sentimental graduate, 22, seeks desperately to instrumentalise himself

...there is an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can. But beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems: serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order. These problems are neither simple in themselves nor are they reducible to slogans. Such problems are both intricate and intensely local...
- Teju Cole

Specialisation is for insects.
- Heinlein's Lazarus Long

Turns out that a degree - even one limited to 'real world' topics like, supposedly, economics - isn't a skill. Isn't really much to do with much. This is galling, because I have bottled action in me and have failed to get moral hydraulics to steer it.

Is that too reductive? I might not have such a quantity of good intentions without my years among the humanities; they only suck for obtaining hard skills. And 'hydraulics' means just narrow technical skills. To have those is to be able to instrumentalise oneself: to have the option of production. (More often, you're made to get credentials that imply you are productive.)

What spiritual costs does this instrumentalisation levy? I was at a conference the other day where people were banging on in the Frankfurt way about 'instrumentalisation'. I do sympathise with their background theory - which attributes modern atrocity and mental illness to the reign of scientism and the cult of practicality - but not in the uncritical, almost superstitious, way it gets invoked. Useful things are abhorrent to a certain mindset. Since they following Horkheimer who followed Kant, what I've read of Cultural Studies tends to bear an awful, watery stance, where an agent or project's being problematic implies that it's taboo, irredeemable, a moral medusa.

In discussing the 'white saviour complex', one speaker implied that objectifying someone you are trying to help is such an evil process that it negates any good your action might cause. (Teju Cole gives a more righteous treatment: "From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected ... The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. 'The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm'.")

This conflict leads to condemning the attempts of all kinds of liberal structures (welfare state, NGOs, the UN), and from there, passivity. Because they rightly probe the mixed motives and identify unconscious power structures in do-gooders, the scholar can feel satisfied in holy inaction. This is the accidental turn of the 'New' Left ; reading is not only political, but political enough. The only labour you owe to the disadvantaged is your intellectual labour; since everything else you might try is tainted.

But as long as it is chosen, as long as it's not the only thing you get to be, there's little wrong with objectification and instrumentalisation. The trick is to retain your radical dispositions even with a prosaic, professional, instrumentalised exterior.

(Case in point: East Africa is chronically, catastrophically short of Quantity Surveyors. Apparently.)

Long story short; let's go make ourselves useful:

  • Knots (1 week; £minimal)
  • First aid (1 month; £minimal)
  • Driving (4 months; £400)
  • Databasing. (a month or so; £2000)
  • PGDE (1 year)
  • MA African Studies in Nairobi or Makerere (1 year; £1000)
  • MSc Maths, Open University (takes 2 years part-time; £2500)
  • MSc Dietetics, QMU (2 years pt; £4000)
  • SVQ Mechanicking (just motorbikes, probably; 2 years pt; £1000)
  • ACA Chartered Accountant (for NGOs, taking the ICAEW qualification, 2 years pt)
  • Chinese (3 years in-country - cf. TEFL; -£2000)

2025, maybe:
  • PhD in Irrationality (designing cognitive bias education programmes)
  • or Development (new metrics and meta-analysis for aid dependency)
  • or Animal rights law
  • or Nutrition/Biochemistry (on the prospects of nootropics)
  • or Transhumanism in general (on theodicy and the love of suffering)
  • or Epistemology (radical scepticism's influence on contemporary philosophy)
  • or Gender (the most recent backlash against feminism, and the term)
  • or Poetry (contemporary developments, or lack thereof)
  • or Metaethics (on problems with Humean sentimentalism)
  • or Intellectual history (on pomophobia)
  • or Nationalism (the idea of a national 'mentality' esp. Scottish)
  • or Economic methodology (statistical/empirical tests of the most sophisticated models of fiscal impact)
  • or Econophysics, University of Houston


Perth / Dundee

hard, dark
and hardly started

crap, familiar
bus distorting our demesne

Perth? Dundee?
I should know but know you don't know

frantic, the
yellow-spot-road, and vague places past it

note: ticket
includes each other on tap

but legroom
and peace aren't included

we cargo
are silent, hummed and whined and shook from sleep

lesson: no
lesson, I just wanted you to know

she who gradually wasn't

First she lost her beepcard
(so beepdoors didn't know her)

then she lost her licence
(the road no longer hers)

next she lost her passport
(was trapped inside one border)

and she lost her phone
(and distant friends went mute)

losing then the wallet
(goods and comfort blanked her)

she went and lost her cloud
(the past, what would've come)

then she lost her throat-chords
(couldn't invoke absent things)

her breasts and other jumbles
(she was proclaimed unsexed)

and last lost all her body
(so sat godlike, and vexed)


to the bigot beat

[Trigger Warning: Everything.]

"Interviewer: What does the "Bitch Magnet" [next to] Dave Riley's name on the back cover of Atomizer mean?

Steve Albini: Bitch magnet! That just means bitch magnet. Whenever we go anywhere, Dave has all these women just follow him.

I: But are they all bitches?

A: Well, no. Bitch is just a generic term.

I: You're a feminist, eh?

A: Well, I don't believe you have to be completely dogmatic and pure in your language to think reasonably. Certainly none of the band are sexist in the traditional sexist notions, or have sexist leanings, right? But because that's understood, we don't have to keep haranguing on it, to keep reaffirming to ourselves that we believe what we believe ... A lot of people, they're very careful not to say things that might offend certain people or do anything that might be misinterpreted. But what they don't realize is that the point of all this is to change the way you live your life, not the way you speak. The substance is what matters.

Devirginized with my knife, internally bleeding vagina,
secreting her blood-wet pussy
I am eating on her guts, I am feeding
Mutilated with a machete I fucked her dead body, the first and last;
your life's only romance
- Cannibal Corpse

I don't fuckin' care if people know I had sex with my brother or my dog.
- GG Allin

Music's dead nasty sometimes. How can we stand this, let alone enjoy it? How about this for an answer: we do not run from problematic things! We do not plug our ears and hide from bigotry! ...but that doesn't work; cos I love the Misfits and NWA - who are deeply sexist and like talking about violence. I enjoy them despite their cruelty. How do I reconcile this with wanting to not be an awful person?

First, distinguish between types of nasty music:

  1. Bigoted music made by bigots - e.g. lynching songs, the later Skrewdriver, GG Allin

  2. Musician's a bigot, but their music is neutral - e.g. Burzum, Ted Nugent

  3. Transgression
    a. Theatrical bigotry - e.g. Iggy, Eminem, Albini, Mountain Goats, this
    b. Violence art - e.g. Pantera, Napalm Death, Penderecki

These might be wrong to support in a few ways: they might actually make the world worse by altering your attitude or even behaviour toward the thing they're bigoting; they might upset people who don't warrant it; or they might be tasteless and crudifying in less morally weighty ways. The first and third of these strike me as overcautious and unwarranted. The second is of course not up to me to decide. Frank Zappa said little of interest, but he nailed the symbolic paranoia of the first: "There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something, we'd all love one another."

So how does one handle bigoted, bigot-made or bigot-sounding music? Part of the answer is simple: one doesn't pay for or apologise for types 1 or 2. Enjoying type 1 is also tasteless. Since we all finally got the Marquis de Sade's point (in the mid-1980s), 3 has not been too hard to justify - though the line between 1 and 3 is often vaguely placed. The world is extreme, sometimes; thus it can be shown. Nothing is above ridicule; there is nothing that cannot be said if you have thought hard about saying it. But you need a reason. Allin justified his pathetic extremism with talk of his independence and art-novelty. Not good enough. Why take me to new lows?

(Wagner is an interesting anomaly - he thought he was type 1, that his music and aesthetics were profoundly anti-Jewish. He is of course actually type 2 because that's complete bullshit.)

Albini just manages to make his work grotesque and conceptual, I think. NWA just do not: the evil characters they play have verisimilitude. But most metal is too ridiculous to be threatening, and so with Eminem too. I mention Darnielle in the chart because this well-meaning but lazy smear got me riled.
Note that I agree that offence is in the eye of the beholder; not intending to offend someone does not cancel the offence. But it does significantly change its nature, or should. Offence can be a healthy, democratic thing (when it's sought out, and questioning rather than attacking).

Note also that there's little value in shock value: we owe no especial respect to people setting the apocalypse to music, making the aural equivalent of cutting off my toes. The ordinary is often glorious enough. I do respect experiment, naturalism, surrealism - but not for its own sake, as is often the case with metal and noise. There's a lot of childish, self-fullfilling misanthropy and subpolitical contrariness in it, which they mask as or mistake for aesthetic and personal independence.

...I'm avoiding the question again, amn't I? It's not "Can we listen to this?" not "Should we ban this?" but: "How can you enjoy these things?" I suppose the answer's just that I fail to be a good puritan. The standard view of taste - that one must be like what one likes - is not for me. I don't want the CD tower's tawdry self-aggrandising self-representation. Our relation to artworks is more complicated than either bloody HEAR HEAR validation or absolute boycott. We can disassociate work from worker sometimes, and this world is made up of many worlds. Many of them suck. This is water.

Compromise: when these bands come up in conversation, I tag them as what they are; problematise em. In doing so I problematise myself too, since a fan of sexists cannot escape scrutiny for sexism. kewl.


The point of Satanic rock was to scare the Normals while fucking with the minds of its pimple-faced, predominantly male (nerdoid) audience, who needed to create a counter-world, with counter-morals and counter-aesthetics, to empower the nerdoids against the cooler, more successful jocks. But metal had its rivals for the hopelessly angry nerdoid: punk, hardcore and metal’s own competing mutations. The competition forced metal’s leading edge to metamorphose into harder, faster and more violent forms...

...frankly, who’s to say that metalheads were lower or lamer than punks? One thing that’s hard to argue with the Black Metalists about is why many of them chose metal over punk: For them, punk copped out. Punk started off going for the throat of Normal Society, but in the game of chicken it didn’t have the nerve to go all the way, snagglepussing safely leftward or detouring into kitsch
- Mark Ames

There are these guys that I used to know in high school, in Montana they just really got off on going to the slaughterhouse for entertainment. Just go to the slaughterhouse and watch the cows get killed. That was like TV for them. It was that or go home in the trailer park and get drunk. Sniff glue. There was nothing else to do. One time I remember specifically this guy telling me about this guy who let him drag a cow into the stall. The way they do it is pretty cool: they take a pressurized gun and drive a bolt through the snout of a cow, and they clip a cable to either side of the bolt. And then there's this winch that hauls the cow into the stall, and then there's a compression hammer that crushes the cow's skull. This guy thought this was just about the coolest process - all this machinery and technology. It's just another example of what people do for fun. "
- Steve Albini

"Interviewer: What kind of music do you like?
Dizzee Rascal (quickasaflash): I like songs about sex and violence."

Enjoying violence in art needs less justification. Though, at the same time we assert the talent of the human mind to receive without endorsing, and even enjoy without endorsing, we have to remember that sometimes this culture produces things like this terrifying asshole: