Dialectical banter

January 6, 2019 (1567 words) :: A compendium of bad jokes about politics, philosophy, and other things, featuring myself and @tlornewr.
Tags: personal, the-left

This post is day 6 of a personal challenge to write every day in 2019. See the other fragments, or sign up for my weekly newsletter.

Toby and I moved to London together in the summer of 2017. That physical shift eastward coincidentally occurred in the middle of a political shift leftward. Before we moved, neither of us really knew anyone on the left, and the only vaguely left-wing event we had gone to consisted of a mildly off-putting trip to Left Forum right before we moved (we were pretty much just confused all the time).

Soon after arriving in London, though, we really plunged into it, in an eerily seamless transition that seemed shot through with bolts of serendipity. Our bookshelf started filling up, with hauls from Verso’s perennial sales, Housmans’ bargain basement and various book fairs and conferences. New vocabulary emerged in our daily conversations as we were introduced to increasingly radical concepts: neoliberalism, dialectical materialism, vanishing mediators. The world was getting brighter, and more colourful. There were whole new realms of things we could talk about, whole new angles of analysis we had previously overlooked.

The best part was finding a community. Meeting other people who had also - for want of a better world - gotten “redpilled”, and were trying to understand the world the same way we were trying to. Who were all grasping at the same larger truth. It was exhilarating, and I’m not really exaggerating when I say that moving to London and, in the process, discovering the left qua community profoundly changed my life.

It’s hard to overemphasise just how drastic of a change this was. During the three years prior to moving to London, Toby and I had both been fully immersed in our startup, and the only (scattered) community we really knew revolved around tech/startups. And sure, there are some (though not many) nice people in those scenes, but everyone is ultimately driven by individual goals (mostly self-advancement) rather than collective ones, which made the whole thing feel rather lonely.

That’s not to say that the left is perfect, of course; it’s often frustrating, and contradictory, and perpetually mired in divisive disputes. But for me, at least, it’s the place that’s the closest to making sense - the best neighbourhood in which to build a nuanced and reasoned understanding of the world. Where the theory kind of just clicks. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s still the best we’ve got, so we might as well start from there.

Anyway. I’m not entirely sure why I wrote this long-winded introduction to what is essentially a series of dumb jokes about dialectics. I guess I’ve been wanting to write more about my leftward drift for a while, and this provided a suitable excuse. The point of this blog post was to share snippets of conversations from the first year of me and Toby living in London, which became increasingly ridiculous to the point where I had to start documenting them.

(For the record, not all the jokes I had saved up made the cut for this blog post. Some of them were a little too spicy, or just too egregious in reveling in the joy of semi-ironic abuse of the concept of dialectics.)


toby: tomorrow i’m going to do something manly: i’m putting a floor in an attic
toby: can you think of anything more manly than that, apart from invading another country or insulting women on twitter?

August 26, 2017

The Democratic Party

toby: at this point the democratic party is like the guy who gets hit by a car and loses his arm and says “fuck! my role​x”

September, 2017

On Zizek’s “coffee without milk” joke

toby: he really likes his joke without a punchline
toby: the best part about what i just said is that it’s its own inversion. it’s a punchline without a joke

October, 2017

The phenomenology of bad jokes

toby: [boasting that he is hegelian]
me: how are you hegelian? you’ve never even read hegel
toby: yes, but i am the most hegelian person who has never read hegel
me: oh yeah? and how does that make you feel?
toby: phenomenal

October 5, 2017

The other h-word

toby: [trying to make the case that Margaret Thatcher’s political project was actually influenced by continental philosophy]
toby: not to use the H-word, but …
me: hegemony? oh, hegelian. but wait, you basically said it
toby: the word sublates itself

October 14, 2017

Echo Dot

me: amazon is having a black friday sale … do we want an echo dot?
toby: oh yes, i want an echo dot
toby: i will fill our home with echo dots until there is no room for me
toby: I will lie under them and have them sing me to sleep as I enjoy the sweet release of death under capitalism

Nov 18, 2017

The last thing to be sold under capitalism

me: maybe it would be capitalists trying to buy forgiveness? capitalists who want to be let off the metaphorical hook?
toby: the thing about markets is that they require both a buyer and a seller, and no one is selling forgiveness for capitalists

Nov 19, 2017


me: [explaining the “Moonpie” Twitter account]
toby: what is it
me: what do you mean? it’s just a brand twitter account
toby: but what is in the pie
me: why does that matter
toby: does it contain any sort of orbital substance whatsoever

Dec 2, 2017

Dialectical thinking

toby: if you had to compose a short string of emoji to get across the message ‘dialectical thinker’—
me: [incredulous laughter as I start typing this up]
toby: have you got an answer to my question

Dec 2, 2017

Falling down the up escalator

me: i have a big fear of falling down the up escalator, because you could fall for a really long time
toby: that is basically neoliberalism: you prolong the pain indefinitely and the escalator is like “it’s not my fault, it’s gravity”

Dec 3, 2017

On wanting hobbies

me: if i do a PhD, i’d want time for hobbies
toby: no, you should specialise. marx wasn’t known for being a good father and a triathlete
me: but i dont want to be like marx
toby: get out

Dec 3, 2017

Chamber pots as a tool for class oppression

me: obviously it’s not necessarily due to the tool itself, but when chamber pots are inserted into an already unequal system with structures for forcing some to do undesirable tasks due to fear of deprivation …
me: thus a marxist analysis of chamber pots shows that they create a class that never has to empty any, and a class that has to empty others’ chamber pots
toby: that sounds like true trickle-down economics

Jan 20, 2018

A new David Foster Wallace fan

me: i’ve discovered a new david foster wallace fan!
toby: oh yes? is his name favid foster dallace?
me: do you even think you’re funny?
toby: it’s not meant to be funny - the humour is derived specifically from its lack. it sublates itself
me: i should have never introduced you to philosophy

Mar 4, 2018

To debate with a postmodernist

toby: [reading my Notes From Below article on meritocracy] i disagree on the point about foucault and madness being a blind spot
me: but you haven’t even read foucault
toby: i mean maybe i will agree when i’ve read it, but it seems to me to be very anti-lacanian
me: you haven’t even read lacan either
toby: ah, to debate with a postmodernist. in the end you are only debating your own existence

Mar 4, 2018

Socialist praxis

toby: i think it’s funny that you’re using an unsplash photo of the unsplash office in the perks of the job piece [which criticises startups’ tendency to lavish employees with perks]
me: why is that funny? that’s like saying socialists can’t critique capitalism because they have iphones
toby: no no, i am encouraging this behaviour. i think if you’re not bombing boeing’s office using a boeing, you’re not doing socialist praxis right

Mar 4, 2018

Chicken, vegetables

me: tell me what you had for dinner
toby: chicken, vegetables
me: chicken as an adjective?
toby: i was going to say chicken, vegetables, and … but then i realised there was nothing else, just chicken and vegetables
me: chicken, vegetables and a side of existential despair
toby: that is not what i consumed. rather, it consumed me

Mar 15, 2018

Actually existing socialism

toby: if, in order to bring about actually existing socialism, you had to eat a whole egg, would you?
me: what do you mean a whole egg
toby: like with the shell and all, in one go. no chewing
me: …
toby: you would be given time to train
me: is it socialism in one country or socialism in all countries?

Apr 13, 2018

Before Marxism

me: I can’t even remember what we used to talk about before we discovered marxism. like, runescape??? but what is runescape without a marxist analysis?
toby: it is also a very successful java game

Apr 21, 2018

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