Sylvia Wynter

Sylvia Wynter thinks with particular clarity the eugenicist moment, the (social-) darwinist moment, in the establishment of the “totemic signifying complex” of racial categorisation: that it really is a question of posing “the selected versus dysselected, the evolved versus non-evolved, on the only still extra-humanly determined order of difference which was left available in the wake of the rise of the physical and, after Darwin, of the biological sciences”.

Take those to be the axes and operators of discrimination, and you can readily adjoin all the other derogations of humanity which operate in contempt for the disabled, the unemployed, the unproductive and the unreproductive: “our Otherness creates not so much a White identity as a bourgeois identity, with whiteness serving, together with non-whiteness and blackness, as part of a totemic signifying complex. But as one whose indispensable function is to suggest that the value difference between (bourgeois) Man and its working-class Others is as supraculturally and extra-humanly ordained as is the the projected value difference between Indo-European peoples and all native peoples, at its most total, between white and black”.

This isn’t (at all!) a collapsing of race into class, but a theory which enables us to bring into focus the symbolic infrastructure binding racial derogation to class derogation, or enabling a traffic in contempt between the two. Who are the Selected? It’s a question like “who are the Elect?”, but framed entirely in terms of socio-economic performativity (and yet fundamentally dependent on a projected “supracultural” order of speculative anticipation, as if we were placed somewhere on a fitness landscape at birth and expected to perform accordingly).

What Wynter is pointing to here, I think, is a background set of assumptions behind the “utilitarianism” of homo economicus, assumptions which have to be naturalised in order for the machinery of difference to operate. You can’t have a “meritocracy” without actionable distinctions of merit, and these are charted in advance by a contemporary “astronomy” of projected cultural and (above all) biological traits: “it is only this new biological conception of being human that would make it possible to the ‘the name of what is evil’ as that of being dysgenic, that is, in terms of a ‘significant ill’ defined as that of dysgenicity or of ‘life unworthy of life’“.

That is absolutely, right now, the rhetoric of contemporary neo-fascism: with this formulation, Wynter provides a perfectly clear X-ray of Nick Land’s racism and that of the “race realists” around him.