Left Ideology and the Non-profit Industrial Complex (Guest Post)

DanBy Dan Nissenbaum,  Brattleboro, VT

Wade, thanks for getting into the (what-should-be-obvious) hugely important issue of the divide between those with a college degree and those without. This is as easily discrete and tangible, and definable, as the difference between blacks and whites (in fact – much easier to define). Yet it gets much less attention than the racial and gender divide. Identity politics is a failure, though it probably wouldn’t be if citizens groups and cooperative community movement were a focus of the left (which, obviously, they are not – they were crushed by the non-profit industrial complex which rose from the cultural shifts of the 1960’s and have led directly to the Hillary Clinton brand of feminism). I am glad you are addressing this issue.

My sense is that cooperatively owned organizations had quite an impetus in the 1960’s. I have no doubt they grew from similar movements in the 1930’s and 1880’s that I know little about.

Organizations focusing on their identity as citizens’ groups and on the time of their membership, rather than the money of the membership (though funded by small dues) – the union model, or at least the best of what the union model can and should be, a model that can work for tenants and consumers, not just working people – are the antithesis of the non-profit model.

The model of social change shifted to divert our community involvement into paying individuals to “do the work for us” in non-profit organizations that grew to be funded and supported not by the time and dues of members, but by grants from wealthy individuals, investment funds, and government, with almost all actual work done by paid, full-time individuals siloing the issues into single-issue politics.

That is exactly what we see today. There’s no discussion today of cutting the work week down to 20 hours, which would actually give people time to be involved in their community, in politics, with their family, and to take care of their health. There’s few organizations able to shift their focus and work on radical platforms that embrace many issues, not just the single issue of the non-profit.

Instead, the impetus to gain a college education (and beyond), and establish a career, goes unquestioned and is considered a necessity for those who wish to engage in the non-profit industry. Within most non-profits, the degree is a requirement. Some social-justice-focused non-profits attempt to involve “the base” by bringing on a handful of folks without degrees, but it’s rarely discussed with the weight of importance given to ensuring that those hired are diverse in terms of gender and race.

Note that there are essentially no non-profit organizations devoted to challenging the privilege of a college education (and beyond). Instead, those same non-profits which dominate our political landscape are composed of people who have those very degrees, and I am convinced that there is a disproportionate number who have degrees from the better colleges and universities.

I think the reality of the nature of work life today is very different from what has become a mythology – that the most privileged and desired jobs are jobs in the corporate world, or in technology or business. I think reality has changed. In this day and age, I think the most desirable jobs are those in the non-profit complex. Nobody wants to fight with their heart and soul for the privilege of working in a cubicle or for a huge corporation for their entire adult working life paying off heavy debt from technical or professional training, unable to spend much time with their family or in their community. Instead, people want to engage in service.

There is a common idea on the left that you can’t expect the corporate media to challenge its own existence. I think the same dynamics are in play with the non-profit industrial complex.
The reason that the obvious and critical divide between those with a college degree and those without is, simply, a non-issue on the left, just as the issue of a 20-hour work week is a non-issue, is because the moral arbiters of the left – those funded and supported within the non-profit industrial complex – themselves benefit quite highly from those degrees. They may challenge racism and sexism to some effect, but they do not challenge their own privilege within the non-profit system.

Slavoj Zizek points out that as severe as racism and sexism are in our culture, opposing racism and sexism is something universally supported on paper by almost every CEO of almost every major corporation in the world. I think it will remain “on paper” until the “undiscussable” privilege of the non-proifit industrial complex itself is put on the table.

4 Responses to Left Ideology and the Non-profit Industrial Complex (Guest Post)

  1. I think what is undiscussable on the left is the whole issue of class privilege. The left is dominated by people who come to it with a lot of privilege already, and they expect that privilege to carry over into the “radical” organizations they dominate. I am so f-ing sick of these parasites lecturing me about political correctness. No wonder the left is so weak in this country.

    I know I am pretty much repeating what the writer already said. I do believe, though, that the issue isn’t college degrees. There are plenty of rich snobs out there without degrees who are insufferable.

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