Alexander Bove responds to Racheal Fest

Racheal Fest’s response to Robbins’ The Beneficiary does well to bring us back to what makes it an original contribution to the field. What separates Robbins’ discussion of global inequality and the “pained” sense of injustice it instills from any number of discourses on globalization and capitalism—communism, after all, is itself the first self-proclaimed geopolitical movement in history—has to do with the way Robbins renegotiates the lines dividing the beneficiaries from the globally exploited (his argument for “self-abolition,” I would argue, is more indebted to Peter Singer’s type of humanism).  For instance, instead of comparing the haves and the have-nots within the United States, says Robbins, “what about, say, a comparison between the average poor person in the United States and the average poor person in Sierra Leone?” (110), thus potentially putting the poor US citizen in the beneficiary category. And yet, despite its macro, universalizing tendency, as Hensley pointed out, the brunt of the arguments about inequality keeps rebounding back onto individuals as such. A page or so after this appeal for us to see the class threshold as external rather than internal, Robbins engages in a lengthy discussion of remittances poor migrant workers send back to their homeland, El Salvador, as a means of “real redistribution of resources across the border” (112-3)—a line of thought probably not anathema to those employing the low-cost immigrant workers. This logic reminds me of Mark Fisher’s observations in Capitalist Realism about the way in which capitalism tends to translate structural violence (as a Lacanian Real outside symbolic reach of the system) into personal culpability (a false “reality” or ideology within the language of the system) precisely in order to commodify it (whether in the form of individual recycling responsibilities for the global climate crisis or pharmaceuticals for commodity-culture malaise). This structural sleight is also reminiscent of Peter Singer who, for instance, in The Most Good You Can Do advocates for turning promising students away from the arts and humanities, where their potential would be by his calculations ethically squandered, and towards the financial sector and large corporations so they can make immense sums to then donate back to the poor (the flip side of remittance as a redistribution model?). Is this, I would ask, really understanding these forms of structural violence in a “broader global context”? Or, in a strange way, using the broader context to obscure the big picture?

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