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This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: twitter

Why you’re not quitting Twitter

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You have decided to stop using Twitter. You won’t pretend that there was some sudden moment of epiphany, some limpid instant scrolling elsewhere-eyed through ten thousand other people’s keening attempts to entertain, when you realised that this was no longer for you. Thinking of things in terms of moments and instants, that thinly sliced, superficial, impermanent digital Now – that’s part of the whole pattern of thought you’re trying to break out of. You want to do things deeply, slowly, properly; you want to have insights that can’t be compressed into one hundred and forty tossed-off characters. You’re tired of being snide, of the enforced narcissism, of being beholden to your brand, of manufactured outrage, of all those internecine arguments with angry ovarious hordes, dank keyboard-grubbying imbeciles, crude men smearing chip fat in iridescent streaks over their phone screens, people who don’t even work in the media.  You, comic books reviewer for the New York Oboe; you, occasional guest panellist on the BBC’s  Sweary Wednesdays; you, noted online thinkfluencer and inventor of the #DonaldTrumpHasHairlessShins Movement; you have had enough.

You’re going to start living in the real world again. You looked out a window, a real one, made of glass, and you saw a little bird, a real one, alive, not some sinister blue logo. You saw it trembling between the crooked branches, going about a business wilder and stranger than anything in our smooth fake online lives, and you thought your heart would break from the sheer beauty of it all. You made an off-colour joke at the bar – a real bar, made of real bricks – and there was nobody to pounce or denounce, nobody tried to eject you from the premises, and you felt so incredibly free. You’re streamlining your life now. You went out and bought twenty shirts, all in the same shade of grey, because life is too important for clutter. You’re going to go for walks in the park and read books in cafés and cook simple but wholesome meals incorporating flavours from three lesser-known continents. You’re going to stop wasting time and do work, real work, good work. Maybe a novel. But before you go, you’re going to write a little meditation on why you have to go, something longform, something thoughtful, and then you’ll compose your final missive to that abandoned, insular world. ‘Goodbye, Twitter,’ you’ll write. ‘I’m off, and here’s why.’ You’ll think for a moment. You’ll add a short appendix. ‘#Media #Twitter #Writing.’ You’ll think for another moment. You’ll delete the hashtags. You’ve been thinking a lot lately.

This isn’t a cynical move, but at the same time you do think you’re doing it at the right time, because Twitter is dying. The site lost two million users in Q4 of 2015, and because you understand such things, you know what this means. Social networks don’t really make any money, the profits come from the expectation that if they keep growing, sooner or later someone will figure out a way to properly monetise their userbase. Small companies get bought up for vast, parodic sums; big companies float themselves on the stock market and surrender themselves to the predictive powers of the market. It all depends on the capitalist symptom of reckless, tearaway growth: you conquer the world, or you die; nothing in between. And Twitter has failed to conquer the world, so its stock is collapsing. You’ve seen things collapse – families, relationships, buildings, countries – and you’ve learned that if you have a chance to spare yourself those awful final days, you should take it. Leave the place to crumble, and may those still inside be swiftly crushed. The indifferent waves of silicon will reclaim it, the jagged fragments of lost startups. Like the GeoCities, of which nothing remains, all those names pathetically repeating themselves – ‘Hi, I’m Mike, and welcome to my Formula 1 page’ – now silent, all those hideously personal colour combinations reduced to the desert whiteness of a 404 page. Or Myspace, which like all the other places where you used to hang out as a teenager now feels shameful and threatening, sullen graffiti, the lingering tang of body spray, the numinous autonomy of something you no longer own. Or Friends Reunited – remember Friends Reunited? – which only wanted to help, and got got no gratitude. Death will suit Twitter well; you’ll look back on it fondly, it’ll be far more loved as the nostalgic name of something you used to do than as the monster gobbling up your life.

So why does this brave real world you’ve decided to start living in feel so familiar? Why does it feel so false? You’re going to start writing, you’ve decided, without distractions: so the day yawns open at you, a stinking cavern of dead black time, and you find you have nothing to do. How many times can you water a plant before the thing gets waterlogged and dies? You tried tracing its long glossy leaves with your fingertips, marvelling at the intricate patterning in its mesophyll, and have come to the sad conclusion that plants are actually quite boring. You try to read a book – Middlemarch; you’re slowly sinking down the list of great novels to read before you die – but your gaze slips from the first sentence in one paragraph to another, searching for the point – and you think: when I do die, will it really matter if I’ve read this stupid thing or not? You have a funny observation about the day’s news, clever but not really good enough to make copy, and given that all your friends are online you text it to your mother. She doesn’t reply; for four damn hours she doesn’t reply. ‘Ha! x.’ Could it be that you’ve forgotten how to live? It’s being cooped up in here, it’s these four plain walls. You need to do the unthinkable. You need to go outside.

You leave without any clear aim or destination in mind, but it doesn’t matter. You’re a flâneur! You’re the poet of the material world! Passing by a chain coffee outlet, you decide to drop in, listen to people talking, gauge their lives and concerns through good, old-fashioned, unmediated, personal voyeurism. And, even though you won’t need to say or do anything, the patrons will silently admire you, and maybe even want to fuck you – how could they not? You order your filter coffee (‘No, no milk, I’m a deeply serious person’), unfold your newspaper, and wait. But it’s so strange: half the people there are just looking at their phones; glancing up occasionally into the eyes of their friend or lover with unalloyed disgust, as if repulsed by their needling physicality – and the ones who do talk seem to have a compulsive verbal tic you’d never noticed before. Before they say anything they’ll always address their interlocutors by their full names. ‘Stephanie Jones: Didn’t they say it’d rain later?’ ‘Mark Eyabunoh, Corey Adelusi: Ha ha! That’s so funny.’ It reminds you of something, something unpleasant. This place is wrong. But when you rush outside, they’re all at it. Someone seems to be walking down the street, acting normally, but a hideous change comes over them as soon as you’re in earshot. A furious political argument erupts between two strangers; they look as if they’re about to claw each other’s eyes out. Teen girls scream about One Direction as you approach. Drivers start singing football chants out their windows, staring spittle-flecked and manic in your direction and only yours. One woman dances, thrusting a picture on phone into your face: ‘Here’s what I had for lunch!’ A schlubby-looking man in a brown suit and purple tie seems to be in the middle of an epileptic fit; his hands judder, his shoes scuff against the pavement, and he croaks, over and over again, ‘Taylor Swift: Show us your feet. Taylor Swift: Send us foot picture? Taylor Swift: Show us your feet. Taylor Swift: Send us foot picture?’ You don’t stop to help. You just ignore him. You learned, somewhere, to ignore.

Other people aren’t good for you, it’s clear. They’re strangers, witless and dull; what you need is nature. You start to head home, back towards the high street, maybe you’ll rent out a cottage somewhere in the barren north where there’s no wifi. But as soon as you turn the corner, every head snaps suddenly to fix its gaze on you. ‘Tosser,’ says one shopper after another. ‘Arsehole.’ ‘Pompous twat.’ They crowd on you, breathing halitosis and malice into your innocent face. ‘Why do you keep saying I’m a tosser?’ you yell. ‘I don’t even know you!’ The nearest creature, a skinny man in glasses and store-bought stubble, smirks. ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘You don’t know me, because you’re a tosser.’ Everyone laughs and claps and starts giving this smug prick his comradely pats on the back. Maybe it wasn’t Twitter. Maybe you really are a tosser. But surely that can’t be true?

The birth of that new cult gave you time to escape, at least, so you scramble panicked up a hill, some big comforting grass-edged tit, to look out over the city and try to take stock of things. Maybe you’ll sketch the view in your Moleskine. On a grey and blustery afternoon, there’s nobody else in sight. The trauma recedes a little; it’s almost peaceful. But the skyline doesn’t rise slowly inch by inch over the horizon, like you’d imagined; it jumps out suddenly, fanged and snarling, in the break between two trees. Patches of sunlight swim jellyfish-like between the skyscrapers, the whole giddy tapestry of human life is laid out in front of you. And there, hovering fifty feet above midtown, are three huge, spectral symbols. You know what they are. Reply, Retweet, Like. No. You clench your eyes tight and frantically jab at the other button like it’s the only thing that can save you. Report abuse. Report abuse. You need to block it all, it offended you, it needs to go. This mustn’t happen. Give me control. Make me admired. Make me loved.

You can’t quit Twitter: you, writer; you, comedian; you, journalist; you, early adopter; you, self-confessed nerd and unapologetic brunch snob. You created it, with your earnest musings and your boiling self-regard; you summoned the demon, and while its name might change the beast will never be able to relent. You bring Twitter with you wherever you go, because you are Twitter. And it’s dying, because you’re already dead.

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Richard Dawkins and the ascent of madness

 The fossil later received £250,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Richard Dawkins wakes some time before dawn. He doesn’t blink or yawn or stretch – his eyes clang open with all the force and suddenness of a steel door. He stares at his ceiling, blue and brown swirling in his irises like cars and livestock in the centre of a tornado. Richard Dawkins’ head is fizzing with mad thoughts. He chatters under his breath as he strides out of bed and down the stairs of his Oxford home. His wife gives a small grunt and goes back to sleep. Outside a shimmering band of turquoise near the horizon brings a soft sparkle to the beads of dew hanging from trees in early bud; the heavy clouds in the distance look peach-pink and insubstantial; so do the old pale brick houses that line his street. The birds are singing in riotous chorus. “Accept my genetic information, females of my species!” they sing. “Observe my superior fitness for survival, as evidenced by the strength and clarity of my voice! Oh, and, by the way, as a bird I have no concept of God or metaphysics, but I do believe in strict gender roles and the principles of Aufklärung!” Richard Dawkins sets off into the world.

As he shambles down his street a few small birds burst from a shrub, scattering at his approach. The famous scientist suddenly breaks from his mutterings and watches them carefully. “Horses!” he says, finally. “Flying horses. Nonsense. Balderdash. Not now. Not yet. One day. Tiny flying horses, tiny flying horses, millions of tiny flying horses. One day. One day.” Later, an upended bin gives the bestselling biologist some cause for reflection. Foxes have tipped it over, sprawling its contents over the pavement. “Hitler’s brain!” Dawkins exclaims. “Save Hitler’s brain, study Hitler’s brain, gain Hitler knowledge. Hitler science. Science Hitler. Hitler Hitler.” Soon he is heading down from his wealthy suburb into the medieval heart of Oxford, towards the University, seat of learning and discovery for over nine hundred years. A few vans making early-morning deliveries trundle past him. He smiles and waves. “You want to see some films of a lady giving birth?” he shouts happily. “Fantastic stuff. Two million years old. Baby porn, baby.” By the time he’s on Market Street the sky has lightened and there are already a few pedestrians on the road – postgrad students with their morning coffees, undergraduates still stumbling home from the previous night. Some stare as he passes; some turn their backs. Suddenly, Richard Dawkins stops dead. He raises an accusatory finger at a horrific building standing in front of him. His face is twisted in fury. It’s not a church, though – it’s a charity shop. “WHERE DO AMPUTEES BUY THEIR SHOES?” the internationally renown secularist bellows, spitting and grimacing, tears rolling down his face. “DO AMPUTEES THROW AWAY ONE SHOE?”

His journey is almost complete. As the sun, burning with nuclear fusion’s blasphemous glory, begins to float above the crenelated urban horizon, Richard Dawkins is climbing Magdalen Tower. Finally he is at the summit, surrounded by its magnificent Gothic spires. As dawn becomes day, Richard Dawkins looks out at a gloriously mechanistic universe, and begins to laugh. “There is no God!” he shouts. “There is no God! There is no God!” As he does so, his testicles sway freely in the breeze, swinging slowly, with all the dignified solemnity of old church bells.

~

Richard Dawkins has gone insane.

It’s probably for the best. In his more lucid moments his proclamations tend towards an unselfconscious misogyny and Islamophobia – his thought bears the ugly stamp of the bigot who thinks that not believing in God lends his opinions some kind of Rational Objectivity. His links with the far right are extensive; it might not be a coincidence that his personal foundation shares a logo with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Far better for him to be endlessly wittering about Pleistocene porn and Hitler’s brain. I’d like to think I helped in some small way: I am, after all, one of the voices that reminds him daily of an inconvenient truth. But really it was inevitable; it’s inscribed in his ideology. The ‘New Atheists’ should, I think, more properly be called the New Young Hegelians; much of their bad politics comes from their refusal to accept that their ideas were thoroughly refuted by a pair of bearded weirdos over 150 years ago. This is aggravating enough, but the madness comes in when their insistence on rationality turns from an irritating ideological quirk into a full-blown psychosis. You can’t talk to these people. “I prefer tangerines to oranges,” I say. “I’ll believe that when I see the proof,” they thunder in response, glutamated granules falling from their beards like dandruff as they shake their heads in scorn. “Maybe the juridical categories of proof and evidence aren’t universally applicable?” I suggest. The whining chorus: “Got any evidence for that?” Wander too far down the path of rationalist dogma and it’ll be no surprise if you’ll end up like Richard Dawkins, sunning his genitals in a world that no longer makes any sense.

But what if it’s something more? What if Richard Dawkins’ madness isn’t the end of his story, but the start of his elevation to something entirely different?

~

Richard Dawkins is not new. Richard Dawkins has been with us for thousands of years. Xanthus of Lydia writes of the presocratic philosopher Empedocles:

Having reached the summit of Etna, he threw himself into the flames, believing that with the scourging of his body by the fire he would arise as a god. From that day he was known to the people as Μαργίτηἅγιοσ (Margithagios).

What is a margithagios? The word recurs several times in Greek writing without much in the way of elucidation. In Latin it was translated as furiosus sanctum, or the holy madman: the Roman jurist Sextus Pomponius wrote that ‘the holy madman is he who, having been a great man, places himself by his own will beyond the limit of the law and its reason. Thereafter he is the property of the gods; he is theirs to kill or take in sacrifice.’ That the gods will claim their sacrifice seems to be a given. Of the individuals later described as margithagies or furiosi sancti, few tend to meet a peaceful end. The fourteenth-century German theologian Thomas von Klöt was born to an aristocratic family but renounced his worldly wealth in the service of the Church; he was at one point considered a candidate for posthumous canonisation. However, his preaching became steadily more bizarre and began to verge on the blasphemous: he began to insist that God manifested Himself in vegetable life and forbade his followers to eat any plants or anything which fed on them (flies, worms, etc were at the time believed to emerge through spontaneous generation and were therefore considered safe to eat). He was killed with two of his disciples when he was crushed by a falling tree. Comte Xavier de Mazan, commonly considered to be an inspiration for the Marquis de Sade, took to calling himself Priapus Invictus and walking around Paris in specially designed breeches that allowed his penis to protrude through an opening surrounded by rubies and sapphires; he died in 1761 when an improperly cut diamond tore through his femoral artery. At the close of the nineteenth century, the British imperialist and industrial magnate Harry Suggle began to take an interest in Hindu cosmology and eventually proclaimed himself Īshvara, the supreme ruler of Vyāvahārika or the World Inside the Veil, to a crowd of his workers. He was killed when a rotary blade in his beet-processing factory came loose and sheared off the top of his head.

A general theory of margithagies was first devised by the structuralist anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in his 1972 work Les Hommes à l’extérieur. Lévi-Strauss connected the figure of the margithagios with the Outside Men of Amerindian society – those madmen who, unlike prophets or shamans, would live within the camp but not take part in its rites. The position of the Outside Man was an ambiguous one: at once man, god, and beast. In times of grave general danger (such as drought or war), the holy madman would be ritually sacrificed; however once the rite was carried out it was forbidden to speak of it on pain of death. Perhaps the most systematic analysis of the sacred madman, however, is in Giorgio Agamben’s 1996 Margithagios: Dissent and despotism from the classical to the modern. Agamben argues that the margithagios formed a ‘state of exception’ allowing ancient societies to allow for dissenting or contradictory opinion to be at once openly expressed and rejected as madness (and potentially cut short with the life of the holy madman). In his conclusion, Agamben explicitly identifies the margithagios with freedom of speech in liberal democracy, proclaiming that ‘in the twenty-first century, we will all be furiosi sancti.’ Notably, Deleuze and Guattari refer to the holy madman in Plateau 10 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia:

We refer not to prophets or seers, molar aggregates all, but the margithagios, for whom the revelation is always a becoming: becoming-God, becoming-flames, becoming-ashes. Can we say with certitude that Empedocles did not, in the end, adopt the trajectories of an Apollo? In the margithagios space becomes a field of n points, n-dimensional movements, intersected by n plan(e)s. Margithagios haecceities form lines of flight extending in every dimension, the contagion of the sacred madman is effected through these backchannels, in which deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation form a loop or sequence connected not by graduation but consistency. There is never a city, there is only a city and a volcano, never a volcano, only a volcano and a sandal, never a sandal, only a sandal and a god. Rhizome.

The theoretical margithagios is diverting, but you get the sense that Deleuze and Guattari have missed the point a little. The holy madmen existed. For a short time they transcended our world while continuing to walk within it, and then they all fell. They were sacred to something. Something took them back to itself, something greater and more powerful than we can imagine. As he babbles about tiny flying horses and people with more shoes than legs, a question is forced upon us – is Richard Dawkins about to prove the existence of God?

~

Richard Dawkins stands on the top of Magdalen Tower. The sun is rising over Oxford. The fires of Etna shine their feverish light over his naked body. He smiles.

Boston: the terrorism of banality

The State fixes, after the intervention, the term {X,{ex}} as the canonical form of the Event. What is at stake is clearly a Two (the site counted as one, and a multiple formed into one), but the problem is that between these two terms there is no relation.
Alain Badiou, Being and Event

 SPK- Turn Social Awkwardness Into A Weapon!

Lu Lingzi died on Monday. I didn’t know Lu Lingzi. She was a person: she had her passions and dreams and aspirations, and she had her neuroses as well, her buried furies, her paranoias. She was a human being, a speck of brightness in a dark and infinite universe, and there were people who loved her for that reason alone. But I didn’t know Lu Lingzi. The New York Times knew her, though. It knew her in the same way it knows just about every single person on this earth. Its giant roving eye found her, and fixed her, and then some hack wrote this:

Ms. Lu’s own final message on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging service, was posted on Monday and showed a picture of a bowl of Chinese fried bread, and said “My wonderful breakfast.” Ms. Lu, shown on her Weibo page as a petite woman with thick, shoulder-length hair, said there that she enjoyed food, music and finance.

Here is the summation of two thousand years of humanity’s struggle to distil Truth from mere events, the end-product of a line of heroes from Herodotus to Woodward and Bernstein. The final message: Woman Dead, Enjoyed Food. If you want to sell newspapers you have to make people care, and if you want to make people care about a tragedy in the real world you have to narrativise it, you have to give it the form of a fiction. You have to reduce human beings to atoms of emotion. Nobody is safe, it can happen to any of us. Sam Kriss was knocked down by a car while stumbling drunkenly across a road; in his last message to a grief-stricken planet he ironically retweeted the rapper Lil B talking about his tiny dick.

The crucial difference between what happened to Lu Lingzi and my hypothetical encounter with a Peugeot 305 at four in the morning is that, unlike me, Lu Lingzi died in the Boston marathon bombing. The terrorist bomb isn’t so much an object as a series of transformations: chemical substances into heat and light, banality into significance, life into death – with the last of these being only a corollary to the second. Death is tragic, but that’s almost subsidiary to the real horror of the bomb: a hand reaches out from the depths of the earth and assigns an aleatory significance, the Event intrudes on Being with the full force of its inexplicable violence. What we’re seeing is not the banality of terrorism but the latent terror of the banal. One day you’re a happily anonymous citizen; the next your neighbourhood is under undeclared martial law and History bursts your door open and rushes through your home, incarnated in a bunch of armed police wearing camouflage gear.

In the days after the bombing, as the investigation floundered with no group or individual claiming responsibility, I started to believe that the culprits would never be found. The attack would forever be an inexplicable anti-ontological rupture, a thorn pricking the side of a dying empire, a riddle never to be solved. In a way, I think that’s still true. In the absence of any concrete evidence, the observing masses played their favourite game: speculation. Maybe it was the Iranians, maybe North Korea, maybe a false flag attack by the Obama administration, whatever fits in best with the speculator’s prejudices. I’m not proud of it, but I played along too: it couldn’t be Islamists, I reasoned; any kid dumb enough to start talking about Jihad – and a quite a few who had learning difficulties or just needed money – had already been scooped up by some FBI sting operation. It was clearly a lone right-wing Bircher weirdo, a Tea Partier, a conspiracy theorist, holed up in his basement trying to kickstart the Rapture.

I was wrong. For a start, there were two of them. The suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were not only Caucasian but had been born among the Caucasus mountains, they had US citizenship and had lived in America for most of their lives, they had apparently acted independently of any larger organisation, they seemed to have some sympathy for 9/11 and Sandy Hook conspiracy theories – but at the same time they were Muslims from a region with a long history of armed Islamic radicalism. They sat at the swirling nexus of every theory and prejudice. Neither one thing nor the other, not both, not neither. Multiple zones of indistinction, tangled, whorled, their univocity inscribed only on the Plane of Ignorance. Hence the spectacle of newspaper pundits patiently explaining to their readers what a Chechnya is, and Twitter users assuming that war with Russia was imminent or demanding a nuclear strike on Czechoslovakia.

And yet the culprits still haven’t been found in any full sense. We have an answer, of sorts, but no Answer, nothing that can account for the shocking rupture of the attack. It’s impossible to draw a line of causality from whatever was inside the heads of the Tsarnaevs to what happened near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Where there should have been something conclusive there was only banality, banality assuming the horrific proportions of significance. On the day of the marathon bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (under the handle @J_tsar) retweeted a novelty account for an Internet meme based on a TV advert:

Most Interesting Man @_DosEquisMan_
He once arm wrestled the Incredible Hulk. The loser had to paint himself green.

The day before he planted two bombs that killed three people, including an eight year old boy, he observed:

And here I thought nemo’s dad was about to get it with dory but apparently this man turned into a female #thatscray

Two days after the attack, he told the world:

I’m a stress free kind of guy

Something’s not right here, nothing adds up. This isn’t to say that there’s been a coverup and the Tsarnaevs are innocent of the bombing (although it should be kept in mind that they are, after all, only suspects). It’s something deeper and stranger, the void at the heart of the online representation of a real person. Dzokhar’s friends consistently voice their disbelief: they knew this guy, he was their boy, they smoked weed with him, he was a chill guy. The racist media is forced to dig deep through his Internet presence to find even a few mentions of going to mosque or faith in God; they parade these in front of us as if that explains anything.

Dzokhar also has a profile on the Russian social media site VKontakte. Since he was identified as a suspect, his page has been bombarded with thousands of messages of fury and hate, sometimes bizarrely undirected:

Ivan Skor
Никому, I’m your mother raped instead of with blacks
two hours ago to Nikomu

If your immediate reaction to this is ‘this looks like a great opportunity to publicise my brand,’ then you could find work at one of the footwear companies that spammed the thread with links to their stores. Really, I think they missed a trick there; they could have built up an entire campaign around it. A marathon, a terrorist attack, a culture of martyrdom: all the ingredients for a perfect ad strategy. Imagine it: under a darkening sky a group of figures are shown running heroically along a track. At the finish line, an immense conflagration, the fiery extinction of thought and reason and humanity. One man pulls ahead of the pack, his arms spread wide, the faint glow of a halo just visible over his head, ready to embrace the inferno. What’s given him this sudden burst of speed? His millennial passion, certainly, but that’s not all. The camera pans down, and we discover the truth: he’s wearing the retailer’s shoes. Fade to black. And then, in shining white letters, the tagline: Dare To Go Further.

LOL. Fuck Muamba he’s dead !!! #Haha

University of Swansea student Liam Stacey is currently serving a 56-day prison sentence for a series of racist posts made on Twitter after Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field from a heart attack. Nobody in the UK press has yet reprinted the tweets in question, which I think demonstrates an astonishing level of cowardice. Here they are:

LOL. Fuck Muamba he’s dead !!! #Haha

@porcavacca owww go suck a nigger dick you fucking aids ridden cunt

@SamParishPR go suck muamba’s dead black dick then you aids ridden twat! #muambasdead

It’s pretty obvious that Liam Stacey is, to put it kindly, a bit of a twat. I don’t think that his twattishness necessarily earned him 56 days in jail, but that’s not really what I want to talk about. That angle’s been covered plentifully, by everyone from cryptofascist American ‘libertarians’ to the outgoing EU commissioner for human rights. (Although as someone who spends slightly too much time writing stupid and inflammatory nonsense on the Internet, it’s not as if it’s not a concern.) What really struck me about this story is the way the British judiciary appears to have claimed for itself the right to determine what is racist, and to punish accordingly. This is, after all, the same British justice system that in West London was 79% more likely to jail black defendants after the summer riots, the same British justice system that sends black people to jail for driving offences 44% more than white defendants, the same British justice system whose officers suffocated a young black man last year and told him that ‘the problem with you is you will always be a nigger.’

Is Laim Stacey a racist? Maybe. To be honest, that’s not the real problem. The problem is that 44% of black Britons aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed, as compared to 20% of their white peers. If we take racism to be a simple matter of Bad Racist People saying Bad Racist Things, it allows us to cover for the pervasive institutional and systemic racism that suffocates our society. If we can all jeer at the Nasty Bad Racist, the rest of us are let off the hook.

Take another case: earlier this year in Sanford, Florida, community watch co-ordinator George Zimmerman made a 911 call in which he described a ‘guy look[ing] like he is up to no good or on drugs or something.’ He then proceeded to chase down, shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year old described as ‘an A and B student majoring in cheerfulness,’ who had been in the area to buy some skittles and a can of iced tea. Is George Zimmerman a racist? Obviously, and the fact that he has not yet been charged with any crime is indicative of the horrific institutional racism still subsumed in American law enforcement. But the far bigger problem is  the place where the shooting occurred: The Retreat at Twin Lakes, an overwhelmingly white gated community where gates and security guards keep its rich residents in a state of suburban bliss, safe from the churning multiethnic chaos of the outside world. The problem is that places like this, where the presence of a black teenager on the street could constitute a cause for alarm, exist – and not only in Sanford; they’re ubiquitous, with up to eight million Americans living in similar communities. Zimmerman’s personal racism didn’t emerge from a vacuum; it’s a product of his politico-geographical milieu, a product of the vast underlying substrate that is American class and racial segregation.

Republican strategist Lee Atwater described perfectly the way racial issues have become masked over the course of the 20th Century in an anonymous interview:

You start out in 1954 by saying ‘nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now that you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger.’

What, then, happens to the people who, in 2012, are still saying ‘nigger, nigger, nigger’? They become homo sacer, they’re a horrifying reminder of the actual content of the society whose mode of appearance is one of racial equality. The must be clamped down on, because they expose our hypocrisy. In the UK, where a high level of abstraction has been reached, Liam Stacey was clamped down on near-immediately. In Florida, where a lot of people still seem to be living somewhere between 1954 and 1968, the power structures are dragging their heels, but I’m sure George Zimmerman will be clamped down on too, eventually. He’s a monster; he certainly deserves it. But it won’t signify an end to the problem. It’s just another of its manifestations.

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