Hats, Rabbits & the Ideology of Individuals

August 18, 2016

Paradoxes of bourgeois feminism — Voices from all well-meaning quarters remind us that, despite it all, we ought to be satisfied with likely election of the first female president.  The complexity of such a position is ignored by its representatives, who treat it as common sense.  But such a view involves a sleight of hand that pulls universal social significance out of the hat of individuality.  The ideology of perfection through self-engineering and self-entrepreneurship whose keystone is the “individual” reaches dizzying heights of perversity in the claim that an individual narrative of “breaking the glass ceiling” is somehow a social achievement, let alone a reliable index of society.   The public sphere has started to sound frighteningly dystopian. While the inconsistency of such a position is frustrating, it is not surprising.  Bourgeois feminism depends upon the same double-think that implemented neoliberal order across the globe.  The same ideologues who first demanded, then celebrated the end of the twentieth-century political movements for social transformation as dangerous “social engineering” aimed against the moral reality of the“individual” are the very same power-players who have carried out the largest project of social engineering that history has yet coughed up: the uncontested and unfettered rule of free-market capitalism and its representatives across the earth.   The creation of the empty, impoverished, identity-obsessed monad as the basic social unit — the invention of the “individual” — involved momentous political revolution.  Throwing “the individual” in the spotlight leaves in darkness the genuine social coordination and social achievements of the ruling class as social operators: the entrenchment of capital as the only valid form of social production and reproduction.  Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly have momentous, genuinely universal and social achievements. These, however,  will have less to do with her as an “individual” or representative of an identity, and much more with her social function as a supervisor of the interests of a ruling class whose power, resources, and unquestioned hegemony are historically unparalleled.

As always, the perseverance of a contradiction indexes the force of a wish. In this case, the wish echoes the ideology.  That the managerial and professional groups unite behind Clinton shows their genuine desire to be a unified class.  The contradictory demand that we bend knee to the universal figured through the meritomaniacal individual  is complemented by the fantasy that the professional and managerial types that profess and manage “individuality” at the expense of any critical social consciousness form, not only a class in the objective, strict sense, but even the universal class that will deliver us from fascism — a fantasy underwritten in this case by a not inconsiderable machine of power, wealth and influence, but in the last instance written by an all-too predictable desire.