Oli Mould (Royal Holloway, University of London)
The following Intervention is an adapted extract from Seven Ethics Against Capitalism: Towards a Planetary Commons, published by Polity in July 2021. The book identifies seven ethical “mind sets” that individually articulate ways of resisting capitalist oppression, but together can offer a way to build a planetary world-in-common. One of the ethics is minoritarianism, which is detailed in the following essay. More details about the book can be found here – https://tacity.co.uk/books/seven-ethics-against-capitalism/ – and in the trailer below.
The pandemic, as Arundhati Roy (2020) has argued, is a “portal”, and offers us the opportunity to reconstruct a world beyond a climate-destroying capitalism if only we (“we” as in a global multitude, not a select elite few [Hardt and Negri 2004]) can act ethically towards this new world, a planetary world-in-common. However, such a “planetary commons” (Mould 2021) cannot claim any ethical commitment to equity, if it does not recognise the inequality that has been created and perpetuated by centuries of capitalist development. Hence, an ethic of minoritarianism does this first by realising how the conflicting pathways of prejudice create different forms of subjugation, then by engaging in intersectional thinking, and finally, and most crucially, by empathetically engaging with those who have “Other” forms of subjugation.
To ground minoritarianism in the existing theory, it is important to turn to philosophers of Deleuze and Guattari, who devote a large proportion of their corpus to the notion of becoming, the constant state of emerging in the world, and the philosophy of “the subject” and its constant creation. They are adamant that we must always engage in becoming as it is this process that unsettles and destabilises the status quo, the core subject, the majority. But, as they are keen to point out, the majority is not simply a numerical advantage:
When we say majority, we are referring not to a greater relative quantity but to the determination of a state or standard in relation to which larger quantities, as well as the smallest, can be said to be minoritarian: white-man, adult-male, etc. … [T]he majority in the universe assumes as pregiven the right and power of man. In this sense women, children, but also animals, plants and molecules, are minoritarian. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 291)
The majority then, for Deleuze and Guattari, is the identity of the white adult male. It is not a simple matter of numbers; rather, the majority is the dominant force of the prevailing order. The majority actively creates minor subjects by othering, marginalising, and then labelling them as “outside” (often to then be co-opted or violently oppressed). The majority centralises power to an elite cohort who have the ability and mechanisms available to them to distribute resources that are generated by the co-option of new subjectivities. This has manifest across the centuries as processes such as colonialism, where rich, white European powers have plundered global South countries for raw materials and peoples, asserting their white supremacy on the globe. One of the more violent of examples is when King Leopold II of Belgium ordered mass genocide of Indigenous Congolese people in order to essentially “asset-strip” the Congo of its rich raw materials (notably rubber) and redirect the profits back to Belgium to build palaces and fund his extravagant lifestyle. Equally as barbaric was the killing of the Kenyan Mau Mau people who were revolting after British Imperial rule for decades. There are of course many, many more equally horrific cases across the “New World” in the Caribbean, India and Asia.
Fast forward to the present day and the institutionalised racism that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has exposed, pervasive societal sexism (exemplified by the #EverydaySexism and #MeToo movements), transphobia, Eurocentricism (such as the Mercator world map projection), prejudice against those with disabilities; these are all symptoms of a capitalist state that holds a particular kind of identity as “powerful” and everyone else as marginal. Indeed, such a process is necessary for capitalism to grow. To continue bloating the resources of those who already have too much, they cannot take from each other, so they have to continue to maintain a marginalised “Other” to exploit, and to blame when things go awry.
So the minority is therefore identities and experiences that have been cast “outside” of the majority by the powerful, either as unwanted and disposable, or as a resource to exploit (via co-option and appropriation). The ethic of minoritarianism then foregrounds those minor subjects and how they are “created” via institutionalised prejudices, and creates spaces where those prejudices are resisted and nullified. No mean feat, for sure, but a planetary commons, if it is to maintain the ethical fidelity to a more equitable future, then such a process, as Deleuze and Guattari would argue, needs to be undertaken by everyone including the minorities. They argue that “Woman: we all have to become that, whether we are male or female. Non-white: we all have to become that, whether we are white, yellow, or black” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 470). In so doing, they are asserting that in order to subvert the prevailing order, all subjects must become-minor, and, critically, continue to do so thereby evading the co-optive nature of capitalism, and hence try to imagine a world beyond “capitalist realism”.
This idea of “capitalist realism” is the work of the late, great Mark Fisher (2009), who died in 2017, and has been hugely influential for those who theorise a world beyond capitalism. The title of Chapter 1 of his book is “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, a phrase originally attributed to Fredric Jameson and/or Slavoj Žižek, which has become somewhat of a memeified slogan. Pictures of shoppers clutching Versace bags while knee-deep in flood waters in Venice; amused diners in Burger King snapping a pic through the glass wall of a Parisian gilets jaunes protester fighting his way through a cloud of tear gas; golfers teeing off while wild forest fires conflagrate behind them; a “Covid-19 essentials” shop opening in a mall in Miami; these have all been used with “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” as a caption on various social media platforms. The indication being of course that while climate change, pandemics, and global uprisings surge around the world, consumerism continues regardless.
One of the most striking analytics of Fisher’s book is his use of cinema to vivify his theoretical musings. The chapter that launched a thousand memes opens with a description of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men. The film, itself an equivalent work of searing artistic critique, Fisher argues is so prosaic because it shows us a world that is ending – the film depicts a society in which children are no longer born, hence humanity is heading for extinction – but one in which people also still go to work, shop, are advertised to and consume; “internment camps and franchise coffee bars co-exist” (Fisher 2009: 2).
If you have not already done so, I do urge you to go and both watch the film, and then read Fisher’s book, as his analysis of it is far more eloquent and beautifully gloomy than anything I could ever do (plus, I am about to give spoilers). Because one of the central plot themes is another vehicle for thinking about capitalism’s trajectory, but also helps to conceptualise the ethic of minoritarianism. The central character, Kee, is the woman whom, we find out halfway through the film, is pregnant. Kee is a young, Black, evidently working class migrant woman. The film then pivots into a standard heist-style movie, where the male lead, Theo, attempts to get her to a secret scientific commune called the “Human Project”, while warfare, concentration camps, violence, and protest continue all around them.
There is a quite ethereal part of the final act in which Theo and Kee, after she has had her baby, are exiting a building during a bout of urban guerrilla warfare. The cries of the baby stop the soldiers dead in their tracks. As Kee cradles her baby and walks by them, all the soldiers peer at the baby in silent amazement before a mortar strike signals the start of the cacophony of war once again. It’s almost as if the sight of the potential continued existence of the human species is not enough to stop people from maintaining the processes of state violence. As Theo leads Kee away from an activist who is attempting to take the baby into his own care, the activist shouts, “We need the baby, we need him!”. Theo simply replies, “It’s a girl”. Theo is killed shortly after and the end of the film sees Kee and her baby rescued by the Human Project, with the distant sound of children laughing as the screen fades to black.
That the film portrays the potential saviour of humanity as a young, Black, working class migrant woman, I don’t think is an accident. It is statement to affirm that the world of white men is violent, destitute, hopeless, and riddled with capitalist realism. To emancipate ourselves from this dystoptian future, we (the “we” as defined above) must seek to be more like the minority groups of this world, and let them lead the way to a more hopeful future for our children. As a young, Black, working class migrant woman, Kee and her baby signify the many subjectivities that are marginalised and oppressed in this world by institutional sexism, racism, classism and the rest. And to me, this is a perfect allegory for minoritarianism: it is fundamentally an ethical alignment with oppressed marginal subjects, whether we are ourselves marginalised or not, in order to understand how the oppressive institutions of capitalism work, and how they affect the lives of everyone. The struggle for equality has always come from the margins and from oppressed people. From Moses’ emancipation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, through the Suffragettes gaining equal voting rights for woman, to the continual struggle for racial justice in the modern world, equality is not bestowed upon people from above; it is won from below.
No Such Thing As Reverse Racism
Building a world beyond this capitalist realism – a better planet in common – with this minoritarian ethic in mind radically problematises the perceived notions of “reverse racism” (where white people can be oppressed by Black people) and “reverse sexism” (where men are deliberately disadvantaged by women). Within the contemporary throng of modern media, there is a plethora of voices (largely emanating from the alt-right and their “intellectual” paragons) that contend that the drive toward gender or racial equality comes at the detriment to male and/or white identity. In brief, white men are claiming that they are the ones that are being oppressed by feminist and anti-racist movements such as #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter (spawning movements such as #AllLivesMatter in reaction).
What these movements are carefully designed to do is to deny the long history of minority oppression (of females, non-white, disabled, queer, and/or working class identities) that have built up over millennia of majoritarian rule. To claim that, for example, men are being discriminated against in the business world because of potential laws that would necessitate 50% female membership of corporate boards is an attempt to deny becoming-minor. That men make up 80% of corporate board membership globally (CSRI 2019) is no accident. It is because of an economic system that has been built by and for masculine identities. And this system has been built upon a long history of European mercantilism that again has white male power as its overwhelming identity. And this entire system is built upon the oppression of non-white and non-male identities. To claim that the last few years of female empowerment are somehow an affront to the white male rule that has sedimented in our politics, economies and societies over millennia is, at best, a stretch. What it is instead is the continued attempt by the majority to maintain the othering of minor subjects on which elite wealth can be built and maintained.
When taking a minoritarian approach, it is important therefore not only to acknowledge the structural nature of prejudices (rather than explaining them away as an individual character defect, known as the “bad apple” excuse [Braddock et al. 2020]), but also that each structure of prejudice has its own particularities and nuances (racism against Blacks is not the same as racism against Travellers, for example). As such, the ethic of minoritarianism will “look” very different depending on the time, place, space and system of oppression it is resisting. This is why there has been pushback recently on the use of the acronym BAME (see Fakim and Macaulay 2020), as it lumps together very different intersecting forms race and ethnicity unproblematically. To engage in the ethical practice of minoritarianism, then, is to be conscious of this constant ebbing and flowing between different structures of oppressive prejudice. It is a dynamic process where we have to be sensitive to different languages, symbols, and gestures of different marginalised groups. In effect, minoritarianism is a constant process of becoming minor, in the Deleuzo-Guattarian vein. We have to become, and then stay becoming-minor.
Moreover, when fugitive lines of marginality careen into each other, the subsequent hybrid subjects that are created are new and alien to capitalist structures, and thus provide spaces for those marginal subjects to voice their concerns, create new protocols and, if lucky enough, celebrate their difference. Think of the large-scale protest marches and rallies of Black Lives Matter, and those that are occurring in response to climate change (e.g. the Extinction Rebellion protests). These events create spaces were people can convene, debate, and perform their hitherto oppressed subjectivities. The Black Trans Lives Matter march in June 2020 (see Grullón Paz and Astor 2020) would not have been possible without the emancipatory energies that were released by the broader Black Lives Matter movement. The Deaf community started Black Deaf Lives Matter in reaction to the lack of sign language on the marches and in protest rallies (Lyons 2020). In response, more movements all over the world have been using Black Deaf interpreters. Minoritarianism breeds further minoritarianism; it is ethically infectious. But can it be “scaled” to institutional politics?
Deleuze and Guattari’s vision of becoming-minor is critical in “breaking free” of majoritarian thinking, but, as this Intervention has shown, the specificities of which realms these breaks flee into are just as important. As Cindi Katz (1996: 494) has put it:
Deleuze and Guattari’s vision of the minor is promising because it creates new forms of subjectivity (both for “majors” and for “minors”); it recognizes (and depends on) the agency of “others” in precipitating crises and thus social transformation; it offers a theory of transformation that works from within a relationship of oppression; and it offers flexible means for thinking about practice in new and revitalized ways.
Therefore, via transcending the major-minor subjective dialectic, an ethical process of minoritarianism is being practised. There are of course practical and political endeavours that can provide the structural changes necessary to catalyse this ethical behaviour. There are movements within educational institutions both at school and higher education level to decolonise the syllabus. This involves changing what is taught in classrooms to reflect the structural racism that built the countries of the global North, putting more Black faces on lecture slides and reading lists, and using museums and cultural institutions to inform about the violence that acquired the collections. Many prestigious museums from around the world are attempting (too slowly in some people’s opinions) to educate and inform visitors of their colonial legacies and the illegal acquisition of their treasures. Initiatives such as the “Uncomfortable Art Tours” conducted in London of the V&A, British Museum, and National Portrait Gallery, among other places, are a pointer to these movements.
Also, reparations have been thrust into mainstream debate (within US society at least) when the Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates penned his now famous “The Case For Reparations” essay in 2014, which has seen reparations debated in the United States Congress (but also critiqued as neoliberal [see West 2017]). The call for global reparations from colonial powers to their former commonwealth is also growing louder, and with climate change disproportionately affecting global South countries, a system of resource reallocation from North to South will be inevitable. Both the decolonialisation and reparations arguments contain a minoritarian ethic in so far as they acknowledge the repressive regimes that the majority has imposed upon their minorities, and as such will be vital tools in enacting a planetary commons.
 You can listen to/read Akala’s beautifully morose spoken word poem on this general subject here: https://genius.com/Akala-maangamizi-lyrics (last accessed 2 August 2021).
 See https://twitter.com/olimould/status/1274960517032038404?s=20 (last accessed 2 August 2021).
 See https://www.theexhibitionist.org/ (last accessed 2 August 2021).
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