Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical and socio-psychological processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrated how the unthinkable becomes acceptable: it happens incrementally. It happens because of a steady, nudged erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards others, all of which advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.
The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as an enemy or a social burden in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, genocide.
Economic recession, uncertainty and authoritarian or totalitarian political systems contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice. In his book, The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon W. Allport uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe how “little acts,” which often go unnoticed, can lead to serious and deadly individual and collective behaviors. This framework describes, in ascending order, five “rungs” of intolerance and injustice: speech, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack, extermination.
The Conservatives are authoritarians, they manufactured an economic recession, as did the previous Conservative administrations. Though the sheer pace and blatancy of Cameron’s austerity programme – a front for the theft and redistribution of public wealth to Tory-supporting private bank accounts – is unprecedented, even for Conservatives.
And prejudice towards vulnerable minority groups is almost a cardinal Conservative trait. The media is being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. This process of outgrouping and othering has historically been used by tyrants to target, oppress, persecute and murder some social groups.
The Conservative party has said that they are “controlling immigration” by clamping down on benefits tourism and health tourism – so that we only welcome those who want to “work hard and contribute to our society”, cutting net immigration from outside the EU to levels not seen since the late 1990s – to “ease pressure on the schools and hospitals that all hardworking people rely on”, and introducing a new citizen test with “British values at its heart”. Such policies pander to public nationalism and normalise political fascism.
As someone who has designed sociological and psychological surveys, I know that rule number one for conducting genuine research is that we do not use loaded or leading questions. And I can’t abide the distraction and diversionary tactics – “finger pointing” politics at its very worst: scapegoating and bullying towards politically exploited minority groups, those least able to speak up for themselves.
We know that it is Tory polices that have damaged our Country, and not migrants, or ill and disabled people, or the poorest citizens. So I sent the following qualitative response to David Cameron:
“I’ve always felt the Tories don’t belong here, they have stolen all of our money, jobs, best houses, they’re scrounging off the hard-working taxpayer, and are draining our publicly funded public services – the welfare state, social security; legal aid, social housing, and they are bleeding the NHS dry. We can’t afford Conservatives, they contribute absolutely nothing to society, and cost ordinary people pretty much everything. They are also known criminals and terrorists, so they should be immediately deported back to the feudal era, where they belong and never allowed back to civilised, democratic society again”.
Well, it is said that in satire, irony is militant. I pointed back and found the truth.
We are obliged to critique, in every way we can, the constant subliminal drip of Tory bullying, imperialist white supremacist, social Darwinist, patriarchal political culture, because it is normalised by political narrative, a complicit mass media, and rendered opaque, presented tacitly as unproblematic “common sense”.
It isn’t common sense. It’s nasty, manipulative right-wing prejudice, scapegoating and diversion. For those of you who welcome the political permission to exercise your own racism, it’s worth bearing in mind that prejudice tends to “multi-task”.
Once a social group is targeted for outgrouping and discrimination, others quickly follow, as Pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed very well, in his famous statement about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.
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