George Bush and Superman: Naked and Powerless?


Powerful people are not powerful: they are fumblers and jivers as we used to call them back in the day. I say this after two events: George Bush’s antics during the G8 and the latest Superman movie.

Consider this slice of the off-the-cuff conversation between Bush and Blair in Russia:

Bush: I think Condi [US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] is going to go pretty soon.

Blair: But that’s, that’s, that’s all that matters. But if you… you see it will take some time to get that together.

Bush: Yeah, yeah.

Blair: But at least it gives people…

Bush: It’s a process, I agree. I told her your offer to…

Blair: Well… it’s only if I mean… you know. If she’s got a…, or if she needs the ground prepared as it were… Because obviously if she goes out she’s got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.

Blair’s words cut to the core of Britain’s role in the world: his desire now is only to present Downing Street as a relevant force, as ‘powerful’. Yet all he can do is ‘speak’ as he runs ahead of actors so that he can seem to have an impact on events – to be part of the doing in the Middle East and elsewhere, . How helpless, how sad that this man who occupies such a supremely self-conceited office should be revealed to be so…irrelevant. This is a truth that the world is catching on fast. In Kenya for example, the British diplomatic effort is sputtering. No longer can the ambassador stroll into State House as he wishes. The impulse at home is to deal with those with the best power PR machines, those who retain some ability to act decisively. But that too is where the rubber gets off the road because even the ‘powerful’ ones engage in conversations like this:

(Since the camera is not focused on him, it is not clear whom Bush is talking to, but possibly Chinese President Hu Jintao, a guest at the G8 summit.)

Bush: “Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. Go to the airport, get on the airplane and go home. How about you? Where are you going? Home?

Bush: “This is your neighborhood. It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home?”

(Reply is inaudible.)

Bush: “Eight hours? Me too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”

(At this point, the president seems to bring someone else into the conversation.)

Bush: “It takes him eight hours to fly home.”

(He turns his attention to a server.)

Bush: “No, Diet Coke, Diet Coke.”

(He turns back to whomever he was talking with.)

Bush: “It takes him eight hours to fly home. Eight hours. Russia’s big and so is China.”

That’s what power does when it is not posturing before the microphones. Its use of violence is really just an attempt to hide its confusion, its fear of having been told that it is in control when all it really wants is a diet coke and to get home in time for bed.

The age of kings, at least due to the divine link it claimed for its highest, could make a PR stab at claiming supernatural control of events. But in this secular age, where the pressure on leaders is to remain ‘in control’, they must manage the image of control more than controlling events themselves which they know is beyond them. It is this PR aspect of leadership that leads to the greatest use of violence and oppression because the one thing you can at least appear to control is taking aim at a body, pulling a trigger or imposing some draconian measure on it. So just watch out when you demand that your leaders ‘do something’ about a major crisis. Violence often follows.

Power: do you think Superman the son of Krypton had it? Having just watched Superman Returns, the atrociously boring latest chapter, I am ashamed to say that as a kid I used to love the dude. He was all that was right with the world: justice and the victory of supermen over ordinary men which for some reason as kids in Kenya we really went in for. Perhaps this was because, as I have come to reluctantly suspect, deep inside the Kenyan middle class breast burns a secret, little colonial fire of white love and an unacknowledged hatred of the underdog despite being constantly told that you are one. How could I have ever related to Superman? He was invulnerable to everything except Kryptonite; could fly ‘faster than a speeding bullet’; leap over tall buildings; and even turn back time. So what did he choose to do with these powers? He ignored all that was going wrong in the world except for small-time crooks mugging little old ladies who he punched out or wrapped in a light pole to my great delight. I cannot now understand why I considered him a hero when in fact nothing could physically hurt him. This echoes my curiosity about how exactly is America so often able to think itself a victim of bullies when it is the most militarily and economically powerful country on earth. True Americans have been hurt by outsiders in the past, but I am increasingly astonished by this ability of the powerful to claim perpetual victimhood and the mantle of heroism when they react against the ‘bully’. It seems to me that most atrocities – whether in Haifa or Beirut for example – are always committed by ‘victims’. Even Superman becomes a victim of Lex Luther whose great crime is his madness in refusing to lie down and accept that the Man of Steel is his and humanity’s natural master.

Victim. The competition to append to yourself this word, and therefore own justifications for your actions, is the stuff of every strain of politics and ideology. From progressive to reactionary, democrat to republican, the search for victimhood is on. The winner gets to kill and maim with impunity.

From comments page:

alexcia: When bushie first came to power, there was alot of concern about whether and how his low regard for intellectual rigour would impact the US.
No one is concerned anymore, no they are numbed with shock from the realization that with him, and indeed most of america, Intelligence, low or otherwise does not matter. Who needs all that when you have WILL power, when you can read souls and when god speaks to you directly.

MMK: Intellectual rigour, the lack or presence of it, is the least of the problem. The real problem in my mind is with the issue of control: the attempt to present leadership as somehow a force that can control events and plot the future with unerring accuracy on the policy and moral front. Another word for what I am trying to point out is hubris. The US has steadily bowed to the dais of science and technology which in effect are about attempting to understand nature so as to control and direct it for human purposes. Its triumphs in this sphere have in the best enlightenment tradition been inferred to be relevant in political leadership and human management as well. The thinking being if you can create all those bits of tech and bio-tech and wealth built on science, then leadership too must bow to scientific exactitude and certainty.

Anonymous said…

Victimhood is the ultimate superiority. The victim is the moral superior, the victim is the superior when it comes to initiative- no one may question why they do something, after all they are victims.

Victimhood is the aspiration of all human beings, why else do we claim it was someone else’s fault each time we find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

Victimhood takes away responsibility. If someone did something bad to me, the the world is less shocked if my reaction to the act is brutal, callous and inhuman, after all, my victimisation made me vulnerable to such extremes.

Victimhood is a tool in politics as well as in personal relations. Women who stay in abusive relationships do so because, at a deeper psychological level, victimhood gives them a sense of moral superiority to the abuser. A sense of “see how courageous and loving I can be despite all the does to me, see how much I persevere!”

Victimhood is the ultimate symptom of the key malaise in human societies, a desire to avoid 100% responsibility over our actions, the consequences and the future.v

(Friday, August 18, 2006 2:58:39 PM)

The Headbutt From Heaven and How Zizou Rocked

It was perfect wasn’t it? The moment that Zinedine headbutted Materazzi the curtain parted and revealed the immigrant’s European journey. I did not have a moment of doubt that Materazzi had made a racist comment: that he had somehow managed to bring up the subject of Zizou’s Algerian origins in a derogatory fashion, which indeed turned out to be the case. And I celebrated wildly that Zizou had chosen to openly and violently refuse to endure such insult. He did not sneakily get back at his tormentor. No, it was his final game and he was going to play it on his terms – using his rules. No more taking of a high moral ground that in reality means self abasement or a turning of the other cheek only to have it struck as well.

He had endured this kind of thing before. Listened to the Jean-Marie Le Pen‘s and other racists deride the team of immigrants he led to victory in 1998. He had grown up with the knowledge of France’s brutal colonial war in Algeria; of the racist limitations to Algerian immigrant aspirations. His millions in income and his fame did not insulate him from the knowledge that his society prized him as a football player and little else. Zizou held hands with any immigrant who has stolidly endured racist insult to try and fit into their new society while trying to achieve their goals. And so when he unleashed that headbutt, the millions who had just taken their commuter trains to whatever nasty neighborhood they live in, under the baleful stare of the police and the sneers and jeers of many of their new countrymen leaned into Materazzi’s chest with him. I felt elated that this man who had bestrode the world stage and received its every honor had chosen instead, with premeditation and commitment, to refuse to take that shit anymore. He did it when it mattered, as billions watched and with the biggest sporting prize within reach. That is why Zizou for me has taken his place with the likes of Mohammed Ali and Joe Louis in being much more than a sporting icon. In his final game he rejected the role we want for him – refused to just play and shut up – and instead decided to be his own man.

But this post really would not be complete without a celebration of the mechanics of that headbutt. The way he jumped into it without hesitation. The decision to aim for the chest and not the head which displayed a brilliant understanding of the mechanics of surprise and forward movement during an attack. If you ever attend a Vee Arnis Jitsu class in New York City (as I did for some years before I left for London), you will realize that you have to move forward on the attack. That in fact your safety, in a manner of speaking, is behind the man in front of you and that you have to get through him to find it. Zizou understood this well. He might have gotten the red card and France did lose the game, but I think that his wellbeing, his sense of having stood for himself, lay behind Marco Materazzi who he went through. Like a hot knife through butter.

What would have happened had Zizou chosen to teach Materazzi some further lessons? Clearly the stomp would have come into play. In fact that was the natural follow through to that headbutt. But let me not get gory or sink too low because in fact Zizou did not want to hurt the guy. It was more to show Materazzi that while he coveted the trophy enough to dishonor himself by making racist comment, he, Zizou, thought that the prize was not worth his honor.

(Check out a delicious post by Daniel Davies on the (sublime headbutt)

Some Email Considerations on the African Bush and its European Saviours

Below are some emails that I exchanged with one of my closest friends (PK) just after reading James Miller’s great essay, ‘Carnivals of Atrocity: Foucault, Nietzsche, Cruelty,’ (in Political Theory, Vol. 18, #3, August, 1990.) It is a bit of a switch from the kind of digressions and rants that have appeared here in the past but may be enjoyable to some folks…

MMK: The way Nietzsche (and later Foucault) saw this place has come to pass guy. Is there any doubt that London and Europe have perfected control and the shrinking of the human space by growing the mechanisms of mercy and ‘rational’ policy? And that we, on the other hand, still exist in a place where people are bigger than the institutions that seek to extend control over them. That is where all our shit comes from and also the glorious ability to actually be and feel power -not ‘influence’ as they call it out here.

As Europeans have in the past few generations created their world of rights and utility, they have cast man down. Every man so that even the highest in the land are ruled by mechanisms that are wholly divorced from all. It is what makes you feel that everyone here is arranging themselves vis-a-vis a process, an institution or a set template. The very process of building the modern penal system was reflected in institutions outside it. The goal as Morpheus in The Matrix said: control. But it would have been preferable if this edifice was built by conspiracy, by a king-like figure that yearns for control. That way, it would have a human scale and there would only be a few necks to chop through. But no, this situation is like layers of concrete laid by different generations so that there is now no going back to dig through to the person anymore. No wonder there was this desire to build thousands of nukes. Deep inside I think Europeans are deeply suicidal, they want it all to end but they just cannot get beyond the safety mechanisms that they have built into their societies.

This is what I think is so awesome (in the biblical sense of the word) about this thing we call Africa. It refuses to be brought to heel in the most infuriating and dispiriting fashion. The bush just keeps growing back no matter what the European build on it or at least this is their version of events. Their dreams refuse to take here since the structures that they have grown on their soil can hardly last a generation on ours.

I was watching a recreation of the murder of Lord Errol the other night. Done by the BBC with that cultured, ‘we are going to understand our Africa’ tone. For the first time I actually felt sorry for Europeans who do the whole Africa thing. Their dreams are so flimsy and yet they always start out with so much faith that they can write themselves into the blank darkness and become what they could not in their country. No matter how much life they see or experience around them, whether good or bad, they persist with the conceit that it is not fully human, that it awaits their building it into existence. But it crushes them and in Happy Valley they basically lost it, and have been losing it ever since. All manner of methods have been brought to bear to grow this dream in the ‘bush’: guns, conquest, aid, intervention, non-intervention … everything, and yet it all keeps failing. Africa is their last indulgence. The last kick of their humanist conceits and the place keeps responding by kicking them in the balls. And the pain is probably made worse by the fact that in fact Africans might actually genuinely want to be down with the program, we mean the European no harm after all. We even have many of us trying to grow his little project with him and sometimes for him. But even this won’t take.

Just reading the Miller piece left me with such a satisfied calm. I felt that there was no crisis really in our part of the world. There are problems for sure, but no crisis whatsoever. To be a little Zen, the shit will go as the shit goes and it is as simple as that. Is that too Senegalese?

PK: Guy, remember me texting you last December from Club Afrique in London and saying that perhaps all Foucault needed was a dose of Lingala and a Congolese prostitute to show him in real terms what ‘limit experience’ is to the European — or what he defines as taking shit to the very edge.

The most acerbic criticism, the harshest assessments always come from people on the inside. Or more specifically, people on the outside-in, the silent observers of The Project, any project, the ones always assumed to be part of it but who in reality are deeply critical of it by virtue of their positioning. However, they know of no other. They adopt an anti-language whose deepest metaphors and most illuminating insights, whose zinging idioms are constructed to provide insights into the thing they most detest, which is also they only thing they know: The Project.

Africans who read Foucault love him because he articulated viscerally felt insights. He is no surprise to an African who knows it well but has always wondered where it comes from. But unlike Foucault, we have ways-out, ‘way-forwards’: Foucault’s preoccupation with reconciling his sex with his mind is what Eldridge Cleaver called the dilemma of the Omnipotent Administrator (man that black consciousness lingo was funky! I fear that Africans, in the States at least, have been absorbed into ‘The System’ and are now bland and mild-mannered and addicted to shopping malls). Did you ever read that shit? Juxtapose it to Foucault — it is cruel, angry, politically incorrect, misogynistic, and historically imprecise in places but always stabbing at the heart of African-existence. Anyway, Cleaver’s depiction of the Omnipotent Administrator is the white man as all head, no soul and no sex. He makes cruel stabs — ordinary today but probably deeply wounding then — about the European’s dead-man’s dance; his perpetual suspicion of sexual inadequacy — and by extension, the threat of the Supermasculine Menial.

All this sounds fairly banal today, even irrelevant. I was reading a 1976 Eldrige Cleaver interview in Transition and you can just feel the energy and dynamism of people living inside a project. When I hear the same terms used by the likes of X (a well known rights activist in Nairobi), they sound all rehearsed, as if she (and others) were playing at being adult.

You and I feel that frustration; how reduced, how small, the world gets when we receive the idea of project-completion, of final organisation, of last-man thoughts. And by the way, it’s happening everywhere. Re: the drought thing, and the quite genuine outrage of the public in sedentary-Kenya, an outrage underpinned by Mohammed Aminesque images of starving, fly-ridden children in strange, far-flung locations; in short, an outrage whose infrastructure looks disturbingly like white-liberal concern a la Live Aid/Live Eight. Nobody of course questions why the famine happened or will happen again. It is considered a given that people in strange, non-sedentary locations — people who were not touched by the civilizing mission; whose MBA-quotient is sub-optimal — will starve. The problem, the outrage is about the fact that food aid did not arrive in time. That even after the establishment of ‘early-warning systems’ the government was not able to respond in time.

What I’m trying to say is that we are all being sucked into a last-man thought system. Last as a universe constructed by a narrow-minded little bourgeois whose black holes consist of Friday-night infidelities, credit-card debts, SUV desires and MBA ambitions.

MMK: Let us continue. I need to find me some Cleaver. Now!

The madness in this thing is when Africans try and get with it in the usual babi, civil society ways. They become worse than mad men, they become fools. Did you read the details of Damien’s public execution in Miller and the intimate ritual between ruler and ruled that was playing out? The paradoxical freedom of the victim from all power directed at his intimate self?

Let us praise the bush if only ironically! And by this I do not mean a turn to the ‘primitive’ which as usual is all about the European template. I mean thank god I can listen to Lingala, tusker in hand in screwed Nairobi feeling bigger than all the mechanisms of the state erected to try and get one over on me. Yes, yes, I know that there are many victims and vulnerable people and all that claptrap that is the manna of what I will call the tyranny-by-humanist-increment crew.

Will get back to Cleaver and famines and Kenya in a second. Let me stay with our ostensible saviour for a while longer because after all we are supposed to be trying to be like him. Right? The European is being crushed beneath the layers of his humanist, rationalist and utilitarian institutions. These take aim, whether deliberately or not, at God, and the godliness in the human being, preferring rational man as godhead. Because they have judged themselves to be nothing more than unreasoning flesh straining against reason, while needing a creed of some kind to maintain social control to maintain control, they have built god-like institutions to rule. Each generation for the past century at least has added to the power of these institutions. Would I be going to far to say that politics here is the contest to determine who gets to add to the size and reach of the state-God?

The modern finds a rare recourse in the bedroom where he hopes to momentarily escape the jealous eye of the machines that control him. Words like freedom and society’s will or truth are all mere labels for mechanisms that are anything but. The European lives in the midst of giant conceits that separate his thought and word from their actual nature.

Back to the bedroom: freedom is in transgression, in the sexual fetishes that Foucault was so fascinated by. (Isn’t it funny how all fetishes are embraced by the transgression warriors except for what they call commodity or consumer fetishism?). There is no longer any possibility of freedom here, it is actually a meaningless word and better thought of as a chimera. I am not speaking here of political freedom, in the sense of freedom from dictatorship or the attainment of democracy, but rather the impulse to be free of the overwhelming conceits of the individual European’s society which him no room to breathe even while he proclaims it the peak of human achievement. How maddening it must be: to be told, and to hear yourself say, daily, that you are the richest, most humane, cleverest and nicest while feeling empty and put upon by all that you experience.

This morning, while commuting into the city, I found that the tube fare – for an 8 minute ride – had gone up by about 40% since I used the tube a week ago. Bus fare is also up and so is the congestion charge which was meant to discourage driving and be invested in better, cheaper public transport. On getting to the office in a fury, I tried ranting about the raises. In response, one guy suggested that surely there must be someone who is paying less therefore it is ok that he and I get to pay more! Another one blamed Thatcherite policies of privatization and was happy that Labour was finally investing in public services. Yet another constructive type wished that the public could join with the unions to stage a demonstration against the hikes. You see? There were plenty of reactions but none of anger at being made poorer and basically getting ripped off. I pulled a mini Black Man Rage saying that the people here have been broken. Only this Arabic woman jokingly advocated riots or for folks to crowd into buses and refuse to pay. None of the so-called ‘masters of the universe’ types like Blair can actually change anything here, seeing how all interests are aligned to leave standing only a massive depersonalized society-wide controls (Foucault’s govermentality?). You may as well buy a giant dildo and to use it on yourself. Transgression in the bedroom looks to be a way out, right? Turn to your nerve endings – when your nipples are burnt or your penis coated in burning wax – for momentary freedom from your institutional masters in the hope that they are not watching and might disapprove. But you know in truth that this is not the case because their regime is alive and well even in the heart of sexual sado-masochism which is now to be conducted with ‘safety words’, child-safety clamps and feathered whips. With every passing year, they shrug off and flatten the ancient religious and sexual hierarchies with a God at their head substituting them with a flat equality here on earth that they lord over as a new God who believes in nothing except reason and the need to destroy all hope in a human soul. The helplessness of it is must be crushing.

Oh yes, we Africans may go down in the face of some diseases and natural forces but here they are helpless at the root. Well fed in the belly and totally starving outside it. Yet even this binary set-up may be an illusion because it seems to promise that from one can emerge the other but this may only be true in the vast sweep of history and not in the individual life. Thus the constant refrain in the West of ‘what history will say’ about one action of the powerful or the other; it is yet another of the little conceits that are a scream for help by a people so helplessly drowned that they attempt to live in a single life an entire history and futurestory of mankind. Death is what is scary and made so much more so because this ‘modernist’ project or rather projects, for they are many atop and alongside each other, has rejected at its root the possibility of human transcendence.

The European is trapped in a world that he wants to imagine is of his making when he is actually just the recipient of his forefathers’ addition to the very rope that is holding him down. He is caught between pride at the awesome machine that rules him (‘we are the greatest, the best, the superior’) and a mighty desire to escape it (‘let us go to Africa’, noble savages, Maasais, Save The Children). He wants nothing better than pull others in with him so that in doing so, he momentarily escapes. This is where those conversations by the old Africa hand come in. How wonderful and freeing was the world that they had come to conquer and dominate. They had (have) a genuine love for a thing they never shared in. Even in the darkest heart of Africa, their soul was imprisoned in the light of a modernist prison and their simultaneous dream of freedom and dominance would not take. The bush during colonialism and especially after its short reign kept growing back. They were caught between an unfeeling pride for their prison and its soul crushing weight. The few who attempted went mad, and when you speak to them about anything, be it Maasai art or wildlife, and are not coming from their direction, they just sound either foolish or childish.

If only the African could fight this thing, fight to join the moderns. But the African who joins in that game, usually of the babi middle class, civil society persuasion, ‘we can be just like the west’ game, is functionally insane in my opinion. He is driven to join what others are trying to escape, so taken with the narrow freedoms that he cannot spot the machine that is crushing the life out of his human/animal/black/female/gay/landless/vulnerable/disabled/gender outlaw/anti-ageism/welsh/Palestinian/Israeli/Panafrican/labour/capitalist rights colleagues. He little understands that these values are better judged as Trojan Horses whether or not they have universal merit. Many indeed do, but it was never about these rights. It has always been about the institutional mechanism that shall carry them. The Bible is very hip to this stuff and gives a good example in Matthews. When Jesus was in the desert fasting, the Devil came to him and tried tempting him to eat. Now you know the Devil could have hooked him up something to eat, as he did to Adam and Eve, but Jesus chooses hunger. The Devil and in our case the rights crew come in with plenty of temptations but the inner goal is of robbing you of all life. And like I was saying, what makes this so much worse is that there is no conspiracy. It is a wholly impersonal historical epoch that in all probability shall not last. The European is already held captive by it, and we in the bush have been targets for the last few hundred years. Thank God that the bush is going to stay strong in my lifetime.

The African Bush and its European Saviours

Below are some emails that I exchanged with one of my closest friends (PK) just after reading James Miller’s great essay, ‘Carnivals of Atrocity: Foucault, Nietzsche, Cruelty,’ (in Political Theory, Vol. 18, #3, August, 1990.) It is a bit of a switch from the kind of digressions and rants that have appeared here in the past but may be enjoyable to some folks…

MMK: The way Nietzsche (and later Foucault) saw this place has come to pass guy. Is there any doubt that London and Europe have perfected control and the shrinking of the human space by growing the mechanisms of mercy and ‘rational’ policy? And that we, on the other hand, still exist in a place where people are bigger than the institutions that seek to extend control over them. That is where all our shit comes from and also the glorious ability to actually be and feel power -not ‘influence’ as they call it out here.

As Europeans have in the past few generations created their world of rights and utility, they have cast man down. Every man so that even the highest in the land are ruled by mechanisms that are wholly divorced from all. It is what makes you feel that everyone here is arranging themselves vis-a-vis a process, an institution or a set template. The very process of building the modern penal system was reflected in institutions outside it. The goal as Morpheus in The Matrix said: control. But it would have been preferable if this edifice was built by conspiracy, by a king-like figure that yearns for control. That way, it would have a human scale and there would only be a few necks to chop through. But no, this situation is like layers of concrete laid by different generations so that there is now no going back to dig through to the person anymore. No wonder there was this desire to build thousands of nukes. Deep inside I think Europeans are deeply suicidal, they want it all to end but they just cannot get beyond the safety mechanisms that they have built into their societies.

This is what I think is so awesome (in the biblical sense of the word) about this thing we call Africa. It refuses to be brought to heel in the most infuriating and dispiriting fashion. The bush just keeps growing back no matter what the European build on it or at least this is their version of events. Their dreams refuse to take here since the structures that they have grown on their soil can hardly last a generation on ours.

I was watching a recreation of the murder of Lord Errol the other night. Done by the BBC with that cultured, ‘we are going to understand our Africa’ tone. For the first time I actually felt sorry for Europeans who do the whole Africa thing. Their dreams are so flimsy and yet they always start out with so much faith that they can write themselves into the blank darkness and become what they could not in their country. No matter how much life they see or experience around them, whether good or bad, they persist with the conceit that it is not fully human, that it awaits their building it into existence. But it crushes them and in Happy Valley they basically lost it, and have been losing it ever since. All manner of methods have been brought to bear to grow this dream in the ‘bush’: guns, conquest, aid, intervention, non-intervention … everything, and yet it all keeps failing. Africa is their last indulgence. The last kick of their humanist conceits and the place keeps responding by kicking them in the balls. And the pain is probably made worse by the fact that in fact Africans might actually genuinely want to be down with the program, we mean the European no harm after all. We even have many of us trying to grow his little project with him and sometimes for him. But even this won’t take.

Just reading the Miller piece left me with such a satisfied calm. I felt that there was no crisis really in our part of the world. There are problems for sure, but no crisis whatsoever. To be a little Zen, the shit will go as the shit goes and it is as simple as that. Is that too Senegalese?

PK: Guy, remember me texting you last December from Club Afrique in London and saying that perhaps all Foucault needed was a dose of Lingala and a Congolese prostitute to show him in real terms what ‘limit experience’ is to the European — or what he defines as taking shit to the very edge.

The most acerbic criticism, the harshest assessments always come from people on the inside. Or more specifically, people on the outside-in, the silent observers of The Project, any project, the ones always assumed to be part of it but who in reality are deeply critical of it by virtue of their positioning. However, they know of no other. They adopt an anti-language whose deepest metaphors and most illuminating insights, whose zinging idioms are constructed to provide insights into the thing they most detest, which is also they only thing they know: The Project.

Africans who read Foucault love him because he articulated viscerally felt insights. He is no surprise to an African who knows it well but has always wondered where it comes from. But unlike Foucault, we have ways-out, ‘way-forwards’: Foucault’s preoccupation with reconciling his sex with his mind is what Eldridge Cleaver called the dilemma of the Omnipotent Administrator (man that black consciousness lingo was funky! I fear that Africans, in the States at least, have been absorbed into ‘The System’ and are now bland and mild-mannered and addicted to shopping malls). Did you ever read that shit? Juxtapose it to Foucault — it is cruel, angry, politically incorrect, misogynistic, and historically imprecise in places but always stabbing at the heart of African-existence. Anyway, Cleaver’s depiction of the Omnipotent Administrator is the white man as all head, no soul and no sex. He makes cruel stabs — ordinary today but probably deeply wounding then — about the European’s dead-man’s dance; his perpetual suspicion of sexual inadequacy — and by extension, the threat of the Supermasculine Menial.

All this sounds fairly banal today, even irrelevant. I was reading a 1976 Eldrige Cleaver interview in Transition and you can just feel the energy and dynamism of people living inside a project. When I hear the same terms used by the likes of X (a well known rights activist in Nairobi), they sound all rehearsed, as if she (and others) were playing at being adult.

You and I feel that frustration; how reduced, how small, the world gets when we receive the idea of project-completion, of final organisation, of last-man thoughts. And by the way, it’s happening everywhere. Re: the drought thing, and the quite genuine outrage of the public in sedentary-Kenya, an outrage underpinned by Mohammed Aminesque images of starving, fly-ridden children in strange, far-flung locations; in short, an outrage whose infrastructure looks disturbingly like white-liberal concern a la Live Aid/Live Eight. Nobody of course questions why the famine happened or will happen again. It is considered a given that people in strange, non-sedentary locations — people who were not touched by the civilizing mission; whose MBA-quotient is sub-optimal — will starve. The problem, the outrage is about the fact that food aid did not arrive in time. That even after the establishment of ‘early-warning systems’ the government was not able to respond in time.

What I’m trying to say is that we are all being sucked into a last-man thought system. Last as a universe constructed by a narrow-minded little bourgeois whose black holes consist of Friday-night infidelities, credit-card debts, SUV desires and MBA ambitions.

MMK: Let us continue. I need to find me some Cleaver. Now!

The madness in this thing is when Africans try and get with it in the usual babi, civil society ways. They become worse than mad men, they become fools. Did you read the details of Damien’s public execution in Miller and the intimate ritual between ruler and ruled that was playing out? The paradoxical freedom of the victim from all power directed at his intimate self?

Let us praise the bush if only ironically! And by this I do not mean a turn to the ‘primitive’ which as usual is all about the European template. I mean thank god I can listen to Lingala, tusker in hand in screwed Nairobi feeling bigger than all the mechanisms of the state erected to try and get one over on me. Yes, yes, I know that there are many victims and vulnerable people and all that claptrap that is the manna of what I will call the tyranny-by-humanist-increment crew.

Will get back to Cleaver and famines and Kenya in a second. Let me stay with our ostensible saviour for a while longer because after all we are supposed to be trying to be like him. Right? The European is being crushed beneath the layers of his humanist, rationalist and utilitarian institutions. These take aim, whether deliberately or not, at God, and the godliness in the human being, preferring rational man as godhead. Because they have judged themselves to be nothing more than unreasoning flesh straining against reason, while needing a creed of some kind to maintain social control to maintain control, they have built god-like institutions to rule. Each generation for the past century at least has added to the power of these institutions. Would I be going to far to say that politics here is the contest to determine who gets to add to the size and reach of the state-God?

The modern finds a rare recourse in the bedroom where he hopes to momentarily escape the jealous eye of the machines that control him. Words like freedom and society’s will or truth are all mere labels for mechanisms that are anything but. The European lives in the midst of giant conceits that separate his thought and word from their actual nature.

Back to the bedroom: freedom is in transgression, in the sexual fetishes that Foucault was so fascinated by. (Isn’t it funny how all fetishes are embraced by the transgression warriors except for what they call commodity or consumer fetishism?). There is no longer any possibility of freedom here, it is actually a meaningless word and better thought of as a chimera. I am not speaking here of political freedom, in the sense of freedom from dictatorship or the attainment of democracy, but rather the impulse to be free of the overwhelming conceits of the individual European’s society which him no room to breathe even while he proclaims it the peak of human achievement. How maddening it must be: to be told, and to hear yourself say, daily, that you are the richest, most humane, cleverest and nicest while feeling empty and put upon by all that you experience.

This morning, while commuting into the city, I found that the tube fare – for an 8 minute ride – had gone up by about 40% since I used the tube a week ago. Bus fare is also up and so is the congestion charge which was meant to discourage driving and be invested in better, cheaper public transport. On getting to the office in a fury, I tried ranting about the raises. In response, one guy suggested that surely there must be someone who is paying less therefore it is ok that he and I get to pay more! Another one blamed Thatcherite policies of privatization and was happy that Labour was finally investing in public services. Yet another constructive type wished that the public could join with the unions to stage a demonstration against the hikes. You see? There were plenty of reactions but none of anger at being made poorer and basically getting ripped off. I pulled a mini Black Man Rage saying that the people here have been broken. Only this Arabic woman jokingly advocated riots or for folks to crowd into buses and refuse to pay. None of the so-called ‘masters of the universe’ types like Blair can actually change anything here, seeing how all interests are aligned to leave standing only a massive depersonalized society-wide controls (Foucault’s govermentality?). You may as well buy a giant dildo and to use it on yourself. Transgression in the bedroom looks to be a way out, right? Turn to your nerve endings – when your nipples are burnt or your penis coated in burning wax – for momentary freedom from your institutional masters in the hope that they are not watching and might disapprove. But you know in truth that this is not the case because their regime is alive and well even in the heart of sexual sado-masochism which is now to be conducted with ‘safety words’, child-safety clamps and feathered whips. With every passing year, they shrug off and flatten the ancient religious and sexual hierarchies with a God at their head substituting them with a flat equality here on earth that they lord over as a new God who believes in nothing except reason and the need to destroy all hope in a human soul. The helplessness of it is must be crushing.

Oh yes, we Africans may go down in the face of some diseases and natural forces but here they are helpless at the root. Well fed in the belly and totally starving outside it. Yet even this binary set-up may be an illusion because it seems to promise that from one can emerge the other but this may only be true in the vast sweep of history and not in the individual life. Thus the constant refrain in the West of ‘what history will say’ about one action of the powerful or the other; it is yet another of the little conceits that are a scream for help by a people so helplessly drowned that they attempt to live in a single life an entire history and futurestory of mankind. Death is what is scary and made so much more so because this ‘modernist’ project or rather projects, for they are many atop and alongside each other, has rejected at its root the possibility of human transcendence.

The European is trapped in a world that he wants to imagine is of his making when he is actually just the recipient of his forefathers’ addition to the very rope that is holding him down. He is caught between pride at the awesome machine that rules him (‘we are the greatest, the best, the superior’) and a mighty desire to escape it (‘let us go to Africa’, noble savages, Maasais, Save The Children). He wants nothing better than pull others in with him so that in doing so, he momentarily escapes. This is where those conversations by the old Africa hand come in. How wonderful and freeing was the world that they had come to conquer and dominate. They had (have) a genuine love for a thing they never shared in. Even in the darkest heart of Africa, their soul was imprisoned in the light of a modernist prison and their simultaneous dream of freedom and dominance would not take. The bush during colonialism and especially after its short reign kept growing back. They were caught between an unfeeling pride for their prison and its soul crushing weight. The few who attempted went mad, and when you speak to them about anything, be it Maasai art or wildlife, and are not coming from their direction, they just sound either foolish or childish.

If only the African could fight this thing, fight to join the moderns. But the African who joins in that game, usually of the babi middle class, civil society persuasion, ‘we can be just like the west’ game, is functionally insane in my opinion. He is driven to join what others are trying to escape, so taken with the narrow freedoms that he cannot spot the machine that is crushing the life out of his human/animal/black/female/gay/landless/vulnerable/disabled/gender outlaw/anti-ageism/welsh/Palestinian/Israeli/Panafrican/labour/capitalist rights colleagues. He little understands that these values are better judged as Trojan Horses whether or not they have universal merit. Many indeed do, but it was never about these rights. It has always been about the institutional mechanism that shall carry them. The Bible is very hip to this stuff and gives a good example in Matthews. When Jesus was in the desert fasting, the Devil came to him and tried tempting him to eat. Now you know the Devil could have hooked him up something to eat, as he did to Adam and Eve, but Jesus chooses hunger. The Devil and in our case the rights crew come in with plenty of temptations but the inner goal is of robbing you of all life. And like I was saying, what makes this so much worse is that there is no conspiracy. It is a wholly impersonal historical epoch that in all probability shall not last. The European is already held captive by it, and we in the bush have been targets for the last few hundred years. Thank God that the bush is going to stay strong in my lifetime.

What is English honour I wonder?

Is there such a thing as English honour? I mean really, what is this thing bandied about in every film and novel about the English ruling classes? I only bring it up after watching the latter half of a 1960s TV adaptation of Kidnapped, the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The word honor was uttered with such metronomic frequency that of course MMK having nothing better to do sat down for what turned out to be thorough entertainment. It seems that while the English cluck their tongues at today’s martyrdom-seeking types, they have had their very own home grown ones. But they have been of a middle class variety of honor and heroism that was on display in this film with all its obsessions with inheritance, social position and love/hate feelings for aristocratic authority. It was actually very funny if you will allow me to start laughing before I get to the punchline.

OK, to the film. Young and earnest David Balfour is kidnapped, sold into slavery and cheated out of his inheritance by a scheming uncle in eighteenth century Scotland. While on the run in the Scottish Highlands, he falls in with a Jacobite rebel, Alan Breck – who murders a local chieftain supporter of the occupant of the English throne – and Aileen, the daughter of the man wrongly accused of the murder. David bravely returns to Edinburgh where he faces down the Lord Advocate – the representative of the king and the highest authority in the land. He testifies that the accused is innocent, to which the Lord Advocate – who intends that the man should hang to avoid sectarian violence – admonishes him to not pursue this course. ‘Thousands will die for this one man, and Scotland will be destroyed’ he pleads (I paraphrase). Even David’s companions try to dissuade him arguing that he will only destroy his own life for a doomed cause. They eventually give up before his principled stand with one of them saying, ‘go and do your duty; and be hanged, if you must. Like a gentleman.’

Young David is all for the scaffold provided he tells the truth even if the innocent accused is guaranteed death and his country – ruled by the English – torn asunder. ‘Then let it fall, let the whole rotten Scotland fall so that an innocent man may go free,’ he tells the Lord Advocate. Very heroic and blood stirring stuff I was thinking as I watched. But then our David goes on to give his reason for standing by the truth. Not his growing love for Aileen or her father, the accused. No, his stand is based on a conversation he had as a boy with his father who told him ‘that the law is higher than any man, it bends to no one and truth is its keeper.’ It is at this moment that he also reveals that he would like to attend law school should he survive this test.

Our hero is willing to die for the law. To be more exact, he is willing to be tried by the same law that he knows will kill him. His great aspiration is to be joined with the institutions that the preceding 90 minutes of the film have spent showing us being applied dishonestly and violently in his country. David’s aspiration might be to become Lord Advocate. This is the peculiar nature of his honor which requires that he give death a wide embrace recognizing that what is killing him is what he loves. This honor which I think is English in its nature, and allows him to face a sad fate unflinchingly is an abstraction. It ignores villainies perpetrated on others in its name. It came to me that the English claim to the mantle of an honorable people is based not on their refusal to cheat or murder but because they have been willing to die for the conceit that their kind do not cheat or murder. Thus the heroes’ squares built for the redcoats who faced the Zulu Impis at Islandwana and shook hands before turning to face the final thrust of the assegai. Nothing needs be said of the murdering and raping that brought them to that impasse. What matters is that they died looking heavenward to a vanity that allowed them to pursue without brakes any brutal conduct against the Zulu. From the Somme to the Battle of Britain and the many other battlefields that are splattered with English blood, evil is washed clean by this sacrifice of the young. This is why the English hero can be a cad until the very last moment when he pulls off a spectacular save in the honor department. It is only in battle that the English are at their best when offered the opportunity to look away from the hells they have created toward an earthly heaven only reachable by dying.

Or could it be that the nature of all liberal heroism is to love the very alter that you are dying on as opposed to more religious varieties that urge matrydom for the sake of heaven? Perhaps this is why Kenyan politics nowadays give birth to few heroic actions into death: we do not believe in the alter (the state) that might demand our blood and have found ways into heaven that do not demand we destroy earthly institutions. But this is only to speculate and a bit wildly too.

Happy New Year!

Why Western Visions of Utopia are Killing Africans

William Easterly writing in Foreign Policy asks: What is utopianism? and goes on to answer that ‘it is promising more than you can deliver. It is seeing an easy and sudden answer to long-standing, complex problems. It is trying to solve everything at once through an administrative apparatus headed by “world leaders.” It places too much faith in altruistic cooperation and underestimates self-seeking behaviour and conflict. It is expecting great things from schemes designed at the top, but doing nothing to solve the bigger problems at the bottom.’ This is the model proposed by the usual idea-challenged and arrogant rock stars alongside their rock star economist partners such as Jeffrey Sachs; all possessed of a feverish utopianism that would have Africans look to them for the solutions to poverty and war. Once again, African Bullets & Honey is home to an anti-Western aid screed. The reason I am so taken with this issue if I may just explain is that I believe fighting the aid industry in its many forms is one of the great moral crusades of our time. Read more of William Easterly’s piece here.

England, the Country where Only Suckers Work