A Note On The Cereal Cafe Getting Attacked


Well, I was thinking of writing something about how a group called the ‘Fuck Parade’ attacked the cereal cafe, obviously, because I am intellectually interested in the cereal cafe and what it means for us, in the present era of cupcake fascism and infantilisation and austerity capitalism. But then, yesterday, the more I thought about it, the more I also couldn’t be bothered, because honestly, who even has the energy anymore? The cereal cafe got attacked. The owners called it a ‘#hatecrime’ (this was on twitter, but I honestly hope they think the hashtag is performing some sort of important modifying work there, and that even outside of social media it’s still only a hashtag hate crime). The people who attacked the cafe, that only serves cereal, were honestly of the view that they were having a battle on the front lines of gentrification. In fucking Shoreditch, which is not a real place. “An extra-territorial dependency shared between Disneyland and Hell,” as one commentator has so eloquently put it. Everyone involved in this situation is a fucking idiot. Why attempt to elaborate this event at all, why attempt to understand it? This is just a week into the post-pigfuckgate era and if anything, reality is accelerating its stupidification.

Either way, any chance I might have written something long-form and independently insightful about the cereal cafe being attacked was basically annulled by this Sam Kriss piece which makes pretty much the exact point that I would have wanted to, namely that both the cereal cafe and their ‘Fuck Parade’ enemies exemplify infantilisation. The cereal cafe because, well, it’s a cereal cafe, and the Fuck Parade because they have ‘anti-gentrification’ protests that involve writing ‘scum’ on the fucking cereal cafe, when you’ve got Canary Wharf just a short tube ride away in the same borough of London. Marching on Shoreditch has very little to do with affordable housing for working-class people and everything to do with a battle for control of the hipster theme park it has long since transformed itself into. Plus they advertise their protests with banners that share an aesthetic with flyers for student club nights:

fuck parade

But I would just like to make a short point elaborating on what Sam has said in his piece, and this goes back to what (in my original cereal cafe thinkpiece) I claimed was what pissed people off so much about it. As people have been pointing out in the aftermath of the riots, Shoreditch is a place where there is a cafe full of cats, a place that only serves water, a shop that specialises in gourmet ketchups. Amidst all this obvious ridiculousness, the cereal cafe stands as a beacon for all the hate and smoke bombs that people wish to throw at the area; a giant hipster ‘Kick Me’ sign erected slap in the middle of Brick Lane. Why is this?

Well, as I argued in the previous piece, I think that this is really down to two things: firstly, the very obvious stupidity of the idea. The cereal cafe is, as ideas go, very much low-hanging fruit: surely everyone had previously come up with the idea to do a cafe that only serves breakfast cereal. But it had never actually been done before (in this country) because, well, you can buy cereal in the supermarket instead, and it’s exactly the same, and will cost a lot less. There’s no value added in going to the cereal cafe rather than eating at home. So the idea is a stupid one: on paper, it can’t possibly work. But of course it works in Shoreditch, because Shoreditch is not a real place.

Secondly, the fact that breakfast cereal is basically bad for you. Studies on lab rats have demonstrated that they die of malnutrition at exactly the same rate, eating a diet consisting only of Rice Krispies, as they do if you feed them the box. But there is, however, a key difference: whereas the rats who get fed the box merely starve to death, the rats being fed the Rice Krispies first go insane. When I was a kid, I used to eat a salad bowl full of Frosted Shreddies every night before I went to bed: and I was a fat, disobedient little shit. Long story short, anyway: good little boys and girls do not binge on breakfast cereal. So cereal is infantilising, but through the cereal cafe, infantilisation cannot function (or, cannot function perfectly) as the dominant ideology wants it to, i.e. as a mode of control. So infantilised subjects themselves are repulsed by it, just like the kids at school who wanted to impress the teacher were always repulsed by me.

The recent attack on the cereal cafe is, I would claim, just another, more extreme manifestation of this good-little-boys-and-girls revulsion. Why do the Fuck Parade hate the cereal cafe so much? They think it is because the cereal cafe is symbolic of ‘gentrification’, I don’t doubt this, but actually (since infantilisation and gentrification go together), the cereal cafe is rather symbolic of a kind of heterodox, potentially even radically actionable gentrification. So on the level of theory, the Fuck Parade’s analysis is, we must say, deeply distorted. Why then did it go wrong? Well, because this is the truth behind all bad, insufficiently theoretically reflective ‘activist’ groups: whilst posing as something that wants to do away with the existing order, the Fuck Parade, teenage oppositional-defiants all, really secretly want to prop it up: because if it didn’t exist, then what would they have to set themselves against? Hence attacking the cereal cafe looks like an ideal option for them: it’s a way of feeling like they’re assaulting the existing order of things, whilst really attacking something that could represent an opportunity to break out of it.

Although, actually, on the other hand: no. I want to take a bit of a step back here because now I think I’m at risk of taking the cereal cafe too seriously: it’s never going to break out of the infantilising capitalist order, it is very clearly a part of this order, otherwise Boris Johnson, King Baby, wouldn’t be condemning the attack on it; otherwise the creepy cereal twin owners wouldn’t be saying the people involved should be punished in a manner analogous to how the 2010 London Rioters were. My point is just really that the cereal cafe is a bit like something that might exist within this order but one day break out of it, because it is set in opposition to at least some aspects of the dominant ideology (healthiness, being ‘sensible’, only acting on ‘sensible’ ideas). So it might be a potentially useful template, even if it is itself (nevertheless) a lost cause.

At any rate if it’s a choice between adult babies eating cereal and adult babies who probably call themselves ‘sapiosexuals’ and go to psytrance raves, I know which I’d prefer. In the battle for control over the playground, I’m a Bowlshevik.

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Philosophy After Pigfuckgate


In his later writings, the Frankfurt School critical theorist Theodor Adorno is constantly fixated on the question of what it is to ‘philosophise after Auschwitz’: how can we, that is, think philosophically in a way that does not do violence to the historical fact of the Holocaust, the immense human suffering of those who died in the camps?

On 20th September 2015, the news broke that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had had sexual intercourse with the head of a dead pig while at university. This historical fact leaves us with an analogous, but opposite problem to Adorno’s. How can we think philosophically in a way that does sufficient violence to the existence of a world in which the head of our government has had sex with a pig?

At this point, over 24 hours since the allegations first surfaced, it no longer matters if they are true. Apparently there is photographic evidence somewhere of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, performing the act he is said to have performed on the pig. If it appears, we’ll know. But really, it’s not all that important that we are ever given this sort of evidence for the claim. We know. To look at the face of David Cameron is now, and always has been, to look into the face of a pigfucker: his face, is the face of a man who fucks pigs. I think probably we always secretly suspected he was a pigfucker: there was always something a bit off about his face, that previously would have been attributed, I think, to a sort of posh-guy phoniness, like he was trying to convince us he was just a regular bloke whilst constantly struggling against the urge to smash a bottle of champagne over a tramp. But now we know, now we know what it really was: the fact is that David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was always secretly trying to suppress the memory of the time that he fucked a pig.

And this fact, the fact of what the Prime Minister has done to a pig, with his penis, makes complete and total sense: indeed, at this point, now we’ve had time enough to start to digest the news, I’m tempted to say that it is the only thing that makes sense any more. And this is why we no longer need any evidence for it: asking someone to offer a proof of the proposition that the Prime Minister fucks pigs, would be a bit like asking them to provide a proof of the external world. If anything is true, then this is. All other propositions now must be evaluated in the light of the overwhelming truth of the fact that the Prime Minister has had sex with a pig.

On the one hand, this might be considered an incredibly depressing realisation. For us today, the most true thing is that the Prime Minister has had sex with a pig. What does this say about the universe? There is no God, effectively, except for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, sticking his cock, whether flaccid or erect (that is actually an interesting question, for the interpreters of this event to consider as schools of thought develop around it, over the coming millennia) into the head of a dead pig during an initiation into some weird Oxford sex club for poshos as a teenager. What grounds all meaning in the universe, is effectively something utterly pointless, meaningless, and disgusting. Why bother to exist at all, in a world where the only truth is the Prime Minister fucking a pig?

On the other hand though, the realisation that the only really true thing is the Prime Minister having had full sexual intercourse (to completion? Again, a question for the scholars) with the dead head of a pig must be felt to be incredibly liberating. The Prime Minister fucked a pig: this is the truth of all reality, so reality doesn’t matter! We’re free to do what we like with it! The Prime Minister fucked a pig: that’s it. Beyond this nothing is true, and everything is permitted.

Reality typically manifests as a demand to obey it, to bow to it in our thinking or our action. This might involve a demand to do justice to it ethically, as Adorno was compelled to do by the fact of Auschwitz; or it might, more familiarly, just involve the demand that we bend ourselves to its laws (the laws of physics, of the marketplace, or of our governmental institutions). With #pigfuckgate, all of that is thrown out of the window. Why the fuck should I obey anything about reality? Reality has installed a pigfucker as Prime Minister. In so doing it has, as far as I see things, voided all claims it has over me. No longer do I need to attempt to think sensibly, or realistically. Doing so would only be to capitulate, on some level, to the pigfuckers. Now I must think wildly, recklessly, violently. It is imperative that my imagination soars as far away from this wretched, tiny, pigfucking world as it dares.

I think this is why, ever since I found out that the Prime Minister has fucked a pig, I’ve felt calmer, happier. The world seems, I think, more like a home. Just walking down the street yesterday, even in the pouring rain, I felt elevated, like I was somehow beyond the streets, like there was happiness waiting for me out there, wherever I went. The Prime Minister fucks pigs. Orienting ourselves to this fact, humanity can finally be free. There are no limits, any more, except for one, completely absurd truth. With this move, a better world is possible: indeed, a better world will always be possible. Like Jesus dying on the cross, David Cameron sticking his nob into a dead pig’s mouth has offered us, as a species, the possibility of redemption.

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Calling Things That Aren’t Tories, ‘Tories’


In our language, there are two ways in which one can, legitimately, use the word ‘Tory’.

The first is to describe someone who is literally a member of the Conservative party, an anti-worker hate group founded in the distant past by evil lizards from beyond the moon who somehow manage, despite all the manifest evidence of their awfulness, to continue to get elected to govern the UK.

The second is to describe someone who is, even if not literally a member of this party, somehow complicit in the bad things that they do.

In the first usage, the word Tory is an empirical concept. In the second, it is an evaluative one. So saying, e.g. ‘Liz Kendall is a Tory’ is a way of drawing out how Liz Kendall, even if not literally a member of the Tory party, nevertheless says or does things, at least sometimes, which indicate that she might as well be.

One recent trend in media coverage critical of the Corbyn surge and his supporters is a skeptical or mocking attitude towards their use of the word ‘Tory’ to label apparently all of their opponents, even or especially ones who are not Tories in the empirical sense. Particularly clear examples can be found in the pieces here and here. This, then, must indicate that the Corbyn critics are mired in a conceptual confusion, which I have now cleared up for them above.

But of course, I don’t for a minute think that any basically intelligent human being could have possibly needed this confusion to have been cleared up: it’s pretty evident that sometimes we can use a term to indicate what something literally is, and then in other cases we can use the same term to evaluate something as exemplifying certain qualities that indicate it is like this sort of thing. If I say “her red hair was all fire,” I don’t mean you need to chuck a bucket of water over her head; and nor would I ever consider it to be a possibility you might, unless I knew you to be wilfully obtuse. So why can’t the Corbyn critics see that people might be (when talking about a Labour politician, for instance) using ‘Tory’ in an evaluative sense?

Two possibilities: one, they really are as stupid as they are acting. Certainly, it seems like this might be what is going on with at least some of the prominent critics of Jeremy Corbyn. Dan Hodges, for instance, has time and again proven himself to be a complete moron; his column is increasingly just a Liz Jones-style invite-one’s-own-social-media-bullying shitshow. And there are a good few people at the Guardian and the New Statesman who I wouldn’t trust to use the stove for themselves either. But equally, it would be flattening to assume that everyone in the media who doesn’t support Corbyn is thick as shit. Tempting as it is to think that the dunces are in confederacy against you, we have to dig deeper.

The second possibility, then, is that these people have some nefarious reason for conflating empirical with evaluative uses of the word ‘Tory’. And indeed I think this might make sense. It is, at least under present conditions, exceptionally useful for leftists to be able to evaluate things that are not literally Tories, as exemplifying Toryism. Indeed in a certain sense, given that it exists as part of and is thus necessarily somehow complicit in the capitalist system, everything right now is Tories; including this blog post, this sentence, this word, t h e s e  l e t t e r s , and me. Being able to say, of a thing that is not a member of a Conservative party, ‘this is a Tory’ is a good way of indicating that it might be an evil space lizard, that it might hate the poor, and that it might have a vested interest in keeping things as they currently, wretchedly are. And indeed this is a critique that often works, for instance against Kendall, who has become (thankfully) mired against the rocks of her own evident-but-not-literal Toryness.

A skeptical or mocking attitude towards the evaluative usage of the word ‘Tory’, then, might have the effect of taking it away from people, of blunting it as a tool. This should be resisted. In a context where Toryism is, in short, what must most urgently resisted, being able to label all manner of things Tories can empower us against them.

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Reality Today

angry baby

If there’s one thing the left nowadays need to do, it’s grow up and accept reality. This, at any rate, is what the Greek government were continually told by their creditors, before they finally capitulated to the great, awful pressure of reality wholesale. And it’s what the supporters of Liz Kendall in particular continually tell the rest of the Labour party: the scale of Labour’s recent electoral defeat means it’s time to grow up and learn some harsh lessons about the electorate and austerity.

Of course, Liz Kendall is for all intents and purposes a Tory, but it’s not just because her policies are all explicitly pro-brutalising the poor: the main thing that makes her a Tory is precisely her orientation towards reality. Good leftists should grow up and face reality, I’m all for that; but accepting reality? This is nonsense. In fact, I’m not sure what a sensible and grown-up attitude to the reality we currently have would look like, if it involved accepting how it basically already is. I mean, we’re not talking about gravity here: we’re talking about the far more destructive force of austerity, something that remains on some level a human thing that we can, in theory, do something about.

It is telling that the people most on the side of reality today are precisely those most shielded from its effects. For instance, in the Telegraph recently some idiot baby by the name of James Kirkup wrote a piece arguing, in short, that anyone thinks the recent agreement between Greece and their creditors was a coup should “grow up and join the real world.” What I found most offensive about this piece is that Kirkup – at least for the purposes of rhetoric – seems to be under no illusions about the destructive effects of continuing austerity on Greece; something that the Greek people had, it cannot be emphasised enough, rejected by a landslide in a recent referendum. Kirkup addresses all of this, alongside the unfair pressure exerted upon Greece by Germany in the negotiations. His conclusion? The situation in Greece is “just a fact of life. Welcome to the real world, kids.”

Well, if I was James Kirkup, someone who is described in his profile as the Telegraph’s “Executive Editor – Politics” and presumably has the salary to match that fancy title, I’d probably find it pretty easy to ‘grow up’ and accept ‘reality’, too. Because I’m not the one who has to fucking live in it. I am not, at least until the world gets a lot more just, the one who reality will impose itself upon with all the force of an earthquake at the speed of a freight train. I am not the one who reality will make starving and destitute, the one whose dreams reality will destroy, the one who needs reality to be radically transformed, if I am ever to even breathe again comfortably and without fear. No: if I was James Kirkup, Executive Editor – Politics at the Daily Telegraph, I could quite happily sit gurgling on my changing table writing thinkpieces de-legitimising the experience of everyone who reality has robbed of a future until my arse finally stopped spewing runny shite.

Here’s the irony: the partisans of reality are the real angry babies, the people who must have the least to do with reality; otherwise they would never prefer it to the alternatives. The partisans of reality today are in truth complete fantasists: people who have no interest in taking into account the real, material effects of what they do – and what they advocate – on people’s lives. Instead they cling to the comfort-blanket of market ideology magical thinking: they suck their thumbs, shake their rattles and scream for everyone to accept their reality, unshakable in the conviction that this must be how things ultimately, unchangeably are. Grow up, they tell us: grow up, capitulate to market forces, and give us our num-num whenever we want it.

Well, as any angry baby must some day find out, there’s only so many times you can bite your num-num while it’s giving you suck until you find yourself sold on the internet or left in a skip. Recently there have been some encouraging signs of anger in Europe: not the petty rage of the angry baby from the picture but the sort of legitimate anger that must result from being kicked in the face by reality one too many times. Most significant of course is the ‘Oxi’ result in Greece, for all the fat lot of good it did anyone in the end. But recent events in UK politics too – the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader; Mhairi Black’s stirring maiden speech in the Commons – bespeak an increasing momentum behind anti-austerity politics over here. The key thing, of course, is to channel this anger into real socio-economic transformation… and of course the recent history of politics in the UK should hardly make us optimistic that this is what will happen. But perhaps the first step towards doing this is to take control of the debate, by having the courage to say: you’re the angry babies here, and we’re the sensible grown-ups who know how things stand with the real world. For no serious policy on reality today could ever fail to propose its radical transformation.

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The M&Ms Store in the Age of Minions

minion crucified

I visited M&Ms World in Leicester Square this Tuesday, for the first time in rather a long time, but to be honest with you I’m not sure why they bother calling it M&Ms World at all anymore. The whole thing is just Minions.

As many of you will know, I’ve thought and written quite extensively about the M&Ms store in the past. From the moment I first saw the M&Ms store, in October 2011, I was completely fascinated with it. Posing as an amusingly left-field attempt to market a hard-shelled chocolate candy, the M&Ms store in fact represented the attempt to replicate the entire world, in M&Ms form. Aside from the sweet itself, you could buy anything at all in the M&Ms store, filtered and distorted through the prism of the five M&Ms character-candies: not just food but clothing; domestic appliances; farming equipment; all of the most terrible engines of torture and mass destruction ever contrived by man; the great works of western art and literature; pornography representing every fetish (so long as it involves fucking the Green M&M); all animals real, extinct, and imagined; the eight planets of our solar system; and God.

As I argued in my 2013 essay, the M&Ms store represented a new development in the dialectic of capitalist reification: it utilises a five-fold ‘character-ontology’ to more effectively reduce all things and qualities in the world to itself. Since an M&M is, of course, a capitalist product, this means that all things will, in turn, have been rendered into money and thus made exchangeable and fungible. In my essay I wrote as if the transformation of all things into M&Ms, a process kickstarted by the M&Ms store, was pretty much an inevitably. This was something I sincerely believed: I was not being ironic. But I now know that I was wrong.

I know I was wrong because, in the M&Ms store today, you cannot buy any M&Ms t-shirts. You cannot buy any M&Ms keyrings, or golf clubs, or any statuettes of all the M&Ms characters in a band. There is no machine that will tell you which M&M you are if you stand in it, and no pictures of the M&Ms dressed up as all the great figures from history on the walls. And there certainly isn’t any hard-shelled chocolate candy about. Instead, all you can buy is Minions. A Minions t-shirt, a Minions keyring. A statue of all the Minions in a band. A diamond-studded Minions leather jacket. The Minions as the Beatles. A machine which when you step into it, it tells you that you are a Minion, in the coldly bored voice of someone repeating the most banal and indisputable fact on Earth. Even the shop itself is not in a building anymore: I don’t know how I didn’t notice this when I entered but on Tuesday, as I stepped outside of it, I realised that my whole shopping experience had just taken place inside the mouth of a giant Minion.

Disoriented by this discovery, I stumbled through Leicester Square, trying to get away from the Minions, but it was impossible. It wasn’t just the M&Ms store the Minions had usurped: everything else was Minions, too. Minions on the buses. Minions in the windows of every shop. Children covered head-to-toe in Minions clothing, and adults in what looked like giant Minions suits. Little fucking Minions scurrying about everywhere on the floor. Burger King across the road from what had used to be the M&Ms store, but now it was called Minions King, and when I reached into my pocket to get the money out to pay for the Bacon XL Cheeseburger I’d just purchased, hyperventilating, to comfort-eat and steady my nerves, I realised that I didn’t have any money in it after all: I just had Minions. My burger arrived, and was handed to me, but I froze, unable to pay for it, until from the box there emerged a chattering, scurrying Minion. At this point, the floor melted.

We all know what happened next. This was the day that all of reality turned into Minions. What I once had feared would be wrought upon us by the M&Ms, had now been successfully accomplished by the Minions. Everything is Minions now: when you read this, all you will see is a steady stream of Minions; as I type it, on the Minions in front of me, I simply launch more Minions into creation. We are all Minions now, and I am yellow, and named Stuart, and wear dungarees, and I have a single giant stupid perspectiveless eye. And, as with everyone and everything else under the sun, my only purpose now is to incompetently serve evil.

minion arrest

But why were the Minions able to do this, when the M&Ms apparently could not? In what follows, I want to sketch a few things towards an understanding of the Minionification of reality.

My analysis here proceeds from an excellent article written by Brian Feldman, published a few weeks before the disaster on The Awl. As Feldman’s article points out, Minions were in fact originally characters in a film called ‘Despicable Me’ before being given their own film, released recently, simply entitled ‘Minions’. It was originally as an attempt to promote this film that the Minions started being everywhere, with the disastrous results we now experience at all times.

According to the films, a ‘Minion’ is a creature older than humanity, that emerged from the proverbial primordial soup fully-formed, and has not undergone any substantial development since: indeed, it is suggested by the films that no new Minions are ever born, and none die. The Minions, thus, always have been, and always will be. They are universally tubular, and yellow. They all wear goggles to correct poor vision, though some only have one eye and some have two. The Minions have buttocks, but no sexual organs: conceivably, however, they are all male, since they all have names like Kevin or Norbert or McKyle.

Just as a dolphin needs the sea or a polar bear needs the snow, the Minions need at least one major environmental factor in order to maintain themselves, and to flourish: it is a matter of biological necessity for the Minions to serve an evil master. T-Rex, the Pharoahs, Napoleon, Hitler: it is ‘Minions’ canon that the Minions have served them all. The comedy, however, emerges from the fact that the Minions are completely incompetent: their idiot antics always undermine their evil masters’ schemes, frequently leading to said masters’ demise. Despite their idiocy, however, the Minions themselves are never the victims of their own pranks: and so they persist.

minions 3

I myself first became aware of the Minions when they started appearing in adverts for the Sky package (or some aspect of it). I think probably the first time I saw them was in an advert on TV shown during the French Open tennis final. I can’t say they left a particularly powerful impression on me. But then all of a sudden, after that, I started seeing them everywhere: on posters on public transport, on the internet, in magazines – advertising not just Sky but a whole range of other products, including their own film. Then they were emblazoned on apparently every internet meme, usually shared by norms. The kicker was when I saw, on twitter, an image that simply read ‘Keep Calm and Minions’. That was when I knew they were taking over. Although even I didn’t think the whole thing would be over so fast…

But still, why? What exactly is the source of the Minions’ apparently enormous appeal? Feldman’s article suggests that it stems from the fact that, in an age of – often divisive – identity politics, the Minions are determinedly post-identity (or perhaps pre-identity, considering that technically they existed before humanity did). Their universally yellow complexion knows no racial difference; their genderless masculinity gives us one image of a world with all ‘gender constructions’ undone. The Minions speak a garbled mish-mash of all languages, taking elements from English, Spanish, French, and Japanese, though the end result is essentially gibberish. For these reasons, anyone can identify with the Minions, and anyone can identify anything with the Minions: a Minion can simply be a Minion, or it can be Marilyn Monroe standing over the vents, or it can be trying to fuck a fire hydrant, or it can be Hamlet, or that guy from the Big Bang Theory who says Bazinga, or Leopold Bloom, or Goya’s painting of the Nude Maja. A Minion can be a spade, it can be a gun, it can be a keyring, it can be a t-shirt, it can be a bus. They have been used to ‘explain’ everything from academia to the Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire. A Minion is, in this sense, infinitely fungible.

minions 2

Hence we have discovered that a minion is: (1) bound to serve evil; (2) infinitely fungible. What does this sound like? What else is fungible and always serves the interests of real evil? Why, money of course! The Minions, then, are money. But of course, Minions are not quite money. The Minions are funny little characters that represent money. Particularly in an era in which physical money is increasingly being replaced by its electronic representation (as we ourselves existed in, prior to its usurpation by Minions), ‘money’ consists in something brutely quantitative, a number. But, as I have already argued in relation to the M&Ms, you cannot reduce everything in existence to a number: that would be to eliminate quality, and people will not, despite what scientistic philosophers seem to think, stand for that. Human reality consists in large part in experiences of quality, and even if you can pretend that ‘reality’ is ultimately describable in terms equivalent to numbers and thus undermine the objective purport of these experiences, you can’t really get people to discard them. So, if you want an ontology that everything in existence can be fully reduced to (perhaps in order to monetise it), you need it to be an ontology that can fit quality essentially in to it. Otherwise something that cannot be reduced to mere numbers, such as love or hot takes, will always remain in a relationship with the numbers such that it can potentially resist them.

The character-ontology of the M&Ms could effect this sort of qualitative reduction. But the M&Ms’ ontology was in truth, I suppose, always rather clunky. An ontology, like that of the M&Ms, which was consistently having to add new characters to it just to keep up with existence, by definition fails to constitute a unified framework which everything in that existence can be reduced to. The Minions, also, constitute a plurality; but it is a plurality of sameness, with any one Minion exactly interchangeable with any other (some are slightly shorter, some have only one eye, but it doesn’t really make any material difference: they are simply, in whole and in truth, Minions, neither more nor less). In this way, the Minions give us all the advantages of ‘character’ – the ability to incorporate quality in a real and full sense into our ontology – within the context of an ontological monism. The consequences are here for everyone to see: I’m a Minion, you’re a Minion. Everything is Minions. Minions Minions Minions Minions Minions.

minions 1

But it worth emphasising that the definition above of Minions as bound to serve evil and infinitely fungible is not exhaustive. For a third quality inherently defines the Minions: aside from their affinity with evil and their fungibility, the actions of the Minions will always inevitably undermine their evil masters.

So what, then, are the Minions? Money, yes, but more specifically than that: they are a form of currency that, just insofar as it exists, inevitably undermines the evil intentions of its masters. The Minions, then, must be the Euro: the Euro project was devised in order to bind the economies and ultimately the governments of all Europe to the economic interests of Germany, but it is now backfiring terminally, leading to political instability and economic stagnation.

Perhaps then we should not be surprised that the two things which most define our current moment, politically, are the Eurozone crisis, and the rise of the Minions. The two go along together. And although the real and explicit transformation of everything into Minions has now caused events in Greece to develop in previously unexpected ways, the way things were unfolding prior to that should at the very least have indicated to us that the EU was already being run, at least in part, by Minions. The Eurozone’s leaders have consistently, in their attitude to Greece, proven themselves equally evil, incompetent and, at the most essential level, interchangeable with one another: a conspiracy of nothings who would condemn us all to the void, if only it might save a banker from having to write off a penny.

And yet, if there is any comfort left for us now, it must precisely lie in the Minions’ incompetence. Everything, now, is Minions. Everything, then, serves evil. But it is, equally, inept. Thus now that everything is Minions, the machinations of every objective tendency, which previously served evil anyway, will now tend, precisely against themselves, towards the good. Evil will team up with Evil to fire a home-made cannon at Hope, but in doing so, it will backfire, and topple a big rock over itself. Communism will Win. Minions Minions Minions.

minions candy

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What if thinkpieces actually a good thing?

angry baby

The year is 2028. From his base on the Moon, Lord Doom has descended to Earth accompanied by his massive robot army, with only one goal in mind… total world domination. As the UN panics and squabbles, billions of Earth citizens are displaced from their homes; in all major population centres, those that remain are submitted to the sort of blind and artificial brutality that only a killer robot programmed to do evil is capable of. People are dying in huge numbers, Lord Doom’s robot invasion manifesting on our planet with all the effects of one great rapidly unfolding natural disaster.

But as the supervillain sits victorious on a pile of human rubble, perhaps what is most interesting – from our perspective here at least – is that the world’s press is still, to a relative extent, going strong. Despite the upheaval, Doom’s final revenge on the planet that long ago shunned him has been reported in all the world’s major news publications: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, Die Zeit, Le Monde, The Times of India, The New Zealand Prendergast, Xinhua News Agency, you name it. And of course, the reaction has, almost universally, been one of stunned, solemn horror.

But then suddenly, a sole, brave freelancer, writing for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section, pipes up with a daring hot take on the recent terrible course of global events: what if, 23 year-old political blogger Heston Waterson dares to ask, Lord Doom’s brutal conquest of Earth is actually a good thing?

Tens of thousands of retweets. Two million facebook shares. The comments section has to be closed.

Nowadays, whenever anything in the world happens at all, there are always two reactions to it: first there is the straightforward, intuitive reaction, which almost all psychologically normal people will share. And then there is the thinkpiece reaction, which takes the standard reaction and turns it on its head. If everyone thought the event was a good thing, the thinkpiece will ask: what if it was really a bad thing? And if everyone thought the event was bad, the thinkpiece writer will inquire: what if it was really – not like you thought – actually something good that happened?

OK, in some ways this is probably a gross oversimplification, but it’s certainly broadly speaking as sure a formula as any for tossing off comment pieces that are going to get hits: take some event or thing that people are, broadly speaking, in agreement about the value of, and tell everyone that they should actually think the opposite. Your argument doesn’t even need to be convincing: you just need to say it. So recently one could have read thinkpieces arguing that Sepp Blatter’s reign was really good for FIFA [; that the Tories are in fact not a malicious blood-cult dead set on emptying the nation of all its saleable assets; or that the British obsession with tea is actually a grim manifestation of our repressed pinings for Empire. Even I once tried to convince everyone that cupcakes are fascist, although in my defence this is (still) something I genuinely, sincerely believe.

At first glance then, we might think: thinkpieces are a bad thing. All they offer is a cynical, shallow sort of naysaying, targeted at generating clicks and shares on social media and earning its author about 200 quid. But stop: thinkpiece! What if thinkpieces are actually a good thing?

As ever, it is helpful to think about things in Hegelian terms here. In Hegel, the world-spirit – which for our purposes here, we can gloss as something like ‘human progress’ – unfolds dialectically. And how does the dialectic proceed? Quibbling among Hegel scholars aside, the dialectic is typically held to proceed by means of the triad Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. Some initial proposition, the Thesis, is negated by its opposite, its Antithesis; the two are then brought together in a Synthesis, in which the best elements of each are preserved. For instance: early on in Hegel’s Logic, Nothing is found to be the negation of Being; they are then united in Becoming. Or in the Philosophy of Right, Civil Society is the sphere of recognition that negates the Family, but the two are supposed to be somehow united in the State.

Thus, it is possible to argue, the proliferation of thinkpieces is playing a direct role in the progressive development of our society and culture: the author of thinkpieces continually supplies the Antithesis to the Thesis of the initial public reaction to any given news event. Once we’ve got in view how we might have been wrong about everything after all, we can then proceed from our initial, intuitive ignorance to the possibility of being right. This might well not involve discarding everything we at first thought was good – we might continue to drink tea, and eat cupcakes, and hate Sepp Blatter – but when we continue to do these things, we will no longer do so just because it had never occurred to us that they might be Imperial, or Fascistic, or Good For The Game. Rather, having examined our views, we will now know exactly why they are not – or are not exactly – any of these things. And so we will have all, if only incrementally, become oriented a little bit more rationally towards our world.

But wait a minute: thinkpiece about the thinkpiece. This isn’t actually how thinkpieces, in the real world, work. I mean, we really are talking here about articles that are written primarily to get clicks and shares on social media. The thinkpiece is not an insightful, considered attempt at a contribution to human reason. It is rather much more typically the product of a writer short on ideas but desperately needing something to write about for coins. Kneejerk controversy is the path of least resistance. You don’t even need to be serious about the things you are saying: precisely the point is that most people will disagree with them; they will share your writing out of hate, but for all that, it will still be shared, and maybe then you will have earned your next meal. It’s just like in the Middle Ages, where there was a certain class of people, known as ‘Journey Lesters’, who used to earn their living being kicked and having rotten vegetables thrown at them in the marketplace. After a while, these people started to pay attention to and write down things that people were saying in between pelting them with fruit, and so the modern press was born.

So when in 2028 Heston Waterson writes the very successful viral thinkpiece that will call into question whether the complete subjugation of the planet Earth to the whims of an evil lunar dictator was really such a bad thing after all, he will not in doing so have contributed anything to the rational development of humanity. He will not have made us any better as people, he will not have helped us to see anything we couldn’t see before, he will not have made the world any more a home. All he will have done is something trivial and self-serving that will only cause us to become angrier and more confused.

For reading a thinkpiece cannot help us think through and solve a problem together. All it ever does is open up to us the mere possibility that we’re wrong about Sepp Blatter, or the Tories, or Lord Doom. It thus produces in us entirely the wrong sort of moral uncertainty: one that we do not have a forum for resolving. When faced with it, we are not motivated to examine and debate our views. Rather, the age of the thinkpiece (which is identical to the internet age) is marked much more by a closing of dialogue, in which people retreat to their own increasingly small social bubbles, where they can be continually assured of having always been correct, against the impositions of those clowns in the Comment section who are very definitely completely, laughably wrong. Lamentably, this idiocy even spreads to the sort of people who want to ‘debate’ everything ‘fairly’ and ‘openly’, who if they were really at all open to reality would realise that we are not in an 18th-century coffee shop, and such a thing is just not possible right now.

But why? Why does the thinkpiece fail to serve a dialectical function? In short, my theory is this: the thinkpiece typically presents its argument in a flat, direct way that the reader is invited only to reflect upon by agreeing or disagreeing with. In order to become anything more than a Bad Thing, the thinkpiece needs to evolve into the sort of writing that one can think and reflect on in a productive way, inviting the reader to submit its content to imaginative scrutiny.

Probably the best thinkpiece I have read recently is that Joel Golby tea piece that I’ve been referring to already throughout this article. In fact, I want to suggest that it is something of a model for all future thinkpieces. This is because, while posing as a comment piece that is baiting its readers into thinking the author wants them to stop drinking tea (how dare he? Doesn’t he know anything about tea? He’s obviously been drinking it wrong! I better share it and tell him in the comments.), it is actually, upon closer scrutiny, a piece about our inability to reflect about why ‘we’ (as a nation) like tea without turning into angry, stupid babies. So, it baits its audience into behaving like angry, stupid babies while acting as a critique of angry, stupid babiness. This is, relative to the standards of the thinkpiece at least, pretty fucking dialectical. Structurally, the piece invites reflection on all of its arguments. It is that rare thinkpiece that thus provides an occasion for real thought.

Also, tea is shit.

One day, just over a decade from now, the killer robots will descend upon us and force us out of our social media bubbles into reality in the most brutal way imaginable. We cannot do anything about this: Lord Doom is too powerful, and even if we had any possibility of challenging him democratically, the British people would probably vote for him anyway. But until such time, we deserve a better standard of thinkpiece. Do not let Heston Waterson’s shallow reflections become humanity’s final contribution to viral content.

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Experience: I Went to the Cereal Cafe


As anyone who follows the news will know, there is now a cafe in Shoreditch, and it only sells cereal. As far as I can tell, from looking both at twitter and the newspapers, this was the most important news story of last week: forget police brutality, US torture reports, and Russell Brand punching Nigel Farage on Question Time: the frontier of what truly matters for our society and culture right now has been placed squarely in front of a bowl of cereal. And some stupid fucking hipster is charging £3.50 for it.

Initially, when reports of the cereal cafe emerged, I thought: aha! Another manifestation of the dread force of infantilisation today. All the sirens were being tripped off. One, hipsters are children. Credit to Sam Kriss for this line: Shoreditch isn’t a real place, it’s an extra-territorial dependency shared between EuroDisney and Hell. Ostensibly an ‘area’ of ‘the London Borough of Tower Hamlets’, Shoreditch is actually more like a hipster theme park: a magical fantasy land populated by Steampunk locksmiths; horrible street art bearing trite messages declaring our universal humanity; a shopping mall made up of shipping containers where all the shop’s names are rendered in hashtag form; and people with dyed grey hair wearing necklaces displaying their twitter handles. Real adults could not live in Shoreditch and thrive, they could not breathe its air. It is a place that could only possibly exist if enough people congregated there whose lack of real-world responsibilities allowed them to do things like open cafes that only sell cereal. And, true to form, aside from having set up such a cafe, the cereal cafe’s owners are two twin brothers who actually seem to make a point of dressing and looking exactly the same: something only real adults would do if it was part of some sort of fetish where they only have sex with the same person simultaneously.
Two: the cafe itself, positioned as it is within this Peter Pan Republic, sells itself (quite fittingly) explicitly on childhood nostalgia: the whole place is decorated with promotional toys that you could have got with cereal in the early 90s, and old (especially limited edition) cereal boxes, most frequently ones produced as tie-ins with blockbuster films. And, just as with all infantile nostalgia as utilised in capitalist enterprise, the objects are presented simply as something to remember for fun: there is no sense of how they haunt us. It is never acknowledged how the vintage Weetabix plush toys they’ve placed on a shelf downstairs have a look on their face like they’re going to beat you up; objects like the The Mask pencil-toppers you used to get free in bowls of Shreddies are presented simply as collectibles, not as the sort of thing that were always with you in childhood, accompanying you through every classroom trauma and defeat, because they’d worm their way into the bottom of your pencil case and stay there, festering and never acknowledged until ultimately – but only when you change pencil cases – disposed of.
Thirdly, cereal itself, considered as the sort of product that might be sold in a restaurant, can only really be a food for children. OK, there are breakfast cereals like Bran Flakes, Weetabix, Muesli, etc. that adults eat. But you can buy these in shops and just put milk on them for a lot less than £3.50 for a bowl. The only way that the cereal cafe could possibly succeed as more than a gimmick is by marketing itself as selling rare exported cereal that you can’t get anywhere else: effectively, by Craft Beerifying cereal. But whereas Craft Beer manages to be something not just for pathetic nerds by virtue of the fact that there really is a lot of difference between, say, an exported seasonal Doppelbock brewed by the Royal and Ancient Liechtenstein Guild of Haberdashers and whatever is generally available in the supermarket, the only real variety in cereal exists heavily weighted to the sickly, sugary end of things. It’s in wheat bits thickly coated with sugar frosting and honey mixed with chocolate flakes and marshmallow, or white puffs full of strawberry sauce: the sort of thing explicitly designed for juvenile taste buds that find spinach bitter as poison. Adults typically can’t eat stuff like this except as a pretense, or out of some desperately misguided attempt to avoid self-knowledge of their hypoglycemic blood disorder.

And yet, thoroughly infantile though the cereal cafe may be, there is nevertheless a real difference between it and, say, a thing on some napkins that says “Please take only one of me,” or a thing on a shopping trolley that says “If you find me please help me get home by calling this number.” Or even the cafe that’s full of kittens for patrons to hug that the cereal cafe is opening up down the road from. That’s because all those things, however the dark the force of the thing that they’re manifesting is, largely pass in the broader discourse as being innocuous. In particular, people don’t really take all that much notice of how infantilising strategies are used by the government and/or big corporations to deliver information. But the cereal cafe seems to have made people angry. It became a big news story in large part because the idea just seems so ridiculous to people. “A cafe full of cereal,” they think. “It has to be a gimmick. Don’t these people know they’re going to fail? Who are these stupid fucking hipsters?An interview with Channel 4 news, riding this trend, exacerbated matters by implying that the cereal cafe is directly responsible in some way for the economic problems faced by a large portion of the residents of Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country.
But really that interview just got me thinking: why the cereal cafe? The interviewer must know that he’s on Brick Lane, where even the stuff that isn’t obviously stupid just in-itself is probably too expensive for the desperate, starving family of 12 that he’s imagining in his mind’s eye. Why not go up to every cafe in the area and ask them the same question? Or indeed head to Canary Wharf – also in Tower Hamlets – and ask the evil cabal of international financiers and shape-shifting space-lizards who make their home there what they’re doing for a local area (aside from using their proboscis to drain it of nutrients). The most revealing thing about the interview was not that co-owner Gary Keery was exposed as a gentrifying, capitalist stooge but rather that he just had no fucking clue that he was in an area that had anything in particular to do with urban poverty. Which isn’t surprising because, as my line of thinking goes, he’s essentially a child.

So then the question is: why does the cereal cafe make people angry, more than any of the other infantilising things in the world? This was the question that I was looking for an answer to when I visited the cereal cafe this Saturday, some four days into its period of being open on this earth.
The first thing anyone visiting has to notice about the cereal cafe is that (at least at the time of writing), it takes ages to get in. The queue stretched around the block past the expensive chocolate shop next door (the sort of place that sells Gin and Tonic flavour truffles). We (myself and Sam, who I was with, as part of the Enthusiasts of Late Capitalist Detritus buddy programme) joined because, obviously, we are both controversial thinkpiece writers who owe to the world our hot takes. We ended up waiting an hour and a half before we were served. I wondered why everyone else was actually bothering to wait so long, but then it occurred to me that, the part of London we’re in, probably everyone there was going to write a thinkpiece on it. At the point where we were almost inside the store, finally about to step through the alcove out of the cold Winter afternoon, a woman came up to us, to ask what everyone was queuing for. “It’s a cafe that only sells cereal,” I answered. Her face took on an expression of simultaneous disappointment and baffled disdain, and she walked away laughing as if from a trauma too horrible to process.
This was only about halfway through our wait to purchase a bowl of cereal: once we were inside the cafe it still took about another forty minutes of queuing to get served. Weirdly for somewhere that was – from the evidence of the queue – so busy, there were hardly any people actually eating cereal there. The upstairs room with the ordering desk had two tables in it, neither occupied. There were I’d say maybe six tables in the basement and when we got down there with our cereal it was about half-full. The reason for this is simply that the ordering system is horribly inefficient. Rather than sitting down at a table and getting served there you have to go up to the desk to get your cereal. You then wait by the desk while they put it in a bowl for you – this takes about three to five minutes – before proceeding with your tray of freshly-poured cereal to sit down and eat it. Eating the bowl then takes only about another five minutes: because it’s cereal, it’s basically just quickly-consumable mush. After this, rather than continuing to hang about the cereal cafe for ambience, people tended just to leave. So rather than being caused by some news-induced runaway popularity, the queue turned out to have been mostly the result of poor logistics on behalf of the managers. Nevertheless, as I say, curious thinkpiece writers seemed largely undettered by it: by the time we got out, it was getting dark, but the queue had only become longer.
If there is any upshot to queuing for half an afternoon to purchase a bowl of cereal, it is that it gives you time to contemplate the baffling array of choice on offer. Choice has always been a problem when it comes to breakfast cereal: so many varieties are on offer, representing only incrementally different spins on the same basic concept: so that one is quickly reduced to looking desperately around for the one which fits you, personally, most perfectly – like Mr Burns in the Monstromart trying to locate the Burns-Os. At the cereal cafe, this problem is magnified, not just because they have a much larger amount of cereals on offer than at the supermarket – mostly they’re imported from the United States (you can get UK cereals too but really, really why would you not just buy your own box of Rice Krispies? Why would you go here and queue for this?) – but because, since you’re going to a cafe just to get served a bowl of cereal, you especially want to get this consumer decision right. Compounding the problem of choice, the cafe further offers a wide range of different toppings (chocolate flakes and so forth, but also fresh fruit) and varieties of milk (banana, strawberry, almond, oat, etc.). They also do something called ‘cereal cocktails’, which seem to have been implemented in a desperate attempt to make it seem like the cafe is offering anything in terms of professional expertise beyond the service of putting something from a box into a bowl (they even make you pour the milk yourself). But then, one of the cocktails is bran flakes, granola and raisins (spelt ‘raisans’, presumably as some sort of wilfully terrible example to the local area), which really does just amount to their having re-invented Fruit & Fibre.
Eventually, Sam opted for a ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time’ cocktail, which contains Cap’N Crunch Peanut Butter cereal, some sort of Strawberry Pop Tart cereally stuff, and peanut flakes, served with whole milk. I got a medium-sized bowl of an American cereal called ‘Cinnamon Toast Crunch’, which from the evidence of the box we thought might be a cereal which is made up of little bits of toast, but was actually just cinnamon-flavoured wheat flakes (disappointing). I got it served topped with peanut M&Ms, as can be seen in the picture below:


(because obviously M&Ms have to dominate every aspect of my own life in order for my hypothesis about them to turn out to be true)

The ‘cocktail’ was absolutely foul: despite the presence of two peanut-flavoured items, it tasted overwhelmingly of ersatz strawberry sweetness, which failed utterly to mix with its cousin as in an actual peanut butter and jam sandwich. My bowl was by contrast was pretty good: the peanut M&Ms went surprisingly well with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch; I’d even willingly eat it again. But whether you got a good mix of cereal or not, upon finishing eating you are nevertheless forced to confront the brute fact that represents the hollowness at the centre of this whole enterprise: you’ve really just paid £3.50 to be served a bowl of cereal. It’s not like in any other cafe, where the mark-up on the raw ingredients is in theory justified by the expertise of the chef. It’s just a bowl of a mass-produced product that comes in boxes that you put milk on. Anyone can do this. The cereal cafe was apparently inspired by its owners being hungover and just wanting a bowl of cereal, then wishing there was a place they could go to get one. But there already is such a place: it’s called the supermarket. You can buy your own boxes of the stuff there.
For this reason, it’s hard to see the cereal cafe as representing anything other than a gimmick. Once the initial interest in the fact that someone (or, well, two people who look the same) actually went ahead and opened a cafe that only sells cereal dies away, it’s hard to see it doing much business. The place is bound to go the way of ‘Concept Stew’: from the evidence of the buzzer outside the name of the business that used to operate on the premises, and which was presumably a restaurant that only served stew. Having said that, there is in fairness a chain of cereal cafes active in the States. Called ‘Cereality’, the chain opened its first branch in Chicago at some point in the mid-2000s, and rapidly expanded to a variety of locations nationwide, even inspiring rival restaurants with names like ‘Bowls’ and ‘The Cereal Bowl’. In 2005, the chain courted controversy after unsuccessfully trying to patent adding milk to cereal. But unfortunately for Shoreditch’s cereal cafe, the Cereality story does not offer much reason to be hopeful for the future. A google search for ‘Cereality’ uncovers sedimented layers of Yelp reviews for locations now closed, and it currently only continues to operate two branches: one of them is in Dallas-Fort Worth airport; the other a hospital in Virginia. (Obviously, the fact that these branches continue to be open must have something to do with the fact that airports and hospitals are exactly the sort of nowhere-places where you can’t just buy a box of cereal from the supermarket and then put it in a bowl yourself)

We are now, I think, in a position to answer the question as to why the cereal cafe is making people so angry. Basically, my view is that it must have something to do with the ultimate emptiness of the gimmick. The fact that there is so little value added seems to threaten to expose the futility of offering almost any other service, as child’s play. Enough entrepreneurs opening establishments like the cereal cafe – somewhere that only sells Mr Kipling cakes, or ready meals, perhaps – and capitalism might just voluntarily collapse out of sheer embarrassment. This of course has to feel threatening to people: there is no guarantee that their own lives and professions will be exempt from the world-spirit’s mounting awareness of its own uselessness.
But that in itself can only constitute part of the answer. If it was the whole of it, then it continues to beg the question: why the cereal cafe? We exist under conditions of widespread infantilisation: why should it be this childish thing that finally sets everyone against the trend? And moreover: people don’t, even in the face of the cereal cafe’s actuality, seem to be widely against the trend as such. People were still shopping happily, and perfectly unironically, for Gin and Tonic truffles in the chocolate shop next door; they were still wearing necklaces that just had hashtags on them. So what I want to say here is that it’s not so much to do with the fact of the cereal cafe’s infantility, and more to do with the nature of how infantilism manifests itself through the cereal cafe.
Typically, when capitalism infantilises us, it does so not as wayward children, but as good little boys and girls. The sort of children who do what they’re told, what they’re supposed to: this is why infantile strategies are employed at things like napkin dispensers, or on shopping trolleys asking to be sent home. But the cereal cafe is infantile in a different way, and I think that this is the source of the anger. The cereal cafe serves food for children, and is, in truth, the sort of idea an eight year-old might come up with (I’m sure I had this idea when I was about that age; indeed I’m sure every imaginative child must have considered it at some point). But it serves unhealthy food for children, and it is an inherently stupid idea, not one well-adjusted to the vagaries of the adult world. The cereal cafe manifests as the sort of child that will get yelled at and told to grow up, that eats too much sugar and has dirty hands, in short that takes a real joy in simply being a child. And this is too much for capitalism to bear, since really it has adopted infantilisation as a strategy of control. It does not want us to get too libidinally invested in it in ways that might negatively affect profit margins. The anger induced by the cereal cafe can thus be seen as the result of it constituting a heterodox manifestation of infantilisation. The anger directed towards it, is that of the good little boys and girls towards the naughty one who is ruining it for everyone else.

Thus, a speculative conclusion: the anger inspired by the cereal cafe reveals to us the deep connections between infantilisation and healthiness. Infantilisation, it seems, can only represent a principle of control if accompanied by certain pre-conceptions about health (about what is ‘good for you’, about what you should or should not do), and these pre-conceptions do not advocate the consumption of sugary cereals. Of course, they may yet involve consuming healthy cereals. And certainly some of the boxes of ‘healthy’ American cereals, seen in the cafe, bear chilling slogans. Peanut Butter Cheerios, for instance (apparently this is for an American a healthy option, I guess in comparison to Frosted Toffee Hot Dog Cheerios), are emblazoned with the words “More Grain. Less You,” as if good health is mostly about melting away to a contented nothingness. We can be pathetic, lost, alone children; we can be bored children who have no idea what we want or what to do; we can even be spoiled children who constantly demand more things, as long as they are the right sort of things. What we are not allowed, is to be the sort of child who eats too many sugary snacks and engages in imaginative play. Because this sort of child, is the sort of child who potentially grows up to challenge the existing order of things. Not saying of course that the cereal cafe will ever represent a revolutionary moment, because it really is just a wilfully stupid idea that will almost certainly fail. But something of its ilk, taken up in the right way, perhaps could.

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On the Reality of Numbers


You often hear people saying that numbers aren’t real, but in fact there is a fairly simple proof of numbers that anyone with a normally-digited human body can perform for themselves.

Mathematics of course begun with the ability of human beings to count up to ten on their fingers and thumbs. We thus have a very apparent proof of the existence of numbers up to ten staring at us all the time from our palms. The philosopher G.E. Moore thought that refuting skepticism was as easy as claiming that he had one hand, then another. Certainly he would have been right if he was talking about absolute skepticism about the existence of numbers.

But could he have proved that there were numbers higher than ten? The easiest way of doing this is to switch from fingers to toesies. So then, assuming that one has five toes on each foot, we have a proof of the existence of numbers up to twenty.

It is at this point that a lot of societies throughout history typically stopped. Before around 1000 BC, there are few documented instances of numbers being referred to that are larger than twenty: the closest is a vague sense, intimated by some Indian and Babylonian sages, that such numbers might exist, but they would be incomprehensible to the human imagination. But then at roughly the same time, the great early philosophers of China and Greece discovered numbers higher than twenty, by realising that they could count on their knuckles.

Thus followed a great dynamic period of innovation in the science of mathematics, as the amount of numbers available to the human mind appeared to increase exponentially. Just counting on finger and thumb-knuckles increases the numbers to thirty. Then someone usually noticed (in Greece this was Anaximander) that the toes have their own vestigial foot-knuckles, giving us forty. The collections of ridges on the fingers and thumbs are then counted, two on each finger and one on each thumb, giving us the ability to count to 58.

Now, in China it was at this point that the accumulation of numbers simply stopped, but the Greeks, who were always more interested in numbers (not least because many of them e.g. the Pythagoreans, worshipped them) produced two further innovations that allowed them to count as far as 100. The first was to notice that the toes have their own sort of ridges to them, which gave then an additional ten numbers which they could count. The second was to count their teeth. This gave them anywhere from an additional zero to 32 numbers, depending on how many teeth they had remaining.

Thus it only stands to reason for us to claim that: given a normal human body with all its digits and teeth intact, we have a performative proof of numbers up to 100.

Are there numbers higher than 100? Of course, the relentless march of intellectual history has suggested that there is: certainly some very great thinkers thought so. As early as the first century AD, heterodox number systems based on nail-counting and suchlike gained purchase, particularly through Gnostic and mystery religions. During the Renaissance, Giordano Bruno posited an infinity of numbers based on counting the stars (also held to be infinite). Even Aristotle thought that in addition to the standard bodily proof of numbers there was an additional metaphysical proof of numbers up to 101, given that the 100 countable digits and teeth required a single unifying principle in which they all might be contained.

Such proofs are obviously deeply controversial. And, to my mind, we would be better off avoiding such controversy altogether, since even if we could prove the existence of numbers larger than 100, it seems that we have little reason to think that doing so would be at all necessary or desirable. Being able to count to 100 gives us all the numbers we need: who, for instance, would want to build a house over 100 metres tall, or to live to an age greater than 100? Would you want to spend more than 100 pounds on an item of clothing, or eat more than 100 bananas in one sitting? Are books ever made any more enjoyable to read by being greater than 100 pages? But numbers greater than 100 are not simply superfluous: they are actively dangerous. All the greatest atrocities in history have involved the deaths of more than 100 people. The existence of distances greater than 100 miles has historically made travel and communication over them very difficult if not impossible. I could go on.

Therefore, it seems to me that the best answer to the question of the reality of numbers is to say that: yes they are real, but the largest possible number is 100, the largest number that admits of any sort of direct proof.

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Englishness and the Scottish Independence Referendum

cameron clegg miliband

I grew up in England, and I am completely, 100%, incurably English. In fact I’m from basically the worst part of England, the cultural wasteland around London where the middle classes eke out their miserable little existence of kitchen refits, new sofas, and tortuously boring dinner parties. The sort of place where everyone has to deliberately numb their sensory organs just to survive: such that, even if anything was, miraculously, to one day happen, it would be a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no-one around to hear it.

Napoleon described England as a nation of shopkeepers, a very famous quote yes but one that also simply happens to capture something very well: namely the small-minded, pettily accumulative attitude that continues to infect the nation. But actually, I’m not completely sure that Napoleon went far enough. Perhaps the England would be better characterised as a nation of parasites. Like locusts, the English have swarmed across the world, stripped it of anything of value, and all in the name of satisfying only their basest needs, the things they need to survive in the most minimal sense (and in the capitalist era, this can only mean money). The high days of their swarm are of course gone: it seems hard to imagine a time when the British Empire gave the English complete licence to ransack every corner of the globe. But the baseness of the English persists.

In fact, perhaps another parasite better characterises the English nowadays than the locust. Thinking about it, I would say that the parasite the English most resemble is the cuckoo: a big evil bird that makes itself look like whatever it needs to in order to stow itself maliciously away in another bird’s home before eventually revealing itself as what it really is and eating all its young. The cuckoo doesn’t swarm in order to accumulate the things it needs to survive: it adapts itself to a set of pre-defined criteria that it needs to fulfil in order to pass as something that will be given food by another bird, and then once it has got what it needs it uses these resources back against the giver, violently. The English are in fact taught at school to make themselves into cuckoos: quite ignoring any actual talents, personalities or interests any of them might have, they are taught from an early age to make themselves into the people who can pass exams to get the grades, to use their social networking profiles to look like the sort of person who is employable, in short to construct an appearance of employer-acceptability around themselves which they can use to smuggle themselves into any organisation of their choosing, and from there on accumulate the resources to get all the new washing machines and different sorts of ovens they need (this is at least the ideal: nowadays there are too few jobs for it to really work, although that just seems to have made the demand to adapt even more urgent, rather than showing it up as the poor strategy it really is). The complete heteronomy of this way of existing, which infects all aspects of middle-class English professional life from accountancy to the media, can be illustrated in no better way than by just looking at Nick Clegg, a classic cuckoo: a man who seems to have spent his whole life desperately trying to appear, as much as he possibly can, like someone who might get hired to play the Prime Minister in a bad ITV drama, thus making himself into someone so profoundly idiotic there is probably no longer any evidence left in his skull that he ever had a brain at all.

I wanted, of course, desperately not to be anything like these people (although sometimes I fear that I am all too much like them, even if my main motivating force is usually anything but money). If I was saved from my Englishness at all, it was by Scotland. I had never been all that much interested in the girls who I knew at school, but somewhen after I started university I fell in love with a Scottish girl, who lived in Glasgow. It was this event that, more than anything else, made a world that had previously seemed in equal parts boring, confusing and hostile suddenly seem, if not exactly friendly and coherent, then at least exciting and beautiful. Not only my girlfriend, but also the city of Glasgow itself (and later the other parts of Scotland that we explored together), awakened in me a sense that there might be some point to life beyond merely surviving and accumulating more things. It wasn’t just the way that everything looked, or felt, there. It was the way people there seemed (at least to me) to be invested in something beyond themselves and their families, for instance their city. It sounds trivial when I write it down, but when people there spoke about, for instance, what was going on between Celtic and Rangers, I got the impression, more than anything that anyone in Hampshire had ever uttered, of something important going on. Despite the fact that really, what they were talking about was primarily confined to just one city, and that city wasn’t even London or anything.

It was as a result of these formative experiences that I have, since – more really than any other English person I’ve ever spoken to about this – felt in a certain sense meaningfully British: I feel that, if I have any country at all (at least one I do not want to completely disavow), it exists somehow in between the crappy place I grew up, and its northern half where I had so many of the experiences that most formed me as a human being. It’s really because of this that, until a few days ago, I had repressed the potential trauma of the Scottish independence referendum by deliberately avoiding any knowledge of it, beyond a vague conviction that no body of voters ever votes “Yes” in a referendum; I didn’t even know when it was supposed to be held. I didn’t want to know anything about it because I was scared that, whatever the rights or wrongs of Scottish independence, I was going to lose the country that I actually, sincerely, was identified with (no matter how fucking stupid nationalism is).

But now, of course, the referendum has become a media issue too large to ignore: because now it looks like Scotland could well secede from the union, whereas previously this didn’t seem to be a real possibility (which is presumably why they let them hold it in the first place). The No campaign, which had previously been half-fought on a totally uninspiring platform of slight macroeconomic advantage, is now flapping about in a total panic: promising further devolved powers if Scotland stays in Westminster, galvanising Gordon Brown’s corpse and sending him to make one of those speeches he used to like when he seemed to be fondling the words like a butcher with a big cut of meat, catching a private jet to Edinburgh all together and waddling around trying to look like they know what they’re doing. It is in particular the image of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg all stood together gurning in Holyrood that crystallises exactly why Scotland is going to leave England; and also why, however I might myself feel about this, they would be entirely correct to do so.

My own experiences with Scotland (as I’ve detailed) tend to cause me to romanticise it, and I don’t want to talk up Scotland as somewhere totally great because that would simply be untrue (no real political community is actually a magical place of a young man’s awakening to possibility), but certainly I think that if we examine the history of the union we can say this: Scotland has typically brought to it vision and dynamism, whereas England has tended to bring to it a sort of greedy vulgarity and relative quantitative size. It was this thrilling combination of brains and stomach that conquered the world in the century and a bit following the unification of the crowns. If the partnership was mutually enriching for these years and the 100 following, the two nations have now withered together. But now look at Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. Look at these three almost-identical men, respectively fatter and geekier inflections of each other, who call themselves our leaders. Think about everything they represent: a cloying, impossible-to-resist crappiness, a complete lack of basic human intelligence, the sense that they only exist there because they’re walking the tightrope of some grand trajectory they’ve sketched for themselves since pre-school, and they’re the last members of their generation of aspiring politicos still never to look down. In the figure of David Cameron, one sees a future, maybe some fifty years from now, when even being able to use a toilet without supervision will seem, in our leaders, as impossible a pretension as if any of them, nowadays, was able to talk coherently about Dostoevsky. They came to Scotland in an attempt to persuade its people to stay. But looking at them, isn’t it clear where the sickness lies? It is in England, and all its banality and cuckoo-parasitic baseness, as it shows up in the Chuckle Triplets who head our three major political parties. If you had the option of cutting this sickness out of yourself, wouldn’t you take it too?

An independent Scotland might not automatically be perfect, but as the referendum campaign seems to have highlighted, it is at least a political community that has its shit together vastly better than England does: a place that, whatever flaws it may or may not have, at least seems able to do more than slowly dismantle itself. And of course, the optimism unleashed by decoupling from England may see it improve itself still more by comparison.

I say all this knowing full well that I, as an English person, have no such easy option available to myself. I am, as I say, incurably English: I am so stuck in England, that even though I’ve been living in another country for five months now, I can barely speak the language beyond a few mumbled phrases in shops (no matter how much better I can read it); that despite everything that I can recognise as being inadequate about England, I feel anxiously badly-adjusted to everything around me when I am outside of it – in fact I am desperate (in just a few weeks now!) to move back. But I also know that, really, I want to be able to move back to Britain, because I can at least pretend then that England isn’t really England. But then perhaps that’s also the problem: without Scotland, maybe England would be freer to look its own achingly apparent crapness in the eye. Perhaps England, left alone by itself (or with Wales and Northern Ireland, which I admit I’ve left out of this discussion entirely, although of course there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be independent of England too), would be able to become something more than it always, historically, has been. Although of course, we’d probably only just get more of the same: Doctor Who, Ian McEwan, Banksy, cupcakes, real ale festivals, Wayne Rooney, and Nigel Farage.

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Into the village one day strode a man made entirely of dust, of great fluffy clumps of dust that formed the shape of a man, as if just laid over a man’s skin, but that clearly comprised him all the way down, composed his entire being. Little flecks of dust constantly flew off him in the breeze, but somehow he remained whole, either this process had been going on a long time and he had started out gigantic, this hideous striding thing, or else he had some way of remaining continually constituted in the shape of a man, despite this constant flaking decay.

Seeing the man coming from afar, the villagers all fled, and locked themselves into their homes, bolted safely up away from his immediate vicinity, watching the stranger suspiciously from their windows, although nothing in particular (apart from his hideous appearance) suggested that he meant them any harm. But as the man wandered into the centre of the village, towards the Baker’s Cross that stood as its central point, a brave and curious or stupid and naïve little girl of about 10 years old, the blacksmith’s daughter Maisie Croft, all bright eyes and pig tails, ran up the road towards him from her father’s workshop, back the way this unusual and unwelcome man had just came.

Unlike the other villagers, Maisie was not afraid. Seeing the man come striding past, Maisie did not see the horrible monster that her father had seen, before telling her to stop playing and get inside, and locking the door, but rather she saw just a fascinating, strange, mysterious, and yet somehow gentle, man. Probably we cannot say which of them — the villagers or Maisie — was right, because we know so little of this man, and of his origins, and of his purposes, aside from the fact that he was, of course, made entirely of dust. But regardless, she did not come to any harm, after struggling out of her father’s house, ignoring his panicked cries, to run up to the stranger, and ask the questions she had for him.

Seeing Maisie, the man stood stock still, staring at her. He did not say a word. Everything about him was utterly uncanny. He was part of this world, and yet he seemed to come, at the same time, from totally outside it. He stood there in the centre of the village by the Baker Cros, staring, silent. But Maisie, apparently unperturbed, asked away.

“Who are you?” she asked.

The voice came back, horribly dark and hollow. “I know not.”

“Why have you come to our village?”

“I go… wherever I happen to wander.”

“Where are you going to?”

“I walk the world, like this, in search of myself.”

“Do you know anything about yourself at all?”

“Alas no. But a few basic facts, that point to my origins.”

“Where do you come from?”

“I know not.”

“Do you have any parents?”

The man paused. He took in a deep breath, or at least he filled something like lungs with something like air, although who knows if he really had any organs, or if it was really air he breathed. “I have no mother,” he said. The wind picked up, and billowing clumps of the dust that constituted the man were whipped into the air, all around him, like a terrible sort of cloak, or bridal trail. “I have a father, who I knew, once. He was like me. For you see,” the man said, with a horrible sort of finality, like the grave. “My old man’s a dustman.”

Thanks to David Batho for helping me with the execution of this stupid joke.

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