Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: politics

Bill Kristol is wrong about things

While the secret knowledge is only available to some members of the society, there is an ideology, an ethics, and a phenomenology of ignorance that is shared, to some degree, by all.
Jonathan Mair et al., ‘Making Ignorance an Ethnographic Object’

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The respected American political commentator Bill Kristol is consistently wrong about things, and it’s funny, until you start seeing dead bodies on your lawn. This week, he predicted that Marco Rubio would win the New Hampshire Republican primary. He did not. Last year, he predicted that Joe Biden would be seeking his party’s nomination for President. He would not. Ten years ago, in the run-up to the 2008 Democratic race, he predicted that Barack Obama would lose in every single state. He did not. During the scheduled pregame session for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Kristol predicted that American forces would be welcomed as liberators. They were not. (Later he added that the war would ‘clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction.’ It did, but only in the same way that Croesus’s invasion of Persia resulted in a stunning military success.) In 1998, he predicted that ‘a year from now, Clinton will be gone.’ He was not. In 1993, he predicted that that year would be the ‘high-water mark’ of the gay rights movement, which would afterwards collapse. It did not. In 1914, he advised the Tsar of Russia that war against Austria-Hungary would unite the population and smother any internal strife. It did not. In 1202, he predicted that the departing Crusaders would conquer Jerusalem within the year. They did not. Fourteen billion years ago, he whispered in the ear of the lion-headed snake-demon Ialdaboath, and predicted that the creation of the Universe would be ‘if nothing else, a vast improvement on current conditions.’ It was not.

This infinite capacity for stupidity on the part of Bill Kristol, his ability to bob against any prevailing wind, has led to a very predictable reaction from the liberal left. Sometimes his wrongness is the wrongness of propaganda or ideology, but most of the time it’s just naked and evident untruth. So they ask: why does this man still have a job? Why is he given a platform, why is he allowed to present his opinions to leaders and publics, when they’re not just incorrect but so utterly unhelpful? It’s the right question, but nobody seems to be willing to actually answer it. Well, why does he still have a job? The only possible answer is that his being consistently, spectacularly, demonstrably wrong is serving, somewhere, some kind of important function. Which has to change your view of things a little. The prevailing model of the planet is of a giant, floating information-processing machine. Market forces built the Earth of the Hadean era; a geological stock market distributed surging columns of lava and pockets of boiling slime. Later the emerging biosphere would form a part of this computational apparatus, each living being a data-point recorded in its index, their genetic share-prices occasionally misvalued, but still axiomatically true. And then there was human society, plugging in to the natural mechanisms of price and utility, producing information to be sorted and filed in the planet’s core. But while Bill Kristol lives, our planet is just a swelling bag of falsehoods; what really determines the value of things is not accuracy but idiocy. A world in which Bill Kristol is successful is wrong; not morally wrong, but factually wrong. Something like the revelation at the end of Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle: the world we are living in does not, in fact, exist.

At first glance, Kristol isn’t that unusual; there are so many types of untruth. It’s not the absence of truth, depending on truth as its opposite pole, but a positive phenomenon in its own right, appearing as lies, ignorance, literature, pseudohistory, Cartesian doubt, and conceptual abstraction. Plenty of people are wrong about things; arguably, just about everyone tends to be wrong about pretty much everything. But nobody is wrong in the same way as Bill Kristol. It’s very easy to be wrong about the past or the present: these are grim and murky places where nothing really makes sense. But Bill Kristol is wrong about the future, and this is an entirely different kind of wrongness. Under the classical or correspondence model of truth, propositions about the future are impossible to evaluate: there’s no reality against which to measure any image, because it hasn’t happened yet. Any statement about the future will in a sense always be wrong: it sits there, trembling, waiting for the annihilatory incoming of the event, and there’s no way of distinguishing a true prediction from a false one until this takes place. Except for the fact that statements about the future are also actions in the present: one prediction might have eventually been fulfilled, until another is made that, while not itself being realised, alters events so that something else entirely comes to pass. Little eddies of chaos surround any prophecy; this way, any number of formally incorrect statements about the future can carry deep in their bowels a hideous, twisted kind of reality. After all, the thing about untruth is that it projects a different world. And always being wrong about the future grants someone incredible powers.

In 2006, Bill Kristol was kidnapped by a pro-Iranian guerilla group. Six masked men burst into his home; they pulled him naked and spluttering from his bed, beat him unconscious with the butts of their rifles, and dragged him into the back of a waiting van. They kept on pummelling him as the van screeched through midnight avenues, long after he’d passed out: black-gloved fists and chipped-black steel on his beige and spreading flesh, purple supernovae dancing through his hypodermis, flat white TV-teeth splintering into the jaggedness of a bombed-out city. Afterwards, in court, they had to explain this incredible brutality. It was his smile, they said. By the end Kristol was slipping at the edge of death. His face was a bulbous mess of bruises and lacerations; that raw-dough elasticity had finally come to snap, and it was only recognisable as human by a kind of gruesome pareidolia – but throughout he still had his smug, thin-lipped smirk, that knowing look of someone who is always wrong. The Iranians kept on trying to erase it with blunt force; it felt like being condescended to by a corpse. But they couldn’t. The newspapers report what happened next. Bill Kristol woke up handcuffed to a bed in an abandoned building somewhere in Washington DC, the floor thick with brick dust and piss, the windows grime-clouded or broken, the trees outside spindly black death’s-hands against a low and glaucous sky. A guard stood over him, rifle slung over one shoulder. ‘Oh God,’ whined Bill Kristol. ‘I’m not getting out of this one. I’m going to be trapped here for hours.’ And so twenty minutes later, they set him free.

It’s not clear whose side Bill Kristol is on, or even if the question makes any sense. Take the Iraq war. There’s an edge of malice throughout that whole disaster; all those neoconservative proposals that were for decades insisting that Iraq be split into three separate states, one Sunni, one Shi’ite, and one Kurdish, which is pretty much exactly what’s happened. Bill Kristol decided with all the rest of them that the United States would build a strong, stable, secular Iraq, with predictable results. At the same time he predicted with the total confidence of the inhumanly wrong that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction would be found. Does he only want death and mayhem? It’s possible, but it’s far more possible that to talk about Bill Kristol in terms of what he wants and doesn’t want is to put things in an unworkable frame. What does capitalism want? What does the planet want? To reproduce themselves, to continue blind and ravenous and not entirely real. The only truth – if that word can have any meaning – is that we are not free. We live only because Bill Kristol allows it. Because any moment he might take it upon himself to make another optimistic prediction for the sunny future of humanity. ‘We’ll do great,’ he says, lounging on his chair in the ABC studio. ‘The human species will carry on, today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come.’ Cut to black.

Vote for death

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

Do androids dream of electoral defeat?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green-eyed loco men

“Nilbog! That’s…”

Forgive me, but the much-vaunted ‘Green Surge’ doesn’t sound like the most important underground political shift in a generation. It doesn’t sound like politics at all. It’s a disease, one of those old medieval sicknesses that would suddenly sweep its bile-trimmed cloak across a nation and then vanish, leaving modern historians baffled. What caused the Green Surge? Why was it that thousands of people in 13th-century England spewed this strange green substance from every possible orifice before dying in their inexplicable filth? From what infected pits of the body did the Green Surge spring? Contemporary scientists suggest some kind of virus, an organism too blind and stupid to know not to kill its host, possibly carried to Europe with seafaring rats. The people of the time knew better. These sicknesses come with the miasma that wafts into towns with the morning breeze, carrying with it the stench of undrained marshes and dense bogs, the foulness of rotting vegetable matter and the eructations of unclean animals. Like a rolling, invisible tide, sweeping past the fragile barriers that separate civilisation from all that swarming organic decay upon which the social limpet is encrusted; the stinking revenge of the English countryside, in all its ancient, unknowable evil. Nature kills.

According to the Green Party itself, the Green Surge is actually a sudden exponential spike in their membership, which has since the beginning of the year given them more paying party members than either Ukip or the Liberal Democrats – but then these people shouldn’t be trusted. The Greens aren’t a political party, they’re a cult. American politics are often described as a circus: they’ve got the flashing lights and booming announcers, the roving lights that settle on some terrified elephant shuffling along a high fiscal tightrope. Every American politician is inescapably clownish, with their heavy caking of make-up, their pathetic and seedy desire to entertain that only terrifies the children, and the sure knowledge that they’ll all eventually all die strung out on prescription painkillers in a lonely ranch somewhere. British politics is less refined, less glossy. It harkens back to a more earthy form of entertainment: parliamentary procedure is a gang of witless peasants pushing each other into the village midden. But even among all these gormless shit-splattered idiots, the Green Party might be the worst. They’re the only ones who actually want to roll around in all that natural, organic filth. They want it with such a seriousness that the cult is the only available working model. Eco-scientology: a ghastly dead-eyed vegetable legion, a slow cellulose celebration of every tuberous bloat in the ranks of the Turnip People. You can see Green Party members canvassing on any given Sunday in farmers’ markets and greengrocers. One of us, they chant through brussels-sprout blob mouths, staring at a bag of spinach with a fraternal reverence. One of us, they implore the silent ranks of moulding courgettes. One of us, they yelp as they fuck a lettuce. One of us. Any politics that’s not grounded in a fundamental disdain for all vegetables is not worthy of the name.

God knows why, but people – normal, ordinarily sensible people – actually plan on voting for this gang of dendrophile lunatics. Ask them why, and they’ll come up with the usual platitudes: a break from politics as usual, the chance for a fairer society, a different way of doing things. Haven’t we learned anything? This was the same brave cry thousands of students roared five years ago as they flung themselves into the fathomless void of Nick Clegg’s conscience, like young Hashishim from the walls of Alamut. The Greens are a chiliastic suicide cult as mad and deadly as the worst of them. Their logo literally depicts the world in flames. They, too, are waiting for the aliens to come and whisk them away: they’re here to prepare the ground for the final victory of the plants. The tendrils that will twist their way through the mortar of our homes, the scraggly blotches of lichen that will expand upon the oily surfaces of our great artworks. The seething, bubbling, rotting stupidity of mere life, Utopia and apocalypse all at once.

To be fair to the potato folk, they’re in a strange and contradictory position. On the one hand they’re desperate to be seen as a real, proper, viable political party, which is why they’re collecting council seats like gym badges and clamouring for a spot in the TV debates. Not just a drifting protest march of sandal-wearing beardies, but an organisation capable of real competency in real politics. On the other, there’s still the buried desire to be an actually radical alternative, to delineate the absolute horizon of acceptable thought under conditions of post-everything modernity and, by circumscribing it, necessitate the faint conceptualisation of its Other, a thought and a programme that lies beyond any such limit. There’s nothing wrong with either of these desiderata, especially not the fact that they’re mutually contradictory. The problem is that rather than attempting any kind of synthesis, the Greens have settled on a policy of abstract negation. As Caroline Lucas, their only current MP, admitted, the Greens won’t be taking power any time soon; instead they exist to put forward some radical ideas which this political system needs so badly, and to push Labour to be far more progressive. What this actually means is that firstly, these radical ideas must remain as ideas and only ideas; even if framed as concrete proposals in a manifesto, their function is only ever entirely symbolic. And secondly, the radical nature of these ideas must always be essentially non-heterogeneous to the politics of the Labour front bench – a group which should, after its jolly little adventure in Iraq, be considered a genocidal party of a type with the Khmer Rouge and the Impuzamugambi. (And how should Labour be more radical? According to Lucas, by renationalising the railways. Icarus never dared dream higher.) The absolute worst of both worlds: at once a flighty, immaterial, nonsensical radicalism without its usual and important virtue of that unbounded creativity only possible through sheer silliness – and a grounded, measly, banal fascism that doesn’t even have the grisly sop of bare practicability. There’s nothing there. It’s a politics of the void; the unthinkingness of plant life.

Until recently, the Greens called for the replacement of the current benefits structure with a universal basic income of £72 a week. As a transitional demand, it’s not a terrible idea (even if it came with the quesily cauvinist name of a Citizens’ Income). That plan has been dropped from their 2015 manifesto. Why? Because the Green platform is structurally required to be a colossal failure of the imagination. Uniquely, the Greens could rename themselves the Why-Isn’t-Everything-Nicer Party without any substantial loss of meaning. Their vision is of a Britain powered by the kinetic energy of middle-aged people in cardigans pottering around allotments. A Britain where every family will bury acorns over the winter, where discussions of state will take place in a magnificent wooden treehouse, where thousands of protected voles will form a living quilt to scurry you off to sleep at night. (Plenary sessions at their party conferences – this is true – start with enforced ataraxy, a horrifying hippie-fascist ‘period of attunement’ in which the delegates engage in sixty seconds of ‘calm reflection’ to ‘clear their minds’ before the chakra-straining bustle of minor-party politics. Hard not to imagine them skimming off all actual thought like the fatty film from a psychic consommé.)  It’s the same kind of ideology that propels people into thinking that 3D-printed shovels can save Africa; that drinking soya milk will refoliate the rainforests, make dogs and cats be friends again, and resolve the subject-object dichotomy; that they’re ‘lifehacking’ or ‘finding ingenious solutions to everyday problems’ as thousands of twanging rubber bands bounce around their heads and smash all their glassware. Heads in the clouds, knees in the shit; social change reconceived as a single rubbery floret of overcooked broccoli.

Given that they’re without any real radical vision or plan for action, the Greens have had to organise themselves around some kind of principle beyond mere vegetative idiocy. Be like the cabbage might have worked as a rallying cry at the time of Puritan pietism, but it doesn’t sound quite so sexy now. So the Green movement has taken as its empty signifier of choice a concern for the environment. Fine: who could possibly be against saving the environment? But what environment? An environment is something that surrounds, encloses, and determines any individual phenomena, something that always remains fundamentally outside. What’s called the natural environment is not this thing; in fact, it no longer really exists. There’s not a scrap of the non-human world that hasn’t been invaded and encoded by capitalist practices. The bunnies fucking in the fields are being pimped out by greetings cards companies. Songbirds now chirp car-insurance adverts every fifteen minutes. Even those places that are supposedly still wild and untouched are, precisely by virtue of their exclusion from the order of commodity society, utterly enmeshed within it – after all, sovereignty is defined by its capacity to create a state of exception. The deep-sea tube worms that gulp nutrients from the fires at the centre of the earth, waving their sad frilly fringes alone and unseen in a world without sunlight – they’re pioneering examples of neoliberal entrepreneurship. The last really wild megafauna are the subject of a frantic exchange in images; more than anything, they’re used to advertise their own endangerment. Some Latin American governments are seeking money to not exploit their oil reserves – a proposal that, while gesturing towards the inviolable difference of the ‘natural’ world, actually effects its opposite: the gooey remains of our old dinosaur rulers can’t even gloop around in peace beneath the soil without being subjected to the laws of the commodity. If there is an environment that acts as a substrate to our everyday activities, it’s not nature, but late capitalism itself. The esoteric core of the Green leadership must know this. Just like the malignant nature that threatened earlier societies, capital is vast, profligate, and ravenous; it knows no limits to itself, but seeks to spread its evil to the furthest galaxies. It’s something we’re in but not of; a vast stalking alien demon. The abstract principle that the Greens want to protect is nothing more than the blank futility of the status quo.

Their ideology is utterly hollow, and they don’t even have the aesthetic sense to exult in its hollowness. But still thousands of people believe in it – not just that, they believe in it very seriously. Believing something stupid but magnificent is generally laudable. Believing something stupid and miserly is cultish. This is the difference between a cult and a religion: when you join a cult, you have to give up your imagination at the door.

It doesn’t matter that some of the things they actually say about climate and inequality and so on happen to be true. Imagine some young person telling you, with perfect straight-faced enthusiasm, as if they’d just discovered the most important fact in human history, some perfectly ordinary truth – that blue whales are bigger than any dinosaur, that ducks fly south in the winter, that the polar ice caps are melting, whatever. Now imagine that this person keeps telling you their fact, over and over again, and tries to cajole you into signing a petition to help their fact gain wider recognition, and begs you to join their organisation, dedicated to the propagation of this important fact. The truth-value of what they’re saying doesn’t matter. It’s in the earnestness, those wide sugar-blasted eyes: this person is insane. Someone who cares this much about waterfowl migration can’t put much of a value on human life. Any hierarchical organisation affirming cetacean vastness can only be a violent, paranoid sect. Should I run? Am I about to be bludgeoned to death with a clipboard? When the nails on those wiry, intense hands start to claw at my face, will anything be left of me apart from a messy splat on the pavement? This is how the Green Party functions.

This isn’t to say that earnestness by itself is a bad thing. But if you’re going to earnestly attach yourself to a political project, it should at least be one that has something to show for itself. Storming palaces, overthrowing humanity, war against the Sun, not a miserable set of policy prescriptions designed purely to appeal to the symbolic intelligence of disaffected lefties. Look at the areas where the Greens are projected to do well. Brighton, Oxford, west Bristol, and north London: middle class enclaves, petty fiefdoms of the bien pensant liberal bourgeoisie (full disclosure: I’ve lived in two of these places). Ukip is bearing down on the east coast like a horde of zimmer-frame vikings, the Tories soar over vast swathes of the countryside on ragged vulture wings, an infestation of Labour candidates scuttle through city sewers – and the Greens send their zapped-out cultists to canvass for votes in Brockley and Stokes Croft. For a counter-example, just look at Syriza in Greece. They also started as a small, weird party, and however many theoretical and practical mistakes they’ve made since taking power – and there have been plenty – their method of getting there was exemplary. They actually listened to the people, stepped in to provide services when the state couldn’t, helped to organise workers and position themselves as something radically heterogeneous to the governmental system. Even after taking office, they promised to keep the central locus of power on the streets; they knew that party politics is just an abstracted expression of the real, visceral thing. This was hailed as a radical innovation, but it’s not really anything new: the Black Panthers were doing the same thing in the 60s, giving out free school meals and getting shot by police for their efforts; Hezbollah have come to replace the State in much of Lebanon; even Occupy briefly experimented with moving homeless families into foreclosed properties. The Greens don’t seem to do anything of the sort. They’re far more interested in getting MPs and council seats; for them a 6% electoral representation is the highest radical goal. They move entirely within the repressive state apparatuses, as if politics is something that takes place only in constituency surgeries and the wormy tunnels of Westminster. When they do try to actually effectuate any kind of change it’s always as a local government – here in Brighton, for instance, where their rule has been an unmitigated disaster. But of course it has: the institutions they’re working in are structurally calibrated to make radical change an impossibility, which is why they’ve ended up as the simpering enforcers of austerity.

The election is looming, and even the most devout Green cultists will eventually be forced to admit that they’re not going to do especially well. But doing well was never the point. The political right is, of course, up in arms about some of their policies – they want to legalise ISIS but ban your bins! they want foxes and hunters to attend interspecies sensitivity courses! they want to give all our jobs to Mongolian yak-herders and teach our children to go into prostitution instead! – but far from delegitimising the Greens, these paranoid critiques actually recapitulate the narrative in which any of this might actually happen, in which the Greens are a genuine electoral viability. They’ve been compared to a watermelon, green on the outside, red on the inside; in fact they’re a cauliflower, grey and frothy without, grey and rubbery within. What this troupe of cauliflower-headed clowns want more than anything is your vote: the claws to dig them further into the bloated corpse of liberal democracy, the biofuel that keeps the dismal train of parliamentary radicalism chuffing, so they can continue their sad stomping march into the algae-choked sea. They want your vote with a vegetable hunger, eyeless, faceless, insatiable.  Don’t give it to them.

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 I want to fuck Boris Johnson

Apologies to J.G. Ballard. No, really. I’m so sorry.

THE ZIPLINE INCIDENT: MYTHOPOEIA OF THE LEGENDARY

Focus group surveys aimed to reproduce a representative sample of the British population at large for market research. Subjects surveyed included a recent university graduate wondering how long he has until it’s no longer acceptable to listen to house music, a semi-popular circuit comedian gradually metamorphosing into his own character, a harried single mother who’s been tramping up and down a single supermarket aisle for fourteen consecutive hours, everyone inside a Blackpool bingo hall at 7 pm last Friday, a Welshman, an ethnic, and a football with a smiley face drawn on in felt-tip pen. Most subjects were recruited for consumer surveys through pop-up adverts on the lactation fetish pages of several popular pornographic websites; others were kidnapped on the street; some were grown in vitro and have lived here their entire lives, consuming nothing but weak tea and re-runs of BBC panel shows.

Subjects were asked to evaluate Boris Johnson’s performance in a number of Mayoral duties: leading an army of warriors against the goblin menace, pushing back the tide as it creeps up the Thames in his quest for a new airport, initiating a nuclear attack on Argentina, nursing a newborn fawn at his lactating teat, baking a tray of delicious muffins, and dangling from a zipline. Evaluations were given on a five-point mythological and meta-narratival scale, descending from epic through legendary, saga-esque and apocryphal to Talmudic. A full 91% of respondents considered the Mayor of London’s breastfeeding abilities to be either legendary or epic. In response to being questioned on his abilities as a military leader against geopolitical, elemental and supernatural foes, most respondents either marked him as Talmudic, considered the question to be metaphorical, or begged to be released. During a word association exercise Johnson was, in 82% of cases, identified with the ‘maternal’ against the ‘paternal’ element of a word pairing (as in cake/bread, warm/cold, shame/fear, hate [existential]/hate [conditional], wine/beer).

JOHNSON’S HAIRSTYLE

Subjects were asked to give examples of consumer products that could be improved or more easily marketed if supplied with their own trademark straw-coloured Bojo mop. ‘A potato’ was not included in statistical analysis given the bewigged potato’s physical indistinguishability from the Mayor himself. The most popular non-tuberal responses were (in descending order) a dead pigeon on the pavement, the pudenda, standard issue prison uniform, a small heap of used teabags, and the white cliffs of Dover.

TOP BANTER

Altered footage was assembled, using a team of Californian CGI artists, of the Mayor appearing to perform the following comedic routines: a rambling and repetitive Stewart Lee monologue about shoelaces, Michael McIntyre drunkenly failing to seduce a 17 year old in an Edinburgh dive bar, the Socialist Workers Party Disputes Committee’s proceedings against Comrade Delta, and Hitler’s speech before the Reichstag of July 13th 1934. All were seen by the vast majority of subjects to exhibit Johnson’s trademark wit and intelligence. The latter sequence, when spliced into Dave’s regular Tuesday night programming, is believed to have caused a statistically significant spike in the national birth rate nine months later. Video footage of ‘Boris Johnson’ stamping on kittens was, when rated on a scale from cute and blimey to fail and trashy, voted cute by 87% surveyed.

THE GENETIC ARISTOCRACY

99.87% of sixth-form students at St. Jonty’s School for the Incurably Retrognathic believed themselves to be among the 2% of the human species with an IQ over 130. The same proportion, when presented with the idea that ‘intelligence’ when phrased in such terms is nothing more than an instrument used by those with social status to justify their position after the fact and to wage war against those without, agreed vociferously, adding that this is exactly as things ought to be.

MACHINE RUNWAY HYPERSYNTHETIC GENODATA NANOSPASM

Subjects were introduced to the ‘Bumblorator 3000,’ a basic robot programmed to painfully wound them and then make a brief apology or a comic pratfall. Laceration with a rotary blade followed by ‘oh, I am frightfully sorry’ produced a weary chuckle in 63% of subjects. Removal of the lower teeth with pliers followed by a collapse into a small pond produced a 77% rate of muffled sympathetic giggling. Decapitation of the subject with a rusty machete followed by ‘my word, what could I have been thinking’ produced an apologetic grin in 61% of freshly severed heads.

BORIS JOHNSON’S FACE: CRISIS OF POSTLIBIDINAL SEXUALITY

Several scenarios were drawn up by market researchers for sexual congress with Boris Johnson; among them ‘creepy uncle at Christmas,’ ‘forbidden thrill of filial incest,’ ‘boyish public school hijinks,’ and ‘coked-up yacht orgy.’ Almost all were deeply unsuccessful, with subjects (drawn from the ear, nose & throat wards of three hospitals) reporting sensations of extreme distress and self-recrimination. The conclusion that Boris Johnson was not a fit libidinal object was broken by two anomalous findings. Firstly, simulated congress involving rope, hot wax, body hanging, coprophagia, urophagia and nipple clamps was reported to result in a sensation of fuzzy warmth tinged with bittersweet nostalgia. Secondly, scenarios in which Boris Johnson was presented attempting coitus with non-human objects including a cupcake, a copy of the Daily Telegraph and a porcelain teacup induced spontaneous orgasm within two minutes in nearly all subjects. When replicated across the board a similar result was obtained.

While the faces of Tony Blair, David Cameron and Nick Clegg uniformly provide genital – specifically phallic – suggestions, that of Boris Johnson was held by 81% of those surveyed to resemble the breasts of a woman or the buttocks of a man. The Mayor of London could be held to represent a pornographic or post-libidinal sexual politics in which he simultaneously represents sexual object and fetish-object, the central point in a sexual topology otherwise characterised by total indifference. Should Boris Johnson succeed in becoming Prime Minister the suicide rate is not expected to spike significantly, although a gradual increase in fatal incidences of auto-erotic asphyxiation is inevitable over the course of his term. The actual conversion of the entire country into an enormous playground for international finance capital should result in no more that 1-2 million excess deaths.

How to spot an illegal immigrant: a UK Border Agency guide

Beyond what I am, I meet a being who makes me laugh because he is headless; this fills me with dread because he is made of innocence and crime.
Georges Bataille, The Sacred Conspiracy

A series of public UK Border Agency raids in the last few days has attracted the usual furore from the usual quarters, with various pious lefties throwing around accusations of racism based solely on the fact that officers deployed at various train and tube stations were only stopping commuters from visible ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, the publicisation of the raids on the Home Office’s Twitter account has attracted criticism for supposedly being ‘totalitarian,’ ‘a blatant Tory election ploy,’ ‘some serious Children of Men shit right here,’ and ‘a further demonstration of the chimerical and ungodly union between racialised state violence and the pseudo-democratic spectacle of social media.’ In the interests of combating such nonsense, the Home Office has released to the general public this guide, which lays out the criteria by which trained officers can distinguish potential illegal immigrants from ordinary people of colour on sight.

Illegal immigrants, who are known to derive perverse enjoyment from stealing the jobs of British workers, may be identified by their sadistic grins, or expressions of haughty contempt. They may also have bulging pockets, a large rucksack, or a burlap sack printed with a pound sign, in which stolen jobs may be stashed.

While legal British residents tend to have a stoop, hunch, slump, limp, crimp, clob, grag, bort, or other psychologically induced musculoskeltal deformation, illegal immigrants typically display the upright bearing and proud stature of one whose back has not been broken under the weight of labour regulations or union representation.

Many illegal immigrants have been trafficked in to the UK to work in the sex industry, often in positions of indentured servitude. Such offenders can be distinguished by their bed-tousled hair and the healthy sweaty radiance of someone who is definitely getting a lot more action than you are.

Recent illegal immigrants may not have fully adjusted to the social codes that govern life in the UK. Telltale signs include sartorial choices (a swan’s neck worn as a stole, corgi slippers, a lucky red squirrel’s head pendant), food (curry that is not masala, korma, balti or jalfrezi), or suspicious behaviour (any deviation from the mandated autism and perpetual embarrassment of British public life).

Any person who appears at all disturbed or frightened by the presence of officers in stab-proof vests demanding documentation from passers-by is behaving suspiciously and should be immediately handcuffed to a seat on the next flight to Lagos.

Funny moustaches on men, pregnancy on women, an expression of existential bewilderment on the faces of children. Tweeds in unusual colours. Any honest hope that tomorrow might be better than today. Joy, vitality; misery, real misery, black and incandescent. Anything whole and total. Any sense of vastness, any ocular gleam betraying the faint memory that the edge of the firmament does not curve in a shimmering curtain from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The illegal immigrant’s lack of papers is an innate rather than a contingent attribute. As such, officers should be aware of any persons on public transport who appear unwilling to pick up or carry copies of the Metro or Evening Standard, or whose hands seem unable to even touch them, as if repelled by a strange magnetic force.

When show a picture of the Queen, illegal immigrants may hiss, recoil in horror, spontaneously burst into flames, or collapse into ashes (helpfully saving the Home Office and its private-sector partners the costs of repatriation).

As entering the country illegally is against the law, and breaking the law is cool, anyone exuding an aura of charismatic nonchalance and cheerful self-assurance should be apprehended. They are almost certainly an undocumented worker; and even if their papers are valid, they’re definitely up to something. Anyone meeting these criteria and also wearing sunglasses should be tackled to the ground with no warning and with entirely disproportionate force.

Some police dogs have been trained to pick up the scent of intrinsic bodily illegality. Due to the high levels of background illegality, which has been known to confuse the dogs or send them into a frothing omnicidal fury, it is recommended that the UKBA not deploy them in the City of London or Canary Wharf areas.

After crossing a national boundary, the ontological and material status of the illegal immigrant is permanently altered. Many are subsequently able to move through solid objects at will. Be alert for persons emerging out of walls, passing through doors without opening them first, holding a briefcase through its centre, walking ankle-deep in the pavement as if it were no more substantial than a fragrant early dawn mist, etc.

Remember above all that these people are not criminals; they are crime itself, their existence is crime itself.

Other documents made public by the Home Office include plans to capitalise on the impact of the ‘racist van,’ a mobile billboard that drives through multicultural areas with a sign telling immigrants to ‘go home.’ In addition to racist rickshaws, racist hydrofoils, and light racist aircraft, the next steps in the mechanisation of racism will include an airport security gate that beeps in the presence of melanin rather than metal, a phone that makes automatic calls to the council whenever ‘those people’ next door play that dreadful dancehall music, a toaster that burns a carbonised transcript of the ‘rivers of blood’ speech onto every slice of bread, and a coin-op laundromat that asks visible ethnic minorities where it is that they’re really from. These innovations are expected to be highly popular, as people will be able to enjoy all the benefits of living in a structurally racist society without having to go through the whole tiresome rigmarole of having to be outwardly racist themselves. Further Border Agency initiatives include a contingency plan in which uniformed UKBA personnel will invade and conquer the eastern Balkans and impose a murderously appropriative colonial regime so as to dispel positive illusions about Britain, and an ongoing project in which the education, healthcare, and labour protection systems are comprehensively wrecked in the hopes that the UK will then become a less attractive destination for migrants.

The oleagineity of Nigel Farage

 … ssss…. kill them all… eat their egssssss….

Russian leaders have followed a strict pattern since 1825: lisiy–volosatiy, bald-hairy. A bald leader has always been followed by a hairy leader, a hairy leader by a bald leader. In the UK we do things a little differently. While in Russia hair sprouts with the furious fecundity of Stalin’s purges and Yeltsin’s shock treatment before receding in Khrushchev’s secret speech at the 20th Party Congress or Putin’s managed democracy, in Britain nothing ever changes. Russia has dialectical progress, we have dynamic stasis. Our prime ministers come in two types: the slimy and the greasy. Our politics is a contest between opposing forms of oleaginous unpalatability. David Cameron is slimy. Call me Dave, he says, as he stares at you with hunger in his slitted eyes. Gordon Brown is greasy. He may as well have been made from leftover chip fat. Tony Blair is slimy. The Iraqi blood slides right over the shiny coating on his hands. John Major is greasy. His leftover Y-fronts could supply the UK’s energy needs for the next decade. Thatcher was slimy. Callaghan was greasy. Wilson slimy, Heath greasy, Wilson no less slimy the first time. And on and on, the eternal pattern cycling back through the centuries to that distant day when the first poor wretch scrambling around in Albion’s mud took it upon himself to rule over his fellows. But all that might be about to end.

Ed Milliband is greasy, perhaps the greasiest man ever to lurch his way into the House of Commons; he looks like a blob of Vaseline with a haircut and an awkward smile drawn on. Even so, something is changing in our world; the old rules no longer make any sense. The air resounds with governments and economies falling like hailstones. The ice caps are melting. The rain is poison. The sea is plastic. The End of Days is upon us. And Nigel Farage is both slimy and greasy.

Nigel Farage. Say it. It’s horrible, like a slug sitting on your tongue. It fits him perfectly. There’s not a photo of the man in which it doesn’t look like his skin’s about to split open, fall away so the crawling thing inside can rear up in all its insectoid glory. And Ukip is a party in his image. You can see it in that tacky purple and yellow logo, which makes it look like the political wing of Poundland (which, in a sense, is exactly what it is: a cheap, exploitative alternative, feeding off the common desparation). You can see in the language they use, too. We’re not racist, but. It’s common sense. Brussels wants to get rid of your curtains – your curtains, the ones you spend so many hours happily twitching – and replace them with Venetian blinds. Vote Ukip, save our snooping. Barmy Eurocrats want you to eat food with more than two colours. Vote Ukip, save our slurry. Gays want to paint the cliffs of Dover pink. Vote Ukip, save our staidness. Muslims – yes, all of them – want to bring wild-eyes mullahs in to inspect your pantry. Vote Ukip, save our sausages. Be afraid. We’re not racist, but. It’s common sense.

What does common sense mean here? Petty viciousness, the kind the British are so fond of, that’s all. In the run-up to the local election in East Chersterton, candidates were fielded a series of questions by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. “Do you support plans to allow cycling on Green Dragon Bridge?” asked the Campaign. Most of the candidates mulled it over and tried to give a vaguely reasonable answer, or at least one that would endear them to voters. Not Peter Burkinshaw of Ukip. He applied some common sense. “I don’t use Green Dragon bridge,” he said, “so am not able to make an informed comment. However, I am constantly subjected to verbal abuse from cyclist riding of the footbridge at Jesus Lock when I ask them to stop ignoring the please dismount signs.” It’s a perfect image. Burkinshaw, the shit Napoleon in his purple rosette, standing by the lock, waiting for a cyclist to come by so he can remind them of the rules. And the cyclist, speeding past: oh, do fuck off. It almost makes you proud.

The needling puritanical side of what I’m calling the ‘There is a sign-Oh do fuck off’ Axis has always been a part of British life, but its recent resurgence has a precise aetiology. Successive British governments have for decades wormed away at people’s livelihoods and communities: affordable housing has been deprioritised, healthcare gutted, schools turned into businesses. In the place of the industrial sector that once secured the livelihoods of millions we’ve been left with the terrors of the service industry. No unions, no job security – forget alienation, there’s no end-product of labour to be alienated from; and to cap it all off, you might at any point be replaced by a beeping machine that querulously complains of an unexpected item in the bagging area. A few bones have been thrown our way, of course. You can go on a Saturday night talent show to be ritually humiliated by a panel of wankers in the hope of one day reaching international fame as That Guy Who Won That Show Once And Now Mostly Does Panto. (If you have intellectual pretensions, you can try BBC1’s The Voice, a daring televisual adaptation of Theodor Adorno’s On the Fetish-Character in Music.) Everyone must have a talent, and if yours doesn’t propel you to stardom then you probably deserve to work nine hours a day in a windowless office. If that doesn’t placate you, our political class has a solution of last resort: blame the immigrants! Don’t blame us, or at least not too vociferously, don’t blame our friends in the financial sector, blame the immigrants! Blame the poor and vulnerable, the huddled masses, they’re not like us, we don’t owe them anything. Blame the immigrants, hisses slimy Cameron. Blame the immigrants, rumbles greasy Brown. And somewhere, in a disused sewerage pipe in Kent, the slime and grease of their duplicity blends together and forms a hideous blob, growing with every new outrage, until it assumes human form and a wonky grin tears across Nigel Farage’s face…

In yesterday’s local elections, Ukip gained 136 councillors across the country. Farage claimed that he’s reshaped British politics. It rained a little this morning. As I watched, the rain drew thick, viscous trails across my window.

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.

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