You are living in a death cult
I.  Why was there only five days between the Grenfell blaze, killing dozens of working class and racially oppressed people, and the Finsbury Park mosque attack? And what connects the two?

Why should it be that after years since 2005, in which there were few successful attacks, the Woolwich killing being the most significant, there were five outrages in sequence over the last year beginning with the killing of Jo Cox MP? Why should the "lone wolf," the entrepreneurial form of fascist and jihadist killing, be the main form this has taken?

Why, in the aftermath of a terrifying disaster, should there be earnest discussions about whether the "illegal" migrants who survived ought to be given amnesty? As if the alternative, deportation, is remotely acceptable? Why would some of the residents of Kensington Row prefer a kind of socio-ethnic cleansing, with residents bussed to the north or lined up for deportation, to the most minimal gesture toward justice? 

Why did Ken Clarke say in parliament yesterday, in defending the EU's 'free movement' principle, that the "real problem" was "illegal immigrants" from outside the Schengen zone -- as, he said, was illustrated by the Grenfell disaster?

Why was a major issue of contention in the general election the question of whether Jeremy Corbyn would "push the button"? What practical problem could possibly be solved by a willingness to obliterate entire populations? To what question is nuclear genocide an answer? To what questions are the murders perpetrated by both agonists and antagonists of 'Britain', short-cut answers?

What is happening in Britain today? What has erupted? What has been boiling away like lava under the surface these last years, until now?

II.  Borders fail. They must. 

Borders are not perimeters, outlines, but grids of sorting and sifting, filters which govern the whole population. The border is everywhere, increasingly integral to the governance of race. Ever larger numbers of people in various institutions, from universities to hospitals, are being unofficially converted into border officials. Border men suddenly appear -- rather like The Breach in China Miéville's novel, The City and The City -- in the streets, or kicking down your door, and withdraw from sight just as quickly.

The border is a race-making apparatus in the guise of race-suppression. The language of legality, and integration, is supposed to guarantee that all citizens are treated equally. It is supposed to guarantee, in other words, that race -- a violent hierarchy -- will not exist. And by keeping out the displaced of imperialist wars, the refugees of the 'war on terror', it is supposed to externalise the violence of a global racial order. 

But what it does, precisely through its orchestrations of varying shades of legality, is produce race. What it does, through its criminalisation and brutalisation of refugees and migrants, those penned in and tear-gassed in Calais, those confined in detention centres, those separated from their families and deported, is bring the violence of empire closer to home. 

The border is a race-maker.

But borders must fail insofar as, while producing race, they also attempt to manage, suppress and externalise it. Race will not be mapped onto place, and it will not stay in its place. There are always the displaced. There are always the depaysements of empire, always the ghosts of everyday racial capitalism. 

The harder you try to filter out the Other qua Otherness, the stronger is its recurrence. The harsher the repression, the more stunning its return; like an ambush, or something worse. Even without the racial Other physically represented, its ghosts would still appear in dreams, fantasies and jokes, and still haunt relations between 'whites'.

This may partly help to explain why it is not in the societies, cities, towns or regions with the highest degree of migration that are most palpably menaced by migration. 

III.  Race is a metaphor in the guise of a literalism. 

It constitutes the racialised subject through the displacement and condensation of the (usually undesirable) features, characteristics, desires, and behaviours of those perpetrating the racialisation. 

The racial Other metaphorises the antagonisms and dysfunctions and undesirable desires of a society. It is they who, variously, carry the can for sexism, crime, rape, child abuse, fanaticism, violence, nihilism, exploitation, robbery and even, by what could be called a kind of 'white magic', for racism.

But the fundamentalism of race necessitates a belief in its literal existence, somatic or cultural. The pseudo-scientific, ahistorical basis for this belief is neither here nor there. The true believer makes an investment in it, puts his or her being on the line for it, confident that its truth will be revealed. The bad faith believer either pretends to have no investment in it, no desire other than a technical problem-solving one; or even to have no personal belief in race whatever. Still, they put up their stake.

But since it is a metaphor, it is worth thinking about how the border is orchestrating a metaphorical response to a range of problems. Problems, certainly, of labour-supply and labour-process, of education and training, of scarcity in public services, of policing, and so on. But, also, in the context of a crisis of the Union, problems of hegemony.

Hegemony is achieved when the ruling class doesn't simply dominate, but leads. It presents the society with an historic mission, a purpose to which the nation (barring an excluded and repressed remainder) can attach itself. The hegemonic project of the neoliberal era had reached, as certain posters vividly suggested through their own racial metaphors, "Breaking Point".

For the Right, Brexit was to be the organising principle of revival, giving Britain -- a Union forged for colonialism -- a new purpose. By "taking back control" of the borders, the people-nation would also have taken back control of the polity, and embarked on a thrilling new mission of global expansion. Our former colonial friends, the Commonwealth, surely grateful to hear from us once more, and perhaps keen to repay old debts, would be anxious to be our trading partners -- once we'd deported every single one of their errant citizens back to them. 

Unmoored, unbound to a decaying Euro-bureaucracy, Britain would embark like the ship on the frontispiece of Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna, to see a world made new again. New World, New Britain.

IV.  The fantastical element of this hard-right hegemonic project was inescapable, and given away precisely by its small-time, miserly defensiveness about immigration.

For all the colonial nostalgia, for all that there is an unprocessed clutter of colonial nonsense sedimented into national unconscious, throwing up ghosts, repetitions and deferred actions, even the most bullish of 'global traders' must have a sense of playing for time.

The language of "border controls" simply did not have the resonance during the colonial era that it does now. Insofar as borders mattered, it was chiefly because of Europe's internal Others, Jewish refugees from pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Such was the rationale, supplied in abundance by the gutter press -- a press now, happily, dying in the gutter -- for the Aliens Act of 1905.

But until 1962, there remained a considerable degree of freedom of movement for people within the British Commonwealth both to and from the colonies. Subjects of the Commonwealth were considered subjects of the British monarch and in legislation passed in 1948 confirmed as citizens of the “UK and Colonies”.

Not that British governments, including the post-war Labour government, regarded their presence as unproblematic. In remedying labour shortfalls, they preferred people of "good stock," white labourers from Ireland or Poland whom they had more confidence could merge into the general population. Nonetheless, migration from the New Commonwealth was an integral part of post-war social democracy: no migrants, no NHS, no national reconstruction, no postwar boom.

Those migrants would have faced racism in the Britain of that day, whatever happened to the colonies, but it is fair to say that the fact of Britain's loss of colonial elan, the fact of India achieving independence, of bloody counterinsurgencies in Malaya and Kenya failing, altered the dynamic somewhat.

Britain imposed its first restrictions with the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962, six years before it withdrew from east-of-Suez imperial commitments and left management of those 'Free World' sectors to the Americans. These restrictions, compounded in a 1965 White Paper and then in subsequent acts in 1968 and 1971, did not at first seek to reduce the number of migrants, since quotas could be adjusted to fit the needs of employers, but to reduce their status and rights.

But the early death-pangs of the post-war compromise, the breakdown of the Bretton-Woods system, the slump in manufacturing profitability, and the decay of social-democracy, that expedited the ascendance of a populist-racist New Right, pioneered by the vanishing mediator Enoch Powell and carried on by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. And with the National Front on the rise too, the whole political spectrum was yanked sharply to the right on the axis of immigration. Labour MPs, like Bob Mellish, could be just as racist as their Tory opposites on the issue. By the time of Thatcher's British Nationality Act of 1981, which decisively ended any right to citizenship on the part of New Commonwealth subjects, primary immigration was virtually at a stand-still.

This shift tracked a transition from a global, aggressive white-supremacism to a defensive white-nationalism. The phases of anti-immigrant reaction since then can be seen as desperate attempts to preserve what is left of imperial whiteness, like a dusty, cob-webbed shrine to a long lost lover. Unsurprisingly, it comes with a fondness for bunting and military regalia, with 'Rule Brittania' anthems, and a fascination with the armed forces as the embodiments of British heroism and power. 

But there is no going back; there is only either the freeze-frame of a fantasy, with its frozen-in-time unreality, or letting go.

V.  It is in this sense that the politics of "border controls" is a fantasy politics. Fantasy covers up a lack, something lost or missing.

It is not, of course, that borders are unreal. Any more than the state is unreal. But they are not physical objects and they are not persons. From one point of view, a state is the political organisation of a set of social relationships. From another point of view, a state is a cultural formation.

What states do, in this sense, is produce a normal order, a moral order. They produce, incentivise and police set of social classifications which, in the words of Corrigan and Sayer, render "natural, taken for granted, in a word 'obvious', what are in fact ontological and epistemological premises of a particular and historical form of social order".

It is "obvious," in the sense of being "taken for granted," that immigrants are a problem to be solved, and illegal immigrants the most pressing problem. And, of course, this logic extends backward temporally and generationally. If "they" are a problem now, then those migrants who arrived earlier, and their children, and children's children, start to become a problem as well. Their 'integration' becomes a question, even though it is precisely their integration that is not really desired.

The logic is never fully spelled out or, if it is, is disavowed as "going too far". But the logic of the border, the way it sifts through loyal and disloyal, real and bogus, good character and bad character, necessarily produces this fantasy of finally expelling the undesirable non-white elements.

Herein lies the necessary authoritarianism of "taking back control" -- or, indeed, "building that wall". Obsessed as it is with racial separation as a kind of social hygiene, its biggest fear is the racial mishmash, the undifferentiated pulpy mass in which the principle of whiteness is lost. In a previous essay, I wrote of the overlap between David Starkey, Geoffrey Cronje, and Thomas Mair around this fantasy.

In a way, however, the danger is that they will be forced to reckon with the extent to which it has already been lost. In the colonial unconscious, Britain still reigns over a quarter of the world, the Union flag still commands terror, and working class men from Glasgow, Liverpool and London are still pushing around their racial 'inferiors'. The anger of the colonised is still 'native fanaticism,' their demands for dignity and equality still 'ingratitude'.

The existence of Britain's multicultures, is a permanent reminder that imperial whiteness is dead: and thus, that whiteness as such has no certain future.

VI.  "Nihilistic death-cult? You’re living in it." -- Salvage, November 2015.

Colonial ideology has always maintained that the Empire brought law, language and liberty, and trained its subjects in habits of work, and how to sublimate their pleasures in exchange for civilisation. 

The colonial archives, on the other hand, are filled with genocidal fantasies and acts, massive rapacity and theft: a lawless jouissance. French colonial travelers were fascinated and repulsed by what they thought of as the 'cannibal' qualities of the natives, but distinctly untroubled by the Malagasy genocide.

In the same way, 'war on terror' ideology has always held that 'our' wars are responsible, proportionate, unavoidable, law-bound and geared toward democratic outcomes, while 'their' violence is limitless, shameless and nihilistic. 

And in the same way, the archives of the 'war on terror' are filled with soldiers raping teenagers, shooting families at checkpoint, torturing and sexually assaulting prisoners, gunning down civilian gatherings from a great height, bombing hospitals and schools, destroying mosques, all while officials run around with suitcases filled with cash, building sectarian-mercenary armies, skimming off profits, building extravagant and luxurious 'Green Zone' compounds.

And we are used to, in some quarters, fascination with the death-dealing jouissance of terrorists, and comparable indifference to the slaughters perpetrated under the Union flag. 

It is quite normal for pundits to be paid for the opinion that 'they,' whomever they may be, love death as much as we love life. Life is cheap to them. 

With varying degrees of racism, this is said of Daesh, or of terrorists, or of Muslims, or of Palestinians. The border, in that sense, is presented as a kind of life-preserving machine, identifying death and keeping it out of the social body.

This is classic colonial projection. Even where, as in the case of Daesh, there is an element of truth in the claim, it is projection. If, per Fanon, the image of the Other is an imago onto which can be projected the death-drives of Europe, that continues to be true even if Daesh, like Satanism and Hitler-worship, offers a perfect screen for the projection. 

The fact that the Daily Mail is so luridly fascinated with the diabolical jouissance of torturers and murderers, beheaders and enslavers, that it treats their daily exploits with the loving textured detail of the reports in its "sidebar of shame," and with the same giddy editorial voice, is a testament to cross-cultural communication: the Mail has recognised in Daesh something of itself.

But this is also another reason why borders fail: the death is always within us. Think of the many examples where young men have been hassled by border men, cops and immigration officials, because someone saw them with a Quran or a rucksack on the train. Think of the people bundled off airplanes because other passengers thought they 'looked like terrorists'. 

Think of the process involved. You see something, a racial cue, something that summons terror. You start sweating and hyperventilating, imagining, fantasising, running through the possible ecstatic ends to which you could come, in your mind. Any minute now, the cry, the explosion. The racist horror story unfolding and replaying itself over and over within a few seconds. And you call on the border to crush the danger. Well, of course, that only disposes of its immediate external target of your projections; the danger is still unknown, still within, still setting off alarms.

Think of nihilists, think of death-cults, and you should at least be able to think of the shark-eyed yuppies and speculators for whom only the accumulation of money and property is worth the burden of existence. 

Or those who, presented with the desolated, raging, wronged survivors of Grenfell, see only a threat to property markets. 

Or the climate-deniers who, whether they acknowledge it or not, are sacrificing futures not even dreamed of yet, generations not yet conceived, for the sake of a satisfactory rate of return on capital. 

Or those for whom the savage ecstasy of nuclear annihilation has to be in every potential statesman's purview, and the cynics who egg them on. 

The thousands upon thousands of people turned back by land and harassed at sea by Frontex operations called (with jaw-dropping cynicism) 'search and rescue' missions, until their drenched, drowned bodies turn up on Mediterranean shores, for nothing more noble than a trading bloc.

And the thousands trapped in Calais, tear-gassed, harassed, isolated, deprived of aid, for no better principle than that of protecting a fantasy of whiteness.

You're living in a nihilistic death-cult; and the impossible promises of the border are its mantra and manifesto.

released this post 1 day early for patrons.

Become a patron to

Unlock 374 exclusive posts
Listen anywhere
Connect via private message