Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Non-Linear Borefare

This won't be very long, or good, but it's an attempt to say something rather than nothing in the face of a nagging sense, which is seemingly not exclusively mine, that much of what is happening around the Labour Party at the moment grinds one down to infuriated silence. In fact, what I want to talk about here are the strategies for producing that inability to speak, that incapacitation.

Perhaps, though, 'strategy' is to some extent a misnomer. It's even possible that 'part' of the 'strategy' is to draw attempts to name it as such, attempts which can then be dismissed as egregious conspiracy theorising. The Corbynistas dreaming up conspiracies behind their laptops; the hard left caught in the ecstasy of their paranoia; the Trots twitching about the CIA. Prefabbed tropes perhaps, and we can recognise them as such when they're framed as starkly as this, but there's a form of truth there - the expectation of some kind of simple, yet obscure, causality which would produce a tidy explanation is naive in several ways. Ideology wants nothing less than for you to go looking for the individuals pulling the strings.

Instead, the dispersal of causality, or even its disintegration, characterises our particular phase of late modernity. Think of Adam Curtis' metaparanoiac discussion of Vladislav Surkov's 'non-linear warfare', which 'import(s) ideas from conceptual art into politics'. Now, whether you think Curtis is an inspired, if unconventional, cultural and political thinker, or a better-paid version of the worst stoner you ever met at university - and the truth is probably a mixture of 'both' and 'somewhere in between' - this notion of non-linearity, of a politics-by-other-means-by-other-means which disarms its opponents through depriving them of reliable concepts with which to respond, seems useful to me. (I think here also of Sianne Ngai's brilliant writing on modern conceptual art's deployment of minor affects - stupidity, envy, irritation - to frustrate our capacity to respond aesthetically or experience interpretative catharsis. What Ngai identifies as the 'stuplime' in Stein, Beckett and various points since is perhaps the foremost political affect of the 2010s.)

Now, there's obviously some distance between Putin's deck of techniques - stretching the concept of plausible deniability into psychedelic territory, creating situations (i.e. the murder of Alexander Litvinenko) which make diplomatic response more or less impossible - and those possessed by the chancers who make up the PLP rebellion and who fill the column inches in the nominally 'left' media. Nevertheless, we're often talking about people who have bathed in the reflected glow of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson - or, indeed, actually are Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson - and it seems reasonable to assume that they've realised that because traditional spin no longer really washes, because everyone thinks everything is spin anyway, a new and more complex PR is required. Now, the aim is seemingly not to lie successfully, but to lie with such monumental transparency and such flamboyant non-conviction that the reality of those you oppose starts to unravel. Why, one wonders, hearing yet another political columnist insist that Jeremy Corbyn's diet, and his followers' alleged diets, renders him and them unsuitable for government, would anybody think this is true? 

These are rhetorics not of deceit but of cumulative irritation. Twitter gives us Corbyn supporters as 'Momentum millionaires' (I personally feel lucky just to be able to pay twenty five quid to vote in the leadership election), a constant denial that Corbyn's supporters live anywhere but Islington or Brighton (fair cop there in this case, but clearly ridiculous more generally), the soft anti-Corbyn concern-trolling of the 'unelectable' sort, pantomimic outrage at John McDonnell swearing, various celebrities talking over our heads, albeit very and arguably unnecessarily visibly, about how the 'hard left' are 'out of touch with real working-class people'. Take those for a small-plate version of what's going on. For the main course, you could look at the systematic efforts to construct an image of Corbyn's support as misogynistic or anti-semitic, or - most did-they-really-do-that of all - the erasure of the political specifics of the horrible, horrible murder of Jo Cox in an incredibly spurious show of being frightened by 'Momentum thugs'.

There's probably plenty to be added here but all I really want to suggest is that this strikes me as a very wilful performance of stupidity which is expedient politically in the same way that Boris Johnson's (sorry) 'buffoonery' used to be. It riles, but also implicitly suggests that it is unanswerable, producing a feeling either of complete demotivation (what's the point in saying anything back to this?) or inchoate fury. We're caught in the trap of not knowing who believes what they say, of being unclear just how much this is an attempt to grind gears, and it's consequently difficult to frame a useful and coherent response. Regardless, this is a sophisticated act of reality management which (probably) lacks obvious evil geniuses: there is something weirdly organic about the growth of this form of verbal attrition.        


  1. Very interesting, thanks for that!

  2. Good post Joe, sums up a lot of how I've felt when listening to 'Smithyites' since the attempted coup - utterly downtrodden and speechless. Unsure how best to counteract it.

  3. Good. I'd add something else to the Jo Cox case, something that opens it out a bit: in their desperation to smear Momentum, Corbyn et al as anti-semites (see the risible Ruth Smeeth video) the PLP and pals took their eye off the ball re the growth of Right populism and attendant racism with tragic results. Indeed, I'd go as far as arguing that the Blue Labour wing has encouraged intolerance.

    I'm sure you've seen this, but it's useful: