Friday, 21 November 2014

Emily Thornberry's Heart of Darkness

A lot of dumbass things have happened in British politics over the years, but yesterday was a new low. Literally the most dumbassest fucking thing that has ever happened. Some mid table labour mp tweeted a picture of some flags and a white van, and everyone went mentile. We've seen it all before, but not in the places you might expect. The phrase that kept springing to mind was 'political correctness gone mad'. A rich white person behaving slightly inappropriately. Hypersensitivity towards an underprivileged group. Fauxtrage from political opponents who will return to not giving a stuff about the 'victims' as soon as they get their scalp. Sure, this time it's a woman on the left getting the stick, but when her team succeeded in making cultural insensitivity the worst crime going, it seems churlish to complain when it's thrown back at them. This is identity politics, but not quite as we know it.

Emily Thornberry's trip into the dark heart of working class Britain is as orientalist as hell. Swanning off to the far east, dripping in her own white liberal saviour complex, tweeting pictures of the natives and their strange customs to show to the folks back home. If left to her own devices she'd be taking facebook cover photos with smiling kids in knock-off football shirts. Noble savages, they have so little, but still keep so much dignity. It sounds stupid, and it is, it's incredibly stupid, but no more so than any other analysis along those lines.

As 21st century neoliberalism and assortive mating further widen the gap between the vaisyas and the brahmins, they come to seem less like different classes, or even castes, and more like ethnic groups. The left has abandoned a politics based on class in favour of a less challenging one based on identity, and so the cishetwhiteman in the van is left with no option but to play the same game. Politics is about who you are, not what you think, and he can only be who he is. This is where ukip comes in, moving into the gap in the market, a totally separate white working class ethnic group, and a party that isn't /openly/ contemptuous of them. Nobody ever said identity politics had to be hand-hold-y rainbow coalitions and teaching the world to sing. We've seen the exact same thing in the US, with the democrat coalition of college educated whites and minority groups facing off against the rednecks, the tea partiers, the ukip types. The eternal culturekampf just got a bit more vicious.

And, as the white working class embraces the identity politics, they do as the Romans. Protected minority status is theirs, any outsiders mocking them will be dealt with harshly. It doesn't convey any other benefits, sadly, I guess they can set up a tumblr if they want. It doesn't even matter much if my analysis here is correct, all that matters is that the clerisy shares it. This whole thing is high priest Ed Miliband's worst nightmare, and by forcing her out he proved it. By lying bare the ethnic divide at the heart of the Labour Party, Emily Thornberry has forced the left to come face to face with a monster of their own creation.

Update: Aftermath. I'm a little late on this, but it's probably worth finishing the story. Thornberry, when presented with the fauxtrage her comments provoked took route one on the left, and fled to her own form of identity politics. This is normally a pretty good idea. Don't give ground. Don't pay the danegeld. Never, ever ever ever ever give up. But, while accusing critics of being prejudiced against Islington might have seemed clever at the time, it just came across as pathetic. She sounded like a dumb men's rights activist faced with feminist criticism. Should have played the sexist card instead, it wasn't totally unwarranted. Miliband ended up sacking her, and then entered a weird state of Stockholm Syndrome. Held hostage by a bizarre outgroup he didn't understand (his own voters), he started talking about how much he respected the white van people and their proud traditional culture, untouched by the outside world.  

Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved White Van Man.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Should The Government Slaughter All First Born Sons? Yes □ No □

Last night CNN sensationally mistyped a number 4 as a number 5. Social media went wild, the markets panicked, and David Cameron hastily committed to a messy shake up of the entire British constitution, with neither time, nor any idea of how, to achieve it. CNN later corrected their mistake, and Alex Salmond, who clearly missed the day at shameless political hack school where they teach you about expectation management, had to resign.

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the turnout was great. 84% of Scots had nothing better to do yesterday. Even the kids got involved, 16 and 17 years olds voted with 'impressive maturity'. Observers noted a total lack of skateboarding in the polling booth or backchat to the returning officer, and hardly had to clean up any discarded loom bands afterwards. What hoi polloi really need, say the usual suspects, is a vote on issues that matter.

Nobody seems to have developed this into a whole idea, since following your own train of thoughts to the end is difficult, but what are the implications for democracy? Since high turnout is a self evident good thing, for reasons we shouldn't question, perhaps this is exactly what we need more of. An annual stream of massive, simple, binary questions posed to the electorate to keep them at the appropriate level of political fervour.

Today was the day of the government's referendum on renaming all towns 'Geoff'. Turnout was an all time high of 92%, though some voters chose a principled abstention, claiming there were extremists on both sides and urging all parties to get around the negotiating table and find a middle way.

The real heroes in all of this are the non voters. Facing a question so big and stupid even Russell Brand couldn't resist picking a team, they nobly kept to their guns. If democracy is a gigantic stab at wisdom of the crowds, they realised they have no wisdom to contribute, and didn't add noise into the system for the cheap thrill of 'doing your civic duty'. 16% of the Scottish electorate were selfless enough to realise they know nothing about how to solve major political problems, and to stick to having stupid opinions about their own lives rather than inflict them on everyone else.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review: Lewis Schaffer - Success is Not An Option

What would happen if HP Lovecraft did an Edinburgh Fringe show? In a couple of years the University of Kettering comedy society will present their attempt at an answer - 'Krazy Kthulhu's Komedy Khaos'. It'll be serviceable. But to actually translate raw existential horror into an hour of stand up? What kind of sick mind could manage it?

Lewis Schaffer presents an hour long 'stand up' 'comedy' 'show'. This is the fifth gig of his I’ve seen, and it’s never the same, but also never changes. There’s little in the way of material to reuse anyway. He half-heartedly gestures at a shabby looking piece of paper, but whether there were ever any jokes written on it seems beside the point.

To advertise, to put up posters or to hand out flyers would ruin the game. The audience contains about 12 people, at least half of whom he knows and claims to dislike personally. He abandons the stage to sit among us, partly to break down barriers between audience and performer, and partly to block the exit. As we plummet downwards through the evening, the gig comes to resemble a funeral for the very idea of stand up. Schaffer plays the role of a faithless priest who always hated the bitch anyway.

The show doesn't come to an end, there's no key change for a big finale, no catharsis or moment of inspiration, eventually he just releases his captives and we all move on with our lives. I’m not sure if it was funny, I’m not sure if it was clever, and I’m not sure if I enjoyed it, but Lewis Schaffer is one of the few truly essential experiences on the Fringe. A living piece of performance art, a walking meditation on failure, a warning to every poor young thing with dreams of a slot on Comedy Roadshow. The fetid picture in the attic of comedy.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Uncontrolled Mass Something Or Other

Mass immigration is destroying areas of our inner cities, forcing out those who are born and bred there. They make little effort to integrate, hanging around in their own bars, menacing people on street corners. They’re filthy, pissing and vomiting all over our streets Indigenous young people are left with few opportunities, left dislocated from their communities by multiculturalism. It seems as if even local government is on their side, giving money to their strange cultural projects rather than our own young people. We barely recognise our own home town any more.

How do we deal with white people moving back into London? This is the question posed by Pauline Pearce. I don’t think she’s a racist, she’s raising reasonable concerns about the impact of uncontrolled internal migration, contributing to that open and honest debate we're constantly told we need to have. It is hard to work out what could be done, given the commitment to free movement throughout the United Kingdom currency area. It should be relatively simple, when an area improves, house prices go up, and people can move if they want to, making a shitload of money in the process. When most of the residents don’t own property, however, the merciless logic of gentrification becomes a bit tricker to deal with. If your incentives are this badly misaligned, why not break a few windows?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Vegetarians, Dwarfism and Cognitive Neuropsychopolitics

This post might be rambly, might also be split up into multiple sections. I wanted to call it ‘meditations on’ the above, since that would seem to turn this into a positive with little effort on my part, but I’m not sure I can quite get away with that yet. Give it time. General thanks to Ellie (@elliesharman) for giving me the idea and helping out a bit with the arguments.

Disclaimer 1- a lot of the things I’m writing here are speculative, some of it has evidence behind it, some of it doesn’t. I’ll try to make it clear where this is the case. Don’t interpret anything I write as serious medical advice.

Disclaimer 2- I am on board with most progressive orthodoxies on gender. Please don’t hurt me.

I Introduction

I’ve in the past been very wary of applying psychology to politics. Almost every time I’ve seen anyone else do it, it’s been as an attempt to pathologise opponents. “Look, we put an old person in an fMRI machine. Her brain lights up slightly differently to yours and mine, and she’s a racist!”. There must, however, be some lessons to be learned in this area. Our political views are informed by certain base values, and these values aren’t formed in a dualist vacuum. What goes on in the mind goes on in the brain, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to study values using these methods, they’re a product of genetics and environment just like everything else1.

The idea that mental health is a spectrum and that ‘disorders’ represent extremes of normal functioning is one that I think has some merit. It seems, therefore, that we should be able to learn about variation in cognitive function by looking at the extremes and extrapolating backwards. My biggest reservation here is the risk of flipping things, to say everyone is mentally ill risks excessive medicalisation, but this has little to do with the truth of how the mind works. I’m going to provide a little background on two big areas, bear with it if you know all this, it’s going somewhere I think.

II Autism and Empathy

Simon Baron Cohen seems now intent on reducing it to a meaningless political buzzword, but empathy is a very useful concept. We use the word to describe two things that are actually rather different, one cognitive and the other affective. The former refers to the ability to model the mental states of other people, a mind reading if you will, and is reduced in autistic people. The latter is the ability to give an appropriate emotional response, and is reduced in psychopaths. An autistic person may not understand why a child is crying, but nevertheless be upset by it. A psychopath knows exactly why the child is crying, they just don’t give a shit.

Both types of empathy, it is pretty safe to say, are present in differing levels in different people. This isn’t random though. The biggest trend is a disparity in gender, with males displaying generally lower levels than females2. There’s probably other good correlations out there, but so many confounds it’s difficult to say. It may be, however, that while autistic traits, like empathy levels, are normally distributed throughout the population, this is not the same thing as autism. Were this the case, to call autism an extreme form of male brain function would be a category error analogous to calling achondroplasia an extreme form of female height. This would call into question the spectrum model, but is not immediately relevant to this discussion.

III Schizophrenia and Agency

Schizophrenia is another area where it’s becoming fashionable to envisage a spectrum. If anything, it’s even more complicated than autism, with even more systems involved, and likely a lot of map-territory confusion due to the nature of our language3. One common thread, however, seem to involve the ideas of agency attribution and control. These relate to our ideas about free will. If our sense of agency over ourselves is disturbed, we may experience delusions whereby we believe our actions are controlled from elsewhere, similar to alien and anarchic hand syndromes. If we are over-attributing agency to others, we may start to become paranoid, assuming hidden motives behind even the smallest and most innocuous glances. It seems to me this might also relate to morality. If we assign agency and control to something, we are in some ways seeing it as a conscious moral agent. Is calling something a conscious agent the same as giving it moral status, and as such believing we should consider its welfare?

The difference I’m drawing here, between agency assignment and empathy, is subtle, and may not exist in reality. There are even slightly out-there attempts to combine the two into one all encompassing theory of mental illness, backed up with evolutionary psychology for fun. The best analogy I can think of to explain it is to imagine a fire hose. If empathy is the water pressure, agency assignment is the spread of the nozzle4. They both relate to the broader idea of theory of mind, the way in which we model the inner lives of others. A functioning theory theory of mind may be the area of a multidimensional spectrum that most people fall into.

IV Vegetarianism

So, let’s take a bit of a case study5. Veg*ism may not necessarily be a political position, but it seems an interesting one to consider. If consciousness itself is a spectrum, which seems likely to me, rising from the lowest possible life form up through humans to superintelligent utility monsters and above, we really have to put a limit on what we care about. This may be a hard limit (only humans and really cool looking chimps count), or a gradual tail off (mammals are very important, insects aren’t, fish are somewhere in between).
Many people put their veg*ism down to empathy with animals, and this certainly plays a large part. If men are on the whole less empathetic, this would explain the difference. While Peta’s claims that eating meat causes autism is totally bunk, it’s possible that it works in reverse, people with more autistic traits are less likely to care about animal welfare. The more empathetic you are, the more likely it is to spill over beyond the realm of humans and down through ever less intelligent life forms. This may go some way to explaining the substantial gender disparity among vegetarians6.

Empathy alone doesn’t seem to be the whole story though, we can empathise with fictional character experiencing extreme suffering, but since we don’t assign them moral status in the same way, we don’t see that any wrong has occurred in the real world. To go even further, a sympathetic video game character can elicit empathy from players, but few people would think a moral wrong has occurred were they to ‘die’7

An alternative explanation, which as far as I’m aware is my own, is that of agency assignment. While someone may well display a large amount of empathy towards humans, they may simply not care about animals if they don’t assign them any moral agency. This would seem to line up with the above on paranoia in schizophrenia. This isn’t to say veg*an diets somehow cause the problems, or that veg*ism is a symptom of mental illness, but that people who more readily assign agency and motives could be more likely to embrace veg*ism and more susceptible to these issues.

V Libertarianism

This doesn’t completely follow from the rest, but it has some of the same themes, and doesn’t warrant its own post, so think of it as an epilogue or a coda or some other fancy word.

I’m not a liberal/tarian8, but I orbit some of the same celestial bodies. While it doesn't immediately seem a natural bedfellow with veg*ism, there are people out there who think it fits, and want to create some sort of synthesis. The above would suggest it’s unlikely, on the face of it libertarians don’t fit the profile of excessively empathetic, in my experience a good proportion are total dicks, and though they may be susceptible to arguments about free will and moral status, there’s no real reason to expect them to assign it more readily than the average person. If anything, libertarians skew completely the other way, red meat, self reliance, and interest in paleo diets all follow the philosophy around.

I think a pretty good proportion of libertarians are libertarians because they're instinctive contrarians, they enjoy status games and esoteric arguments. You therefore need to present things as out there, and give them arguments they've never heard before, even if they're not yours. You also need to distance both yourself and them from stereotypical veg*ans, go in for a bit of hippy punching over their crazy environmentalism or something. Essentially, if eating meat is the norm, and standard vegetarianism is the first contrarian position, most libertarians will think of themselves one level above that, that vegetarians are naive little girls. You need to take it even past that level, to assure them that they can be above their peers without being mistaken for one of ‘those’ vegetarians.

The nearest I’ve found to is is broadly the arguments laid out in essays here, especially the parts on wild animal suffering and environmentalism9. It ticks all the boxes, hippy punching, esoteric and a refreshing lack of design. The focus on data is also worthwhile, since I imagine a good proportion of libertarians are pretty high systemisers.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Electric Shocks and The Fetishisation of Nothingness

When I was a kid one of my favourite toys at my grandparent's house was an antique electric shock machine. You had to hold the handles while someone cranks the other wheel, at which point you'd be electrocuted. This was great fun, I could test my own pain thresholds, goad other relatives into trying it, and try to work out how it worked. 

A study published yesterday tested this hypothesis, that anyone left alone in a room with an electric shock machine long enough will play with it. Turns out most don't, 24 out of 42 subjects didn't press the button at all during the 15 minute test period (after all experiencing one initial shock). Were I being cynical I'd say the authors then split their data by gender looking for headlines to justify the effort, which seems to have worked. Men, when left in a room for long enough with a big button and an electric shock machine, are a bit more likely than women to press it. On average they press it once or twice, though one guy (who was presumably trying/succeeding to break the equipment) did it 190 times.* AREN'T MEN DAFT.

The authors also tested how much people enjoyed dragging themselves into the psychology department and being told to sit quietly for 15 minutes. The results here don't really say very much, though we do get the magnificent line '49.3% reported enjoyment that was at or below the midpoint of the scale' as evidence people don't enjoy quiet contemplation. In other words- most people thought it was basically ok, probably followed by the statement 'I suppose, but I have no idea why you made me do it.' I don't really want this to turn into a 'Rory slags off papers in major journals' blog, that's far too much like hard work, so I'll move on, but if you have the time/money/access have a go yourself.

The paper came to my attention after being written up on almost every site going. Most of these write ups take all the exaggerations at face value, and add in a whole bunch of fun conventional wisdom, so much of what I'm going to slag off here isn't really the researchers fault. Unfortunately article after article presents this as proof modern society makes us stupid, technology is taking us to hell in a handcart. We all want to seem a little baffled by the present day, it sets us apart from the masses, and it's much easier to do this looking backwards than forwards. Kids today, with their minidisc players and pokemon games are so distracted by trivialities they never stop to think, they're mindless consumer automatons.** The natural conclusion of the story is some philosophy fresher will make a link with Nietzche and write something profound sounding about pain, fear and the abyss. Let me know when you find it.

There's also a curious conception of 'thinking' here, where 'thinking' is the sort of thing we do silently by ourselves with no external stimulation, or that at the very least this sort is superior to more ad hoc insights. In the absence of anything else, we're falling back onto representative heuristics of what wisdom is. Probably an old white guy reclining in a leather chair with a pipe. True thinkers are freed by their own privilege from the insufferable burden of doing anything.

I think there's a better way to think about the results. Let's divide the world into button pressers and non-pressers. The non-pressers are happy to take the word of the experimenters, sit quietly contemplating life the universe and their own navels, and not get hurt. But psychologists lie all the time, people who volunteer for experiments know this. The pressers want to test it, to see if there is anything more. Here the man who electrocuted himself 190 times becomes something of an unintentional enlightenment hero. He's not hiding from his own thoughts, he's learning.

Just very very slowly.

*At this point we usually mutter something about culture (or patriarchy, if you're that way inclined) and run away, but I'll leave that for another time.

**There are no time series, and no significant effects of age or gadget usage, but don't let that get in the way of a nice tale.

At least nursery school potato prints hold the promise their analysis of society may get more sophisticated over time.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Smug Hipster Twat’s Guide to The World Cup

A couple of weeks ago I posted my Smug Hipster Twat’s Guide to Voting. You’re all idiots and liked it much more than everything else I’ve ever written, so I’ve been trying to be much less popular since. However, my monthly blog hits counter will look nicely symmetrical if I write something just as appealing and publish it this evening, so I’m giving in to the overwhelming public demand. Now I don’t know much about football, but it seems to me supporting a team is pretty much identical to voting, you’re joining a tribe, so I should be able to get by without changing too many words. 



Option 1 - Pretend You Hate Football

Maybe you actually hate football? I don’t know, but that shouldn’t really matter, forget any actual feelings, we’re trying to get people to think we’re interesting here. Pretending to hate football is probably as old as football. Many people like it, and many of those are oiks, yobbos and vaisyas. You want to be different, and this seems the most obvious way. The problem is that yes, it is the most obvious way. It’s also essentially impossible to do without coming across as a complete snob, hating on anything enjoyed by the working classes. Why are they all kicking a ball around when there’s a social justice war going on?

Pros- Something something capitalism commercialism something sexism something something.

Cons- YAWN


Option 2 - Support Brazil

Asda right now is full of little plastic flags, about half of them are for England, and about half for Brazil. Once upon a time I was a baby contrarian and I really didn’t see the point of supporting anyone unless I could cover everything I owned in little plastic flags. If you too think like this, and can’t bring yourself to support England, this is the way to go.

Pros- You will definitely win. There is absolutely no chance of anyone but Brazil winning this tournament. Put huge bets on this now, it’s free money.

Cons- How much are they charging for little plastic flags?! It’s a bloody liberty.



Option 3 - Pretend You Haven't Noticed There's A World Cup Going On?

Oh, it had completely slipped my mind. I’ve been reading Capital in the 21st Century all week, and haven’t turned the TV on once. Also I’ve been trekking Nepal for the past couple of months. Also I don’t own a TV. Also I never worked out the rules of football anyway, but it’s really fabulous that you’re all doing something you enjoy!


Pros- If you’re not lying, it’s pretty great.

Cons- Nobody believes you.


Option 4 - Support A Really Obscure Team

A high effort strategy here. If you’re going to claim you’re a massive fan of the Hondouran national team, you really have to back it up with some serious knowledge. Around other massive football fans, this probably pays off, but I’m just not sure how many there are that care enough. There’s a very thin line between football fan and trainspotter, caring too much really isn't on.

Pros- The four months of Fifa playtime isn’t a total waste.

Cons- Yes it is.


Option 5 - Support England

Next level, we’re getting into some serious countersignalling here. The key to cool is to ensure you’re not mistaken for someone slightly below you on the social ladder. We probably don’t need to worry about being mistaken for anyone lower than that, it should be obvious. In the same way, anyone who is obviously old money can get away with dressing like a tramp, while the nouveau riche need designer suits to distinguish themselves from the masses. To apply this to football, the tedious nouveau riche we need to distinguish ourselves from are the option 1s, so full throatedly supporting ‘our lads’ may well make you seem ever cooler.

Pros- I actually sort of want an England gnome.

Cons- A dangerous game, if you’re not obviously high status enough, people might start thinking you’re some sort of racist.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

What You Eating That For, Cunt?

The only slightly overrated Douglas Adams once wrote-

'The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?'

It’s a neat idea, and one which I'm going to awkwardly shoehorn to fit my argument. That our politics is largely post 'why' is a well worn path. Nobody tries too hard to change other’s minds, or to challenge fundamental assumptions, it wouldn’t work anyway. There are few seminal thinkers left among the elite of society, everything just sort of carries on. Sure, there are slight managerial tweaks to be made, but in some sense we are past the end of history. Even this year’s supposed great challenge to the neoliberal consensus, courtesy of Thomas Pickitickity, takes place within the framework.

I’m not even sure this is a bad thing, the world is a better place than at any time in history, and is getting better every day. Capitalism outcompeted everything else in the marketplace of ideas, its monopoly may be deserved. For a good chunk of the population of the west, we know what’s on the menu, all that’s left is to find a nice restaurant.

But that gets boring fast, and boredom breeds conflict. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, you’re the apocryphal middle class ciswhitehetman in a society that provides you with anything you could ever need. There’s a billion people to talk to, but nothing important to talk about. Having climbed Maslow's pyramid, you want to be different, just like everyone else. Desperate, you stumble upon the fourth Great Question-

‘What you eating that for, cunt?’

Obviously there is no ‘why’ here, no new insight into the workings of society, nor even an attempt. What it is, is a provocation masquerading as debate, and it’s what passes for radicalism today. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to identify groups that fall into this, but I want to briefly talk about the worst.

The neoreactionary movement began about five years with a stupidly named blogger called Mencius Moldbug, and has grown at an unprecedented pace, to the point it now has several stupidly named twitter accounts and a stupidly named subreddit. Its main hallmark is a deliberately obfuscatory writing style, but once you fight through the nonsense, it’s pretty simple. Misanthropy, narcissism and contempt for anyone different. Neoreactionaries venerate IQ because they have slightly above average IQ scores. They oppose immigration because they aren’t immigrants. They loathe democracy because they don’t like other people. The paradox is that a movement that is so avowedly anti-modernity is so much a product of it. It’s UKIP for the selfie generation.

But why? What drives people to these depths? It's all signalling, iconoclasm is low cost and socially desirable. You're looking for conventional wisdom to challenge, and the obvious targets are progressive isms, feminism, anti-racism, tolerance. If you spend your entire life online you may even convince yourself they’re pervasive. Of course, challenging them in this way isn't a real political philosophy, our society has passed the point one would be relevant, it’s edginess for the sake of itself. A low rent comedian promoting your fringe show on the back of totally unchecked privilege. There’s a certain beauty to the way structure matches function here. An ideology devoted to your own superiority, written and deployed in a way to gaudily display that same superiority. Contrarianism is cool, and this is the lowest common denominator. 

And if you want to show that you’re even better than any of this? I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Field notes on the Character of the Ukip

With elections on the horizon there has been much chatter in the publishing houses of London about the rise of the Ukip. Rumours were flying that they were massing in the East, forming an army ready to threaten the Pax Europaea. Regretfully, this idle speculation over afternoon gin and tonics has not been accompanied by much practical research, so it was with this in mind, and the spirit of adventure in my heart, that I embarked from the students union at the crack of dawn on Tuesday the 20th of May, Year of our Lord 2014.

Ukips have few transport links, with only one perilous route into and out of most of their communities, but I heard there was the occasional train, so decided to chance my luck. Every carriage taking me further from civilisation was more dilapidated than the last. By the end of my journey there weren’t even phone charging sockets, never mind wifi access. I disembarked at a settlement called Skegness, a windswept place looking out over a great grey ocean.

Here I met the man who was to be my guide. A proud, moustachioed fellow, wearing pinstripes and a pocket square. It struck me how some elements of Western dress had spread even this far. The impersonation, however, is not perfect. It is as if the Ukip wishes to mimic aspects of our appearances, perhaps as a status signifier, but his view is distorted, a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. He told me his name was Roger, and it soon transpired he was some sort of community leader.

The Ukips, I learned, practice a strange form of democracy, comparable in many ways to South Pacific cargo cults. The oldest, greyest and most racist men are chosen and placed on a list. This list is then sent to far away gods they refer to as the electorate, who decide how many are to ascend to Brussels. This ascension is both an honour and a sacrifice for Ukips, in spite of the riches it offers, and Roger had done just this.

My guide informed me we were to visit a local drinking establishment, apparently the heart of their society. They encouraged me to imbibe a strange liquid, brown and lukewarm, which made me gag. In the corner stood a strange machine covered in flashing lights. Occasionally a Ukip would wander over it to it, gesticulate wildly and offer up some coins, in what I can only surmise was some sort of religious ceremony. As the night continued, I noticed some similarities between Ukips and the lads one sometimes meets on a night out. There was something more primal to the rituals though, a lack of self awareness, this is a people completely oblivious to our notions of irony.

The female Ukip is rarely seen, typically spending their days cleaning obsessively behind the fridge. Contemporary western notions of gender roles are almost absent here. At first I interpreted the society as strictly male dominated, but subtleties soon emerged. I discovered that on occasions the Ukip woman, one past child rearing age, may undergo something of a metamorphosis. They take on the exalted role of the ‘battleaxe’, a terrifying figure, looked upon by Ukip men with a strange mix of fear and sexual desire. I tried to engage several in conversation about this, but we shared so few cultural references dialogue proved impossible. Nobody had even heard of Judith Butler, though I left a few copies of Undoing Gender lying around, a token act of missionary work.

While it may seem to the untrained eye as if the Ukip is an uneducated savage, there is a certain nobility in their cultural poverty, and I learned a lot during my time with them. Before I left some Ukips even allowed me to take photos with them for my facebook profile, the memory of the innocent smiles on their faces will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Smug Hipster Twat’s Guide to Voting

Election time. Your vote is worthless. I won’t insult you by explaining why. I’ll make a quick detour to laugh at those who think we could change this, but that’s all. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote. Voting is expressive, we enjoy feeling important, even if deep down we know we're not. We also vote to show we’re members of a particular group, and so that other members of that group will like us. You’re joining a tribe, with all that entails. Obviously we could just lie, tell everyone we voted for a party, and actually just stay at home masturbating, but the guilt would probably outweigh the minor effort of bothering to go to the polls. With that in mind I present my guide to the election-

Option 1- Don’t vote. Depending on your cultural capital either makes you look very stupid, or very smart. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this puts you above anyone else though, you're still playing the game. Also, the tribe of educated non-voters is small, and mainly made up of economists and extremist weirdos, but it’s a tribe nonetheless. In many ways it’s the political equivalent of normcore. People trying too hard to look like they aren’t, and assuming their blatant privilege marks them out as different from those they’re ostensibly imitating.

Pros- You’re above the petty squabbles of the masses, and have a rudimentary understanding of maths.

Cons- Your a dick.

Option 2- Vote for a very minor party. We can split this into two sub-categories, there are ‘novelty candidates’, usually about as funny as this unnecessary rape joke, and the no hopers. Since your vote is astronomically unlikely to matter, if a small party represents a small part of your views, go for it.

Pros- I voted for the Left Market Anarchist Yorkshire Separatists. You’ve probably never heard of them.

Cons- Same as pros.

Option 3- Tactical Voting. This is by far the dumbest option of all. You simply won’t be the decider, no matter how close the election. You might be able to convince other slightly below average people you’re not slightly below average, but where’s the ambition there? Of course, the tactical voter can still tell everyone who they really support, but they’ll be viewed with suspicion, everyone loves a noble loser chasing a lost cause.

Pros- You appear pragmatic, with an even more rudimentary understanding of maths than option 1.

Option 4- Creative ballot spoiling. This would be the ideal option, if only it weren’t weirdly illegal to post selfies from the booth. Still, if you’re going to the count it might get held up, and you can annoy the candidate who kindly invited you by pointing it out.

Pros- Express yourself (you can’t be wrong).

Cons- You have to think of something much more interesting than a write in for Batman, or nobody will care.

Option 5- Wild, bizarre voting. Pick the party that least corresponds to your views, just to show other people how quirky you are. Show up the sheer absurdity of the system by ticking a box completely at random, and trying to justify it post hoc.

Pros- It’s not beyond the realms of possibility Zooey Deschanel votes like this.

Cons- Zooey Deschanel may accidentally become a neo-nazi, and no amount of irony is going to get her out of that hole.

Option 6- Vote for a major party you actually believe in. Maybe in a world of incessant post-modernism, the truly po-mo thing to do is to go mainstream? Maybe you can change them from the inside? You’ve met some of them before, shared a few drinks, a few laughs, maybe they’re not really blood sucking parasites? You met that one MP once, he seemed personable, maybe he’s different? Maybe a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world?

Pros- Choose leisurewear and matching luggage.

Cons- Choose delivering leaflets and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Capital in the 21st Century - Reclaiming the Left for Cishetwhitemen

Thomas Picketty doesn’t understand much about the 21st century. If his book cost a little less than £30 I might have paid for it, and if it lasted a little less than 700 pages I might actually have read it. I managed the first few chapters, skimmed the next few then skipped to the policy recommendations before going back to play racist grindr 2048. Despite this, I’m pretty sure most other people with an Opinion haven’t read it either though, so I’m on relatively safe ground. In summary - I’ve no idea if anything in this book is true, it’s long, expensive and boring, and what it has to say has been said elsewhere countless times since. Review over.

BUT it’s already the most influential single piece of left wing literature of the decade, maybe the century. The reason relates as much to tone as to content. Pikety is calm and rational throughout, almost dispassionate. He’s putting a case forward, but doesn’t hector the reader, or attempt to blame them. This is marxism for the managerial generation, the solutionists who think themselves above petty ideology. It doesn’t matter what the numbers and the graphs are saying, the fact that they’re there at all allows those of a wonkish disposition to open their minds to far left ideas. The reader isn’t encouraged to empathise with the victims of rising inequality per se, but to see it as a problem they can solve, provided they’re clever enough.

For a book from the left to focus so resolutely on economics is unusual in recent years. Since the demise of the USSR and the ‘triumph’ of ‘neoliberalism’, the ground has been almost completely surrendered. Even post financial crash and austerity politics, everything is viewed through a social prism. At worst this can become self obsessed and nihilistic but at best it focuses attention on the lived experience of the worst off, building from the bottom up. Picketttty, on the other hand, has no intention of radicalising the masses, the whole argument is aiming from the top down. There are plenty of soft liberals out there writing on finance, but marketing serious expansions of state power in the same way is revolutionary. It’s left wing thought devoid of identity politics, privilege checking and post modernism, and that’s why it’s succeeding. Though it seems pretty unlikely Pikcettey’s recommendations will happen any time soon, he may have shifted the Overton window of the political classes. If so, the long term impact could be massive.