Goya, Pies
Goya, Pies

Bash your fist on the table, and break it, fool!

or anxiety after brexit

When you don’t know what to do, you can always kick the wall, bash your fist on the table, or swear. Therefore, when you do just such a thing as collectively bashing your fist on the table (clearly too hard, because now you’re blowing on your aching hand, and the table is broken), you can assume that you are in a situation when you don’t know what to do.

The opinion-forming sphere from the land of Blogoface – which the author of this essay does not repudiate – has, after the British referendum on 23 June and its unsurprisingly surprising result, a moment of prosperity. It’s the done thing, or even the necessary thing, to speak, to take a stand, to deliver an assessment with conviction. In a short time, the growth in demand for opinions, the supply side can provide quite abundant self-assertions, trying to explain and understand something unexpected. Both professional and amateur, both „experts” and self-proclaimed specialists on matters of all sorts (which identification the author of this essay does not repudiate) benefit from the enhancement of the opinion-forming/-reading market and a temporary increase in the exchange rate at which even the least encouraging comments such as, for example, a terse „oh fuck” or „brexshit” are bought and sold – because even such exclamative trifles can now earn a few ‚likes’ and ‚shares’. (Although it’s interesting, incidentally, what’s going through the mind of a person who believes that their „oh fuck” is such an inimitable, unique „oh fuck” that it should be communicated to their 1,700 friends and followers, as if none of them could have thought of an „oh fuck” for themselves).

In this deluge of opinions there is obviously something pathetic (something the author of this doesn’t repudiate identifying with). The secret of eternal return of the greater evil and its (always „predictable in its unpredictability”) win over the lesser evil, which also „always” seems to demand an immediate explanation, is stupidity, and stupidity is in the essence banal. The banality of the greater evil is in this case sourced in the psychopolitical mechanism that governs mass democracy, and whose somewhat unsubtle principle is that – perhaps especially in acts of direct democracy, referendums – what is decisive is not the articulation of knowledge, recognition (even if wrong) and the plan (even vague), but the principle of „symptocracy” – what is supposed to be „The Decision” is primarily a symptom, or manifestation of a mindless affective-psychokinetic „complex” (say, a collective „yuck!”). Given this state of affairs it is difficult, however, to be particularly wise, difficult to theorize and comment without feeling a certain embarrassment, not uttering clichés appropriate for the occasion – and along with this, as we are clearly entering an era of greater evil and worse tomorrow, the banality of stupidity will present us with its challenge of shallowness and shame more frequently and Walking ever Taller (Trump on the horizon). In this sense, he who instead of more or less subtle elaboratations simply says „oh fuck,” only speaks this truth out loud, perhaps without even being aware of it. Indeed, „oh fuck” is not much less wise, and the advantage of its more outspoken adversary over him still declines.

it seems that something happened that is a turning point or a moment after which „nothing will ever be the same”

Under these conditions, in fact, the art of non-commenting and refraining from exploring and analyzing each opinion becomes most subtle. Especially spinning analogies, comparisons may indeed expose us in these complex circumstances, to the overproduction of interpretations, judgments, expectations, and sentiments. On the other hand, nothing in them is as easy as being right and judging accurately, at least in part, especially being morally right. This becomes even suspiciously mundane and commonplace, though of course it is difficult to ultimately accuse someone of being right. Nevertheless, refraining from being obviously right may be an attitude not so much perhaps more risky as in its own way less credulous. Blundering, however, may be more fertile.

Not from today, but at least since Hegel’s time – when there were still carriages and postillions, so incomparably slower and less dynamic than our own – it’s been known, after all, that no one may be wise to what’s happening right now; that what happened, we learn „after dark” when it’s already „spilt milk”, and not in the course of events. The principle of modern life is that every present, excepting that it is always a repetition of what has already happened, is also always something exceptional and unprecedented. These two elements, what is repeated, and what is unprecedented are, however, for witnesses very difficult to distinguish. The market of opinion is largely based on the options that result from the various possible angles of this difference for each „now”, for each piece of news. The present moment – the present, to date, its state, meaning, scope, and span – are the greatest mystery of the world, what makes it the most intriguing mystery to present itself to our astonished eyes, pretending familiarity and understanding. In this sense the past is much more transparent. (To some extent, the British themselves confirm this in their behaviour, since, as the Guardian said, after the results of the referendum they sat down en masse to their computers to learn from the Internet what it was they’d left. They also knew only after the fact what they’d chosen.)

It is difficult, however, to practice sceptical asceticism in the face of the facts, where the ideological burden (perhaps mainly ideological) seems so significant, for all their simultaneous ambiguity and uncertainty (what actually happened?), it seems that something happened that is a turning point or a moment after which „nothing will ever be the same”.

In a more long-term narrative of Western history, the history of world domination, and – more recently – it seems, the end (as we are as far from naive proclamation of the simple end of the Euro-Atlantic West, so we have to agree that its definite global dominance is crumbling irrevocably and irreversibly), the event seems to perfectly meet the signs of what is an important step in the process of decay, self-destruction, and perhaps the acting-out of great helplessness, hopelessness of Western Man of the late modern period, the post-enlightenment man, devoid of a clear idea for continuation, losing momentum, confidence, while still confident about their own infinity, endlessness, but apparently no longer having enough energy for it– and therefore, as perhaps now the British, involving phylogenetically and ontogenetically (involutionally) back to their embryonic, survival, parochial, bacterial form.

In this act of encapsulation in its own juice, in the conception of what is traditional, in its own residual familiarity, in an attempt to cut it off from the circuits and circulation of more multinational character, closing and clogging any pores, isolation etc. there is visible a gesture of withdrawal, contraction, which, on the other hand, has a clear dimension of self-harm or self-agressive outburst. This is evident even in the faces of those who called for „leave” in their sour smiles of joyless triumph, somewhat surprised by the turn of events. No one, it seems, among the winners of the referendum did took to the streets, opened champagne on the pavements, or danced with joy. It’s a victory that no one, in fact, wanted, even those who put it together – when it belatedly turned out that their sentiments had accumulated in a collective act of destruction which they hadn’t expected, assuming that they’d be among the losers (and therefore lying to opinion pollsters which, immediately after the closing of the vote erroneously reported a „remain” result), and that show just what they think of all of this, curse reality with impunity, as losers in this, and deprived of influence (because people have already become accustomed to the fact that regardless of elections policy remains similar). Unfortunately for them, as it turned out, this time they had an impact, contrary to their own assumptions – they had the bad luck that this time in their act of revenge for their defeat – they’d won.

so far the disintegration has not touched the centres, only raged on the outskirts and semi-outskirts

The fact that voters do not want to admit to their preferences and thus distort the results of polls (even those with large samples) is already known, although probably not so long ago, no one would expect symptoms of such ostentatious suspicion from the people who is, at any rate, nonperipheral, such as the English are (at most, stereotypically, ceding it to that peripheral people from the north, the Scots, who in this case, paradoxically, were, in their peripherality, more rational than the English), people who licked a bit of enlightenment, the rule of law and meritocracy (at least compared to such  peoples as Poles or Thais, who have licked the benefits of the modern world to a correspondingly lower extent). That the people who pioneered the expansion of the West, its creator, founder and one of the greatest, if not simply the greatest, beneficiary of its imperialism and hegemony, but also the co-creator of the related enlightenment, science, technical and social development, etc., now speaks of disobedience to rationality and the logic of improvement, of progress and growth, choosing separation and an act of senseless self-destruction (although declaratively one can even believe that this separation will simpy return the country to its imperial past, the brake of which is allegedly the union – but let’s not delude ourselves, subconsciously we all feel, know, that it’s not about any return to the empire, but only showing a big „fuck you”, pissing on the patio, as the British on stag evenings in Kraków or Barcelona have enjoyed doing) – all this may seem ominous, because so far the disintegration has not touched the centres, only raged on the outskirts and semi-outskirts. Hence it is little consolation that at least once it is not we, the poor relatives from Central-East Europe, who are as always a source of problems, but it is the seemingly more privileged from us in every respect that deflected the trend. If the trend is reflected in the centres, it may mean that the process of disintegration has entered a new stage or gained momentum.

Perhaps the British are still the vanguard of the West, still lead, and the directions of its halt (because not, in the course of things, progress) – this time the halt of agonizing convulsions and long moribundity; who knows whether their suicidal or maybe „euthanising” option (euthanising, because perhaps they are thinking of alleviating the suffering of dying and not just its acceleration although in this they are deeply wrong, just like a man instead of a train on the sea mistakenly boarded a train to the death camp) does not constitute, paradoxically, a „speeding up” the process, whose jabber, stalling or „katechonic”, as theologians would say, procrastination is the last bet of the post-enlightened world. The world that itself is in its struggle for survival on the global stage of agon where new centres of power are clearly already separating themselves out and accumulate strength; centers, which in the same game play more and more by their own rules (eg. the Far East, with its consolidated and superpowerful Middle Kingdom, India, somewhat elephantine, but by its weight gathering more and more momentum, and the most amorphous Middle East – to apply this terminology today outdated, because it is geo-Eurocentric terminology – with its powerful petrofinance centres).

A United Europe – with Britain as a key element because of its potential – was, in fact, especially at the turn of the century, the project to extend the reign of the West in terms of postcolonial and ultimately posthegemonical, joining of forces to meet global competition from new actors.

On this new stage, the former hegemonies must come to terms with this new situation of which a part is that a growing portion of the world’s productivity and alongside it well-being must accrue to wider global masses of workers, depriving the people of the central states their relatively privileged position – and threatening further cuts under the name „austerities”. The matter of fact is that people in Western countries, the most developed and towering in the international hierarchy of states and global division of labor, and thus offering their lower classes the relative luxuries of the welfare state, can no longer count on their share in the profit generated by the the global differences and inter-state borders, and at the cost of the least favoured people from the poorest countries, within the global capitalist system and consumed in lion’s share by their possessed countrymen. This fact constitutes the main problem whose insolubility or kind of irreversibility symptomizes the acting out of the helplessness of the western people, who in this situation simply scream „fuck you!” and throw themselves hysterically under the steamroller of history – beguiled by a vision of purification and return to the roots; actually – to something like the Middle Ages. Here we are dealing with the real end of the post-colonial advantages, with the final exhaustion of the rent of the parasitic supremacy of the West over the rest of the world, which beneficiary was also the people in the West. This rent in fact made up for the relative prosperity of the masses in the West in the post-war years of the second half of the 20th century. An act of protest and anger because of their obvious exhaustion seems to be just this crypto-racist, nationalist phrase of an angry people, devoid of real alternatives, distrustful, because many times betrayed by the left.

When you don’t know what to do, you can always kick the wall, bash your fist on the table, or swear. Therefore, when you do just such a thing as collectively bashing your fist on the table (clearly too hard, because now the table is broken and you’re blowing on your aching hand), you can assume that you are in a situation when you don’t know what to do – at least, to win, to keep things as they were, but can no longer be. Because you have to come to terms with losing, with the prospect of handing on the leader’s jersey, here’s what you need to do. Only that Western modernity, even in its postmodern version, and so ready to absorb all attitudes (if only they were able to maintain themselves), does not provide too many resources for coming to terms with the non-hegemonic position of the West, because its founding idea was, as we remember, domination, subordination, uniqueness, and so on.

A United Europe – with Britain as a key element because of its potential – was, in fact, especially at the turn of the century, the project to extend the reign of the West in terms of postcolonial and ultimately posthegemonical, joining of forces to meet global competition from new actors. (For this reason hard left Brexiteers also resent it, alleging that it’s a game of dominion and is a support of capitalism.)  It seemed and still is obvious (though it is now a strange obviousness) that there is no alternative to this policy; you can argue about the details, but there is no way of questioning the overall strategy. How did it happen that the referendum rejected it?

In a situation where something irrational is happening, we usually look for hidden interests and, of course, we find – apart from the abovementioned popular element – in the front row the frivolous and taunting mouths of the main leaders such as Farage and Johnson; of course  puppets like these are always (and are great at finding their feet in this) of use to the worst sentiments and the lowest instincts; however, it is not they, it seems, that are pulling the strings. The problem, however, is that, not speculating on possible, perhaps not available to non-insiders, short-term calculations or small interests, no one, it seems, has anything to gain from this in the long run, maybe apart Putin’s Russia. And so stupidly wrong were both Rupert Murdoch, owner of the tabloid The Sun, who called cynically „Beleave in Britain” and the queen, who, according to rumors, was also not particularly convinced to remain and waved her finger, in this case to support her own government (as well as did a significant part of the island’s aristocracy) – they are mistaken if they think that this will end well, especially, we emphasize once more, in the long term. Weakening in fact the project of the enlightened man of the West, accelerating his marginalization and fall, that should, forgive the triviality, be rather postponed at any, or almost any, cost, they have absolutely nothing to gain.

But you have to give the English people justice at least to the extent that it is not wiser than its queen and its billionaires. In this case, even the seemingly universal principle that if you do not know what’s going on, you know it’s about money, does not work. Maybe someone will earn some little or relatively little money from it. But the prospect of the losses is difficult to imagine. Even Farage, moreover, would probably have preferred to lose by a very small majority, which would strengthen his comfortable position of eternal brat-blackmailer, because it did not impose any responsibility upon him; the unintentional victory has imposed a certain burden, which does not fit into his format of boutonniere populist-warlord. And the unforgivable mistake of one man, the pigfucker Cameron, lay in the fact that he overestimated their collective common sense, both the people and the queen, leading to the event that something that was a tactical mistake resulted in a strategic defeat. Never enough reproaching this fool of history that his little calculation proved so powerful in its consequences, and yet it was not forced, an unnecessary mistake – it needn’t have happened, if not for his petty scheming.

In the events of the thoughtlessness, in which apparently no common subjectivity is expressed, whose essential characteristic is empty negativity, it is hard to find anything that would be suitable for flagship culmination – or message or epilogue. All this is so despicable, that it doesn’t add up to any story. There’s no wisdom here, even the miserable ersatz wisdom of Mr. Mirek (or Mr. Nigel). Both interpreters are right at the same time – the catastrophic, and those who call for calm, indicating that de facto less will happen than would be expected in a worst case scenario, and that one should not exaggerate the nerves in connection with acts that are mainly symbolic. Indeed, as we have said before, the ease of having accurate judgments of the matter depends on the fact that from pole to pole all this is true – on the one hand, we have taken another, although certainly not decisive, even if rhythmically accelerating, step towards the disintegration of the western world and its ultimate end. On the other hand, it has long been known that the West is located on this path, so in that sense, nothing special, extraordinary and unpredictable – contrary to appearances – has happened. Our surprise is just the measure of our disbelief in the fact that our civilization and the liberal-democratic order founding it are mortal, that they really can end. Well, they are. The blond-thugs’ faces herald the end with butchers’ knives in their teeth.


Originally published in Polish on June 26, 2016; translated by Robin Gill


DATA PUBLIKACJI: 5 lipca 2016