I first posted this essay well before Brexit was even on the calendar for a referendum. I guess I was prescient — something I can seldom claim — so here is the 2015 post in full.
I first encountered the work of David while reading an article on Yahoo! about a demonstration against fracking. The demonstration was in a prosperous village in west Sussex, and there was no fracking taking place, only an exploratory drilling by British Petroleum on a disused piece of land outside the village limits. I expected that a lot of people reading the article would be amused at this Not In My Backyard activism waged by the wealthy against a potential source of wealth. So I scrolled down to the commentaries, and found to my surprise that most of the contributors expressed indignation at the drilling and support for the village. But I was really perplexed when I found this entry, which was altogether different:
David. I wonder hoe many of these socalled protesters live off our tax money? anyone there who is on benifits ahould have their money stopped as thay are not available for work.
Here was a commenter who was bold enough to shift the discussion away from the economics of oil-drilling to the economics of protest. And he had an important insight: the government itself may be subsidising a protest against a form of progress. Curious about this ‘David’, I clicked his name, and discovered not only an icon for identifying him but an archive of all the comments he had posted to this site. The next article he commented on was about a lottery for holders of what are called ‘premium bonds’, a national savings bond that offers prizes every month as a way to encourage investment. The article listed the prizes along with bond numbers, the face value of each bond, and the city or county of each winner. Twenty-two winners were listed, with prizes ranging from twenty-five thousand to one million pounds. But one reader posted a comment noticing that there weren’t any winners from Scotland. And then came this from David:
Notice no winners in Wales, cash them in if you live there as its a waste of time.
At first, I thought the comment absurd. To take from the case of one drawing that, since no winners were from Wales, no winner would ever be for Wales is to commit an egregious error in logic, a dicto simpliciter. But then I thought some more about it. For maybe once again David was onto something. He may have noticed that the odds of winning this lottery were now 26,000 to one. He may have reflected that if you purchase one of these bonds, some of the interest on them is being shifted to the winners of lotteries, who are in effect skimming off profit. Twenty-two bond holders
have made handsome sums of money at the expense of 25,978 who haven’t. Do we not have here a vivid example of how the winner-takes-all economy of late capitalism works? That seems to be one of the ideas behind David’s statement. And then there is the regional issue. Does not someone have to speak up for Wales? Is not Wales as a whole one of the poorest regions of the United Kingdom? Would not a Welsh person with money therefore be particularly susceptible to the lure of a national lottery, where a million pound prize can be one in addition to regular interest, even when the odds are 26,000 to one? This would seem to be one of David’s earnest concerns. Most of the winners of this lottery are all but certain to be from the richest parts of the United Kingdom, since those areas will be the places where the most people wealthy enough to buy premium bonds will live. David seems to perceive this too. Nineteen of the twenty-two winners were from the south of England, according to the article, the others coming from Leeds, West Midlands, and Cheshire. This is a game where an investor from Wales would be an odd player indeed, donating money to a fund dominated by the south of England, which skims off profits arbitrarily in order, apparently, to recirculate profits in the south of England. David was wrong about the math but right about the politics, the psychology, and the odds. It would very likely a ‘waste of time’ for someone from Wales to try to play this game.
In his icon we see David from a distance. He is standing in jeans and a white shirt atop a scraggy hill under a blue sky, accompanied by a dog. The picture is too small, and the resolution much too low, for us really to identify the man, but we can see that he is overweight and elderly; his hair is white. Other posts confirm the general range of his age, for he has grown children and worries a lot about pensions. What else do we know about him? Unlike the best-known authors of our day, David likes to keep a low profile, and he has never been interviewed by the press. “David” itself may be a pseudonym. We just don’t know. Instead of trying to profit from our knowledge of his background, or from a persona that might be constructed by public relations narratives or worried over by journalists and critics, and instead of seeking endorsements from experts in his field (apart from the occasional thumbs up icon) David lets his writing speak for itself. He focuses his work on the debate, not the debater. In fact, in all the texts I have been able to collect so far, he has not once insulted an opponent, or called attention to himself with a view toward winning an argument by appealing to his own authority. His role, as he apparently sees it, is to make timely interventions on public issues on the basis of logic and evidence. It is to call attention to the unspoken, the overlooked and the underappreciated.
His role also seems to be speak for an unappreciated constituency. For David knows that power is shared unequally in the UK, that many laws are passed not for the sake of justice but for the sake of perpetuating an injustice. He knows, too, that the UK has been mismanaged for many years, its wealth having been concentrated in the hands of the few while income for the majority has declined, public services are in disarray, and unemployment gnaws at the belly of the state. And David knows that the press is as likely to collaborate with power as to question it. And so, for example, we get this response to a brief report about a man in Birmingham who was shot and wounded (uncritically) by an unknown assailant while he was sitting behind the wheel of his car:
Banning guns so the public dont have them leaves the criminals well armed. “MPs” are dead scared that the public if they had guns, would rise up against them for turning the UK into the dustbin of Europe
Obviously, some of the commenters to the article took the occasion to suggest that there are too many guns in Britain, owned by too many people. But David had the sense to argue the opposite. There are not enough guns in the UK, David says. And there are not enough of them because if there were, the people would revolt against the government – or at least, to give the nuance of David’s argument its due, ‘MPs’, their name put in brackets as if to already suggest that there is something illegitimate about them, are ‘dead scared’ of revolt, and so deny ‘the public’ the means of arousing one. Again, David’s comment begins with a non sequitur; for there is nothing in the article to suggest who either the victim or the assailant was, or why the shooting took place. But also, David strategically shifts the terms of debate. From a minor and unexplained incident of violence, we proceed to more important issues and a higher truth. Weaponry is a tool of power. Parliament has the power, and therefore Parliament restricts the ownership of guns. This is deeply insightful. So too are the accompanying ideas: first of all, that Parliament has criminalised the ownership of guns, which is why, apart from government officials and licensed hunters, only criminals will own them; and secondly, that it has criminalised guns for fear of resentment of what it has accomplished with its power, having turned the UK into the ‘dustbin of Europe’.
As some of David’s own readers have noticed, David is not himself above arguing by way of a quibble. For what, after all, is a ‘dustbin’ in this context? Many environmentalists have raised the issue lately, calling the UK the ‘dustbin of Europe’ since it has such a large problem with waste. The UK is especially wasteful, and especially prone to the environmental hazards associated with it. But that it probably only one of several meanings that Dave attaches to the metaphor of a dustbin. As in his daring leaps of generalization, so in his quibbles David can make a singular case into an example of a multitude of cases, related by a family resemblance which itself is symptomatic of a general pathology of modern day society.
We can get a taste of how this general pathology operates by looking at a pair of postings David published at about the same time. The first, in response to a report of an American travel alert with regard to an Al Qaeda threat, was this:
We need to close all western embassies in Muslim countrys and send all Muslims back to these countries and let them implode, otherwise our streets will run with more bloodshed.
David understands, and publicly admits, what few government officials would allow themselves publicly to say: namely that Muslim-governed countries are inherently unstable; that trying to keep stabilising them by political means is, in effect, a waste of time; that we would be better off just letting them destroy themselves; and that if we don’t we will ourselves become victims of Muslim violence. Moreover, David also understands and is unafraid to point out the final remedy to our situation. So, in his second post, in response to an investigation by the European Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into a Home Office crackdown on illegal immigrants, David has this to say:
EHRC should itself be sent packing. The UK should not be a dumping ground for the rest of the EU, time to get out of Europe.
Now it appears that the UK is a ‘dustbin’ in at least one additional sense; it is a dumping ground for immigrants. The reader, moreover, begins to see a pattern, where David’s imagery correlates with both metaphor and argument, and in the place of the patchwork accounts by journalists of protests, lotteries, shootings and warnings, David expresses, with the brevity of an accomplished poet, a kind of objective correlative: waste. There are wastes of time, wastes of resources, wastes of commodities, wastes of government effort; there is waste in the land and there are people who are waste. The beauty of this objective correlative, this single sign for so many social ills at once, is that it suggests its own solution, and indeed the solution to each and every problem. Do not waste time. Do not allow waste to accumulate. Do not allow the people who permit or promote this waste to stay in office. Do not tolerate the presence of people who are waste. Do not allow countries who offload this waste to us to continue to do so. We need something like a revolution, a revolution of independence; we need to cut ourselves off from Muslims, from the EU, from the bond market and even from our own Parliament.
Nor is David an opponent of just an assortment of political developments. An article citing critical accounts of banks not lending enough to small businesses in the UK got this response:
Capitalism where a few live off the backs of the many.
One possible response to the work of David is to attempt to read him against the grain, to try to summon out of his work a personality, a social profile, a political program. Politicians and political analysts would be inclined to identify David as a kind of voter, and try to make sense what appeals to him. They would find, in fact, that David is an open supporter of UKIP. Perhaps one of the places he picked up the figure of the dustbin is a speech by Nigel Farage, who has frequently taken an expression popularised by Leon Trotsky and applied it to the European Union. As Trotsky argued that the Mensheviks’ role in Russian politics was ‘played out’ and belonged nowhere but the ‘dustbin of history’, so too, according Farage, is the role of the European Union. It belongs in the dustbin of history. A political analyst working against the grain of David’s writing would find in it the profile of the disaffected, middle-aged white male voter, and try to figure how to take advantage or to modify that profile – perhaps how to manipulate or overcome this voter’s obsession with waste, violence and the need (on many fronts) for separation.
A political scientist or a literary critic with a political agenda could perhaps read the work of David as a symptom of a larger problem, a fracture in the system of public trust in the UK, or even of something like white male rage. There are many resemblances between David’s thought and that of Tea Party activists in the United States. There is an anger and frustration in David’s thought that starts out sounding like right wing reaction, but that shifts across the spectrum to the point where it sometimes summons the energy of left wing revolutionary politics. Without the xenophobia, David’s thought could be assimilated to anti-capitalist anarchism, and thereby present a very interesting puzzle to the political scientist or critic. But then, the Tea Party activists also present this face of multiple positions, at once hyper-capitalistic in its support of laissez faire and anti-capitalist in its resentment of globalization and international finance; at once revolutionary in its appeal to rights and the image of the terrorists at the Boston Tea Party and fascist in its resentment of minorities and immigrants.
This analysis of David’s thought would be unfair, however, which is why I have begun the project of collecting and analysing David’s work for the general public, trying to work my way through the Yahoo! system. David’s work needs to be seen first of all as what, for David, it appears to be: an art of dissent. David’s is a textual work. It exists, it thrives and ultimately may die only so far as the medium of its textuality exists, thrives or dies. Who David is, what kind of man he would be to share a pint with, work with, live with or be raised by, what kind of owner of a dog he is – about such things nothing can be said or even need be. But David as the name of the author of a certain kind of oppositional writing – about this there is much that can be said, and much still to learn. David is a self-identifying author who is deliberately unidentifiable. This paradox, encouraged by the medium in which he works, is an enabling condition. Obviously, because of this paradox David does not need to take responsibility for what he writes, since no one but he really knows that he has written it. But it is not clear that David has written anything that he would not also say in certain private situations; nor does he seem to have abused his anonymity with spurious attacks.
For after all, he is “David,” and he seems to understand himself as belonging to a community of commenters. He addresses some of them by name, and some address him by name. And few people, at least on this site, attack one another personally. The partial anonymity behind the writing does allow David to write some nasty things on occasion, as when he implies that immigrants are rubbish, which he might not say aloud in public, or express on the Internet if people knew who he really was. But the real benefit of partial anonymity is that David is not obliged to be consistent, or develop a program. His writing can be entirely ad hoc, participating in a project of dissent which has no ultimate goal but dissent itself. It seems unlikely that David is really an enemy of capitalism, but in certain circumstances it may well be effective to take a public stance of rejecting it for its unfairness.
This is an art to be appreciated on its own terms. It takes a certain kind of genius. Strategically to change the subject, poetically to construct an objective correlative that works on many levels, stylistically to use a plain yet elliptical form of address, fashioning sharp epigrams out of complex material, and all with the aim of registering dissent for the sake of dissent and for condemning the status quo, responding freshly to new material so recurrently – this is an achievement worth admiring. What the final collection of David’s writing will amount to at this point I cannot say. Some of the writings disappear as soon as they are published, and I have found it hard to keep abreast. I cannot yet estimate how much writing there really is out there. It doesn’t help that David is really, when you think of it, a prolific author. So I announce here a general call to the public for anyone who can help find and collect more of David’s writings. The literary world will be grateful. But please be careful as you search for his work. For there are many ‘Davids’ out there, and it is easy to confuse them.