Brexit and the Climate

The noted child psychologist and pediatrician Donald Winnicott wrote that the greatest danger to the child’s developing self is that it be faced with demands for precocious adaptation to the environment. The parents must protect the infant at all costs from aspects of reality that are incomprehensible or beyond its grasp, and gradually present the world in manageable doses.

On the 58th day of our daughter’s life, the US President signed an order which cancelled all the previous Government’s regulations regarding Climate Change. On the same day, several members of the British Parliament who had campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union walked out of a select committee meeting because the facts they were being presented with in relation to the consequences of Brexit were ‘too gloomy’.

I see that the top trending topics on social media right now are ‘Messi’, ‘Ken Barlow’ and something called ‘Skeletor and He Man’.

We’re going to have a hell of a job in a number of years trying to convince her that not all adults are completely fucking stupid.

Do you still think Putin is on the left?

So, you’re a progressive. You wanted Bernie Sanders to win the Presidential election and were disgusted to see how he was cheated out of the nomination. You were delighted to see that the underhand and frankly treacherous machinations of the Democrats backfired. Not that you wanted Trump to win, of course, but what the hell did they expect, and who’s to blame? Instead of promoting a program for change, they pushed the same corrupt, neoliberal, pro-corporate warmongering agenda that stained the Obama years.

In the case of Russia, you’re sick of all the misinformation and scaremongering. It’s not so long ago that the US was persecuting supposed Russian agents and ruining the lives of anyone considered a ‘red’. What’s changed? Pro-Clinton newspapers and TV networks are trying to make up for the terrible mistake they made in choosing a corrupt candidate by undermining a democratically elected Government – not one to your liking, obviously, but the only way to get rid of it is to choose a genuinely popular candidate with a proper radical agenda the next time round.

In any case, who believes what the mainstream media says any more? People can see through their fake news bullshit. There are alternative news sources, ones that let you know what’s really going on behind the scenes of this farce.

Personally you like Russia Today. It has some genuinely brave alternative voices, people like Max Keiser, Abby Martin, Glenn Greeenwald and Ed Schultz. You’ve come across people online – mostly shills for Clinton – who claim that it’s just a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. More russophobic propaganda, you think. Putin is demonised in the MSM but he’s a geopolitical pragmatist, and he also dares to challenge some of the most powerful interests on earth – NATO, the EU and the entire corrupt financial establishment in the form of families like the Rothschilds. That’s why he’s become the latest embodiment of evil. The disinformation in the so-called liberal Western media about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has been particularly disgraceful.

It’s partly thanks to RT that you’ve been broadening your outlook, following political developments in other countries. The US is not the centre of the world! You thought it was a shame that Geert Wilders didn’t win the Dutch election. His call for the Netherlands to leave the EU and NATO was too dangerous for the political establishment and so he was painted as a racist and the sitting candidate (a right-wing neoliberal) was shoehorned back into power.

With Le Pen, you’re not so sure. You agree that there’s a problem with Islamic terrorism, and it’s one that the EU doesn’t seem to have a response to. But you also remember that she comes from a tradition (in her party and in her family) of fascist ideology, including holocaust denial. Now, you’re no fascist and you’re no antisemite. You oppose what Israel is doing with the settlements and the occupation – you’ve sometimes thought about going there to volunteer in some capacity – but you’ve certainly got nothing against Jewish people. Bernie Sanders himself is Jewish!

You open Facebook and there’s a post from Infowars (you enjoy hearing about what Alex Jones says about Clinton, but you avoid watching the vidoes where he goes on his syphilitic rants about Trump). The post has a photo which shows Vladimir Putin on the right, holding hands with an actual full-on holocaust-denying antisemite aspiring fascist demagogue to the left. Putin is (for him) smiling broadly.

And you? Where are you in this picture? Are you, as you have always assumed, on the left, or have you somehow ended up supporting the far-right?

It’s probably about time you stopped watching RT.

I love Russia

Russia-Flag-14

Apparently there’s recently been a worldwide explosion of ‘Russophobia’. According to Alex Jones of infowars.com, hundreds of thousands of expats in Europe and elsewhere have decided to return home in the last couple of years because of anti-Russian sentiment.

Shamefully, I myself have never actually been to Russia, although I’ve nearly made it a couple of times. In winter 2007 I was offered a month-long job in a (presumably frozen) forest near St Petersburg teaching kids ‘on a campsite’. Since I was suffering at the time from what Russians call toska it sounded ideal. I’ll be able to see St.Petersburg, I mentioned to the interviewer. Hmm, maybe with…a chaperon, was her response. And when I asked who was organising the whole shebang, she sort-of-smiled and referred vaguely to ‘some…businessmen’. In the end I got a job working for Fetullah Gülen so it didn’t happen.

Russian stereotypes for my generation weren’t of heroic workers or freezing gulags but of the catastrophic consequences of economic collapse. In the 1990s Russian society was depicted as a hellish environment to survive in, one of ragged post-Soviet citizens gathered round salvaged oil drums for warmth, drinking bootleg vodka out of shoes whose laces their beleaguered grandmothers were out trying to sell on the streets whenever they weren’t in their furniture-stripped apartments making webcam porn for foreign cents. The country was synonymous with dodginess in the form of a resurgent mafia taking the place of broken state institutions. If it wasn’t dog-eat-dog then it certainly involved people doing just that. I once had a delicately-featured 17-year-old student from Siberia who, in a class discussion on weird things we’d eaten, told a mesmerising tale of the time she and her friends drunkenly killed and ate a dog. She may have just said it to have a laugh. I’ve found that Russians have a mordant sense of humour and a very strong sense of the absurd.

For years I told that story, vaguely aware that in doing so I was perpetuating a lazy stereotype of scary Russians. In reality I always enjoyed hanging out with them. At about the same time as the abortive St Petersburg trip I was teaching what is still one of my favourite ever classes. It was huge fun largely thanks for the presence of two Russian women: Tamara/Toma, a budding fashion designer bursting with wit and ebullience, and Natasha/Natalya, who on first meeting I was inclined to dismiss as a sloane but who turned out to be one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. I also spent about 18 months teaching private classes to a student called Vlad, an aging computer whizzkid as laconic as he was wise. Toma and Natasha helped me through a difficult break-up, while Vlad and I mostly ended up talking about the works of José Saramago, on the subject of which I was writing a dissertation at the time. I’m enormously grateful to all three of them.

Perhaps I’ve just been lucky, but the Russians I’ve known have almost all had an in-depth knowledge of and an appreciation for the wealth of culture that their country has given the world in the form of literature, painting, theatre and music. Most have been happy to discuss and draw lessons from Dostoevsky, Chekov, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky and many more. At the level of fiction and cinema in particular Russia seems to be one of those cultures (akin to the Spanish-speaking world) which is so vast and dense you’d never really need to leave. Two more recent novelists who have influenced my understanding of not just Russia but also life and the world are Victor Pelevin and Vladimir Sorokin. The former is like a cross between Irvine Welsh and Thomas Pynchon, and the latter’s novel ‘The Day of the Oprichnik’ is a futuristic dystopian fable as troubling as it is entertaining. As for film, the 2014 movie ‘Leviathan’ depicted the dismal reality of daily struggles for human dignity in the face of powerful and evil forces, in the form of an epic biblical parable. The film faced a campaign of vilification in the Russian press as a result. Similarly scripture-heavy is the brand-new release ‘The Student’ which I will, baby daughter permitting, endeavour to see as soon as possible, which may well not be til at least 2035, but still. There’s a moral seriousness to a lot of contemporary Russian cinema which I for one find extremely beguiling but would be deeply inappropriate for a newborn child who doesn’t even recognise Peppa Pig yet.

I was also lucky a few years ago to spend time in London with members of Chto Delat, a (genuinely) radical art/activist collective from St Petersburg. Their elaborate dialectical critiques (most often presented in the form of newspapers and films on themes such as Brecht, the political role of the Avant Garde, the Right to the City) I find both profoundly disorientating and deeply enlightening. The risks they take to produce and present their art surpass by far any challenges faced by artists in the UK or the US, with their publications seized by the State and members harassed and arrested. Together we organised a protest outside the Russian embassy in support of two antifascists arrested on an environmental protest. I hope that if I ever do make it to Russia this won’t turn out to be a problem and I don’t have to remotely post a series of gulag diaries. In fact, that’s quite a good point. Let’s just pretend I never mentioned it.

Those who do dare to oppose the abuse of the powerful in Russia exhibit enormous courage. The suffering and fortitude described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is almost beyond compare. Some of that bravery lives on in Pussy Riot, who in return for standing up against the Church and the State were sentenced to endure similar conditions in an actual full-on Siberian penal colony.

Their crime was to stand up to patriarchal brutality of a President who seems to take pride in the very worst aspects of Russian history: Tsarism, pogroms, showtrials and the gulags themselves. Those Russian individuals and institutions who exhibit the enormous courage required to resist his autocratic rule, who publicly object to the corruption, racism, homophobia, misogyny and state terrorism he promotes are labelled ‘anti-Russian’ and ‘foreign agents’ and driven out of their homeland – or, even worse, forced to stay. Now, through the Kremlin’s media outlet Russia Today and its useful bigots overseas such as Alex Jones, this bullying of anyone who opposes Putin has taken on international proportions. The Russian President may not be the megalomaniac psychopath that some of this detractors like to make out, but that his rule is brutally repressive and that he has plans to expand it overseas is beyond any doubt.

In the meantime, if US Republicans and neofascists want to go looking for anti-Russian prejudice, they need to look at the history of their own families and their own political traditions. For decades US mainstream culture portrayed Russians as less than human. A far-right xenophobic hate merchant like Alex Jones has no concern for the people of Russia. And anyone who, like him, implies that criticisms of Putin or attempts to investigate his seedy connections with Trump and Exxon is a manifestation of ‘Russophobia’ is, like the Russians say, “полон дерьма” – full of shit.

I’ve thought of a great way of dealing with the “alt-right”. It’s called “shush-pat”.

altright-you-say

Jacques Lacan said of the student revolutionaries of 1968 they were looking for a new father. By contrast, the so-called alt-right appear to be seeking someone to breastfeed them. In this excellent lengthy article about hanging around with fanboys of that pro-pedophile sociopathic freak Milo, Laurie Penny writes:

I enjoy most respectful conversation, and these boys are scrupulously polite to me. They were polite to me a month earlier when I slept on their tour bus — right until a door closed between me and them, and they immediately started talking loudly, to each other, about the crass and anatomically implausible things they wanted to do to me. Intellectually, they must have known that I could hear them, but these kids grew up on the Internet, the world’s locker room, where if you can’t see a woman, she doesn’t really exist. The one grown man on the bus started yelling at them to go the hell to sleep — “there’s a girl back there!”—and they yelled back that they’d let me sleep if I let them “suck my titties.” It’s no surprise to hear that they’re still yearning for the teat, but these babies had best be careful where they go slobbering for the milk of human kindness. I’m just about dried up.

Now it turns out she was spot on: milk is indeed a Thing among alt-righters. Nazis have been using it as an emblem, because it’s ‘pure’ and, er, Asian people don’t drink much of it. They have apparently been pouring it over each other in celebration of its and their ‘whiteness’. This taste for moomoojuice seems to have inspired this remarkable work of art. Where Hitler called for Lebensraum, his latest disciples are after milky-wilky.

It eloquently demonstrates the infantile nature of the whole project. They want someone to mother them. Perhaps Le Pen fits the bill, or maybe Trump himself, given the famously female cadences and rhythms of his speech. It also explains why they have a thing about cartoons. Their undeveloped brains and nascent eyesight are unable to deal with anything more cognitively demanding, hence their emotional attachment to a white supremacist equivalent of Peppa Pig and Teletubbies (one which happens to be green, but still). There’s also something distinctly ‘Lord of the Flies’ about their inhouse media outlet, Breitbart. And as Laurie Penny points out they, like punks, have no actual understanding of what Nazism is, they’re just trying to annoy adults by any means necessary.

As it happens I am currently undergoing a crash course in dealing with infant hysteria. I am developing my skills in calming down my six-week-old daughter and sending her to sleep. Her screaming has been honed by evolution to be as distressing as can be, as she alone has no means of dealing with hunger, tiredness or discomfort. Her screeching, like that of the überbrats of the new far-right, has no actual meaning beyond that.

Luckily there’s a solution (beside feeding her, naturally): shush-pat. This technique, invented by the currently ubiquitous childcare guru Tracy Hogg, consists of tapping her firmly on the back while saying ‘shush’. It’s simple and it works. With (sometimes immense) repetition it soothes and comforts her. Eventually her eyes close and her breathing slows. She’s totally relaxed which means we can be too (actually we lie awake for hours worrying that she might explode into fury at any moment, but you get the point).

How would this work with the alt-right? It’s hard to say. I personally have no inclination whatsoever to cuddle Steve Bannon, and although Trump himself appears desperately in need of a breastfeed I’m not about to lift him out of his cot and hand him to my wife. In any case the most outspoken Trump supporters (of whom the angry young men of the alt-right are a self-styled postmodern Hitler Youth) only exist online, where they trade in a currency of memes, mostly originating on 4chan (“the internet’s hate speech hit factory”). Most can only communicate in bright, colourful images with slogans written in big letters. Shush-pat could be an effective antidote to their unsolicited and unwarranted venom and denial, whether they happen at that particular moment to be be sticking up for rape or torture or murder or pedophilia. These are, after all, not rational adults. They are no more open to reasoned arguments and the sober presentation of factual evidence than a hungry newborn baby is. They are, in fact, not post-factual but pre-conceptual. They are screaming for attention and consolation and they need to be told, patiently but firmly, to shut up. I offer the above hastily-assembled collage as a contribution to the cause.

What’s behind the rise of the global far-right? Climate denial.

immagineI’ve argued repeatedly here that if you want to understand the rise of the global far-right movement you have to put climate denial at the centre of the picture. The chief protagonist in the conspiracy in the decades-long campaign to forestall action on global warming in order to protect corporate profits is Exxon Mobil. They knew in 1978 that the activities of companies like theirs would raise global temperatures by 2-3%, so they funded and coordinated campaigns designed to spread doubt, employing tactics and experts from the tobacco industry to do so and setting up“institutes” devoted to outright climate denial.

(This is not guesswork or conspiracy theorising. It’s verified and verifiable fact. If you have any doubts whatsoever about what I’m saying please do your own research, obviously steering clear of climate denial sites funded by Exxon Mobil, which as it happens is a very large proportion of them. Use reputable news sources instead – here is a useful map of them.)

So what’s the connection with the global far-right? I’ve argued that repressed fears about the future have been finding expression as rage directed at targets identified by far-right politicians, all of whom have – not by coincidence – climate denial as a central part of their programmes. However, there are also links at institutional and individual levels. Last month I wrote:

Anyone curious about Trump’s connections to Russia and what interests lie behind them does not need to go trawling through Wikileaks documents or hope that some hitherto unseen videotape comes to light. The fact that Putin has regularly been seen in the company of the man who Trump appointed his Secretary of State is troubling in itself.

….but it turns out I didn’t know the half of it. Democracy Now drew my attention to a recent article by the author and climate scientist Joe Romm, in which he wrote:

While Trump may not be able to destroy global climate action and the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal all by himself — as he pledged to do during the campaign — he probably could do that with help from Russia and the trillion-dollar oil industry.

So much is explained by Trump’s Secretary of State choice. Media reports now say it will be Rex Tillerson, CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, which had made a $500 billion oil deal with Putin that got blocked by sanctions.

Stalling the biggest oil deal ever did not just “put Exxon at risk,” as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained last week this deal was so big it was “expected to change the historical trajectory of Russia.”

(Again, if you have any doubts, please read the links. The original report is from the Wall Street Journal. Is ithe WSJ a left-wing fake news outlet pushing a left-wing agenda? No, it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is, as it happens, a climate denier. The article obviously slipped under his radar.)

I wrote in November 2015 that “it is simply impossible to imagine anything companies like Exxon and Shell would not do in order to protect their future incomes.” On the evening of Trump’s inauguration I argued that the Trump administration represents a coup by the climate denial industry and its backers in Big Oil. I was right.

In 2014 Naomi Klein wrote in ‘This Changes Everthing’ that we can no longer afford the illusion that small, gradual changes will be enough to save our stable climate. The antics of companies like Exxon Mobil have ensured that the only hope we now have is in mass social movements which seek to seize the power of those corporations and their political servants. Counter-revolutions happen not just in response to successful insurrections, but also to failed ones, to the threat of a political challenge. This reactionary wave, which has so far brought us Brexit and Trump and is quite possibly about to install a Holocaust denier as President of France, is a response to our failure to build those social movements. The immortally wise words of Sven Lindqvist (written in relation to genocide) encapsulate perfectly where we stand in terms of our responsibilies to our climate:

You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.

The conclusion I draw is: we have to make Climate Change an absolutely central theme in the struggle to defeat the global far-right movement.

Milo, Miller and Marine Le Pen: Pedophiles, Nazis, and genocidal Islamophobes

photo

No thinking and feeling human being can do other than take great satisfaction from the downfall of the white supremacist activist/’libertarian’ ‘provocateur’ (aka racist troll) Milo Yiannopoulos, who was exposed this week as an advocate for pedophilia. This icon of the “alt-right” movement clearly thought we as a  civilisation had reached the point where all forms of abuse of the vulnerable by the powerful could be openly celebrated, but it turns out he was wrong. From now on all coverage of the alt-right should include an explicit reference to its chief figurehead’s support for the rape of children.

The speed with which the far-right fake news outlet Breitbart dumped their star turn shows that they are more vulnerable to media exposure has been assumed. It’s unfortunate that no such outrage has accompanied the news that White House spokestroll Steven Miller is also an outright white supremacist. Progressive elements in the mainstream press should counter any tendency to normalise such affiliation by seeking not just to expose him but actively seek to oust him and others like him.

The global far-right movement knows how to stretch the boundaries and to insinuate their values into mainstream and even ‘progressive’ opinion. Yesterday  I saw this in practice. At some point over the last few months I must have liked or signed up to a US-based Facebook group called ‘Real Progressives’. It seemed mostly made up of Bernie ‘supporters’ who had been naive and/or arrogant enough not to heed their hero’s warnings at the most crucial time, and thus helped Trump into power.  Still, with the election out of the way and all radical forces united in opposition to the new ‘President’, I would have assumed that we had essential values in common.

That turns out not to have been the case. On Tuesday someone who, judging from their profile, was clearly a pretty serious racist posted a meme showing the French fascist leader and Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen calling for children wearing headscarves to be expelled from France. The immediate response from members of the group was not just approval, but a collective outburst of genocidal racism. There were even people calling for Muslims to be sterilised. My remonstrations (and those of a few others) had little effect. We pointed out she’s on the same side as Putin and Trump, and that she proudly associates with holocaust deniers, but they weren’t interested. She’d thrown a bone and they went for it without hesitation.

The far-right knows how to position itself and how to frame its messages. These ideological mengeles know where to insert the needle to get their poison directly into the veins of people who, although they go on believing themselves radical and progressive, are now primed to accept the fascist agenda. These were people in this group of ‘socialists’ and ‘Greens’ openly calling for, if not the rape, the physical abuse of children on the basis of their religion.

Perhaps if Milo Yiannopoulos had specified in his rant that only Muslim children were fair game for sexual abuse, his message would have found a more receptive audience. I hope not, but what I’ve seen in pro-‘Bernie’ and Jill circles makes me suspect that it would have gone down well with at least some of their self-declared supporters. All of us on the Left need to be extremely vigilant and very vocal with regard to any anti-Muslim racism appearing in our midst. That is the Trojan horse being used by the smarter elements of the far-right to insinuate their insidious messages into supposedly ‘progressive’ milieus.

This is why Trump calling Syrian refugees ‘dangerous’ is stupid and wrong

screenshot_2017-02-11-16-13-44

You wake up and check Twitter, and see that the word #earthquake is trending, along with the name of some Japanese-sounding town you’ve vaguely heard of. You check the news on Google and see that it’s a big one – 8.2 on the Richter Scale (does it go that high?!), and it turns out that the epicentre was only a few kilometres away from the town. Hundreds of buildings have collapsed, including many that were supposed to be earthquake-proof. Tens of thousands of people have been trapped and hundreds of thousands made instantly homeless, and according to Reuter’s there’s a storm on the way. You wonder why storms so often follow earthquakes, and try to remember if your brother-in-law’s family have gone to China or Japan on vacation. Maybe you should call him to check they’re ok. But it’s 7.30am. What time is it in China? Japan? You keep reading and watching. The Government has swung into action, sending helicopters to assess the extent of the damage and digging and sonar equipment to rescue any trapped survivors. Neighbouring countries have offered to send help. On each link you click on the death toll gets higher. How dismal. Maybe you should donate. Money or blood. Red Cross. Money can be sent quickly. But blood? How do they…

You look on Twitter for a link to the Red Cross. To the left of the screen you can see that the earthquake is no longer the top trending item. It’s #Trump, and then #sendthemback. Your heart sinks. At a time like this? What’s he… you take a deep breath and click on the hashtag. There’s the story, from CNN. The President has tweeted about the Japanese earthquake. You’re surprised he’s managed to spell it correctly. He’s announced that the US will immediately be closing its borders to Japanese citizens, and will be ‘assembling’ those already in the US with a view to immediate deportation. He calls them ‘infected’, and says that Japan is ‘the world’s most dangerous country’. You rest your head on the keyboard and pray to whatever God might exist for the strength to get through another day.

We want President TRUMP, not “President Bannon”!

wp-1486750890873.jpg
Did you vote for this man to be President?!

Did you vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States of America? So did hundreds of millions of your fellow citizens. They were inspired by his rallies, his crushing victories in the so-called debates and his simple but powerful message: Let’s make America great again. As a result, last November, through the medium of the electoral college and in the face of vast opposition from the liberal media and the political establishment in Washington, he won. He won the right to serve in the greatest office on the planet as leader of the free world and most powerful man on earth.

Who, then, is “President Bannon“?

That’s the name that’s been trending on Twitter all week. It’s also the man whose face you’ll see on the cover of this week’s Time magazine, accompanied by the headline ‘The Great Manipulator’.

That’s not what you voted for in December.

It’s not who you chose to be President.

Now, Donald made a smart choice in picking Bannon as his Chief Strategist. The man has a number of attributes which should appeal to any Trump voter. He’s fanatically racist, boasts an impressive history of violence against women, and has the face of a 75-year-old pedophile alcoholic priest. Such a man is ideally placed to be the second in command in Donald Trump’s administration.

But not the first. Not no. 1. After all, whoever he might be, Steve Bannon did not win the election. He wasn’t the man you chose to bring jobs back to America, frack under your houses and build a wall to stop Muslims pouring into the country from China. But if other countries hear the rumors that it is he, not Donald, who is leading the country, who is taking key decisions that it is the job of the President himself and alone to take, then they will not respect the man you voted for, and the libtards who were so shaken up by his historic victory* will continue to make out that Trump is little more than a witless, barely literate and probably incontinent orange-skinned frontman for far more powerful and shadowy forces.

Something is wrong, and something has to change.

It’s up to you to make that change. It’s up to you to insist as loud as you can that no one but Donald Trump, the man you chose to be President, should be sitting in the Oval Office ruling the country and the world, waiting for the phone to ring so Vladimir Putin can tell him what to do next. Bannon may the ideal person for running far-right fake news operations or managing the disposal of porcine waste on a major agricultural facility, but HE IS NOT THE PRESIDENT. So repost this article wherever you can. Get on Twitter and tell the world: Bannon must go. We want Donald Trump in charge of everything. At all times. No manipulation. No delegation. No advice on bewilderingly complex issues which would tax the expertise of even experienced politicians, let alone an overgrown fratboy sociopath who’s never read the Constitution, doesn’t understand the role of the Supreme Court and would struggle to locate the Washington Monument on a map.

If that means that Donald Trump should go without sleep for four to eight years, so be it. That’s what you voted for. Accept no substitute. Bannon must go. Trump must govern. Alone.

The hashtag to use is #TrumpNotBannon.

Let’s make this happen.

 

*Although not in terms of numbers of the popular vote, obviously.

No one expected the American Inquisition

There is a strong sense of a counter-revolution to what is being orchestrated from the White House.

What Van Jones, on the night of the election called a ‘whitelash‘ – a carnival of repressed racism in response to having had a black President – is actually much broader than that.

I wrote on the day of the inauguration that this was a climate denial coup. But actually they’re giving free reign to all the sadistic and self-serving whims of the most reactionary elements of the ruling elites, regardless of how chaotic the results may be. The last few weeks have seen the lighting of bonfires under regulations and laws guaranteeing public access to healthcare and education, protecting the environment from rapacious slash-and-burn corporations and the real economy from those who would gamble it away in an afternoon, safeguarding the rights of women, refugees, and so much more. Their project will involve, as Richard Seymour details, austerity of a savagery never before imagined. The political scientist Robert Nichols writes: “this is what the Trump administration represents: a coup d’état by the ultra elite billionaire oligarchs, who have effectively eliminated the political-managerial class that used to sit between us and them”.

One obvious analogy to all this is fascism. Hitler’s rise was partly the result of the failure of the socialist revolution of 1918-19. But in our search for historical precedents we can also go further back. The Portuguese historian António Saraiva argued that the Medieval Inquisition was an attempt to hold down a class on the rise: the new merchants who were challenging the power of the church and the aristocracy. That counter-revolution involved the imposition of violence and terror over several centuries.

What is the nature of the heresy that Trump and Bannon have been tasked with repressing? The targets chosen in these first few weeks tell us very clearly: it’s our right to a stable climate. It’s women’s rights to control their own lives. It’s all the civil rights that were won by those whose ancestors built America’s wealth with their slave labour. It’s middle-class aspirations to a dignified life. It is, it should be clear by now, all forms of what can reasonably be called social progress and it’s the very notion that those who weren’t born into the elite class deserve to have rights of any kind.

Orchestrating this is the Grand Inquisitor himself, Steve Bannon, the Torquemada of our times. The fact that he was previously employed overseeing a network of far-right websites presenting ideology as news is of huge significance. For while over hundreds of years the various Inquisitions around Europe imposed their control through torture and public burnings, their contemporary counterparts make use of a far more advanced tool of social control and repression. It was thanks to the internet that they were able to gain power (as Jonathan Albright explains) and it is through trolling and shaming that they will rule. The priests of this movement don’t wear cassocks and carry incense; they sport chinos and brandish iphone 7s, and they express themselves not through papal bulls but through photos with photoshopped slogans ridiculing all accepted beliefs except the one that says that the Holy Church of the Rich, Nasty and Profoundly Stupid is sempiternus.

The ideological psychopaths behind Trump, Putin and Brexit

I’ve seen several headlines comparing Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist, to the Mad Monk Rasputin, given the coincidence of their seemingly hypnotic influence over the country’s most powerful man and their apparent commitment to arcane forms of Evil. Rasputin also has a counterpart in contemporary Russian politics, in the form of Vladislav Surkov, ‘Putin’s grey cardinal’, a figure who, according to the Atlantic, “has directed Russian society like one great reality show”, often using bizarre means of discrediting anyone who stands up to the Government. A meeting between Bannon and Surkov would put Malcolm Tucker and Jamie from ‘The Thick of It’ in the shade.

Although Tony Blair’s Press Secretary Alistair Campbell was the model for Tucker, his bullying and lying could hardly be called psychopathic, and he seems to have been driven by loyalty and career progression rather than destructive zeal even as his dishonesty and cynicism destroyed the Middle East. The same could not be said for someone who, although he is no longer on the scene, has also had a decisive influence on world events: Dominic Cummings, former adviser to the failed Geek Emperor Michael Gove and, as head of the pro-Brexit camp in the Referendum, originator of the slogan ‘Take Back Control’. He has been described by David Cameron as a ‘career psychopath’ and by Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris, in similar terms. I urge you to read in full Pat Kane’s assessment, in which he calls Cummings an “intellectually committed chaos-merchant” and reports on his mission to subject all aspects of human behaviour (health, education, all public services) to the capricious and/or sadistic whims of the market. This may not suit everyone, but Cummings believes most of us to be a waste of education, as cognitive ability is primarily related to genes. This throwback to early 20th Century ideologies is currently off -stage, back to writing deranged screeds on his personal website, but the ideas he promotes are clearly of influence on a Government which has no better idea than rip-it-up-and-start-again.

Figures like Bannon, Surkov and Cummings may have different visions of a perfect society, but they share a commitment to elite rule and an idea of how to aggressively pursue it: by creating chaos, using what Rebecca Solnit (in one of the best assessments I’ve yet encountered of why Trump won) describes as ‘gaslighting’ to destabilise accepted values and undermine trust in established institutions. I found out about Surkov through Adam Curtis (a very skilled propagandist in this own right), who says that Surkov has “turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theater…(creating) a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control”*. This interest in disruption is something all ideological psychopaths share. An appropriate analogy might be that shaking a baby vigorously enough a) might somehow make it grow up quicker and b) will stop things getting boring. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that historical precedents to such projects lie in the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Khmer Rouge. Figures like Bannon, Surkov and Cummings also have literary antecedents. Kane defines Cummings as “a mercurial figure who could easily stalk the pages of the Booker Prize longlist”. After all, part of the thrill and success of the Booker-winning ‘Wolf Hall’ lay in Thomas Cromwell’s machiavellian machinations. Much of what I’ve read about the three ideological psychopaths in question reminds me of a quote from H.G. Wells’ Doctor Moreau:“Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say; this time I will burn out all the animal, this time I will make a rational creature of my own.”

They also put me in mind of a series of characters in the later J.G.Ballard novels: deranged scientists and psychologists relieving suburban boredom and stress and shaking up bourgeois lives with doses of ultraviolence. The messianic tennis coach Bobby Crawford in Cocaine Nights (1996) oversees a crime wave in an expat coastal resort while arguing that ‘great men’ should live outside the law and crime can be encouraged as ‘a means to an end.’ Wilder Penrose in Supercannes (2000) is a psychiatrist who promotes psychopathy as a means of relieving stress. Millennium People (2003) features a charismatic and possibly insane pediatrician called Richard Gould, who stirs up his followers to bomb Heathrow, the NFT and the Tate Modern in a “search for meaning”, while in Kingdom Come (2006) Dr Maxted counsels of the need for “elective insanity” and foments suburban revolt based on sporting and consumer loyalties, arguing that: the future is going to be a struggle between vast systems of competing psychopathologies, all of them willed and deliberate, part of a desperate attempt to escape from a rational world and the boredom of consumerism”.

There’s also been a lot of talk over the last few months about tricksters: Pied Pipers who lead the masses astray. Ideological psychopaths seem to make use of charismatic leaders, or at least to put themselves at their service. They are often not the figureheads themselves but the powers behind the throne. The Italian populist leader Beppe Grillo keeps himself out of direct political involvement and tries to get someone else to do the dirty work (he’s not very good at choosing). Then there’s the question of which ideology they adhere to. Bannon recently claimed to have once been a Leninist but has very clear fascist and possibly Nazi sympathies. Surkov’s inspiration apparently comes from contemporary art, and both he and Bannon have been associated with the fascist Russian ‘philosopher’ Alexander Dugin, who believes Russia should provoke an all-out world war. As for Cummings, despite his intellectual posturings, he may be stupid enough to be a fan of that ultimate Godhead of failed teenage bullies with megalomaniac pretensions, Ayn ‘Medicare’ Rand. He is an extreme Neoliberal and a reminder that the origins of Neoliberal thought lay partly in nazi belief in the purity and goodness of elite power.

Another common comparison for Bannon has been Goebbels. The Nazi propaganda leader was notoriously interested in and inspired by mystical beliefs and occult rituals. The Trump phenomenon has partly been explained in terms of a hypnotic effect, not least by (stranger and stranger…) Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. The (mock?) science of Neurolinguistic Programing may partly explain why, according to several reports, people went into Trump’s rallies curious and came out fuming. Conspiracy theorists find consolation in the belief that all world events, from Brexit to Trump to the war in Syria, are controlled by the CIA; it’s comforting to think that someone’s there behind the scenes watching and learning and will step in when things get out of hand. However, part of the immense value of Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ lies in its exposure and exploration of the chaos and vanity of attempts to control and learn from war, with its groups of scientists competing to use humans like lab rats.

One thing people like Surkov do is to learn from recent developments in marketing and apply them directly to politics. What’s happening politically in the UK, the US and elsewhere is by no means detached from what’s going on in the economy. We are subject to massive and increasing manipulation in the form of disruptive technologies, such as Airbnb and Uber, many of whose creators believe that disrupting settled industries and tearing up patterns of social behaviour is an end which justifies all means.

That ultimate agent of chaos Donald Trump certainly has a way with a crowd, but he’s also stupid and helpless when it comes to understanding world events. He watches the TV news and accepts the simplest and most misleading of explanations. He appears to have no-one to trust and doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s doing beyond acting out his most sadistic impulses. It may be that he thinks Steve Bannon is his only friend. Bannon certainly appears to know how to manipulate his charge. The plot of this contemporary dystopian parable is starting to resemble Frankenstein, but in this version the Doctor doesn’t care about the consequences of what he’s created, and instead is urging the monster out of the castle to attack the village and take over the world.

Rasputin, of course, ended up being shot dead and thrown into a river, partly undone by his own drunken boasting. As for his contemporary counterparts, they may look and feel like protagonists making their own rules but in reality they are obeying deeper and darker forces which may well destroy them. All of them appear to be deeply narcissistic and probably enjoy being talked and written about, even though it’s public knowledge that Bannon is a wife-beating drunk, Surkov a failed novelist and pictures of Cummings show him posing like a pitiful pastiche of the Bullingdon crew. Maybe he was the one who cleaned up after their parties. Ultimately the three ideological psychopaths I’ve talked about here are not masters, but servants of (to quote Pynchon in ‘V’) a much more ominous logic.

* Curtis explores this in more depth in ‘Hypernormalisation’ (2016)