As we saw when analyzing the policies of the European left in government, the discourse of vulnerability is by no means innocent: it serves to undermine the universality of social policies and to prepare the conditions for the termination of the universal nature of basic services such as education and health care. But the discourse that seeks to center "the vulnerable", harped on ad nauseam, not only foments material change, but also fuels cultural changes and equally destructive ideological operations.
Vulnerability as an identity and authoritarianism
Food bank in Tenerife
The constant talk of vulnerability can be traced to the identitarian matrix of feminism and its ethics of care and links up with the most malicious and profoundly Christian vision of the poor and its sense of social justice, later reused by fascists and Peronists.
Redefining ourselves as vulnerable, as a part of the social body paralyzed by the disease of crisis and pandemic, the ethics of care orients every claim we make to the need to be cared for by others, by social doctors and mothers of the vulnerable.
Against the so-called ethics of care, 4/5/2021
Were we exaggerating? A recent macro-survey conducted in France "highlights the demand for protection from a society concerned by a whole range of threats." 79% said they believed that "a real leader was needed in France to restore order". The main danger: deindustrialization, identified with the transition to an economy of precarious workers for whom more protection was demanded. The results also showed an evident xenophobia: 66% said they felt that "there are too many foreigners" in the country.
In the U.S., the picture is not very different. Trumpism thrives on the feeling of vulnerability. Its core working-class voters suffer from what the Democratic media call a mortality penalty, that is, disproportionately high levels of so-called deaths of despair (suicide, overdoses) and of illnesses, injuries and emotional disorders linked to poor working conditions.
From 2005 to 2019, an average of 70,000 Americans died annually from deaths of despair (suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol poisoning)(...) Counties with more respondents reporting lost hope in the years before 2016 were more likely to vote for Trump..
America’s crisis of despair, A federal task force for economic recovery and societal well-being, 10/2/2021
In other words: "vulnerability" as an identity has found a "strong leader" in Trump, something which is still being sought out in France.
"Meritocracy", the "B" side of the discourse on "the vulnerable"
Siege of the Catalan Parliament by the 15M movement in 2011, the climax of the movement of the plazas.
The cited report, full of racist considerations about the decline of the white working class, was later reviewed in a New York Times article significantly titled "There are two Americas now: one with a B.A. and one without."
They arrive at the idea that, by temporarily mitigating the credit bubble, a college degree would guarantee protection from vulnerability and the human meat grinder that feeds on it.
This is obviously false. Neither in the U.S. nor in any other highly capitalized country does a college degree guarantee class advancement for the children of workers. It does not even guarantee today access to working conditions that were considered assured a few decades ago for skilled workers. The concentration of workers' wages around the minimum forms part of the new productive model. Young people are not going to be exempted from it.
But ideologically it is useful to maintain the myth. In countries like Spain the identitarian bombardment in the university leads graduates to rebel not against precarization but against proletarianization. And it since it cannot be otherwise, it is done on a individualistic passive-aggressive basis.
When journalists and sociologists look for the arguments of the protagonists of the current record of resignations and job desertions what they find is the old petty-bourgeois arrogance in action among children of workers with degrees: "I did not study a career to serve dishes".
The supposed right that a university degree would confer on somebody to become at least a foreman -to form the ranks of the corporate petty bourgeoisie- would be granted in a meritocracy, a discourse inherited from 15M and a central part of the movement's ideology.
It may be shocking that young people from working-class families fear proletarianization and embrace the idea that they paid more dues (before whom? by doing what?) than their proletarian parents, even though they have known nothing else in material terms than the working-class life of their families and neighborhoods. But in the end, that's what identitarian logic is all about: believing that the concreteness of social reality in one's life is due to belonging to groups based on preferences or an essence that lies outside of social divisions and classes. Nor does this come out of nowhere. This true archetype of alienated consciousness is the result of the great work carried out by academia and academic feminism.
It is inevitably destructive at all levels. In the first place, what happens when these young people enter a precarious labor market is that they discover that they are vulnerable and, instead of confronting the collective problem, they become frustrated for not gaining the recognition that they deserve for the supposed merit they carry with them in their CV. Thus, labor discontent is turned into a shapeless jumble of resentful individual complaints about the absence of an absurd recognition and a chimerical meritocracy.
Thus, diffuse collectives proliferate and function as networks of interest and emotional refuges. This way of acting tells us a lot about the mechanisms for channeling discontent. Instead of aspiring to change things or pushing to transform general conditions, discontent tends to create conjunctural gatherings of resentments and unsatisfied aspirations.
And perhaps the most cohesive mechanism of these groups is the feeling of superiority of those who form them, because what keeps them together is the conviction of its members that each of them has something special, something that differentiates them and that is not recognized; they deserve more than what they have, and their very belonging in the group only reinforces these impressions. (...)
All this does not tend to generate progress, but rather struggles of egos. And especially in environments that require qualification, where the outlets sought tend to be individual and grudges are encouraged both as a way to thrive and to maintain the general order. They do not promote changes and improvements, but private benefits.
Why are coworkers criticized so much?, El Confidencial, 16/10/2022
That is the outcome of the vile influence of the university and petty-bourgeois morality of 15M on the new generations of graduates : it brings the political impotence of the academic or literary fantasies of the last decade to the hard edges of today's labor organization.
But there is one more plane. The meritocratic ideology that inevitably arises through the categorization of precarious workers as vulnerable, not only poisons the most basic conversation and coexistence in the workplace, it also intimately destroys whoever clings to a discourse that is a true moral aberration, inevitably victimizing, classist and narcissistic all at the same time.
On the horizon, phenomena like those we see in China, where the ideology of the Chinese dream and the national rejuvenation of Xi Jinping also made an entire generation of children of workers who have attended college believe in a meritocracy. The outcome in the extreme is pathological: a true epidemic of lyers: young people depressed and passive to the extreme who lock themselves in their parents' rooms at home and never get out of bed, afraid to immerse themselves in the reality of a social world that does not recognize them.
The "vulnerability" discourse and the human meat grinder
A British working mother takes her daughter to the public library to play because she cannot heat the house they live in.
We are not in a time to test too many ideological stupidities. The immediate reality and perspectives are those of a capitalism that advances steadily towards war and massive pauperization.
And it has to be said loud and clear: The system makes us precarious and takes us on the path to freeze us, starve us and mobilize us one way or another for war, but only individualism and loneliness make us vulnerable.
Having to go to a public library to keep warm a few more hours after getting off work or having to skip meals and turn to a food bank only makes us fragile and weak if we take for granted that the solution is that the state, a strong leader or a protective mother who talks to us like little children, will come to protect us.
Of course they will come, be it a Meloni or a Diaz, and be received with open arms by a ruling class more than happy to give political power to anyone who will guarantee them the atomization and passivity of the workers while they not only turn to militarism and war economics, but also suck up income to feed the profitability of capital with any excuse and inevitably widen the income gap. Neither a Meloni nor a Diaz will bring more than minoritizing rhetoric and, at best, welfarism.
We cannot wait for anything. We must take advantage of the fact that we are concentrated as refugees in our own neighborhoods and extend the discussion, organize ourselves and stop being alone and atomized in the face of what they sell us as facts of nature and are nothing but consequences of an accumulation that is losing steam and of an imperialist war as vile as any other.
We count on you and keep our doors open. You are necessary, you don't need them.
- Accepting to define ourselves as "vulnerable" not only opens the way to the transition from universality to welfarism, it also disarms us and places us in the expectation of "strong leaders" who, with one rhetoric or another, only seek to reinforce passivity and atomization.
- The other side of turning workers into "the vulnerable" is the flight towards the individualistic claim of a supposed "meritocracy"; a narcissistic claim that poisons the work environment, pits some against others and morally destroys everyone, isolating and embittering them with no other horizon than helplessness.
- The system makes us precarious and takes us on a path to freeze us, starve us and mobilize us in one way or another for war, but only individualism and loneliness make us vulnerable.
- We cannot sit and "wait" for anything. We have to take advantage of the fact that we are concentrated as refugees in our own neighborhoods and extend the discussion, organize ourselves and stop being alone and atomized.