Why the Brexit, like Trump, must be absurd

by Mike Crumplar


It should come as no surprise that the faces of opposition to international neoliberal consensus are those of the likes of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump. They are ridiculous, goonish, bombastic, offensive, and thrive by riffing on some of the darkest, most chaotic human impulses.

These absurd goons stand in opposition to a far less colorful and conspicuous adversary, so faceless and ubiquitous that it is hardly a single person or institution but rather a globe-spanning process, or an amorphous body of knowledge, or perhaps even an attitude. It is called different things from right and left (with varying degrees of paranoia), be it global capital, neoliberalism, globalization, the “new world order,” and so on.

Whatever this adversary is called, it is sober, proper, and secretive. It is well-educated and eloquent in its own language, but also sterile and impenetrable. Its effects are visible in virtually all modern life, but its causes and its direction are concealed. Is it guided or is it spontaneous? Am I better off with it or without it? Am I inside it? Where does it end and my self begin? What is it that I am even talking about?

Such is the relationship of the modern subject to the world of finance that governs, well, ultimately everything. The Trump voter, that ever-fascinating species proper anthropologists can’t quite grasp, is a subset of this modern subject, and the same goes for the UKIP voter. They defy good manners with reactionary zeal in the ostensibly outdated, unfashionable nation-state. As such, they often echo the familiar racism and now-abhorrent ideologies on which these identifications rest.

The Brexit does not need to be about racism, but the utter inability of the European Commission to act on the migrant crisis makes race tensions a potent, lasting symbol of the absurd contradictions of the European neoliberal project. Racism is what is visible, and what arouses more virulent passions. By contrast, the hidden machinations of bankers and bureaucrats in Brussels, as in Washington, are hardly so vivid and spectacular. But those very bankers, so-called “experts”—humorless wizards conjuring apocalyptic swirls of debt out of aether—are just as preposterously clueless with the economics as they are with managing the migration crisis.

And so the origin of the politics of austerity are so obscure and hidden behind the dismal science, so terribly unreadable and unfathomable, that it conceals its very nature as an arbitrary and undemocratic power structure. Big words hide the fact that calculations of the IMF and European Central Bank possess embarrassingly little connection to real, lived, immediate experience—Life! And ironically in both Europe and the United States, this neoliberal structure faces its most serious challenges not from the left—the seeming defenders of working class interests—but from the right, under the guise of vulgar nationalism.

Somehow, this nationalism has emerged the only comprehensible response to the ubiquity of global capital. Globalization has rendered the working classes so fractured and disempowered that the international Left has no real viable alternative to its illusory progress within the very system it purports to fight. In Britain, Labour endorses “Remain” with the excuse that it can push for progressive EU reform. In America, the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton for president so that drone pilots can check their privilege and ignore her vested interests in the TPP and TTIP.

Against this semiotic wasteland of global finance we have the postmodern poetry of Farage, Johnson, and Trump. Through this bizarre appeal to nationalism (in particular) and madness (in general) can an alternative to this all-consuming vortex of capital growth be articulated. And so many think: Who cares if it’s strangely Hitlerlike at every turn?