Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: ideology

Superman: Man of Steel, or, hot XXX drone-on-drone action

 Spoiler alert: this guy wins in the end.

What is Superman? Everyone knows that Batman is a fascist, a jackbooted Il Duce-style thug who defaces the night sky with his symbol and tries to forge a society of class collaborationism between the haute bourgeoisie and the ‘law-abiding’ sectors of the proletariat. Similarly, it doesn’t take much critical discernment to see shades of postmodern neoliberalism in Iron Man – his world is one of panoptic openness, in which he’s not afraid to let the world know that he is the industrialist Tony Stark and Iron Man is just one of his trademarked brands; meanwhile his deadpan pseudowitticisms bear the mark of contemporary pastiche, what Jameson calls a ‘blank irony’ without referent,  ‘amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter.’ Aquaman, of course, has unwittingly represented since the 1940s the uselessness of our 21st-century corporate environmentalism. Green Lantern is a Posadist, Thor still speaks for reactionary monarchism; Avocado Woman is the heroine of the recent body-oriented (bio)politics; Fatty Lux symbolises Enlightenment rationality, the Bauxite Band anarcho-syndicalism (although Kaolinite Kid displays some Tuckerite tendencies), PenguinDude3000 a kind of Saint-Simonian utopian communitarianism. But then there’s Superman. What is Superman?

Superman’s mantra of ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way’ recalls a more honest era, one in which deconstruction was still something you did with hammers and explosives, but all the same there’s a sinister note in there, a faint whiff of something very different from the image of the wholesome all-American hero in his mythos. He carries the mark of the Other. Clark Kent might be from Kansas, but his birthplace is Krypton – a place with four consonants next to each other in its name, a foreign planet that somehow manages to sound just a little Mitteleuropean. The other names that surround him are similarly un-WASP-y: Superman, or in German Übermensch, with its connotations of Nazi-tinged Nietzschean amoralism; the Man of Steel, or in Russian Stalin, who named weakness, idleness and stupidity as the only things that could be called vices; Clark Kent, or in Serbian Slobodan (lit. a low-level office worker) Milošević (a flat, grassy province near Belgrade, analogous to the English county). Whether of the left or the right, there’s something totalitarian about him; we recollect, with a rising nausea, that democracy is not among his tripartite principles. Of course, as Superman’s defenders continually remind us, he was created by two liberal-left Jewish high school kids, the children of immigrants. Hence all the Europeanisms: with their hero Siegel and Shuster packaged up all the neuroses of the shtetl and gave them a red-white-and-blue sheen. He’s not an expression of an all-encompassing class-State complex, but the fantasy of its disenfranchised underlings. Superman is a hero by the nerds, of the nerds, for the nerds. He’s weaponised nebbishness, and that’s exactly what makes him so dangerous. He can’t even be subsumed into the paradigm of healthy American libidinality; with Superman, Bataille’s connection between eroticism and death assumes horrifying proportions. As I watched Zack Snyder’s new Superman film, this year’s Man of Steel, it all started to make sense. Superman isn’t a man at all. His otherness is that of the inhuman. He’s a Predator drone.

We should have seen it from the beginning: he’s a man of steel, a robot. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Almost, but not quite. The weak gravity of our world lets Superman fly through the stratosphere. He can pinpoint and target anyone on Earth with his X-ray vision, but nobody knows who or where he is. And in the meantime, he maintains a cover, a secret identity. Through this subterfuge, the drone maintains a privileged relationship with the news industry; what’s more, he sometimes even goes so far as to report ‘objectively’ on his own activities. When a drone ejaculates, people die. His is the murderous, cold-blooded victory of the CIA nerds over the jocks of the armed forces. That’s why so many of Superman’s enemies are evil geniuses: it’s not anti-intellectualism, they’re his mirror-images rather than his opposites, they’re encroaching on his turf. At the end of Man of Steel, Superman downs a US spy drone in front of a horrified general. “You can’t find out where I hang up my cape,” he says. So, the drone battles his doubles. But might there not have been, before the crash, a moment of tenderness between the two drones? “I’m sorry,” Superman says as he straddles the unmanned plane. “It’s nothing personal.” His legs clamp like pincers around its shapely fibreglass body and it begins to sink. As it does he can’t help but extend a hand to stroke with surprising delicacy her big bulbous head. His feet hook under her tailfins. So close. Two drones on a single trajectory, becoming their own motion. They’re falling faster now; the shuddering of their descent synchronises with the expertly timed revs of her spluttering engine, sending out warm vibrations that spread through Superman’s body and pool at the base of his torso. She’s getting excited too: her bomb hatch slides open with a metallic click. For the first and last time, both drones have found someone strong enough for them. And so, falling and fucking, the flapping red cape preserving their modesty and the film’s 12A rating, they spin towards the earth.

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Of course, the main problem with drones is the collateral damage – as I’ve discussed in another post, drones retroactively designate their victims as targets; any male over 16 killed by a drone strike is assumed to be an enemy militant. And in Man of Steel, there’s a lot of collateral damage. At the end of the film Superman kills the evil Zod rather than let him murder a group of terrified humans, but only a few minutes earlier the Man of Steel is shown flinging his enemies through buildings – buildings that could well be full of people – at such high speed that they leave explosions in their wake. The death toll is presumably enormous. In this, he’s following the logic of the drone: all strikes are a priori ‘surgical,’ and the facts on the ground can be altered to fit the image on the computer screen. I’m not alone in noticing this; in the New York Magazine, Kyle Buchanan makes a similar point:

In 1980’s Superman II, […] when Superman knocks a baddie into a building — an act that sends the skyscraper’s spire tumbling towards a crowd of people on the ground — Superman actually halts the fight to grab that spire before it lands, a quaint moment that still reminds us that the lives of innocent citizens are at stake. In Man of Steel, however, the superhero seems mostly unfazed by the people of Metropolis who are surely collateral damage to his big battle; similarly, director Zack Snyder seems to have waved it off. There is no acknowledgement that all of the buildings that are being destroyed might have people in them. It’s a bloodless massacre of concrete, 9/11 imagery erased of its most haunting factor: the loss of life.

Buchanan is right about the 9/11 imagery; the film is overflowing with it. For a good half-hour the screen is filled with footage of skyscrapers in slow balletic collapse, skyscrapers spitting flames as they’re punctured by flying objects, skyscrapers reduced to billowing dust-clouds that pour through gridded streets, characters trapped under the wire and masonry of demolished skyscrapers. This is hardly unique; there’s another 9/11 in Olympus Has Fallen as the Washington Monument vertically collapses on itself; San Francisco meets a similar fate in Star Trek: Into Darkness – but nowhere is it more overt or more seemingly gratuitous. That said, Buchanan doesn’t really attempt to diagnose this trend, he only complains of it – and in an age of consumer culture, this kind of thing would only keep cropping up if people in some way wanted to see it happen. For an explanation, you’ll have to head for the comments section, in which it’s alleged that such scenes are for the benefit of the raving America-haters of the international distribution markets – nicely summing up why you should never read the comments section. Well then, if it’s not that (and it’s definitely not that), then what’s the cause?

Extreme violence is in itself an aesthetic object, but, as Buchanan observes, what we have here is a ‘bloodless massacre.’ One could advance a crude Freudian analysis. Man of Steel is the famous fort-da game writ large, a compulsive repetition and re-repetition of a traumatic event, a neurotic fixation, a recurring image through which the collective psyche tries to expunge the horror of that which actually occurred. You destroyed our buildings, the film says, well guess what – we wanted them destroyed, and we can do it better in representation than you ever could in reality. Of course, the compulsion to repeat exists beyond the pleasure principle, and the apocalyptic blockbuster is entertainment. There’s a visceral pleasure in the images of falling skyscrapers and ruined cities. We could posit a kind of allgemeine Todestrieb, a societal will towards its own violent destruction, manifesting in the sheer pleasure of carnage and atrocity. Maybe there’s even a kind of egalitarian impulse at work, a buried desire to see all the big fancy towers flattened as every mountain is made low. Maybe we all secretly want to be castrated.

None of this is quite sufficient. The answer is elsewhere. Man of Steel has received some flak for its epidemic of product placements (its brand partners brought in $160m before the film was even released) – as if we’re not all prostitutes, critics and commentators more so than anyone. This product placement takes something of an unusual form, though. The International House of Pancakes shelled out a presumably hefty sum for its recurring appearances in the film, but rather than showing Clark Kent chowing down on a hefty stack of syrup-glazed goodness, we instead see one of IHOP’s fine establishments systematically destroyed by two duelling aliens. They want us to buy their pancakes, so they show us a bunch of pancake-eating patrons being interrupted and (possibly) killed by superbeings from beyond the stars. Why? Like all brands, IHOP doesn’t just want our money, it wants – it needs – our loyalty and, most of all, our love. But love is something fiery and unpredictable; it can burn you up, reduce you to tears and ashes. If you really love something, in some small but present way you want to see it destroyed, you want to be there as it slips into the void – and the International House of Pancakes knows this. And so we’re thrilled by the destruction of our cities, because we love them. And so Superman, heaving the drone from the vaunted empyrean of the infinite gaze down to an earthy extinction, whispers three short words into its listening device as he snaps his red undies back on. “I love you,” he says. And then it dies.

Inspirational Quotes

What is fascism?

In my last piece, I wrote that ‘microfascism has taken over the world.’ In that line I was adapting the Deleuzian use of the term: Deleuze draws a line between historical Fascism (of the type that came to power in Germany, Italy, Romania, etc) and microfascism: a field of destructive, authoritarian impulses that permeates capitalist society. In Capitalism and Schizophrenia microfascism is the result of a blocked line of flight, a molarisation of repressed desire; in my essay I was considering the possibility that microfascism could function molecularly as well as through molarity. A deviation, but one with its genealogy in the text: Deleuze and Guattari continually equate the repressive totalitarian with fascism. In doing so they’re broadly in line with much of the radical left: communism is presented as one side of a polarity, with the opposite being fascism. Fascism is abstracted from being a real historical ideological movement into a general principle, a kind of radical Evil.

In a recent article in the Telegraph, Alan Johnson describes Slavoj Žižek as a ‘left-fascist.’ Clearly this is meant to be a criticism, and there’s certainly much to dislike about Žižek: his egregious antiziganism, his refusal to support genuine socialist movements in Latin America while singing the praises of Occupy Wall Street, his ‘ironic’ construction of a cult of personality. It’s not this, however, that riles up Alan Johnson. Instead, Žižek is criticised for ‘believ[ing] liberal civilisation is a nightmare from which only violent revolution can awake us,’ for his ‘contempt for the bourgeoisie,’ for advocating ‘unquestioning fidelity to a transcendent Cause’ as a cure for psychosocial ills. All this, Johnson informs us, means that Žižek has far more in common with interwar Fascism than with the far Left. Well, no. Critique of liberalism, revolutionary agitation, rejection of bourgeois values, and sublimation of the individual will within the revolutionary cause are all not only compatible with Communism, but essential to it. Johnson calls Žižek a fascist because it has become an epithet: he calls him a fascist for being a Communist. It’s idiotic, but even so, he touches on something important.

Every time the English Defence League tries to march its sorry band of hooligans past a mosque or a road with more than one halal butcher’s, leftist organisers drum up support against them with a single word: fascism. The EDL aren’t Fascists. Neither are the BNP. Neither is Marianne Le Pen. Neither is George W. Bush. Fascism is a Weltanschauung; like Communism, it is a complete and all-encompassing movement. The EDL doesn’t care about Nietzsche, or Hegel, or Giovanni Gentile, or Third Positionism. They’re racists, not Fascists. Racism proceeds from Fascism but is in no way essential to it: even the 1934 Montreux Fascist Conference was riven by disagreements over whether Fascist societies could be multiethnic. To call the EDL fascists is to credit them with a level of theoretical and philosophical awareness that they don’t possess.

Well, so what? Fascism is universally reviled; if applying it to groups like the EDL bolsters opposition to them, why not do it? If transmuting fascism into a general principle allows us to easily identify our enemies, isn’t that harmless? Not really. For a start, conflating racism with fascism blinds us to the racism outside the ‘fascist’ fringe. If fascism is racism then non-fascism must be non-racist: the anti-fascist campaigns that relentlessly attack groups of the far right are much more forgiving of the everyday racism practiced by liberal-democratic governments, and tend to gloss over completely racism on the left (such as Žižek’s). ‘Fascism’ becomes an immense distraction: as Badiou points out, the dogmatic abhorrence with which nationalist parties are held only allows systemic racism to go unchallenged.

There’s also the potentiality for misdirection. It’s not just the Left that abhors fascism. When fascism is turned into a universal principle of Evil, it becomes a useful tool for imperialists and reactionaries. Witness the coining of the term ‘Islamofascist,’ used by neoconservatives – who were, let’s not forget, mostly ex-Trotskyites – to drum up support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fascism untied from its historical roots becomes a floating signifier, utterly meaningless.  You can use it on anything. The Fourth International referred to social democracy as ‘social fascism’ because of its class collaborationism; one could equally call an apple a ‘fascist orange’ for refusing to properly recognise its internal divisions. As Alan Johnson inadvertently demonstrates in his essay, anything can be fascist, but especially anything with transcendent political goals – in other words, any ideology opposed to hegemonic liberalism. Abstracting fascism plays directly into the hands of the reactionaries: the status quo is good, any revolutionary challenge to it is absolute Evil.

Most of all, though, the abstraction of fascism contradicts historical reality and allows us to ignore important historical lessons. What is fascism? Fascism is a deviation from socialism based on idealism instead of materialism and the principles of nationalism and class collaboration instead of internationalism and class struggle; it is an aestheticisation of socialism. The founding ideologues of Fascism weren’t diametrically opposed to socialism; they emerged from the same philosophical branch. Giovanni Gentile wasn’t only the greatest scholar of Hegel since Marx, he borrowed extensively from Marxian thought. Georges Sorel was an orthodox Marxist and a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution; his Reflections on Violence remains a useful Marxist text. It’s time to dispense with Trotsky’s old ‘materialist’ analysis of Fascism: despite its reactionary quality, Fascism (outside of Germany, at least) was never a rearguard action by the ruling classes to protect their interests. It was a chimerical mass movement, a branch of socialism that went hideously awry.

Foucault describes how madness is turned into a unified principle of pure chaos so that society does not have to see itself in the madness of individuals. In much the same way, by turning fascism into an abstracted opposite principle, the Left protects against having to see itself in historical Fascism. By painting fascism as pure reactionary ideology, we’re not forced to confront difficult questions about the teleological inevitability of socialism. By considering it as the violent essence of capitalism, we can ignore the fact that socialism and Fascism arise under the same material conditions. A while ago, I wrote that Leftists ought to be more critical of 20th century Communism than its most vociferous opponents, that we should be utterly ruthless, picking apart its slightest failings – while at the same time maintaining fidelity to it and recognising it as fundamentally ours. In Marxist practice, ruthless criticism is the highest honour. The same goes for Fascism: by recognising ourselves in it rather than considering it as a hideousness somehow inherent to humanity, we can learn the catastrophic consequences of bad theory and, hopefully, prevent them from happening again. And by decoupling Fascism from absolute Evil, we can even learn from Fascist thinkers. As Johnson notes, interwar Fascists made lucid and piercing critiques of liberal democracy and bourgeois ideology, and stirring calls to collective action in the name of the transcendent Cause. He seems to think that these points are invalidated by the fact that they were articulated by Fascists. Historical materialists, conscious of the extents of their ideological family tree, should know better. These things belong to radical egalitarianism: they are not the constituent parts of radical Evil, and we should not surrender them.

Gun laws & the aetiology of mass murder

The mass murder of infant schoolchildren in Connecticut last week was unspeakably tragic. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be spoken about. Almost immediately afterwards there came the usual chorus from the American Right: don’t talk about guns, don’t politicise this tragedy. What exactly is signified by ‘politics’ here? Really, what’s being objected to is what Rancière calls ‘the political’: the idea of power-hungry statesmen playing tug-of-war with the bodies of murdered children isn’t a very pretty one. But that’s not all politics is. Political issues are those that address the fundamental questions of how we live our lives, how we structure our society, and how we relate to one another and the world around us. In other words, questions of ideology. Ideology is in a certain light contiguous with the Symbolic order in Lacanian thought: a solipsist in a sealed room might be politically neutral, but as soon as you put two people together then some kind of ideological discursive regime must govern their  interaction. Given this, the tragedy in Connecticut doesn’t need to be politicised; it’s already a political act. Violence, by its nature, can never take place in a vacuum, it must always have intentionality, a vector within the social field.

To be fair, this time around, there have been plenty of voices clamouring precisely for the politicisation of this tragedy. However, they appear to only really be apprehending a particular sector of the field of politics: that which is under discussion on Capitol Hill. Rather than seeking to interrogate the social formations that enable monstrous acts like that in Newtown, instead they demand gun control.

I’ll be open with my biases here: I like guns. I think being a good shot is an important life skill. I think the liberal drive to control firearms is much like the henpecking puritanism that tirelessly insists that we all give up smoking; it’s all a part of Western society’s incredible neurosis about death. Eat well, we are told, go jogging, enjoy yourself in acceptable doses, and your banal life can stretch out for a hideous eternity. Most of all I think private gun ownership is an important and necessary disruption of the State monopoly on force. In his address of the Central Committee To the Communist League, Marx and Engels wrote that ‘the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.’ After the October Revolution, one of the first actions the Bolsheviks took was to legalise private gun ownership and turn over military arsenals to the popular masses. Of course, the State has a far more sophisticated and devastating array of weaponry than it did in 1850 or 1917. Still, as Mao pointed out, reactionaries are paper tigers; nothing in Lockheed Martin’s laboratories can match the revolutionary spirit of millet plus rifles. This is something the authors of the US Bill of Rights understood. For all their faults, they did have moments of genuine radicalism, and the Second Amendment is one of them. It was never about self-defence – it’s right there in the text: a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state. Admittedly Jefferson’s well-regulated militia of the propertied is not the same as Lenin’s armed mass of the people, but there’s the same ideological substrate: a genuine democracy requires the people’s capacity to resist encroachments on their freedom by force of arms. In the face of this, the contemporary Left’s retreat into the rhetoric of gun control is nothing less than a total ideological capitulation.

It doesn’t follow, though, that tragedies like the one in Connecticut are in any way a worthwhile price to pay for an armed populace. In fact, the two phenomena are entirely distinct. The mass murder in Sandy Hook was not caused by gun ownership. The millions of Americans who own guns do not perpetrate such atrocities on a daily basis. The reality is far more complex. Mental health provision in the United States is patchy, and where it exists it mostly focuses on palliative pharmaceutical psychiatry, in which symptoms are numbed with drugs without much being done to address the deeper root causes. More fundamentally, poverty is epidemic and swallowing up more and more of the population – in many recent spree killings, the perpetrator is someone who’s lost their job or home or has been forced to accept humiliating work conditions. This works hand in hand with a dominant ideology of absolute individualism: everyone is responsible for themselves. If you’ve failed, it’s because you haven’t worked hard enough. If you’re miserable, it’s because you’re not thinking positively enough. If you’re isolated, it’s because you aren’t putting in enough effort. It’s this hegemonic discourse that produces mass murderers. In more community-oriented social formations such as those in much of the Third World, spree killings are very rare; there’s violence, certainly, but nobody is ever allowed to become so isolated that their violence manifests itself in such a brutal and cataclysmic manner. America might have high rates of gun ownership but it also has a profoundly alienating social structure. Guns are incidental in all this.

Switzerland has the third-highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with around one gun for every two people. Every individual between the ages of 20 and 30 is issued an assault rifle by the government, which they are required to keep in their home. Meanwhile gun crime is so low that statistics aren’t even kept. Meanwhile, despite its high population of bankers and associated parasites, Switzerland retains a functioning welfare state and a low poverty rate. As a counter-example, look at Japan, which has some of the most stringent gun laws on the planet. The country’s law opens with the statement that ‘nobody shall own a firearm or a sword,’ with very few exceptions being listed. And it’s true that Japan doesn’t see gun massacres like that in Newtown. Instead, people use knives. In 1999 Yasuaki Uwabe used his car and a knife to kill five people and injure ten in Shimonoseki Station; in 2008 eight children were stabbed to death in Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka; in 2008 eight people were killed and ten injured when Tomohiro Kato attacked pedestrians in Tokyo’s Akihabara district with a truck and a knife. At the same time, Japanese society is as alienating as that in the United States, with its highly competitive culture manifesting itself in the suicides that take place on average every fifteen minutes, or in the hikikomori phenomenon of absolute social withdrawal that affects over three million Japanese.

It’s not enough to just blame this on some nebulously abstract concept of ‘culture.’ The form a culture takes is in continual dialectic with the economic base. Japanese society takes the form it does for the most part because of the liberalisation imposed on its economy after 1945. Ending spree killings (along with a host of other social ills) in the United States requires a similar economic overhaul, one in which the use of force is likely to be necessary. It’s going to be difficult. But unlike gun-control legislation, it might actually work.

Crime victims in Greece are being referred to Golden Dawn by law enforcement

It was inevitable, really. We’ve done so much to drain politics of all ideology, to leave it in the hands of bloodless administrative technocrats; it only follows that the ideologues should, enantiodromiatically, take over the business of day-to-day administration. I say: good! Pity it had to be the fucking Nazis, of course – but as Hezbollah’s reconstruction efforts in Lebanon and even the Occupy movement’s brief stint moving homeless families into foreclosed houses have shown, it’s not just fascists who can take over the duties of a wheezing, liver-spotted State. Long may it continue! I dream of a world where the boring gutless liberal politicians are left alone to gurn platitudes in the mutually masturbatory ouroboros of the mass media, so the rest of us can do something a bit more interesting. A world where disappointed housewives get an email from the BNP delivery company informing them that, as their convoy was overwhelmed by anti-racist militants, the new dinner service won’t be arriving until at least Thursday. Where supermarket till attendants give you your receipt with an enforced smile and a cheery “in Hell or in Communism!” Where surgeons in criticism sessions denounce each other for failing to apply the praxis of dialectical materialism to the relationship between scalpel and gall-bladder. Where deconstructivist construction firms, in unpacking the contradictions between ‘built’ and ‘unbuilt’, dot the landscape with strange assemblages of brick and mortar that are hermeneutically – if not structurally – sound. Where airliners crash into the ground, burning with the tragic glory of the collective Will. Where estate agents happily proclaim their properties to have been thoroughly exorcised and guaranteed demon-free. Where school curricula centre on the exhaustive study of crop circles and PE is replaced by astral projection. Where zoological gardens exhort their visitors to ponder the beauties of Allah’s creation (but not too hard). Where the Army fights bloodily and tirelessly to reinstate absolute monarchy, the Navy pounds coastal towns to drive out negative thetans, and the RAF launches a barrage of airstrikes for every day that the Time Cube’s four simultaneous days in one Earth rotation are not universally recognised. A better world. It’s unlikely that many of us will make it out from the polyglot ransacking of late capitalism alive, but at least it would be fun.

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.

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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.

Morgendämmerung des Technokraten

Mario Monti should be constitutionally obligated to wear BDSM fetish gear for every public appearance.

Seriously, who the fuck is this guy? Mario Monti is a personality void, a lurching zombie, a big ol’ sack o’ jowls and rheumy eyes. Nobody with such a bouncily alliterative name should be allowed to be so boring. Gordon Brown, you can tell, likes the odd pint of bitter. Jimmy Carter had his weird thing with peanuts. Whatever, it’s a hobby. What does Mario Monti do for fun? Did Mario Monti ever have a childhood, or did he just cough himself into existence when the dust left accumulating in a forgotten corner of some business school gained sentience? Does Mario Monti have anything under the white Y-fronts he presumably wears, or is he just leathery and smooth like an Action Man? Is Mario Monti a human being, or just a clockwork automaton built in some secret lab out in a mountain bunker? If you prick him, does he actually bleed? There’s a process of thesis and antithesis here, but the dread gravity of Monti is almost enough to make me yearn for Berlusconi’s exuberant silliness. Almost.

Usually I’m all in favour of politicians being humourless weirdos. They’re not like us, they shouldn’t be like us. That’s why I had a lot of sympathy for Gordon Brown, against all my political instincts. Politicians should be real people, ugly people, not yippy grinning idiot replicants like Blair or the Milibands or Clegg or Cameron or Clinton or Obama or Palin or Cain or… the list goes on. But Monti is a very different type of animal (or mineral, as the case may well be) altogether. His dourness isn’t that of a serious and committed politician, it’s that of an obsessive ideological pervert. The technocrats have not been installed to save their countries. They’ve been brought in unelected because, for whatever reason, democratic politicians (even joke ones like Berlusconi) were unable or unwilling to push through the kind of debilitating austerity measures demanded by the markets. Their supposed ideological neutrality is nothing of the sort. It’s only neutral in the topsy-turvy world that has contorted itself into immanence after the end of history, where the primacy of capital, and finance capital in particular, is axiomatic. They are pursuing a specific ideological agenda, and it’s not a very pretty one.

Austerity, pain, savage cuts: this is the language of a leather-clad dominatrix. The people must suffer, they must be punished for their profligacy, they must be made to wince, they must bleed. It’s not their fault, not really, they just got caught up in a spending bubble promoted by the banks, but if they’re not sacrificed to the markets, the Furies of capitalism will tear them into grisly chunks. Or even worse, the financial institutions themselves might have to bear the brunt of their own fuckup. They need a lashing, and government has been marshalled into holding the whip. The fact that austerity economics doesn’t work is almost irrelevant here – what’s important is that it’s deeply immoral. The dawn of the technocrats marks a very strange turn in the supposed function of government – or, more accurately, a falling away of the abstractions that once surrounded it. The State is no longer a king on a throne, ruling and protecting its people. It’s an instrument; its purpose is to suck out as much from the nation as is possible, and deliver it on a platter to the international ruling class. It’s no longer people and their welfare that’s paramount, but the Economy, an ephemeral other dimension floating somewhere up in the sky, a capricious godly realm from which regular demands for new blood sacrifices emanate. And in such a situation, doesn’t it make sense for the State, relegated to a priesthood of the economy, to be controlled by professional vampires like Monti, rather than clunky old ideologues who may well misplace their priorities?

Who is Mario Monti? Well, for a start, he’s prominent in the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission. These names crop up a lot in the writings of conspiracy theorists, but this doesn’t mean that they’re not dangerous. They may not secretly run the world, they might not be hiding the truth about UFOs or poisoning us all with water flouridation, but they are institutions dedicated to the preservation of capitalism. The Bilderberg Group, where Monti sits on the ‘steering committee,’ runs a series of annual clandestine conferences where politicians and business interests can make arrangements to their mutual benefit. Its agendas are, needless to say, not made avaliable to the public. The Trilateral Commission, where Monti is European Commissioner, is a group aiming to increase co-operation between the elites of America, Europe, and Japan. What both groups have in common is an admirable sense of bipartisanship; both are composed of self-confessed liberals and conservatives, finding common ground in the preservation of the current mode of production. Ultimately, what they are achieving is the creation of a political consensus that supersedes any ideological distinctions, and right now, that consensus is called Austerity.

I haven’t even got to the good shit yet. Up until he was called to assume political power, Monti was an international advisor for Goldman Sachs. Y’know, Goldman Sachs, the bank that all but caused the current economic recession and that is now taking over Europe like a fungal infection. Details of what exactly his role at the bank consisted of are hard to find, but it’s pretty safe to assume he wasn’t urging them to accept government regulation or channel their obscene profits into combating inequality. Monti isn’t a heroically disinterested expert brought in to solve a tricky economic problem, he’s part of an apparatus of capitalist power. It’s his job to act in the interests of the financial elite, and it’s a job he’s carrying out with humourlessly sadistic gusto. Democratically elected politicians are (supposedly, at least) answerable to the people. Technocrats aren’t.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: let’s call this new technocracy exactly what it is: fascism. And let’s call the installation of these new unity governments in Greece and Italy exactly what it is: a coup. Fascism should not be allowed to hide under the cloak of dour pragmatism. Sadism should not be allowed to masquerade as realism. The old fascists of Italy were for the most part political imbeciles, but at least you could tell what they were from a single glance. That’s why the new Prime Minister of Italy should have to wear a gimp suit. Or at least crack a whip every time he says the word ‘austerità.’ Or, at the very least, pose menacingly with a glass of red wine and lowered eyebrows while an ugly cat purrs in his lap.

In Disagreement, the philosopher Jacques Rancière draws an important distinction between la politique (politics) and le politique (the political). Le politique, or la police, is, as Douzinas puts it, ‘the process of argumentation and negotiation among the various parts of the social whole’ that ‘aims at (re)distributing benefits, rewards and positions without challenging the overall balance.’ Against the political stands politics proper, the politics of the masses: while Rancière is suspicious of the idea of a ‘pure’ politics, nonetheless politics is a disruptive force, a political subjectivity with the potential to overturn the social order. The dawn of the technocrats is the political stripped of any vestiges of politics. With the ascendancy of unelected technocrats like Monti and Papandreou, liberal democracy itself is consigned to the graveyard of ideologies. The parameters have already been set by diktat: austerity is the only solution and the order of the political has no need for politicians. In this, the new technocracy is curiously similar to Lenin’s vision of the post-revolutionary state as being involved in little more than accountancy and book-keeping, as outlined in State and Revolution. The difference is that Lenin retains politics through the armed mass of the people, which is to be the real medium of social change. Technocracy maintains no such balance. If the mechanism of government has been depoliticised, then it’s time for politics proper to make itself known.

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