Exiting the Vampire Castle

Lambert here: This classic post from 2013 retains its relevance today; somer readers may have been unlucky enough to recognize the dynamics on this side of the Atlantic. (Also, I mistook the structure of the Fourth of July. I wrote a Water Cooler on Friday, which was actually a holiday; so I will take today off instead. Water Cooler will return tomorrow.)

By Mark Fisher, who was the author of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009), The Weird and the Eerie (2017), and contributed to publications such as The Wire, Fact, New Statesman and Sight & Sound. He was also the co-founder of Zero Books, and later Repeater Books. He was Programme Leader of the MA in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London and a lecturer at the University of East London. Reposted from Open Democracy. Originally published November 24, 2013.

We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.

This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing.

‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.

The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality?

One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

Then there was Russell Brand. I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.

The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e. nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralisers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon.

The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes. Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humour was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism’. Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralising left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.

The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralising left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Cut and dried, finished, condemned.

It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”

Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the PoshLeft moralisers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.

Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public.

But, once class had re-appeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’.

Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook. I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand]‘, it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronising faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the auto-didact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.

Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. They call themselves left wing, but – as the Brand episode has made clear – they are in many ways a sign that the left – defined as an agent in a class struggle – has all but disappeared.

Inside the Vampires’ Castle

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements. The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have ‘identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other.

The privilege I certainly enjoy as a white male consists in part in my not being aware of my ethnicity and my gender, and it is a sobering and revelatory experience to occasionally be made aware of these blind-spots. But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group.

I’ve noticed a fascinating magical inversion projection-disavowal mechanism whereby the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, as the Vampires’ Castle uses an ultimately liberal understanding of race and gender to obfuscate class. In all of the absurd and traumatic twitterstorms about privilege earlier this year it was noticeable that the discussion of class privilege was entirely absent. The task, as ever, remains the articulation of class, gender and race – but the founding move of the Vampires’ Castle is the dis-articulation of class from other categories.

The problem that the Vampires’ Castle was set up to solve is this: how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim, marginal and oppositional? The solution was already there – in the Christian Church. So the VC has recourse to all the infernal strategies, dark pathologies and psychological torture instruments Christianity invented, and which Nietzsche described in The Genealogy of Morals. This priesthood of bad conscience, this nest of pious guilt-mongers, is exactly what Nietzsche predicted when he said that something worse than Christianity was already on the way. Now, here it is …

The Vampires’ Castle feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups – the more ‘marginal’ the better – into academic capital. The most lauded figures in the Vampires’ Castle are those who have spotted a new market in suffering – those who can find a group more oppressed and subjugated than any previously exploited will find themselves promoted through the ranks very quickly.

The first law of the Vampires’ Castle is: individualise and privatise everything. While in theory it claims to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour. Some of these working class types are not terribly well brought up, and can be very rude at times. Remember: condemning individuals is always more important than paying attention to impersonal structures. The actual ruling class propagates ideologies of individualism, while tending to act as a class. (Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.) The VC, as dupe-servants of the ruling class, does the opposite: it pays lip service to ‘solidarity’ and ‘collectivity’, while always acting as if the individualist categories imposed by power really hold. Because they are petit-bourgeois to the core, the members of the Vampires’ Castle are intensely competitive, but this is repressed in the passive aggressive manner typical of the bourgeoisie. What holds them together is not solidarity, but mutual fear – the fear that they will be the next one to be outed, exposed, condemned.

The second law of the Vampires’ Castle is: make thought and action appear very, very difficult. There must be no lightness, and certainly no humour. Humour isn’t serious, by definition, right? Thought is hard work, for people with posh voices and furrowed brows. Where there is confidence, introduce scepticism. Say: don’t be hasty, we have to think more deeply about this. Remember: having convictions is oppressive, and might lead to gulags.

The third law of the Vampires’ Castle is: propagate as much guilt as you can. The more guilt the better. People must feel bad: it is a sign that they understand the gravity of things. It’s OK to be class-privileged if you feel guilty about privilege and make others in a subordinate class position to you feel guilty too. You do some good works for the poor, too, right?

The fourth law of the Vampires’ Castle is: essentialize. While fluidity of identity, pluraity and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members – partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged or bourgeois-assimilationist background – the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy.

The fifth law of the Vampires’ Castle: think like a liberal (because you are one). The VC’s work of constantly stoking up reactive outrage consists of endlessly pointing out the screamingly obvious: capital behaves like capital (it’s not very nice!), repressive state apparatuses are repressive. We must protest!

Neo-anarchy in the UK

The second libidinal formation is neo-anarchism. By neo-anarchists I definitely do not mean anarchists or syndicalists involved in actual workplace organisation, such as the Solidarity Federation. I mean, rather, those who identify as anarchists but whose involvement in politics extends little beyond student protests and occupations, and commenting on Twitter. Like the denizens of the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchists usually come from a petit-bourgeois background, if not from somewhere even more class-privileged.

They are also overwhelmingly young: in their twenties or at most their early thirties, and what informs the neo-anarchist position is a narrow historical horizon. Neo-anarchists have experienced nothing but capitalist realism. By the time the neo-anarchists had come to political consciousness – and many of them have come to political consciousness remarkably recently, given the level of bullish swagger they sometimes display – the Labour Party had become a Blairite shell, implementing neo-liberalism with a small dose of social justice on the side. But the problem with neo-anarchism is that it unthinkingly reflects this historical moment rather than offering any escape from it. It forgets, or perhaps is genuinely unaware of, the Labour Party’s role in nationalising major industries and utilities or founding the National Health Service. Neo-anarchists will assert that ‘parliamentary politics never changed anything’, or the ‘Labour Party was always useless’ while attending protests about the NHS, or retweeting complaints about the dismantling of what remains of the welfare state. There’s a strange implicit rule here: it’s OK to protest against what parliament has done, but it’s not alright to enter into parliament or the mass media to attempt to engineer change from there. Mainstream media is to be disdained, but BBC Question Time is to be watched and moaned about on Twitter. Purism shades into fatalism; better not to be in any way tainted by the corruption of the mainstream, better to uselessly ‘resist’ than to risk getting your hands dirty.

It’s not surprising, then, that so many neo-anarchists come across as depressed. This depression is no doubt reinforced by the anxieties of postgraduate life, since, like the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchism has its natural home in universities, and is usually propagated by those studying for postgraduate qualifications, or those who have recently graduated from such study.

What Is to Be Done?

Why have these two configurations come to the fore? The first reason is that they have been allowed to prosper by capital because they serve its interests. Capital subdued the organised working class by decomposing class consciousness, viciously subjugating trade unions while seducing ‘hard working families’ into identifying with their own narrowly defined interests instead of the interests of the wider class; but why would capital be concerned about a ‘left’ that replaces class politics with a moralising individualism, and that, far from building solidarity, spreads fear and insecurity?

The second reason is what Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. It might have been possible to ignore the Vampires’ Castle and the neo-anarchists if it weren’t for capitalist cyberspace. The VC’s pious moralising has been a feature of a certain ‘left’ for many years – but, if one wasn’t a member of this particular church, its sermons could be avoided. Social media means that this is no longer the case, and there is little protection from the psychic pathologies propagated by these discourses.

So what can we do now? First of all, it is imperative to reject identitarianism, and to recognise that there are no identities, only desires, interests and identifications. Part of the importance of the British Cultural Studies project – as revealed so powerfully and so movingly in John Akomfrah’s installation The Unfinished Conversation (currently in Tate Britain) and his film The Stuart Hall Project – was to have resisted identitarian essentialism. Instead of freezing people into chains of already-existing equivalences, the point was to treat any articulation as provisional and plastic. New articulations can always be created. No-one is essentially anything. Sadly, the right act on this insight more effectively than the left does. The bourgeois-identitarian left knows how to propagate guilt and conduct a witch hunt, but it doesn’t know how to make converts. But that, after all, is not the point. The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too. ‘How dare you talk – it’s we who speak for those who suffer!’

But the rejection of identitarianism can only be achieved by the re-assertion of class. A left that does not have class at its core can only be a liberal pressure group. Class consciousness is always double: it involves a simultaneous knowledge of the way in which class frames and shapes all experience, and a knowledge of the particular position that we occupy in the class structure. It must be remembered that the aim of our struggle is not recognition by the bourgeoisie, nor even the destruction of the bourgeoisie itself. It is the class structure – a structure that wounds everyone, even those who materially profit from it – that must be destroyed. The interests of the working class are the interests of all; the interests of the bourgeoisie are the interests of capital, which are the interests of no-one. Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the preservation of identities shaped and distorted by capital.

If this seems like a forbidding and daunting task, it is. But we can start to engage in many prefigurative activities right now. Actually, such activities would go beyond pre-figuration – they could start a virtuous cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy in which bourgeois modes of subjectivity are dismantled and a new universality starts to build itself. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.

We need to think very strategically about how to use social media – always remembering that, despite the egalitarianism claimed for social media by capital’s libidinal engineers, that this is currently an enemy territory, dedicated to the reproduction of capital. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t occupy the terrain and start to use it for the purposes of producing class consciousness. We must break out of the ‘debate’ set up by communicative capitalism, in which capital is endlessly cajoling us to participate, and remember that we are involved in a class struggle. The goal is not to ‘be’ an activist, but to aid the working class to activate – and transform – itself. Outside the Vampires’ Castle, anything is possible.

This article was originally published in The North Star on November 22, 2013 and is reposted here with thanks to it and the author.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. juliania

    Christianity did NOT invent torture. Mankind did that. Excellent article otherwise. Apply what it talks about: the edict of not making the innocent feel guilty to actual Christianity, to practising Christians who follow Christ as well as other victims of the elite. Otherwise this article is just more of the same and is built upon a foundation of sand.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      In my reading, Fisher does not say that the Christian Church invented torture; that would be extremely ahistorical, especially if you consider crufixion a form of torture. Fisher is saying that the VC has adopted forms of torture that are peculiarly Christian.

      1. clarky90

        “……..how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim, marginal and oppositional? …………”

    2. Fritzi

      Various christian groups were certainly experts in presenting themselves as beleaguered victims of persecution despite being totally culturally and politically dominant.

      Were, because they are indeed losing much of their former power and influence these days.

    3. Adam Eran

      Guilt is obligation. Tracking obligation predates Christianity (and Judaism), it’s the foundation of money and debt. This observation is what makes David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years so profound.

  2. David

    Mark Fisher, who committed suicide couple of years ago, is seriously missed as a cultural and political critic with his head screwed on the right way round. Most of what he wrote is worth reading, but if by any chance you haven’t read Capitalist Realism, then, well, do so now.

  3. Geo

    “Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.”

    Great line that gets to the heart of it. We often try to seek active conspiracy where systemic motivators are more likely the causes.

    “There’s a strange implicit rule here: it’s OK to protest against what parliament has done, but it’s not alright to enter into parliament or the mass media to attempt to engineer change from there.”

    This is seen daily in tirades against Bernie, AOC, Omar, and other elected allies who have “sold us out”, and the sustain for Glenn Greenwald and other journalists like him who actively dismantle group think on Russia, Intel agencies, etc.

    Reminds me of a great episode from the short lived TV show hosted by Penn & Teller called “Bulls**t” where they rip into the personal flaws of Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama to show how even the most beloved people can be vilified if you look hard enough. No one is without flaws yet we too often tear down those trying to do right because it’s easier than taking real action ourselves. But we ignore how tearing down an institutionalized system is even harder and impossible without large numbers of people we won’t always agree with.

  4. Off The Street

    Individuals have a say in the VC matter.

    Personally, I prefer to control the zoning, so that such castles can not get permits in the first place. Any built illegally have to apply for impossible-to-get variances even for accompanying expansion of motte and bailey or, more likely, invite being bulldozed.

    Said castles may be physical or virtual, built in sand, as châteaux en Espagne or in the air, but never virtuous. /s

  5. flora

    Here’s a related link from yesterday’s link’s comments; h/t to sd for posting it.

    The Death of an Adjunct


    The academy has all the right words, the ‘socially up-to-the-minute good talk’, but they treat TAs, Adjuncts, and even Profs the way any large business treats labor. The ‘good talk’ is window dressing, imo, designed to give a moral sheen to a cut-throat environment. The academy admin and its followers have all sorts of tricks. Mystery writer Agatha Christie maybe said it best in one of her novels: “Where large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.”

    1. flora

      adding: when reliable govt funding shrunk or dried up for the acad, the game of acad musical chairs began. Part of winning the game was convincing others to drop out because they’d “be so much better off” if they struck out on their own (also unspoken was the opening of a secure chair for others which multiple others were willing to take of a reduced salary and fewer benefits). Highlight the irritations to get rid of a tenure track, and all that implies, to get rid of tenure track faculty.

      1. flora

        Very much shorter: Whenever you hear the acad admin talk about ‘collegiality’ check your wallet. ;)

  6. Geo

    Been rereading Gore Vidal’s novel “The Messiah” and this part seemed appropriate:

    “There’ll be a time when all people are alike.”
    “Which is precisely the ideal society. No mysteries, no romantics, no discussions, no persecution because there’s no one to persecute. When all have received the same conditioning, it will be like…”
    “Who have existed longer than ourselves and will outlast our race by many millennia.”
    “Is existence everything?
    “There’s nothing else.”

    1. witters

      Gore had been reading Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra on the last man…

      It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.

      His soil is still rich enough for it. But that soil will one day be poor and exhausted, and no lofty tree will any longer be able to grow there.

      Alas! there comes the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man — and the string of his bow will have unlearned to whiz!

      I tell you: one must still have chaos in oneself, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you have still chaos in yourselves.

      Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.

      Lo! I show you the Last Man.

      “What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” — so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

      The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

      “We have discovered happiness” — say the Last Men, and they blink.

      They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

      Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

      A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

      One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

      One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

      No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

      “Formerly all the world was insane,” — say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

      They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled — otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

      They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

      “We have discovered happiness,” — say the Last Men, and they blink.

  7. divadab

    Very interesting article – thx for re-posting it. I’d emphasise the extraordinary level of vituperation and personal attack in current polity, speaking for my experience in the US of A. It happens at a local level also – you would not believe the toxicity of the people who get involved in the political process. They activate the most marginal personalities and get them all tuned up for the smallest of zoning disputes. If you disagree, you are the enemy. They attack with abandon on the most personal level.

    Effectively, they drive well-meaning reasonable people out of the process. How did this culture get inculcated? I’ve never seen anything like it.

  8. Thuto

    Thank you Lambert for this, coming as it does a day after I lamented the seemingly inexorable march towards authoritarianism by the radical left (some readers prefer to call them radical liberals) in a comment from the Trump resignation post by Yves. The progenitors of this vigilante authoritarianism canter on their high horses seeking out the tiniest linguistic missteps so they can condemn their moral inferiors to social and economic purgatory. Meanwhile, this type of postmodernist, pseudomoralistic posturing is fodder for intellectuals on the right like Jordan Peterson.

    1. hemeantwell

      If it’s any consolation, many on the radical left are not in step with the march you believe you’re seeing. Fisher was quite right to criticize Twitter behavior, but I think that he took it too seriously. I didn’t reread the article, but it strikes me that he could have taken some encouragement from the very phenomenon he reported, the contrast between the People’s assembly and twitter viciousness.

      1. Temporarily Sane

        but I think that he took it too seriously

        Really? It started with mobs of righteously puritanical radlibs on Twitter openly delighting in ruining the lives of people who said something they don’t like, which is bad enough, but as you well know, unless you’ve been living under a rock, cancel culture has gone mainstream since that article was written way back in 2013.

        When prominent politicians and other public figures, as well as major corporations and the most influential media organizations in the nation, all tacitly support mob justice and the “canceling” of free speech…surely that ought to concern anyone who still believes in basic democratic values?

        There are already cases of small businesses being canceled simply for not publicly supporting the #BLM protests. One business hasn’t posted anything on its Facebook page since March because it’s been closed due to the Covid19 lockdown, but that hasn’t stopped the cancelers of course. So now you can be canceled for something you didn’t say. Where does this end?

        People who provide cover for this knee-jerk authoritarianism by denying that it exists or claiming that it’s “no big deal” are part of the problem. The fact that this toxic nonsense is being accepted and legitimized by a significant number of ordinary people is nuts. But thankfully the voices calling this stuff out and challenging its legitimacy are also getting louder. May reason and sanity prevail.

  9. DJG

    This is an excellent essay that I have returned to periodically. We have to find solidarity and get out of ourselves. Hannah Arendt was also a great partisan of this world of variety.

    Lately, I distilled this essay down to an insightful remark by the delightful Patience Gray, in her book on cookery, eating, feasting, gathering weeds, and outright scrounging for food:

    Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed
    page 157

    If Tuscan vegetables are sweet and have an aromatic savour, English vegetables are grown for substance. Italian conversations in the same way are delightful effluvia, which quickly evaporate. In England you get the equivalent of substance—an argument. The nature of the Italians resembles earthy emanations; in England what you have is “character.”

    Too much of Anglo-American life consists of people thinking that their oh-so-clever arguments are persuasive. Their oh-so-clever arguments, as Gray writes, reveal character–and not the sort of character that these self-proclaimed heroes think that they are displaying.

  10. occasional anonymous

    I’m still hoping current events mark a high-water mark for identity politics, and it starts to recede from this point forward. Because it’s gotten absolutely insane; now we’re getting meaningless performative drivel like this: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jun/20/associated-press-style-guide-capitalize-black

    Meanwhile a wave of evictions and starvation is bearing down on millions. This identity politics stuff is just so detached from what most people actually need.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Associated Press changes influential style guide to capitalize ‘Black’

      If I were some sort of vulgar class reductionist, I’d say the cancel culture types are optimizing their symbol manipulating workplaces in the only way they know how. Every story, and more importantly, every grant proposal, will have the proper capitalization (which I have used for some time, not sure from what style guide, if any).

    1. hunkerdown

      Not actually a rebuttal, as it doesn’t address Fisher’s article at all. Just a bourgeois liberal writing for a bourgeois magazine selling bourgeois liberalism as the only alternative to the well-paid career to which their brilliant moral rectitude entitles them barbarism. Hannah Arendt suggested that the alternative to barbarism is not liberalism, fwtw…

      1. nycTerrierist

        I tried to read this piece (NR) – found it a confusing hash,

        hard to get the writer’s point

        As for Fisher, still prescient, alas

    2. Shamanicfallout

      I was going to try to respond in a sort of point by point way to this article, but all I could think of was that review of the Spinal Tap album ‘Shark Sandwich’. The two word review? ‘Sh*t Sandwich’.

  11. Carolinian

    The second reason is what Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. It might have been possible to ignore the Vampires’ Castle and the neo-anarchists if it weren’t for capitalist cyberspace. The VC’s pious moralising has been a feature of a certain ‘left’ for many years – but, if one wasn’t a member of this particular church, its sermons could be avoided. Social media means that this is no longer the case, and there is little protection from the psychic pathologies propagated by these discourses.

    I find this article a bit knotty and am perhaps closer to an era where class, and the worry about class acceptance wasn’t quite so much a thing–at least here in the US. But surely there was such an era in the UK as well given the UK’s era of “angry young men,” Monty Python dropping 16 tons on upper class twits etc. Last night I watched Tony Richardson’s 1960s Charge of the Light Brigade which stands in considerable contrast to current efforts to sugar coat the Victorian era.

    All of which is to say that it wasn’t that long ago that the popular response to rich liberal claims of bad conscience was to laugh at it rather than to believe it. cf Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic. Surely political satire has taken it on the chin in this millenial era when everyone takes themselves so seriously. Another recent watch, The Hunt, had its release cancelled last year when accounts of its subject–rich people hunting “deplorables”–came out. The movie is not as bad as you might think but clearly attempts to see any kind of satire in of our current political impasse demonstrates the unforgivable crime of bad taste. And that objection is used by both sides as the film was was pulled after complaints by Trump.

    I say re the above quote to just avoid it all–social media The ravings of mad people will make us all mad. There are corners of sanity and thank you hosts for keeping this one of them.

  12. Geoffrey Dewan

    “Ghislaine Maxwell prepared to snitch on ‘big names’ to save herself ”

    ‘Big names’ seem to have an uncanny correlation to suicide. Ghislaine probably better be watching her back…and her front.

  13. vlade

    I’m sorry, anyone who celebrates Russel “I’m the new Jesus, no, I really am” Brand and Owen “Tell me what I’m for this week?” Jones (I’m assuming it’s Guarundiad’s own Jones, who IIRC for example was anti-Corbyn, then violently pro-Corbyn, and then anti-Corbyn [if a bit reluctantly] again) I just can’t read.

  14. Olivier

    Unfortunately I gagged early in the article. Call me an unreconstructed wacist if you like but I still cannot comprehend how a so-called lover and defender of the proletariat can be pro-immigration. It doesn’t do to protest against the derangements of the loony left when you are yourself on the spectrum, so to speak.

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