TR has dashed off this timely missive for her Chronicle column, so we can forgive a few infelicitous phrasings that could lead the reader to “get her wrong.” But really, do we want to characterize UK Uncut protests from earlier this summer as “a riot” and cite Time Magazine of all sources? The word “riot” easily slides into the kind of meaningless depoliticized “thuggery” we already see at work in the media framing of the uprisings in the UK. Why would a self-professed radical undercut the movement she herself calls for with this language? Why wouldn’t she point out the violent kettling techniques of the police, which have proven to cause injury and death? Might I recommend a new news service, such as Al Jazeera English, surely available on one of her 180+ cable channels.
Secondly, let’s not sell ourselves short. TR is rehearsing another trope, apathy, particularly student apathy. If you want to read endless griping about the condition of American college students, The Chronicle is your best bet.
This has all caused me to reflect on the extraordinary passivity of Americans, and of American students, who respond to reduced access to education by studying harder, getting better grades, and stepping on the people who can’t — or aren’t in a position to – compete any longer.
Well, maybe this is what happens at Wesleyan, where our Radical is Tenured, one of the “little ivies,” set in picturesque Middletown, CT. She might find something different at large urban campuses and public universities, where the response has certainly not been studying harder and getting better grades. Maybe it would have been more appropriate for TR to reflect on the passivity of American academics, who are responding to reduced access to decent jobs by… working harder, publishing more papers, and bitching in the pages of the Chronicle.
Pundits have a bad track record for predicting uprisings. These things can be hard to predict, surely, but especially if you are removed from the people getting hit with the most oppressive features of neoliberalism, or if you only interact with them in a classroom, as an authority figure, discussing academic topics. K-punk’s similar assertions of the passivity of British students (reprinted in his tract, Capitalist Realism less than two years ago) have been shown up. May we all hope TR eats her words soon. As Darcus Howe is at pains to explain, if you’ve been there, if your friends and family have been repeatedly victimized, this kind of thing isn’t really unexpected at all: