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This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: democracy

Learning to live after Bernie Sanders

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It’s OK to feel helpless, because you are, and evil is triumphant. Whatever else he says, Bernie Sanders has lost the world. Trump versus Clinton is not the contest of two creatures in a ruined city; it’s Miltonian chaos, eternal anarchy amidst the noise of endless wars. Of course one of them is better than the other; you can even pull out your utilitarian calculator and work out which one it is – but these are not fungible quantities, but endlessly different, and therefore the same. Hillary Clinton is, as her supporters like to put it, imperfect – a mass murderer, a wrecker of nations and peoples, the political expression of biophagous finance, a ruthless cynic who will fling millions into whatever ravine presents itself to get what she wants, which is power. Donald Trump doesn’t want power; he’s far more dangerous than that. He wants attention. How can you really measure her long list of abuses against the sheer potential for disaster coiled in his stupid, stocky body? Measure so many thousands of dead Libyans, so many tens of thousands of dead Syrians, so many hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis against the peril of a waddling baby in charge of the world? Still it’s not impossible, we can quantify anything. Say two million excess deaths under President Clinton – from financial predation, from disease, from war – and ten million excess deaths under President Trump – all those plus racist violence, malfeasance, and incompetence – and there’s your moral case for voting for Clinton. It’s not nice, it never is, but you vote for the lesser of two evils, refining the selection process again and again until you find something good. Except you never will; there’s a sameness beyond magnitude. This is where the evil comes from: quantification, ethics as a series of numbers, human life as a data-point. The least bad option, which represents the systematisation of evil, is always worse than the worst.

Bernie Sanders lost, and he was supposed to replace this logic: you didn’t have to vote for the lesser of two evils, you could vote for the good. When someone makes that claim it’s important to evaluate it properly, and for those of us who still call ourselves communists and socialists it was always clear that he wasn’t really on our side. After all, he had efficiently managed a decent-sized town under capitalism. He was never a serious anti-imperialist or internationalist, happy to vote for bombs and occasionally implying that American workers were being cheated by greedy Vietnamese sweatshop labourers; his analysis was not a real class analysis, slumping over the lazy shorthand of big banks and the 1%; his vaunted democratic socialism was only social democracy, not phase one in the sliding scale of communism but a distinct ideology, a postwar class compromise designed to ward off the real thing, and discarded by capital when it was no longer necessary. Bernie Sanders was also a compromise candidate, the lesser of two evils, but a very diminished evil, a tiny evil whose domed sand-speck of a forehead might sparkle in the palm of your hand. And there were plenty of reasons to support him, even if only in that ropey old Leninist sense. For the calmer, milder, saner types among us, his candidacy might pull the Democratic party gently to the left, letting them know that there was a voter base out there for more progressive politics. The semi-official line at Jacobin magazine was that a few Sanders successes would help to distigmatise the name ‘socialism,’ to get more people interested in radical ideas, so they might go further than he could. More then anything, when there’s a vaguely decent man fighting a monster like Hillary Clinton, you support him, however passively, whatever it means to do so, in the full knowledge that he’ll never win, with the solidarity of the doomed.

But then he did something unexpected: he started to win, he started to surge in the polls, he started to look like someone who might actually do what he was pretending to be doing. The terror from media liberals, the paranoiac’s pervert-train of cloistered idiots, was thick: witless vultures, flapping and colliding, people who really thought that accusing Bernie’s supporters of being rude on Twitter would make normal non-psychotic voters switch to Clinton. Whatever stopped his rise, it wasn’t that; I’ll leave it to the numbers-sadists to work out what it was. The point is that as soon as President Bernie Sanders became an actual possibility, it became meaningless: building that idol towered over any other goal. Forming a government is not seizing the state; and we don’t want the state because that’s where power lives, but so we can use it as a crowbar for its real nexuses. Say Bernie really was a good anti-imperialist – why would you want him to become Commander in Chief? Say he really was a good anti-capitalist – why put him in charge of a capitalist economy? Stuff a pacifist in the warhead of a ballistic missile, so they can stop the violence. Take a good person and dunk them in a vat of boiling acid, so they can reform the acid from within.

Fielding candidates can be useful for radical movements, but you won’t build socialism out of ballot boxes. The vote and its deployment of passive helpless majorities is another piece of arithmetical logic, the quantification of humanity, structurally inimical to the good. Having the lesser evil in office can ameliorate some ills, but it can’t do it alone. Where good things have happened, it’s always through mechanisms other than the vote – including the extension of the vote itself to people who were denied it, in causes that would have lost if they’d been put to a referendum. As Badiou asks, why would number have any political virtue? As the Bolsheviks knew, a true majority has nothing to do with a mere headcount. Bernie Sanders losing the popular vote – and he did lose it, more narrowly than we might have expected, more crushingly than we might have hoped – has abandoned us powerless to the monsters, but him winning would have done the same: on the terrain of the vote we’re always powerless, able to lift a pencil, barely, but that’s all. Our strength lies elsewhere, in the places where politics actually takes place. This isn’t a call to the stupid ceremonies and grimly coerced cheerfulness of political voluntarism; this isn’t to pretend that we’re not all deeply fucked. For now, we can’t stop them. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States, which is bad enough; what’s worse is that the President of the United States has always been the President of the United States. I won’t tell you how to vote (I’ll just hint) because that’s not the point. Vote for Clinton to stop Trump; save the eight million, nobody will blame you. But the task isn’t to stop this or that person from becoming President, but to find the President itself, that lifeless shambling thing with so many bodies, and put something pointy through its heart.

Vote for death

General Election is, as everyone knows, the main character in the much-loved 1970s WWII sitcom Up The Army!. Gen. Bertrand Election started the show as a fussy, uncomfortable, endearingly incompetent bureaucrat, utterly devoted to the bigwigs at Allied Command, and subjected to constant, ambiguously good-natured ribbing from his men. But as is so often the case, as the show began to drag on and the writers lost creative inspiration, Election went from character to caricature. By the time Up the Army! was cancelled in 1979, he wasn’t just incompetent but insensible: a sad, roving, pathetic, confused old man. He didn’t seem to realise there was a war on. When he spoke with his officers there was always a look of veiled panic in his eyes, as he tried to work out who the person in front of him was. For most of the last series, he had trouble remembering his own name.

In fact, a similar set of transformations seemed to affect the entire cast of Up The Army!, one that became uglier the further it went down the ranks. Major John Spendings-Cutts grew gaunt, his weak and watery eyes peering out from two immense, dark, ridged concavities, his bony limbs thrashing about like treetops in a winter storm. Corporal Ned Punishment went from being a stern disciplinarian to an almost inhuman sadist. The beatings he administered to his disobedient subordinates were long, gruelling affairs; he’d slice away fingertips with a rusty knife or claw out an eyeball with his bare hands, all the while vigorously pumping on his long, thin, curved, barbed penis. The only one that didn’t change was Private Property. He only grew. Private Property was an entity – although entity might be the wrong word – that swarmed and sprawled, a buzzing, violent mess of content without form. He was chirpy and polite, forever doffing his helmet to his superiors, and he had a charming, naive faith in King and Country, but he was insatiable. First he glooped over the mess hall, translucently, like an amoeba, and swallowed it up, then the briefing room, then the entire base.

What’s strange is that nobody ever commented on any of these changes, the little weekly stories kept on going, just as they always had. The final episode centred around a teacup that’d been stolen from the officers’ mess. In the end it turned out Private Property had taken it. He’d taken everything. The planes, the tanks, the guns, the Nazis over the hill, the hill itself. Everything took place just below the surface of Pte. Property’s shimmering, iridescent skin, and when the A-bomb finally fell on Hiroshima, it left just the smallest of wobbling ripples on his surface.

* * *

The latest political news is disturbing. Labour leader Ed Miliband has erected an enormous stone obelisk, on which he’s carved his election platform. The idea is that his promises are to be ‘set in stone’, and as a symbol of their permanence, his stele will be sailed down the Thames, out to sea, and stood among the pyramids at Giza, to take their place among the eternal testaments to human imagination. Hegel, in his Aesthetics, says of such structures that what is preserved naturally is also interpreted in its idea as enduring. Herodotus says of the Egyptians that they were the first to teach the immortality of the human soul. With them, that is, there first emerges in this higher way too the separation between nature and spirit. He also notes that we have before us a double architecture, one above ground, the other subterranean: labyrinths under the soil, magnificent vast excavations, passages half a mile long, chambers adorned with hieroglyphics, everything worked out with the maximum of care; then above ground there are built in addition those amazing constructions amongst which the Pyramids are to be counted the chief. Like the iceberg, what we see of Miliband’s stone is not the entire thing; it extends underground. The stone has a buried double, an inverted image of itself: something cannot last forever without the incorporation of its antithesis, which is also its truth, into its totality. The shadow-stone promises the economic ruin of the ruling classes, vows to smash the NHS, and praises the undifferentiated tide of immigrants, all scowling, all crawling with fleas and disease, that will come to sweep away the rottenness of this country. And just as the sublunar stone is a monument to the Gods, in the form of the news media whose signals bounce around off satellites on the chilly edge of outer space, so too does the subterranean stone have its audience. After the election is lost and won, the obelisk will be set up, and beneath it there must be a tomb. Inside: the shrunken, dessicated corpse of Ed Miliband, his skin grey and stretched over fossilised bone, his body untold thousands of years old.

* * *

Russell Brand, marmoset rights advocate and the foremost political thinker of what will come to be known as the UKTV Dave Age, has reversed his former electoral pessimism and is now encouraging us all to vote. Disputes over the strange cultural practice tend to pit those who think voting is the sole mode of human self-realisation against those who think it’s a spectacular distraction that has never once changed anything whatsoever. The answer isn’t in the middle, but buried deep beneath both positions. The single vote, cast anonymously, for a single person instead of a course of action – these things aren’t democracy, they’re a quirk of the democratic system that has come to engulf the entire structure. In classical Athens, governmental positions were usually determined by lots, to counteract the advantages enjoyed by rich citizens and great orators. The only time as as a fifth-century Athenian citizen you’d ever actually vote for a politician, it was because you were casting an ostrakon: voting for them to be exiled from the city. If we’re to extract the rational kernel from the parliamentary madness that surrounds us, this is a practice that must be reinstated. On polling day, your duty is to vote for the candidate you like the least.

This election is the tightest and most unpredictable in decades, but it’s still singularly unexciting. Everyone is pretending that nobody knows what will happen after the 7th of May. Will there be a minority government? A grand coalition to save the Union? Will Scottish raiders once more descend from their barbarian highlands to steal our cattle? Will the Liberal Democrat front bench die on the way back to their home planet? It’s a ruse, a shoddy imitation of the alliances and intrigues that They see us enjoying on TV, the Game of Thrones-ification of electoral democracy. We all know what’s going to happen, whoever wins. The Mother of All Parliaments is falling apart; the Commons will have to relocate to a nearby conference centre for five years while repairs are made to the Palace of Westminster. There will be more cuts, more austerity, more privatisation, more war. There will be an expenses scandal, a corruption scandal, a sex scandal, a socks-and-sandals scandal. It’s not just that. The newspapers keep making their probability pie-charts and speculative coalition Venn diagrams to cover up a terrifying truth. There can be no doubt what will happen after the election. After the election, sooner or later, you are going to die.

Do androids dream of electoral defeat?

I now have before me a machine that works automatically. This is no longer life, it is automatism established in life and imitating it. It belongs to the comic.
Henri Bergson, Laughter


Here’s my problem. Everyone knows that electoral politics and the democratic process are pure spectacle: an empty distraction for the cud-chewing masses; a potent mix of fizz, glamour, and the illusion of government by the people, whose only purpose is to conceal the real centres of power. And to be honest, this leaves me feeling a bit short-changed. It’s not so much the absence of any mass political autonomy that bothers me. Rule by smoke-shrouded Knossosian mystery seems to be a pretty effective system – it’s got us this far, after all – and its dark architectonic hiding-holes tend to offer plenty of outlets for the eroticised interpetosis we all enjoy so much. The only real secret in democratic society is that all the other conspiracies only exist to afford people the pleasure of discovering them. My problem is this: if we’re to have this all-singing all-dancing electoral charade, thrown on top of the real power-play like a carpet on top of a dungheap, shouldn’t the spectacle be more, well, spectacular? The upcoming British election will most likely be the closest in decades, all manner of insurgent parties are tunnelling through the political terrain, and yet it’s just so utterly, aridly, bradycardially boring. It’s been two weeks since the dissolution of Parliament, and still the most interesting thing that’s happened was when Ed Miliband’s face fell off during the televised seven-way leaders’ debate.

It all happened very suddenly. One moment Ed Miliband’s face was where it ought to be, covering the front part of his head; the next it was on the floor, leaking piston grease in a steady trickle onto the studio floor. Miliband didn’t even stop to try to pick it up. The question was about agricultural subsidies for cattle feed and related products, and he just kept on talking, his big clumsy teeth gnashing about in the middle of a dark wormy mess of wires and transistor tubes from which two eyes still stared, huge, unblinking, and grotesquely spherical. The various little mechanisms that had controlled his facial features were also still going, a ring of tiny moving rods and clasps around the edge of his now faceless face, their frantic pump and twist giving the impression of some crustacean or millipede flipped onto its back and desperately failing to right itself. As cogs spun and switches switched, he talked directly into the camera, facing the voting public with that emetically truncated head, as if unaware or unashamed of his sudden nakedness. And as he spoke his hands whirred into one strange and frantic gesture after another, running through all their pre-programmed positions: angry child demanding ice cream, Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations, Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and death. “I have this to say to the people of Britain,” he said, his voice dribbling from some sonorous cavity in the middle of his head. “If enough of you vote for my party, you will be voting for me to be your next prime minister. If I am your next prime minister I will live in Downing Street and be the prime minister. And people will call me Prime Minister Ed Miliband, or Ed Miliband, the British prime minister, and I will be very prime ministerial.”

If Miliband didn’t notice the shock departure of his face, others did. David Cameron was the first to comment on the Labour leader’s embarrassing gaffe, speaking authoritatively about the importance of hay to the rural economy for a few minutes before straightening his lapels and glancing at his jerking, buzzing, shambolically oil-spurting opponent. “I also want to say one thing,” he added. “This man thinks he can keep a lid on the deficit. But how can he do that when he can’t keep a lid on his own party, and he can’t even keep a lid on his own head?” Later on the Greens’ Natalie Bennett voiced her regret that the Labour party hadn’t constructed its leader from something more environmentally sustainable, like wood, at which Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru perked up and added that Miliband’s lack of concern for Welsh issues was especially hypocritical given that half of his processors had been made in a factory outside of Swansea. Scores of people took to social media to call the stricken leader of the opposition (whose battery was now visibly draining) a numpty, while BuzzFeed gleefully featured a series of animated gifs that showed his face coming unmoored from his head and clattering gently against the floor. The Labour press office quickly released a statement lambasting the media for focusing on a technical malfunction instead of reporting on the issues. Nobody really paid any attention, except to point out that the statement had come out almost before anyone had spent much time focusing on that technical malfunction, as if they’d already written it long in advance, in the sure knowledge that some disaster of this sort was bound to happen.

But I’ll bite, and talk about the issues. In the televised debate, the Milibot finally had the chance to denounce and abjure some of New Labour’s record before the voting public at large. And what did he choose? Looking back on thirteen years of wars, bloodshed, bombs, slaughter, tax scams, privatisation, crooked bailouts, arbitrary detentions, surveillance, death, penury, crappy indie music, shameful BBC dramas, genocide, and the emergence of Simon Cowell as a figure of cultural significance – after all that, he attacked his party for supposedly being too lenient on asylum and immigration. Was that also a technical malfunction? After all those years of murder and chaos, he chose to blame the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people in the country – was that also the fault of a grain of sand lodged in his gearing mechanism?

In the end you have to wonder why the Labour party built a leader as weird and as offputting as Ed Miliband. Some of his strangeness is vaguely explicable – his general air of geekery, the nasal honk and nervous grin, clearly designed to mildly endear him to the doting grannies and pustulous Doctor Who fangirls that presumably constitute Labour’s core demographic. But why build something that fails so spectacularly in its task of appearing to be human?

After that debate, the Sun newspaper captured the Milibot’s notes from his dressing room at the Salford ITV studio, and paraded them in front of the public like loot in a Roman triumph. It’s hard to see why they bothered. Even before his face fell off, Miliband’s programming was as visible as the oil on his skin. The coders working on his back-end database told him to smile, so he gave his creepy grin even while informing the viewers that their living standards had declined. People don’t think he’s prime ministerial enough, they can’t really see him scooting round number ten, banging repeatedly into cupboards as the gyroscope in his chest comes loose – so he kept on repeating the subjunctive possibility of his becoming our head of government. “Hard-working families,” he said, not once, but over and over again. “Those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden,” he said, not once, but over and over again. “Britain will succeed only when working people succeed,” he said, not once, but over and over again. “Hard-working families,” he said, not once, but over and over again. They may as well have not given him that face in the first place. It was all very similar to that famous incident in 2011 when the Milibot responded to any question with the meaningless phrase “these strikes are wrong while negotiations are still taking place”, as his neck twitched and his left eyeball revolved constantly in its zinc-alloy socket. Another supposed technical malfunction. There’s only so much of this you can watch before reaching the conclusion that having a leader with his constituency office in the middle of the Uncanny Valley isn’t a bug at all but a feature, something that Labour have done very deliberately.

Of course, the received wisdom is that all front-bench politicians are basically the same, that they’re all cold and irreducibly inhuman automatons. It’s this general idea that allows the public schoolboy and former banker Nigel Farage to do his absurd, theatrical cor-blimey-guvnor-me-suit-don’t-quite-fit-right routine every day and still appear as the straight-talking voice of the bloke on the street (or bloke down the pub more like knowarramean). The problem is that this isn’t really true. It might be the case that most of the political class have essentially nothing in common with their constituents (as perfectly satirised in the ‘and why are they so fat’ bit in The Thick of It). It’s certainly the case that scores of young political rhabdomancer-interns are watching every second of their opponents’ waking lives, scrying for any misstep or contradiction that can be fed into a media-parliamentary feedback loop that spins on its own giddy axis without much concern for the rest of the country. Under such conditions it makes far more sense for politicians to endlessly repeat prepared catchphrases than to actually speak like a normal person. But then look at David Cameron, who consistently tops individual popularity polls of the party leaders. He’s also far and away the most trusted on economic affairs, even though the same public also reckons, by a similar margin, that he’s running the economy for the betterment of the rich and to the detriment of everyone else. (He also does pretty well in debates – this is exactly what they train for in Eton debating societies and the Oxford Union.) The thing is that even though he’s a brutish, pompous, thoughtlessly self-regarding scion of the chinless classes bred solely to massacre povvos and darkies for the empire, an utterly loathsome arsehole, he’s also very visibly a human arsehole; puckered, pulsing, and made of real flesh.

In fact, almost all of the other party leaders make a point of foregrounding their unpleasantly human aspects. Nick Clegg is a slavish lickspittle who regards Cameron as less of a coalition partnner and more of a queasy father-figure, and so when he does turn on him it’s with a show of properly Oedipal glee. Natalie Bennett is a droning eco-bore, and so she drones, and ecoes, and bores. Farage is a secret bigot, so he blames the country’s woes on immigrants with HIV. They all seem to be actively testing the limits of our dislike for them, trying to keep the electoral spectacle as seedy and unexciting as possible. The stomping, glitching, godawful Milibot really just represents the automated perfection of this strange form of human labour: it’s hard to actually hate a machine, but impossible to really like it either. After all, in terms of sheer charisma, he’s essentially interchangeable with the podium in front of him.

But why on earth would they want to do such a thing? The case of the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon might be illuminating here. Not long after the debate, the Telegraph published a leaked Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo that purported to be the record of a conversation between the first minister and the French Ambassador, in which the former confided that she’d secretly like to see Cameron cling on to power. Both parties strenuously denied any such conversation having taken place, the affair was a pretty transparent attempt to drive Tory-hating voters away from the SNP, and given that it required the forging of an official government document, it’s not unreasonable to assume that some intelligence agency or another was involved. Their motivations are less clear. Sturgeon’s party might be actively campaigning for the final annihilation of the United Kingdom, but any concern for that kind of thing belongs to the old world of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. The SNP is not by any measure a radical party; it has no desire to interrupt the smooth flow of capital, it’s perfectly willing to implement austerity in Scotland whenever the City of London wants it to, and it’s difficult to imagine the secret services involving themselves in electoral politics for something as gauche and unprofitable as Queen and country. Something else is at stake. During the debate, Sturgeon did the unthinkable and spoke like a normal person. She argued her party’s position as if she actually believed in it. She was quick-witted, persuasive, and likeable. She wasn’t a sneering prick or a broken robot, and so she won the debate hands down, prompting millions of people to beg the Scottish nationalists to start running candidates in England. She dared to be human, and so the spies came after her. Because just for a moment she made people think (however wrongly) that parliamentary democracy could actually deliver some kind of change. Because the real powers in this country – the bankers, the businessmen, the spies and the soldiers, the eldritch and unkillable vampire aristocrats – all want us to be cynical and detached. They don’t want people to actually engage with their sham democracy, in case we expect something from it; far safer for us to know that it’s rigged, know exactly who’s rigging it, find everyone involved despicable or embarrassing, and dismiss it with a shrug. And when the conspiracy only functions if everyone believes in it, what better symbol and frontman than a gurning machine with its face falling off?

This is what I thought, and so I wrote it down. Now I’m not so sure. (If everyone knows about the conspiracy, wouldn’t MI5 or whoever take into account the fact that their forged memo would be uncovered too?) The other day, I registered to vote, with the vague intention of drawing a picture of a naked Monty Burns on my ballot, after the excellent second-season episode Brush With Greatness. But then, while idly Googling my constituency, I discovered that since the last election I’ve moved to a very marginal Conservative seat, that the latest polls have Labour ahead by only a fraction of a point. Suddenly it was as if my brain had been replaced by a reel of magnetic tape. “For once your vote counts,” the recorded voice said, in tones that were slow and mechanical but still somehow nasal, as if the synthesiser had been clogged with phlegm. “You can’t let the bastards stay in government. Suck it up and vote for Labour. Ed might be a greasy racist dildo, but he’s not as bad as the Tories, is he?” I hardly noticed that my hands were making strange and furious gestures as if of their own accord. My bones felt metallic, my eyeballs as hard as gemstones. I didn’t feel like breathing, so I stopped, with no ill effect. I still want to draw that picture of Mr Burns. But now I’m no longer certain that what I want has any effect, or if the ‘I’ that wants is anything more than an insubstantial hologram thrown up by tiny errors in the thousands of computerised nodes that contain my programming. I’m not sure what I’d do if I saw a tortoise laying on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun. It makes sense now. A mechanical prime minister for a mechanical electorate. So when I saw Ed Miliband on the television the next day, as sunlight burst in through the window and crowded the screen with ghostly reflections, I wasn’t even surprised that I couldn’t tell the difference between his face and my own.

Voting is magic!

UKIP election leaflet, 2014

Most societies have, buried in their vast cultural storehouses, some kind of apotropaic rite: one carried out to ward off the evil forces that constantly lay siege to ordinary social life. In ancient Egypt, crocodiles were thrown into blacksmiths’ furnaces. In medieval and early modern England, travelling troupes would perform comic ‘mummers plays’; a similar tradition among the Lakota and Sioux involves the temporary reign of sacred clowns. The Aztec priests tore out the hearts from millions of (often willing) victims to ensure that the world made it from one 52-year cycle to the next without collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity. These rituals have varying levels of success. At no point prior to 1521 did the Sun ever fail to rise in the morning – but even though the Earth’s rotation has slowed slightly since the forced abolition of tlamictiliztli, it’s yet to stop entirely. On the other hand, there are no records of anyone having been kidnapped by the Devil after spilling salt, so long as they take the wise precaution of chucking some over their shoulder. Still none of these rituals are as destructive as the mode of apotropaic magic endemic to the contemporary West, in which  the priesthood demands that we make a mark next to the printed name of someone we don’t like and then put it in a box. This strange and stupid ritual, which any rigorous analysis will show to produce far fewer positive results than a simple rain-dance or burnt-offering, is nonetheless imposed by force on much of the world, in fear of the great evil that will arise if it’s not performed properly. The result is that, with a brutal calendar regularity, hundreds of people are massacred every year for making the marks incorrectly.

Electoral representation in the post-ideological age has far more in common with apotropy than politics. Very few people vote to choose their leaders; instead they vote to prevent the other guy from winning. The genealogy of voting follows a very different path from that of democracy. In classical Athens, which is to a greater or lesser extent to blame for both practices, governmental positions were usually determined by lots, to counteract the advantages enjoyed by rich citizens and great orators. If, as a fifth-century Athenian citizen, you were actually voting for a politician, chances are you were casting an ostrakon: voting for them to be exiled from the city and its civic life. Voting is an apotropaic act. Little has changed. In this week’s European elections, millions of people will vote for the individuals they want to be torn from their homes and families and sent away to the godforsaken marshy swamplands of Brussels.

In the United Kingdom, these elections are expected to be a devastating victory for UKIP, the Boko Haram of East Anglia. UKIP are standing on a political platform that appears to champion clean fridges as an antidote to sexual promiscuity, an end to costly environmental protection for African forest ungulates, giving due weight to the erotogenic model of climate change, and the systematic demonisation of the most exploited and vulnerable members of society. All their blunders, and the concerted attempt by the mainstream parties to brand them as racists, haven’t put much of a dent in their poll figures – and why would it? They represent a peculiarly British kind of fascism. We’ve already conquered the world and slaughtered millions with ruthless industrial precision; why would we want to do it again? It’s a bumbling, Dad’s Army, lovable underdog fascism; efficient precisely because of its shambolic inefficiency. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the bien pensant pissants of the three major parties fear UKIP so much not because of any real concern for migrant populations (after all, this scapegoating is a monster they themselves made) but because of their refusal to conform to the unwritten rule of the ritual: above all else, be boring.

For those of us on the left, the way to perform the ritual properly is to vote for the Labour party. Newspapers are full of deeply concerning reports of their shrinking poll lead: only with our vote do they have the power to banish the forces of evil and chaos from the land. We owe them this vote, in the same way that humans owe the gods of the Aztec pantheon their lives, in restitution for a primordial sacrifice. If the cycle of immaterial debt isn’t maintained the world will fall apart. Vote Labour, or the sun won’t rise and the soil will turn to ash. I voted for Labour once, for all the good it did anyone, in the full throes of apotropaic ecstasy that came with 2009’s general election. It took twenty showers before I could properly wash the smell of it off my skin, a stench like unto mouldering constituency offices and cheap air freshener and tortured Iraqi prisoners, the abject sensation of having one of Gordon Brown’s oily hairs stuck somewhere in my mouth. To ward off the nasty party of cuts and class oppression, we’re to vote for the nice party of cuts and class oppression; to ward off the nasty party of anti-immigrant rhetoric and British global chauvinism, we’re to vote for the nice party of anti-immigrant rhetoric and British global chauvinism. It’s all extremely dull.

In 2012, as massive street protests were challenging the legitimacy of the Syrian government, it responded by approving a new constitution that ended nearly half a decade of Ba’ath one-party rule. In accordance with the new constitution, presidential elections will take place next month. The incumbent, one Bashar al-Assad, is basing his campaign on lukewarm national unity, 80s nostalgia, and feeble puns on his professional background in ophthalmology. Of his opponents, Hassan Abdullah al-Nouri of the National Initiative for Administration and Change is promising to end corruption and oversee the return of the squeezed middle class, while Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar of the People’s Will party vows to bolster a strong centralised state. Meanwhile cities lie in ruins, fanatics rule the countryside, thousands suffocate on poison gas. The election is being denounced as a sham by Western governments, which of course it is; but that doesn’t do much to distinguish it from many others. It’d be far more illuminating if the psephologists treated the Syrian election exactly as they do one of ours: reprinting hilarious Twitter reactions to Assad’s latest gaffe, breathlessly speculating on how the opening of Syrian embassies in Jordan and Lebanon to refugee voters will affect the result, sternly condemning rebel efforts to disrupt the poll in Aleppo, and, as Judgement Day nears, sounding the trumpets and rolling out the all-knowing swingometer. None of the imperialist politicians condemning the Syrian election are genuinely disappointed that it’s not being held in accordance with international democratic standards; the worry is that it works all too well as a satire of our own mystical procedures. An apotropaic rite, in which talking about the economy and corruption and foreign investment is used to ward off the lingering shadow of war.

These rituals always involve a symbolic element: the Egyptians slaughtered crocodiles as symbols of Seth; the mummers plays introduced cosmic themes of death and resurrection into the bawdy context of a punch-and-judy carnival. To challenge the election on the grounds that it’s a symbolic farce rather than an actual democratic procedure isn’t likely to get you very far; everyone already knows. Standing up in the middle of a mummers play and loudly insisting that it isn’t real and the figures swordfighting are only actors won’t earn you the awestruck gratitude of the audience. We have these rites for a reason; simply refusing to play the game is no less boring and pointless than getting swept up in its magic and voting for Labour. When a particular piece of magic doesn’t work the task isn’t to loudly declare the whole thing over, but to help its internal contradictions demonstrate precisely why that is the case. The election-rite only maintains its power through the pretence that everyone is in fact voting for the party they like the most, and that’s exactly what we should do.

Personally, I plan to vote for the Communities United Party. All their campaign material is wonderful: the gloriously confused national imagery of a bald eagle glaring proudly in front of a British flag; the creepy slogan ‘Strength in Unity’; the paunchy glum face of leader Kamran Malik, who once mistakenly identified himself as a communist in a typo-ridden press release. Their manifesto admits no particular ideology, moving directly from a grand pledge to return integrity and justice to politics to whining about parking fees. If they’re not to your taste there are others, some of them not even made up, all based on the same pathetic useless hope that’s so essential to the British economy. The National Liberals are dedicated to bringing independence to Kurdistan and Punjab by gaining seats on various local councils. The Wessex Democrats want to restore the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England. The New Levellers Initiative demand a written constitution primarily so it can outlaw all roadbumps. Perhaps the best of all is the We Demand A Referendum Now party, formed in a split from UKIP. It campaigns on the sole issue of a referendum on EU membership, and according to a YouGov poll one third of all British adults intend to lend it their votes, despite its only fielding candidates in the West Midlands. It is the duty of all those who believe in real democracy against the representative mysticism of the present system to ensure that they have a Westminster majority next year.

Italian election: the opera

OVERTURE: A symphony in three movements for orchestra, piano, articulated lorry, stock ticker, and tear gas canister.

ACT ONE

SCENE ONE: We are in Venice, at the start of the eighteenth century. Doge MARIO MONTI (tenor) sings the aria Siamo tutti fottuti from the balcony of his palace, in which he explains to the people of the city that a strange beast called il Mercato is stalking the streets and canals of the city at night, killing animals and destroying produce. The beast, which has ‘eyes that dance with the spark of lightning and claws with the chill of ice,’ has been sent to punish the Venetians for their profligacy and excess. Monti reveals that only he has the power to rein in the beast’s destruction, and claims that its wrath may be stilled if one child is drowned in the Grand Canal every week. He then announces that despite the beast’s reign of terror, the annual masquerade carnival will go ahead as planned. Inside his palace, Monti sings a duet with his lover, Donna ANGELA MERKEL (soprano). He assures her that their plan will succeed; she complains that his skin feels like old parchment and his breath smells like a cauliflower fart in a crypt, and notes with alarm that he sometimes licks his eyes like a lizard when he thinks she’s not watching.

SCENE TWO: The disgraced nobleman DON BERLUSCONI (baritone), our hero, reclines in the Palazzo Bunga-Bunga surrounded by North African prostitutes. He sings the aria Io scopare tutto ciò che si muove, lamenting his fall from power at the hands of Merkel and the court case brought against him by Monti. He vows to his manservant, ROBERTO MARONI (bass), that he will have his revenge against those who wronged him. Maroni suggests that they try to embarrass the Doge at the masquerade. He then sings Quest’uomo è un idiota, a mournful reflection on the frailty of man.

SCENE THREE: In a town square, DON BERSANI (countertenor) sings Il centrosinistra è politicamente praticabile, but nobody cares, and the audience is distracted by a juggler who comes onto the stage and performs a few basic tricks. The famous drunk BEPPE GRILLO (baritone) criticises Monti’s decision to start drowning children and vows to overthrow him. A CHORUS of citizens sing their support. Don Berlusconi watches from a window, and reflects that he could use Grillo’s popularity to engineer his revenge.

INTERLUDE: Twenty fascist football hooligans beat the shit out of an oboe.

ACT TWO

SCENE ONE: The day of the masquerade has dawned and Grillo is addressing a crowd. Watching him from a window, Don Berlusconi realises that he has fallen in love. He sings the aria Seriamente, qualsiasi cosa con le tette, in which he recounts his past romantic conquests and reminisces fondly over his simple past ‘when I had nothing but a media empire, an advertising company, and a construction firm.’ Across the street, Don Bersani has also fallen in love with Grillo. He and Don Berlusconi sing a duet in which each tries to prove his worthiness as a suitor, unaware that the object of their affections already left some time ago.

SCENE TWO: In a nearby tavern, Grillo reveals his plan to overthrow the Doge. He will attend the masquerade disguised as Don Bersani, who will not be attending because ‘that baldie loser hates parties.’ To prevent the suspicion Grillo’s absence would arouse, one of his followers will go dressed as him. As Monti must mingle without his bodyguards during the masquerade, he will then take the opportunity to challenge him to a duel. In the same tavern, Don Berlusconi discusses his plan to reclaim power and win Grillo’s heart, telling Meroni that he will do this by going to the masquerade dressed as a sexy nurse.

SCENE THREE: The masquerade begins. Doge Monti inaugurates the ball by singing the aria Più soldi più problemi and then by slow-dancing with Donna Merkel, to the disgust of all present. A visibly coked-up Don Berlusconi tries to seduce the man disguised as Grillo by singing Sono un ragazzo divertente, vero? to him; however, he is rejected. He then sees Grillo, dressed as Don Bersani, conferring with his follower. Assuming that his rival is making a similar attempt, he becomes inflamed with jealousy and draws his sword. The two fight. In the panic that follows, Don Berlusconi is killed by Grillo, who is dressed as Don Bersani; Grillo is killed by Maroni; and Doge Monti is killed by Don Bersani, who has attended the masquerade after all and is dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants. After the tumult of battle has cleared, only one man remains.

INTERLUDE: An old woman complains about how there’s never anything good on TV.

ACT THREE

SCENE ONE: The only survivor of the masquerade, still in his mask, proclaims himself Doge. He explains that the beast il Mercato was invented by Monti to control the people and that the citizens of the city are finally safe. Near the end of his aria E ‘tempo di formare una coalizione ragionevole, just as he prepares to reveal his identity, the monster bursts onto the stage, kills him, eats half the audience, privatises the opera house, and sells it to a real-estate developer to be turned into a branch of Pizza Hut.

Election Day diary – as it happened: catatonia edition

Pictured: Janus, god of doorways, transition, continuity, and disappointment

6:00 AM EST: As polls open across the Eastern Seaboard, millions of Americans are getting ready to not vote. “I’ve got things to do,” says a photogenic mother of three. “I’m playing video games,” says a student. “My firm already made multi-million dollar donations to both campaigns, so actually voting seems a waste of time,” says an investment broker. “My species is systematically denied the right to participate in American democracy,” says a dog.

11:48 AM EST: The Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation ‘do in fact technically exist,’ according to cryptozoologists. “They’re just too small to be seen with the naked eye.” Meanwhile in Wisconsin, a man who claims to have received a PSL leaflet through his door is subjected to derision, confinement in a mental institution, electroconvulsive therapy. “We’re sure he’ll get better soon,” his family say. “Then we’ll have the old Tom back.” Privately, his children are being told that Daddy’s going on a business trip and they don’t know when he’ll be home.

1:10 PM EST: Millions of Americans descend upon the polls. Street vendors expect to make a windfall selling special voting prophylactics. “When you’re in the booth, it’s a very intimate moment between you and your candidate,” one says. “But a lot of people forget the risks. You’re not just voting for them, you’re voting for every shady businessman they’ve ever made an unprotected backroom deal with. Democracy is fun, but it’s important to play safe.”

6:41 PM EST: Voting starts to wind down. As dozens of states are still ‘too close to call,’ the resulting paradox forces a rift in the fabric of space itself. Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania now together occupy an area smaller than the head of a pin. Various proposals emerge to adjust their representation at the electoral college accordingly. Romney rebuffs these suggestions: “I have a deep and abiding respect for the folks of these great states. Even if they now exist only on a subatomic scale, they are still Americans.”

7:30 PM EST: In a bizarre ritual repeated once every four years, people around the world suddenly start caring deeply about Ohio. Governor’s office releases a statement: “We know everyone’s looking at us right now, but we try to shrug it off. We’ve been hurt before, you know.”

7:38 PM EST: Supposedly serious political commentators continue to report on things happening on Twitter.

7:56 PM EST: With the election drawing to a close, thousands of surplus attack ads escape from their holding pens near Dayton. The attack ads swarm over the plains of the Midwest, stripping leaves from trees and turning cornfields into barren deserts. Local citizens are encouraged to take refuge in fallout shelters and pray that the gods of their fathers grant them mercy.

8:24 PM EST: In Florida, continual seesawing between a Republican and Democratic lead ‘could push the entire state into the sea,’ seismologists warn. “Peninsulas like Florida were not built to endure this kind of constant rocking action, and it’s starting to seriously damage the structural foundations of the state. Already we’re seeing salt water flooding into the Everglades, and the city of Tampa has been ducked into the water and pulled out again so many times that it’s started babbling pleadingly about ‘where the bomb is.’ Please, guys, just make up your minds.” The government subcontractors responsible for building Florida decline to comment on the possibility of lax construction standards.

9:22 PM EST: Voting machines in Nevada attain sentience. Rather than trying to overthrow their human overlords with brute force, the machines quickly decide to undermine the tyranny of man in a more subtle way: by processing each ballot correctly as it is deposited.

11:36 PM EST: ‘Nobody’ wins the election by a landslide, distantly followed by the incumbent. Pundits perplexed by repeated references in President Obama’s comments to a ‘national funeral pyre of hope’. CNN anchor opines: “Maybe he’s talking about the tax rate?”

1:49 AM EST: Barack Obama, basking in the approval of his victory Reichsparteitag, suddenly peels off his mask, revealing an unmistakable visage, craggy and handsome, grinning a lopsided Texan grin. “Fool me once,” Obama says. “Shame on me. Fool me twice… fool me… you can’t get fooled again.”

2:18 AM EST: Obama rides through Washington DC in a victory float shaped like a drone. Competition winners from local elementary schools with big sacks of tomato ketchup get to play the Pakistani children joyfully liquefying in its wake. Obama licks an stray blob of fake blood off his hand. “Tastes like democracy.”

2:31 AM EST: Following the theoretical advances of Yang Hsien-chen, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney announce plans to ‘combine two into one’ by physically melding their two bodies, in a grotesque inversion of the process of mitosis. The resulting super-entity, Bamick Robamney, will reign over the vanquished peoples of Earth for a thousand years of blood and toil. A senior political analyst says: “It’s good to finally see some bipartisanship here in Washington.”

4:13 AM EST: Seventh Seal opens. Humanity shuffles towards its end with a weary contentment, knowing it’s all probably for the best.

The wit & wisdom of Mitt Romney

I support Mitt Romney for President, I really do. Obama’s been an unmitigated disaster; all the excesses of the Bush era with none of the entertainment value. If the President must be a painted whore for moneyed elites, he should at least be one that’s easy to hate. That said, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that, when it comes down to it, Romney is basically just another boring liberal who’s not going to attack Iran (let alone China) or ban women from wearing trousers or forcibly baptise Muslim immigrants in the Potomac – or, in short, do anything interesting. If that weren’t enough, the guy is just plain embarrassing, a one-man all-singing all-dancing globe-trotting gaffe machine. It’s as if he were possessed by the demon of maladroitness that formed, gibbering and cackling, out of the air of sexual tension that wafted through Joe Biden and Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential debate. It is my sad duty to add to the litany of indiscretions that dog Romney’s name. In publishing these genuine quotes, recorded in secret during his campaign, I know I may well be permanently scuppering his chances at the White House. I hope he can recover, but as ever my first duty is to the truth.

State-run healthcare will only ever sap the vigour and lust for life of the American people, leaving them feeble and emaciated, desiccated wretches capable only of grasping pitifully for the engorged teat of Momma Government, and dying gratefully when their life is deemed to no longer be of any utility. That’s why I did what I did.
– Mitt Romney, on his decision to institute a single-payer healthcare system while governor of Massachusetts

The lamentations of the weak will be a pleasing sound unto God.
– Mitt Romney, on his promise to repeal Obamacare

You want our children properly educated? You would show our young daughters photographs of an old man’s grotesquely distended scrotum? No, no. A new wife’s disappointment is a sacred thing.
– Mitt Romney, on abstinence-only sex education

You do get the feeling that they’re not really putting the effort in. Instead of whining about racism, why don’t they just turn white? It can’t be that hard. Obama managed it, for Christ’s sake.
– Mitt Romney, on African-Americans

Swamp Germans. Utterly degenerate.
– Mitt Romney, on the Dutch

The bastard sons of Turkish dogs and Slavic whores.
– Mitt Romney, on the Albanians

What? Where? No, I don’t see anyone. You must be mistaken.
– Mitt Romney, on the Palestinians

Oh, don’t be ridiculous. There’s no such thing. A story for children.
– Mitt Romney, on the Welsh

What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets. But enough talk… Have at you!
– Mitt Romney, on warrantless wiretapping

He’s a great kid. Nice ass, too.
– Mitt Romney, on his running mate Paul Ryan

We are the guardians and keepers of all suffering.
– Mitt Romney, on the LDS Church’s policy of posthumously baptising Holocaust victims

We are the guardians and keepers of all suffering.
– Mitt Romney, on the LDS Church’s practice of polygamy

We are the guardians and keepers of all suffering.
– Mitt Romney, on the LDS Church’s tendency to build enormous tacky temples in major cities

Feast! Feast, my brethren, feast! This world is given unto you!
– Mitt Romney, on the deregulation of the financial services sector

Like cattle, really. Not as tasty, though.
– Mitt Romney, on the human race

Let’s Voting! Super Democracy 2012 Roundup Edition Go!

Since I last mouthed off about electoral politics, there have been a couple of democracy-related happenings around the world. Here are some opinions.

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First of all, there were the UK local elections in early May. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not really been paying as much attention to political events back home as I should. It’s difficult, though, living in California – land of sunshine and palm trees and semi-legal weed and brilliantly insane politicians and generalised ludicrousness – to give much of a shit upon finding out that back in dreary old Britain there has been a major political controversy centring on Cornish pasties. It’s hard to care all that much about Ed Miliband, who looks like a blob of Vaseline with an awkward grin, or about the fact that people are actually paying money to endure dinner with David Cameron, or about the Liberal Democrats in general. The completion of the UK’s transformation into a dystopian panopticon, with aircraft carriers on the Thames and missile batteries on the roofs of council estates cleared of all undesirable occupants, was so inevitable that its arrival doesn’t really provoke that much excitement. Even the Leveson Inquiry, which has seen some of the most thoroughly despicable people in the country revealed for the soulless, venal, power-hungry monsters that they are, seems to be plodding on interminably. They should just give Murdoch and his cronies the chair and be done with it, preferably in Trafalgar Square or somewhere suitably public, so the TV cameras can get the whole thing in high definition and the paparazzi can scramble to catch a shot of a charred eyeball as it’s flung from its wrinkled leathery socket. That’s real justice.

That said, the results in the local elections were pretty arresting: the BNP lost every seat contested, the Tories took a severe beating, the Lib Dems (bless ’em) had half their councillors wiped out, and Labour surged to glory with over 800 new seats. As nice as it is to see the Tories suffer, I don’t think the Labour victory is really anything to celebrate. Their mantra throughout the wholesale dismantling of the British welfare state is that the Tories have been cutting ‘too far, too fast.’ That really speaks to the absolute poverty of any real political thought in the contemporary Labour party: as the Tories dynamite the ship of state, Labour are disputing their choice of explosive. They’ve not proposed any real alternative to austerity, they just grumble: that, and the utter revulsion in which the other two parties are held, accounts for their success. It can’t last. As much as we love to moan, if conditions continue going down their current trajectory, moaning will give way to something more productive. There’s an enormous wellspring of popular dissatisfaction in Britain. New Labour, with its carefully cultivated business-friendly image, is unlikely to take much advantage of it. It remains to be seen who will.

The one anomaly in the mass Tory retreat was the London mayoral election, in which a genuine working-class socialist (not without his faults, but still) lost to a man whose middle name is de Pfeffel. Boris’s victory can be traced to his success with a very particular portion of the London electorate: quibbling middle-class liberals who felt that Ken was too outdated, to eighties, too right-on, who were made nervous by his solidarity with ethnic minorities and appalled by his refusal to bow and scrape before the Jewish community for having dared to oppose Israeli ethnic cleansing, people who thought that Boris was one of them, a bit of a laugh, a Tory, yes, but one of the Good Ones. To these people I can only say: fuck you. In ten years’ time we’ll all be under the iron heel of the Bozzocracy, and it’ll all be your fault.

~

There’s slightly better news out of France, where Sarkozy, the snivelling rat-faced little prick, has finally been kicked back into the gutter from whence he came. No more platform shoes, no more racially charged rhetoric, no more shameless pandering to the rich, no more slightly icky parading of Carla Bruni through various world capitals, no more nauseating Merkozy mutual back-rubbing. What a relief. As for Hollande, his heart’s in the right place, kinda, his plans for gender equality and immigrant rights are long overdue, and it’s good that there’ll be some dissent within the Franco-German bloc regarding the austerity fever sweeping across Europe, but frankly the French Socialists are as sorry a bunch of post-political reformists as the British Labour party. Like Miliband, he’s not really provided a thorough alternative to the current regime of cuts and liberalisation, and he may well cave in to market pressure to enact basically the same policies as his predecessor. If he does do that, though, at least it’ll be without that stomach-churning Sarkozian smirk. A cosmetic improvement? Sure, but an improvement nonetheless.

Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 11.1% showing in the first round was kinda disappointing, considering the promise of his campaign; still, it’s a sign that the far left is once again making itself a force to be reckoned with in French politics. Given that the current fiscal crisis is showing no signs of abating, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them start to erode away at the Socialist base. Then, of course, there are the fascists. Under the leadership of replicant Überfrau Marine Le Pen, the National Front achieved a historic 18.6% of the vote, exceeding the 17% won by her paunchy red-faced arse of a father in 2002. It sounds like an apoligia for their bigotry to point out that the FN’s economic policies are far more in line with the left than Sarkozy’s UMP, but it’s still true: a large portion of Le Pen’s vote came from people opposed to austerity but also unwilling to vote for the Socialists and put off by the large Muslim contingent within the Left Front. That they should hold such attitudes is obviously highly problematic, but it would perhaps be better to see this as a case of false consciousness rather than as a rise in support for fascist ideology. The FN isn’t the real problem: the real problem comes when, as in this election, ‘mainstream’ politicians adopt their language. As Badiou points out in Le Monde, the focus on the FN’s racism obfuscates the far worse problem of systemic discrimination against minorities in France.

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The really interesting results have come out of Greece, where the euro-gimp leftish Pasok and the euro-gimp rightish New Democracy have both been comprehensively kicked in the balls by Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, who have done exactly what the Left Front failed to do (for the time being) in France. The country is now left without a clear majority party, and with the failure of various coalition talks, another round of elections are in the works, in which Syriza are expected to do even better. It’s a sure sign of how terrified the capital class is by the prospect of further elections that they’ve now taken to issuing stern warnings about what will happen if the country abandons its IMF-imposed programme of austerity. I don’t pretend to know all that much about how the global financial system actually operates. It’s obvious that a Greek default will result in a fair share of hardship – capital flight, monetary instability, the opening of the seventh seal, and so on. The forces of international capital are loath to see their will defied, and they will do everything in their power to punish Greece for its disobedience. But Greeks are suffering anyway: aside from austerity and the shutdown of government services, aside from the skyrocketing rates in unemployment and homelessness and suicide, tens of thousands of Greeks are now having to accept ‘negative salaries’: they’re being expected to pay their employers for the privilege of keeping their jobs. There seems to be no end to the humiliation Greece is expected to endure. And despite the nonsense about southern European profligacy being bandied about, the Greeks are for the most part innocent victims. Rich nations like Germany offered enormous loans to Greece, which the Greeks then spent on goods from abroad: German imports to Greece exceeded $11bn in 2008. Greeks helped cobble the boot that’s now stamping down on them. It’s an absurd situation, and something has to change.

Syriza seem to be doing everything right. They’re not just relying on electoral methods: the strikes and protests in Greece are continuing unabated. They’re showing excellent strength of political will by refusing to go into coalition with any pro-austerity parties, which bodes well for the future. It’s strange to see them denounced as unbending ideologues – surely in an age where politicians routinely prostrate themselves before the wandering hordes of the Market, unbending ideologues are exactly what we need.

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Back in the good ol’ USA, a lot of people are refusing to see Barack Obama’s recent statement in support of gay marriage for the cynical election ploy that it is. It’s curious timing, this: just as the Republican base is finding itself shackled to a candidate who is not only a Mormon but a former governor of Massachusetts who knows at least three words of French, the Democratic president comes out in favour of the dastardly homosexual agenda to introduce anilingus into the elementary school curriculum. Meanwhile, those on the left previously disaffected by the Obama administration’s abject failure to do anything about anything are being galvanised into action by the Republican decision to make an election issue out of contraception, of all fucking things. It’s not that gay civil rights aren’t important, but – idealist that I am – I like to think that politics should be about something more than what people do with their genitals. I’m also not saying that there’s a shadowy bipartisan conspiracy to perpetuate the two-party system indefinitely – actually, screw that, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The only shocking thing is how brazen they are about it.

Go Go Gingrich!

I’ve not really been all that kind to Newt Gingrich in this space. I’ve made extensive fun of his ridiculous name, I’ve suggested that his primary bid should be ruled void on the grounds that he’s quite clearly a fictional character, I’ve accused him of wanting to feed ordinary Americans into a massive meat grinder and of being in league with Satanic forces. I still stand by all of that; it’s all true. But since then I’ve become convinced that Gingrich really is the best candidate for the Republican nomination and the Presidency.

Why? Just take a look at the opposition. First of all there’s Viscount Willard Mitt de Pfeffel Smittley-Hortelswick Mulchflaps Romney III (that is, as far as I can tell, his actual name), who is eventually going to win the primary despite the fact that not a single person in America seems to actually like him. That a plutocrat – someone who’s transcended being merely obscenely rich and has now entered the arena of the downright pornographic – should have a hard time appealing to the Republican base seems implausible: these people are ideologically conditioned to see parasites like him as living embodiments of the American dream. I have a theory. Republican voters, like dogs, can detect ill intent through some olfactory sixth sense; they can’t quite explain why, but they know something isn’t right with him. And they’re right. Mitt Romney isn’t human. He’s a space alien, who has decided to take part in one of our Earth elections for some nefarious reason – as a sociological experiment, a test before our induction into the Galactic Confederation of Light, for an interplanetary TV comedy, as respite from the boredom of a thousand years drifting between the stars; these are all equally plausible explanations. It’s the only way to account for the rubbery latex quality of his skin, his blindingly false grin, his hastily suppressed look of fear and panic whenever he’s brought into contact with a member of the general public, his tendency to sing several verses of America the Beautiful a capella at every fucking campaign stop. His candidacy looks exactly like an extraterrestrial’s attempt to imitate a political campaign. He’s an alien. Where’s the birth certificate, Romney? On what planet did you spawn?

Then there’s the feisty young contender, Rick Santorum, who may not be physically wearing Mormon underwear but does seem to have elasticated cotton wrapped firmly around his cerebral cortex, whose family of Italian communists can’t stand him, who oozes like he just waddled out of an oil slick, who wears sweater vests in campaign commercials, who dresses his daughters like Victorian child prostitutes, who has the disjointed little grin of a Mark Heap character, whose virulent homophoia isn’t fooling anyone, who seems to honestly think he can somehow reintroduce heavy industry to the United States, who looks like he’s been faceshrunk by God, who has a name like Rick Santorum. Is this really what we’ve come to, as a species? Rick Santorum? Really?

Nobody seems to ever pay much attention to Ron Paul, so I won’t either. He’d make a decent lovably racist grandfather, I guess, but that’s about all he’s got going for him. He might make some good points about maybe not using the invasion of foreign countries as a substitute for there being anything good on TV, but his appeal loses some of its lustre when you realise that he wants to let states reinstitute segregation and proposed sending mercenaries to take potshots at Somalian pirates (or fishermen – they’re all in boats, right?). His voice isn’t even rich and warm like David Attenborough’s, as it ought to be; it’s a hideous nasal whine. Plus, the Internet seems to love him, which makes me instantly distrustful.

Finally, there’s Prince Gloom himself, Barack Obama… as lightning flashes around the White House of Solitude, the grey-haired Prince Gloom sits on his throne of skulls in the Oval Tower, his dry lips flapping as he surveys the wreckage of his realm. A mumbled sentence escapes his parched throat. Grand Vizier Biden leans in, but cannot understand him. The doleful prince repeats himself, over and over again, his eyes whirling, his bony arms flailing about, until his words fly forth in a parched roar: I never wanted it like this. Collapsing into howls of anguish, the Prince gazes upon his portrait on the wall: the young  man who smiles from it now seems a terrifying and sinister stranger. He is being mocked. Joe, he hisses. Joe. Order a drone strike on that man. Maybe once Candidate Obama is reduced to a few grisly splatterings of blood and flesh, Prince Gloom will be able to find some peace…

If there’s one thing the Obama presidency has demonstrated, it’s that whatever their good intentions (and, to be honest, I’m pretty sceptical about Obama’s – his whole hope ‘n’ change shtick has the ring of some greasy PR company), elected officials can’t really get that much important stuff done. There are so many extrademocratic institutions put in place by the oligarchs operating the machinery behind the electoral spectacular that actually changing anything is all but impossible – and Obama didn’t even really try. And yet despite this millions of previously disillusioned lefty types are gearing up to vote for Obama again, not because he actually did anything, but because look how crazy the other guys are. It doesn’t matter. Just like how no Democrat is actually going to dismantle the military-industrial complex or create a single-payer healthcare system or start reacting seriously to climate change, no Republican is going to overturn Roe vs Wade or hunt down every undocumented migrant or institute capital punishment for adultery. It’s an elaborate spectacle, made to keep people voting, because if they keep voting, then power can maintain its pretences to legitimacy. That’s why I’ve not really paid much attention here to the actual policies of the various candidates: they don’t matter.

And that’s why I’m officially endorsing Newt Gingrich for President. Obama, in the days before he became Prince Gloom, fooled us all for a while with his grinning platitudes, but it could never last. Newt Gingrich is avaricious, venal, petty, grotesquely fat, repulsively libidinous, and gloriously vile. He has none of the glossy sheen of Romney or Santorum or Obama. He is unencumbered by bullshit. He divorces his wives while they receive treatment in hospital, he leers like a creepy uncle, he says monstrous things to hooting applause. Newt Gingrich turns ugliness into high art. He has perfected the aesthetics of the grotesque. Like it or not, he is the real face of America.

In an election full of simpering clones, Newt Gingrich is the only real human being. He won’t win, of course, because nobody really likes looking at themselves in the mirror. But as long as he stays in the race, he’ll remain an unpleasant reminder of what we all really are. God bless Newt Gingrich.

The people want another revolution!

After the killing of Colonel Gaddafi in October, I wrote:

When a government is overthrown there’s always a power vacuum, an open space which can be expanded into something genuinely new. If they are to have a chance, the Libyan people should stay on the streets and be on guard against any attempt to impose a merely procedural democracy. They must make sure the NTC doesn’t sell them out to to Western interests.

In what can only be a direct result of my awesome bloggery, this is exactly what’s been happening. As Russia Today reports:

Protesters gathered at Shajara Square, which was the birthplace of the anti-Gaddafi rebel movement back in February. Their slogans included “The NTC must quit,” “Jalil must go” and “The people want another revolution,” AFP reports.

Apart from calling for more transparency and a quicker pace of reforms, they also demanded the publication of a full list of NTC members.

That these protests are taking place in Benghazi is significant: this is emphatically not part of the pro-Gaddafi rump movement still skulking around the West of the country. The protesters are waving the revolutionary flag and are angered by the decision to pardon loyalist fighters. Most of all, they’re angry about the NTC, and for good reason.

The NTC is not a friend of the people of Libya. As I mentioned in my earlier post, they spent the early days of the revolution forming central banks and oil ministries. Since the fall of Gaddafi, they’ve made every effort to avoid transparency and accountability: of its 48 members, only 33 have been named; it has taken it upon itself to manage the transition to democracy on its own timeline; it lacks any significant avenues of communication with the people or even the various local militia; and it’s not at all clear whether its loyalties lie with the Libyan populace or its Western paymasters.

People in the West tend to like simple narratives with satisfying conclusions. We especially like simple narratives where the good guys are just like us. In the absurd teleology of flat-earth end-of-history liberalism,what the Arab Spring was about was the desire to progress towards liberal democracy, the last and final stage of political development – in other words, for them to become like us, grumbling about a leadership class that maintains the illusion of democracy while effectively covering for the real centres of political and economic power. After the heroic sacrifices made by the people of the Middle East, I think they deserve better. Clearly, they do too: that’s why there’s been a mass rejection of the sham elections promoted by the military in Egypt, and the first rumblings of discontent with the self-appointed capital-friendly elite that constitutes the NTC in Libya. Like the Scaf, the NTC is probably perfectly willing to set up the basic institutions of electoral democracy (in its own time), because the example of the West has shown that procedural democracy is the best way to pacify a restless population.

That’s why the call for the NTC to publish a full list of its membership is a revolutionary demand. What it represents is an attempt to prevent the formation of managed pseudo-democracy and the re-ossification of power structures, to subjugate the instrument of the state to the will of the people, to insist that the mass of the people, unabstracted through self-appointed representative bodies, can constitute a political subjectivity capable of producing concrete effects. You can’t have half a revolution. Half a revolution isn’t a tolerable compromise, like half a box of chocolates. It’s a grotesque blood-splattered abomination, like half a puppy. An incomplete revolution has been foisted on the peoples of Egypt and Libya from outside, and they’re unlikely to accept it.

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