Hostile Formations

Hostile Formations

This essay is one of the more coherent parts that I’ve written for my undergraduate course. It has already been graded and I’ve edited it slightly to get rid of the obscure referencing because I won’t be including a bibliography.

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The past decades have seen an epoch of border fetishism, where they are invoked, chiefly, to designate difference (and therefore, weariness and hostility). Consequentially, the status of ‘illegal’ migrant has been readily used to strip citizens of political rights and divest a person of their humanity. The morality of this becomes muddied for many in the context of a post-colonial and expansive neoliberal moment. As Koshravi describes in his book, ‘Illegal’ Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders, “just as rivers, mountain ranges and deserts, borders are presented as primordial parts of nature” and thus helping to construct a collective defensiveness toward a ‘nation’s story’. Based around shared ideals, histories, attitudes and myth, borders serve as an essential reference for a communal sense of identity. Many modern academics would argue that these ideas–and the role of notions of nation sovereignty in sustaining them­–are intrinsically tied to our own desires for individual autonomy and self-determination, but at a national level.

However, challenging these narratives–and the ‘othering’ which they encourage–should ultimately be the primary aim of any anthropologist in their work.  In paraphrasing Marx’s vivid image of money’s relation to capital and the markets which it services, I would draw an immediate comparison to the inherent violent roles that modern nation-state borders play: “If the border-crosser arrives into a world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek, then the border-transgressor arrives dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. I would use this to pose the question of what defines an illegal (border-transgressor) and what defines a legal (border-crosser) traveller and how, if at all, are these definitions reconfigured through refugee status, citizenship rights or shockwave events such as wars or conflicts. In an attempt to give an answer to some of these questions, I will be drawing from three ethnographies which all detail an anthropologist’s fieldwork on borders, identity and what those experiences can tell us about how they are navigated and militarised in a contemporary political climate.

Nowhere in these texts is the question of citizenship and (il)legal status so evocatively put as when Koshravi describes his experience of being detained in a border prison cell whilst attempting to flee Iran (and forced conscription) during the war with Iraq in the 1980s. He would witness countless landings and departures of international airlines, filled with people that he refers to as having ‘surplus mobility rights’ because of the accessibility of crossing nation-state borders for those passengers, while he himself was fixed in immobility. As I have mentioned, borders represent an essential reference for a nation’s sense of collective identity and therefore, violating border regimes is also seen to violate ethical and aesthetical norms. In Koshravi’s earlier essay, and precursor to ‘Illegal’ Traveller, he highlights why this act is such a contentious one, in noting that “’Illegal’ border crossing challenges the sacred feature of the border rituals and symbols. It is seen as a criminal act deserving of punishment. A ‘transgression’ based on a capitalist-oriented and racial discriminating way of thinking, borders regulate movements of people”.

With these attitudes so ingrained, crossing borders for many can feel like a transgression, a disruption to a respected political order and an internalising of shame on these bases is quite often part of the punishment. That being said, borders can also be sites of defiance and resistance. As mentioned, Koshravi had just come out of high school when military service would come knocking at his door and those of all able young men. During the Iraq-Iran war, as with many other conflicts, it was seen as a duty to become martyrs for your country, to jump onto a live grenade with pride. To come back from the front lines alive was a chance that Koshravi did not want to take and so he crossed borders to escape martyrdom. Not only are borders contentious sites symbolically for those who cross them without whichever documentation and credential is acceptable for the time, but they are also–in contrast to common perception–opportunities for border patrols themselves to act above the law (a ‘whatever is necessary’ approach) and the spaces can even become beneficial for them, as “border crossers without papers are robbed by the guards before being taken into custody”. These are sites of an occupation of sorts; vulnerable migrants are blinded by rubber bullets, humiliated in front of border guards and soldiers, their possessions damaged, their water supplies spilled, their bodies beaten and urinated on and there are even large numbers of shootings and fatalities.

While Koshravi’s experience in fleeing the conflict is perhaps one that we can recognise in part, as the cruelty of border regimes is relatively well-known (though, not necessarily opposed), there are also auto-ethnographies and retellings of border-crossing to Western nations where migrants arrive from across seas and are met with a different kind of hostility. In De Genova’s ethnography, he describes the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks and the United States’ proclamation of their “War on Terror” and how this impacted global border sanctions, including with the heightened demands on citizenship and the eroding of civil liberties. The real result of this is that the regular juridical status of citizenship itself is made more exclusive through policy, while political debate and mass media coverage will identify migrant ‘illegality’ as a self-evident ‘problem’. The divide here comes from the presupposition “that there is something inherently suspect about the human beings who migrate”. Typically, the legal status of a migrant ever since the events of September 11th has been defined by the ‘terrorism effect’ and through one of (or all) three things: i) the previous place of residence ii) legal history iii) whether or not the migrant is able to ‘offer’ the state which they are trying to enter capital gains (e.g. a member of a workforce). This system inherently discriminates against those who, as we’ve highlighted, are forced to transgress border regimes or who are unfit for work and/or do not have a work placement which they will be entering into soon upon arrival into the country.

When we look at the totality of the structural function of borders (as a means ‘protect’ against the class and/or race-based conflicts which are their foundation), these paradigmatic scenes manifest on a micro level too. As we see during the apartheid regime in South Africa, where borders were felt in all but name with the separating of the township and white urban centre from the rural homelands. Exercising sovereignty in these ways­ mentioned–where borders are designated and emphasised as means to protect a populous from ‘the threats’ that lie outside them–is to, as described by Mbembe in Necropolitics, “exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power” and signifies a strong social relation to the state. Through reordering politics, the sovereign power does not merely exclude the undesirable persons but penalises and regulates them by petrifying them into immobility in detention centres, by ignominious and terrifying forms of deportation, or by racialised internal border control – that turns the citizen into a quasi-citizen. As Balibar puts it ‘some borders are no longer situated at the borders at all’ in geographical or political senses of the terms. Borders have become invisible borders, situated everywhere and nowhere. Hence the undesirable persons are not expelled by the border, they are forced to be borders.

It seems that the way to interrogate the nature of borders should not necessarily begin from an epistemological standpoint of the state and its function, either historically or in the present day, but rather from the starting point of seeing freedom of movement as something like a basic human entitlement. Though, as discussed, borders are not arbitrary by design or something to raise awareness of for them to go away – they serve a primary function. Migrant illegality and more specifically, the exclusivity of citizenship “is a crucial form for operationalizing the more general separation and abstraction of the political from the immediate processes of exploitation, which manifests itself ubiquitously in the reification of “the” state as a greater or lesser monopoly of “legitimate” coercive violence, exercised spatially over a delimited territory”. Perhaps, then, any intellectual enquiry into the careful negotiation of freedoms and death which borders operate should begin and end with the function of capitalism itself.

Melancholia after the election

Melancholia after the election

Throughout Jeremy Corbyn’s run as leader of the Labour Party, his politics have been embattled and scorned by the powerful. The beginning of his rising popularity throughout the summer of 2015 had a symbolic value. Corbyn became the catalyst for an articulation of the disillusionment felt by many concerning parliamentary democracy. Elites and liberals looked on with mysticism as it seemed that power within the party could be taken away from where they felt it belonged. Once it became the reality that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader with a huge mandate, his competitors being 3 forgettable ‘Labour moderates’ with bile softly cushioning their nerve endings, the media and the Conservative Party immediately took the opportunity to encroach on this dissent which they were now being forced to pay attention to. They felt that Corbynism represented a heterodoxy against the fatalism of neoliberalism, and they were terrified.

This has continued pretty much consistently throughout his tenure as leader, his fortitude delineating from a significant grassroots base which always remained loyal to his ideals and worked to push his policies into public discourse. I have not been uncritical of Corbyn. His politics are not quite the same as mine. Not only this but I think the Labour Party is probably the least inspiring vehicle for a socialist project that we have in the country. Just as consistently as his base were trying to authenticate him, the mediocrities of the Parliamentary Labour Party were always pissing themselves for attention, attempting to undermine him. I was nervous that, amidst all of this, the party would damage the chances of left-wing politics being taken seriously (not to say that I blamed Corbyn himself).

The snap election however, called in April 2017 by Theresa May, was a time for the left to rally behind the Labour leader unequivocally. The campaign that Jeremy Corbyn fought signified a lurch from the configuration of the post-Thatcherite politics, which has been febrile and panting as it has thrusted and fucked a generation over the past two decades. Throughout this election, it is not surprising that there had been a huge speculation about turnout. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership pitch was, from the start, that he would bring back lost voters, people who have given up and felt alienated from the system. Therefore, with the enthusiasm for the manifesto, the success on Corbyn’s part depended on the youth turnout, discontented swing voters in Conservative held safe seats and sweeping up a significant portion of the UKIP, Green and Liberal Democrat votes. He needed to confound expectations.

The platform that the Labour leadership ran their election campaign on was fundamentally one of change. Upon it’s unveiling to the public, the programme which Corbyn and his close team had set out in his manifesto was received incredibly well across all of the different categorisations of the electorate. The minimalist case to vote for Labour which we had seen in previous elections had now been shattered. This was a truly transformational set of policies and an exciting pitch to get behind to begin galvanising support for across Britain. Within the manifesto we saw considerable possibilities for the reversal of devastating Tory politics, such as the scrapping of tuition fees, ending the freeze on welfare benefits and free childcare with an extension of maternity pay. There were also pledges to bring back the rail, energy and water companies into public ownership, a potential here to save millions and run efficient services. This would largely be paid for by the raising of corporation tax from 20% to 26% and increasing the income tax for the very wealthiest in our society.

The line which the Tories kept peddling throughout the campaign was that “Labour is taking us back to the 1970s”, not only is this facile and something which ideologically indiscriminate losers would lap up exclusively, it’s also a dire misrepresentation of what the leadership of Labour were proposing. It goes beyond nostalgia and presents a plausible practicality as outlined in their comprehensive ‘Alternative Models of Ownership‘ report:

“Nothing other than the creation of an economy which is fairer, more democratic, and more sustainable; that would overturn the hierarchies of power in our economy, placing those who create the real wealth in charge; that would end decades of under-investment and wasted potential by tearing down the vested interests that hold this country back (p. 32).”

With this ethos firmly rooted in his politics, Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign slogan was, “For the many, not the few”. Although it’s ultimately a slogan, a profound radicalism, evident in his programme, bolstered its meaning. There is no questioning, in any corner of our media, on Corbyn’s exceptional ability for campaigning effectively any more. His palpable fury toward the elite and the way that our country is run is consolidated in the resounding speeches which he gives on how things need to change. This is where he excels. He travelled across the country – to Tory marginals, to Labour marginals, to Tory strongholds, attracting crowds in their thousands to deliver his message for a progressive politics.

Polling day for the election was June 8th and an increased turnout from the disenfranchised voter groups was Labour’s priority. The Conservatives don’t need to consider this, their messaging on polling day is significantly different. Theirs is one of fear for the calamity they feel a Labour government would cause to their blessed order of things. They know that the elderly people close to death will turn out in swathes and do anything to stop the tide from taking their pension, or something. It’s just common sense to vote for the Conservatives, and the common sense in the UK is always from the point of view of warfare. They will vote for whichever candidate would seem more threatening to the world if their face were to be projected onto the White Cliffs of Dover. The electorate would largely be more comfortable to see the destruction of millions of people and the beginning of the apocalypse rather than see society change before them by just 1% for the better. They cast their vote to prevent what they see as an inevitable decline in their way of life.

Needless to say for anybody who had the curiosity to find out what was going on, when the exit poll was revealed and the results began to come in, the Labour leadership and the mobilisation behind Corbyn had proven to be a phenomenal success. They gained seats in places which had been Conservative ever since the Anglo-Saxon settlers dragged a great beast ashore which burrowed its way underground and poisoned the dirt beneath us. Canterbury and Kensington were won, key marginal seats swung to Labour and Tory safe seats across the country had their majorities drastically reduced by party candidates and campaigners. The final count had the Conservatives at 318 seats (8 short of a majority government) and Labour at 262. The pedants and intellectually dishonest clods will insist that this is a parliamentary defeat. The reality is that the Tories were the largest party and it is likely that Theresa May will form a coalition government with the DUP. However, the resounding victory of hope in this election is clearly inexplicable to them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign had brought a new kind of power into possibility. A shift towards workers’ rights and a reversal of the undercutting of wages. Emancipatory rights for women, with maternity support and investment in other vital services for POC and disabled people. A move towards national self-determination. Public ownership of our industries. Free higher education, leading to the expansion of literacy. An unlocking of opportunity for each and every one of us. These were our incantations, and they landed. We saw an unprecedented surge, unseen in British political history, in support for a progressive programme. It was a dissolving of the neoliberal certainties imposed on us.

What we are seeing is Theresa May’s party in disarray. She called a self-serving general election to wipe out the opposition and she lost her gambit emphatically. For weeks we were warned of a “coalition of chaos” by the Conservative Party. In the best way possible, ironically, this is exactly what has instead now transpired with the Tories and the DUP. She remains as leader of a weak party, a minority political force. The course of the next parliament and the next general election are ours. Irrespective of the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is not yet our Prime Minister, this is a project which is necessary to emulate for the left across the world, a blueprint for reform and then to socialism. It’s worth pursuing—to goad what is considered human nature and necessary in this neoliberal moment—because caught in the seam of our ruinous world leaders, it’s the only thing that can save us. But don’t mourn, comrades: melancholise.


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Theresa May, the dread of the mollusc

Theresa May, the dread of the mollusc

“The many … whom one chooses to call the people, are indeed a collection, but only as a multitude, a formless mass, whose movement and action would be elemental, irrational, savage, and terrible. […] Public opinion deserves to be esteemed as much as to be despised; to be despised for its concrete consciousness and expression, to be esteemed for its essential fundamental principle, which only shines, more or less dimly, through its concrete expression.”
― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

What Theresa May represents is the final meaninglessness of parliamentary democracy. Destitution in the UK is prevalent with many relying on food banks to stay alive, services are being sold off to exploitative companies, housing is unaffordable and mental illness is rife. Change is sought by the people. Media institutions and politicians largely have no solutions – they’re disarticulate, phatic and reactionary. Stare too long into our Prime Minister’s ghoulish face and it’s hard to tell what the point of all of this is. It’s a constant reminder that this world is not a sane or a rational place.

~

None of this was supposed to happen. Corbyn’s poor polling was alleged to remain static throughout the campaign and the Tory’s were going to win a significant, consolidating majority. This general election had been called precisely because Theresa May thought that she would appeal to the British public as a symbolic eclecticism of imperialism. She’d sit in cabinet meetings and boast of how she would be a proud mummy to this great empire. The UK under her leadership would subduct large areas of Europe and she’d spank the botty of anybody who questioned her authority and ‘difficult woman’ reputation which she’d assimilated for herself among colleagues. This is still how May presents herself and she still believes it. Now that she has to campaign in public, the factor which has changed is that the electorate are beginning to see the horrifying grimace on her face as the bile glugs back down her throat when she stops talking for a moment. They’re seeing how much she despises them, how utterly discomposed she is to be in their presence. To combat the Labour surge in the opinion polls, the Tories are relaunching their campaign, they need to transform her.

The Conservative Party’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, steps into a chamber filled with senior Tory officials. After some dull greetings and discussion, a member of the group stands up and says “Mr Crosby, the IRA terrorist sympathiser smear against Corbyn has largely been ineffectual – we’re losing ground, the poll gap is nowhere near as sizeable as it was when we called the election”. Crosby’s lips curl and he turns a shade of pink but this swiftly transitions into a glazed smile. “You’re right, this is a disaster” he says, “It’s different to how I imagined. Her reputation has superseded her abilities. She looks distinctly uncomfortable around the general public and she’s turning this campaign into a vanity project”. He paces toward the other side of the room, “Gentlemen, I know that you are all thinking ‘how do we turn this around?’ Well…” Crosby turns from the group and violently kicks an odd looking instrument, a great humanoid hunk of steampunk machinery with children coiled and sprawled into the mechanisms to operate the gears. The machine speaks, it’s sentient and it has an answer for them. As its creator, Lynton Crosby is the only one who understands it, only he can translate the dialect. The other men in the room, looking nervous, patiently await a solution for their campaign woes. “We’ve got it!” Crosby suddenly exclaims. He begins to sermonise, mostly-incomprehensible babble spews from his now foaming mouth “[…] We’re going to be focussing on Brexit and we’re now going to adopt the Labour campaign strategy of convincing video messages outlining our position, posted online for the public’s viewing”, he excitedly announces. “That’s how we will gain the assurances of our voters once again and the Prime Minister avoids the agonising contact with them!” The men in the room nod in unison and one by one begin to stand and applaud. Crosby signals at the door to the chamber and gleefully beckons “Come on in, girls!”, swim suit models hurriedly enter with champagne bottles and glasses. He presses a button on an old stereo system, pop music plays and the room breaks out into awkward flailing and celebratory handshaking.

Theresa May was next to appear on the Sky News programme, The Battle for Number 10. Throughout the campaign, she’d rejected one-on-one debate proposals with Jeremy Corbyn because her record in government is emphatically indefensible. Service cuts, big business favoured policy and a poorly handled Brexit process so far would all be easy targets for Corbyn. However, this programme was the Tory voter’s consolation prize, this was an opportunity to see their herald shine while being questioned and interviewed – who would believe it – in the same building as the Labour leader.

She arrived in the studio and took to the stage, her voice tremulous as she exchanged greetings with the show’s presenter, Faisal Islam. As she looks out into the audience, her smile gradually fades and the mollusc-like similarity in her skin tone and eye colour is more pronounced. One after the other, she is asked questions by members and she responds to them in turn. “What Jeremy Corbyn is proposing is nationalisation and higher taxes for the wealthy. This is simply impractical!”. Her face shifts into showing a sort of crinkled exuberance. “Now this…” as she gestures toward a toothless child freezing to death “this is real politics”. Murmuring and heavy sighs can be heard from the viewers, they’ve known her to use this rhetoric before. Halfway through the questioning, she insists on going backstage briefly and is granted permission. After a momentary pause in the studio, she returns, hastily cramming tadpoles into her mouth and then indicates to Faisal that she’s ready for another question. After answering more, attempting to reassure the public with promises of strength and stability, Theresa May makes one final appeal to the audience: “Many of my colleagues have called me a ‘bloody difficult woman’, this is because when I have a principle, nobody will stop me in my determination to deliver what’s best for the people of Britain”. During her statement, she begins to twitch nervously and coughs from the spiders stuck in her throat, haplessly trying to recall what the next part to her culminating speech is. She creaks into a crotchety smile once again, “We make absolutely clear, no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal.”, the crowd erupts into frenzies of cheers, clapping and sobbing. The camera pans to them, they have arisen from their seats. Tiny bow ties are visible in the audience, along with dripping brows and a woman holding out her hands as though they are akimbo pistols and mouths “Boom!”. The camera operator reverts back to May’s face, “Subsume yourselves”, she utters under her breath, “You will all be eating dog food”. They have just applauded the abyss.

A manifesto for the end of the world

A manifesto for the end of the world

A foreword by a zealous ideologue for the doctrines of smallness, insipidness and absolute hatred 

We are a great country. With great people. In the last five years I have heard your stories, your hopes and your aspirations. And I have heard too your frustrations.

The countless people working as hard as they possibly can and still struggling to pay the bills. The young people with great ambitions but great anxieties about the future. The dedicated staff of our NHS, who are deeply concerned about its funding. And all those who have served our country, are now retired, and ask where our country is going.

This manifesto is inspired by you.

National renewal

A simple truth known by many Brits is that we’ve had our chance, the world is dying. Climate change will ensure a great death for us all but remaining ahead of the world’s evil is all we can do in the meantime. In order to become a nation subsumed by this reality, we as a party are renewing our traditions of striving for fundamental change for the good people. Our pledges to you are as follows:

–  As a party of eugenicists, of antinatalists and ungulate herbivores with an appetite for blood: the weak, the homeless and their dogs should be harvested for soup to help reduce the scale of the agricultural crisis.

– The economy may seem fine but it is simply not good enough. All currency should now serve as a symbol for an individual’s eternal damnation. Spending will increase and the rapid expansion of our economy means that Europe will be entirely subducted by the British Isles in just a few years time. In order for this model to be sustainable, all material would be built in obsolescence: housing, clothing, technology and so on. Upstanding citizens would be actively encouraged to commit horrendous atrocities to keep the pound strong.

– Out of boredom, we’ve built and conceived of the towers high enough to reach the heavens. Made of glass, wiring and steel, we will demolish each and every one and gather the materials to be broken and smelted down for the assembling of magnificent drones, to eradicate boredom forever.

– As Earth’s climate warms, once-dormant bacteria and viruses trapped in ice and permafrost are reviving. This process is too incremental and it should happen now whilst widely-available antibiotics are powerless. We will send orphans over to the tundras in Siberia where the released infectious anthrax will taint their tiny bodies, to then bring the illness back to our own shores.

– Due to failures in conservation efforts, there are not enough terrifying birds in Britain. We want to introduce the Shoebill into our swamps and grasslands, there to feed on dreams, fairies and foxes alike.

In this election the country has a choice

Either we can carry on as we are, with an economy that might actually work for too many disposable losers. A country in which snowflakes are being sucked into our airwaves and making us horny and caustic. Or we can change direction together.

That’s what this manifesto offers. It is the kind of country we know ourselves to be. Let’s truly build it together.

 

Against everything

Against everything

The United Kingdom is segmented, more than at any time in recent history. The SNP are planning another independence referendum, with the decision for Brexit being at its crux. This time, it looks likely that Scotland will decide ‘Yes’ for independence and with it, the English will plummet towards a Loch Ness-sized vat filled with boiling fluid to turn us into chips.

On the defensive from this and the European Union, Theresa May has recently called a general election and the country’s fracturing is even more pertinent. A frankly terrifying headline appeared in the Daily Mail on the day after the Prime Minister’s snap general election announcement: “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS” – this means ‘remoaners’, the majority of young people, the Labour Party, the SNP and anybody else who doesn’t have wet dreams about Theresa May spanking their botty with a wooden paddle. This isn’t being framed as a general election by those in government and the right-wing press, this is a culture war. A culture war, pitting the generations against each other and a grotesque Us vs The Other rhetoric is rife in UK political discourse. The response to the Tory’s ghoulish political playground of authoritarianism and right-wing nationalism must be cultural too.


Being ‘a millennial’ in these turbulent and testing times requires tenacity. My generation is branded lazy and entitled because we collectively show resistance to internalising a neoliberal work ethic which doesn’t provide us with security. We are labelled complacent and whiney and all the while, the British ruling class think that we “thin-skinned millennials need a spanking”. I think they just mean “smooth skin” but that wouldn’t be published on the grounds that it would be too perverted.

This generation are the first in nearly a century to be worse off than our parents due to a lack of job availability and stability. Disillusionment upon leaving education is very common and finding a space to think above the noise is difficult. More and more young people are seeking help for mental health problems due to these strains and their efforts are often ricocheted by under-funded service providers. With the consequences of the Conservative cuts to health (and education) budgets, as well as the problems caused by the political decisions such as the removal of housing benefits for 18-21 year olds, it’s no surprise that the UK ranked second from the bottom in a survey conducted to measure the wellbeing of young people.

The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has a vision for socialism (albeit a disarticulated one) in the UK. Corbynism represents the summation of a left movement, an alternative to the thirst for kill the young policies. Mark Greif writes that “to be against everything is to want the world to be bigger than all of it, disposed to dissolve rules and compromises in a gallon or a drop, while an ocean of possibility rolls around us. No matter what you are supposed to do, you can prove the supposition wrong, just by doing something else”. A vote for the Labour Party with even a vague amount of confidence in the leader for the forthcoming election is to be ‘against everything’ and while Corbynism is there, I’m voting for Labour.