Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Sport, when played with an open heart, graciousness and a sense of proportion, is often the vehicle that, more than any other, brings the absolute best out of us as people, forcing us not only to find the hidden corners of our talent but also the finest aspects of our humanity.

Sport, at whatever level it’s played, is a living, breathing, highly-personal drama in which we invest some of our most profound emotions; through sport, we get to experience the ecstasy of victory, the character-building pain of defeat, or just the simple glow that comes from witnessing and sharing others’ moments in the spotlight. Of course, it’s even better when such sporting brilliance comes from the most unlikely of sources, or in the unlikeliest of circumstances...

Jason McElwain’s story is well-known. It is also timeless. Without wishing to give any spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen it, while at high school Jason, diagnosed as autistic, would dutifully turn up to assist in the running of the basketball team, happy just to help others, to give them encouragement. All the while, however, he was slowly accumulating know-how, fine-tuning his feel for the game. And then one day ... one day ... well, why not get yourself a box of Kleenex and watch the clip (again).

What I love about this story is the fact that the crowd respond to him before he gets on the court, before he gets “as hot as a pistol”. In other words, their love for Jason was not contingent upon him being a ‘success’. He already was a success because of the selfless devotion he showed to his team, the energy he gave them, the enthusiasm dripping from his every action.

The joy of the crowd – the utter delirium that sweeps through them – is something that sport gives us more than anything else in life. And if life is not about joy, then what else is it about?

But more than that, the hero in this clip – the hero within – is that part of all of us that shares in the glory – the always fleeting glory – of others. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


The traffic stats on this ere (slightly neglected) blog ought to tell you that Im not a great threat – not yet, anyway – to eBay, Amazon or Wikpedia, so theres no real need for me to conceive of posts that pad out the stats for hits or unique users or whatever currency people who need to know that kind of thing (me, once upon a time, although I didnt, so blagged it) trade in these days.

Anyway, I, as a writer – in the Borgesian sense: someone who measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished; yet he asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do” – prefer a wee bit of text during my browsing. (Apart from those sites, maybe. And those.) However, Im not entirely averse to fairly gratuitous (if not stat-boosting) selections of images, and have a few mates who reckon Id be better off sticking to that sort of thing wholesale. 

So heres a collection of well-timed photos that might release some low-level dopamine explosions in your noggin. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Never let it be said that The Sun doesn't wish to keep the public stoopid*:

...Just like the time they weighed in to Chris Morris over the Brasseye paedophilia special, 'Paedogeddon', directly opposite a picture of the 15-year-old Charlotte Church:

Oi, oi – wall-errrp.

* NB: It has been pointed out to me after publication that the image may be a fake. Check the byline. I'm not  going to remove the post, though, because the inauthenticity of the clipping doesn't vitiate the central point: The Sun is an organ of stupefaction. 

Friday, 27 July 2012


Attention seeking: a brief periodization... At the start of an individual’s life, attention seeking is a manifestly qualitative matter: the desperate, instinctual search for the sort of loving care, protection and nurturing that is the difference between life and death. It is not a matter of being looked at, but being looked after. By the time we reach adulthood, this simple evolutionary mechanism has for most people become dormant – we have survived to fend for ourselves (in ordinary circumstances, at least, and there’s Dyno-Rod and Dominos for other occasions) – while the need for succour and validation that never fully leaves us is routinely sated by way of our ordinary social interactions, without any especial pursuit. In a certain category of human, however, attention seeking remains as involuntary and compulsive as it is for babies, albeit now for cultural rather than natural reasons. Hello, Celebrities – from A-list to Z-list and into the pool of wannabes whence crawl the narcissists and exhibitionists and drama queens, the extrovert sulkers and nonchalant fashionistas, all of whose histrionic bleating egos are so many great Ptolemaic suns at the centre of a private universe. Best not get too close.

Anyway, once an individual crosses the threshold of fame and becomes a Public Figure, an artfully manipulated persona (which derives from the Latin for ‘mask’), attention seeking becomes primarily quantitative – a measure of one’s social status. It’s about ratings, units shifted, bums on seats. No one particularly cares what type of audience-consumer it was – its qualities – since all of those specifics will be yesterday’s news before tomorrow arrives, bringing its fresh torrents of memory-sluicing of infotainment.

Of course, it is not exclusively the case that (the) celebrity seeks out the love of strangers to stanch some disorder or other. Sometimes – with a cynicism that itself might be considered pathological outside of neocon think-tanks – it is a simple exercise in cultivating fans by furnishing their often transparent, off-the-peg, no-frills fantasies. In any case, we all get along perfectly well – well, not perfectly well, but well enough – with our phobias and manias, our obsessions and occasional paranoia, our superstitions and other low-intensity quirks, be they medicalised or not.

They are even quite socially useful, at least from the standpoint of a protean capitalism – in the first instance, a matter of brute quantity, of course – that stalks every flickering sign of life, unslakable in its thirst for some new untapped well of profit (and boy, is compulsion profitable: gambling, porn, nicotine, guns…), some unkempt, exploratory, vagabond desires all ready to be corralled into the punctual delivery system of our industrialised, sanitised pleasures.

Thus interlocking with slebs’ compulsive and/or cynical drive for ubiquity is a whole culture of attention seeking – what else is marketing? – a great white and its pilot fish of brazen liggers and dubious factotums who insinuate themselves between the bill and the board, the thickest spittle in town. A celebrity becomes an economy in itself, and their factitious gifts – their X-Factor – must be continually bestowed upon the populace, spattered across every medium. No event must be allowed to pass by unfructified by their celebrity juice, this ersatz postmodern aristocracy awaiting some new Jacobins to lop off their talking heads.

Darryn Lyons, celebrity celebrity voyeur commissioner, attention-seeker 
extraordinaire, apotheosis of what we have become. Do we need to have 
a look at ourselves in the mirror or are we doing too much of that already? 

Anyway, the problem with all this is that the cloying ubiquity of these Nobodies (in French, personne) slowly comes to cloud the judgement of otherwise eminently sensible people – people of influence who ought to know better than to acquiesce in the whole sorry farrago; people who at some uncertain though definite point themselves cross a threshold beyond which they become detached from and oblivious to their initial distaste, sucking away complicitly on the cynicism of this Celebrity cult, a cynicism that is naturalised to the point at which even our cultural commentators can blithely declare “what’s the matter with it? It’s only a bit of fun,” and end up throwing their weight behind the runaway train…

* * *

…And so we arrive, via Bus Replacement Service, at London 2012: a bloody-kneed country, dragged through a hedge(-fund) backwards by the cocksure, coke-fuelled attention-seeking tyros of a deregulated financial sector, aghast (if not surprised) at the fawning accommodations of the government to bankers, appalled (if not surprised) by the MPs expenses scandal and the systemic phone-tapping of Andy-Liar & Murdoch – a country with a chance to redeem itself, to put on its Sunday best and pretend that everything’s OK, like some asphyxiating and neurotic petite bourgeois family traipsing across the country on Boxing Day in aching introspective silence to see the cousins, hovering about them all a tacit entente that no-one shall mention her unwanted pregnancy, his expulsion, that caution for shoplifting, the botched investment, but all will smile their way through denial and back to good health. London 2012: the nation’s shop window, they say (displaying no unauthorised rings, if you please), whereas the previous summer the city’s shop windows were merely the quickest route to the loot. London 2012: Viva Britannia!

Apparently, to do this, to put your face on, as a city, I mean, you need a famous face. Thus Beckham – who else? Danny Dyer, N-Dubz, Simon Cowell, Barbara Windsor and Jack Whitehall might have been in the running were it not a sporting event, while not even Lord Coe, as happy in the 1922 Committee as the 2012, would endorse the ludicrous berk, Boris Johnson. Beckham, meanwhile, is pretty much inoffensive; he was good at his profession (although a galáctico in marketability only); he is handsome (when he isn’t talking); and he is vapid enough to believe the ‘all is hunky-dory with Blighty’ propaganda. 

Before we scrutinize that particular face, we should note that what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call the “machine of faciality” [visagéité] has long been an important device for power formations seeking as efficient a means of subduing their populations as possible – from the days of Imperial coinage, when it was expedient to give the newly-subjected peoples a representation of the distant despot to whose divine body they would henceforth owe their life and pay tribute, through the statues and friezes of the modern dictators (Fidel Castro seems an exception to this, perhaps because Che was the face of the Revolution, as a glance at Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior building confirms) all the way to the election-attuned workings, the wall-to-wall posters of political PR machine within ‘late’ capitalism’s imagosphere. Images are perfect for efficient and swift subjugation. In a species who are highly-skilled face-readers before they can stand up, the image provides an instantaneous mobilisation of affect and is preferable to the somewhat passé and laborious narrative means of emitting signs to rouse people.

The face irradiates these wordless signs just as it embodies the People. It personalises the impersonal workings of power, be that the despotic apparatus over the horizon in the capital (deriving from the Latin for head, ‘caput’) or the abstract machine of private capital accumulation with which us ‘advanced’ and ‘civilized’ folk busy ourselves (or is it vice-versa?). The flash of an apparently beneficent smile that’s too bright to look at for long occludes tens of thousands of concrete, specific decisions about how social wealth is spent. (The question of Olympic ‘legacy’ – beyond the brief, vicarious afterglow enjoyed as others from this sea-battered hunk of rock win medals – is one for another time, but suffice to say Athens, eight years on, doesn’t look in the greatest of shape.)

Ordinarily a tabula rasa onto which the public, in its yen for uplift, projects its hopes and dreams, the faciality-machine is occasionally tasked with something more complex. When it is compelled to speak – an inherently risky undertaking from the point of view of the regime or institution (as much an immaterial rhizome of desires, beliefs, decisions and commands as a material entity) for which it provides anthropomorphised substantiality – there behind it will invariably lurk some on-message eminence grise adept both at smoothing out the pointy bits of language on which one is apt to choke as well as fashioning gaudy sentimental flourishes. So, while the ventriloquist spoonfeeds this platitudinous mulch of mots justes for the mouthpiece to regurgitate, for its part, the ‘logophagous’ face-machine must learn only to listen and talk at more or less the same time (an illusion of spontaneity amidst the near-simultaneity), a task in which even George W Bush managed to convince most of the time.

Faciality machine: General Perón returns from 18 years in exile
(image flanked by Evita, left, and Isabela)  

* * *

And so, Londoners, it is Becks: Reprazent. An East End boy made good, one of the most recognisable faces on the planet, a sporting beacon and clearly much more useful being wheeled between banks of flashbulbs and TV cameras as the face of the Olympics than he would be labouring in Team GB’s midfield. This is not a sneering pop at Becks per se, just an enquiry as to whether he’s, yerknarr, the man for the job, whether he ought to be the Face of the Games. Jack London. You want smouldering? Fine; call Becks. Pouting, you say? I have the very man. Viciously whipped-in free-kicks and corners you’re after? Why, there’s only one man for the job: David Beck– …er, Ryan Giggs. You know what I mean.

Charged with rallying the good will of a public drenched in the Establishment’s piss and shit, Beckham must be our Nelson Mandela, our Pelé, our Gandhi, our Eva Perón (for whose emaciated, cancer-ravaged body was fabricated, in June 1952, a wire and plaster support which was then wrapped in fur coat so that, weeks before her death, she could stand in the back of a car and wave at the masses attending her husband’s second inauguration, “a sacred icon carried aloft on a pole, a thing of inert sanctity”: the face of the regime). Whether Becks has an earpiece in or has been scripted is hard to discern. But speak he must.

Having to say something is much less taxing than having something to say, having to have something to say, yet still presents its obvious pitfalls. So, to eliminate the possibility of faux pas and/or allow him to pick up the whispered words of some LOCOG worrier, His Royal Hairness, the Duke of Beckhamshire has duly slowed down his speech to the treacle rhythms of a Californian stoner.

Prompted by Sky Sports News earlier this week to transmute the Tour de France triumph of Bradley Wiggins into a harbinger of Team GB glory, our bunraku looked out over the Olympic Park and drawled:
My message to Bradley is: ‘Congratulations, you’ve made everyone proud. I’m sure you’ve made yourself and your family proud. But the whole country is behind you – was behind you – and, aah, incredibly, aah, y’know, incredibly proud of everything that you’ve achieved’. For any athlete to perform at their highest level, aaahm, is amazing. For someone like Bradley to perform the way he’s performed and, aaahm, to make people proud like he’s done, aaahm, y’know, makes the whole country proud and it kinda sets us up for an amazing occasion that’s coming up.  

When the fireworks have gone and the Olympians themselves have encased their medals on mantelpieces, when they eyes of the world (at least, those not in sweat shops, civil wars, concentration camps, subsistence farming, or otherwise engaged) have turned away, the city will rumble on as before, providing opportunities, imposing opportunism. Any perturbation of this rigorous stratification of the city’s human material and the fatigue-clad State-protectors (and G4S deputies) will jump quick-smart to the defence of an elite whose relationship to them – whose gratitude for their blind loyalty – extends principally to the diary-disturbing possibility of having to be (seen) at their funeral.

Olympics? Fine, you enjoy them. We all have our opiates. But don’t tell me all is well here just because some cyclist from the Isle of Man finishes a race before someone from across the water – some other water. It gets harder and harder to put on a ‘brave’ face over it all.


You may also enjoy: 'Andy Murray, 'Failure', and the Cult(ure) of Competition'

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Louis Wain, so Wikipedia tells me, was born in Clerkenwell, South London, in 1860 with a cleft lip that led to doctors advising his parents to keep him out of school until the age of 10. It wasn’t a surprise to read this basic biographical datum – nor that he lost a wife to cancer after three years marriage, aged 23; or that, from the age of 20, he had to support his mother and five younger sisters – since I knew Wain as the painter of kitschy, anthropomorphised cats who later in life plunged [please choose a verb you find appropriate there] into schizophrenia. Or, if you prefer, he undertook the schizophrenic voyage.

A few years back, visiting a friend of mine, an old cricketing colleague who became a psychiatrist, I had seen on his wall, cherished and given pride of place, a series of six paintings of cats [pictured below], each one less and less naturalistic, increasingly Baroque and unrecognizable. They were the work of Louis Wain and the images are believed to serve as an oblique document of his ‘descent’ into schizophrenia, an experience about which psychiatry still knows so little about.

Other possibly salient biographical details emerged from a perusal of his Wikipedia page and a couple of other online sources, facets that would support a diagnosis of schizophrenia that is sometimes contested: a love of animals that included contributions to several pro-animal welfare organizations (a love that transcends the couple, that is cosmic); his lifelong financial difficulties (where the delusional paranoiac sustains his ‘reasonable’ external appearance and remains a functional member of society). He was, apparently, “modest, naïve, and easily exploited, ill-equipped for bargaining in the world of publishing” while others found him “incomprehensible, due to his way of speaking tangentially” (he was not psychologically organized in such a manner as to accumulate wealth and build a position of strength) and later, post-breakdown, this “mild-mannered and trusting man…became hostile and suspicious, particularly towards his sisters. He claimed that the flickering of the cinema screen had robbed the electricity from their brains. He began wandering the streets at night, rearranging furniture within the house, and spent long periods locked in his room, writing incoherently”.

While some familiar with Wain’s life ascribe the onset of schizophrenia to toxoplasmosis contracted from cats, certain psychologists have subsequently disputed the notion that Wain – committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1924, where he would spend the last 15 years of his life – was suffering from schizophrenia at all, claiming that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. Such a view is based on the lack of diminishment of his later work (it is not certain that the six images on my friend’s wall were sequential, since Wain didn’t date them).

The intense detail and ornate patterns of the pictures evoked certain memorable passages near the beginning of Deleuze and Guattari’s iconoclastic ‘schizoanalytic’ treatise (part anti-psychiatry, part-Marxism of the unconscious), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume 1. In it, they not only prioritise the schizo experience (as opposed that of a schizophrenic, the limp rag found in asylums) over that of the neurotic Oedipal psyche – epigrammatically: “a schizo out of a stroll is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch” – they also seek to demystify some misconceptions about the schizo’s ‘dissociation’ or autism’.

Taking from Marx the notion of “species-being” – “we make no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species” – they construe the schizo as homo natura, because “far from having lost who knows what contact with life, the schizophrenic is closest to the beating heart of reality, to an intense point identical with the production of the real”. Not only that, he is homo historia because, typically, he understands his own subjective processes, the constitution of his self, as intimately bound up with the whole of history and not just Daddy-Mummy-Me: Oedipus.

One certainly finds it easy to imagine Wain, institutionalized and left to his own flights of fancy, still feeling an immense custodial responsibility for cats. As for the illustrations, they resemble nothing so much as the hallucinations experienced on strong LSD, the world suddenly starting – the more you focus in on its fractal-like minutiae – to dance, flicker, and pulsate, a world that teems like an ant colony, an experience or mental disorder in marked contrast to the catatonic’s shutting down of the ‘desiring machines’: “bodies [that] have fallen into the river like lead weights, immense transfixed hippopotamuses that will not come back to the surface”. Now, does anyone know what was on Wain’s prescription?

CAT 1 






Thursday, 12 July 2012


ethnographic map of Cyprus

I half-watched a documentary the other day on the new wave of art collectors. Amidst my Jacobin scorn for such a bourgeois pastime, I discerned that the underlying message – the propaganda, maybe, as I didn’t find out who made the programme – was how buying art was a sound investment. Maybe, if you think that way. Presumably it was fairly important who the artist was.

Anyway, the programme managed to bring me a second wave of disappointment from the same event, some seven or eight years after the first. The memory that was crowbarred from my unconscious concerned the time I popped into Nottingham’s funky Alley Café when they happened to be exhibiting a collection of adulterated maps by graffiti artist-cum-designer Nathan Bainbridge, a.k.a. Smallkid, and was told the one I wanted (cost: £30) had been sold. Gah!

That would have been a significant outlay at the time, still would, but there was something instantly, overwhelmingly attractive about the piece (probably because I was fascinated with maps as a child, able to draw many from memory), something compelling about the concept – and my own scant artistic output is all about concepts – that made me want to forego some basic consumables and buy it. Not as an investment, mind; just as something unusual and beautiful to look at. Something “sick”. I even went back the following day for a second choice, but they had all sold. Double gah!

Some years later, when I’d made and lost my fortune (i.e. had briefly taken my bank balance to four figures), I decided I’d commission Smallkid to do his thing on a map of Cyprus for my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, the country where they have a modest holiday home. I emailed him twice, but he never did reply.

Nae bother. Below you’ll find four examples of his cartographic design pieces. If you’ve got enough money to commission him, and a particular map you’d like him to scribble on (though no country’s outline, not even New Zealand’s, is as cool as Cyprus: so good they even, uniquely, put it on their flag), then you could try contacting him via his website, or on n.bainbridge[at] And tell him I sent you.


“Congratulations to Andy Murray, who either did or didn’t win Wimbledon this afternoon”. So began Charlie Brooker’s latest pithy rumination for the Guardian, lauding the Scot for his perceived truculent demeanour. Given the extraordinary emotional outpouring on Sunday, a sort of mystic communion between player and public that has perhaps seared him indelibly in ‘our’ affections, it seems apt to revisit these congratulations now that we know the result, now that we saw beneath the surliness, to see whether or not he is worthy.

In the last few days, many have endorsed Brooker’s congratulatory sentiments, not all for the reason of Murray’s zinging cross-court return of the media’s tepid serve (which, if you’re not following the metaphor, is its demand for emotionalism). But not everyone I know felt quite so generous about a British player getting closer than ever to landing a first post-War Wimbledon singles title only, again, to fail. But did he fail? Or rather, does that ‘failure’ make him a failure?

Throughout the final, my Facebook timeline was littered with churlish pro-Federer comments (although, far be it from any ‘man of the left’ to insist upon patriotic support) explicitly berating Murray not only for being dour, but also for some anti-English comments he was alleged to have made years ago, with sincerity. Then, in the aftermath of the aftermath of defeat came the chastisement for people with the temerity to ‘celebrate failure’.

Now, over and above the hackneyed old trope of whether this is ‘inherently British’ (answer: it isn’t; nothing is), what, if not to congratulate him, ought to be our reaction? (This is a question we only need ask of those who assume there ought to be a universal and standard emotional register adopted in such times.) Should we condemn him for failure or just, you know, ignore it all, pretend the who sorry embarrassment didn’t happen? Both responses look like they have been lifted from The Victorian Book of Unsympathetic Parenting. Nevertheless, these are legitimate questions…to be asked by the sort of people who concern themselves with How Men Are Supposed to Behave. You will have seen the magazines while waiting for your root canal.

As the supposed miserablist Murray melted before his multitude, up in the stand were two men who could be considered personifications of old and new school attitudes to lachrymose public breakdowns. Serial winner Sir Alex Ferguson might have looked upon his compatriot’s blubbing and thought ‘What is he doing? Pull yourself together, boy’. Meanwhile, Fergie’s former charge, David Beckham, a man who has embraced his ‘feminine side’ (same dental waiting room, different magazines), could well have been smiling approvingly (perhaps while musing ‘this is adding brand value’).

Aside from the fact that he was struggling to choke back tears, the post-match interview wasn’t in itself as emotive as it might have been. Crushed, he first congratulated Roger (struggling to fit his role as The Villain); next he thanked his corner, who he said he couldn’t look at for fear of emotional collapse; finally, he spoke about the ‘pressure’ of playing before the expectant British public, at which point he buckled as the waves of noise swelled around Aorangi Park, both inside and outside the Centre Court. Almost certainly, the wobble was as a result of being overwhelmed by the anonymous, unconditional love of the multitude, a multitude that, moreover, was physically present. Proximate.

Of course, it is always slightly shaky ground to psychoanalyse those you know only in mediated form (the medium itself affecting their behaviour, as Brooker spells out), but might it not be the case that Murray’s truculence is deeply entwined with experiences in the first three years of his life, experiences that leave a lot of people unable to express affection in a common idiom, or whose love is, in Guevarist fashion, for the whole cosmos and not just cloistered within the family or the couple. This would precisely the kind of love lacking in those who looked upon the Scot’s efforts as just another British failure

*  *  *

Regardless of the tears in defeat, the view that Murray failed is absurd. Surely, the idea that only winning is ‘success’ is patently nonsensical when so few have a realistic chance of winning and only 1 in 128 can actually win. More seriously, such a cold and imperious assessment is subtly symptomatic of an increasingly unhinged worldview, one that could only emerge in a culture mired in the notion that competition is some sort of fixed and everlasting ‘state of nature’. Of course, this is precisely the sort of apologia for neo-liberal values – that is, for ‘rational’ self-interest – that one hears all the time. It is also a reality systematically ignored by the protectionist cartels of the West’s ‘anti-markets’, institutional meshworks that are extremely far from being permissive of competition. But that is a whole other story… 

Giving brief consideration to the psycho-social repercussions of an obsession with winning, it is obvious that the overemphasis of being first contributes hugely to poor mental health. Not only does it fuel status-related stress in adults, it is also directly responsible for the feelings of inadequacy – even the desperate suicidal urges – that pervade today’s teenagers, now fully incorporated into global markets (be that indirectly, through potential blackmail of parents, or directly, as aspirational consumers) and as such bombarded with images of success and standards to measure up to. (Of course, the desire to ‘win’ is there in the innate survivalism of infants seeking parental love and attention, chicks mouths straining upward for emotional resources they consider finite, perhaps scarce, and thus to be fought over, when in fact it is limitless and abundant, just as would be earth’s resources if the rules of our game were different. Again, another story…)

Anyway, it is little wonder that the most common insult in schools these days is “loser” – a ghastly and pathetically smug term that came from the heartland of zero-to-hero one-upmanship passed off as virtue: the post-ideological U S of A, with its homespun American Dream uniting rich and poor through the exact same desire-as-acquisition: I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me (except, of course, that Beck wasn’t, because he’s part of the Church of Scientology, a spiteful and absurd – more than normally the case for ‘religions’ – quasi-Masonic mutualist society masquerading, preposterously, as a religion).

Nature is about striving, not winning – two entirely different things. The latter is entirely reactive to a set of imposed values, the former is an immanent relation to the world, what the great philosopher Spinoza called conatus. One increases one’s powers to live (potentia) without seeking one’s power over things (potestas). Culture – which is both part of and separate from nature – is a space of potential collaboration that can increase our collective powers (potentia). Far from prolonging the supposedly inherently competitive character of some reified ‘state of nature’, culture and its laws can either mollify or exacerbate that striving for niches.

Late capitalist or consumer society promotes winning for a number of reasons, but they all ultimately serve to persuade us – rich and poor alike, ‘winners and losers’ – that we are lacking this or that thing, a personal quality or object (or object that will give us that quality) that we must attain – that is, buy – in order to be provisionally complete, to sate our desire. But this conception of desire, found everywhere from Socrates via Kant to Freud, is a great fallacy. Desire does not lack anything; it is perfectly content doing its own thing – wondering what shapes the clouds are, taking our noses to the spice shops; dreaming of Armageddon or an escape to the South Seas; stroking animals or having one’s genitalia pierced.

No, it is not desire that lacks, but our human consciousness, the Ego that must play the social codes, that must emit the signs of success, that must adapt to the rules of the shallow society – that is where the sense of lack comes from, of an inadequacy salved only by retail therapy (“I shop, therefore I am”), the great asphyxiation and shackling of desire so that it becomes a snivelling spectacle of Sisyphean acquisition.

This, then, is our thoroughly modern pathology. Compulsive behaviour stretched between the cynical reduction of everything to a numerical value (private capital and its exchange value) on the one hand – as Marx said, “all that is solid melts into air” – while, on the other, the discarded stories and meanings that the circuits of profit generation require to be not only perpetually renewed but also artificially reinserted in the otherwise happily meaningless social space. You are what you buy. 

When you promote the ‘virtues’ of competition per se – when you conceive of life itself that way – you effectively submerge everyone in perma-stress, which is just the way the powers-that-be like and want it. Much better for the peace-of-mind racketeers to have a population function as isolated cells struggling away endlessly – with market access to the means of survival now having replaced love as the resource to be fought over – like nodes at the ends of the tentacles of some earth-sized anemone, anomic and tending increasingly to see other folk solely as a means for the elaboration of their own ambitions of social escalation, rather than as potential allies in a provisionally, tactically unified socially transformative mass.

We have apparently sailed a long way from the shores of sporting analysis, but these attitudes are the molecular substrate that allow that macro world to become entrenched and flourish. In the world of professional sport, the (consensually adhered to) rules of which are all about competition. Even so, why ever not celebrate someone who struggled with every last fibre of his being, played excellently, but came up slightly short against the greatest player of all time? 

The magnanimity of the crowd was nothing less than a sign of its maturity. To think him a failure makes you a mouthpiece of the neoconservative machine and an obstacle to any hope of conviviality.

Murray is the fourth best player in the world. Two of the three above him have a legitimate claim to be the greatest of all-time, while the third won his first 43 matches last year. Assuming the dubious notion that we have to support ‘one of us’, can we not celebrate pluck and endeavour for itself? Can we not tweak our ambition so that it is to be the best that we can be, emphasis on the ‘we’?

If your sense of self-worth depends on vicarious kicks from a fellow countryman’s success, if Murray’s victory is a few drops into the pool of British pride from which you draw succour, then it is you that has the problem, not him.

If you must be emotionally prescriptive, be disappointed for Murray, not in him. Or, as the first rule of good parenting would have it: applaud the effort, not the outcome.