July 28, 2005

Anti-intellectual half-wits

Smugonauts 'strike' back.

Maybe they really don't know what Barthesian Mythemes are. Maybe they really do think that Barthes was a sociologist. (Interesting btw that they consider that being a sociology graduate is intrinsically worthy of derision).

If so, you have to ask: what did they graduate in?

And if they really don't know anything about Barthes, how do they know that his ideas are ridiculous? (Or perhaps what is objected to is the application of abstruse concepts to contemporary media?)

The irony is that this kind of stance - and the implied plain-speaking common man speaking position it affects to come from - are ripe for precisely the kind of analysis that Barthes pioneered in Mythologies. The well-defined anti-intellectual position that has achieved an near-unchallenged consensus in the current British media conforms to a series of strict structural requirements. Rod Liddle's column a couple of weeks ago in the Sunday Times on Marx and philosophy (I can't link to it since the Times only keeps its articles freely available for seven days after publication) was a near-perfect exemplication of all of these. The message is always that the writer knows enough to know that they don't need to know. In other words, they, the sensible and the commonsensical, know what all this stuff is about, but they also know that it is a waste of time. The message is reinforced by lame in-jokes (witness Liddle's bewildering notion that philosophy is all about the ontological status of tables) aimed at reassuring other half-educated half-wits that their time spent in the union bar was better spent than it would have been in the library. Think again....

UPDATE: Infinite Thought has a copy of Liddle's article, so you can all read for yourselves this high watermark of stupidity. (btw: Did people catch Liddle's 'review' of that grubby little play by Toby Young and some other no-mark about the Spectator summer of sleaze? Metrotextual masturbation... 'Hotel maids smile in unison... then you know you must leave the capitol...')

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July 25, 2005

The weight on their shoulders

I'm out of London - where when people stampede over each other to save their own necks they do so stoically - for a couple of weeks, so posts are likely to be intermittent for a while.

To reinforce the points made in a number of recent posts, here's David Canter, Director of the Centre for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool, writing in The Times on Saturday:

'Interviews with would-be Palestinian suicide bombers have revealed that they were not always idealists committed to a well-understood cause. Some had volunteered only a few weeks earlier. They often did not have a detailed understanding of the purpose of the destruction they intended, but were motivated by personal experiences.

The London bombers do not live under an occupying force but they may believe they do. They may not have suffered the daily insults of a foreign army but may have formed a view that killing themselves in the name of a “cause” was the only way to regain personal pride. It is this intention to kill themselves that must be kept in mind when trying to determine how the bombers are thinking and feeling now.

Suicide by young men is such a serious problem in Britain that it is a declared NHS target to reduce the occurrence. So it is no coincidence that these bombers are broadly of the same age and gender as the many others who kill themselves at the stage between adolescence and manhood when the pressures can seem too great and the only way out is seen to be death. If such confusions are channelled by manipulative adults and dressed with the plaudits of courage and martyrdom then vulnerable young men will succumb.'

This does suggest that, in the young men who typically become suicide bombers, the will to (self-)destruction comes first and the Cause second. Hence, once again, Schrader's acuteness in his depiction of Travis Bickle: Bickle's ultimate role as redeeming avenger (although are those final scenes a fantasy sequence? I'm never sure) is somewhat arbitrary. He could just as easily have been the assassin of a presidential candidate, pursuing his own damnation and self-destruction through the destruction of an other. Too much commentary on the suicide bombings has presupposed that the perpretrators of the attacks are committed zealots rather than confused drifters, carriers of thanatoidal teenihilstic death force for hire.

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July 20, 2005

Hearts full of Napalm

Apologies for the gap in transmission. I have moved back down to South London and haven't yet got the broadband connection up and running. (Typing this in an internet cafe in Lewisham).

New posts soon on Ghost Box and The Cure, but in the meantime, check out Simon on the bombers as the 'world's forgotten boys'. The connections Simon made between the bombers' class profile and that of many punks/ ravers/ pop writers had also occurred to me. Simon suggests that 'the precariousness of that class position--and the volatile, poorly digested combination of a bit of higher education with a lot of autodidact learning--breeds a certain kind of believer kind of mindset, a psychology of quest and mission.' Scorsese and Schrader's Taxi Driver remains the pre-eminent cinematic exploration of that 'psychology of quest and mission', although one interesting difference between the ur-punk Travis and the London bombers is isolation. Travis was defined by his inability to connect with others - what Travis craves is the sense of belonging he had in Nam but which is nowhere to be found in seventies' New York's world of transition and impermanenence - whereas the London four were a team, a squad.

But the apocalyptic rhetoric Travis employs, his descriptions of New York as a venal inferno, find obvious echoes in the Islamist castigation of Babylonic modernity. (In this respect, it is interesting to remember that Tim McVeigh's bombings was originally attributed to Islamists: the 'grievances' of dislocated white survivalists and those of Islamists against America are so similar, so cosmically all-embracing: they motivate an urge for a 'cleansing destruction' that has no object beyond the Sodom and Gomorrah annihilation of what is perceived to be an irredeemable corruption.)

What are we conclude from the connection that Simon points to? On one level, the Terrorists are another symptom of Badiou's 'passion for the Real': representations, slogans are no longer enough. There has to be an Act, a direct intervention. So Terror can be seen - from the point of view of power, certainly, but perhaps not only from that perspective - as a 'failed sublimation'. The rage and self-loathing that were sublimated into something like punk have in the case of these young men short-circuited and made direct contact with the Real. Terror, particularly self-annihilating Terror, seems to resolve certain conflicts in masculinity. It seems reasonable to posit a drive in young men towards self-annihilation (needless to say, rock provides ample evidence of this; indeed, it could be argued that the whole of rock is a 'trace' of this impulse). Terror seems to give the male drive towards self-destruction an ethical dimension, transforming idiotic self-destruction into heroic self-sacrifice.

Also: check out Gutterbreakz FM which this month includes a section from londonunderlondon.

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July 13, 2005

The face of terrorism without a face


So Tony Blair is the leader who has brought suicide bombing to Britain.

Any remaining doubt about the link between 7/7 and the Iraq bombing and occupation was dissipated today when a friend of one of the suspects, Mohammed Sadique Kahn, spoke to - of all things - The Evening Standard. 'The friend ... said Khan, Tanweer and Hussain grew up together and "often talked about their anger at their Muslim brothers and sisters being unfairly treated in Iraq by the US."'

No surprises there. And no surprises, at least not for k-punk readers, that the bombers were British. That, at least, somewhat undermined the racist agendas of European and U.S. 'experts' who blamed the atrocity on Britain's supposedly insufficiently authoritarian immigration and asylum policies, barely concealing their disgust at multi-ethnic 'Londonistan', a stance that echoes Mark Steyn's Islamophobic revulsion at 'Eurabia'. The BNP in Barking found that their predictable attempts to extract political capital from the bombings - a leaflet with a photograph of the trashed number 30 bus over a caption saying, 'Maybe now it's time to listen to tbe BNP' - also fell foul of the revelation that the bombers came from Leeds, not the Middle East. Naturally, that news brings with it the possibilities for other kinds of exploitation by racists. It is a grotesque understatement to say that the next few months will not be easy for Muslims in Britain. Emollient words about 'true Islam' will be as ineffective as they are misleading. There is no true Islam. Islam, like all other religions, is a riot of contradictions, a tissue of interpretations. The words of the Prophet give as much comfort to zealots as to pacificists.

David Davis said last week that modern terrorism is 'terrorism without a face'. Suddenly, however, the terrorists have a face - even though it is not the one that many expected, or wanted. The photographs of the perpetrators and the photographs of the victims - who could tell them apart? There is no tell-tale 'demonic stain' on the faces of the killers. They aren't the austere, obsessive 'foreigners' that the popular imagination had conjured. They wore trainers and tracksuits, they were religious, sure, but no-one thought they were fanatics. They weren't even socially dysfunctional geeks. By all accounts, they were popular, played cricket. Nor was there any obvious lack or deprivation in their lives.

The obvious questions seem to be 'how', 'why'? Yet the same questions do not seem the obvious ones to ask when we see photographs of similar young men who happen to be in in the U.S. or British forces, men who have participated in the killing of very many more civilians.

The Blairite objection to terrorism cannot be its means, since he, too, considers the killing of a certain number of civilians an acceptable sacrifice for the greater Good. (One of the problems this kind of utilitarian calculus has always faced is that there is no obvious point at which to stop counting the consequences. But, as we've already established, surely Thursday must count amongst the consequences of the Iraq misadventure.) It is the ends, then, in which the difference must reside, not the means. Blair is supernaturally confident that he is on the side of the angels, that he is pursuing the Good, whereas his enemies are Evil. The problem is that they think exactly the same way.

He tells us that we are in a war. But to many Muslims - not 'mad mullahs', but , amongst others, young men from 'ordinary' backgrounds - it is as obvious as it is to Blair what the right, the only side, to be on is. It is the side of the poor and the oppressed, not the side of the the hyper-privileged and the massively well-armed. The rage, the righteous sense of injustice that led those four to give their lives and take the lives of others - and please, do not describe what they did as 'cowardly' ; 'brutal' by all means, but not 'cowardly', and certainly nowhere near as cowardly as the Powell doctrine of bombing from a great height - that anger needs to be channeled by other forces, forces which don't counter oppression with repression, which don't transform rage into outrage.


UPDATE: Breakfast TV, BBC1. A group of young Muslims from Leeds - not 'fanatics' by any means - tell the reporter (who has to concede that they are articulate and measured) that Iraq is the major factor in switching young men onto extremism in Britain. They make it clear that they are appalled by the events of last Thursday, condemn them without reservation, but nevertheless are angered by the patent double standards of the British media. The fifty people who died last week - whose deaths they in no way trivialized - seem to count much more than the thousands who die in Iraq. (It makes me wonder what would happen if the media indulged in what Simon Jenkins called 'grief pornography' for Iraqis: if there were back stories and photographs for all of them, would the public mood change?) In the studio, Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today, tries to demur, falling back on the standard line that 9/11 preceded Iraq. True enough, but there had never been suicide bombing in Britain until last week. Manji makes some good points: in a piece the other day (I think in the Standard?), she broke ranks with the sentimental consensus about 'true Islam', arguing that there needs to be an Islamic Reformation, with the acceptance within the religion that certain passages of the Koran can be wrong. But the call for Islamic auto-critique must go alongside a recogntion that the 'Crusader' policies of the US and the UK feed an aggrieved militancy that will make that kind of Reformation much less likely.

Fascinating essay here on the psychology of the 9/11 bombers, reinforcing my observation that the motivation for Terrorism is to resolve tensions within the bombers. It seems that al Qaeda deliberately fostered such tensions within the bombers, who were not Wahhabi and were therefore regarded - partly by themselves one assumes - as 'not true Muslims' . Encouraging them to attend strip clubs and drink can only have produced a sense of guilt and self-disgust which made them ripe for manipulation:

'The beginning instructions of the Doomsday Document give us vital insight into how a normal, middle class, secular young man like Ziad Jarrah, a Lebanese engineer with at Turkish-German live-in girlfriend, could become a mass murderer and suicide. He and others were convinced that they were reenacting sacred history. The United States was not a Christian country but rather a reincarnation of pagan Mecca. As Mecca was attempting to invade Medina and destroy Islam, so the United States had invaded the Muslim world to undermine Islam. The hardy band of real Muslims who recognized the extreme threat had no choice but to undertake a raid (ghazwah) against this much superior foe. Just as small bands of early Muslims often inflicted defeats on larger Meccan forces, so a handful of young believers could hope to inflict a grievous blow on the 21st century Mecca of the West.

The hijackers thus saw themselves as holy warriors, as Muslim raiders. Their victims were not even human, but rather mere animals for ritual slaughter. Atta and other handlers convinced them to live a double life. Inwardly they were committed to piety and asceticism and self-sacrifice. Outwardly they frequented bars and strip clubs, both to throw the intelligence agencies off the scent and to get a foretaste of the rewards of martyrdom. If it was Bin Laden who put them up to this double life, he may well have done so with personal knowledge of the kind of guilt it would induce, and the kind of self-hatred and openness to manipulation to which the guilt could lead.

The internal psychology of commitment to murder on a huge scale and to die in the process was underpinned by an almost obsessive-compulsive immersion in the details of repeated rituals. Specific phrases were recited with every activity, constantly. The internal monologue was drowned in a set of sacred mantras, leaving no space for questioning orders. The constant hum of the recitation may have been intended in part to induce a liminal state that was not entirely conscious. The intensity and lack of small talk that those who met them remarked on in the hijackers probably derived from their silent, constant dhikr or repetition of sacred verses. This liminal consciousness may have been reinforced by deliberate sleep deprivation, and by bouts of drunkenness. Employed as they were intended, the techniques of Islamic mysticism have produced saints and sages like Rumi and al-Ghazali. Misused as a form of brainwashing, they appear to have contributed to among the largest mass murders in history.'

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July 12, 2005

on a lighter note: cards and presents

From Infinite Thought:



From Woebot:


From Karl Kraft:


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July 11, 2005

Defeating the hydra


In Marvel's Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comics, the nefarious S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-like international crime and terror network was called H.Y.D.R.A. Its slogan was 'cut off a limb and two more shall lose its place'. In Saturday's Times, Paul Wilkinson, Chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, described the 'decentralised network' of al-Qaeda as a 'true hydra'. But the lesson of the hydra myth - that to use force against certain types of enemy is not only ineffective, it is counter-productive - is one that the leaders of the War on Terror have yet to learn.

It is the absurd War on Terror itself that has fed the al Qaeda hydra and put British citizens in the frontline. The issue here is not simply a causal one - WoT has made life unsafer in the west - but a conceptual one - the very notion of a war on Terror has meant that western populations are reclassified as active combatants in a war not only to the death, but beyond death, an infinite, excitatory cycle of violence begetting violence.

Despite what the increasingly hysterical Pro-Bombing 'Left' (PBL) maintain, the causal argument is won. (A testament to this is the way in which the PBL refuse even to have the argument. As one, they have wagged their finger at anyone who has pointed out the obvious causal chain linking US and British foreign policy with Thursday's events, tut-tutting about the unseemliness of 'politicizing' the atrocity 'even before the bodies are buried', as if contempt for neo-imperialist Shock and Awe somehow equated to lack of respect for the victims of the attacks in London, as if their own columns were disinterested and neutral, and as if solemn moralising rather than political analysis were what is called for.) The claim that the bombing of Iraq has been a recruiting seargent for terrorism is uncontroversial. A Foreign Office and Home Office dossier cited in the Sunday Times today states what any intelligent observer already knows:

'It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived "double standard" in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US.

The perception is that passive ‘oppression’, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to ‘active oppression’. The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.'

Even the Economist grants that some of al Qaeda's 'large group of sympathizers' will have had 'extra levels of motivation since the Iraq war'. (It adds: 'George Bush has sometimes claimed that a silver lining to the cloud his forces are struggling through in Iraq is that at least the West's enemies are being fought there rather than at home. The attacks in London are a reminder that that view is as wrong as it is glib.')

But the reclassification of the struggle with al-Qaeda as 'war' is another factor that promotes, inspires and legitimates terrrorism, a factor perhaps no less significant than the misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example: it used to be the case that the British government refused to accept that it was 'at war' with the IRA; it was the IRA who made that claim. The unwillingness to concede that Britain was engaged in war partly had the effect of making it possible to claim both that the IRA were terrorists (i.e. BY DEFINITION not a group with whom one could be at war) and that any attack on the civilian population was an outrage visited on innocents. But if indeed we ARE at war (as the oxy/moronic War on Terror would have us believe), and if what 'we' are fighting for is 'our values', and 'simply getting on with our lives' is an expression of those 'values' - as, since Thursday, we have endlessly been told it is - then it would follow that we are all indeed warriors co-opted into WoT. As Simon Jenkins put it (also in the Sunday Times), 'it is Blair who gave terrorism the status of war. He can hardly complain when the enemy treats it as such.'

Johann Hari observed - surely not approvingly? - that the bombings on Thursday were received in London almost as if they were a natural disater. Much of the media here has insisted, rather, that the bombings be treated as a SUPERNATURAL disaster, the act of a transcendent Evil that cannot and furthermore must not be explained. Both Blair and Bush find it expedient and congenial to use a theological language to describe a threat that would be better considered in more wordly terms. That language is dangerous for two reasons: first, because it contributes to the sublimation of the al-Qaeda threat, transforming a diffuse network into a supernatural force, and second, because it renders all analysis of the threat al-Qaeda actually poses all the more difficult.

According to an emerging orthodoxy in certain sections of the British media, just about any attempt to offer economic, political or sociological for al Qaeda's emergence is tantamount to an expression of sympathy for its aims and methods. As Savonarola has pointed out, the PBL and other reactionaries attempted in the immediate aftermath of Thursday to make the very word 'political' a slander as they desperately cast about trying to establish a period of non-reflection in which 'politics' and thought could be suspended - a period, that is to say, in which their politics and their non-thinking could be imposed as the default response.

The most facile and stupid example of this type of argument might have been Nick Cohen's piece in the Observer today, rightly excoriated by Lenin I say 'might' because the amount of shrill stupidity, sentimental nonsense and emotional pornography churned out by the hacks over the last few days has reached new levels of stupefaction, as the miserable reality of central London's rapacious Hobbesian inferno, where folk will beat you to death rather than let you get into a Tube ten seconds before them, has been magically transformed by the bombs and media fairy dust into the very essence of an underdog England in which it is WWII forever: to the sound of choruses of 'maybe it's because I'm Londahner' ringing out from the ghosts of the music halls, journos have shamelessly done themselves up as pearly kings and queens, taking on the role of celebrants of a Fantasy London which is as convincing as Dick Van Dyke's accent in Mary Poppins. The 'agalma', the special treasure, of this London resides in the status of 'heroic victim' that a disaster such as this re-confirms. A dangerous logic takes hold: we're under attack, we must be Good.

The supernaturalization of al Qaeda is crucial to this strategy. If we are the Good, it can only be the senselessly Evil, the irrationally jealous, who would want to attack us. (This mode of bewildered self-aggrandising is as crucial to a certain version of American identity as spam-eating-make-do-and-mend-what you-complaining-about-that-severed-leg-for dour fortitude is crucial to Blitz Englishness). Needless to say, the positing of an ethnic subject - We, the Good - whose innate virtue is reconfirmed by its being attacked is constitutive of both the al Qaeda and the post-911 US mindset. A military assymetry is doubled by a fantasmatic symmetry. Each is the other's Satan.


To talk of al Qaeda in theological (rather than in political, social or economic) terms is to adopt their mode of discourse in an inverted form. It is to return to a pre-Feuerbachian, pre-sociological perspective in which all the lessons of the nineteenth and twentieth century studies of the social psychology of religion - undertaken by figures as diverse as Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Nietzsche and Freud - are forgotten. If a particular strain of religion is to be understood as, in Cohen's words, 'an autonomous psychopathic force' rather than as a social, economic and psychological phenonenon with complex causes, then all hope of reasoned analysis is a priori ruled out. Unreason is abjected onto the Enemy (even as it is evinced in one's own not even minimally coherent ravings), thus legitimating the idea that 'the only option' is military force.

The floating of the pseudo-concept of 'Islamofascism' has been central here. There are any number of reasons to consider the idea that there is such a thing as Islamofascism a nonsense. Here are two. First of all, fascism has always been associated with nationalism, but, like global capital, Islamism has no respect for nationality; the first loyalty of the Islamist is to the global Umma. Secondly, fascism is about the State - Islamism has no model of the State, as could be seen in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The only sense one can make of 'fascism' as used by the PBL is that it names anything that is really, really bad (that well-defined category) or it involves the curtailment of liberties. The brand of Islamism al Qaeda favours would certainly curtail liberties, but not necessarily the same ones that fascism would curtail, or for the same reasons.


Rather than engaging in nebulous negative sublimation - 'Behold, Satan' - it would better behove the opponents of Islamist Terrorism to consider more carefully what is specific about it. As John Stevens noted over the weekend, the typical al Qaeda terrorist is unlikely to have been parachuted in from an Afghan village. They are much more likely to have lived in the West, either as residents or as nationals. Their affiliation with al-Qaeda will, we can speculate, almost certainly serve the function of resolving a tension in themselves. Al Qaeda recruit from schools and colleges because they are astute enough to recognize that male adolescence is a time of boiling confusion that craves easy certainties. It cannot be that difficult for a fervent Jihadi to convince impressionable young men adrift in the miserable haze of Babylonic capitalism that it is not al Qaeda but their enemies who are really Evil.

After all, it is not hard to construct a convincing story that the success of the West has been achieved at the expense of Muslims. The Sunday Times reports that in Britain 'Muslims are three times more likely to be unemployed than the population as a whole; 52% of them are economically inactive (the highest of any faith group) and 16% have never worked or are long-term unemployed. This is blamed on a lack of education: 43% of Muslims have no qualifications.' But it is not just the poor themselves who flock to al Qaeda; it is also those burning with a sense of injustice on behalf of the poor.

In this context, it is worth remembering Giuliani's jaw-dropping proclamation (to which Savonarola has been assiduous in drawing our attention): "People who live in freedom always prevail over people who live in oppression." So speak the Masters, the Winners.... Who speaks for the oppressed then? The rise of Islamism must be correlated with the demise of the Left. If it has become the default repository for Muslim rage against injustice then that is partly due to the US, which, as is well-known, funded Ilamist Jihadis in a bid to defeat Communism. Since only something like Communism could absorb and re-direct the energies that are fuelling al Qaeda, I look forward to the day when the US will fund Islamic Communism, and the circle will be complete.


UPDATE: Clarifications, elaborations and extrapolations from Lenin

John Pilger on Blair's Bombs: 'Dahr Jamail, one of the best un-embedded reporters working in Iraq ... described how the hospitals of besieged Fallujah had been subjected to an American tactic of collective punishment, with US marines assaulting staff and stopping the wounded entering, and American snipers firing at the doors and windows, and medicines and emergency blood prevented from reaching them. Children, the elderly, were shot dead in front of their families, in cold blood.

Imagine for a moment the same appalling state of affairs imposed on the London hospitals that received the victims of Thursday's bombing. Unimaginable? Well, it happens, in our name, regardless of whether the BBC reports it, which is rare. When will someone ask about this at one of the staged "press conferences" at which Blair is allowed to emote for the cameras stuff about "our values outlast [ing] theirs"? Silence is not journalism. In Fallujah, they know "our values" only too well.'

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July 07, 2005

The killer without reward

Well, the inevitable has happened.

The Dance of Death between the Neo-imperialists and - we're presuming - the theocrats has come to London, much later than we might have expected. The fear is that this will presage a long, low-level campaign, justifying further pointless authoritarian measures and fuelling more anti-immigration and anti-Islamic rhetoric. And so the escalative spiral that is the ludicrous War on Terror will take another twist.

Attacking Afghanistan and Iraq was, so we were told, supposed to make the world safer but - surprise, surprise - today London faced the worst terrorist attack ever mounted in the UK. That has no connection with British foreign policy, naturally.

Throughout the day, Lenin has predictably offered the best reports and also the best place to hang out online. As he reports, Blair wasted no time before exploiting the situation, trotting out his by now embarrassingly shopworn 'so shocked and appalled he can barely speak' thespian routine (is there ANYONE who does not cringe in disgust at this now?) whilst ensuring that he made maximum political capital out of the atrocities. The BBC has rolled over, adopting Blair's claim that the G8 leaders were 'only trying to do good' as its party line. (A new unanimity that makes Saturday's unanimity all the more baffling: if that is the case, what on earth were the protests about at the weekend?)

The great and the good are telling us that we must not change policy in deference to terrorists. But why does that only apply to policies that are seen to address terrorist grievances? Surely policies which are aimed at containing terrorists - such as the detaining of suspects without trial - is 'changing policy in response to terrorist action'. What will this latest 'state of exception' come to legitimate?

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July 04, 2005

What if they had a protest and everyone came?

What kind of protest is it that everyone agrees with?

If you weren't already suspicious of the dull unanamity that coalesced on Saturday, reflect on the fact that the Russian show only happened because Putin didn't want to be the only G8 leader whose country did not have a Live 8 gig. That fact alone reveals that the relationship between the current ruling elite and their ostensible opponents in the entertainment biz goes far beyond complicity.

Live 8 rests on two 'libidinal fallacies'.

The first is obvious: it ignores the systemic and abstract nature of the geopolitical situation. It really isn't the case that 'eight men in a room' can 'change history' simply by an act of will. Beyond the sentimental bluster, everyone knows that, but Live 8 depends upon a fantasy that there are two types of subject who need to be enlightened: the Subject Who Does Not Know (and whose 'awareness' is to be raised) and the Subject Who Knows but Who Doesn't Care. But who are these people? Who, exactly, needs to be 'made aware' of the fact that Africa is desperately poor? And does anyone, even those who buy into the cheap off-the-shelf caricature of Bush as a dumb chimp, really think that he, personally, deliberately chooses to inflict starvation on African children? More to the point, does anyone really think that, on the level of personal morality, Bush is any different from the billionaire Pop Stars so histrionically raising their fists against him and wagging their fingers at us? That is to say: if there is some sort of moral dividing line, would you really want to place Bush on one side and Elton John and $ Bill Gates on the other?


It is not that Live 8 is a 'degraded' form of protest. On the contrary, it in Live 8 that the logic of the Protest is revealed in its purest form. The Protest impulse of the 60s posited a Malevolent Father, the harbinger of a Reality Principle that (supposedly) cruelly and arbitrarily denies the 'right' to total enjoyment. This Father has unlimited access to resources, but he selfishly - and senselessly - hoards them. Yet it is not capitalism but Protest itself which depends upon this figuration of the Father. It goes without saying that the psychological origins of this imagery lie in the earliest phases of infancy. The hippies' bucolic imagery and 'dirty Protest' - filth as a rejection of adult grooming - both originate in the 'unlimited demands' of the infant. A consequence of the infant's belief in the Father's omnipotence is the conviction that all suffering could be eliminated if only the Father wished it. (In terms of Live 8: if only those 8 men yield to our demands, all poverty could be eliminated forever!) The demand for total enjoyment is actually pretty indiscriminate: the Protest could just easily be against war (bummer maaaan) or against being charged for going into a festival (hey, breadheadzzzzzzz, don't be heaveeeee....)

Indidentally, one of the successes of the latest global elite - the Social Democrats - has been their avoidance of identification with the figure of the hoarding Father, even though the 'reality' they impose on the young is substantially harsher than the 'reality' they protested against in the 60s. In this sense, Bush is a godsend for Blair, since Blair can pose as the 'really realistic' representative of Social Democratic moderation 'winning concessions' from the obscene excesses of Bush, the Junkyard King of Amerikapital's hideous fusion of id and superego. (The reference to the Birthday Party is not idle here. Oddly, their Junkyard strikes me as an uncannily prescient psychoanalysis both of Bushite Amerika and the role that it plays in everyone else's fantasies, 'Big-Jesus-Oil-King down in Texas drives great holy tanks of Gold/ screams from heaven's Graveyard/ american heads will roll in Texas/ roll llike daddy's meat...')


This brings us to the second fallacy. What is being disavowed in the abjection of evil and ignorance onto fantasmatic Others is our own complicity in planetary networks of oppression. What needs to be kept in mind is BOTH that capitalism is a hyper-abstract impersonal structure AND that it would be nothing without our co-operation. As I will never tire of insisting, the most Gothic description of Capital is also the most literal. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labour is ours, and the zombies it makes are us. Determinists of both a neo-liberal and anti-humanist bent (believe it or not, it is not unheard of for such positions to co-incide within the same person, proving that Marx wasn't wrong about the essentially contradictory nature of capitalist ideology) merely echo teleo-Marxism at its most eschatological when they insist that what the meat (or human) components of the Capital machine are of no consequence since the total triumph of Capital is historically Inevitable.

The question of what Capital wants from us requires answers at a number of levels: economic, psychonalytic, and perhaps most pressingly, theological. In any case, it is clear that, for the moment at least, Capital cannot get along without us. It remains the case, however, that we can get along without it. The parasite needs its 'mere conscious linkages' but we do not need the parasite. In addition to anything else, to ignore the crucial functioning of the meat in the machine is poor cybernetics. The denial of human agency is an SF fantasy, albeit one that is everywhere realising itself.

But to reclaim that agency means first of all accepting our insertion at the level of desire in the remorseless meat-grinder of Capital. Capital is not something imposed upon us by Bush; it is we who are hooked on the 'garbage in honey's sack', unable to kick the habit of returning to the Big Jesus Trashcan for another hit of feel-good junk.

It also means raising the price - libidinal, personal, monetary - of agency. The repeated claim from onstage multi-millionaires that the audience were going to 'change history' simply by turning up and tuning in cheapens agency in every sense. Participating in a narcissistic, self-rigtheous Spectacle is not 'doing something'. Tony Parsons, of all people, made the very good point in The Mirror today that the generation of the Thirties and Forties did not expect Crosby and Sinatra to change the world - but, as he says, many of them had either risked or given up their lives to change things.

Withdrawal from the Capital Matrix entails an unplugging that will seem painful to nervous systems commensurated to the Reality-Pleasure Principle. Partly it means giving up the reassuring comforter of the Bad Father Figure and facing the fact that the G8 leaders are not capable of legislating away all planetary misery, but are 'old men at the crossroads', Capital's meat puppets not its masters. There is a sense in which it simply is the case that the political elite are our servants; the miserable service they provide from us is to launder our libidos, to oblgingly re-present for us our disavowed desires as if they had nothing to do with us. If anyone is in charge in Kapital it is Oedipus Rex, i.e. us. ('I yam the King!' as Cave caterwauled on 'Junkyard'. Yes: the junkie as monarch, that's capitalist sovereignty.) The political 'reality' that Bush and the others will no doubt blame their failure to act upon is not just an ideological smokescreen. It is the reality constituted by the desires of that selfsame Live 8 crowd who, when push comes to shove, will not pay extra taxes, will not give up cheap flights or car use, will not make a stand against inequity and stupidity at work if it means compromising their interests and those of their famileeeee and yet who expect global crises to be magically solved by 8 stooges in a room.

The great benefit of Lacanianism is to reject both the party of the Infant ('you want new masters, and you shall have your wish' as Lacan told the student protestors of the 60s) and the party of the Father (the empircomongers who try to sell the Symbolic as the only Real). There must indeed be a demand for the Impossible, but an Impossible which does not correspond with the definition provided by either party. It is not a question of total enjoyment, but of the not-all, a sober psychosis, lessness....

Posted by mark at 11:32 PM | TrackBack

July 02, 2005

Business as usual

'Hi guys.'


Three non-events inaugurated the period of Restoration that has been in place for the last twenty years: Live Aid, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the first Gulf War.

None these things happened. On the contrary, their synchronized appearance on the global media screens meant that a new era was beginning, an era in which nothing would happen, forever.

Live Aid was the anti-punk, its ideological blackmail requiring that we give up on aesthetics AND politics. If post-punk had demanded, and for a brief moment, had got, everything - sonic innovation and/as political insurgency - then Live Aid convinced us that in a state of emergency such excessive demands would have to be suspended. Those demands were already receding, but Live Aid caught the mood, catalyzed a new ideology of feel-good conformity, sold us Capitalist Realism. Commensurate yourself to what is possible. Stadium rock: well, that arty stuff was always a bit silly, all we really ever wanted was a good time, admit it, and besides, it's all for a good cause. Eat a hot dog, chant along with Freddie 'Sun City' Mercury, save the world. Pop now nothing more than entertainment (what, you can't remember when it was ever anything different?), and entertainment is a component of a multi-national synergy, business as usual with a new caring face. The new model of 'having everything'. The postmodern superego: enjoy yourself, for everyone's sake. You know you want to. (Although, actually, couldn't the postmodern superego's injunction better be expressed as: let them entertain you?)

Twenty years on, and it is clear that submitting to that blackmail yielded almost nothing. The impact on Africa was minimal. But the cultural political impact here was immense - part of a gradual ratcheting down of expectations, a systematic subordination of every aspect of life to banal spectacle. Now it's Chris Martin, Keane and fucking Razorlight. Herbivore dinosaur rock as graduate career path. Snow Patrol. You have to ask yourself: is a world which has made Snow Patrol famous worth saving? And still U2 - always U2. The pious priests of anti-punk. The sound of the Restoration. Anthemic pathos. Nothing will happen until U2 are destroyed, destroyed utterly. Until it is much more embarrassing and shameful to like U2 than it ever was to like ELP or Floyd.

Blair and Brown must be rubbing their hands in glee. Aren't the 'politics' of Live8 the proof of Zizek's claim that 'Third Way social democracy ... effectively functions as the representative of capital as such, in general, against its particular factions represented by the different 'conservative' parties which, in order to present themselves as addressing the entire population, also try to satisfy the particular demands of the anti-capitalist strata.' Of course, Social Democracy's apparent inclusiveness is predicated upon the exclusion of certain possiblities: namely, any outside to Capital.

As an illustration: Martin's attack on shareholders a while back was eerily in synch with the structuring fantasy of Batman Begins, which correlated the disintegration of Gotham with the Wayne Corporation going public. What is the alternative? Not global communism, needless to say. Just nicer administrators. Philanthropic capital. Is that what pop is reduced to agitating for?

'Let me entertain you'. No thanks, you coked up twat.

Posted by mark at 07:38 PM | TrackBack