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This is why I hate intellectuals

Why zionism is antisemitism

Nearly one year ago, the Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin was captured by Hamas fighters in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, in the middle of Operation Protective Edge. He was taken a few minutes into a ceasefire declared unilaterally by Israel, without any participation from any Palestinian groups: under the terms Israel had negotiated with itself, its soldiers were still permitted to search for so-called ‘terror tunnels’ during the ceasefire, and this is what Goldin had been doing. His capture triggered something called the ‘Hannibal Directive’: a secret policy that requires Israeli forces to do anything possible to prevent its soldiers being captured (and then becoming the object of a media crusade, to be released in a costly prisoner swap), even if it means putting the soldier’s life at risk. The IDF insists that this does not mean it will intentionally try to kill captured soldiers, but the world learned exactly what the Hannibal Directive looks like in Rafah. Almost immediately, the town was blanketed in indiscriminate air and artillery strikes. A brigade commander on the ground was recorded yelling into his field radio: ‘Stop the shooting! You’re shooting like retards! You’ll kill one another!’ He didn’t seem to understand that that was the point. Hadar Goldin’s body was never found, but it’s assumed that he died in the bombardment. So did 190 Palestinians.

The Israeli army claims that it operates on a principle of the utmost respect for human life, and does everything possible to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. If, for the sake of argument, we take them at their word here, the picture it reveals is horrifying: Israel loves and cherishes the Palestinians, it will do anything to protect them, but at the same time it’s willing to sacrifice hundreds of Palestinian lives in the hopes of killing just one Jew.

Imagine if any other country operated like this. There’s a word for this kind of behaviour: it’s antisemitism.

This isn’t a facetious point: there’s something very strange about the way the official mouthpieces of the zionist project behave towards the figure of the Jew as such. There’s a constantly repeated line, that anti-zionism is just a veiled form of antisemitism – but if you look at it closely, it becomes something highly unpleasant: if an insult to Israel is an insult to all Jews, then it follows that we’re all united, borg-like, behind the Jewish state, and that we’re all complicit in whatever it does. If this position were articulated by a Gentile, we’d rightfully accuse them of antisemitism. But this is how Israel expects us to behave. Why do they get away with it? Netanyahu describes himself as the leader of the Jewish people, empowered to speak on my behalf. The Jewish people have been around far longer than Benjamin Netanyahu, or the State of Israel for that matter. I never asked for him. Whenever Jews are attacked somewhere else in the world, some Israeli minister commands us all to flee to historic Palestine and shelter under his nuclear umbrella: the dream of state zionism is of a Europe without any Jews. Did they dream it themselves?

What does it mean to be a Jew? Over the centuries, Jews in every corner of the world have led any number of different modes of life; there’s very little to unite the Jewish experience beyond the Tanakh (some Jewish communities split before the composition of the Talmud) and the fact of being in exile. From Sinai to Babylon to Persia to Brooklyn, we’ve spent far more of our history pining after the Land of Israel than actually living in it. Throughout, this loss has been felt as a critical gap between how things are and how things ought to be, a recognition that things have gone wrong; this is why Jewish thought has always tended towards the Utopian. This is why Jews practice circumcision: there’s something missing. This is why the Torah begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beit, a square missing one of its sides. This is why Kabbalah envisages a God that isn’t almighty and all-powerful, but fractured, broken and weak, a God that must be repaired. This is why Jews are commanded to dedicate themselves to tikkum olam, the healing of the earth. Throughout Jewish history, there’s been the vision of a better world, a Messianic return to Zion: it’s what animated Jesus Christ, Baruch Spinoza, and Karl Marx. For almost all of this period, the idea that the Messianic gap could be closed by simply sending thousands of armed men to the Levant to boot out the existing inhabitants and set up a Jewish state would have not just been premature, but ridiculous.

At the same time, Jewish thought – in Europe at least – has consistently veered towards universalism: the resolution of differences and the global confraternity of all humankind. (Again, see Christ, Spinoza, and Marx.) In the Tanakh, the Jews are forever backsliding; they’re perversely eager to worship any old object as long as it’s not the God of their forefathers. The idea of a separate Jewish identity in Europe has always been more of a European fixation than a Jewish one. For Europe, its Jews were a constitutive other; Christendom could define itself (and unite itself) as that which was not Saracen, not Indian, and not Jewish. (The situation was slightly different in the United States, in which the role of the internal other was largely imposed on the Black population.) European Jews served an important sacrificial function, acting as a collective pharmakos: in times of crisis, they would be exiled or massacred, a mass catharsis restoring the metaphysical separation between within and without. This is why, despite the fervent Christian hope for a grand conversion of the Jews, actual Jewish converts were treated with such suspicion: Conversos and their descendants were a primary target of the Spanish Inquisition; secular, integrated Jews were often the first to be slaughtered in the Nazi genocides. Behind the violence there’s a desperate thirst for identity: the antisemite needs to Jew to constitute himself; Europe is not Europe without its Jews.

Jews have lived on every continent, for hundreds of years, but zionism arose in 19th-century Europe. This is because zionism is not, in terms of its ideological content, a particularly Jewish project, but a European one. This was a period when national groups within the great multi-ethnic empires – Russia, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman caliphate – were increasingly agitating for self-determination along strict ethnic lines, while at the same time other European states were brutally capturing and colonising areas of land elsewhere on the globe. Early zionism, with its demand for a Jewish national homeland outside of Europe, wasn’t much more than a combination of these two tendencies. Zionism was simultaneously a hypostatisation of Jewish difference, and assimilation by other means. The Jews would finally become just like any other respectable European people: we would colonise like them, ethnically cleanse like them, and set up a perfect imitation of the despotic European ethnic state in the Middle East. This is how we got to where we are today, with Jews messing around with tank battalions, repressive state infrastructures, the systematic dispossession of a colonised population, and other such fundamentally goyische inventions.

This dangerous shift in Jewish identity would not be possible without some kind of violence. Early zionism was fixated on the idea of a ‘New Jew’: while Jews in the diaspora were sedentary, spiritual, intellectual, and the objects of state violence, the New Jew would be an active, tanned, muscular agricultural fascist, the subject of state violence, a creature virtually indistinguishable from the porcine Gentile peasants who had so brutally suppressed the Jews over the centuries. The birth of this figure required the erasure of all Jewish history up until its creation. The past would be prologue, a brief coda between the Kingdom and the State of Israel, expressible only as that period in which the Jews allowed themselves to suffer. Diaspora could only ever mean suffering; the Jew in exile – in other words, the Jew as such – became an object of near-pathological loathing. Every antisemitic slander was repeated: the Jews really were weak, ugly, etiolated, usurious; the goal of zionism was to put a spade in one hand, a rifle in the other, and turn them into something else. With bullets and bloodshed they would get rid of the cringing Jews of the past:  it was an article of faith among those zionist pioneers that, before long, all Jews would become the New Jew.

Of course, this was impossible. The problem was that, alone among the European settler-colonial projects, the Jewish state was a colony without a metropole. Unlike any other imperialist outpost of the 19th century, it didn’t have any mother country to support its wars against the natives. And when the zionist project first emerged, the attitude of a great many Jewish populations – especially those Jews already living in Palestine – was one of total hostility. Zionism had to effect a dual colonialism: it had to seize, with violence, the land of Palestine, while also seizing the Jewish diaspora. It goes without saying that there can be no equivalence between the two: the Palestinians have suffered immensely, from bombs and missiles to house demolitions to the everyday indignities of living under occupation, while the diaspora Jews have been given free holidays. But the colonisation of the diaspora Jews has been total. Despite the fact that many Jews outside Israel are deeply ambivalent about the entire project, every major mainstream Jewish body is explicitly zionist. In Britain, every Jewish youth movement tries to instil zionist values, every Jewish newspaper assumes a zionist readership, every university Jsoc agitates against the boycott movement. The Board of Deputies of British Jews coughs up the Israeli line on any given issue, the synagogues plant JNF pine trees to poison the soil of Palestinian farmers to mark barmitzvahs. The idea that any facet of organised Jewish life might be entirely indifferent to the State of Israel is now absurd. Israel spends millions providing young Jews from around the world with subsidised Birthright tours of the country, to emphasise the deep and organic connection between the Jewish people and the Holy Land. But if this connection really were so deep and so organic, why would this vast ideological operation even be necessary?

The Israeli state doesn’t regard diaspora Jewry as its progenitor, or as a community in which it is embedded; it sees us as a colonised population under its command. Our leaders are its hostages. Our institutions are its instruments. It imposes its taxes: we have to give to the JNF, volunteer in its army or on its kibbutzim, sign its petitions, share its propaganda. We have to dive gleefully into the supermarkets and fill our trolleys with houmous to break the boycott. We have to suffer, out here in the desert, trapped with a strange people, so that it can have its reason to exist. We are unable to speak, and so the state of Israel will speak for us: it knows what we want better than we do ourselves, and what we want is war. Jews in the English-speaking world are commanded to buy holiday homes in Eilat; Jews in Continental Europe are commanded to pack up their belongings, abandon their homes and identities, and become Israelis. (The Hebrew word for migration to Israel, aliyah, has echoes of the German Aufheben: to go up, but also to cancel out.) When Jews refuse to submit, when we break ranks to speak out against Israeli atrocities or the mad, antiquated idea of zionism, there’s the terror of a slave revolt; the fury that rises against an anti-zionist Jew is far more terrible than that which faces any ordinary Gentile antisemite. Israel barfs the history and diversity of the Jewish people in the face of the world, all sparkles and tapestries, but when we’re alone together it grabs us close by the lapels and hisses through bloodstained teeth: know your place.

If being a Jew isn’t just about kvetching and chicken soup, if it means living with the ambivalence of otherness and the hope for Utopian justice, then Israel is not a Jewish state. The idea of a Jewish state is, once stated, already contradictory and meaningless. In practice, it’s a monster. A state that tries to erase Jewish history, Jewish subjectivity, and Jewish life is not something that has anything to do with any Judaism I recognise. There’s a word for this kind of behaviour. It’s antisemitism.

Fragments against the ruin

1. Syriza are an anti-austerity party, and they have an excellent record when it comes to opposing austerity. They opposed the measures put forward by Greece’s creditors in February. They opposed the plan of agreement drawn up in June, and put it to a referendum. They opposed the harsh and punitive measures suggested by Germany over the weekend. Wherever the threat of austerity emerges in Greece, Syriza are on hand to heroically oppose it. They’ll oppose the sunset, they’ll oppose the locusts as they come in their chattering thousands to strip green islands to naked rock, and when they wheeze their dying breaths, cold and emaciated on soggy mattresses, they’ll oppose that too. Despite their pleas for an alternative, they’ve never approached austerity as anything other than a deterministic inevitability. It might be time to question how much value there actually is in ‘anti-austerity’ politics: it’s a formation in which opposing something has come to function as an effective substitute for actually doing anything about it. Anti-austerity movements scream their refusal to participate in the grand, stupid mechanism of austerity – and then do so anyway. These things are not opposed to each other.

2. In this context, the strange farce of the referendum starts to make a twisted sort of sense. The population of Greece overwhelmingly voted against austerity measures demanded by the Troika, only for the government of Greece to then almost immediately submit a set of proposals that mirrored them in every detail. In fact, Prime Minister Tsipras wrote to his creditors conceding to almost all of their demands before the referendum had even taken place. But the referendum was never intended to actually decide anything; after all, the plan of agreement to be accepted or rejected was no longer even on the table. It was always, explicitly, to be a gesture of rejection, something purely performative, which for some reason Syriza thought might help them negotiate a fairer deal.

3. Its ‘no’ was a pure ‘no’; there was no indication what the result of this rejection would be, because there was never to be a result. This isn’t far from what Hegel describes as ‘abstract negation’. Abstract negation is the form of negation based on an eternal and static binary of true and false or being and nothingness: under abstract negation what is negated is cast into pure nothingness. The act of negation, rather than producing a new state of affairs, instead simply cancels out everything; in the end, it doesn’t really matter what is being negated. Hegel’s complaint isn’t that abstract negation is too destructive, but that it isn’t destructive enough: abstract negation always fails. It sees the nothingness into which it condemns that which is negated as an absence that precedes any particular negation, while the dialectic recognises that any particular negation will continue to express the content of that which is negated, as ‘the nothingness of that from which it results. A negation built on stasis will remain static; without any process of sublation, the negated object will slowly achieve a kind of zombie rebirth, crawling on skeletal hands out the abyss of its own cancellation. This is how 61% of Greek voters managed to reject austerity, only for their government to then triumphantly impose it as the culmination of their democratic will.

4. Most journalists don’t know much about Greece, but they have been to Oxbridge, which is why it’s hard to read anything on the situation without some reference to Sophocles or Aeschylus. What would Thucydides make of the European bond market? Isn’t Tsipras a modern Priam of Troy? This is nonsense. There is a text that can help us understand what’s happening in Greece, but it’s not from some cartoon antiquity. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs we meet Severin, a sick and sensitive young man, exhausted by Northern civilisation, an admirer of the free sensuality of Greece. He seemingly wills a portrait of the goddess Venus into life as Wanda, an impish and imperious woman; the two draw up a contract in which Severin agrees to be her slave, and enter into a relationship. Theirs is not, as it’s been described, a sado-masochistic relationship, but one between masochists: Wanda, too, wants to be dominated and humiliated, and because Severin is unable to do this for her, she soon begins to lose her love for him. The identification of masochism as an inverse of sadism is troubled from the start: Fifty Shades aside, sadists don’t tend to write contracts with their victims. Sadism is mechanical and automatic, from the distant burning cruelty of the stars to the bloodstained fury of all wild animals; de Sade’s grotesques don’t draw up contracts, they just do whatever they want. Laws and agreements are functions of a willed, deliberate masochism. (As Deleuze writes, the masochist ‘aims not to mitigate the law but on the contrary to emphasise its extreme severity.’) In the end Wanda, now disgusted by her slave, falls for a brutish, Byronic, ‘barbarian’ Greek. First she rejects Severin, then she declares her love for him, makes him agree to put aside his masochism and enter into a ‘normal’, sadistic relationship – and then ties him to a bed, whereupon the Greek suddenly appears, to ‘whip all poetry from him.’ This Greek is a walking dildo; he dies before long, and for all his displays of dominance he only really existed to satisfy Wanda’s masochistic desires. Freud, with whom the idea of masochism as an inverted sadism originates, was still troubled throughout his career by the idea of a ‘primary masochism’. By the time of Beyond the Pleasure Principle he was ready to admit its existence, but his death drive is still fundamentally ambiguous: on the one hand it’s a desire to return to an inorganic stillness, on the other it’s just a redirection of the universal sadistic impulses against the self. In fact, this ambiguity goes back to his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905; at the same time as he describes masochism as an inverted sadism, he also connects sadism with cannibalism. The Bemächtigungsapparatus, or structure of domination, exists only to serve the desires of another, ‘ontogenetically prior’ impulse – but, syntactically, it’s never clear whether this prior impulse is cannibalism or masochism. (After all, in actually existing BDSM relationships, the real power always belongs to the submissive partner: theirs is the limit that must not be crossed.) In the end, it’s far easier for Freud to imagine that we want to eat each other than to think that, when surrounded by a universal and impersonal sadism without subject, the immediate human response is to want to give in to it. The German response to Syriza’s desperate, humiliated proposals – to reject them, and insist on something even harsher, even though it may well end up harming them – has been strongly criticised, but in a way Greece’s creditors are only following the blank and impersonal laws of capital. Their sadism is the sadism of the unliving. Solidarity with Greece shouldn’t imply sympathy for Syriza: they could have got out of this dually-masochistic contract if they wanted (throughout the referendum period it was assumed that Greece was drawing up secret plans for an exit from the Euro; now it’s been revealed that beyond a few tiny committees, they really weren’t); instead they’re bringing in austerity as the fulfilment of their own desires.

5. Among a few of Syriza’s defenders, there’s a complaint that left-wing critics seem to want Greece to fling itself into uncertainty for the sake of a few old Marxist orthodoxies. From our armchairs in the insulated north, we leftier-than-thou dilettantes demand that an entire country ruin itself, just so that we can get the vicarious thrill of resistance. But the ruin is already here. We’re living in it. The deal that Greece has agreed to will enforce mandatory privatisations, automatic spending cuts, and a mechanism to ensure that all these measures are locked outside the realm of politics. The anti-austerity party has delivered the forces of austerity a far more total victory than the old ND-Pasok coalition ever could – they, at least, had to deal with a strong domestic opposition. This ruin is all of Europe’s. In his pre-referendum speech, Tsipras made constant, fawning references to ‘European ideals’ betrayed by the EU, but of course Europe has never really existed. It’s a spur of Asia with unwarranted pretensions, and because it has no geographical reality, it’s had to invent a cultural one. In the years after the collapse of the Mediterranean world, Europe and Christendom were almost identical concepts; after that, Europe was defined by white skin and a habit of imperial massacre elsewhere in the world. Now, Europe is best defined as the place where they implement austerity. Any movement that tries to change this will have to start by abolishing Europe altogether.

6. After the fall of the Roman empire, locals plundered its grand ruins for stones to build homes and churches. For some reason this is generally treated as a terrible philistinism, but in fact it’s determinate negation in action: the cancellation of something already cancelled in order to build something new. It’s better to have a house than a ruin. In Greece, there are still factions willing to oppose the destruction of the country, including the KKE, the Greek Communist Party, and PAME, the All-Workers Militant Front. These groups have consistently warned against Syriza’s brand of capital-friendly anti-austerity politics; there are plans for strikes and demonstrations; the resistance continues. Of course, it’s not enough to simply negate the disaster, and expect it to then be done with. Against the blank and useless negationism of Syriza, it might now be necessary to turn the ruins into a proper structure: to be not against austerity, but for communism.

A Rihanna ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ video roundtable

The following is the transcript of a roundtable discussion held at the offices of Damply Media in Brooklyn, to discuss the cultural importance of Rihanna’s new single ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. The discussion brought together some of the leading thinkers in their fields for a unique evening of lively debate. PANTOPHAGIA PULPH is a digital sibyl, feminist scholar, literal goddess, and visiting professor at the Jersey Turnpike School of Media and Dentistry, and it’s not her job to educate you. ALAN GORKENBLUM is a respected economist noted for his work in developing nations, his occasional columns in the New York Times, and his influential 1994 paper ‘Could Death Squads Be Good For Freedom?’. PENCIL GLEASE is a radical leftist philosopher and the author of over fifty books, including ‘Why Breakfast Cereal Is Communism’, ‘Why Boy Bands Are Communism’, ‘Why Disneyland Is Communism,’ and ‘Why Capitalism Is Communism’. THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES, moderating the discussion, is a sad, tattered, howling spectre, barely capable of speech, his vague form clammy with sadness and regret. HELENA BIBBS is, despite all appearances, an adult woman.

ALAN GORKENBLUM: First of all, I’d like to thank Moist Media for inviting me to-

JENNIFER BIBBS: Damply.

ALAN GORKENBLUM: I’d like to very damply thank Moist Media for inviting me here to speak. Now, from what I can gather, the video under discussion today concerns Ms Rihanna’s personal experiences with an unscrupulous accountant, who squandered her money on wasteful programmes and led to her credit rating being downgraded. In the video, this fictionalised accountant is subjected to various punishments – his wife is kidnapped and murdered, and he is then murdered himself – which of course as a liberal I don’t condone. But it seems to me that the central dynamic here is the relation between debtor and creditor, and frankly it’s extremely encouraging to see youth culture finally expressing the important message that debts must be paid. For too long we’ve allowed the culture to become infested by socialistic ideals. But as Ms Rihanna says, you need to ‘pay me what you owe me’ – and this is a message that the current leadership in Greece, for instance, would do well to heed. In order for rational, sustainable relations to exist between human individuals in a free market, it is absolutely necessary that the consequences of debt non-payment be as, uh, cutting as possible. You know, the last time I was in Athens I spoke with a very well-educated taxi driver, who told me that the only way his country could ever get itself out of its current situation is if they remove the ridiculous restrictions preventing student agitators from being hacked apart with axes. So it’s a very positive sign that this kind of sensible message is being broadcast to young consumers.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Art is a cold wound. We will consume you.

HELENA BIBBS: ok so, i agree with everything you said and whatever, but can we just talk about how great RhiRhi is in the face of aaaallllll those haters? just look at her, you’ve got Maxine Fulgerswitch in Good Crockery Magazine saying that her video was sexist pornography worse than slavery and she’s just like, bitch idgaf, cactus emoji, i’m out here jus’ doin’ me while you get like two likes on your insta pics of some totally basic doilies? and this is so important, if your feminism doesn’t include a true luxury bitch murder aesthetic then don’t nobody give no shits about your backwards-ass praxis. but that hair! such an inspiration, it’s like, yaaasssss, slay, slay queen, slay me, i want you to tie me to a chair and, heart emoji, take a knife and draw it across my throat so the blood comes pouring out all wave emoji over my shitty basic-ass frock from H&M. can you imagine if rihanna actually ended your worthless life? it’d be everything. i think i’m actually in love with her. omg we need to die together. i’m coming for you. i’m coming.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Suffering.

PANTOPHAGIA PULPH: So first up, I’m not here to educate a bunch of crybaby white het cis binary ablebodied men about Black women, and about how this is the only worthwhile artwork ever produced because it shows a Black woman killing white people. If you want to learn about this video, you need to pay me.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: They did pay us.

PANTOPHAGIA PULPH: Nobody asked you to speak. How is this helping me? Stay dead.

PENCIL GLEASE: Before I start, if this is a start, if it is possible to ‘start’ under the condition of a discourse already dependent on the structural possibility of its having-been-started, I would like to say a few words on the enigmatic nature of this verb, ‘to start’. For how can I speak of a video, of something which ‘to start’ appears as pure blackness, pure void on the screen, unless I can start the video, set in motion the chain of inscriptions and reinscriptions on the graphical substrate of pure absence? As in Joyce, the church is founded immovably upon the void. Now, the word ‘start’, as we all know, derives from the German stürzen, to fall, to fling, but into what? Into precisely that absence. So to start to speak about ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ means not to institute a relation on the level of tangibility, to find a reference to any determinate object, but the very opposite. Before I started, if I have indeed started, I had a metaphysical relation to the object, to that void of meaning into which I am about to leap, but in the condition of having-started-ness I find myself permeated by that object in my discourse’s necessary condition of permeability, a permeability that defies definition or direction, that obliterates itself and in which I am obliterated. To start something is to institute a primordial lack, which is why in all metaphysics the creation of the Universe is experienced as a hollowing-out of the spectral univocity of absolute uncreated Being. In this way the universal dialectic can only be read as a progressive dismantling of the ontic, as the slow degradation already present in this verb ‘to start’. As such, in its possibility of being started, this video embodies a truly transcendent revolutionary hope.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Suffering.

PENCIL GLEASE: Yes, precisely.

THE GHOST OF GEORGES RIBEMONT-DESSAIGNES: Any final comments?

PENCIL GLEASE: I think one thing that we can all agree on is that this video is extremely important to politics. We are all serious intellectuals, we enjoyed watching it, and things can only be good if they reinforce our categories. Certainly at this point we’ve exhausted anything that can meaningfully be said about this film.

ALAN GORKENBLUM: I can only echo the title of the song under discussion: It’s Good To Have My Money. Uh, smiley face emoji.

PANTOPHAGIA PULPH: Yeah. Give your money to women. Greece needs to give its money to Angela Merkel.

HELENA BIBBS: i dont fear death. ive seen the face of god

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion, in which we’ll be talking about snails.

Why you’re not leaving London

So you’ve decided to leave London. You’re leaving because the millionaires are being priced out by billionaires. You’re leaving because every high street is boxy, bland, and identical. You’re leaving because the Tories are in charge. You’re leaving because the weather is shit. You’re leaving because it’s the enemy of all human life. You’re leaving because those two dull syllables, Lun and Dun, rattle like bones in the hollow where your heart used to be. You’re leaving because you want a walled garden and a ten-minute drive to the countryside and the space to really express yourself creatively. You’re leaving because people live in shoeboxes. You’re leaving because the cops murder people (not people like you, of course) and get away with it. You’re leaving because the culture’s been dead for a decade. You’re leaving because you have the beautiful soul – and before you go, you’ll write a short essay on London, so you can tell a city of millions why you’ve grown beyond it, why you’ve elected to flee while everyone else sinks flailing into the ooze. Who do you think you are? In the face of all this heaped stone and misery, a tattered arabesque plunging death-heavy through the centuries, are you really a free person who can choose where to go? Did you really think London was just a place, like any other place? This city’s stuck to the inside of your lungs. Waxy London plasters your veins and dribbles viscous from your nostrils; its fumes take root in your hair and the pigeon shit will never go from under your fingernails. Did you really think you could just leave?

You’ve been chewed up for too long, head-first in the cold shit; finally, like the lukewarm thing you are, you can feel yourself about to be spat out. But before you leave, you’ll plunge one last time into the centre of London, down to the Embankment, to hear the music of white vans screeching along the A3211. In Gordon’s Wine Bar, a long rocky trench off Villiers Street, bodies push and writhe in their untold masses. Like a newly dug grave, filled with earthworms. Pale and clammy people push against each other, steal lighters, slop Fat Bastard Pinot Noir on their ginghams and chinos, and roar their bewilderment into the darkening sky. There are tables and chairs and patio heaters here, somewhere, but all you can see are sweat-stained shoulders and haircuts floppy on top and buzzed at the back. Somewhere in the general mêlée a fight breaks out: three pink-shirted men are rounding on a blue-shirted man, smashing bottles over his head, but nobody’s paying much attention; elsewhere Mark from Lloyd’s can’t decide whether to remodel his bathroom or divorce his wife, Cressida at Moody’s thinks the coke’s starting to hit, and tiny blameless creatures are trampled underfoot.

You’re not like these people: you’re a writer, journalist and/or creative, and they disgust you. Out to the choking Phlegethonic churn of the river, where Cleopatra’s needle, dense with slave-scrawled hoeroglyphs, reminds you that this city has always been in league with ancient and pagan evils. Its blasphemous point finds echoes all around you; the sky bristles with cranes. In a thousand building sites from horizon to horizon, bloated men swing giant slabs of concrete in diminishing circles, building homes for nobody to live in, vanity chasing greed. It’s all too much: you duck underground. On the Tube the lustful are fixed rigid at fifty miles an hour; this is where the anonymous and the unloved go to stare at a spot just above each other’s heads. You take your seat and watch your hairline recede in the opposite window, knowing that millions of other arses have been planted in this same fold of scratchy fabric, that the people around you look out on exactly the same sights as you do every day, and that none of them will ever know your name. There’s a form for these things. You write in to the ‘Rush Hour Crush’ section of the free morning papers. Silver fox weeping openly on the 10:22 to Euston – fancy a drink? Pale, harried redhead beauty chewing her nails on the District line: I want to add myself to your list of miseries, buy you a drink? Dead pigeon with gleamingly exposed ribcage sprawled on the tracks at Canada Water. Coffee some time?

It doesn’t end. Beyond the crumbling walls of old London, in the outer circles of the Underground zoning system, the suburbs plod, miles of limp terracotta and chicken-shop spleen. Nothing has ever happened here, and nothing ever will. Further yet the sodden bog of greenbelt. You crossed it once: the train companies took their gold, and you arrived broken and penniless in front of King’s Cross station. It was all a stupid mistake. Fuck London. You’re right to leave.

But where will you go? You decamp to Brighton, wander too far on the wrong side of Old Steine, and realise: my God, this place has no architectural idiom whatsoever; it’s nothing, it’s just London by the sea. You flee to Vienna, and the rent starts rising steadily around you, the ground rushing up to meet the sky, and you’re buried in it, your mouth stopped with dirt and cement. You can fuck off to San Francisco, and as you’re drinking overpriced cocktails in a Mission bar, you’ll hear some tech twat wheeze down his phone to meet him on the roundabout by the Old Street BART station. But surely that can’t be right? You left London because it lost all character, because London had become nothing more than a vast buildup of global capital. A trading floor in one skyscraper has more to do with Shanghai and Singapore than with another in the building across the road; London is where the globe-girdling flows of finance coagulate and disperse again. But if this city is no longer anywhere in particular, if its geography is defined more by money and its infinite gradations than anything as crude as ordinary space, then how could you possibly achieve anything by leaving? London isn’t the name of a place that exists within strictly defined limits. London is the entire planetary order.

Remember your sins, as you turn the wrong way down Friedrichstraße to find yourself staring, shellshocked, at the Charing Cross Road. As you heave yourself panting up to the Griffith Observatory, pause to take in the view, and stagger backwards as the Shard drives itself like a dagger into your eyeball, and the hollow round banshee’s mouth of the London Eye howls you home. As you come out the Metro at Saint-Germain-des-Près, and someone thrusts the Evening Standard in your face. Think on your sins. The homeless people you ignored. The change you pretended not to have. The friends you betrayed. The enemies you cursed. Your careless fucking, summer sweat and strange skin, holding each other close so the eyes aren’t in focus, slick sliding nails and over too soon. The banknote clenched hard as you snort up £50’s worth of rat poison and laundry detergent. You have lied, cheated, lusted. blasphemed. You have killed. Did you really think we would ever let you leave? Don’t you understand? You’ll never get out of London, not for all eternity. Don’t you know where you are? This is where you belong. You’re in Hell.

If I’m so bad, why don’t they take me away?

Vivek Chibber is the most controversial figure on the Left today – or, at least according to Vivek Chibber he is. The latest kerfuffle is, once again, over his attacks on postcolonialism. Chibber’s stated goal is to rescue Marxism from what he sees as an empirically incorrect perspectivism embedded in postcolonial theory – essentially, the idea that ‘our capitalism is different.’ Part of this programme involves, with the tedious weight of inevitability, a defence of Enlightenment rationality. This is a boring dispute, and I’m not really going to go into it. The more interesting aspects of his critique are those that slip and tremble in those strange spaces between the great tectonic monoliths of politics and ontology. Chibber wants to reclaim the universal: the idea that behind all the squirming differences of the world there is a level of understanding in which all things are essentially the same, and can all be described according to a single principle. But the way he goes about this is very odd.

Disputes between universalism and particularism go back to Spinoza and Leibniz, and beyond. The question runs like a zigzagging fissure throughout recent thought, opening up sudden chasms within formerly continuous areas of the intellectual landscape. On the side of the Universal there’s Hegel, Deleuze (in his plane-of-immanence univocity-of-Being mode), and Badiou (at least in terms of the political, with his reference to the figure of the ‘generic’); the partisans of the particular include Heidegger, Adorno, Derrida, and Spivak. There are convincing concepts on both sides here, and even if the politics envisaged are seemingly irreconcilable, this ought to indicate something for those of us who know our dialectic: what’s being presented is ultimately a false choice.

There are some aspects of Chibber’s argument that are worthwhile. The idea that we can have solidarity and even some level of understanding of lived experiences that are not exactly the same as our own really ought to be a truism: however arbitrary language may be, it’s still grounded in the commonality of the Symbolic. When Chibber characterises subaltern studies as a kind of contemporary Orientalism, one in which the colonial other is always an irrational, occulted mystery, his critique does seize on something important, even if it’s slightly unfair. I certainly agree that Marx is not just ‘another white male philosopher’. (Although I’m not sure if anyone of any significance is really disputing this. It’s an argument that’s been made, but from what I can tell it’s mostly made on Twitter rather than in the academy, and usually alongside other claims that are so bafflingly untrue – the idea that Marx was suspiciously silent on the question of slavery, for instance – that they indicate the operation of some unspoken fixation or agenda.) It’s a shame, then, that the central portion of Chibber’s argument is not just wrong and non-Marxist, but fully horrifying.

A dominant – and strangely unacknowledged – influence on Chibber’s line of thought is of course Jürgen Habermas. Habermas has charted an interesting course, from the would-be saviour of Frankfurt School critical theory to his current post as the official rubber duck lookalike of the European Union. Taking cues from a theorist so unabashedly enthusiastic about the European project – one that future historians (if any are allowed to exist) could only ever regard as one of history’s greatest evils – doesn’t generally make for a good critique. Elsewhere in the world the oceans are only poisoned by oil slicks; on Europe’s fortified seasides, the waves roll bloated corpses against the holiday resorts. In some cases, Chibber even doubles down on some of Habermas’s more profoundly stupid innovations. Habermas argues for socialism as the actual realisation of the liberal ethos – the problem with liberalism isn’t its principles, but the contradictions that prevent it from being able to actually put those principles into practice. Chibber puts a new gloss on this, going beyond slightly dodgy immanent critique into what amounts to an outright surrender to existing conditions: what we think of as liberalism isn’t a unified project but the result of extended class struggle. This is not particularly controversial in and of itself, but for Chibber those ‘positive’ elements within liberalism are not heterogeneous to liberalism itself. In other words, the good society isn’t a promise yet to be realised; it’s here, now, and we’re living in it. Exactly how this position can be reconciled with the scum-soaked pit of shit and misery that constitutes life in the twenty-first century is yet to be seen.

The really scary stuff only appears late in Chibber’s lecture, but it’s what really constitutes the core of his project. For Chibber, there are certain ‘basic human needs’ that are not conditioned by class or culture, that have to do with the biological core of our being, and that are exactly the same everywhere in the world. It’s on this level that we can all understand each other, and it’s from this base that we can build a solidarity that cuts across boundaries of race, gender, and sexuality. As with Badiou’s invocation of the ‘generic’, this is a political project that insists on the stripping-away of all that is not essential; those elements that are lost in returning to this common core of our species are ultimately ephemeral epiphenomena. Even provisionally accepting that this kind of operation is even possible, it’s founded on a fairly dubious assumption – that what is the same between people is ontologically essential to them, and what differs between them is not. Race and gender might be constructed, but it’s this kind of formulation that can – without ever meaning to, but by slipping down the rungs from ontology to normativity – allow for the idea that being black or a woman is somehow a deviation from the norm.

What are these basic human needs? In his works Chibber gives a few examples: the need for shelter, for security, for dignity, liberty, and personal well-being. These are the things that define what it is to be human, across time, space, and culture. But if this is a universal essence, it’s a strange kind. The need for shelter is here a fundamental part of the species; but of course shelter itself is not. Nobody is born with a roof bolted to their heads. If well-being, rather than the need for well-being, were basic to existence, there would be no need for well-being. All these needs in fact describe a lack – what’s essential to all humanity isn’t in us at all; our basic properties consist of those things we don’t have. In a way, Chibber’s stripping-away of epiphenomena is really incomplete: he’s retained an extraneous need, when what he could have said is that the basic nature of humanity is to be exposed, vulnerable, wretched, persecuted, and sick.

This is a decent (if uncreative) reading of Beckett, but it’s not Marxism.

For Marx there is something like a universal solidarity, as in his famous slogan that ‘the working men have no country.’ But where Chibber makes a major and bizarre misstep is in ontologising this universality. In Marx what unites people is not some mysterious quality locked in to every human being, the navel and core of their existence, but the most ephemeral of all ephemera: capitalism itself. International proletarian solidarity is a unique creature of the capitalist mode of production; it emerges because capitalism (as Chibber correctly points out) is universal, not out of some pre-existing universal substance that gloops beneath the phenomenal appearances of things. This universality need not be homogeneous. The forces of capitalism act in different ways on different people – wage-labourers and artisans, queer and disabled people – because these people are different. This is not to say that there can be no solidarity and no processes of overdetermination, but these are fleeting unities formed out of the false and imposed unity of capitalism.

There is a real universal, but it’s not subject to the tyranny of the Same. Marx does, it’s true, refer in his ‘humanist’ works to something called ‘species-being’, but it’s not a ‘being’ in the usual, ontological sense of the word. Species-being is bound up with the process of production: the human capacity to change and remake the world, a capacity that is itself coded by that which is produced and changed. Species-being stands for the unfettered and continual realisation of human potential, with new potentialities opening with every new realisation. Returning to species-being does not for Marx require the stripping-away of everything but the essential, but the creation of vast and unknown realms of possibility and difference. This is not so much being as becoming; an ontology of continual flux. (Here, as in so many other areas, Marx and Nietzsche are not just compatible but exhibit an almost spooky level of correspondence.) This is where Chibber’s divergence from Marx is most striking: for Marx, communism means freedom from alienation and an opening up of the infinite possibilities that constitute our being. Chibber, meanwhile, presumably wants to see a world in which dignity and well-being are available to all, but because in his cosmology human beings are eternally defined by the fact that we lack these things, for him communism can only be a total estrangement from what we really are.

Notes from the demonstration

It’s strange, but the same people who insist that voting is a sham and won’t change anything are often the ones who also maintain that your radicalism is inauthentic unless you get out in the streets and exercise your right to protest. Usually I find all this boosterism to be faintly ridiculous: the right of governments to peacefully ignore street demonstrations is by now a cherished part of our liberal democracy, and the people who put so much stock in these charades betray the same naive faith in the essential goodness of the capitalist state as those who think that non-voters instantly waive their right to an opinion. But we live in exceptional times. When I saw Prime Minister David Cameron go on TV to announce his plans to divert the asteroid 4179 Toutatis onto a collision course with Earth that would almost certainly wipe out the entire human species, I felt that the time for inaction was over. Something had to be done. So I went down to Saturday’s mass #StopTheAsteroid demonstration in central London, hoping against hope that something, anything, might happen. Life itself was in the balance.

They say that for a few days before the collision, Cameron’s Comet will be visible in the daytime sky, a tiny, tumbling sparkle hovering over the Thames between Wapping and Rotherhithe. It’ll stay there, static, fixed to the rotation of the Earth, sweeping through the distant void in perfect time with our planet’s slow decaying churn, until suddenly that glimmer bursts bright to swallow us all. I tried to imagine that scene as I crossed the river. The day was muggy and overcast; arthritic ripples trailed over the water’s surface. I wondered if the asteroid would appear as a hazy dot of light through those suffocating clouds, the way the Sun does sometimes, or if our shitty weather would leave us blind until the very last moment. In my head, people brought out deck chairs, or held hands as they crowded together to watch. Of course, it won’t happen like that: the government’s confirmed that most of us won’t even get the day off work. When the impact comes I’ll probably be doing something stupid; spasmodically failing to recover dropped change from a sandwich-shop floor, or fumbling for a roll of toilet paper that isn’t there, or suddenly realising I’ve missed my stop on the train, something like that. It won’t matter, not really. (I know I’m supposed to say if the impact comes. The parliamentary opposition keep telling us they can fight this. I’m not so sure. There’s something very inevitable about an asteroid.)

I could hear the protest before I could see it. A low babble, rising to a chant as I approached the Bank of England: ‘Fuck off back! To the void! We don’t want your asteroid!’ I was slightly early, but there must have been tens of thousands of people already clustered in the intersection before the Bank of England, heaped like dead spiders between the solemn stones. Loud festival drumming blasted from one crevice in the tangle of alleys around us, whistles shrieked from another. A few slimy geezers in leather jackets were pushing their way through the crowd with their elbows, thrusting Trotskyite papers into the hands, prams, or orifices of anyone who wasn’t paying sufficient attention. All entrances to the Tube had been chained shut; one was being repurposed by a troupe of young people in combat trousers and luridly painted gas masks, who had clambered on top to stage a Carnival Against The Comet. I watched for a few minutes: the comet, represented by a big papier mâché sphere on a stick, was turned away from Earth by three women in clown costumes representing Peace, Positivity, and Popular Participation. Elsewhere, various blocs were hoisting their standards: I saw one from Lewisham Teachers Fighting The Asteroid, another from Queer And Questioning Teens Oppose The Tory Meteor, and even two iron-eyed old ladies hoisting a banner for the Committee to Abolish Outer Space, which I had thought was just a myth.

The biggest contingent, or at least to begin with, was the badgers. The government had announced shortly after being elected that it would be rolling out a badger cull across the country, supposedly to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, and so several thousand of the creatures had come in to central London to join the march. A mercury stream of badgers rushed between our legs and made frenetic circles around the edge of the protest, a dizzying stream of black and white indignation. Whenever the badgers took a pause you could see, between bulging eyes and snuffling snouts, the slogans daubed in mud or marker pens on their coats. Some of the badgers had opted for general anti-asteroid sentiments, in what might have been an attempt to emphasise the continuity of struggles, but most of them had (reasonably enough) chosen to take the opportunity to ask that they not be trapped and shot to death. Let me be! one said. I’m TB free! Some marchers were unimpressed. ‘It’s just identity politics,’ I heard one young man sneer. His satchel was dotted with Che badges. ‘When the asteroid hits, the badgers are gonna get it as bad as the rest of us.’ (Meanwhile some small scuffles broke out as a few protesters accidentally trod on the surging carpet of badgers running beneath them, while some especially pushy humans found a badger sinking its incisors deep into their ankle until the bones snapped – although I heard later that all this was a factional dispute between the badger bloc and some dregs of the Socialist Workers Party.) But for the most part the big badger debate took a back seat – most of what I heard was a gleeful whispering about which left-wing celebrity had been spotted where: Owen Jones spotted showing his bum from the balcony, Michael Sheen handing out placards to new arrivals on Threadneedle Street, or Russell Brand doing some impromptu swing-dancing with a few activists from Cheerful And Attractive A-Level Students Don’t Like This Asteroid Very Much. Everyone wanted to take a selfie with someone famous. After all, it might be the last chance they’d ever get.

After much hooting and piping, this swarm of people uncoiled itself from around the Bank of England and set off towards Westminster. Off we drifted, down Fleet Street, where kale-eaters in Itsu and Chinese tourists in waterproof ponchos stared at us in uncomprehending bemusement, through the Strand, where I saw one shopper turn to another and say ‘disgusting, they should bring out the water cannons,’ past Trafalgar Square, where the audience at a fenced-in festival called West End LIVE were entirely undisturbed by our last-ditch effort to save humanity, down Whitehall, where cops had encased the Cenotaph in protective plywood to stop the glorious dead being defaced by the ungratefully alive. We chanted. ‘We hate Tories, yes we do, and we hate their comet too,’ or ‘Get your comet out my face, send it back to outer space,’ or ‘Tory cunts are full of shite, and so’s their fucking meteorite.’ A float rolled by, crammed with speakers leaking euphoric drum and bass anthems from five years ago, DJ Fresh’s Gold Dust and so on, while the people surrounding it dipped and bobbed with that close, nervous energy of white people confronted by music without drugs. We marched in threads and clumps. Passing a glimpse of the river I was suddenly struck by the sheer dense claustrophobic vastness of London, the way it bloats for seething termite-mound miles in all directions. There were millions of people out there, not paying attention, as if the world weren’t ending. Where was the BBC? I felt fury growing, the sweet sting of vomit at the back of my throat. Forget the cops, forget the Tories: these people were the real enemies. The standers-by, the flatulent cud-chewers, the open-mouthed morons. They should be coming out to join this very important march against the bad asteroid. We shouldn’t be letting them live peacefully: we should be breaking the plate glass, dragging them off their injection-moulded plastic chairs as the crumbs of soggy falafel still fall from the corners of their mouths, out into the streets, to face revolutionary justice. Instead we just trundled on, a leisurely daytime stroll that was no more significant for the fact that it was being undertaken by two hundred thousand people. Maybe, I thought, we get the meteor we deserve.

The fact is that a lot of people in Britain passively support the destruction of all life on the planet. It’s something the whole country can get behind: it shows that Britain isn’t a spent power, and plus there’s the fact that 4179 Toutatis is named after a god of the ancient Britons. The policy might be mad and stupid, but it seems prudent and sensible. The asteroid is headed for a close approach with Earth anyway, on a course set from the beginning of time; what difference does one rocket nudging it towards our planet make? It’s just doing what needs to be done. It won’t be pleasant, but it’ll solve the debt crisis. The asteroid is all that gives them hope. Meanwhile there are the others, people who make it their speciality under the capitalist division of labour to take part in protests. When the asteroid comes, thundering towards the surface of our world with the full force of cosmic inevitability, they’ll be there, shouting at the asteroid to fuck off, willing it to turn away with llobbed fireworks and slogans and screams. For them, too, the asteroid is the only meaningful thing left.

In Parliament Square there was a stage, and speeches. Caroline Lucas came out to remind everyone that seventy-five percent of the British people didn’t vote for this asteroid. Owen Jones came out to say that the Tories would probably blame the total human extinction caused by their asteroid on immigrants and welfare scroungers, and that this was unfair. Jeremy Corbyn came out to ask why the Conservatives didn’t just go and live on the asteroid if they thought it was such a good idea. Charlotte Church came out to implore everyone, black and white, straight and queer, welfare recipients and CEOs, to come together to let the government know that we oppose their asteroid. ‘If we work together, someone or other said, ‘if we have faith in ourselves and our communities, we can and we will stop this asteroid!’ The crowd roared. Further up Whitehall, a couple of Class War insurrectionists in black bandanas were blasting gabber through portable speakers and setting fire ‘to let’ signs in a big circle, putting the purifying fire to their property of property. The Palace of Westminster was within puking distance, and we were in the hundreds of thousands; I couldn’t understand why nobody was rushing the gates to actually overthrow the government. Even if they had cops with sniper rifles on the roofs, they couldn’t shoot all of us. What would it matter, if we only have twelve months until the asteroid wipes us out anyway? This could all end! It was as if we were all resigned to the inevitability of the impact. Like we didn’t really want to live. I watched Russell Brand stumble around the stage, his eyes popping queasily, his shirt hanging in expensive rags. ‘Eeeuuurbbuhuh,’ he said, his head lolling in circles. ‘It’s systemic, yeah, a systemic asteroid, it’s this proper gestalt entity that’s the totality of everything threatening people today,’ he shrilled, his fingers twitching like faulty machinery. ‘Nnnurghh,’ he continued. ‘It’s like, oooouuuueeergh.’ If we don’t want to live, can you really blame us?

It was the cops that worried me the most. They were nowhere to be seen. When cops baton-charge a protest march, when they kettle the stragglers, when they snatch people from the crowd and cram them into trucks, it’s not pleasant – but it shows a level of respect. When their riot helmets and visors turn them into glassy robots, blank creatures of the faceless State, it’s because they’re ashamed to show their faces. Far worse for them to lounge in twos and threes at the sidelines, trusting the organisers to lead a protest that’s peaceful and responsible and entirely within the law, knowing that the demonstrators don’t pose any threat to anything. Even when the speeches gave way first to earnest men strumming acoustic guitars and singing about how the people can push back any asteroid, and then to nothing, after the scheduled protest finished, the self-satisfied daytripping contingent started to dribble back home, and only the militant and the badgers remained, the cops did nothing. Instead the sky darkened, and it began to rain. Now I know why it’s so damp in this country; now I know why fascism is so entrenched in our daily life. A crowd that would have kicked back tear gas canisters and struck body armour with the sticks off placards melted to nothing in the summer rain. Raindrops are miniature cops; the water here is liquid police. And Britain is an island.

(The left put the first person in space. Once we had our own grand projects. Now all we can do is feebly oppose the asteroids of our enemies, mount a rearguard action in defence of a planet we don’t even like. I don’t know why I’m writing this down. The government’s just announced £1.3 billion of funding for the rocket that’ll divert the asteroid’s orbit; it’s not like there’ll be anyone to read this in twelve months’ time.)

Eventually, just before dusk, the sky opened out once more – and I thought I saw a cold light twinkle in the dimming to the east. I stood and stared in the middle of the pavement, while patrons in the noisy shisha bar beside me, underlit in purple and orange, puffing rolling blooms of apple-scented smoke, stared themselves at me. Horns honked, men spat, women screeched, and something like life continued the way it always does, all buzz, all turn, all busyness and worry, all gas bills, box sets, pension plans and nights out, schmoozing at mosque and crying at home – but there it was. Something at once very distant and very near, like a pinprick through the fabric of the firmament, torn to reveal a mote of blinding-white truth beyond. The singularity. Pure speed and pure intent, crystallised in a fixed and shining speck. It wasn’t the asteroid, of course. Just a passenger plane, in its lazy final swoop down towards Heathrow. I realised my mistake as soon as I turned away. But it won’t be long. It won’t be long at all.

Cheeky Nando’s, or, what went wrong?

Americans, apparently, don’t ‘get’ what a cheeky Nando’s is.

Of course, you know what a cheeky Nando’s is. It’s when you’re hanging round the centre of town with the lads, just doing the usual, great bants all round, but you get proper peckish and you say ‘lads fancy a Macca’s’ but then your mate Cresty who’s a top notch lad and always on form with the suggestions goes ‘nah lads, I got it, let’s get a cheeky Nando’s’ because he’s a ledge and you go and Snapchat your meal and it’s well banging. Top.

Except sometimes you start to forget things. You know you’re in the centre of town, but how did you get there? What town? You don’t remember waking up in the morning. Haven’t you always been here? It’s England; this could only be England. Soot-stained bricks chipped to bleeding red. Trees in wire mesh. Chewing-gum and plastic pigeonshit grit. Not a big town, nothing here is big enough to be in a big town. It isn’t anywhere. The roadsigns tell you nothing: this street is marked ‘This Street’, across the road ‘That Street’ plunges down to Costa Coffee and payday loan infinity. The centre of town might stretch out forever. You could pick a direction and start walking, up the road past the JD Sports, past the Co-op with its petrified pears gleaming against the window, past the multi-storey car park that bloats in the afternoon mist, keep walking for weeks and years without ever seeing green fields or even houses, until eventually you’d round the globe and arrive back here again, still on this damp Wednesday that never ends and never began. The sky is bright. You can’t find the sun.

Here, under the awning of a glassy shopping centre. The squad smoke cigarettes and talk and smooth back their hair. You know these people. These are your friends. Tim, who got a swastika tattooed on his earlobe because he’s a total ledge. Paste, who lost his leg to a shark attack because he’s a right geezer. Buzz, whose left eyeball dangles on its nerve from a festering socket. J.B., a flayed heap of rags and lacerations, tottering on legs stripped to bone, breathing in bubbly gulps, pig’s trotters stitched to his wrists, gold nails bristling from his frail, heaving, ragged carcass. ‘Oi oi,’ he says. ‘Bants o’clock.’ Finally Cresty, whole and immobile, staring at nothing in particular. Inside his chest the blackboard scrape of rusting machinery. Proper lad. You’re having fun.

But you’re so hungry. You know what to say, lads fancy a Macca’s, but the words won’t make their way past your lips. Just a gasping whine. ‘Please. I’m hungry. I’m so hungry.’ It’s not like any hunger you’ve ever known. Correction: it’s the only hunger you’ve ever known. Visions swirl of you bursting into the battery farm, tearing chickens from their cages and ripping through their necks, burying your face in all that purple screeching food. You’d pull the creature apart from its cloaca. Feel the metal tang of blood smeared from ear to ear. The hunger’s not an absence, it’s something you need to expel, a tight shining dead ball of weight in the pit of your body, a cluster bomb. Everything is so heavy; your limbs tremble, you can hardly move. You want to tear yourself out of your own skin, just burst right out, gleaming and skeletal. You want to fuck the Earth bloody. You need to eat.

‘I’m hungry. I’m so hungry.’ There are other things you should have noticed. Like the women: shouldn’t there be women, somewhere? You have a vague sense that this is why you’re here, because there might be women. Shouldn’t there be people? You’re in the centre of town, but the streets are empty, and silence roars eternal fury in your ears. Shouldn’t there be cars? Somewhere, somehow, everything has gone terribly wrong. Your friends are talking, muffled honks drowned out by the void; you don’t understand them. All you can see is the flesh stretching and rippling around their mouths, the moist meaty flick of tongue, the haze of saliva that hangs motionless in the air after it’s sprayed from between two teeth. These faces, the ones you’ve known for as long as you can remember, the ones you’re poured all your secrets lies and braggadocio into, breaking out into a fit of incalculable otherness. What are these creatures? Who sent them? What do they want?

It all falls out at once, ladsfancyaMacca’s. Cresty’s head swivels towards you. He opens his mouth. You’re in front of Nando’s. You were there all along. There are things you can remember. Cheeky Nando’s. Extra-hot peri-peri chicken breast on pita with chips and a Coke Zero. Off the wall. Nutter. Your parents dead in bin-bags. Yeah love I’ve been to Nando’s before. Soldiers sweeping down your street helicopters plunging in flames. No shame in lemon and herb mate nah but shall we get a highchair for you while we’re at it. The laughter of women as you crouch naked penis shrivelling knees tucked to chest like the terrified child you’ve always been inside but thought you’d grown hide to conceal. Cheeky Nando’s with the lads. The sky a swollen bleeding pantophagous cunt. Bit expensive but it’s a good laugh. The radiation containment zone now covers the entire mainland United Kingdom north of Wakefield and south of Inverness. The state of emergency is a temporary measure. Fun is mandatory until the crisis passes. And flailing for something to be, desperate to rearrange the rubble, you chose to hang round the centre of town with the lads, to watch the stunned chickens on the conveyor belt twist heavy heads with round staring psychotic eyes and look out on a world they had no hope of ever being able to understand, and you laughed because you were better than them. You built this place. Cheeky Nando’s.

Nando’s is painted black. The name red. The menu chatty. The door obsidian. No sign of life inside. No inside to begin with, just a haze of images rising faintly through the glass, pictures of plates crowned with food, pictures of young men crowded round plates crowned with food, pictures of greying bones and tattered flesh. You turn to Cresty. ‘Say it,’ you whisper. Cresty blinks. ‘Just say it. Just say nah lads let’s just get a cheeky Nando’s.’ Cresty seems to dither. ‘Cheeky Nando’s. Please. So this can be over.’ Cresty’s jaw clangs shut. Whatever the test is, you’ve failed. Your fists bang against the window of Nando’s, a flailing spasm, and the glass doesn’t give, as thick and as solid as rock. And in another world, under another sky, on an ocean that flings cold salt-spray through the heat, on currents that will carry it charging from a cloistered past to a brighter tomorrow, the Portuguese ship slicks up the coast. Sails surge, timbers creak. The ensign whips in the wind, the captain struts through the sunshine. And in the suffocating darkness under its boards, six hundred men and women in chains and terror, and twenty crates of peri-peri peppers. Top.

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.

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