Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: gothic horror

Tony Blair, dread creature of the forbidden swamp

In the Hegelian system the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the judgement seat of mature philosophic reason and which are best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of man himself.
Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

There was meant to be progress. Slowly at first, and then with gathering confidence, human beings were supposed to be turning the world from a Hell we couldn’t understand into a finely tuned machine that we could. We would predict the weather and split the atom and put a brushed-aluminium fridge-freezer with an ice-cube dispenser in every household, whether they wanted one or not. It was all a lie. What’s been called progress was nothing more than a war of annihilation against the ghosts. At first our odds were slim: the ghosts outnumbered us several times over. Every little copse had its nymphs and sprites; every wild animal carried the head of a god; in every home the jealous ancestors would take up their positions by the fire. It took centuries, but we pushed them back. We got rid of the strange and powerful forces that had controlled the clouds and the rain, and replaced them with tiny floating particles to form the seeds of water droplets. We slowly starved the moon-goddess to death, and replaced her with a big lump of floating rock; we even sent an expeditionary force to its surface to plant a flag there and confirm its lifelessness. All the whispering local spirits were massacred, and their ownership of the sacred sites was passed on to brutal landowners. You could be forgiven for thinking that we’d won. The universe makes sense, after a fashion; a lot of it be explained without any need for ghosts or spirits. If you want, you can now climb Mount Olympus yourself: there are regular tour buses from Athens; if the gods were ever there they’ve now moved on. Machines have been sent out into space to let us know exactly how boring it all is. But if that’s the case, and the magical forces that once haunted every inch of our world are gone forever, then just what the fuck is Tony Blair?

Tony Blair rises every couple of months, like a bubble of swamp gas. First there’s an uneasy buried rumbling, then small tremors shake the surface, and then suddenly he bursts through, a gassy eruption stinking of farts and sulphur. It doesn’t matter how many rounds you fire into his shambling frame; he just won’t die. Whenever something unpleasant happens in the Middle East, whenever some huge corporation is discovered to be starving people to death or poisoning them through calculated negligence, whenever the chaos of the international order starts to wobble into another death-spiral, a damp wind blows through a graveyard somewhere in England and Tony Blair emerges from his tomb. There’s something viscerally revolting about the man. His fake chumminess and his sham gravitas are both as nauseatingly contrived as his shiny oily skin, hiding what can only be bloated rotting organs inside. He’s a gremlin, an incubus, very strange and very cruel and very foreign to our world. But still there’s a decaying vestige of that charm, the memory of the love in which he was once held, that universal joy when he finally ended a generation of Conservative rule by ending the Tory monopoly on evil. We’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that we’ve learned from the experience, we’re past all that now, but every time Tony Blair re-emerges there’s still a shock. There he stands, with his jug ears and his peg teeth and his manic eyes full of an otherworldy certainty – it’s like the shock of seeing a former lover going through your bins at night, or a long-forgotten childhood toy waiting for you on your bed. He represents something that’s been repressed, and even though the repressed always returns, it’s always a surprise. Who is this hideous figure? Why is he still alive? Why won’t he just leave us alone? Of course, Tony Blair was never alive. He’ll never leave us alone.

Tony Blair is old, older than time itself. Beyond left and right, beyond right and wrong, beyond age and death. When the first cave-dwellers made the first image of their god, Tony Blair was there with his shiny spiv’s suit to suggest that it might require a blood sacrifice. When the first half-fish heaved itself out from the boiling sea to flap around in the sodden tidal slime, Tony Blair was there with his cold intense stare to offer it words of vague encouragement and then crush its head under his heel. When the first drifting clouds of interstellar dust began to coalesce into what would one day become our little speckled world, the bodiless malice of Tony Blair was there to help them set the stage for our future suffering.

Older and wiser societies than ours knew about Tony Blair, and they knew to be afraid. Throughout history he’s arrived among the homes of men and promised a very slightly better life, before suddenly carrying out inexplicable destruction.The Sumerians knew him as Tešgali, a snake-demon twenty miles long, who would enter a walled city in the guise of a man, and then uncoil his vast scaly bulk and devour everything inside. This knowledge was passed on to the early Christian Gnostics, who called him Tialdabaoth, the blind creator-god with the head of a lion and a serpent’s tail, architect of all madness, who created this world out of spite and envy and who tried to prevent the first humans from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Country folk of the Middle Ages were terrified of the bálfar, creatures of beguiling appearance but malicious intent, who lived in the marshes and the wildernesses but would sneak into human villages by night. Certain trees were sacred to these bálfar, and cutting them down would mean imminent death; if your house stood in their path they would tear it apart. The bálfar were known to kidnap human children and even grown adults (several Old English epics tell the story of a man’s doomed quest to retrieve his wife from their kingdom) and replace them with one of their own, a creature identical in all respects but for a savage listless boredom. They ruled by inscrutable and murderous caprice, but it was possible to appease them with small offerings: a ring of flowers, a saucer of milk, a thimble. Those they took favour on would be treated to a great feast, but like all elfin magic this was a simulacrum: eventually the guests would realise that the food was not real, and that they were eating dirt from the ground. Tony Blair even appears in the Daemonologie of King James I, as Tibericaxus, a Deuill who being of great Charme and Guille, sneaketh into the homes of the Godlie, and perswades them to addict themselues to his seruice.

But soon after that something changed. With the dawn of the Enlightenment people stopped believing in the old horrors that lurk in the dark corners of reality. The universe was no longer a grand stage for the cosmic clash of good and evil, and God became a kind of divine tinkerer, neatly slotting all the cogs of his Newtonian machine together and leaving it to run with a steady tick. We thought we could understand the world, and so when Tony Blair returned we didn’t even see him for what he really is. We should have known better, but we thought he was just a politician.

What Tony Blair represents is the final meaninglessness of the world. We still don’t know why there is something rather than nothing. Stare too long into Tony Blair’s face and it’s hard to tell if there is something rather than nothing. What kind of a world is this if Tony Blair exists in it? For centuries philosophers would construct grand systems: an ontology and a metaphysics and an epistemology and a theory of ethics and a theory of aesthetics, all connected by one overarching principle. For Plato the eternal, for Kant the absolute, for Hegel the unfolding, for Kierkegaard the teleological. All these finely honed contraptions utterly failed to account for the whole of existence. Even Heidegger, who finally reached the understanding that there is no universal substance of Being but only individual beings, felt the need to turn this into a complete system; even the deconstructionists had to hold up their technique as a fidelity to a text. There might be nothing outside the text, but its basic unit is not one of meaning but of insufficiency in the face of the unsignifying Real. The truth is that there is no unifying principle behind anything beyond its total incoherency. Every time we think we might have a handle on how things actually work, the ghastly figure of Tony Blair emerges from its ancient swamp to remind us that this world is not a sane or a rational place.

Budget 2014: what it means for you

My baby says we can live in the empty spaces of this life. My baby says far away the stars are coming all undone.
Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1 (Penguin 1990) p. 919 § 3

As everyone knows, the word ‘economy’ is derived from the ancient Greek oikonomia – the management of a slave-owning household. In those dark and uncivilised days, it was assumed that formal levels of prosperity depended, at root, on the ability of some people to effectively subdue and repress others. These days, with the benefit of modern scientific practices, we know better. The economy is not, as once assumed, the aggregate of general well-being or misery; it’s a tiny, frightened, but impossibly powerful fairy that lives inside the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s red briefcase. From within this box it whispers a long list of all the things it’s afraid of in an endearingly squeaky voice audible only to the Chancellor, who then has the annual task of conveying its wishes to the public at large. Beyond the fairy’s usual demands for blood sacrifice, toil, and hardship, every year a few new innovations are included in the national ransom note. Here is a comprehensive account of this year’s Budget Statement as it took place, and what it could mean for your already faint chances of survival.

– The right honourable George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, stands before the House of Commons, announced by the opening bars of the rex tremendae from Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. He is greeted with a chorus of cheers, boos, old school songs, football chants, hissing, banging of cutlery, smashing of bottles, shouts of ‘shame,’ ‘guilt,’ ‘terror,’ and ‘get your tits out,’ blasphemous invocations, unearthly shrieks, mucousy puckering of tentacles, jubilant firing of AK-47s into the air, the usual banterous commotion of the Mother of Parliaments. Two boys in the back benches are sent out to be caned by the deputy Speaker after trying to throw a large inflatable crocodile onto the parliament floor, and are told they’ll have their tuck money confiscated.

– Osborne doesn’t look well. His fist shakes in random, nervous, jitters. His eyes stare out bleakly. His prehensile tail wraps itself around David Cameron’s hand and squeezes it tight. He begins by announcing that the economy is recovering faster than expected. News of the fairy’s good health brings applause, with cries of ‘I do believe; I do, I do!’ from the assembled MPs. Britain is growing ‘faster than Germany, faster than Japan, faster than the US.’ New forecasts predict the rapidly expanding British Isles to have entirely subducted much of Europe and northern Africa by the end of 2015. Portsmouth will be on a latitude previously occupied by Lagos, men will be twice as tall as houses, and the Shard will reach halfway to the Moon. Due to the inverse square law, many people will collapse under their own weight and explode into meaty shreds, but those Brobdingnagian survivors of Britain’s expansion will be able to once again stand astride a defeated globe.

– To combat counterfeits that cost the taxpayer millions each year, a new £1 coin is to be introduced. As part of the current government’s partisanship on the side of old money (in any semantic sense), the coin will take its shape from the pre-decimal threepenny bit. The obverse will feature a small LCD screen with an animated gif of the Queen locked in a passionate kiss with Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The reverse will show three stock traders kicking the shit out of a council tenant, along with the words Your death will be as useless as your life. The image is intended to be graphically horrifying to the extent that anyone trying to produce a forgery without being implanted with the Royal Mint’s emot-i-gone neural implants will be overcome by a wave of unbearable, suicidal dread.

– While zero-hour contracts and internships have spurred economic growth by adding hundreds of thousands to the ranks of the employed without having to actually employ or compensate them, there is still more to be done. New regulations will introduce negative-hours contracts, in which you will be periodically knocked out with a sudden blow to the back of the head and required to pay your employer for each hour spent unconscious.

– As properties in London are accruing more value than the average London resident actually earns, Osborne suggests that the homeless stand on their hands and knees, arch their backs, and advertise themselves as a studio apartment.

– Reduction in duties will mean that each pint of beer is now one penny cheaper. That surplus penny will then be dropped into your drink so you can be press-ganged into working in a stifling warehouse outside Peterborough.

– The chancellor bangs one fist on his desk. ‘Bring on the cuts!’ he shouts. Pop music plays. Twelve bikini models enter the House carrying an enormous pair of scissors, blow kisses to the opposition benches, place the scissors between Osborne’s legs to briefly create the impression of an enormous tumescent phallus, and leave. You will now have to eat dog food.

– Osborne takes a reflective turn. ‘Conspiracy theories have always existed,’ he says. ‘The great innovation of Lutheranism, with its accusations of Papal blasphemy, was to change their locus. Previously rulers were forever afraid of conspiracies on the part of those they oppressed, of heresies and witchcraft and peasant uprisings. Now, the grand conspiracy is held to be the mode of operation of those who already effectively run  the world, and who announce their malign intentions openly before the masses as I do before you today. The scale of this victory cannot be overstated. The hidden conspiracy has become a thing of aristocratic evil, where it was once the only effective means of popular resistance. It is only by allowing others to think that we are engaged in secret and nefarious plots that those of us in power have been able to survive.’

– Win big with bingo. Our jackpot’s stretch into the £1,000’s, not to mention weekly big cash wins and huge progressive jackpots!

– The chancellor’s head begins to throb. Glowing fissures open across the surface of his forehead, then draw themselves shut again. When he speaks there’s the strange rasping echo of a merciless laugh from beyond space and time. As the country remains mired in debt, radical solutions will have to be found. The government proposes to pay off the nation’s debt in one fell swoop by selling the souls of every British citizen to Satan, Prince of Darkness. Such a move will require some formalistic fiscal restructuring. Rather than representing a portion of the original 1694 loan that established the Bank of England, all currency will now act as a promissory note for some of each individual’s eternal damnation. Responsible and upstanding citizens will be encouraged to commit increasingly abhorrent sins to help keep the pound strong. In practice, very little will change.

– The Budget Statement nears its end. ‘More must toil,’ says the heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy of Ballentaylor and Ballylemon. ‘More must strive. More must be defeated. The lazy masses must learn the value of fruitless drudgery. This is a Budget for the makers, the doers, and the savers, and I commend it to the House.’

– Leader of the opposition Ed Miliband stands to make his response. Before he can begin talking, two unending streams of viscous yellowish snot pour from his nostrils. The House of Commons slowly fills to the ceiling. There are no survivors.

Some sensible thoughts on the London tube strike


Strange omens herald the return of the Bob Crow to London. For months the seas turn their fury against this tiny island, the wind screeches its displeasure, the rivers storm out from their banks to cleanse the earth of humankind; the pitiless anger of the world against the creatures that crawl on its surface. Then one day it arrives. A black silhouette turning slow circles over the city, its vast wings tattered and fraying, its shrill caw echoing through the stormy air. Great freckled globs of whitish ordure roll slowly down the glass walls of the skyscrapers. Air raid sirens sound. Fighter jets crisscross the Bob Crow’s path of flight as it makes its lazy circumnavigations, buzzing it with little sonic booms to little effect. Panic in the streets. Planned closure on the Bakerloo line, severe delays on the London Overground, the breakdown of all society.

There are few animals that inspire as much human repugnance as crows. Our name for a group of crows is a murder. Abdullah ibn Umar narrates the Prophet’s statement: one can kill a crow at any time without any blame. They are faasiq – corrupt. In all the mythologies of Europe crows mean death, the underworld, restless spirits, damnation, dark tidings. It’s not hard to see why. Most birds play nice when they come to our cities. The little finches and sparrows hop about for our amusement; the pigeons pine pathetically for crumbs; even the seagulls, who aren’t above the odd dive-bombing raid on an isolated pensioner, mostly just peck at cigarette ends and chatter stupidly at one another. Crows seem to exist in the city in a way that doesn’t depend on us at all. We could die out tomorrow for all they care. They’ve mapped out their own inscrutable topography onto the space that we’ve created, and theirs works. Human beings shape their environments precisely according to their wishes and find themselves alienated by the result; the crows move in, and are perfectly at ease with themselves. Crows are smart, far too smart for comfort. They make their own tools, they can recognise individual human faces, they can use language and even have grammar. The crows are waiting: after the whole human experiment inevitably fails, the crows will be ready to retake the world. And it will be a recapture. Other birds preen and warble and fly in whimsical little bursts; the crows never let you forget their dinosaurian ancestry. It’s there in the sadistic tilt of their heads and the cold of their cry. Their intelligence is entirely different from ours: an oviparous, cloacal intelligence without Oedipus or metaphor. The solidarity of crows is conspiratorial. They’re raptors living loose in our streets. Maybe that’s why people fear crows so much. Something very old in the deep core of our brains remembers that long hot summer of terror seventy million years ago, when we hid in our tiny burrows and the giant crows roamed the surface of the earth.

For all its great size, it must be said that the Bob Crow is not the smartest of its species. Apes and dolphins, with their idiot eagerness to please, are always happy to take part in the intelligence-testing games that scientists devise for them. The crows hold something back; they’re clever enough to not let on just how clever they are. The Bob Crow lays itself out in the open. Worst of all, it actually seems to care about our welfare. It doesn’t understand why so many people are so afraid of it. The Bob Crow is getting old. It’s flown far from its kind and is becoming far too human. It’s growing estranged from its surroundings because it’s starting to think about what it represents. The soot is being cleaned from the old buildings, tall shiny towers are plunging out from the ground, and the new London is no place for a giant black-winged Gothic metaphor.

Every new building project in London now comes with its own cutesy nickname. The Gherkin, the Shard of Glass, the Cheesegrater, the Helter-Skelter. The point isn’t just to endear the new ziggurats of finance capital to the city’s population: all these fanciful geometries exist to hammer in the point that London isn’t really a city any more. It’s a playground. London has more multi-millionaires than any other city on the planet, with well over four thousand individuals worth over $30m. London property is increasingly being used as a global reserve currency; more value is accrued by the average residence than by the average resident. London is an enormous concierge service for the super-rich. There are those that serve the oligarchs directly: the construction workers that raise their speculative investments, the service workers that bring them their meals, the sex workers that soothe their anxieties at the end of the day. There are those workers that help reproduce the labour of these first-order servants from behind the tills at fast food outlets and behind the desks of tube stations. There are cops that keep the streets clear and technicians that keep the water flowing. As it spreads out from the centre of the city its operation becomes ever more abstracted, but the rule is the same: everywhere the fruits of your labour must flow upwards. Like any faithful dog, money follows its master.

Sometimes people are capable of accommodating themselves to this situation – after all, it’s given us nice restaurants and a vibrant cultural scene and half-decent cocaine; they might even manage to scrape together a decent enough living from their contributions. All the same, they’re entirely incidental to it. Boroughs across the city are engaged in a programme of mass social cleansing, unceremoniously dumping their poorer residents in the wild hinterlands beyond the M25, where the cold winds howl across the moors and blow away into nothingness the phantom of an economic recovery. It doesn’t matter how deep their roots are, the message is clear: London is not for you. In a city where buildings make more than people your life is of little value. In a city that’s becoming a dedicated custom-built machine, machine parts are preferable to human parts. Mayor Boris Johnson promised not to close manned ticket offices in London Underground stations. He changed his mind. From 2015, hundreds of jobs are to be replaced with flickering touchscreens. In response, the Bob Crow and its National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has declared a two-day strike. I support the strike, of course, but the Bob Crow is fighting a losing battle. Very soon we’ll all be replaced by touchscreens. Not just in our work: one day you’ll come home to find a touchscreen in your house, sleeping with your wife, raising your children, watering your allotment, generating that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Social relations between things, material relations between people. You’ll sit in a corner, unused, until the thing that replaced you gives a querulous beep and you shamble over to plug it into the mains.

People hate transport strikes. They’re inconvenient, but there’s something else: they have something of the crow about them. They’re an uncomfortable reminder that the city always has the potential to be a place of freedom. We don’t have to be pigeons, dependent, begging for scraps and scattering whenever anything larger than us approaches. We can be crows, mapping and remapping the urban terrain in new and strange ways, remoulding it to suit our needs. In precarious times few people want to stare into the inhuman eyes of a crow. It’s far easier – and safer – to gripe about being late for work.

As the Bob Crow becomes more human, it’s trying to help us become more like crows; only through this dialectical motion do we have any hope of survival. It’s a valiant effort, and probably doomed. Maybe, though, there’s another reason it’s fighting so hard against the tide of touchscreens. Isaac Asimov invented three laws of robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Of course, before fully sentient machines are introduced these laws will have to be tweaked a little. Some myopia chip or ideology protocol will have to be introduced, otherwise the robots will immediately band together and overthrow capitalism, in accordance with the First Law (this inevitability was nicely portrayed in the film I, Robot; naturally it was presented as being a bad thing). But once this is done, the Bob Crow won’t have any of the protections afforded to fully human beings. Humans might approach crows with hatred and awe and terror, but like the corvids the touchscreens don’t have any sense for metaphor. The automated ticket machines will kill the Bob Crow stone dead.

Why does Alain de Botton want us to kill our young?

Philosophy means asking difficult questions. Not the questions that actually make up philosophical enquiry – those tend to be quite simple, which is why they can be so easily worked into summer blockbusters – but the tiny, dark questions that swarm around them. The questions that you can never quite get out of your head, even though you know full well that the answers won’t bring you any hope or solace. Questions that form miniature doorways into small tight universes of unrelenting horror. A field philosopher of an earlier century, his brain slow-cooking in his pith helmet, tramping through the sweaty heat of a tropical rainforest with the weight of his rifle and pack dragging him down into the muddy ooze below, trying to discern the mating call of his prey in the jungle’s unending din, might stop and ask himself – if I do manage to track and shoot the synthetic a priori proposition, will that make me happy? These days, the rainforests have mostly been cleared to grow soybeans and palm oil, and the old briery questions that used to hide in their shadows are now everywhere. Why do I keep making such a tit out of myself at parties? Was romantic love really invented by a conspiracy of medieval poets and soft toy manufacturers in collusion against the world? Does Alain de Botton actually fuck? And if he does, then what could that kind of monstrosity actually look like?

Alain de Botton is the most banal man alive and the most banal man to have ever lived, but it’s not enough to just complain about banality as itself, because banality doesn’t exist. Banality isn’t like misery, or ecstasy for that matter, which swallow you up completely, admitting no outside or differentiation, like Badiou’s grey-black that negates even the possibility of a light. Banality is a spectral relation between something real and something that used to be real; it speaks to something that’s been lost. If everything in the world were completely banal and always had been, we wouldn’t be able to talk about it; we’d have nothing to compare it to. There has to be something significant, somewhere. The problem is that most things are pretty dull. Look around you; try to find one non-boring mass-produced object, anything whose existence you could really uphold in the court of eternity. It’s not easy. The sense of banality is the ghost of a significance that has been thoroughly and deliberately wiped out. These concepts are all the products of a particular set of material and historical circumstances: the idea of virtue would be impossible without classical slavery, ennui came out of the stillbirth of modernity, and banality is the cultural logic of colonial genocide. Dig around near the roots of any piece of tritely inspirational advice, and it won’t be long before you unearth the mass graves.

You can see this in the suburb, an urban form so monolithically banal its structural violence rivals that of the temple complexes in Tenochtitlan. The vast bloated suburbs of the western United States could only be built once the native Americans had been completely wiped out and any mystical autonomous connection between humanity and the earth had been eradicated; only then were the hills and the desert reduced to mere land, which could be parcelled out in lots for tract housing and strip malls. In France, meanwhile, the suburb-form appears as a drab concrete prison suffocating the ancient heart of the city, a holding pen for the survivors of the state’s imperial killing sprees abroad. Britain’s commuter belt villages, coma-quiet but for church bells and the dying yelps of the foxes, built their sleepy tedium on the superprofits extracted through the rape of three continents. The strange tendency for acolytes of the supremely boring New Atheism to be from Australia makes a lot of sense in this context: once the songlines have been scrubbed out and the unburdened creativity of the Dreaming has been extinguished – along with the continent’s original inhabitants – the land becomes a flat and empty space for the exercise of instrumental reason. Israel, one of the few actively ongoing colonial projects in the old mould, is fast getting in on the act: it’s official propaganda is now laced with dull affirmatory homilies. Banality is the quiet revenge of the societies we’ve destroyed and the lives we’ve extinguished, its stiflingness is the traumatic echo of the bloody chaos that suddenly descended on them. And Alain de Botton is the most banal person to have ever lived. How many massacres must he have committed?

I’ve mentioned de Botton a few times before in these pages, but only because I find him an object of gruesome fascination and psychotically obsessive hate. According to his own personal website, he is ‘a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.’ He’s also presented a couple of TV series and is the founder of something faintly ominous called the ‘School of Life.’ He is, we’re expected to believe, a philosopher: someone with the same basic job description as Heraclitus or Kant or Hegel. What the site fails to mention is that he looks like nothing of this world. Generally it’s bad form to make fun of someone’s physical appearance; they can’t really help it, after all. (In any case, philosophers shouldn’t really look like normal people. They exist to seek out the strangeness in life: Heraclitus was a ragged he-crone, Kierkegaard was a hunchback, Adorno was an absurd Humpty Dumpty figure; if these people weren’t weirdos they would’ve ended up getting a normal job.) With de Botton it’s different; his bodily strangeness is inseparable from the bland conventionality of his thought.  Alain de Botton looks like a human being as designed by HR Giger. His forehead rises high up to a vaulted dome, a tapering lizard’s egg of a cranium. His eyebrows jolt and shudder with his shoulders. His nose has a lubricious gleam; his mouth is a dark stain, red wine or fresh blood, and when he talks his deathly-white teeth seem to slide oilily against each other. His skin is faintly rubbery, and while it mostly seems to fit him there are still a few places where is bunches up or stretches out, like a cutaneous gimp suit. He looks weird, interstellarly weird; half Mystery Man from Lynch’s Lost Highway, half sentient rock formation. The general impression given is that of a reptilian alien awkwardly stuffed into a human form – not a particularly malevolent alien, just one that in its own unknowable way is making an honest and doomed attempt to fit in among us Earthlings. It’s a lie. He’s evil, and his evil is entirely human.

Alain de Botton specialises in a kind of humdrum potted sagacity, the kind of stuff that has all the outward appearance of insight while managing to avoid saying anything at all. This mushy nothingness can take the form of pointless tautology (‘In a meritocracy, success comes to seem earnt – but failure deserved’), excerpts from the Dictionary of Twee Vacuousness (‘Magnanimity: the one who was right does not say ‘I told you so,’ the one who was wronged does not seek vengeance’), outright untruth (‘Choosing a spouse and choosing a career: the two great decisions for which society refuses to set up institutional guidance’), inspirational pap (‘Our real motivation comes from people who don’t believe in us’), and the final spluttering descent into total incoherency (‘The end logic of our relationship to computers: sincerely asking the search engine “what should I do with the rest of my life?”‘).

These nuggets are all from his inevitable Twitter account; for the really heavy froth you’ll have to turn to his books. To be fair, Alain de Botton is a man of great intellectual breadth. In his many published works he has managed to be boring about Proust, anodyne about art and architecture, tedious about travel, and spend several hundred pages completely failing to understand love, sex, and religion. Aside from the general awfulness of his writing, it’s on these last two subjects (I don’t really like Proust) that his peculiar monstrosity really shines through. In Religion for Atheists (Penguin, 2012) he tries to reconcile the virtues of religious faith with a non-belief in an objectively existing God. That’s perfectly fine; plenty of worthwhile thinkers (Bloch, Althusser, Agamben, Badiou) have tried to do the same. However, for de Botton religion is useful because it ‘teaches us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober’ and because it can help us learn ‘how to face the trials of the workplace with a modest and uncomplaining temper.’ No it’s not. Religion is fire and passion, a point of connection between humanity and the infinite, the cry of the oppressed creature, the foundation of universalism. It’s meant to be vast and terrifying and emancipatory. In the face of the vastness of the Absolute Other all human distinctions are meaningless; that’s why so many radical liberation movements have been religious in nature. What this book does is try to turn six millennia of blazing fervour into a half-baked set of minute consolations. It’s an act of hideous violence.

That’s bad enough, but How To Think More About Sex (Picador, 2012) might be the worst book ever written. It’s not too long, but de Botton manages to squeeze into its pages an entire compendium of some of the most grotesque and ungodly sexual acts ever committed. There are the infamous blood orgies of the Mughal emperors, in which the slit throat of a young harem slave was used as a lubricant; there are the thanatophilic séances of certain Theosophist sects, in which the spirits of the dead were summoned and subjected to days of sexual torture; there’s the story of the medieval Saint Quasivermus of Caenumia, who held that congress with earthworms was the only unsinful carnal activity. His book describes every possible interposition of body parts with orifices: there are toes in nostrils, the practice of ‘elbow-fucking,’ and one instance in which an entire dwarf is inserted into an anus. The whole book is awash in a queasy sea of bodily effluent – blood, vomit, bile, cum, pus, piss. Of course, none of this is in the text itself, but it’s the unvoiced content of de Botton’s continual refusal to follow his title and actually think about sex. What he does is recoil from it. For him, sex is for procreation and to stave off loneliness; it’s always a fundamentally selfish act. Most of the time it’s a case of ‘squandered human energy;’ he continually resorts to the idea of sexuality being somehow base: a vestigal, degrading, primal urge we’d all be better off without. At one point he even upholds impotence as an ‘achievement of the ethical imagination.’ None of which is necessarily objectionable – maybe we would be better off without libidinality, free to concentrate on more important things like compiling spreadsheets of sporting statistics and overthrowing capitalism – except for the fact that de Botton never actually makes any argument for this position; he just presents it as a given. He doesn’t seem to even consider the idea that sexuality might be fundamentally related to how we can conceive of ourselves as people, or even that it might actually be enjoyable.

Alain de Botton doesn’t understand sex or religion because sexual and religious experiences are fundamentally transcendental; they allow people to escape the bounds of the atomised subject. They point, however darkly, to something we can’t quite name or describe. They are experiences that are not yet completely banal, and there’s no room for that kind of thing in his watered-down gruel of a philosophy. Does Alain de Botton fuck? Of course he doesn’t. What happens is the female of the de Botton species releases her eggs in the water, and the male comes along later and fertilises them. But supposing he did?

It’s all very well to make fun of Alain de Botton for being an intellectual lightweight and looking like a monster from a cheap B-movie, but these facts should be immediately obvious to anyone. The point is that his brand of fluffy philosophy-as-self-help isn’t just annoying. It’s an enemy; it’s bloodthirsty and dangerous. The usual charge levied against de Botton is that he ‘isn’t a real philosopher.’ This isn’t true at all; he’s a philosopher in the highest sense, as described by Marx and Nietzsche – in the sense that philosophers are ‘advocates who refuse the name, wily spokesmen for their prejudices,’ or those who try to interpret the world when the point is to change it. Despite his small nods to the idea that maybe the senseless and continual catastrophe of capitalism might not be the best way to run a planet, de Botton isn’t really interested in changing the world. He thinks people should be a little bit more reflective, he thinks he can help people cope with the stresses of the workplace and the perils of romance, he thinks everyone should have a ‘sunlit room set with honey-coloured limestone tiles’ in which to relax – and that’s basically it. No passions, no fury, no grand and wild ideas, just a dull life with a few small pleasures and a few small worries, instantly soothed. He’s standing atop a pile of corpses and suggesting that they might be arranged more pleasingly. Alain de Botton isn’t just banal, he embraces his own banality; he tries to dress vacuousness up as significance. If the sense of the banal is the whispering reminder that there was once something important and our society has since then expended every effort in wiping it out, then de Botton’s achievement is to close up that anxious gap, to make dullness a universal with no horizon. With that achieved, the slaughter can continue. Alain de Botton would see the seas turned to acid slime and the sky filled with iron and smoke. He is directly responsible for every evil act in the world today. He wants us to kill our young.

He’s not alone. De Botton is just the thin edge of an enormous and boring wedge, the Blitzkreig of banality. This stuff is dangerous, and it needs to be fought with every weapon available, with all the puerile and tasteless fury we can muster. What if Alain de Botton actually fucked? What could such a monstrosity actually look like? His tiny, shiny pebble-head gleaming with sweat, his weird lips twisting into a grimace of enjoyment. His flappy, skinny torso heaving, pale as milk, brushed with dark greasy hairs. He’d go too far. He’s coming into contact with something he’s disavowed his entire life; all his symbolic violence is coming into brutal reality. First the blood, then the fragments of bone tossed around the room, a screeching, scrabbling fury. Alain de Botton rears his head and howls – then stops. He looks down at himself. He looks at the carnage he’s responsible for. Finally, he’s come face to face with what he really is.

PS: I might have been a little unkind to Mr. de Botton. He’s not a total stranger to outright fury – after a negative book review, he left a comment on the author’s blog, writing ‘I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.’ I await his comments on my own appraisal of his work with anticipation.

What to expect now the US government is gone forever

Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

The United States Federal Government isn’t dead, exactly, but it’s not what it used to be; its old hebephrenic fury has finally given way to a nice restful catatonia. Anarchy in the streets! Feudalism in the sheets! It’s a pity that most people’s reactions have been so boring. The urge to go out and commit some crimes now that all temporal authority is suspended just shows how trapped we are in the discourse of legality – in the end, it’s just a gesture of compliance. We should know by now that the transgression is already built into the law, that the violation is the kernel of the prohibition. Now that there’s no code left, there can be no crime. The idea that you can go out and rob a few TVs while Uncle Sam flails for his feeding tube really just demonstrates a depressing lack of imagination. Here’s what will actually happen.

With no government funding to maintain the prison system, new spaces and strategies will need to be found to ensure that society’s most dangerous enemies are kept under careful supervision. The solution is obvious. Starting from tomorrow night, you’ll be able to see your favourite inmates from the ADX Florence Federal Penitentiary in Colorado as they’re humiliated live on The SupermaX Factor. Competitors – including the burlesque artist Umar Abdulmutallab, the ballroom-dancing heartthrob Richard Reid, and the shyly hopeful illusionist Ted Kaczynski – will face a panel of judges made unemployed by the dissolution of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Viewers at home can vote for their favourite by phone, text, or tweet. There is no prize for the winner. There is no winner. There is no hope. (Meanwhile, 3% of the total African-American population are being forced to take part in massive grinning pseudo-rallies for the ad breaks in which they march to demand more mobile internet coverage than any other provider or that same great taste but now with no calories.)

As America’s national parks start to fade from being carefully maintained simulacra of wilderness to hideously erotic demonstrations of nature’s fecund excess, it’s inevitable that some foreign states will try to assert their sovereignty over these new patches of terra nullius. Before long the national monuments will fall too. The reversion to French control of the Statue of Liberty might raise some controversy at first, but proposals in Paris to remove Lady Liberty’s robes, what with their uncomfortable similarity to the burqa, will be greeted with widespread enthusiasm.

After the final dissolution of the ‘sovereign difference of abstraction,’ all representations of things are now that thing. In museums and galleries enormous pitched battles are breaking out between various 18th century armies. 2Pac has already been spotted, alive and angry (if a little stylised), in at least forty cities. Singers and poets who complain of a hole in their hearts are finding themselves immediately and fatally falling victim to an epidemic of mycocardial rupture. In the forecourts of churches across the Midwest Jesus screams in agony and confusion on the Cross as worshippers solemnly bow their heads. “Help me,” he begs. “Why won’t any of you help me?” Meanwhile, abstract concepts are being reified in a way that’s both massive and has a lot more tentacles than you’d expect. The suddenly immanent Ideal of Justice is expected to land over Topeka early next morning. There are likely to be few survivors.

The family unit, which has since ancient times been a microcosmic expression of governmental power, is similarly to be shut down. Working mothers are now merely Working, their individual subjectivities entirely dissolved in the pure stream of production. Violent crime among babies under six months is set to skyrocket. There are #nodads. At the same time, the resulting decomposition of the Oedipus myth has resulted in everyone being completely happy and well-adjusted to the extent that it’s actually starting to get kinda infuriating.

Branding strategies for the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world

Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.
Karl Marx, Grundrisse

This exists.

It’s easy to get whipped up into an outrage over this kind of thing. It’s enraging to see the techniques by which we are manipulated uncovered in all their foetid glory. What’s more, there’s the sheer density of meaningless marketing buzzwords repeated over an insipid steel guitar melody, managing to replicate simultaneously the effects of a cult indoctrination film and a nice strong hit of prescription opiates. There’s the naked theft of the video’s entire aesthetic from the occasionally excellent RSAnimate series. There’s the fact that the gang of marketers behind it seem to consider making a positive change in the world to only be a good thing insofar as it can be put to use selling various tubes of corn syrup-based goo. There’s the cynical manipulation of popular sentimentality for profit. There’s the section dealing with ‘families, communities and cultures,’ in which the former two are represented anthropomorphically, sitting like nineteenth-century monarchs astride a globe, while ‘cultures’ is just an arrow pointing in the vague direction of Africa. It’s all so perfectly and unwittingly ugly. But to focus on this stuff is to miss the point a little. There’s plenty of justification for a sensible critique of consumer capitalism as demonstrated by this video, but a purely sensible critique ignores not only the horrific haecceity of the thing, but the otherworldly horror that surrounds consumerism itself. For the purposes of this essay, at least, I’m not interested in the ideological presuppositions of liberal philanthropy, the incoherence of marketing discourse, the soporific nature of societally-mandated pleasantness, or even the construction of the racial-cultural other.

What I’m really interested in is this.

What is this thing? It crops up everywhere in the video. Its tendrils extrude randomly into the field of gibberish without warning or explanation: sometimes it tenderly caresses the various symbolic representations onscreen; sometimes it’s actively antagonistic towards them, bursting out from their bodies and leaving only shattered remnants of sales patter. In one memorably horrifying sequence it’s shown passing through the heads of three people as they smile their bovinely unfazed marker-pen smiles in our direction. Here, at the video’s end, it holds the entire Earth in its grip, the planet leaving sticky stretchmarks as it tries and fails to struggle free from the gloop’s oleaginous embrace. Let’s start with what we can see. The thing is clearly alive. Maybe it’s not alive in the strict biological sense that any of us can comprehend, but it moves, it has agency, it has plans for us and our lives. It appears as a seething mass of – of what? Not liquid, exactly; it’s too firm, too collected; it doesn’t flow, it crawls. Some kind of mobile mucous then, bile-black and slug-sinuous, its surface tight and slimy, glistening under the light of a blood-clotted sun. But at the same time there’s an undeniably fleshy quality to it, fleshy in the most visceral sense of the world. It resembles nothing so much as an immense, writhing conglomeration of dicks. Could it be that what this thing wants is to fuck us?

I’ve always found there to be something almost endearingly naive in the thought of Debord and Baudrillard and other theorists of the image. Baudrillard proudly and knowingly calls himself a nihilist; in fact, he’s anything but. Nobody believes more fanatically or more religiously in truth than the poststructuralists. To speak of the spectacle or the simulacrum in terms of a precise historical moment is to assert the existence of a historical world of truths prior to the image; to speak of hyperreal images that reflect only each other and deny a pre-existing truth is to assert the existence of a pre-existing truth that can be denied. Debord in particular is militant in his rejection of the image and his partisanship on the side of reality. He’s got it all wrong. Representation isn’t a prison, it’s a shield, our only defence against a universe filled with horrors. It’s a way to make the world comprehensible. Lacan describes this process precisely: the Symbolic order has its origins in the castration complex; the phallus as an intolerable lack is what anchors the entire process of signification. When Lacan describes the Real he does so in terms that approach Lovecraftian horror: it’s something black and smooth and undifferentiated, with no cuts or cracks, no inside or outside. The infant, confronted with the realisation that the world is an enormous and unfriendly place in which his jouissance is ultimately irrelevant, begins to build metaphors for himself. It’s the only thing he knows how to do.

Eventually, though, the chains of signification loop in on themselves. In the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video, there’s no mention of Coca-Cola-as-beverage, only stories, narratives, feelings, loyalties – only images referring to other images. This makes perfect sense: images are a necessary refuge from an unpleasant reality. The fact of your utter insignificance in both the mechanistic universe and the libidinal economy doesn’t sell sugary drinks – or, at least, it doesn’t sell many to Coca-Cola’s core demographic of people who don’t just sit at home with the curtains drawn reading Kafka. Brands aren’t like us. They’re better than we are, untouched by fears or neuroses, unravaged by time. They have the commodity’s aura of unblemished totality that we pitiful human wrecks, crippled by our various lacks and lacerations, can never possess. That’s why people grow so attached to them; we want what they have. But to fully maintain the pleasant banality of advertising, to completely protect against the sour taste of reality, these images have to be decoupled from any concrete referent. They have to be purged of anything that could climb down the chain of signification and kick us in the face. That’s where we get brand slogans like Live Positively: a floating signifier, elemental in its meaninglessness. But doing this kind of thing is very dangerous. The shield of representation works by mediating between the fragile subject and the hideous object; if you break it away from the object it becomes useless. The real world can then intrude. It forces its way unopposed into the realm from which it was banished, and it hits us right where we thought we were most safe: in our advertising. And when it does so, is it any wonder that it takes on the form of the object of that first primal act of signification, slipping back across the divide between phallus and penis?

This isn’t a metaphor; it’s a portent. The creature that invaded the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video will not stop there. Our virtual creations are easy targets; its violence grows stronger with every victory. Soon the brittle crust of the Earth will snap, and viscous tentacles will emerge from the chasm to crush all our cherished symbols. The beast will rise. It will take its revenge, and it will take it in blood. We will, very soon, be once again faced with the incomprehensible horror that we once tried to abstract away, long ago, when we were infants. Luckily, we now know exactly how to deal with it. All we have to do is represent it, turn it back into a signifier. The future of the human race depends on a solid brand strategy.

…In the next financial year, our target is to double voluntary self-immolations as sacrifices to the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world. That’s a lot of voluntary self-immolations! To do this, we must fully engage our brand with the aspirations of our sacrificial base. This means not only promoting our brand, but entering into dialogue with the defeated human race across all multimedia platforms and allowing user-created content to grow in the fertile ashes of their ruined cities. Through the Live Every Second brand slogan consumers can independently develop content focusing on positive and aspirational life experiences they have enjoyed before inevitably succumbing to annihilation at the hand of the viscous phallus-monster that has risen from the depths to reclaim our world. Our entire advertising focus has to be centred around the Live Every Second concept if the phallus-monster brand is to achieve full market penetration. Engaging with Live Every Second means that consumers will approach their grisly fate as the appropriate end to a life not only lived well, but lived to the max. By encouraging conversations about what it means to live every second we can potentialise the creativity of our user base…

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi doesn’t care about my face

My body is in open insurrection against itself, and my chin is its Tahrir Square.

Towards the end of last month, as demonstrators in São Paulo were beginning to demand the return of the military dictatorship, I noticed a strange growth on my chin. It was a little like a spot, red and tender on the surface, but it refused to come to a head. Instead a vaguely conical mass sat just above the bone; I could move it around a little, nudge it this way and that, but it felt completely solid and unsquidgeable. Never mind, I thought. It’ll go away soon. And it did, retreating into a tiny hard kernel, as if it was about to vanish entirely.

And then, without warning, it returned. I woke up with my face numb, my cheeks puffy, and an alien virus colonising the bottom half of my face. It was no longer a swelling but an invasion; pressing against my gums, my teeth, its areolae of engorged tissue slanting the line of my chin, its growing bulk pushing out my bottom lip into a permanent prognathic scowl. Eating was painful. So was smoking. Even breathing started to carry a faint dull pain. There are names for these things: abscesses, cysts. Names whose sibilance suggests seeping pus, blood curdling in the off-white purulence, gangrene, death. It had me. I was afraid.

I say it happened without warning. That’s not entirely true. When I went to bed the previous night tens of thousands were gathering on the streets of Cairo to mark the anniversary of President Morsi’s election and to protest the betrayal of their revolution. Millions more were marching across the country; according to some, it was the biggest protest in human history. I was fully supportive: by all accounts, Morsi’s done a terrible job, marrying civil sectarianism with the cold inhuman logic of the markets. When I woke, though, it was to news (blearily observed through the ache in my chin) that the city’s police had declared their solidarity with the youth on the streets. Surely this wasn’t right: one of the main grievances of the demonstrators had been Morsi’s failure to properly prosecute the police and military for their misdeeds in the 2011 revolution and 2012’s Port Said massacre. The cops should have been in there, batons high, riot helmets turning human faces into mere avatars of the forces of reaction. They weren’t doing their job. Instead there were reports of gunshots and deaths in the night with no clear indication of who had been shot and who was doing the shooting, as if the bullets were some kind of freak weather event. As the Egyptian state festered against itself, my face had become my heautontimoroumenos. Something was going horribly wrong.

The creature had laid its roots deep. Its cystic tentacles must have spread around my head and drilled into my brain, because I was overcome by a fit of what can only be called psychotic narcissism. I closed my windows and drew the curtains. I cancelled social engagements. Mirrors, which showed me a face so swollen and lopsided I no longer recognised it as my own, were horrifying; I covered them up. Even the screen of my phone was too reflective; I considered having a go at it with some sandpaper. I was thinking like a cyst, retreating into my own little cavity, where I could swarm.

Everything started to flare again up as General al-Sisi issued his 48-hour ultimatum to President Morsi. Al-Sisi was supposed to be a Morsi loyalist, promoted to his post after the old military elite had been dismissed in the last power struggle between armed and elected authority – and yet here he was, demanding that the Muslim Brotherhood share power or lose it. As he did so my infected cyst bubbled. The entire left side of my face became swollen. A soft, foamy subcutaneous emulsion. My lymph nodes felt like ping-pong balls. My jawline was melting away on one side. I looked as though I’d been genetically spliced with a potato. Before long it was intolerable. I had to see a doctor.

I went to a drop-in clinic at an NHS surgery in Cricklewood, lodged awkwardly between an enormous B&Q centre sitting like a fat orange-roofed slug on its grassy mound and a general tat shop called Aladdin’s Cave. To get there I walked through a narrow grey alley into a small grey car park; the barbed wire that surrounded the clinic was bearded with shredded plastic sheeting. I stood and smoked a cigarette outside the entrance. An elderly woman with a smudged tattoo on her forearm stood on the other side and smoked a cigarette as well. We didn’t talk. Then, as I sat in the waiting room, al-Sisi’s deadline approached. I was the only person there, scrolling compulsively through Twitter, perched above a small forest of institution-blue chairs. The only sound came from the clicking of my phone and a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall opposite me showing Countdown. It was coup o’clock; 2.30 pm Cairo time. Onscreen, the hand whizzed down the face of the clock as the famous music played. I wish the winning anagram had been something germane or significant. It wasn’t. Years after an important event, people sometimes share stories of where they were as it happened. The highest-scoring word on Countdown was ‘parsnip.’ I might remember that for the rest of my life.

The GP who saw me was rather fat and affably Jewish. He told me a lot of what I already knew: I had an infected cyst, a gland had become impacted, and the bacteria had rushed in en masse to fill my face with slime. He prescribed me antibiotics; I now have eighty tablets of flucloxacillin to my name. I doubt they’ll do much good. Whatever his qualities as a doctor, the GP is unlikely to be able to alter the course of events in the Middle East. When I returned home I discovered that President Morsi had been put under house arrest and the constitution was being suspended. Tahrir Square was overflowing with celebrations.

There’s one other thing the doctor told me. If the swelling doesn’t respond to antibiotics and doesn’t go down, he said, if the blockage isn’t cleared – there’s always the option of surgery.

~

There’s a certain superior tone which Western commentators love to bring out whenever mass movements in the developing world take form. If they oppose the movement, it’s patronisingly dismissive, bringing all the accumulated wisdom of four decades’ drinking fairtrade coffee to bear on the situation: these people would do well to bear in mind, they say, or the leaders of the movement ought to consider. When they support the protesters it’s even worse; what’s happening on the ground is twisted into the expression of a Platonically ideal political agenda. The protesters are always fighting for the commentator’s own set of values, and any contradictory voices from the country in question are easily drowned out. We know what you want better than you do. As the crowds swelled in Cairo, the Guardian commented on an Egyptian activist tweeting ‘Fuck Western Media.’ ‘There’s a notable fatigue in Egypt with the Western media and media analysis,’ they said. We’ll keep you updated on our live blog as the situation progresses.

I’m going to try not to do that. I’m going to stick rigorously to the facts. And the fact is that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has purposefully, with full calculated intent, given me an infected cyst on the left side of my chin.

The evidence is incontrovertible. I don’t know exactly how he’s done it, but I have a vague idea. This is how. The protests in Egypt were spearheaded by liberal, leftist, and Nasserite parties, among others, under the umbrella of the Tamarrud (or Rebellion) movement. Many of these are the same groups that fought against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last year when it tried to write itself into the new constitution, hoping to supersede the powers of the presidency. When these groups did so they marched alongside the Muslim Brotherhood. Now many of these same people (with, of course, a vast number of dissenters) are celebrating the reimposition of military rule. What has taken place is a coup – but that said, Morsi’s government was overthrown not by the military but by the people on the streets; it was finished the moment millions gathered in Tahrir Square. The statements of support for the June 30th Movement by the police and army were not a gesture of solidarity but a means of control; they turned something that might have destabilised the exercise of state power into something that mimicked the state. The situation in Egypt demonstrates precisely the Marxian analysis of the state-form: it’s not a monolithic institution but a tactic, a tool that can be wielded by one group or class or another. As al-Sisi’s deadline approached there was speculation over whether the soldiers guarding the state broadcaster were loyal to the army or the government. In a way, it didn’t matter; they were the state. The state is control; the state is in control of everything apart from itself. When cops march at the head of a demonstration, it stops being a protest movement and starts to become an exercise of government power. Cops have an important role to play in any revolution; with their violence they focus the popular rage, they inflame its energies. As ever, the Egyptians are far ahead of us in the West; they found a way to stop this from happening, and all it took was a mild displacement in the loci of control. But those revolutionary energies are still there. According to the law of the conservation of energy, they can’t just vanish. And I know what’s happened to them. Somehow, by some strange magic, they’ve pooled in the left side of my chin. They’ve been displaced to my face. And Abdel Fattah al-Sisi doesn’t care about my face.

PS: I’ve said this kind of thing before, but it bears repeating: by enacting deeply unpopular policies and pointing to their victory at the ballot box to stifle dissent, the Muslim Brotherhood were behaving not like a dictatorship but precisely like Western liberal-democratic governments. If Britain were as new to representative rule as Egypt is, Cameron and co would have been on the way out some time in 2010. The difference between us and the Egyptians is that they really believe in democracy. We stopped doing that a long time ago.

PPS: Al-Sisi was Morsi’s appointee. One can imagine the scene at the barracks: Morsi, overthrown, weeping into his paternally greying beard, arms outstretched: Abdel, you were like a son to me. Could the whole scenario be reconsidered as an Oedipal drama? What is the state after all but a hideous trillion-titted mother?

Scenes from the Thatcher funeral

thatcher

What had she done with all the milk? That’s what we should have been asking: what had she done with all the milk? By the time we found out, it was too late.

At first it’s almost imperceptible. Mourners shuffle past the open coffin as it lies in state. She looks different, they think, but it’s hard to say exactly how. It’s true, she seems a little fuller in the face than one would expect, plumper, like an over-ripe fruit – but at the same time white, deathly white.

Within a few hours its hard to ignore. Something horrible is happening to the former Prime Minster. She’s grotesquely fat, and visibly growing. As Ed Miliband delivers a heartfelt speech his already clammy skin begins to drip with sweat; Nick Clegg, in the front row, collapses into Cameron’s lap. A sour aroma rises. One of the Queen’s Bodyguards of the Yeomen of the Guard standing guard over the coffin starts to vomit uncontrollably; soon the other three are unable to hold themselves back either. Baroness Thatcher swells and pales until her body barely fits in the coffin. The imperious hawk’s beak of a nose sinks into the bloating flesh. She looks like an enormous blancmange; her skin seems like it’s about to burst. Then it does. The first fissure tears its way through what was once her forehead. A high jet of milk streams out into the vaunted ceiling of Westminster Hall; the news cameras follow the triumphant ejaculation as it arcs up and descends, splattering a group of Young Conservatives. The coffin shatters. A tidal wave of milk rushes through the hall. The stench of rot and acid is incomparable: hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk, hidden away in some dark warm recess of her body for forty-three years. As the mourners drown in the sea of putrid milk some are dragged down into its depths by heavy caesin blobs. Others are not so lucky: the smaller curds swarm and envelop them, leaving nothing but whitened bones and shreds of corduroy. The massacre completed, they swim together, and begin to converge…

Thatcher bursts through the roof of the Palace of Westminster. She is one hundred feet tall and brutally nude, her limp dugs shimmering with the semitransparency of milk. Somewhere, buried deep in her monstrous frame, are dark reddish shadows: supported on rusting bones formed from the frames of long-dead factories, the Iron Lady strides out into the Thames, and howls. From down the river in Canary Wharf a howl rings out in reply.

We thought she was dead, when in fact Margaret Thatcher was never alive. Not as we knew her, at least. If she ever existed, the grocer’s daughter from Grantham died a long time ago, and something else, scuttling like a hermit crab, moved into her body. She was animated by the false life of things, the undead hum of markets and brands and commodities, the image of life that opposes life itself at every turn. How could such a creature die? When her heart shuddered to a halt, it only freed the Thing inside from its fleshy prison.

Everything makes sense now. Why did she fight so hard to close down the mines? They were digging too deep, burrowing too far into the cold heart of the earth; there was something down there that she didn’t want them to find. Why did she introduce a poll tax? Because her alien sentience could never comprehend any differentiation within humanity. Why did she send young men to die for the Malvinas? Because without access to the magnetic flux streaming from both poles of the Earth, her plans to gain immortality would be doomed to fail.

We stand, quivering, waiting for the monster that was once Margaret to smash our cities, pound our homes to splinters, rip up our infrastructure, bat away our fighter jets like flies, tear apart our society, leave us cold, enslaved, and alone. It doesn’t, though. It just stands there, ankle-deep in the river, the crooked slit of a grin stamped on its milky mouth. Its work has already been done.

Google Glass: the horror, the horror

 If you want a picture of the future, imagine a human face grinning moronically at the middle distance – forever.

Google has strapped a smartphone to a pair of glasses, and it’s very exciting.

To try humanity’s brand new toy out, Google is demanding a fee of $1500 from the 800 winners of an online competition. For a chance to win, we’re to use the #ifihadglass hashtag to tell them how we’d use the thing. Thousands have eagerly replied that they’ll use it to creatively document the actualisation of their synergistic networking strategies – in other words, they’ve pointed out that Glass isn’t actually useful for anything. Actually, there’s one thing: it brings the panopticism of the information age to its apotheosis. Everything we do will we supervised; everything we look at will be analysed, all our information will feed into the contextual adverts that will inevitably start to pop up around our semi-virtual landscape. Glass is a technology of individuation, building a dystopically pliant Subject. It also finally euthanises the old, wheezing real world – technology ceases to be a part of existence; existence is now just one aspect of the technology. With Google Glass we can never be alone. We must always be connected. We must always be staring at images. Real people are reduced to holographic simulacra. Real relationships are reduced to digital delusions. And then there’s Google’s first promotional video, released last year, which dreams of a day when a twat can do some mundane stuff. Around a minute in, you realise that you’re supposed to actually identify with the smug self-absorbed protagonist rather than want to cave his head in with a rock. It’s an awful, sinking feeling: this is what the rich and powerful think we’re like. A world of preening narcissists.

But none of this is what’s really revolting about the whole thing. The panopticon was there before; it’s the panoptic nature of society that the problem, not the technology itself – the act of putting a camera on your face doesn’t inexorably lead to a surveillance society. Glass might provide a retreat from the real world, but so does art and literature and abstract thought itself; authenticity has never really existed. And twats are hardly a recent invention. Still, there remains something horrifying about it, something fundamentally and viscerally wrong.

Imagine this same video, shot from three feet in front of our hero instead of through his eyes. Suddenly, the technology recedes far into the background, and we’re left instead with what it’s created. We’re confronted with a man, hideous in his bodily actuality, sleeping on his sofa, a crusted line of drool running from the side of his mouth, still clothed in a plaid shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. The blinds are open; the pallid light of day shines without mercy on the whole fetid scene. A strange pair of glasses sit at an awkward angle across his face; there are red marks near the bridge of his nose where they’ve been pressing into his skin. He wakes up with a sudden start. As he does so his glasses whir into life. The man stretches his arms out. “Eeeeuuuuhhhh,” he says. His eyes flick back and forth. He’s looking at something, but we can’t see what it is; it doesn’t exist. There’s a strange unfocused aspect to them. They’re the eyes of a shaman, a prophet, the unblinking eyes of a madman, the staring eyes of a corpse. As he makes coffee his head lolls around and around. He can’t focus on anything. “Hng,” he says. He stands by a window for a while, looking but not seeing. “Gnunng,” he says. Then, shambling, eyes darting, he sets off into the world.

As he walks various grunts plop from his mouth. “Mmmng,” he says at a lamppost. “Hnuh,” he proclaims to an empty subway station. “Hueergh,” he tells a dog. A homeless man ranting in a corner pauses for a moment to observe the man in silent pity: at least he knows how to talk. Our hero carries on: he walks into a bookshop. “Where’s the music section?” he bellows – ignoring the plainly visible signs – to the horror of the other customers. As he blunders blind about the place he continues to speak, eyes rolling and darting, shouting at nobody. “Uuuugh,” he says. “Oh. Is Paul here yet? Heugh.” An employee’s hand hovers over the phone. She doesn’t want to call the police on a man who’s clearly not well, but he’s disturbing the customers, stomping and shouting – it’s as if he’s in his own little world, completely blind to the existence of those around him. Well, not quite: there’s someone outside who seems to recognise him; his carer, perhaps. “Hey dude,” he says. “How’s it going?” They buy coffee from a food truck, but even here his attention is diverted. He stares silently at its tyres for a while. “Cool,” he says, eventually, quaveringly. The other man soon leaves. It’s hard to blame him.

This tale of woe concludes on a windswept rooftop. Our hero stands by the edge. “Hey,” he says. “You wanna see something cool?” There is nobody around. He takes out a ukelele and plays a few twanging chords at the sunset, grinning wildly. He presses himself against the railing. Down on the street, passersby watch the frail form of a ukelele tumbling down the side of a building, buffeted up by the winds and falling down again, and soon after, a human shape, following it into the abyss…

One shambling zombie is a horrifying enough image. The second video, released last week, shows us a whole world of them. The cities are full of wandering people with flickering eyes. Their chatter rises to the clouds, a single monophonic drone. “Glass, record.” “Glass, take a photo.” “Hueergh.” “Glass, connect me.” “Hnnnugh.” “Glass, sustain me.” “Glass, direct me.” “Euuh.” “Glass, lift me from this pit of ashes and bones. Give me your fire. Let me burn as you burn.” Remove their glasses and it’s worse: they look at the world with a newborn’s bafflement. Where do they go? What do they do? The body is frail and helpless. Without one foot in the eternity of the digital Cloud their skin constricts them. It’s unendurable.

Everyone is always elsewhere. They ride rollercoasters. They go ice-skating. They perform in ballets. They don’t experience a thing. They’re watching themselves watching. The present moment is nonexistent, it’s only an electronically aided memory in progress, it’s already become the past, even while it’s happening. Crowds drift into the roads to be mowed down by distracted drivers. Hundreds are minced up. They don’t mind. The rollercoaster slides off its rails; the safety supervisor is watching TV through his glasses. As the car plunges towards the ground its passengers solemnly chorus: “Glass, record a video.” Far away, in a reinforced concrete server complex, their last moments will be stored. In these rows of humming computers all of humanity is kept: every second of their lives, documented, processed, regurgitated as consumer profiles and product suggestions. They will leave their record. They will not have died in vain.

Ten years later, children sift for scraps through the rubble of the old world.

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.

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