Joven-Romero, M.A. (2020). You are as special as everyone else. [Review of the book La trampa de la diversidad: cómo el liberalismo fragmentó la identidad de la clase trabajadora, by Daniel Bernabé]
Tondol Beach (Pangasinan, The Philippines) is probably the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. Crystal waters, coral sand, palms and a small islet at the end of the landscape. Still virgin with no hotels apart from some humble cottages addressed to the local tourists of the province. A day of 2018 I fled Manila, I arrived there and I found two couples of western foreigners with dreadlocks, the only foreigners apart from myself. While I was having a bath, some poor local children were taking star fish in the shore and were throwing them deep into the water as a matter of game. The foreigners shouted and scolded the children: You are damaging the starfish! A few moments later, the same foreigners were bargaining a meal in a humble local canteen. That meal costed 60 pesos -a bit more than one euro- and they required it to be vegan.
Some months later, a dumb foreigner was playing and feeding crocodiles with a fishing rod in a crocodile farm, still in the Philippines. He uploaded his stupid video in Facebook and quickly one of his friends replied: That’s not ecofriendly! In her analysis, the friend did not take into account that that crocodile farm fed poor families in the region. Actually, out of the last ten publications of the mentioned friend, two of them were memes or jokes, seven of them were related to ecologism and feminism, and only one of them was related to poverty and inequality associated to Mexican ethnic minorities.
Similarly, ecologists are boycotting diving with whale sharks in Oslob (Cebu, Philippines). But still, in their analysis they do not take into consideration that such activity improved the miserable material conditions of around one thousand people in the area.
January 8, 2020. The #FEMINISM event is taking place in Uptown Mall, Bonifacio Global Center, one of the richest cities in Metro Manila, where there is a luxury you can hardly find in western cities, in contrast to the miserable living conditions of more than half of Manileños. A bunch of young women wearing expensive trendy clothes and hairstyles sing, shout and show the same global feminist mottoes while some local media record the event. Feminist demonstration in March also take place in that city, governed by a counsel of big corporations’ representatives, the same corporations that built the city. At that moment, an anecdote of 2019 while doing some cooperation work in the poor district of Punta came to my mind. There was a young woman with some children and, after a short conversation, we trusted each other. I asked her about feminism, and she admitted having suffered sexism, but in a different way I was expecting. Far from being violent, her husband was lazy, did not work and used his time playing basketball or computer games. He even allowed her to have sexual relations with other men. But she had to work, supply money, do the housework and take care of the children. She confessed that many days she could not sleep. Sexism translated into a material inequality inside a class problem, something mainstream feminism does not pay enough attention.
Being a passionate of multiculturalism and multilingualism, when I came to the Philippines I was excited about the huge diversity of the country, with more than 180 languages. Rapidly I did and I am still doing some linguistic research, as I had previously done with the Aragonese language. But if in the latter case the main parameter to find good informants was the age, in the Philippine case the social class is the parameter to follow: rich people tend to acquire the lingua franca, English, and sometimes they even forget the community language, while poor people preserve it more pure. While researching, another question prompts my mind: Is it really worthy and ethical to work for the preservation of these languages when the real and urgent problem of these people is to improve their material conditions?
Here we arrive to go one of the key ideas printed by Daniel Bernabé in his book “La trampa de la diversidad” [From now on: The Trap of Diversity]. Diversity seems to be a good and even necessary value, especially in contrast to values of systems that try to eliminate it, like fascism. But diversity can be defended and promoted once material conditions are guaranteed for everyone, not before. The same friend who criticized the dumb guy feeding crocodiles with a fishing rod admitted the poverty problem, but she replied: We can and must work on all these causes! Stop thinking about priorities! Life is not about priorities! – I am sorry, but we have limited resources and that makes our lives to be a matter of priorities, and decisions according to these priorities. And our global basic priority must be to guarantee basic material conditions for everybody. Unfortunately, we have reached a point in which people value more their diversities than basic economic conditions for everybody: ecologists take more care about starfish and whale sharks than about poor children, feminists focus in rich women and their gender concerns according to their own economic and social class, same for LGBTI advocates, and multilingualism supporters might defend inequality if that means linguistic preservation.
The trap of diversity does not stop here. It has become so corrupted that it splits society into an infinitum of identities, which may conflict and whose cause is an extended selfishness. A few years ago, a friend’s buddy, a young feminist woman, told my friend in a Facebook discussion: “Revise your privileges”. My friend is a fruit seller that can be perfectly identified with the traditional meaning of working-class member. Even worse: imagine you are a heterosexual, white, omnivore, male and you do not speak any endangered language. Then it seems you must feel both lucky and guilty for being the continuously privileged individual according to this diversity trap. There is no better soil to feed extreme right political options and ideas, as Daniel Bernabé exemplifies at the end of his book. Setting apart personal examples, recent discussions between feminist and LGBTI backers are also good examples.
Furthermore, the irruption of innumerable identities and lifestyles according to sexual, ecological, cultural or aesthetic parameters broadens and creates markets, which are not accessible for everybody. Ecological and vegan products are far more expensive, recently emerged sexual practices and fetishes usually require pricey devices, learning local or global dances or watching trendy TV series require amounts of money not everybody has, as well as taking some Pilates or Bodypump sessions. This markets’ world also influences politics: parties and ideologies are not entities to follow, but just entities the consumer shops according to his moment tendencies. Subsequently, Daniel Bernabé criticizes the use of the trap of diversity neoliberalism: diversity here feeds social and class differences, and it also devalues politics.
David Bernabé points key contemporary social and political issues and he relates them to the trap of diversity. No matter your ideology, it is difficult to be against most of his descriptions. Diversity is a hotspot and at the same time its social handling is challenging. Material conditions are not at the same level but axiomatic, even if the illusory middle-class people do not realize. Social quandary after the Great Recession opens the door to a revision of diversity, a criticism against individualism, a vindication of materialism and universal values, and subsequently, a Marxist analysis and a vindication of socialist solutions. However, if the ideas and the context are appealing and necessary, the way Bernabé argues and gathers his thoughts is disastrous. He continuously jumps from one case to another without linking them together, like if you are listening to your grandpa’s tales. He mixes brilliant paragraphs with unnecessary childish jokes -e.g. references about Clinton’s sexual affairs or Operación Triunfo singers’ quality- and many times he uses logical fallacies or sentences like “It is not the goal of this book … but I shall say …”. Other times, it seems he is just pasting together different parts of previous press articles. In short, while he defends the Modernity project of reaching universal ideals and he criticizes the fuzzy logic of Postmodernity, many times he seems to write a propagandist book addressed to his followers while he could have written a universal piece to be read by anybody, who later on could agree or disagree. He has lost a good opportunity.
But honestly, I do not regret having read Daniel Bernabé’s The Trap of Diversity. Many of its paragraphs -and especially chapter 5 that names the whole book- are brilliant and necessary pieces that make you think for hours about our contemporary circumstances. Even if deficient in form, The Trap of Diversity points to the right and necessary idea: You are as special as everyone else. Bernabé would add: And material conditions are over all. I add: And far from being a trauma, it is liberating.