This episode’s guest is David Theo Goldberg, author and Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine. David is among the most significant scholars writing on race and racism over the last several decades. According to Paul Gilroy, few scholars have "done more to shake the field and to influence it, who've been more consistent, more prolific."
In this episode, we are in conversation with David about his books Are We All Postracial Yet? (Polity, 2015) and Dread: Facing Futureless Futures (Polity, 2021). David discusses the recent fabrication and reframing of Critical Race Theory by influential right-wing voices, the sense of dread that led him to write his most recent book, and his hope for a collective ecology of care.
Episode Transcription available here
Host: Ry O. Siggelkow
Producer: Adam Pfuhl
Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua
Music: Kavyesh Kaviraj
Episode Recorded on September 26, 2022
In Conversation with David Theo Goldberg
Ry Siggelkow [00:00:00] Hello. My name is Ry Siggelkow, and I am the director of the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Today I am delighted to be in conversation with David Theo Goldberg, Distinguished Professor at the University of California Irvine, and Director Emeritus of the Humanities Research Institute, a systemwide research facility for the Human Sciences and theoretical research in the arts. Professor Goldberg holds faculty appointments as Professor of Comparative Literature, Anthropology and Criminology, Law and Society at UCI and is a fellow of the UCI Critical Theory Institute. Professor Goldberg's work ranges over issues of political theory, race and racism, ethics, law and society, critical theory, cultural studies, and increasingly digital humanities. Along with editing and co-editing several significant collections on the subject of race and racism, he has authored numerous books, including The Racial State, Racial Subjects: Writing on Race in America and Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning, The Thread of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism, Are we all Post-Racial Yet?, and his latest book, Dread: Facing Futureless Futures. Thanks so much for joining me today, David.
David Theo Goldberg [00:01:24] Thank you. It's really a pleasure to be here. I'm thrilled at the invite and look forward to talking to you and your audience.
Ry Siggelkow [00:01:35] Since the global uprisings of 2020, which began right here in Minneapolis in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the burning of the third precinct, we have seen a torrent of books released on the subject of race, racism and anti-racism, in addition to the launching of many new anti-racist and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at schools, colleges and universities and even major corporations. In Minneapolis, for instance, several major corporations, including Target, Best Buy, etc. they've all launched special initiatives and have donated tons of money to organizations that are seeking to fight racism. In fact, if you attend a Twins baseball game over at Target Field, not too far away from campus here in Minneapolis, you will see in very large print on the wall of right field the words “end racism." And yet at the same time and at the same moment, we are witnessing a surge of political energy on the right to develop policies prohibiting the very teaching of so-called critical race theory or CRT. And we're seeing increasing bans on books that raise critical questions about race and racism.
So I suppose, David, I want to begin our conversation by asking you to speak about how you understand what is happening today, this shifting terrain, why these books and initiatives are now taking place at this moment across the board and with such speed and how they might relate to the history and current state of the critical study of race and racism.
David Theo Goldberg [00:03:13] Thank you. I'm afraid I'm about to add to that torrent of books. I've just completed a manuscript going into production today, actually, on the politics of critical race theory. So the question is absolutely timely.
Let me begin just by pointing to the fulcrum moment, obviously, because it's the Minneapolis moment of the public police execution of George Floyd that both galvanized the protest activity – in part insurgency, in part expression of concern – that made it absolutely palpable in ways that critical scholars and critical people and intellectuals had been pointing to but the broader public had kind of slid by: that racism in America is absolutely undeniable, even as it was being denied. What the Floyd execution did was both to make this absolutely palpable, but also to indicate that it was the latest in a long line – and neither the beginning nor the end of a long line of police killings – of deeply racist expressions in almost every context one could point to – within education, K-through-12 or higher education, within policing or institutional life, within recreational life, within sports. One can go on and on and on in the sort of way that it was both pointing to that, and pointing to this absolute litany of events that had taken place before, and highlighting the Breonna Taylor kinds of episodes and many others like them, and keeping attention on what followed as well. So after the Floyd killing, the Floyd murder. And it wasn't long after, you know, the people taking to the streets. And so it wasn't long after that that the right – obviously searching for a way to respond – relied on their signature kind of undertaking to push back. Not just that this is, you know, burning up cities in the way we saw in that summer of 2020. But there was a coordinated undertaking that was forwarded in the name of a single person, but was actually a much more concerted, almost conspiring undertaking led by the likes of the Heritage Foundation, which fronted this individual, Christopher Rufo, who was working not formally for them, but was in an unpaid position, along with Jonathan Butcher, an education scholar at Heritage and Gonzalez. Michael Gonzalez, I think, was his name. Another person who worked directly for Heritage. And the three of them, at Rufo's pushing actually, articulated a vision using critical race theory as its banner to go after and unfolding all critical undertaking of racism, all attempts to theorize critiques of racism to activate in the name of anti-racism and so on. Folding them all under the banner of critical race theory.
And Rufo was quite explicit, you know, whether it was absolutely his own voice or the voice of this triplet, that critical race theory represented an easy banner under which to gather the forces of anti anti-racism. Critical, speaks to all undertakings that are too academic and that you can push aside. Race, "oh we're so over that, we're so beyond it, we're in the post-racial moment." And theory, speaking to a kind of Marxist kind of undertaking. And indeed they recomposed, fabricated the history and formulation of critical race theory in this much more capacious way, as Rufo said, to be able to put anything crazy looking under its guise. I mean, his words, "crazy, looking right under its guise." And that, then, got taken up by Fox and the likes of other major radio podcasters who are reaching tens of millions of people and so on. And, you know, Trump slumped before his television appearance six weeks before the 2020 presidential election, saw Rufo interviewed on Fox News, I think by Tucker Carlson. And all of a sudden he said, "that's it." "That's my ticket for this election." And that then started the mobilization against critical race theory as the banner under which to attack all forms of anti-racism and to begin to redefine what they took racism to be. Racism was a thing of the past. If it occurred today, it was the function of bad individual choices, the bad apple in the ultimate, the good crate of apples that makes up America. That there was no structural racism, absolutely none. That we're in a colorblind society. And so they started pushing forward this notion of colorblindness and to say that if there's any racism today, the real racism is an anti-white racism. So that, again, their terms, I'm quoting them here.
So there's been this concerted, conspiring effort sponsored by the likes of the Heritage Foundation with very large sums of money behind it, that right wing forces both around Trump, but also more broadly, almost to a person, the Mark Levins of the society, the guy who was Edwin Meese's chief of staff, who became himself a major podcaster. He started out as a Never Trumper and became a very vocal voice of the Trump forces. You know, he wrote a book called "American Marxism" that sold 300,000 copies in the first three weeks, right? And, you know, maybe half of them were bought by his own foundation, I mean, who knows? But prompted it, you know, way up the scale to become a bestseller in the New York Times bestseller list. And so the themes got then elevated and pushed, not least by Rufo himself into schools, into particularly public schooling and school board operations, and became the force behind, for example, the Virginia gubernatorial election a year ago.
So there are two things that emerge out of this that I want to argue that are very important and I'll stop there. The first is what this twist in what the driving force of racism is today. Racism is not against people of color anymore. Or first and foremost, it's against white people. That fashions what I call deregulating racism. That what is undertaking at the same time that it's saying only or very largely white people are the people being pushed by racism or targeted by racism, that then licenses that form of deregulation, of licensing and entitling whites to say anything about other people, whether Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Asians, refugees, migrants. All the other others. To be able to say sort of nasty things about them and do nasty things to them, as we've seen ramp up in the wake of this movement. And then that the other is a larger undertaking also really led, I want to suggest, by the likes of Heritage and those supporting Heritage. And that is an argument about retaining power in the shifting demography of America. What the conservative right wing in this country are very concerned about, as you see it expressed all over the place, is losing power as a result of the changing demography. America generally in the next 15 years will look like California. There will be no majority. You can just trace it over the last three census takings, right? It's gone from 70, 70 plus percent to 66% to now in 2020, 57.8%. And just at the rate of the birth rate and death rate.
What is happening is that by the next census, it's going to be a kind of break even point. And you're seeing it showing up at the electorate. And so there's a dual undertaking. One is the attack on racism is being redirected on the one hand. And the other, of course, is around voting rights. The dampening down of the capacity of people of color and young people in particular to vote. And so what this project is about in my argument is the putting in place the pieces for maintaining white minority rule for the foreseeable future. I'll leave it at that.
Ry Siggelkow [00:14:42] I think this is why we see the resurgence of fascism and forms of policing and surveillance that we're seeing. But I still wonder about the response from and the rushing in by corporations like Target and Best Buy. And, you know, at universities all across the country, we have this strong sense, since 2020 especially, that racism is a problem and we need to fight it. And all of this energy and all of these resources are going into fighting racism. And I mean, I don't want to say that people don't have good intentions when they're doing this. But at the same time, how do we think critically about these institutions that have so historically and structurally and systemically been interconnected with racism and racial structures? How do we understand their movement to say they're against racism in this current moment?
David Theo Goldberg [00:15:41] So the first thing with respect to corporations is linked to demography, of course. I mean, the markets are shifting. The future of America. You know, if you look at the global population, only 11% are those of historically European so-called racial background. And the birth rates both in Europe and in places that Europe has left a racial legacy with in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, etc.You know, the white populations as a percentage of the population are shrinking.
So just in terms of markets, corporations understand that the future is in a very, very pluralising, mixed society, and they are preparing themselves for that moment. I mean, corporations in that sense often do think ahead precisely because they need to know about who's going to be buying whatever the products are from them, even as they're trying to shape their markets in order to buy their products. So there's certainly that.
The second thing to point to is that there's been now a 30 plus year history dating back to the 1990s and multiculturalism and so on of an undertaking by corporations to in a way shape how to think about race and racism from the point of view of their own corporate structures. And so you had all these multicultural sort of programs, not just in schools and universities, but also in the corporate world. That very notion of corporate multiculturalism in the nineties that was quite widely critiqued, a retraining of their workforce, part of whom of course, was also diversifying, but also getting the white workers to understand the shifting markets that were taking place and that then transformed into diversity efforts and now into the kinds of undertakings, again, always corporately structured and framed and and organized. And, as you say, well-intentioned.
I mean the fact that end racism is in football helmets and on jerseys and so on and so forth. These are all you know, I don't want to belittle them. They're all important messages, mimic kind of undertakings to get to populations and begin to shift the dynamic and so on. Which of course is also why there's a deep concern among conservatives as a shifting away from their vision. And the contrasting vision, of course, is color blindness.
So on the part of the Rufo Heritage inspired people going back to the 1896 Harlan dissent in Plessy v Ferguson, the segregation case. And we can come back to that sort of as we proceed with the question. More and more people who want to be included in institutions of higher education, who have managed their profiles very carefully throughout this period as well, or want to see themselves on the right side of history, they see the shifting ground beneath their feet.
And so even as they're moving, they're more comfortable moving slowly. And this, you know, the eyes of the former managing the shaping of the smooth movement over time. You know, we can't talk about the wholesale transformation of society all at once. We want to move piece by piece and see how far we have to go, where the discomforts are for us, what we're comfortable with, and just moving in bits and pieces over time. So it's both important that there is movement, but understanding that the movement isn't nearly fast enough to keep up with the dynamic that is shaping them, both in terms of the managerial structure, the corporate ownership structure. On the one hand, you know, who's controlling wealth, the spiraling inequality in the society, what's producing that spiraling inequality, who's controlling social media, drawing as a new form of messaging of the last 20 plus years and so on and so forth.
Ry Siggelkow [00:21:03] Yeah, I've been reading your 2015 book, "Are we all post-racial yet?". And I've been thinking a lot about sort of the strangeness of that book title today, in part because, you know, perhaps it's living in Minneapolis. I don't know where race and racism are talked about all the time. And we're seeing this mainstreaming of this discourse about race and racism. I don't really hear a lot of people advocating for a colorblind perspective within the circles I'm in. So I suppose to me, it's like it seems we're not post-racial yet. It's clear that racism exists and we want to talk about it. And yet I wonder if you could share some reflections on the argument that you made in that book and what, if any, new insights have emerged for you as the conditions have changed, as the discourse has shifted and taken on new form around race and racism since especially since 2020, but even since you published that book.
David Theo Goldberg [00:22:00] So the book was published in 2015, right? And it was written actually quite quickly after the quite extraordinary event we helped to run in South Africa on what was called archives. It was a summer institute on Archives of the Nonracial, where we took 60 people on a bus around South Africa across two weeks to all the key sites of anti-apartheid struggle. And we had people on the bus like Angela Davis and Ghassan Hage and Françoise Vergés along with younger scholars. And it was absolutely extraordinary. Achille Mbembe, was a co organizer and so on. I wrote that book coming out of that very intensive two weeks, what we call on the bus experience a different kind of Ken Kesey moment. And so that was in the late stages of the Obama presidency, of course. And when Obama was elected and in part through his presidency, people were pointing to it being the post-racial moment and obviously the forms of racism expressed against him within the period of his presidency and very quickly in its aftermath, which was Trump, of course, suggested that, you know, the post-racial moment is something of a make believe and a kind of fabrication. And I wanted the title to be a provocation. The publisher prompting maybe was the beginning of a new series of this, a series with titles with question marks. And this was the first book in that series. So we thought, well, okay, let's also ask the question. And the point I want to make in the book is: even if we give in to the claim that we are already all post-racial, I mean, obviously playing on the Glazer argument about multiculturalism, you know, we are all multiracial now. That famous title right in the mid 1990, this is 20 years later, of course.
What I want to claim is that even if one wants to say we're post-racial, we're not post racist. Right? So there's a distinction to be drawn between invoking race and acting and thinking and acting in racist ways.
And the conservative forces increasingly with Trump through today have wanted to insist that we're post-racial in the sense that we ought to be colorblind. This argument that we ought to make no recourse to race. And as soon as you make recourse to race, you're falling into the racist trap. That's the position.
And Rufo, again, is quite clear about and explicit about making that argument. And my response is, you can stop me from speaking in racial terms, but that doesn't stop you from being racist. Being colorblind just extends the facade behind which racism is able to operate without the terms, the critical terms, to identify exactly what it is that you are doing.
So colorblindness becomes a way in which what is being erased are the terms in order to be able to identify the wrongdoing being done in the name of race. And it's you know, that the recourse to colorblindness, that recourse to post-raciality is in turn, comes out of the sweep of the neoliberal undertaking to do a couple of major things. One is to individualize responsibility. So that each individual is responsible and only the individual is responsible. There's no social responsibility for Thatcherite neoliberalism. There's no society to be responsible, right? You're responsible for yourself. Again, she's quite explicit about tha.
And on the other hand, there's a kind of absolute dehistoricization of what leads to the present. Once history is erased, you're responsible from this moment going forward for who you are and what you are. And so post-raciality positions one as having no history. And so my response to the question, are we all post-racial yet? Is to say, yes, we are in a very particular kind of way. We are all post-racial, precisely because post raciality is the new new modality of racism, of denying that you had any intention to do anything racist when you are called out for doing something racist. So I can't be racist because I had no individual intention of doing that. I haven't invoked the terms of raciality. You know, the Trumpian move, right?
And so the updating of the argument from 2015 to 2022 is exactly the politics of critical race, of the fabrication of critical race theory as the dragon that/ Christopher Rufo and George is going to slay. The problem with Rufo's position is that the dragon was always a metaphor. It was always mythical. It wasn't. There never was a dragon as such. It was, you know, Islam or the Crusades or one can go on and on and on in that kind of way.
Ry Siggelkow [00:28:48] Thanks for that. In several of your books, you explore the historical origins of racial thinking and racial logic by attending to its philosophical articulations and cultural expressions. You also examine the role of the theological in the development of racial thinking and racial practice. I wonder if you could share your reflections on the role of the theological in the development and formation of racial thinking, and also the role of the theological in anti-racist struggle, particularly in the U.S. and South Africa, where there has been a very rich history of theological discourse as key to anti-racism, to the mobilization of anti-slavery abolitionist movements. We can think of the pamphlets of David Walker and the writings of Frederick Douglass, Maria Stewart, Anna Julia Cooper, but also Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela and the Black theology of liberation that emerged here in the United States in the work of James Cone and in South Africa with Allan Boesak and many, many others. Why do you think the theological in particular has become or historically has become a central site of racial domination and also anti-racist struggle?
David Theo Goldberg [00:30:02] It's a very important, important question. You know, from the outset, I mean, I've argued elsewhere at great length that racial configuration is a modern form of articulation in the sense that it dates back to the emergence of modernity towards the end of the 16th century and the beginning, you know, of voyages of discovery and the expansion of colonialism, the making of the new world and so on and so forth. And from the outset, the theological has played this bifurcated role as you're pointing to, being both the site of the formulation and surge of racism in its name. I mean, from the pulpit itself, you know, in the 18th and 19th centuries and so on and so forth, it was preached right from the pulpit, not just from the Christian pulpit. I mean, you find it in Jewish sermons and so on and so forth. Even as anti-Semitism was was a modality of it. And it was also a grounds for resistance, a taking up of scriptural possibility in order to be able to articulate it. And, you know, from the earliest moments, I mean, I think of Bartolomé de Las Casas in the Spanish context and particularly in the middle of the 16th century, where there were intense debates really sponsored by the Spanish state, about the possibility of enslavability of new world Indians in particular. And in the famous debate between de Las Casas and Sepulveda in Valladolid in 1552, Sepulveda drew on Aristotelian arguments about natural, inherent slavery. The slave was or is a slave by nature. Therefore, we can enslave those who are naturally enslavable. In this case, the New World Indians. And Las Casas, in relation to the New World Indians said, No, everybody is one before God. They should be treated accordingly. And he won the argument, but lost the war. And ten years later, the Spanish state was institutionalizing.
Now, Las Casas is a very important figure. On the one hand, his invoking scripture in order to resist the ensuing racism tied to and advancing slavery in that sense of advancing. On the other hand, he also owned African slaves. So having an openness to the non-enslavability of New World Indians because they're one before God did not prohibit him in his own mind from owning those he took to be not fully human. And so you're seeing, even in the same religious figure, this kind of doubleness of positioning.
Now, I want to complexify the argument just slightly by saying that up until the 16th century, really into the 17th century, religion offered the driving form of discrimination in the sense that those who didn't belong to the religion are fair game. I mean, the Crusades being a case in point. But you can look at other religions in similar sorts of ways. They're not one of us, they don't belong to us, they do not believe what we believe. Therefore we can go after them or protect ourselves in the name of protecting ourselves from them.
And from the early 16th century onwards, the shift really came from the shift of Catholicism or what we call Catholicism today to emergent Protestantism, the resistance movements of Luther, Calvin and others, the individuation of belief of faith. That shift came attendant with the shift in dominant forms of discrimination from from religious forms. And this took centuries over time from religious to racial forms. At least that's my argument.
And then the work I suggest that the theological was dominantly doing prior to that. The origin story. Kinship structure. Who belonged to whom? Creation of communities. Of the community. Of communities. I mean, all that important work that created belonging, right? That the theological and religion was getting slowly shifted increasingly to the racial through the 18th and 19th and into the 20th centuries.
And so you see that kind of doubleness of mobilizing otherness. Protecting against, you know, perceived otherness, fabricating otherness done through the theological on the one hand and the use of the theological on the other as a more progressive force to stave it off. To say, you know, there's another way of reading scripture here, one that is much more open, much more driven to equanimity, to equalness, to being all one before the higher order and so on and so forth. Again, whatever religion one ascribes to and and and that has remained with us sort of, over time and of course, taking on new forms of expression over time in ways where we're seeing today with evangelicalism.
There's a very interesting story, if I can just take a minute to tell you this. You know, in the wake of all this controversy around critical race theory, John, I think his name is John Daly. I'd have to look up the theologian at Dallas Theological Seminary who published what was called the ACT Bible. The ACT Bible, which was purportedly a re-translation of a colorblind Bible against critical race theory. And you know, what it did was it scrubbed all reference to kinds of people. So instead of Niger or instead of a particular kind of person or just a person, we just had people and so on and so forth. And, you know, the evangelical community kind of threw up at her. What, you know, is this for real? What's going on over here? And so within a few weeks, he had a buy now button on it. And if you clicked on the buy now button you'd see very quickly that it was intended as a spoof, as satire.
And what this theologian had done, somebody, a senior member of the evangelical movement at the convention, I think had declared that the Bible is colorblind. That colorblindness is in the Bible. You know, I mean there's no such consideration that requires extensive interpretation to be able to produce that kind of outcome. But you can see the way in which the attack on critical race theory was working its way into that form of evangelical Southern Baptist thinking.
And he came out and he said, no, this was intended as satire to show you how deeply perverse this would be for understanding in any complicated way that was attending to what the Bible and what the New Testament actually says. This is totally at odds with that. Can we get over this nonsense? And actually, if you clicked on the buy now button, what it took you to was to the Amy Jones, I think this song, baby, baby, baby, baby, something like that. Some disco kind of song, which would quickly tell you how silly this all was. But you can see the way in which this is sort of manifesting in, you know, otherwise serious people thinking about serious subject matters and the way the theological gets taken up, used, abused, reused, position, repositioning, articulations of arguments and so on and so forth.
Ry Siggelkow [00:40:15] I want to talk about your recent book, Dread: Facing Futureless Futures. I just want to read a quote here from the book for our listeners. You write, "Political depression is to come and to capture this gnawing sensibility seeping across all aspects of social life. Like a pit bull with jaws clamped around one's leg, tightly locked, not letting go. One gets politically depressed in the face of losing an election or vote, say, but that tends to pass more readily when one re-commits to the political process or struggle to ensure a better outcome next time. There has been some of that currently, to be sure, but this lingering sense seems deeper. It is not a momentary presence of a political candidate, burning issue or world historical caricature with whose commitments one basically disagrees. Political depression may cut more sharply in one cycle or another, depending what side of the issues one occupies. Nor is it simply the inconvenience of an unfortunate, more or less random experience. There is something else at work now, responding to larger, more tectonic shifts. Dread and its mutations act as a symptom, pointing to something not yet quite discernible or understandable. An uneasy sense of the anticipatory". Reading these words, I couldn't help but nod along. As I read this book, I thought, this is the book that describes the way that I am feeling. This uneasiness, this uncertainty, this sense of dread. I certainly feel it. I mean, the city of Minneapolis was quite literally occupied by the U.S. military just over two years ago now. And I could hear military helicopters above my home every night. I couldn't sleep. You know, I see the surveillance. And every time I hear these helicopters above my house, I stiffen. And I feel that same dread that you speak of; this sort of dread of a futureless future. But what is it and what are its implications for us politically, socially, even psychologically?
David Theo Goldberg [00:42:26] So this book, the thinking from this book kind of emerged at the moment of Trump's emergence,right? Like you and like many, many people around me, you know, I was getting out of bed every morning feeling this deep sense of unease, of not quite knowing what was gnawing at me every day, of knowing that there was all kinds of stuff I was against going on out there and that again, the ground shaking beneath the feet, but not quite knowing what's causing that. I live in southern California, of course, where the ground does shake beneath one's feet. And, you know, I had the famous Ionesco citation that always sits with me. "God is dead. Marx is dead, and I'm not feeling so well myself". And this was sort of sitting with me palpably, sort of every morning. I was trying to put my finger on how to name this feeling. And one morning, I got up- dread. That's it, right? And so I started looking around, sort of thinking, okay, who's written about dread?
What is then, obviously, rhe singular person. I mean, given the response to the theological question, you know, it was Kierkegaard, who before he wrote on the concept of fear, wrote an essay on dread. And dread was the sensibility exactly in the wake of your being abandoned by God or being abandoned by the conception of God so that there’s no possibility of reclamation. If God really is dead or if there's no recourse to God, you know, there's no redemption. I can't redeem myself in that kind of way and that kind of existential feeling of indiscernibility, of not quite knowing what it is that's gnawing at one. And so, as you know, the Trump as symptom dread, as symptom of this condition.
So I started thinking about what are the conditions. And of course, race is sown through all of this precisely because race positions people differentially in relation to the pressing issues of all of our time. And those issues had both ramified and shifted, shifted and ramified. And so the driving conditions were numerous.
I mean, just at that moment as I was writing the book, the pandemic kind of materialized literally in the middle of writing the book. And so it was like, okay, you know, this is getting real. Too close for comfort. But even prior to that was the environmental crisis, which, of course, was manifesting itself in a variety of ways. If you think of Flint, Michigan, and now Jackson, Mississippi, the lack of drinking water, you know. Earthquakes all over the place, fires, floods that we've just witnessed in the likes of Florida and so on and so forth. But going back, you can trace the magnification of all these undertakings. And then, you know, so are both environmental kinds of concerns. The end of the world is coming, the last frontier movie, quite extraordinary movie. Melancholia, melancholy of Waiting for the Apocalypse, Waiting for the comet to hit Earth.Well, we're waiting to produce our own apocalypse out of ourselves, so to speak.
And something else struck me as underpinning it that was exacerbated by both environmental crises, especially the pandemic. And that was a shift in political economy, so that what one saw emerging in a way out of neoliberalization, but almost post neo-liberalization, was the shift to that digital technology in particular was making possible.
And until about 2000, you know, digital technology was really email and search engines. Being able to reach parts of the world, it was open. There was a lot of celebration of its possibilities and so on and so forth. And what Google did in 2000, 2001 was shift from search engine to advertising platform and its profits manifested by 4,000% over literally overnight, within a year. You saw the emergence of Facebook suddenly, I mean, just one after another. The way in which, you know, as we were expressing likings of things, we were getting that pushed back to us, going by this, if you like this, you'll like this. And if you like this expression you will like the expression by these. And so the circles were getting smaller. And so the echo chamber was getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
And what I call the you know, Foucault and Bentham had the Panopticon. This was the Technopticon. Technology, forcing us to watch ourselves in this very micro framed condition in perpetuity. 24/7. And that then was exacerbating the very condition of aloneness of lack of capacity outside of our narrow circles to reach across broader modalities of sociality and so on and so forth. And as I say, the pandemic, you know, neo-liberalization.
In terms of economics, political economy has produced what is called event capitalism, right. So that they had figured out that events produced the extension of consumption. Whether it was festivals, church services, cruise ships, etc., etc.. You'd go to the event and then you'd buy everything surrounding the event all through the anniversary of the anniversary of the anniversary of having had a good time, right? T-shirts, disks, you know, CDs, postcards and on and on and on and on. Spotify kinds of representations and so forth.
And all those events which were mass consuming events came to a crashing halt with the pandemic. They were ground zero of what produced the very fast infection rates in ship travel. Going on these tours together, in church services, if you look at Seoul in South Korea, the manifestation came out of a church service where there were hundreds of people. All of a sudden they were infected overnight. Of festivals by going to a festival and not knowing where or who you got it from and so on and so. And all of a sudden, all those things closed down.
And what emerged out of that were new forms out of necessity, new forms of consumptive undertaking that further ramified individuation. And so dread struck me as a way of trying to get at the ways in which those forces sort of came together, new forms of political economy that manifested in the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro and Orbán and so on and so forth.
And finally, sort of what one sees emerging out of that, as I argue in the next to last chapter of the book, is thinking differently about the notion of civil war. But civil war is not just people picking up arms and firing at each other, though, of course, it's that. I mean, Syria and now Ukraine, Russia and so on and so forth. Civil war is about contested ways of being in the world. And so you can have these contested ways that are rough and at each other's throats without quite yet picking up arms. But that's the next step. And you're seeing that manifest in politics all over the place, including our country here in the US and so it was the politics of dread rather than the politics out of dread. The politics of dread is this manifestation of civil war.
Ry Siggelkow [00:52:17] Yeah. I mean, reading the book actually reminds me of how it is to read Kierkegaard, right. I mean, you get this sense of the existential and there is this sort of pessimism about it. But at the same time, there's a hopefulness to this book. And I wanted to highlight particularly the last chapter of the book. You say the counter to dread involves co-developing a collective ecology of caring. Such an ecology is not simply reducible to the 1 to 1, the face to face. It is not caring as affect, as caregiving. It concerns crafting infrastructures of social care, tools for conviviality. And I know that abolitionists like Ruth Wilson Gilmore speak of the importance of understanding abolition as about building rather than just tearing things down. And she emphasizes the need to build infrastructures of care. Drawing on scripture, of course, Martin Luther King Jr and the late bell hooks spoke of the importance of love as a praxis that has the power to cast out fear. They're citing the epistle of John here. So too, Paul Gilroy, has spoken of the importance of the convivial. And I hear Paul Gilroy in that quote that I just read. But I wonder if you could say more about what you mean by developing a collective ecology of caring. What does that look like, practically speaking, and how might that create the conditions and resources for a renewed hope amidst the dread that threatens to engulf us?
David Theo Goldberg [00:53:50] Thank you. Let me begin with I'm glad you mentioned Martin Luther King in the question, because it will allow me to link the past 50 minutes or so to the argument looking forward. You know, King's famous statement about having his children not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of the character is the single go to line that the Rufo crew go to for their, you know, for the lack of argument about color blindness. And what is absolutely crucially important for King as much in that speech as in pretty much all of what he speaks to, but particularly in the Washington speech that line comes from, is the pointing to the necessity of addressing the structural conditions, out of which racism is expressed in order to be able to move on to this condition of not being judged by the color of your skin, but the content of your character. So you can't just wave a magic wand and say, oh, I'm you know, I don't see color. Because you're claiming not to see color, you're seeing color in an ugly, ironic form.
In the infrastructures of care, the infrastructures are as important as the disposition of caring itself. In the way to articulate this, this is not just an individual sensibility where I'm treating the person. I'm directly interacting with the person closest to me in any interaction, you know, decently with dignity, with respect, with love and so on. As important as all of that is, it's also thinking in a broadly social context about what the infrastructural conditions are for the society, that everybody in the society, whether I know them or not, will be treated with equal dignity, care, entitlement, to be an equal member of the society and be able to get along both with each other, get along in their lives as well.
And those infrastructures of care need to have investments in them, the undertaking that there's a capacity to care for all members of society. You know, the caretaking society that identifies with the welfare state. Looking backwards from the 1950s to the 1980s was a welfare state that was designed only for those regarded as full fledged members of the state, namely white people. Very largely at that time. And then that got displaced by the individualization of neoliberalism. Where everybody had to care only for themselves and those immediately around them. Those they, so to speak, cared for.
And this argument about the infrastructures of care is a larger social infrastructure argument about what a caring society, what a society that cares for all its members should look like. So what with those infrastructures and the pandemic and environmental kind of crises speak directly to this. Who has paid the brunt, mostly for pandemic effects, for environmental effects? Poor people of color, environmentally poor people of color. You see this in Minnesota. You see this in California. You see this across the country. I mean, just think of drinking water. Which of the cities that have had lead pipes. One for two. Those areas of cities that are inhabited by poor people of color tend to be ten degrees hotter in summer than societies that are wealthier. Why? Because there's more greenery. Because there's been more invested in those social areas in wealthier parts of the city than in poorer parts of the city. Go on in that kind of way. Pandemic. Who has died? Who has more readily died? Who has been at the frontlines of caring for those who are brought into hospitals? People of color, mostly.
So the infrastructures of care are about crafting infrastructures, hospitals, schools, you know, those arrangements that are designed for the caring of society more largely. You know, old age homes, housing infrastructure. Which might be high rises and so on and so forth. You know how those are made in such a way that everybody equally benefits from them in a way that allows people to be convivial with each other, to use Gilroy's term, to be engaged in uplifting practices. You know, where we're holding each other up, but also, you know, rather than prisons, rather than private schooling, rather than private toll roads and so on.
Ry Siggelkow [01:00:12] It's a very compelling vision. And I wonder where we can find those resources for sustained hope and those resources to organize. Because we need to organize to build these infrastructures of care that you speak of. Well, David, I'm very grateful to you for taking the time to speak with me today. Your work is so critical and so necessary in these challenging days. Take good care.
David Theo Goldberg [01:00:37] You, too. Thanks very much. It's been a pleasure.