Charlie Hebdo and the Muslim Pastry Threat

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I’ve been saying this for a while, but: if we really want to understand right-wing politics today, we first have to understand baking. In a recent editorial, Charlie Hebdo – the racist, right-wing ‘satirical magazine’ – asks what the causes of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels are. Were they caused by police blunders? Immigration? The long-term effects of colonialism or ghettoisation? No. Charlie Hebdo is utterly disparaging of any suggestion that they might be. What actually caused these attacks, Charlie Hebdo thinks, is the Muslims’ attitudes to our baked goods.

For Charlie Hebdo, there is a giant conspiracy insidiously working its way across Europe, seeping into our democracy through every pore. On the one hand you’ve got, of course, the Muslims – Charlie Hebdo’s favourite gaggle of pantomime villains. I’m not sure how many Muslims Charlie Hebdo thinks there are: it might be a lot (and they do seem to be everywhere), or it might just be two or three. There’s definitely a girl Muslim (clad in a veil), and I think there’s a sort of Dick Dastardly Muslim doing most of the plotting, and a slightly detached sidekick Muslim always ready to snigger when the Dick Dastardly Muslim’s home-made bombs blow up in his face.

At any rate, the Muslims hate our western pattiserie. This must have started out as jealousy. The Qu’ran having banned all sweet baked goods, the Muslims envy our croissants, stare green-eyed at our macaroons, and this has led to their developing a terrible, black hate for every pastry, every cupcake, every turnover, every pie they see. They want to snatch them from our open, honest western mouths while they’re still fresh out of the oven, throw them to the ground, and see them turned to crumbs beneath their feet!

Thus, the plot: the Muslims are working to take over our baking institutions, which they will do in two distinct stages. First, Charlie Hebdo claims, the Muslims will take over our baking at an elite level, in the context of the university. The magazine points to the example of Tariq Ramadan, who they describe as a “professor of pies who is also a pie-maker”, currently a guest lecturer at Sciences-Po. In his work Ramadan, a Muslim, addresses the issue of pastry in secular western democracies, given its particular religious connotations; he thinks that European public discourse needs to do more to promote savoury pies in order to help a growing Muslim population assimilate. On paper there is nothing, Charlie Hebdo admits, ‘wrong with this’. Ramadan has a particular view informed by his religious convictions, and he is working, quite peacefully to promote it. What Charlie Hebdo is more concerned about is what they perceive as the knock-on effect of Ramadan’s being given a public platform. Over time, Muslim pie-scholars like Ramadan will create an intellectual space in which it becomes impossible to speak up for sweet pastry over the savoury, lest one be seen as ‘Islamophobic’. Croissants, brioche will become un-PC, and all we will be left with is meat pies and brown bread.

Having thus taken control of our discourse around baking, the Muslims will then descend upon our bakeries themselves. As old white bakers die or retire (possibly in mysterious, unsolved circumstances), Muslim bakers will emerge to replace them. Suspiciously pious, these bakers will refuse to bake anything un-Islamic. Suddenly, all sweet patisserie will be unavailable. And not just that, either: you won’t even be able to get the savoury pastries which contain ingredients prohibited in Islam either! No more bacon sandwiches for you, no more pork pies. But of course, Charlie Hebdo says, the PC left won’t mind, because there are still plenty of options available: you can still have beef in your pie, you can still have chicken, you can still have fish.

Which brings us on to the other participant in this conspiracy. Because aside from the Muslims, the other key perpetrator here is of course you. All of you, hapless, PC white secular folk, who refuse to speak out for your culture against the Islamic peril! Who are playing right into their hands! Charlie Hebdo wants to wake you to race-consciousness. Stop being so afraid of being labelled a racist, just because you want a croissant, or a bacon bun! Stop being so afraid of being labeled Islamophobic, just because you tear Muslim womens’ veils off their faces while they are out with their children! Stop letting your white guilt prevent you from refusing to give that swarthy-looking fellow with the bomb belt directions to the bus station!

The consequences, if we don’t all start acting like swaggering Rod Liddle arseholes, will be dire. Having assumed control of our bakeries and baked goods, the Muslims will be able to launch the most terrible terrorist attack in the history of the world. On a certain day, giant birthday cakes will be delivered to every major transport hub in western Europe: every airport, every railway terminal, every busy metro stop. Unable to resist the lure of the beautifully-decorated cake, oozing with sugar and cream, whoever is in charge that day will place the cake in whatever the busiest, most central, most prominent area of their station happens to be. And then, just as everyone is gathered round singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to no-one in particular (I don’t know, maybe the person in charge will lie and say it is their birthday, so enamored are they by the cake), all the terrorists will burst out of the cakes and mow everyone down with AK-47s, before detonating their suicide bombs.

Admittedly, I’ve somewhat exaggerated the emphasis that Charlie Hebdo places on baking in relation to the Islamic terror threat. But baking and baked goods continually recur in that editorial as an image, and I think this is illuminating.

The causes of the recent attacks in Brussels and Paris are of course terrifyingly complex – and any possible solution that might be worked out, still more so. In order to find one, we’re going to need to ask some deep existential questions about who we are as a society, and almost certainly we’re going to have to do some things that we don’t like. In short: we might have to stop eating the sweet thing. If we keep on doing so, it’s going to make us throw up. I’m sorry but mummy knows that’s what’s going to happen darling.

The liberal right, exemplified by Charlie Hebdo, can’t countenance this. They want to keep on eating the sweet pastry. Of course, Charlie Hebdo have been victims themselves, so perhaps in their case this mentality is understandable – although that doesn’t make their cartoons any less racist, or their editorial line any less dangerous. It can’t possibly, the line of argument they pursue goes, be our fault. Western, liberal, secular society – despite what those PC academics say, it’s the best in the world. No: it’s clear, that for the liberal right, what’s happening here is that Islam, as a religion, is evil; and so anyone who subscribes to its tenets must be evil too. Thus, Islam has no place in western society. It’s not the sweet thing. Actually the problem is them plotting to take the sweet thing away from us. They’re threatening our way of life! Don’t give in! Start a war, get police to arrest small children at their schools, throw bacon at your local mosque…

Charlie Hebdo’s response to the Brussels attack isn’t just fascist, it’s also incredibly infantile. Although maybe those are just two sides of the same coin.

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President Lisa

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One day – this much we know – Lisa Simpson will be president. Of course, it is Simpsons canon that her reign comes right after Trump’s, so maybe this moment will be eight years from now. But on the other hand, who even knows how long Donald Trump will hang on for? When Trump becomes president, will he scrap term limits? After he builds that wall, will he, like that other great wall-builder the First Emperor Qin, spend all of his time consumed in his quest for the secret to eternal life? And with modern science, who knows how successful he will be?

One thing, I think, is clear: whenever Lisa Simpson becomes president, it will be too late. Lisa Simpson started out as a bright, sensitive little girl but as The Simpsons has dragged on and on she has become something other than that: Lisa Simpson has become something rather closer to God. There is no topic under the sun, no political or religious controversy or anything like that, to which Lisa Simpson does not have all the answers. Though born of the rank, giddy idiocy of her father, Lisa is the pure light of reason – the Donny Do, to Homer’s Donny Don’t. The hope of President Lisa is therefore a Messianic hope: the hope that reason itself will one day sweep down from heaven and illuminate the Dionysian irrationalism of American public discourse, kill all the monsters and win over all the swing voters. The hope that we would finally have a president who would do what we already know is right for everyone, who would sort out the schools, and reform the healthcare system properly, close Guantanamo, and stop all the drone strikes, and pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices, and everyone will thank her for it, and Fox News will close and we will never have a bad president again.

But the Messiah always comes too late. In truth Lisa Simpson does not have all the answers – she only seems like she does, because she’s the mouthpiece for the views of her creators. The real life Lisa Simpson would be like that little girl who appeared on Andrew Neill recently, telling him that since he doesn’t support the sugar tax, maybe he wasn’t educated properly enough in health and well-being. She’s exactly right, she’s completely internalised all the values she’s ever been lectured on, and she’s got all the relevant stats about seat-belts in front of her. But she’s also horribly, deeply wrong. She’s got all the rules, but none of the understanding. She can’t think critically about how they might ever be applied in real life – because she’s eight, of course she can’t do this, she’ll have to have lived in the world for a bit longer first.

President Lisa, of course, will not be eight; she will be thirty-eight (this is what we’re told in the show). Perhaps, we can imagine, by the time little Lisa Simpson has progressed from the second grade, to Harvard, to whatever position she is supposed to have held prior to becoming president, she will have gained a depth of wisdom to supplement her know-it-allness. But still her presidency will come too late. She’ll have all the answers… but what are answers? Responses to questions which have been ossified as facts: responses to questions which someone asked a long time ago, which hang around as ‘knowledge’. And that’s the crucial problem, really. Leadership isn’t about possessing all the answers and acting on them accordingly, it isn’t about making reality conform to some schema you’ve drawn up in advance. It’s about thinking on and through uncertainty.

This is why the Messiah always comes too late: the Messiah brings with them the divine law of God, the absolute and final canon of correct ideas. But where was this canon when we were struggling, suffering, living? And besides which, now you’ve got here, everything has changed: this law doesn’t apply anymore, this one is something no one has thought acceptable for decades. The Messiah can get lost! In truth human thought does not need a canon of absolute, unchanging correctness: indeed we probably don’t need to know anything at all, or at least not in the overdemanding, philosophical sense of ‘knowledge’. Rather, all we need is to be able to reflect on the things we don’t know (or that we believe we don’t know, that we are unsure about). This is what human problem-solving capacities are all about.

So what’s the lesson? President Lisa is a mirage. The best president won’t be the Simpsons character who knows everything; it will be the Simpsons character who knows nothing, but is nevertheless capable of recognising their idiocy and reflecting on it. I’m ready for Donny Don’t in 2016.

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Adorno’s Lesson

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“… if you were to press me to follow the example of the Ancients and make a list of the cardinal virtues, I would probably respond cryptically by saying that I could think of nothing except for modesty. Or to put it another way, we must have a conscience, but may not insist on our own conscience.” – Theodor Adorno, Problems of Moral Philosophy lecture 17 (Adorno 2001, p. 170).

The quote given above is I think the key take-home point that Adorno wants to establish in his 1963 lectures on moral philosophy: he spends these lectures engaged in the ruthless critique of moral philosophy (especially Kantian moral philosophy) in order to tell us, in the final lecture, that we are not really, under presently-existing conditions, formed in such a way that we can, in truth, tell the difference between right and wrong.

This is a lesson that, I think, would be borne out from the ethical experience of most intelligent, reflective individuals. We are constantly, the vast majority of us, attempting to act in such a way as to make the world a better place. But for all our good intentions, we frequently end up, inadvertently, making it worse. This is a problem that seemingly infects all of our action, both individual and collective. Even the most mundane consumer decision – one’s choice of coffee, for example, or the server hosting your blog – might end up making one complicit in corporate greed, oppressive labour practices, and environmental devastation.

Regardless of how much everyone would like everything to turn out for the better, things just seem to get worse and worse; we are the powerless pawns of history, our actions controlled according to the laws of a game the point of which is utterly beyond us, the rules of which we can never hope to understand. Yesterday’s attacks in Paris are the sort of event that really brought this sort of feeling home. Just in that word, ‘Paris’, you must know the sort of horror I am talking about here.

Under such conditions, the temptation can be to assert one’s old certainties over the dangerously new, uncertain scenario that one is faced with. And this is a temptation that, it seems, in the wake of the attacks, social media immediately succumbed to. For atheists, this was an attack that showed how dangerous religion was; for racists, this was an attack which showed how dangerous refugees are; for sarcastic left-twitter Brits, this was an attack the response to which showed how fucking stupid British journalists are (and so on and so forth).

The thing is, I can understand this response. I can even sort-of understand the response of our governments, who have responded (and will continue to respond) by ramping up ‘security measures’, designed to contain the terrorist threat. The events in Paris are fucking terrifying, and part of their horror, at least for western people, is precisely that they are so close to home: I’m sure I’m not the only person who would rather avoid major population centres for the near future. This might have been London which got attacked, it might have been Berlin. When we’re terrified, we want something secure, and safe, that we can hold on to: we want the rock that will keep the tigers away; we want to already have, within our grasp, the knowledge that can look the threat in the eye and show everyone the way, finally, of alleviating it. Ban religion! Ban immigrants! The bad men will go away.

But at least part of Adorno’s lesson – and I would not say I fully understand his moral philosophy, I’m not sure anyone does – but at least part of the lesson is, I think, that can’t really have this sort of knowledge; at the very least we can’t already have the knowledge of what is causing the bad thing to happen and who is, ultimately, responsible. An event like Paris is troubling and new – and in its troubling newness, it distorts our old certainties: it throws them into flux. If we do not recognise this fact, and just stick with some now (thanks to the event!) outmoded explanation for it, we will precisely fail to understand the threat, and our actions will only serve to perpetuate the conditions within which it emerged.

This is, I think, where modesty – as an intellectual virtue – can come into play: the ‘modest’ observer of historical events will be able to be receptive to them in their historical specificity; they will not cling fast to old certainties but will be able to discard them when necessary. In short, the modest observer is perhaps someone who is able to form a hot take on the events, but they will not insist on their hot take. If their take does not match up to the facts, they will abandon it. In putting forward their perspective in a modest and open way, the modest observer will afford us new avenues of understanding: ones which will help us to respond, in solemnity and compassion, to the horror that we are exposed to. If we are successful in doing this – although of course it is a horribly difficult tightrope-trick to manage (and just look at how often Adorno, who is incredibly self-assured as a writer, fails in doing this) – perhaps there really does lie the hope of our building a better world, together.

Or perhaps I’m just as awful as everyone else too, because I’m trying to articulate a perspective on these events through someone I’ve just done a PhD on, so obviously this is just some old certainty that I’m clinging to in order to compensate for the fact that I know nothing about anything at all.

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A Note On The Cereal Cafe Getting Attacked

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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:

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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

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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’

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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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